Lagoon Company Offices, Roanapur

"One does not simply fork over five hundred thousand for the assassination of a Columbian drug lord in a backwards, backwater Thai shithole city. I have this lurking feeling that you two done fucked up big time."

"Dutch, have you not looked at the contents of the suitcase? It's all in genuine, cold-hard green. Who the hell's gonna argue with that?" Revy couldn't stop grinning. This was the first step to amassing a couple million and get the hell out of Roanapur. Who knew? Maybe she'd have enough money to drag Rock along too. Despite his being a physical wimp and a mediocre shot, she had personally witnessed Rock survive the wrath of Roanapur's most feared Russian mob queen with nothing but wit. And his social skills, which Revy could say without a doubt that she didn't have, would be quite handy.

"I don't like it. Nominally, this checks out. The evidence is in your suitcase and on that hotel room's wall. But, putting that all aside, there's something damn fishy about a government agent forking over half a million dollars of valuable money to kill a drug lord. Sure, it's somewhat cheaper than sending in their own special forces, but why pay someone that much? I'd say fifty to a hundred thousand would be much more reasonable."

"Dutchy, Dutchy, Dutchy," said Revy. She was getting tired of him making things too complicated. Just like Rock before he grew a pair of testicles. "You don't see what I'm talking about. Y'see, that's money. This is me, that's Rock. Me and Rock were hired by an American agent. I went in and shot Abrego and his goons, Rock kept this ass you can kiss from getting blown off."

"Okay, Revy. It's time that you and Rock explain yourselves. I've noticed that you've both changed an awful lot. I don't like that. I almost feel like you're both scheming something behind my back. What's gotten into you?"

"They've been like that for years now, boss man," Benny sang out from behind Dutch. Fuckin' Jew's pissin' me off again! God, what's with that guy? Revy really didn't know why Benny was starting to get on her nerves. It was just something about the fact that he never really contributed much other than some technical bullshit that probably didn't have any real effect on the job one way or another, unlike Rock who had saved his comrades quite a bit of work and trouble with his skills.

"What's it to you, Dutch?" said Rock, his boss dwarfing him by at least a foot. "Does it really matter how much different I am than when I first came here? I thought you and Revy were on the same boat when you thought that I should man up."

"Listen here, Rock," Dutch said, his tone mellowing out slightly. "One day a couple years ago, when you and Revy were in Japan, Benny and I had a little talk. We both agreed that it would be best if you didn't learn how to fire a gun. Why? It's the same reason that I'm unhappy with you today: you're the cockiest bastard in the Far East. You have a tendency to bite off twenty to thirty times more than you can fuckin' chew, and it puts us all in danger. Rock, why don't you just stick with being the negotiator? That's what you're here for, that's what you should stay for. Okay?"

Revy almost wanted to laugh at the scene unfolding in front of them. What the hell was Dutch babbling about? If Rock learned how to shoot a weapon, didn't that make his need for someone to babysit him constantly obsolete? He'd already shot a dozen people in self-defense, something which had renewed Revy's faith in him.

"Seriously, Dutch? I can't believe you want Rock to stay the way he was. You know just how much of a pain in the ass rescuing him all the time used to be?" Revy's grin faded into her usual expressionless, semi-angry visage as she became serious. "Ever since I got him to change himself a bit, he's been doing great. He's only been captured twice in this past year."

Revy's employer sighed. "You're hopeless, Revy. Y'know, maybe Rock's right, I'll just leave you both alone. Just do whatever the hell you two do and try not to get the rest of us killed in the process, okay? Now, given how stupid these people from the Cartel are, I'd estimate it's a day before you'll have a couple dozen of Abrego's goons to pop. I don't care where all that damn money's coming from, but it's yours. I don't want nothin' to do with this."

With that, Dutch spun on his heel towards Rock's office.

"What's up with him? He's never acted like this before."

Revy snorted. Turns out that Dutch really can have periods, after all. She'd seen Dutch act irrationally plenty of times before. He'd tried to call her out both times she'd caught what the man called "Whitman Fever." She didn't know what was coming over her, but shouldn't the guy have been happy that she was doing her job more efficiently? That was what she was there for, wasn't it.

