This is the fifth part of the compiled and edited log of the 2009 Memorial Party role-play. It encompasses the eighth string, concerning a toast to the fallen and the subsequent conversation between Marcus Langston, Luke Celinus, and Osbert. The writing in this section comes from the following Boarders:
String 8: A Toast
Filling a glass with some Bleepka, Leto shouted, "I propose a toast to the fallen!"
Jane agreed, and filled her glass with Bleepka as well.
"To the fallen!" cried Milask.
"To the fallen," Leas concurred, raising his glass.
"Lest we forget," Deryn murmured in another part of the crowd, hand going to the sprig of rosemary she was wearing.
"So many people we won't ever get to know..." said Krisp. "TO THOSE GOOD PEOPLE WE WON'T EVER GET TO KNOW!"
Marcus had slumped back down on his seat, ignoring the other agents that came by. His head cradled in his hands, he didn't bother finishing off what was left of the drink, trying to gather his thoughts. Of course, with the alcohol in him that wasn't easy, but he still made an effort. How could he have been so stupid? He was just screwing it all up. Did Sara have a point...? Did it matter? When Leto called the toast to the fallen, he raised the almost-empty bottle. "T' absent friends!" He shouted over the din of people toasting.
"To the departed, who go to a far better retirement than we will ever know!" Small Murphy piped up, hoisting his flask.
"Ta a right an' propa WAAAGH!" Zodfang bellowed, though he himself had no drink.
"To the glorious dead!"
"DEDICATION: TO THE ONE THOUSAND AGENTS KILLED IN THE MARY SUE INVASION."
Shot glasses and Bleepka bottles were raised high as dedications ran the course of the store. Marcus supposed most of those in the room deserved to be there far more than he, but he couldn't help it. If he couldn't fight, he'd at least pay his respects, he figured. "Tch, disrespect... what does she know...?"
Luke patted his shoulder. "'S all... sad, innit. To the fallen!" he added, holding his own drink up briefly before downing it.
Over on the other side of the room, Cassie and Nat added their voices to the shouting, Cassie's bottom lip wobbling slightly due to the emotions of the scene and the alcohol she'd drunk.
In yet another part of the room, Jessie raised her glass, but paused for a moment before drinking. "To absent friends," she murmured, and drained the glass.
Marcus, not having noticed Luke until then, spun around and almost fell right off his seat. Managing to right himself and stop from shouting several drunken obscenities at his old friend, he took a few breaths as Leto called over some people to have a drink. It took him a few moments to recognise Luke, but when he did he let out a small, drunken, laugh. "'S you... heh, shouldn' sneak up'n peoples like tha', Lukey-boy. S'whaddya wan'?"
Luke reached out a hand to help steady Marcus. "Hey, it's okay, man," he replied, making himself comfortable and eyeing the vodka bottle. "You sure you're all right? Never seen you drink before. 'S not like you." He nudged the bottle away, a feeling of mild concern pushing through his tipsiness. Marcus never drank, in fact he'd always expressed distaste for the idea.
"C'mon, let's just... talk a bit, eh? Talk about, y'know, the good old days an' stuff."
Marcus eyed Luke warily for a moment. "F'r a sec, thought ya were gonna preach a'me like th' other 'un," he said, reaching for the bottle again only to realise that it was now totally empty. Sighing, he set the bottle down again. "'Ey, Leto, c'n I have annuver?" he asked, nodding appreciatively when a new bottle of vodka was, hesitantly, set in front of him. Taking a large gulp, he turned in his seat again to face Luke, gripping the bottle tightly and looking at Luke like he'd lay the big man out if he tried to take it away from him. "Heh... arright. Yeah, 'm arright. A thou' agents, they ain't arright, but 'm arright, yeah. Arright 'cause they wouldn' lemme at 'em." Another sip, then he continued. "Arright, how's ya askin' tha'? Let'm get killed. Jesus, wha' the 'ell'm I doin' 'ere? Couldn' do JACK." Shaking his head, he looked up at his friend when Luke mentioned "the good old days."
"G'd ol' days? Which?"
"What d'you mean, preach?" Luke asked, then decided he didn't want to know. Probably something to do with the girl Marcus had been yelling at earlier. "And... Leto, don't give him any more," he added in an undertone to the bartender. "He's gonna end up killing himself if he goes on like this."
Turning back to Marcus, he tried to act nonchalant. "Y'know, like, back in `05, when we did the, the, exorcism of Middle-earth f' those Pyros, an' stuff."
"Don't worry, I won't," said Leto. "I still have some of the beverages from the future, though."
