Summer Again (Prologue)

Some person or other said that you don’t know who you are until you’re pushed to your breaking point.  I think it was someone like Winston Churchill.  Don’t really know.  But I can say that that summer, all of us were pushed to our limits, and went into a world that none of us wanted to.  All to get justice for a friend.  Someone I cared about so much.  Maybe, if he ever comes back from what happened to him, I can care about him again.  I want to.  Want those good, innocent days back again.  You never know what you’ve got until it’s not there anymore.  This is gonna be a long story, but I wanna tell it.  So bear with me.  Please.
It ain’t for the faint of heart.  If you can’t handle ugly, twisted, scary things, you should walk away now.  But it’s the truth.  One that the police and our parents can’t wash away with everything else.  What do I start?  I guess it would be when school got out, that fateful summer…

Staring at the clock on the wall is always the worst.  The absolute worst.  Had my science teacher tell me that time doesn’t really slow down when you watch the clock.  Same as when you watch a pot boil.  What does he know?!  Clearly he was never a kid who wanted to get out of school on that last day.  I shouldn’t say that.  That’s mean.  Mr. Bergie is a cool guy.  Probably the coolest teacher here.  I remember when he brought in the beaver to dissect for the class.  That was crazy!  But cool.  All the digesting wood in its gut.
Yeah, this is why mom says I’m a tomboy.  Every other girl was totally grossed out.  I thought it was awesome!  We got to dissect a frog too, and that pretty cool.  I was gonna miss him.  But that didn’t stop me from watching that clock and desperately wishing it would hit 3:00 so we could get the hell out of there!
Looked over at Johnny.  He was my best friend.  Well, one of them.  We had this little crew.  Me, Johnny, our big man Eli who was kind of the ringleader, and Griffin.  It’s weird, because Griffin is Eli’s cousin, but he’s black.  You’d never know the two were related, on his dad’s side.  They’ve been best bros for ages.  Grew up together, and would do anything for each other.  Sometimes I thought Griffin was a bit of a perv, but he was always cool with me.  There was this one girl he was all over who lived down the way from Eli.  I think Eli has a crush on her, but he isn’t talking about it.  Part of me thinks that she likes him too.  I don’t know, call it a gut feeling.
Finally, and I hella mean FINALLY, the clock hit 3 and the bell went off.  Mrs. Guyer told us all to have a good summer and whatever, but none of us were listening.  I grabbed my backpack and was running for the door.  Johnny was right on my heels.
“Dude, we have to call Eli tonight!  I wanna be at the first showing!”
I nodded.  “Hell yeah!”
“Language, Sara!” I heard a voice call.  Mr. McCourt was giving me a mean look.  I shrugged at him.  It’s summer.  Don’t care about his rules.
“So, you got your ticket money?” Johnny asked.
“You know it.  Daddy always gives me some pocket money when I give him the puppy-dog face.”
He rolled his eyes.  “Yeah, well, I had to work for mine, beeotch.  Mom don’t give me shit.”
“But you got it covered, right?”
“Yeah, I do.  We’re good to go.”
“Better be.  I’m not gonna miss out on Jurassic Park because your ass is broke.”
We got outside and saw Eli and Griffin standing there talking.  The two of us ran over.
“Man, could today have gone any fucking slower?” Eli asked.
“I know, right?!” I replied.
“Dude, I couldn’t believe Ms. Pettijohn wanted to give a lecture on the last day that we had a quiz about!” Griffin said, almost with a snarl.  “That’s just evil.”
Johnny snorted.  “Ms. Pettijohn is evil.  What else is new?”
Eli had a grumpy look on his face.  “Okay, new rule – no more school talk for the duration of summer.  Ya’ll are driving me frickin’ crazy.”
I nodded.  “Word!  Let’s pretend school doesn’t exist.”
Johnny gave us a look.  “Hard to do when it’s right behind us.”
Everyone groaned.  Literal as fuck!  This guy, dude.

We biked home.  Everyone was stoked about the movie.  The trailers were everywhere, so everyone was talking about.  I’d seen Eli with the book it’s based on.  Dude always loved books.  Been in his house, he had a ton of them.  Never could get into that stuff.  Give me a good movie or a video game any day over that.  Or learning about cars with uncle Tom.  He could tell me all about his cool cars and how they run all day.  Fucking rad, dude.
All of us were so excited.  This was our big plan for the summer.  See the movie, and talk about it.  We were hoping to get one of our parents to drop us off.  But that was something else to plan.  I just knew we’d have a million things to talk about.  A great beginning to what was hopefully gonna be an awesome summer.
We chilled at our old fort.  Set up under this really huge and really old pine tree.  It had these branches that went way far out and hung down in the front, but were big enough underneath to hide our place.  We had a chest here with our stuff, and a lock that only we knew the combination too.  There was also this rope wrapped around the tree that we could swing around from.  It wasn’t the most crazy fort, but this place was where we had been meeting up ever since we were tiny.
This summer was gonna be awesome.  I was absolutely sure of it.  Nothing could fuck up how amazing it was gonna be.

It started to get dark, so we made our way home.  Perks of being in the 7th grade now – we had a lot more freedom.  Dad’s rule was – it gets dark, you get home.  Simple enough, and summer had nights getting longer, so we had plenty of time.
I came up on my house when I looked over and saw a girl who lived next door.  Her name was Kate.  If we were superheroes, she’d be my arch-nemesis.  We are polar opposites.  I’m jeans, t-shirts, and a baseball cap with the 49ers on it.  She’s sun-dresses, makeup, and a cute hat.  Girl always wore hats.  At least we had that in common.  Except my hat was always the same.  Kate liked clothes.
“Hey Sara!” she called out.
Parking my bike, I smiled at her.  “Hey.”  Every time I saw her, I felt warm inside.  Over the past couple years, it had been getting stronger.  Wasn’t sure why.
“School’s out!  That’s pretty cool.”
“Hell yeah!”
She winced at the swearing.  Girl came from a super religious family.
“I got some big plans!”
“Still going to see that movie?” she asked.
“Nothin’s gonna stop us from seeing it!  Make no bones about it, we are going to that film!”
Kate smiled a bit.  “Just you and your friends?”
“Well yeah.  I mean, I don’t know who else would wanna go.”
She shifted her feet a bit.  Why so awkward?
“Maybe I’d wanna go.”
I chuckled a bit.  “Dude, your parents would NEVER let you see Jurassic Park.  It’s got the word ‘evolution’ in it.  They’d never even talk about letting you see it.”
There was a mischief look on her face.  “Well, maybe I don’t tell them we’re going to see it.  Maybe I just tell them I’m hanging out with you and your friends.  Not really a lie, right?”
Was a little impressed at that, not gonna lie.  “Girl’s sneaking around to see a movie.  Wow.  Wonder what Jesus would think?”
She rolled her eyes.  “I’m pretty Jesus has bigger problems than me seeing a movie with a friend.”
“That ain’t how your parents think.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not them.”  She was smiling right at me.  Made me want to melt.  What was up?  “So, think I can come with you?”
Gave her a little look.  “Well, I gotta ask the others.  We’re getting Eli’s sister to drive us.  Don’t know if there’s room.”
A little giggle.  “I could always sit in your lap.”
Heart pounded!  What the hell?!  “I mean, yeah, maybe.  I’ll let you know.”
“Cool.  I better go in.  Dinner will be done soon.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We kept staring at each other.
“Good night,” she said, finally.
“Night.”
What a weird thing that just happened.  Wasn’t sure what it was.  It felt like…nah.  Couldn’t be.

