Jason: Tours of Duty
Tours of Duty Part 1
June 3rd, 2177
The video feed flickered and sputtered for a moment before displaying the mask of a quarian adorned by a beautiful, intricately designed red and grey shawl. Her eyes flashed from behind the transparent barrier.
"Jason?" she asked, excitement in her voice, "Is that you?"
The camera feed shook a bit as the man on the other end sat the omni-tool down on the table before him. He leaned his elbows against the smooth surface and stared into the holographic interface. The clean shaven 21 year old swallowed hard as a big, goofy grin crossed his face.
"I miss you so much." he said, nearly spitting it out as if he had been choking on it.
"I miss you, too." she said with a chuckle as she adjusted her omni-tool to bring it up to eye level.
It was then that she noticed the men scrambling around behind Jason. The silence allowed her to overhear the voice transmitting throughout the ship.
"ATTENTION! Boarding parties gear up and report to your squad leaders! Squads: Echo and Foxtrot to Deck 3 for breaching preparations." the voice explained.
A loud buzz sounded out before the announcement was repeated.
"Jason, what's going on!?" the quarian asked, pulling the omni-tool close to her face as she inspected the screen. The excitement in her voice faded to panic, "Breaching party?"
Jason clasped his hands together and lowered his eyes to the ground, running his palms across the stubble on top of his head. He rocked in place nervously as he raised his head back to meet her gaze once more through the crackling video feed.
"You know this is-..." he began, glancing back over his shoulder as another set of soldiers ran by behind him, "..this is what I do."
This wasn't Jason's first rodeo. He had seen a fair share of ground combat during his time stationed planetside out in the Attican Traverse, but this was his first tour onboard a cruiser. Every Alliance soldier had heard stories of the brutality that boarding parties faced. During his six weeks onboard the SSV Beirut he had already seen three soldiers lose their lives and a handful more injured during boarding procedures. It almost felt like a death sentence when he received his assignment, but he kept it bottled up for Mina's sake. Now, as the sirens blared and everybody rushed into action, all he wanted was to see her bright eyes.
They had only been dating for six months, but she was already staying at his place. Jason met Mina during a chance encounter on leave. A bet between comrades, a little bravado and a whole lot of liquid courage inspired him to approach the lonely quarian typing away on her omni-tool in the corner of a bar. "Bet you're totally hot under that bucket." he had said. Nailed it! Hook, line, and sinker. His friends laughed. She told him off. Your typical love-at-first-sight story. Over time, his idiocy went from grating to endearing. He was like a dumb puppy and she couldn't help but laugh everytime something came out of his mouth.
"I know, Jason, but... What's wrong?" she asked with a sigh as she sat atop her bed. Their bed.
"I'm just-..." Jason began, his voice breaking as he lowered his tone and looked around frantically to make sure nobody was within earshot, "...I'm scared. This is the real thing and-... and if this is it then I just wanted to see those beautiful eyes one last time."
"FNG!" shouted a soldier hauling a crate of gear by at just the right time to overhear Jason.
Jason turned a bright shade of red. Mina would've found it adorable if it wasn't for the fact that she was utterly terrified for him. Hearing that he was also scared only deepened her worry.
"Just tell them no, Jason!" Mina demanded with a deep quarian drawl, "They can't make you!"
"It's not that simple." he sighed, burying his face in his hands. His knee bounced up and down, a nervous tick of sorts.
"I don't care how simple it is! If you can't-..." she stopped. She knew it was pointless. If it was just as easy as politely declining a dangerous situation, then nobody would be out there. She brought a hand up to her breather. "Come home to me, Jason. You are strong. I love you and I believe in you. You can do this." she said, praying that she was right.
"Get off your ass, Wolfe! Deck 3, we're up! Rookies in the front! Echo, HOO!" a voice called out as a shotgun was thrusted onto his lap from off-screen.
Jason divided his attention between Mina and the soldier speaking to him as he rose from his seat on shaky legs. "Mina, honey... I... I have to go." he said, his voice cracking once more. "I'll call you as soon as I'm able to. I... I'll be fine." he assured her, unsure if it was actually true or not, "I'm gonna make it home. Whatever it takes, I'll make it home. I love you so much."
