Back atop the conference center, Sam collapsed to her knees. Kendra squatted down in front of her, asking if she was injured.
"I'm just exhausted. I need to rest and practice clearing."
Kendra nodded. "I wish we could relax, but we need to expect a follow-up attack."
Sam stood up. "I shouldn't be in charge. I don't know what I'm doing."
"You were put in charge. It is your responsibility to grow into the role," Kendra said.
"In the middle of a war is not the right time to be figuring out this stuff. You should just take over."
"I already did that," Kendra said. "Now that we survived the emergency, you need to issue the commands yourself. I can advise you."
"You want to be my Wormtongue."
Kendra pulled back, a quizzical look on her face. "I have no idea what that means."
"It's a Lord of the Rings reference." The dramatic sigh from Kendra inspired a wince from Sam. "Sorry. I'll try to reign in the nerd talk."
"I'm not asking you to stop being yourself. You just need to realize that at times, you have to retreat behind professionalism. Authenticity isn't as essential as people like to think. Surviving missions is the real priority."
Sam nodded. "Do you think the operations team is okay?"
"God, I hope they are."
"Mike will protect everyone," Sam said.
"And who will protect Mike?"
"As someone who has trained corona wrestling with him, I'm going to say that Mike is going to protect Mike."
"He's only human, Sam."
"None of us are only human." Sam crossed her arms. "Getting superpowers from aliens puts us in a separate category."
"Did learning the talents give you superhuman leadership abilities? I'm pretty sure it didn't change who I am. All of you might be convinced that Ski is a god-like military commander, but I know him better than that. He is always about two steps away from going nuclear. Just because he has kept the drinking under control for a month now doesn't mean he is a different person."
"Are you talking about the time he beat up two marines?"
Varanelli raised one of her brows. "Have you been looking into him?"
"I have been overhearing the never-ending stories about 'Ski' for as long as I have been here. Whittaker goes on and on about the National Guard days. Cody and Jimmy talk about things Mike did at the MMA gym. Woodrow tells the tale of Mike beating him up 'at the shack' at least once a day. You can't walk down the hall without hearing about the guy."
"What about your friend Jess? Does she have a lot to say on the topic?"
Sam shook her head. "I don't want to talk about that situation."
"Because you don't approve?"
"He's, like, twice her age. And the ears."
Kendra smiled. "Believe it or not, I used to be you. Susie was my Jess. And she would not stay away from Ski. Most women aren't into his type, but the ones who are . . . really are."
After a minute of silence, Sam cleared her throat. "Susie died in Iraq?"
"They got her with an IED. She was a truck driver."
"It's been years now. I'm getting over it, as much as I don't want to. Though it's hard not to miss her when my replacement BFF is Ski."
"I can't say I understand that situation," Sam said.
"No one does. Ninety percent of our interactions end with one of us annoyed at the other one. Maybe I'm just desperate for a regular presence in my life."
This was not a conversation Sam wanted to be having. "Uh, so, can we send someone to pick up dinner? Maybe Jimmy, since his talents are lease suited for combat."
Kendra grunted. "That's a great idea. And since Cassandane wasn't around to help, I say we go full carnivore."
"Meat lover's pizza," Sam said.
"We are not ordering from Pizza Hut. That said, I'm sure Srinivas can find us some gourmet pizza."
As if mentioning food and his name in the same sentence had summoned him, Srinivas appeared. "Several options for pizza in downtown."