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Thomaston - From Tulane
Posted By: CaptainRaspberry<jptaber@gmail.com>
Date: 25 June 2009, 7:42 pm

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      There was one place on Tulane where you could escape from the carnage, a place where people who had enough alcohol could maybe forget there was a war going on. No Covenant ever came around, no bombs fell even close, and even though it rained it always seemed sunnier than anywhere else on that planet.

      Thomaston was a happy hamlet only two kilometers away. Unlike most villages, towns, and cities that weren't being actively fought over, it was still inhabited by civilians. In fact, from the moment the first Covenant ship appeared in orbit in 2549 to just days before the first plasma bomb fell in 2551, nobody left. It was a peculiar effect, but one we whole-heartedly came to believe in while we were stationed at the Boss, which was our name for firebase Bravo Orca Six Sierra.

      The first time I went into town was with the rest of first squad, after a particularly harrowing week of setting up ambushes. During one of our outings I had barely managed to stay alive, ironically because my rockets didn't detonate as planned. Man Hong Hendrix put his arm around my neck, said "You need a fuckin' break," and our whole squad was given a weekend pass. Traditionally we could go anywhere, even to Itana, but Thomaston was closest and there was no shortage of alcohol, tobacco, and uninocturnal romance.

      Because it was very late in fall, we didn't want to spend a lot of time outside. Instead we spent our hard-earned time and money inside, in bars and motels and private residences. We all liked to spend it in different ways: Hendrix gambled, Bowed whored, Chapman smoked, and I drank. There were others, though, like Corporal Adam Valenzuela who had met the stunning Aurelia Lopez and her two children. Her husband (their father) had been killed in combat on Pearl. None of us had thought Valenzuela would make anything of it, perhaps just a one-night stand.

      But we were surprised. Rumor had it that the morning afterwards the two little ones had stormed the bedroom and Valenzuela, who had a soft spot for kids, couldn't bear to separate himself from their lives -- or their mother.

      For me, though, I preferred the decor of the local bar to that of a widow's house. My favorite watering hole, though there were few around, was the Port of Missing Men. It wasn't a classy place, but it had a certain charm to it that I couldn't resist. There was a smell to it, the sweet scent of beer mixed with the tang of marachino cherries. It was heaven.

      Two tables away, where Man-Man played cards and Tameka smoked her slims, were other Marines from other platoons. They relaxed leisurely, talking and laughing and hassling the girl who brought them food. She was pretty, dressed up in a blouse and jeans, with a pair of platform shoes. Perhaps it was the Jericho Imported that made me notice, but she had soft features and a warm essence about her. I tipped generously; within the next twenty-four hours, she and I would be together beneath the synthsilk for an intimate and brief rendezvous.

      For lodgings, we soldiers were put up in a motel for a reduced rate, though if we stayed on the good side of the owners, they rarely hunted us down for payment. We were their most valued -- and at that point, probably only -- customers.

      I was sitting in my room reading Toward the Sun, Brave Souls, a novel about the first ill-fated expedition humanity had mounted to send humans to Venus and Mercury. Just as I was getting to the part about the Finnister Doctrine, Man-Man opened my door and stormed in. I tried not to get distracted from my book while he grumbled and stomped around until he finally grabbed the paperback, ripped it out my hands, and tossed it across the room.

      "What's his fucking problem?!" he shouted in my face. I cowered a little bit, but tried to sit straight.

      "What's up?"

      "That guy Pope, from third squad."

      I was confused. "Tom? The guy from Sharpe's unit?"

      "Yeah, him."

      "Why are you getting all bent out of shape?"

      Hendrix exploded. "Because he won't fucking leave me alone! He thinks I have a way in with that waitress from last night, saw us talking. He wants to go after her, so I told him, 'Go ahead,' but he keeps asking me to help him out." He threw up his hands. "I've got my own problems, man! I don't want to help that little shit get any!" The tirade continued for another minute before he sat heavily on the bed.

      Remembering what I could from last night, I nodded. "I could help out, I guess."


      "I dunno, maybe get him to lay off, maybe talk to her for him." At the time, I didn't understand what I was getting myself into. Thomas Pope was a private in third squad, and not the most unattractive of us, but certainly the creepiest. He didn't like not knowing something about a girl, and absolutely seeked and devoured every dirty little fact he could find. Not long after I was deployed here, he had hassled so many girls in the platoon that they had decided enough was enough. They got together and did something about it; the next morning, we found him trussed up, naked, hanging upside down from the flagpole on base. Dozens of photographs of him in awkward positions had been glued to his skin.

      But I wasn't thinking of that when I offered to help, only of the waitress at the Port.

      That night, when we went to revel, I saw Pope hanging in the back corner, taking up a shady booth. When I looked over, he met my eyes and nodded like we were in a spy movie. Chastising myself for falling into this, I found the waitress and walked over to her.

