Chapter 8: Dante
“What in the hell were you thinking?!” I say, scolding Ethan for his lack of forward thought.
“Would you calm down?” He replies nonchalantly as he winces from the corpsman restitching his hand.
I frustratedly wipe a hand down my face, resisting the urge to lose my shit.
“Look man, I’m really trying make to sure things are good here for you. But if you keep pulling crap like this, you’re going to find yourself on Tyr military prison, in a cell,”
“I don’t know if you noticed this Dante, but not much could get worse than this. I’ve done prison. It’s easy. This bullshit? An archaic space station at best. Where the shadiest dealings I’ve ever seen goes on. Run by some scientist who thinks she’s god. It’s exhausting,”
“So, the best thing you thought to do was beat some technician unconscious?” I say pointing a knife-hand in the direction of the subject matter.
Ethan turns his head, looking at the incoherent individual who’s now wheezing as he breathes.
He looks back at me “That guy? He was just collateral damage,”
I look at Ethan, dumbfounded.
“Collat…Are you fucking kidding me? Jesus, Ethan,” I say shaking my head.
“What? What do you want me to say?”
“Maybe you should start by telling me what happened. That’d be good,” I say, pointing out the obvious.
Ethan shrugs “He threatened me. So, I neutralized the threat,”
“Please spare me the ‘I’m a damaged combat veteran spiel’ okay? Why did he threaten you?”
Ethan sighs and rolls his eyes.
“I had dinner with somebody. He didn’t like it. Jumped on the elevator with me. Proceeded to threaten me. I neutralized said threat. Happy?”
“Was that so hard?”
Ethan throws his hands up as the corpsman finishes “To be honest, you’re making this whole thing pretty difficult right now, Dante,”
“I’m gonna hit you. I swear to god I’m gonna hit you. I’m trying to protect your stupid ass from what’s about to happen,”
“I don’t need your protection. Nor do I want it,”
I place my hands on my hips, pressing my tongue into my cheek as my frustration grows.
“You’re done, Blake,” I hear from the doorway behind me.
I turn to see Captain Anderson stepping inside.
“I want you off my station tonight,” The Captain says, aggressively pointing a finger towards the ground.
“You’re the one who does the paperwork Cap. You can send me out of here any time you like,” Ethan states arrogantly.
“You smart mouth son of a b--,”
“Captain please. This wasn’t his fault,” I interject.
Anderson turns around and points a finger at me “You shut your mouth Hall. If I want your input, I’ll ask,”
I look at the ground, gritting my teeth.
“As a matter of fact, I don’t need you here. I want to deal with Blake, alone. Get out,”
I clench a fist at my side “Yes, sir,” I say before stepping out of the room.
As I walk down the hallway an idea strikes me. My pace quickens to that of one with a purpose. I ride the elevator up to the research wing. I walk past the numerous labs, scanning my eyes over each one until I find who I’m looking for.
I smile slightly as they lock on to her.
I open the lab door and step inside, approaching her.
“Doctor Cain. I need to talk to you,” I say, catching her by surprise.
She turns and looks at me with annoyance.
“What are you doing in here? This is a decontaminated environment,” She says as she takes me by the arm and leads me towards the door.
“Get out of here, Dante,”
“I need to talk to you,”
“Lauren,” I say with a raised voice, causing the other scientists to lift their eyes from their work.
Lauren looks around the room, slightly embarrassed. She looks at me, her annoyance turned to anger. She opens the door and steps outside with me.
“What is the matter with you?”
“I need you to do something for me,” I say, ignoring her question.
“You what? Are you serious right now?”
“I need you to reel in Captain Anderson. He wants to kick Ethan out of here,”
“You want me…to help Blake? You must be out of your mind. I have work to do, goodbye,” Lauren dismisses as she steps back towards the door.
I take hold of her arm and turn her back towards me. Lauren looks at my hand on her arm, then into my eyes.
“Let go of me. Now,” She demands.
I look at her indignantly “No,” I say flatly.
“You heard me. You’re going to do this for me. Because of everything I do and have done for you,” I lean in closer to her face “On the books. And off,”
“Are you…threatening me, Dante?”