"'Lumia...? Yeh, I 'member that'un," Marcus replied, having not heard Luke whispering to Leto and his assistant bartender, before taking another drink of the vodka bottle. It was awfully strong stuff, but that was why he'd asked for it. Perhaps it was hitting him a bit harder than he thought it would, but he figured he could take care of himself, even drunk. He was about to try to slur together something to continue the conversation when someone to his left cleared their throat.
"An agent of your calibre turning out like this, getting so plastered he can barely stand?" the person asked rhetorically, annoyance registering in their cultured British accent. "Langston, you disgust me."
"The 'ell're ya—" Marcus started to say, turning to face the speaker. However, he choked down whatever he was going to say as he was faced with Osbert. Marcus had only met the man a couple times, and was lucky enough that he hadn't been trained by the old man, but he still knew enough about Osbert to immediately shut his mouth. "Er... 'ey, Osbert."
"'Hey, Osbert' yourself, Langston," Osbert said, frowning somewhat visibly, though Marcus couldn't tell if it was out of annoyance or the sense of disappointment he seemed to regard every agent with. "Just what in God's name are you doing with that vodka? You're accomplishing nothing but disgracing that uniform and the memory of our dead comrades, you know."
Luke looked over at the sound of a new voice. When he saw the man who'd approached them, he debated whether or not to reply. He'd heard of the formidable Operations agent, but hadn't met him before. Still, the guy had no right to be having a go.
"'Scuse me," he butted in, standing up and making a point of showing just how much bigger he was than Osbert, "but he's got enough on his plate at the moment 'thout you making him feel worse. If it makes you feel any better, he's not getting any more booze."
"Not impressed," Osbert said, looking up a bit at Luke. "You might want to sit back down, before you do something stupid. Oh, Leto? As I was saying, I'll have a brandy, if you have any."
"Believe I do," Leto said, starting to look through his supply as Osbert returned his attention to the two agents. He knew Langston somewhat, having met the man on a few occasions and not always on the best of circumstances. Honestly, he half wished he had been the one to train him, but it didn't particularly matter in retrospect. As the glass of brandy was placed on the bar, he sized up the large agent who had stood up to him, idly taking a sip. He was both taller and a lot more built than Osbert was, but these days that applied to a lot of people, and he wasn't particularly impressed. Big people were just as easy to break as small ones. Still, he had no idea who the person was, though he appeared to be a friend of Langston's.
"Hm, on that note, I don't believe I have any idea who you are," he said to the larger agent, adjusting his glasses again. "Do not believe we have met before, though you appear to be a friend of that mess sprawled on Leto's bar," he gestured to Marcus, who slurred something unintelligible and gulped at his drink again. "I am not mistaken, am I?"
Biting back the first impulse to say something harsh, Luke shrugged. "I'm not going to do anything stupid," he replied, remaining standing but relaxing his stance somewhat. "Believe me, the last thing I want is a fight." After a moment, the older man asked who he was.
"Yeah, I'm a friend of Marcus," he said, glancing at the drunken man leaning on the bar. "Known him practically since I joined up, and he's saved my life more times than I can remember off the top of my head. I'm Luke Celinus, by the way. And you're Osbert, aren't you?" He glanced at the man's helmet, which in his view was just a little ostentatious, and shook his head slightly. "Your headgear's practically famous, you know." He picked up his drink — a half-empty bottle of beer — and took a gulp.
Osbert was about to say something. However, he was cut off by the sudden display of fireworks, the loud bangs and crackles making the agent jump. He knew a firefight hadn't suddenly erupted in the store, especially with the bright flashes, but he still wheeled around in surprise. "BLOODY FLAMING DENETHOR FROM HELL!" the mix of World One and PPC expletives left his mouth before he really thought of what he was saying, turning sharply to find the source of the random firecrackers. Giving Leto a sharp look, he took a few seconds to let his heart stop racing before setting down the brandy and turning to face Celinus and Langston again. At least he knew where Leto had disappeared to, he supposed. "Sorry about that, usually don't cuss but he took me off... hm? Where's the other one?"
Speaking of disappearing...
Celinus was still there when he turned back, but Langston seemed to have vanished. Finding this odd, he took a few steps to the side and looked around, only to find the drunk agent huddled under the bar, looking around and generally trying to calm himself down. "It's only a bit of firecrackers, Langston," he said with a bit of a sigh. "Stop with the 'duck and cover' stuff."
Marcus grumbled something that sounded a bit like "shu' ya mouth, 'sbert...", before getting back out from his spot under the bar and looking around, a hand on his head. "Bloody fi'works..."
