Family Ties


Jack Grisson is the black sheep of his family and all this came back to the fore when he was reunited with his sister on the Ticonderoga. When their paths cross again, Jack is hit with a memory that perfectly captures everything he hates about them.

Location: ESS Ticonderoga, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Thu 30 May 121
Time: UST 2054

Jack and Ally were just coming back from the rec room, with only a few minutes to spare before lights out. They went down to Deck 7 for chow and stayed there as long as they could. That was what they usually did.
While they were allowed to freely use the facilities on Deck 6, they didn't have any desire to do so. Neither did just about anyone else in their platoon. Every now and then a squad or two would go in together, but you sure didn't want to be the lone Army intruder in Marine territory.
Jack would love to know why Captain Robles singled out Second Platoon to be moved up to Deck 6, but knowing the reason why wouldn't change anything. They'd still be busting their asses at 2G while catching hell from leathernecks on all sides. A fine way to make a sucky assignment suck even harder.
They hadn't gotten too far when a voice said, "Well, if it ain't my favorite slimy greenback? You. Here. Now!"
The voice was gruff enough to be confused for a man's, but Jack knew it was a woman's voice. And not just any woman either. It was his sister.
Jack slumped his shoulders a bit before turning around to face her. Reluctantly, he plodded over to where she was standing and went to parade rest.
"Yes, Gunnery Sergeant."
"As slacktastic as ever, I see," his sister said scornfully. She beckoned for him to follow her. "Come with me. You're gonna get some extra special trainin'."
"Yes, Gunnery Sergeant," Jack replied with as little motivation as he could manage.
Typical for an NCO, this response didn't please his sister one bit.
"Sound off, Corporal!" she barked.
"Yes, Gunn'ry Sa'ant!" Jack shouted, just as he had to in Infantry School, exaggerating the redneck accent that seemed to pervade the NCO Corps ever so slightly.
It didn't look like his sister was picking up on his sarcastic caricature of the NCO accent. All she seemed to register was the volume and even this wasn't quite good enough for her.
"On Deck 6, when you execute, you sound off with 'aye-aye'. Are we trackin', Corporal!"
"Trackin', Gunn'ry Sa'ant!"
Before his sister could say anything else, she took notice of Ally coming up to stand at parade rest next to him.
"What the hell do you think you're doing!?"
Terrified, Ally could only stammer, "I, ah... Buh-battle buddy..."
"Use your words, dammit!" Jack's sister snapped.
Coming to Ally's rescue, Jack responded with military precision.
"Army policy states that all personnel E-4 and below must be accompanied by a battle buddy at all times, Gunn'ry Sa'ant."
His sister gave him a mocking smile and said, "Thank you, PFC. I see you suddenly got stretched out nice and long." Sharply changing her tone, she yelled, "Did I ask you, Corporal!?"
"Negative, Gunn'ry Sa'ant!"
To Ally, she barked, "PFC, drop! Beat your damn face!"
"Ye-yes, Gunnery Sergeant!"
"That's 'Aye-aye, Gunnery Sergeant'!"
"Ah, aye-aye, Gunnery Sergeant!"
Ally went down and started doing push-ups, making a rookie mistake she was soon called out on.
"Count it out!" his sister shouted.
"Three, Gunnery Sergeant!"
"Start from one!"
"One, Gunnery Sergeant! Two, Gunnery Sergeant!"
While Ally was pushing and sounding off, Jack's sister beckoned for him to follow yet again.
"Come on, Corporal. Time's a-wastin'."
"Aye-aye, Gunn'ry Sa'ant!"
They went into a nearby room--compartment, whatever. As soon as the door closed behind them, Jack went back to standing at parade rest.
"At ease, Corporal," his sister said.
"Weren't you gonna be givin' me some of your special trainin', Gunn'ry Sa'ant?" Jack asked, not hiding his contempt in the slightest.
"Keep up with that mouth and you will," his sister said sharply.
Then, surprisingly, she softened her tone and asked him, "How, how's Army life treating you, Johnny?"