I let go of her arm and recompose myself.
“Don’t take it too personally, Lauren. Remember, during the day it’s just business. And we both know you’ll still be calling me up to your penthouse later on,” I state in a pompous fashion.
Lauren’s mouth drops as words escape her.
“The guy threatened him. Check the elevator footage yourself. Either way, just do what I ask, please,”
I smile “Thank you, Lauren,”
“Get the hell out of my sight,” She responds as she steps back inside the lab.
“What did you do?” Ethan asks as he steps inside the office.
I look up at him from another one of my reports.
“Does it matter?” I ask plainly.
Ethan narrows his eyes at me as he leans his hands on his desk.
“Looks like you got a little dirt on your hands too, Dante,”
I can’t help but smile “Yeah well, that dirt, kept you from going somewhere much worse than here,” I say, wringing my hands in a mock fashion, shaking the invisible dirt from them.
Ethan stands up straight, a half disgusted look on his face.
“I told you I didn’t want your help. Not the way you people do things around here,”
I shake my head “You’re a child Ethan,”
“What the hell did you just say to me?”
“If you really think that everything is so squeaky-clean outside of this place, then you’re a child. Look around. This is supposed to be a government sanctioned research facility. Have you seen anyone coming to keep tabs on this place? I haven’t,”
“Are you saying it’s not?”
“Not anymore it isn’t,”
“Which would explain why Anderson is number two now,”
“Now you’re catching on, Ethan,”
“I don’t understand something though,” Ethan begins to pace, hands on his hips. “How is this going on underneath the UEDF’s noses? If there are no inspections, then that means there are no reports. If there are no reports that means that the proper authorities aren’t getting the information they’re supposed to,”
“I don’t know about all that. Maybe they bought someone off, who knows,” I say with a shrug.
Ethan stops and looks at me with a grim expression.
“They’re performing illegal experiments under the guise of the UEDF. And our uniforms are their shield,”
I nod, confirming his theory.
“What are we supposed to do about this, Dante?”
“What can we do?”
“Send out a message. Inform the higher ups. Get an investigative team down here,”
“Impossible. All the systems here are run on an intranet. The only people with a connection to the outside are Cain and Anderson. If we try to escape, they’ll use that outside connection to mark us as deserters before we even have a chance to give people the truth. That’s if they don’t destroy our ship first,”
“There has to be something we can do,”
“There isn’t,” I reply, shutting him down.
The frustration grows on Ethan’s face.
“Why are you so lax about this?”
“Because I just want to do my time, and get the hell out of here, Ethan. I’m tired. I’ve had my misadventures,” I explain.
“You used to be a pilot, right?”
“A pilot’s life expectancy is what? Thirty seconds in a combat situation?”
“I repeat, so what?”
“Someone who decides to take that job requires a whole hell of a lot of willpower and determination. Someone who’s willing to push through their own preconceived limitations to finish the fight,”
“Just get to your point already, Blake,” I say as my patience wears thin.
Ethan stares at me with judgement in his eyes.
“From where I’m standing, you aren’t a pilot. I don’t believe you ever were,”
I jump out of my chair, both hands clenched into fists.
“Yeah, you’re gonna wanna shut your mouth now,” I warn Ethan.
“Take a shot at me if you want, Dante. But we both know the reason why you’re so pissed off right now is because you know I’m right,”
Ethan shrugs sarcastically and leaves the office, leaving me to my thoughts. I sit back down in my chair as the anger boils over, causing me to take a random desk ornament and pitch it across the room. I take a deep breath and calm myself.
I reach underneath my desk and flip a switch. The desktop on my workstation changes to one that consists of a blank screen with a single vertical green line that blinks, waiting input. A moment passes before a line of text appears on screen.
‘KATSUMI: IS YOUR TERMINAL SECURE’
‘MAVERICK: YOU SECURED IT BEFORE YOU TYPED A WORD’
‘KATSUMI: -.- ONE OF THESE DAYS I’M GOING TO LET YOU GET CAUGHT. WHAT DO YOU HAVE FOR ME?’
