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Soldier Girl: Part 9
Posted By: Adam Stark<Xvash2@sbcglobal.net>
Date: 29 May 2009, 5:21 am

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Part 9: Home

The Albatross designated R-365 touched down with a bit of a hop, the soldiers inside jostled slightly. They'd been ready for it of course, most of them had seen much worse. They were still chatting as the doors opened, most of them bustling out in civilian clothing. However one had remained in uniform, and walked out prideful, carrying her duffel on her back. It was one of the less busy spaceports on the planet, yet it still crawled with activity, people pushing and shoving to get somewhere in a hurry. She moved almost robotically, as if she had been retrained how to walk, but she did so with a speed that signaled a peculiar motivation flowing within her. She made her way through the rather impersonal crowd out to the street, which was inching along with rush hour traffic. She drew her chatter from her bag, dialing the only number still saved in the database.

"Hey mom, I'm here. Where are you?"

"Christine took the car; you'll have to get a cab."

"Ok, thanks. I'll be home soon." She closed the conversation on the chatter before stowing it away back in the bag. She fretted. It had all been played out in her mind like the perfect movie. Her mom would step out, and they run to each other, a giant hug ensuing. She'd be lying if she said she hadn't missed her family. After all, everything she worked for was for them. Like a bipod to a sniper rifle, the support is absolutely necessary. She wasn't exactly certain who she missed more, her sisters, her mother, or her father. Well, that's an easy one actually. She loved her dad more than anybody. He was her inspiration, her icon, her model of excellence. Somebody forgot to tell her he was line infantry. That didn't matter to her; he was the Major General of the UNSC for all she cared. Her only father.
She flagged down a taxi and watched it stop in front of her on the side of the road. She opened the door, tossing her duffel in first before climbing in and closing the door behind her.

"3609 Truitina Avenue, Anchorage," she requested.

"You got it," was the solemn reply. The driver punched the address into his GPS device and peeled off from the idle position into the fast lane, catching up to speeds quickly, reaching the standard 150 km/h limit in no time. Sanderson looked out the window, looking for what had changed. A poor expectation, she hadn't been gone more than four months, but it had felt like years. It was an average Anchorage day, overcast sky, drizzling slightly. The windows were spattered with small droplets of water as the cab weaved in and out of traffic. The driver pulled off the expressway about an hour later, pulling into the outskirts of Anchorage. Low-income housing and suburbs, mostly. Perfect for soldiers and their families. The driver pulled onto Inigo Avenue, one of the main streets through the area. Heading down the road, the excitement began to build in her, the time was coming soon. Unexpectedly the driver pulled into back alley. Perplexed, she was about to speak up, but the driver answered her question.

"I'm supposed to kill you," he stated, his words crisp and concise. Nothing was misspoken, nothing could have been misheard.

"I take it you're an Innie. And I'm a soldier, makes sense. Usually the Innies got more guts than this and pull the trigger without hesitation."

"Well, it's my first time doing this."

"Fresh recruit, eh? Well, you're not doing to well." After hearing what he had to say, an air of calmness blew over her. If she played him right, this would be a piece of cake to get out of.

"Well, I knew I had to kill someone, but I just can't bring myself to kill the women and children."

"Then take me home, you're wasting our time."

"Yeah, ok." He back out of the alley and pulled onto the main drag once more, arriving quickly to her home. She tipped the man extra, before exiting the vehicle.

"Maybe you should rethink your career choice," she said to him closing the door behind her. Slinging the duffel over her shoulder, she waved to the cabbie before heading up the steps to the small home sandwiched between the rest of the buildings that lined the street. She raised her hand to knock on the door, but heard a voice shout from within.

"It's open!"

With a single finger, she pushed the door open, dropping the duffel to the floor inside the home. Her trained eyes scanned the room, and much was amiss. Objects were scattered on the floor, the entryway in general disarray.

"Mom?" Her voice trailed off, unable to process the possibilities that could have led to the current situation she was observing. Her mother quickly rushed into the room, her face devoid of a rather expected grin, or at the very least, some form of a smile. Her mom, quite a bit shorter than herself, hugged her tightly, before rushing off to get back to work, speaking as she walked away, fixing things up along the way.