The image faded out. Mina stared at the bright blue glow of her omni-tool's holographic projection and brought her knees up to her chest. Was this going to be her life? Dancing from one phone call to the next with nothing but worry to keep her occupied in between?
Jason looked down at the shotgun in his hands and stumbled a bit as he struggled to juggle it and the helmet that was being tossed to him. Sweat beaded down his forehead while he sucked in a few irregular breaths. His heart was beating out of his chest.
"Squads: Echo and Foxtrot to Deck 3 for breaching preparations!"
Tours of Duty Part 2
April 14th, 2178
Static frosted over the video feed. The downside of being out in the middle of nowhere.
"Hey, you." Jason said as the quarian's face came into view, "Bet you didn't expect to see me again so soon, huh?"
It had only been three days since he set off for his current tour. It was always difficult getting reacclimated to life onboard a ship. Especially after living a normal life for months. He could still almost smell Mina's scent on his clothes.
"I was hoping not." she admitted with a dejected sigh. It wasn't a low blow. Jason had promised he would call before his first assignment. Mina wasn't exactly in favor of it, but she wasn't going to tell him no. It was hard to miss somebody so much, yet dread the idea of them getting in contact with you because of the danger it meant they were in. But if it eased his burden a bit to speak to her before doing what he needed to do, then so be it.
"I know." he agreed, his omni-tool jostling around a bit as he struggled to keep it from moving around in his bunk, "We got called up first. That's just how it is sometimes. On the plus side, that means we should be moved to the back of the rotation after tonight." His hands were folded together in his lap. He spoke slowly and quietly, a far cry from his normal obnoxious, loud behavior. Mina understood, though, he was probably mere hours, or even minutes away from boarding a hostile ship. It had to be stressful.
It was tough on both ends. For months at a time, they felt like a real couple. They lived together. Went out. Did all the things normal couples did. But so long as Jason agreed to another tour, it would always be on borrowed time. Mina knew the Alliance was important to Jason. She didn't dare try to talk him out of it. But she also wondered if he was there for the wrong reasons. Was he just trying to impress a man that he so desperately yearned for the approval of? A man that was no longer even around to give it to him?
"That's good at least." she said. It was small talk. It was bullshit small talk. He was about to rush headlong into people trying to kill him, and they were making small talk.
The mood was uncomfortable for a number of reasons. He wasn't nearly as frantic as he was during his first tour, but it was obvious that his nerves were a wreck. Part of Mina just wanted to reach through the screen, shake the living hell out of him and shout, "WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO YOURSELF!?" Another part of her just wanted to hug him and tell him it would all be okay.
"Alright, Romeo." a voice called from off-screen. Mina recognized the voice as Gage, Jason's squad leader. She had met him a few times. He seemed like a good man and Jason practically worshipped the ground he walked on. "Tell our girlfriend we gotta go protect the galaxy."
Jason lowered his gaze and chuckled a bit. It was a guarded, but genuine chuckle. "You heard him, Mina. I've gotta go. I'll see you soon. I promise."
Mina angled herself as if she may be able to look past the bounderies of the holographic display and get a view of Gage if she tried hard enough, "You take care of him, Gage!" she shouted, "If he gets hurt, I'm going to kick your ass!"
The man's infectious laugh came through the omni-tool, "Yes ma'am!" he responded, "Don't you worry 'bout a thing, I'll keep him safe out there."
"I love you, Jason."
"I love you, too."
The connection died and Mina shut down her omni-tool. She glanced around the apartment, considering a few projects to keep her mind off of things, but she knew she'd just end up sitting at the kitchen table until she heard back from him. Her heart would jump into her throat the moment her omni-tool began to beep as she wondered whose voice she'd hear when she answered. Jason, coming off a combat high, eager to let her know he's fine? Or Gage, unable to look her in the face as he delivered bad news?
Jason stood from his bunk and got a pat on the back from Gage as he maneuvered to gear up near his footlocker. "You got yourself a good one, Jason." the man said as he began to suit up, "Don't you go breaking her heart."
