RESPECTABLE DEPENDABLE LAW-ABIDING DISCIPLINARY STRAIGHT-LACED
"Welcome Lieutenant Stern, it's a pleasure to meet you."
This was a greeting faintly reminiscent of one you had not too long ago - or how long ago was it? These years had gone by more quickly than you realized. On second thought this welcoming was marginally less jarring than the one you were remembering, as if it were a dream that you were trying to piece together the morning after.
It was peaceful, quiet, as you observed your surroundings. Quickly realizing you didn't know where you were, you followed your first instinct. "Buzz Lightyear to Star Command, come in Star Command." No answer. "Star Command, come in. Do you read me?" You'd call again later - of course they'd all be out to lunch while you were out. This could be an emergency for Andromeda's sake, this is what you had protocol for. In the meantime you might as well secure the area, and you'd have to figure out a way to repair your ship - now completely totaled - but you were immediately taken by surprise when another life form comes into view. From there you did what any Space Ranger would do - shoot first, ask later.
Maybe that hadn't been the best first impression, you think to yourself. Here, a handshake will suffice. "It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Captain. Thank you for seeing me today." The office you stand in is small, fairly decorated in framed newspaper clippings, badges, and memorabilia. Though it's clear that he is not at the top of the chain of command himself, you feel uncharacteristically uneasy being called Lieutenant. You were only a Junior Grade Lieutenant to begin with, and here you are hardly that much.
You had decided the New York Police Department was the logical next step. Why hadn't it been the first step? Well that was a question you should have asked yourself six years ago.
But here you are, answering the captain's questions as they come, doing your best not to slip up, to keep a congenial smile on your face. He asks about your experience, he seems to be surprised that you had come so far after - as you told him - you had made the snap decision to join the Coast Guard. The interview is going easily enough, until he asks the one question you knew you wouldn't be able to avoid.
"Don't get me wrong, we are glad to have you on the team, but why did you leave? You were well on your way up the ladder. From what I've heard, all of your superiors sounded sorry to lose you."
POLITE CORDIAL TOLERANT CIVILIZED EARNEST RIGID DETACHED
You walk the streets of New York once more after five years, headed back to the one place you know you'll always be welcome. You pass millions of faces on your way to the Complex from the bus station, and you wonder if any of them are from where you are. Not North Carolina, where you had been stationed for the duration of your service with the Guard, but somewhere a little harder to explain. Granted, you're distracted, and you should have been watching your step, but suddenly you feel a push at your side followed by a dull thud and a woman's voice. "Ouch!"
You turn to look for whoever had just run into you, and find a young woman on the sidewalk. Brown hair, fair complexion, she doesn't seem to be too hurt. Straight-faced as ever, you offer a hand automatically. "Sorry," she says, once she has reached her feet. "I just tripped, I didn't mean to run into you."
"Nonsense, I was distracted myself," you assure her, as she straightens herself out. Suddenly remembering your manners you ask, "Are you alright?" You manage something of a smile, as not to frighten her too much, but you were never really good at interacting with women. Five years surrounded by a majority of men hadn't helped, either.
She nods, and smiles shyly, the faintest trace of a blush on her cheeks. In order to calm her down you offer to treat her to a cup of coffee, an innocent enough gesture, or so you think. The two of you start off with simple introductions; she's a med student, about to start her residency. She's nervous and excited all at once and it would be clear to anyone else that she's quite taken with you. Unfortunately for her, you're concentrated on other things.
"I'm Buzz Lightyear, I come in peace." The words echo in your head. "I'm stationed in the Gamma Quadrant of Sector 4. As a member of the elite Universe Protection Unit of the Space Ranger Corps, I protect the galaxy from the threat of invasion by the Evil Emperor Zurg, sworn enemy of the Galactic Alliance." Back then they seemed so natural but now you feel they were almost forced. Maybe that was just your guilt talking. You had been so proud back then but you aren't so sure of yourself now.
