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A Marine's Story Part 5

"Reunion Minus One"

It was rather uncomfortable to lay on his face for the first few minutes of his resting while doctors treated his burns. “Good for you that they’re just minor ones. Alright you can roll over.” One of them said. Patterson stayed with him while the nurses put some kind of cream on his burns. After the doctors left Joe asked about the battle overhead. “Well many bases across the planet were hit by incoming Mutalisks but we got off lucky, having you here. The Zerg attempted to bring in ground forces to take the planet but, get this, Brent’s squadron came to save the day.” “Really?” Joe said. His spirits immediately soared. Brent was here. “Yeah. He took out almost all the transports on there way here. And Joey and Jeremy’s Battlecrusiers helped chase off the rest of the Zerg.” “They’re here too?” Joe ask excitedly. “Yep, they should be relived from their posts tomorrow. They said they’d be paying us a visit.” Patterson said with a smile. They conversed for a few more minutes but then a bell sounded saying that it was all clear. “Well I better get back and you should get some sleep.” Mike said getting up. “Yeah, hey say ‘hi’ to everyone for me. Doc says I should be out by tomorrow.” Joe said, “Oh and ask Jon if he remembers what’s happening on the 25th.” “What’s happening on the 25th?” Mike asked with a confused look on his face. “You’ll see.” Joe said rolling over. Jon never remembered what happened on the 25th of December. He should have too, seeing as how it was Joe’s birthday.

The doctors did a quick check up on Joe before they released him from his bed. Joe was a little glad that he was out of that place. He slept through most of his stay and the only time they woke him was to tell him that he should eat something. He always refused and went back to sleep. Now regretting that decision, Joe made his way up to the mess hall. The base was still in disarray Joe saw as he walked. Those Mutalisks tore up more than Joe thought. Various building had holes and burn marks all along their roofs. The mess hall seemed to be in good enough shape so Joe walked in and got some breakfast. Dylar eggs didn’t go to well with his Brontes pancakes but Joe didn’t mind. At least he was lucky enough to have a cook at this base. The synthesized food he ate back at basic…yuck. Also he’s not eaten for almost twenty-four hours and his stomach seemed to be able to eat anything that was put into it. There weren’t that many people in the mess hall. Just a couple privates, a sergeant, and a lieutenant. The privates were all huddled together talking in low voices and pointing at him. He paid no attention to them.

He finished his breakfast and decided to check up on the guys before he went off to the command center to see if they needed his help. As he walked along he saw men and women running into and out of shelters and various buildings carrying weird looking tools and what looked like scanning devices. Joe wondered what they were doing. Had Zerg gotten to the surface after all? He reached the barracks to find it empty. Walking over to his bunk he sat down. It was hard to believe that less than a day ago he was sitting in here with his friends. Not knowing what it was like to watch people die. Not knowing what it brought up in him. And that he’d be seeing more of it soon.

And at this thought he remembered Captain Drake was due back tomorrow. Maybe he could talk to him about it. Just then he heard foot steps coming to his room. He looked up just as the door opened. It was Tiffany, in her armor. He saw a frantic look on her face as she entered but it quickly disappeared when she saw Joe. She ran forward and pulled Joe into a hug and rested her head on his shoulder. Joe put his arms around her as she sobbed, “Joe ,I’m so glad to see you’re all right. I was so worried about you. Mike just told me what happened.” “Hey, hey, I’m alright.” Joe reassured her, “Just some minor burns on my back. Nothing much.” “I had to see you. I checked the med tent and they said you just left. Then I went to the mess hall and I didn’t find you there either and then I found you here. I was so worried.” she continued to sob. Wow. He really meant something to her. “You must have just missed at each one.” Joe said with a slight laugh. She looked up. A tear was rolling down her left cheek. Her light green eyes shimmered in the morning light. Joe raised his hand and wiped the tear from her cheek. “Don’t cry.” Joe said, “I’m alright. I’m fine.” She smiled and kissed him. They stood there from a moment until she said, “Come on. They need you.” “Who?” Joe asked. “The Commander and the Major.” She explained as they walked out. “Why?” “They need the commanding officer of every division there to assess the situation.” “Oh yeah.” Joe said, reminding himself that he was in command for the moment, “Do you know where everyone is?” “Well, I know Mike has been at his radio station all day, Jon and Dale have been put to work trying to salvage the Goliath wreckages, and, oh I have good news! Brent, Joey, and his brother Jeremy are all here.” she ended with a smile. “I know. Patterson told me yesterday.” “Oh,” she said slightly disappointed, “well they’ll be on the planet in a few hours.” “What were you doing?” Joe asked her, “Before you came to find me.” “I was just running errands for the people in the command canter. Then I came across Patterson on one of my runs and he told me what happened. When I got back to the Major she told me to go get you up to the command center for the meeting.” They continued to talk as they walked up to HQ. When they found the majors office they both walked in.

