Garrett Hendlow - Searching for Purpose

These are stories that take place prior to the main story. While important in fleshing out characters, they do not necessarily need to be read to understand the story.
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Garrett Hendlow - Searching for Purpose

Post by Mr. Blackbird Lore » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:35 pm

Searching for Purpose:
A Tale of Garrett Hendlow's Adolescent Years


The following story depicts the crucial turning points during Garrett Hendlow's adolescence that ultimately influenced his joining the military and being assigned to the Battle Hymn.

In this story, we learn how Garrett, like so few others, survived after the destruction of Los Angeles. We learn how he came to join the orphan group known as Anarchy, how he came to learn and love dangerous materials, and how he came to meet and love a girl named Lilly Jackson. We also see how their relationship came to an untimely end, and in turn, how Anarchy met its demise.

We then follow Garrett across California and into Nevada to Las Vegas (but by no means or desire of his own). It's in Sin City that he begins to push himself to greater aspirations and joins the military doing what he loves; it's Garrett's last temporary home on Earth before he moves outward to the front lines.

Lastly, we peruse a series of encounters aboard the Mars-Class Last Gunslinger that over time brought life back to the gloomy demolitions expert and helped him realize the more important things in life, regain his vitality, and take back his life.

Ultimately, these tales would culminate in his transfer to the Battle Hymn upon its completion as head of its Heavy Ordnance & Explosives Department.

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Re: Garrett Hendlow - Searching for Purpose

Post by Mr. Blackbird Lore » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:36 pm

Anarchists United

On the outskirts of a devastated and desolate Los Angeles, there stood a cluster of similarly devastated and desolate apartment complexes; broken beggars huddling close to survive a harsh winter on empty stomachs. One of these particular buildings went by the title of Gilliam Estates. This is where Garrett Hendlow spent his adolescent years after the Drathonians had laid waste to L.A. and before he found himself a place in the military.

The top two floors had been torn free of the structure during the Drathonian assaults, had come raining down like concrete meteors, and ultimately laid to rest as debris and makeshift tombs for those unlucky enough to be standing below. The fifth floor, recently promoted to the position of “top floor,” was missing most of its northwestern corner, and almost half the roofing. The windows on the structure were either broken, which meant there was no permanent residency, or they were boarded up which meant the residents were actually attempting to survive in that Hell hole.

From the ground, one could –if they wished –look up to the fourth floor and notice that the windows to the four apartments in the southwestern corner all were boarded up. And that person could –if they wished –venture into the Gilliam Estates Apartment Complex, always wary for the various holes in the floor and crackheads that liked to come and go as they pleased; they could go right up to the fourth floor and notice the little things that signified these four apartments were indeed occupied: the lack of dust, the shoeprints in what little dust there was, and the impromptu locks that were not so delicately placed on each door. One could –if they wished –even knock and inquire as to who resided there. Those inside would certainly not tell you that they belonged to a group that called itself Anarchy. They wouldn’t tell you that their membership was 32 strong, and they certainly wouldn’t tell you their names, their histories, or why they did what they did. In all likelihood, anyone with enough guts or ignorance to knock on one of their doors would find themselves at the business end of a .32-caliber pistol, a dirty syringe, or the fool and target of one of their petty scare-games. Or, perhaps due to some strange stroke of luck, that person might just be ignored altogether: a Godsend, if you’ve ever heard of one.

Anarchy was a selective group of teenagers orphaned by the interstellar war that held true to its name: It was most certainly NOT known for acts of kindness and compassion. Many chose to avoid Gilliam Estates simply because it was a known fact to those attempting to survive in the area that it was home to most of its members; a few chose to make their own residences elsewhere. It was all very loosely organized and had little structure to speak of: the only way anyone listened to you was if they chose to. That meant earning respect. And although everyone had a say in the group’s activities, ultimately all important decisions were made by the brothers Damien and Alan Algonquin. They were a smart and swift pair, having been home-schooled since age 4. Damien, the elder by a single year and three months, had been in his sophomore year of college working toward his degree in political science; Alan had been in his first semester on the road to acquiring a Bachelor’s of Science in macroeconomics when shit hit the fan. Together, they were a formidable pair against any challenge, human or otherwise, and they were always striving to protect each other and the “greater good” of Anarchy; it was most unfortunate that their idea of the “greater good” was ultimately what would destroy their ragtag troupe of orphaned adolescents… but we’ll save that for later…

When Garrett Hendlow was “recruited” into Anarchy, he was a just another 16-year old nobody. In school, his marks had been rather average, he had never joined any extracurricular groups, he was never a member of any religious organization, (although for some time in his younger years, his mother had been an active Baptist) and had never dedicated himself to any sort of unified human effort ever. The only demand made of Garrett before the title of Anarchist was bestowed upon him was that he learn and understand the Anarchist Creed:
Anarchist Creed wrote:Anarchy is the single doctrine which binds us all together, and is nothing more nor anything else. Anarchy is an idea, not a club; Anarchy is a mission, not a party; We strive for it, we do not wait for it. Anarchy is our identity and our purpose; to misconstrue our identity or our purpose is to fail in recognizing our power; you will be crushed by our inertia, you will be the pavement of our road to Chaos.


Needless to say, Garrett passed this little test with ease. He was given a single-sized mattress in one corner, and left to himself. There was no hazing or picking on the new kid. In retrospect, there was hardly any social interaction whatsoever, negative OR positive. If he wanted anyone to listen to him or even acknowledge him, he’d have to earn their respect. The only problem was he had no idea how to do that, and didn’t really care that much. What a predicament.

One day, a week after Garrett had become an Anarchist, he was sitting on his mattress, reminiscing and listening to the silence. Then there was a sound. It had come from the isolated room. (three of the four rooms were connected, the walls having been knocked out to make more space; the fourth had a door that the Anarchists had installed into the wall to make for easier access.) What’s more, it had sounded like a small-scale explosion. No one else was around at that time, so Garrett didn’t feel all too awkward as he approached the door slowly, curious. He was just a few steps from the door when it burst open and a tall, dark-haired boy stepped out, smoke wafting behind him. He had a smirk and a few smears of dirt on his face, and a cigarette was hanging from his lips.

It took a few moments for the other boy to notice Garrett; he had been zoning or daydreaming it seemed. After realizing his presence, the other Anarchist spoke: “What? You wanna play with fireworks too? You even got the balls, kid?”

“Fireworks?” was all Garrett managed to utter.

“Ah, that’s right. You’re the new kid.” The dark-haired kid took another drag and exhaled it before removing the cigarette from his mouth and speaking again. “So… you wanna see it? Eh?”

Garrett paused, unsure. And then, “Yes.”

“Great.” The kid sucked on the cigarette once again then flicked the dead butt into the trash can. “Oh, you’ll want one of these.” He stepped into the next room –the explosives room –and picked up a second black neoprene mask then handed it to Garrett. Garrett pulled it over his face quickly and stepped into the room. The dark-haired teenager closed the door and locked it. “I was working with some six-fifty mesh aluminum, trying to make some pretty little flashbangs, but I was having issues with the encapsulation.” He looked at Garrett expectantly.

He paused. “Just one question: what do you mean by six-fifty mesh?”

“Alright, alright, follow me: mesh is a way of measuring how fine-grade the material is. Bigger number, finer material. Finer material means more volatile material. You know what volatile means?” As the kid spoke, he was gesturing to the various substances and items on the table.

Garrett nodded. “I understand. So six-fifty is pretty dangerous stuff, but I’m guessing there’s more dangerous stuff. Too much static, too much kinetic energy going on, and it goes up in flames. Right?”

The dark-haired teenager smirked. “Yeah, yeah, right on the money. Suggestions?”

Garrett stared at the materials on the table, trying to think and hoping he wouldn’t fail miserably. “Don’t you have grounding bracelets?”

“Yeah.” He handed one to new Anarchist.

Garrett slid it onto his wrist, and stepped up to the table. He grabbed the razor blade and used it to steadily siphon the aluminum into the flashbang capsule, like a crackhead packing away his purchase. When he was done, he offered the capsule filled with aluminum to his fellow Anarchist.

Victor offered a smirk that was unseen behind his face mask and his right hand while holding the flashbang in his left. “Name’s Victor. So, you wanna join me in here?”

Garrett looked somewhat unsure. “What do you mean?”

“I mean do you wanna help me out in here? It’s a good way to catch the Algonquins’ attention, if that’s what you’re after. I earn a lotta respect around here ‘cuz the rest of them are too stupid and clumsy to figure this shit out. Not to mention this shit gives us an edge over all those dumbass gangs slinkin’ around town, so I’m real important and you could be too. So, whadaya say?”

Garrett nodded, his smile hidden behind the neoprene face mask. “Yeah, that sounds great.”

“This is nothing, kid. Just wait ‘til we actually start making shit that blows up. I rig up all sorts o’ devices that can blind, maim, and kill; it’s a shame I can’t get my hands on some o’ that premium shit, though. Y’know, like military-grade plastics ‘n shit. ‘Sa shame. So, you in?” Victor asked, to finalize the deal.

“I’m all in, Victor.”

And that was the day Garrett made his first explosive, the day he fell in love with them. He began devoting all his time to developing new and unorthodox weaponry to expand and strengthen the arsenal of the Anarchists. Of course, his interest in the development of explosives and other lethal devices was more one of personal exploration than a desire to serve the cause of Anarchy (in all honesty, he didn’t give a damn, which he believed made him the best Anarchist of them all), but the two overlapped and he was content with that. He went on working like a mad scientist, always locked away in his laboratory and often eating less than he should have. With his work came an exuberant amount of exposure to Victor, and Garrett gradually picked up many of his fellow Anarchist’s habits: smoking came first, then wearing the face mask around his neck at all times (that is, all the times he wasn’t working on something dangerous). Next thing he knew, Garrett had picked up his first bottle of alcohol and started drinking socially with his fellow Anarchists.

It was in this way that Garrett met and caught the eye of Lilly Jackson.

