Broken Soldier by Orin Drake
A Novel In Progress.

        Chapter 9

        Rean had been sent on a number of menial tasks. He was somewhere between being pissed off about it, and being grateful for something to do. He sure as hell hadn't wanted to stay in Rakashi's office after that conversation, and didn't have any urge to be around any officer for a while. That was the only thing keeping him from seeking out Demi and his amusing abuse.
        It was all still too much to process. He sort of wished that he'd asked for the "military truth" instead, but he got the feeling he knew what that was: a glossy, sugar-coated lie. More and more, the general's attitude was understood.
        So he distracted himself with making copies. Like the Tower needed any more paper copies of anything. The machine he'd been standing at for twenty minutes was definitely older than he was by a handful of years, and may have been spouting out a print every five seconds. (And he did count, considering he had nothing better to do.) Not to mention the odd pauses for no reason that he cared to know.
        The urge to slam his head against the machine was suddenly quite strong. There were menial tasks, and then there was torture. He finally snatched one of those pages as it came out (hot rather than just warm, hm) and looked at it. For quite a number of seconds.
        Turning the page, he stared a little longer, then turned it over. Ignoring the large warning on the side of the copier, he lifted the top panel and took the original document from the blinding light. When his eyes once again adjusted, he actually saw what he was copying... and felt the urge to slam someone else's head into the machine.
        In yellow text was hand-written, The copier can't pick up yellow, can it? Might as well stick those 'copies' back into the paper tray, then.
        He was too confused to be angry. He hadn't even known that was possible.


        "What the hell is this?" were his greeting words upon returning to Rakashi's office.
        She looked up with surprising patience as he closed the door behind him with quite a bit more force than necessary. "That was faster than I expected."
        "I'm just smart like that." Came sharply from his mouth before he'd realized it. Yes, he should apologize. He felt just a little bad about giving the general even more shit to deal with, but... "Couldn't you have just dismissed me instead of all that?"
        "Why? So you could go obsess about the information I gave you?"
        What the hell did she know about what he would have done? Okay, likely would have done.
        Alright, was going to do. Not the point. "It's not exactly casual information." Rean pointed out, placing the original page on the desk amid the random sketched-on paperwork.
        "No, it's not." She agreed.
        If asked later, he may have claimed to have been possessed. He had no idea exactly what came over him at that moment. It was rage, a driving anger that bordered along something akin to hatred--though his hatred of what, exactly, he wouldn't have been able to explain either. "How do you take this? What the hell makes you so fucking casual all the time?! If you know what's going on, then why are you still so goddamn--"
        "Rean." One word. One easily calm, softly spoken word.
        It stopped him effectively. And it was definitely not anything like what he would have expected. He'd just yelled at a general. At her, at Rakashi who was known for physically throwing people out of her office for far less. And yet she didn't seem upset in the least. Had the rage not still had so much control of his mood, he'd have been afraid for his life. "Yes?"
        "Don't ask questions that you don't want the answer to."
        He blinked. Great, helpful advice. He still didn't know what to think about her reaction, but as for her words... "I think I'd like to know, though."
        She placed her chin in her hand for a moment, pondering. Trying to work something out, it looked like. "Right now, I have my reasons for being here. As for the rest..." Once again the general appeared to be working something out, lost in an internal debate before she finally continued. "What are you doing this afternoon?"
        Rean's eyes widened. He couldn't have actually heard that. For a moment, he was almost stricken with the panic that Demi had finally gotten into his head or something. "Pardon, sir?"
        Her lips quirked ever so slightly. "I mean, do you have some time this afternoon to devote to having your question answered? No cars this time."
        Words. He knew words, didn't he? Yes, this was his language. He remembered words like "stupid" and "confusing" and "idiot" easily enough; he just lacked the ability to express them. Luckily, his mouth responded long before his brain was able. "Sure. Okay."