"It's so good to have you back, dear. Things have been hectic since you left. I've missed the extra set of hands to keep the younger ones at bay while I clean. Please come in to the kitchen, dinner is almost ready," her mom rambled on so, to the point where between the walking from room to room, her speech was inaudible, a mere blend of phrases and noises. Melissa set her bag down on a chair and stepped quietly into the kitchen. Still the same as before. At the table, her youngest sister sat, talking with a friend on the chatter. Her sister pretended not to notice, but Melissa could sense the eyes flick from the device to herself every time she turned. She grabbed a cup from the cabinet and filled it with water from the faucet. Cold, but nothing close to icy. She set the cup down on the steel table, a clank resounding from the metallic surface. She was hoping her sister would attempt to initiate some form of contact, but the lack of conversation disturbed her in a way. She felt unappreciated for a moment, as if her sister had deemed a casual dialogue with a friend to be of greater importance than the long-awaited homecoming of a loved one. Or at least, she hoped it was long-awaited. She tried to make herself look busy in the kitchen, putting away used ingredients and loading sullied utensils and plates into the dishwasher. Her sister finished her little chat, setting the chatter aside and grabbing Melissa's water to drink.

"So how was it?" she asked rather bluntly, taking a sip of water. Melissa stopped for a moment, thinking about how to answer such a question. She searched her memories, trying to conjugate the entire experience into a simple sentence. When all attempts had failed, she could only bring herself to say one thing.

"It's not something you come back from and talk about freely. I think its something you should rather see for yourself than just hear about from someone." She turned to her sister, leaning on the counter. "Not that you would ever consider joining up. You'd never last."

"What makes you say that? For all you know, I could have been busy planning my military career while you were gone," retorted Melissa's sister, better known as Karen.

"Because you weren't. You were out with your friends trying to scam people out of ration coupons. Unless you quit running with those people, although it doesn't sound like it from the content of your conversation."

"All I wanted to know was how it was."

"I just told you." Sanderson sauntered to the table and swiped the cup from the hands of her younger sister. She downed the contents of the cup and tossed the cup into the sink with military precision.

The four women sat down at the dining room table to eat, a small celebration of the brief return of the elder sister. Their mother brought out the food to the table, steam rising off of it all. Melissa noted the portions, considerably less than when she had departed. The government must have cut back on ration coupons again. Happens every few months, the civilians getting less and less chow as the supplies are rerouted to some ship in space destined to be wasted by the Covenant in a short amount of time. The second oldest sister, Christine, doled out portions to the family, hogging a rather substantial amount of mashed potatoes. Melissa eyed her sister almost grudgingly, and in a response of sorts, grabbed most of the biscuits and deposited them onto her plate.

"Melissa, give some to your sister," her mother ordered, not even breaking her motions to command her daughter as she put her parental intuition on display. Melissa exhaled bluntly, tossing a biscuit onto her sister's plate, and began to eat. Her mother spoke up again however, rather inquisitive about basic. "So how was it?" she asked. Melissa glanced at her youngest sister, who was slightly smirking, before replying.

"I'd rather not talk about it right now," she stated before resuming consumption of her meal.

"It's ok; I didn't think you'd want to. Your father was the same way when he came back. Didn't talk for a couple of days. The only person he talked to was his father, your grandfather, rest his soul. The experience changes you sometimes, sweetie. That's what it's meant for. You're supposed to break down what you know as a civilian and build it back up as a soldier and a warrior…" her mother rambled on, explaining how basic work, a reiteration of facts and truths Melissa was already more than aware of.

"Mom, I know, I was just there. Relax, okay?"

"I know you know. Just making conversation." The family resumed eating. Melissa finished first, rather accustomed to the "meal sprints" from basic, or the rapid consumption of a full meal in a little less than five minutes. Feeling rather rude for devouring the course rather quickly, she sat and watched her family eat, only the hum of chewing and cutlery disturbing the silence. Her younger sister finished next, followed by her mother, and then Christine, who was still working on the heap of potatoes. The trio waited for the girl to finish, all of them exchanging glances. Christine finally set her fork down, wiping her mouth with her napkin. There was an unexpected period of silence, a moment of digestion, a moment of thought. But Christine would be quick to break it.