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Re: Garrett Hendlow - Searching for Purpose

Post by Mr. Blackbird Lore » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:39 pm

Lilly

It couldn’t have been more than two weeks after Garrett started working with Victor that he encountered Lilly for the first time. Six Anarchists were sitting around the little “kitchen” in the corner of the Gilliam Estates “outpost,” Garrett, Lilly, and Victor included. Garrett never learned the names of the other two. All of them had a bottle of some off-brand liquor in hand: Garrett’s had a light hint of raspberry.

“No, no, you’re not gettin’ what I’m sayin’, G,” Victor said to Garrett. “I don’t just wanna find that shit just layin’ around; tha’s easy. What I’m sayin’ is I wanna learn how to make that shit.”

Garrett lowered the contents of his bottle from half to one-third before answering. “Victor, there’s no fucking way we have the gear to make that shit happen. Think about it, man. You have to find the plastics—you have to mine that shit from who knows where—then you need the equipment to mold it, wire it up, put together a detonator. Fuck man, the list goes on!”

Victor just shook his head and lit another cigarette. “You’re not feelin’ me man. I thoughtchoo had my back, but looks like no one’s got me.”

“Godamit, you know I do. I’m the only one that does, and you fucking know that goes beyond Anarchy, V. So I don’t wanna hear your emo bullshit.” Victor was just shaking his head, too busy with his cigarette to answer.

“So do you think you two could stop giving each other head and talk about something that doesn’t blow up or kill people for about ten minutes? That’d be lovely, because your dialogue is most fascinating and all, but I think I about dozed off five or six times.” That was Lilly’s sharp tongue in action; she was definitely the reason Garrett became such a sarcastic person.

“Well shit, honeybuns, lay a topic on me then!” Victor smirked at her, knowing she couldn’t stand all the nicknames he gave women.

Glaring, she answered with, “Dick.”

Victor laughed. “You wanna talk about my dick now? S’funny stuff right there; just yesterday you were threatening to cut my sack open and drain all me babies down the toilet.”

Everyone laughed at that. “Yeah, I was still thinking about it,” Lilly retorted. “I was just wondering if anyone else was willing to help me.”

“I’m not sure if New L.A. could handle little Victor’s running around, blowing shit up. It’d be totally flattened in weeks!” the blond guy added. “So I’m totally in.”

“Now why you gotta play me like that, huh? I’ve saved your ass so many times I can’t even count, and here you’re talkin’ about takin’ my babies. The fuck kinda friend are you?”

Garrett smirked to himself. “Admit it, V: if you had babies, it’d be bad news for everyone.”

“Oh, whatever, you bastard. Hope your bed falls through the floor while you sleep.”

Despite the fact that the asshole joke was aimed at him, Garrett chuckled. “I’m praying for the day.”

“Don’t we all?” asked the black-haired male.

“Not me!” answered Victor, raising his free hand to emphasize the fact.

“Not me,” Lilly stated in a calm tone.

“Well damn, baby, what do you want?” inquired the senior “pyrotechnician.”

“For starters, I’d like a man that doesn’t call me obnoxious nicknames.”

“I don’t,” stated the black-haired Anarchist.

“Me either,” the blond quickly added.

“I don’t either,” Garrett said.

“And a man that’s not into penis,” Lilly glared at the blond as she said this. The blond Anarchist rolled his eyes.

“I’m not into penis,” said the raven-haired one with a smirk; to him it seemed his odds for scoring some time with Lilly were going up.

“Yeah, but you don’t have much of one yourself.” Lilly smirked, somewhat sadistically. “Ladies talk, my friend, and your last lady made it explicitly clear that your little buddy is quite the little buddy.” She held her index finger and thumb less than an inch apart and squinted at the distance between them to emphasize the word small. Garrett, Victor, and the blond laughed. Then it was silent, and it was somewhat awkward.

It was quiet for a few seconds before the bisexual blond asked, “Well what about Garrett?”

Lilly turned toward him, eyes searching his. Garrett just stared back. “What about him?”

“Why aren’t you hooking up with him? He’s not a half-bad looker; he’s got that scruffy thing going for him,” the blond said, smiling.

“I’m not really into scruffy,” Lilly answered, still not taking her eyes off Garrett. The others were looking between the pair curiously, perhaps somewhat confused. “I prefer a smooth face, like the Algonquins.” She smirked at her own statement and glanced at the blond Anarchist. “You know what I mean?”

“Oh please. They don’t have time for shit like that. Heaven forbid they actually want it.”

“Yeah. Personality’s more important to me than a clean-shaven face, and those boys definitely don’t have it,” Lilly added, her stare falling upon the new Anarchist again; she seemed to be expecting something from him, but he simply stared back, sipping at his alcohol.

“Well?” she finally asked.

“Well what?” was Garrett’s response.

“Well, what about your personality?”

“Well what about it?”

“Don’t be a jackass with me, Garrett. Talk about yourself. Open up. Share a little something with the class, if you don’t mind.”

Garrett went the AA route: “Hi, I’m Garrett.” He gave a little wave to the five Anarchists. “I make volatile materials for fun, I have an explosive personality, and I’m single.” He raised his bottle and winked. Then, with the smirk that would one day become iconic of his light-hearted personality, he emptied the bottle down his gullet.

“Hear, hear!” chanted the blond, raising his own.

“Not good enough,” declared the lone female.

“Well you didn’t really specify, now did you? You’ll just have to suck it up and deal with what you’ve been dealt,” was Hendlow’s retort.

“What kind of deterministic bullshit was that?”

Garrett laughed. “Absolutely none whatsoever. On the contrary, it was me telling you to accept the fact that I told you something about myself that fit the parameters you gave me.”

“I’m calling technical bullshit on your ass,” she growled, sounding like she was becoming irritated with the thought of being outdone.

“Really? On what grounds, might I ask?” Garrett couldn’t get enough of this.

“On the grounds that you’re a total prick.”

“A prick with a healthy-sized dick, I might add,” again with that smirk.

She glared, but said nothing for several moments. Finally, “I need to go. I’ll see you guys later.” Goodbyes were uttered and then Lilly was out the door. Garrett glanced at his empty bottle and set it on the kitchen counter. “I’m gonna head out too. Gotta go pick up that thing you wanted, Vic.”

“Right, right. Now you be safe out there, ya hear? I don’t wanna hear about little Garrett’s runnin’ around town, causin’ havoc. Use protection, you wily Casanova, you!” The five Anarchists laughed and Garrett gave Victor a playful shove as he headed for the door.

“Forget you, V. Later.” A four-man chorus replied, “Later.” The door closed behind him, and Garrett headed down the stairs toward the street. On the landing of the third floor, Garrett almost barreled right through Lilly Jackson who was standing there, obviously waiting for someone or something.

“Whoa, sorry. You alright?” Finding Jackson standing here, he was genuinely curious if everything was okay.

She bit her lip and her eyes searched the floor for an answer; it was one of Garrett’s quirks to find that expression sexy. Not that he happened to make any mention of it, but that’s not to say every thought in his head at that moment was clean. When she finally looked at him, Hendlow’s train of thought ended. There were a few seconds during which they simply stared at each other. Lilly broke the peace abruptly, pushing Garrett against the wall and kissing him deeply. Garrett received the advance gladly, albeit slightly ungracefully. In the midst of their heated kiss, Lilly pulled away and sank her teeth into his neck. He winced and she pulled away after just a few seconds. “You’re mine, Garrett Hendlow,” she whispered, then kissed him again. “And don’t you forget it, or I’ll be using my nails on this,” she groped his crotch with the final word for emphasis. That smile of hers—the one that had seemed slightly sadistic—had returned. Perhaps Garrett was just one fucked up teenager because he couldn’t help but find it sexy. It drove him to steal one last kiss, which caught her by surprise.

“Possessive, are we?” he asked, smirking.

“I like to make my intentions clear to people,” she answered, smiling. “Behave. I’ll be back tomorrow.” And with that, she was off heading down the stairs, taking them two at a time.

That was the beginning of an entirely spontaneous relationship, but the two of them played along, and after some months it became quite serious. Roughly half of every day one could find the two together. Really the only time they were apart was during Garrett's "work hours." Lilly didn't mind, though and in fact encouraged him to keep working for as long as he felt necessary each day.

Eventually they managed to find a more private place to stay just a block away from Gilliam Estates. A routine developed: they would wake up about noon and go to Gilliam Estates. Garrett would work with Viktor if there was any work to be done. Otherwise, they spent their time socializing or "raiding" other gangs in the L.A. area, trying to assert dominance like any other gang. About five or six in the evening they would return to their humble abode to spend some time alone until they slept. Life was good in this cycle for quite some time. Their relationship lasted for quite some time. Like any other relationship, there were ups and downs, arguments and little quarrels, but overall they were a very strong pair. They never called it quits, and they never split up, even temporarily. Their time together was not as enduring as they had hoped, however….

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Re: Garrett Hendlow - Searching for Purpose

Post by Mr. Blackbird Lore » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:44 pm

Anarchy on Fire

The beginning of the end for them started with something rather routine: the demolition of a local gang’s hangout. This gang was located about a quarter-mile south of Gilliam Estates. Twenty of the Anarchists had agreed to go on this mission, and were dressed in one of two fashions: their clothing was all black and on the back of their hoody was a red ‘A’ protruding from a red circle or their clothing was red and the insignia was black. Garrett and Lilly were both among them, garbed in the black “uniform.” The 20 Anarchists had been divided into five teams of 4, and every member was armed either with a lethal melee weapon or they were one of the lucky few to get their hands on a pistol (albeit with limited ammo). Garrett was wielding a crowbar in his left hand and a Molotov cocktail in his right. He had a backpack that held two large-scale explosives as well.

Alan Algonquin was giving the final prep speech to everyone before they covered the final block between themselves and the gang’s hideout. “Are we clear? The explosives are to be place around the main support beams so we can bring down the building. Team One will be our initial decoy to draw out some of the Buffs. The other four will be heading into the structure and head to their respective corners to plant the bombs. Molotovs go in the windows before you go inside.” There were several nods, others muttered approval.

“Alright, team One, go!” He gestured toward the end of the alley. Lilly placed a gentle peck on Garrett’s cheek then whispered in his ear, “Be careful, babe,” before jogging off after her team. She was part of the distraction.

As they all rounded the corner, Alan turned back to the remaining Anarchists. “Alright, team One is going in and going to take out as many Buffs as they can so we can get in there and mop up. We shouldn’t have any issues, so long as they take out those guns.”