"Oh, ever' Army day's a good day, Gunn'ry Sa'ant."
"Knock it off, Johnny. We're alone now. Can't I ask my little brother how he's doing and get a straight answer?"
"It's a bit late if you're wantin' to play big sister now," Jack replied. "I've barely seen you since you left and I don't remember us gettin' along that well before that."
"Look," his sister said, "we didn't have the warmest reunion, and I'm sorry about that, but I have a position to uphold."
Jack rolled his eyes.
"Just like ever' other asshole NCO in the service."
"Dammit, Johnny, do you have to make this so difficult?"
"I don't see any reason to make things easy on you, 'specially when you've got my battle buddy pushin' just for followin' SOP."
His sister frowned and said, "Fine."
Opening the door, she stuck her head out and told Ally, "Recover, PFC. Stand at ease until I'm done with your little buddy in here."
"Yes, Gu--, I mean, aye-aye, Gunnery Sergeant!"
His sister closed the door and look back to him.
"There," she said. "Better?"
"It's a start."
"What do you want from me?" his sister asked.
"Nothin'," Jack said curtly. "No, I take that back. I'd like you to leave me and my battle buddy alone. We gotta deal with enough shit from our unit. We don't need you addin' to it."
"If that's what you want, I'll back off. Just don't expect any special treatment."
"Special treatment from you is the last thing I want."
His sister didn't say anything for a bit, but Jack wasn't looking to fill the void.
Getting over her hesitation, she then said, "You haven't been in touch with anyone back home, have you?"
"Why should I?" Jack asked. "No one there gives a damn 'bout me and I sure as hell don't give a damn 'bout them."
"I thought you ought to know that Uncle Butler is dead. His shuttle was shot down last October."
Jack grinned about the meanest grin that'd ever shown up on his face.
"So the Shellies finally got that old bastard. Good for them."
His sister looked at him like he'd just shot a puppy.
"How could you say that? That man was a credit to the Union. He was blood."
Jack looked away and mumbled, "Blood's not so thick for some of us."
"You oughtta be ashamed of yourself, Johnny."
If she was looking to lecture him, Jack wasn't having it.
"This is why I hate you and ever'one else back home," he growled. "You're all a buncha thick-headed, chest-thumpin' gorillas. No wonder Mom bailed."
"Mom was a coward and a traitor and you're the last person who should be taking her side."
His sister jabbed him in the chest with her finger to punctuate the 'coward' and 'traitor' bits. Of course she'd hold a grudge against Mom. She was just like the rest of them, after all.
"The only thing I got against her is that she didn't take me along," Jack said defiantly.
"If you're so proud of a good-for-nothing who turned tail and ran when the going got tough, why are you here now?"
Sure, she just had to cap it all off with why he was here, now, in this damn green uniform. The answer was simple.
"Because I knew I couldn't get away with it," Jack said. "Oh, they might notta caught me right away, but they'd get me eventually and my life'd be a bigger world of shit than it already is."
Jack expected his sister to look at him with the same disgust and contempt as the rest of them, but that wasn't quite the expression on her face. What was it? Disappointment?
"So even in uniform you're a coward," she said. "Yeah, I'm sure Mom'd be real pleased to see how much her boy grew up just like her."
"Hey, get off my back," Jack snapped. "I didn't ask for any of this. You go on terrorizin' your leathernecks and I'll see what I can do to steer clear of you psychos."
"If that's how you want it, that's how it'll be," his sister said. "Consider yourself dismissed, Corporal."
Instead of having Jack leave, his sister went out first, brushing past him as he went. Jack just stood there and found himself staring at his feet. He thought he might feel better standing up to her and everything she represented, but why did he feel like such shit?
"Dammit," he cursed under his breath.

