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Paid Love and Old Friends

Posted on Wed Dec 30th, 2020 @ 10:04pm by Comm Tech Wulf Edevane & Executive Officer Kenneth McTigue

Mission: The Forgotten Arm
Location: Pallas - The Duck and Run Bar
Timeline: About a Year Ago

"No, that one," Wulf said, blushing crimson as the woman he'd inadvertently pointed at turned her attention in his direction. He looked down at his boots and muttered quietly so that only he and Ken could hear. "She's gorgeous." Curves he'd happily die for, deeply dark brown eyes, brunette hair with just a hint of red through it, mixed up with a rainbow plait that wrapped over the top of her skull, and skin that shone with a pale copper shade. "Think I can afford her? That blond last time was crazy expensive." He looked up to the Albatross' engineer and grinned. "Worth it though."

While their attention was utterly focused in that particularly pleasant direction, bottles of beer momentarily abandoned to the table top before them, someone else had made their way around the bar. He came into Ken's field of vision about the same time as he called out in recognition.

"Master Sergeant McTigue?" A young-ish man, well young to Ken but definitely having a decade or more on Wulf, asked as he stepped up to the bar. "Is that really you top?" The red headed man studied Ken's face in surprise before breaking out in a wide smile. "My god, sergeant, I never expected to see you again."

Ken looked equally as shocked at the red head. "Essex." The old engineer said after a moment of studying. "Man, I haven't seen you in a decade, at least."

Wulf's eyes went wide and remained so as he tore his attention from the ladies of paid affection to regard this unicorn of a person. Someone who called Ken by his last name? And Master Sergeant to boot? Definitely a rarity he was intrigued to regard, and interrogate if possible. The tech considered both men's faces for a long moment in silence, then offered up a lopsided smile in hopeful anticipation of the Ken Holy Grail. Backstory.

"You served with Ken?" he asked 'Essex', forgetting to introduce himself for the moment.

The red headed man turned to Wulf. "Huh? Oh yeah, I served under Top for a couple years on the Theodora Franklin." He extended a hand to the younger man, "Marshall Essex, people call me Essex. Nice to meet you man."

The engineer still looked just a bit confused at seeing one of his old marines. "Essex here was one of the worst marines I had."

"Top?" Asked Wulf, his knowledge of military slang not particularly comprehensive. He accepted the offered hand and shared as firm a handshake as he could muster though, feeling a need to prove that at least and to not let Ken down. "Good to meet ya too, dude. Wulf Edevane," the tech returned, with a lopsided smile. "People call me lots of stuff, but I answer to Wulf." His grin broadened then as he cast his gaze from Essex to Ken and back again. "How come you were the worst?"

Ken took a long pull of his glass as Essex took the only available seat at the bar, next to Wulf. "Top, nickname for Master Sergeant or a First Sergeant. McTigue was my Master sarn't." The barman ambled up and put a glass of bubbly brown liquid for Essex before stepping away again. "As for why I'm the worst. Well..." Essex chuckled with amusement, "I might have gotten him shot, totally by accident."

Nursing his bottle of limon beer, Wulf leant back in his seat and savoured this beautiful and unexpected moment. This was the first time he'd heard the Tross' engineer referred to by his last name, and he had so many questions his mind reeled. "McTigue..." Wulf repeated, carefully watching Ken's face to see how much trouble he was currently in, even as his own expression shifted to horrified surprise. "You got him shot?!" The tech said, eyes wide.

The engineer's face contorted with Wulf using his last name. "Don't call me that." he muttered under his breath before he took another drink.

Essex nodded, grinning broadly. "Yeah, we were boarding a skinny ship, me, the sarn't, and the rest of the team. Step into the ship, I go right, he goes left. And I totally miss the door on the ship's interior so I walk by. As I do, the door slides open and out steps this big tall looking belter with a scatter gun. He doesn't even see me, but points that thing at McTigue and gives him three rounds of pellets before I can put him down."

The new guy's smile was infectious, but while Wulf smirked he also noted Ken's reaction to that pesky surname and saved it for future reference. For now, the tech figured, he had the safety net of Essex's presence, but payback would follow at some point if he pushed his luck. Wulf's eyes went wide though, as the stranger spoke of missing a doorway and genuinely getting the Tross' engineer shot. He swore - a long stream of words in Spanish - and stared wide-eyed at Ken. "You shot back, right?"

"I'm hitting the head." Ken grumbled before stepping up off his stool and ambling into the crowd.

Essex for his part looked surprised at Ken's grumbling before answering the question for him, "He didn't, but I did shoot the skinny. We were lucky we were all in armor or the sarn't would be dead. Then again, we would all be dead twenty times over."