Joe couldn’t believe it. The woman who was behind the desk was the same woman that he saw yesterday. Her dark red hair still had its curl to it and her dark eyes looked up to them as they entered. “Thank you marshal Duke. Please bring this to lieutenant Anderson. You’ll probably find him in the mess hall.” she asked Tiffany. “Yes ma’am.” Tiffany replied taking the letter, then turned heel and left. Leaving Joe alone with the major. She sat her self down at her desk and looked through some papers. “So sergeant Tarn are you all rested up?” she asked not looking up from her papers. “Yes ma’am.” Joe replied. “Looks like I brought up those missile defenses just in time. Anyway I hope your ready for a long day.” she said still not looking up from her papers. “Ma’am?” Joe asked. “We’ve gotten reports from other bases across the planet saying that some Zerg actually made it to the surface,” she said looking up from her papers, so Zerg did make it down here, “Of course these are only rumors. But we are still being cautious about it. You might have seen a few men running in and out of bunks with scanners. They are checking the paths under our base to make sure the little bastards aren’t tunneling right under our feet. So far, no sightings have come in. Now what I need you to do is go out to the repair bay and see if anything from those Goliaths are salvageable. Then I need you to go to the comm room and give the go ahead for the 835th Battlecruiser and the 397th Wraith fleets to land here. Then go make sure they get proper lodging. That should be it. If I need you for anything else I’ll let you know.” “Yes ma’am.” Joe said standing up. “And I don’t think we have been introduced yet.” she added as Joe walked to the door. “I am Major Nikki Kerrigan.” “Nice to meet you major, I am Staff sergeant Joe Tarn.” “Pleasure. And tomorrow, sergeant, we are having a ceremony to honor those who fell defending this base. You will be there. And, correct me if I’m wrong, your captain will be back tomorrow as well right?” “Yes ma’am. That‘s what I‘ve been told.” “Good. You are dismissed sergeant.” she finished. Joe turned around and walked out.

Joe walked out of the command center and over to the vehicle repair bay. It was in a hanger much like the one were Joe got his first Goliath. Except that people were all over the place. Running to each of the wrecked walkers, taking notes, then walking to another. There was what was left of the five walkers on the back wall of the building. The third on in Joe recognized as his own, but on the last one he saw Jon and Dale bent over looking at some cables sticking out of its left leg.

Joe walked over to them. Joe stood there for a while in silence and listened to their conversation. “-I feel sorry for this guy. God knows what he must’ve looked like after the acid did this much damage to the walker.” Jon said standing up. “Yeah. These things aren’t meant to take this kind of damage.” Dale added, also standing up. “No, they really aren’t.” Joe said. Both Jon and Dale jerked their heads around to see who spoke. “Joe!” Jon said running forward and hugged Joe. One of Jon’s arms was putting pressure on one Joe’s burns and it sent a shock of pain threw his back. “Ow, watch the burns buddy.” Joe said and Jon released him. “Are you alright?” Dale asked. “Yeah I’ll be fine.” Joe said massaging his back, “So how much of these walkers are salvageable?” “Not as much as the major hopes, that’s for sure,” Jon said with a frown, “We’ve managed to get all the ammo out of the walkers but the only one worth trying to repair is the third one in.” “The rest will just have to be sent to the junk yard.” Dale finished. “That’s not good news.” Joe said, looking up and down at the row of walkers, “ So Jon, do you remember what’s going on on the 25th?” “Why yes I have.” Jon said, with a hint of smugness in his voice, “And there will be a party tonight to honor it.” Dale, who looked extremely confused, asked, “Why is there going to be a party?” “It’s Joe’s birthday.” Jon said. “Oh, well happy birthday.” Dale said to Joe. “Yeah, thanks. Well be sure to let everyone know. Just us though. No one we don’t know, alright.” Joe said. “Of course.” Jon replied with a smile. “Well I have to get back to HQ. See ya tonight.” Joe said walking away.

