Hearts and Minds: Hard Drive
Disclaimer: G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc. I'm just one of a large family of fans who likes telling family stories – no profit needed, no profit earned.
Continuity: IDW, G.I. Joe Ongoing a.k.a. the "Dixonverse" - though this format is drawn from Max Brooks's most excellent Hearts and Minds mini series.
Author's Note: I couldn't find Hard Drive's real name anywhere, so I gave her a name from Scottish mythology... Jennet. Her family name is MacKenzie. Moira is one of our founding JoeMommas, a wealth of information when I needed it most, but nothing like her namesake in this story. I tossed in a few other JMs, too... but couldn't fit everyone, so I hope nobody gets hurt feelings! Constructive criticism is welcome. Always looking to improve.
"Broken Arrow! Move! Move! Move!"
We're pelting full-out down the river, Beachhead, Tripwire, and me. Uneven footing makes the going rough, but we're not letting up. Incoming. Missles incoming, and those damned B.A.T.S never stop firing. If the blast from the missiles doesn't get us, the B.A.T.S. will. Beachhead is leading, Tripwire a step behind me. My breath comes in ragged gasps. My lungs are burning, on fire. I'm full out – pushing my envelope. If we don't find shelter soon, we're dead.
Another ballistics barrage, and Beach jerks a bit but keeps moving as if it wasn't anything more than a gnat. Something heavy slams into my chest, knocking the wind out of me, but I manage to stay on my feet. Trip's got my side covered, and I see his eyes, worried, and shake my head. I'll be fine. Gotta keep moving.
I hear Beach grunt as he takes the embankment, then Trip is over the top and dropping down. The pain in my chest slows me a sec, but I'm just a breath behind, going to my knees as close to the berm as I can get. I'm feeling under the kevlar, checking for puncture wounds, for blood... my chest is numb, and it's starting to hurt to breathe. Stopped too fast... legs cramping up. Damn, damn, damn...
"You guys hit?" Trip's peeling my armor open, fingers probing, checking me over. I push at his hands. Just give me a second to breathe...
"Took a shot to the body armor is all..." I gasp, then cough up phlegm tinged with red. Damn. Internal bleeding. Well, whatever doesn't kill you...
"I'll live till the heavy stuff kills us." So cheerful, Beach. Always the optimist. "Which should be any second now..."
We hear the whine of ordinance overhead, overpowering the steady percussion of the arms fire. The first pressure wave hits before the sound does, making the ground thrum beneath us, rippling like a sheet in the wind. Trip throws himself over me, shielding me with his body, not sure if my armor's been compromised. I'd do the same for him.
"Hold on... Hold on... " Beach's voice sounds far away, half drowned by the roar of explosions. My eardrums are popping. The whole world is shaking. Trip's lips are close to my ear, arms tight around me, and he's muttering to me, echoing what Beach is saying.
"Hard Drive... I got ya... just hold on..." The next blast feels like it's right on top of us, pressure and sound and the whole world shakes, turns upside down...
I had a sister once.
Just one. Younger by three years. Moira.
We didn't get along.
I always thought maybe it might have been different, having a brother. A brother, I thought, would have been better. Or maybe not. At any rate, with family, you don't get a choice.
I got Moira.
Of course, most people with sibs can say that family things are never very "Brady Bunch," whether it's brothers or sisters, or both. Those folks who wrote the sitcoms and family shows when I was coming up seemed to be trying to live out their own fantasies of what family life should be... problems were fairly minor. A sweater borrowed without permission. Battles over the pretty girl next door, or the new boy in school. Jealousy of the pretty one, or the smart one, or the one with all the luck. Nothing that couldn't be settled in half an hour with a heart-to-heart talk and a big hug.
Like that's anywhere near real life.
Moira and I never really hit it off. I don't know why. I liked her well enough when she was a baby... my folks wouldn't get me a dog, so I figured a baby was just about the same thing. I petted her, asked to feed her, asked to take her for walks. But once she got older, learned to talk, developed her own personality... that's when things went downhill.
It seemed like we were always fighting over something. The toy I had that she wanted. The back seat behind the driver in the car – the one that was strategic, since Mom couldn't swat you so easily there. What t.v. show to watch. It upset our mother... she'd never had sisters, only my uncles, and she had her own dreams about how her girls should be. Best friends. Inseparable.
