I keep waiting for Tex. Waiting and thinking. The man I was based on- the Director- he so deeply believed Tex was a failure. So she was. But here in the Epsilon unit? There is no Director. The only things that are real are Tex and me. Sometimes I can’t believe the shit I go through just to get some alone time with her. And even now, I’m not really with her. But it’s given me time, and I need that- time. Because…. Well…
I can remember everything now, all my time in Blood Gulch. Looking back, it’s surreal. Tex was the smartest and strongest of us all but she always failed. I started to have second thoughts of reliving those moments in the Epsilon unit. But then I thought if there’s no Director, maybe his beliefs can’t affect us. Instead… maybe mine can. If I believe in her bravery, her strength, and her resilience, maybe that’s enough to change fundamental failure into success.
So I need time to go through my memories, remember all the good moments. Remember what an amazing person she is.
“Yeah, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve, uh, I’ve actually got a girl back home.”
“Oh yeah? Girlfriend or wife?”
“No, man. She’s just my girlfriend, you know. We were gonna get married but I got shipped out and….Ah, you know how it works.”
“Oh. Well…. Are you gonna marry her when you get back?”
“I’m not gonna get married,” Caboose interjected. “My dad always says, ‘Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?’”
The whole world reset in the Epsilon Unit. The same old conversations, the same old arguments, the same stupid Caboose. And though Church remembered it all, he couldn’t change any of the events. He had to focus on changing his view of Tex. So he played along, recited his lines without skipping a beat.
“Hey rookie.” Church took two quick steps towards him. “Are you calling my girlfriend a cow?” he asked in a warning tone.
“No, I think he called her a slut!” Tucker chimed in.
“I’ll tell you what, noob. I could sit out here and listen to you insult my girlfriend all day long but as it turns out…” Church paused. This was really the conversation that started it all wasn’t it? In a second, Church would order Caboose into the base. Caboose, in his epic retardation, would give the new red recruit their flag and then? Well shit, then Church would end up dead. And….
And Tex would show up. Right? She would have to, because Church died and Tucker called reinforcements. So if Church went along with it all, logically Tex would have to come back. What a shitty choice though, Church thought. Die or your girlfriend won't come back.
“As it turns out…?” Caboose asked tentatively while slowly backing up.
That wasn’t part of the dialogue, Church realized. Something had just changed. Not much but it was something so… maybe he could make another change. Then again, he tried something like this when he has been sent back through time by Wyoming’s time distortion and it didn’t exactly turn out well, did it? Hmm. “You know what? Fuck it.” Church slugged the new recruit with his pistol. “The General’s coming by soon. Go stand at attention by the flag. No questions.”
“You want me to stand at attention all day?” Church hit him again. “Ow! Okay, I’m going!” Caboose rushed towards the base, stopping halfway there. “Uh, how will I know when I see the General?”
“There’s only three of us out here, rookie,” Tucker scoffed, playing along easily. “He’s the one guy who doesn’t look like us.” He waited until Caboose ran into the base before turning to Church. “The General? Where did that come from?”
Church shrugged. “Just fucking with him. Anyway, don’t complain. It got that idiot away from us, right?”
Caboose popped back out of the base. “Uh, Mr. Church? Sir? Sorry a-about- calling your girl a- slut,” he stammered.
Church couldn’t help it. Caboose still pissed him off worse than a jam-handed asshole kid pissed off a hornet by stomping on its nest. “ROOKIE! Shut up! Just shut up, you’re driving me crazy! Get in there!” He glared at his snickering friend. “Tucker… are you laughing at me?”
“Uh, excuse me, sirs?” That had to be the Reds’ new recruit. Still, Church had a part to play…
“Rookie, so help me god… If you don’t get in there right now, I’m gonna make you into an amputee!”
“Okay!” Donut answered, defensively. “Jeez…”
And just like clockwork, Caboose crept out of the base a few minutes later and said hesitantly, “Hey! Just wanted to let you know… The General stopped by and picked up the flag!”
Church stared at him evenly. “Whatever, rookie.”
“Yeah, what an idiot,” Tucker laughed. “Wait- what did you just say?!”
