“Mr. Drusus? Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Jack looked up from his datasheet. One of his students, a bright young girl named Anastasia, stood at parade rest in front of his desk. Her eyes were focused at something on the floor.
“Of course, Ana. Please, sit.” He pulled up her class records on his desk. “Is there something specific you wanted to talk about? Your grades all look pretty good, but that last essay of yours was not what I’ve come to expect from you.”
She took a chair from one of the student desks and arranged it across the desk from him. She looked towards the door where the last of her classmates were filing out into the summer sun.
Jack nodded at her and leaned back in his chair until the sounds of laughter were abruptly cut off by the closing of the door. “So what’s on your mind?”
“I’m planning on joining the marines,” she said in a rush.
He inhaled sharply. His hand clenched into a fist on the desk.
The corner of Anastasia’s mouth twisted inwards the same way it did when she was taking a test.
He forced his hand back open and laid it flat on the top of his desk.
Words flew out of her mouth like bullets. “It’s just that I don’t really know what I want to do after I graduate and I feel like the Marine Corps will give me a chance to take some time and figure things out and besides, the benefits are really good and everything, plus it would give me the chance to get off this rock and see other worlds and everything, so yeah.” Her voice hung in the still classroom for a second. “What do you think?”
She stared at him so intently that he had to look away. He looked down at his hands instead. In his mind he saw them wrapped in ceramic and steel. Articulated plates on his fingers. Scuffed ceramic on the backs of his hands.
When he looked back up at her she was fidgeting in her chair. She was looking at his hands as well.
He spoke in the same tone of voice he used when explaining the importance of the Battle of Neapolis to the political future of the Confederation. “Joining the marines is not a bad idea.”
She relaxed and he realized she had been holding her breath.
“But it is not for everybody,” he continued. “Be sure you are joining for the right reasons.” He remembered how eager he was to join up when he was the same age as Anastasia. How excited he was to do something meaningful, to make a difference in the lives of others, to serve his fellow citizens and make everybody proud. Who was he to tell her that she shouldn’t enlist?
She nodded as if she understood what he was saying.
“You have excellent grades, Ana. Have you thought about university instead?”
She nodded again. “Yeah, a little.” She hesitated. “What was your service like? If you don’t mind me asking,” she finished in a flurry of words.
He thought about Pergamon and the bullet that punched straight through his thigh. He thought about Baktria and the computer virus that caused half his squad’s drop pods to blast them straight into the ground at full speed. And he thought about his first posting on Azeroth. He thought about the way Clara’s eyes bored through the back of his armor as he ran away and left her in the sandy street.
“It was long,” he said, and did his best to smile at her.