Having jumped sharply when the fireworks went off, Luke quickly regained his cool and shook his head slightly, surprised that the entire place hadn't started freaking out at the racket. Turning back to Osbert and Marcus, he suddenly noted the distinct lack of Marcus. "What the... where'd he go?"
After a moment, he noticed Osbert looking under the bar, and burst out laughing on seeing his friend curled up under there. "You're a case, you know that?" he chuckled, taking the opportunity to hide the vodka bottle before helping Marcus out and trying to get him sitting down again.
"Shuddit," Marcus said, taking his seat again. He was mildly alarmed to find the vodka bottle gone, looking around the bar to see if it had fallen. "Wha? Wheredit git to?" he asked, more to himself than anything, sounding rather frustrated. Eventually letting out a sigh, he seemed to give up, resting his head on his arms. "Summun' made off 'ith me drink," he muttered sadly. "N' respect, I tells ya."
"No comment," was all Osbert said in response to this.
Not even trying to restrain his laughter, Luke made himself comfortable and shook his head at his friend. "Maybe it's for the best," he said consolingly, patting Marcus' shoulder. "You're going to have one hell of a hangover as it is."
He glanced at Osbert, wondering what the old guy thought of his move, and took another gulp of his beer. No point in denying himself just because Marcus had got himself rat-arsed. On that note... almost automatically, he cast one eye around the general area, checking to see if there were any pretty girls nearby.
Marcus groaned and muttered something that wasn't heard.
If Osbert was amused by Luke's little trick, he didn't show it, instead nodding sternly. "Celinus is right, Langston. Not to mention whatever horrors you just inflicted upon your liver," he said, immediately before finishing off what brandy was left in his glass. "Probably best if you stay here a bit, Langston, can tell you'll practically have to be carried out if you wanna go anywhere."
"Fine, fine, whatever," Marcus said, already starting to feel the headache that would only come in full force the next morning. "So's what ya wann' be doin'?"
"Dunno, mate, I'm happy enough here." Luke shrugged before turning his eye on Osbert. "Hey, I have a first name, you know," he objected mildly. "Just 'cause you prefer your surname doesn't mean everyone does. It's Luke, 'kay?"
After a moment, he cast around for a suitable topic of conversation, not that he thought Marcus would be able to contribute much to any talk. "How many of these kind of things have you seen, Osbert?" he enquired, gesturing at the party in general. "I mean, you've been here a while, so you must have seen a few."
Osbert tried to get Langston to sit down again. The heavily intoxicated agent resisted at first, meaning Osbert's efforts almost knocked him over, but eventually he seemed to give in, taking his seat and gripping the bar to keep his balance. Langston mumbled something, staring at his hands, but Osbert didn't make it out entirely. The lad was probably still finding excuses to kick himself, he figured.
"Anyway, Celinus," Osbert said, bringing his attention to the larger agent. "On the subject of your questions, after forty years as an agent they all kind of blend together. I still remember when there were only four of us, as far as non-Flowers went. Makes-Things, Elizabeth, Anya, and myself." He paused for a moment, shaking his head. "Damn, I'm the only one of those four still alive, far as I can tell. After a while stopped hearing from those two girls, so I dunno. There've been a good number though, just been so long that I don't remember them all."
Luke nodded, keeping his eye on Marcus. "Jeez, and I thought I'd been here a long time," he replied, rubbing at his eyepatch in an effort to regain his cool. He hadn't expected a simple two minutes' silence to affect him like that.
"I've been here since `98, but I guess I just never thought about how long the PPC's been around. Forty years... that's some going, man. How'd you manage it? Though I guess it's not a case of facing the Sues any more, just teaching the new kid to do it." He let out a little chuckle and drained the last of his beer, setting the empty bottle down on the bar.
"They said I was getting too old," Osbert scoffed, treating what had been a decision made by the Flowers years ago with visible contempt. He still remembered treating the decision with total incredulity, even if he'd taken his reassignment as a trainer of new agents with dignity and gratitude.
"I was about forty years old when I was recruited," he told Luke, after searching through his memories. "I'd grown a pretty thick skin by then, and a badfic is really nothing compared to some of the things you can face in World One. Back then there wasn't much of a workload, either. After a while, though, it all becomes just another job, you get desensitised." Pausing for a moment, the old man couldn't help a small chuckle. "Trust me," he said. "Sometimes it's more frustrating teaching a recruit how to properly fire a gun than it is to charge a Sue. I sometimes wish I was back out there."
