Chapter 6: Ethan
Jake asked me a question once. If I took off the uniform. All of the patches and the rank. If I stripped myself of what the UEDF made me and looked in a mirror, would I know who I am?
I told him of course I would. Somehow, I knew he saw through that lie. He went on to explain that war wasn’t just about pointing and shooting at what someone with a shinier pin on their collar tells you to.
Soldiers rarely fight for what their leaders try to make them to. For all their ranting and raving at a podium with a camera permitting the whole world to watch. He said that in order to become more than your uniform and beyond that, a corpse, you had to have conviction.
There had to be something in your mind worth fighting for. Because when your back is against the wall and death is creeping close, what is it in your mind that will motivate you to tell the reaper you’ll have to reschedule your appointment?
Growing weary of all the pointing and shooting, I spent a lot of time thinking on this. I realized that beyond the camouflage I wore every day, there wasn’t much deeper. I’m a good soldier and I’m satisfied with that. Who I am was never so much important to me as who I was fighting for.
My conviction was Damien.
It was keeping him alive every time we went out in the field. I hate the Sekrid for the havoc they wreak nonstop, but that’s not why I point and shoot. Every round that leaves the chamber of my rifle is dedicated to the safeguard of my brother.
I’d like to think that without each other, neither of us would have made it this far. Which is why now that the dust has finally settled, I can’t stop thinking about him. I have no idea where he’s at or if he’s even alive for that matter.
How could I have been so careless? How could I allow myself to lose control like that? How could I just…abandon him like that?
I place a hard fist into the locker next to my bed. The metal indents and I pull back my hand to see that my bare knuckles are bloody and raw. I open and close my hands a few times, feeling the bites of pain that radiate through my hand.
I stand up and walk to the sink, turning the water hot and running my hand underneath it. I stare at the drain as the crimson water spirals down, then trail my eyes up to the mirror.
I notice that tears have welled in my eyes. If I stripped myself of what the UEDF made me, who am I?
Nothing…I am nothing.
I feel the rage build up again, smashing the mirror with the same hand. I close my eyes and listen to the shards of glass crash on to the floor. I open my eyes and what I see in the pieces that remain causes me to stumble backwards and fall to the floor.
I slowly stand up and walk closer, discovering that what I saw was gone. A little girl, eyes black as night. Her skin was green and rough. She was smiling wide, sharp teeth on full display.
“What the hell did you do?” A voice says, startling me.
I snap my head around to see Dante standing in the doorway.
“I uh...” I turn my head back to the mirror, then Dante again. “I...uh…slipped. Hand went through the damn mirror,”
“Yeah, I can see that. You’re bleeding all over the place man,”
I lift my hand to face level finally take note of the damage I’ve done to myself. There are numerous gashes on my fingers and the back of my hand. A shard of the mirror is embedded between my middle and pointer finger. I use my other hand to pull out the chunk of glass. I wince as it slides out from underneath my skin. I watch the blood flow from the wound, making its way down my wrist. A moment later, Dante grabs my hand and wraps it in a towel.
“Take yourself to the medbay. Get patched up. I’ll clean this up,” He says plainly.
“Yeah…R-Right,” I reply, not completely coherent.
“Go ahead and flex your hand for me,” The corpsman instructs.
I open and close my hand a few times.
“Feel okay?” He asks.
I nod my head.
“I’ll go ahead and give you a couple days—”
“No…I’m fine,” I interject.
The corpsman cocks his head and raises in eyebrow.
“Yeah. Just give me something for the pain,”
The corpsman gives a shrug “Alright. It’s your decision,” He says as he stands and walks to a medicine cabinet, unlocking it.
He sifts through the various pills until he finds what he’s looking for. He walks back to me, handing me a bottle.
“Should be one every six hours. Or when needed. You’re free to go,”
“Thanks doc,” I say, hopping from the examination table.
I return to my quarters and find that the mess I made has been scrubbed clean as if it never existed. I proceed to put the rest of my gear on and go meet Dante in the security office. As I enter the office, I see Dante on his workstation, typing away at what seems to be another mundane report. I watch his face turn to boredom as he sighs heavily in his chair.
He finally catches my movement out and looks at me.
“What’s up slugger?” He says with an implied meaning.
I step further into the office and take a seat on the couch in the corner of the office the desk is facing.
