Author's Note: Yes, this story contains a discussion of religion by G.I. Joe characters. Please don't run away; I promise I didn't make it too serious.
I felt moved to do some kind of Christmas piece, because (if nothing else) I was planning to do Halloween and Thanksgiving pieces and never finished either. Oddly enough, though, we don't know much about the Joes' backgrounds beyond the essentials, and I thought we could get some Christmasy humor out of it by having them touch on the subject of religion. Don't worry, nobody starts in with any screeds or bashes anybody—this is labeled as humor, isn't it?
The scene was initially inspired by my eldest brother (ex-USMC, ex-Army) and his rhapsodizing about the horrors of various MREs. All of the meal information cited, including the superstition connected to one item and the inedibility of others, is true. (My brother was given the ham slice with rice during the Crucible, the final intensive training of the USMC boot camp, and he literally starved rather than eat it.)
All of the religious information cited here is also correct, to the best of my knowledge. No disrespect is meant to the practitioners of any of these faiths; I'm a Roman Catholic who went to a Jewish school and studied Zen, and I really don't have any grudges against any particular religion. It's all for the purposes of good humor.
EDIT: Thanks to Zeistrijder for correcting the information about the terminology of the LDS church.
Rating: K+, except for one bad word
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.
by Totenkinder Madchen
In a world that contains things like Cobra Commander and the Dreadnoks, the men and women of the armed forces can't always stop for the holidays. However, even the identity-classified, secretly-headquartered, the-only-thing-you'll-get-out-of-me-is-name-rank-and-serial-number members of G.I. Joe weren't above wanting to visit family and friends for the more important holidays, and if they could be spared, General Hawk was usually sympathetic about letting them have a bit of leave. The troops under his command were the best, and if they weren't likely to be needed, there was no point in having them champing at the bit and hanging around base.
Even so, a skeleton force would have to remain at all times. Cobra Commander had a depressingly Batman-villain-like tendency to cook up insane plots at exactly the most inopportune times, and seemed to get even more amusement out of a plan when he was spoiling a major holiday for a large number of people and planning to subjugate them to his will. He has in past years managed to ruin two Christmases, three Thanksgivings, two Valentines' Days, a New Years', an Arbor Day (though that was probably a coincidence), and of course, Halloween. The latest year was no different. And so it came to pass that at twenty minutes to midnight on December 24th, a small contingent of Joes found themselves encamped in a scrubby corner of the Sudan with a few tents, a stack of MREs, and strict orders not to leave the region until they were certain that the "R.A.B.O.C. Organization for the People" was, in fact, just a local political party with an unfortunate acronym.
Needless to say, many of the soldiers were in a less than festive mood. Two—Scarlett and Flint—had literally been pulled off the transports headed out, and even Snake-Eyes and Dusty (one of whom had no family to speak of and the other of whom just didn't spend much time with his) had been looking forward to the holiday meal that Roadblock always put together. Low-Light, as usual, was impossible to read: he had just spent some time scouting, found a place where he could set up under cover at a moment's notice, judged he wasn't needed immediately and proceeded to go to sleep. The team's ground capacity was rounded out by Footloose, who was apparently having issues with his Zen state of mind after being confronted with a Christmas dinner of MREs.
"I'll swap you," he said hopelessly to Dusty. "C'mon, I can't eat this stuff. Trade?" He proffered the tan plastic package containing the notorious 'four fingers of death,' or, as they were known to the Army, the Assorted Beef Frankfurter Meal-Ready-to-Eat. Dusty, who had correctly guessed what number Low-Light was thinking of and therefore won first choice of meal, glanced silently back and forth between the deadly Four Fingers and his own dinner, which contained a fairly edible piece of chicken.
The desert trooper had (by virtue of his desert survival training) learned to eat virtually anything, and everybody present knew that he was one of the only people capable of choking down anything the MREs could throw at him. They also knew that everybody else knew this, and that Dusty would be able to extract a fairly hefty bribe from Footloose in exchange for trading meals with him. Footloose waited hopelessly, wondering exactly what he would have to do in order to balance his karma and prevent himself from spending Christmas morning with the notorious frankfurter cramps.
But after a long, pregnant silence, Dusty just shrugged and grinned. "Yeah, sure," he said, and tossed his MRE to Footloose, who was so surprised that he fumbled the catch and almost spilled some of the meal's precious ration of Skittles all over the dirt. He managed it in the end, though, and kicked the frankfurter packet over to Dusty before the desert trooper could change his mind.
"Merry Christmas," Dusty added as an afterthought.
"Season's greetings," Footloose replied, tearing gratefully into the chicken patty.
Somebody poked Dusty in the shoulder. Turning, he saw Snake-Eyes, implacable as ever in black and bristling with weapons. The ninja held up his own ration—the dreaded Ham Slice with Rice. Next to the ham slice, even the frankfurters were appetizing. [Happy New Year?] he signed hopefully.
Dusty grinned again, but was momentarily stumped for an appropriate response. "'Why is this night different from all other nights?'" he said finally, swapping franks for ham.
That got a soft snort from Scarlett. "That's Passover," she said, calmly biting into her own (decently palatable) BBQ Pork ration. "Wrong season."
"No point in being insensitive, right? We're a caring, Eighties kind of army now," Dusty retorted good-humoredly as he tore open the packet of what was allegedly ham. "What, do you have something against Jewish people?"
"Last time I checked, Judaism had a winter holiday," Flint butted in. Their camp had been pitched in a small hollow, and their immediate superior was perched a few yards up the slope, examining a map. "You may have heard of it?"
"Maybe," Dusty responded, blasé as ever. "I don't pay much attention to gentile stuff."