He returned to the major’s office and gave her the news. Jon had predicted that she would have wanted more to be salvaged from the wreaks. Joe left the office and headed down to the comm room. After walking down at least for floors he arrived at the room and walked in. He looked around the room until he saw the only red head there and walked over to it. Mike was sitting at his station and starring blankly at the screen. “How’s it going there Corporal?” Joe asked and Mike spun around. He smiled and said, “It’s good, it’s good. A little boring. So what are you doing down here?” “I am here to grant the 835th and the 397th landing access. And then go and greet them.” Joe said. “Oh sweet, that’s Brent, Joey, and Jeremy’s fleets. I‘ll call them in right away.” he said with enthusiasm. Patterson hit a few buttons and tuned a few knobs but after a minute or two a voice finally came over the radio. Patterson talked into his headset, “Fleets 835 and 397, you are clear to land at Terran outpost 4, landing zone 23.” “Roger that.” came a voice over the radio. Mike put down his headset and said, “Alright they’re on their way.” “Good. Guess that means I better get going.” Joe said turning to leave, “Oh and you wanted to know what was tomorrow right?” “Yeah, Jon said he remembered this time but wouldn’t tell me.” “It’s my birthday and we’re having a party tonight.” “Why tonight?” Mike asked. “Because that’s what Jon planned. And after knowing him for a 21 years I still don’t understand his logic. Anyway, can you make it?” “Yeah. The major will let me off in an hour or two so I’ll be there.” “Good.” Joe said with a smile and left.

Landing bay 23 just had to be on the completely opposite side of the base. But the fact that he would be seeing Brent and Joey again made it a little more bearable. Joe stood at the entrance to the hanger and watched as two dozen Battlecruisers docked and then saw at least forty Wraith’s fly in and dock along side the Battlecruisers. Battlecruisers were big, heavily armored, slow moving capital ships. It took a lot to take these things down. They had multiple laser cannons along the sides, bottom, and top, along with a Yomato Gun cannon mounted underneath the bridge. This cannon had the same destructive power as a small nuke.

Wraiths on the other hand favored speed and maneuverability over armor. They were single seated, fast attack flyers with three laser cannons mounted at the end of each of their wings. These also doubled as rocket launchers for air to air combat. And for ultimate stealth the could activate a cloaking field that hide itself from enemies.

As the crews and pilots of these ships exited and started looking around Joe made his way over to the commanding officer’s of the fleets. Joe saw a man with the stripes of a commodore and decided he must be the ranking officer. He walked up to him and said, “Sir, Staff sergeant Joe Tarn. I am here to show you to your sleeping quarters.” The man turned around and Joe realized it was Joey. “Oh, hey Joey. Long time no see. How’ve you been?” Joey merely smiled and said, “I’m not Joey but we both get that a lot. I’m his brother Jeremy.” “Oh sorry. You two look a lot a like.” Joe said slightly embarrassed. “We are twins.” Jeremy said with a smile. “Cool. Well, I know your brother well. Is he here?” Joe asked looking around. “Yeah he’s around here somewhere. Anyway, you are showing us to our sleeping quarters?” “Oh yeah sorry sir, let me just get the wraith pilots and we‘ll be on our way.” Joe said walking over to the wraith pilots.

Joe walked over to a major and then caught a glimpse of Brent. They noticed each other at the same time and smiled. Joe lead both fleets to a three story building but at the door stopped both Joey and Brent to talk to them. “Oh man. I can’t believe you guys are here.” Joe said hugging them both. “It’s been a while.” Joey said, “So how’ve you been?” “Eh. I’ve been better. Got a few minor burns from the attack yesterday.” Joe explained. “Really?” Brent asked. “Yep, nothing serious though. Hey tomorrow’s my birthday and Jon is throwing a party for me tonight and you guys need to come.” Joe told them. “Wow. Where at?” Joey asked. “Barracks number 442.” Joe said. “Alright we’ll be there.” Joey said, “Can I bring my brother?” “Yeah sure.” Joe said. He really wanted to meet Jeremy. “Ok what time?” Brent asked. “Eightish?” Joe said, “I don’t even really know.” “K, we’ll be there.” Brent said, “But for now I need some sleep.” “Yeah me too.” Joey yawned. “Alright. I got more things to do but I’ll catch ya later.” Joe said and he turned to leave.

Back at the major’s office he reported that the pilots were all at their sleeping quarters. “Good.” she said, fixing up some papers, “The commander wanted to see you.” “Yes ma’am.” Joe said and left. The commander wasn’t at his office when Joe got there. So he took a seat outside his office and waited for him to show up. Joe looked up at the clock on the opposite wall. It was already five-thirty? Wow. Time really flew today. Joe looked out the window at the setting sun. He sat there thinking that in just two hours he’ll be with his friends. Getting wasted. Hopefully Jon found some beer for his party. After an hour of going over what his birthday would be like he got up and started to leave.

