She Woke to Birdsong

When she woke to birdsong, she knew it was going to be a horrible day. For one, it was far too early to be awake. She guessed the sun had only just risen and she hadn’t been allowed to sleep until well into the night. Secondly, the paper-thin walls of her so-called tent had barely kept the weather at bay. Even snuggled deep within her sleeping bag, she was half-frozen.

Lilianna McDougal much preferred the comfort and protection of four walls. She wasn’t exactly designed to handle the elements. Her feet were sore from too much walking; she was used to traveling the world via the information super highway, which didn’t require leaving her chair. She worried her wires would catch on everything with trees, bushes and all manner of other plants crammed into every inch of the forest. And there wasn’t even a trace of satellite signal to be found; she had tried.

Much as she hated the cheerful chirping of the birds perched outside her flimsy haven, Lilianna knew she’d better rouse herself to action before something worse penetrated the stillness; the sound of Major Barrow feeling smug. He was to blame for this whole experience in the first place. He and his foolish belief that time away from modern technology would grant her valuable insights. He didn’t seem to understand that the internet contained several articles on every viewpoint for every issue that existed. What was a tree going to teach her?

As an act of rebellion, she had refused to leave her laptop bag behind. She slung it over one shoulder as she exited the tiny structure that was supposed to serve as her room for the next three days. She had never gone through a day in her life without Argus by her side and she refused to start now, even if they were miles from an outlet that could charge his batteries. She had all his spares, but she doubted the major was going to give her a chance to make use of a single one.

Things went rapidly downhill the moment she stepped outside. Something bit her arm. She slapped it, but only managed to set her skin stinging. A swarm of gnats waited less than three feet away, and refused to disperse no matter how she flailed her arms, forcing her to wade through the center of them to reach the picnic table where breakfast was served.

At this point, she was willing to trudge back to civilization alone, if only she’d known the way. Argus could have told her, if there was a network within two miles to connect to.

“How did you sleep?”

Lilianna answered the innocent question with a glare that would have felled even the stoutest of men, if only looks had the power to kill.

“It cannot be that bad,” protested perhaps the only person she would hesitantly label her friend.

“Have you seen where we are?” Lilianna exploded. “There’s dirt everywhere. Not to mention flies, bees and tiny little things I probably won’t be able to see until they’ve laid eggs in inconvenient places.”

“You are overreacting.”

She narrowed her eyes further. If only she could turn them into daggers. “I don’t think you get an opinion, Xavior. You would live out here if the major gave you the opportunity. Just because you don’t like the institute doesn’t mean it lacks merit.”

The barest hint of a grin crossed Xavior’s face. If she hadn’t hated every human being in the world more than him, she’d have struck him from her list of friends that moment. “Just because you hate the outdoors doesn’t mean it lacks merit.”

Hoisted by her own petard. If only Argus were available to prove him wrong.

“I hate to sound disgruntled,” she didn’t, actually, it was her default form of communication, “but I’d certainly like you to prove it. I can get everything I’ll ever need from a mall. What’s the point of trekking all the way out here?” She slapped another bug away from her arm, certain she’d missed it again.

“You are missing the point. We are doing things the natural way. It is supposed to be an experience. Here, eat something.”

He passed her a plate filled with what she assumed were breakfast foods. She pushed each one around with a fork before wrinkling her nose. “You expect me to eat this stuff? It’s half-charred!”

“Those are just marks from the fire. Real food does not come in perfect coloration, you know.”

His smug sniff made her want to prove him wrong. She shoveled the food into her mouth, hungrier than she was willing to admit. But it actually tasted good. When she finished, she tossed her plastic fork onto her paper plate with a soft harrumph, disappointed by the lack of loud clatter. “The major brought all this with him from a grocery store anyway. He’s not actually going to make us hunt for our food… is he?”

For the first time, she worried about the activities meant to be part of this little venture. Major Barrow was just the kind of man who would make his charges hunt for their dinner, and let them starve if they failed to procure it. He ordered Major Lorcasf to shoot Xavior in the leg once, after all, and he hadn’t even done anything wrong that day.

Again, that elusive smile brushed Xavior’s lips. “Do not worry, Lilianna. I won’t let you starve.”

When he chuckled, she was torn between hatred and relief. Perhaps she’d leave Xavior Erickson on her list of friends a while longer.

lilly - woke to birdsong

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Please check out my writing partner’s version of this prompt!

Over at Ithilear, Beth Alvarez has done the memory related to their profession prompt!

If you’d like to participate, leave a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week.

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