Chapter 5: Departure
The blues trekked across the hot and humid canyon to the red base as Tucker kicked a stone along the way in irritation. "What do the reds want now after having laid that major news on us?"
"I bet it's to change their minds and stay here to resume our Christmas festivities!" Caboose hoped as Iowa simply chuckled at the idea. "If only that could turn out to be true."
"This so better be worth it," Sister complained as she marched inside the red base. "I was in the middle of my manicure when they called saying it was an emergency."
"You don't need to tell us over and over again," Church mentioned annoyed with her. When will my suffering with this woman end? He stopped the group behind him to study the deserted halls. "Is anyone here?"
"In here you dirty blues!" shouted Sarge's familiar voice from the large dining area. As they followed the echo into the dining area, they heard another familiar voice. "Oh come on Sarge, today we are here to celebrate the best day of the year, subjectively speaking of course. Let's all put aside our differences and come together so that Santa Doc can give you your presents!"
"And by presents, I mean that each of you gets a punch to the face," laughed the maniacal alter ego. Sarge with a rough gruff waved the sentiment away. "Once a dirty blue, always a dirty blue!"
"Come on Sarge," Simmons argued against his leader. "It's been how many years that we have known the blues? By now I think we can get past the whole red versus blue thing."
"What you say sounds like borderline treason Simmons!"
"Yeah, it totally does Simmons, what gives?" Grif inquired further encouraging the red leader much to Simmons' irritation. "Don't you get on my case to Grif."
"I keep on telling you guys, there is no such thing as reds or blues, it was all made up by the Freelancer Project. You guys already know it so why keep on pretending like its real?" Tucker asked as he slid out a seat at a large table covered in an extra large pink cloth. Many dishes sat in the middle that exuded a mouth watering aroma to which Caboose quickly fell victim to. "Mmm, delicious food…"
"Christmas turkey!" shouted Iowa taking the closest seat he could find to the delectable feast. Church crossed his arms and sighed in frustration. When prompted by Tucker, he answered. "One of the downfalls of being a robot or an AI fragment is that you can't eat food or taste anything. At times like this, I wish there was a mouth and taste buds installed in this body."
"[True dat]," mentioned the Spanish robot equally frustrated. He left however to seize the brilliant opportunity he saw for some alone time with Sheila. Caboose merrily jogged towards the free seat besides Iowa as he pointed the gun at the food. "What do you want to eat Freckles?! I want to eat it all!"
"I do not require such sustenance Captain Caboose," his pet gun answered with indifference in its voice. Donut looked around the room and happily sat people down one by one. "Be sure to enjoy the meal and tell me what you think. I was in charge of both the cooking and the setup for the table."
"That explains the pink," noted Sister as she nearly barfed in her mouth at the strong color. Such a horrid fashion taste, like oh my god that is so not cool. Grif bumped his sister's head with his fist. "Don't complain."
Grif took the open seat beside her and shot her a glare. The message was crystal clear. Don't embarrass the older brother or yourself, else you will be embarrassing the family. Grif took his fork and knife and started scrapping the two together. "So, when do we get to the good part?"
"Hah, is it time to open the presents?!" Caboose perked his head up from the turkey as he cleaned his drooling mouth. Doc laughed heartily at the innocent determination in Caboose's voice. "No Caboose, it's not time yet. Come on everyone; let's dig into the food first before it gets cold."
Grif made the first move taking a large chunk of the turkey into his plate. As he continued to carve, he could feel a sharp knife behind his neck. "Uh, Simmons, why are you pointing that at me?"
"Because you need to leave the turkey alone for the rest of us now."
"Come on, it's the time of giving right, so give me the turkey?"
"I will let Church kick you in the nuts, how is that for giving?"
"Oh I will so totally do it," Church nodded preparing his foot with a stretch. Grif stood up holding his chair defensively. "Protect me chair!"
Caboose bit into the turkey leg and let out a childishly satisfied groan. "It's a shame that there isn't any more here."
Caboose studied the empty plate and noticed the turkey on his friends' plates. Donut gently rested a hand on the table with a wide smile pointing back to the kitchen. "Don't worry, there is another one being prepared in the oven right now Caboose. You can have more soon."