Dinner was always hella awkward.  Mom’s on this crusade to try and get me to be all girly and shit.  I hate it!  Which meant more shopping trips to the mall to try and dresses and make her happy.  I knew that if I didn’t, she’d try and stop me from hanging out with my friends.  Sometimes you gotta just suck it up and deal.  I never let her buy any of it for me, and I especially will NEVER wear any of it.
Daddy’s cooler.  I think he likes that I’m a tomboy because he always wanted a son.  Instead, he got three girls.  My oldest sister, Jenny, is in college.  She’s going for pre-med to become a surgeon.  Everyone is hella proud of her.  Then there’s Melissa.  She’s a junior in high school, and she wants to join the Army after getting out.  Become a military doctor.  That makes both my parents super proud and super nervous at the same time.  I remember the news that Dad would read and watch every night back when Desert Storm was going on.  It was scary stuff to see.  But she told them she wants to be a doctor in the military because they would pay for college.  That’s smart.
Then there’s me.  The tomboy who just lives life and doesn’t think that far ahead.  Being in the military could be cool, but definitely not Army.  I’m thinking Navy, so I shoot a big gun!  I remember going to the Naval shipyard where they build ships and submarines.  Uncle Tom works there, but he’s not military.  He’s part of the crew who builds stuff.  Took me on base once and showed me some of the stuff there.  It was rad!  Big guns and he talked about how many people it took to use them.  That sounded so fucking cool.  If I was gonna serve, that’s how I’d do it.  Shooting things with big guns.  Hope Uncle Tom would take me shooting one of these days.  He said he would.  See if he would take all of us.  Bet Eli would get hella nervous being around guns.
After dinner I went upstairs.  Didn’t even try and get any phone time.  Figured if Mom wasn’t trying to get online to play Jeopardy, then Mel was talking to her boyfriend.  Those two were so gross together.  Every second of every day he’s clinging on to her like a fucking bat.  Made a joke that I knows who wears the pants in that relationship, and it ain’t him.  Don’t think she liked that very much.
It was really late at night, past my bedtime, when the call came in.  Mom yelling about who would be calling now, and Dad picking up the phone.  Suddenly, he sounded very worried.  Could hear mom getting up, walking down to the phone.  Now my curiosity was piqued.
“Well, maybe he’s at one the other boy’s houses.” I could heard Dad say.
A pause.
“Oh god.  Okay.  We’ll start a search first thing in the morning.  Break of dawn, you have my word.”
Another pause.
“Looking for him at night would be counterproductive.  He’s a smart kid.  He’ll stay where he is so he can be easier to find.  I know it’s scary.  But we’ll find him!”
Now I was at the top of the stairs.  Dad looked up and his eyes met mine.  In that instant, I knew that something bad had happened.  Who were they looking for?!
“You called the police.  They’ll get a search party ready.  First light, we’re gonna go out there and we’ll find him.  I know, Evelyn.  I’m worried too.  But when one of us goes missing, this community will come together to find them.  Try and get some sleep.  You’re gonna need your strength in the morning.”
He hung up the phone, still looking at me.
“Sara, honey.  Johnny’s gone missing.  He never came home.  His mom called Eli’s parents and Griffin’s dad.  Nobody’s seen him.”
This ugly feeling came into my gut.  An ugly, horrible feeling.  He wouldn’t not go home!  Something happened!
“We’re gonna form a search party and look for him in the morning.”
“I’m coming with you!” I damn-near shouted.
“Honey, that’s not such a great idea,” Mom started.
“If you tell me no, I’m just gonna go looking for him on my own!”
The two of them looked at each other, then dad nodded.
“Okay, sweetie.  Be up, first thing tomorrow.”
That wasn’t a hard thing to ask for.  I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

Next day, to dad’s credit, a ton of people gathered.  There was Officer Lewllyn, and his wife.  A young patrol cop and his partner.  Eli and his family, Griffin and his, even Kate and her family.  Friends of Johnny’s family.  There was even family who came from out of town.  Said they drove all night.  Lots of neighbors.  Some of which I knew.  Chief Joe (that’s his last name.  I know, confusing.  He has two first names) came out and broke out a map.  He had drawn up a series of areas that he had likely gone missing.  Everyone got together and started breaking down areas to search.
I got together with Eli and Griffin.  All we could do is walk with everyone.  Couldn’t think of any words.  None of us could.  Kate came over and walked with us too.  I liked that.  The morning dragged on and one.  People calling Johnny’s name, looking for some evidence of him.  Some false-alarms.  A homeless guy who appeared out of the forest, looking disheveled.  Seen the dude around the diner Mom works at.  Nice enough, but you always are a little careful.
The search went on for hours, but there was nothing.  We just kept going around and around, but nothing was found.  Not a single trace.  It was like he vanished from existence.  His route home was always the same.  Always.  We should have found something.  It was nearly nighttime when the search was called off.  Chief said it would “reconvene in the morning.”  Whatever the fuck that meant.

Hours turned into days.  Days when I had no appetite, no desire to do anything except sit in our fort and cry.  You have all those stupid PSAs about being careful and stranger danger and shit.  Guess it was more than something just talking.  Then, after two and a half agonizing weeks, he finally turned up.  Though, I don’t think he was supposed to.
Dad got the call from Officer Lewllyn.  He said that a couple fishermen found a body on the river’s edge, north of town.  He’s alive, but they didn’t think he was supposed to be.  There were rope marks like he was tied to something and thrown in the river.  It came loose, whatever it was.  He floated downstream, washing up on the bank.  Dad didn’t tell me how bad it was, but he was hurt.  Said it was really bad.  The fact that he’s still alive is amazing.  We went to the hospital.
I nearly ran inside.  Was told what room he was in, and charged upstairs.  When I got there, Eli was already there.  He walked over and put his arms around me.  I liked that.  I needed to be hugged right now.  Normally not the type, but I really, really needed it.  Johnny’s mom was there.  She was a mess.  Makeup that was smeared, trying to look like she was holding it together.
The adults all talked, but that wasn’t why I was here.  I walked over to where the bed was.  A curtain was drawn around it.  Walking inside, I stopped cold.  There, lying on the bed, was Johnny.  He didn’t look human.  Tubes in his mouth, one in his nose.  His skin was red and purple.  There was a giant bandage around his hand.  Bandages all over his body.  What the fuck happened?!
Eli put his arms around me again.  The dude had a gift at knowing when I needed to be held.  It was so awful.
“We’re gonna get to the bottom of this,” he whispered in my ear.  “I swear, we’re gonna find out who did this.  And then fucking kill them!”

When I got home, there was nothing that I could feel.  Food had no taste.  Nothing mattered.  I just went into my room and crashed into my bed.  Sleep finally greeted me.  I don’t think I was awake long enough to perceive hitting the pillow.  Just gone.

My eyes opened and I was in a white room.  On a bed that was really, really uncomfortable.  Sitting up, I saw that I was wearing a weird off-green shirt and pants.  Super light.  What the fuck was this?  There was a a window on the door.  It showed sunlight coming in.  My room had a desk as well, with a light.  It was off.  Getting up, my feet greeted the freezing cold floor.  That sucked.  There were slippers.  Like something you’d see in a hospital.  Weird.
Knocking on the door, I tried to look out.  It was taller than I was.
“Hello?  Is anyone there?”
There was a brief pause, and then the door opened.  Standing there was a very large black woman, with curly hair and a kindly look on her face.
“Hey there, honey.  You’re finally up!”
“Where am I?”
She frowned.  “You don’t know?  This is the Millwood Asylum.  We look after people who have mental problems.”
Oh no.  Oh fucking no!  I was in a mental asylum?!  Wait, who even calls them that anymore?
“I’m not crazy!  What am I doing here?!”
The woman gave me a gentle smile.  Very motherly.  “Oh honey, it’s okay.  You’ve nothing to be afraid of here.  We’re gonna help you get better.  That’s why you were brought here.”  She motioned toward the door.  “Come on.  Let’s get you to meeting the population.  I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about.”
Part of me knew that this place was connected to what was happening outside.  Don’t ask me how I knew.  I just did.  What the fuck was I going to do now?

Until next time, a quote,

“The instruments are gruesome, but a hole in the head gives the troubles more space!” – Nurse, Alice: Madness Returns

Peace out,

Maverick

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Rational Man in Disney Movies

I got to talking to a now former coworker of mine about how there are so many things that I would do if you put me in any random film.  And I still feel that way.  So I gots me an idea for a post series that I could do – putting a rational man inside of films, books, what-have-you.  These are just going to be little things that I have noticed in little blurbs.  Let me know if you have ones that come to you.

Rational Man in Snow White
To the Evil Queen: “So, you go through all the effort of making a poison that seeps into an apple when you are the queen of a kingdom?  Why not just send your army to kill that chick?  It seems like you went out of your way to make killing her a thousand times harder than it needed to be.”

To Snow White: “Why is it you felt that it was a good idea to just set up shop in the home of seven dwarfs?  I mean, they probably haven’t seen a woman in years.  The fact that they didn’t turn you into a living sex toy is insane.”

Rational Man in Sleeping Beauty
To Maleficient: “Look, I think you’re awesome.  But why is it you decided to become the dragon?  I mean, as a witch you have nigh-unlimited power.  It seems like you were REALLY handicapping yourself by taking them away and turning yourself into a giant fire-breathing monster when he was clearly geared up for that.

Rational Man in Cinderella
To Aurora: how is it, if that glass shoe fits you just right that it fell off your foot?  I mean, that seems to signify that it is too big for your foot.  Which means that the Prince could easily have found a woman whose foot fit it more snugly and lived happily ever after with her.

To the Prince: why is it, precisely, that you needed to have a shoe fit to prove that someone is the person you danced with the night before?  I get that her attire would be different, but it would still have her same facial features and eye color.  Is your memory that bad that you couldn’t remember those details about her?

Rational Man in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (the Fantasia one, not that shit-tastic live action abortion)
To the Sorcerer: this kid nearly destroyed your entire home, ruined your spell-book, destroyed Groj-knows how much priceless artifacts of your trade, and could have potentially made a nigh-unstoppable army of broomsticks and all he gets is a whack on the butt with your broom?  I would kick the shit out of that little snot.  At this period in history, that wouldn’t even be frowned upon.

Rational Man in Robin Hood
To Prince John: Why is it you never hired an assassin to kill Robin Hood?  I mean, it can’t have escaped your notice that your own men can’t hit the broadside of a barn.  So why not hire a professional to deal with the problem?  A man with your power and connections, I refuse to believe you didn’t have that ability.  Hell, I bet there are people within your own country who could have got the job done.

To Robin Hood: So wait a minute, you’re telling me that you’ve been in a place where you could easily have dispatched the Prince and you never did?  Why?  It would have saved the kingdom a ton of grief, and you were already a wanted criminal.  It’s not like you would be losing anything by killing him.

