It had been one of those rare days with no international emergencies, and John had been persuaded by his brothers to come down from Five for a few hours of R&R. He’d been up in space for almost three months straight, and even he felt ready for a bit of a break and some fresh air. Except when he’d gotten changed into his off-duty clothes and went to meet his family by the pool, he didn’t get either. Instead, he took a water balloon to the face.
Gordon had declared war.
Alliances were formed, loyalties tested. John ended up with a bucket of ammunition presented to him by Alan, who had apparently been wronged by Gordon in a recent pillow fight. Virgil had forsaken honor and joined the team he thought most likely to win, backing the Tracy who spent the most time around water.
And Scott was the agent of chaos, taking aim at both teams to “keep things balanced.” John thought he just didn’t want any restrictions on which brothers he could hit.
The melee was brutal. John hadn’t quite found his Earth legs yet, and it wasn’t long before he was dripping wet, his body stinging from the impact of half a dozen balloons. Gordon had also taken the liberty of adding different shades of food coloring to the water, so John felt like a human tie-dye project. His only saving grace was that Virgil was a terrible shot, and Alan was drawing most of Scott’s fire.
“Hey, Space Oddity!”
John didn’t duck fast enough to avoid the projectile that struck him in the shoulder. The purple balloon didn’t break though, so he scooped it up and lobbed it back at Gordon. Just in time to get hit in the back of the head by a balloon thrown by Virgil.
Shaking green water out of his hair, John knew it was time to take a different approach. And like his mother had taught him, sometimes your brain was your best weapon.
He’d been taking shelter behind a deck chair, but he broke cover and made a run towards Virgil’s position. He dodged the first balloon chucked at him, but then tripped and went down in a flail of gangly limbs at the edge of the pool. He groaned, clutching his left arm to his chest.
“Hey, you all right?” Virgil asked, rising from his own shelter and hurrying toward his brother.
John waited until Virgil was kneeling over him. He grinned beatifically up at his brother, planted a foot on his chest, and shoved him backwards into the pool. John leapt up and took off running without looking back, the sounds of startled splashing from behind him spurring him on.
“Come on, Alan!” he yelled, grabbing his little brother by the arm with one hand and their bucket of ammunition with the other as he went.
“Didn’t know you fought so dirty,” Alan puffed as they sprinted into the jungle beyond the pool area. He sounded mildly impressed.
“I play to win,” John said grimly.
“Then why are we running away?”
“We’re not. We’re ending this.”
John dragged them to a halt and passed the bucket of balloons to Alan. Then he turned to the tree beside him and started to climb up it, his long limbs a help rather than a hindrance now. When he was in position, he reached down to help Alan up after him.
“Ew, your hand is sweaty,” Alan complained.
“So is yours, but you don’t hear me complaining. Now, do you want to win this, or not?”
A minute later, Gordon came crashing through the jungle, a soaked Virgil at his heels. He skidded to a halt, grinning up at the pale flash above him, standing out amidst the greenery. He’d never understood why John liked to wear that ugly tan shirt when he was on Earth, and now it was going to cost him.
“Really, guys?” Gordon called. “Hiding? Come on, if you come down now, I promise we’ll get it over with quickly.”
He got no response. He shrugged.
“Sergeant Virgil?” he said, holding out a hand to his partner. Virgil armed him with a balloon, and the two of them took aim through the thick cover of leaves. They bombarded the tree with gleeful abandon, intending to take no prisoners. When they were out of ammunition, they paused, waiting expectantly.
A moment later, John’s shirt dropped to the ground with a soggy plop. Virgil and Gordon just looked at it, confused.
Water balloons began to rain from the branches of a different tree, pelting the two hapless brothers on the ground. Gordon squeaked and tried to hide behind Virgil, but Virgil just picked him up and used him as a human shield, with limited success.
When the assault was finally over, Gordon was as soaked and sputtering as if he too had taken a surprise dip in the pool. His blond hair now more closely resembled a clown’s wig, and he looked like he’d gone three rounds with an entire classroom full of preschoolers armed with finger paint. Only then did John and Alan climb down from their tree. John was shirtless and had several leaves stuck in his hair, but there was a wild glint in his eye.
“You forgot he basically looks after a genius toddler 24/7,” Alan told Gordon smugly. “He’s got ways.”
“Come on, that’s cheating,” Gordon complained, although he couldn’t deny being a little proud of his big brother’s tactics. Maybe John wasn’t such a stick in the mud after all.
John looked him dead in the eye.
“Don’t start what you aren’t prepared to have me finish.”
Scott just laughed at the colorful group when they all trooped back out of the jungle, looking somewhat worse for wear. But even he stopped laughing pretty quickly when they tried to make their way back to the house. They’d forgotten one very important combatant.
No bonds of blood or loyalty survived Grandma Tracy’s merciless attack with the hose.