Chapter 30: Dante
Her hands press into my chest as the ecstasy finally overtakes her, feeling the same rush of pleasure as myself. Our bodies tense for a few pulsating moments before all at once going limp. I lay there with my eyes closed, breathing heavy, hearing hers echo into my ears.
I open my eyes to see her face flushed. A subtle smile of satisfaction painted on her lips. She looks as if she’s practically glowing as she sits on top of me. This is the first time we’ve been together like this since all this madness started. It’s a welcome distraction among other things.
Lauren lowers her face down to mine, kissing me deeply, caressing my face in one of her hands. She slides off of me to my right side, laying her head on my chest, using a finger to gently touch my exposed skin.
“I had almost forgotten how good that felt,” she says.
I respond in kind with a shallow nod.
“What do you say we…get married after all this is over?” I present.
I instantly feel her energy change as she shifts her body.
“You don’t think we should?” I ask.
“You…don’t want to marry me, Dante,”
“Yeah? Why not?” I question.
“Because…” she sits up, wrapping the blanket around her body “I’m not a wife. I never will be,”
I sit up, pressing my back to the wall in which bed is placed against.
“What does that even mean, Lauren?”
“It means I don’t do…wife things. I’m not going to cook you dinner as you come home from work,”
“Good thing I know how to cook,”
“I won’t clean up after you and do your laundry,”
“Went to Boot Camp. Can do both,”
“I won’t sit home and cuddle on the couch with you all day watching some meaningless television show,”
“I don’t watch TV, no big deal,”
“Dante…please…stop,” she finally says, her tone becoming upset.
I study her for a moment before placing a hand on her face, causing her to look at me.
“Okay. It’s alright. It was only a thought. But…you do still want to be more than this, don’t you?” I ask.
I watch Lauren recede into herself, bringing her knees to her chest.
“Do I really deserve that from you?”
“What do you mean, Lauren?”
“I feel like all of this is just…Stockholm syndrome,”
I chuckle “That would imply that you’re my captor,”
“I’m not being funny, Dante,” she looks at me with serious eyes.
“Neither am I. Why are you so hell bent on believing that you don’t deserve this?”
“Why shouldn’t I? Look at me. Look who I am. What I’ve done. Everything that’s happened has been my fault. I’ve hurt so many people for my own ambition. And even now…I don’t care about them. I still just think of them as obstacles. It’s only a matter of time before I think of you as the same thing,” she explains as her eyes well with tears.
I stare down, thinking for a moment. I reach to my side table, taking my pistol in my hand.
“What are you doing?”
I take her hand, placing the gun in to her palm. I close her fingers around it and raise it to my chest.
I give her a somber smile “Well when that day comes, I want you take this gun and shoot me right here. Because God Himself and the devil in kind know that this is the only thing that’s going to stop me from loving you, Lauren. I don’t care who you were. I don’t care about that face you wear in front of everyone else. Who you are beneath that is what I care about. The real you. The one you’re so afraid to show to other people, when you have no reason to,”
Lauren let’s her hand go limp, releasing the pistol.
“I can’t even have children, Dante. Did I ever tell you that?”
Her statement takes me aback.
“I have nothing to offer as a lover. Biologically speaking, I am worthless as a mate,”
I stop trying to reason with Lauren’s spiraling, choosing instead to embrace her, pulling her close to me. I feel her arms slowly creep around me in return.
“This place is hurting all of us. I’m sorry I didn’t pay enough attention to see what it was doing to you. You don’t need explanations and convincing. What you do need to know is that I love you, Lauren. And I’m here,”
I feel her body convulse as the sobs slip through and the walls of her emotions break. Lauren cries into my shoulder, clutching me tight. As the last sobs and tears fall, I release her and stare into her reddened, glossy eyes.
“You don’t want to get married, it’s okay. We don’t need to. If you can’t have children, that’s okay too,”
I place a hand on her face, using my thumb to wipe away a tear falling from her cheek “As long as I have you, I’ll be happy,”
She studies me. I can feel thoughts rolling through her head.
“What is it?” I finally ask.
“I hear what you’re saying, Dante. I know you mean it. But...when I look at your face. I don’t see anything behind it,”
“What? What do you mean?”
“At first I felt it was just because our relationship before was strictly physical. Since we’ve gone beyond that however...it hasn’t changed. You’re like a statue most of the time. The world happens to you. Not the other way around,” she explains.
