You’re five or six when you figure out what you want to do with your life.
The first time you express this to the qui members of the Stenjic clan, they’re horrified. They protest, but you stand firm in your eight year old fury. You will be a Marine, and you will save them from the Others.
As you get older and look back on that moment, you cringe a little at how much they must have had to put up with back then, considering how difficult you are now as a teenager.
Your family is lower class, so a desk job is pretty much out of the question. You aren’t much for business anyway, preferring physical jobs that you can clearly see your end task. You’re one of the youngest of the Stenjic clan, which means there’s no pre-appointed place for you.
You join the Marines at sixteen.
At sixteen you’re just old enough to realize all the injustices in the world, all the class distinctions and hatred and all the shit that people like you have to go through. At sixteen you’re still young enough that you think you can change the world with words, and when that fails you can change the world with violence. At sixteen your life begins.
You’ve never been offworld before, until you join up. Right away you realize it’s difficult to sleep when you have to wear a masker all the time. You didn’t know you’d be separated from everyone you’d ever known, left to fend for yourself in this strange situation.
You feel more alone than you ever have - more alone even than that time you accidentally locked yourself in the bathroom for a day and a half.
In basic training you meet three other di’Taykan, none of whom really appreciate your talents for getting into trouble. You stop trying to socialize with them after they turn you in for a prank on the sergeant.
When you’re assigned to Sh’quo Company, you don’t expect much. You turn to your usual slightly standoffish persona to cover the fact that you don’t belong.
The first person who’s really genuinely interested in you as a person as opposed to a new face (“Ooh, fresh blood,” says Corporal Mysho, smiling as she turns her masker down.) or a target (“Think fast!” Ressk shouts as he hurls a rag at you with one foot.) is a newly-promoted Human Sergeant called Mike Glicksohn, who seems perpetually lost running after everyone else.
Your platoon’s highest ranking NCO is Torin Kerr, a Human woman who has a dangerously competent air about her. If the marines had special forces, this woman would certainly be one of them.
You immediately start pushing boundaries. You finally “think fast” enough for Ressk to grudgingly offer to share rations with you, and after you and Mysho have had a good few “rolls in the hay”, as Corporal Hollice puts it, you settle in with the other marines on your fireteam.
Binti Mashona is a crack shot. Ressk is a hacker. Mysho is good with her hands. Juan Checya is a bookie. Hollice is… something else. You? You like to run. You’ve always liked to run, and you were good at it, too. Instead of being the joker, the fuk-up, you’re the runner. It feels strangely good.
Not that you’re not a joker and a fuk-up, too. It’s just that you don’t need those words to define you any more.
Your first deployment is strangely anticlimactic.
People die. None of your good friends die, not Ressk or Checya or Mysho or Hollice or Mashona or Glicksohn or Sergeant Kerr. When you realize you’re not grieving for the dead but only feeling glad it wasn’t you and yours, you nearly vomit. Are you losing your conscience? You close your eyes and rest your head against Checya’s shoulder, hair pressed flat against your head. Checya wraps his arm around you without question, pulling your shaking body close to his warmth.
You breathe easier when Mysho crawls into your bunk on the Berganitan. Her hair is waving gently and her hands slip under your sleep shirt as you settle closer against her. She tells you in a quiet voice about her first deployment, how she watched someone from her boot camp class die right in front of her, how she didn’t feel a thing, how she finally cried after nearly a month.
You fall asleep pressed between her and the wall, and it feels safe.
You think Sergeant Kerr has taken a shine to you. You breathe a sigh of relief - maybe that’ll mean you get off easier when you do pull pranks.
You slowly learn to belong again. You’re friends with these people, friends with di’Taykan and Humans and Krai, and even though you don’t usually keep friends from other species without being friends with benefits, you learn how to emotionally connect, even if you’re still awkward and uncomfortable with the kind of platonic affection between Hollice and Mysho or Checya and Ressk.
The deployment to the lizard people planet - okay, maybe that’s not the best way to think about it, but seriously, what else could it be? - is supposed to be pretty mundane. Just some diplomatic honor guard shit, nothing to worry about. Your little escapade to the local bar got you in trouble, sure, but was it worth it? Fuk yes.
When you’re wounded it’s like someone’s taken away your wings. You panic, more than a little, when you’re away from the people who have become your family. At least you’ve got Hollice there to help. You’re a curious combination of bored and scared stiff, and you stare forlornly out the window.
You don’t really think about dying all that much. You’ve always been aware it’s a possibility, but you’d aimed to live long enough to bitch about having to turn qui with your friends. That’s… no longer going to be possible, you realize as you cough on the smoke in the room.
“Go,” you tell Hollice, and you push off the masker, and you let yourself float away on a tide of seething pain.