Jason pulled on his gauntlets with a scoff, "Not gonna happen. You ever just get this feeling that something was meant to be?" he asked, casting a sidelong glance at the older man, "That's what this is. I'm supposed to spend the rest of my life with her. I just... I feel it, you know?"
"Squads: Bravo and Echo to Deck 3 for breaching preparations!"
Tours of Duty Part 3
December 20th, 2180
"Because all I want for Christmas, is youuuuuuuuu. Baaaaaaaaabay!" Jason chirped from the other side of the galaxy as Mina's bright eyes peered at him through her omni-tool. She groaned a few times as she attempted to wake up.
"It's not Christmas yet, is it?" she asked. She still hadn't gotten down dates for these confusing human holidays.
"Well, no. But I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get back in touch with you by then." he said. The omni-tool on his forearm shook and quaked as he walked through the corridors of the SSV Beirut. It was like some sort of shaky-cam footage from a bad horror movie.
"Does this mean you're-..." she began, still somewhat groggy as she sat up in bed.
"Yep. On my way to the airlock now." Jason said casually. He was only glancing into the screen every now and then as he nudged into squadmates in the hall, "Hey fuckface!" he called out loudly, and for a moment Mina thought he was talking to her before realizing Gage had joined up with Jason.
Gage looked over Jason's shoulder and into the camera. He was fully armored, much like Jason. "Don't worry, Mina! I'm keepin' pretty boy here out of trouble and warm at night!" he joked.
Mina smiled behind her facemask, "No wonder he likes spending all his time on that damn ship." she quipped, although a part of her really did harbor some spite for the hunk of metal he practically lived on. Jason was almost just as much in a relationship with it as he was with her.
"Don't worry, baby, you've got a much nicer ass." Jason teased as he stared down into the camera, wiggling his eyebrows, "He's just my boy toy."
Gage gave Jason a slap on the ass before scurrying off down the hall ahead of him. "Echo! What are we gonna do!?" his voice called out.
"Kick ass, save lives, and go the fuck home!" a bunch of voices all called out at once, Jason's included. Jason glanced over at his omni-tool apologetically afterwards. "Sorry... Time to earn my paycheck. If I'm not able to get in touch with you in the next week, Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. All that good shit. Okay?"
Mina nodded slowly, "Happy Christmas. Merry New Year. All that good shit." she attempted to repeat. "Be careful, Jason. I love you."
"Love you, too." he said with a lopsided smirk before adding in the most out-of-tune note ever, "Baaaabaaaay!"
The sound of a woman's voice, surely a squadmate, could be heard as Jason lowered his arm, obscuring Mina's view, "Shut the fuck up, Wolfe! I'm sick and tired of your singing! SHUT! UP! SHUUUUUUUT! UP!"
Mina fell backwards onto her pillow once more with a sigh. "Happy Christmas, Jason." she said out loud as she stared up at the ceiling. The lonliness slowly crept back into her and she wrapped her arms around herself in a hug.
Jason put up a hand as Gage tossed him a breaching shotgun while his squadmate, Sally, continued to bitch about his singing. Jason snatched the shotgun out of the air and stared across the hall at Sally. "Think of my life long sorrow..." he sang with a bit of a head wiggle. Sally rolled her eyes and readied her weapon near the back of the group. "If ya caught pneumonia and died-..." Jason continued to sing off-key as he stacked up at the airlock door and gave his weapon the once-over. "Get over that old doubt!"
Sally gave a sigh, but it quickly turned into a smile and she joined in with the rest of Echo as they all gave a hearty, "Ooooh, baby it's collllld ouuuuut-side!" while the airlock doors began to open.
Tours of Duty Part 4
May 7th, 2183
Nearly two days. Two whole days. The time since Jason attempted to call Mina. Their tradition. Broken.
"I told you, Jason. She probably just dropped her omni-tool in the sink or something. You're worrying for nothing. Trust me." Gage reassured his fellow soldier with a pat on his shoulder.
Jason nodded and put on his best grin. The one he brought out for special occasions to dress up his insecurities and worries. Mina knew how important this call was for him. He always thought it was important to her, too. She wouldn't miss it. He left messages, one after another.
