Oddly enough, I wasn’t nervous as I made my way to Iron Silk’s office. It didn’t feel like a death march or anything that dramatic.
When I tapped on the door, there was a slight pause before the door opened. During that pause, I smoothed my sweat pants and ratty old t-shirt, and ran a hand through my hair. There was no sense in looking as bad as I felt, now when I was already in enough trouble as it was.
Iron Silk opened the door himself, and ushered me in. There was a closed look on his face, and I hovered in front of his desk nervously. I could only be in his office for one reason, and that reason was punishment. I had known that I’d had it coming, from the moment I’d gotten out of the van.
“Take a seat ,” he said, motioning to the one chair on my side of the desk.
I dropped into the chair, still very nervous. He seemed to be aware of my state of being, and he shifted awkwardly in his seat.
“Miller, I know that it is never easy to lose a friend in the line of duty,” he began. “But it happens, unfortunately. It’s a tragic fact in our line of work, and while I wouldn’t say that you need to get used to it, I would advise you learn how to remain professional. Castello knew what she was getting into.”
I lowered my gaze to my hands. I couldn’t say anything, not without getting into even deeper trouble. He apparently didn’t expect a response, because he kept talking.
“Sarah Castello’s death was an unfortunate and unforeseeable accident, and we will miss her membership in the squad. She was a good woman and a good soldier,” he continued. “But she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, I’m not trying to minimize her or to make her death sound like a trivial matter, but soldiers die. A good soldier knows how to follow orders, regardless.”
I looked up at him, my anger not able to be contained any longer. Just as I opened my mouth to protest, he cut me off.
“You’re a soldier, Miller, regardless of what your relationship with Castello was. You chose to disobey orders, did you not?”
“I did, but-“
“You know the rules, Miller. Didn’t they teach you in boot camp?”
“They did, but-“
“You have no excuse for what you did,” he cut me off again. “You’re not a rookie. You knowingly disobeyed orders. You know the punishment for that. That’s not the only reason I called you here today, though.”
I looked up, startled. A thousand thoughts flitted through my mind, but I knew that not a single one would be a good response to that, so I kept my mouth shut. Apparently he wasn’t expecting any reply.
“There will be an empty spot on the squad. A new member will be chosen. You’ve been on the squad the longest of any of our current members. I want you to show the new kid the ropes. And Miller?”
“Yes, sir?” I asked, fear coursing through my body. He was looking at me oddly. I didn’t like that look. It was almost like he knew that Sarah had tipped me off.
“Stay out of trouble.”
“Dismissed,” he said, lowering his gaze as my paranoia kicked into full gear.
What does he know? Does he know I know? What am I talking about? I don’t know anything except that I’m not supposed to trust him. And that someone’s a traitor. Damn it all, Sarah! Why couldn’t you have left better notes? Or, I don’t know, not died? Or not left me any notes. God, Sarah, what were you thinking? Why? What’s going on?
I made my way back up to the dormitories and began unpacking my overnight bag. As I put my clothes in the wardrobe that was supposed to be mine and Sarah’s I was hit once more with the empty feelings of loneliness.
Within seconds, I went from feeling fine to severely claustrophobic, and I pulled my jacket out and on. I needed to move, to get away. The room was too small, and all five people currently in the room were five too many.
I walked around the compound briskly, trying to keep from crying, again. A cool wind blew steadily, stinging my cheeks and clearing my aching head slightly.
Iron Silk can’t possibly know that I know anything. I don’t know anything. I’m being totally unreasonable. Besides, Iron Silk must trust me. He’s having me show the rookie the ropes, I thought pausing beside a trash can. I started to clean out my pockets when my fingers closed around a neatly folded piece of notebook paper.
Curiously I pulled it out and unfolded it. Something small fell out of it, and hit the concrete. I bent to pick it up, confused as to where it had come from.
Turning it over in my hand, I realized that it was a micro SD card. I didn’t remember getting one, and I stared at it dumbly for a moment, before looking at the note it had been wrapped in.
Sarah’s handwriting stared back at me again. Top secret. Seriously- don’t view this info in front of ANYONE!
I studied the message for a moment before glancing around. There were people loitering around the yard, but no one seemed to be interested in what I was doing. The SD card felt like incriminating evidence, and it felt uncomfortably warm in my hand. I slipped it back into my pocket, trying to act innocent.
You don’t know what’s on the card, I thought, feeling like I was overreacting. For all I know this is some joke Sarah was playing on me. I don’t know anything. It doesn’t have to be something suspicious. I’m not doing anything wrong.
All the same, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something much bigger than I knew had found me. Sarah’s death hadn’t been an accident. She had known something, something important. I just knew it.