“What guns?” Garrett asked. They hadn’t been told to be expecting guys with guns.

“There’re a few sentries the Buffs always post at the front of their building with guns. Submachine guns and pistols; nothing really big. That’s why team One goes in, to clear ‘em out. Then we can move in and do our job without a hitch.”

“You’re sending them into a nest of automatic weapons?” Garrett asked with disbelief.

“It’s for Anarchy, Garrett. Don’t get emotional on me, you still have a mission to handle. Live or die, their lives will be well spent.”

Garrett was filled with silent rage, but held it in; he couldn’t let it show. Not here, not now. When Alan gave the word to light up, Hendlow lit his Molotov and followed the rest of his team to the warehouse. Gunshots were a sporadic staccato to match the arrhythmic tempo of the marching Anarchists. Screams and death-moans were now becoming audible as they came around the final corner and entered an alleyway adjacent to the Buff hangout. Garrett listened, but he couldn’t identify any of them as Lilly’s voice. He wasn’t sure whether or not to be reassured by that fact. He just pulled the neoprene mask over his nose and mouth, and tried not to think about the suicide mission his girlfriend had been given. He had his own part to play… but then, how was that Anarchy? They were organized, planning and destroying systematically. Weren’t they just the same thing they were attempting to dismantle?

“Throw!” The shout interrupted Garrett’s train of thought, and snapped him back to the present. He tossed his Molotov with everyone else through the windows. Another series of agonized shouts erupted from the warehouse and few wild shots retorted the fiery assault. No one was hit as Garrett’s group entered the building. It was a wide open space occupied by several stacks of pre-cut lumber. Garrett wasn’t a lumberjack and didn’t know what kind, nor did he care. What he knew and cared about was that it was flammable and provided at least some form of cover while he moved stealthily to the corner of the structure. He found the main steel beam easily enough, as the warehouse was a utilitarian structure and the beams were left bare. He planted the two homemade charges on either side of the beam’s base and left the backpack behind. It’d just get in the way if he got into a fight later.

The sound of burning wood and skirmishes in the distance was a constant ambience and upped the creep factor exponentially. The door wasn’t far, and Garrett was jogging back, only 15 feet away, when three Buffs burst through the door, trying to catch the invaders off guard. With no time to stop, hide, or turn around, Garrett sped up, pulling back the crowbar for the inevitable assault. His victim didn’t even see it coming, and never had a chance to even raise his .32-caliber pistol. Garrett leaped onto the man and swung the crowbar with all his might. It broke into and became lodged in the large man’s skull, and Garrett had no choice but to let it go as he scrambled away to hide behind another stack of wood planks. The other two Buffs were carrying metal bats, he had noticed. Better than guns, but still very dangerous with Garrett unarmed. Figuring they would try to both come around either side, he clambered onto the stacks of wood and slowly crawled to the other side, peeking over. He was right about the two splitting up and knew now was his only opportunity to strike. He jumped onto the back of one Buff, bringing him down, and knocking away the bat as well. With his right hand, the Anarchist grabbed as much of the thick brown hair he could and used it as leverage to slam his enemy’s face into the concrete five times; each time face struck the concrete, there was a thud and a crunch, the sound of bones cracking against an object far more resilient. The sixth time, the Buff ceased his gurgling and Garrett assumed him dead. He stood up quickly and surveyed his surroundings. The door was hardly thirty feet away and there was no one around to stop him.

“Garrett!” He spun around to see three of his fellow Anarchists headed his way. Lilly was among them, and she was helping one of her injured teammates toward the door; the third was trying to make sure they didn’t get ambushed. Garrett ran toward them. Around one of the lumber stacks came two more Buffs, bats at the ready.

“Behind you!” Garrett shouted, still running.

“Throw!” Garrett stumbled to a stop and looked over his shoulder just in time to watch four Anarchists hurl their Molotov cocktails straight for the mixed cluster of Anarchists and Buffs. He watched them soar, watched as Lilly tried to cover herself and her fellow teammate from the unexpected assault. He watched as one of the Molotovs broke over Lilly’s back; that the other three had killed his enemies made no difference. The Anarchists had not discriminated between friend and foe. Garrett turned back to the Anarchists to see that Alan was among them, staring emotionlessly. Looking back for Lily, he saw her all ablaze and stumbling away. When she finally collapsed, hands were grabbing Garrett by the bicep, pulling him away; they wouldn’t let him save her!

“We’ve got to get out, the building’s coming down!” Garrett struggled against them at first, desperate to rescue Lilly, but realized it was futile. Trying to save her would only get himself killed: Catch 22. He pulled himself free and ran out ahead of them, quickly catching up with Alan Algonquin. “Alan!”

The nineteen year-old co-leader of Anarchy turned to face the enraged 17 year-old recruit, and received a running punch square in the nose. It broke and he fell back against the brick building behind him. Glaring, he shouted at Garrett. “What the fuck is wro—NO!” In mid-sentence, Garrett had stepped up and drove his knee into Alan’s face. Alan now had a broken cheekbone to go with his broken nose, and slumped over. His eyes were watering from the pain and he shouted it out unintelligibly. Slowly, he began to try and climb back to his feet. Garrett kicked him in the face, knocking Alan’s skull against the brick wall yet again. Everyone watching could hear his skull crack and many cringed.

Garrett knelt down before the ruined teenager’s body and grabbed hold of his blond hair. He lifted the bloodied face and drove his fist into it thrice more before slamming it onto the cement. The Anarchist rose and began wiping the blood from his hands. Someone spoke up.

“Th-that was our leader…”

Garrett stared him down. “This is Anarchy. Anarchy has no leader. Anarchy has no organization. It is an idea, and nothing more. To misconstrue its identity is to misconstrue our purpose. Go home, kid. You don’t know what the fuck this is.” No one knew how to react. Garrett shook his head. “Go home you bunch of dumb fucks! Go home! Get away from here! You want Anarchy? You really want Anarchy? Then stop listening to me! Stop listening to the Algonquins, and fucking do something YOU want to do. I’ve got shit to do.” He picked up the unconscious --probably dead --figure of Alan Algonquin and tossed it inside the Buff warehouse. As he watched the corpse catch fire, the words he muttered were the closest he would ever come to prayer: “I really hope there’s a Hell you sick fuck, and I hope you rot there.”

When he turned around, most of the Anarchists had left. He lifted his hood and looked at those remaining. “Don’t bother going back to Gilliam. It’s not going to be a safe place.” Then he took off at a sprint, trying to put as much distance between himself and Lilly as possible. She was dead, and he was trying his hardest not to turn back and attempt to reclaim her body. It was too risky, and to go back only to die… Well, that just wouldn’t satisfy Garrett. He did his best not to look back when the warehouse finally went crashing down; his rage made it easy enough to stop the tears that wished to form.

He had a vendetta to settle with Damien, and this idiotic club he’d signed up for. A bunch of idiots running around, proclaiming Anarchy, calling themselves Anarchists, and then organizing and systematically killing off any other form of organized crime in the city: the reality had hit Garrett almost as hard as he’d hit Alan. They were the just another organized crime business; the only difference was that they were a bunch of orphaned teenagers. Now it was time to undo the mistakes he’d been making for the last year and a half, and show them all what REAL Anarchy looked like. No one was going to be safe, not even Garrett himself.

He didn’t speak to anyone when he got back to the Gilliam Estates apartment complex, although a few of the Anarchists that had beaten him back to the complex gave him wary stares. Garrett disappeared into the fourth room and locked the door behind him. Victor was in there working and he looked up when the other Anarchist entered the room. “What’s goin’ on, G? How’d the raid go?”

“Great, like always: a victory in the name of Anarchy and all that bullshit.” He didn’t look up, but was working quickly to put together a couple pounds of napalm.

“G, man, where's the lady?" Viktor had an honestly worried expression when Hendlow finally met his gaze.

She's dead, Viktor. I watched the Algonquins give the order myself. They killed three of our own just to stop two Buffs. I'm burning the fucking place down, Victor, so get the fuck out.”

Garrett attempted to start putting together something, but Victor tapped him on the shoulder.

“Yo, Garrett.”

He looked up, despite his deepest desires not to. He watched as Victor set 3 capsules of napalm on the table. They shared a smirk and then Victor stepped out the door. Garrett lit the excess napalm in the fourth room then grabbed the 3 capsules and stepped out the door, having lit them also. As he came through the door, he shouted as loud as possible. “Get the fuck out! It’s gonna burn!” And then he threw the napalm all around the room. One capsule struck the empty kitchen cabinets and fell to countertop. He hit the far wall with the second capsule, barely missing a group of 5 Anarchists that he sent scrambling. The last capsule dispersed conflagrant napalm all over the mattresses and managed to catch the sleeve of one dozing girl. She awoke in a start, and quickly removed her hoody. The Anarchists were fleeing by then, shocked by the sudden spread of flame. The only one left was a rather amazed Damien Algonquin.

“What the hell has gotten into you, Garrett!?” demanded Damien, striding aggressively toward Garrett. Garrett, knowing where this was headed (and more than excited to beat the living shit out of Damien) attacked before Damien knew what to do. He kicked Damien square in the stomach, winding him. Damien stumbled back, but quickly regained his footing. “What the fuck!?”

“This is Anarchy, Damien! One-hundred percent pure, unadulterated, unfiltered fucking Anarchy!” He gestured to the burning apartment with both arms. “This is what you’ve been preaching! Why so surprised? Can’t handle a little fucking Chaos in your life?” Garrett laughed at him, genuinely laughed and smiled a smile far more sadistic than Lilly’s could ever be.

Damien was bewildered and it was displayed blatantly on his face. “This is lunacy, Garrett! You’re fucking insane!”

Garrett laughed again. “I killed Alan.”

“What?”

“Alan murdered Lilly, so I fucking killed him, Damien. Beat him ‘til his brains sloughed out of his skull and tossed him into the fire. And now you’re going to die, because you let this happen. You lied; you lied to me, and you lied to everyone else who followed you. I had a revelation, Damien, and I realized that we have just been pawns to you and your brother.” Garrett pointed. “And now you’re going to go down in flames, both you and this entire structure that stands as a monument to your false Anarchy. I’m going to burn it all to Hell in the name of Anarchy, and there is nothing you can do to stop me. You will be crushed beneath my inertia; you shall be the pavement on the road to Chaos!” It was like something straight out of the movies: even his tone of voice was crazed, riding the line betwixt lunacy and brilliance.

