Broken Soldier by Orin Drake
A Novel In Progress.

        Chapter 5

        "I'm done." He said in disbelief. However many weeks in, finally, all of the pages in the filing cabinets were arranged, labeled clearly, and put back just as neatly as possible.
        At that, Rakashi actually looked up from her desk. "I'm astonished that you survived, Mr. Coi."
        "So am I." He admitted, staring at the closed and perfectly sorted cabinets. There had been years' worth of documents shoved haphazardly everywhere. And now that it was done... "Ah, sir..." Not that he was sure he wanted to ask. "What should I do now?"
        "Bask in your own glory, Mr. Coi." The response came without a single pause, completely deadpan.
        Maybe it was a revelation. Maybe it was just the fact that he was feeling something like giddiness in his vast accomplishment. Whatever it was, Rean dared to laugh. "I think I will. I just... wanted to know if I should come back tomorrow..."
        That was an interesting question, the general giving it a moment's thought. "Are you still interested in receiving pay, Mr. Coi?"
        The answer seemed quite obvious. "Yes. At least, that'd be sort of nice."
        Rakashi shrugged slightly when he glanced back at her. "Then, show up tomorrow."
        Rean was just short of saluting. "Yes, sir. Thank you."
        Yes, she could have been a bitch and remind him that he hadn't been dismissed as he was on his way out the door... but somehow he was actually working out as an assistant.


        "We should go drinking." The captain suggested immediately.
        He tried not to roll his eyes. "Or you should go drinking and I'll be the one to drag you home." Rean corrected.
        As usual, Demi was in too good a mood to let his friend affect him. "Yeah, that!"
        Another eye roll. "It's not really something to celebrate with a splitting headache tomorrow..."
        "You have no idea do you, kid?" He lightly prodded Rean in the side. "You survived Rakashi. You sure deserve something in celebration."
        "Is it really that big a deal?"
        The captain made an enormous gesture with his hands as if that was the end-all, be-all response. Then, just to be sure, added, "Yes!"
        Rean gave a quiet snort and shook his head. "My birthday's coming up. How about then?"
        Demi came to a dead stop in the hall, pointing at his friend with great intention. "You promise."
        The brunet blinked. "What?"
        "Promise that we'll go drinking on your birthday. Or we never will." As soon as the brunet made to argue, he interrupted, "You'll find some excuse to be anti-social."
        There was another snort. "Just because I don't want to drag your drunk ass back doesn't make me anti-social."
        "It does too." Demi grinned before he started walking again. "What have you got to do tonight, anyway? Got a hot date?"
        "Oh yeah, this place is just full of attractive women aching for a date with a rankless orphan."
        There was an odd flash of seriousness that spread over the captain's face. "Well, I wouldn't make that last part clear, if I were you..."
        Rean had noticed long ago that the raven-haired man seemed to have some kind of paranoia about admitting to being without parents. Every time he asked, the question was avoided, so he hardly bothered again. "But the rest is okay, huh?" he prompted, hoping to get Demi's humor back. Seeing the man serious was just too weird.
        Luckily, he took the bait. "Yeah, well. Best to be honest, right?"
        He gave the captain a shove, only to be met with a laugh. Yeah, maybe some weight lifting would be of benefit. "Point being, idiot, I might go catch up on sleep or something. The general's day starts way too damn early."
        There was a look. And then a grin. "Whoa. Wait. You're done with the job you were assigned to her for, and... you're still working for her?"
        The brunet's eyes narrowed. Oh, he knew where this was going. It had to be derailed immediately. "You're the one who suggested that I get something steady that doesn't involve a mop..." He rolled his eyes as Demi placed a hand over his mouth and laughed into it. "No I don't want to know whatever entered your sick mind just then."
        "Rean. Dear, dear Rean." Captain Dulce began, the grin only growing. "Rakashi scares the living shit out of everyone. For a reason. The fact that she does not scare the living shit out of you can only be for one of two reasons."
        "Demi." He warned, really not wanting to put up with this--but they were almost at the entrance to the main resident hall and sprinting would do no good as his friend knew where he lived.
        "One," he ignored his friend completely, "You're too stupid to be scared by her. But you're a smart kid, so I doubt that. Or, two..." the pause was drawn out, grin miraculously increasing as Rean was determined to ignore him, "You're a little keen on her." He actually stumbled a little with that shove, though it didn't stop him. "I mean, I guess there is the possibility of three, that she's not trying to scare you, but I sure don't buy that one."
        "Shut up, Demi."
        The man gasped dramatically and pointed. "There it is! There's the answer!"