Luke just shrugged. "I suppose when you're working in here it tends to get a bit frustrating. Not like being out roaming the canon worlds. But look on the bright side, eh? You don't have to get soaked, frozen, roasted and whatnot." He leaned against the bar nonchalantly.
"Suppose so," Osbert said, taking a seat.
By now, Langston was singing something to himself, but Osbert really couldn't understand many of the words due to the alcohol muddling the agent's brain. The tone was recognisable as Eric Bogle's "The Green Fields of France," but not much could be clearly made out. Returning his attention to Celinus, he gave the large agent a nod.
"I prefer field work myself, it's much more exciting, and my family has always preferred to take care of things personally." Osbert sighed, adjusting his glasses and helmet. "Still, at least this way I'm putting some backbone in these agents. I'm not letting them out into the missions until they can shoot straight, hit hard, operate a Console without blowing it up, and don't need to run to Bleeproducts every time something goes wrong."
That made the big man laugh. "Sounds like you really do know your stuff," he replied. "Don't use Bleeproducts much myself, I got used to coping without them except for the really horrible stuff. Fortunately, I don't get much of that... and yes, I'm aware that I'm inviting it." He glanced up at the ceiling as if warning the Ironic Overpower to back off.
"My partner never seemed to need any tutorials in hitting hard, I have to say." A wry smile crossed his face. "I should have got her to come to you for the other stuff, though."
Osbert nodded. "Not to brag, but I think it'd be safe to say I'm one of the better agent trainers; a lot of them just stick something pointy in the recruit's hand and throw them into an RC. Just who would your partner be?" Arching an eyebrow, Osbert tried to think of the particularly memorable cases he'd seen come through his training room. He had enough trainees on a regular basis that it was hard to remember any one in particular on most days. Celinus' mention of his partner had got him curious, though, so he tried to think of if he had met her before. Unlikely, if this was his first meeting with Celinus himself.
"You haven't met her, then. You'd know if you had. She's called Jessie Lancaster. Red hair, damn near indiscriminately homicidal, and tries to kill me on a regular basis. And if a guy so much as looks the wrong way at her... well, it gets messy."
"I see. No, I haven't dealt with her, then." Osbert went quiet after that, thinking better of making his true opinion known. Giving Celinus a look, though, he thought of something. That black scarf around the eye, the large build, the red hair... had he seen him around, before? There was something unquestionably familiar about him.
"I don't think we've met, Celinus, but were you in Operations, during the beginning of the fighting? If it's not too sensitive a subject, I mean. That little war was hell on us all."
"Operations? It's... possible, I guess." Luke rubbed his eyepatch reflectively, thinking back to the whole thing. "When I got the Sub Rosa's message I came out fighting. Didn't pay too much attention to where I was most of the time; it was more a case of killing Sues and helping out other agents."
He let out a bitter little laugh. "I guess it was hell. Bitches killed some damn good friends of mine. Nearly got me, too, and my partner."
"We lost a lot of good men and women those days. Too many." Osbert seemed sobered by this, but not overtly upset. It was hard to be, after forty years on the job. Asking for another glass of brandy, he sipped lightly, being careful not to let it go to his head while he thought. "I lost a lot of friends, too. Makes-Things was the last non-Flower agent who was here as long as I was. Got to know him real well, and then he was the first to go."
He sighed, shaking his head at the memory. "I couldn't do anything, I was still training that day's batch of recruits when it happened. I got as many people into the training rooms as I could, set up a watch, and sealed the doors once I figured there was enough food and the like for us to last however long it'd be before a cure was made. When the Sues came in, I'd already been getting the survivors out of the RCs and training rooms. Damn things tried to take Operations, cut the head off of our resistance before we could put up a fight." A laugh escaped him, grinning a bit as he took another sip. "Woulda worked, too, but we were ready for 'em. I pretty much gave everyone a weapon, gathered up everyone who'd been in the area and anyone who we ran into that looked like they could hold a weapon. Gave those bitches hell!"
Osbert couldn't help but break into a bit of a cackle, there. "Most of the trainers are either people with military experience from the outside, or former Action agents who were taken off the beat, whether due to age or injury. On our own we probably could've cleared the whole place out, let alone with the bunch of recruits and agents we brought with us. Sent 'em running with their tails between their legs."
"You did better than me, then." Luke debated whether or not to get another drink, but on regarding Marcus' current state, he decided against it. He might be able to hold his drink all right, but if he was going to carry his friend back to his RC, he needed to be sober himself.
