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Chapter 33

Chapter 33: Dante

Lauren and I stand atop the balcony of the operating room. I stare down into the center, taking note as to how the room forms a large eye. The chairs closest to the operating table are a different color to signify an iris.

Intermittent lights illuminate the once sterile area. Blood spatters coat the surrounding floor below making the symbolic eye seem as if it’s bloodshot.

I feel her hand on my left shoulder.

“Something is on your mind,” she states factually rather than asking.

“This whole operation…is based on a lot of chance,

“Predicting living creatures is often a guessing game. Usually why I prefer my experiments,”

I lightly scoff, looking over my shoulder at her “Didn’t predict that all of this would happen, did you?”

she raises an unamused eyebrow “Are you holding that over my head now?” she says with a tinge of aggravation in her voice.

I turn towards her, wrapping an arm around her hips, pulling her close “It is what it is at this point. I’m just trying to know where your thoughts are at,” I explain as I place a kiss on her lips.

As we separate, she looks at me with a confused smile “I’ve never experienced you like this before. Outside of the bedroom anyway,”

I trace a thumb across her cheek, studying her features. It creates an unconditional smile on my face.

“I think…I decided to open the door just a bit,”

Her smile grows wider “I think I like this side of you,”

my grin fades to an expression of worry.
“What is it?” she asks me.

“I don’t want you to be here for this one, Lauren,”
she tenses up in my arms “Why not? Everyone is valuable in this instance,”
“We can do for one less. I know you’re strong. I know what you’re capable of but…” I let go of her and turn my back to her so she doesn’t have to see the fear in my eyes “You’re all I have…I can’t lose you, Lauren,” I turn to face her, allowing her to see my vulnerability “I almost did twice already. It’s only a matter of time before our luck runs out,”
Instead of becoming angry, I notice her expression become more somber.
“If it were up to me, neither of us would be a part of this, Dante. I know you’re scared. But we don’t have that luxury. And more than that…” Lauren steps to the edge of the balcony, gripping the railing “I caused all of this. I can’t sit idly by while other people clean up the mess I made. I have to face it,” she explains.
I lean my forearms on the railing next to her as we both peer down into operating room.
“I guess I have no choice to support you then,”
she chuckles “When do you ever have a choice in that matter, Hall?” she asks, eliciting a smile from me.
“I’ve always wondered, why do you call Elena that pet name?”
“What, girly? That’s kind of random,” I point out.
“I know. It’s just…I’ve always been a little jealous of that. Seemed you always had a tendency to show her more affection than me,”
“Elena and I got here around the same time. I guess now it’s been revealed that it was just an act at the time, but we became pretty good friends. I did a couple favors for her to help her out here. She did some things tech-wise for me when I needed it. We just always had a mutual understanding to help each other out. I’d like to think that some part of that friendship was real before now,”
“Makes sense, I guess,”
“Why…do you want a pet name too?” I ask slyly.
She laughs “Goodness no,”
Her response causes both of us to laugh. For a moment we forget about the situation we're in.

I lift another piece of debris on the pile, reinforcing the bottleneck we’re attempting to cause. I wipe the sweat from my brow as I look over to Elena who’s rigging up the quarantine door to shut at her will. I walk to her position and kneel down next to her, studying her work.
I shake my head “I still don’t know how you do this,” I state.
She chuckles as she pulls on a group of wires “Lots of practice,” she says, splicing two wires together.
She looks up from her work, catching my eyes in her gaze. Something about them is…mesmerizing. I can’t help but stare into them for a time.
She smirks “Dante…” she says in a low voice.
“Your face is really close to mine,”
I shake my head and look away, feeling my cheeks get hot.
“Um…sorry. I don’t know what that was all about,” I say as I stand up.
She stands next to me, running a hand down my arm, sending tingles through my whole body.
“It’s alright, Dante. This place is lonely. And sometimes one woman isn’t always satisfactory to your needs,” she says seductively as her eyes start to pull me in again.
As I stare at her I could swear I see the shape of it flash to someone different in the darkness. A woman with silver eyes. The sight causes me to stumble backwards, shoving Elena away.
“Elena, what the hell is going on with you?”
she shakes her head, coming back to her senses.
“I…don’t know…I…I need to go tell Ethan,” she says as she starts to walk away.
“Let me come with you,” I start after her.
Elena holds up a hand, stopping me.
“No…I…I can’t trust myself right now,” she storms off.
What the hell?

