“…And then I twisted his arm out of socket! He screamed like a bitch after that! But I told him! I told him, an’ he didn’t listen!” I said between my own almost uncontrollable laughter. Annabelle laughed along with me, even as the blonde heavyset waitress stood slack-jawed and mortified at my story.
“Good God, you’re terrible, Marcus! You know that guy probably now uses his other hand to- oh! Yes, ma’am?” Annabelle giggled to the waitress, just then noticing her wide-eyed confusion and horror.
She shook herself out of her stunned horror before finally chirping, “Uh… yeah. Welcome to Donnie’s! Can I interest you in some appetizers, maybe some cheese fries? Or is the uh… lovely couple ready to order?”
“I’ll have the bacon cheese burger, no onions and burned to a crisp with a side of seasoned fries, please ma’am.” Annabelle cooed, her eyes never leaving my face as she spoke.
“M’kay. And you, big fella?” The waitress murmured as she regarded me with a look of total concern, like I was going to ask for the head of the chef with a side of fries and ketchup.
“I’ll have the chicken fried steak and country gravy.” I said, trying to soothe her obvious discomfort.
Apparently, I soothed it too well, because the look on her face went from fear to a kid on Christmas morning. “Oh my God! Are you from the South? Arizona? Texas Republic?” She shrieked with glee.
“Er… Yeah. South Texas.” I said with a little uncertainty. I may have changed my name and face, but I didn’t expect to ever have to tell someone a bullshit life story.
“Wo-o-o-o-o-o-o-w. It must be hard living that close to the border! What do you do? Why are you in Night City?” She rattled off her questions like an auctioneer on meth and that threw me off hard.
“Uhhh… I’m a-a bouncer. Or was. Decided it ain’t the job for me, y’know. Town like that was too small to make enough from that anyway. So I’m here to get a new life goin’, find love, settle down, maybe start a garage punk band or take up a martial arts class or somethin’.” I lied surprisingly well, even if the garage band part was a little much.
“Oh, you sing too? You’re just too freakin’ cool aren’t you, Mr…?” She trailed off, fishing to get me to finish her sentence with my name.
“Devon Wongraven.” I said with a toothy smile, in stark contrast to the annoyance I was experiencing with her.
“Wow! You know that doesn’t sound very Texan. And didn’t I hear her call you Marcus?” She winked as she leaned on our table with her palms, pushing her chest forward slightly in my direction.
“Oh, y’know. My dad had some of that ol’ Scandinavian blood ‘n all. And that’s my brother’s name. People say we act alike.” I grated weakly.
Before I could dig my hole any deeper, I heard Annabelle loudly clear her throat. The waitress’ attempt at a sultry smirk morphs into a split-second scowl as she took her palms off our table. “Anyway! A bacon cheeseburger, seasoned fries, a ‘chickun fry stayke’ and country gravy comin’ up for the lovely couple!” She cheerily trilled, clearly having bounced back from Annabelle’s interruption. She strode off, shaking an ass that had no business shaking as she did, leaving me with an annoyed Annabelle.
“Don’ even think it. I wouldn’ tap that with the butt of the my ex-Sergent’s rifle.” I grated flatly.
“You were flirting. Or at least you were baiting her.” She stated as she folded her arms across her impressive chest.
“More seriously, you called me Marcus. You do realize I am still one blood test away from gettin’ Jannisary’d right?” I growled back to her.
“I do, and I am sorry for that, but you still didn’t have to flirt with the blonde tub-o-lard.” She replied coldly, her arms still crossed, her eyes locked onto mine.
“I’m sorry if I looked like I was flirting. I was trying to be congi-congo-con-fuck it-nice. All personable and shit.” I growled, doing my best to look contrite.
“Congenial.” She said as her face broke into a smirk.
“Right. That word. Still, sorry.” I growled as I slumped back into my seat and dropped my hands onto the table. She dropped her arms from her chest and found my right hand with her left. She squeezed it reassuringly and stared me in the eyes with the most compassion that a woman has ever given me. “Just try to relax. You know you don’t have to be Sergent Billy Badass all the time, and I see that you are trying not to be. Just don’t forget about everyone else while you’re trying to set yourself straight, alright?”
I nodded and grunted back at her and stared back down at the table, unconsciously taking in the faux-stone design of the tabletop. “You know, I do miss your old face a little. This one’s a little more sharp and looks a little more cultured and shit, but your old one had character.” She said quietly as she stroked her fingers over where my zipper tattoos used to be on the side of my face. I smiled slightly but my eyes didn’t leave the tabletop.
“Awww lighten up. I would rather you looked like an asshole was coming around a corner with an RPG than you look like a pouty dog. C’mon! Cheer up and tell me how your buddy Mac tripped an anti-tank mine again.” She cooed, giving my hand another squeeze.
I chuckled and brought my eyes back up to meet hers. “Alright, alright. So we had just dealt with the Texan Rough Riders and we had their APC…”
Not too long ago in Tijuana, Mexico
“I love the smell of napalm in the mornin’.” Daltan, a tall muscled brute with a dark haircut as brutal as the scars on his forehead, mused as he sheltered himself from a fusillade of small arms fire behind a derelict van.