"Yay, hooray for turkey!"
"These mashed potatoes aren't bad either," Tucker noted as he mixed the turkey, the mashed potatoes and the gravy together to create multiple layers of pleasurable flavors. Doc dipped the steamed carrots into the turkey gravy and took in the wonderful scent. "By the way, I'm surprised that headquarters was willing to send all this stuff so willingly for us to use."
"Well I did have to call in a favor," Sarge mentioned lowering his gaze. It sent an ominous shiver down everyone's spine. There could only be one person they could rely on, someone with a lot of connections to get them what they needed. Tucker nearly choked on the food at the thought. Church leaned forward against the table in minor shock. If he had a human face, it would be screaming shock right now. "Sarge, you couldn't have…"
"I had to."
"There must have been other ways," argued Doc who suddenly felt a slight loss of appetite. The red leader crossed his arms and looked all around with a stern but determined face. "I wanted this to be a special Christmas for you all. This is after all the first one we have celebrated here. I was hoping to do something like this much, much sooner but with all the things we got caught up in, the opportunity never arose. I know it's not the best deal in the world but it's better than nothing."
"Great, what do we owe him?" asked Tucker as he wiped his mouth of the bread crumbs near his cheeks. Sarge shook his shoulder once again lowering his gaze. "Unfortunately he never mentioned what he wanted in return."
"Sarge, this is Muffins we are talking about here," Simmons stood up in a worrisome motion. "You agreed to this exchange without even knowing what he wanted in return?!"
"Meh, the worse he can do is want someone's ass," Grif noted with Simmons pointing a finger towards him. "Better you than me then."
"Ugh, it's not like I said I wanted to do it."
"Too late, no take backs!" Sister encouraged with her imagination running wild at the thought of her brother and Muffins in a love nest. Her mouth drooled not from the food on the table, but the one of her mind. Grif had a good idea of what was going through her head and opted to scoot a little further away from the pervert's influence. As the rest of the crew finished their plates, and began piling them for cleaning, it was clear to Doc that it was time to move on to the next event for the day. "Time to open presents!"
"Yay, presents, you guys will love mine!" Caboose exclaimed as he held up a large bag. Tucker looked from left to right trying to make sense of the confusion. "We were supposed to bring presents?"
"Don't worry about it if you didn't bring any," said Grif admitting that he himself has none to give. Doc brought a large sac to the table just as Donut cleared the plates and any leftover food. "Okay, so who wants to go first?"
"Oh, pick me! Pick me!" Caboose raised a hand high up in the air as he held up Iowa with the other. "Then it will be Iowa's turn!"
"Looks like we have two eager volunteers here," Sarge nodded his head. "If only I had more people with that type of enthusiasm for when I ask them to face glorious death in the name of the reds."
"Sarge, asking me to stick my face in a cannon so you can fire and call it an accident in your report to the UNSC is not exactly something even an enthusiastic idiot would volunteer for," Grif retorted as he crossed his arms and shook his head in disapproval. Sarge looked away with a light gruff. "Spoil sport. I only ask that you do that one thing for me Grif, then never again!"
"Okay guys, let's focus," O'Malley suddenly broke through Doc's persona. "Before I feed you coal for your breakfast tomorrow you fools, mwhahaha!"
The room went silent at the harmless threat, yet the way in which it was uttered left an impression of fear. Doc clapped his hands happy to finally receive the silence he had been requesting. "Now then, sorry Caboose but I will go first. Also, Iowa doesn't seem to have any prepared either, but I hope you enjoy mine either way still. Let's see here. For you Caboose, I have a book about friendship."
"Awesome, I'm going to go read it all tonight!"
"For you Iowa, I have a vintage wine that should be ready to drink if you keep it in a slightly cool place for a while."
The ex-freelancer took it with gratitude as doing so reminded him of his previous family, and most of all the man Idaho. He underneath the helmet wore a wide smile and thanked Doc with deep appreciation. "I will treasure this gift."
"Don't just treasure it," Tucker pointed a figure towards the bottle and motioned to chug it down. "Be sure to enjoy it as well."