"So, uh, what's for dessert?" she asked, looking at her mother. She replied quite succinctly, standing to clear the table.

"I didn't have enough ration coupons to get any dessert. Sorry Melissa, I hope that's okay."

"It's alright, mom. This was more than enough anyways. I appreciate it." Melissa grabbed what her mother couldn't pick up from the table and took it to the kitchen. Just like before she left, cleaning up after her sisters.

She settled down in her old room, still uneasy in the hospitable environment. She tossed the duffel onto her bed, unzipping it to pull out a change of clothes for the next day. A second uniform pressed and still in mint condition. She also pulled out her M/7. She remembered the night she got it. The bow unraveled, the shiny paper torn. Seemed like ages ago. A glint caught her eye, a sliver on the floor. She knelt down to examine the shiny object, only to find a small piece of wrapping paper lying peacefully on the carpet. Gingerly, she grasped it between her thumb and index finger, reflecting the ceiling light off of it. It almost brought a tear to her eye. She remembered how much she missed her father at the moment. He felt so close through the piece of rubbish, yet at the same time so far away. It was both a heartwarming moment and a crushing feeling. She sat back on the floor, leaning against her bed, still holding the piece of silver wrapping paper. She ran her thumb across the reflective side, feeling the slick texture of the glossy surface. It dawned upon her then. Her mom hadn't touched her room since she'd left. And her mom was one hell of a neat freak. It was weird being home, definitely a break from what would be normal for her. She finally stood, placing the paper in the bottom of her duffel. She inspected her weapon before placing it back in the bag. She sat down next to it, disrobing from her uniform. She folded the clothes and placed them in her bag, which she set on the floor next to her mattress. She removed the hair band from her head, letting her dark auburn hair drop down to just past her shoulders, just shorter than Marine Corp. regulations. She pulled the crisp covers back and laid down, pulling them back snugly over her. For a few minutes, her mind wandered over the days ahead, the days past, her father, her mother, her sisters, her town, her life, before she found her mind at ease and drifted into slumber.

She erupted from sleep. Five in the morning. She was running late. She rushed from her room and turned the shower on, piping hot water rushing out from the metal pipe dangling from the ceiling. She stripped her underwear and jumped in, washing up as fast as she knew how. She'd gotten a decent shower to less than thirty seconds in basic, something she liked to think of as a "power-shower". She turned off the water jets and hopped out, grabbing a white towel from the rack and drying off with near-inhuman speeds. She retreated to her bedroom in a hurry, throwing the towel off and dressing in the fresh uniform she had set aside the previous night. Seven minutes from waking, she was ready to head out the door. She sat for a moment on her bed and glanced at the clock. 5:07. She didn't need to get to the spaceport for another two hours. Melissa sighed, resting her head in her palms. She removed the jacket of her uniform and set it neatly on the bed. She left the room and entered the kitchen, turning on the lights. Her mom entered shortly after while Melissa rummaged through the refrigerator trying to find a suitable breakfast.

"Melissa dear, what are you doing up so early?" her mother inquired, yawning as she spoke.

"Sorry, I just, just, I'm just used to waking up early. Well, at least I have time for breakfast."

With her lone piece of luggage packed, she said what could have been her final goodbyes, and entered the car. Her mother drove her to the spaceport, pulling up and stopping the car in the drop-off lane. As Melissa moved to exit the vehicle, her mother grabbed her wrist.

"Melissa, wait a moment. I just wanted to say…be careful. You mean a lot to your sisters, and even though they bug you, they've earned the right to keep you around. So come home safe, please." Her mother hugged her tightly in the car, an awkward hug that navigated the console between the front two seats and the armrests.

"Don't worry, I'll be back soon." Melissa opened the door and walked around to the rear of the vehicle, hoisting her duffel onto her shuffle from the trunk. She pushed the button to close the trunk and waved once more to her mother as she left the sidewalk and entered the bustling spaceport. She found her shuttle, the lone vessel that would be the first voyage on the path to her first tour of duty. She was ready. She boarded the craft.