"Sisters by birth... best friends by choice." And she'd lecture me, sometimes, about how I wasn't being a very good big sister – or worse, try to convince me better times were just around the corner. She tried that a lot when Moira went through her Biting Stage.
"She's going to grow out of it," she'd tell me, while she was bandaging up another oozing wound on my knee or forearm. "And then, she'll be the best friend you always wanted. You'll always have each other, Jenny. Remember that. A girl always needs her sisters."
Right. Need them for what? But I didn't say it. The way I figured it, my life wouldn't be much different without Moira in it... except that I'd have a whole room to myself, and no tooth marks up and down my arms.
Moira did grow out of it - the biting, at least - and yeah, things did get better as we got older.
Once we were in school, once we had our own friends and our own hobbies, we managed a pretty decent truce. Enough to keep Mom happy, at least. I didn't have any interest in Moira's dolls and dress-up clothes and tea parties. She couldn't care less about my Erector sets and Legos and Lincoln Logs. I remember how, one Christmas, Mom got us both Star Wars dolls - the deluxe 16" ones. Princess Leia for Moira, Luke for me. She thought it would get us to play together.
I got grounded for a week for cutting off all Leia's hair when Moira wouldn't stop making her try to kiss Luke instead of blast Storm Troopers.
Sometimes we'd be thrown together out of sheer boredom – I still have the picture of Barbie's Dude Ranch, the one we made when we were snowed in for almost a week, back in '78. It wasn't exactly playing TOGETHER – I did all the construction of buildings and fences, Moira populated it with dolls and stuffed animals and acted out the stories – but it was okay, at least until we could get outside. Mom was transported with joy... she still has the picture of us on her night stand, me putting the finishing touches on the corral and Moira stocking it with Breyer horses.
One thing we never had to compete for was our parents. It was an even split. Moira and Mom had their "girl thing" going... spa nights, pedicures, shopping trips, secrets. I was Daddy's girl. We'd work out how to make things explode with store-bought chemistry sets that weren't supposed to do that, construct simple machines out of Legos before there were kits made that way, work on his model railroads in the basement, plunk down and watch Star Trek marathons together, or play-act out our favorite episodes. He always let me be Captain Kirk.
As long as we had our own lives to live, Moira and I were pretty much fine. We could even manage civil talk at the dinner table, most nights. On really good nights, we could even laugh and joke.
And then Moira got into junior high, and I hit high school, and things really started to fall apart.
It's not that I didn't have any sympathy for my kid sister... I'd done the whole junior high thing, had seen the girl jungle in action, and had thanked God that I'd rather be hanging with the Dungeons and Dragons club at lunch, rolling for damage against a bugbear on a quest, rather than sallying forth to do battle with the rival cliques of cool girls. Yeah, I was a geek – but it kept me alive and sane through that nasty pre-adolescent period, and I came out of it relatively unscathed. The worst that happened to me was that someone stole my autographed photo of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia out of my locker, then hung it up in the girl's bathroom with "Jenny + Princess L = FOREVER LOVE!" scrawled across it.
Moira wasn't that lucky.
Moira was girl with a capital G. She'd hit the horse crazy phase in fourth grade right on schedule, plastered posters of cantering steeds all across her half of our room, and had more Breyer horse figurines than any real stable could ever hold. In sixth grade, the horses started vanishing, replaced with pinups from 16 Magazine and posters from the record store at the mall... all pretty boys with pretty hair. She kissed each and every one before she went to bed at night. She started bugging Mom for things like makeup, pierced ears, and a "real bra." She'd hop on my bed at night and want me to tell her all about what the high school boys were REALLY like... then get mad when I said that I didn't know and didn't care. She wanted me to teach her how to kiss. HONESTLY! No, not like THAT... but tell how how the "practice on your pillow" thing was supposed to work.
Then she'd try asking me to do her hair, or if I wanted to paint our nails, or if we could go watch the football team practice so she could at least see those cute high school boys. Ummm... no, no, and most definitely NO.
"Don't you want to be seen with me? Is that it? You're too cool to be seen with your only sister?" she'd whine, and pout, and make those big Bambi eyes at me.
"Nope. Just have better things to do than hang out and watch a bunch of jocks strut for the pretty girls. Their kind isn't worth it, Moira. All looks, no brains." I tried to keep my tone civil, really I did. "If you want, I'll let you hang out with the guys and me next time we have a game night."
She rolled her eyes so hard I thought they might fall out of their sockets.
