Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What's in a Name? (29 JUN 2016)

The chow hall was crowded, as it usually was on "sectoid fingers" night. Private First Class Jermaine Glynn hated the nickname, since it reminded him of Ox, but he never missed it. He loved spaghetti. He grinned at the cook and gave him the "keep it coming" gesture until his plate was nearly overflowing, then slid down a bit, snagged a couple slices of garlic bread, and picked up his tray.

Turning, he looked out over the packed room, looking for a spot to sit down. He saw a seat come open and hurried over, sliding into it and dropping his tray hard enough to make the silverware clatter. Across the table, the Chinese Corporal looked up, met his eyes and nodded. Glynn recognized him, and nodded back.

"I know you, I think," he said as he picked up his fork, twirling some spaghetti around it. "Corporal Zhu, right?" The Corporal glanced down at his name tape, raised an eyebrow, and swallowed the food in his mouth.

"What gave me away?" he said, the accent thick, but understandable. Glynn flushed a little bit and shoved the bite of spaghetti into his mouth instead of retorting. No matter what rank he'd held before joining XCOM, here he was just a Private, and Privates didn't mouth off to Corporals.

"I've seen you around the Bs," he replied once he was done chewing. "De Abreu said you were on his last mission." The Corporal nodded.

"I remember him," he said. "Good engineer, opened a wall so we could get eyes on the fight inside a building."

"You're a sniper too, yeah?" Glynn wasted no time on his spaghetti, taking large bites between speaking. Corporal Zhu was nearly done, but did not seem to feel the same urgency.

"Shi De," Zhu said with a nod. "Yes, I should say."

"You mind if I ask you a personal question?" Glynn inquired, setting his fork down for a moment. When the Chinese trooper nodded again, he continued. "Why do they call you Tu-Tu?"

"Oh. That." Zhu lowered his face for a second, then looked back up, a slight color coming to his cheeks. "It is a bit of a story."

"I don't mind, if you don't," replied Glynn. Honestly, the question had been on his mind ever since de Abreu had told him.

"Well, it was after Operation Lone Line, a week or two ago. We were talking about where we'd been, what we'd done before joining the military." Zhu took a moment to drain the glass of juice before continuing. Glynn polished off the second piece of garlic bread, and listened. "Prior to joining the People's Republic Army, I'd been trained as a dancer. My mother and father were very proud, as I'd been accepted into the best academy in China."

"You went to dance school?" Glynn sputtered. When the Corporal gave him a look, he subsided.

"Yes, and no," the Chinese man answered. "I trained at a studio through school, but when I received the acceptance letter from the Academy, I announced to my parents that I was enlisting in the People's Republic Army."

"You didn't like dancing, then?" Glynn interjected, finishing his meal with the tall glass of milk, then leaning on one elbow as the Corporal answered.

"I loved it," he said. "I was talented at it, and I would have been great, I think."

"So why did you join the Army?"

"Because I'd lived my whole life for my parents' dream for me," Zhu explained. "I wanted to make a choice for myself. Joining the Army wasn't my dream, but it was the only choice I could make that would not dishonor my family."

"I can understand that," Glynn said, nodding. "I grew up in a rough neighborhood, had a lot of run-ins with the cops. I joined the Navy to get away from that life, but all of my friends thought I was a chump. I just didn't want to keep going down the path I saw ahead of me." Zhu nodded in return, and started to gather his tray. "So, they call you Tu-Tu 'cause you're a dancer?"

"Yes," the Corporal replied. It was Fahey's idea, apparently she thought it funny." The Corporal chuckled lightly as he started to rise. At Glynn's raised eyebrow, he explained. "She did not think it quite so funny when Lieutenant Bowden, then just a Corporal, pointed out that Fahey's laugh would draw Thin Men like a beacon."

Glynn laughed and shook his head as he gathered up his own tray and stood. He was sure he'd garner a nickname as well, since it appeared to be the way the troopers of XCOM operated. He just hoped his story would be nearly as interesting.