        Rean's patience had run a little thin, to put things lightly. "We are not all you, okay? We do not all have women on the mind at every single second, nor are we all looking to score with whatever woman happens to be in range and is not seriously deformed. The general is probably almost ten years older than I am, do you really think I'm sitting around fantasizing about her?"
        He could have taken offense, sure. He could have answered, but that didn't seem smart. He could have argued or tried for the hurt puppy look... but that just wasn't the captain's style. "Are you gay and you never told me?" He half expected his friend to take a swing at him, stopping abruptly and taking a step back.
        Stopping and turning himself, the brunet just stared for a moment. "I'd be tempted to say yes just to get you off my case, but I can't help but feel like you'd start leaving me 'muscle magazines' in incredibly conspicuous places."
        Demi laughed--but didn't step closer. His specialty was pushing almost to the breaking point, but he knew when his life was in potential danger if he went any further. "It's a shame you know me so well, kid."
        Turning with a small sound of annoyance, Rean just continued walking to his quarters. "And stop calling me 'kid.'" He didn't bother to turn as he spoke.
        The captain watched as his friend disappeared around the far corner. Hands in his pockets as he turned and walked back to the galley, he thought maybe it wouldn't hurt to put a few 'muscle magazines' here and there... and then make certain to watch his back for a few days.


        It was when Rean had decided that his shower could wait until the next morning that he went through his pockets and realized that his work card was gone. Cursing to himself, he remembered leaving the damn thing on top of the last filing cabinet for Rakashi to check. (As if his perfectly legal card would all of a sudden turn out to be counterfeit; but that was how the military worked, check and re-check.) He knew that he could just leave the card there, certain that the general wouldn't lose it and no one would bother going into her office, but...
        Cursing even more loudly, that meant a trip back to her office to retrieve it. Ah well, it's not like sleep was necessary or anything.
        Since it was still early, he decided he'd cut across the common area that linked all of the larger resident hallways together. It was a little eerie to have perfect, complete silence all around him, making him wonder despite himself if there was something going on that he simply hadn't been told about. Passing a clock, it hit him; of course it was abandoned. Everyone was either already off duty and hidden away in their quarters or had already left for the second shift. That was probably the quietest spot in the whole of the Tower right then.
        Which was so it was so startling to see two people in a dimly-lit corner. Rean pulled back not so much out of fear but the worry that he was going to interrupt something long before his mind made sense of what he'd seen. Even considering the consequences, curiosity got hold of him first. Peeking around the bend in the hall again, he simply watched.
        It was the janitor that had been talking to Demi that day in the galley, having sounded incredibly mysterious about the cracks in the ceiling panels. Much more interesting, however, was what he was handing off to Rakashi--a small dolly loaded with crates. She handed him money, real paper money rather than military charge notes, and he smiled with a nod that showed familiarity. That much done, they simply went their separate ways.
        There wasn't really even thought behind Rean's actions; he just sprinted. If he had paused to think, he'd have been intelligent and sprinted back to his quarters rather than around, going straight for the general's office. There wasn't really much of an explanation for it; he had to get his card back, and taking the outside hallways at a run would more than likely get him in and out of the door before she noticed. Yes, fine, he was probably much more of an idiot than Demi would ever be.
        Arriving at the office, he took out his key card and pressed it quickly in the side slot, cringing slightly at the light beep before opening the door. Then he paused. Cold.
        "Short cut." Rakashi stated, sitting just as relaxed as ever in her chair.
        Closing the door behind him (after all, he hardly need another reason for Rakashi to tear him to shreds), Rean took a moment to consider just how much trouble the woman would be in if she killed him. Probably not much. "General, sir, I... I hadn't meant to--"
        "Yes, you did." She corrected quietly. Purposefully. Intentionally."
        He was going to die. He knew that he was going to die. Funny how calm that realization could be.
        "Mr. Coi, you would need a lot more practice before you could ever be undetectable." She continued, just as conversationally as anyone who had just been spied on and then run from.
        It was... unnerving. --Wait, was he already dead? How rude of him to have missed that.
        Rakashi sighed. "Relax, Mr. Coi." His surprise nearly prompted a grin, but she managed to control herself. "I am not saying that I condone your behavior, and if it happens again you're definitely not getting away with it. But, in the grand scheme of things... this 'wasn't so bad.'"
        He had to sit down. The rusted folding chair that he'd been using was good enough, though it squealed loudly as his weight collapsed onto it. After several seconds, he finally gathered the courage to ask, "So you're... not going to kick my ass in?"
        Too much courage, in her opinion. Though she could hardly complain. "Next time." She answered simply.
