Crash Course: Chapter 10

Spunkmeyer was relieved when the terrain they were traveling over began to angle upwards by the evening of the fifteenth day. The next morning they continued their way upwards. The farther they went the steeper the incline became, and the foliage slowly thinned out as the ground became harder and rockier. Their hike turned into a steep uphill scramble, slowing their progress significantly. Despite that and the difficulties in traversing the terrain being compounded by their previous aches and tiredness, Spunkmeyer felt like they were doing fairly well.

By evening the trees had thinned out to nothing and all that was left was a barren, rocky surface all the way up to the peak. Looking back, Spunkmeyer saw the jungle spread out below them, the green canopy stretching beyond the horizon. To his right and left, the mountain range continued north and south, the rocky expanses stretching up to sharp, snow-covered peaks. He already knew there was no purpose in climbing high enough to have to worry about the snow. Now that they were on the mountains, they needed to find the easiest and fastest way through to the other side. That meant finding a way through or across at the lowest altitude possible, not climbing all the way up and down the other side. They weren’t even remotely equipped for an extended trip at that altitude anyway.

They set up camp on a relatively smooth, slightly sloping rock face with a large rock slab hanging over the upper edge, creating a long crevice several feet high. There was no wood around to start a fire, so they taped the MPET blankets up between the slab overhead and the rocks below to make a curtain, walling off three sides with the back of the crevice as the fourth side.

They were forced to resort to their rations for dinner, and Ferro shook her head unhappily when she looked into her pack at the end of the meal. “Not good. I figure we’ve got enough for three more meals each.”

“Okay, so that’s breakfast and dinner for tomorrow and breakfast for the day after. If we’re not down into the forest on the other side by that evening…” Spunkmeyer trailed off before continuing hesitantly, “I guess we’ll have to go hungry. And if we haven’t made it down from the mountains by then anyway, there’s a good chance we won’t make it to Meadow by the deadline anyway.”

Ferro gave him a look. “Don’t. Don’t say that. You were the one encouraging me earlier when I had doubts. Don’t you start giving up on me now. We’ve made it this far; we can make it to the end in time. We’ve got to.”

“What about water?” Spunkmeyer asked, shaking his canteen. “This is about half full.”

“We’ll have to make it last as long as we can,” Ferro said. “There’s no guarantee of finding water up here. But at least we’ll need to drink a bit less with the drop in temperature. And as long as we can make it out of the mountains fast enough, we can survive going a day without water, or maybe even a day and a half, without being slowed down too much. If we can just make what we’ve got left stretch until at least halfway through tomorrow, we’ll hopefully find water on the other side.”

“We might be able to see a creek or something from the other side of the mountains,” Spunkmeyer pointed out. “If we make good time we can afford a slight detour to fill up.”

“Depending on how things go, we might have to cut it a little too close for that. I’d rather risk having to go a little longer without water, head straight for the base, and hope we can find water on the way.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Spunkmeyer asked hesitantly. To his surprise, Ferro turned to him with an annoyed glare. “Of course I think it’s a good idea. I wouldn’t suggest it if I didn’t think it was.”

“Okay, okay,” he said, not sure why she suddenly seemed upset. “I just wasn’t sure-”

“Why are we even talking about this?” Ferro demanded.

“Wha… I don’t understand.” Spunkmeyer cocked his head slightly, eying her with confusion.

“We’ve been out here for over two weeks, and everything’s been fine. Now suddenly we’re within a few days of finishing and you suddenly decide to start questioning my decisions.”

Spunkmeyer opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off with a raised finger. “Look. We have no idea how long it’s actually going to take us to get across the mountains, down the other side, and to Meadow. We can sit here and make guesses and estimates all we want, but we don’t really know. And I’m not willing to risk failing by a few minutes just because we took a detour we didn’t have to.”

“I don’t want to fail either, but you know from the lessons back on Earth that people can only go three days without water! And that’s optimistic under these conditions. We won’t be going anywhere if we don’t get water. Seriously, why are you getting so mad about this?”

“Because the last thing I want is for us to fail at the last minute! I am not granting Larkins the satisfaction of watching us fail just because you want extra water!”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, you were the one demanding we talk about something other than Satan’s mistress! Now here you are worrying about her again! Sorry if I’m worried about dehydration and fucking organ failure or death because we won’t have enough water!”

