Chapter 18: Elena
“Well I suppose that’s the best way the whole situation could have gone,” She says.
“That being said, it’s a huge objective crossed off the list,” I reply in relief.
“True. Though there is still the matter of Doctor Cain,” She points out, causing me to sink in my chair.
She looks at me inquisitively “You don’t agree with my statement?”
I sigh “I understand what she’s done…and is doing. But…”
“You don’t want to eliminate her on account of Hall.” She finishes for me, more bluntly than I would have put it.
“You’re dangerously close to being compromised Prydwen,”
I give her a hard stare “I am not…compromised,”
“Your defensiveness tells me otherwise. Would it be better to Talon Protocol this entire op?”
“No jus...No. I can do this,”
“You’ve done these types of missions countless times before. What is going on with you? You’ve never decided to grow a heart just because people are nice to you,”
“They’ve never went out of their way to save my before,” I mutter quietly.
“What was that?” She questions.
“I said I’ll get it done. If you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting to attend to wrap this mess up,” I say angrily as I end the call, standing up.
I lean my hands on the desk, staring off into space as I try to calm myself. I look towards the door as I hear it glide open. Ethan stands in the doorway.
“Hey so…we’re getting ready to start,” he says, pointing a thumb in the general direction of our destination.
I look at him for a moment, staring at him in his service uniform. The high, straight collared, slate grey jacket conforms to his figure. His pants are ironed straight and creased, his dress shoes are pristine and polished. He stands tall, almost proud. Which is contradictory to how he has been carrying himself as of late. He carries his cover in one arm, resting it between his body and arm in such a way as to not compromise the shape of it.
The out of place Petty Officer ranks are placed on his shoulders. He still wears them proudly however, albeit the uniform he’s in is meant for that of an officer. I can’t help but a let a slight smile grow at the corner of my mouth as I stare at Ethan. I can’t discern any trait that makes him better than any other person. I’ve even known men better than him. But none the less I’m attracted to him.
I stand up and adjust my own uniform, taking my cover from the table and walking towards Ethan. We walk in synchronicity as I exit the office, making our way to a conference room close by. As we step through the doors of the room, I see that it’s devoid of a table, which has been receded into the floor via a switch, allowing for private ceremonies such as this where a table has no use.
At the far end of the room stands Commander Walker – once again sporting his own service dress – and Lauren Cain, who is dressed equally as nice in a crimson red dress, high heels and make up to match.
Dante is already positioned in front of them, standing promptly at attention.
“Apologies for our tardiness, sir. I was just retrieving our technician here,” Ethan states as we place ourselves to the right of Dante, mirroring his position.
“It’s quite alright, Petty Officer. We’re not in any rush. However, now that everyone is here, let’s begin, shall we?” Walker says as he turns to Cain, who is holding a glossy, cherry wood box.
She opens it, revealing contents that cannot be seen from where we’re standing. Walker reaches into the box, lifting a set of golden anchor insignias that are surrounded by an atom.
He walks to my position “Your technician pipeline, correct?” he asks, making sure he has the right pins.
“Yes, sir,” I confirm.
“Outstanding. Technician First Class, Elena Prydwen, I hereby promote you to Chief Technician, do you accept the new responsibilities with which you are being tasked with?”
“I accept, sir,”
“Very well,” Walker says as he proceeds to remove my previous ranks, and pin the new ones on to my uniform.
Walker proceeds to step passed Ethan, moving on to Dante, perceivably saving him for last.
“First Class Hall, you were previously Flight Division, correct?”
“That’s correct, sir. I transferred to Naval upon accepting orders here,”
“Your highest rank was PA Three, correct?” Walker questions further.
“Yes, sir,” Dante confirms once more.
“Well, given my knowledge of you, I feel it’s time you return to your roots, Hall. That’s why I requested you appear in your Flight Division service dress today,” Walker says as he reaches into the box once more.
He pulls out a set gold diving falcons.
“Pilot Advanced Class Three Dante Hall, I hereby promote you to Master Pilot Class One. Heaven knows your missions earned it for you. You’ll be returning to the Flight Division promptly in order resume your service with your new rank. Do you accept the new responsibilities with which you have been tasked with?”
“I accept, sir. Thank you, sir,” Dante says.
I can hear the bitter sweetness in the tone of his voice.
Walker finally steps to Ethan “Petty Officer, Blake,” He says simply.
