"UCAC: United Cybernetic Air Core" - Chapter 3

I knew I had fucked up from the time I stepped out of General Aquil’s office. All I could do was wonder what the hell I got myself into. As the next day arrived it became even more overwhelming. I had to keep a pretty serious secret from my team and quite frankly, it was eating up my insides.This is what I got for telling what I felt was a lie but was instead the truth. This is the turn of fate I had, to actually be assisted on my quest to feel alive. What if feeling alive meant a certain odd sensation only for a few seconds before my death? What if I go on this journey of self discovery only to find a certain demise? Was all of this worth it? After all, I was going through this turmoil over heartbreak and nothing more….
 It was about five thirty in the morning, no different from any other day. Grunts woke up early to race to the gym in a show of crude machoism. Others ran to showers to freshen up for the day while others waited for the mess hall to open.
Some soldiers could sleep in today which they took full advantage of. However I never understood how anyone could sleep in when we’re trained to get up at four thirty every morning. It simply seemed lazy to me. I was down in the archive, trying to find information on the Americas. I came across a book, one titled, The United States: A modern day Babylon. Upon reading, I realized this was some cultest book that specified nothing important about the Americas. It only talked about how the diversity of people led to it’s downfall.
I was looking for Climate, geology, topography, wildlife, inhabitants and whether or not it’d be a big adjustment for when I go. Truthfully, I was worried and I may had shot myself in the foot with this one. Honestly, I had no idea there was a UCAC in the America’s. It was a big surprise…  It definitely explained why Dr. Aheem was so overworked. It made me wonder if his progress was further with that region or was it further over here. Surely the Wingers across the pond had to be designed with the same level of skill as we had.
I wanted to find the ancient bird species that flew across the skies of the United States. It would give me a general idea of what the wingers might look like. However, finding such resources would be tough. I inevitably was drawn back the modern Babylon book. It stated clearly that in the eastern United States, human populations dwindled due to the high count of anti-personnel mechs. These mechs were vicious, animalistic in nature and notoriously hard to take down. Of course, I’ve never faced one. Those were New World problems and quite frankly, I don’t remember much about living in the Americas. I just remember I was raised between the Sonoran Desert and the Utah Badlands, the Swamps of the South, the Central Plains and the Caribbean. We moved around so much, I learned never to cling onto anything… including memories. Reading some of these tales, I had the sneaking suspicion that I’d have to face off with one of these machines. It was something I was not enthused about… at all.
Still though, there was nothing on American Ornithology. This archive had to have something. If America was this badass, it had to have equally badass birds at one point in it’s history. Knowing Doctor Aheem, those Wingers he designed will be ferocious little somethings.
“What are you doing?” Someone asked. Startled, I turned, surprised to see Liam.
“Oh, reading.” I sighed.
“Reading what?” He said sitting next to me.
“I want to know more about the place I came from. All I gotta say is I see why my parents left.” I laughed.
“What is it like?”
“It’s um...huge….. spans half the whole continent! One corner is marsh, swamp and coastal wetlands while to the west is desert, and canyon. In the center of these lands are rolling hills of grassland that go on for hundreds of thousands of miles. To the northeast are dense conifer forests and the Ruins of Giant Cities that lined the coast. To the North West you have rolling mountains called the Great Spine that Reach a temperate rainforest that goes even beyond the arctic circle. Truly, it’s a vast place.” I explained.
“Would you ever want to go back?”
“There’s nothing there for me. Plus, based on this book, it is considerably more dangerous than all of Scandinavia could ever be. In fact, I don’t think there is a place more dangerous than the Americas.” I said back. I didn’t really want to answer his question. Dancing around questions was pretty much all I ever did at this point in my life…
“Well, I come down here all the time...never saw you here before.” Liam said, getting to his feet.
“Well, there’s a first for everything.” I said, quick to take advantage of this opportunity, “Help me find an American Ornithology book.” He reached in his bag, handing me an Audubon Society field guide for American birds. On the front was some type of buzzard, similar to our common buzzard but with a rusty colored tail. The book seemed very old.
