Katherine woke with the mother of all headaches. She was cramped and itchy from sleeping in her dress and shoes. Her mouth felt like her bay pony had spent the night in it and the stable boy had the night off. She slowly pushed herself up onto her knees and steadied herself as the Earth's rotation caught up to her. She stood and straightened herself, and took her time about splashing the cold water on her face to wash up.
When she went downstairs, she was secretly pleased to see Jack in an equally miserable but fully deniable state of recovery. She thought about smiling, but at the risk of having her face slide off of her skull, she thought better of it. She quietly slid a chair close beside him and thanked him for seeing her upstairs the night before.
"You were still wearing your dress this morning, Katey-gal" he grinned "so you can't think it was me that took you. You want to be thanking anyone, thank Bill."
She decided at that moment that it wasn't an action worth thanking anyone for. That sentiment only grew when she saw Corporal Brennan come down the stairs. Even with his grim countenance she thought he was positively skipping, and Katherine wanted nothing more than to trip him.
"'Morning, folks." Bill said as he sat down. Jack and Katherine groaned in agreement. "I figure we'll get our horses and go see the barracks commander as early as possible. If anyone will know what direction to set you on, Miss McInnis, it'll be the Commander."
As they reached the Jefferson Barracks, Katherine was just beginning to think that the day might not be the worst of her life. Jack had been sweet at breakfast, filling her full of coffee and some snake-oil hangover cure that he pulled out of his boot. Her head was finally clearing and her horse wasn't walking too loudly anymore. The world seemed to be coming around to her way of thinking, and that suited her just fine. She took a special delight each time that Jack turned around to give her a secretive wink and Bill caught him doing it. The scowl was enough to power her for days.
As the haze of the night before left her eyes, Katherine marveled at the town and countryside. She could see in an instant why her brother fell in love with this country. It took her some time to get used to having spaces between things, but now she knew she could never go back to the coast. She was brought back to now by the presence of a soldier stepping from a guard shack. He moved so quickly that he spooked the horses.
"Your business, Corporal," he addressed Bill. Bill simply nodded back towards Katherine.
Katherine took the letter of introduction that the General had none-too-kindly given her and handed it to the soldier. He gave it the once-over of someone who can't read but has made a fair job of faking it for a while and then waved them through. It took them little time to find the base commander's office. The headquarters were perched on top of a bluff overlooking the river. Jack muttered to no one in particular that it would have been a lovely place for peace if it weren't for all the warring going on.
They didn't have to wait long to see the commander, Colonel Henry Atkinson. Jack's first impression was that the man was a fencepole with eyes, but he wasn't about to mess with officers. The Colonel waved them all inside his office, and after a cursory glance at the papers that Katherine had been holding as talisman the entire trip, sat on the corner of his desk. He had the look of a man who had faced the great desert of Nebraska and wasn't going to be swayed by two Corporals and a female. The silence in the room was palpable as Atkinson sized them all up. He made his measurement of them and turned his attentions to Bill.
"Corporal Brennan, what is the meaning of this?" to which Bill simply held up his hands in a gesture that made Katherine's heart fall.
"Sir," she started. Colonel Atkinson turned slowly towards her as if seeing her for the first time. Katherine undaunted, continued: "please let me explain." She quickly told him of her concern for her brother and her need to contact him by whatever means necessary. If he was stationed somewhere, she'd gladly travel to meet him. The Colonel's eyes unnerved her and she eventually ran out of steam and was left stammering like a fool.
The foolishness didn't go unnoticed by the Colonel. "Miss McInnis, the purpose of this installation is to train a nation's army, not to keep track of a surveyor for hire. Sometimes men go missing, sometimes men go savage themselves and think they can live in the harshest wilderness. I can't be responsible for them. You can damn that Calhoun and his 'expansible army', he left a lot of good Americans unprotected from the savages when he reduced our forces, and I'll be doubly damned if I'm going to spend valuable resources looking for a fool who took off on his own…"
"So you are saying that my brother took off on his own then? You know this?" Katherine sparked.
"I'm not saying anything, young lady," replied the Colonel "Now, I haven't the time for further interruption. You'll please show yourselves out." The Colonel rose from the desk and then sat staunchly behind it in silence until Jack grabbed Katherine's quivering arm and led her to the door. Bill made to follow but then the Colonel asked: "A word, Corporal Brennan?"