Turning back to Osbert, he just shrugged. "At least you had some company. I ended up barricading myself into somebody's RC for the month. Ended up coming close to going flamethrower from sheer boredom by the time I got the call." He stretched a little.
"Wish I could have done something about Makes-Things, though. I liked the guy."
"Yeah. Hard to think that he's gone." Casting a glance at Langston, he realised the agent wasn't getting out on his own power. It was pathetic, but he supposed he could understand somewhat. Still, he hated seeing an agent who was made of such stern stuff reduced to the quivering mass of alcoholism hunched over the bar not too far from himself.
"Heh, we could've used a few flamethrower-crazies during the fighting," he admitted, looking back to Luke. "Even if we would've had to cart 'em away to FicPsych afterward. Still, we won, so I guess Makes-Things and the others can rest in peace, now." Looking around at the party, which still hadn't slowed down any, he appeared to be thinking about something.
"Hm. Not the most solemn way to respect the dead, but isn't this what they would've wanted? I hope it is."
Luke shook his head a little. "Ending up in FicPsych is not the way I want to go," he said when Osbert mentioned that department. "One of my partners wound up in there a while ago. The last time I heard of her, she thought she was the reincarnation of Lily Potter from Potterverse."
He looked around at the party. "I can think of at least one person who'd have appreciated the atmosphere, yeah," he sighed, his shoulders drooping slightly.
"They'd rather we focused on the good, not the bad." Osbert could only offer a shrug, giving what opinion he had. He couldn't claim to have all the answers, but that was how he looked at it. "Either way, they're in a better place."
"Maybe. Thinking about it, though, I feel like there were people who deserved to make it more than I did. The younger ones, for example. I mean, I'm old enough to be a dad to some of the young ones. I know that doesn't mean so much to you, probably, but it gets to me. Like, there was a kid I knew who worked in DAVD. Reece, his name was. Pretty tough for a teenager, but still..."
Luke shook his head. "He didn't deserve to go."
"Agents these days are so damn young. I never got that. A lot of the recruits these days are barely older than the Suethors, sometimes even younger. I still remember when all agents were adults. Not to hold anything against the younger generation, but I think it should still be like that, sometimes. They're just kids, they shouldn't have to deal with it."
Osbert smirked a little after saying this, bemused. "Maybe that's just the talk of an old man who, were he sane, would be some agent's grandfather, and not an agent himself. Reece? Agent Nalan, right? I remember him, he did surprisingly well in my training. Already a pretty good shot when I got to him, could take care of himself well. Actually gave me a tough time for... oh, five seconds, when I tested his hand-to-hand skill. He was too young to die in something like this, though I thought the same when I found out they put him in DAVD of all things."
"That's him, yeah." Luke smiled a little, thinking back to when he'd first met the serious boy. "I always knew he could take care of himself. One of my friends was partnered with him in DAVD, and from what he said, Reece was damn near unsquickable. DAVD was probably the best place for someone like that. I tried to get him to talk about how the heck he got so tough once, but all I got was 'I lived in a rough neighbourhood'."
The tall man shrugged. "Either he was just naturally gutsy, or he was glossing over a lot of details." An amused expression crossed his face. "He gave you a tough time? I'm impressed."
"He was fast." Osbert shrugged again, finishing off the glass of brandy he had ordered. "I hate to admit it, but I'm old, I'm not as quick or as strong as I used to be, so it took a bit before I could really catch up to him. Eventually I managed to get him to take a risk that opened him up and let me take him down."
Thinking for a moment, Osbert realised he hadn't seen the serious young boy after declaring his training complete. The length of training tended to be the individual trainer's jurisdiction; they allowed the recruit to leave whenever they thought the recruit was ready. Reece, however, hadn't taken long at all for Osbert to figure that he was ready to tackle missions. That had been before he knew the Flowers would put him in DAVD, though. "I never did find out much about him, once he left my training room I never saw him again. Do you know if he was any good as an agent, before the Invasion?"
"Happens to a lot of us." Luke shrugged. "I've slowed down a bit since I was recruited, though I think part of it's the fact my eyesight's only half as good as it used to be." He grinned. Making jokes about his missing eye had become a coping mechanism for him back when it had happened, and the habit had just stuck.
"As for Reece, I'd say he was a damn good agent. Took his work seriously, at any rate, and he was pretty fanatical about making sure it was done right. He drove his partner nuts with that. Seth's a lot more squeamish."
Luke gave Osbert a nod and a smile. "You don't need to worry about him, Osbert, he was a good 'un. Went down trying to save Seth's neck, so it's not like he just slipped up, either."