“The General. You know, the one who doesn’t look like us. ……….He was red.”
“What the fuck, kid! You just gave our flag to one of the Reds?”
“Is that bad?”
“Bad?! You might as well’ve let him take our tank too! Damn, rookie….”
Church meanwhile climbed to the top of the base and focused his sniper rifle to watch Donut aimlessly wander the cliffs. “His armor’s red. Must be their sergeant.”
“That explains how the sonovabitch got past our defenses,” Tucker muttered.
Inside his helmet, Church grinned wider than 300 pound redneck over a bucket of fried chicken. “Don’t worry about it, Tucker. We’ll call in some reinforcements and get this flag situation sorted in no time.”
A few hours later, Tucker was briefing the black-armored soldier. “So then dumb shit over here,” he explained, motioning to Caboose, “gave the enemy our flag. And Private Lazy Ass-“ he jerked a thumb at Church, “-didn’t even wanna go after it. Pussy.”
“Bitch,” Church muttered back.
“Which one of you is in charge?” The voice simulator, Church remembered. That’s why Tex’s voice sounded so deep and stoic. But Church didn’t answer the question.
Tucker spoke after a short silent moment. “Fuck it! Church’s checked out, so I’m in charge! And for once, I want the fucking sniper rifle- AaaaAH son of a bitch!”
The quiet Freelancer had shot Tucker in the foot. “Now I’m in charge.”
“I don’t think I like Captain Freelancer,” Caboose mumbled mournfully.
Tucker groaned, flat on his ass and holding his foot. “Aaah ha-haaah, I hate you all so much.”
Church just laughed a little. “Awe, buck up, Tucker. I’m sure your foot will be fine. You know, after the toe falls off.”
“Uugh, you cockbite.”
“Where are you going Captain Freelancer?” Caboose called. Church didn’t notice the soldier had already started for the Reds’ base.
“Get your flag back. Kill everyone. You all stay here.”
Church dashed off too.
“Church! Captain Freelancer ordered everyone to stay here!”
He paused. “God, Caboose, she’s not Captain Freelancer. She’s Tex. Look, just stay here okay? Get Tucker a med kit for his foot and whatever you do, do NOT help him!”
“No! No, helping anyone!”
Church started off again, shouting after the black solider when he was close enough. “Tex! Tex, wait!”
The Freelancer stopped, crouching behind a rock to avoid detection by the Red army. “I told you to wait at the base. You’re interfering with my mission.”
“Tex, it’s me! Church!”
“The name isn’t Tex-“
“Fine. Allison. Agent Texas. Whatever!”
“My name is Agent Washington.”
Church stared for a long moment. “Say that again.”
“Agent. Washing-“ Church meleed the other soldier. “H-h-hey-ey-ey-h-“ The voice simulator cut out, replaced by Wash’s familiar tone. “What the hell was that about!? You broke my voice sim!”
“Whatever! Just keep out of my way!” Wash darted for the base again, leaving behind a stunned Church. But a moment later Church was running after Washington again and though neither of them knew it, so was Caboose.
What the hell happened? She was supposed to come back! Tucker called Vic and Vic was supposed to send Tex. So what. The hell. Happened?! And hell- more than that, what do I do now? Pursuing her never worked, waiting for her didn’t work so- God damn it! Tex….. Just come back to me!
Chaos had already ensued at the Reds’ base by the time Church arrived. Lopez was waking the three unconscious Privates and the sergeant was holding Wash prisoner. Church easily slipped into the base and quietly crept up behind the smug commanding officer.
“Thought you could sneak by ol’ Sarge, huh? Heh heh. Dumb Blues.” Church lightly tapped Sarge’s shoulder with the butt of his rifle- “What the-?!” –then bashed his visor with it when the man turned around. “HURK!”
“I thought I told you to go back to the base,” Wash sneered.
“Or you could thank me for rescuing you. Asshole.”
“Whatever. I got your flag back. Oh, and by the way? Their new recruit captured your flag, not the sergeant. Way to get duped by the stupidest soldier in the canyon."
Church snorted. “You’re forgetting about Caboose.”
“Fine. Way to get duped by the second stupidest soldier in the canyon.”
