As they both left the base-bus and walked up the sidewalk, both Roland and Chiquita felt out of place. Both had felt the stares of others, and both had, in their own way ignored them.
Roland would glare back, while Chiquita maintained her icy facade.
Lieutenant Hook was waiting for them. In battle uniform, the man looked haggard.
Kai didn't mean to, but the lump in her throat made her choke up: he had the identical look in his eye that Chiquita had. That she knew she had.
Basically, Life had beat the stuffing out of all three of them, and there was nothing to be done...but finish out their existence.
Hook watched them approach, the only sign of his unease was the repetition of clenching his right fist. In front of the barracks, he checked over the clipboard, not even reading their files. He'd already memorized the important stuff: like him, they were sole survivors.
As one, both women dropped their duty bags and stood at attention.
"At ease," Hook said. His throat was dry; it had been several days since he'd spoken to anyone. He sighed. There was no retreat - he'd taken command.
"I'm Lieutenant Hook, I am your new commanding officer. This..." and he turned to look over his shoulder at the worn-down barracks, "this is our new home."
Roland looked down at the pavement when he stumbled over the word "our."
Hook saw her reaction, and inwardly berated himself before continuing. "Regardless that we've just formed up, SICON has seen to it that we've got our first mission. I will give you the details later. Also, you will be joined by several more troopers, who will be arriving within the next few hours."
Chiquita stood at attention. "Sir?"
"What is it, private?"
"How old is this building?"
If it hadn't been for Hook's withering gaze, Kai would have laughed.
"Got a problem with this architecturally-sound building?"
Chiquita looked away. "No, sir." This lieutenant was nothing like Joyner, who could sling sarcasm as fast as she dished it out. She felt that familiar pang whenever she reminisced about Lieutenant Joyner and the others.
"Or do you have a problem with my command abilities, private?" He took a step forward.
She bristled. "No, sir."
"Good. Just to be clear on that, soldier, I don't want to be here anymore than you do." He held their gaze for a moment, then motioned for them to enter the barracks.
Quickly, they grabbed their bags and hurried inside. Hook returned the curious stares of passers-by.
Hook knew why they were curious: this particular building was ancient compared to the modern and updated buildings on the base. Every time someone got around to authorizing a remodel, funds were forwarded to another base project. However, Hook found it fitting that this was the one building that his new squad would be house in. Forlorn, forgotten, in the middle of the base, this solitary building stood out like a sore thumb. He ran a hand through his buzzed hair as he sighed, then he turned and entered the building.
Kai Roland and the other trooper, still using her nickname of Chiquita, had stopped in the doorway. These barracks were like the barracks of basic - wide open, drafty, dingy, and dark.
"You could play touch-football in here," Chiquita said.
Kai leaned in to Chiquita. "Move those bunks around, and you've got yourself an obstacle course."
Chiquita sighed. "Pick a bunk, Kai."
"Closest to the door?"
Hook left them to chat alone, watching from the shadowed foyer as they warily checked out the place. Moving from bunk to bunk, dismayed at the dust and dirty windows.
"Got a bucket, Lieutenant?" Chiquita couldn't stand it any longer. This place had to be fit for human life.
Hook emerged from the shadows. "Glad you asked that, Private. Come with me, right over here."
Watching Hook lead Chiquita to the neatly arranged cleaning supplies, Kai moved to check out the locker rooms and showers. She raised an eyebrow at the separated locker rooms: one for male troopers, one for female. She shook her head. This *was* just like basic. She had become so used to having her own bathroom in her own quarters, this was...demoralizing.
"Barracks don't meet with your approval, Private?" Hook asked, seeing the disgust in her eyes.
"No, sir, it's just that-"
"Private, what we knew no longer it exists."
With that, he turned on his heel, and went outside.
Waiting for a few seconds, Chiquita raised an eyebrow. "What was that about?"
"Chiq, the guy's obviously in pain."
"Not my problem."
"It should be, he's our new C.O."
"Kai, I like you very much. But after what you've been through, you don't find it difficult to bond to a new lieutenant?"
"Did I say I bonding? I don't think so."
Chiquita climbed up to the top bunk. "Then what is it, Kai?"
"Well, if I'm bonding with Hook, then what about you?"
"What about me?"
"I never asked for a big sister."
Chiquita smiled. "Don't turn the tables, Kai. We're talking about you."
On the bottom bunk, Kai grinned, her hands behind her head. "Are *we* bonding, Chiq?"
Chiquita's smile faded. She closed her eyes, hoping to stop the tears that were forming. She was still unable to forget that day she'd been the one to survive. That her best friend had died, and she hadn't been able to stop any of it.
"What happened to you out there?"
And this time, Kai's eyes watered up. She looked over at the door, making sure no one else was around.
"How many missions you been on, Chiq?"
"More than enough."
"This was my first mission."
Chiquita started. "Say again?"
Kai detected the shock in Chiquita's voice. "I had only been with my squad for four weeks. Up until that day, we'd been assigned the normal patrol points. You know - Kaneohe, Lanikai, Kailua. Basic routine standard watches. They'd made me feel like family, that those four weeks were like four years."
A tear slid from the corner of her eye, and dropped on the pillow, but her voice remained steady. "It wasn't that they were inexperienced fighting bugs, but that the bugs got a jump on us. I'd never seen a bug up close and personal, and no, I didn't freak out or anything. But there were so many, and all at once. One of the ripplers had managed to snag one of our Marauders, just as Gomez launched a mini-nuke. It got the bugs. And it got us. Only, they..." Kai struggled for control, and she twisted the wool blanket in her fist to keep from crying again. "They fell on me to save me from the blast. At least, I *think* that's what they were doing, but no one ever said anything, so I don't want to assume."
Up on the top bunk, Chiquita was wiping tears from her cheeks.
"The thing is, Chiq... I remember their names. I remember the stories they'd tell me when we were off-duty. I remember their stupid little anecdotes about the skimmers, or what type of etiquette is appropriate for getting the most out of your Morita. I remember their laughter. I remember..." This time, Kai did choke up, and softly let out a deep sigh.
Chiquita heard the sigh. "One of these days, I'd like to know about the proper etiquette for getting the most out of your Morita."
"Kai, then why couldn't you remember when we were prisoner's in Sharaabi's house of terrors?"
Private Roland snorted. "Sharaabi. Did you have to bring up her name? That psychic block, remember. Until that Jenkins guy unlocked the door in my head, I was a Jane Doe."
"That was why you broke down, that mental release."
"You mean when I blubbered like a baby?"
Chiquita rolled over, and looked down at Kai. "You didn't blubber like a baby."
Kai dabbed her cheeks. "Then what would you call it?"
Chiquita beamed. "It was the first day of typhoon season."