"You are SUCH a lame excuse for a sister," she told me, flouncing for the door. "You never want to do ANYthing fun. I wouldn't be caught dead hanging out with the dweebs you call friends."
Dweebs were the lowest echelon of Moira's social ladder... right under "losers" and "nobodies." Where she placed on that ladder, I never knew... but she was obsessed with getting to the next rung. Popularity was EVERYthing to Moira. She'd flounder in the depths of despair for weeks if she wasn't invited to the right party, or if the alpha chicks giggled when she walked by, or if someone showed up at a dance wearing the same outfit she'd picked. If she could, she'd change her outfits three times a day. Her makeup case took up an entire sock drawer.
She discovered hormones halfway through seventh grade, and after that there was a litany of "the perfect boy" monologues, delivered just when I was trying to get to sleep at night, and of course I had to put up with listening to every whispered detail about the imagined first kiss, the perfect first date, and... well, you can figure out the rest. Moira was TMI before the term got popular.
And then she got snotty.
She didn't want to be seen in public with any of us... but especially not me. No makeup? No trendy clothes? No way. I never had to worry about that "my sister steals my clothes" thing other girls complained about. Moira never, ever borrowed anything out of my closet - "Like I'd be caught DEAD wearing that... I swear, Jennet, you've got less fashion sense than you've got good looks." And when we did go out as a family, she'd roll her eyes when I pulled out a book or MZB Fantasy magazine to read.
"Are you PURPOSELY trying to embarrass me? I mean, what if someone I know SEES you? Do you want the whole world to know I have a nerd for a sister?"
For the most part, I ignored her. Best defense when it came to Miss Beauty Pageant, and honestly, it didn't bother me. That's the nice thing about being a geek. You learn early that nobody's opinion matters other than your own, if you want to be happy. I just pretended that she was an exchange student, mostly... she sure made it clear enough that if she'd had a choice of siblings, I wouldn't top her list.
When I joined my high school's JROTC, she nearly had a seizure.
"Jennet, you are RUINING MY LIFE!" she wailed, stomping into our room the afternoon she found out - about a month after I'd signed up. I was curled up with The Silmarillion, which I was hating passionately but determined to read all the way through. I'm not sure if I looked up before she kicked my chair. "Do you even CARE what the other girls say about you?"
No, not particularly – especially not eighth grade girls, when I'm a junior in high school. Why should I?
Moira glared. "They say you're a... a..." She lowered her voice. "A LESBIAN!"
I thought about this for a second, trying to formulate the proper response.
"And I should be upset about that because...?"
"Because they say that if YOU'RE a girl fag, then I AM TOO!" Now I did look up at her, and her face was all blotchy and red, tears streaming out of her eyes. I remember having a twinge then... "Can't you even TRY to be normal? Or look like a girl – a REAL girl? Wear some makeup? Date one of those nerds you hang out with?"
I tried to come up with something sisterly to say. I mean, she was really upset. I couldn't care less about what her little clique girls thought of me... but I didn't want to make my sister cry. Not for something as stupid as gossip.
But I wanted her to know that I liked the ROTC... that it was something I was good at, something that felt good when I was part of it. That I wanted the scholarship it could get me, since our family wasn't rolling in cash. That I wanted to get into West Point, if I could. Mostly, that when I was in uniform, when I was standing at attention next to the other cadets, I felt every bit as special as she did all dressed up in frills and lace, heading out to a dance.
Then she grabbed my uniform, threw it on the floor, stomped on it, and dashed out of the room to cry on my mother's shoulder - making me glad that I hadn't managed to think of anything to say at all.
I did think about what she'd said, though. About being a lesbian.
I wasn't, though it wasn't any business of hers. I just didn't date much.
Okay, at all. But it was my choice.
It wasn't that I didn't like guys... Harrison Ford notwithstanding, however, I just didn't particularly care about doing anything with them more than building a robot or learning how to program computers. Guys were good friends. Uncomplicated. Undemanding. I had a few girl friends... mostly girls like me, science and tech types. And when time came for going out to the movies and to the proms, I had dates – had more offers than I needed, really, even though all of them were "buddy dates."
I couldn't figure out why it would bother Moira, if it didn't bother me.
But it did bother Moira.