"I'm just gonna try her one more time." Jason said, seated at the edge of his bunk.
"You do that, Romeo." Gage responded with a wink as he studied a datapad from his back as he layed atop the bunk across from Jason's.
Jason had lost count of the number of times he tried to get through to Mina. Each time that it went to her messaging service, another pang of panic shot through him. His mind swam through the sea of possibilities. All of the things that could've went wrong. Maybe she just got tired of waiting. He knew she never agreed with his decision to stay on active duty. 'You put in your time, Jason!' she would argue, pleading with him to just accept a cushy desk job close to home. He knew it hurt her to be so far away from each other for so long, but it was the only life he knew. Cycles are hard to break. Impossible for some.
He pressed the call button. Just one last time before bed.
"H-... Hello...?" a voice hesitated for a moment before it came through the omni-tool.
Jason straightened his posture, his entire body going rigid and Gage sat up in his bunk, giving away the worry he had been hiding.
"Mina!?" Jason quickly spit out, but it was instantly obvious that it wasn't her on the other end of the call. The picture cleared up and the image of a timid older man came into view. His hair was beginning to grey at the temples. "Who the fuck is this!?" Jason barked, "Where is Mina? Why do you have her omni-tool!?"
The old man cowered into himself as he was scolded. "Mina..." he repeats as he looks offscreen, "I-... Her name is Mina." The man turned back to face the screen, finding it difficult to hold eye contact even through the bounderies of a screen and probably half a galaxy of distance.
"What is-..." Jason stuttered, finding himself quickly becoming more and more flustered. "This is Sergeant Major Jason Wolfe of the Systems Alliance. I demand you put my fiance on the line right now." he huffed, attempting to throw his weight around.
"I'm sorry I-... Wha-... Systems Alliance...?" the man responded, still not daring to look right into the camera. "I'm sorry, kid..." the man began, trailing off as he struggled to follow up.
Jason instantly gave a shake of his head. "Don't say you're sorry!" he instructed, now beginning to make a bit of a scene in the barracks as other soldiers did their best not to stare. A phone call beginning with 'I'm sorry' never brought good news. His eyes watered as he waited for the bad news to be delivered. His mind continued to race. Was she hurt? Was she...?
"I-... We-...." the small old man looked off the screen again for a moment, "The missus and I-... I'm so sorry, son. We found-... Mina? She was in the alley back behind our building. She was already gone when we found her. I'm so sorry..." he repeated, his voice cracking slightly as the weight of the pain he was inflicting sat heavily on his shoulders.
Jason blinked a few times as he struggled to make sense of the man's words. He could feel his entire life shift around him. All of the possibilities. The future he envisioned. The relationship he wanted. Mina was the glue that held it all together, and it was now shattering all around him, breaking into small shards of what could have been.
At some point Gage had taken a seat beside Jason, a supportive hand upon his shoulder. He was saying something, but it all sounded like a distant droning to Jason. He suddenly felt so very far from home. Whatever 'home' meant anymore.
The weeks following Mina's death were a whirlwind of unanswered questions. Mina's body was found on Omega. Shot. What business did she have on Omega? Jason was given time off to greive and the Alliance paid to have Mina's body sent home from the clinic she was being held at. Jason didn't attend the funeral. One day began to bleed into the next. The constant stench of alcohol on his clothes. Waking up in a pool of his own vomit on a bench outside of a local bar with no recollection of how he got there. Mandated psych evaluations.
'Unfit for duty' the results had stated. The honorable discharge came as a surprise to nobody. It was their way of sweeping what had once been a good soldier under a rug of paperwork. Give him a proper sendoff. It made no difference to Jason one way or another.
His apartment was like a frozen capsule of memories. Every corner was painted by his relationship with Mina, and there was no way he was returning there. The mere thought of the silent, lonely apartment was nearly enough to push him to his breaking point. It wasn't home anymore. It was a cold empty shell of a life that no longer existed. A husk. So what was home now?