“You’re fucking dead!” Damien shouted and charged Garrett. Garrett was tackled, but drove his knee into Damien’s stomach, winding him a second time, and the older boy rolled off him. Garrett rolled toward Damien and landed a punch in his face. He rose up on one arm and drew back his right arm for a second punch when Damien landed a kick on the side of his head. While Garrett was recovering, Damien scrambled for a weapon, searching the kitchen counter. Garrett came up behind his opponent and drove an elbow into his spine. The ex-leader of Anarchy cried out pitifully. Garrett wasted no time in wrapping an arm around Damien’s neck and squeezed as tight as he could. Damien began flailing, trying futilely to strike Garrett; realizing it was no good, he kicked himself away from the kitchen counter. Garrett lost his balance and fell onto his back, Damien’s weight forcing the air from his lungs. Damien rolled to the right, and Garrett rolled left. They faced each other, both wincing slightly. Damien made the next move, rushing Garrett.

And that was when the next room finally exploded in a chain reaction. The force made Garrett stumble back, and Damien fell forward. As the door was ripped from its hinges, several of the projects Victor and Garrett had been working on flew into the room and began exploding or burning; it was the fourth of July in the middle of the apartment. Garrett ignored it and focused on Damien; it was a bad idea in retrospect as a small projectile came zooming out of the newly created aperture and burned across his face. He swore loudly and fell to one knee, pressing a hand to his cheek. Damien took advantage of Garrett’s wound, rushing him again, but Garrett rolled out of the way and scrambled out the door. That was when he heard a groaning in the wood. Looking back, he watched as the ceiling caved in, and beneath its weight, much of the floor fell out as well. Damien was uninjured, but there was now a large hole between him and the doorway. Without thinking twice, he backed up and made a running jump for the exit. As Damien came over the gap, the rest of the ceiling collapsed, and a flaming section of the wall fell into the street.

Upon landing, Damien managed to sprain is ankle and went down hard. Garrett ignored his own injury long enough to lunge at Damien and plant another solid punch on the side of his head. Damien fell over, and Garrett leaned over him to drive his fist into Damien’s face repeatedly until the body went limp. Then he took a deep breath, and worked up the energy to push Damien’s body down the hole to burn. His energy spent and his body worn, it was all Garrett could do to drag himself as far down the hallway and away from the apartment as possible. When he had crawled far enough that he no longer cared if he died, Garrett lay in that hallway on the wooden floor and put a hand on his cheek.

He lay there and he wondered for a moment what he would do if the building didn’t fall and he actually survived; when the moment passed, he realized he didn’t care. If it happened, he’d think about it then. This world was no longer safe or reliable; it was ruled by Anarchy: the true, pure, unadulterated, unfiltered Anarchy that Garrett had found and shared with those that had tried to use him as a pawn in their pitiful wager for power in a world without control. If Anarchy allowed it, if by some chance he survived, Garrett would consider having a future. For the time being, he just wanted to remember those good times he’d shared with her.

Lilly. She was the last thing to go through his mind before falling unconscious.

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Re: Garrett Hendlow - Searching for Purpose

Post by Mr. Blackbird Lore » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:51 pm

From Fire to Water

Coming back to consciousness was the second most painful experience—both physically and mentally—that Garrett had ever endured. If you have to ask what the most painful was, you haven’t been paying attention. Somehow, he was still lying upon the wooden floor. A shiver ran up his spine, and he jerked his hand away. The scab that had been forming on his cheek was torn violently; Garrett took a deep hissing breath to keep him from uttering anything. A steady tapping against his back now became apparent… it was raining. His bottom half was soaked, his torso partially wet, and his head completely dry. What was left of the fifth floor had shielded much of his upper body from the downpour. It didn’t take long for that to change as he stretched in the rain, wincing as droplets stung his reopened wound. Wincing hurt almost just as bad, cracking the scab.

“Fich,” he hissed. His mood was foul, the taste in his mouth was sour, and his thoughts were dark and brooding. He still had much rage dwelling within his heart, and something of his previous bloodlust still lingered. He was feeling aggressive, and the slightest thing could set him off in his current state. Still, there were important things to be settled—namely the question of what he would do now. The only person he truly cared about was a charred corpse a quarter-mile away, his only hobby had destroyed what had once been his “home,” and there was no one left to give guidance seeing as how he’d either killed them or scared them off.

“Fich.” Foreign languages were becoming more and more appealing as despair settled in his gut. Rage, frustration, and spite were sending his stomach into turmoil. He dropped to his hands and knees, retching for several long, agonizing seconds before his stomach finally heaved forth what little was inside. After wiping his mouth, he stood again in silence.

Silence was quickly becoming his best friend. He didn’t want to speak to anyone; in all honesty he really didn’t feel he could do it. Human interaction was the last thing he wanted right about now—if someone so much as looked at him wrong, he’d probably strangle them with their own scrotum. That was assuming males, of course… Females seemed to have a way of knowing when to shut the hell up… some of them, anyways. Lilly had always been good about it, but those thoughts simply forced a sigh from Hendlow’s lungs and sent pangs of loss deep into his metaphorical heart. His stomach convulsed again, but nothing arose from his esophagus. He was empty in more ways than one, it seemed.

One step at a time, he supposed. So he started this “new life” business by descending the stairwell of Gilliam Estates, making it safely to the street, and gazing around. No one. Nothing. It was just one big fucking heap of concrete waste. It is one more reason for Garrett to feel dour and angry. For a moment he wondered how he had lived in this shit hole. As soon as he asked himself, however, he let it go. Lilly was the answer, plain and simple. She was his answer for everything now.

Why did he stay in this shithole? He met a girl named Lilly Jackson.

Why did he stay with that shitty gang? Because Lilly Jackson was a member.

Why did he kill people you didn’t know? To keep Lilly Jackson safe.

Why did he sleep in a condemned apartment building amidst dozens of strangers, begin drinking alcohol, and become such a sarcastic, pessimistic delinquent? Because Lilly Jackson slept there most nights, because she drank, and because he had loved her enough to spend every waking hour in her presence.

Why did you decide to leave? Because Lilly Jackson had left, in spirit and in body.

Too much. That was too much thinking for Garrett right now. At least… that was too much thought focused on her. He felt as if his stomach was attempting to strangle itself, attempting to force every last ounce of fluid out so that it too could be empty and die. He needed to send his mind elsewhere if he ever wanted to recover. Another sigh, and he began to walk. He was headed north-northeast without really knowing or caring why. Just go, he thought. Any place is better than here now. So he walked. And walked. And he continued to walk quite some distance.

It was still raining when the truck pulled up beside the limp body of a eighteen-year old male practically stuck in the mud over 20 miles from the California-Nevada border. A man and woman pulled him free and lay him in the back with four other refugees from the assault on Earth.


Awakening

When Garrett came to, his first thought was to roll over and squeeze Lilly good morning. But no one was beside him under the covers… What the fuck are these…?

He opened his eyes slowly to find himself in a lowly lit room. There were two other beds to his left, empty. As he sat up to stretch his aching back muscles, and didn’t so much as sigh. He was tired of making noise, tired of interacting with the world that didn’t give a shit. He lay back down and closed his eyes until he heard a man’s voice in the room. Lifting his eyelids, he noticed a middle-aged fellow in dark green fatigues smiling at him. “Afternoon, boy. Nice to see you’ve come to join the living.”

Garrett shut his eyes wordlessly. Leave me the fuck alone.

“You’re quite a tough cookie. We found you in a ditch on the side of a dirt road coming into the desert. Must’ve been quite a trip to knock you out for a day and a half.”

Not quite as interesting as the fucking trip I’ll send you on if you don’t shut up. Still, Garrett was silent. This man was beginning to irritate him, though.

“Can you talk?”

No response, not even a twitch.

“Alright, well I’ll be back.”

Don’t bother.

Unfortunately for Garrett, the man did bother, returning a mere twenty minutes later. Garrett was hoping for more time to brood: an eternity or two sounded appropriate.

The man wasn’t quite as nice this time. “Alright, sleepyhead, let’s go. There’s food to be eaten, work to do, and people to care for. You’re damn near the bottom of my list, so get that ass of yours out of bed.”

Again, Garrett didn’t so much as contemplate the idea of considering the possibility of twitching an eyelid. The man wasn’t nearly as passive as last time either.

“This is your final warning: get out of bed, or I remove you from bed.” No response from Garrett, of course. The soldier was apparently a man of his word: he squatted, grabbed the bed frame, and flipped it over. The only sound from Garrett was that of his body striking the cold tile, and even that was overwhelmed by the sound of the mattress falling on him and the clanging of the hollow brass bed frame as rattled on the tile.

Now Garrett lay beneath all that previously he had been above. Still, he refused to move.

The grizzled man laughed and moved the bed frame aside. “Just want to waste away, do you? Well that’s just too damn bad. I need healthy fellows like yourself to help out around here, and that’s what you’re going to do.”

Silence from Garrett. A stillness was held between them during which the only sound was the older man’s breathing. Finally, the man gave up trying to intimidate Garrett into speech and action. He lifted the mattress out of the way to find Garrett’s wound bleeding on the tile, forming a small pool around his face and drenching his hair.

Only when the man picked Garrett off the floor and glared at him did Garrett open his eyes lethargically. He stared with empty eyes, conveying the utmost apathy any living thing could carry within. Seeing Garrett in such a poor state, this man with the name Irving printed over his right pectoral quickly went from hardened soldier to empathetic authority figure. “You pitiful beast… Will you stand?”