“It’s funny how this was the book I was reading the other day when we talked.” The boy chuckled. It made me laugh a bit as well. Flipping open straight towards the raptors, I saw they had quite a bit of diversity in falcons. Not only did they have typical falcons, but another family of falcons known as Caracaras. They looked very kite-like in flight but had huge beaks and long legs for falcons. The true falcons were pretty...strange, having a wide range of design characteristics. The Buteos were just as strange, varying in shape and size as well. The kites were probably the most intriguing, some being falcon-like while others were more buteo-like. The accipiters were sparse, the same way they were here but nothing special.
I closed the book, wanting to study it later. I didn’t notice that Liam had a book devoted simply to New World raptors as he sat in a nook across the archive.
“Hey!” I said, walking over to him. He looked up at me, unsure what this would be about.
“Yeah?” He responded.
“This book has all the raptors from the New World?” I asked.
“Yeah, old and new.” He said back.
“What do you mean?”
“It has the raptors from before the Great Fall and the ones after. There’s a huge difference too! There are these giant silver caracaras that hunt in groups, giant vultures the same size of the Roc Class, giant ground dwelling raptors as fast as cheetahs, and giant sea-going raptors that never land...only to breed.” He explained.
“Wait...what stretch?”
“The Patagonia stretch, not the Murica stretch.” He clarified.
“Oooooh!” I said, astounded. He closed the book, looking on very seriously.
“I have a question…” He began. I sat on the nook next to him.
“Sure.” I began.
“Has it...always been a struggle for you? I mean I’m struggling bad!” He sighed.
“Not really. I never really had anyone to oppose me until I got to this place. Since you’re young and not established, it’s best you keep it to yourself.” I recommended.
“I don’t want to keep it to myself. That is the story of my whole life. I came out to my parents, they said being gay was wrong and violated the natural order. They said people would look at me like a disgrace and that I’d bring shame to this family. So, I spent a long time hiding who I was, putting up this facade to appease my parents but it just didn’t work as well for me as it did them. I was growing frustrated, bitter, reclusive...until this place happened. I was sixteen at the time and desperately wanted to leave. My parents were not happy but I had so much frustration pent up inside of me, it rekindled into anguish. I told them how I felt as well as a few spiteful things just to get under their skin and it worked! I was disowned and had no choice but to go into the UCAC. I never spoke to them again..” He sighed.
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. The thing is, you gotta think about your well being during your military career. The people in this base are ruffians and bigots from every back alley and boondock in Eurasia. I’ve seen what they do to people like us...gang up on us, tell us we’re not natural, try to hurt us… They won’t rest until they get a satisfactory result out of the torment. The thing is, they don’t know what they want out of it. It’s simply is male insecurities acting out on ignorance...a very dangerous combination! Do you want to wish that upon yourself?” I said.
“No but…”
“I’m telling you, don’t blow it for yourself! I can’t protect you from the persecution of an entire base. We’re truly on our own, kid.” I interrupted. He sighed, truly frustrated.
“It’s just this alone feeling, like I’m the only person in the world like this.” He sighed.
“You’re not...many of the bigots who ridicule you in the daytime will have the wildest sex with you at night. Trust me I know...I’ve been there. It’s just something about being open about it they don’t like. If I had a choice, I’d be free of the social stigma too. But I must say this,” I began, “You don’t know what it feels like to be alone! Try having your parents, a ship crew, a Captain...everyone on a giant ocean voyager barger die when you’re just nine years old, having to vy for survival in a foreign land for ten years, having to do things that make you feel less of a man simply to stay alive. I’ve been to those lows and truly have no one...while you, sitting here because your parents had a temper tantrum and temporarily cut you off from the trust fund, feel alone. I can assure you this...no matter how fucked up your day is, how much turmoil you have inside, something made you smile… Something temporarily pulled you away from what’s bothering you. The thing is, when you spend time alone when you have certain issues, it gives your mind time to fester. Have you not heard of the saying an idle mind is the devil’s playground?”