Rational Man in Aladdin (the good version, not the live-action abortion)
To Jafar: Why is it that you decided to kill Aladdin in a way where he falls into the Cave of Wonders?  Seriously, you could easily have helped him out of that pit, gotten the lamp from him, and then killed him right there.  You were in the middle of the desert.  The only ones who would know is the sands and the vultures that would eat his body.  Hell, you were in disguise anyway, so yeah.  It just sounds like a needless risk.  And since his clever monkey friend got the better of you, it sounds like you lost out anyway.

To Aladdin: How is it that a guy with your level of cunning wasn’t able to find easy ways around the Genie’s rules?  I mean, you should have been able to see this right in front of you.  For starters, wish that the no wishing for more wishes rule was gone.  Boom, problem solved.  Or, failing that, wish for more genies.  Again, problem solved.  You show early on that you are capable of outsmarting the Genie and getting him to have his ego make the best of him, so why was this beyond you?

Rational Man in The Little Mermaid
To King Triton: How come you didn’t let Ariel absolutely have it after everything she did?  That girl not only disobeyed you, but she fucked up your kingdom, betrayed you and everything you stand for to an evil witch, and all for a boy that she likes.  In the end she gets everything she wants and doesn’t have to answer for anything.  I mean, how is that fair?  That girl should at least get locked in her room for a year or two until she gets why what she did was unfathomably stupid.

Rational Man in Atlantis: The Lost Empire
To Rourke: Why exactly is it you felt the need to try and steal Atlantis’ power source to get rich?  Do you not realize that your discovery is going to make you and everyone else in that crew rich beyond their wildest dreams?  They are a lost civilization, with untold treasures.  I mean, in the end they sent everyone back to the surface with a mountain of gold and jewels.  Who knows how much more they would have parted with if you left on good terms.

Rational Man in Jungle Book (the animated version, not the live-action abortion)
To Shere Khan: Why didn’t you just kill Mogli and be done with it?  You are too good to die this way.  Your pride is the thing that killed you.  You should have been picking your teeth with that upstart’s bones.  Seriously, fuck that smug kid.

Rational Man in Frozen
To Elsa: Why is it exactly you had to flee from the kingdom?  You’re a princess, eventually to be a queen.  Why do you care if the peasants label you a witch?  You can freeze their asses when they rebel and then sit on your throne with absolute power and a sister who is pretty much your bitch.

To Kristoff: So…what’s the deal with you and the reindeer?  I mean, the level of closeness you exhibit makes me REALLY think there’s something going on here.  I can’t be the only one who’s noticed this.

Rational Man in A Night on Bald Mountain
To Chernabog: How do I land an invite to the next party you have?  This looks to be a pretty awesome time.  You have sexy fire women, all these crazy demons and ghosts, and you’re fucking with everyone.  I bet this party is off the chain.

Let me know if there are other works you want to see done.  This is just testing the waters on my concept.

Until next time, a quote,

“Provoking people is extremely important because it gets people to think.” – Lawrence Krauss

Peace out,

Maverick

A Wife, A Soldier, An Assassin

That, my dear readers, is the title of this little narrative.  Let me tell you, I don’t do these kinds of things much.  It’s hard for me to maintain an idea long-term.  This little concept for a story started with me being bored as fuck at my job.  So I decided to let my mind wander, and it came up with this.  It’s been fun writing it.  I’m gonna have links to all the parts of the story, in the order I wrote them.  Hopefully you all enjoyed this too, and will come back to it.  I will say that I may end up writing more stories of the missions of the STARS in various posts.  I will be adding them to this post if I do, so check back if you don’t follow my work regularly and want to see if there’s more stuff.

Act I – A Wife
A Chance Start of a Friendship
The Hidden Story (Part 1)
The Hidden Story (Part 2)
Old Friends, Lost Dreams
Unveiling Some Truth, But Not All
A Thanksgiving to Live For

Act II – A Soldier
Lost Sisters, Old Wounds
A Preparing for Battle Tale
Camaraderie Between Branches, and Sisters
A Den of Secrets and Lost Family
Bad Dreams, Bad Behavior
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth (Part 1)
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth (Part 2)
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth (Part 3)
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth (Part 4)
On Home, Gardens, and Babies
An Assassination, In Front of a Choir
The Principles of Youthful Love
Pictures and the Road Down Memory Lane
Home for the Holidays (Part 1)
Home for the Holidays (Part 2)

Act III – An Assassin
The Binary Compound Mission (Part 1)
The Binary Compound Mission (Part 2)
The Binary Compound Mission (Part 3)
Talking Until the Morning Light
The Submarine Mission (Part 1)
The Submarine Mission (Part 2)
The Dream
The Truth About Killing
Saying Goodbye to Her
Coming Full Circle (Part 1)
Coming Full Circle (Part 2)

As I said, there will be more mission stories, but the central narrative is finished.  I hope to see you all again later.

Until next time, a quote,

“War all comes down to these tiny stories about people’s lives that will never be the same.” – Eugene Richards

Peace out,

Maverick

Coming Full Circle (Part 2)

The phone rang.  Annoying.  Had to disengage myself from Ashley’s arms.  She was so soft.  Not nearly the cuddle-bug that Jean was, but still.  Looked at the clock.  0300.  Who would call at this hour?!
Picked it up.  “Hello?”
“Quinn-chan?!”  He sounded awfully perky.
“What do you want, Toriyama?  It’s really fucking early.”
“Oh yeah.  Sorry.  There’s something that I thought you ought to know.  Got a hot tip from someone.  Can’t say who.  They had me do some work on other documents from North Korea.  Very shady stuff.  Was something I found.  Thought you’d like to know.”
Now he had my attention.  “I’m listening.”
“Not over the phone.  Just give me an address.  Will ship it to you.”  A brief pause.  “But you may not like this, Quinn-chan.”
My tone was ice-cold.  “If you have something you think I’d like, then send it.”
“Ya, ya.  Okay.  But don’t say I didn’t tell you so if you no like it.”

It was dark, just how I like it.  A trip I had made years before.  Now I was making it again, for an entire different reason.  But I needed to know.  Had to know.  Needed an answer that only this man could give.  Didn’t know if he would be happy to see me.  Probably.  We had parted on good terms, after all.  But this wasn’t at all a good thing.  Old wounds that needed to be resolved.
Right back where my revenge started.  Sitting in the back of a car.  Well, laying in the back of a car.  Heard the door open.  As before, he was on his phone.
“Yes sir.  We’ve already got the President’s approval.  Once the budget goes through, we’ll get it started.  Thank you, sir.”
Silence.  Guess he was mulling things over.
Sat up.  “Another star on your uniform.  Very impressive.  You won’t be saying ‘sir’ to anyone here, pretty soon.”
He didn’t even have to look in the mirror.  “Pierce.  We have to stop meeting like this.  You know, if you wanted to talk, you could have just come to my office.”
I shook my head.  “There’s no official record I’m here.  Flew in under an alias.”
Still had that look where he was processing.  It was intense.  Even now, he still had it.
“Okay.  What did you want to talk about?”
“Got my hands on some interesting intel.  Real crazy stuff.  Seems the story about the attack on the Pacific Fleet didn’t end for them with the death of those who orchestrated it.  KPA did some digging.”
“Oh yeah?  And what did they find?”
I got very close.  “They found that it was curious that the dissident faction seemed to know exactly where to send their popper planes.  I mean, it isn’t like they had a big satellite network.  China had already told them no.  So how did they know where to strike?  Got me curious too.”
There was a little twitch in the man’s neck.
“Making me wonder – did the leak come from us?  Was there someone in our military who made sure they got it?  And if so, was my mission just to cover their tracks?  A big song and dance that helped them come out looking squeaky clean?  And also got us peace with one of our biggest adversaries?  Lots of questions.  Which then makes me wonder – was the guy who sent me on this wild goose chase the same one who knew where this all came from?
“Then I found out that the newly christened Delta Team got their start with a black ops mission here in the US.  Some ‘threats to national security’ iced.  Sounds like someone in the Navy used the STARS to clean house.  Sure would be a shame if it was the same person who sent me on my mission.  Wouldn’t it?”
The Admiral actually smiled.  “Not bad, Pierce.  But don’t think for one second that you’re innocent in this.  Like you said, you were gonna do this one way or the other.  You came to me looking for intel.  We both used each other.”
My knife slide into his neck like it went into butter.  “My wife’s dead because of you, you piece of shit!  Because you had to go scheming.  I told you that I would make her killers pay.  And now I have.  You’re the last loose end.”  Pulled the blade out.  He was dead in seconds.  “Goodbye, Amiral.”
Got out of the car.  My ERC-7 was on, and I exfil-ed the parking garage the same way as I had come in.  All these years later, and there was that same cathartic feeling that I had when I watched that mess hall full of KPA soldiers choke and scream and die.  But now it really was done.  She could rest.  And maybe, just maybe, so could I.