"Yeah!" Iowa happily smiled at the positive energy he was surrounded with in his family. He held the bottle close to protect it from any harm that may come and slowly lost track of everything happening around him. The bottle and memory of Idaho was all that mattered to him at the moment. Doc reached inside his bag and pulled out another gift. "For you sister, I have a small container of…morphine?"
"Aw yeah," Sister reached out for the box and inspected every vile for cracks. "This is so going to be used up all in three days- uh, I mean I will keep this in storage for when we need it for emergencies."
"Next up is Church," Doc held out a large, almost cylindrical and purple device. "This will help you store your memories on here. You shouldn't need to worry about space right now or anything. I always figured that it may be nice to help store your memories somewhere else as well for when you need access to them in the future."
"Huh, that's very…thoughtful of you," thought the robotic blue as he went about gently smothering the device. Doc now took out a long range communicator that extended its influence over several galaxies. "This is to help you talk to Junior whenever you want to Tucker."
"That's sweet of you Doc," Tucker answered studying the device. But with some regret in his voice he spoke. "Would have been nice to get some girls in here though."
"I'm a girl," said Sister earning some questionable gazes, especially one from Tucker. "I meant some girls that are my type."
Doc reached inside yet again as he turned his attention towards the reds and motioned for Lopez to come closer. "I have a bestselling book of poetry for you!"
"[Gracies, I will memorize these and be sure to impress Sheila with them.]"
"Silly Lopez," Donut intervened with the shake of his wrist. "You can't recite your poems to a rock in the canyon and expect an answer back."
Everyone looked at the Spanish robot, waiting for his defense. When they were met with silence, they all lowered their heads in pity. Poor, poor Lopez. The robot simply walked off having now learned to completely block out these misunderstood and dumb moments of the gang. Doc reached inside and held out a cooking set. "Here you go Donut, this is what you have been wanting right?"
"Oh, how did you know?!"
"Santa Doc knows all of your wishes!"
"Really?" Tucker asked as he crossed his arms. "Then why did I not get any bitches if you know my wishes? Come on man, I need to get laid here."
"Now for Grif," said Doc as the orange soldier's ears perked up like a cat's. "I have a full crate of pudding here."
"All hail the pudding god!" Grif spoke as if in a trance taking the crate and gorging down on one of the puddings. He ran out of the room to quickly store the rest. Simmons looked worriedly towards the kitchen. "We may have just woken up the pudding crazy maniac inside of him."
"Next up is you Simmons."
The maroon one turned suddenly freezing up in his spot. He clenched his fists on his thighs as he gritted his teeth. Again I freeze up when I'm put in the spotlight. No, calm down Simmons, you are just getting a gift. Doc held out a bag of several components at which Simmons curiously gazed inside. There were several chips, screws and other small electrical bits. The maroon one looked up at Doc who scratched the cheek of his helmet as he spoke with some candor. "I know how much you value that cell phone Edwards gave you from before and I thought it may be a good opportunity for you to get it working. Although we may not have the time for that now sadly."
Simmons held the bag close with a most thankful smile. He took out Edwards' gift to him and flipped it open once. It was as if his mind was flooded with the familiar memories of another time. The dark and gloomy clouds that shaded the skies overhead, the broken streets under the tyrannical rule of one of their past enemies and the people simply fighting each and every day for survival. It was here he met Edwards, a young boy who left a lasting impact on him and met his end far too early. Simmons closed shut his eyes as he held the phone close to his chest. "Thanks Doc. I will get this phone working no matter what now."
"Hey, if you need any help," Church offered realizing the gravity behind Simmons' feelings for he too was there with Carolina. "Don't hesitate to call me up."
"And finally, we have yours here Sarge," Doc took out a brand new tool kit with specialized tools for maintaining vehicles and robots. The eager man took it and studied the condition. "This is what I have always wanted. Time for me to go and work on the warthog!"
"And then have Lopez fix it later as you manage to blow it up?" mused Tucker with a light chuckle. Doc then took out the final gift for himself which was a neatly wrapped rocket with a blue ribbon around it. "Wait, I thought I got a new medical scanner for myself."
"Who needs a stupid scanner, when you can have things to blow people up with fool?" asked O'Malley who studied the creation with much praise. Caboose brought out a bag of his own and set it on the table as the items inside clacked against one another. "Time for my gifts!"