“Spunkmeyer, let me give you a quick recount just in case you’ve forgotten. I’ve spent the last fourteen months being beaten down, publicly humiliated, verbally abused, and borderline physically abused as well.” Ferro said angrily, her voice rising as she continued, “Fourteen months of aching joints, sore muscles, exhaustion, more tears than I can fucking count, and the constant stress of having someone hovering around just looking for excuses to start screaming at me. Fourteen fucking months! I’ve put over a year of my life into this and there’s no way in hell it’s all going to be for nothing. I’m not going to lose it all at the end just because you aren’t willing to take a slight risk. I know we’ve always kept things fair and tried to come to an agreement on everything, but this time I’m making the call for both of us. And if you can’t trust me to make the right call in a risky situation, I’m not sure we’ll work out as partners in the field.”

Spunkmeyer sighed. “Fine. No detours.” Turning away and struggling to get comfortable, he added, “Good night, Ferro.”

When he heard her sniffling, he wasn’t sure if he should turn to comfort her or not. We’re almost at the end. End of training. End of the abuse. Beginning of the rest of our lives. What if it’s not, though? What if we’re not going to get the comradery Evison’s talked about so much? What if we get put in a unit full of people like Larkins? What if this is all for nothing and I’d be better off being homeless in Manhattan? Spunkmeyer closed his eyes, but it took him awhile to actually fall asleep.

Spunkmeyer was up much earlier than Ferro. He debated whether or not they should head out before the sun came up, so when the eastern horizon began to turn red, he gently shook her awake. “Hey, Ferro, time to get up. Figured we’d hit the road a little early today if you’re still worried about making the deadline.”

Ferro pushed his hand away as she tried to sit up and rub her eyes. “What the hell, Spunkmeyer?” She looked up at the sky. “We could’ve slept a little longer.”

“Do you want to get this done or not? Think about it; in a real situation early is better.”

“Alright, alright.” Ferro pulled one of the ration packs out of her bag. “I just want to get out of here.”

“I don’t blame you.” Spunkmeyer opened up his own rations and began to eat. The whole time, he could feel Ferro radiating stress, as if she was still annoyed with him. Hoping to save the situation, he got up and started packing away their gear, saying. “The sooner we get off this mountain the better. We’ll be able to find food and water in the forest.”

“I’m glad you still care.”

Spunkmeyer sighed. “Don’t start-”

“You’re one to talk.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah. I know what you were about to say. ‘Don’t start bitching. Don’t start showing how you feel. Stop acting like you can’t control your fucking emotions!” Ferro crumpled the ration pack wrapper in her hand and threw it hard down the side of the mountain. “And you’re the last person who has the right to use that line on me.”

“Now where the hell is that coming from?” Spunkmeyer demanded indignantly, dropping his pack, which he had just started to put on his back.

“You’re just as unable to control your emotions. Don’t think I didn’t notice how you were all cuddly with me in the rainstorm a few days ago. We already talked about a relationship, and that kiss in the simulator.”

“I can control my emotions. Where is this coming from? Why are you so frustrated? You just exploded out of nowhere.”

“It doesn’t feel like you can. In all honesty, you need someone who can actually help you through your problems. Clearly that isn’t me.”

“Why don’t we actually get this done before we talk about that again? This isn’t the best place to have that discussion.”

“You’re right. This isn’t the best place to talk about stuff like that. Let’s just shove it deep down somewhere where we can pretend it doesn’t exist, because we’re mature adults and that’s what they do.” Ferro tugged her pack on and set out across the mountainside without waiting for him. Spunkmeyer hurriedly put his own pack on and followed after her as quickly as the rough ground would allow.

Ferro didn’t speak to Spunkmeyer for the rest of the morning. He tried to get her to talk a few times, but she remained stubbornly silent, so he finally gave up. He didn’t even try to walk alongside her and dropped several steps back instead, following behind and letting her take the lead. If she was so damn determined to make the decisions for both of them, she could pick the direction they traveled.

The air had already been cold, but it grew steadily colder as they climbed, and Spunkmeyer began wishing for warmer clothing than his flight suit. Gradually, the ground started to level out as the route they were traveling began to go around the mountain more than up it. As noon approached, Spunkmeyer stopped to look back and realized they had come so far that he could only see the jungle on the horizon. The rocky terrain of the mountain blocked everything below that in his line of vision.