“I’ve heard of the saying.” He said.
“Well, if I were you, I’d stop sulking in my frustrations and find a reason to be happy, no matter how minute. Any type of if, and or but is an excuse…” I said, sternly.
“AH!!!” I interrupted.
“Nope!” I continued to interrupt.   
“I just wanted to talk about Everette.” He laughed.
“What about him?”
“I don’t know...like...is he...gay or something?” I asked.
“Everette is a bit of a dumbass. He’ll do anything someone who looks important or acts a certain way tells him. He may not be gay but he’s definitely try-sexual… He just has that face like... If you wanna have a wild fuck with the boy, you most certainly can!!!” I laughed.
“I don’t want to have sex with him. I just want to get to know him, be something with him…” Liam said.
“Child, I’d recommend you steer clear of love. You’ve yet to experience how beautiful this place can be, the highs it can take you. Everyone here goes through lows, it’s part of the experience. But love...it’ll fuck all that up either for you or someone else. You seem like a fairly straight-forward dude who doesn’t like to hide anything...an honest youngman. Those are the type of young men that get hurt, stomped on and left crawling to finish last. I’m not trying to scare you. I’m just saying experience the highs and lows of this place, let it take you to new heights and make you grow before considering love…” I said.
“How long did it take you to grow…?” He asked.
“It took seven long years...I was so so stuck on my past, not even able to trust the one person who broke their back trying to help me keep my head on my shoulders and blew it. You’re a very smart dude...how old are you? Eighteen, Nineteen?” I asked.
“Twenty.” He said.
“Well, you’re fairly mature compared to me when I was that age. I think you’ll grow into something far grander than I’ll ever be.” I chuckled.
“Eh, don’t say that. It’s like everyone here can see how phenomenal you are...but you can’t. And you’re twenty four… How will…”
“The thing is, every six months is like a new chapter of your life...every birthday, you’re an entirely different person than you was before. In this world, you change so fast, learn so many new things… It can overload ya which has happened in the past to some weak links. But to me, that is the most beautiful thing about this place… of course I can only tell you this stuff. It’s up to you to heed.” I interrupted.
“I promise you I will!” He laughed.
“Do people even know you’re a prince?” I asked.
“No. I think it’d skew people’s perception of me… I want people to like me for me.” He said.
“Ah, so you don’t want your title to dictate people’s perception of you?”
“Yeah… It won’t be fair.” He giggled.
“Do you see the connection there? You don’t care about people seeing you as gay not knowing the detrimental consequences but do care about these people seeing you as a prince which wouldn’t be to your detriment… at all.” I laughed.
“I never thought about it that way but all things considered, I’m still technically disowned. My family wants nothing to do with me. My name is simply a title.” He smiled.
“Trust me...you’re the one who hasn’t come around yet. Your parents would probably do any and everything to get you back home and to continue being their little prince.” I said.
“Yeah, but I don’t want that! I don’t want to be who they want me to be! I want to be whatever fate has in store for me….good or bad.”
“You don’t do that,” I corrected, “You make the best decisions possible and hope fate shows you favor. You never make poor decisions in hope that fate takes you somewhere. That’s so backwards, kid!”
“Am I that wrong?” He laughed.
“Yes! Only I’m allowed to be that stupid! Only me!!! I’m the one who can simply vanish without anyone caring.” I joked, but was subliminally serious.
“Indeed you are.” A snide voice said. It was Jarvis. His very presence placed tight knots in my stomach. Liam too shared these sentiments. Where I showed restraint, keeping a straight face, Liam scowled at the man.
“Why are you here?” I asked, not wanting to engage a conversation with Jarvis.
“I’m just looking for a few good reads…” He said snatching the book from my hands. Liam began to boil in his skin with Jarvis’s actions.
“I was reading that…” I sighed.
“Audubon Society…” He said, throwing the book at me, “We need to talk… never got the chance to have a decent conversation.”
“And who’s fault is that?” I asked, laughing. He shrugged, smiling.
