Despite her circumstances, Lill’s settling in and meeting some others she can call friends. She may not like it where she is, but she has them to see her through.
He moved his possessions to the bunk next to Lill’s as soon as the got back to their barracks. Thirty minutes after chow, it was lights out. It was impossible to move the bunks as they were bolted to the floor, but most couples made due with one narrow bunk. Lill and Ché Hershey put their mattresses on the floor. It wasn’t very comfortable, but provided them a place to get to know one another is a more than friendly way. Afterwards, they put their mattresses back on the beds and fell asleep.
Morning wake-up came at 0400. Stevens came in, crashing metal lids together. They were given 10 minutes to get ready and headed to chow. Most of the recruits had spent too much time fooling around the night before and were dragging. Lill and Ché were pleasantly rested, a fact that did not escape the discerning eye of Sargent Stevens.
“You playing with the pansy?” He asked Lill, taking her aside before chow.
“He’s not a pansy, Sargent. I guarantee, far from it.”
“But you are playing?”
She gave him a level stare, indicating it was none of his business.
“I have a right to know, Recruit. If it interferes with your performance in any way, you’re both on report.”
“It won’t, Sargent.” More quietly, she added, “Did you expect me to wait for you?” She didn’t wait for his answer.
At morning muster, two of the recruits were missing. No one knew what had happened to them. They disappeared during the night. Since the Sargent didn’t seem disturbed by the incident, no one said anything, but Lill was curious. As their day was spent with physical training, she didn’t have time or energy to think much about it. Worn and weary, she and the others trudged to evening chow. Most fell into their bunks as soon as they got back to the barracks and went immediately to sleep.
Lill and Ché, who were in better physical condition than their comrades, spent another night together in their private corner. Later, Lill’s dreams were plagued by dark shapes moving about the barracks during the night. In the morning, another couple had disappeared.
This time, Sargent Stevens looked worried. He didn’t say anything, but Lill found him counting them repeatedly during the day. After their noon meal, they were joined by more recruits. The barracks was nearly full now, but Lill and Ché were still relatively isolated. Only one other couple was anywhere near them.
Before evening chow, they had a few minutes to police the barracks. Lill took the time to introduce herself to the others. Their names were Dray and Shauntay Metzger, a brother and sister from an off-world theatre company.
“They didn’t like our act,” Dray explained, shrugging massive shoulders. “I throw knives at Shauntay and they thought it was exploitative and hazardous.”
Ché was shocked. “And I thought we got railed.”
“We were charged with inciting a riot,” Shauntay shook her long blonde hair out of her face. “The crowd found our act exciting and were cheering for us.”
“Seven years,” Dray complained.
“I’ll be dead before then,” Shauntay complained. “If a battle doesn’t get me, I’ll be dead from the smell.”
“Or the food,” Ché added with a dour sneer.
They sat together at chow, talking quietly together. On the way back to the barracks, Dray took Lill aside.
“I don’t mean to snoop, but are you and Ché – is it a serious relationship?”
“Not really. Why?”
“I think Tay likes him.”
“How would you know a thing like that?”