When he turned back to Ferro, he saw she had gone on ahead and had stopped at the edge of a large drop-off about a hundred yards ahead. He jogged up to join her, and stopped when he saw what she was looking at. The ground began to fall sharply beyond the drop-off, leading down into a thick, lush forest that stretched as far as he could see in every direction. Ferro was pulling out her binoculars, and he did the same, putting them up to his eyes and scanning the land ahead. Even with the binoculars, he couldn’t see where the forest ended to the north and south, but far to the west he could see a large body of water which he realized was one of the planet’s oceans.

Ferro lowered her binoculars and took a step sideways to move in close to him and point. “There.”

Spunkmeyer turned his head to look through his binoculars where she was pointing and saw an opening in the trees west and slightly north of their current position with the tops of buildings just barely visible over the surrounding trees. “Meadow. I’d say about a fifty-mile walk from here.”

“Yeah,” Ferro agreed. “I think we can make it.”

Spunkmeyer lowered his binoculars but continued looking out at the forest. “Yeah.”

“Spunkmeyer?” she said softly, sounding guilty.

He turned to face her and saw she was giving him a sad look. “What?”

“I’m sorry. About earlier.”

Spunkmeyer hesitated, not sure how to respond. The accusations she had thrown at him had been annoying, and he didn’t appreciate her ignoring him for the first half of the day, but he didn’t know how to say any of that. And he wasn’t sure it would even help their situation, so he simply said, “It’s fine.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, looking doubtful.

This time he found the courage to say, “I wish you hadn’t gotten angry and pushed me away for the whole morning. And I’m not happy that you think I can’t deal with my emotions or that you think I should pretend I don’t care for you, but-”

Ferro cut him off by leaning in and kissing him on the lips. Spunkmeyer let his muscles go slack, and then he hugged Ferro tightly, keeping the kiss going until she pulled away. For a blissful second he thought she was about to say she had changed her mind and was willing to be something more than just his friend, but instead of returning his smile, she gave him an expression of determination. “Is that out of your system now?”

“What?” Spunkmeyer gave her a confused, disbelieving look.

“Spunkmeyer,” she sighed, letting her shoulders droop as she looked away, “I never said you should pretend you don’t care for me. I don’t think there’s much point to denying that we both have feelings for each other, but we can’t act on them. I’m not willing to risk our working relationship for something we don’t know will even work out, you said yourself you’re not ready for a relationship, and as much as you might imagine otherwise, neither am I. We both have growing up to do before we’re at that point, and… what just happened needs to stay right here on this mountain. We need to leave it behind and walk away.”

“What if I don’t want to walk away?” he protested, not sure what else to say.

“Spunkmeyer,” she repeated, reaching out and shoving him lightly as if to make sure he was paying attention to her, “This ends now. Right here. Or I’m going to request to be assigned to a different unit than you. Do you understand that I’m trying to do what’s best for both of us?”

“I think you’re making a mistake,” Spunkmeyer argued, feeling as if she was ripping his heart out.

She shook her head. “I don’t think I am. And even if I am, it’s a better mistake than the alternative. We need to both come to an agreement on this. How can we work together if we can’t agree on one of the most important defining aspects of our relationship?”

Spunkmeyer sighed. She was right about that. It didn’t seem fair that she had already made her mind up and now he had to either choose to agree or disagree with her, but there really was no middle option. Either they were in a relationship or they weren’t. She had made up her mind that they wouldn’t be, and that wasn’t something it was possible to compromise on. If he tried to push the issue, she would still refuse and she’d request a different assignment and he’d lose her completely. “Alright. We’ll play this your way.”

He started to turn away to begin walking again, but Ferro put her hand on his shoulder to stop him. “Hey.”

He turned back to look at her and she met his eyes. “I’m not saying ‘never’, Spunkmeyer. Just not in the foreseeable future. Maybe things will be different in a few years. But for right now, we both need to focus on growing up and finding out what helps us work together best. Once we’ve established that, maybe there’ll be room for more. Are you okay with that?”

Spunkmeyer swallowed, wanting to say that he really wasn’t okay with any of it. But he didn’t have much of a choice. Everything had already been decided. And at least what she was saying gave him a little bit of hope. She wasn’t saying she didn’t care for him or that she saw nothing in him that made her want to be in a relationship with him, just that it wasn’t the right time. It was really no different than what he had said to her after the kiss in the simulator. That hadn’t ruined their friendship, so why should this?

“Yeah, I’m okay with it,” he said finally, trying his best to make himself believe it. He couldn’t bear to think about it for much longer, so he turned towards the downward slope to their left and began walking in that direction. “Come on. We don’t want to lose any more time. I’ll take point for a while. Let’s get as far down this pile of rocks as we can tonight.”