“Let’s face it. We’re both shitty people…” He said, walking away. He was right.We’ve both hurt people, had little regard for others and got our way by all means. The thing was though, his treachery left every single person hung high and dry during the last mission yet he managed to walk away from it without a trace...a true serpent. He shook me up badly before and I realized I was like a miniature version of him, just only a bit more boisterous. Who wanted to be that way, huh? The Italy mission was simply that life changing!!
Not to mention, I did not trust Jarvis at all. I could tell this was some sick game to get closer to me for some reason. He probably heard that I was offered a promotion and got threatened. If this was the case, I had to be on my toes. Jarvis was someone I didn’t want to  tangle with. I truly feared him.
Both Liam and I watched as he left the archive.
“Why do you take his shit?” Liam asked.
“Some things are better to avoid and be silent over..” I sighed, picking the book up off the floor.
“Don’t tell me you’re scared of him…” Liam asked. I looked at the boy.
“Hell yeah, I’m scared of him! You saw what he could do in Italy…” I said plainly.
“You think he’d pull something like this again?” Liam asked, growing concern.
“It’s only a matter of time, really. I’m his next target…” I sighed.
“Oh my God man… Ay, since you looked out for me on that field, I’ll look out for you sevenfold!” Liam said, extending out his hand. I firmly grasped it.
“This also means we’re gonna have to look out for Everette.” I added.
“That’s fine.” Liam said.
“Let’s get some grub.” I smiled.
We got up, heading down to the Mess Hall which was packed to the brim with hungry soldiers. We fixed plates and sat down at a table. Not long after, Marcell and Milan sat at the table, Marcell looking particularly giddy.
“Guess what!” He said, slamming his tray on the table.
“What?” I asked.
“I get to meet the new Wingers today! They’ll be on their way to being a part of our squad next quarter.” Marcell said, full of excitement.
“Cool! What do you know about them?” I asked.
“There’s gonna be another Kestrel Winger and another Hobby Winger.” He said.
“Really?” Liam asked, growing excited.
“Yeah! I also heard that a third Hiero winger is being trained for our team...another Laggar Winger…” Marcell responded, not sounding unenthused.
“Damn…” I said, it truly being a blow.
“So we have, Saker, Lanner, Gyr and there’ll be a new Laggar…” Liam said, trying to keep tabs in his head.
“That places you closer to Per.” Marcell said, pointing at me.
“I’m not accepting Second Wing…” I said, arms folded.
“Why?” Marcell asked, upset by this.
“News has spread all around Base…” Milan noted.
“Really?” I asked, mortified.
“Yeah… Why don’t you wanna be Second Wing. That means you’ll be closer to Per’s command.” Milan asked, confused.
“We know why I’m not taking the job…” I sighed.
“I don’t blame you but we need the organization, Denver. What if the mission is like the Italy mission and we won’t have Lead Wing?” I asked.
“I’m sorry…” I said, not cracking under the pressure.
“What has happened to you? I remember you used to be the same person under the suit...now you’re all soft and passive aggressive and shit with concerns for others. Why?” Milan asked, deeply concerned.
“It was that last mission. I was right by Chance when he got shot to pieces… I still haven’t gotten over that shit.” I said.
“Guys…” Marcell said, pointing to the table where Everette sat. He sat alone, constantly looking at the door for Jarvis’s arrival. In fact, Jarvis was nowhere to be seen. All I could do was roll my eyes, knowing that it was only a matter of time before one of us was getting hurt. I couldn’t shake the feeling it was going to be either me or Everette and Jarvis would be the cause.
“Poor kid…” Milan sighed.
“How fucking old is he?” I asked, truly frustrated with his naive actions.
“He’s,” Marcell began not really certain, “Nineteen?”
“Nineteen? I thought he was twenty one or twenty two. He’s a fucking baby! That talent though….” Milan said, completely shocked.
“Yeah, he and Liam are roughly the same age. And yeah,” I said turning to Milan, “To be nineteen with that type of talent is unreal. You know we gotta watch out for him. Jarvis will eat him up alive…”
“I just want to know Jarvis’s game.” Liam said, thinking deeply. I looked at him sternly, sending the message that he should not speak on the matter any further. He heeded it, not uttering another word.