Wow. I wonder exactly where I found a fuck to give.


Cho jolted awake, his head pounding without mercy as he lay in the folding cot in the office…he was pretty sure that Dutch had told him that it belonged to the guy named Rock. It was that damn dream again; over the past month, he'd been having nightmares about that fateful assignment in Columbia. Then there were those dreams about his first day in captivity…the sight of Mendez lying in a heap, blood and brain matter splattered over Cho…they'd shot him while he was unconscious, and bragged about it. Each time, it made the headache he endured at the moment seem like nothing.

He shuddered. He should have listened to his parents and enlisted in the Army or Guard for three years, then gone to college on his G.I bill. Instead, he'd gone and let his naiveté get the better of him in search of adventure. Oh, this was fucking adventure, all right. Being held for a month by a cartel that only refrained from torturing him to death because of orders, and be rescued…by a band of pirates, whose ranks contained at least one person just as evil and bloodthirsty as the cartel thugs.

Cho shivered again. The Asian…more like mixed-race Asian-white woman that the black guy named Dutch referred to as Revy frightened him quite a bit. Despite being relatively pretty compared to the people he'd been exposed to for a while, she seemed to be far off of her rocker. Regardless, the guy named Benny seemed to be normal enough; not to mention Dutch, whom Cho actually found likeable and easy to talk to. Even though he acted like he was apathetic over the matter of the well-being of his crew, save Benny, he probably was justified in not giving a damn about that psycho and…Cho didn't know what to call the guy Dutch referred to as Rock. Revy simply scared Cho; Rock, on the other hand, creeped him out and chilled him. It was something in his eyes and the way he went about everything, even the smallest actions. The Marine couldn't put a finger on it, but it managed to get all the way to his bones.

"So, someone's awake," Dutch groaned in his deep baritone voice. Rising up in the makeshift sleeping accommodation, Cho growled as the pain in his head worsened fivefold. It probably had something to do with the way that cartel boss had beaten him so hard before he'd been saved. Hmph…telling myself I was saved…was it yesterday or earlier today? Oh well. Out of the frying pan and into the fuckin' fire. "You've got good timing, I got up about half an hour ago."

"Oh…yeah. You have any aspirin or Tylenol or something like that?"

Dutch nodded. "Yep, there should be some in the top drawer to your left. I'm sure Rock won't mind if you borrow some of his medicine. He normally keeps a bunch of stuff for hangovers and the like. Just make sure you don't grab some other funny shit he's got in there."

Cho, beginning to see double from the pain, fumbled through the drawer without heed to the obvious way in which Rock had organized the various pill bottles. Finally finding a bottle labeled "Ibuprofen," Cho tried to shake out a small number of pills. It didn't matter to him that he'd actually wound up dumping around six into his hand; without water, he tossed them into his mouth and swallowed, mentally swearing and praying that sweet relief would come soon.

"Those assholes must've hit you pretty hard. Looks like you're bruised all over. You don't have to worry about infections, though. Doesn't look like your skin's broke anywhere. When you're ready, there's some coffee in a pot on the table in the main room."

Cho started. "How do you know what they did to me? Last time I saw a mirror, I only had a bruise on my chin-"

"You're pretty sharp for someone who's hurting enough to pop a heap of pills into his mouth. I looked you over while you were sleeping like a baby. Don't worry, I'd be kind of freaked out too if I found out that a big black man was checking me out in my sleep. I just wanted to make sure we didn't have to take you to a hospital or anything."

The Marine plopped back down in the cot. He looked at the digital wall clock. Fifteen minutes after noon. He'd slept for around seventeen hours, which was, by his count, ten entire hours longer than he'd ever slept during his five years in the Corps. Not that he had a problem with that. The room was very clean, neat and orderly, save for several pencils that lay in cracks on the floor; and even those looked semi-organized.

After the Ibuprofen took hold, thankfully not inducing some negative side-effect from ingesting so many pills, Cho got out of the cot and walked out to the main room. Sure enough, there was a coffee pot…and two people slumped across the right couch. Cho immediately smelled alcohol, pizza and vomit, and almost jumped as he realized that the two were Rock and Revy. Dutch sipped steaming black brew from a mug featuring a firm-bodied Caucasian woman in little more than a bikini. Hoping he wasn't being too assertive and simply making himself at home, Cho awkwardly sat down on the opposite end of the couch on which Dutch was residing.