Epilogue

This was it.  What we had all been drilling for.  The last week here was nothing but drilling for the graduation ceremony.  Everything was regimented.  Every fucking thing.  We even had a practice hall that we used for the exact purpose of getting ready for the real deal.  But this was the home stretch.
My excitement was growing and growing.  While Petty Officer McGrath was yelling at us, I would be thinking about getting to see them again.  Dad told me wouldn’t miss it if the world was ending.  So had the rest.  All the letters we got.  Speaking of, had to get my duty done.  My tenure as the Mail Officer was coming to an end.  A post that I kicked ass at.  It was cool that I got the girls back home to send letters to the guys and girls who had no one writing to them.  Telling them that they were doing good work and that they knew it was hard.  I got a reputation around here as the person trying to help everyone.  Got the attention of the base commander.  No joke.  Felt proud of that.
Now the day had finally come, and here I was.  Dress whites on, I was ready.  We were all in formation.  My shipmates and I were in the 193, fourth in line.  Walked in to that room, and for the first time, I felt all the pride inside seeing all those people, to congratulate us for making it this far.  It wasn’t easy.  Not everyone makes it through boot camp.  Not everyone should.
I was there the day the girl died from heat exhaustion.  She didn’t want to look weak to her shipmates, so she hadn’t told Petty Officer.  Eventually it was clear, but by that point it was too late.  I can’t imagine being the CACO and having to tell her family that she died before she even got to be a Seaman.  Petty Officer was pissed.  Gave us all a talk as we did air-chairs that it doesn’t make us tougher sailors to die because we don’t report problems.  That we have a duty to our shipmates to look after ourselves, because we are all we can depend on.  When a ship is on fire, or we are under attack, all we have is each other.  So we have to trust each other.  That stuck with me.
Something to know about graduation from boot camp – it’s literally you standing at attention for 45 minutes.  No joke.  You cannot break formation or go at ease until they give you liberty.  Another thing is that they have people there whose sole job is to see those who are struggling and escort them out.  People pass out doing this.  Not even kidding.  Was hot as fuck, too.  Hated it.  But thinking about them all out there, watching me, seeing me in uniform, it made it so much easier.  Couldn’t wait to see Dad’s face.  Or hers.  She had promised that the rest would be here too.
Worst part of it all was when we all had to sing, in “unison,” Anchor’s Aweigh.  Never have I wanted to cringe more than I did then.  It was terrible.  People were off-key, not keeping time, and I hate singing unless I know I’m alone in the shower.  This was terrible.  Felt so humiliate to even be there.  Could almost feel her smirking at me.  But then, she’d been down this road before.  So had all of them.
Finally, and I do mean finally, the announcer came on.
“Now, let me say, Liberty!”
Everyone cheered.  Finally getting to break ranks, I knew Dad would come charging in to find me.  Sure enough, within moments, there he was.  Dressed in a blue suit that fit him like a glove.  Looking sharp, Dad!  Felt out-classed, all of the sudden.  But I wouldn’t when I had the officer’s dress uniform!
“Hey, sweetie!”  He gave me a big hug.  Kind of took the wind out of me.  “You look great in that uniform.  I’m so proud of you.”
Smiled at him.  “Thanks, Dad.  Not looking so bad in that suit.  Feeling outclassed.”
“Not for a minute, honey.”
Just then, I saw them.  Each standing in officer dress uniforms.  A little strange, considering that they weren’t in the Navy anymore, but these women were legends in the STARS.  I could see people looking at them with instant respect.  And in the center, there was she was.  My teacher.  My best friend.  The mom I never had, but I’d never tell her that.  Her hair was done up in a perfect bun.  She really did look the part.
Walking over, I immediately stood at attention.  Their uniform showed that they outranked me.
“Well done, Seaman Phillips.”
“Yes ma’am.  Thank you, ma’am.”
She stood at attention and saluted.  I returned it.
“Carry on, Seaman.”
Couldn’t get the smile off my face.  “Thank you, ma’am!”
Now she held out her arms.  “Give me a hug, kiddo.”
I jumped into her arms.  Just like old times.  Being 14 again and training with her.  Nothing had changed.  Except Quinn.  With her was Bethke, who was looking a little sheepish.  She was still enlisted, leading Alpha Team.  Beacham couldn’t be here, which made me sad.  But she did write and tell me how if I didn’t get through boot she would put her foot up my ass.  Believed it.  Pennyfeather couldn’t be here either.  Being Beacham’s right-hand woman was hard work.  Gave Rodriguez a hug.  She looked the most awkward in uniform.  Ever since she left it, she was always in something that had less layers, and showed more skin.  Even now, she still was looking for tail.  Some things never change.  Lastly, there was Crow.  Scuttlebutt back home was that her and Quinn were getting pretty close.  Nothing official, but part of me hoped they were.  I think they’d be cute together.
“I’m proud of you,” she said.
“Thanks, Quinn.”
It’s strange, but in that instant, for just a second, I thought I saw a woman with brown hair, just behind her.  Then I blinked, and she was gone.  I know Quinn has always been skeptical of the afterlife.  I am too.  But I like to think, that Jean was there too, also proud.
But now, I had a couple hours of Liberty.  Had to make the most of it.  Worst part was – no drinking.  I know that Rodriguez would hook me up.  Next stop, A School.  The first stop on the way to earning my wings.  I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

Fin

Until next time, a quote,

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” – Plato

Peace out,

Maverick

Coming Full Circle (Part 1)

“When I first joined the Navy, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life.  It was all just something to get me out of that town and doing something important.  Boot camp was the loneliest I had ever been.  All the people getting mail from their families, it hurt.  You’d get the occasional guy who got a Dear John letter from a girlfriend.  Had a couple girls who got it from their girlfriends.  Never saw boyfriends sending this shit.
“Then I joined up with the STARS, because it felt like something worth doing.  They sold me on it being a unit for women, helping them get into combat roles.  The training we got, the places we visited, it was incredible.  I’ve done arctic training in Canada with CANSOFCOM.  I’ve crawled through sand with Kurdish fighters.  I’ve run through jungles with COPESP.  And I learned how to disappear in cities with the SAS.  It was amazing.  Difficult.  I thought that it couldn’t be harder than boot camp.  You can’t imagine how wrong I was.  The SEALS have Hell Week.  We had Hell Months.  When we got sleep were the good nights.  When we didn’t was pretty usual.  So many women dropped out or were flunked out.
“At first, we were seen as just the women-force.  What they called the FDU.”
“What was that?” Johnathan asked.
“The Frigid Dykes Unit.”
“Christ.  You’d think they’d give you more respect than that.”
I chuckled.  “Respect is earned, in the military.  And we eventually did earn it.  Like you wouldn’t believe.”
Emily was sitting on the edge of the bed, feet up and arms around her knees.  Kiddo looked awkward.  But I made the choice to finally be open with them.  These two were the closest thing I had to family since losing my wife.  Now I had to give them the full story.  Minus the classified bits.  I think.  Sometimes it’s hard to know with a unit that was breaking the law and sometimes operating on American soil to kill threats to the country.
“For a while, we were just a stealth unit, infiltrating, getting intel, setting explosives, whatever needed to be done.  Sure, there would be the occasional kill we’d have to make, but soon the brass realized our ability as killers and saw fit to have it become a bigger and bigger part of our operations.  One of Alpha Team stood out among the rest in regards to being a good killer.”
“Who?” John asked.
“Me.”  So many memories flashed before me.  So many kills.  The ways I could do it.  How I was always seeing ways to kill people.  “I was so good at it.  They had me doing more and more of it over the years.  Until finally I didn’t even know if I could stop.  It was doing things to me.  Mentally, physically, you name it.  The only person who was able to help me get out of the darkness with killing was Jean.  That’s part of how our relationship began.  She asked for some shore leave so all of us could unwind.  Our first date was that night.  The beginning of what would be the best relationship I’ve ever had.”
Both my companions looked awkward.
“Oh Quinn, I’m so sorry.  I can’t imagine how awful it was to lose her.” he said, finally.
“Ever since, I haven’t been able to get past it.  Haven’t been able to let the killing go.  It’s all I know how to do.  So I keep doing it.  But now there’s no outlet.  My hands aren’t shaking, but my mind is still breaking.  I don’t know how much more of this I have in me.  But you all came into my life, and I feel like maybe, just maybe, there’s a future for me.”
Emily smiled at me.
“I’m sorry, kiddo.  I didn’t mean to hurt Ashley the way I did.  It’s just, there’s so much guilt inside me for what happened.  I was the one who convinced Jean to go on deployment when she did.  I wanted us to actually be able to spend a Christmas together in our new home.  Two years, and we still hadn’t been able to.  I wasn’t going to let that year be different.  Wanted to make tasty food for us.  Maybe have some of the girls who had no family over.  Make a feast for all the sisters.  That’s been in the back of my head for years.  Guess it caught up with me that night.”
All she did was nod at me.
“I think I’m finally ready to see if I can move forward.  I can’t leave the company I started, but I can start looking at the jobs I get offered.  Maybe change my criteria.  Some of the girls I served with are looking to leave the Navy.  No point letting good talent go to waste.”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” John replied, with that approving dad look.  He really did remind me of my old Lt.  “If you’re ever looking for a CFA, I might know a guy who has the credentials.”
“What about the company you’re with now?”
He shrugged.  “It’s good money, but truth be told, I want something more challenging.  Handling the legal side for a Private Military Corporation sounds like one hell of a challenge.  I like it.”
There was this moment that passed between us.  Reminded me of when I had been negotiating with the Admiral after Jean died.  Two equals, figuring shit out together.
“Well, we’ll see when we get there.  Not committing to anything now.”
He nodded.  “Absolutely.  Decisions like this should always be given a great deal of thoughts.  But I’m glad you’re finally starting to think about your future.”
So much weight off me.  They were all on the same page.
Looked over at Em.  “You mind looking after Natayo and Shadow while I’m still in here?  They said it will still be a couple more days.”
She nodded.  “Sure!  They’re pretty great.”
“Thanks.  But you know, once I’m out of here, we’re back into training.  You’ve been slacking off!  Can’t have that.  And I want to expand your education.  Have you learn some new stuff.”
That got her attention.  “What new stuff?!”
“It’s time I teach you how to fight.  Some basic CQC.”
“Hell yeah!”
When her dad gave her a look, we both cracked up.