“His game...I don’t know but be on your toes.” Marcell advised.
“So,” I began, “You really think there will be a new Laggar Winger?”
“I really think so. When I went back over the original team files, we’re is supposed to be a team of ten. Right now, we’re at seven. The smallest team will be the Forest Winger team which is understandable.” Marcell responded.
“Any details on the stats of the dude who will be Laggar?” I continued.
“Rumor has it that Cap has been overseeing his training. They’re taking their time to cook him, but he’s about six foot two, one hundred ninety pounds...someone from Burma…” Marcell smiled.
“Oooou, he came a long way.” I said astounded.
“They say he’s really young...like reeeaaaallly young! Like, sixteen or seventeen but from what I’ve heard, he’s a rare talent, comparable to Everette.” Marcell said.
“Oh no way...Like, we’re all kids but he’s really a fucking kid then! Like a kid, kid!” I said.
“Yeah… He may be good but they better let him bake for another year because I just don’t trust anyone that age.” Milan responded.
Marcell’s eyes wandered off, tracking something that hovered near me.
“Hey guys.” A shrill, youthful voice said. I turned, seeing it was Everette, obviously tired of sitting alone.
“Hey…” Milan said back. I looked at the boy menacingly before deciding to pay him no mind. He sat down, making sure to put a body width of distance between us. I scooted over even more, making it clear that I planned on giving him wide girth...period.
“So how are you all?” Everette asked with a smile.
“Good.” It seemed everyone said simultaneously. I remained silent.
“Your boyfriend isn’t here ain’t he?” Milan teased.
“Boyfriend?” Everette responded, startled, unsure what Milan meant. It warranted a look from everyone at the table. Milan shook his head.
“Don’t worry about it.” He said hoping to reassure the dimly lit boy. It wasn’t that simple. Both Liam and I looked at each other knowing Everette’s response held a deeper meaning. Of course the boy was not too bright, which made it obvious that he was harboring some repressed feelings he had yet to address… However, it was not a concern of mine. He could struggle all by himself.
“So how’ve you been?” Marcell asked Everette, giving me some serious side eye. A thin smile came across my face.
“I’ve been good. We never got a chance to talk about the tournament! I have some questions.” Everette said.
Everyone grew tense, especially me.
“Ask away!” Marcell said, despite being nervous. Everette turned to me, nervous.
“How’d you know those Forest Hawkers could cloak?” He asked. I looked at him my eyes searing him.
“I know everything...everything!!!” I said smiling, eyeing the boy up and down. The boy grew uneasy, seeing I was hinting at something deep.
“Well, that’s good to know.” He said, unnerved.
“Everything’s good to know. It’s…  how I stay one step ahead of everything…” I continued, loving Everette’s reaction, resting my arms on the table.
“In other words, he plunders!” Marcell teased. It made me laugh.
“So did we cheat the win?”Everette asked.
“No...I could have figured out how to sense the cloakers without knowing. What I did on the field was spontaneous anyways, so.” I corrected, playing over my food.
“I wish I wouldn’t have panicked. That Ghost dude hit me hard as fuck!” Liam said, disappointed with himself.
“You did good kid.” I said ruffling his hair.
“Why were you saving everyone out there on the field?” Everette asked with an innocent smile.
“What kind of dumb question is that? Do you not know how hard the sod is?” I responded.
“Yeah, but you even saved Ghost…” Everette said, completely stuck on the matter.
“What part of the sod is hard don’t you get?” I said back, not bothering to look at him. His eyes began to burn into my flanks, obviously frustrated with me being so difficult. It was quite enjoyable.
“Not even gonna lie...I was surprised too.” Milan laughed, easing the tension.
“When I was chasing Ghost’s ass, I wanted to knock the fucking wind out of him for each time he smacked into one of the littler guys. But when I did, I saw he was a helpless kid himself and I couldn’t just let him crash into the ground. We were like three hundred feet high!” I said, finally giving an answer.
