Until the World Stops - L.A. Witt Page 0,1

he’d written was absolutely right. The problem was that we all knew damn well that the military valued our freedom of speech about as much as they valued our need for sleep. You either toed the line, or you got the toe of someone’s boot in your ass, and that was what had happened to Holloway.

I had to admit it made me feel a little sick, having just reenlisted and now seeing what happened when a Sailor publicly said, “Hey guys, remember you swore an oath to the Constitution, and you’re required by the UCMJ to disobey unlawful orders.” And, okay, he had taken some pretty hard swipes at the current commander-in-chief, but I knew some of the higher ups involved in this fiasco, and I distinctly remembered them making some hella disrespectful comments about the previous president. While in uniform, too, and not just on their personal social media.

So as much as I didn’t like Holloway, and as much as I thought he’d been an idiot to post what he did, he didn’t deserve this. An ass-chewing, maybe. When they’d sent him to Captain’s Mast, we’d all figured he’d get some docked pay and restriction for a couple of months. I’d seen Sailors come away with punishments like that for all kinds of things they technically could’ve been booted out for (insubordinate conduct, underage drinking, drunk on duty, disobeying a lawful order, going UA). A Facebook post? One telling people to disobey unlawful orders? Really?

But here he was.

“It’s bullshit.” I thumbed the label on my untouched beer. “I thought the lawyer said they didn’t have a case against you.”

“Oh, he did. But then he basically rolled over as soon as the hearing started, and when the captain said she wanted to admin sep me, he just went with it.” Holloway sighed. “What does he care? He’s not the one losing his paycheck and veteran’s benefits in sixty days.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Shit, they’re yanking your benefits, too? Like, all of them?”

“All of them. Which…” Holloway pressed his elbow into the table and rubbed his forehead. “Fuck. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. There’s no way I’m going to get a decent job without an honorable discharge. I don’t have a degree, and now I don’t have the GI Bill.” He huffed a humorless laugh as he picked up his beer again. “And fuck me when I actually find a job with health insurance, because they’re not going to cover my pre-existing jacked-up ankle.”

I winced. We’d all heard the story about Holloway breaking his ankle during a combat deployment. It was his go-to when everyone got drunk, bored, or both, and started comparing battle scars and war stories. Without any VA disability coverage, he was going to be on his own when it came time for that surgery the docs said he’d need within a few years.

Not sure what to say, I asked, “Any idea where you’ll go? I mean, are you going to stay here in Maine, or…”

Holloway groaned. “There’s almost nothing here. Nobody that’s hiring, anyway, and even if they are, I doubt they’d be willing to hire me without the honorable discharge.” He sighed. “My folks said I could move home, so that’s probably what I’ll have to do.” With a grimace, he muttered, “Fuck. That’s just what I need.”

“Why’s that?”

He took a deep pull from his beer bottle, then gestured past me with the now empty bottle, probably asking the waiter for another. Apparently satisfied a fresh beer was on its way, he faced me again. “I love my folks. Don’t get me wrong. But my dad is never going to let me hear the end of this, and even if he does… I mean, my parents are great, but just staying with them for the holidays is stressful as all hell.”

“Better than living on the street, right?”

“Oh, you’re not wrong. And considering they live in the Bay Area, it’s either live with them or start shopping for a cardboard box.” His own words seemed to knock some life out of him, and his shoulders slumped. “I really fucked myself, didn’t I?”

He had, but he didn’t deserve this. “You made a mistake. You shouldn’t have been screwed this hard for it.” I huffed out a sharp breath. “This is like… I don’t know. Putting someone in front of a firing squad because they fell asleep on post.”

“Yeah, well.” He met my gaze with exhausted eyes. “Not much I can do about it now, is there?”