28-9

Barrach was already there as well, but surprisingly, they were waiting near the entrance, leaning against the wall with one foot propped back against it. It was a gesture considerate enough to make Rin uncomfortable, so she chose to ignore it, striding quickly towards the Captain without a word of acknowledgement in Barrach’s direction.

“You’re welcome,” she thought she heard them mutter as they fell into step behind her.

Coleridge looked up from her tablet as they approached, and flashed a quick, easy grin.

“Mornin’, kids.”

“I appreciate you not adding ‘good’,” Barrach responded with a lazy salute.

Rin kicked them in the shin. “Ma’am,” she said while Barrach winced in exaggerated, farcical pain. “Apologies for the tardiness.”

“Apology accepted,” Coleridge said immediately. “You kids ain’t military, the expectations are different.”

“Really going hard on the ‘kids’ thing, huh,” Barrach observed. Rin went to kick them again, but they nimbly hopped out of the way. 

Coleridge laughed. “I figure if you make it to sixty, you can call anyone younger than you a kid pretty safely.”

“You’re sixty?!” Rin blurted out instinctively, then immediately slapped a hand over her own mouth, mortified.

Coleridge didn’t seem offended, though; just amused in a way that Rin thought she ought to find condescending but was mostly just friendly. “I’ll choose to take that as a compliment,” she teased.

“I’m sorry,” Rin said immediately, “so sorry, I just thought-” She’d thought that the other woman was either a very hale forty, or a particularly world-weary thirty. Admittedly, yes she was greying, but some people greyed young, and her face was relatively unlined, beyond the crow’s feet of someone who smiled easily and frequently. 

“We-ell,” Barrach said, impressed. “Objection retracted! You look good for your age – any chance I can crib your exercise routine?”

Coleridge chuckled. “Oh, you don’t want that. Now,” she continued before Rin could ask what that was supposed to mean, “‘Dira is away at the moment, so she asked me to debrief with the two of you.”

“Oh?” Barrach asked, sounding intrigued. “Where’s she gone?”

“Away,” Coleridge repeated with a tiny smirk. “Now, Ceit, how are things going with the squires?”

Barrach made a face, and a ‘so-so’ hand gesture. “Look,” they said, “hand to tit, I’m doing my best over here, but I’m a freelancer, not a teacher.”

“You can’t even teach basic techniques or concepts?” Coleridge asked, sounding more genuinely curious than doubting.

“I’m trying.” They sounded uncharacteristically frustrated. “But the way you lot teach the basics is- ehh, counterintuitive? For my purposes, anyway.”

Coleridge made a note on her tablet. “I see. So you think you’d get better results with students who haven’t been through the academy framework?”

“I mean, maybe. Self-taught or whatever can still get you some weird shit. Ideally, it’d be easiest with absolute beginners, but that’s not particularly feasible, is it.”

“That it is not,” Coleridge confirmed. “Well, I’ll pass that one, and see what I can do about squirrelling out some alternative candidates from the volunteer pool. Would being able to read over some of the academy material help you out?”

Barrach blinked behind their glasses. “That… could help, yeah. Couldn’t hurt, at least.”

“Great. I’ll get in touch with the… hrm. The Phyrwyn academy is probably closest. They should be able to send a few things my way.”

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