Author's Note: This is a spinoff-slash-technical-sequel from my other story, "Order Up," which introduced an OC Joe quartermaster corps. I had this idea after a Twitter conversation and decided to work it up. How can it be a sequel to a story that isn't finished yet? Well, it's sort of a perspective on Annie's life after the events of "Order Up" are over and she's settled into life with the Joes.
One of the things I like about playing with the OC quartermasters is that it gives me a great opportunity to really show the Joes from a relative outsider's point of view. As Annie's viewpoint evolves over the course of the story, she grows more accustomed to the bizarrity of Joe life, but at the same time she begins to see the world in a different way. To think of the G.I. Joe as normal, you have to think a little abnormally yourself. I wanted to illustrate that with this story.
If this is Mary-Sueish or self-indulgent, please, let me know! Some of you already know I'm terrified of turning Annie into a Sue, and it's something I want to avoid at all costs. My goal here is to expand on where Annie came from, what made her react the way she did to G.I. Joe, and how life with the Joes can change a person. I hope it accomplishes that task.
Rating: K. Unless you translate 流口水的婊子和猴子的笨兒子, in which case, M. Please don't translate it.
Disclaimer: G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.
Not in Illinois Any More
by Totenkinder Madchen
Hollis Junction, Illinois, was less a town and more an overgrown truck stop. Situated right along a very busy stretch of Route 66, it consisted of three streets (Main Street, Cherry Street, and 10th Street, the latter of which had neither a 9th or an 11th to justify its existence), about a dozen small businesses, a church, a few houses, an elementary school and a movie theatre. People didn't really live in Hollis Junction proper; it was where they went to buy their groceries and catch a flick before heading back down the highway towards their isolated homes.
Of the few families that owned a house in the town itself, the Gorshins were probably the best-known. Three-generation proprietors of The Golden Egg, a large diner situated a stone's-throw from the highway and right across from an eighteen-wheeler parking lot, the Gorshins were a tight-knit clan of counter jockeys and short-order cooks who lived over the restaurant they ran. Two of their latest generation had gone to college on scholarships, and one was a twelve-year-old part-time waitress and local swimming champion. The last, unable to get a scholarship, had chosen to have Uncle Sam pay her way and enlisted in the United States Army as a quartermaster. Then she had been chosen to serve her country as the newest cook for G.I. Joe, and things had gotten a little complicated.
Now, after six long months with her new unit, Annie "Short Stack" Gorshin was finally home on leave. Her duffel bag was crammed with presents: postcards from Sierra Gordo and Lower Borovia for her mother, K rations for her father (who had been in Korea during the '50s and somehow developed a taste for the godawful things), and a handful of genuine spent machine-gun brass for her sister Tammy, who in addition to being a swimmer had an unnerving enthusiasm for making jewelry out of the most bizarre things. Her two older siblings, Kevin and Rachel, weren't in line for presents; Rachel had moved to New York years ago and Kevin kept telling Annie that she could do so much better than 'catering to a bunch of grunts.'
It was a mark of how little Annie and Kevin agreed that Annie had privately fantasized about Kev running into Sgt. Major Beach Head.
But then, Beach Head and the associated madness of her working life was one of the furthest things from Annie's mind at that point. It was just cresting six PM when she hopped out of the cab, and the Golden Egg was full of customers. Even as she pushed open the door, quietly reveling in the chatter of a restaurant instead of a mess hall, she knew what she would see.
First, the truckers. On a day like this, there would be . . . yep, seven of them, all strangers but crammed together at one large table because they needed to bitch about the road conditions to somebody. Then there would be a few scattered members of the extended Hoffman family, one or two of whom always came into the Golden Egg no matter what the day. The Hoffmans were spread across half the state, and some of them were always fighting with some of the others, resulting in a highly-entertaining saga of gossip and verbal warfare that had been going on longer than Annie could remember. Mr. Klepczak, as usual, was parked in booth twelve with a cup of coffee and a racing form. He occasionally indulged in a spot of minor sexual harassment, but a threat of being banned from the diner usually shut him down for a month or so.
The minute the door opened in front of Annie, six or seven of the regular patrons turned, wondering who was coming in—and, to be frank, whether they had any gossip to share. The sight of Annie in her BDUs, with the duffel bag slung over her shoulder, gave them pause for maybe two-tenths of a second. Then somebody said a bad word, Grandpa Hoffman threw an extremely awkward salute, and the level of chatter swelled with a chorus of greetings.