Tours of Duty Part 5
May 23rd, 2183
Chris opened the front door to his house with a practiced swipe of his omni-tool. It was Friday, and he always spent Fridays with his old Alliance buddies down at the bar. 'The Mildewed Maiden'. The drinks were much better than the name implied, honest.
A loud clank rang out from the darkness further in the house, followed by the sound of shattering glass. Was he being robbed? A lifetime of training immediately kicked in and Chris moved for the Predator stashed behind the living room shelving unit. His eyes darted around the room as they adjusted to the lack of lighting. The moon outside gave away to a large hole in the living room window.
"Shit..." Chris muttered to himself. He slowly backed up towards the door, thinking better than to hunt down an intruder himself. Walking in on someone in the middle of a robbery is a good way to wind up shot. No, he'd just go outside and call the police. If the intruder exited through the front door, at least Chris had the means to defend himself now.
"....Uncle Chris...?" a voice called out from the veil of darkness blocking the kitchen from Chris' view. It was a familiar- quite drunk- voice. It was Jason's voice. "Is that you?"
Chris breathed a sigh of relief and quickly turned the living room lights on. "Jason? What in the hell are you doing here? When did you even get in town?" he asked, confusion washing over his face as he looked at the mess of glass all over his living room floor from the broken window.
As his gaze travelled to the kitchen, there was Jason. Now illuminated by the dim lighting of the adjacent room, Chris could see that he was sitting on the floor with his back propped up against the cupboard. A small pool of blood had formed beneath him, dripping from a nasty gash in his left arm. A broken glass was in a number of pieces all around him, but it didn't seem to be keeping Jason from his drink. He merely held the entire bottle of rum in one hand and slugged a large portion back.
"I-... I'm sorry, Uncle Chris." Jason slurred, "I must've lost my keys..."
Chris marches towards his nephew, laying his pistol on the kitchen counter as he approached the drunken man. "Jason, what in the hell is going on-..." he began, brimming with concern over the disturbing scene in front of him, but his eyes quickly shot to the bottle in Jason's hand, "Is that-... Seriously? You're drinking my good stuff?"
"Mmhmm. It's good."
Chris let out a groan. He wasn't angry, he just had no idea what else to say. 'Thought I was done with this shit when you joined the Alliance.' he caught himself thinking, and was immediately overcome with guilt.
"Come on, Jason, on your feet." Chris instructed, wrapping his arms around Jason and hooking each one under each of the drunk man's arms in a sloppy attempt at helping him up, "What in the hell has gotten into you?"
"She's gone." Jason said with a chuckle that very quickly steered into a string of sobs. He was mostly dead weight, but once he was lifted high enough, he gripped at the edge of the counter with his free hand to keep himself upright.
Chris reached out and grabbed the drunk man's wrist, turning it a bit to get a better look at the wound. "Ah, shit. You probably need to get this checked out." he sighed, not entirely sure what Jason was rambling on about. "Who is gone? What does that mean, Jason?"
Jason slammed the bottle down and Chris winced as he partly expected it to just erupt into a shower of glass and expensive rum. Thankfully it didn't. The younger man reached over and grabbed a dish rag to quickly tie a makeshift tourniquet around his arm, much to the dismay of his uncle who was now making a mental note to replace that rag.
"Mina." Jason continued to slur as he looked over his sloppy work with his arm. Ah well, the bleeding seems to have slowed. "Just-... Just shot her."
Chris quickly seemed to snap to attention, placing a hand on each of his nephew's shoulders and giving him a slight shake, "Wait, wait, wait, wait. What!? Mina was shot? Who!? Why!?" he asked, suddenly understanding why Jason is before him in his current condition. "Why didn't you call me? Why aren't you with her!?"
Why didn't you call me? It was a sobering question that Jason mulled over in his head. Why didn't you call me? The answer floating in his head sounded ridiculous to himself, even in his drunken state.
"I don't know. Someone just-... just shot her..." the young man said, giving a half-hearted shrug. "I didn't call because-... I didn't want to bother you."
Yep. But it was true. He had always been a bother to Chris, even if his uncle wouldn't outright say it. He was forced into the man's life when Chris' brother- Jason's father- passed away. He stole years of the man's life, forcing him to raise another man's son, not to mention Jason wasn't exactly the easiest of people to deal with.
