Fort Glazunov, Katara Region, Skopje
January 17, 2546
"So, your brother is thinking about applying for Air Force ROTC when he goes off to college."
"Yeah?" Moss commented as he stepped off the bus. "That's good to hear mom, I guess. It'll probably be good for him. Air Force requires more technical and management skills than the Army does. He'll probably fit in pretty well, if he makes it."
"Plus, it'll be safer," his mom added.
"Maybe," Moss replied with a shrug. "Depends on what job he ends up doing. If he's like, SF or a pilot, probably not. But if he's like, I don't know, logistics or maintenance, he'll probably be okay."
"So... why don't you do that?"
"Do what?" Moss asked, confused.
"Get a safer job," his mom elaborated and given how excited she sounded saying that, Moss could tell she had been waiting to ask that very question for a while now.
"Mom, that's not how it works around here," he explained with forced patience.
"Why not? If your father is unhappy with his job, he'll just find another. Why can't you do the same?"
"Because the military doesn't work that way mom," Moss said with a roll of his eyes. "When we enlist, we get a contract saying we serve in X position for X amount of years. I can only start to think about reclassing once my contract is up. And that's still three years away."
"But why not? You've done so much already!"
"Mom, I'm not going through this argument. Not again," Moss replied with a groan. "I'm done. Talk about something, or else I'm going to hang up."
"Fine," his mom sullenly said. "I'll drop it. For now."
Moss mentally sighed. That was probably as good as he could hope for.
"How's your friend's wife?" his mom delicately asked.
"Who, Olivia?" Moss confirmed before sighing. "Not sure. It's not like I know her, so I don't exactly feel comfortable just calling her up and asking her out to lunch or something. Last I heard, she was planning on moving back in with her parents on the other side of the region so, at least she'll be with people she knows? All I know is that in the last month, Sergeant Stalgis has been going around collecting all the footage of Fish that he can."
"Yeah," Moss continued. "Apparently he's even gone through all our helmet cams from Newsaka and Actium to grab some stuff. The good stuff, of course, none of the blood and gore and violence. He's also gone around and had most of us recount a fun or nice memory we had with Fish in the past so that he could also add to the compilation. I think the end goal is to create some sort of film that he can give to Olivia, who in turn give to her daughter when she gets old enough. That way, Sophia can at least get some idea as to what sort of person her dad was."
"That's a pretty thoughtful idea," his mom commented.
Moss absentmindedly nodded even though they were on voice chat only. "Yeah, it turns out Sergeant Stalgis is a lot more thoughtful person than most people, including me, gave him credit for."
"And what about Fish himself?"
Moss was proud to note that he only hesitated for a split second before replying. "Well, the Army is the Army. As far as they're concern, Fish was just another statistic. His personal effects have already been collected from our dorm, though it's not like he had much around as he never bother to properly move in in the first place. Uh, as far as the platoon goes, well, he's already been replaced; yeah, Corporal Elias was promoted to sergeant and bumped up to squad leader."
"Who's Corporal Elias again?"
"Helios Elias. Remember the dude I told you about who was really scared about jumping out of the plane?" Moss reminded her. "Yeah, that's him."
"And how's he handling it now?"
Moss shrugged. "Better, I think. I finally talked to him a couple weeks ago, gave him some advice on how to handle the fall. Seemed to handle the last practice jump we did pretty well, though whether that was because of what I said or whether it was because he's finally getting used to the falling sensation, I couldn't tell you."
"Could have been a combination of the two," his mom suggested, "Though I'm sure your words helped a lot."
Moss made a noncommittal noise. "Maybe."
"So, how's your friend? Harry?"
Moss couldn't help but snort. "Just call him Ferguson, mom. Or Fergs. No one really calls him Harry."
"Ferguson, then," his mom corrected herself. "How is he? Are you two still able to talk?"
Moss nodded. "Well, we finally started getting our replacements at the beginning of the year. Because of that, Ferguson was finally allowed to transfer out. Got moved over to the 171st Engineer Brigade, which is garrisoned practically down the street, so we pretty much still see each other every day."
As he spoke, Moss couldn't help but feel his cheeks start to burn in embarrassment at the memory. For some reason, when Ferguson had said he was transferring out of the Airborne, Moss had assumed that meant he was getting transferred to a unit stationed on an entirely different colony. When the day Ferguson was to leave finally arrived, Moss had given Ferguson a heartfelt speech about how thankful he was for all of Ferguson's help, and how much he was going to miss him, only to be informed that Ferguson was transferring to a unit that was literally only thirty minutes away, and that Ferguson was still going to be living in the area. At the time, Moss had been more relieved than embarrassed by his mistake, but at this point Moss could only look back and cringe at how foolish he'd been.
Moss' mom made a sort of "hmm" noise to show she was still listening, but he could tell she really wanted to ask something else, and it wasn't hard to figure out what it was.
"And how are you doing?" she finally said.
There it was.
