A Soldier’s Wife
- AUTHOR: Zephyr
- TITLE: A Soldier’s Wife
- CATEGORY: Drama
- RATING: G
- SUMMARY: Dozer, Tank, Zee, Cass, and a little bit of Link when they were kids, intermixed with a soldier’s wife’s reflections on this childhood and her life.
- AUTHOR’S NOTES: I realized at 6am one morning that no one had tackled the characters that MTS had said, in her pre-Reloaded spoiler whore knowledge, that we were going to have so much fun fic-ing. I quickly decided that I’d have to present the idea to the HLers as a challenge of sorts. Then suddenly my muse jumped on board my thought train and off we went on a two-day journey to discover these lovely but dismissed characters that needed a background and some fleshing out.
A Soldier’s Wife
“Can Cass come out to play?” The gregarious little girl, no more than 5, with untamed curls out-spoke her two shyly stammering brothers. The tall, curvy woman in the doorway smiled her motherly, knowing smile at the trio.
“Sure she can, Zee. And hi David and Theo-” She was cut short by the boys’ glares meant to quietly remind her of their chosen names. “I mean, Dozer and Tank.” She added quickly with a smile to cover up her sigh.
In Zion, we all grew up together as sort of one collective family. All the kids of a given generation knew each other and, for the most part, played together in a large cohesive group. Of course, there were always stronger bonds among certain individuals; some that withstood trying times into adulthood.
Our group was like that. I’d known Dozer, Tank, and Zee for as long as I can remember and we picked up Link somewhere along the way.
When Cass came bounding into view, her long ponytail bouncing wildly behind her, Tank forgot his shyness and broke into one of his huge grins. Without breaking pace, she hugged Tank and then quickly stepped back to finally stand still as she considered Dozer. An amused, mischievous look spread across her face as she watched the boy smile shyly and blush. Without warning, Cass was in motion again to embrace the awkward boy in a hug. Before he knew what to do, she had twirled away from him to swoop up Zee and spin the younger girl around. When Zee’s feet were back on the ground, she stumbled around dizzily, eliciting laughter from everyone. Cass came to her aid by grasping a small hand in her own as the four friends marched off to the central cavern – their usual destination.
Along the way, they easily fell into animated conversation about whatever the latest news was in Zion or simply nothing at all. Both subjects were approached with equal intensity and seriousness of youth. They all got along surprisingly well for how much time they spent together, even the siblings. Tank and Dozer both admired their operator father and thus were quick to model after him by choosing working names years before they’d ever set foot on a ship outside Zion. In spite of their common interests, the brothers did not compete with each other. Zee, the youngest sibling and only girl in the family, was on her own distinct wavelength so she offset her brothers well. And Cass’ personality complemented all of them with distinctly different relationships: to her nine year old self, Zee was like a little sister; Tank, only 8, could only be thought of as a friend; but Dozer, ah shy, sweet Dozer – at 10, well, he was an older man…
As kids, even though we mostly just goofed around, we were still very aware of the harsh realities of our precious but fragile lives. We all knew somebody that worked on a ship and were regularly exposed to the grief that the loss of that person could bring, as common as such an occurrence was.
We often met and marveled at the soldiers – “the uns” as we harmlessly termed them as kids because they were unplugged but still un-Zionites. Most of the soldiers seemed really distant, though, especially in the haze of memory. That was probably because they were just occasional dinner guests or banquet honorees that usually didn’t have children we could relate to and who mostly just wanted strained, private words of confidence with our parents or relatives.
Inevitably, from the stories we’d heard, pieced together with bits of obscure information from our parents, we’d make up games about being on our own ship, unplugging our own new recruits and fighting Agents. These always turned into guilty covert operations, though, because the elders frowned upon even children treating the war so lightly. All the same, we were generally pretty content, upbeat kids who were encouraged to be so because of the war, not in spite of it.
“Have you guys heard ’bout this Or-a-cal-ee?” Zee asked them as the four sat perched on a ledge that overlooked the bustling cavern.
“Actually,” Dozer corrected her kindly, “It’s ‘Oracle’.”
“Oh yeah! I remember hearing some councilors talking about her,” Tank chimed in. “Something about a prophecy…” He looked around for help in completing his information.
“What did they say?” Cass asked.
“That just ONE guy is gonna win the whole war!” Zee provided excitedly.
“Really?!” Cass’ eyes shone with unabashed wonder.
“Well, I guess they’re supposed to find this guy that is the man who started Zion, only born again ’cause the original guy’s been dead a long time,” Dozer tried to explain. When he was met by confused looks, though, he tried another approach, “And he’s supposed to be able to do lots of cool stuff – but best of all is that he can end the war!”
“Well, yeah – that’s what I said.” Zee put in with a mock pout.
“Cool!” Tank exclaimed simultaneously.
“But wouldn’t he need some help? That’s an awful lot for one guy to do by himself…” Cass wondered, obviously concerned.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Dozer said and Tank nodded in somber assent.
Suddenly, Zee jumped up and started sliding herself down the rock face as she yelled, “Look guys! It’s Dylan and Nora! C’mon!”