Just then he heard voices coming up the stairs. The commander walked up flanked by two captains. “Ah sergeant Tarn, glad you could make it. Please come inside.” The commander said opening up his office door. Joe fallowed the captains in and closed the door behind him. The commander took his seat behind the desk and said, “Please take a seat.” They all took a seat in front of the desk and waited for the commander to speak again. “Well, you will all be glad to hear that we have found no traces of Zerg at any major Terran outpost on this planet.” What a relief, “We also had the least amount of casualties out of any base on the planet thanks to our sergeant here.” Joe felt himself go a little red as the other captains looked at him, “However, we still lost men, good men. And because of this we will be having a ceremony tomorrow to honor those who fell yesterday. You all will be attending it along with the rest of the people here. That is all for now. You two my leave but I need a quick word with Sgt. Tarn.” At these words the other two captains got up and left. Leaving Joe alone with the commander. “Joe I don’t know if you know who I am yet do you?” he asked. “No sir I don’t.” “I am Commander Andrew Reikinson. I command everything that goes on at this base. Now I have some bad news for you sergeant.” Andrew said. “What is it sir?” “We haven’t gotten any word back from your captain on Kel-Moria. We don’t know what’s happened to him. So I hope your up to the challenge of getting the battalion if he doesn’t return.” Reikinson said with a frown. “What? What do you mean you can’t find him? He has to be somewhere.” Joe said. “That’s the thing no one knows what happened to him. Him and his group just disappeared on route to the headquarters there.” Reikinson said. “Could the Zerg have gotten him sir?” Joe asked. “It’s possible. The Zerg have an unlimited tunnel system thanks to all the mine shafts on the planet.” Andrew explained, lifting his feet onto his desk, “Joe, I need you to go back down to the majors office, she needs your help with something. And if I get word about Drake I’ll let you know.” “Yes sir.” Joe said and left the office. He made his way down to the major’s office and on the way he pondered what might happen if he became the commanding officer of the battalion. He opened up the major’s officer door and saw she was standing at the window. It was dark out now. The sun had gone down. It had to be close to eight. “Joe I have another job for you.” she said turning around to face him, “I need you to go inventory our weapons. Here take this,” she handed him a sheet of paper with weapon names on it, “Head down and make sure we have everything. Once your done with that, send up your chart and then you my leave.” “Yes ma’am.” Joe said and walked down to the armory. This had to be the most boring thing Joe had ever done. He just walked around the armory marking off what was there. When he finished it was nearly one a.m. There were more weapons than Joe thought. Joe caught a guy heading up to the major’s office, gave him his sheet and left the building. He got back to his barracks and went inside. He looked around the room and saw Dale and Patterson passed out on the floor. Joey, Jeremy, and Brent all found chairs or beds to crash in and Tiffany was sound asleep in Joe’s bunk. Looks like they partied without him. Joe saw Jon sitting on his bed. Joe walked over and sat on the bunk opposite Jon’s and said, “Hey man, sorry.” “What kept you?” Jon asked looking up. “The commander had to talk with me and the major made me inventory weapons.” Joe didn’t see the need to tell Jon that Drake was MIA at the moment. “That sucks.” Jon said taking a swig of beer, “Here.” Jon tossed Joe a beer and Joe cracked it open, “Thanks.” Jon raised his bottle and said, “Well, happy birthday bud.” and took a gulp. “Thanks.” Joe said taking a short swig. They talked for a little while. It turned out that Jeremy was a very entertaining drunk. Jon told him how he started dancing every time a phone rang claiming it was the greatest song ever. And once Dale and Patterson got wasted they started fighting over who was gayer. But that neither of them could do any real damage to the other. Tiffany however took it light that evening drinking and laughing at Jeremy’s dancing. Joe wished he could have been here. After about a half an hour of talking Jon rolled over and fell asleep. Joe ,being exhausted from running around all day, laid down to sleep. But he glanced over at Tiffany for a moment. How he wished he could have been here with her. He wanted to walk over and wake her just to talk for a while but decided not to. She shifted a little in her sleep but didn’t wake. Disappointed, Joe rolled over and fell asleep.

Joe awoke the next morning to find everyone exactly were he left them the night before. He sat up, rubbed his eyes and stood up. Checking the clock he saw that it said it was quarter past noon. Looking down at his friends he saw none of them seemed very ready to start their days. So, Joe dressed and went outside. It was a cold, cloudy morning and people were still running all over the place. Joe took a seat on the step and watched. He saw a few people from his division hustling around, running errands for the major no doubt. He started thinking about what could have happened to Drake. Where was he heading too? Who was with him? What happened to him? Where was he now?