A couple days went by.  Finally getting back home, still recovering from a bullet wound.  I had gotten lucky.  Bullet went right through me.  No major arteries knicked, but my intestines had been perforated.  Did some surgery to get me patched up, now it was just about recovery.  Spent my days resting, for the most part.  Wasn’t going to risk my stitches getting undone.
Kiddo would come over.  I’d talk with her about what we would be doing.  Basic combat stances, being able to read opponents, relaxing her muscles.  Had a kitty perched on my lap pretty much the entire time I was recovering.  Pussy got some serious love.  Pupper wasn’t especially pleased with this.  But Emily was taking him out to run.  That did make a happy dog.
Finally, after what felt like forever, I was back on my feet.  Had to recover a LOT of strength.  Apparently I lost a decent amount of blood.  Now it was about getting my strength back and then going back into it with kiddo.
Something else that happened because of what I did – apparently I had a REALLY big fan club at Emily’s school.  Word got out about the badass former STARS member who saved the lives of students and even got a shooter to put the gun down.  The accomplice was dead before he hit the floor, but the first guy did surrender without incident.  None of the other students were hurt.  Only casualty of the event was me.  Got to talk to a news crew.  Being regarded as a hero was the weirdest shit ever.  All these years, a hero is the last thing I felt like.  But now, here I was, getting thank you cards, flowers, even a stuffed kitty with a card telling me to get well.  It was a cute snow leopard design.  Natayo now attacks it all the time.  It’s super cute.
Ended up going to Em’s school, and the second I walked in the door, the staff came to greet me.  The principal shook my hand.  Got to sashay into kiddo’s class and walk in like a rock star.  My old Navy hoodie was covered in blood, but it seems my Alpha Team sisters were all over that.  They got me a new one, that had Alpha Team’s insignia on the back.  The same one that Jean designed.  Not gonna lie, cried a bit when I opened it.  But I wear it so proudly.  Seeing that hoodie, so many people were all over me.  The adulation felt nice, but I didn’t let it go to my head.  At least, I don’t think so.  People asked me what it was like being in that situation, and I leveled with them that my first thought was with taking out the first kid.  But I pushed myself past my worse angels to reason with him, and I was glad I did.
I think everyone expected military bravado.  Eff that.  I wanted them to know the truth.  Needless to say, kiddo was something of a rock star for being chill with me.  For a little while, it made things awkward when we’d go to the pool to do training sessions and people would want to shake my hand of whatever.  But eventually the craziness died down and everyone moved on to the next thing.  In the age of Internet culture, nothing stays a huge deal for long.
Stuff with my company was changing too.  I had a couple of assassination contracts I had already agreed to.  Once a contract is signed, I can’t get out of it.  So I knew that I’d have to play those out.  I could do that.  The pain wasn’t as vivid.  The mental stress.  Maybe all of this was tied to how I had been holding everything in.  Was it the same way when Jean and I were dating?  I couldn’t talk about anything back then, either.  Perhaps the secrecy was what was fucking up my life.
One day I got a text from Ashley, wondering if I was doing anything.  Was kind of shocked.  After what happened between us, I figured she hated my guts.  Turns out, she was just scared and didn’t know how to deal.  Kiddo had talked with her, and now she was hoping to get another chance to spend a fun night together when she was in town.  I do remember how unbelievably attractive she was.  And pretty good in bed, too.  I needed a woman in my bed again.  Since the bad dreams had stopped, I was certain this was gonna be crazy.  I told her to wear something really sexy, on top and underneath.

Lt was coming out of the base.  He had a look on his face of it being a long day.  He fiddled with his keys, trying to unlock the door.
“Hey,” I greeted.
The look on his face was one of shock.  “What are you doing here, Pierce?”
Hopped off the rail I was sitting on, tossing him a beer.  Not some domestic shit.  America makes crappy beer.  Just gonna put that out there.
“Just in the neighborhood.  Figured I’d come visit.  Looking sharp, I see.”  Suddenly something caught my eye.  There had been a change to his uniform.  New collar, shoulder, and sleeve chevrons.
“Lt. Commander now.  Rock on!  So does this mean you’re not in charge of Alpha Team anymore?”
He shook his head.  “For now I’m still here.  A replacement is being selected from the program.  It’s in a bit of a bind.  We’re having new women integrated into Delta and Echo teams, but since several team members are leaving the ranks because either their enlistment is up or they asked for a transfer, we may end up having to compartmentalize the teams into new ones.”  Then he gave me a wry look.  “I mean some of those leaving have cards from your company.  You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
I gave the biggest innocent face ever.  “Who, me?!  Never!”
Guy chuckled.  “Smart ass as always.”
“Aye, sir.”
“I heard you talked with the other girls.  Once they stopped shit-talking you, I knew something happened.  They’re playing it close to the uniform, but I know something happened.  They talked about coming to visit you.  And convinced me to sign that card we sent after you got shot.  Heard what happened at the school.  Very impressive, Pierce.  On both the kid you talked down, and the one you took down.”
It still felt good, getting adulation from my old LCO.
“Thank you, Lt.  Well, guess I can’t call you that anymore.”
He snorted.  “Might as well.  It’s what the others still do.  No respect around here.”
Gave him a wink.  “Not a bit, sir.”
Leaning against the car, he took a swig of the beer.  “You look a lot better, Pierce.  I remember that day I saw you at the hospital.  You looked like shit.”
“Yeah.  I was in a bad place.”
“And now?”
“Now, I’m in a different one.  Not entirely sure what’s gonna happen, but I think that I am on the path.”
He nodded.  “I’m glad to hear that.  Part of me always hoped that one day you’d end up in charge of a team with the STARS.  But then, you were always following Beacham’s lead.  She’s one of the people we’re looking at to replace me.  Give her a HUGE promotion and then give her command of Alpha.  Don’t tell her I said that, Pierce!  Understood?”
“Wilco, sir.”
“Thanks.  I put her name in myself.  That woman has the makings of a great commanding officer.  Someday I know she’s gonna be where I am now.”
“You’re not wrong.”
We stood there for a few moments, just drinking beer and listening to the noise of the base.  F-22s landing down the way.
“I heard you’re finally getting a divorce form Vicki,” I said, finally.
“Why am I not surprised you know that.”
“I am so glad.  That woman was a bitch, sir!”
“She was a little rough around the edges…”
“No!  She was a bitch.  We all hated her so much.  She treated you like her dog.  Hope your lawyer takes her to the cleaners.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’ll happen.”
“We live in the age of equality, sir!  That means that women can be fucked over in a divorce as much as any man.”
Another snort from him.  “Yeah, I’m sure.  But no way am I gonna get out of this without paying alimony.  At least my son is in college now and I don’t have to worry about child support.”
“No kidding.  Up here it’s a bitch.”
“Copy that.”
From there, we have finally reached a point of being able to be personal.  Some light conversation.  His son heading to Cal-Tech, to study to be an astrophysicist.  Wanted to end up doing some work for the Navy.  Made his father proud.  I could feel that.  Would make me proud too.
Finally, Lt looked to leave.  “So, you gonna be alright, Pierce?”
“Aye, sir.  I think I will be.”
He held out his hand.  “It was good to see you again.”
Shook it.  “You too, Lt. Commander.”