"How long have you been here?"

"I haven't left ever since you went out cold," Dutch said. "Benny went home at around ten. These two…this is why they can't gather a bunch of money and run off to some third-world back-country. Revy can't control her spending, and Rock seems to lack the balls to do it for her." Dutch grinned, thankfully not in the same manner as Revy always seemed to. "While you were sleeping, they went off to the Yellow Flag-that's a bar we frequent -and spent two thousand on booze and food, or so the owner told me when I called him to see what they were up to. You heard me right; they went and spent two thousand on fuckin' drinks. And I can guarantee you; I've known them long enough to tell you that they'll do it again sometime this week."

Cho snorted and laughed, despite the now-minute pounding in his head. To see them like this…he wasn't sure why, but barely a day in he was starting to actually think that a life like theirs wouldn't be terrible. It would be dangerous, to be sure. But being paid enough in one setting to be able to spend two thousand on booze? Something about that sounded thrilling to him.

The Marine dismissed the thought. Don't you remember just where your wish for adventure got you? Yeah, think about that for a bit.

"Rock came in here carrying Revy on his back," Dutch continued, "He was so damn drunk it was comical, and don't ask me how he was walking. The only thing he said as he walked in was 'I've won,' and then he just collapsed. When I went out to the company Pontiac, I almost felt like bashing Rock's head in, but then I laughed as I realized how much he's going to have to cough up for repairs. The thing was fuckin' trashed…the front bumper's bashed in, the radiator's nearly toast, and it looks like those two ruined the upholstery with vomit and other things I don't want to contemplate. I'm pretty sure that they must've taken a run through some of this shithole's worst sections; there's bullet holes inside and out. That body's supposed to be bulletproof, so make of that what you will."

Dutch threw back his head and cackled; Cho surmised that he was happy to get a bit of revenge on his two semi-renegade subordinates.

"Well, I can tell you this, Danny: you smell like shit, and considering the odor those two are giving off that's saying something. There's a shower and a fresh change of clothes in the bathroom to your left; I'm hoping they fit, but they were Rock's before he stopped wearing them, so I make no promises. I'd get it done now; once these two wake up in a few hours, it'll be a cold day in hell before you get in there."

Cho wasn't a particularly picky person, but he definitely had standards when it came to sanitation. The shower itself, true to the nature of the Lagoon crew, smelled of tobacco, alcohol and something else he didn't want to think of. Despite this, it certainly looked clean enough. Most of the soap looked like it was stolen from a hotel room; that didn't come as a big surprise. Trying to ignore the smell, Cho simply stood in the shower, occasionally falling asleep, but mostly trying to enjoy the feeling of the warm water. It seemed like they had an electric water heater, because the temperature of the shower never changed for the, if the clock in the bathroom was anything to go by, hour he spent in there.

The set of clothes, which consisted of a short-sleeved white dress shirt and a pair of faded gray slacks, smelled like they'd just been washed. Probably Dutch's work, seeing as to how considerate he'd been to Cho so far. However, if they were Rock's, it gave some clue as to what he'd been before joining with these people. But if he'd been at some high-end white-collar job…why did he forsake that life for the life of a pirate? Cho could easily see himself doing something like that; contrary to the stereotype that his parents went mad getting him to try and follow, Cho's marks in school weren't terrible by the standards of others, but his parents had to annoy him all day about finishing homework. Despite that he possessed a complete lack of academic motivation, his basketball, football and track coaches were done proud by Cho's physical abilities. If he went back to his house right then and there, he'd be able to look at the dozens of ribbons and awards that he'd earned with his athletic prowess. But Rock…despite being unnerving in the extreme, the man gave off an air of intelligence, bar right now when he probably was draped over one of the sky-blue couches, his head probably out in the stars.

Even though it made him all the more intimidating, such a notion made Cho's theory on Rock's past all the more plausible. But one question still remained.