Garrett shook his head, closed his eyes, and let his head loll forward. He was utterly limp. Despite his desire to be disposed upon the floor, Irving held Garrett in his arms like a corpse bride. “Neumann, get in here!” he shouted. Garrett cringed. What an obnoxious man, he thought. He’s the pitiful one, so unsure of himself. Get it together or leave me be. You’re not even worth what little time I have left alive. Garrett thought this—and in fact believed this—because he had no plans to continue living. Sleeping had reminded him of the comforts of non-existence, and he wished to do nothing to prolong his suffering. He would return as quickly as possible back to the realm of unconsciousness, hopefully to never return. He was reminded of a quote from Paradise Lost, which he had read some months before the cataclysm: ""Did I request Thee, Maker, from Clay to mold me Man?
Did I solicit Thee from the Darkness to promote me?"


While he contemplated the state of his being and estimated just how long it would take for him to perish or achieve final unconsciousness, he had been put back onto his bed, his face re-bandaged, and an IV was stuck into his forearm. Upon the realization that the pricking was not just an injection, but a steady flow of nutrients and water, he sat upright and yanked it out of his arm as quickly as possible. Every second it was there, his misery would be prolonged!

Blood began freely flowing from the wound in his arm now, and the doctor—Neumann was her name—requested Irving’s assistance in restraining Hendlow. He could pin the boy’s arms, but not his legs, and Garrett was curling up to drive both feet into Irving’s face when another military-type barged into the room and grabbed both ankles. With their years of military hardening, they had little trouble in holding the ex-Anarchist in bed while Neumann and her assistant treated the fresh wound, found proper restraints for Garrett, and injected a newly sterilized IV into Garrett’s left arm this time. Realizing the futility, he surrendered; in seconds he was his own polar opposite, lying perfectly still save for the rise and fall of his chest. And even that paused more than once.

Attempting to stop his own breathing would never work, Garrett knew that he’d fall unconscious before death. However, he yearned so much to dream again, to dream of another place and another time.

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Re: Garrett Hendlow - Searching for Purpose

Post by Mr. Blackbird Lore » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:58 pm

Wake up & Smell the Gunpowder

Two weeks.

In two weeks, Garrett had become little more than a vegetable. After a few days, the restraints had been removed, and Garrett had accepted his fate to wither away; it was a much longer and more arduous road than the one he had planned to travel, but this detour would have to do. He still had not spoken to anyone and he ate only through the IV, refusing solids or anything to be taken orally. A catheter had been attached, despite many arguments to simply let Garrett Hendlow die. He was, “sucking up resources,” “becoming the base’s greatest liability,” and, “wasting space and the doctors’ energy.” Still, Dr. Neumann persisted and insisted Garrett stay. She was determined to put the life back into him, whatever the material cost. The young man sometimes believed Dr. Neumann would be willing to give her life for his own, but the thought never lingered long; it would only be one more example of the horrors and ironies of life, and Garrett had experienced enough of both.

Anarchy. He missed the smell of his mattress in the morning, the smell of Lily, of her hair. He missed her lethargic morning smile and those lazy kisses she gave because she hated morning breath. So many sensuous contacts...

He missed the workroom, and the tang in his nose emanating from the sulphur, tinny metals, and plastics. He could almost smell it now…

He could smell it.

What the fuck? Slowly, he sat up, opened his eyes, and stretched his arms, careful not to pull on the intravenous tube. Slowly he swung his legs over the side of the bed, and removed the catheter with a grimace. If he had the urge to piss, he’d just piss himself. Not like it mattered. Then he grabbed hold wheeled pole from which his IV hung, and slid his feet onto the cold tile. Upon touching the floor, he winced, surprised just how cold and different it felt. The wheels of the pole squeaked and creaked as he brought it to the door, walking uncertainly on shaky legs. The smell lead him into a fluorescently lit hall that was devoid of other living beings. Instincts dictated that he go left, and so he went right.

The smell permeated from beyond the third door on his left, and so he pushed it open.

“Hey, don’t open that!” shouted a man inside.

He was rushing to close the door again, but Garrett rolled his IV into the doorway. He was too frail to be forced out, and seeing this, the man halted, confused.

“What’re you doing out of the sick room?” he asked, trying to solve this conundrum standing in the doorway. Garrett’s eyes were roaming the room, however. Plastic explosives. C4. Claymores. Breaching charges of all sorts. Viktor would have said he’d died and gone to heaven, there was so much. Garrett smirked as his gaze reached the far left end of the table, the source of the overwhelming odor.

“You’re doing it wrong,” Garrett rasped, hardly even a whisper.

The soldier hadn’t understood. “What?”

Garrett raised his free hand to point at the aluminum and zinc at the end of the table. “You’re doing it wrong.” It sounded slightly more human, but Hendlow’s voice was still weak from non-use.

“What the hell… what the hell do you know about any of this?” The military-man’s face was riddled with confusion.

“Grind it down to seven-fifty.” Then, as quickly as he’d entered, Garrett had left. His legs felt weak, and he wanted to sleep, think things over. So he returned to bed, leaving behind a baffled explosives engineer, and quickly falling asleep to ignore the world once more and dream of a better place during a better time.

When he came to again, Irving and Neumann were at his side, talking quietly. The conversation ended abruptly when Irving saw Garrett blink. He gestured for the doctor to turn around.

“You’re awake!” she said cheerfully, a full smile on her face as she bent over to get a better look. Garrett, as always, stared with the same pair of empty and studious eyes. “We had a question.” She stood upright again so that Irving could meet him eye-to-eye for his question.

“One of the engineers on base said that you wandered into the explosives armory yesterday and—“ Garrett didn’t hear the rest because his thoughts wandered to the passing of time. That was yesterday? What time is it? What time was my trip yesterday? Just then it hit him how much of an impact his inactivity was having. He truly was disconnected and wasting away. He had no active knowledge of time’s passage or the hour of the day. He didn’t know how long he had laid in bed before finally rising to the smell of explosive material. I can’t keep doing this, was his final decision.

No more wasting away, no more lying uselessly in bed, no more inactivity. He had to do something.

He sat up slowly, thinking back to mornings waking up at her side. “I’m hungry,” he murmured. Dr. Neumann’s eyes lit up, and Irving smirked.

“Well how ‘bout that. The dead man speaks.” Part of Garrett wanted to castrate Irving for all his idiotic statements that he’d made during Garrett’s stay, but the majority of his being simply wanted to be left alone, left to solitude. So he refused to entertain Irving; in fact, he silently promised himself he’d never speak to the man, Garrett was so irritated with the soldier’s behavior. None of this showed on his face, however.

Meeting the Doctor’s gaze, he repeated himself. “I’m hungry.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry. I was just so surprised. Irving, fetch him some breakfast will you?” she ushered him out and then returned to the ex-Anarchist’s side. “How are you feeling?”

Aching. Tearing up. Drained. Defeated. The list goes on, but what the fuck do you know? “Fine,” he muttered, displaying a blatant preference for soft speech.

“Good, but you don’t have to lie. I’m here to help, and not just because my title is ‘doctor.’ I genuinely care, young man, and I can tell everything is not fine. I’m always willing to listen or just sit with you in silence if you like. I know sometimes it’s nice just to have someone close by, without words.

So maybe the doc wasn’t just an optimistic fool as Hendlow had originally believed. She was actually quite perceptive. He liked that. And her smile. Thinking about it, he realized she would have once been very attractive to him, but now… well, he felt no physical attraction whatsoever. She was the most familiar person in his life at the moment, though, and Garrett could make do with just one familiar. In fact, he would prefer if it stayed that way.

“Then sit,” he whispered. She sat on the edge of the bed, and she was still smiling, but the smile was a softer, faded version of what she typically carried around. He liked it more because it didn’t seem so obtrusive. Slowly, Garrett tilted his head forward, and Doctor Neumann caught him against her shoulder. One hand came to rest on his back while the other settled at the nape of his neck, gently stroking carefully manicured nails upon his skin. The sensation was relaxing and reminiscent. Would there ever be something that would not send his mind reeling back to the days of doom, gloom, and destruction? He doubted it, but time would tell.

Aftermath

Garrett became an official member of the Terran military force two days later after some basic recuperative therapy. They deployed him in the explosives engineering department to learn the methodologies behind developing plastic explosives before transferring him to active enlistment as a demolitions expert. This training took place over almost a year’s time, and during that time there was only one constant for Garrett: himself. An intimate relationship between himself and Dr. Neumann developed and ended; it had been wonderful, but ended in tragedy. Garrett’s ties to reality were so loose these days that nothing could shake him, and her death was simply one more test of endurance for Garrett’s steeled mind. He held true to the promise that he would never speak to Irving, even when their dislike for each other turned into a physical encounter. Garrett walked away with fewer injuries, but killed his reputation in the process. The only people willing to speak to him (for no one had a desire to speak to him) were his peers within the demolitions department, and they all did so timidly or begrudgingly.

It was not until his deployment off-planet that Garrett’s life began to truly change for the better. It was the start of a wonderful military career, and the brightening of an otherwise dimly lit candle against the obsidian backdrop of the Universe.

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Re: Garrett Hendlow - Searching for Purpose

Post by Mr. Blackbird Lore » Sun Jan 02, 2011 7:03 pm

Some Reassembly Required (or) Almost Undamaged
(emotional inspiration by the music of Ronald Jenkees)
(Warning: Longer than those previous)


Darkest...
Despite their continuing hostility toward one another, Colonel Orwell Irving and P3C Garrett Hendlow were able to come to a common grounds on two occasions. The first was when their facility lost Medical Petty Officer Valentina Neumann to cancer.

They had both been present on that night. Garrett had sat beside Dr. Neumann as she lay on the very bed upon which he had lain during his first two weeks. His hand had gripped hers firmly, Valentina's clutch much weaker, but still comforting was the fact that she was able to put forth the effort. Any moment her eyes opened, they were focused only on Garrett's solemn and rigid face. Irving stood at the foot of the bed, arms either clasped at the small of his back or folded over his chest. Occasionally he paced to and from the doorway, as if waiting for someone- Death, Hendlow had thought at one point. He wants to see if he can't catch Mr. Grim Reaper in the act. But of course, Death would come swiftly, silently, and invisibly as always.

The trio passed some hours in this fashion, in near silence. It perhaps would have been perfectly quiet had the facility not run out of painkillers eight days ago. Perhaps to remind Garrett that his life was founded in tragedy and mortared with irony, that was about the time Valentina's pain had worsened. In spite of that fact, Val- this nickname was reserved for Garrett- was never louder than a whimper when it came to expressing her discomfort. Her strength was quite simply astounding, and was just one more small reassurance to him that she might pull through.

