Broken Soldier by Orin Drake
A Novel In Progress.

        Chapter 3

        He was starting to suspect that Rakashi slept in her office. There had been times in that first week when it was clear that she'd been there before him, but she'd been out doing... something. When Rean came in several days in a row to see the woman at her desk, her oddly nearly dark auburn enough to be black hair always hastily pulled back in some shape or form, the suspicion moved to near-proof. Regardless, he always got a grateful (or so he liked to think) grunt of acknowledgment when he placed a full mug of coffee on her desk, away from the papers. At least, as much as was possible, seeing as how nearly every square inch of desk space always seemed to be taken up by something.
        Moving back to the wall of file cabinets, Rean simply sighed. He'd already been working on this for such a long time and still there were drawers and drawers worth of stuff that needed to be organized and re-divided and then clearly labeled...
        "And how goes the massive undertaking, Mr. Coi?" the general prompted, having heard the sigh--but, as usual, hadn't looked up from her papers.
        He thought about how to answer that for a long stretch. "It is a massive undertaking, sir."
        Rean would have sworn on his life that he saw the very short-lived flash of a smile on her lips, but it was gone before he could get a good look. "Carry on."


        Seeing as how Rakashi had left around lunch time, Rean hadn't seen any reason to take his own lunch until he absolutely had to. Not that he enjoyed sorting papers, honestly, but the faster he could get this done, the faster it would... be done, he supposed. Whatever happened after that was definitely not something he wanted to focus on. The idea that the general might have an even more horrifying task was an unpleasant thought.
        Even so, he had to get up and stretch sometime. Getting up and stretching inevitably involved walking around, and while he really didn't mean to look... the papers were right there. The ones she was always working on. He glanced.
        And then he stared. Then tentatively reached out and flipped through a couple of pages. Then stared even harder. She did indeed leave her signature in every space that required it (some mix of messy and elegant, undoubtedly her signature), but... between lines and along the margins were doodles. Sketches. Flipping through more pages, some of those doodles proved to be little more than stick figures on a battlefield with guns and tanks. Others, well... he had to admit that Rakashi was quite talented at drawing vines. Bricks. Stones.
        It was just a little bit jarring to know that General Vrunai was... sketching on official documents. And obviously took a hell of a lot of time to do so.
        "I really don't think you're cleared to be reading those papers, Mr. Coi."
        Rakashi's voice startled him far more than he really wanted her to know. Rean had jumped quite a bit, not to mention made a very unmasculine sound before turning, papers crinkled slightly in his suddenly very tight grip, turning quickly. He hadn't heard the door open, hadn't heard a single footstep... "I-I, um... General. Sir. My apologies. I'd just... something caught my eye, and..."
        "It's fine, Mr. Coi." He dismissed entirely too easily. "Back to work."
        Dropping the pages back on her desk, he doubted that he'd ever been so eager to get back to those filing cabinets.
        The general had only just taken her seat when there was a knock at the door, a man entering without waiting to be acknowledged. "Rakashi, looking well today."
        Rean tried really very hard not to look back for her reaction. Being called by her first name was one of those notorious rumors...
        And she lived up to it. Her tone was somewhere between flat and murderous, a rather obvious danger boiling just beneath the surface. "Lieutenant Pachter, I suggest if you want to keep those little shriveled things you call testicles that you refrain from disrespecting me, particularly in my office. If it was anything important then please ask your superior to approach me, as at the very least he has a tendency to wait to be invited inside first. Are we clear?"
        There was a lengthy pause following those words, the man seeming to require it. "Yes... General. Of course." The speed at which he excused himself was certainly impressive.
        Remaining quite still, Rean stayed silent. It had seemed unnecessarily harsh, even for Rakashi. Even considering the man hadn't waited to be acknowledged, and what he'd said in greeting. But then she had called him by name, and maybe they had some sort of history...
        "Don't worry yourself, Mr. Coi." The general's voice had gone back to what he had to assume was her natural tone of near-disinterest. "He's always been what the military refers to as an 'asswipe.'"
        Well, that more or less said enough. He wasn't quite sure how one possibly could respond to that, deciding that it was best just to get on with the sorting. Several minutes passed in mostly silence, interrupted only by the sound of pages flipping and paper rustling. The tension had mostly faded, and yet still Rean unconsciously seemed determined to prove himself a little suicidal. "They're, um... they're very nice, sir." It was the way she paused in the middle of turning a page that prompted him to continue. "The... the sketches. They're quite nice."
        The page continued to turn over a handful of seconds later. "I do hope you're not planning to be an art critic, Mr. Coi."
        Still a little stunned that she hadn't fired him on the spot (or worse), Rean could only think to respond, "No, sir."