Once she got into high school, she seemed to think she had to make up for my lost time, or prove that she wasn't a lesbo like me. Or both. Parties, parties, parties and guys, guys, guys. Yup. Little sister was a ho. Or would it be "skank?" I dunno. It was pretty pathetic, really. She'd sleep with anything on two legs, if it had the right operating system. Drinking, smoking, trying out the lighter drugs, Moira did it all. And all the while, she somehow managed to keep our folks thinking she was Little Mary Sunshine. Her "friends" - which seemed to change every week – would cover for her when she was out all night, saying she was sleeping over their house. To Mom and Dad, she played the perfect daughter. She saved all the teenage attitude for me, which I couldn't avoid, sharing a room and all. I finally managed to get Dad to let me renovate the basement for my own room and got some space, since I was doing my first two years of college at the local branch to save on room and board.
I can't help it – even now, I look back at it, my kid sister pretty much disgusted me. It had gone beyond being apathetic towards her, or being annoyed by her. I had about as much use for booze and drugs as I had for guys. Sure, I'd crack open a beer during a weekend D&D party or movie marathon. It went well with pizza. But none of my crowd felt the need to smoke or try out the drug scene, so neither did I. We had enough mind-altering stuff in our comic books and sci-fi conventions to keep us plenty happy, and – high school outcast hierarchy being what it is – we'd always looked down on the stoners who cut class and hung out smoking on "the hill." They were a waste of brain cells.
All in all, I was plenty glad to have the chance to eventually escape to college. At least there, I didn't have to put up with my baby sister staggering down the stairs to puke in my closet and tearfully rant about how I was NEVER the big sister she'd wanted, how I couldn't have been a worse sister, and how she couldn't figure out what she'd done to make me hate her so much.
No, I just had to put up with strangers and my roommate's friends doing pretty much the same thing, only sans "bad sister" spiel.
And I had to put up with my mom calling in tears, since Moira had to get caught sometime, and she did, spectacularly, when she crashed the car into a 7-11 the day she found out she was pregnant.
After that – I never found out what happened about the pregnancy, and didn't ask – Mom would call me regularly, asking me if I couldn't talk to Moira and see if I could get her to turn around, since she'd always looked up to me, and did I really hate her so much, couldn't I just try a bit harder, that it hurt Mom to see her girls not getting along...
I didn't hate Moira. I'd never hated her. I tried to tell her that, but Mom didn't listen. She just wanted me to play Big Sister Barbie, and didn't understand why I couldn't.
Fact is, I just didn't have much in common with Moira, and liked her much better when one of us was far, far away. I wouldn't have chosen her as a sister, sure, given the choice - heck, I'd probably have chosen a brother, if life worked that way. But you don't GET a choice with family, do you?
But I did try, in my own ham-fisted way, for Mom's sake. I send Hallmark cards. I made sure to call just for Moira, once a month. And while doing the "big sister" thing in such a saccharine way made me want to gag, Moira slowly, slowly pulled herself out of the nose dive. Mom said my calls and cards made all the difference. I dunno. By the time Moira got herself together – about halfway through her sophomore year in college - I was already on the fast track to success with the Army, and didn't get home more than twice a year or so. I did get home for her college graduation, and that seemed to make everyone happy – though I couldn't really figure why Moira would hug and weep all over me because of it.
And when Mom had the breast cancer scare, I guess Moira and I did finally bond, really bond, in the way my mom always wanted us to. We had long talks, had coffee when I was in town. For me, the talks didn't feel much different than our old bedroom "conversations"... Moira doing all the talking, me mumbling something affirmative or negative or an appropriate phrase every now and again and pretty much doing all the listening. She'd tell me about her husband – the first one, and then the second – and work, and catch me up on my nieces. And she'd reminisce about "the old times" - though she did this mostly when Mom wasn't doing well, and she was feeling melancholy.
"I just wanted you to like me, Jen..." she told me once, her voice all wistful, a few days before my unit was set to deploy to Iraq for the second time. "I couldn't figure out why you never did. I'd never have gotten into half the trouble I did, back in school, if I didn't try so hard to get your attention. I just thought if I was cooler... then maybe we could be sisters. REAL sisters, like the other girls had..."
And what was I supposed to say to that?
About a year later, I was dead to my family.
Dead to the world.
And I was part of a new family that fit me far, far better than my old one ever had.
I was part of G.I. Joe.
When I wake up, I'm bandaged and clean. I do the usual debrief, then grab a laptop and a corner to hide in. I need to get my head away from where I've been... from what's happened.
