Suggested reading: The Cost of Change

Sargent Ironsides took his final bite of food, and took a moment to considered his empty plate while he sat chewing and eventually swallowed.  He’d spent most of his day trying to work out what he was going to do about a very specific problem he’d been having, and now thought, or at least hoped, he’d come up with a solution. At the same time he also felt that this problem deserved his punishment so was happy to take his time in going to go help Private Jenkins, so to speak. With that in mind the Sargent got up and took his plate to the kitchen and returned with a cup of coffee and a bowl of ice-cream which he proceeded to eat, slowly. Once that was done he rose again, excused himself from the mess hall and took a walk around the back of the building to the store room and have a little chat with Private Jenkins.

Jenkins was, where he always was at that point in the day, sitting on the small wooden stool, which he firmly believed was specifically designed to be the most uncomfortable stool in the world, peeling potatoes. When Sargent Ironsides walked in he was relieved to stand up for a bit and give his aching arse cheeks a rest.

“Evening sir!”

Ironsides returned the salute and then with a nod of his head gestured for Jenkins to go back to his seat.

“How’s it going in here Private?”

“Sir, good sir.”

Ironsides pulled up of the of bins full of peels and sat down on it to be closer to eye level with Jenkins. He then reached down and picked up two potatoes, one nice and oval the other very gnarled.

“Tell me private, which one of these is easier to peel?”

Jenkins, a little confused pointed at the oval one, and Ironsides nodded.

“And which one is more interesting to peel?”

Seeing a pattern Jenkins pointed at the gnarled one.

“Now the problem with a potato like this, is that by the time you’ve gotten it peeled, you’ve had to cut away so much of what’s there it doesn’t really resemble the potato you stared with, does it? Not as interesting as it started out.”

Feeling a bit confused and more than a bit scared Jenkins managed to croak out.

“No-no sir, you don’t.”

Ironsides locked eyes with the young private and frowned.

“So is it really going good in here?”

Jenkins took a moment to try think of the correct answer but could only come up with.

“Pardon sir?”

Ironsides removed his hat, loosened his tie and breathed a heavy sigh.

“You can drop the sir for a minute boy, I’m here because I want to talk to you about something.”

Feeling his sense of anxiety increase, but careful not to accidentally disobey yet another order, Jenkins swallowed and said.

“Oh…ok.”

“How long have you been here now son?”

“Eighty-two days.”

“And how long have you been on shit and peeling duty?”

Jenkins thought it over for a moment then looked down.

“E-eighty-one days.”

Ironsides nodded thoughtfully.

“Do you remember what I said to you on the first day you arrived?”

“Yes sir.”

Jenkins then winced a little, realising he’d been asked to drop the sir, but no reprimand came, instead Ironsides just looked more thoughtful.

“And do you think I’ve made good on my words of that day?”

He looked up at Jenkins and could see the confusion on his face and frowned.

“That I was not here to make this nice for you, but that it was in my best interest to keep you alive and teach you how to stay alive so that I wouldn’t have to train more people like you. That we’re not nice it’s just cheaper to train you properly. Do you think I kept to my word?”

Jenkin’s eye grew wide as he considered again what he should say, and after a few long silent moment Ironsides continued.

“Look son, I’ve been in the army twenty-seven years and I’ve been a drill Sargent for twenty-four of those years, I have been called everything under the sun at least twice. I don’t care what you think of me personally, I want to know if you think I kept to my word.”

After another moment Jenkins nodded, a bit too scared to actually speak.

“Alright then, so tell me, why did you join the army? And if you tell me it was to do your part in protecting our nation, or freedom, or some other crap like that I’m going to dedicate the rest of my life to finding more unpleasant degrading jobs for you to do. So just give me the truth.”

Jenkins looked dead into the eyes of his sargent, a man he very much hate and realised that in a odd way, the man was being kind to him.

“I… I like technology sir, and the army always is on the cutting edge so I enlisted to get into the tech corps but everyone has to go through basic sir.”

For a moment Ironsides looked as if he’d been punched.

“You what? Like technology? What were your subject in high school?”

“Maths and science, computer science and biology.”

“How did you do?”

“Straight A student sir.”

Ironsides nodded his head again, only now he looked his usual pissed off.

“You’re from district D aren’t you son? What school you go to?”

“D-Douglas 17.”

A small smile, possibly the first genuine smile Jenkins had ever seen on Ironside’s face, appeared.

“I went to Douglas 17. Let me guess, you aced every academic test sent your way, but no university will take you because you’re from D, so someone told you to join the army and put your brains to good use serving the country, told you that once you got past basic you’d spend the rest of your time in a lab getting an army education, and once you prove yourself there the government would send you the university. Right?”

Jenkins swallowed hard and nodded.

“And no one told you that you can flunk basic and you’ll have to retake it until you’re at the level the army wants, did they?”

Jenkins’ gaze dropped to the pile of peeled potatoes in front of him.

“N…no sir, no they didn’t.”

Ironsides breathed another deep sigh and nodded.

“Well son, you’ve flunked basic and you’re going to have to retake it. Three more months minimum.”

Jenkins took a deep breath and as hard as he tried couldn’t stop the tears from welling up in his eyes, and he dropped the peeler to wipe his cheers hoping the Sargent wouldn’t notice, but of course he did. A full minute passed as the two men sat in silence while Ironsides gave Jenkins the opportunity to pull himself together.

“You know son, when I was at Douglas 17 I was the all star athlete? First team in every sport the school offered and could do the 100 meters faster than the Olympic record?”

Jenkins looked up quickly.

“Frances Ironsides? You… you’re Frances Ironsides, you still hold all the records, you’re a school legend.”

The Sargent smiled again.

“Well of course I do, I’m fantastic and I have a great career in sports ahead of me, or I would have had, if I wasn’t from D … so here I am.”

Jenkins excitement quickly fizzled away and he looked at the man.

“What… what am I going to do sir?”

Sargent Ironsides got to his feet, put his hat back on and tightened his tie.

“First thing you’re going to do is finish peeling these potatoes, then you’re going to go to bed and get a good nights rest. In the morning you’ll report to my office and receive you 7 days leave acceptance form and get off the base for a week, get drunk, find yourself a girl or a boy … I don’t really care, but have some fun. Since you have to repeat basic anyway and most of the other privates hate you, there is no reason to stay with them. Then in a week you’re going to come back in with the new batch, and you’re going to start again. Only this time you’re going to spend a few extra hours every day working for me personally. You will do my office work and in return I will,’

He moved his hand to get Jenkins attention and locked eyes with him.

“Hear me boy, I will turn you into a soldier. You will finish basic, and with flying colours I might add, and then go on to tech corps and make us all proud. Do you understand?”

“Wha…. Uummm, yes, thank you, th-thank you.”

Sargent Ironsides frowned.

“What was that Private?”

Jenkins suddenly remembering where he was jumped to his feet, saluted and said.

“Sir, yes sir.”

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