      "Excuse me," I said as unobstrusively as I could.

      She looked me up and down. Her hair was brown and looked pretty soft, and her hazel eyes sized me up. There was a hotness in my cheeks.

      "Can I help you?"

      "Yeah, um." I glanced over my shoulder. Pope was leaning forward a bit; when he saw me looking at him, he made a "hurry up, and stop staring at me" gesture. I bit my lip and lowered my voice. "Listen, uh, a friend of mine wants me to find out about you, but I'd really rather not be in this situation."

      For a moment, she did nothing but stare at me. Then she chuckled. "Come on, sweetie, you think I was born yesterday?"


      "A good-looking soldier like you doesn't have to hide like that. If you wanted to ask to have a drink, you can just say so. What are you, like, a first-timer?"

      "No, that's not..."

      She winked at me and my voice stopped working. Not sure if my mouth kept moving or not, but I know no sound was coming out of it. "My shift ends in thirty. I'll stop by your table, we can have a little chat." With that she turned and left, going to fill an order. I watched her go -- man, did I watch her go -- then turned back to my table. Pope was looking at me funny, but all I could do was shrug and sit back down.

      In half an hour, true to her word, she sat down at my little table-for-one. I had ordered her a drink, but she came with a Boston Sour firmly in hand. "So what's your name, soldier?"

      It was stenciled on my chest, but it took me a moment to remember. "I'm Walter."

      "Laura. Charmed." She reached across the table and shook my had. Oh yeah, a handshake, I thought to myself. This was going real well.

      "So what brings you to Tulane, Walter?"

      "Um, I'm here to kill. The, uh, Covenant."

      Laura smiled. "I figured. That was a joke."

      I was about to slam my head into the table hard when she reached out and grabbed my chin. "Hey, don't worry about it. You guys must stayed wired up most of the time, it's probably hard for you to relax. Just talk, don't worry about what you say."

      Things went more or less smoothly after that. Not to say there weren't any more awkward moments, but the drinks have mercifully dulled my memory. She was a fan of Alvarez, too, and we talked for a while about Towards the Sun. She asked about being a soldier, and I explained it about as well as I could without turning gruesome. There were some stock complaints I could throw out there: the food, the weather, the CO. All the time, she listened patiently, looking interested. I tried to shift the conversation to her, find out what she was like, but she always expertly brought the track back to me without revealing much about her. I never even found out her last name.

      Finally we excused ourselves back to my room. Hendrix punched me lightly in the leg as we passed on our way out, though if this was encouragement or a warning, I didn't know. What I remember is that the next few hours are a pleasant, warm blur; the kind of memory I wish I could wrap myself in, especially with winter looming in the next month. Her hair was very soft, and so was her skin, and her hands. Her lips and breasts were beyond soft, so soft that it made me feel soft just having touched them. It was a wonderful, blissful universe where I forgot entirely about the war, the Covenant, and the cold.

      In the morning, she was gone, except for her panties.

      Later that day, we had to return to the Boss, where I had to deal with a new problem: Thomas Pope. He was ripshit about how I had "stolen his girl," and went around the whole base telling everyone what a terrible jackass I was. The torrent of slander and curses that tumbled from his mouth may have swayed strangers by sheer volume, but first squad remembered my part in saving their ass during ambushes and everyone else had heard the stories, so they mostly blew him off.

      The biggest thing, though, was him talking about why she left before I woke up. He tended to describe it as me being miserable in bed. Again, the truth worked against him: most of the others considered her leaving her underwear behind as a compliment, and so didn't side with him.

      Of course, I still had to deal with Tom, who had no problem cussing me out whenever we saw each other. My personal plan was to wait for him to calm down and get over it on his own, but a visit from the XO forced me into action.

      "This has to stop," said Lieutenant Calhoun. She had found me in the armory painting my rockets. "He's becoming very disruptive to morale and annoying everybody. Ordinarily I'd have no trouble stepping in and telling him to get over it, but it's pretty clear that it's between you two and you alone have the best tool to stop this nonsense. Get it done."

      I had no idea what she was talking about at first, so I just snapped a salute and promised to take care of it. It wasn't until later that I figured it out.

      The next morning, Thomas Pope woke up to find an 8.5 x 11 manilla envelope resting on his bunk. He opened it, reached it, and pulled out Laura's panties.

      Twenty minutes later, he was standing over me in the mess, red in the face. I just looked up at him, trying to look innocent as the rest of my squad giggled. But he couldn't speak, he was so angry. And he never did again, to me or of me.

      Of course, the little creep never returned them, and kept them in his BDU until he was killed by a clutch of Grunts while on patrol.

      By then, I didn't want them back.