        He followed. He followed because there was absolutely nothing else that he could have done. That certainly seemed to be a pattern lately. He was used to the pattern. It was comforting... sort of.
        Alright, it was complete insanity, and he knew that. The last time he'd followed her hadn't gone over so well, and had very literally only been a few dozen hours ago. He was, officially, a moron. Never again should he criticize Demi. Well, maybe once or twice, when he really earned it.
        The corridor they were walking down reminded him of old horror movies. It was just a few floors away, and while it was well toward the back of the building, it seemed particularly abandoned. The smell of dust and disuse was everywhere, but at least he didn't see anything scurrying around. Rean had long since lost track of the turns, but he did know that they were basically headed away from the Tower's center.
Spoke the part of his mind that wasn't numb with stupidity. She's probably taking me to the place where she kills people who ask too many questions. Wonderful.
        Maybe the truth was even more frightening. She counted, out loud, the number of office doors they passed. "Four, five, six. Sixth door, sixth floor, sixth hall." She seemed particularly amused by that fact as she turned a real live door knob. No codes, no card slides, no clearances--just a door.
        A door that swung open on what Rean recognized as an old office... which seemed to have been utterly ransacked. There was one enormous desk that had been turned on its side and looked to have all sorts of holes in it... the lamps and walls not having fared much better. "So... what is this place?" he finally managed to ask.
        "It's forgotten." Rakashi responded, as if that answered everything.
        "Have you seen this on any maps?" Flicking on light switches (as the overhead lights more or less seemed intact and working), she continued to explain. "It's a forgotten portion of the building. They were going to rebuild before the war, but... well. Funds were needed elsewhere and they turned out to never need this space, so. Even records won't show it."
        The word "hideout" came to mind. He was suddenly trying not to laugh. "Well, um... this answers my question how?"
        She snorted, going to the corner and opening a very dented closet door. From inside she retrieved something that Rean would never have accurately guessed--a bow and a quiver of arrows. "You may be surprised just how satisfying making holes in things actually is."
        Her assistant was just a little too busy trying to figure out when he'd started hallucinating to catch anything but the sound of the first arrow hitting the desk. He doubted that his brain would ever actually catch up. "How long have you been doing this?"
        Another distinct thunk-twing of an arrow landing in the side of the desk sounded before her response. "It's been a few years." Rakashi glossed over, pulling another steel-tipped arrow.
        Idiot, yes. He would win the prize if there were one--but Demi would be the runner-up for sure. "Can I try?"
        She raised an eyebrow and glanced over at him as she was lining up another shot, pulling her arm back smoothly. "Ever shot with a bow before?"
        "I haven't even shot with a gun before, general." Why there was the slightest humor in his voice, he just couldn't comprehend...
        But it got her to make a small, amused sound as the next arrow flew. That desk was just going to be a pile of splinters soon. "Alright, sure. Come here."
        Rean approached, filled with uncertainty. Just another day, then. He thought dryly, being just a little surprised at the weight of that bow.'
        "Arm straight, ready stance." Rakashi instructed, adjusting the position of his feet with light taps of her boot against his heels. "Getting an eye for the sight takes time, so the most important thing to remember is not to let go of the arrow until you mean to. Especially when you start pulling the string back." She showed him how to hold that arrow by example, not bothering with a lot of chatter.
        He wasn't sure if he preferred it that way. The general seemed to be inferring that he ought to know what he was doing. If so, she was very wrong. "Yeah. Okay." The rest was a bit of a blur. Needless to say, he hadn't quite managed to hold either the string nor the arrow correctly, resulting in a wild shot--which Rakashi simply reached out an caught. Rean had no idea whether or not that was unusual, but it seemed to border on the incredible. Or maybe he just sucked that much, allowing someone to pluck an arrow from the air.
        "Try again." She insisted simply, handing the arrow back.
        He probably should have refused. Insisted he was probably going to wind up killing someone by complete accident. Somehow, he managed to line up the arrow again, trying to grasp it and the string at the same time--
        "Slower." The general suggested quietly. "It hurts, but pull back slower. You can feel where the power peaks that way."
        All he could manage to think was how Demi would have a fucking field day if he were listening to this. And it did hurt, his chest and arm burning with the effort of holding steady, pulling back that bow string and waiting...
        Even if it was kind of accidental when he let go at that point, the arrow actually went somewhere. The wall above the desk, sure, but it was something. Rean stood there transfixed for a moment, staring at the arrow he'd just shot... then handed the bow back. "I think I'm a pacifist."
        The snort he got in return for that comment had been worth it, somehow. "Good luck with that." Taking up the bow again, she reached for another arrow.
        It wasn't boredom. Hell, he didn't know what it was aside from stupid curiosity, but... he wanted to ask. Especially now, when she managed to seem much more relaxed than she had before. A little like how she'd been in the car. "So... that admiral... I haven't seen him before."
        "He's part of the Control Room." She shrugged off, as though it were no big deal for someone to actually emerge from there. "Admiral Quent... kind of a dick." Her statement was accented with another arrow, that one managing to clearly shatter one of the desk legs. It seemed to be some kind of a goal with the way she grinned ever so softly.
        Maybe it was a stupid theory, but he was getting a feeling... "Was that his car?"
        "That was his third car." She responded with a hint of pride. "The idiot should have learned to get a clunker by now."
        Rean didn't mean to laugh. He really hadn't wanted to, but he couldn't help himself. When General Vrunai got an order she didn't like, she crashed the admiral's car? It was... hilarious.
        "Yeah, you laugh." She teased, lining up another shot. "Apparently I'm in 'a lot of trouble.'"
        His laughter stopped abruptly. "Are you?"
        "I said 'apparently.'" She dismissed, letting the next arrow fly and lowering the bow. "You know how many years I've heard that?"
        The sound could have been mistaken for a cough, but the grin on his face more or less proved otherwise. "I'm probably in trouble just for being here, right?"
        Rakashi seemed to consider that question. "Well, not so long as you don't have a tracer on you." Rean's panicked expression got her to chuckle. "You don't. They're expensive and easily broken. A little like a fancy car."
        He really didn't know if he felt any better. Hell, he didn't know
anything at that moment, almost least of all why he was here... but he did feel better. And he had found out a few ways that the general chose to deal with this place. Even so, he could still empathize with her desire to be on the field. Anywhere but trapped inside the Tower. Something about that thought was just too uncomfortable. "Well, I... guess I should probably get back to work..."
        There was another slight look of amusement there, but she didn't comment directly. "There's nothing else for you to do today. You may as well go find your own centering point."
        Centering point... well, that was interesting. "But then I can't get paid for the full day..."
        She made a dismissive gesture. "I'll take care of it. Run and be free." Before he so much as had a chance to process those words, she was back to aiming for the desk, arrow flying with little effort.
        Yeah. It wasn't bad advice. "See you tomorrow, sir."