"Isn't it just rocks?" Tucker inquired surprising Caboose. "H- How do you know that as well?"
"It's not that hard to guess Caboose," Church explained as he pointed out the window. "What else can you find here unless you were to go use various connections like Sarge and Doc here to get this stuff?"
"But I want to see it anyways," Iowa encouraged with the clap of his hands as he eagerly awaited his. Caboose smiled wider now as he took out the first one to give to Iowa. The ex-freelancer looked at it with a sheepish smile as he studied the rock from edge to edge. "Um, this is great…thanks Caboose."
Everyone else looked at theirs and did their best to find something nice to say about it. Tucker studied his and asked. "Dude, why does mine look like a dick? Also, bow-chicka-bow-wow!"
"That's because your mind is always in the gutter Tucker," Church noted. Tucker held it up for the rest to see. "Come on, you can't tell me that doesn't look like a dick."
"With that, I guess that concludes the festivities," Donut noted as he began clearing up the table of any leftover decorations. Sarge nodded his head and stood up with the rest. "And a happy new year. I'm going to go pack."
"Right, the draft notice," Church whispered as he watched his friends' spirits plummet. He clapped his mechanical hands together and motioned for the blues to follow him. "Guys, it may not be the greatest deal but what else can we do when we now work for the UNSC? They are our employers."
"Employers don't normally threaten to have their employees do something," said Simmons as he took the mobile components quickly past everyone and into his room. Church stopped in his tracks and sighed in agreement. No, I suppose they don't. In his own room, Grif lay in bed with his eyes wide open staring up at the ceiling. He shifted in his bed uncomfortably at the prospect of having to yet again leave home. No, fuck that. He stood up and rested his forehead in his hands. But if I don't, I could be discharged or worse, imprisoned. That would not only be bad for me, but my family to. Kaikaina wouldn't be happy about it either. Heck, she better not be thinking of ditching either. I can't imagine how embarrassing that would be to the family. Agh, I need to go take a walk.
Tucker watched the canyon from atop blue base. His mind was made up. Church walked up behind his friend and studied the weather conditions. "Sometimes I wish the temperature here was more consistent instead of being extremely hot during the day and extremely cold during the night."
Tucker remained quiet and ignorant of his friend's words. Church leaned closer into Tucker's peripheral vision nearly causing the aqua one to stumble over. "What's on your mind Tucker?"
"I was just thinking about the draft notice."
"That," Church leaned backwards as he rested his hands on his sides. "That thing has had quite the effect on us hasn't it?"
"I'm thinking of willingly accepting the decision and going."
"Really," Tucker responded with a resolute nod. "This is a war against the extremist Sangheili. If they aren't stopped, their way of thinking and culture could not only affect us humans, but also Junior. I can't let anything happen to him. He is my responsibility, my kid after all."
"That's the first responsible thing I have heard you say in a long while," Church crossed his arms and took a few steps back. "What have you done with the real Tucker?!"
"Very funny, but I'm serious."
Church looked from Tucker and up to the sky. He uncrossed his arms and stood up straight. "Whatever the case, I'm stuck with you as are rest of the fragments with their respective hosts. In the end, it's your guys' choice. But I'm kind of glad that you decided to go and fight. It shows that you guys are no longer afraid of a fight like you all were in the past."
"Who said I was afraid eh?" Tucker joked holding up a fist.
Simmons worked on the cellphone, slowly making progress. He inserted another capacitor in one of the several overheated components. He replaced one of the visibly damaged chips and blew some air to blow out the dust. He gently attached the back casing and tightened the screws on the back. He took the charger for the phone and attached it to the wall. The screen was black. That's a no go then I guess. He scratched his head deep in a headache provoking thought. Just what is it that I'm missing here? I checked the schematics for this model again and it seems to be fine. Is it perhaps the power flow from one component to the next that is faulty? He reached inside his tool kit for a measurement device and attached it to the various components on the back and concluded to run some tests regarding power levels.
"Simmons," Sarge stood by the open door to his room. "Got a minute?"
"Sure, what do you need Sarge?"
"I wanted to talk about the latest policy change with you."
"Don't worry, I will go."
