Chapter 4: Drafted

The whole crew stood together under the brilliance of the white and pure moonlight. They heard the skies scream in a deep thunder as the clouds parted. From within came the USNC ship that once took Sarge away. The red leader looked from inside the seating area at his comrades and lowered his head in shame. Perhaps for the first time ever in his history serving the red army, he cursed his status for he did not want to be the bearer of the news he brought home. The landing gears extended as the ship neared ground. Everyone rushed towards its rest and watched the back door open. Sarge stood up to the welcome of his comrades. He reached for his shotgun and wearily attached it to his back. There is no place like home. He shook the young officer's hand who acted as his escort throughout his journey and departed to touch the familiar land. Every member of the canyon watched in anticipation as the ship left and waited to hear the news Sarge brought them. Sarge pushed past the crowding bunch around him and stretched his shoulders. "Can I get a minute or two to myself first?"

"Uh, sure," Simmons led the reds back to their base. Over the radio Sarge broadcasted to everyone in Blood Gulch. "We will hold a meeting in five minutes in red base to discuss what went down and the news I bring."

Sarge leaned in closer to Simmons as they approached the base. "How did the capture the flag match go Simmons?"

The maroon soldier lowered his head in shame. It was an action strong enough for Sarge to pity their defeat. "What happened?"

"Sorry sir, but I crumbled under the pressure."

"It's not his fault completely," Grif admitted as he raised a hand in shame. "I may have given up halfway through without telling him about it beforehand."

As soon as he heard the crackle of Sarge's shotgun, he legged it for the base. Donut and Doc clapped their hands in celebration. "Simmons did his best. I think it's better than what we would have been able to do."

"But not good enough," Simmons retaliated finding more weaknesses in his strategy to criticize. He stopped to look up at the entrance for red base with his hands balling into fists. "Sarge, can you train me to be a better leader?"

"It's not the training that you need Simmons," Sarge stepped inside as he felt relief to be in his own base. "You already have all the skill that you would ever need to possess to successfully lead a capable team."

"Then what is it that I need?"

"Figure that out for yourself," replied the elderly one much to Simmons' chagrin. "There are times where we need to figure things out for ourselves Simmons. Plus, all of us won't always be here, so we need to think things through and make up for our shortcomings on our own."

I guess that's as good a response I'm going to get out of him, pondered the maroon one as he sat down at his workstation and watched the red leader stride along to his own room. Simmons looked down to his own hands as he flexed his fingers in uncertainty. What is this something that I'm missing? Something that I need. Simmons rested his forehead in his hands with a sigh of fatigue. What one needs to lead effectively is charisma, confidence and the ability to be level headed even under pressure. By that definition, I'm missing a whole lot of things, especially the charisma.

Grif approached Simmons from the back and gently tapped his friend on the shoulder. "Hey."

"Don't sneak up behind me like that," Simmons annoyed at the surprise motioned towards the base fridge. "If you pull something like that again, guess who will be missing their pudding?"

"Got it," Grif answered with his hands together begging for his forgiveness. "Anyways, I'm sorry for the stunt I pulled off before on you during the game."

"That," Simmons stood up slowly inching towards the orange one. With Grif's back finally touching the wall, Simmons slammed his hand to the side of Grif's head. "Do you know how badly that cost us the game?"

"I understand that, so I'm sorry."

"Do you really?" Simmons questioned tightly wrapping his arms together on his chest. "Grif, your laziness and sometimes inability to work in a team has been more troublesome than it's worth at times of stressful combat situations."

"W- What are you getting at here?!"

"Nothing," Simmons once again took his seat and faced the computer. "I just wanted to let you know what was on my mind. Sorry if I came off too harsh."

Grif stood still at the silence he was faced with now simply staring at Simmons' back. His impulses told him to talk back with a rebuttal, but his mind agreed to the truth behind his friend's words. Grif looked away while rubbing his palm on the back of his neck with an irritated expression. I hate it when he is pin point correct on the mark. Dammit, why am I like this?! Grif turned to leave in a complete sense of guilt. Great, I feel worse than when I came here. So much for the saying that confessing lightens the load off of one's chest.

Five restful minutes later, the whole gang stood around the red base's holographic table. Sarge inserted a data stick into the slot by the sides. Several windows of policy changes as well as images of a barren wasteland popped up. Sarge untangled his arms from the front of his chest and pointed to one of the policy windows. "Unfortunately I didn't want to tell you guys this, but you all deserve to know and make your decisions appropriately. There has been a massive policy that affects everyone in the military."

Simmons caught on quick having quickly read and processed the information. Sarge proceeded to explain their situation. "We have all effectively been drafted by the UNSC to go to war against the alien species that Tucker's freakish kid is from."

"Hey, Junior is cool!" Tucker waved his fist in the air angrily. Sarge looked up from the board to the others. "Now for the consequences, as much as I would have loved to say that there were none, unfortunately those against their new authority could be tried and jailed for life depending on how we react, either that or discharged from duty dishonorably."

"That's not much of a choice…," Donut contributed nervously shaking his legs. The others agreed calling this an outrage. Simmons helped to calm the anger of the many and asked. "Sir, what is their reason for taking such…extreme actions?"