"All right, all right, keep it moving," a brisk voice said. The kitchen door swung open, and Sarah-Ellen Barindowsky Gorshin-"Ma" to the quartermaster in the doorway—emerged in a cloud of steam. A stern-featured woman in her younger days, with a squared jaw and a long straight nose, age had softened her somewhat; she was now the kind of woman called "handsome," her long salt-and-pepper hair in a braid and her bright blue eyes giving her a stare that pried your mind open like a tin can.
She wasn't the hugging type. Ma was quick, dry-humored, and efficient, and her idea of affection was offering to help you hide the bodies. When she saw Annie, a smile quirked her thin lips, and she crossed her arms over her apron.
"Well, look at you," she said wryly. Annie smiled and hurried across the room. Maybe Ma didn't hug, but she didn't object to being hugged by one of her kids, and that was good enough.
"Welcome home, kiddo," Ma said when Annie finally released her. "Whoof! I guess all that trying is paying off, girl; I think you cracked a rib. That demon instructor of yours must be doing some good."
"Please don't mention him, Ma," Annie responded, shuddering theatrically. "If you mention him, he might appear, and then none of us would be safe."
Ma laughed a little at that. "Might be difficult. We've all got questions, you know."
"Of course. The Annie Saga's become the number one form of entertainment around here."
" . . . wait, what?"
Ah, there it was again: the horrible sinking feeling, Annie's constant companion throughout the last six months. It normally alerted her of danger—incoming sergeant major, incoming Cobras, ninja within twenty-five miles—and now it was prodding her in the gut and sending danger signals by express post to her brain.
Ma looked at her like she was a little slow. "I said, everybody's been following your letters. The Hoffmans haven't had a real fight in months now, and nothing else interesting has happened since they caught the man who was putting down those crop circles on the Barnetts' property." She waved a hand towards the Memory Board, the big corkboard that took up most of one long wall. Annie mentally groaned as she recognized the letters and photographs pinned up there. "So when a Gorshin starts doing something so secret that her letters have to be censored, you'd better bet your butt people are going to be interested! Your dad's so proud. His letters home never got censored."
Annie had always known about the Memory Board. She'd expected her mother to put up some of the photographs, and probably even to boast, since Ma was thrilled at the colorful profession her third child had chosen. What she hadn't anticipated, though, was the flurry of questions that followed.
"Did you really make a Marine clean under your sink?" Mrs. Hoffman.
"Did he have a nice ass?" Grandma Hoffman.
"Shot anybody yet?" Mr. Horowitz.
"Who's the hot guy with the beret?" Tammy.
"If I come visit you, can I drive one of those tanks?" Mr. Klepczak.
"Are you really learning martial arts? I bet I can still kick your ass." Johnny Monaghan.
"Uh, hey, I ordered a reuben?" Trucker #4.
At which point, unable to adequately express herself in her native tongue, Annie took a page from Tunnel Rat's book and said "流口水的婊子和猴子的笨兒子!"
The Golden Egg was technically open twenty-four hours a day, but after ten PM, it went to a reduced shift and most of the Gorshins went off-duty. Annie, pleading exhaustion, escaped from the diner proper and hid in the upstairs apartment until the daytime customers had gone home. There, she paced, wondering what she might have said in the letters and just how much trouble she would be in with General Hawk.
Okay, sure, G.I. Joe was a secret initiative. Its base's location was a matter of national security, its members were all known exclusively by their code names, and civilians were absolutely prohibited from knowing anything which could endanger its operations. Annie had always known that their outgoing mail got read, and didn't particularly care—after all, it wasn't as if she was sending Ma launch codes or schematics. The photographs mostly consisted of innocuous indoors slices-of-life: all the quartermasters posing together in front of the freshly-cleaned griddle, a screaming row—er, spirited discussion—between Flint and Beach Head, Lady Jaye smiling up at the camera from her perch on the hood of a Jeep with a copy of Voyage au bout de la nuit. No special gear or outlandish outfits were visible, and many of the photographs were blurry and low-resolution, the result of being taken on the fly with the only camera Annie could afford. Okay, there was a picture of Storm Shadow, but it showed him maskless and dressed in BDUs. Not to mention the fact that it captured the one moment in history when a ninja had been tackled, pinned down, and thoroughly licked by an excited Rottweiler while simultaneously flipping off the camera. Nobody looking at it would guess that this was one of the deadliest, most highly-skilled men in the world, not with Junkyard spit all over him.