“C’mon, cockbite, let’s just get out of here before the sarge wakes up.” Church led them out of the base and into their tank’s line of fire. “Oh, shit!” Caboose was only a hundred yards away and driving Shiela right towards them.
“It’s Church!” Caboose cheered over the radio. “Church, I came to help!”
“Damn it, Caboose, I told you NOT to help!”
“Wash, RUN!” He quickly led the Freelancer around side the Reds’ base, as Shiela fired the first shot. “FUCK!”
“What the hell is he doing?!” Wash shouted after him.
“Firing main cannon.”
“Just get behind those rocks!” Church called back.
“Firing main cannon.”
Church skidded behind a few tall rocks, Wash right behind him. “Holy shit. I’m alive! I can’t believe it!”
“Target eliminated. Acquiring new target.” Church could hear the barely conscious Reds being shocked awake as the tank’s cannon turned on them. “Firing main cannon.” Crashes echoed through the canyon as Shiela gunned down the Reds’ jeep.
Washington panted quietly. “What. The fuck. Did you guys turn on the friendly fire function?
Church shrugged, ignoring the mayhem on the other side of the rock. “Apparently. Look- Wash-“
“I don’t remember saying you could call me that.”
“You know what? I just saved your ass-“
“From being blown up by your own teammate!”
“Yeah, from the team-killing fucktard and from the Reds too. So not only am I going to call you ‘Wash’, but you’re going to answer some questions for me.” Church paused until Wash gave him a reluctant nod. “Where’s Agent Texas? Why wasn’t she sent here?”
“…I don’t know how you could possibly know Agent Texas, but you obviously don’t know much about her.”
“I know plenty about- Just tell me!”
The cannon fire finally died down. “Target eliminated. Autofire disengaged.”
Wash heaved a sigh of relief. “Finally.” He stood, carefully stepping out from behind their cover. “Texas isn’t a freelancer like me. She’s a recovery agent. She helps freelancers who are injured or in distress.”
“She’s…. helping people?”
“Yes. Actually, she the best recovery agent in the field.”
Tex. Helping people. The best at helping people. Who woulda thought? Not much has happened yet and still, a lot’s changed. Except….
She’s always helped people, hasn’t she? She was ordered to come to Blood Gulch initially but then she stayed to help us- me. To help me. Even when she had incentive, she went way beyond the call. And before we got stuck here, she was trying to help the AIs and her fellow Freelancers.
Huh. Maybe she should’ve been a Recovery Agent all along. Thinking back, I can barely remember a time that she wasn’t trying to help us in some way or another. And memory’s….
Memory is the….
Holy shit. I know what to do.
Church pressed himself back behind the rocks. “Caboose!”
“Church! You’re alive!”
Church made a mental note to poison Caboose’s next meal. “Caboose, Wash is hurt! Help him!”
“What? I’m not hurt!”
“The dishwasher is hurt?” Caboose asked. “The Reds have a dishwasher? Why don’t we have a dishwasher?”
“No- god damn it, Caboose- Captain Freelancer! Help Captain Freelancer!”
“What…?” Wash froze as Shiela swung her cannon to face him.
“Target locked. Firing main cannon.”
“Son of a-“
“Tucker did it!”
It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever done but I became the team-killing fucktard last time too when I was running around behind the scenes with Wyoming’s time distortion armor enhancement. I was trying to fix everything and I became the reason that everything fucked up. So. Might as well stick to what I know.
“Eh. He’ll live,” Tex said when she finished checking Wash’s vitals. “Load him up!” Two medics loaded Wash into a Pelican while Tex turned to the Blues. “So. Which one of you did it.”
“Tucker!” Caboose said quickly.
“Fuck you! I was at the base the whole time, no thanks to that comotose asshole.”
“Actually,” Church cut in, “it was kind of my fault.”
“You know what? I don’t want to know. I’ll just make up the details in my report.” Tex started back towards her motorcycle.
“Tex, wait up!” Church chased after her.
“Don’t come back until you hit it, Church! Bow chicka bow wow!”
“Tex! Tex, c’mon! Hold up!”