        It was then that Rean understood what his father had meant by the saying, "Only sense enough to run after teasing the lion enough to chase him." Yeah, colorful. About as colorful as looking into the abyss. Which he must have been doing at that very moment, because there were absolutely no active braincells at work when he opened his mouth again. "So... who was that?"
        For a moment, her stoic mask nearly cracked into sheer surprise--but it was experience that kept her looking more or less uninterested. "That was Andrew." She responded with the same bored simplicity that she used to answer the questions of officers or dignitaries.
        That wasn't quite the sort of answer that he was digging for, but it was interesting in itself. "He's a janitor, right? So are those... cleaning supplies..?" At Rakashi's narrow-eyes glance, he was overwhelmed with the feeling that he, was going, to, die.
        She was silent for several seconds, contemplating either whether to answer or how many pieces to cut him into. Both, truth be told. "You'd do well to think about your questions before you ask them, Mr. Coi." She watched him shrink a bit before her, trying not to feel a swell of satisfaction in it. "Cut to the heart of the matter or don't ask at all."
        Had she actually just... given him advice..? Throat dry, mouth not quite working right, Rean blinked a few times as he tried to figure that much out. Well, if he was marked for murder anyway... "What's in the crates?"
        That got a soft but honest snort. "Well, you are my assistant, I suppose." She sighed, reaching down to the bottom-right drawer of her desk before standing.
        The thought, Who the fuck keeps a crowbar in their desk? was immediately silenced when the answer was so very obvious. General Vrunai. Of course. Rean was certainly a bit surprised to see the top crate hefted carelessly onto the desk, still covered in official paperwork. The way Rakashi made quick work of opening it was even more of a surprise.
        "Well." She prompted, already making good work of the crowbar for the other two crates. "You wanted to know."
        He was thinking better of it at the moment. Not that he could see anything under the layer of newspaper, but... well, he was already so deep that he may as well continue his suicidal behavior until the very end. Removing the paper, what appeared beneath wasn't exactly something that he was prepared for. Food. It was... food. "What..?"
        "Contrary to popular belief, I don't usually have lackeys bringing me things from the galley." She responded, only the slightest bit of humor in her voice.
        Shaking his head, it was just really unbelievable. Those weren't rations, not freeze-dried crap--it was real food wrapped up in layers of plastic, some in foil, and--"Is that a cake?"
        Looking a bit surprised, she peered in. "Huh. It is indeed. I'd better get these hidden away, then." Brandishing the crowbar in a slightly threatening manner, Rakashi almost seemed to be enjoying herself too much. "I can trust that you won't breathe a word of this, Mr. Coi?"
        There was so much that he should have answered. Or done. Or not done. This was all so bizarre and made the general appear to be human all of a sudden, rather than the Ice Bitch General as she was somewhat famously known (and hopefully not by her)... maybe it made him punchy. Maybe he was just suicidal, stupid and welcoming the end. "Not a word, sir. I... don't suppose you'd want to share anything..."
        That got a rather dangerous look, her hand tightening around the crowbar. She wasn't satisfied until she saw Rean wince just the slightest bit. Still, there was a bit of a thoughtful look wandering through her eyes. "Do your job well, Mr. Coi." The non-answer seemed to stun him enough for her to get the crates stacked back on the dolly, crowbar placed back in her desk.
        But not enough to stop the stupidity. "Is he a friend of yours? Andrew, I mean."
        Leaning over the dolly, she offered, "Like for like, Mr. Coi. Have you ever heard the expression, 'Curiosity killed the cat with a crowbar'?"
        After a long pause and a hard swallow, he responded, "I haven't heard that before, no."
        Rakashi seemed almost unaware of exposing her humanity, the sound she made most definitely one of amusement. Well, she had said like for like... "I suppose you could say that. He just happened to know me, from before."
        That got an entirely different kind of blink from Rean. "From before what?"
        Sighing deeply, the very subject seemed to cause a severe headache. "Do you have the time, Mr. Coi?"
        "Uh..." He used to wear a watch. Before Demi had started to take it. It was just a party trick, taking someone's watch without them knowing, but Captain Dulce never actually ceased to amuse himself with it. Rean dug into his pocket, hopeful that he hadn't forgotten it. Hand closing around the timepiece, he made a mental note to try and "relocate" a clock to Rakashi's office. "It's 8:48."
        "You're working late." The general informed him, making every effort to end the conversation and push past.
        It was possible that he felt a little immortal after he'd already survived so much of what the woman had thrown at him... but really, it was his curiosity that would not let the subject rest. Rean stood in front of the door, subjecting himself to a very dangerous look. She could and very much would knock him out of the way, he knew that he had absolutely nothing to offer, no rank, no power. "If you tell me, then I'll put this all away for you..?" Well, he hadn't exactly meant the words to come out as a question...
