When I joined the Corps, I hoped they didn't yell. And then, I hoped that they wouldn't yell too much. And then, they told us that in space, no one can hear you scream. But they didn't tell us that someone can.
I'm Lieutenant Paul Wang.
A US Marine. I joined the Marines to escape, just like all the other people I knew. We saw the Corps as an outlet. An escape route from our dead-end lives. It was a way... a chance to get out of the inevitable life we were expected to lead. It was tough, but I have seen tough. And being in the Corps was infinitely better than being some dead-beat insurance salesman or worse. My family was poor. Things only really started looking up when I left school. By then, it was time to get a job. But I didn't want just any old job. I wanted to go further than just working at the nearby fastfood joint.
And the only place that offered any sort of training was the Corps. So, it was either join the Corps or play basketball. Basketball was my first choice, actually. Went for try-outs and all. Nearly made it, but coach said that I was too short. Somehow, I don't think that was the real reason. I suspect he overheard me in the locker room, making fun of him. He had this broad southern accent. Never figured out what a southerner was doing up in Chicago, but that was him. And he would say things like "Dont you back jaw me young'un!" and "" and I was just cracking everyone up in the showers. Guess he must have heard, because Ray got a place and he's an inch shorter than I am!
Anyway, I took a day job before joining the Corps. Went to night school to get my diploma. Majored in Electrical Engineering because I thought I was pretty good with my hands. I didn't want to end up some grunt in the Marines. If I was going to be a soldier, hell! I was going to make a Lieutenant at least!
We all had our own reasons for joining the Corps. And I bet that no one foresaw this war. I certainly didn't! The attack on the Vesta and Tellus colonies came as a shock to me, as it did to everyone else. No one among us had known it was coming. Talking about dying for the country is one thing. Actually going out there and doing it is another. I don't think I was prepared. I don't think any of us were. But we are Marines. And we are ever ready to fight, scared or not.
Our training was intensified and rushed a bit. We needed all the available men out there. After graduating from the accelerated flight programme, I was assigned to the 58th squadron on the USS Saratoga. The Wild Cards, they called us. I used to wonder why. And then, at the Battle of the Belt, I realised why. We were assigned a name. And we made that name. From then on, we were the Wild Cards.
Which brings me to an interesting observation. My callsign is Joker. Apt I thought. I'm not that serious most of the time when we are off-duty anyway. Mom always said I was the joker in the family. But when you come from a family like mine, laughter and smiles were the only things we could really afford. It's not a substutite for earthly comforts. You can't eat it. It doesn't keep you warm in winter. It couldn't get you a ticket to the ball-game. But it's free and it stops you feeling sorry for yourself, which is all too easy to do when you are living in the sort of poverty I grew up in.
David, that's my little brother. He doesn't remember as much of it as I do. He's lucky in a way. Dad managed to pick us out of the ghettos when he was just three. He doesn't remember much of life before that. I do. And to this day, I still can't look at a cockroach without wanting to grind it to dust under my heel. The only thing I really had was my sense of humour. Had to make the best of that. And that's what I'm doing now. Doing what I do best. Being the 'Joker'.
This war is bleak. It is cold, angry and tense. That is how we all are before and after a mission. Tense. I figured, 'Hey, troops need to lighten up now and then.' Us Wild Cards are no exception. We are good pilots, but we are just as prone to the blues, sometimes. We just need someone to make us smile. Make us laugh. At ourselves, at the war, at the chigs... we have to keep sane.
The others are a little too serious sometimes. They all seem to have some sort of chip on their shoulder about something. Vansen is a wonderful Captain. Being a leader just somes so naturally to her. Best of all, she's fair. I'd trust anything she does.
West was never really part of us at the beginning. The ghost of Kylen was too strong to let go. I don't know if he's let her go now. But at least her spectre doesn't loom as large anymore. He's become more of the 58th now. Especially after what happened to his brother. David is still too young to join the war, and selfish as it might seem, I'm glad for that. Maybe by the time he's old enough to enlist, this madness will be over.
Vanessa is, well... sweet. She talks about joining the Corps to find herself. I think in a small way, we all did that. I don't know about her, but I don't think I like the 'me' I found, very much. I never thought I alone was capable of so much destruction. Everytime we go on a mission and I fire on a chig plane, I see the exploding fireball in space. In a morbid sort of way, it's really quite a breathtaking sight. And Vanessa is just so gentle and pleasent most other times that I can hardly believe that "Ace" out there is really the same girl.
And then there's Cooper. IV and for all his capabilities, only barely 7 years old. It's hard to remember that sometimes. I never really knew what to think of him. He kept himself to himself, and it was hard trying to break down that defensive wall he had around him. Can't blame, him, really. He's had a hell of a life for a 7 year old! But now, he's part of the 58th and us Wild Cards band together, regardless. Like the time he went missing on that Black Ops mission to Tigris, or when he was hooked on 'green meanies'. I wouldn't say that he scared us, but he definitely had us worried.
Like I said, the others are just that little bit too serious. It's bad for morale especially when everyone's moping around, being pessimistic and fatalistic. Happens sometimes. And then we crack and start yelling at each other. That's just as bad. I mean, I'm the sort who hardly yells. Well, unless I want my own way of course.
Anyway, who else could have kept our spirits up? Colonel McQueen? I can't even put him and 'smile' in the same sentence! Just thinking it makes me feel weird. He's a great CO, is the Colonel. We couldn't have asked for better. He cares for us, which is weird for a CO and even weirder for an InVitro. I mean, I was told that IVs don't feel. Well, not a lot anyway. But I don't think that's the truth. Not after having met Colonel McQueen and Coop. Wonder how many other prejudices and fallacies I have yet to discover about the IVs?
And I have the fullest of respect for him. Yes, okay. I do make fun of him sometimes. I can't help it. It's just the way he talks you know. Like when he says "This is going to be a real knife-fight." Or "It's okay to be scared." Or even when he's yelling at us, "Hear this CFB! I'm not here to make friends!" I can't help it. It just calls out to be mimicked, and well, as I said, the troops need some entertainment sometimes. I get caught of course. It's just a knack I have. The downside of being a smart aleck.
Well, I said earlier that I joined the Corps to escape. And now, I wonder if I ever will. People sometimes wonder why I do the things I do, or say the things I say. Sometimes, it's just something that Paul Wang, the Joker won't do or say. But I know better. I have been through too much. Seen too much. Experienced too much. The memories... the nightmares, they are all here in my head.
We are playing a game where we don't know the rules and we don't know our opponents. We are playing ball blindfolded with our hands tied behind our backs.
And we're scared.
They said that in space no one can hear you scream. But I have heard the screams. I have tasted the fear.
And I'm living it now.