He heard the sounds of Ferro falling in close behind him, following in his footsteps as he picked his way down the rocky slope. As they went, he tried to make himself stop thinking about their conversation. Ferro’s rejection had hurt him, but he knew she hadn’t been trying to, and she had at least given him hope that there was a chance for them someday if he waited long enough. He just hoped he could make himself be patient until if and when she was ever ready.

Unfortunately, finding shelter that night proved to be much harder than most of the previous nights of their trip. They ended up sleeping alongside an outcrop of rocks that provided some shelter from the wind and got up sore and irritable from the night spent lying on hard rock. Spunkmeyer tilted his canteen back to get the last few drops that had been left behind the night before. When he lowered it again he eyed the metal container with annoyance, wishing he could will it to be full again. He looked over at Ferro, wondering if he should bring up the idea of going for the first source of water they saw, but decided against it. She probably hadn’t changed her mind and trying to talk about it would only start another argument. That wouldn’t help any part of their situation.

Spunkmeyer decided that the best thing to do would be to take the lead himself and push down the mountain as quickly as he could. Ferro would try to keep pace and follow close behind and hopefully their faster speed would get them off the mountain and closer to water sooner rather than later.

Even in the colder environment of the mountainside, Spunkmeyer began to feel thirsty very quickly. It started as an uncomfortable dryness in his throat and mouth and by noon had turned into a nagging headache. He and Ferro didn’t speak much to each other, but he knew she had to be experiencing the symptoms as well. But instead of slowing him down, the dehydration only made him speed up in a determined effort to get to water.

“Spunkmeyer, I think we need to slow down a little,” Ferro said from behind him as they reached a steeper slope than they had been climbing down before. Spunkmeyer was about to reply that they couldn’t afford to slow down when he missed a loose rock that blended in with the gray surface of the ground. He let out a yell of pain and fright as his foot skidded on it, twisting his ankle awkwardly and making him lose his balance. He landed hard on his back and his momentum and gravity immediately began to carry him down the slope. Spunkmeyer heard Ferro calling his name as he skidded downwards, trying to hold onto his M8 with one hand and grab at the ground to stop himself with the other. The rough surface scraped at his legs and back, making the legs of his pants ride up and allowing the rocks to scuff and scratch his exposed legs, and he winced as he banged his hand hard on the ground without actually managing to grab onto anything.

After a slide of what seemed like several hundred feet but might not have really been that long, Spunkmeyer came to a stop. Half dazed, he lay on his back looking up at the sky and groaning with pain as he tried to figure out if he had broken any bones.

“Spunkmeyer, are you okay?” Ferro yelled frantically from above him, and he forced himself to twist his head around to look up at her as she climbed down after him as quickly as she could. He didn’t answer and sat up slowly, checking his arms and legs, which were badly scraped and scratched. But there was no major bleeding and he didn’t seem to have broken anything. He stood up slowly as Ferro approached him, gasping at the pain from his legs as he put weight on them.

“Are you okay?” Ferro asked again as she reached him, a look of terror on her face.

“I think so,” Spunkmeyer said breathlessly, glaring up at the slope above and then looking back down at his scraped legs in dismay. “Fuck that.”

“Do we need to clean those up?” Ferro asked, looking at the scrapes and torn skin.

“No,” he grunted, pulling his pant legs back down to cover the injuries.

“Are you sure? We don’t want them to get infec-”

“I said ‘no’!” Spunkmeyer snapped angrily, glaring at her. “I’m fine.”

Ferro opened her mouth as if to argue, but Spunkmeyer raised his hand to cut her off as he realized how unreasonable he was being. “I’m sorry. I’m just… my legs hurt a lot and I’m really thirsty. I just want to get down there and find something to drink.”

“I do too,” Ferro admitted. “Maybe you were right about taking a detour. It’s not worth the risk.”

Calming down, Spunkmeyer looked out in the direction they were heading, seeing the trees below were much closer than they had been before, but still low enough to allow him to see out over the top of them, and when he looked closer he saw a narrow, winding break in the treetops several miles into the forest, as if there was a space where there were no trees growing. “Look there,” he said, pointing towards it. “I’d be willing to bet that’s a river. We… oh.”

He came to an awkward stop as his dehydrated brain registered the fact that the river ran north to south before turning west towards the ocean far to the south of Point Meadow.

“What?” Ferro asked, and he sighed loudly. “We spent all that time arguing about whether or not we should take a detour to find water, and now we have to… cross… that river to get to Meadow.”