Still, Annie was nervous. Ma putting up a few pictures of her daughter's co-workers was one thing. But posting all the letters, and keeping the diner regulars updated on the whole saga, was another thing entirely. She had deliberately downplayed everything in the letters, but knowing the nature of rumor, word of mouth had probably played it right back up to near-accurate levels again. It was no secret that regulars Carlis and Amy Schwann were big believers in Area 51, and they were probably all over the censoring issue. Annie put her head down and groaned.
Finally, after what seemed like years of waiting, the Gorshins came off shift and headed upstairs. Ma, Dad, and Tammy found Annie sitting in the living room, curled up on the couch with her head pillowed on her duffel bag.
"What was that all about?" Ma said, making no point of niceties. "You've never just walked away like that before."
"Yeah, well, I never caused a potential national security breach before," Annie replied glumly, sitting up on the couch.
Dad whistled softly. "It really goes that high?"
" . . . Dad, if I answered that honestly, I'd be in so much trouble that our ancestors would get put into witness protection."
To Annie's surprise, her father hugged her. "I'm so proud of you," he said, his voice muffled slightly by the awkward hug that left her shoulder digging into his solar plexus. "A Gorshin hasn't been this important since my great-grandfather was shot by Jesse James!" Annie, who was having trouble breathing, made an urking noise and managed to squirm out of her father's grip. Dad settled onto the couch next to her, his eyes bright. "So what can you tell us?"
Annie rubbed her face distractedly, trying to gather her thoughts. "Look . . . Ma, Dad . . . you can't keep telling everybody everything I say. The only reason we're even allowed to send letters to civilians is because they trust that nobody . . .uh, dangerous . . . could get hold of the information and put the pieces together. If a whole town knows every detail . . ."
"Do they still do the firing squad?" Tammy asked interestedly.
Annie winced. "Not helping, Tam."
Ma bopped Tammy on the head with an open hand. "Stop trying to get your sister worked up. Annie, stop worrying; we can fix this easily."
That made the reticent quartermaster raise an eyebrow. "You're going to fix a potential national security breath?"
"Easy-peasy." Ma put her hands on her hips. "First, we put the letters away-"
"The photographs will have to stay," Dad pointed out. "Grandma Hoffman likes to ogle the soldiers, and she'll make a stink if we take them down."
"Grandma Hoffman can go buy a Chippendales calendar . . . but you have a point. If it all disappears at once, people will get suspicious. Leave the photographs. We tell everyone that Annie's not comfortable with having her letters up because she's sensitive about her terrible handwriting."
"Off your high horse, girl, you can't spell and your cursive m's look just like your n's and w's. The point is, it's a decent excuse. They'll keep on asking about what's happening, but as long as we don't tell the truth, you should be fine. I can make up a few stories that'll keep 'em satisfied."
That got a frown from Annie."You're going to lie to the customers? Can you really do that?"
"'Hello, how are you? I'm so sorry for the delay! We're happy to serve you.'" Ma's expression was innocent. "'Yes, I can absolutely get that for you, it's no trouble at all.'"
" . . . okay, point taken." Annie shifted uncomfortably. "But . . . do you really think they'll buy it? I mean, a lot of out-of-towners come through here. All it takes is one word to the wrong person, and we're right back where we started."
Ma waved it off. "I guarantee it. Leave the photographs up to give the old ladies something to get worked up over, let me edit myself a new version of your letters, give it . . . oh . . . three weeks for one of the Hoffmans to blow up at one of the others, and the free world is saved." She pursed her lips. "Provided, of course, that you do something."
That sinking feeling returned. "What?"
"I want to hear all about it." Annie's mouth opened to protest, but Ma cut her off with a shake of her head. "Oh, please. I may not be all up in arms about it like your father, but that doesn't mean I can't be interested. One of my children in a top-secret unit? It's better than MASH."
"Ma, this isn't like TV. People get killed."
"Do they get killed in the kitchen?"
"Not really, but-"
"Do you have in-depth knowledge of operations intended for the defense of America's interests overseas?"