“So, what’s the damage?” He queries, typing at the same time.
I use my good hand to fruitlessly try and rub some of the ache away from the bad one.
“Stitches. Multiple cuts and light fracturing to a knuckle or two,” I answer him.
Dante stops typing and looks at me.
“Fractured knuckles? From a mirror?”
I look at Dante unamused “I know you aren’t that stupid,”
He smirks and scoffs.
“And I’ve learned by now that if you don’t want to talk about something, you won’t,”
I lean forward on the couch, placing my elbows on my knees.
I breathe deep “It’s my brother,” I finally say.
“What about him?” Dante probes further.
“We were…a very select team of special warfare. He was on that ship with me. They…never found him,” I explain.
“Do you think he’s dead?”
“Doubtful. If I made it out, he definitely made it,”
“So, you think he’s…a POW?”
I give Dante a hard stare. He nods to me in understanding.
“So, is that the reason you put a dent in your locker and shattered the mirror?”
“Well let’s talk, Ethan. Give me a snapshot of what’s going on in that head of yours,”
I think on Dante’s offer of unburdening myself. Reaching my decision, I stand up.
“I appreciate it but…thanks anyway,”
I walk to the door, opening it.
“At some point, Ethan, that box of yours is going to come unhinged,” Dante says behind me.
I grit my teeth at the truth of his statement before continuing my stride out the entranceway. I try to let the routine of the afternoon hours shake away the feelings of the morning. Since Dante was so wrapped up in his reports, I decided I would get to know the station a little better.
I’m going to be here the next five years, so I may as well make the best of it. I take the watch bill and scan through it, making sure I pay a visit to each person on each watch at the time. I cycle through questions about what duties they perform, what their area of coverage is, and if it’s stationary or roving. Afterwards, I take the time to read the numerous pages about the duties of I’m supposed to cover as one of the heads of the security department. I nearly slam the book closed on the table as I finally reach my limit of information.
I lean back in the chair and place my hands behind my head, attempting to stretch out my back.
“How the hell do they expect him to do all this by himself?” I mutter to myself.
It’s then that my stomach turns and growls, reminding me that I haven’t eaten anything in days. I grimace in discomfort. Allowing instinct to kick in, I stand from my chair and take the elevator down to the food deck. I awkwardly take my time looking at the numerous places in which I can eat. My eyes move from left to right until they stop on a welcome sight.
“No way,” I say quietly to myself.
I allow myself to smile at the sight of a homemade Rueben sandwich being served over the counter. I approach the man behind it as he slices up more fresh cuts of meat.
“I have a very important question for you sir,”
The man looks up at me with a confused expression painting his face.
I point to one of the half-constructed sandwiches “Are those authentic?” I ask.
Realizing what I’m asking he smiles wide “Bout as authentic as me, kid. Born an’ raised. Jeffrey’s the name,”
“You’re my savior right now man. Gimme one of those things the classic way. Bag of those chips, large drink,”
“Coming right up for ya, sir!”
Time is almost a blur as the sandwich reaches my hands and I’m very nearly running to a table in anticipation to eat it. I barely taste it all as I scarf it down.
“Seems we have the same taste in food,” A female voice says as I’m finishing my last bites.
I look up to see Elena, holding a tray of the same food as mine. I feel like a deer in the headlights as I realize that I must look like a complete slob and quickly grab a napkin to wipe my face and hands.
Elena chuckles at me “Jeffrey makes an awesome sandwich, doesn’t he? You mind if I sit?”
“G—” I start with my mouth full of food.
I swallow it down hard, clearing my throat as it almost causes me to choke.
“Go ahead,” I finally get out.
Elena giggles again and take her seat.
“You’re right. They are good. I just had to try it. Tastes just like back home,” I say, giving her a reason for my choice.
“And where’s home?” She asks, curious.
I sit back in my chair. The gnawing want to isolate myself creeps in. I decide not to listen to it this time.
“I’m from Jersey,” I answer.
“Like…New Jersey? Back on Earth?”
“The very same,”
“That’s crazy, I’ve never met anyone who’s from the home world before,” Elena says, fascination lighting up her face.
She’s so beautiful when she smiles.
“Where are you from?” I ask in return.
“I grew up on Elysium,”
“Really?” I ask her in disbelief.