The door to his barracks opened and closed. Joe turned to look and to his great delight it was Tiffany. “Hey.” she said in a tired voice and rubbing her eyes. “Hey.” Joe replied and she took a seat beside him. Rubbing her foot she said, “I tripped over Mike on my way out. What kept you last night?” “The major had me doing some stuff for her.” Joe replied, “And the commander talked with me. Drake is missing.” “What?” she said, her eyes wide with worry. The same look she had before she saw Joe. “He said they don’t know where he is or what happened to him.” Joe told her. “Are they looking for him?” “I would think.” Joe said looking out at the people passing, “He is the ranking officer in our battalion.” “He can’t be dead.” she said and Joe looked back at her. She looked like she was on the verge of tears, “He’s the only part of my family I have left. He can’t be dead.” “I’m sure he’s not.” Joe said trying to comfort her, “He’s a good marine.” Trying to think of something else to comfort her he say a man running toward them. Joe stood up and the man asked, “Sergeant Joe Tarn?” “Yes?” Joe replied. “The Major wants you and everyone from your battalion up at the command center for the funeral ceremony.” he said, handing Joe a note. The note explained exactly what the man just said. “Alright. We’ll be there.” Joe replied. The man walked off. Joe turned to Tiffany and sighed, “Look. I know Drake will be alright. Just try not to think of him for now.” “Alright.” she replied frowning. “Thanks. We have to wake the others. Want to help?” Joe asked and smiled to her. She didn’t smile back, “No thanks. I better go and inform the other ghosts.” Joe watched her until she was out of view and then walked inside. He walked around and woke up Jon and Dale with relative ease but Patterson didn’t come quietly. “Five more minutes mom.” he groaned sleepily, “Five more minutes.” Joe kicked him hard in the ribs and said, “I am not your mother.” They all changed into their officers uniforms that Drake had sent them a few days after they arrived at the base. They were all black with red lines around the cuffs and it came with a dorky looking hat. They dressed and walked out in silence. Careful not to wake the others. “Why don’t they have to wake up?” Patterson asked angrily, pulling down his sleeves. “Because they aren’t in the 390th infantry division. They aren’t required to come.” Joe answered him, rearranging his hat. The showed up at the command center and a large stage had been put up in front of it. A tall black man told Joe that he needed to be up on stage with the other officers. He parted from Jon, Dale, and Patterson, walked up the ramp on the stage and took a seat.

He waited for about ten minutes while the other commanding officers to take their seats. The rest of the marines had to stand in straight lines. There were about 200 people in this crowd. Not nearly as many people that served at the base but Joe imagined that they had to do other, more important things. When everyone was situated, Commander Reikinson stepped up to the edge of the stage and spoke, “Men and women of the Terran marine core. We are gathered here today to pay respects to the men who fell defending this base. There sacrifice was not in vain…” he trailed off and Joe lost interest. He knew that everything that the commander was saying and devoted this time to think.

Looking out at the neat rows of men and women he thought about all the responsibility that came with commanding a division. These people depended on his actions for, they alone, would keep them alive. Scanning over the crowd he saw Tiffany’s face. He couldn’t help but wonder how he would feel if she, or any of his friends, got hurt or killed by a choice that he made. They all counted on him to lead them into fights and keep them alive to get home again.

Thinking about things like this for another half an hour or so he hardly noticed that everyone had started to leave. Standing up and walking off the stage he ran into the major herself, which was pretty weird because he hadn’t seen her outside her office since the attack. “Afternoon ma’am.” Joe said politely. “Sergeant, I need in my officer ASAP.” she quickly said to him as she half walked half ran past him. Watching her take a turn in the direction of the med center Joe, fighting the urge to disobey orders and change quickly, started his walk to the command center. He stood waiting outside the majors office finding it impolite to just barge into a higher ranking officers quarters. Taking a seat on the floor next to the door he put his head against the wall and closed his eyes. He would have very much liked to go to sleep then but the soft sound of footsteps echoing up the stairs made him open his eyes with great displeasure. Turning to the source of the noise he saw the major coming up the stairs at a fast pace.

“Sergeant, in my office, now.” she said in a voice not annoyed but tired, she probably had a worse three days than he did. He noticed that her hair was a bit disheveled and she had bags under her eyes. Walking into her officer she offered him a seat and he took it. She turned to her window and peered out of it. After a minute or two of silence Joe asked “You wanted to see me major?” “What? Oh, yes yes.” she said, “Your division is being deployed. Your shipping out to Kel-Moria in a week.” Joe didn’t know how to feel. On one hand he would be going out there and doing something for his race, but on the other he would be in command of the division, “Wow, but ma’am we don’t have a CO.” “You’re the CO Sergeant. It's your battalion now.” she said grabbing a bottle of pills from her desk, pouring two into her hand, and throwing them into her mouth. “But ma’am-” Joe started. “No ‘buts’ sergeant. The orders came in an hour ago. The 895th Battlecruiser and the 397th wraith divisions will be escorting you there.” she said, starting to sound a little aggravated. That was the signfor him to go, “Yes ma’am.” Joe responded. “You are dismissed sergeant.”