Ferro rubbed at her face with her hands, groaning. “It’s okay,” she said determinedly when she pulled her hands away from her face. “At least it’s not even a question now. And we know for sure that there is water down there.”

“Think we can make it there by tonight?” Spunkmeyer asked, trying to judge the distance between them and the river.

Ferro thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, but at the very least we can get close. We should be able to make it by the middle of tomorrow morning at the latest. Crossing that thing’s going to be a bitch, but once we do…”

“The rest of the trip should be easy,” Spunkmeyer said hopefully. “Just a walk through a regular forest.”

“Do you think we’ll actually be that lucky?” Ferro gave him an amused smirk.

Spunkmeyer set out down the mountainside again, looking back over his shoulder to say, “I’m going to think it until we get unlucky.”

They didn’t make it to the river that night, but they were able to reach the upper edge of the forest before making camp. There had been no sign of wildlife that would be good for eating, and Spunkmeyer lay awake for hours, too hungry and thirsty to sleep even though Ferro was taking watch. He ended up staying awake through all of her first shift and his own, before finally getting three hours of sleep during her second watch. When sunrise came, he shook Ferro awake and they set out towards the river, using the sun and their compasses to stay on track. They had already been taught about the dangers of walking in circles without a fixed landmark or other specific means of navigation, especially in jungle and forested areas.

Their progress through the forest was noticeably faster than in the jungle despite their exhaustion and dehydration. There was much less undergrowth and the main obstacle was the thick layer of dead and decayed leaves on the ground, which crunched loudly at every step. Spunkmeyer was glad the test didn’t involve a stealth portion.

They finally reached the river around 0800, and Spunkmeyer had to restrain himself from drinking directly from the water flowing past. Instead, they both unpacked their filtration and purifying equipment and set about getting drinkable water. While they waited for the purification pills to work, Spunkmeyer looked out over the river. Despite his headache, dry mouth, and sore muscles, the knowledge that they would have water to drink in a few minutes made him feel more optimistic.

“It’s not really a river,” he observed, looking out into the slowly flowing water, which was so clear he could see the bottom, as well as several fish of various shapes and sizes swimming around. “It’s too shallow. More like just a really wide creek.”

“I’d say about two hundred feet across,” Ferro agreed. “How are we going to cross?”

“I hate to say it, but I think we’re going to have to wade. I doubt it gets any narrower upstream or downstream, so we’re not likely to find a convenient tree lying across it, and even though it’s not too deep, it’s deep enough that there probably won’t be any rocks sticking up anywhere for us to stay completely dry. We’re going to have to get wet one way or another, so we might as well do it right here instead of wasting time looking for a way to get across that probably doesn’t exist.”

“We’ve made good progress so far,” Ferro pointed out. “And we’d be going even faster if we weren’t dehydrated and starving. I think we can afford to make a short stop on the other side if we have to dry out over there. We might even be able to start a fire.”

Spunkmeyer looked down at his legs, remembering the scrapes on them from his fall the day before. “I’m not too happy about going in the water with my legs all scraped up. No telling what kind of bacteria is in here. But we don’t have much choice.”

Ferro checked her watch. “Water should be ready.”

They gulped down the purified water and immediately began filtering and purifying more to refill their canteens. As they did, Ferro said, “At least we’ll only be about twenty-five to thirty miles from Meadow. If you do happen to… pick something up in the water, we’ll be close to help.”

When they had filled their canteens and packed the equipment back up, Spunkmeyer took the lead as they stepped down into the water. It came up above his knees, but it was a bit warmer than he had expected and was flowing slowly enough that he didn’t feel worried it was going to sweep him away. Ferro stuck behind him as he carefully made his way across the river, feeling the riverbed under his foot with each step to check for loose rocks or slippery patches. The water was uncomfortable in his boots and socks, but it was better than going barefoot and possibly getting cut on a sharp stone.

Ferro was several steps behind Spunkmeyer when he reached the other side and stepped up onto the bank. He was just turning around to see how she was doing when she slipped and fell with a scream. He was about to jump back in to help her as she went under the water, but she popped up again rapidly, screaming and thrashing around as if struggling with something.

“Ferro!” Spunkmeyer took a step to the edge of the bank to go back for her.

“I got a fish!” she yelled, still struggling. Spunkmeyer watched in disbelief, seeing she really had managed to grab a large, dark green fish which was wriggling desperately in her arms as she tried to hold onto it.

