Specialist Mara Bloom
"Right," the coronel said, flipping to the next part in the makeshift booklet. It fell open to a photogram over some handwritten pages, as before.
"Hm. Looks like a capable woman, if a bit over regulation," the mareschal said, referring to the apparent weight of the woman in the picture.
The younger, black-haired woman nodded as she turned to the next few, handwritten pages. "She is, though there are worse violators. Her name's Mara Bloom, Specialist, as you can see. Earned a commendation for bravery under fire at the second Battle of Blacksands. Excellent at both siege engineering and mechanical operation; combat trenching and aerinyes maintenance are her two principal duties."
"Commendations at battles we won are a nice change of pace," the older woman remarked, a sardonic air in her voice. "Is she an H.P.? She looks to be past the wet-behind-the-years stage." She was referring to the salutation Honored Philosopher -- a respect awarded to a graduate of any of the Imperial Research Colleges.
"She's... thirty-three, I believe. And skilled enough to be an H.P., according to her Adjutant, but no," the coronel explained, searching for a particular passage. Her hand hovered over the page before she found it, index finger stabbing at the letters. "Here we go. She ran a print shop for the Lanva Herald-Star before the war, virtually all of her pre-war experience is experimentation with pigments, metallurgy, and print processes."
"Mh." The mareschal considered this as she raised her mug for a sip of tea. "Not a usual path, but hardly a detriment, I would think. So why pull her out of the regular aerie?"
This was where the younger officer sighed and put her hand on her neck. "Insubordination, unruly behavior, rumor-mongering, sedition..."
That confused the hell out of the coronel. "Beg pardon, ma'am, what?"
"That's quite the list. I presume there's an explanation for why you're putting her on this mission. After the crossdressing tart, I am trying to keep an open mind."
A few seconds passed as the coronel processed this information, then she shook her head to clear it. "Fair enough. Yes. Seems that during the Siege of Lanva, our warmages blew up her family house, and her print shop. So when there are orders she disagrees with, especially ones for the artillery or mage corps that could result in collateral damage, she is not... cooperative."
The mareschal arched one brow. "And yet, a commendation for bravery."
"And yet, a commendation for bravery," the coronel confirmed. "She is fiercely protective of the rest of her unit, who have gone to extreme lengths to shield her from consequences. However, she is starting to be a drag on morale for siege companies that her company is assigned to work with."
Another long, slow draught of tea as the older woman thought. "I see. Here's my question: you said that the Aerie blew up her family's house?"
"Why in the name of the heavenly bureaucracy is she helping us, then? Do you suspect she could be a turncoat?"
"We pay her well, she says." The coronel paused. "I know that that sounds very bad but--"
"I am glad that your talent for self-awareness has not suffered, then, Anna!"
"-but," the younger woman continued, "the Empire was also shelling her house. Both sides believed it was a potential hiding ground for enemy forces over the course of the battle, per her commentary." The coronel pointed to a section of the performance review sheets.
"So she is also not fond of the Empire, is what you're telling me."
Silence fell between the two women for a few seconds. The coronel coughed and straightened up a few pages on the packet. The mareschal put her tea down and watched it swirl for a bit.
"It's stupid of me to ask, since you sent her on the mission, but do you think we can trust her?"
"I do, ma'am. I think... she may not have any love for our cause, but she will not risk harm coming to those she serves with. That's a very consistent factor in her performance reviews."
"Glad to hear it. I fully support your decision, then."