Chris' expression softened as he repeated his nephew's words in his head. Another pang of guilt shot through him. Is that the way he had made Jason feel? As if he was just 'a bother'? "I-... Jason, you wouldn't have bothered me, that wouldn't have-... We're family, for fuck's sake... Is she alright?"
"She's gone." Jason repeated. "Dead." It came out cold, and it was. The emotion was drained from Jason, replaced by a whole lot of alcohol and sleepless nights.
There was a long silence between the two men as the older of the two lowered his eyes to the pool of blood on his kitchen floor. He had no real words of wisdom, no fatherly advice, no motivational words. He opened his mouth to say 'I'm sorry.' but the words never made it out.
"I'm sorry, uncle Chris." Jason said, beating the man to the punch. It was a defeated and dejected apology, "I-... I shouldn't have broke your window. I just-... didn't know where to go. Mom and dad are both-... and now Mina-..." His eyes went glassy as a sob escaped, "I can't go back home. Not without her there. I feel-... I don't have anyone left..."
Chris wanted to hug the man who had been the closest thing to a son he had ever known, but it just wasn't in his nature. He swallowed his own emotions and squeezed Jason's shoulder, looking him straight in the eyes. "You've got me, Jay. You know that. And this is your home, too. You stay here as long as you need to, you hear me?"
Jason gave a short nod as his hand creeped back towards the bottle beside him.
Chris gave a loud sigh as he noticed the subtle movement. "Just-... calm yourself, alright? Let me grab a couple of glasses.
Tours of Duty Part 6
The sound of a loud crowd filtered into the call as Chris came into view. Of course, it was Friday. The Mildewed Maiden.
"Jason?" Chris asked as he saw his nephew fade in on the video feed, "Is everything alright?"
Jason folded his hands on the table in front of him and gave a nod. "Uh-... yeah. Everything is fine." he said, looking a bit uncomfortable at the possibility of catching his uncle at a bad time, "Looks like you're a bit busy. I can call back la-..."
"No, it's fine." Chris interrupted as he lifted his omni-tool from the bar counter and moved through the pub to a booth where it was a bit quieter. "How are you?"
A small smile crossed Jason's lips. "I'm fine, uncle Chris." he said earnestly. "She's back home. Safe and sound."
"Linda?" Chris responded, letting out a deep breath and keeping his emotions tempered, "That's great news, Jason. I'm glad to hear it."
Jason gave a couple of nods, letting out a deep breath of his own, "Yeah. And-... Well, I'm just calling because I felt you should know." He paused and bit his lower lip for a few moments, his smile growing. "...And because..." he continued with a sheepish shrug, "...you should be expecting a wedding invitation soon. We don't have a date yet, but-... yeah. It'll be coming your way as soon as we do."
Chris allowed a tiny smile to form. "In that case, I'll get my suit pressed." he responded, never one to say more than needed to be said, "I'm happy for you, Jason. For both of you."
A low chuckle escaped Jason. "Me too. I don't wanna take up too much of your time, uncle Chris. Just wanted to fill you in."
"I'll be keeping a look out for that invitation." The call turned to an uncomfortable silence for a moment. The time when one party typically says their goodbyes. Jason opened his mouth to, but Chris interjected. "And Jason? I-... uhhh... I'm proud of you." he nearly spat out. It came out awkward and somewhat forced, but coming from his uncle, Jason knew it had to be genuine. He just wasn't the sort to say something like that.
"Thank you, uncle Chris. Can't wait to see you again soon."
Chris allowed his smile to widen as the screen shut off. He placed his omni-tool into his pocket and sucked in a deep breath as he glanced around the bar at all of the familiar faces. People he had come to know over the many years he had been going there. "Shawn!" Chris called out to the bartender, shouting to be heard over the crowd and music, "Next rounds are on me!"
One of the regulars swiveled on his stool, cocking an eyebrow at Chris, "On you!? Shiiiit, hell must've frozen over, ya tightwad! What's the occasion?"
Chris gave a shake of his head as he let out a deep sigh. "My boy's getting married!"