“What the-?! Throw it up on the bank!”

Ferro managed to grab the fish’s tail and throw it clumsily. It landed on the bank a few feet away and immediately began flopping around and trying to get back into the water. Spunkmeyer ran over and raised his M8, striking the fish on the head until it lay still. Still hardly able to believe what had just happened, he turned back to Ferro as she climbed up onto the bank, dripping with water.

“How the hell did you manage that?!” he demanded.

Ferro was laughing despite being soaking wet. “I don’t know! I slipped on something, put out my hand when I went down, and just grabbed it! That was amazing!”

Spunkmeyer looked back at the dead fish. “Think it’s safe to eat?”

Ferro shrugged, becoming serious. “We took a risk with the squirrel things and were alright. And I know in a real survival scenario we wouldn’t always have detailed information on the local wildlife, but I think Evison and Larkins would have warned us if there was anything dangerous to eat. And having something to eat will give us more energy to finish this trip out.”

“Okay, then you get a fire started so you can dry off, and I’ll cut this guy up and clean him,” Spunkmeyer offered, picking up the fish by its tail and shaking his head to himself. “Talk about lucky.”

Ferro was able to collect enough sticks and branches for a decent-sized fire by the time Spunkmeyer had finished cleaning the fish. Even though their stop meant lost time, they both needed to get dry, especially Ferro, and the energy they got from eating would hopefully help them make up for the time they lost. The fish was a bit bland without spices but still good. When they were finished, Ferro packed up their gear while Spunkmeyer put out the fire.

By the time they were ready to start walking again, they were both in a much better mood than they had been the last few days. The extra time spent by the river also gave them more of an opportunity to rehydrate, and they each purified and drank several more cups of water before leaving.

As Ferro predicted, they were able to go at a faster pace through the forest and by the time evening approached, she turned to Spunkmeyer with a grin. “I think we’re guaranteed to make it to Meadow early morning of the day after tomorrow. We should even have about four hours to spare if everything goes well.”

“How do you think the others are doing?” Spunkmeyer asked.

Ferro shrugged. “No way to know. I hope they’re all doing as well as we are. I know Evison and Larkins expect some of us to fail, but it would be nice if we could all pass.”

“Even Sydell?” Spunkmeyer gave her a curious look.

“Sydell and I had our issues together, but I don’t hate her,” Ferro explained. “I guess in some ways I feel bad for her. She’s been Larkins’ primary target for the last several months, and I don’t think she knows how to make friends. That or she’s just too much of a loner to really get close to anyone. I don’t think she knows what it’s like to have someone she’s close to and can depend on no matter what.”

“She’s missing out,” Spunkmeyer said as he realized what Ferro meant.

“Yes, and I don’t think she deserves to suffer more for it.”

“Unlike certain other people,” Spunkmeyer said derisively.

Ferro gave him a knowing look. “Larkins?”

“I’m not sure Larkins is capable of feeling lonely. I don’t know if she has any feelings outside of anger. But if she is suffering, I think it’s a safe bet that she brought it on herself. I’m just looking forward to walking away from her for good and knowing that I’ll never have to put up with her again. She can stay behind and be a miserable bitch for all I care.”

“Yeah,” Ferro agreed. “This’ll all be over in a few weeks.”

“I’m not sure I even know how to feel,” admitted Spunkmeyer. “I’m excited, but I guess… nervous too. And… I don’t know.”

“I get that,” Ferro smiled gently at him. “I feel the same way. It’s just a jumble of mixed up emotions and I’m not completely sure what I really feel about it.”

“I just hope we get put in a good unit. I’m a bit worried we’ll get a sergeant who’s just like Larkins.”

“I don’t think that’ll happen. From everything I’ve heard, actual RIFTs aren’t like this most of the time. My guess is that the odds are more in favor of us getting someone like Evison than someone like Larkins.”

Spunkmeyer nodded, wishing he could say that he wouldn’t mind being in a unit with Evison. He didn’t know how he was going to handle being separated from the corporal after so long. It was already difficult having been away for just a few weeks, but he was steadily becoming numb to it. He had Ferro and she always supported him, even though they had argued quite a bit throughout the course of the exercise.

He had somewhat accepted that Evison couldn’t be a father-figure, and he had to accept the fact that Ferro wasn’t sure about a romantic relationship yet. But despite everything she had said, he wasn’t sure he could really leave that kiss either in the simulator or on the mountain.

Chapter 9………………………………………………………………………………………….Chapter 11

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