Cho wasn't a man of particularly exceptional intellectual talent, but he was good at coming to conclusions and figuring people out. No man in his right mind would get himself into such a well-paying desk job, only to forsake the safety and comfort for being on the run and shot at every day for what seemed like somewhat less profit. So logically, the only thing that Cho could believe was that Rock was loose in the head. But the way he talked and kept his cool, even after seeing men shot dead before him…that was professionalism of the same variety that drove Cho and his fellow Marines to fight, not the thrill-seeking craziness that might get to the head of a bored businessman.

Rock seemed to be quite the enigma, but-

Cho heard a series of thuds outside the door.

"Fuckin' shit…what's that smell? Dutch? What the fuck are you doing here? You better not have…this isn't my hotel room…oh, fuck me until I bleed to fuckin' death, what happened last night? God-fuckin'-dammit, my fuckin' head hurts! Where's the fuckin' aspirin, Dutch? Somebody messed up THE MOTHERFUCKIN' CABINET AGAIN!"

Looks like Sleeping Beauty's bitchy, Tourette's-afflicted little sister just got up and discovered that it's that time of the month. Cho dismissed his thoughts on Rock as he walked out the door. As a Marine, he'd learned to take in whatever was around him as information; that involved a lot of sorting out the bullshit and the unimportant from what really mattered. As far as he was concerned at the moment, understanding Rock wasn't important. Making sure that he stayed the hell out of Rock's way when he got dangerous was.

As Cho opened the door, the pleasant, at least to his tastes, aroma of cigarette smoke filled his nostrils. It reminded him both of home and of the bars that he and his fellow Marines frequented when he had been stationed in California. Looking around, he could see that everyone was awake to some extent. Dutch remained where he had been ever since Cho left to get a shower, taking long drags on a cigarette; Revy lay on the couch opposite of Dutch, dropping Alka Seltzer into a bottle of Gatorade. Rock looked like he was just coming to.

"Take long enough in the shower?" Dutch asked Cho as Benny walked through the door, whistling jovially before his face contorted into disgust, probably at the smell.

"Damn…you guys had a hell of a night, didn't you?" chimed Benny, rather pleasantly despite his expression. "I heard from Bao that you two bought so much booze that he was willing to forget about the holes Revy put in his table."

"Look, Benny," Revy said, wincing, "I know that you're not actually shouting, but could you tone your fuckin' voice down a bit? I'm not exactly in the best possible condition right now, m'kay?"

The tall, blonde-haired man sighed. "Yep, whatever. Oh," he looked at Cho. "You're awake now. We contacted the U.S government yesterday. They got us a line to your C.O, and we had a little talk."

Cho perked up, his eyes widening. "Really? What did they say? Do they know that I'm alive?"

"You're a wanted man now, buddy. Oh, and there's a bounty on you, too."

Revy perked up and whipped one of her pistols out of a leather shoulder holster. "What?"

The Hawaiian shirt-clad pirate nodded. "Yep, there's a bounty on our dear Danny's head. A whopping seventy-five dollars, I believe. Oh boy, what I could buy with that. Let me see…a pressure cooker, maybe? We've always needed one of those.

Cho's throat caught as he nearly collapsed on the floor. "Okay, I don't know what the fuck this is but this ain't a fucking joke! What's going on? As a man who's just been wrongfully fuckin' convicted, I deserve to know!"

Benny plopped onto the couch next to Dutch. "Calm down, young grasshopper," he said with a smile and a shrug. I see why Revy gets so irritated with him, now.

"Allow Dutch to explain," Benny said, nudging the black man in the shoulder. Benny simply shrugged as Dutch gave him a gesture saying, "No, you."

"Okay…well, in short, you're now wanted for desertion, and as your commander said, even with your squad leader's testimony, there's not enough evidence to acquit you." Benny maintained a pleasant expression on his face despite the serious ramifications this development had for Cho. Desertion? Dereliction of duty? Where did all this come from? Who was trying to frame him? And why? Something was amiss. Daniel Cho, now convinced he would be ending his service as an ex-Marine and not a retired Marine, nearly doubled over as that same feeling he'd felt back during that fateful night hit him. And Sergeant Willard was still alive? This was all indeed news to him.

