"Remarkable. In the last year she has tested in the top three percent in all areas. Demonstrates particular strength in strategy and tactics, leadership, and cooperation with teammates."
"Three percent? Hardly noteworthy. We don't have time for second bests. The last subject was top of his class. We can't settle for less."
"Not three percent of her class. Three percent of the entire Academy. That's including the senior recruits who have been here several years longer. She's been promoted or transferred at least three times."
"So she's a military genius."
"I'm not sure that's it. She has to learn like anyone else; but she can learn and adapt very quickly, and with a strong consistency. Teach her to shoot straight once and she'll never miss a target again."
"That makes a good soldier. I need more than that."
"A natural leader. She understands her objective and how far she needs to go to achieve it. She can work through complex problems very fast, and find the connection between a problem and its possible solutions. If she has to compromise her team or any part of the mission, its because it was the only possible way to succeed."
"How about emotionally? Can she handle it?"
"She is close to her sister. They have been writing letters to one another from the beginning, and we've been monitoring them closely. We'll be editing them at first sign of any trouble at home, we don't want her distracted at a time like this. She has demonstrated loyalty to her friends here and it will be hard to convince her to leave home. She'll need something even stronger than her family ties to fight for."
"Spare me your commentary. Does she have what it takes?"
"Sir, you'll have to raise the bar just to get her interested."
"...bring her in."
* * *
"Somethings wrong," Emma was pacing in the dorm, one of the few quiet places during lunch. Most of their comrades were at the mess hall, filling up on something they probably served yesterday and maybe the day before that. It meant a brief window of privacy in an otherwise exposed reality.
"Famine. Disease. Widespread poverty. Can you be more specific?" Ever the intrepid companion, Scott was laying on his bunk, legs crossed and his feet propped up against the wall. His chest was bare, his BDU tunic and shirt caked with mud in a heap by his bedside.
"Katrina. She's been lying to me," She rubbed at a spot of mud that had found purchase on her chin, and succeeded only in turning it into a larger smudge that ran across her jaw, "At least in the last few weeks and maybe longer. Maybe this whole time."
"Why would she lie to you?" On his back, Scott watched an inverted Emma walking back and forth across what looked like the ceiling to him, "And how do you know she's lying? I know its weird your mom is taking this so well, but its not outside the realm of possibility. Maybe losing one daughter for a while showed her how important you two are to her. I mean you're all she has in the world."
"Unlikely. I know my mother. Short-term solutions that always yield to long-term problems. Whatever benevolence my acceptance into a first class training camp would have drummed up, it wouldn't last more than half a year on the outside before things got bad again. In the last letter, Kat says she took out the old photo album and was looking at old pictures. She says her and Mom talked about the ones from the old fishing trip. The one with Dad."
"Ah, yes. The old photo album trick. She's definitely onto something," this time he didn't even try to sound sincere.
Emma's pacing came to a stop at her bunk, "Scott, you're a wonder of modern science. If we could isolate whatever it is in your gene's that makes you such a smart-ass every waking hour, and develop a solution for it, we'd make millions from weary mothers and sad wives."
"Ow," Scott clasped his chest in feigned agony, "That one hurt. Come on, Egg Head, every waking hour?" A beat, "You and I both know I dream in sarcasm." Scott was shortly thereafter displaced from his bed by a hefty bedroll being flung across the room and occupying his place on the bed.
Reaching into the breast pocket of a spare BDU tunic, and ignoring the sounds of offenses being taken, Emma walked back towards Scott's bunk, every boot step echoing in the (relatively) quiet dorm. She let a photo, worn on the edges but still in good condition, flutter down onto the pile that was Scott on the floor. Then she grabbed the packed bedroll off his bed and started for the door. Scott reached behind his back and grabbed the photo as he rolled over, and focused his eyes on the picture in front of him.
A man, tall and wide in the shoulders, hair a dignified shade of gray, stood with two young girls on either side of him. He was holding a chain with five or six fish hanging off, and the two girls had, laying over both their outstretched arms, what looked like a rather large fish or a very small whale. All three had the same smile, grinning ear to ear.
It was only then that Scott's tone became somber, "So she's been trying to make it sound like everything is alright. Which means it isn't. Still, we're stuck here until holiday leave, what are you planning on doing?" He was answered with the sound of the door opening, "Emma? You can't just leave camp, what do you think you're going to do? Where are you going?" He crawled out into the aisle between the beds.
Emma stood in the doorway, her face a mask. Shadowed with the afternoon sun starting to crawl behind her, every feature was hewn from stone, every angle sharp.
"I'm going home."
Without waiting to hear his reply, she shut the door and turned to leave. Her exit was stopped short, as she was greeted with the sight of an unadorned uniform. She immediately noticed that there was no insignia, no badges, no honors, no decorative bands and no chevrons on his sleeve. Not so much as a star.
"Ah, miss Gallagher. Just the woman I wanted to see."
I don't want to take up much space this time, so let me just say that I don't think Gallagher was the name I intended for her. It's a placeholder for now. I had a German name in mind that I think was similar, but I can't remember it for the life of me. So for now, she is Emma Grace Gallagher.