Of course, the little voice in the back of his mind continuously reminded him, Love is not something for you, not for someone who delights in murder and destruction. Love is for the peaceful- love is for her, and you have soaked it all up with your-

"Garrett," she finally murmured, cutting all his thoughts short.

"Yes?"

"Smile." His statuesque demeanor cracked... crumbled... and slowly melted into a weak smile.

"Come now... I've seen better," she teased, offering a far more vibrant smile- that soft smile that had made the first crack in Garrett's wall- a smile that again made him revel at her strength. For her sake, he tried again. It was better, but still difficult. As the cancer had spread and begun to weaken her, so had it also begun to weaken his attachment to the world. Ashamed of his inability to delight her, he took her hand in both of his, lowered his lips, and kissed her knuckles. She smiled again, closed her eyes, and relaxed. The smile slowly faded and he thought she was falling asleep again. Her grip weakened, and eventually went limp, so he laid it on the bed.

Then that sound every loved one loathes and fears to hear in a hospital: Valentina Neumann's heartbeat monitor flat-lined. Garrett rose from his seat and headed for the door. Irving stopped him with a hand on his chest.

"Boy, We've never gotten along. I doubt we ever will, but you need to know that she was very important to me too. She was my best friend here, and you were a strong source of happiness for her. I never understood it- could never see what she saw in you..." He kept talking, but Hendlow was in his own world again, thinking, That's all you do. Talk and think. Think and talk. Talk about your thoughts and think about your talks. You're too introverted, old man, and it- -was interrupted by Irving's hand shaking Garrett's shoulder. Over the course of Garrett's stay, the Colonel had learned to recognize when the young man was zoning.

"Listen here! You can't go back to vegetating, you little punk. Don't you dare start sliding back into that pile of waste you were when I found you. Don't you ever." Garrett took a deep breath, gazed into the Colonel's dark brown eyes, and offered a sincere and simple nod.

After a few moments, Irving nodded. "Good. I don't know why you've never spoken to me, and I don't expect an answer, but know that if you ever really need to express how you feel about this loss... I'm here." The Colonel gave another empathetic pat on the shoulder to the Private, then left. Garrett watched him go, and waited a few seconds before making his way to the door.

There he stopped, gazed over his shoulder. The heartbeat monitor had stopped shouting- had in fact been turned off by the nurse that had worked under Valentina Neumann's tutelage for the last year and a half. She was so peaceful, he was again amazed- almost shaken to tears, in fact- that Val had been so composed despite the pain. She had described it once.

"You know how much girls complain about their periods, right? The whole 'rusty spoon in the uterus' comparison?" Garrett had nodded. "Well it's like that, but not just here," she laid a hand over her waist. "It's along my spine, my kidneys, in my chest..." She took a deep breath. "And all the time."

That had been her explanation before the stock of painkillers expired; it was impossible for Garrett to imagine how much worse it was without them.

Now, though, she was beyond the pain, beyond everything. And so was Garrett. Looking back into this room reminded him of looking back toward the burning industrial building that had entombed his first love, and this time around there was no retching in his stomach, no clenching in his gut, nor any burning in his throat. I'm dying, he thought, as he had so many times before. And like all those times before, he knew it wasn't true. Someone with more creative aptitude and a taste for the literary might have called it 'recurring irony.' Often he thought of just dying or killing himself, but he could never complete those contemplations let alone raise a blade to himself. It simply wasn't in him. At the same time, people around him had a nasty habit of perishing- and occasionally by his hand. Ideas like these are what permeated his mind as he strode the hallway back toward his workplace- there were things to do.

The second time Irving and Hendlow transcended their pointless quibbling was the day the latter was leaving the Las Vegas compound for Houston from which he would be shuttled to a Mars-Class ship to begin his active duty; the ten soldiers heading out had already put what few belongings they owned in the back of the short red bus, and were climbing aboard. Garrett was at the end of the line, once more lost in his own thoughts when he heard his name and turned to see the Colonel approaching him.

"Boy. Hendlow." Irving had taken to calling the Private by his last name more and more since their scuffle some months ago. (It was 3 months and 19 days ago, but Garrett could never have told you this as he had once more become lost to time.) Their eyes locked as the Colonel closed the gap between them. Another several seconds of staring ensued before the larger man offered the other his hand. Garrett glanced down at the massive palm and fingers then back up at their owners' square face. Irving began to wonder if he'd be standing there 'til sundown when Garrett gripped the proffered hand firmly, shook it, and released in such a fluid fashion the Colonel had recognized it only well enough to squeeze back.

"Up there it's a different game, a different world. Teamwork will be expected of you to survive, and I hope you'll work with them more than you have my men. Please, look after yourself. There's more to life than this rut you've stuck yourself in, more to the journey if you'd stop staring at your feet and look at everything around you. And please-" his voice strained at this point, became softer- "Do her proud. Don't let her efforts here be wasted. You have much potential if only you'd rejoin the human race."

Garrett took a deep breath, gazed into the Colonel's dark brown eyes, and offered a sincere and simple nod. Irving nodded back, and returned to his office. There he would lock the door, settle into his chair, finish off his personal flask of Jim Bean whiskey, and cry himself to sleep. No one would ever know of this, and certainly not Garrett- to him, the Colonel had already become a vague ghost of the past. Like the Algonquins.

The bus ride was uneventful; any and all conversation held didn't include Garrett. He slept the last fourth of the ride, but when he awoke, the young explosives engineer didn't look the least bit rested.

Inside the Houston Shuttling Port his group of ten was added to a cluster of ninety others; another hundred boys to get shipped to space, to snip the earthen umbilical cord, to "pop their black cherry," as some marines would put it. This ride was also uneventful; one boy gave to retching, but nothing came up- they'd been forced to go the last eighteen hours without food.

Once docked, they all filed aboard. The calm, feminine voice supplying the introductory warnings and precautions by way of speakers within the shuttle declared the ship's name to be Last Gunslinger.


Interlude
As a soldier already qualified to handle explosives, Garrett Hendlow was immediately promoted to P2C upon boarding Last Gunslinger. He was assigned to a squad with which he would practice standard drills like any other soldier in any other platoon. In addition, he had duties to serve under the Heavy Ordnance & Explosives Quartermaster. A lot of soldiers simply deferred to the snide slang, "Hoe-Q," and the Quartermaster didn't seem to mind, so Garrett ignored it. However, none of this really serves of any importance; it was all just a bunch of placeholders in Garrett's life, taking up time. Things didn't start to change for him until he met one Private Second Class Lucas DeMaine.

Lucas DeMaine was born & bred beneath the open skies of Kansas in a "middle-of-nowhere" farming town. When the Drathonian attacks had come, his town remained unscathed. However, many of the farms in the area were fried, burnt to ash, and many families thus were left homeless. Lucas's family was of the charitable variety that adopted another, less fortunate family. The town itself remained a tightly knit group, despite the loss of all main forms of communication, and this level of social openness and connection is something that defines young Mr. DeMaine. To him, a squad was simply another form of family, so when he and Garrett Hendlow were assigned to the same squad, it was only a matter of time before the two opposing personalities came to clash.

It took four days since their assignment before their first encounter. Those days he spent all his time in the "HOE-R" (R stands for room), the cafeteria, or the bunk room when he wasn't busy with drills and training, and it was as Garrett was making his way back to his bunk that Lucas crossed his path. Once recognized, Garrett's path was blocked by the slightly taller blond whose face lit up with vitality. It was a stark contrast to the black-haired, dull-eyed young Garrett that glared up at his impediment. As their eyes met, Lucas's hand shot out in greeting. "Name's Lucas DeMaine! and we're in the same squad. In formation, you're behind me one row and two to the left." He hoped this would jog his squadmate's memory.

Garrett simply sighed and made his way around the obtrusive Private. Lucas wasn't going to take it lying down though. "Hey!" he shouted, grasping the explosives engineer's shoulder and getting in his way once more. "Just wanted ta introduce m'self, y'know? Maybe get to know you; don' need ta be such a prick." His farmville accent was really starting to shine through now that his emotions were flaring a bit.

Private Hendlow began to march around this country hick once more, but DeMaine wasn't having it, and caught the dark-haired soldier by the sleeve. Garrett was done being "polite." He swung his arm in a great arc, pulling free of DeMaine's grasp and grabbing hold of his wrist in turn. His right palm thrust forward to DeMaine's right shoulder, pressing him face-first to the wall. In less than three seconds, Garrett had pinned his squadmate to the wall with one his hands pressed to his back at an uncomfortable angle.

"Ow, ow, wouldja lemme go? Tha hell did I do t'ya?" he shouted, attracting almost as many as eyes as Hendlow's maneuver had. Garrett had so rarely used his voice by this point in his life, that when he murmured to Lucas over the blond boy's shoulder it came out raspy and worn.

"Don't screw with me, hick. Clear?"

"Nah, I think you could use a drink o' water er some tic-tacs," DeMaine joked. That earned him a far more painful twist in his shoulder, and he winced. "Fuh, alright! Sorry! Whatever!"

Garrett put on the pressure a final time before shoving away and continuing on his stride back to the bunk room. Lucas didn't follow, but he didn't give up either. No, he would try again many more times. And eventually, he would get through to Garrett Hendlow.


...Just Before the Dawn
It was in the cafeteria. Garrett was eating his lunch with his typical mechanical speed; everyone wondered if he ever tasted anything, the explosives expert downed his food so fast. Sitting beside him was Lucas DeMaine, chatting with two soldiers across the table; all four of them were in the same squad.

At first, Garrett had almost beaten Lucas into a pulp the first time he attempted to sit beside him, but thought better of it. Pointless, he had realized. Like punching a baby; it can't defend itself. Once Lucas realized he could get away with this, he invited his two craziest buddies to join him. So it became a regular thing for the four to sit together, and the three (ie, not Garrett) to converse about... whatever.

On this fateful day, they happened to be discussing women. One of the other soldiers, a P3C by the last name of Lohner, got up the guts to ask Garrett, "So do you have a lady waiting for you back home?"