“Was it like... the same for me?” Everette asked, this obviously being the big burning question. I turned to him, looking him in eyes.
“You need someone to look out for your ass because you’ll end up following someone blindly into something so stupid...and die!!! ...And quite frankly, you did out there on the field. You. Died!!!” I said bluntly.
“I need someone to look out for me?” He asked, surprised. He looked around seeing everyone had their silent opinions on the matter, written all on their faces.
“Yeah, you kind of do.” I nodded, still being a bit of a jerk.
“And what makes you think you can do such a great job?” Everette asked defensively.
“You know what? I probably can’t...I’m gonna fail because you’re too damn big of an idiot to look out for. Youre like...six foot three, two hundred pounds and very talented… Ride that ship in a storm!!!” I sighed, knowing it would set the boy off. It definitely angered the boy.
“Why are you so mean?” Everette asked.
“You haven’t seen mean, yet. I’m just being blunt. I always say this time and time again… You might not like what I’m gonna say but it’ll certainly. Be. The. Truth.” I teased, placing a spoonful of gravy in my mouth.     
“Yeah… As long as I’ve known Denver, he’s never lied.” Marcell laughed, desperately trying to defuse the tension.
“Really?” Everette asked, surprised.
“I didn’t want to say this because it is not my call to make, but PLEASE watch who you befriend here. This place will chew you up alive if you make the wrong friends.” Marcell added. As he said that, Raul and his tiny entourage entered the mess hall. They took their platters to a table, sitting closer to the salad bar. Raul looked over to us, startled by the fact that Everette and I were sitting together. The last time he saw us interacting, Everette and I were having a nasty argument. He rolled his eyes, assuming I got what I wanted from the boy.
It then dawned on me. Raul wasn’t quite as over the breakup as I previously thought he was. But still though, the damage was done. It had now been two days since the nasty… could you even call it a break up, and have had some time to really think about it. I just didn’t know know. I’d be lying if I said I was over him already, but there was no turning back at this point. I had a team to look out for and I’d be leaving very soon. A relationship at this point would be unnecessary stress. No matter what happened, I just wasn’t going back to Raul.
“You know,” Marcell began, “The IT team is putting together a party for us…”
“What why?” I asked, startled.
“What’s wrong with parties?” Everette asked.
“I’ve had my fair share of parties...I’m done.” I sighed. Marcell and Milan looked at me shocked.
“Whoa, what the fuck is wrong with you?” Milan asked.
“I just don’t… I don’t know. I’m turning into a crotchety old man! I just hate everything!” I said, shielding my face under my hands.
Everyone fell silent. I then felt something shimmy in between Everette and I. Upon opening my eyes, I was startled to see it was Jarvis.
“I’ve been looking for you!” Everette laughed. I was reduced to staring Jarvis down like the evil piece of shit he was!
“It’s about time we’re dining together…” Jarvis laughed. It was all so unnerving to have him so… close… to me!!! I was not the only one uncomfortable with his presence. Marcell looked on, fully questioning why Jarvis chose now to make an effort to be beyond cordial outside of the battlefield.
“This can’t be real…” Marcell said, clenching his head.
“Well it is. It’s about time I put in some effort to get to know you lot.” Jarvis smiled.
“Oh god, we’re all going to die…” I murmured, almost inaudibly. Jarvis didn’t hear it, thank God!!!
“Oh really huh?” Marcell asked, arms folded.
“Yeah especially this little twerp….” Jarvis smiled, wrapping his arm around my shoulder, pulling me in closer. I felt disgusted. Politely, I removed his arm, turning to him.
“Jarvis,” I began, “Never place your goddamn mother fucking hand on me again. Never come in my vicinity… I never hated a person before but you come close. We will never have a relationship beyond being platoon mates. As Second Wing, you shouldn’t be interested in pursuing a relationship of this kind with your team. Quit while you’re behind...”
“I’m sorry,” Jarvis said, “Did I do something offensive…?” It truly got my blood boiling how crafty he was being.