“Commander,” Ethan responds in kind.
“You’ve had a rough run recently,”
“I suppose I have, sir,”
“I’ve seen the footage of the incident. You lost control during that event,”
“Yes, sir,” Ethan says, I notice his expression become harder out of the corner of my eye.
“There are some in certain circles that feel you shouldn’t even be here. That your responsible for all those deaths,”
“I accept that, sir,” Ethan responds once more, a tear falls from his eyes as the emotion pulls at him.
“Do you know the kind of man I see standing before me right now?”
“What…what kind of man, sir?”
“I see…” Walker’s voice becoming stern. “A man who was placed in a desperate position where winning was not an option,” He says, allowing his voice to become softer.
Ethan finally breaks his bearing and looks Walker in the eyes.
“You lost control. This is true. As any man could at the sight of seeing a close friend killed before his eyes by savages. But one of the most important lessons an officer needs to learn is that sometimes, despite his leadership, the battle is already lost before it begins. You learned that lesson hard. And I think you’ve paid your penance. Given your service record, the isolated nature of the incident in question, and because I am the god damn Commander of the Navy…” Walker reaches into the box one final time, removing a pair of silver bars. “I hereby restore your officer status and rank of Lieutenant to be effective immediately. Your special operations status and the clearances that follow shall also be restored and you will resume your duties as such. Do you accept these new and previous responsibilities with which you are being tasked with?”
“I accept, sir,”
“Very well,” Commander Walker and Doctor Cain return to their original positions.
The lot of us place our covers on our heads as the instruction we know by memory dictates to us in these moments.
“I have full confidence that all three of you will use your new ranks well. I had wished to be pinning another young man today, but sadly, his unfortunate death has prevented that. That being said, you are all dismissed to continue your duties,” Walker says, snapping to attention, rendering a salute to us.
We all respond in kind, about face, and walk out of the conference room. There’s a collective sigh of relief as we exit into the hallway, making way for the small cafeteria on the current deck.
“How’s it feel to have that anchor there, Chief?” Dante teases as we sit at one of the numerous tables.
“Me? I think the bigger deal here is that he put you back into the Flight Division. That has to feel weird,”
“Yeah…I guess so. I mean, I had planned on going back eventually, but I guess it’s going to be sooner rather than later. I can’t say I’m really ready to leave this place yet though,”
“You’re going to be great out there, Dante,” I reassure.
Dante gives me a grin “Like riding a bike,”
I turn towards Ethan who’s been oddly quiet, noticing him studying his rank pin with a worried look.
“Hey…you alright man?” Dante asks, pulling Ethan out of his concentration.
“Yeah…I’m just…I’m not sure I should have this,”
“Why not?” Dante prods.
“Because…what if…what if something like that happens again? And I lose my head?”
I place my hand on Ethan’s shoulder, prompting him to look at me.
I give him a soft smile “That’s not going to happen. Walker was right, that situation was unwinnable. And Jake…well I think he would’ve ended up dying like that eventually. Protecting the innocent was the whole reason he joined in the first place,” I explain.
“Wait a second…am I missing something here?” Dante asks.
“Long story,” I reply dismissively.
It’s strange. I’m actually speaking like myself. I’m not pretending to be a different person anymore when I talk to them. I always limit myself to saying exactly what needs to be said but now…I’m being comforting. I’m being supportive without the intent to manipulate.
I begin to zone out, becoming self-aware. Dante and Ethan’s voices muffle and deafen as I hear the pounding of my heart in my ears. I’m only snapped out of it when Dante shakes my arm, causing me to look at him.
“You alright, girly? First Ethan, now you. What’s going on?”
An overwhelming fear takes hold of me. I suddenly feel vulnerable, exposed like a nerve.
“I...I have to go. I have to go,” I say, swiftly standing from the table, briskly walking as fast as I can to my office.
I enter, closing the door and locking it, turning the lights off. The only illumination being supplied by the hallway lights flooding in through the blinds.
I sit down at my desk, crossing my arms over my chest for security. I think for a moment…then turn on my monitor.
The notification light blinks, signaling her call.
I answer it.
“What the he—Prydwen? What is it?” She asks, never seeing me like this before.
“I think it’s time for Talon Protocol,” I say to her though a shaky voice.
She stares at me for a moment, quite unsure how to respond.
“O-okay. I walk you through it,” She says basically. Knowing that’s all I needed to hear.