He had to get to the bottom of this, even if the only things at stake here were his reputation and sanity. If Willard was alive, something big had happened while he was still out. As he recalled, the day he'd woken up was marked by sunshine. They'd commenced with the operation at twenty-three hundred under a pitch-black sky. That was plenty of time for something else entirely to take place. He desperately tried to think of everything that could possibly happen. There were many, many ways in which things could have turned out the way they did now.

"Benny, can you get a hold of my C.O again? I need to talk to him, 'cause I've got this lingering feeling that someone's fucking me over!"

"I'm not stickin' around to see how ugly that shit gets," Revy groaned as a burp emitted from her mouth. "Fuck you all, I'm taking a shower. Oh, and by the way, somebody here smells like the inside of my asshole."

Dutch gritted his teeth as Revy winced at the sound. He looked like he was getting irritated; Cho couldn't blame him in the slightest. "You'd know, considering how far you've shoved your head up your ass these past few days. Anyways, just make sure that when you puke, it's in the toilet this time."

Almost immediately after the bathroom door slammed shut, he heard merciless retching coming from behind the door. He wasn't sure that he'd be able to put up with this for much longer.

"What's the magic word, pal?" said Benny. You'd better stop fuckin' with me, cocksauce…

Cho tried to calm himself. "Please," he said through his teeth.

The blonde man chuckled. "Well, I probably shouldn't, considering the fact that you come in after Revy for being a total ass to me…but I'll do it. What do you want me to say?"

"I'll talk to him."

Benny showed him where the door was, and the two walked out into a dock. Cho's eyes widened at the sight. In front of him was a functional Elco PT boat. If he remembered correctly from all the books he read about military equipment, most Elcos had been destroyed after the Second World War. Either he was indeed wrong, or these guys had money and connections. It was probably

A couple minutes in the boat's electronics room showed Cho that Benny's probable role amongst the crew wasn't an easy one. Placing a simple call challenged Benny with various security protocols and the like that he, for some reason, had to get past. Regardless, the room looked like it held enough equipment to hack into the network of Area 51 without much trouble. The way people looked could give you a hint as to their personality, and given what Benny looked like and what he seemed to do for a living…it wasn't too far-fetched of an idea that he'd tried before. I guess it doesn't hurt to ask…

"Say, Benny," Cho said, all traces of anger gone from his voice. "I was thinking about all the equipment you have in here, and I was wondering…have you ever tried to hack into Area 51 or something like that?"

"Tried to when I was in college," he said, with the serious expression he had worn ever since he'd gotten on his main computer. Cho saw an overflowing trashcan next to his desk, and an ashtray that was long overdue for emptying. Beer cans and cigarette packs lay everywhere. "And so began my journey to winding up here. Y'see, when I first started with this sort of stuff back in high school, I got bored with fucking around on a laptop, so I got ahead of myself and started hunting big game my first year at a Miami college. In my brightest move ever," Benny's fingers continued to hammer the keyboard as he spoke sarcastically, his eyes never leaving the screen, "I had the amazingly brilliant idea to try and steal some equipment from a warehouse down by a pier. Yeah, great idea in a place where pretty much everyone's a gangster of some sort, right? Anyway, being the nerd that I am, I went and tried to hack Area 51's network to see what was in there. I fucked up, and the FBI called me, said that I was in a shitload of trouble and that I'd better be ready with a defense. As it turned out, some cartel figured out where that equipment had gone and came knocking first. They took me out to a yacht, and that's when our dear Two-Hands showed up, guns blazing."

"Two-Hands? Going by the fact that she's always carrying a pair of Berettas around, I'll take a wild guess and say that that's Revy."

"Got it! The call's going through. You owe me for this, buddy."

"So, was I right?"

Benny nodded as he tossed Cho an earpiece. Putting it to his ear, the Marine waited as the dial tone began to tear at his patience. Finally, a familiar voice came over the line. "First Marine Force Recon headquarters, Caldwell speaking."

"Could you get me Colonel Anderson? I need to speak to him, it's urgent."

"Who is this?"

"Corporal Daniel Cho, Second Squad, First Platoon, D Company, First Force Recon. I've been-"

"Calm down, Corporal. That's all I need to know. Wait one." Cho wasn't certain, but he could hear a certain amount of disgust laced into Caldwell's voice. Not that he could blame him, considering the bullshit story he'd probably heard.