“What? It’s no big deal. Just another colony world like everywhere else,”
“No big deal? I know what that place is all about. Homes made of solid gold in fluffy white clouds. The place is practically a utopia. What are you doing here?”
I notice Elena’s countenance lower. The answer why finally strikes me.
“You don’t like being associated with that place, do you?” I question.
“It’s not all its cracked up to be. It looks pretty on the outside, but the people shine about as bright as coals. They’re vile, selfish, degenerates,”
I put a hand up “Say no more. I got it,”
In the quiet moment, Elena decides to eat her food. I let her do so before speaking any more.
“If it makes you feel any better, Earth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either,”
“You don’t have to say that to make me feel better,” She says with doubt in her voice.
“I mean it. My parents were politicians. Which is mainly who lives on Earth anymore. I always had to keep up appearances for the good of the family name and such. I hated it,”
I can’t help but chuckle at my next thought.
“The look no their faces when I told them I was going to be a soldier, not a politician like them. I thought my mother was going to have a heart attack. She passed out in the living room, right there,” I elaborate while trying to stifle a laugh.
Elena joins me in my laughter for a few moments before they fade.
I look at her, another question coming to mind.
“Why did you decide to sit with me?” I ask.
Elena leans in close “Truth be told I’m kind of using you,” She says with a hushed tone and a playful smile.
“That so? What for?” “Well, you see that guy to my left?”
I glance, noticing the person she’s speaking of.
“He kind of has a really big crush on me. And well…I work with him every day, so I just wanted some peace while I eat my dinner,”
I sit back in my chair and fold my arms “Consider me used then. Though I feel like I should charge you something for this,” I say with a smirk.
“Oh yeah? What’s a working man’s rate in these parts?” Elena asks, going with the program.
My smirk turns to a grin.
“How about…same table, same place, same time…tomorrow. You and me,”
I notice her blush ever so slightly as she smiles.
“Are you extorting me on a date, Ethan?”
“I’m doing nothing of the sort. Just trying to protect your interests by making sure you don’t have to eat with him again,”
“I see,” Elena says, her smile turning into a laugh.
She stands from the table, tray in hand.
“It was nice talking to you Ethan, but I’m exhausted,”
“Of course. Don’t let me hold you up,”
Elena gives me one more nod and a smile before turning and walking away. I let myself think about the conversation we had a while longer before leaving myself.
As I enter the elevator, I notice the same guy Elena was speaking about enter with me. As we ride it upwards, I notice from the corner of my eye that he’s unrelentingly staring at me.
Growing tired of it, I turn towards him, a questioning expression on my face.
“What?” I finally ask him.
“That woman you were sitting with before…what do you want with her?” He asks.
I roll my eyes “Look dude, she asked to sit with me. I let her,”
“Why?” He questions further.
I fold my arms and lean against the back wall of the elevator.
“Well if you must know, she did it because she’s tired of you harassing her for a date,”
“That’s not true!” He says, raising his voice.
I feel my blood begin to boil. I turn to face him, squaring myself up.
“I’m going to recommend you lower your voice,” I say with seriousness.
He steps back a little, hesitating his next words. I see by his body language however, that he intends to stay resolute.
“I want you to stay away from her,” He demands.
“Just so happens I don’t give a fuck what you want,”
“Listen,” He says, pointing a finger into my chest.
Before he can finish his sentence, I take his hand and wrench it sideways. I hear the sick popping of it dislocating. I drive his hand into his chest and slam him against the elevator wall.
Without hesitation, I use my injured hand to strike him in the face several times, opening my stitches and causing the pain to reignite in it. I proceed to pull my knife from its sheathe and I drive into the elevator wall close enough to his face that it cuts into his cheek.
I stare at him with rage. That is, until he raises a trembling hand, silently begging me to stop. It breaks my focus just enough that I can see what I’ve done to him.
The sight is shocking.
I quickly release him and he slumps to the floor. I feel the warmth of crimson drip down my fingers. I can’t tell how much is my blood and how much is his.
I catch my reflection in the polished metal of the elevator walls.
I don’t recognize myself anymore.
I look at my blood-soaked hand, then to him, barely conscious on the floor. I finally realize, everything I am has been stripped away from me.
The question echoes in my mind.
Who am I?