1.28: Chuck

Date: Monday 7 January 2041ce 1800z
Location: Sinful Saint’s, Outpost FG-9, California (-0800)

That better not be a sick call!

It wasn’t often that the outpost commander asked Chuck to open the restaurant early; As tended to be the norm, reception and lunch following the arrival of a new commanding officer to assume the watch was today’s special occasion.

I made it in, damnit! They can, too.

He continued loading the ice bucket.

He’d been at the outpost for a full fifteen years now; First, as a chemist attached to California Resistance in the outpost’s munitions assembly team, and then remaining as a civilian after the front was pushed into Arizona and Mexico. He and his wife had done the near-impossible, surviving as a pre-Invasion couple in the war-torn southern half of the continent, and chosen here as the place to pursue their dream of opening a restaurant after twenty-years of valid excuses.

Sinful Saint’s, the name selected by their initial investor, was routinely open for dinner, with a mellow-atmosphere tavern above that remained open much later than the kitchen. Dress code, for those currently serving, was dress uniform only. For civilians, the code was somewhat looser, though Chuck had insisted on using the ‘business casual’ of his youth as his minimal baseline.

While the tavern was a place of dim lighting and soft music, the restaurant itself was a shrine to those who had served at FG-9 during the Resistance Era, as well as pre-war memorabilia representing everything they fought for. While such would seem to suggest a more casual atmosphere, it had the opposite effect.

“We stand among the hollowed dead,” had become something of a popular phrase at FG-9.

So it had been that Chuck and Su stood the watch over their odd temple-restaurant-bar through four commanding officers and countless troopers. The first of those two, with the war still close by, had been there for three years each; The last two had served only a year each, a wind-down assignment on the way to retirement, though Chuck was pleased to see that they took their responsibilities to the ever-further war front seriously.

Today, Captain Kelly was retiring, but it was his replacement that was causing the most chatter.

Captain Nielson, just two years prior one of North America’s most celebrated hero, was taking command of a supply depot at the edge of no longer being relevant; The irony being that this irrelevancy was the result of the united NES-SWS offensive into Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas that Captain Nielson had planned, led, and became famous for. It was the offensive that turned Reunification into something more than a social meme, presumed by many to have given birth to the now seven-day-old Coalition States of North America.

What, many people wondered, did he do to get into trouble?

It wouldn’t be long, Chuck had surmised months prior, before FG-9 was little more than the heavily armed supply depot everyone jokes about it already being. He had even questioned how much longer Saint’s would remain successful if the outpost’s population continued to decline. And while it might be a nice command position to skate into ones’ final days of retirement with, Nielson’s career as a strategic planner made command of FG-9 seem a punishment.

Unless he’s checking off a box in order to get command of something bigger…

He transferred the ice into the drink well behind the counter, then went to his datapad to see who wasn’t coming in early.

Message: Vagrant

And froze.

It can’t be?!

He turned away, the sudden rush of anxiety causing him to grip the synth-wood surface.

After taking a moment to regather, he returned his gaze to the notification.

Twelve years!

He had almost forgotten why he and Su had been sent to FG-9 to begin with; Why he used his degree in chemistry to embed himself with the local Resistance, and why they were able to secure their original investment.

“Wait and see,” he had been told.

He repeated the instruction to himself; The promise that one day, he would repay the debt of not only the restaurant, but of the life of his family.

The instructions ended with, “You’ll know when you do.”  It was even more vague than the first part, but his family lived, and payment was due.

He looked around at the dining area around him, contemplated the kitchen behind him and the tavern above; The small but comfortable house down the road.

Probably wants me to move.

“Sorry, Chuck,” he said in a tone of feigned befuddlement. “Got the wrong address.”

It was an old inside joke between two childhood friends.

He didn’t return to the datapad, instead returning to prep the dining area for the reception.

Your turn to wait, Vagrant!

As he worked, memories flashed through his mind caused by the memorabilia around him: The shell that took down the Carson City hive, the company flag of the troop that never returned from Bakersfield, the two brothers that sang every song from an Iron Maiden album in front of a replica poster for that album that they had drawn and framed.

Then there was the vintage poster, a pre-Invasion original retrieved from some collector’s vault by scavenger-recycle crew, sent to him from Tennessee (itself quite an expense at the time) with a simple card that had read, “For Your Grand Opening”.

It hung center on the widest wall, surrounded by other Old Earth items worthy of a museum, a treasure even before the Invasion.

As he looked at it, he saw something that struck him as a funny coincidence.

Then he remembered:

That bastard never did anything by coincidence!

He laughed then, almost letting loose until stopped by the door opening; Several of his employees had arrived.

Chuck greeted them cordially, then sent them into the kitchen to ask Su what she needed doing.

Alone again, Chuck went to his datapad and unlocked it.

Vagrant: Soon.

He blinked.

Soon? Soon what, you fucking bastard?

He returned his gaze to the poster.

Nielson…

A wry smile on his face, he sent his reply.

Argon: I know.

He didn’t know if he should wait for a reply or just resume his life and wait as he had for so many years already.

He opted for the later.

Fuck you, Vagrant.

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