"Cho, what the hell do you want? First you abandon your post in the middle of a fucking warzone and leave your brothers to die out there, one of whom, might I add, stuck his ass out for you and acquitted you of a dereliction of duty, and now you've thrown in your lot with a bunch of raggedy-ass terrorists in Thailand? This isn't the Stockholm Syndrome Assistance Line."

"Sir, allow me to explain myself," Cho said, his temper rising once more. He had to struggle to talk like he was still calm and well. "I didn't have a chance to get a shot off. I didn't see my targets. I couldn't do anything about what happened. But I don't know who said anything about desertion. As I remember it, I saw Korvek get blown up. Next thing I knew, someone smashed a rifle butt into my face. Sir."

"You better watch your fucking tone, Corporal. You're in no position to get arrogant with me. Now, I'm not supposed to say anything about it, but being the coward that you are, I highly doubt that you'd have the balls to take any sort of revenge on anybody, so this code of silence is rendered bullshit useless now.

"According to this report by a certain Green Beret Captain named Marlowe, who witnessed the entire thing unfold from the tree line a couple hundred yards back, this…disgrace to my Marine Corps went as follows.

"Twenty-Three Hundred Hours, operation commences. Marine Force Recon squad splits into teams of two and moves towards the objective. No contact. Twenty-Three Oh-Six, Marine units reach perimeter of objective. No contact."

Anderson sighed over the phone. Cho's anticipation grew to the point where he had to actively struggle to contain it. After what seemed like a minute but in actuality was a second, Anderson began again. "Twenty-Three Oh-Nine, Marine units make contact with Columbian cartel forces. Firefight lasts for approximately one minute before the Marines are rendered ineffective by enemy small arms and RPG fire. Observer notes two Marines fleeing the battlefield as the firefight draws to a close, said Marines are presumed AWOL. Twenty-Three Sixteen. Green Beret units under Captain John Marlowe receive authorization to move in, eliminate any remaining cartel forces, and evacuate any Marine dead and wounded. Twenty-Four Oh-One hours, Green Berets successfully conclude operation with no casualties. One Marine casualty, Staff Sergeant Jacob Willard, is found alive and given first aid treatment, followed by CASEVAC. Report ends. You and your pal Mendez, wherever he is, are no longer members of my Marine Corps. I suggest you turn yourself in if you have a shred of decency left."

Cho stood frozen in his spot. Every bit of that report was accurate to his knowledge, except for one thing. He hadn't run away from the fight. He'd been smacked across the face with a Kalashnikov. Cho knew that there was something wrong…something. He couldn't put his finger on it to save his life, but he knew that it was there. His mouth became cottony as Colonel Anderson hung up. Rude son of a bitch…

"Fuckin' shit! That motherfucking, inbred limpdick asshole! This is fuckin' bullshit!"

Cho ripped off the earpiece and threw it at a startled Revy, who was walking through the door with a slice of pizza in hand. Benny recoiled in his chair as the earpiece fell on to the food Revy had in hand. "Goddammit! You idiot, don't you know how much one of those costs?"

"Fuck you! Goddammit, I should've fuckin' known! What the fuck did I do to deserve this? Why? Does God have something against me? Fuckin' A, I do my duty to my country and this is what I fuckin-"

Revy threw the slice of pizza aside and, in a swift, fluid motion, grabbed Cho by the collar, pulling him up close. She smelled of an odd mix of shampoo, body soap and tobacco. "Listen up, slant eyes," she said, with little regard to her own facial features. "I'm only telling you this once, so you'd better fuckin' listen. I don't want to hear any more of your bitching, got it? From what you've just said, it seems like you lived a nice, happy, pleasant life where nobody's even tried to screw you over. That's just what I think, but I'll fuckin' digress. I'm not going to bore you with stories of my childhood, but here's a little hint as to how that story goes: I know how you feel. And that's why I don't feel sorry for you. Hey, look at me when I'm talking to you!"