‘MAVERICK: NEED YOU TO LOOK INTO SOMEONE.’
‘MAVERICK: ETHAN BLAKE.’
‘KATSUMI: I WAS WONDERING WHEN YOU WERE GOING TO ASK ABOUT HIM. IT’LL TAKE A FEW DAYS. ANYTHING ELSE FOR ME? WE NEED TO LOG OFF SOON.’
I take a drive out of my pocket and place it on a magnetic pad underneath the table. The light on the drive blinks as the data transfers.
‘MAVERICK: SENDING YOU LATEST SURVEILLANCE DATA. DIDN’T WATCH IT.’
‘KATSUMI: MORE FUEL TO THE FIRE NEVER HURTS. YOU’VE BUILT UP QUITE THE INSURANCE POLICY. I’LL PUT THE DATA WITH THE REST. TIME FOR ME TO GO. TTYL.’
A line of text notifies me that Katsumi has logged off. I remove the drive from the hidden pad and flip the switch once more, bringing my workstation back to normal.
I notice that familiar light of a call coming through.
I sit on the edge of Lauren’s bed, elbows on my knees, a silk sheet is draped over my lap, the only thing covering me. She moves up behind me, wrapping her arms around my chest, resting her chin on my shoulder, her silk robe is soft against my skin.
“What was that today?” She asks.
I look at her from the corner of my eye.
“That’s against the rules,” I remind her.
She sighs “Maybe I’d like to change the rules,”
I turn towards her and take her wrists in my hands.
“There’s a reason we have rules, Lauren. No feelings, no strings attached. The daily business stays the daily business, regardless of what happens. And afterward…we have this,”
Lauren pulls away from me, placing her hands in her lap. She stares down, her expression pained. I’m taken aback as the realization strikes me.
“Because we don’t have feelings for each other, right, Lauren?” I ask, already knowing the answer.
She looks up at me “No…no of course not,” She says with fearful tears in her eyes.
All I have is the urge to leave as I stand up and quickly throw my clothes on.
“I…I have to go,”
“Dante please…sit down. We’ll talk,” Lauren pleads, outstretching a hand.
Out of the two of us I never expected her cold heart to have feelings for anything.
I stare at her as my heart begins to pound in my ears. My mind panics and the only thing I can think of is to separate myself from the situation entirely.
I defensively put my hands up “I gotta go…I just…I gotta go,” I say as I turn away and head for the door.
Lauren’s pleading sounds muffled in my ears as the door opens and closes. I walk briskly to the elevator and as I enter and push the button to my floor, I nearly fall against the elevator wall, sliding into a sitting position.
I don’t know why but I feel like I’m having a panic attack. This wasn’t supposed to go this way, Dante. It was supposed to be simple. You use each other for different reasons. She gets her rocks off. You get information so that you don’t get taken down with this mess once it all crashes down.
And then Lauren, Lauren of all people starts to get in her feelings about the situation? What do I do with that?
I stare at the floor, letting the event sink in.
“Why did I react like that,” I mutter to myself.
I stand up as the elevator comes to a stop. As I step out, I nearly collide with Elena who is stepping in.
“Oh my god, sorry about that, Dante,” She apologizes.
“it’s uh, it’s no problem, don’t worry about it,” I say erratically as I try to dismiss the situation.
Elena stops me as I turn to walk away.
“Hey, are you okay, Dante? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” She asks with concern.
I step backwards away from her “I’m good, nothing to worry about, I’m fine,” I say, turning around to continue my normal walk.
“O-okay,” She responds, her voice trailing off in the distance.
I hurriedly walk to my office, almost bursting through the door as it slides open a little too slow for my taste at this point. I fall backwards on the couch into a laying position and stare up at the dark ceiling. I sift through all the thoughts racing at that moment.
I feel the nervous churning in my stomach, the rapid beat of my heart, the endorphins making my head feel light.
The conclusion is so simple to me now.
As much I don’t want to.
As much as I hate it.
As many terrible things I’ve watched her do.
As many unsavory things she’s had me do.
I have to admit to myself.
I have feelings for her too.