Wulf opened his mouth to protest Ken's departure, but the man moved off as Essex kept talking and the tech found himself easily caught up in the tales of Ken's past adventures.

"He doesn't like talking about this stuff," Wulf explained. "About anything in his past, really. I just know he was a Marine, but every time we get close to finding out something, he or Mickey changes the subject." He grinned. "So thanks, it's kinda cool to hear war stories. So, did he kick your butt?"

"He did." Essex laughed and touched the left side of his head. "I probably still have the lump he left. And that was like fifteen years ago." He rubbed the healed spot. "But I get why he doesn't like talking about it. Top saw more shit than any of us out there."

The Tross' comms tech chuckled at that, and made a point of looking where Essex indicated. "I can't see a bump," he said, half-serious, then shifted gear into fully so as the Marine kept taking. "He did?" Wulf asked, genuinely both concerned and intrigued by this statement. A long draught of beer, and the tech studied the other man's face for a moment. His questions were full of hopeful optimism and overt curiosity. "So you guys were on the same ship and the same team for two years? Do you have more war stories?"

"Top and I served together for three years total. We were on the Franklin as part of an SOF7 team, but we were also used as the escort for the NIT whenever we had to check out a ship. And of course I've got stories man, I served for seven years."

Getting to the bottom of his beer, Wulf briefly stared at Essex through that pint glass. This... was awesome. A direct line into Ken's past, in a bar, with time to spare. For once the universe was working in his favour and he intended to abuse that opportunity. "More beer?" The tech offered, already gesturing to the bar staff as he leant his elbows on the table, dark eyes wide. "What's SOF7?" Wulf asked. "What's NIT?" So many questions.

"If you're paying, yes please." The red-head grinned. "Heck, if you keep them coming I'll even answer some of your questions."

"Can I get three more pints, please?" Wulf asked the barman. Then he added, as the man turned to leave. "And three shots of whiskey - Irish and the good stuff, please. Thanks." He paid and then as the man strolled away, turned his full attention back to Essex. "I can keep em coming," Wulf promised faithfully. He grinned a bright and broad grin. "I just got paid."

When the beer appeared in Essex' hand he took a good pull. "SOF7? Didn't McTigue tell you? It's Special Operations Force Seven, the UNMC's Tier 1 Regiment, we're assigned to a bunch of ships throughout the system to be sent out where we're needed." Essex took another long pull and then appreciated the glass. "This is good stuff. NIT is the Navy Inspection Team, the people who go on ships to check cargo and stuff. If there's one thing the military loves it's an abbreviation."

Wulf shook his head vehemently, then looked from the empty chair Ken had vacated to the bathroom and back to the talkative Marine. "Nope," the tech confirmed. "Ken never tells me nuthin about his service. Nothing." The pure frustration was tangible as Wulf sighed, then turned his attention briefly to the new pint. His next question was a couple of grateful gulps of amber liquid later. "Special Operations? Woa, awesome. So you guys are like the cargo cops?" He queried, an impish gleam in his dark eyes.

"Cargo cops?" Essex scoffed at the notion. "We were Cargo SWAT! But that was only when they couldn't think of anything cooler for us to do." Essex left that idea dangling as he calmly took a drink and savoured the Belter Beer.

The comm tech laughed out loud at that. "Cargo SWAT?" Wulf confirmed. "Cool." He went quiet for a moment, lost in the mental image of the engineer he knew and loved suited up and mooching about the system kicking arse and taking names. Ken had been Tier 1? That was a lot to take in, but the really interesting question was one that entered his head and immediately exited via his mouth. "So, how come he quit? What happened?"

"What do you know about McTigue's past?" Essex asked, suddenly a bit more alert and wary. He looked the younger man over. He was maybe a little taller, a little ganglier than an Earther kid would be. Did he have a bit of a patois to his speaking? "What do you really know?"

That brought another chuckle from the tech as the stranger recklessly used Ken's surname yet again, but any sign of humour rapidly vanished as Wulf picked up on the shift in Essex's demeanour. "He's from Luna, and he was a Marine. And when he left he bought a share in the ship I work on now," Wulf said, honestly and without any need to think long on the subject. He shrugged. "I know he doesn't like talking about his service or his family, so I've never really pushed him on that score." A shrug. "I don't really like talking about mine either," Wulf admitted openly.