Their worries forgotten, the other three quickly scrambled to the ground after her.
The prophecy invaded our life slowly – seeping through the cracks of conversation until its implications were permanent residents at the back of everyone’s minds. None of the happenings outside our supposedly safe city seemed real to its natives. It took many years of looking into the weary, war-torn eyes of the soldiers for us to begin to grasp the verity of their lives – lives that were often very short and assuredly unparalleled in harshness.
That’s how it was with the Oracle’s news, too. Only a few of the oldest on the council had been around long enough to see any of her other predictions come to fruition. That left the rest of us pretty skeptical.
I really felt the weight of the prophecy when Morpheus came striding in with his self-assured stoicism and enigmatic promises. That was also when Dozer and Tank were smitten with following both their paternal path and Morpheus’ ideals. I was glad to see Dozer so passionate about something, but we had made a pretty comfortable life for ourselves in our small cabin with our son, Elijah, and another child on the way. He really wanted me to be okay with it, but I didn’t really have any say in the final decision. In the end, the combination of his belief in Morpheus, his need to protect Tank – who, without any familial bondage, was assuredly joining the crew – and his confidence that I could take care of the children and myself, had sealed the deal in his mind.
I know he missed me every minute he was on the ship, but I’d always known it was where he was meant to be.
“So what do ya’ wanna be when you grow up?” Dozer asked Cass one time when it was just the two of them. She shrugged, then turned the conversation back on him.
“Well, I know what YOU wanna be!”
“No ya’ don’t!”
“Yeah? Well… I changed my mind!” They both broke into a fit of giggles at that, knowing Dozer had always dreamed of becoming a medic on a ship and wouldn’t be changing his mind any time soon. For a few minutes they just sat in silence until Cass spoke again.
“I know where I wanna be…” She mused.
“Oh yeah, where’s that?” The boy countered.
“Mmmm…” She pretended to be thinking about it, then said quickly, “With you!” She let out one short giggle, pecked him on the cheek and took off running, leaving Dozer utterly bewildered. His mouth opened to call after her, but nothing came out, so he just followed her with his eyes until she was lost in the crowd of passing people. Then his lips broke into a wide grin.
Our good-byes were bittersweet. What a cliché reaction – why did I expect they’d be anything different? Dozer was going off to do what he’d always wanted – what he’d put off for my sake – and I knew I’d have help and support enough to get by on my own. It was still almost unbearably hard to endure for what amounted to be my own selfish reasons. But what about our kids growing up with a father who’s barely there? His consolation for that was “Uncle Link”, but our mutual friend was more of a still-immature big brother than a real role model. So I sighed and nodded like always. Then he took me in his strong arms and I had no choice but to submit to the familiar comfort. At times like that, I, too, felt his sense of hope and it was then that none of the outside turmoil and battles seemed real enough to touch us.
As teenagers, already well aware of life’s evanescence, Dozer, Tank, Zee, Cass, and the relative newcomer Link made several pacts. Some were private like the connubial ones between Cass and Dozer and the similar one Link and Zee agreed to. Others were openly acknowledged amongst the members of the tight-knit group.
“Link,” Tank began by placing his hands on the other man’s shoulders, “When Dozer and I find ships that will recruit us, you’ll stay in the city since you’re content to do so, correct?” His words were formal and practiced into familiarity. They were not, nor never would be his words – it was just a custom he’d picked up from witnessing many ceremonies during his life in the somber city. This formality was more of Dozer’s forte.
Link nodded in affirmation, his long hair bobbing obediently.
“And in the same vein,” Dozer broached the painful part of the pledge, “If anything should happen to us, will you continue our work if such a replacement is deemed necessary?”
“Yes.” Link replied somberly and grasped Dozer’s hand, drawing the bigger man into a ceremonial hug. To seal the pact, he followed suit with Tank as well.
The women, on the other hand, made promises that were more tacit than formally spoken but they still carried the same weight. What they did not need to say was that no matter what, they would be there to stabilize each other if anything happened to their respective battle-seeking men and brothers (whether by blood or emotional relationship).
Even though our love had not been the passion-filled, earth-shattering type of fairytale true love, I think I felt the loss of it more intensely because it was just the opposite. Between us was a steadfast bond of brotherhood grown stronger through mutual experience and expression. Losing Dozer, and Tank as well, meant losing half of my childhood memories. I think it was that realization and my children’s loss of a father and friend that hurt me the most. Those were the unknowable, intangible parts of grief that multiply its dimensions but further prevent it from being shared. Zee and I shared the loss of our brothers, but our hurt was a separate entity that erected itself as an invisible barrier between us.
Later, we’d come to realize that that barrier was actually the shield of our own defense mechanism taking care of us because we had to break down our own individual grief into manageable parts by ourselves before we could conquer our collective grief together. And we would eventually go through the whole process to find that we had indeed kept our pact from so long ago.
In the end, that alone will get us – with each other, together – through whatever comes because staying in the city isn’t cowardly: it’s necessary and equally full of risks as venturing outside. Just ask a soldier’s wife.