An intense feeling of being exposed washes over me. The raw nerves of things I’ve actively avoided for ages creep into my mind. The intensity of her eyes staring into mine becomes too much, forcing me to look away.
Lauren’s hand catches my cheek, turning my face back to hers “Don’t. Don’t do that. Don’t shut down on me,”
I sigh “Lauren, I…I don’t know what you want…”
“How do you feel when I show the same mask to you as everyone else?” She’s asks suddenly.
“I-I don’t know. It feels jarring in a way. Like you just slammed a door in my face,”
“Well…for me…it’s like the door is cracked. I get to peek inside and see the corner of one part of the room. Sometimes I knock. But no one ever answers. Why can’t you open the door for me, Dante?”
“Because I just…” I shift my body so that my back is turned to Lauren, my feet hanging off the bed “I can’t,”
“Tell me why,”
The prodding creates a worming sense of frustration in my mind.
I turn my head towards her “Why are you pushing this?”
“Because you expect me to show my true face with you. How am I supposed to do that when you won’t even trust me with yourself?”
“It’s complicated, Lauren,”
“Then uncomplicate it, Dante,”
“Stop!” I finally snap as I quickly rotate my body to face her.
I notice Lauren’s wide eyes and expression of surprise as she stares back at me. For some reason, that breaks something in me. I finally let go, letting my countenance drop.
“Do you know the life expectancy of a pilot when combatting the Sekrid?” I ask, my voice cracking as I attempt to hold back tears.
“No…” She answers timidly.
“Thirty seconds from launch. Fighting the Sekird means you have a chance of dying less than a minute after you go out there. The anxiety involved with that is like a fire that burns through your nerves day in and day out. My first few encounters my heart was pounding so hard I thought it was going to ram straight through my sternum. The stress was so hard on us that they had to place squadrons in shifts because after a dogfight we’d go and pass out for an entire day to sleep off the mental exhaustion,”
I feel Lauren slides behind me, wrapping her arms around me, resting her head on my shoulder.
“It wasn’t just that though… our planes…they aren’t ready for that kind of warfare. Our technology is barely able to keep up with the speeds we’re constantly doing. Taking a second longer to make a micro-decision could mean the difference between you smashing in to a cliff or veering off safely. There is no flight assistance, no automatic steering control. Everything is left up to the pilot. The stress is equally felt by the weapons officer in the back. Targeting systems are so far behind that usually it’s left up to a manual aim in order to shoot down an enemy fighter. God forbid you should get the honor of being a squad leader. That’s a whole new set of problems,”
The ache of tears welling in my eyes forces me to close them tightly, allowing a few drops to fall to the floor.
“I spent…close to two years training with a lot of the people in my squadron…all for them to either burn to death or explode within in a minute of them doing the job they trained so long for. It was all such a waste,”
I allow myself to turn and look at Lauren.
“After all of that…My nerves were so shot by the time I transferred here that it almost physically hurt to allow myself to feel anything. I thought it would be better to feel nothing at all then have to endure the pain of it every day. Lauren…you think that I’m the one who’s not answering the door. But the truth is, we’re both standing outside. And I’m the one standing behind you afraid of what we’ll both see if it’s opened,”
Lauren stares into my eyes, trying to understand me. She places a hand on my face, then kisses me deeply.
She returns her gaze to mine “Then I’ll keep standing in front of you. I’ll protect you from whatever monster decides to come out. But it does have to come out. Sooner…or later,”
“I love you,” Is all I can bring myself to say.
The hot coffee pours into my cup, releasing its satisfying, rich scent. I lift the cup to my mouth, taking a sip, testing the heat. I take the mug with me as I walk to the wall of windowpanes, staring out into the abyss. I take another sip.
My eye catches someone in the pane’s reflection. Someone I don’t recognize.
“Well you’re new here,” I say.
She smiles “Don’t worry, I’m just a tourist,” she says, taking a step towards me.
I drop the mug to the floor, pulling my pistol from its holster, turning with expediency, and aiming for her head.
“Please don’t,” I request, feigning politeness.
She scoffs at me.
“You another one of those pirates Ethan didn’t take care of?” I interrogate.
She giggles “Oh, honey. You wish I was,” she says with a dark smile creeping on her lips.
I cock the hammer back. A hand suddenly snatches my gun. My own hand is quickly jerked to the side and disarmed, sending a wave of pain through my wrist. Before I’m able to put eyes on the source, I feel my arm twist behind me, followed by a sharp pain on the back of my neck as I’m knocked unconscious.
