*gasp* I’m not dead! I didn’t fall off the face of the earth, nor have I been living under a rock. I just fell off the posting bandwagon and was run over by the rest of the caravan. It’s been a slow road to recovery, but hopefully I’m back for a while.
This week’s writing post is a short story! (I’m kind of freaking out ahhh) I originally wrote it over a year ago for a school assignment. I really liked the idea in my head, but I ended up hating the final result. I’ve been trying to find a way to recover the idea ever since, and recently tried to re-do it in first person.
And, I’m so glad! It’s not my favorite work ever, but I managed to rediscover and preserve the characters and tone and it actually makes sense this time.
Here it is! I’m including both versions, if anyone is interested in following the editing process.
– – –
Looking down, what lay before me looked like a tangled and useless mass of wires, but I knew I could rig the circuits with my eyes closed. That was not what was making me hesitate.
Denver skidded into the room and tossed me her remote. It was the last one. The mission was completely in my hands now.
“Nathan…” Denver physically could not keep her mouth shut, so I hadn’t told her my plan, but now I could see that she had understood anyway.
“Keep to your post, Denver.” I did not even look up at her. I couldn’t. She nodded and returned to the team.
My hands flew over the electronics.
ENYO had always paid better, but Elaina insisted on working for the resistance. At least, she had since Mason had joined our team. They had rescued Mason during a mission to assassinate a prison warden for the resistance. No one could figure out what to do with him; Denver wanted to keep him for some kind of ransom, and Jackson, the human mountain, asked to shoot him then and there.
But when the prison guards burst in to the room, Mason fought as valiantly as any member of the team and led us out. The time came to decide his fate, and some scrap of honor from long ago bubbled up within me and spoke before I could catch up. “Let’s give him a chance,” it had said, and I imagine that my face was just as surprised as Jackson’s.
I will always wish I had left Mason standing there. No matter how much I need his strategic mind or how often Elaina says she loves him. I want things to be simple again. I want my sister to only be my sister, and I want to kill for money, not ideals. It’s pointless speculation because, with Mason, the team is complete. Jackson was six feet and four inches of solid muscle and, coincidentally, a pretty good cook. Unofficially, Jackson watched over Elaina for me. He owed me his life, which I’m sure he will repay when required. Mason was the strategist and liaison with the resistance. Denver was the quartermaster and self-proclaimed Weaponry Queen, and I was the technician. Then there was Elaina. I had never intended that Elaina live this life with me, I had hardly meant it for myself. But, after that day, I was not given a choice.
The Black Day, as the resistance calls it, is a lie. Yes, the events occurred as they retell them, but ENYO had had its claws deep into the government for years. That was just when the people finally realized who was really in control. And when they died.
I remember the events of that day so clearly; I relive them each and every night. I see the news reporter’s horrified face as she tried to explain the bombings. I hear my roommate’s breath sucked out of him. I rush to the “safe house” with the other students and I see us surrounded by uniformed guards. Not police officers, or the National Guard, as everyone had expected, but ENYO soldiers in their blaring red uniforms. They had taken over the land of the free without anyone raising a finger to stop them.
On a cracked phone screen in that room, I saw a news report showing the wreckage of my childhood house and ENYO troops patrolling the streets on which I learned to ride a bike. That footage began my fight. The fight I end today, six long years later. That day, I fought to find and save Elaina. Today, I fight to give her a new life. Free of ENYO and free of fighting and guns. Free of purchasable loyalties and free of the damned resistance. Free of me and my plans.
I had to die, to fake the deaths of my crew. My ridiculous, wonderful crew. My family. None of them knew, except Mason, because I needed his help to execute this final scheme. He had agreed and, unsurprisingly, had no qualms with the price.
I checked and double checked the wiring of the circuit boards and the connection of the remotes. Everything worked. I was as ready as I could be. The official mission was to wait until the resistance’s navy was visible on the horizon, and brought the ENYO sailors to the decks of their ships. Then, every tenth ship in the fleet would be detonated with perfect timing. The new plan would have the same result, with an added bonus. One ship, this ship, would blow up early, hopefully looking like a mistake in the crew’s mission. I would stay behind, to provide evidence for our deaths, while Mason, Denver, Jackson, and Elaina would sail away early, to be clear of the blast. The rest of the detonations would be timed and executed by Mason.
I opened my backpack and distributed its contents throughout the room. Miscellaneous clothes, weapons, and personal devices to convince any doubters of the demise of a volatile group of mercenaries.
Denver was the first to burst into the room, brandishing her Glock, but she did not notice the articles scattered across. Mason was the first to look at them, and he responded by nodding deftly and asking, “Are you ready?”