The other life forms turned out to be friendly; they were impressed with your credentials, almost as if they had never seen a Space Ranger before. You paid no mind and gladly accept their warm welcome. Days went by and everyone had been pleased for you to join their ranks, but you had the sneaking suspicion that the sheriff did not share their feelings. Nevermind that though, once you repaired your ship you would be back on your scheduled mission.
These memories come and go, much less frequently now than a few years back, though no less painful. You look up at the pretty girl across the table from you and hope she didn't notice that you hadn't caught the last thing she said. She doesn't seem to mind either way. She goes on about her cat and her loud neighbors, though you haven't said much at all. From what she now knows, you just quit the Coast Guard, you were coming back to New York City for work, you wanted to reconnect with your old friends. You hadn't told her that your "old friends" were children's toys. Or that the hometown you casually mentioned earlier is in an entirely different universe. Those were details she didn't need to know.
She jots down her mobile number on a spare piece of paper and hands it to you with care. Her eyes wide and her cheeks flushed once more, she tells you to call her sometime. "Sure," you tell her, but you're sure you never will. You don't seem to have the same firmness with women as you do men. Instead, you give her an uneasy smile and see her off.
DETERMINED STEADFAST STRONG-WILLED PERSISTENT STUBBORN
You sit, alone, in your bed in your room, though you're more likely to call it a bunk after the time you've spent on the Guard. It's been what, four years now? Long enough to make a good impression on your superiors, long enough to injure yourself, long enough to still have the opportunity to accept a big, fat promotion and some shiny new pins to put on your uniform. Still there was something missing here. You run your fingers through your hair, bury your head in your hands.
You try to pull yourself together, but you're not sure which pieces of yourself you're trying to keep and which pieces you meant to hide.
The sheriff looks relieved to have found you, he holds you at arm's length witha giant grin on his face. You're not completely sure it's genuine. If you hadn't hopped on to the minivan at the last moment who knew how long you'd be stranded in the yard. And of course you wouldn't even have been in this situation if it hadn't been for the cowboy.
And... that's it. Words echo in your head but you can't place them in context. You remember being angry, but can't remember what happened next.
'You are a child's play thing!'
Yet here you are as a man, no more plastic than any other man on base. But you're not a man, not really. You feel hollow in your chest. You're just the human version of an action figure and you've played the part of a man well. But now you're not sure how much longer you can do this. If you accept this promotion, you'll be obligated to stay with the Guard. In another life you wouldn't have even given an opportunity like this a second thought. You were in a different sort of chain of command and you had written half the rules yourself. You had been at the top of your class in the Academy and here was no different - except for the fact that everything was different.
You lift yourself to your feet, tired of feeling like you can't move, but you feel inexplicably heavy. This decision weighs on your mind and your heart, or rather the hollow feeling you can't seem to shake. Now that you think of it, this isn't the first time you have felt like this. You joined the Coast Guard to fill a void but you're very sorry to admit it wasn't quite the right fit. You couldn't do this anymore.
DISCOURAGED MELANCHOLY PESSIMISTIC DEJECTED CRESTFALLEN DEPRESSED
Rest would do you good. You tried to convince yourself that you needed it, you really deserved it. But with an attitude toward work like yours, rest just made you restless
. You pace around the living room of your base housing apartment, tired of everything on TV and bored with everything in the house. You want to be productive, somehow useful
, but on account of this broken wrist of yours, you're out of commission.
You've told your colleagues that you've never felt so useless, but that isn't entirely true.
'I'm such a sham! Look at me, I can't even fly out a window...'
This wouldn't have happened if you hadn't pushed yourself too hard in the first place. You shake your head, trying to listen to the doctor's orders but you find yourself on the way to the nearest bar just off base. This definitely wasn't part of your prescription, and if you heard one more crack from the doctor on anything, especially about how he never expected you to come in with this serious of an injury in the first place, you'd surely go mad. But what he doesn't know won't hurt him, right?
