Right after their victory, Thomas and the rest of his squad descended from the fort as fast as humanely possible, shoving all the other squads out of their way. When they reached the bottom they couldn't find Smith or his body, it was like someone was cleaning house while they were up there playing the part of the victors. Then they received orders to return to the camp and report in to the drill sergeant.
"This is seriously fucked up," complained McSnickers. "We don't even know if he's alive or dead and now we have to return? For what?!"
"I don't like it any more than you do, but orders are orders and honestly, he couldn't have fallen far. I smell Lloyd all over this," said Thomas. They trudged on, the fifteen minute walk back was fraught with deafening silence. The squad mulled over what they had just seen, the victory they held with their hands, and the sacrifice they had seen. They weren't ready for it, not by a long shot and each of them knew it. Yet, on a more subtle level, they had all been changed by it in some sort of way, they knew it would happen a lot more in the future. They weren't ready now, but they will be.
After another ten minutes of travel they marched into Camp HQ, it was a modest building. Certainly the biggest building in the camp, but that's because it was HQ and Logistics rolled into one instead of having separate buildings for each. The inside was very spartan, being a military HQ there were no waiting chairs, there was a desk sergeant. He directed them down the hall and to the left, second to last door on the right. Upon arrival they found an office with Drill Sergeant Lloyd written on the door, there was also a Drill Sergeant Faraday, but they didn't concern themselves with the name because he wasn't their drill sergeant.
Thomas knocked on the door and he soon received a muffled enter. Upon pushing open the door, he let his gaze take in the room in a second. There were two desks, two chairs, a couple of small tables, and a lot of paper. Paper was laying everywhere in stacks, he skimmed the tops and found most of it was field reports on the various platoons and companies of recruits in the camp. There was a list of platoons and companies ranked in order and divided further into squads. Thomas found that his squad was in Platoon Charlie, which with three other platoons made up the entirety of Alpha Company. He tore his eyes away from the paper and his gaze landed on the drill sergeant seated on the desk in front of him.
"Sir!" Thomas and squad saluted in unison. "At ease," replied Drill Sergeant Lloyd. He motioned for them to close the door before addressing their concerns.
"First of all, congratulations for passing my obstacle course, this being an entirely new base, I can say with complete confidence that no one has topped your score so far. As far as Smith is concerned," he looked at them pointedly, "well let's just say he's not dead. Do you really think I'd kill my own recruits, in my boot camp? He's severely injured and has been transferred to Los Angeles for medical."
The drill sergeant's words gave the squad a bit of relief, sad that they'd never see him again, but happy he wasn't dead nonetheless. The drill sergeant could see that he eased their minds of that one particular burden, he nodded his head. He was satisfied at their progress, they were well on their way to becoming real soldiers.
"Now, on to business, because time is short. You're not allowed to repeat whatever is said in this room to anyone else. Understood?" Thomas and squad saluted again, a show of understanding. "Good, now on to the agenda. First things first, Conlin, command has seen fit to give you an early promotion on account of your leadership skills. Congratulations Private." Drill Sergeant Lloyd held out a small case containing one chevron for the rank of private. "As of this moment, you're head and shoulders above the other recruits and you need to show them how it's done."
"Sir! Thank you Sir!" Thomas saluted the drill sergeant, even he was surprised at the day three promotion, he hadn't even been here a week yet. This had Office of Strategic Services all over it, but Thomas said nothing about it. It's not his business, and poking his nose in it would only result in provoking a negative reaction.
"Now, on to the second thing, aside from your morning calisthenics, command has seen fit to make you an official squad, you will now be Able Squad, you'll receive two more recruits in the morning. Conlin, make sure you keep them in line, I hear they're gifted, but quite the troublemakers." The drill sergeant paused for a second. "In light of your accomplishments today, you'll all be starting firearms training next week with Bravo Company instead of the week after with the rest of Alpha Company. Command sees a lot of potential in you, don't let them down, take the rest of tonight for yourselves, dismissed."
The drill sergeant waved them out, he had other things to do, and that was fine with Thomas. He needed time to mull things over. It was not unheard of to be promoted in boot camp, indeed some people reached the highest rank you can get, which was Corporal. However, to get promoted three days in? He couldn't wrap his head around it. He shook his head while heading back to the barracks, he needed to get some rest for tomorrow and think about some things.
Drill Sergeant Lloyd sighed and the recruits and one newly minted private left his office. There were a lot of things he also didn't understand about the orders he received, but orders were orders and just like the recruits here, he was just a soldier. He thumbed through the files on his desk and began his long hours of work, hell if anyone around here didn't get any sleep and worked the hardest, it was probably him. After a few hours of sorting files, the desk sergeant came in.
"Sir! New orders sir!" The sergeant dropped a file on his desk, saluted sharply and left. Lloyd waited until after he closed the door and the sound of the soldier's orderly footsteps faded. Then he looked at the manila folder he received. It had EYES ONLY, DESTROY AFTER VIEWING stamped in red across the front, it looked like serious business. He opened the folder, the first page was a letter addressed to him from the Office of Strategic Services. It detailed what he was about to read and that he should in no circumstances let anyone else read the following papers.
He got up and walked over to the door, locking it. Faraday wasn't due back until tomorrow, he had time to swallow this. After the initial page was a smaller folder, OPERATION KINGMAKER stamped in black, double underline in red. He flipped past that, the contents within the folder were unbelievable. His eyes narrowed as he read the contents, then his brows furrowed, and he finally ended it with a shocked expression. This plan was too ambitious, but if it worked... He took a match and lit the whole thing on fire, he watched it burn to ash. There was too much riding on this new plan.
He stood up and strode to the door, he had a lot to do, and way too little time to do it. He paused at the door, looked back at the pile of ash on his desk and shook his head. God help them all, but most importantly, he hoped it wouldn't break his newest private. He went to find the desk sergeant, there were new orders to give out, tomorrow was just the beginning.