Cho's throat began to catch as a look of disgust crossed Revy's face. "Listen here, if you start to cry, I'm punching you all the way to Mars. Face it, pal. Everyone on this boat, in that office and in this asshole of a town has been fucked over like you have at some point. You, definitely Rock, me, Dutch, and Benny." She grinned, although it definitely wasn't a happy one, and snorted. "That's the way this world works, all right? And consider yourself lucky, because you've actually got a group of people looking out for you right now."

"What are you saying?"

"Now listen to me carefully," Revy growled, her eyes narrowing to millimeter-wide slits. "I'm not saying that I pity you in any way. All I see right now is a sniveling, pathetic little brat who calls himself a soldier, raised to think that the sea of shit that is this world is a sea of chocolate. Let me emphasize on that: you're fucking pathetic. But this isn't the first time that I've told that to somebody. I had this same kind of discussion with the guy who was with me when we saved your ass. Six years ago, Rock was just like you, a whiny, homesick little shit who I just wanted to punch so hard that he'd fly back to Japan and land right next to his mommy so she could cuddle him and tell her dear son that everything was alright.

"Look where he is now. It took me a few years to realize it, but that guy is anything but pathetic. He's shit-brained half the time he needs to think and he's Einstein when he doesn't, but he's survived the direct wrath of me, some crazy glasses bitch maid who I wouldn't doubt was Schwarzenegger in disguise, an ex-VDV trooper-turned-mob queen, and a lot of other people you really don't want to meet. And Rocky and I went through all this with each other before."

The woman holding Cho sighed and threw him to the floor. "So there it is. Dutch thought it over, and probably against his better judgment, he's offering you a job that'll, at best, get you ten thousand in one setting. We operate on a job-to-job basis, so the pay's pretty unsteady, but it's good."

"Fuck you."

Revy cackled and put on a smile that reminded him more of a predator about to pounce upon its prey than a woman. "Of course," she said, "I could turn you in for seventy-five bucks if you don't accept. I mean, Benny's right, I could use a pressure cooker."

Cho rose from where he was and walked past Revy. He couldn't take any more of this; too much had just happened too fast, and he really didn't want to comprehend it. He couldn't go back to America, since someday a civil authority looking for a promotion would turn him in; on the other hand, he really didn't want to have to do anything with this batshit insane woman who was thinking of throwing him in jail to make a few extra bucks, nor did he want to get involved in any scheme that other guy looked like he was cooking up.

He heard a handgun slide working. "Last chance, pal. You've got ten seconds to join us, or take a free cap in the ass and a few years in jail."

Great. Now she's sounding like a clichéd villain too…

"Five Mississippi, six Mississippi..."


Cho whirled around to see a disappointed Revy sliding a handgun back into its holster. "Fuck."

Dumbass. What's that dad? You have no son now? Don't worry, I don't blame you either. Your son should be smart enough to get out of something like this. But fuckin' hell, I'm not going to jail for something I didn't do.

Cho shambled out of the room, feeling like a zombie. Less than twenty-four hours ago, he'd been a proud warrior, a defender of his country, a man who made his father, a man who had graced their family himself both by fighting the communists in Vietnam and being the son of a man who had fought for Korea's freedom during the occupation, proud. He'd never be able to look any of them in the eye again, to say nothing of the fact that he could never set foot in his homeland again as an honorable man. And Sergeant Willard…how could he ever face a man who thought him responsible for the abandonment of his brothers?

And the one thing that hit hardest was the fact that he didn't deserve it. Ironically, it put him a bit more at ease. He knew that when he saw his comrades in the afterlife, at least they'd know he was innocent at this point. For now, he just had to keep living, keep earning money, get weapons, get whatever he needed. He had a score to settle with Captain John Marlowe.


Once again, the woman snorted. "Dumbass. If you're going to get chummy with someone, go make friends with Dutch. He's the one saving your ass. If I had it my way, I'd be about seventy-five bucks richer. Now hurry up, my breakfast's on the floor because of your shitty attitude, and I'm fuckin' starving."

"…and that's basically how it went down."

