“So what made you want to join the army then?” she continued after we’d all calmed down a little bit. I thought about it for a few seconds.
“I guess because... I could see so much wrong with the world, and I figured in the army I’d have more chance to fix it. New Zealand does a lot of peacekeeping stuff and disaster relief... I mean, this was before 9/11, so there hadn’t been a decent war for twenty years.”
“And you thought that everyone was just being stupid, and if they tried hard enough they could sort it all out so that everyone would be happy enough.” If James had said that, I’d probably have thumped him one for putting words in my mouth, especially ones that made me sound like a condescending twat. But Alex said them like the thought was familiar to her.
“Yeah, but people are idiots. They’re always idiots. Even if smart people got in charge, the idiots who took the orders would still screw everything up, and smart people still do stupid things,” James said, summing up the most unwelcome lesson I’d learned since I was ten.
“Yeah...” Alex sighed, in a way that said she’d learned it too. “But anyway, that’s half the reason I joined up. That and the whole patriotism thing after 9/11.” She grimaced apologetically; some of the things her country’s military had done since then hadn’t made the world a better place at all.
“And the other half?”
“I was... in a situation I had to get out of. If I’d stayed I just would have gotten sucked into the cycle.”
We didn’t pry any further. I’ve learned that people will tell you when they’re ready, and it’s quite possible James didn’t care very much at all. He looks to the future, and as the nurse who’d helped us the first day was wheeling a big cart into the room – I could see the infrared glow of the hot dishes on top – the immediate future looked like it was going to contain an enormous breakfast.
The bacon was better quality, and there was a lot of fruit, along with toast and hash browns done properly1 – one of the few cases where the Americans do things better than anyone else, as I remarked to Alex. She threw an apricot pit at me, but James snatched it out of the air with a twinkle in his eye before I’d even started to flinch.
1With grated potato formed into cakes and fried, rather than those pitiful little things sold under the same name made from potato offcuts and all sorts of additives to make them stick together. If you want to do them at home, boil potatoes for five minutes, then take them out of the water and let them cool. Grate them – I generally add grated cheese at this point as well, but they’re fine without it – and then scoop up small handfuls of the grated potato and fry them, pressing them flat with your spatula. The starch of the potatoes is sufficient to hold the whole cake together without adding anything.