I jolt awake, jerking into a sitting position, finding that I’m placed in a chair. I look around the table to see that the rest of the group are sitting around it as well. None of us are bound, but they’re all equally as tense.
My eyes trail up to see the two women from before, turning my gaze to a glare.
“Well now that everyone is awake, we can start,” a voice says behind me.
The source of it steps around the table so all of us can see her. A woman in her thirties I’d say. She wears the same type of skin tight jumpsuit as the rest. No doubt they can be only one group.
“Ravens,” I state plainly.
“Right you are,” their leader responds with a highborn English accent.
“The fuck is this about?” Damien barges in to the conversation with own inquiry.
“Good question, Mister Blake. We’re here…because one of our own called in a scorched earth protocol. A wonder it was to find that it had already been carried out by the imbeciles running this vessel,”
“Still doesn’t explain what that has to do with us,” I point out.
“Right you are, Dante dearest. It just so happens that our asset…” She places her hands on Elena’s shoulders, bending down until her face is level with Elena “…is in this room,” She says with a smile.
“Anika…stop,” Elena says, voice shaky.
Anika turns her face towards Elena. Elena’s eyes visibly start to fill with tears.
“Stop? Elena, honey, you’ve gone soft. What happened to you? You used to be one of our best. Now look at you…”
Elena stares down, a shameful expression exposing itself.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. A shadow of what you were. No doubt a product of this Blake brother,” She says, giving Ethan a dirty sneer.
Surprisingly enough, Ethan only glares at her in return.
“What is it exactly you plan to do, Anika?” Lauren asks.
“Well, Doctor, if you really deserve that title…generally the policy in situations like these, is to neutralize any and all subjects of the affected asset and bring said asset back to headquarters for remediation. Now I’m not going to get into the details of that. But it isn’t pleasant,”
Elena quickly jumps out of her chair “Enough! Just…take me and leave them alone,” Elena pleads.
Anika looks at her with what is I assume is feigned confusion.
“And leave them to the horrors of this awful place? Why would I do that?” She replies as her expression turns to one of evil.
She turns her gaze to Lauren as she takes hold of Elena’s shoulder, forcing her to sit back down. My eyes glance between Anika and Lauren. I notice one of the agents step behind Lauren’s chair.
“I figure it’s only right we take care of the source of the problem first,”
“Don’t. Don’t you fucking do it,” I demand as I realize what’s about to happen.
Anika giggles “Do all of you know why you’re still sitting at this table? Even though you’re not bound in any way?” Anika looks to each of us “Nobody…? Well that’s fine. I’ll tell you. But first…Nevi dear, would you be so kind?”
My heart stops and its as if all goes dead silent as Anika’s colleague snatches Lauren by the hair and slams her face on the table, removing a knife from her belt and driving it into her shoulder, eliciting a scream of agony from Lauren’s lips.
I slam my fists on to the table “Stop! That’s enough!” I turn my gaze to Anika “You don’t know what you just did. I’m going to make you wish you never came here,”
Anika lightly shakes her head from side to side “You men. Always throwing threats here and there whenever something happens. You aren’t going to do anything. Allow me to finish my explanation. You’re still sitting at this table…because you know…that if you were to attempt to stop us…”
She motions a hand to Nevi, who removes the blade and stabs it in to Lauren’s shoulder again in another place. Lauren cries out, a trickle of blood flowing from her mouth due to the contact with the table she experienced.
“God damn it!” I exclaim, clenching my fists so hard they shake.
“…we would end all of your lives before you were able to even contemplate your first action. So, you sit here…”
She motions her hand again as she begins to circle the table.
“No, don’t do i—” Lauren cries out again.
I see tears slide down her cheek as her misery starts to overwhelm her senses.
My anger concedes to helplessness “Please…please stop hurting her…” I start to beg.
Anika smiles wide with satisfaction “And there it is. Sooner or later one of you finally realizes the situation you’re in. And starts to beseech us,”
As I look to Anika who has circled back around the table, my eyes catch on to what’s happening with Elena. Everyone else looks on, horrified or angry at the events transpiring. Elena sits quietly, head lowered, hair draped in front of her face. I can almost see something moving within her. It’s a side I’ve never seen from Elena before.