“What movie was that again? Full Metal Jacket?” Clint, a rat-faced Hispanic-Caucasian mix with a front tooth missing, asked as he swapped out a spent clip with a fresh one for his M-16X.
“Naw, that had to be Johnny Got His Gun.” grunted Kolt, our bald headed and grime covered fire support. He grunted and cursed as his tripod found purchase on the age worn roofing tile. His grunts and curses turned into an agonized howl as a stray shot bit into his hip. “Son of a fucking whore! Could we kill more of these fuckers and debate quotes after?! How about stopping these shits from shooting me, Private Ryan?!”
“That’s it! Saving Private Ryan, righ’?” I yelled into the comm, as I made swiss cheese out of a screaming insurgent with my carbine. As soon as the body toppled over, another insurgent with an RPG tripped through the doorway the first came through. He raised the rocket launcher in my direction, screaming a Spanish battle cry before his head popped like a rotten pumpkin from a sniper round.
“No, Pits. I think it was We Were Soldiers.” Mumbled our sniper, Ryan-Dane, a hawkish Irish-looking dude with an appreciation of only the most barbaric tribal practices of Native Americans, African Indigens, Vikings, and any other culture with cannibalism in its ancestry. His most prized possession was a necklace of dried ears of his confirmed kills.“No, no, never mind. It wasn’t We Were Soldiers. Shit… It’s on the tip of my-”
“Take cover!” Kolt roared into the comms as his heavy machine gun loudly whirred, clattered, then blasted into life. I dived to the side of the van that Ryan was taking refuge behind, and got to watch blood and rubble dust fill the air in a fog. Insurgents died in corners that I didn’t even think existed, as the machine gun sawed through bodies, buildings, and civilian vehicles like they were little more than gauze tape.
The din was deafening, a constant metal-on-metal bell that you just never could get used to. The dust fog quickly became impenetrable to unaugmented eyes. The taste of cordite, copper, and hot moisture was omnipresent. Kolt’s fire support always felt like it stretched time, never letting its moment of carnage just pass into history.
But the firing finally stopped in a descending whir as the mechanisms of his heavy machine gun slowed to a crawl before fading out.
“Sounds like you pussies are done. Get back to the APC. We gotta hit another block before these shits crawl away.” The Sarge grated into the comms, his satisfaction only noticeable to those who’d known him long. "And by the way, Daltan’s quote came from Apocalypse, Now. Argue a different one-liner before I force y’all bitches watch every season of Grey’s Anatomy on your down time.
Before I could grimace from the Sarge’s threat, the door to our van/fire-cover swung open to reveal a wild-eyed mohawked Hispanic man in what now amounted to soot-stained rags armed with a short-barreled pistol and a grime covered combat knife.
His pistol jammed as he brought it to bear on me, so he threw it at me as I charged him. The damned metal slide summoned stars into my vision as it impacted with my right eye. I tripped over rubble as I stumbled backwards from this invasion of my eye socket and landed hard on my back. I heard the little shit leap down and slam the van door shut as he rushed towards my prone form.
He thought I was easy prey now, so I can only assume that he almost shat himself as I vaulted back to my feet and charged him again. Knife drawn and face a monstrous contortion of rage as I roared my fury back at him, I saw him hesitate as I barreled into him and pinned him against the doors of the van. I pushed the edge of the knife against his throat, not enough to draw a serious amount of blood, but definitely enough for him to know that there is a fucking knife less than a blink away from touching his spine.
I tensed to give him the coup de grace. “Marcus?!” The insurgent screamed in a woman’s voice. A familiar woman’s voice-
“Marcus!” Annabelle screamed as I tensed to give her the coup de grace. It was at that moment that I realized what was happening.
I let go of her and let the knife drop to floor in a thump and clatter. She slid to the floor, a look of horror fixed onto her face at the prospect of her near death.
I stumbled backwards and reassessed the situation: I was naked, I was in a hotel room, Annabelle was clad in only a set of wine red lingerie as her sleepwear, and I was now Devon Wongraven, formerly, Marcus Dean James.
And I had just attempted to kill the woman of my dreams. But why?
“Sweet Christ! Are you alright?” I asked, as I stooped down to try to comfort her.
To my surprise she didn’t push me away, but instead buried her face in my chest and sobbed quietly. I held her as long as she needed, which could have been anywhere between five and fifteen minutes.
When she stopped crying, I carried her back to the bed and did my best to tuck her in.
“What happened?” She finally croaked as I finished bunching the lion’s share of the blankets around her.
“I was dreaming about my time with the Texas Military.” I grated simply and sullenly.
“I guess that explains that.” She mumbled, as she readjusted the blankets I packed around her.
“What do you mean?” I croaked, the shame of near murder ebbing away slowly.
“PTSD. I tried to wake you during a war dream. Different things set different people’s PTSD off. Apparently trying to wake you sets yours off. But yeah, a guy callin’ himself Stick called. He said you need to visit him as soon as possible.” She replied in the midst of a yawn.
“That could have waited ‘til morning, y’know.” I growled, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, I did have other reasons to wake you.” She smiled back at me, just barely discernible in the dark.
“Oh. Well shit. Guess I ruined that, didn’t I?”
I saw her silhouette nod before she rolled over. “I’m not kicking you out of bed though. Just don’t expect me to wake you in the morning. Now get your ass back up here and go back to sleep.”