"They probably did it because they are seriously lacking in man power in the ongoing war against the extremist Sangheilians. The war has been going on for years now ever since the defeat of their previous order," Church explained as he behind the visor browsed the relevant information. The others astonished at the stream of knowledge inquired. "How do you know this stuff?"

"Easy, I just hacked the mainframe."

"You did what?!" Tucker nearly tripping in surprise felt a heavy and unnerving feeling in his chest. "When did you do that?!"

"When you were asleep. You think I would just wait around for you to wake up? No thanks."

No wonder I felt those headaches in my sleep, Mr. Geek over here was busy hacking the UNSC mainframe. Tucker held his visor and shook his head in disbelief. "Why did you do it?"

"For shits and giggles. I wanted to see how weak their security is. Man, it was really simple to get into their systems to, kind of disappointed actually."

"Guys, I feel we are drifting here," Doc looked towards Sarge and asked for him to continue with the news he brought. "As Donut already put it, there isn't much of a choice here. We have been given four days until a ship comes to pick us up."

"Pick us up? Fuck that," Grif turned to leave but was quickly stopped by Simmons who gave an intense stare through the visor. "So you are going to run away again?"

"Get off my back about that already," the orange one whispered loud enough only for Simmons to hear it. The maroon soldier shook his head as he stepped forward, forcing Grif backwards. Sarge stepped in between the two and pushed them apart. "That's enough you two."

"So is the meeting over?" asked Church. Sarge nodded his head giving an opportunity to grab a few moments to themselves. Caboose watched the others leave one by one with disappointment. "So much for a happy Christmas."

"We could still try and celebrate it over there," Iowa suggested gently patting his friend on the shoulder pad. Tucker snickered at the kind but foolish thought. "Don't count on it. If what Sarge said is true, then we won't have the luxuries there that we do here."

"Aw come on, don't be the Grinch of Christmas Tucker," urged Doc a little disappointed himself at the decision reached by the UNSC.

"I'm just speaking the truth Doc."

Doc looked down at the floor as rain clouds of a gloomy mood began to form over his head. Donut led his good friend by the arm and pulled out a deck of playing cards. "How about a game of cards, I know that will cheer you up for sure!"

"So not cool, this is going to mess with my rave parties," Sister complained as she left in a sigh. Grif looked at the rest slowly leaving one by one in a daze. Sarge could feel a conflict within Grif from just looking at his fidgeting form. As much as I would love to see Grif be run over by a steam roller right about now, I guess I should really do my job as the leader. "What's on your mind Grif?"

The younger soldier looked at his superior officer with suspicion. Why is he being so considerate of me? The orange one looked away with his arms in front of him ready to push past Sarge and make a break for it. He must be messing with me. Sarge is never this nice to me. The red leader waited patiently for his subordinate's reply. However, Sarge's persistence and patience quickly managed to win Grif's trust over. "Well, some stuff happened between Simmons and me."

"What sort of stuff?"

"It started with the game we held against the blues. He was cool at the beginning, but slowly started to lose his patience when he heard me give up."

"Oh that's right, where was I before with that?" asked Sarge of his conversation partner.

"Why is that a problem?"

"Oh no," Sarge answered horrified at hearing his man's actions. "Let me just pull out my trusty shotty here and cleanse you of your sins."

"I do not wish to be helped!" Grif tried escaping the grasps of his superior unsuccessfully as he continued to wrestle against the grip. Sarge took a moment to recompose himself. "Okay, what happened after that?"

"Um, he has been kind of a hard ass towards me ever since."

"I wouldn't exactly blame him for it."

"I guess I wouldn't either," Grif admitted as he looked down at the ground in deep thought. "But it still hurts."

"Then that means that you realize your own mistake," Sarge nodded his head proud to know that Grif at least took this seriously. "Accept it and work towards changing it."

"But, how?"

"I don't have the answer to that," Sarge turned to leave before his stomach grumbled. "Time to grab a Monte Cristo, hoorah!"

Huh, this feels weird, pondered Grif as he looked at the door frame. I think I just got a pep talk from Sarge without being threatened every second by his shotgun…that will be a moment for the history books I bet. The Private stood by the windows and gently rested his forehead against the sill. Gamma appeared beside his master and pointed towards the kitchen of the base. "Perhaps eating will make you feel a bit better."

"Eating will piss Simmons off even more into thinking that I'm just trying to shove my problems down my throat and into the crapper with food."

"Then just solve the problems."

"Gee whiz, thanks for your wisdom Microsoft Sam," Grif remarked scornfully. The fragment leaned closer until his reflection was crystal clear in Grif's visor. "Spend less time complaining, and more time doing things to better yourself."

With those words, the fragment disappeared leaving Grif flabbergasted. Now my fragment is also telling me to put on the big boy pants eh? I really am pathetic. He walked into his own room and lied down in bed. But then, how else can I change when I'm just so lazy by nature?