* * *

Location: Consalves Residential District, Mars Colony 01, Tharsis, Mars, Martian Sphere
Date: Sat 30 Jul 118
Time: UST 1134

Jack went into the kitchen to fix some lunch. He didn't feel like going the quick and easy route with the usual instant crap. There were some fresh veggies in the fridge still that needed to get used soon, so a little stir fry sounded like it'd hit the spot.
He got the rice started and went to work chopping up the veggies. The only meat in the fridge was a couple steaks for his old man, but Jack wasn't going to mess with those. After all, the old man needs to have something besides beer in his stomach and he sure as hell isn't going to fix something himself.
Speaking of beer, that was the one thing the fridge was never lacking. Seemed like the old man's entire disability check went to beer and the occasional bottle of hard liquor when he really felt the need to get smashed. All the bills got paid from his sister's account. Apparently she didn't need the money for herself.
Jack wasn't going to have to think about it much longer, though. Soon as the fall term started, he'd be off to college and he'd never look back. The old man could go right on ahead and drink himself to death and his sister would be there to pick up the tab. It probably would've been easier on everyone if the Shellies had actually finished him off all those years ago. At least Jack's mom would probably still be around if they had...
If negative thoughts have the way of bending your entire reality in a negative direction, then that's exactly what happened when the door opened.
"You in, Vern?" a voice like gravel asked. "Oh, you."
It was Uncle Butler, old Master Guns in his damn Alphas on a Saturday. He was about the last person Jack wanted to see and the feeling was entirely mutual. Still, as much as they didn't like each other, that didn't stop Uncle Butler from getting into Jack's business.
"Ain't you gonna say hi to your uncle, boy?"
Going back to chopping vegetables, Jack replied, "Hi, Uncle Boy."
"Real cute, boy. Your old man in?"
"When is he ever out?" Jack asked. He made a slight jerk of his head in the direction his uncle needed to go. "In the living room."
Uncle Butler had gotten himself stationed back on Mars a few years back and he generally made a point to drop in every few weeks to have a few beers with the old man and swap the same old war stories. Every time Uncle Butler would go on about how he was itching to get back to the front and every time Jack wished it'd happen. Generally, though, if he was out of sight, Jack didn't have to worry about getting hassled too much.
He was just about to start putting stuff into the frypan when his PersCom started ringing. Jack pulled the PersCom out of his pocked and answered it.
"Yello?"
A monotone, likely computer voice asked, "Is this Johnathan Hendrick Grisson, birthdate 13 May 099, serial number 876-India-Mike-Kilo-3119?"
"Uh, yeah," Jack said. "Hey, what's this about?"
"You have an incoming priority message."
"Wait. Who--"
Whoever it was on the other end, computer or just a really mechanical-sounding person, hung up. Jack held up the PersCom to see what the caller ID said. It didn't give him a number or anything.
"The hell?"
The mail chime sounded, so Jack went to his inbox to see what it was. There was a new message entitled 'SELECTIVE SERVICE SYSTEM: ORDER TO REPORT FOR INDUCTION'.
Jack could feel his guts sink. He knew what this was, but he didn't want to believe it. His finger moved to open the message, like it had a mind of its own, because Jack really didn't want to see what the message had to say. It read:
The Chairwoman of the World Council of the Earth Union,
TO Johnathan Hendrick Grisson:
ORDER #SSS1190927-MA1-21345
GREETING:
Having been determined to be both eligible and available for service in the Armed Forces of the Earth Union, you are hereby notified that you have now been selected for training and service in the ARMY.
You will, therefore, report to BLOCK 34A, LEVEL 3, NUMBER 3266 at UST 0700 on 12
AUGUST 118.
There was more, but it really didn't matter. Jacks arms fell slack to sides.
"Fuck me..."
"Hey, boy!" Uncle Butler shouted, walking back into the kitchen. "Why don't you grab us a couple more beers?"
Jack didn't respond. Instead he held his PersCom back up to stare at the message on the screen.
"What you got there, boy?" Uncle Butler asked, standing right next to him.
Surprised, Jack stepped back and instinctively tried to tuck away his PersCom.
"Nothing," he mutter defensively.
"Lemme see that," his uncle said.
He took hold of Jack's arm and wrenched it away from his side. Jack tried to resist, naturally, but even at 50, Uncle Butler was a whole lot stronger than he was.
It didn't take Uncle Butler long to scan through the message's contents.
"Well, I'll be damned," he said to himself. He looked up at Jack and grinned. "You're too chickenshit to sign up yourself, but it looks like the government's gonna make a man outta you after all."
Even though he knew he shouldn't have said anything, the words came out anyway.
"But I... I was going to start college..."
"Ain't no time for college, boy!" Uncle Butler beamed, grotesquely enthused by all this. "There's a war goin' on!"
Jack's hand started to shake. Why was this happening to him?
Uncle Butler's smile dropped and he moved in close, way closer than Jack wanted.
"Don't tell me you're thinkin' 'bout runnin', boy," he said harshly. "I'll personally lead the hunt to drag your ass in."
In a burst of anger and frustration, Jack pushed Uncle Butler away and snapped, "Shut up!"
As soon as Jack pushed him, Uncle Butler punched Jack in the gut. Hard. Dropped him to his knees.
"You little scumbag!" his uncle bellowed. "You'd best shape the fuck up! See what that smart mouth of yours'll get you when they send you downrange. Even those ate-up greenbacks won't take none of your shit."
Jack was coughing and moaning from the punch, but Uncle Butler wasn't done with him.
Grabbing Jack by the collar, he growled, "Get your ass up, boy." Right up in Jack's face, he then said, "Now you're still a shame on the family name for makin' the government drag you in like this, but you might just make something outta yourself. You best not embarrass the family out there or I'll do everything in my power to make your life a world of shit."
Jack couldn't look Uncle Butler in the eyes. Looking into those hard spider eyes would just make him go even more weak and pathetic than he already was.
"My life's already a world of shit," Jack mumbled.
Uncle Butler grinned cruelly.
"Just you wait, boy," he said. "Just you wait. You ain't seen nothin' yet."

* * *

Location: ESS Ticonderoga, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Thu 30 May 121
Time: UST 2105

When Jack got tired of staring at his feet, he opened the door and left the room. Ally was standing by the door waiting for him, looking a little worn from all the pushing.
"Jack, are you okay?" she asked.
Pushing aside all his bitter feelings and bad memories, Jack gave her his trademark grin and said, "I'll be fine, shorty. How 'bout you?"
Ally managed a weak smile and said, "I'm going to turn into jerky if I get smoked any more."
Jack tousled her hair.
"No worries. I'll be jerky right with ya."