Emily-2165 was exasperated.
She and nearly every other GREL in Port Arthur had volunteered for a punitive raid launched by the Arthurian Korps earlier that afternoon, in response to a rover attack against one of the homesteading counties within the Security Zone. She and most others were turned down, though, and she was in a foul mood as she returned to her barracks. It had been many weeks since she had seen action, or even had an interesting shift; she wouldn't even be on duty for another two days. Maybe she would think of something to do over dinner....
When she reached her mess hall, though, a large crowd was gathered in front. Emily approached a Mordred and asked, "What's going on?"
The Mordred turned to her and replied, "They're not serving," looking sadder than Emily would have thought possible. With a smile, she said, "Well, let me see what's going on, okay?" That seemed to cheer him up, and Emily made her way through the crowd and into the hall.
Inside the kitchen, she found a familiar Isaac looking like he didn't know what to do. "Hey, Mycroft, what's going on?"
Mycroft-0314 was visibly relieved at seeing Emily. "Everyone who's assigned here got called out for that raid," he said. For reasons that made no sense to Emily, troopers (normal humans in the Arthurian Korps) were assigned to all mess duties, even here in the GREL Quarter. "They said they'd be back in time for dinner, but I just called Operations and they said nobody is due back for hours."
"Swell," Emily snorted, longing to be part of the action. After a moment, though, she focused on the problem at hand. "All right," she said, "we've got a company of hungry GRELs and no troopers to bail us out." She looked around for a moment, then continued, "What do we have around here, anyway?"
"That's the other problem," Mycroft answered. He led Emily to a walk-in cooler and opened the door. Inside, they only found a few racks of small bread loaves.
"Great," Emily said, "I guess we were having rations tonight." Mycroft just shrugged. "When you talked to Operations, did they say anything about a supply shipment?"
"They said one is scheduled, but they're running way behind again," he replied.
Emily rolled her eyes, but was hardly surprised. She looked at the bread, then at Mycroft. "You think you can work the ovens?"
"Uh, I guess," Mycroft replied, "I've fixed them enough times."
"Okay," Emily said, "go ahead and start baking these. I'll be right back."
Mycroft's face went blank. "And how do I do that?"
Emily stopped for a moment, as she herself had no idea how to prepare anything. "Well," she said with a shrug, "When all else fails, read the manual, right?"
Mycroft did know how to do that. "I'll see what I can do," he said.
"I'll go bring everyone in," Emily said as Mycroft powered on a computer terminal. "Do a search for 'cooking,' 'mess hall,' 'recipes,' anything like that."
Emily walked to the hall entrance, where even more GRELs had gathered and were complaining loudly about what was happening. Emily held up her hands and said loudly, "Everyone, can I have your attention, please?" The crowd took no notice. After a couple of more tries, Emily finally took a deep breath and screamed at the top of her lungs, "HEY!!"
That got the crowd's attention, and as they quieted down she continued, "Thank you. I'm Emily-2165, and I want to tell you what's going on. Our mess personnel were one of the units called out for that raid this afternoon, and they're not back yet." The crowd had themselves come to that conclusion, so there was a general murmur of understanding. "Also," she went on, "the supply truck's late, so we're almost out of food." The crowd erupted at that news, and it took Emily a few tries to get their attention. "However," she was finally able to say, "we do have some bread, and we're firing up the ovens right now. So how about that? Ration packs, but with fresh bread for as long as it lasts?"
The crowd was surprised, but muttered in assent. They weren't used to seeing a GREL take the initiative like this. But it was better than nothing, and it did sound okay, so in groups of two and three the GRELs entered the mess hall. Emily went back to the kitchen, where Mycroft was loading bread into an oven. "Everything okay in here?" she asked.
Mycroft looked slightly embarrassed as he replied, "Yeah, it's actually pretty simple."
"Don't feel bad," Emily said, "I didn't know either. You keep working on that, and I'll get the ration packs together." The GRELs in the hall could hear Emily and Mycroft working from behind closed shutters. They sat in quiet anticipation, wondering how this meal was going to turn out. After not much time at all, the shutters finally opened, to reveal several trays of warm bread, stacks of ration packs and Emily wearing a chef's apron. In the same voice she had heard hundreds of times, Emily called out, "Come and get it!"
As everyone was served, the GRELs turned their thoughts and conversations to their duties, their commanders and all of the things soldiers gripe about. Emily watched them as they ate, and she observed that the mood among them was the best she had seen in a long time. A couple of GRELs even complimented her and Mycroft, which was a very pleasant surprise.
While the GRELs finished their meals and began to leave, Emily and Mycroft turned their attention to cleanup. They knew where the trash went, but they did have to read the online manuals to learn where the cleaning supplies were and how to use the dishwasher for the utensils. As Emily and Mycroft were finishing, one GREL still stayed behind, the sad-faced Mordred Emily had talked to earlier. Now, though, he was positively beaming. He walked up to Emily and asked, "Is there any more bread?"
"Um," Emily said as she looked around, "yes, there's a couple left." As she handed the last loaves to him, she asked, "Did you enjoy dinner?"
"Yes," he smiled, "I love food."
"Well, good, I'm glad. What's your name?"
"Luther," he replied, "Soldier Luther-3620."
"Nice to meet you, Luther," Emily said as she took off her apron. "Thanks for coming."
"Do you need help?" Luther asked.
Emily was caught off guard at the offer, but she could tell from the look on his face that he really wanted to stay. "No, we're almost done," she said, "but thanks for asking."
"Okay," said Luther a little sadly. "See you later."
Emily smiled as he left. A minute later, though, Luther stuck his head through the kitchen door. "There's a truck here."
The three GRELs went outside, where two troopers were unloading a truck. A third trooper climbed out of the driver's seat when he saw the GRELs and walked up to them, holding a clipboard in his hand. "Soldier, who's in charge of this mess?"
With a shrug, Emily replied, "I guess I am."
The trooper looked at her like she was a complete idiot. "No, what trooper is in charge of this mess?"
"No trooper is present at this mess," Emily said sternly, "and I am the senior soldier present."
The trooper seemed to have a comment about Emily's attitude, but he thought better of it when he saw the expression on Luther's face. "Whatever," he said as he made some checks on his clipboard, then held it out to Emily. "Sign here."
"We'll check it over first," Emily replied.
The trooper made a face as he returned to the truck and helped the others unload. When they finished, Emily checked the shipment against the invoice, then signed it. Without a word, the driver took the clipboard back, gave her a copy of the invoice, then the troopers climbed into the truck and drove off.
Emily looked at the crates and boxes, then looked at Luther. "Do you still want to help?" she asked.
"Sure!" Luther said with a big smile.
"Great, there's a dolly in the kitchen," Emily said.
As Luther went back inside, Mycroft asked, "What do we do with all this?"
Emily thought for a moment, then smiled. "Well, when all else fails, read the manual, right?" Mycroft chuckled as she said, "Come on, let's get this stuff inside...."