Joe walked into his barracks to find no one there. Sighing, he laid down on his bed. How was he going do this? With out knowing it he drifted off to sleep. The next few days passed slowly. Joe addressed the whole battalion the day after he found out that they were heading into battle. From what Joe saw they all looked eager to be doing something other than training. He had also told hem that Drake was MIA and that he(Joe) would be leading them into battle. At this announcement everyone looked a bit discomforted. And Joe didn’t blame them. He wouldn’t want to be following a non-trained officer into battle.

When he got back to his bunk he saw Brent and Joey were sitting there. “What are you guys doin’ here?” Joe asked as he walked into the bathroom to wash his face. “Talk to you.” came Joey’s voice from the other room, “We haven’t talked since we got here.” “Where’s everyone else?” Joe asked walking back into the room and sitting on a bed. “Jon and Dale are checking your battalion’s vehicle’s for any problems before we ship out, Patterson is up at the command center, and Tiffany is heading up to the mess hall getting us all something to eat.” Brent explained, “God, I can’t believe it. You’re actually going to a hostile planet.” “I know.” Joe sighed, “And worst of all I’m in command.” “What do you mean 'worst of all’?” Joey exclaimed, “Back in basic there was not one other person, besides Drake, that I’d rather take orders from. I trust you with my life.” “Yeah, me too.” Brent added. “It’s not just following orders,” Joe said calmly,“what if I screw up and someone dies because of it. It’s my fault. And I don’t know if I’d be able to live with that guilt.” “You don’t know if someone is going to die. You don’t know if you’ll screw up. You might make a great leader.” Brent said. “Maybe.” Joe said frowning. What Brent said was true. He didn’t know what was going to happen when he got there. It might all be fine.

The door opened and Tiffany walked in carrying four trays of food. “Oh, Joe. You’re here!” Tiffany said with a smile. Not being able to muster up a smile to return to her, he merely nodded and took a tray of food from her. He was still worried about what would happen if his troops didn’t trust him enough to follow orders. “What if they don’t trust me enough to listen to me?” Brent looked up from his tray of food and opened his mouth but no words came out. He apparently didn’t have an answer for this. But Joey’s face formed a smile on it as he turned to Tiffany. He obviously did. “Tiffany. Would you trust Joe with your life?” Joey asked still smiling. “Of course.” Tiffany replied. She wore and expression of confusion. Obviously not knowing where this question came from. “And would you follow Joe’s orders to save the lives of other troops?” Joey continued. “Yeah. Why?” she asked. “You see.” Joey said turning to Joe, “Why would you be worried about people not listening to you?” “This is my friend, a person who knows me.” Joe argued, “What about the ones who don’t know me?” “Let them get to know you. Earn their trust and they’ll earn yours.” Joey finished. Joe thought about this. He was right. If he just let his men get to know him a little bit more they would probably trust him. Feeling the knot in his stomach loosen he began to eat some of his food. “Hold on. What did I miss?” Tiffany asked. They all laughed and began to fill her in on Joe’s worries. Right as they finished up there was a knock on the barracks door. Joe got up to open it. As he got closer he heard a heavy panting on the other side of the door. He opened the door to see a tall skinny man standing there with his hands on his knees. Joe recognized this man as one from his division. He had blue eyes, short brown, spiked hair, and he looked exhausted. The man looked up and panted, “Sergeant Tarn?” “Yes?” “They need you up at the command center.” he panted. His name tag above his left breast said ‘Private Murry’. “What for private?” Joe asked. “It’s captain Drake sir. They’ve found him.”

The next thing Joe knew is that he was at an all out sprint to the command center with Murry and Tiffany at his heels. He stopped at the command center’s entrance and asked Murry, “Where do we go?” “Radio room.” He said pointing, unnecessarily, down the left hallway. Joe tore down the hallway and took the stairs three at a time. He knocked a group of corporal’s into the walls and almost hit a lieutenant carrying three mugs of hot coffee. When he burst threw the radio room door he saw the Major, the Commander, and two other captains were huddled around a single radio terminal with Patterson. A faint voice was emitting for the computer and Joe hurried over to them. “What’s going on? The private said you found Drake.” Joe asked. “Yes we have located your captain. He is safe and in relatively good condition.” the commander explained. “What do you mean ‘relatively’, sir?” asked Tiffany, who had just entered the room. “He’s got a few minor cuts and bruises, but…” he paused, “…they’ve found traces of a deadly venom in his blood. No big deal though. The doctors are giving him the antidote as we speak.” “He’ll stay on Kel-Moria though.” the major continued, “I see no sense in bringing him back here and then shipping him back out with you guys in a two days. You won’t be leading those men into battle anymore sergeant.” The huge knot that had been in Joe’s stomach for the past few days had disappeared. Drake was alive. He was back to second in command. He wouldn’t have to worry as much about anyone dieing. “Commander, the captain says he wants to talk to you.” Patterson piped up from the terminal. “Yes, of course.” the commander responded, “Joe stick around. He might want a word with you.” He was right. After a few minutes of the commander talking into the headset he threw it to Joe and motioned for the major and the other captains to fallow him out. Joe pulled up a chair next to Mike and put the head set on. “Hello?” he asked stupidly into the receiver. “Joe?” came Drake’s voice. “Goddam, it’s good to hear your voice sir.” Joe laughed. “How you been soldier?” Drake asked. He sounded tired. “Not to bad sir. You?” “Never been better.” They chatted for a few minutes before he asked if Tiffany was there. She had walked up behind him when the commander left and he handed her the headset. They conversed for a minute or two. Tiffany had started crying when she first put the headset on and heard his voice. “You alright?” Joe asked Tiffany when she finished. She put a big smile onto her face and pulled him into a hug. “Never better.” She released him and Joe turned to Mike and said, “We better get back to the barracks. You coming?” “You know what,” he replied, turning off his terminal, “I think I will.” So they all walked out of the comm. room and started off toward there barracks. Tiffany under Joe’s arm.