Moss opened his mouth, but then paused. His reflex response was to simply say that "he was fine," however one thing Doctor Grant had been urging him to do was be honest with himself, if no one else. And truth be told, Moss was not fine. Sleep was still hard to come by at nights as Moss was plagued by dreams and memories of people long past. Some nights, Moss would just lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, watching as the minutes tick by on the clock. Other nights, he'd just give it up as a bad job and head over to the armory and start cleaning the weapons stored there, just to distract himself. Fortunately, the new company armorer didn't seem to mind and in fact, seemed to understand what Moss was going through.
Of course, those were the nights. Sometimes the days weren't that much better. There were the days where it was a battle just to convince himself to get out of bed and go do the simple stuff like get up, get dress, go brush his teeth, eat breakfast, etc. Those days were the worst as his emotions were usually all out of whack, and Moss had found it was just best to isolate himself, to avoid leaping down someone's throat just for breathing too loudly.
Moss' next response to mom was going to be that he was "getting there," but just as he was about to say that, Moss stopped. That wasn't accurate either because, honestly, Moss had no idea where he was "getting to." Things would never be the same. Moss could never go back to being the kid he once was. As Ferguson had once pointed out, his memories and experiences were now a part of him, and Moss simply wouldn't be able to forget them. Nor, would he have wanted to, as his memory of the friends he had lost were the only things keeping them still alive, in a sense.
"I'm working on it," Moss finally said. And it was true. He was attending his weekly sessions with Grant and although he hadn't been able to summon up the courage to go to those group therapy sessions Grant had suggested, Moss at least had Ferguson to talk to.
Plus, it helped considerably that the brigade's roster was finally getting filled, meaning training was starting back up. It gave Moss something else to focus on, a goal to strive to, and helped keep Moss' mind occupied.
His mom sighed.
"I just wish you were back home," she said.
"I know mom, I know," Moss said sympathetically. "But this is something I have to do."
"I know," his mom quietly admitted.
For a moment, the two of them just stood there, silent, lost in their own thoughts.
Moss finally sighed. "Hey, I got to go mom."
"Okay. Take care of yourself."
"I'll try," Moss truthfully replied.
"Love you too mom. Bye."
Without another word, Moss terminated the connection. Letting out another sigh, Moss reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of gum. Tearing it open, he frowned. Man, he really needed to step up his game and stop buy this crappy stuff. The flavor never seemed to last longer than a couple of minutes.
It took just about everything Moss had to avoid jumping. Whirling around, he instantly spotted a small, thin, very timid-looking, young lady standing there on the sidewalk behind him.
"Yes, ma'am?" Moss politely asked.
"Are you... are you Sergeant Moss Shen?"
Moss warily stared at her.
"Yes..." he said slowly, now on guard. His wounds from the last time someone had recognized him out of the blue were finally healing, and the last thing he needed was another beating. And though this lady seemed hardly capable of hurting a fly, Moss had learned a long time ago appearances could be deceiving. "Can I help you with something?"
The lady let out a small cough.
"I'm sorry," she quietly said. "I don't mean to approach you like this but... well, my name is Kasey Varejão."
Moss waited a moment to see if that name meant anything to him. It did not.
"I'm sorry, but I don't know who that is," Moss apologetically admitted.
The young lady looked a bit disappointed, though she hid it well.
"It's alright," she assured him. "I didn't... I didn't really think you would. I am... was... a friend of Job Griffin."
Moss instantly felt a wave of sadness of the mention of one of the soldier's he had lost on Actium, though the pain wasn't as bad as it had been a few months ago.
Instead of focusing on the pain though, Moss stared at the lady, Kasey, standing in front of him and instantly felt a wave of pity at the slightly hopeful look on her face.
"You are? I'm sorry, I didn't realize Griffin had any family." Moss paused, and regarded her a bit more closely. "Or a... girlfriend?"
"He didn't. And I'm not his... that is to say, was not... or rather, I was never..." Kasey stammered, before stopping and taking a deep breath.
"I was Griffin's lawyer," she explained. "I helped defend Griffin against a series of criminal charges that had been leveled against him. Afterwards, he gave me some information that helped me out of a bad situation and in return, I... I was helping Griffin with other stuff. Like his paycheck, his deployment orders, and trying to help him with the rest of his education. I'm not... sure how he felt about me, but I'd like to think we were... well, friends at least."
Moss felt his heart freezing as Kasey spoke. Did she not...? If she wasn't Griffin's next of kin, was she never told that...?
"Miss... Varejão, was it?" Moss gently began. "I'm sorry, I don't really know how to say this but..."
"Oh, I know Griffin died several months ago," she assured him, and Moss couldn't help but mentally sigh in relief. Death notification was one job in the military he never wanted to do. "That's not... why I'm here. I'm here because... well, to be honest, I'm not really sure why I'm here."
Kasey sighed. "I... I know Griffin died last year in May during the Battle of Actium, only, I can't seem to find out how he died, only that he did. I heard that... you were his squad leader, and possibly the last person to see him alive so..."
Kasey trailed off as she seemed to struggle with the next part.
"You were hoping I could tell you," Moss gently finished for her.