Boy, Ma really had been watching a lot of TV. "Uh, no."
"Profiles and in-depth top-secret information on the black ops soldiers?"
"I can tell you what they like on their waffles."
"There you go, then." Ma nodded, satisfied with her logic. "You don't need to give us name, rank, and serial number. But I want to know what my girl's been up to, and I'm going to find out or Heaven help you, you're never going to hear the end of it."
Ahh, mothers. Annie sighed a little and cradled her head in her hands. Suffering a motherly interrogation versus possibly endanger the security of a top-secret government unit? Tough choice. Finally, reluctantly, she nodded. Ma immediately settled into her favorite chair.
"Now, first things first. Have you met anybody?"
Annie flopped back onto the couch and put her duffel bag over her face.
Her leave lasted only a week, but it felt longer. After the initial period of curiosity from the diner regulars, Annie quickly found herself setting back into the routines that had defined her life for its first eighteen years. Relieve the night shift at eight AM—because no Gorshin was going to come home for a visit and not do a turn waitressing or cleaning in the diner—and brew fresh coffee, then make the rounds for orders and catch up on the latest gossip. Despite the bustle, there wasn't much in the way of frantic hurry; after the craziness of the Pit kitchen, the lunch rush at the Golden Egg was a snap. In the evenings she would play board games or watch television with her family, or maybe catch a movie. There wasn't much going on. It was leisurely, familiar, comforting . . .
. . . and oddly nerve-wracking. For the first time in her experience, Annie was nervous because she wasn't nervous.
She loved her family, and the warm bustle of the diner—but back at the Pit, she'd gotten accustomed to a different way of going about her life. Her body was still attuned to Beach Head time, meaning that she found herself tumbling out of bed before five AM, and once she was up there wasn't much to do except start the day. She tried lazing about, and that was nice, but after early mornings on a desert obstacle course she found herself needing to relearn how to waste time.
In her own way, and without even realizing it, Annie had become an adrenaline junkie. She woke up every morning expecting to be terrified by ninjas, yelled at by PT instructors, traumatized by regulation violations and run off her feet by the sheer amount of work required just to keep the soldiers fed and functioning. With life meandering along, she felt lost, confused, and jittery.
And, hell, she missed them. In her opinion, the Joes were crazy to a man, but—after the initial month-long period of shock and trauma—joining the unit was one of the wildest, best things to ever happen to her. Annie would never be a ninja commando or a high-flying pilot, but she cooked in the kitchen and kept an ear out as some of the most skilled military men and women on Earth talked about what they did best and how they did it. And damn, they were colorful. Roadblock, with his heavy machine gun and gourmet cooking skills; Ace, who had the book on everything, including which of the three top officers in the unit would start going gray first; the ninjas, who Annie was still prepared to swear were part kangaroo from the way they jumped; and of course, Dusty, who was perpetually on KP for one reason or another and seemed utterly oblivious to the irony of being both a desert commando and a refrigerator expert.
Also, in G.I. Joe, nobody was interrogating her about giving them grandchildren.
So when her leave came to an end, she hugged her family and promised them she'd write. Then, with an odd sense of relief, she hopped on the plane back to Nevada.
The cab dropped her off half a mile from the perimeter of the base. As Annie clambered up a small ridge, her duffel bag slung over her shoulder and one free hand shading her eyes from the rapidly climbing sun, she heard a very familiar bellow:
"Pick it up, ya gawddamn pogues! This ain't a gawddamn stroll in the park! Motormouth, Ah saw that! Think you're funny?" A strangled yelp. "Ah should think not! Y'all ain't got the sense not to make fun of yer PT sergeant, then y'all ain't got the sense to dodge a Cobra! Ah think we need another lap around the base. Move it!"
Annie smiled. The desert was hot and bright in the morning sun, the sky a clear cloudless blue. The shapes of the quonset huts that concealed the base barely stuck out, making the smallest patches of shadow against the vastness of the desert. And coming towards her at high speed was a sweating, stumbling, gasping party of greenshirts, pursued by a runaway train in a green balaclava.
"Move! Move! Take a picture, Short Stack, it'll last longer! Ah said move! Stop lookin' at the sluggish QM, Motormouth, she ain't gonna save yer ass! Do Ah need to add another lap?"
Home, sweet home.