Lucas, in all his infinite cowboy wisdom jibed, "Nah, that cou'n' be Garrett. This a man made o' steel. He's too much for the lady-folk, cou'n' be bothered with themfghk-" In mid-sentence, Garrett had slammed Lucas's face into his macaroni with all the force of furious freight train. Next thing Lucas DeMaine knew, he was sent sprawling across the mess hall's tile floor by his collar. The enraged Garrett Hendlow was on the dazed Private and had delivered three solid punches to the face before Lohner and the other- Private Klein- could vault the table and stop him. They each restrained one of his arms and began to haul him away, so Garrett lashed out with the heel of his boot and got in one last good strike across the face.

As Lohner and Klein dragged Garrett away, he bellowed, "Learn when to shut your fucking hick mouth, or next time I'll tear your jaw clean off, motherfucker!" He doesn't know me! cried Hendlow over and over in his head. He doesn't know me! He doesn't know you! That disrespectful hillbilly punk, I'll tear him APART! These thoughts died almost as quickly as they came, though, because they were empty, fueled by a rage that was distant, from another world, another life...

By the time Lohner and Klein reached the corridor, Garrett forced them to stop, shrugged them off. The pair hesitantly released the dangerous Private, and were relieved to see him march off toward the bunk room looking anything but friendly.

Lucas DeMaine was hauled to the infirmary. The total damages were: two missing teeth, one broken tooth, lips busted in two places, nose broken in three places, hairline fracture in the chin, several bruises, and a pair of black eyes. DeMaine spent twenty-four hours in the infirmary before release. His first order of business upon release was to find Garrett, crazy as that sounded. Lohner and Klein went with him despite their apprehension of the what they believed to be the most likely outcome: a repeat of their last encounter.

Garrett Hendlow was in the cafeteria in his usual spot at a corner seat near the entrance. He didn't glance up when they entered. He never looked up to see who was around him anymore. It was a miracle he noticed Lucas sit beside him, or that Lohner and Klein sat across from him. When he did, the expression on his face was darker than usual, and aimed straight at DeMaine. "What is your problem?" he growled.

Lucas took a deep breath to collect his thoughts and find the most tactful way of going about this. "Garrett, I jus' think you need ta loosen up. I don' need you ta tell me your life story or nuthin', I jus' wanna be... comrades. That's it. Comrades."

Garrett sat and ate for a few minutes, forcing them to wait for an answer. Eventually, Lucas added, "Look, I don' expect you ta buy inta some 'brothers-in-arms' business or nuthin', but ya need ta talk. We can't trust a squad mate who only opens his mouth ta threaten his fellow soldiers."

Garrett finally finished his meal, swallowed the last bite, and gave Lucas the mile-long stare. Lucas responded to this with, "And I'm sorry for what I said. Won't come up a-" He halted himself this time when Private Hendlow snatched him by the shirt and pulled him close. "Now would be a good time to start." Lucas nodded, agreeing wholeheartedly.

"Kay, how 'bout... a drink? This evening. We'll meet here, have a drink or three, take it slow. Jus' the four o' us relaxin'. Hm?" Alcohol didn't sound half bad. And after taking a moment to think about it, Garrett realized he hadn't had a drink since before... Since before I burned it to the ground.

Yeah, alcohol wasn't sounding so bad right then. "Fine. Seven." His 'tear-your-jaw-out' threat aside, this conversation was the most Garrett had said to any member of his squad, let alone anyone aboard this ship. Then he rose and left before any of them could try to change the deal.


Shaken & Stirred
All four of them were punctual as Aunt Flo, which is to say they all showed up, but not necessarily when they were expected. DeMaine was ten minutes early, just in case Hendlow might show early and then try to bug out, but Garrett was there at seven on the dot without any intentions of leaving dry. Klein arrived less than a minute after the explosives engineer, and Lohner was almost ten minutes late due to a run-in with a rather nasty drill sergeant. When everyone was there, the drinks started. Klein and DeMaine had a beer each. Lohner began with something healthier: a screwdriver. Garrett grabbed himself a double rum & coke, and the party began.

Well, it wasn't much of a party, but the conversation was lively. Lohner, Klein, and DeMaine spoke of their sergeants, the women of Forward Unto Dawn, and music for a bit. Every so often, they were able to squeeze something out of Garrett to the tune of, "Yes," "No," "Sure," or "Maybe." It wasn't very colorful, but they were willing to take what they could get.

They were all three drinks in when a pair of ladies approached from behind Garrett. When they stepped up to the table, he didn't so much as blink to acknowledge their existence, but finished his glass.

"Hey boys," began the buxom blond of the duo, "I see some good-looking soldiers drinking without any feminine companionship. What's the story there?"

Klein was the one to answer. "You must've had more than us, because you're the first pair o' ladies to think we're good-looking!" Everyone but Garrett laughed at that. He was too busy staring off at the wall. The brunette and blond exchanged a glance before turning their eyes back to the dark and brooding soldier. This time, the other girl spoke with a light southern-US accent.

"And who's the dolorous-lookin' fella? Looks like he's done travailed every hardship known to man." For all the pretty words, Garrett thought (with his eyes still fixated on some blank portion of the wall), She's not much of one for tact. All eyes were on him now, expecting a response of some sort. Slowly, he looked up at her, glanced her over as one might expect a farmer to examine a cow for any defects, then turned back to his drink, which was empty. His gaze flickered to Lohner who was also nursing a dry glass. "Lohner?" The soldier nodded, and Garrett got up to fetch them both another round. As he went, DeMaine suggested he get a round for the ladies too. Hendlow made no response.

Upon return, however, he passed Lohner a "Southern Doctor," kept a rum & coke for himself, and left the ladies to decide who got which of the remaining: a beer and a strawberry daiquiri. The brunette snatched the bottle without hesitation and took a few gulps, leaving the blond with the daiquiri. The dark-haired woman stared at Garrett with a challenge. "You trying to call us ladies fragile?" she asked.

He shrugged.

"Well that was rather lackadaisical, Dark Lord. Perhaps we could get a bit more enthusiasm out of you?" Another shrug.

She grinned sardonically. "Boy, you're awful solicitous to converse with your fellow comrades-in-arms." At comrades, the woman got a rather unusual stare from Garrett, but still no words.

To ease things up, Lucas asked for their names. The blond introduced herself as Caroline, and the brunette as Maxi. Neither was in uniform, so it was impossible to verify even last names, but the men trusted them well enough. They pulled up seats and split up the men evenly (and most of them wondered if they'd planned it all along). Caroline sat between Klein and DeMaine while Maxi sat between Hendlow and Lohner. Conversation resumed among the five of them with Garrett typically being excluded, but Maxi kept glancing his way, and it was beginning to irritate him. After perhaps half an hour of this he finally broke.

"Do you have a problem?" he asked in his gravelly voice; it was so strange to hear such a gruff tone come from one as young as him.

"I do, soldier boy, but it isn't anythin' you and that brooding glare of yours can alleviate. Why do you ask?" She spoke lightly, not the least bit offended or off-put, which left Garrett rather off balance. After a moment, he just shrugged and went for another sip of his drink. Maxi put a hand over his glass and lowered it to the table. Again, all eyes on them. "What's your name, cowboy?"

Was that a... smirk? No, but definitely something with the potential to become one. "No cowboy..." answered Hendlow.

"Well I'm goin' to keep callin' you cowboy until I've got an answer. So how about you 'n I make nice, cowboy?"

"Hendlow."

"That's a last name."

"Yes."

"I want your first name."

"Why?" There was an edge to his voice now, a desire to cut this conversation short.

"Comrades don't go by last names." There she went again with the comrade business. Still... What the hell does it matter? I'll never see her again.

"Garrett."

Maxi responded, "Powerful name, if you believe in that sort o' thing, cowboy."

Gruffer now. "Cut that shit out."

Her hand slid away from Garrett's glass, and he drank. While he did, she put a hand on his shoulder and leaned in to whisper in his ear. "You just need to relax, Garrett. And I want to help..." Her breath tickled his ear, stimulated his mind in a way it had not been stimulated for quite some time. It was reminder of things he didn't want to reminded and so sent a deadly chill through his body. Hendlow was about to shove her away and possibly give her a beating like the one Lucas had received when she slid from her chair, and looking at Garrett, prattled off twelve numbers in quick succession. Then she was gone.

"What was that?" DeMaine asked, looking the most drunk of the group. His face was a nice strawberry tint and he had that gawky smile some "happy" drunks got when they were well 'n warm.

"I think it was her 'pad number," Caroline suggested. "Did you guys catch it?"

"Maybe we can do this another time," Garrett murmured with flat and sarcastic tone before emptying his glass a final time. No one was really ready for that one, and so none of them said anything. He made it back to his bunk room, pulled out his datapad, and typed in 12 numbers before saving it as a contact under the name 'Maxi.' Then he sent a single message before putting his 'pad to sleep. Then Garrett hit the sack, wondering just where he thought he was going with this...

...Just before sleep took him, he realized he didn't know, and quite honestly didn't care.


It Is What You Make It
Although Garrett hadn't meant a word of it when he suggested they do it again, they all agreed it was a good idea, and made sure to drag the demolitions expert along. Every night the six of them got together at that same table and just talked about whatever came to mind. Sometimes there was alcohol, but most of the time military regulations and the limited supply left them with soft drinks. No one was really bothered by this, and it ultimately changed nothing.

What did change over time was the group and its dynamics. A few more boys from the 13th squad of Delta Platoon- Garrett's squad- found out and joined in the fun. The increase in men led to an increase in women, all from other squads, as the 13th was nothing but testosterone. As with any group of people that get to know each other, there was various sorts of relationships of both platonic and intimate natures. And just the same as any other group of friends, there eventually came drama. The one area of common ground the 9 soldiers and 3 pilots could all come to was Garrett.

At first, he began to speak more frequently- albeit almost always in one-word answers still. Amazingly, everyone seemed to be okay with the fact that he was so sullen all the time, and if it weren't for this, Hendlow probably never would have become the man everyone in SS 215 knows him to be. This silent acceptance engendered a steady, snail's pace growth. In fact, the group began to measure itself by how much the demolitions expert was willing to speak. The more he spoke, the tighter their bunch seemed to be knit.

