ASN 4.3 Yet More Screaming

by Matt P.

The city outside was dark, and sparkling with the cold as they came out of the basement, and began making their way back to their seats. Lacey and Monica went to grab some of the pizza, while Antigone came over and sat on the floor next to Walter’s recliner.

“Dad,” she began, turning to face him. “Did you retire from the Military just for us?” She asked it completely earnestly, and Siobhan nearby grew quiet as she turned to listen. Walter knew the question wasn’t the kind he wanted to respond to with a joke, so he looked at her and considered his words for a few seconds.

“Yeah,” he answered in the quiet. “In part, at least. But yeah, a lot of it was because you kids were getting so much older, and I knew that I had lost so much time with you.” He leaned back, and motioned his assent when Ryan held up a beer for him. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Antigone answered, leaning back in to the chair next to his legs. “I just…listening to you talk about your career, it really hit me that you gave up a lot of time when you left.” Then it was her turn to consider, looking out at the room before she turned to consider him again. “Do you regret it?”

The room fell silent at that weighty question, although Lacey and Monica, and Andre and Leah, worked to look busy at other things to give them the pretense of privacy. “I don’t regret getting to spend more time with you, or not have to leave for months or a year at a time,” he answered, in a voice of honesty and reassurance that he reinforced by putting his hand on her shoulder. “But every choice has consequences, kiddo, and there are some things I regret that I’ll never have a chance to do—that’s part of being an adult. Anyone who tells you they don’t regret anything hasn’t had to make a hard choice before.”

Siobhan stood up to move over and join Antigone on the ground at that, crossing her legs. “So what do you regret?” She asked, curiously. She seemed comforted that he didn’t regret spending time with them, but there was an air of worrying that he wouldn’t find the trade to have been worth it in her voice. Walter smiled at her, and took a long draw of his beer.

“I would have liked to make at least Lt. Colonel if not a full bird,” Walter responded, his voice remaining thoughtful, as he referred to the nickname for a full Colonel’s insignia of two eagles. “I would have really loved to command either of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s battalions; maybe even the regiment itself, or one of the Special Forces Groups.”

Ryan moved to take one of the nearby seats, putting his feet up on one of his younger namesake’s skateboards that had been left nearby. “You’d have been great at that, Walt,” Ryan said with a shake of his head, offering a salute with his beer bottle. “You needed to play better politics to get there, or you needed to be less good at doing the shit we did with Ashland.” He smirked a little bit at the blank looks from Antigone and Siobhan, and shrugged. “Your dad didn’t put up with a lot of shit from people who put their own careers above their unit, and he wasn’t afraid to put them in their place. Didn’t make him a lot of friends, however.”

Andre wasn’t able to keep from joining the conversation at this point; he looked sheepish as he did so, but Walter gave him a grin and a motion with his own bottle that indicated it was fine. “And being too good at what you did with Ashland?”

Walter sighed at that, and took another swig of his beer. He considered the dark liquid in the bottle, and then looked back up at his partner. “Maybe it’s different in the Marines, Andre, but I’d guess you know how it is—when you’re good at something the reward is more. And the penalty is that they don’t want to let you stop doing it. Well, I got caught in a niche too, and they didn’t want to take me away from it. I spent a lot of time as a Major in a lot of the same roles I did as a Captain—just in more varied locations with more interesting co-workers.” He saw a nod from the other man, and shrugged. “It’s one of the reasons why I retired. They were supremely uninterested in transferring or promoting me, and I was getting pretty tired of what I was doing.”

That seemed to reassure his children, who stood up and stretched and wandered to go raid the left-overs. That allowed Andre and Leah to more fully join the conversation. “So you two served together a lot?” Leah asked curiously. They knew some of Walter’s background, but Ryan didn’t come drink with them often so they had lacked the opportunity to question him. At their nods, she continued. “When did you meet?”

“College,” Ryan answered for Walter, who was finishing his beer and setting it aside. “We were both in an Army program to go from Enlisted to Commissioned Officers, and we ended up at Kansas State together. Where my sister was also studying,” he added after a moment. “Which, in retrospect…” Walter took one of the many pillows that were formerly on the couches, and flung it at his friend.

“We spent a not insignificant amount of time serving at least in the same command structure, given we both went through the same training. He retired a couple of years before I did, with some of the same frustrations. Right, Cap?” Walter asked, drawing a nod from Ryan.

“And,” Andre began, “You can’t tell us anything specific about what you did with Ashland.”

Walter and Ryan both gave a bland shrug. “It isn’t really relevant, except to say that she’s here and we’re not happy about it. But her being here means there is more going on, and we need to be really damn careful about how we go forward. She has a plan, and she is going to make it happen if she can.”

Andre and Leah shared a look, and both looked like they wanted to say something else—but they were interrupted by the blood curdling scream.