That got another, louder snort, this time from Snake-Eyes. The ninja had retreated into the shadows and peeled up the lower half of his mask to eat, but he was the only Joe present who could still talk with his mouth full. One hand signed in the gloom. [That word doesn't mean what you think it means.]
"You're Mormon?" Scarlett said curiously. She had never really considered the religion of her teammates, beyond a few obvious examples (Storm Shadow claimed to follow no gods. The Shinto items in his quarters said otherwise), but when she thought about it it made some kind of sense. Dusty, after all, had grown up in Sin City but seemed largely disgusted by the things most people found entrancing about it. And it would explain the 'gentile' remark: in the late 1800s, the LDS had a tradition of referring to all non-LDSers as gentiles, much to the amusement of some Jews she knew. However, the desert trooper just shook his head.
"Some of my family were, and there's a few still left in Mesquite. Actually, I think I'm agnostic."
"You think?" Scarlett responded, amused. "Agnosticism is the view that claims about the existence of any god are unknowable or unverifiable. So . . . you're not sure if you're not sure?"
"That's practically Zen," Footloose put in, now in a considerably better mood that he had eaten something closely resembling real food.
Flint slid down the slope, folding up the map as he did so. "Footloose, you wouldn't know real Zen if Siddhartha Gautama himself descended on a meteor and brained you with it."
"Flint," Footloose said with a note of pity in his voice, "you're going to have to go through ten reincarnations just to get your aura in tune with the rest of humanity. I'm not worrying about what you think."
"'Caring, Eighties army,' Flint," Dusty reminded their ad hoc leader mildly, tearing the last piece of rice-studded ham slice in two. "That includes respecting everybody's belief system, no matter how much bong water they've been drinking."
That at least got a bit of a grin out of Flint, which was a relief for everyone. Scarlett had been going home to visit her rowdy and numerous extended family, but Flint had been planning a private Christmas in Hawaii with Lady Jaye, only to get dragged out on mission at the last minute. A tense and snappy mission leader made everybody equally tense. Now, the atmosphere relaxed just a little as Flint pulled up a rock and planted himself on it with his own MRE.
A moment later, Low-Light came to join them. "Your shift," he said to Footloose, who nodded and wolfed down the last of his "food" before hotfooting it up the slope. The sniper nibbled on a packet of peanut butter crackers and drank a lot of water, apparently completely unfazed by spending Christmas Eve in the Sudan, but he raised an eyebrow when Flint tore open his meal's package.
"Not gonna eat those, are you?" he said, pointing to a small colorful packet which had fallen out of the MRE.
Flint retrieved the packet, which contained a small selection of Charms hard candies. "You're kidding, 'Light. Don't tell me you pay attention to that superstition? Serious soldiers don't believe in curses."
[You'd be surprised,] Snake-Eyes signed as he rejoined the group, pulling his mask down over his face. [I once saw a guy get tossed out of a Humvee for eating Charms while he was supposed to be on watch. People say they're bad luck.]
That got him a critical eyeballing from Flint. "You too? It's ridiculous. This isn't a Saturday morning cartoon."
Scarlett coughed delicately. "You are talking to a ninja."
"The point is," Flint said, deliberately tearing open the packet, "I would've bought all this from Footloose. Or Rock'n'Roll, maybe. If he'd been to Burning Man recently. But a candy curse doesn't strike me as the kind of thing sane Joes should believe in."
[Belief is where you find it.] Snake-Eyes shrugged. [There are all kinds of religions out there, and some of them have pretty ridiculous-sounding beliefs.]
"Aha," Dusty said, brightening up. "Another agnostic!"
Snake-Eyes' shrug was eloquent in and of itself.
"Unless we're talking to my family," Scarlett put in. "Then he's Lutheran."
Flint had unfortunately taken that moment to drink a mouthful of water, and his snort of laughter turned into a muffled glubbing noise. "I can imagine that," he managed to snicker, mopping his streaming nose and eyes. "Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door with a shuriken. No wonder the Catholics were never able to have him killed."
"It would've made an unusual Protestant Reformation, that's for sure," Scarlett said thoughtfully. "'When we say we want you to stop doing this stuff, we really, really mean it.' Slice. Modern sermons would be much more interesting."
There was a moment of silence as five members of G.I. Joe contemplated a world run by the Church of the Ninja.
"I don't like it," Dusty said finally. "I think it would make Beach Head angry."
"How would he know?" Flint pointed out. "If history was changed, he'd never know about it, and he would have been raised in that tradition. Beach is Christian, isn't he? Baptist?"
"I would've bet on voodoo, myself. Something where they sacrifice chickens and make dolls of people they don't like."
"That would explain why he's always trying to kill us on the PT course," Scarlett said thoughtfully, nodding to Dusty. "A blood offering to appease his dark masters. Ai, ai, Beach Head fhtagn."
Snake-Eyes leveled an accusing finger at her. [I knew you owned those Lovecraft books I found under your bed. 'Belongs to Cover Girl,' my ass.]
"Guys," Low-Light broke in. As usual, he never talked much, so him volunteering to speak of his own free will was a surprise. He glanced up at the sky, which was beautifully clear and velvety purple-black, spangled with stars. The moon was nowhere to be seen. "Merry Christmas."
The four other Joes in the circle fell silent again, following his gaze upwards. Though there was no moon, there was also no ambient light from crowded cities to disturb the darkness, and the great wash of the Milky Way tinted the sky silvery high above them. There was no Pole Star in this part of the world, but the stars of Taurus and the pale gleam of the Pleiades shone pure and clear. They were far from home, but the world around them was cool and quiet, the constellations of summer an unexpectedly welcome sight when their own country was ploughing through yet another snowy winter. There were no footsteps or approaching enemies, and if they were lucky, nor would they be. Everybody had gotten something vaguely edible.
"Works for me," Dusty said.