One winter evening- or so the calendar said- when all 12 members of this little posse were present, Garrett rapped on the table to get everyone's attention. All eyes fell on him. He took ten minutes to briefly describe his past to them, leaving out the majority of the details- the things that truly made it what it was.

Still, the gist of the story was there: After the Drathonians' attacked, he wandered alone for some four days before meeting the Anarchists and joining them. In less than a week, he had established himself as another capable pyrotechnician- more appropriate because in all honesty they weren't working with anything more powerful than fireworks... most of the time. Two weeks of this had elevated to a level of recognition and importance, and through Victor he met Lilly. They were together for several months, until the raid on the Buffs. He killed the man who gave the command to murder Lilly- Garrett preferred not to remember the name 'Algonquin'- but did not explain how she died. Next he set the hideout ablaze.

He awoke the next day and trekked east until he could no longer walk. He was found and rescued to be taken to the Las Vegas Refugee Complex. He spent an immeasurable amount of time vegetating in his bed before realizing how disconnected he was from time, and aimed to fix it. He explained how he came to work for the military as an explosives engineer, that he began seeing Valentina Neumann- at which someone asked just how old she'd been.

"Twenty-nine," was his answer, and there were some raised eyebrows at that, considering the eleven-year age difference, but no one commented, so Garrett pressed his story onward. He mentioned that she died, but again skipped the how, and that shortly thereafter he was assigned to active duty and shuttled to this ship.

"And if it weren't for DeMaine," he finished, "I'd not be here telling this story." Lucas grinned sheepishly, and a few smiles were sent his way, but everyone was silent, digesting this information. It was a lot, even without all of the details, and some offered condolences, but he waved them off. "It has nothing to do with any of you, but I felt you all deserve to know that much."

Lohner, having another one of his gutsy moments, asked, "Which lady was the true one?" It was an odd question, but Hendlow answered quickly.

"They were both very true to and for me, but Lilly Thompson has always been the one in my nightmares." Everyone nodded at that. He nodded back and finished his water. "I'm going to go." They let him leave, feeling they understood why. His walk back was quiet, peaceful, and filled with retrospection of the good sort.

At the door to a block of men's barracks, Garrett was stopped by a hand clutching his wrist. He found it was Maxi, looking at him with an expression the demolitions expert had long since decided he'd never see again: it was a combination of empathy and longing and pity. Her voice was soft, quiet.

"Garrett... Don't get bogged down with the past. You still have a life to live, and a lot to look forward to. I don't want to see you walk around like a goddamn zombie all the time."

He looked away. "I'm going to bed," declared he dismissively, and reached for the door again, but she caught this hand too, and in a last-ditch effort to make herself explicitly clear, pressed up against him and planted a firm kiss on his lips.

So of course, at this point in time a group of Marines were strolling by and happened to see the smooching. Cheering ensued as they past, the loudest of which was shouting, "Way to go, Romeo!" Garrett and Maxi ignored them.

When the Marines were finally out of sight, Maxi stepped back. "Don't let those women of the past blur your vision, Garrett." Garrett was already starting to regret being so gentle with her; she was getting the wrong idea. Wrenching free of her grip, he went for the door again. She didn't stop him this time but instead followed him in. Hendlow glared, and Maxi's only response was to shrug. She continued to follow him all the way to his room, and when they were finally inside, he pointed to the door. "You need to leave. Right now. You're breaking so many regulations coming in here."

"I. Don't. Care. Garrett. I want to help you, I want to... I want to distract you from all this crap that's blinding you. Let me help you see, hun. I want you to see that it is what you make it, and you're makin' it all sorts of ugly." This went back and forth for several minutes before the demolitions expert finally succumbed to her wishes, and finally allowed himself to be distracted.

Admittedly, she was very good at distracting him.


The Joke's On You
The next day, several very unusual things occurred. It began with Garrett waking alone- which was entirely normal- but also quite naked, which was very strange. What he at first had begun to dismiss as some wild dream he now realized was entirely factual. Weird.

Rolling out of bed, he noticed his clothes all over the room. Shirt on the dresser, blanketing his reading lamp; pants half hiding beneath the foot of his bed; socks and shoes kicked to the other side of the room haphazardly. Wait a second...

Where the hell are my boxers? After checking under his sheets and beneath the bed, Garrett realized they must have been taken. Who the hell steals boxers? he wondered.

Whatever, he didn't have time to worry about that. He gathered his clothes and tossed them into his dirty hamper. Only upon returning to his nightstand to collect his datapad did he realize that something else was out of place: a pair of green panties laying beside his 'pad. He stopped for a second, quite honestly at a loss. After a few seconds of staring, he shook his head. There were places to be and things to do. He showered, dressed, and began his daily routines.

Come seven o'clock, Private Hendlow joined his comrades in the cafeteria. When he entered, Maxi shot him a secretive smile before turning back to the conversation. He didn't return the look, simply took a seat and things proceeded as normal. Two more very unusual things were about to happen.

As conversation carried, it eventually got to a point where the red-headed P1C John Hennessy was telling a story. "...So he says to the Sergeant, 'Very well then, I challenge you to a duel!' And the Sarge answered, 'Sorry Private: I'm a fighter, not a dancer.'" He chuckled and most of the table joined in. "We laughed so hard, and he had no idea why, made us all do an extra lap and fifty push-ups." With a shake of his head, he added, "God, that Sarge is so deaf."

And in perhaps the absolute perfect imitation of Sergeant Omar Doyle, Garrett Hendlow rose to his feet, cupped a hand behind his ear, leaned toward Hennessy and shouted, "What, maggot!? I can't hear you!"

Everyone at the table became dead silent, staring at him with wide eyes. Maxi broke the silence first with raucous laughter. All the while, she was pointing at the demolitions expert. More laughter ensued, and Lohner asked the question that was on everyone's mind: "Did Hendlow just make a joke?"

Garrett sat back down with a satisfied smirk and sipped his drink. DeMaine added, "And is that a smile? Well I'll be damned, the Dark Lord is smiling." The laughter picked up again.

Maxi chimed in then. "Well that's it, ladies 'n gents: time to cash in. Garrett's smiling and making jokes, the end is nigh. Turn in your chips while you can." Another round of hearty chuckles. Garrett watched it all with an amused sparkle in his eye and small smirk- a smirk that would one day grow to become that signature expression for which so many would recognize him.

As everyone went their separate ways, Garrett found himself once again accompanied by Ruby Maximilien- or Maxi as everyone called her. She was smiling and taking his hand in hers. "So, did you like my gift?"

He looked at her with something resembling a weak form of curiosity. "Gift?"

"Don't play slow with me, cowboy. I left it on your dresser." That smile became a grin.

"Don't know if I'd call it a gift; more like an unfair trade."

She pouted at that. "What makes you say that?"

"Well you can wear mine, but I can't very well wear yours." She laughed, quite surprised to hear yet another joke so soon.

"True, cowboy; would you like them back, then?"

"I would."

"Well you can keep mine; I've plenty." The rest of their walk happened in silence, Garrett unsure of how to answer that, and Maxi perfectly comfortable without words. For a second night in a row, Maxi spent the majority in Garrett's room.


Culmination
Time and a troupe of eleven soldiers helped Garrett loosen up. Many many encounters, conversations, and activities led Garrett to where he is today, but there are far too many to recount here. What's important is what has already been told, and one final story that illustrates the transformation Garrett has undergone.

So let's catch up. Three months after that last story, things have gone south for the relationship between Garrett and Maxi. He explained the series of events from his point of view one night to Klein, Lohner, and DeMaine over some drinks.

They're all sitting at the usual table, and each has a glass of hard liquor before them. They've just begun, so no one is wasted, but DeMaine seems to quickly be on his way. Conversation opens with an inquiry by Klein: "So, Garrett, what's up with you and Maxi?"

He took a sip before starting his answer. "She doesn't feel I show proper appreciation for her. Don't try to do anything special. Not enough expression."

Lohner chuckled halfheartedly. "Well that's just you. She should know that you're not exactly a bleeding heart." The other two nodded their agreement, and Garrett smirked at the irony. True, he was no longer the "Dark Lord," but his mind still ventured retrospectively more often than he'd like. Hendlow still felt those pangs every so often, but he was becoming numb and learning to forget them. For that much he had to be grateful to Maxi.

DeMaine spoke next. "Well, is what she's saying true?"

The demolitions expert nodded. "I imagine from her point of view, it is. But the fact of the matter is I'm not going to change just because she wants me too." Some might call that ironic, but that would be inaccurate; He had begun to change because part of him wanted something else... something better than the doom and gloom he was seeing all the time.

DeMaine again. "So you're not seeing each other anymore?"

Garrett shook his head. "No."

DeMaine shrugged and nodded, accepting this rather simple series of events. There were two things for which they could depend on Garrett: simplicity and quiet.

"How do you feel about it?" Klein asked. "And how does she feel?"

Hendlow shrugged. "I don't really care. She's being pretty rough about it, but..." Another shrug, another swig of rum & coke; that smirk.

"What do you mean by rough?" Klein pushed.

"Well she's not talking to me at all. If she does, it's usually in a distraught manner. Doesn't come to the seven o'clock chill. I hear from mutual friends she's often complaining about my behavior." They all just nodded at that; all pretty normal stuff, and hopefully it would pass with time (and it would).

"Huh. Well. That's that, eh?" That was Lohner. Everyone else nodded, so the topic was dead. Lohner moved on. "Hey, DeMaine, did you see that pilot babe we passed in the hallway, headed to the gym? Redhead, Bs?"

DeMaine grinned. "Yeah, but not a big fan. Now her friend-"

"Oh please. She was so small!..."

The rest of the conversation is irrelevant. What is important to note is the change in Garrett Hendlow's general demeanor. A lightening, if you will, a more open and talkative man in comparison to the "Dark Lord" that once was. This trend would continue until the point where all that had made him a gloomy and irate young man was locked away in the shadowy recesses of his mind, and buried beneath a lighthearted, carefree attitude. It would show in all aspects of his career, and lead him to great heights. Due to this change, he became a very popular fellow in the heavy ordnance and explosives department, and when the Battle Hymn of the Republic was ready to be manned, he was the one chosen to represent the men and women of Last Gunslinger's demolitions crew.

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