The next day Joe called the battalion up once again. He and the rest of the battalion was getting tired of Joe calling them up to meet almost every other day. But they all perked up when Joe told them that captain Drake was alright and that he, Joe, would not be leading them into battle. Joe lightened up a lot as well. Joey and Brent’s words had made Joe feel better back when he didn’t know Drake was alive but now it was like it never happened.

On the last day before they shipped out Joe, Mike, Jon, and Dale took Tiffany, Brent, Joey, and Jeremy up to the Protoss sparing grounds. Tiffany and Brent overheard Joe and Jon talking about the sparing grounds and they all seemed interested to go. When they all arrived the Protoss did the exact same thing they did when Joe first arrived. Every Protoss’s eyes, except the two who were fighting, turned from the fight and rested on the newcomers. A familiar voice in Joe’s mind whispered, “Ah, sergeant Tarn. Welcome back.” It was Praetor Gylenacs, they shook hands, “Ah, and you have brought others. You think they are worthy of watching our sport?” “Oh, I know they are.” Joe responded, smiling back at the rest. “What does he mean? ‘Worthy of watching their sport’?” Tiffany asked cautiously. “You have to fight a friend to watch the fights.” Patterson summed up nicely. It took a moment for this information to register with the rest of them. “Ohhh, I wanna fight Tiffany.” Brent said jumping up and down. “Well ok. You won’t hold back will you?” Tiffany asked with a mischievous smile on her face. “Of course not.” Brent replied walking into the circle. Joe knew that the only reason he wanted to fight Tiffany was that he wanted to feel her up. Apparently, Tiffany noticed this too and back fired Brent’s plan. When he went for her chest she ducked down and kicked his legs out from under him. When he was on the ground she jumped up and dropped her elbow right onto his gut. After many more attempts like this, Brent just laid motionless on the ground breathing hard. Tiffany walked back to Joe’s side and took care to walk right onto Brent’s stomach as she did. “Nice moves.” Joe told her as she got closer, “Remind me never to piss you off.” She flashed him a smile. When Brent didn’t get up Joe and Jon had to carry him off the field to let Joey and Jeremy fight. This was the fight Joe was waiting for. Both brothers were, from what Joe saw, equally matched. Every attack that one did the other countered perfectly. Like they were reading each others mind. After ten minutes of fighting, Gylenacs stopped the fight and told them they were some of the fiercest human fighters he had ever seen. As they walked back Joey said to Joe, “You ass.” “Hey, you wanted to come here.” Joe replied. The Protoss resumed there sparring and Joe finally got his chance to talk with Jeremy. He was like his brother in many ways. Both in personality and appearance. But after their fight Joey had a slight black eye and Jeremy’s nose was bleeding. One of the Protoss came up to Joe and asked him if he wished to spar. At first Joe laughed at this thinking it was a joke. But as he heard no one else laugh he knew he really meant it. “Well…ok. Why not?” As the walked out into the circle the Protoss said, “I am Adun Fen’Zelax. I hope you will not disappoint me.” Joe didn’t. He did pretty well by what he thought. In the end both were panting( Joe still couldn‘t figure out where he was panting from). As the sun started setting they made their way back to pack their things up for the trip tomorrow. But then he heard Gylenacs call after him, “Sergeant. I would like a word if you would not mind.” Joe turned around and hurried back. “I heard of the attack on your base. And of the men who fell. And of your rage after the battle.” Gylenacs explained, pausing at every sentence, “You must learn to control this anger or it will end up destroying you or someone you love.” “How do you know that.” Joe asked in an annoyed tone of voice. “We Protoss have survived for much longer in this universe than you humans have. We’ve had time to see these kind of things take their effects. I don’t mean to lecture you. But you must control this anger.” “Thank you Praetor. But I think that that anger was what helped keep me alive during and after that battle.” Joe replied. “I have no doubt that it might have helped but I am just telling you that it will consume you in the end if you don’t attempt to control it.” Gylenacs finished. “Thank you for the wisdom you have just shared with me Gylenacs. I will keep it in my mind.” “I have also come across the rumor that you will be leaving for Kel-Moria in the morning.” “Yes we are.” Joe said walking away. “I’ll be seeing you soon then.” came Gylenacs voice. Joe didn’t like being told what to do from a deferent race that hardly even understood what that anger had done for him. It had saved his life. And he wasn’t about to give it up.