It's a dark, empty pub on a Thursday, but it'll do for your purposes. The only people in the whole place are a few guys, probably the owners of the pick up trucks parked outside, and the bartender with a severe beer gut. Doesn't matter either way, really, as you seat yourself on a stool. You order a beer, whatever they've got on tap, and you've had three before you know it. You're rambling now, going on and on about 'what the hell are you supposed to to when you're forced to be stranded on land for 3 weeks' and 'lord knows how stir-crazy you'd go if you always had to work an office job like this.' And even that you can't do right - you're not familiar with half of the daily workflow in the office and the splint on your wrist makes it impossible to use a computer anyway.
You truly weren't cut out for desk work in the first place. The other patrons at the bar are drunk enough to agree with you, but after eight or nine drinks, the bar tender is less amused with your self-deprecating jokes. Half an hour later you're being helped into the back of a cab, slurring your address to the driver, and soon you're trying to convince the guard at the gate that you have "authorized" this "transport" to take you back to "home base." He, like the bartender, doesn't appreciate your brand of drunken humor and makes you pay the cabbie there and walk back to your apartment. At least it's a clear night; the stars always did have a way of lifting your spirits.
HEROIC BRAVE UNAFRAID RESOLUTE FORWARD DAUNTLESS FOOLHARDY
You had always received perfect marks at the academy. That's what you had informed the recruiters when you finally did make the decision to enlist in the guard. Well, it was mostly true. Your programming had left you with a vast knowledge of protocol and code, but they didn't need to know that. With the help of the Transition Center you had put together a resume and figured out a way put your skills and experience in the least suspicious way possible. The Guard was happy to have you, to say the least. And now you were about to see if you had made a good impression in your first six months.
The days had flown by; it seemed like just yesterday that you had been stationed to North Carolina (a place you had never heard of until you signed your papers) after your training in Connecticut. But now here you were, and your first evaluation would be in your mailbox when you got home.
Seaman Apprentice Bruce A. Stern
Maritime Law Enforcement Specialist
Seaman Stern has exhibited a vast knowledge in his field and willingness to carry out any task asked of him. He is a promising recruit and has demonstrated excellent cooperation as well as leadership skills in his short time as a Seaman Apprentice. Stern is an upstanding example to others in his rating - almost peerless."
Peerless. Without peers. This was an absolutely glowing assessment, yet you're left feeling a little lonely. You're an ideal recruit, that much is clear, but you feel as if you don't truly belong here.This doubt you've been trying to hide from yourself since the beginning.
"You were right all along, I'm not a space ranger. I'm just a toy, a stupid, little, insignificant toy."
You fold the letter and slide it back into its envelope. You don't quite have the heart to crumple it up and toss it in the trash; it was still an excellent evaluation. You throw your keys on the coffee table as you settle into your small apartment. You should prepare something for dinner but you're not hungry, just tired.
"Why would Andy want me?" The heavy feeling inside outweighs the miniature rocket strapped to your back. You were a fool to pretend to be something you weren't - but could you really blame yourself? You played your part well, 'Space Ranger.' What a joke you are - and you don't even know what you're doing anymore. Woody's talking himself in circles, trying to get out of this place and you can't stop feeling like a fool, even with both arms attached to your torso again. "You are a cool toy! In fact, you're too cool." He says, and suddenly you see a side of the sheriff you haven't before.
That was the first time you felt like you truly had purpose, beyond your delusions of "Star Command" and "the Evil Emperor Zurg." But what were you doing here now? Looking for that same purpose again, looking for a home. You've been friendly to your superiors and your fellow recruits, but you couldn't quite call them family yet. You've got no allegiance, no true obligation to them.... At the same time, you've never been known to give up. And you're not a Space Ranger any more, you're not even a toy. You're a man and it's time you started to act like one.
DEVOTED DUTIFUL TRUSTWORTHY TRUE ARDENT UNWAVERING DEPENDENT
Unfortunately, you aren't the only one who's lost someone in between your home and this side of the portal. There's a waiting list about a mile long to seek some help in locating your friends, and a "full grown man" like yourself isn't exactly a priority where they're concerned. It's understandable really; the children who crossed over without their families needed relocation assistance before you did. Yet you can't help but to feel a little... helpless.
After all, you were the one who went on recon missions and braved the big, wide world while you were still just a toy. And all for a friend. But here you were, fit as ever, appropriately sized to your surroundings, and totally and utterly lost.