Tex led him away until they were out of earshot of the others before turning to face him. “Church, let’s not do this. I was a freelancer. I know that Wash or Maine turned the storage unit into a capture unit and I know we’re not getting out anytime soon. It take special equipment to extrac t an AI-“
“That’s not what I want to talk about. Tex…. Did you know I was here all along?”
“Then why didn’t you come back until now?”
Tex sighed, annoyed. “What’s the point?”
“Well, it- So…. So wegabedugehher….”
“So we can be together!”
“Church, don’t you get it? There’s no together for you and I. We’re just fragments of an AI. Nothing is ever going to change.”
Church knew what he was about to say was going to get his ass beat but… “You’re wrong.”
He took a breath. “Tex, I…. I think you have changed. That- I’ve changed. I- Just hear me out. The Director, he knew a girl named Allison-“
“I know. I read the files, remember? He knew Allison, she died, he made the Alpha and I’m a fragment of that.”
“Wait, just- The Director remembered Allison as a failure-“
“So that’s why… I think that’s why you have so much trouble. But Tex, you’re not a failure. I mean, look at these last couple months! You’ve completely changed your life. You’re a recovery agent, you’re helping other AI-“
“Other freelancers. There are no AIs.”
“But you’re succeeding.”
“It’s a simulated world. None of this is real.”
Church groaned. She was so god damn stubborn. “Fuck that! Tex, this is what we’ve got, okay? And maybe this world isn’t real but I’m real and you’re real! You’re not succeeding because it’s a simulation, you’re succeeding because you’re strong and smart and brave and….”
‘And what?’ Church thought. ‘She may be all those things, but she always seemed to fail.’ Then he remembered something else.
“… And you always get back up. No matter what happens, no matter how many times you get knocked down, you always get up. Come back. It doesn’t matter what you were based on because you’re your own person now.”
“You heard the Director’s logs. He was an asshole!”
“You’re an asshole too, Church.”
“Yeah, well then I’m a different kind of asshole.”
Tex shook her head. “You know this doesn’t change anything.”
“No… No, I guess not. Cause no matter where you go next or how long you’re gone, I’ll still wait for you.”
“Why?” she asked, exasperated.
“Well- Because I love you, Tex.”
She was still for a moment before Church heard her breath a soft sigh. “I love yo-“ A white flash and high, sharp tone pierced their quiet moment.
“What the fuck?!” Church blinked several times as the bright light faded into new scenary around them. “What the hell just happened?”
“Church, it’s me! Your best friend, Caboose!”
“Caboose, get out of here! You’re ruining the…” Church scanned the room. Caboose, Tucker, Wash, and a see-through Tex standing in a cramped room of computer terminals. “….moment.” And at his feet was the Epsilon Unit. “Well, fuck.”
“Huh,” Tex added.
“Nice to have you two back,” Wash said, kicking aside some stray cables and electronics, “Now both of you hop in someone’s armor so we can get out of here.”
Church shook his head a little in confusion. “Wait a second- what’s going on?”
“I rescued you!”
“Uh- okay. Thanks, Caboose. Any other details you might want to fill us in on?”
Tucker offered a better explanation. “Basically? Wash owed us for sneaking him back to Blue base so we got him to sneak us into a freelancer facility. Then we stole the Epsilon unit and used a bunch of their computer shit to bust you out. But trust me, it’s a helluva lot harder than it looks.”
“…Bow chicka bow wow!”
Suddenly an alarm sounded. Caboose looked back at the group from a nearby computer terminal.
“Caboose!” Wash shouted. “I thought I told you NOT to help!”
“I’m not helping, I’m throwing a party! And now everyone will know we are having a party. And they will come here, and have cake, and-“
“Do you wanna shoot him or should I?” Church asked Tex.
“Awe, that’s sweet.”
“It’ll have to wait,” Wash cut in. “Cavalry’s coming. Tucker, set a remote mine so we can destroy the evidence then make sure that hall’s clear. Tex, Church? Caboose and I are going to carry you out in our AI slots. We can’t have anyone spotting you or discovering we stole you from the Epsilon unit.”
“Alright. Tex, are you in?”
Tex stared briefly at the unit before looking back up at him. “I’m in.”
“Then let’s go already.”