        Sitting in front of Captain Dulce at his usual spot in the galley without even a greeting, he asked immediately, "How did Rakashi get banned from here?"
        Demi snorted before laughing. "Rean, if she knows that you know, you're going to catch hell."
        "How?" he asked again, determined.
        The captain gave a dramatic sigh and leaned in. "She stabbed one of the higher-up doctors in the hand with a fork. You can still see the dents on the C-6 table"
        Rean stared for a moment. "She stabbed someone's hand with fork?"
        "Rumor has it, she still has the fork." Demi grinned brightly, chin resting in his hand. "Why the sudden interest, kid?"
        He muttered something rude at the old nickname. "She completely chewed out a guy today for calling her by her first name."
        That finally seemed to surprise the captain a little. "Really? Who?"
        Rean thought for a moment, trying to remember. "Lieutenant Pachter, I think."
        "Oh, pft." The raven-haired man dismissed. "They got off on the wrong foot a long time ago."
        He should have known better. He really, really should have. "How?"
        Leaning closer, Demi simplified matters. "She caught him groping her field secretary. A very unwanted advance. Apparently he's forgotten, but she never has."
        Okay, well, that was more logical at least. "Hm." Rean commented, standing.
        Which just got the captain to laugh. "Is that really all you came here for?"
        The brunet snorted softly. Instead of answering, he simply accused, "You spend way too much time here, Demi."
        "There's food here!" the captain defended himself at Rean's retreating back.


        He'd just grabbed himself something quick to eat on the way back to Rakashi's office, but... more and more he was wondering if Demi was actually the idiot. Closing (and then locking, just in case) the door behind him, he took a deep breath before approaching the desk. On that little bare corner, the one not covered in papers, he placed another one of those wrapped sandwiches. "I wasn't sure if you had lunch yet, so..." Rean made some attempt to explain. She didn't exactly strike him as the type to actually do any eating during her lunch break. Even on the rare occasions when she took one.
        The general gave him a look. Nothing vicious, nothing condescending, but as fleeting as it was, it was certainly a bit... challenging. "Thank you, Mr. Coi."
        Gathering himself as best he could, he supposed he was just fond of taking his own life into his hands. "Sir, I... admit I'm sort of curious over a rumor..."
        "You really shouldn't listen to rumors, Mr. Coi. Even if they often prove true around here." She warned without pause, turning yet another page for yet another signature--an more than likely another doodle.
        That gave him even more assurance it'd be worth the consequences to ask. "Granted, sir. There's sort of a particular rumor about table C-6 in the galley, and a fork..."
        It wasn't often that Rakashi really, fully looked up from her paperwork. Rean found out why in a rather close and personal fashion as those eyes seemed intent to burn holes straight through him, brown with a strange touch of what he'd almost say were flecks of gold. "Ask your question, Mr. Coi."
        That was definitely not a good sign. Clearing his throat, he was pretty sure it was way too late to back out now. The actual question that he asked surprised him, however. "Do you still have the fork?"
        Apparently it surprised the general just as much, blinking at him as that quietly vicious gaze faded somewhat. She seemed to be debating whether or not to throw him out more than she was debating an answer, until finally she opened the top drawer of her desk. Dropped on top of her papers with a light clang was, sure enough, a fork from the galley. "Is this sufficient?"
        "Very. Thank you, sir." Turning to get back to the file cabinets, Rean made a mental note to never again ask Rakashi a question he wasn't prepared to have answered.

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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