I watch Damien place another explosive in its intended position. He makes a few small adjustments, getting the direction just right. He steps back with his hands on his hips, satisfied.
“Looks like a good spot to me,” I compliment.
“That’s why I put it there,” He responds in his typical short fashion.
He turns and looks at me with a question in his eyes.
“Been needing to discuss something with you,”
I look at him inquisitively “Oh yeah?”
He nods “Yes. I won’t beat around the bush. Does the name Peter Hall mean anything to you?”
The name hits me like a ton of bricks. Damien’s expression tells me my answer is painted all over my face.
I come back to myself “Not a thing,” I lie to him.
He narrows his eyes, knowing my dishonesty.
“You gonna stick with that answer?” He asks, drawing a line in the proverbial sand.
I sigh, placing my hands on my hips, staring at the floor as I steel myself for the conversation.
“He’s my brother,” I say plainly.
“Do you know what he does?”
“I’m aware,”
“And you’re okay with that?”
I let out a frustrated sigh “No, Damien, I’m not. Where are you going with this? You want reparations or something?”
He shrugs “It’s a just a curiosity I’ve been wondering about. Am I the only person who knows right now?”
“It’s not a fact I’m particularly proud of…so yes,”
I notice a change in Damien’s demeanor. His countenance becomes more…gentle in a way. The air is less tense around him as he folds his arms and leans against a wall.
“Can I ask…what happened?”
I think a moment. Contemplating if I should open the door a little wider and let one of the darker parts out.
“You and Ethan were close growing up, yeah?” I finally say.
“Near inseparable,”
“That wasn’t Pete and I. My family is special you might say. As in the only way you earn love and recognition is by the things you accomplish. It was made clear that him and I were in a competition very early on,”
“Were you twins?” Damien asks.
I shake my head “We were three years apart. He was the younger one,”
Damien looks at me with surprise “He seriously doesn’t look like it,”
“Trust me, I know what you mean. You can imagine the embarrassment I felt when he began to surpass me in everything. I was expected to be better. But academically, physically, athletically, I just wasn’t. I was bored with school. I didn’t care about being jacked. I sure as hell had no interest in sports. So, trying to excel in them was a chore. I had no focus on it,”
“But you did on planes, right?” Damien observes.
“Exactly. Space flight and aeronautics was my thing. The one thing I always knew more about. But it was one thing too little for my family. My parents used to have monthly tests for my brother and I…to see where we were at,” I explain, laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.
“What the hell kind of people were your parents?”
“The hell is a Veridianite?”
“I guess you could call them a cult. I found that out later. They’re a bunch utopian believers that think only the best and brightest have a place in the society. And those who are of lower capability according to their logic are meant to be separate and unequal…used as objects to work the factories, plants, mills and what have you,”
“Sounds like some fucked up people,”
“Yeah…and I got fed up with it eventually. The most satisfying moment of my life is when I stood on our doorstep, bags packed, telling them I was joining the UEDF. They disowned me entirely after that and I couldn’t have been any happier. Can’t say I was surprised though when Peter decided to do the same. Probably just to show me he could do it better. He went Officer. After becoming a Doctor,”
“Explains why he feels the need to say it every time he introduces himself,”
I scoff, shaking my head at Damien’s comment. A somber feeling overcomes me as think on moments of the past.
“I didn’t choose to come here…”
“What do you mean?” Damien asks for elaboration.
“If it were up to me I would be flying right now. My family pulled some strings to get him and I stationed close by each other. Imagine both of our surprise when…not under the influence of our parents we started to become closer,”
“What happened?” Damien encourages me to keep going.
“One day…he came to me. He was erratic. Unlike any way I’ve seen him before. He didn’t give me details but…he told me the UEDF was up to something. Something big. He said the Sekrid weren’t the bad guys,”
“That’s what I said. He said he was leaving. I urged him not to. I…told him if he did that I’d have to report him. I could see the betrayed feeling in his eyes. But I couldn’t bring myself to believe him. Next day, I’m brought up on charges of being an unfit pilot and forced into ground duty. Son of a bitch called it his medical opinion. Had a bunch of bogus documentation. He was gone a few days after I came here,”
We sit in silence for a time as my story comes to an end.
“I’m sorry that happened to you. Thank you for telling me,” Damien says as he walks away.
I smile to myself knowing that’s probably the best show of emotion anyone has gotten from Damien since he’s been here.
“What the hell is wrong with you!” Ethan yells as he steps into Security Center, Elena trailing behind him, attempting to stop him.
I pinch the bridge of my nose, sighing in aggravation “Can this damn day just be over already,” I say to no one in particular.
I maintain a calm demeanor as Ethan gets in my face.

“What? Lauren wasn’t good enough for you? You had to go after Elena too?”
I roll my eyes “Don’t be an idiot. Did you even listen to what she said? Or are the only words you heard was ‘almost kissed Dante'? Just calm down and take a second to listen to her,”
“He’s right, Ethan. What happened wasn’t normal. It’s like…something was controlling me,”
Ethan stares at her for moment then leans against a table, taking a deep breath.
“Alright…I’m sorry…what exactly happened?”
“It was like her eyes were hypnotizing me. And not in the 'they're so beautiful' kind of way. It was like being sucked into some kind of portal,” I start.
“And I knew everything I was saying. But it was like I just couldn’t resist. Like someone was taking hold of my mind and making my mouth move for me. Like I was some kind of puppet,” Elena finishes.
Ethan folds his arms, thinking for a moment.
“I think we need to bring this to Thomas. Maybe…I did pass it on to you somehow,”
Elena nods, clear concern on her face “I think you’re right. I think we should go right now,” she says as she starts for the door.
Ethan stands up straight, turning his eyes to me “I’m sorry, Dante,” he says as he follows behind Elena.
I shrug “No harm no foul. Just figure out what’s wrong,”
I shake my head before taking a sip of my coffee.
What the hell is going on with everyone?

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