Joe woke up early the next morning to get his armor on and dropped by the armory to pick up his Gauss Rifle, three drums of ammo, and four grenades. He was the first to arrive at the dropship loading hanger. The next people to arrive were Jeremy and Brent’s CO Major Jackson. They conversed for a while about the trip and how it was gonna be a cake walk. No Zerg traces between here and Kel-Moria. But as troops and pilots began arriving, major Jackson left to get his pilots into their ships. Jeremy hung back and said, “I’ve arranged that you, Jon, Mike, and Tiffany can ride with me and Joey in our battlecruiser. So just send them my way when they get here ok?” “Ok.” Joe replied and made his way over to his marines. He got them all onto their appropriate transports with ease and then told Jon and Mike to fallow him up to Jeremy and Joey’s battlecruiser. Tiffany was the only one missing.

But she wasn’t the only one. All the ghosts in his division were missing. For a moment Joe thought they missed the message. Just as he went to go look for them he spotted them heading his way. They all had their skin tight armor on and Joe just had to laugh as they got closer. Skin tight armor, Joe had to admit, was more for the females in this military. As the lead ghost got closer Joe noticed his name tag over his left beast; Sergeant Stack. “Morning Sergeant.” Joe said with a smile, “You guys are on dropships 31,32,34,and 37.” he nodded and lead the ghosts in that direction. Joe spotted Tiffany at the end row. She was in her armor and had her hair in a ponytail with her bangs on the sides of her face. And Joe noticed goggles on her head. He grabbed her and lead her over to the Battlecruisers. “Nice eyewear.” She blushed and replied, “Just issued. For night and heavy weather.” Joe and Tiffany meet Jon and Mike at the ramp and they made their way up it.

It was like anything Joe had ever been on before. As he walked up the ramp he saw a long hallway on either side of him with grey metallic doors on both side of the hallways. They fallowed Joey up to the commodore’s quarters and Jeremy was there. It was like a fancy hotel room. White carpet lined the floor and red wallpaper covered the walls. A giant five person couch sat in front a huge glass window that looked out onto the hanger below them. Joe guessed they were right under the bridge. “Joey, I’m letting you take her out ok? I’ll come up as we get ready to make the jump.” Jeremy said as they entered. “Alright.” Joey replied and walk out of the room. “Nice view.” Joe said as he made his way toward the couch. “Thanks.” Jeremy responded, “Want a drink?” “Sure.” Joe said. “What’ll you have?” he said walking over to the bar Joe had overlooked. “Ah…beer if you got it.” Joe said. “I’ll have one too.” Mike said. “Tiff, you want anything?” Jeremy asked as he pulled out two beers. “No thanks I’m good.” she replied. Jeremy brought over their beers, they cracked the tops off, and drank. “To a good fight.” Mike toasted. “Cheers.” they all said.

Joe watched out the huge window as the ship cleared the docking bay and moved out into space. The wraiths flew circles around the Battlecruisers until they were all in position to make the jump to light speed. Jeremy left the suite and went up to the bridge. Joe, Mike, and Tiffany continued to talk casually until a huge lurch of the ship forced them all back into their seats. Mike, who was standing up giving an impersonation of Brent getting his ass kicked by Tiffany, was thrown head first into the couch. After ten seconds of being forced into the couch the pressure finally let up.

Joey came down and conversed with them for the rest of the trip. They knew they were coming close to Kel-Moria as the ship slowed down considerably. Joe and Joey put their legs up on the coffee table to keep them on the couch but Mike and Tiffany were thrown off the couch and onto their faces. Joe and Joey laughed as they got up but stopped to help them back up. Tiffany was sporting a bloody lip and Patterson had blood coming from his nose. Joe collected his gear and rifle and waited for the others to gather their things. Mike, Tiffany, and Joe said their goodbyes to Joey and Jeremy on the ramp. Tiffany hugged each of them after Mike and Joe shook their hands.

With their goodbyes said they made their way down the ramp and onto the orange surface of Kel-Moria. They were here. They were finally here.

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