"Yeah," Simmons nodded his head as he held the cellphone with a gentle grip in one hand. "I don't want the fighting to spread and I most certainly don't want any power hungry idiots out there trying to rule the galaxy and make more victims in the process like Elsie and Edwards."
"That's good to hear. What about Grif?"
"I imagine he is still mulling it over."
"Probably stuffing his face in pudding right about now," Sarge pulled out his shotgun growing more irritated by the second. "Why I ought to give him the shotty pudding one of these days."
Grif walked up the ramp from the main floor that exited to the roof of the base. He looked out at the darkening sky with a huff and a puff. The laziness within me tells me not to go, but the responsible one within me tells me otherwise. It tells me to protect and fight alongside my friends. He stood by the teleporter that shaded his armor in bright green. Donut walked outside to observe his flourishing garden. He watered them for the night and stopped upon observing his orange comrade. Happily, as if like an excited kid, he waved to the man on the roof. Grif sheepishly waved back, a little embarrassed at just how eager Donut seemed at the exchange. I guess being able to just go with the flow and enjoy the little things has its charms, more so than being caught in a perpetual cycle of self doubt. Donut pointed up at the barely visible stars and jumped up and down as he described the various constellations he knew of in their galaxy. Grif looked up to the stars himself following Donut's finger and sighed with irritation towards his inability to decide. Sarge appeared behind the orange one and with surprise he stood beside his subordinate. "I thought you would be in the kitchen eating all the pudding."
"I considered it," Grif upon hearing Sarge crack out his shotgun quickly corrected course. "But I figured it won't help much."
"But it seems that there are other things on your mind as well."
"Are you a mind reader Sarge?"
"No, the way you stand gives it away."
"The way I stand?"
"Yup," Sarge nodded pointing towards Grif's posture. "A man's form as he stands can tell a lot about him in the moment. The more someone slouches, the heavier their load. Judging by your slouch, it's looking pretty heavy to me right now."
That was quite astute of him. Grif straightened out his back with a deep breath. "Sarge, be honest. What do you think I can do to improve as a soldier?"
"Give up the pudding, stop being so dumb, start following orders, be a better team player, stop your sister from coming over to red base every day, learn to throw an actual punch rather than hiding behind a cone everytime and much more," Sarge recited from his head as if he had his weak points prepared ahead of time. He noticed Grif retreating into his safe shell as he was told by him. "That's a little too fast and honest Sarge."
"Oh, if only I could be completely honest," Sarge spoke in a slightly saddened voice as he held his shotgun close. Grif shifted uneasy at the motions. "Then let's all be thankful that you can't."
Sarge looked up to the sky and saw a lone bird fly in the air. That's the first time in years I have seen another creature here. He wondered what else might lie beyond the gulch. But right now, he had other issues to look after. "So, is deciding to go or not to go really bugging you that badly?"
"Unfortunately, yes. I thought it would be a simple matter of me saying screw it and stay here."
"If only we could all do that and live here for the rest of our military career in peace."
"Except we were never actual soldiers of the UNSC to begin with," Grif motioned up towards space. "Think back to how many missions the UNSC has actually helped us with? We have had to clean up their messes more often than not and they still get the credit for it. Now we are being forced to basically go fight a war for them. I don't want any part of this! I know I'm lazy, I know I have a lot of problems and I know that I am not the best type of friend, Simmons and you are right on all of that but I don't want anything to do with their mess!"
"You want to run away again?"
"Yes, yes I do!"
"What will that change?" Sarge asked turning a serious glare towards his orange compatriot. "You choose not to go, and we go off to war. We go to fight while you are either sent back home or thrown in prison."
Grif clenched his hands around his waist and with a gentle yet sorrowful moan he muttered. "I know, I know the fucked up position they have put us in. I know that we will never be able to have what we wish for the most."
"That type of thinking will kill your desires completely Grif," Sarge turned his body towards Grif and rested a firm grip on his shoulder. "Things aren't daisies right now, but they will get better once this storm passes over."
Sarge quickly retreated his hand and flexed his fingers in slight surprise. I never thought I would give him a pep talk like this. It feels very strange. Grif shook his head and leaned back against one of the pillars erecting from the sides of the base. "Just what do I do then?"
"You know you can improve, so then, come and fight with us. You can improve yourself through this mission."