        He was an idiot for thinking he could get away, really. (And for many other reasons, besides.) He did everything he could to avoid main hallways, sneaking around and against walls, using shadows to his advantage. Unfortunately, he'd forgotten the Rule of Demi: when you absolutely did not want to find him, he would find you instead. There was an anti-Demi homing beacon in his head. That was the only explanation.
        "Rean!" exploded behind him like a badly-timed bomb. "What the hell are you trying to do, attract suspicion?"
        It was futile to resist. He sighed and turned, knowing that if he took off and ran that his friend would only follow.
        The captain was utterly silent as he regarded the brunet. There was far too much stillness to be completely comfortable... right up until the moment he gasped and asked, point-blank, "Did you get laid?"
        "What?" he faked innocence--almost. "You have that 'I Just Got Laid' look."
I do no--I'm leaving." It was definitely the smartest thing he'd managed to do lately.
        Surprisingly good-natured laughter trailed him as Captain Dulce caught up, turning the younger man back around by the arm. "Okay, fine. Seriously, you look... better than you've been looking lately.
Excuse me for assuming, y'know?"
        He should have fought harder. He should have thrown that hand off and run regardless, taking the chance of losing the man by zig-zagging the halls...
        "Rean?" Demi's voice was uncharacteristically soft. Serious, even.
        This wasn't good. "What?"
        "You're blushing."
        Why hadn't he just run away again? Why was this guy even considered his friend? Why the hell wasn't he demanding to know what the captain knew about everything? "Shut up."
        The raven-haired man appeared to be deeply puzzled for a number of seconds. "Hey, um... mind telling me what's up?"
        Dammit. A serious Demi was even worse than an unapologetic and humorous one. "Yes, I do mind."
        A small smile. "I'm right, aren't I?"
        "Never." Rean shot back, voice short but without heat. "About anything."
        The captain only shook his head and smiled wider. "She's got kind of a fondness for you, doesn't she?"
        Mortification. That
had to be what he felt right then. "Demi. Shut. Up."
        To the brunet's most sincere shock, he did so. "Wanna grab something to eat, then?"
        Was the subject really... dropped? Was he off the hook so easily? Well, not for long, he was sure, but for the moment... "No. But I'll still sit with you."
        "Cool!" Demi shouted, dragging Rean behind him.
        Much as he hated to admit it... having a bit of "normal" interaction was kind of exactly what he needed just then. It was a little weird, though, just how
much he was being dragged behind, as if the captain was in a hurry to get away from something. Stupid thought to have, really; the guy really was just always hungry.

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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