Until next time, a quote,

“I started the lab because I was never able to create friends.” – Okabe, Steins;Gate

Peace out,

Maverick

Saying Goodbye to Her

All I could do is stare at her.  That perfect face that I remember so well.  The long, flowing brown hair.  Still wanted to play with it.  Run my hands through it.  In those cute PJ’s with the flannel pattern.
“You’re finally up!” she said.
All I could do was stare.
“Never thought the day would come when my wife wouldn’t have any words for me.”
My mind was struggling to make sense of it.
“You’re here!” I finally managed to get out.
Her smile deepened.  “Yup.  I’m right here.”
“But, why?  How?  I don’t understand…”  The rational part of my brain was struggling to make sense of it, but couldn’t.  Like a piece of a puzzle that I was missing.  It bothered me just as much as that would.
The smile was fading.  “Aren’t you happy to see me?”
How she said that tore at my heart-strings.  Started shaking.  Tears welling up.
“Of course I’m happy to see you!  All I’ve wanted for what feels like an eternity is to see you.”
In a flash she was standing in front of me, pulling me into her arms.  Even with the height difference between us, never have I felt smaller.
“Quinn, I’ve wanted to see you too.  I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you too.  Every day without you, I felt like I was there a little less than the day before.”
“I know.  And it’s been breaking my heart to see you this way.”
I pulled back, looking into her eyes.  Now she looked like tears were eating at her.
“Why?”
“I don’t want you to be unhappy, Quinn!  Why would I want that?!  I love you!  Just because I can’t be with you anymore doesn’t mean I want you to be unhappy!  Do you really think I’m that kind of person?!”  The insistence there.  It wasn’t accusatory.  It was begging.  Trying to reach that deep part inside.
“I…I thought you would have blamed me.  It’s my fault you died.”
Now she had that look that only a mother can have.  “I made the choice to go on deployment early, Quinn.  Not you.  I have to own that.”
“I would give anything for it to be me and not you.”
She grabbed my arm roughly.  “Don’t you say that!  You hear me?!  Don’t you ever say you’d rather be dead.”  Voice cracking.  “Seeing how much risk you put yourself in, the lengths you have gone to, what you’ve done to yourself, it hurts me so much.  And I couldn’t say anything to you.  Screaming, beating on the glass from this side, but all I could do is see you hurt yourself more and more.”
Tears were openly flowing down my face now.
“But then you found this new person in your life.  That sweet kid who looks up to you like a big sister.”
I chuckled.  Laughter while crying.  Looked like a mess, I’m sure.  “I’m old enough to be her mom.”
“Well, she hasn’t treated you like one yet.  And she’s been good for you.  Seeing how far you’ve come, it made me think that maybe you’d be okay.”
Even more tears.  Red faced, just a big blubbering kid.  This was not a dignified look.
“I tried to make it work, Jean.  I really did.  But it all fell apart.”
“You haven’t lost your friend yet.”
“But if I’m here, and we’re talking, that means I’m dead.  So I have lost her.”
She shook her head.  “You’re dead, but not permanently.”
Immediately I looked up, scared to death.  “No!  Please, don’t tell me I have to leave!”
A sullen expression.  “Yeah, you do.  You’ve lost a lot of blood, but you’re not dead yet.”
“I can’t do this alone!  I don’t want to leave you!”
A moment passed between us.
“We have some time, sweetie.”
“How long?!”  I couldn’t do losing her again.
“At least the rest of today.  Like I said, you lost a lot of blood.  We can talk, eat, whatever you want.  Okay?”
Nodding like a little kid who had to accept a bad situation.  “Okay…”
“So, what do you wanna do?”
Looking at my face in the reflection of my oven door, I giggled.  “Well, for starters, clean myself up a bit.  I look like shit.”
“Yeah, you do.  So, a shower?”  That little hint of hopefulness in her voice.
Now I was smiling.  “I’d like that.”

Watching her put her hair up in a towel.  My hair had gotten a bit longer.  Enough that now it was rubbing on my neck, but not long enough that I couldn’t just air dry it.  That had been so magical.  The longest shower I’ve ever taken, but whatever.  Worth every second.  Now I was just laying on the bed, staring at her putting her hair in a towel and then looking back at me.
“What?”
“Nothing.  Just admiring the view.”
She winked at me.  “It gets better.”
“Oh really?”
Getting on top of me, rubbing her nose against mine.  “I’ve missed this so much.  Even if it’s just for a little while, having you like this is so perfect.”
Looked away.  “Don’t talk about it ending.”
“Sorry, love.” She leaned in closer, the tenderness of her lips was breathing life back into me.  A pause.  “But you know what else I’ve missed?”
“Hm?”
“Your cooking!  You have to make me something amazing!  You got this amazing kitchen in this rad as fuck house.  Show me what you can do, wonder woman!”
Now we were talking!  Kissing her, I then pushed her off and got up.  Best to get dressed.  DIdn’t want to be making something that could potentially spill on me with next to nothing protecting the skin.
As I took off the towel and got into my dresser, now I could see her staring.
Seeing me give her a look, she shrugged.  “Just admiring the view myself.”

The rest of the morning was the two of us in my kitchen.  She sat at the stool by the counter, while I was all over the place.  My first big idea was something from my Midwestern heritage – fried cheese curds.  So unhealthy, but dammit, it was delicious!  Another Midwest dish that I made up for dessert was cream puffs.  Used to have these at the state fair when I was little.  Never got around to making them for us.  But now I was making up for lost time.  She helped me prep them.  Could hear her stomach growling to consume from where I was.
Put the puffs in the fridge, and we eat fried curds on the veranda.  Sat at the table, eating from a large plate I piled them onto.  White cheddar was my base for these things.  So fucking tasty!  The two of us talked about old stories.  The party after the ceremony of my wedding.  How drunk Rodriguez got, throwing up in the coat room.  Our days on deployment back when she was still one of my COs.  That was so damn long ago.  Not half a life-time, but closer to it than I’d like.  That time when Bethke had to make a stink with LT to cover us when Jean had stayed in me and Rodriguez’s quarters.  We really were family.  Or when I came home from a deployment of several months and the pupper and kitty damn-near attacked me with love.  Then me having to go over the uniform for an hour to get all the hair off.  So many good memories.
Finally, we got to the cream puffs.  Holy fuck!  I always knew that my cooking skills were boss as fuck, but damn!  Never did I think that I would be this good in a pinch.  Sudden inspiration was a powerful thing.  Saw some cream on the edge of my wife’s lip, so I licked it off.  This led to some kissing.  No complaints.  Felt so good.

After eating, we decided to digest on the lawn.  The sun was out and the wind was blowing.  Time to be women and get a tan while enjoying each other’s company.  Was no noise of the neighbors, so we spread a blanket, got naked, and took in the rays.  A growing part of me was desperately wishing this day never had to end.  You ever have someone who you can just be quiet with and it’s alright?  Feeling their love right next to you, and that’s all you need.  That’s how this was.  No words, just soft emotions and closeness.  This led that same part of me to think about how this could all be a dream.  I mean, the afterlife is just a myth, right?  Everything in your body is connected to your sensations.  So none of this is real, right?  Whatever.
“Does it feel real?” she asked.
Weird!  Like she’s in my head.  “What?”
“What we’re sharing right now.  Does it feel real?”
“More than anything ever has before!”
“Then it is.  Maybe the conscious mind doesn’t get it, but if you feel it, then there it is.”
How did I get so lucky with this woman?
Snuggled in closer, pulling her into my arms.  Tanning was about to go to a much more fun place.

Hours went by.  Went back inside, snuggled up and took in the view of the ocean.  Hours on the clock flew by and before I knew it, I was making dinner.  Old fashioned Jambalaya.  So damn tasty.  We saw in front of the TV watching a forgotten hilarious comedy called Top Secret and laughed until we cried.  How this movie, made by the same guys who made Airplane was forgotten baffled me.
Then I saw the clock.  It was getting late.  Really, really late.  No!  Why?!
“I’m not leaving,” I told her.
She gave me a sad look.  “You can’t stay, Quinn.  Your body is recovering.”
“I’ll find a way to stay here.  I can’t go back.  What’s waiting for me out there?  The empty bed.  The lonely fridge.  The work that’s killing me inside.  I can’t go back to that.”
“What about the friend you made?  Her dad?  They’re family to you now, right?  And our puppy and cat.  You gonna leave them to fend for themselves?  I don’t think you can be that cruel.  I know you better than that.”
Tears again.  Dammit!  “I can’t do this, Jean!  I leave you now, and it’s forever.  I can’t lose you again!”
She put her hand on my face.  “Baby, you aren’t losing me.  Not forever.  A whole bunch of years down the line, when you’ve lived a full life, and I’m gonna be right here, waiting for you.”
Bawling.  “So what, I just say goodbye?!  Like ‘see ya, honey!’?  Like I’m going on some long-ass deployment?!”
“Not in so many words.”  A deep breath.  “When I was on that ship, and we had taken damage.  When we were sinking and there was no way out, the thing that hurt me more than anything was the fact that I’d never get to say goodbye to you.  But I’m here, now.  I have you here.  I want to be able to say goodbye and know that you’re gonna be okay.  You know?”
No words.  Just incomprehensible noise amidst crying.  Finally, words came.  “I do this, then what?  Find some other person?  Forget about you?”
A stern look.  “You really believe you’re gonna forget about me?”
“I never could.”
“Then there you go.  But yeah, you move forward.  Maybe you don’t start dating, but you at least start living.  Spending time with your new family.  Looking after my family.  Taking care of the fur babies.  Seeing some fun places.  Your new little sister will need a guide if she ever gets into the Navy to be a pilot, you know?”  She took my hands in hers.  “It’s not saying you’re gonna forget about me.  It’s saying you’re gonna move forward and have a life.  A full life.  Then, when it’s done, and we meet again, you can tell me all about it.  I love your stories.”
I looked right into her eyes.  “You promise, you’ll be here waiting for me?”
“I promise.  I love you, Quinn.”
“I love you too, Jean.  With all my heart.”
We hugged tightly.  Never wanted to let her go.
“Let’s get to bed.  I wanna go to sleep in your arms again.  At least give me that.”
“Aye-aye.”
“There’s my woman!”
Smiled at her.  The perfect wife.