You hadn't realized how much you truly relied on your companions back home. For a time you insisted that you worked alone, that you alone could save the day, but now you were just falling apart. You kept forgetting to eat, you stayed up for hours on end, you would waste your time on nothing at all and then wonder where the time went. You weren't suited for a life without duty, without obligation. You lived by, and performed best on a regimented schedule - but a refugee had no schedule.
This was your fourth or fifth time going to put in an inquiry at the Transition Center. You made your way through the Complex, surrounded by other people in your same situation, but you couldn't feel more isolated. You already had put your trust in someone, you two had been through so much. You didn't want to get close to someone else just to have them ripped from you again.
And just like that - Woody was gone. You couldn't stand by and watch through a pair of binoculars while the sheriff was being kidnapped. Down the gutter, through the yard sale, and right onto the back of the culprit's car. From there you'd sneak into his trunk and - your plans came to a halt when a bump in the road flung you from the bumper. Staring up from the asphalt once you has stopped skidding down the street, you knew you'd have to find Woody another way.
You shake your head, ashamed at yourself for losing them, you stick your hands in your pockets and keep moving.
"Woody once risked his life to save me, I couldn't call myself his friend if I wouldn't do the same."
This time around you finally have the chance to speak to someone who seems genuinely concerned. She asks for names of the people you're looking for.
"Last name?" She asks, consulting their records.
Did Woody even have a last name? You weren't entirely sure. "No last name."
She purses her lips as if that were the wrong answer. You make a mental note to reference him as your brother next time. Maybe then they'd put a little more compassion into their search.
Nevertheless, she speaks up as if she's found something. "We do have someone who went by Woody on file..." Your throat tightens and you're half way out of your chair before you realize she hasn't finished her sentence. "But we haven't heard from him in months."
You return to your seat and clear your throat. "Is there a Jessie in your records? Red hair, blue eyes, heavy accent?" Has a tendency to yodel? Might have been with a horse?
Finally you managed to catch up with Mr. Potato Head, Slinky, and the others. Unfortunately, the other Buzz had lead them straight into an offensive maneuver. What a rookie move. Fortunately, you don't have much trouble convincing Woody and the other toys that you are, in fact, Buzz Lightyear. Their Buzz Lightyear, that is. However there was another matter the cowboy needed to be convinced of... "They need me to get into this museum." At once you realize you're not alone - the old man, the horse, the girl... the pieces are coming together now. But you would not allow this to happen. "Woody, you're not a collector's item, you are a child's play thing. You are a toy!"
You wait a moment, only to see the woman slowly shake her head. You're almost out of ideas. If they didn't know where those two were, who else could he possibly ask for? "Andy - Andy Davis?"
A few short minutes later she hasn't come up with any information on him either. "I can look into some other Davises if you - "
"No, that won't be necessary."
You had told yourself that you'd take anyone, anyone you knew from the other side at this point. You were desperate. But at the same time you were disappointed. Maybe Ms. Davis had found her way over with Molly. You were to upset to think of the possibility that they had crossed over without Andy. The poor kid. You yourself were scared beyond your wits of the Darkness, and you had been programmed to fight the forces of the evil that threatened the whole galaxy. You could only imagine how lost and afraid Andy must be.
SOLID VIGOROUS HARDY FIT TOUGH CONDITIONED UNYIELDING
"Somewhere in that padding and stuffing is a toy who taught me that life's only worth living if you're being loved by a kid. And I traveled all this way to rescue that toy because I believed him."
Those were your words once, you remember them clear as day after your first trip across the portal. You had done as much searching as you could, while on the other side, but on your own you couldn't cover much ground. You've heard all about the "Resistance" and their efforts to fight back the Darkness. You admire their determination, but doubt you'd be much help against some mysterious, paranormal foe. Never mind the fact that without your friends you're feeling more than a little disheartened.