Rock sat next to Dutch, listening intently to the Marine's explanation of his situation. The man's eyes were red and glassy, he kept hiccupping and his throat seemed to keep catching; considering all he'd been through so far, Rock didn't blame him. Still, it was very, very odd to see a grown man cry. The closest thing he'd seen to that in a long time was when-

"Danny, I think I might know why exactly you've been framed…or whatever you call getting blamed for something that didn't even happen. Anyways, I'm wondering if you came to the same conclusion."

Dutch set his coffee down and took another bite out of the pizza they'd ordered for breakfast. Thankfully, Revy hadn't shot the delivery guy for being late this time. If Dutch had to slip Watsup any more envelopes unnecessarily, he'd probably burst. But then again, what the hell? With the money that he and Revy had gotten, they'd have that covered…the only things that he'd have to stop Revy from doing it for were the associated moral issues. But then again, the guy was working as a pizza delivery man in a place like Roanapur. Either he knew the risks when he took the job, or he was too stupid to live. Probably both…where was I going with this again?

"So," Dutch said, "The way I see it, this Captain Marlowe is a Green Beret, correct?"

Cho nodded.

"That's all the facts that I need. The thing is, the Army and Marine Corps are pretty fierce rivals, although it's nothing compared to what both of them have going on with the Navy. But, that's a discussion for another day. Fact is, there aren't many people who take this rivalry very seriously. It normally doesn't result in much more than bullshitting and jokes, but there are always those fringe lunatics who really believe that affiliation with a branch of service overrides kinship as countrymen.

"So, having said that: why waste time requisitioning a Marine unit for an Army operation? Especially when it's much, much easier to send in a force of Rangers to do the job that you were sent off to do? And why only send eight men?"

"They obviously wanted go get us killed or routed," Cho said sullenly. "And they wanted to take up the slack where they deliberately made us fuck up. They swept in, took the credit, and saved a wounded Marine. On top of that, they noticed that I was captured. But instead of playing the part of the fuckin' hero, they wanted to make us Jarheads look even worse. So they used that opportunity to set me up as a deserter. But Sergeant Willard knew that I wouldn't desert my post while my squad mates were still alive. I'm betting he saw me standing there with Mendez, but he didn't see anything else. So his testimony's invalid for acquitting Mendez and I of anything."

Rock finally spoke up, not exactly understanding why Cho seemed to cringe at him. Then again, it was probably because he hadn't properly introduced himself. He'd have to talk to him a bit while they were going out to fix Dutch's car. It would be quite the money sink, but since he had most of the money they'd earned from popping Abrego (he doubted Revy would be willing to help him with the costs; after all, he'd technically been the one who'd totaled it) he'd be able to afford it.

"But wouldn't the commanders have caught wind of something like that?" Rock's brow furrowed. "Don't you think that Colonel Anderson or the commander of that Green Beret unit would have figured out that the requisition of a Marine unit for a job easily fulfilled by some other Army special force was a bit strange?"

"I thought about that too, but a Captain requisitioning a squad of troops from an entirely different branch all on his own is absolutely unheard of," said Cho. "That can only mean one thing: most of the Green Berets were either in on it, too scared to speak up about it, or didn't figure it out. As for Colonel Anderson…he's a dumbass. I suspect the involvement of witchcraft in his graduation from West Point, but he'll believe anything anyone says, and he won't believe anyone else on the matter after that."

Silence ensued after that, making Rock feel slightly awkward. He kept trying to think of something to say, but he couldn't carry on a conversation for his life at the moment.

Finally, after looking around and realizing that their little chat here was over, Dutch stood up and spoke. "Well, Danny, I'm glad you've seen things the way I do. Welcome to the crew. And what great timing; I've got a couple little initiation presents for you to get your mind off of this recent little shitstorm. Oh, and make sure you share this last one with Rock and Revy."

Dutch slid a Glock over to Cho and handed a small piece of paper off of a notepad to him as well. Catching a brief glimpse of it, Rock thought it looked like a shopping list…

Author's Notes: Okay, this chapter's done (even though it doesn't look like anyone's following this, but what the hell, I'm having fun with writing it.) Anyways, before you get at me for not including any action, it's coming next chapter in the form of a (SPOILER ALERT, for what it's worth…) cartel attack on the three who go out to get the things on that little list Dutch concocted. Anyways...please review or flame; I welcome either with open arms.