Soft skin, in my arms.  Felt consciousness drifting away.  Sleep was coming in.  Couldn’t help it.  She’s so warm and soft.  Running my fingers through her hair.  Would play with it for hours, if I could.  Then sleep came upon me.
“Goodbye, Jean.”
“See you later, Quinn.”

The sound of beeping.  My eyes opened.  For the first time, in what felt like a million fucking years, my eyes were opening.  There, sitting in a chair, was John.
“Hi.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Don’t forget about me.” – Chloe Price, Life is Strange

Peace out,

Maverick

The Truth About Killing

A few weeks had passed since that night with Ashley.  Everything that followed was about as bad as I could have expected.  After getting all the tears out, she got dressed and stormed out of my place.  Having gone back over to Emily’s, I got an absolute earful from the kiddo the next day about how much I had hurt her cousin and how she was so angry with me.  Though not just for hurting Ash.  She was also mad at me because I was about to kill myself.  That part I understood.  All the crying and yelling and asking me how I could do that.  Asking if I even thought about how she’d feel if she found out I had done that.  The words hurt.  They bit at my soul.  Between bouts of crying and yelling, she told me that if I was just gonna kill myself to not talk to her anymore.
And that’s how our PT and everything else ended.  My sources told me she had kept up with swimming.  In fact, she seemed to be doing it harder than ever.  That part made me happy.  At least some good came from our time together.  I’d take that.  As for me, I found slipping back into old routine had become pretty simple.  Shadow still joined me on my morning runs.  He loved it.  That made me happy.  I had him taken to a groomer here in town to have him trimmed.  A golden retriever mutt was a big responsibility.  The German Shepherd in him made the hair not grow as long as you’d think, but still longer than I wanted.
Before I had met Emily, and all this had happened, each day passed as uninteresting as the next.  I would do any research or procuring I needed for my next job.  There was one in my queue.  This one was admittedly a little interesting.  Killing a corporate executive, in a manner that absolutely had to look like an accident.  My sources were getting a dossier prepared on the target, and then we could have a meeting on possible methods of elimination.  A German man.  Such a shame, that one of the greatest warriors on Earth was being paid a king’s ransom to eliminate him.  Oh well.
I would go for my morning PT, spend some time playing with Natayo, do some work stuff, then have the rest of the day where I would watch movies or some other form of escapism.  Such standard days.  Nothing even remotely interesting happened.  Would have to think about how I could have my pets looked after when I went on a mission.  Maybe I could hit up Crow.  This was a nice place, and I could trust she wouldn’t trash it.  My pets loved all my sisters.
All of the good feelings in my life were slipping away.  Couldn’t talk to Jean’s family.  Didn’t even want to think about them.  They told me we were starting over, but what her father said was so fresh in my mind.  What if he blamed me too?  I didn’t like sleeping after the night of the dream.  Insomnia was all over me, but that was fine.  Meant that my pupper didn’t get to have a good night in bed like usual.  He was an unhappy camper, but he would get to chill with me on the couch, so he couldn’t be too unhappy.  Watching whatever stupid show was on Netflix.
For so long, I thought that I had it all figured out.  Then this young person came into my life, and everything I had was all fucked up.  My world was turned upside down, and I didn’t know who I was anymore.  And just when I feel like I had this shit figured out and could move forward, this happens.  What had I done?

Fate has a funny way of getting back at me at the strangest times.  She’s a mean bitch, and I had done her wrong before.  As it happened, I was getting materials ready for my next job.  I had a general idea of what I was going to do, but it hadn’t taken shape yet.  Poison was the word.  There are so many of them.  The one I was looking for had its roots in the Amazon (what little is left now), able to kill quietly and leave no trace of itself.  Would look like a typical infection.  By the time they knew what had happened, it would be too late.  The perfect tool for the criteria they gave me.
My phone rang.  Picked it up and saw kiddo’s name there.  What did she want?
“Hey,” I answered.
“You at home?” she asked.
“Aye.  What’s up?”
“I left my report at home.  It’s sitting on my bed.  Can you grab it for me?”  Her tone was so deadpan.  Only called me because she needed something.  Oh well.
“Sure.  Be there in 30.”
“Cool.  Thanks.”
A step in the right direction?  A woman can hope.  I jogged down to her place and knocked on the door.  Best to see if Betty’s there instead of just busting in, right?  Turns out, she wasn’t.  That’s when it hit me – she called me because Betty was gone.  The feeling of hope faded out, but part of me figured it’s best to try and make lemonade out of this situation.  She did call me, after all.  I missed my friend.

When I got to Olympia High School, I saw that this wasn’t much to look at.  The exterior was unassuming.  Because this is Washington, it was nice to look at from the outside.  There were kids chilling outside.  Guess they let kids go off campus at lunch.  Reminded me of where I grew up.  In fact, that’s the feeling I got here.  It really was like something I grew up with way back in the day.  Made me feel a little old as I stared at the entrance and the sign with the clock above it and thought back to when I was a kid.  Before everything went to shit, and I was a pariah.  Over half my life ago now.  At least from when I started.  How nuts is that?!

Being a freshman was the worst.  You go from being at the top of the stack in middle school to this.  It sucked.  Now I was stuck in another alien place that I had to learn all about, with people who probably were going to be dicks to me.  Only one of my friends was here.  The other two either were in a different school, or in the case of Cassie had moved.  It was hella hard, watching her leave.  Cried for ages.  Felt like I was losing more than a friend.  She was one of the few black girls in this town, and when you’re a minority in farming country, that can be a little sticky.  But she was such a great friend.  And the older I got, the more I thought something else about her.  It was strange, but with me all the same.  Maybe someday I’d figure it out.
At least big sis was here.  Though, would she want her little sister around?  I hoped so.  Lulu was glad he wouldn’t be going into this by himself, but having a big sister to watch my back sounded nice.  I pulled my backpack up and started toward the door.  Guess we’d find out what school was going to be for me soon enough.  Hopefully it didn’t suck.  In fact, I would do my best to make it exciting.  Cute boys, maybe having a car someday, and lots of fun girls to get to know.  That last thought stuck with me.  Daddy always said I was friendly.  Who knows who I’d meet.  Positive attitude time!  It was a new day.  Let’s see what happens next.