I opened my mouth, Yes. No! No. Please, no., but only nodded in reply.
Jackson was the next into the room. He saw items immediately and understood, “You’re sure?”
I nodded again, “I don’t know what else to do.”
Denver’s mouth was slowly falling open, but, for once, she was silent.
“Then we have to go right away,” said Mason, “The navy is approaching.”
“The plan was to wait until the navy was in full sight. We want as many ENYO sailors on deck as possible, right?” Elaina. Oh, Elaina.
I needed to be the one to tell her. “That’s only part of the plan. I’m detonating this ship early.” It’s time. “And I’m staying behind. To make it look like a mistake, and that the whole crew was here. That the whole crew is dead. So you can start over.” Elaina looked from me to Mason, then back again, her face shifting from shock to pain.
“Why?! Why can’t you come with us? We need you, Nathan!”
“It’s evidence,” Mason reminded her, “One person is all we need to convince them. After the battle, there will be too many bodies floating for anyone to notice.” He reached for her, but she pushed him aside and leapt toward me.
“Exactly! So why won’t you come with us? Please just come. If it doesn’t work, then who cares?
We’ll still be together,” she pleaded as she stumbled into me. I gripped her close and steadied myself against her.
“Because,” I whispered, “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. You’re the only thing that matters to me, and if your future is safe, I have nothing left. I dragged you into this, and now I’m letting you go. Make your own life.”
“Why would I want to live without you?”
I kissed the top of her head, “You have so much. You lead them now.” I pulled back, “Go. Go, Elaina.”
“Please!” She gripped my arms.
“I’ve made up my mind. Go now, or it won’t be worth anything.” I pushed her towards Mason, and turned away. “All of you. Go.”
I heard them leave and, suddenly, the room felt cold and frozen. Terror seized me and I turned to the door. Maybe I could go with them. I saw Denver, her hand on the door latch, looking at me with her eyes full of thanks; thanks for taking in a hungry, and heavily armed, teenager. Thanks for the life I had given her; thanks for the life I was giving her now. A tear slid down her cheek and she shut the door.
The sun rose, filling the room with bold, yellow morning light, but all I could see were the shadows, and all I could feel was the cold. I wondered if this was the best way to die. Was there a good way to die? Was this a fitting sacrifice for the ruthless leader of a band of mercenaries? Or was it the martyrdom of a man for his family?
The minutes that passed were excruciating. Over and over I relived the years since ENYO’s takeover. The joyful moments with the people I loved. And the pain; so much pain.
I could no longer see the small boat holding my companions, and the resistance was in full view. I turned to the circuit board and, in an instant, I knew it was worth it. I could never have lived differently.
I flipped the switch.
– – –
Nathan looked down. What lay before him looked like a tangled mess of wires, but he could rig it with his eyes closed. He knew it, but he hesitated.
Denver raced in and tossed him her capsule. It was officially up to him now.
Nathan caught it without looking up.
“Nathan…” Ah, Denver. Her mouth was never shut. She was either talking, singing, or snoring. Even now, she nervously hummed “Fly Me to the Moon.”
“You know your position.” She nodded and returned to the team.
His hands flew over the electronics.
The government paid better, but fighting for the resistance was a new thing of Elaina’s. Dangerous as he knew it was, Nathan could never turn his sister down. Her wish to fight against ENYO had started with Mason. They rescued him during an assassination mission, Denver thought he might merit a ransom; Jackson wanted to shoot him on the spot. But, then the guards came, and he was the only reason the group survived. The enduring echo of honor within Nathan had to give him a chance.
In retrospect, Nathan always wished he left Mason. His sister would still be his, and they would kill for money, not ideals. But, clearly it was worthless. Elaina was different now, and she needed Mason. Nathan, of course, needed his strategy, because strategy was their weakness. Nathan was the tech, and he often allowed himself a smile, thinking of the two wasted years he had spent in college. Denver was the weapons queen, as she had so dubbed herself, and her experience always proved useful. Jackson was everything else, including chief omelet maker. Unofficially, he watched over Elaina. He owed Nathan his life, and that was something he would readily repay if required.
The ship rocked suddenly, and Nathan forced himself not to think about anything but his work. Everyone did their part, and this was his; nothing would go wrong if he stayed here. The mission itself made him nervous. His extra role, in addition to the water, drove him insane.
Water was the first mode of transportation seized the day ENYO took over. They bombed an active aircraft carrier, and by the time anyone realized what was happening, they were corralled into “safety.” Then they, too, were killed. It was not the kind of thing you saw coming. But, Nathan always presumed, every nation falls. You just hope it does not happen in your lifetime.