We're not supposed to have contact with our families, being dead and all, but there isn't more than a handful of Joes who don't have Facebook accounts under an assumed name. Mains set us up with them... even got the fake personalities data on the search engines, jobs and addresses, photos, social security numbers, the works - just in case. We're still not supposed to have them, but the brass have gotta know that we do... it's one of those "they know you know they knows" situations, and we just make sure we don't get caught.
So to my dad and sister, I'm Christine K., cube farm resident at an IT firm in Wisconsin, former resident of St. Louis. Got a husband of twelve years and one little gal - Addy. Member of the Gateway National Model Railroad Association, which is how I keep track of my dad. Breast cancer survivor family member, which is how I connected with my sister. We're friends now... in a Facebook kind of way.
I pull up my newsfeed. Mom's still not on Facebook, but Dad's been there for ages. He's just posted photos of his newest antique train setup... little mountains, tunnels, a town. One of the stores in the town gets its own close up shot. "Miz Jenny's Comics Shop." Aw, Dad... you shouldn't have.
Moira's posted, too. New pics of the girls – ballet lessons, piano recital, all that girly stuff – and a post about how her oldest, Andy, is such a trial.
"She's nine and a half, for goodness sake, and all she wants to do is play with bugs and dirt!" Moira's lamenting. "And add on to her gerbil village. We've got eight Habitrail sets, all strung together... the pipes go all around her room... and now she's saying that plastic isn't good for gerbils, and she wants to build a 'natural, lifelike habitat' with plants and grass where they can dig burrows and have BABIES, so she can observe them living in 'natural family groups.' Where did I go wrong?"
The picture she's attached is of Andy with skinned knees under her pink tutu and a black eye from falling out of a tree. There's a black furry lump that might be a gerbil on her arm. She's grinning, and missing a tooth. I hit 'reply."
"You go, girl!" I type. "Maybe she'll be the next Jane Goodall of the rodent world. ENCOURAGE HER!"
"Feeling better, sis?" That's Tripwire, coming up behind me, putting a hand on my shoulder and jerking me back to the real world for a moment.
Trip's the only one who calls me that. Sometimes Sis, sometimes "big sis" or "big sister," since he's three months younger than me. The guys, they call each other "bro" and "brother" all the time... but it doesn't have the same feel.
"Don't call me that, Trip... it just sounds weird." He grins down at me. I say that every time.
"Which makes it the perfect thing for an annoying kid brother to say, huh?" I shake my head and laugh with him. Why bother? "C'mon. I always wanted a sister."
I glance at my Facebook wall.
"No, you didn't. Trust me on this."
"I was an only child, remember?"
"And I wasn't, so who's got more street cred? And if you need to make up a sib, why not a brother?"
"Got plenty of brothers here... growing up, though, all I heard about brothers was how they'd beat you up and fart in your face. Sisters seemed like a better deal. You get to sneak around and spy on 'em, read their diaries, then beat up their ex-boyfriends and be the hero." I raise an eyebrow, and he holds out his hands, palms up, all innocent. "What?"
"You try reading my diary and I'm gonna put you in a hammerlock you'll never get out of, and I'll fart in your face, too."
"Hard to do from behind me. And you don't keep a diary. Just this, and I've hacked your Facebook page... nothing interesting there, so I made some stuff up. By the way, you're now friends with Rush Limbaugh."
"Trip...!" God, he really CAN be an annoying kid brother. He chucks me on the shoulder.
"Cheer up. At least you know I'll take out any guy who breaks your heart. Just let me at 'em!" He puts up his dukes, mimes a left hook, and grins. I punch him in the gut. Not too hard, but hard enough for him to feel it, and he grabs my head to give me one of those "noogie" things. If I didn't have a laptop on my lap, this would probably disintegrate into a full-out wrestling match.
"Trip," I say, finally, when he's done hassling me. "Back by the river. I just wanted to say... thanks."
"Just doin' my job, sis. Mom would kick my butt if I let anything happen to you." And he winks, waits for me to groan, then walks off, proud of himself.
When I look back at my screen, Moira's noticed I'm online and the Personal Message box is flashing.
"Hey, woman," she's messaged. "Long time no see! You've been traveling a lot? How's the family? That brother of yours still driving you crazy?"
I glance up, see Trip's back turning a corner. I smile. If he'd really been on my Facebook page, he'd know about those posts. My kid brother.
"Yeah," I type. "He's great."
I've got a team full of adopted brothers... and one real one. His choice. Mine, too.
I am Hard Drive.
I am G. I. Joe.