As fate would have it, things would go wrong for me in all kinds of ways.  But that was history now.  A long, depressing history of how Lady Luck had fucked me over five ways ’til Sunday.  I had the paperwork she needed, in a manila envelope.  Time to head inside.  Something caught my eye, as I headed in.  A kid, with a look on his face that I had seen before.  Maybe he’s emo?  I know I am out of touch, so maybe I’m just reading into it.  He wore this ratty brown coat, and had a duffel bag hanging down at his side.  All the alarms in my head were going off.  Something was off about this kid.  No, this was all just nerves.  Kids can be weird as fuck.  I knew plenty that people thought were serial killer types that just were misunderstood.  Had to get kiddo her paper.
I had texted her that I was arriving and she told me to RV with her at the entrance.  That worked.  Looking around at the various things hanging on the walls.  A trophy case with Lacrosse, rugby, track, swimming, and soccer trophies.  Not bad.  Back in my school, it was all about football and basketball.  Midwest to West Coast.  A larger gap then you’d think.  In more ways then one.  A TV monitor on the wall, with changing displays of things like the school lunch menu, hot items at the school store, various sporting and school events.  People looked at me like I was some kid’s mom.  I’m not that old!  Christ.
That’s when I saw kiddo heading down the hall toward me.  She had been talking to some girl.  Seeing me, her friend broke off and left.  Guess she figured we needed some privacy.  Courteous of her.
“Hey,” I greeted.
“Hey.”  There was a bit of awkwardness there.  “So, do you have my report?”
“Aye.”  Gave her the manila envelope.
“Thanks.  You’re a life-saver!  I was pretty fucked without it.  DIdn’t wanna call dad.  He’d give me an earful about forgetting it.”
I nodded.  “Well, your secret’s safe with me.”
She couldn’t help but smile.  “Thanks.”
We stood there for a bit.  Time to bow out?
“Well, I guess I should be going,” I said, finally.
Looking up.  “Wait!  So, are you doing okay?”
Thought for a moment.  “It’s another day, you know?”
Kiddo looked down.  “So, you’re not gonna, you know…?”
Felt pain inside.  “I’m still here, aren’t I?”
She nodded, then looked up.  “Yeah.  Maybe we could chill sometime?  I’ve been kind of cooped up at home.”
Felt so much better.  We were still friends, even now.  “Aye.  I got nothing going on for the next few days.”
“Cool.  Guess I’d better get to class.”
“Aye.  See you later.”
That’s when I saw it again.  The kid from before.  He was walking in, hand inside the duffel bag.  Alarms were going off in my head.  Something was wrong here!
“Kiddo!” I said, quietly, “Get behind me.  Do it now!”
Immediately she was on edge.  “Why?!  What’s wrong?!”
“Just do what I say!  Something’s about to happen.”
Emily ran to my backside, grabbing my shoulder.  She could see what I was looking at.  From the duffel bag, the kid from before produced a 12 gauge Remington shotgun.  The entire hallway was staring, with kids either running or too scared to run.  He took aim at a pretty young brunette.
Instantly my hand was inside my jacket.  From a concealed holster I pulled out my Glock26.
“Drop it!” I shouted.  “Drop the weapon!”
He looked right at me, this expression that’s hard to put into words on his face.  Like, when an animal is cornered, but not backing down.  Desperate, angry, dangerous.  A whole bunch of things.
“You shoot me and I’ll blow her brains out!” he shouted back.  Cracking voice.  What was this kid’s deal?
It was a bit of a standoff.  Washington didn’t have guards at their schools.  The shootings you see virtually everywhere else hadn’t really caught up to this state.  So for the moment it was just us.  This was bad.  His weapon was loaded for bear.  At this range, if he fired, that girl’s guts were gonna spray the floor.  Shaking hands, but his finger was on the trigger, and at this range he couldn’t possibly miss.  There was no doubt I could land a head-shot, but my range was further, and by the time I fire, so would he.  Yup, this was bad.  Really, really bad.  What were my options?  A thousand ways I could kill this kid.  Young skull.  Bullet would kill him, no doubt.  Maybe wound him?  No, then he would still kill the girl he’s aiming at.  There was no possible scenario of me firing that doesn’t result in him killing his target.  What do I do?  Kiddo was behind me, clutching me tight.  I could hear her crying.
For the hostage, she was bawling, losing her ability to stand and dropping to the floor.  Kid had pissed herself.  A sad day for that cute long skirt she was wearing.  Faculty were trying to get kids away, but I could see that plenty who had been too scared to run were glued where they stood.  There was a surreal quiet to this moment.  My training was telling me a thousand possible ways to make this kid dead, but none of them had it where that poor girl didn’t get her head or chest destroyed.
Another option presented itself – I had to keep this guy talking.  Maybe, if I could keep him busy long enough, the cops could assist in this endeavor.  Plus, there was something about him.  The look on his face, scared angry, like panicking.  If I could calm him down, maybe there was a chance.  Okay.  I could do this.
“Why do you wanna to kill that girl?” I asked.  For the first time in 15 years, my Midwest asserted itself.  This was a strange feeling.
“She’s one of them.  These fucking kids at this fucking school.”
“So you wanna kill more people?”
“Yes!”  Shaking, but talking.
“Why?  Why do you wanna kill the kids here?”
“They’re all the same!  Plastic people who you can’t tell apart!  I hate them all!”
I could feel there was more to it.
“Plastic?  What do you mean by that?”
“Fake!  They’re not real!  Everybody’s on their fucking phones all fucking day!  They all listen to the same music and do the same shit.  I can’t stand it.  None of them will give anyone who isn’t like them the time of day.  They’re fucking robots!”
Getting deeper.
“They won’t give you the time of day?  Is that it?”
He got defensive.  This look as he stood there, deliberating whether to tell more or not.  Something in his mind was clicking.  Thoughts telling him that he was on the right path.
“Yes!  I mean, no!  They just suck!”
Had to be insistent.  Some part of him was looking to talk.  “You said yes!  Are they not talking to you?”
“Of course not!  I’m that weird kid.  The smelly kid.  The kid who likes hunting and guns and has a poor family.  Nobody gives me the time of day.”
Okay, we were making progress.  “So why do this?  Why come in here and kill all these people?  You gonna kill the teachers too?”
“Damn right!  They treat me like shit too.”
Teenage angst.  All the drama.  But then, I knew at least a little of that.  “So, you kill people.  What then?”
“Then everybody’s talking about me!  Then I’m not just the weird kid that nobody cares about.  Everybody wants to know why I did it!  The news will cover it all day for fucking weeks and every person in the country will want to know all about me!”
So that’s it.  Suddenly I hated this kid a lot less.  Couldn’t let him do what he’s planning, but his motivations were starting to come into focus.
“Fuckin’ A, kid.  Being a kid nowadays must really suck.  Everywhere you go, everyone’s online or on the phone or whatever.  The Internet was supposed to connect eerybody, but instead it just pushed eeryone apart.  Can’t imagine how lonely it must be to grow up today.  Friends that exist on screens, but you have no connection to in real life.”
His hands were shaking a bit more, but his finger was off the trigger.  “So why shouldn’t I do it?!  Why shouldn’t I kill them and get them ALL talking about me!”
I shook my head.  “Kid, if you do this, yeah, they’ll all talk about you.  But you know what they’re gonna say?  What a piece of shit you are.  Asking why you are such a monster. At least for a little while.  Then the news will start yellin’ about guns and schools and they won’t be talking about you anymore.  You’ll just be part of the news cycle.”
Tears started flowing down his face.  “So then what should I do?!  What the fuck should I do?!  Kill news people?!  Kill politicians?!  Who do I have to kill to get people paying attention to me?!”
I shook my head.  “Listen, kiddo, killing people isn’t gonna help you.  It’s not gonna make your loneliness better.  It’s not gonna make the pain go away.  Take it from me, it’s gonna make it a whole hell of a lot worse.”
Now he wasn’t looking at his target.  He was looking right at me.  “How would you know?!”
Lowering my weapon, I looked past him.  “Because I’ve been killing people for a very long time.”
He was confused.  “What?  What you do you mean?”
“When I joined the military, I did it to get out of where I was and see if there was a better life out there.  Joined the Navy because I figured the best way to see the world was behind a cannon.  When my CPO asked me if I wanted to get into STARS, I figured it was a good way to do something fun.  It was a new program to show what women could do.  I didn’t realize what that meant.  They trained me to kill, then expected me to.  At first it was just when we had to, but then they realized that we had skill as assassins.  That I had skill.  It was a genuine gift I had, being able to know when and how to kill someone.
“At first it was hard.  I rationalized it, try to reason it away, but it never did.  Kept biting at me more and more and more.  But then I met someone.  Someone wonderful who changed my life.  I gave them my heart and swore that I would love until death do we part.  And that’s what happened.  Now all I had was the killing.  It’s all I know how to do.  All I’m good at.  Through a PMC company I run, I make a killing off it.  A king’s ransom.”  The pain was back inside.  “But I can’t keep doing this.  Each day I wake up, there is a little less of me inside than there was the day before.  I go through life, and I think about how I would and could kill people.  Even now, my brain is going through all the ways I can take you out, trying to find a way to save the hostage.
“I need this to stop.  Because if the day ever comes that I can’t stop myself from killing, then the last body I’ll take down is my own.  That’s better than becoming a monster, who will be hated by the people I care about.”
Emily grabbed my arm, holding tight.
The armed kid looked at me, then back down at his target.  The girl was a red, teary mess.  Then he looked at his weapon.
“So what am I supposed to do?  If everybody already doesn’t like me, what the fuck am I supposed to do?”
I let out a sigh.  “You start talking to people.  Maybe a whole bunch won’t like you.  But I bet there are plenty of kids who feel just as lonely and want someone to talk to them.  Though, for now you’re gonna go away.  You done fucked up.  Still, you’re young.  It ain’t too late for a new heading to your life.”
That’s when he looked back at me.  “Maybe for you too?”
Smiling a bit, I nodded.  “Yeah.  Maybe.”
Letting out a deep breath, the kid started lowering his gun.  Success!  Now I just had to get him to put it down, and then this could be all over.  I looked to Emily, motioning for her to stay put.
Walking over, I saw looks of approval from everybody who was viewing this from where they were either hiding or hadn’t been able to run from.  Had I just done something heroic?  There was a stellar thought.  Former killer, STARS assassin, saving lives.  Hell yeah!
Suddenly, the kid looked pale.  “Mike, don’t!”
I turned in a flash to see another kid standing there, in a camo jacket with messy blonde hair.  An accomplice!  He had a loaded .44 pistol.  Kid fired right into my gut.  In a flash, my weapon came to bear.  Blasted a hole right into his head.  He hit the deck, brain matter leaking out.  I fell to the ground, hearing Emily screaming and running over.  She put her hand on my gut.  Blood was pouring out.
“No!  Quinn!  Please God no.”  She just kept saying no over and over again and she tore up her shirt to ball up and put on my wound.
Felt the life draining out of me.  So this was it.  This was how the life of a STAR ends.  Not too shabby.  Saved a bunch of lives.  Not a bad way to go.  The voices of people who came running over and others was getting more and more distant.  This was it.  The end.  Everything was fading to black.

I woke up in the bedroom of my house.  It was a nice, clear, sunny day outside.  Not the cloudy and rainy mess it had been.  What’s going on?  Getting up, I saw that I was wearing this cute flannel number that Jean had got me for Christmas a few years back.  Thought that burned up with the house.
Walking into my kitchen to make coffee, I suddenly saw someone sitting in a chair in my living room, facing out at the ocean.  Jean!  She was in matching PJs, a mug in her lap.
“You’re up!” she greeted.

Until next time, a quote,

“End?  No, the journey doesn’t end here.  Death is just another path.  One that we all must take.” – Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Peace out,

Maverick