But you've managed this far. You've got a nice little set up in the Complex, and it's actually more space to yourself than you know what to do with. Yet you still can't find somewhere to apply yourself here in the "real" world. Everyone seems to have their niche - either they do here what they did on the other side or find something they love to do and blend into the city with it. But you were a space ranger - scratch that - you were a toy. And what good was an action figure without a kid to make happy? You couldn't even find your kid; what else were you really qualified to do?
Somewhere not too far away you hear someone clear their throat. You're brought back to reality as you realize you've been sitting here staring out the window and you haven't even touched your coffee in twenty minutes. There's a man standing over you with a half smile on his face. You haven't really nailed down interactions with New Yorkers yet, but you assume he wants you to move.
"Uh, sorry." You shift in your seat and start to gather your things. It isn't much (you just wanted to get out of the Complex for a while), but the sooner you were out of the way, the better.
"Oh, no, I don't need a seat," he says. You look up at him with a blank stare, but he goes on. "I actually wanted to ask you a question." You straighten up, try to look like you weren't so utterly confused, and allow him to continue. "Sure." You can't imagine what it might be.
"Have you ever served?"
"Excuse me?" Was that some sort of euphemism? Sarcasm, slang, and idioms were never something you fully understood, on either side of the portal. The man is quick to clarify. "The military - have you ever enlisted?"
Not exactly, but you weren't about to try to explain it to him. "No. Can I help you with something..?" It turns out that the man, starting to bald and plainly dressed, is a recruiter for the National Guard. You'd never heard of it, but he was happy to explain that you looked like a perfect candidate for the Guard - young, fit, and squared away.
"No, thank you," you tell him. You had a hard enough time adjusting to life here, you couldn't imagine signing up for such a commitment so soon. You have to admit it's exactly the sort of thing that you'd excel in. But he insists you take his card, and call him if you change your mind....
WANDERING ADRIFT ASTRAY WAYWARD MISPLACED DISORIENTED ALONE
You scramble to regain your feet after you've just crossed through this famed "portal" everyone on the other side had been talking about. Everyone being the people (and animals and spirits and who knows what else) that you had been following since you lost the rest of your group.
You had the whole thing figured out - well, you and Woody had the whole thing figured out. You had to admit his leadership skills kicked in pretty quick when a crisis arose. Losing Andy was hard on all of the toys, and it was certain that without Woody they wouldn't have stuck together as long as they did. As your small group traveled in the direction that you had last seen the neighbors running in, you all tried to remain hopeful. The creatures that had terrified and altogether destroyed your little suburban utopia had gone, for the most part. You missed the full force of the initial attack but you knew there would be more. The group moved quickly as a gang of 12 inch toys could, with the sheriff at the lead, you not far behind him, and Jessie bringing up the rear, keeping watch over the smaller toys and never letting her smile waver. If you ever got out of this alive you knew you could never let her go. Truth be told, it was her that kept you going as well.
You shudder at the thought of losing that beautiful, yodeling, red-headed cowgirl. And Woody - how stupid could you have been to go after him when he went missing? Sure the rest of the toys hadn't taken his disappearance well, but you should have stayed, kept an eye on them. Everyone had scattered and there wasn't much that could be done, you remember, trying not to get caught up in the moment. You have bigger worries right now - like where the hell are you - why was everything suddenly so small - who were these people who were waiting for you in this dark, dusty, alley way? You put a hand to your face only to feel the oddest of sensations; your cheek is soft, squishy, and the gloves you usually wear feel so foreign. Plastic, is your first thought; your suit is made entirely of plastic but you realize you have changed.
You feel panic setting in, but you know better than to let it get the best of you. This is no different than when you first arrived in Andy's room - you just had to asses the situation, take control of the perimeter, establish your bearings, and... it seemed you would need to get a hold of your body first as you almost stumble when you try to walk. You're in a state of shock, almost as if you've been reset, as you take in everything around you. You allow the people in the alley to guide you, keeping your guard up the whole time.
They bring you to the "Complex," they ask who you are and where you're from. They insist that you change your name, lest someone mistake you for an action figure. You can't help but to scowl at this - an action figure is exactly what you are, or what you were. After a change of clothes you look more like Andy and his mom than you do yourself. This was a strange place.