Tucker looked at the dog tags entrusted to him by David. He gripped the chains tightly and let the tags hang in the air as they swung in a pendulum manner from left to right. Is this what it was like for you as well, just wondering when you can break out of the cycle of fighting from one threat to another? He gently smothered the smooth metallic surface and fell back against the nearby wall. I was really hoping we could be left on our own now, that we could be left to just live out our lives in peace. But there is no such thing as peace as long as we work for the UNSC…is there?

"No, there isn't," said Church appearing in his miniature form beside Tucker. The aqua soldier nearly fell down in surprise. "What are you doing here all of a sudden?"

"I just felt like leaving that body behind for a couple of minutes."

"In the future, give me a warning when you plan on doing something like that," Tucker caught his breath while grasping his chest. "You could have given me a heart attack, jerk."

"I don't believe that would be possible Private Tucker," noted Sigma as he displayed a few heart rate monitors. "Your heart beat did not jump as much to warrant concern."

"That was a figure of speech Sigs, don't worry about it," said the roommate fragment. The one in flames nodded his head before looking to his host. "You seem to be quite upset by the turn of events."

"Of course I am," Tucker formed a fist with his right hand and slammed it against the wall. "I don't want to do this fucking shit anymore. I enjoy being here with the others where we don't have to worry about any wars or anything. Isn't taking down a corrupt company, a dictatorship as well as a terrorist organization enough?"

"To those in charge of making these decisions, clearly not," spoke the blue fragment as he activated the base computer and accessed the messaging system. "You have a new message from Palomo."

"Palomo, what does he want?"

"Just watch the message and see for yourself."

Tucker played the video that was attached in a courteously written message. "Hey Tucker, how are you doing? Hope things are good. Meet Lorial, my daughter I told you about who I just managed to make in the nick of time for her birth. I have some more good news. We have another kid coming on the way!"

"Looks like they are busy breeding like rabbits over there," Tucker mused with a small laugh. Palomo held his daughter up to the screen and said. "She will be an older sister soon. I can't wait to see the new one, I'm sure both Jenson and I will be kept very busy from now on. Especially with their antics, but that is what makes kids entertaining to."

He gently put Lorial to the side and looked earnestly up towards the camera. "You know, I never really got to properly thank you for saving my life on Earth. Looking back at it now, I can't even imagine what would have happened to Jenson and our child if you had not been there. Matthews was always right, no matter what the rest of the world says, you guys are heroes."

Heroes huh, no such thing, at least I don't feel like one right now. Tucker smirked underneath the helmet at the kind yet misplaced sentiment. "Speaking of Matthews, I'm sure Grif would be happy to know that his memory is being honored here as a true hero to Chorus, one of many who helped bring the much needed aid from the UNSC by voluntarily going to fight that was never our problem to begin with. I'm glad I came along to. I know that no matter what dangers you guys face, you will keep on moving forward towards that tomorrow together as a family."

"Hero doesn't have a bad tune to it now does it?" asked Church as he stopped the video from looping. "Tucker, you and everyone else here have left a deep impression on many during your time in the UNSC and as part of Project Freelancer. Sure there are expectations of you as a soldier, but you should know that there are people out there who look up to you not because you are a soldier that you fight, but because you chose to do the right thing always in the very end. I know you will have the courage to fight again. That is unless you want to face the deadly wrath of the UNSC lawyers, trust me that would be boring as fuck."

"Was that supposed to be encouraging?" Tucker pondered as he scratched the back of his helmet. "Because that sounded more like you telling me to stop being a pussy and be a man."

"Could be either or," mused Church opting for his words to remain a mystery irritating Tucker. In another part of the base, Caboose stood around with Iowa and Delta. "So much for Christmas presents and dinosaur egg buffet."

"Don't worry Caboose, I'm sure they have great food over there as well," said Iowa imagining the various military provisions. Then again, great may not be the right term to describe the food…consumable perhaps?

"And here I was going to give you all great presents!" Caboose mentioned perking Iowa's interest. "Um, they wouldn't happen to be rocks by any chance would they?"

"Not just any rocks, but the prettiest ones I could find in this canyon!"

Hmm, don't hope for too much Iowa unless you want to be disappointed, the ex-freelancer thought shaking his head. "What do you plan on doing Caboose?"

"If everyone decides to go on this new adventure, then I will to."

"That's rather straight forward," Iowa stated expecting such a response. "But don't you want to think about what you want? I mean we will be going into war."

"As long as I'm with my friends, I will be happy."

Iowa remained stunned at the few and simple words that bestowed a sense of hope in him. Friends, is it the same case for me then? He looked at his best friend with a smile underneath and nodded his head. "I guess I will stick around as well then. After all, you guys are the only family I have now."

In the eerie silence of the canyon, Doc looked from the side path and puffed a sigh. O'Malley suddenly took over the steering wheel as he held a rocket launcher in one arm and gazed up at the night sky. "You better god damn believe that we will kick some serious ass."

A/N: Another longish chapter, but I hope you are all enjoying the story elements to it. Less chapters that are just about screwing around this time around since this is meant to be a single entry and not a trilogy this time around. I hope you all look forward to the next one.

Did you pick up on any curious matter or have questions? Ask them please!

Respectfully stated constructive feedback is always appreciated.

~ Monty