"Learn to take what you have learned and actively apply it to your conscious thinking and behaviors," Sarge looked back down towards the base with the smile of a proud father. "Simmons knows he has to improve as well and I can already see the drive in him. You on the other hand, I guess you still need that push."
"You think going to fight this senseless war will be that push?"
"Maybe," Sarge held up a finger by Grif's mouthpiece. "And let's not call this war senseless. A lot of men and women have died in it already. They did so thinking that they are protecting the universe from the extremist beliefs before it spreads any further."
"But how will that change things in the long run?"
"We don't know," Sarge looked down in deep thought with a sigh. "It may not change anything at all. It may change the tides of the war completely that may allow us to finally put an end to the fighting. You will never know until you take the chance."
Grif smirked underneath the helmet in the thought of Sarge's insanity. You really are a crazy old man sometimes and you have turned me crazy alongside you over the years. He nodded his head and looked up towards space. "Let's see if I can find this change out there then."
Their time to decide was depleted, and with it, their time to prepare as well. The BGC stood in the middle of the canyon with Sheila worriedly circling the group. "Are you sure you all can't take me with you?"
"Sorry," said Tucker. "But we just don't have a way of transferring you over to something smaller right now."
"Sorry Freckles, but you will have to stay behind," said Caboose as he stood in his room inside Blue base as the rifle inquired why. Caboose held another in his hands in place of Freckles, much to the surprise of the others, Freckles sounded almost jealous. "But why Captain Caboose?"
"Because I don't want to take you there, it's very dangerous," Caboose replied as he placed the rifle by his bedside. "I know it sucks being alone, but I want to keep you safe. So wait for me Freckles, Iowa, me and everyone else will be back and then we can go on tons of walks, all of us can go together!"
Quickly the dark blue soldier ran out and met the ready gazes of the others. Caboose looked around to see the reds and their luggage, and same for his own comrades. They had all decided to travel light for the most part.
"Don't worry Sheila. We will come back for sure!" Caboose spoke. Sheila appreciated the sentiment as she gently approached the dark blue one and crouched down in front of him. "Do you have everything packed Caboose?"
"How about your change of clothes, your lunch and all the essentials that you need?"
"I have them."
"Wow," Church crossed his arms as he considered the idea. "She totally sounds like a mom right now."
"[Then she would make a very sexy mom]," noted Lopez as he moved closer to her and bowed his head in slight shame. "[Sheila baby, I'm sorry to leave you like this all of a sudden. I promise I will be back and bring the others back with me]."
"Don't worry bean daddy, I will be right here waiting for you!"
"Whoo hoo! Go team go!" Sister shouted swinging her arms wide apart. Grif gently bumped the bottom of his fisted hand against her helmet as he looked down towards her eyes through the visor. "Don't embarrass the family."
"Okay," she replied meekly as she rubbed her head. Iowa looked towards the clouds upon hearing a large thunder. I will never get used to this sound. Almost as if shaken by fear, the crew braced their legs and looked up to the skies. The clouds tore apart at the appearance of the UNSC ship. It dusted the clouds away and extended its landing gears while nearing the ground. The ship gently landed with a light bump and opened its bay doors. "Guten Tag my Blood Gulch hoomies!"
"Is that?" Tucker looked inside towards the pilot area as the door slid open. Simmons pushed past him with an intense gaze. "No, it can't be."
"Rejoice, for it is I, Muffins the Pilot here to pick you all up!"
"Son of a bitch, it is!" Church screamed nearly falling apart into a temper tantrum. The crew grabbed their bags with uncertainty and boarded the plane. It took off with speed and they were soon out into space. Everyone looked back at their home planet and gently gave a wave. Muffins accessed buttons that lit up green to his left and saw a tear in space. "Time to go through the magic radiation hole and see who loses their hair first and dies of cancer, yay!"
The ship entered the wormhole, and left behind a small flash of light and then the eerie silence of space.
A/N: That was a long chapter. But one that now finally gets the ball rolling onto the more grittier aspects of the story. I hope you look forward to their fight and survival in this war as well as some developmental stuff I have been setting up with the characters.
Respectfully stated criticism/feedback is always appreciated! :)