"We both know the UNMC has fought a lot against the OPA. SOF7 is the point of that particular spear." Essex emptied his glass and put it down, using the moment to consider what he would say next. "I wasn't there when the sergeant retired. I was transferred a few years before that. I do know he finally got out after the recapture of those three big residential blocks on Europa during the Riots a couple years back. He lead the one of the strike forces that killed all those OPA soldiers." Essex' jovial tone had slowly faded as he recounted the event from the stories he heard and the news report.

Seven years back the, then large, OPA cell on Europa had struck against the UN government by attacking and seizing the administrative buildings as well as the housing complexes provided for the government staff. After sixteen days of failed negotiation by Star Helix security the UNN had assumed control. It deployed its SOF7 squads in one coordinated strike against the OPA held buildings. The SOF7 squads had 2 priorities. Their first was the neutralisation of the OPA threat to Europa and the UN interests, the second was the safeguarding of the government staff. It had quickly turned bloody after the first OPA soldiers refused to surrender and were killed in a fight against powered armour clad marines.

There was no humour in Wulf's expression as he listened to Ken's old war buddy speak. The Europa Riots were something the tech had experienced secondhand via the warped and keenly sharpened lens of his elder sister's viewpoint. He'd been sixteen, freshly worldly unwise in the worst way and dependant on his sibling while she bled him for financial assistance. And now, hearing Essex speak, Wulf was imagining the other side of the news reports he'd heard repeat endlessly on the net. He was seeing through a different filter now - Ken's or at least Wulf's impression of the ex-Marine's - but he could still hear his sister's screams of defiant outrage echoing in his skull.

"They killed a lot of people," Wulf said, his voice quiet, his head bowed and his judgement uncertain.

Essex raised his hand to signal the barman for another round before replying. Finally he said, "They did. They also saved a lot of people. And it's not like every day in the marine corps is like that. But those are the things that tear strips off your conscience." For a moment Essex was silent, then the beer appeared and he drunk half a glass in one pull. "I know the sergeant was there during the Europa Riots, and I also know he was at Anderson. The man has had a long and storied career, but a lot of it is very dark."

Staring into the clear depths of the newly arrived pint, Wulf nodded. "I guess you guys know killing people's gonna be part of the job when you sign up, right?" He looked up, briefly, to see Essex steadily downing said beer and exhaled softly before picking up his own to suck in a big gulp of beer. "I get why he doesn't wanna talk 'bout it now," Wulf muttered. "But..." More beer needed. "Why d'you guys join up?"

"I joined so I could go to a technical school." Ken grunted as he mounted his chair again. With a nod to the bartender he communicated his need for a pint of his own.

Essex froze for a moment, realising he might have been telling tales that weren't his to tell before internally shrugging. "I joined because a life on basic seemed worse."

Wulf looked incredibly awkward for a long moment then returned to studying his half-drunk pint. They were both Earthers of course which meant limited options, and while he'd also had certain constraints on his career choices, he'd squandered more than he cared to discuss right here and now. When Wulf did look up, he let his gaze stick on Ken. "Sorry," he said, guiltily. "I just wanted to know more about you."

Ken sighed and slapped his shipmate on the back. "Can't blame you. But you do know you're paying for everything tonight. For me, not for him." And Ken nodded to Essex.

Essex cracked a grin. "I should be off anyway. My ship's heading out in a few hours and I'm supposed to be on it."

"Seems fair," Wulf agreed with reluctant acquiescence. He did a quick look to Essex, then back to Ken again. "Everything?" The tech double-checked. They had a big night planned after all, and one he intended to thoroughly embrace. He could afford it, but he didn't want to make that fact look too obvious. He also wasn't quite ready to give up his Ken's-past goldmine, regardless of the moral ambiguity of the situation. "So you have a few hours to kill though?" Wulf pressed, raising both eyebrows and calling for whiskey from the barman. "Might as well tell me some more stories now I'm already buying tonight."

Ken gave Essex a single look. Not a look from one civilian to another, but from the sergeant to his marine. The old steel was in that look. And Essex knew, understood, and remembered. It was only a look, but it was also so much more. "I'm sorry friend." Essex held up his hands in apology, "If I'm not there to keep track of who's on board and who isn't my captain will have my head."

Wulf didn't entirely get it on every level, but he knew enough about how the worlds worked to understand that Essex wasn't making this decision all on his own. The tech stood up, offered a grimy and uncalloused hand to be shaken and gave Essex a consiliatory smile.

"No sorry needed, dude," Wulf said, simply. "Duty calls, right?" He let his gaze linger on the Marine for the longest few seconds, wishing there was some way he could keep the man for a it longer, then shrugged and sat back down. "Thanks for the good company," Wulf added, then turned his attention back to Ken, an impish grin catching in his eyes. "Okay, so blonde, brunette or redhead?"

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