        Rakashi raised an eyebrow. Her unasked-for assistant was trying to make a deal with her. This was... amusing, more than anything. Leaning over the dolly again, she pointed out, "You don't know where to put it."
        And that was... a good point. One that took Rean a lot longer to get around than he'd hoped.
        It was while he was struggling that she sighed again, bemused. "How the hell did you come to be here, Mr. Coi?"
        Luckily for him (for once), his mouth had the ability to move before his brain did. "I was hoping you could tell me that."
        Shaking her head once, the general remarked, "All I know is one day I was told I had an assistant and you showed up. So I gave you the hardest task I could think of."
        Rean's mouth was slightly open for a lot longer than he meant for it to be. "I heard that you had three assistants before me."
        "I did." She admitted, the slightest of vicious grins rolling across her lips. "They did not live up to the task."
        Once again there was a pause as he attempted to process that information. He was the only person willing to spend weeks on arranging the file cabinets. He sort of wished he'd known that before. Or had never been told at all. "So... have I earned an answer?"
        Rakashi's soft snort definitely sounded like a complete denial. As Rean moved out of her way, looking defeated, she privately acknowledged that she was either getting very old or very bored. "I can show you how to get to where the food is stored, or I can answer your question. Only one, not both."
        "The question." He chose softly, looking surprisingly determined. "From before, what?"
        Another heavy sigh was followed by a pause as she seemed to be trying to come up with a way to explain it. Blunt trauma was always best, however. Besides, most ranked officers already knew the gist of it, not exactly making it a secret around the Tower. Even so... "I am to assume that anything said in this room is said in confidence, Mr. Coi."
        The air seemed to have gotten a great deal colder with that statement. Even through his surprise, Rean turned and locked the door. "Yes, sir."
        Tapping her temple lightly, Rakashi simplified, "Everything from before the Rush is gone."
        The woman was entirely too good at causing his jaw to fall loose. "You mean, you... don't remember anything from before then?" Her extremely slight nod confirmed it. "How is that even possible?"
        "There was 'an accident'." The general offered with more than a hint of sarcasm. "I was injured, amnesiac, wandering around outside of a disaster... and probably pretty lucky to be alive."
        It hit him. The Rush. Only a few days after it happened, after those millions were declared dead, the surrounding earth never to be the same, the military came forward to admit to their "secret weapon" that was winning the war for them--Rakashi Vrunai. She'd been a rumor before then, silent and hidden as a shadow. Rean supposed that was no longer possible if she was wandering around without a memory, being seen by everyone... "So that's why you went public? It was a mistake?"
        That sound was meant to be a laugh, though she didn't really care just how short it probably fell. "They couldn't really keep me their secret advantage after that." She shook her head, disgusted with herself. Millions dead, so many suffering. Amnesia or not, it was just so... stupid. A stupid, ridiculous mistake at the cost of lives and more.
        Weird. Too weird. And yet this was certainly a side of the general that no one thought existed. He certainly hadn't. "It's not as if it was your fault."
        That not-quite-laugh followed again. "You can tell the Control Room that one. The thought never seemed to have crossed their minds."
        "Truly, terribly uncomfortable silence followed. Rean was going through the possibilities of what to say, what wouldn't sound just absolutely, violently stupid or pathetic...
        "Andrew used to be in weapons." Rakashi continued, straighting up and getting ready to push the dolly out. "So, he identified me. Unfortunately for him, he had no idea that the Control Room wanted him to keep his mouth shut, so he told me who I was and what happened. Control Room didn't like it, permanently knocked him down to a janitor. I personally think he's better off, but it wasn't the friendliest thing they could have done for him."
        He listened on, still slack-jawed. That this had happened, was even possible, was well beyond his range of understanding. He'd come to learn that Rakashi's humor was sharp and acidic, for sure; but in that moment, it was dull and faked. Angry, but quiet.
        The general shattered the weight of the moment with sheer simplicity. "Now, it's late and you've already been dismissed."
        That seemed to snap Rean back into the reality of the moment. "Yes, sir." Turning to open the door, he jumped a bit as something was tapped against his arm.
        "And don't forget your card this time, Mr. Coi." The general reminded in her usual disinterested tone.
        Pocketing the card with a quickness that might have come from panic as much as embarrassment, he responded automatically, "Thank you, sir." He was alive. He was being released. He was exceedingly tempted to watch his back as he walked back to his quarters a little faster than usual.

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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