Feet fell without grace upon the metal catwalk, clanging loudly above. “He’s watching” said the General to no one as he turned his eyes upward toward the noise. The troops went through the drills, some more enthusiastically than others. The General had a reputation. He was known to be hard on soldiers, and even harder on young soldiers. He was known as a guy who got things done. He had a lot to do here.
The General was old, and there is no enemy as difficult to defeat as age. He knew it. He could feel the foot soldiers of time moving into position all around him. He just hoped that he could find a way to outsmart them at least once more. The stain of failure had soiled the General’s record, and it made many people across many lands who were familiar with war question the abilities of a man they had once seen as unquestionable. Oh, many still had faith in him (out loud), but the whispers behind his back were multiplying. He needed to go out with a win. He needed to retire with vindication.
“Hit the showers! You’re done for the day. Be here an hour earlier tomorrow and expect to stay two hours later!” He watched them file out, heads hung from fatigue or the knowing shame of letting him down. They dripped sweat and smelled of exertion. He sat - once they had all exited - to collect his thoughts and begin planning for the next day of training.
The footsteps that he had heard above were now echoing off of the floor and coming towards him from his left. He knew who it was but looked up just the same. As the tall bald man made his way toward him, the General was aware for a moment of their one similarity. “That man was a super hero” he said quietly to himself, “and even he couldn’t escape age.”
“How do they look, Larry?” the Superhero asked.
The General shook his head briefly. “Not that good, Mike. Not really that good.”
“Can you change it?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I think I can. It’s going to take a lot of work. There will be many complaints. Some guys will want to quit. They’ll want out. I might break one or two of the softer ones.”
The Superhero laughed. “OK, Larry. You do what you need to do to them. We need to win.”
The General was uncertain if the Superhero meant “we” as in all of them collectively, or if he meant “we, Larry. You and I”. Either could be true. The two old men alone now on this floor needed to win. One needed to restore his legacy and the other needed to add a dimension to his own. The General decided that it didn’t really matter what the Superhero meant. They just needed to win.