“Anika…I’m asking one more time…stop. Now,”
“I think not, Elena. You broke protocol. You broke character. And most importantly…you failed your mission. And for what? Him? How pathetic,”
Anika snaps her fingers, prompting another one of her agents punch Ethan in the face with a loud pop, snapping his head to one side. He grunts as he feels the pain, spitting a small mass of crimson on to the table.
“You’re right Anika…” Elena says quietly.
The lack of…well…anything in her tone causes me to look toward her. Her body is more relaxed now as she sits in the chair, face still unviewable beneath her hair.
“I’m sorry, Elena. What was that?” Anika asks.
“I said you were right,” She repeats.
The monotone nature of her voice, devoid of anything discerning an emotion is unsettling.
“I know what I have to do now,”
“And what is that?” Anika questions, not quite sure of Elena herself.
Elena jumps from her chair in a near superhuman fashion, seizing Anika by her jaw, simultaneously grabbing her by the wrist and immobilizing her arm. Anika is so surprised by the action that her eyes water and grow wide as she’s unable to move.
“I told you to stop,” Elena states plainly, her voice maintaining its monotone nature.
In one fast motion Elena twists Anika’s body forward, smashing the bridge of her nose on the edge of the table, releasing her as her body recoils backwards.
Nevi unhands the knife she has embedded in Lauren’s shoulder and begins to step backwards. Elena slowly circles around the table, squaring off with her.
She allows Nevi to strike first, catching her leg as she attempts to kick Elena. Elena proceeds to kick Nevi’s other leg from underneath her, causing her to fall to the floor. Nevi’s leg still in hand, Elena steps to the inside and twists, the sound of cracking and pained moans signal her leg breaking.
Elena drops her leg to the floor and steps to her head. I watch Nevi raise her hands as Elena lifts a leg, bringing it down on her neck, crushing her windpipe. Nevi writhes on the floor, attempting to breathe to no avail as Elena turns to the last Raven who has elected to take Ethan hostage, lifting him from his chair and holding a knife to his throat as she backs away.
Elena steps closer to the table, standing behind Lauren.
“Not another step, Prydwen,”
Without hesitation, Elena pulls the knife from Lauren’s shoulder and throws it with precision. It lands blade first through the eye of the final agent. She falls to the floor, her limp hand nicking Ethan’s neck as he avoids being cut completely by her.
I immediately rush to Lauren’s side, helping her into a sitting position. I cradle her head as she lifts it off the table. I notice a visible bruise has already formed on the side of face that impacted the table.
“I’m fine, Dante. I’m fine. Just stop,” Lauren says, allowing her pride to try and shoo me away.
“Hey. Don’t even start with me. You just sit there and let me do my thing,” I order as I start to look at wounds.
I trace a thumb around the bruising on her face, lightly pressing in areas to ensure nothing is out of place.
“Nothing’s broken. And she didn’t stab me anywhere vital. I’m okay,”
“You still need to get these closed up. Where’s Thomas? Wait a second. Where the hell is Thomas?”
“I’ll check on him,” Damien says as he starts for the door.
Before he can exit however, it opens to the subject of conversation himself stepping through. He stops as he takes stock of room.
We all breathe a sigh of relief as Thomas steps over to the table.
“You alright, Lauren,”
Lauren turns to him, annoyed “Really?” She asks sarcastically.
Thomas put his hands up “Alright, let’s get you patched up, come with me,” He says, helping Lauren from chair and walking her to the small medical station we’ve managed to set up.
I take this time to approach Elena, who stands over Anika, who appears to be still breathing.
“We’re not keeping this one,” Elena says as we both stare down at her.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“I will be,”
“How long, Elena?” Ethan asks behind us, causing the both of to turn towards him.
“What?” Elena responds in confusion.
“How long was I one of your marks?”
Elena closes her eyes and shakes her at the realization that the truth had been set free.
She looks at him with regret “Ethan…”
He puts a hand up “That’s all I needed to hear,”
He puts his hands on his hips, staring at the floor. I notice a few tear drops fall from his face.
“Um…I’m done,” He says simply before walking away, entering his room.
I watch as Elena’s whole body very nearly collapses.
Without thinking I put a hand on her shoulder “Don’t do that girly,”
She looks up at me, looking pitiful.
“He’s going to forgive you,”
“How…do you know?”
I look at her, smiling slightly “I just do,”
I hug Elena, allowing her to cry into my chest all the things she’s been holding back. And for a moment, just a moment…I put my hand on the door knob, and open the door.