“Wrest?” the lobster asked. Wrest relaxed infinitesimally. He’d been hoping for this one.
“Hello, Shael. It’s been a while.”
“I’ll say it has!” Shael shook Wrest’s claws, one after the other. “You know, now we can say things like this, I wanted to tell you I’m proud to know a thief. My war buddy, second to Staever himself!”
Wrest cased the room. Kragn’s bed held nothing useful, but the platform from which Shael had gotten up was half-strewn with weed-paper.
Captain Kragn had kept a meticulous log. If General Kragn kept up his habits, he’d left it out to complete after his midnight rounds.
“I was worried about you for a while,” Shael said. “You dropped off the map after we shipped home. I used to drink with some of the guys from our boat, but you…”
“Couldn’t afford it. I went back to my family.” Wrest moved toward the bed. If Shael got suspicious, he could say he wanted to rest.
“Don’t tell me they messed with your pay, too. My last term, they garnished me for damage to my armor. They should have compensated me for making me wear equipment that flimsy.”
As Wrest wandered another couple of paces, Shael asked “Hey…why didn’t you ever re-enlist?”
Shael was Kragn’s man. Wrest would not be able to explain to him how the army had made him fear being alone with himself. “Honorable discharge.”
“Right. The patrol boat incident.”
“Had to keep me quiet.” Wrest’s voice caught.
Shael laid a claw on Wrest’s back. “No reason to dredge up ancient history. You followed orders. Nobody could ask for more.”
“They were innocents, Shael!” I’ve had this memory already. He had to stay focused on the desk, only a few paces away. “For a few Field casualties we sacrificed a hundred lobsters from the Eye.”
“You don’t have to go over it. I have the nightmares too.”
“They aren’t nightmares for me. They come in the day.”
Shael turned away. Whether or not he understood didn’t matter. The weeds were in claw’s reach.
“I can see why you went back to crime,” Shael said.
“Staever and I were going to be thieves since we were little. I shouldn’t have given that up. Turns out it’s more honorable.”
“Hey now. There are good and bad soldiers, there are good and bad thieves. I’m honorable, right?”
A sheath of seaweed lay under a pile of scraps. “You’ve got honor coming through your shell. The world needs a dozen more of you.”
He pretended to trip, and jostled the desk, scattering the weeds. “Sorry!” he cried out, and bent down to rearrange them.
“I do that all the time.” Shael moved forward. “Let me help out. I know where he likes things.”
Wrest waved a claw. “It’s my mess. Look busy in case Kragn walks in.”
Perplexed, Shael returned to his post. The moment his back turned, Wrest dug through the sheath to the leaves marked with the days before the fall of the Eye. He cut a few at random, returned the rest to the heap, and placed it all back on the desk.
“All clean. I should go, Shael.”
“Of course,” Shael said. “Take care of yourself, Wrest. You’re doing everything you can to keep us safe.”
“Thank you.” Wrest stepped into the night, wishing their conversation had meant what Shael thought it had–two old friends catching up, nobody in danger, no-one stealing anything.
He tucked the pages of the personal journal of General Kragn into his waistband, touching them all the way back, like prayer.
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