There were survivors. The still anonymous directors of ENYO thought out every detail. Why take over if there’s no one left to rule? He survived. He could remember every harsh detail of that day. He watched the bombing on the news that morning with his roommates. They rushed to the safe house with the others. Nathan remembered looking for Kerrigan. Then, when the ENYO troops marched, he heard her scream his name. He fought through the room and reached her with just enough time to watch her die. The grief, the pain, the rage, he remembered it all. He remembered killing the troops. He remembered enjoying it.
By that night, when it was too late, everyone finally understood what was happening. The entire country was subject under a new rule. It was on a cracked phone screen that he saw the wreckage of his neighborhood. He saw ENYO troops patrolling the streets. He saw his parent’s house smoldering. That screen began his fighting again. He fought and ran the many miles home. He tore his own house apart to find his sister, and he had kept them alive in the ten long years since.
But Nathan had never intended Elaina to live this life with him. This mission, he decided, was his opportunity to give her the chance to let it go. But, like everything, it would cost.
“They can’t find out.” He had told Mason. Mason understood and agreed. He was, after all, the strategist. He knew it was possible, and had no qualms with the price. And, though that unnerved Nathan, it didn’t surprise him.
He checked the circuit again. The others were setting numerous explosives throughout the ship. It was an ENYO vessel. Rather fitting, Nathan mused, that their last mission would be one for the resistance. Maybe they had chosen allegiances after all.
Nathan shouldered his pack, and was reassured when he felt its weight. They would be coming soon.
The ship rocked, and Nathan knew the group had met and was heading his way. He felt the panic running up his spine. For once, his enemy was something he could not fight. It was inside of him, a battle he was not capable of winning.
He looked outside the small, eastern window, and glimpsed the resistance navy approaching with the dawn. Their plan was a futile attempt to make up for a lack of numbers. But he knew their leaders, he knew their men. Every one would fight until their death. This was their final chance to reclaim the nation they had once been so proud of. This was the last chance before the land of opportunity was lost. And he was helping them. Was that ironic?
With shaking hands Nathan opened the backpack and sorted through the supplies. It would be enough. The rest was up to his team.
Denver was the first in and, as usual, she rudely barged through the door, brandishing her Glock. She sighed with relief and moved forward when she realized Nathan was still alone and everything was going as planned. The others followed her.
“Are you ready?” Mason asked. Nathan nodded his reply, and deftly tossed the backpack to Jackson. He caught it, and examined its contents with his massive hands.
He, too, had a question. “You’re sure?”
Nathan nodded again, “Yeah. It’s the only way.”
“Which means we’ll have to go right away,” Mason concluded, “The navy’s approaching.”
Elaina whipped around to face him, “The plan is to wait until ENYO sights the navy. We want the most possible men on deck, right?”
It was Nathan who answered her. “That’s was never the plan. The detonation will be early. So it looks like a mistake. Start over. That’s the plan. That was always the plan.”
Elaina looked from him to Mason, and the realization struck her, “It is a mistake! You don’t need to be here, Nathan! We need you with us! What is one body going to change?”
“It’s evidence.” Mason reminded her, “Anything counts. After the battle, there will be too many bodies floating for either ENYO or the resistance to notice.” He tried to pull Elaina back, but she fought against him, lunging forward to reach Nathan.
“Why would you do this? This isn’t the only way. It doesn’t matter if you’re gone!”
Nathan caught her, and gripped her close to him. “It is the only way. This is war now. There’s no room for a neutral party.”
“Please,” She began to plead before Nathan cut her off.
“Elaina, go now, or it won’t be worth anything in the end.” He shoved her toward Mason, and turned to the circuit board he had finished minutes, which now seemed like hours, ago.
He felt terror seize him, and turned to apologize, maybe he could go with them. He saw Denver closing the door, her eyes full of thanks. Thanks for saving her life, thanks for taking in a hungry, and heavily armed, teenager. Thanks for the life he gave her as part of his family. Thanks for the life he was giving her now. A tear fell down her cheek.
The door closed, and the room suddenly felt cold to Nathan. Shadows filled the sharp gray corners, though the sun was only rising. He realized this was never how he imagined dying, but at the moment, it seemed the best way possible. It seemed a fitting sacrifice for the ruthless leader of a volatile band of mercenaries.
He waited for more excruciating minutes. Reliving the years he had spent after ENYO’s take over. The joyful moments he had spent with his companions. The pain; so much pain, so many empty days.
He glimpsed out the window and watched the group fade out to a safe distance, and he decided it was worth it. He decided he would not have lived any other way. And he hit the button.
Thanks for reading!!