Monday, April 13, 2015

In Memory (01 MAY 2016)

"It was the dodgiest squiddie I'd ever seen," de Matos said. She was lying in bed, her upper chest a mass of bandages, while Faber leaned against the side, listening. "It took three shots from point blank range, and still it kept coming. It was Hassan that finally put the caralho down. We were all so focused on it, we never even saw the bastardo Thin Man until he was almost on top of us. Daiwa was the first to react, but not fast enough. Huisman didn't make a sound. He just.. he.."

"Shh," Faber turned and caught de Matos' hand, lacing her fingers through it and squeezing tightly. "Monica, you don't have to talk about it right now." De Matos reached across and covered Faber's hand with her other hand, but she didn't stop talking.

"There was nothing I could do. I heard the shots and Daiwa called that it was down, but before I could even get Houston out of my way, I knew. The hole went straight through, Kevlar, alloy vest, everything. His eyes were still open. They were green. I never realized they were green." Her voice started to choke up and she finally stopped talking, as Faber leaned in to stroke her hair with her other hand, making soft soothing noises.

"But you made it count, Sch├Ątzchen," she murmured into Monica's ear. "You went on, and you put the rest of those fickeren into body bags, and you brought him home. More importantly, you brought the rest of them home alive." Faber glanced down the line, where most of the rest of the squad rested. She saw SGT Lindemann visiting with Houston and Maillet, the most severely injured of the survivors.

"Thank you, Liesel," de Matos said, pulling Faber's attention back. "Gata, could you get me some water? My throat is dry." Faber nodded, reaching out to stroke de Matos' cheek before moving away to grab the pitcher and a cup.

-

"How are they?" Constance asked. She was chafing at being stuck in medbay after her collapse, but the medics said she'd be out in a few more days, at most. Oskar came to visit her regularly, though today he'd spent most of his time visiting the member of the squad he'd just brought back from Oklahoma.

"They're very out of sorts. The pain medicine is very strong," he replied. "Still, they remember what happened."

"It was a good mission," Constance replied. When Oskar's face clouded, she said it again. "It was a good mission, Oskar. Your squad faced the biggest threat we've had, and you brought back enough materiel that the research and engineering teams are going to be busy for months."

"It was not worth the loss of a man," he replied, bitterness thickening his accent.

"It never is," she agreed. "It never is, but you're a soldier, as was Hidde. He knew what was at stake, and he made us all proud." She waited a moment, gauging the expression on his face. "So did you, Oskar. You wouldn't be wearing those stripes on your shoulders if the Commander didn't agree." She reached out for his hand, and after a moment, he extended it, letting her wrap her calloused, slender fingers around his larger hand. The contrast between her nearly black skin and his pale skin never ceased to intrigue him. She squeezed, hard, and he looked up, meeting her eyes for the first time since he'd sat down by her bed.

"It is harder, somehow," he admitted. "When I was KSK, it was human enemies. Even with the terrible things they did in Afghanistan, it wasn't so bad." Oskar clenched his fist, his jaw tightening as well, until he heard Mak make a small sound of discomfort. He relaxed his hands, and gave her an apologetic look, to which she smiled slightly. After a deep breath, he continued. "When I saw Huisman fall, I was scared," he said quietly. He glanced around to see who was near, but no one appeared to be listening in. "It was so much, I wanted to order everyone back to the LZ. We'd barely moved twenty meters, we were still outside the craft. I didn't know what else awaited within, and I didn't want anymore blood on my hands." Constance made a sound of protest, but he overrode her. "Hidde..." he paused, seeking the words. "He was quiet. Barely spoke to anyone, but always willing to help out, if needed. But on the battlefield, he was a monster. He charged in where brave men would hesitate, and he was a virtuoso with that shotgun."

"Oskar, you forget who was with you on that last mission," Constance interrupted. "I knew him, too." Lindemann nodded as she continued. "You couldn't give up, because you knew he wouldn't, in your shoes." Oskar just nodded again. He couldn't dishonor the man's sacrifice by giving up. "You know, he'd be proud of what you accomplished. This is a solid win, and Hidde's contribution helped bring it home, but it was your leadership that saw it through to completion."

Oskar just nodded again, no more words to be said. Mak seemed to know this too, and she just held his hand and closed her eyes with a small, sad smile.

-

The day room was quiet, but it wasn't empty at all. Most of the troopers were there, those not on duty or in medbay, but even the inevitable hum of packed bodies wasn't enough to cover the occasional cough. The small table by the memorial was lined with empty shot glasses, and all of the tables and chairs were occupied with small groups sitting quietly, some drinking, others talking in hushed tones, others still just sitting in silent contemplation.

Most of the troopers didn't know CPL Huisman well, but he was the first casualty since they got here. Some remembered Jensen, but they'd all been so new that his death hadn't made the same impact. Since then, there'd been injuries, even serious ones, but it had begun to seem like XCOM was invincible, that the war was inevitably theirs. Now, the reality of what they did was pinpointed by the photo on the memorial wall, and no one felt like celebrating the strategic victory that the mission represented.

Jade Colman didn't sit with any of the groups clustered around the room. She stood alone at the memorial wall, a full shot of whatever whisky had been going around clutched forgotten in her hand. She hadn't really known Hidde all that well either, but she'd been starting to. After he'd approached her the other day, she'd asked around, and learned that he didn't talk much. Most of those who'd been on mission with him expressed surprise that he'd managed to string so many words together as to actually hold a conversation, let alone the several they'd had before he'd gone on mission. She'd prattled on about rocks and geologic pressures and he'd listened without ever giving any impression that he wasn't really interested. When she'd prodded, he'd revealed small details about his life in Rotterdam, and had told her a couple stories about his brothers in Amsterdam that had her roaring with laughter. He had been a friend, and she'd thought maybe there was more.

But there was no more. Not now, not ever. No more quiet conversations. They'd never go digging around in the tunnels like they'd discussed. This was war, and war tore friends away and ended possibilities. This was the greatest enemy humanity had ever faced, and she'd be damned if Hidde died for nothing. Those bastards wouldn't win this, no matter how many others fell. With that thought ringing defiantly in her mind, Jade lifted the shot glass of whisky, raised it slightly in salute as she stared at the photograph, and drank it down in a single swallow. She placed the glass on the end of the row, then opened her other hand, looking down at what it contained. She blinked several times, then set it down on the shelf, below his picture. It was a geode, broken open so the purple and green crystalls within caught the light, casting tiny ovals of color against the wall. Jade turned away then, approaching the nearest group, who made room for her without a word. Tomorrow was another day, another battle. Tonight, however, she planned on forgetting everything.