"YES! I mean, no! I mean..." Kasey hesitated, and Moss could tell she was really struggling, not just with her words, but with her emotions.
"I don't really know why I need to know," she admitted. "Rationally, I know it's not going to change anything. Griffin's not coming back, no matter how much I wish and knowing the details will just... hurt me. But... I just need..." she trailed off once more before letting out a bitter laugh. "I'm sorry, I know I'm not making a lot of sense. And this... well, I'm sorry to have disturbed you. I should go."
"No, no! I understand, and it's alright!" Moss was quick to assure her, even as he thought about what he wanted to say. Out of all the men he had lost on Actium, Griffin was perhaps the least difficult to talk about.
But that didn't mean it was easy for Moss.
"Griffin... was perhaps one of the most unusual soldiers I had ever served with," Moss began. "He was by far the most carefree person I had ever met. He had seen, done, and experienced just about everything, so nothing really phased him."
"Conversely, I could tell that he never really had much of a childhood," Moss allowed. "He was friendly and easy enough to get along with, but he always kept everyone at an arm's length. So, I never really knew how he felt about me or anyone else in the squad."
"Then that day occurred. The day he was killed in action."
"We were part of a larger group of soldiers that was participating in a 'smash and burn' operation. It was the first day of the battle and the Covenant had only made landfall a few hours earlier, so everything was in chaos. I guess maybe that's why things happened the way it happened."
"I guess... I wasn't paying enough attention," Moss admitted. "Because I didn't see that Grunt with the fuel rod cannon until after he fired. All I remember is seeing that ball of green fire headed straight for me and I remember thinking, 'Well. This is it.'"
"But then Griffin happened."
Moss paused as he struggled to recount the next part. And, over how truthful he wanted to be.
"I don't...know if Griffin was even consciously aware of what he was about to do next," Moss finally said. "All I know is, one moment I'm watching this ball of fire coming towards me, and then the next, Griffin is grabbing hold of me, shielding me with his own body."
Moss gave Kasey a solemn stare. "I should have died that day, but I didn't. Because Griffin took all the shrapnel that should have been for me. I know it sounds cliché but, Griffin saved my life that day."
"Now, I don't really know if he did that on purpose or not," Moss allowed. "Maybe he tripped or something. But I'd like to think that he did. That he was trying to save my life. Because he was my friend and I, his."
Moss fell silent, suddenly feeling like he had just run a lap around the track. He glanced up at Kasey to see how she was reacting, only to see her burst into tears.
"Sorry, sorry!" she exclaimed and started to turn away but, without really thinking, Moss grabbed her and pulled her into a hug.
He could feel her stiffening at first, but then she slowly relax, allowing her tears to fall freely.
"Thank you," he heard her say. "Kids who grow up like Griffin did, they don't have much. No money, no family, no prospects. All they usually have are each other. So thank you, for being his friend."
Moss didn't say a word. All he did was hold her tighter as she continued to cry. And as she did, Moss could feel the corners of his eyes start to prickle as tears started to well up in his own eyes. But unlike the last few months where he'd been fighting the sensation, Moss finally allowed himself to give in.
As they stood there, two complete strangers bonded by a single connection, Moss allowed himself to finally cry. He cried for all the friends he had lost: Stohl the Mole, Smelley Noelley, Quintus Vox, Corporal Shin, Anton Bashir, Job Griffin, Clifton Roer, Lisbeth Norén, Fish -
- and Pip.
But most of all -
Moss cried for the pieces of his soul he left behind when the members of his family were lost, one by one.
1. Kasey Varejão is intended to be the same lawyer (or "lawster) from the Missing in Action one-shot: You're in the Army Now! She was never named in that story, as Griffin hadn't known it at the time, but I thought it would be interesting to have her show up in this story, expand on her character just a bit.
2. Anton Bashir: he hasn't been mentioned in this story, but he's from the prologue of Missing in Action (he's the one who gets killed by the mine.) His first name was never used.
I debated whether I wanted to include his name in this list as I doubt anyone would have remembered him, but I figured Moss would, hence his inclusion.
3. Job Griffin, Clifton Roer, and Lisbeth Norén: these three characters were only mentioned once in passing during the course of this story, but they're all characters from Missing in Action. Griffin was killed in action during chapter 7, Roer actually went MIA during chapter 9 (with his ultimate fate discussed in chapter 16), and Norén was killed in chapter 12.
Well, that's it for Last Round! Thank you everyone who stopped by and gave this story a read, and especially those who left reviews! I hope you guys enjoyed! If anyone is curious, my other story, Last Man Standing, is supposed to be the sequel to this one, despite having been written years ago (as back then I found it easier to write one-shots than stories with multiple chapters.) Taking place two years after Last Round during the Battle of Skopje, it depicts Moss' last few days in the battlefield as a paratrooper.
As obviously that story was written long before I had the details of both Missing in Action and Last Round fully fleshed out, there aren't a lot of references to these stories. I may give it a bit of a facelift in the next few months, but I haven't decided yet.
Until next time: farewell.