“Just stay the fuck away from me… I don’t care what you want!” I snarled, grabbing my platter. I got up from the table, sickened to my stomach by him. He shrugged, looking pitifully oblivious over what happened and selling the look well. This was one dude that could upset me beyond a doubt.
I took my platter to the conveyer belt, getting eyed by all the platoons as I stormed angrily through the mess hall.
“DENVER!” A superior officer shouted from the doorway. It was Captain Wallace. He looked furious! I knew precisely what this was going to be about. I walked to his office, closing the door behind myself. There was no point in sitting considered I was about to get chewed out. He just stared me down with those cold blue eyes.
“...Is it really that bad?” He asked, breaking silence.
“I’m sorry?” I said, unsure what he was asking.
“I’m asking you is it really that bad being a part of my platoon?”
“No!” I said, truly loving working with him.
“Well you just broke up the damn team!” He said, holding back his true rage.
“I’m sorry, I’ll be back in the next sector…” I pled.
“You really don’t get it do you? Murica is ten times worst than Eurasia, Africa and Oceania combined! You leaving is certain death… You really want to die don’t you?” Captain asked.
“No, it’s just that I really didn’t want to…”
“Be Second Wing? Do you have a problem with being my Second Hand?” He interrupted.
“Yes… Jarvis…” I said.
“You don’t think we would have handled him?” He asked.
“No… I wish I was told that in the beginning! That would have changed everything! You know how I hate a lack of communication…” I said clenching my head.
“If you knew how long it took to build this team, and for you to do something SO STUPID!!!!” He said through the grit of his teeth.
“I promise you I will return! I need this…” I sighed. Captain simply shook his head, very disappointed in me. He wasn’t as angry with me as I initially thought. This was more hurt than anything else. He had so much riding on me. He pointed towards the door.
“Get out…” He demanded. I did so, feeling like I failed him. It simply was a poor move on my part that could have consequences that reverberated across the nation...hell, even the globe.
I just wanted to be alone. I headed to the hangar, walking up the platform. Sitting on the railing, some thirty feet above the tarmac, I watched as the technicians and engineers tweaked the suits and did advanced computer work. This was truly amazing work to appreciate. I wondered if these scientists knew just how great they were because without them, the world would be a very different place.
Not only that, watching them was just entertaining. They often argued and squabbled over who got to do what task, and what experiments would work. They said so many words I never heard before, I couldn’t follow their conversation. Still though, it was beyond hilarious.
“Denver…” Someone said, coming up the platform. It was Doctor Helm, a tall burly man with incredible intelligence.
“Hey!” I smiled.
“Weird seeing you here at random but I must ask you…. what did you do to my suit?” He asked.
“You mean the Merlin? I used the adapt tech in the Head’s Up Display… I seldom use it but had to! I didn’t break anything did I?” I said back.
“No but, the Subbu wingsuit is having system response issues we’re trying to kink out. It tried to update to your firmware but the system stopped mid-boot, change.” He responded.
“Oh yeah because Subbu got knocked out the air and went unconscious.” I recalled.
“Eh, we need to figure out a way to make the computers work beyond human consciousness. It could very well save a life in the near future.” He said.
“Yeah but,” Someone else said, coming up the platform, “That violates protocol. It is already hard as hell making computer and brain work seamlessly together as one coherent item. To make the computers go beyond that would make the pilots less bionic and more machine. However, as a fail safe...it’d be great.”
“The Merlin has the most interactive interface, followed by the Kestrel….”
“A big issue I have with the suit is the fact that it doesn’t collect data on its own. I need this suit warning me of incoming bogies when we’re in tight quarters or on the ground, because quite frankly we’re easy targets!!! I need sensory data, more cyberoptic data, more auditory data...anything!” I sighed.
“I’m sorry Denver, but for now we’re limited to the current technology but we do have prototypes we can mount on your suit, that you can test for us. It’ll be in your helm.” Dr. Helm said.
“You can’t outfit it on everyone, I mean, on the team?” I asked.
“Well these are prototype sensors. We only have a handful of the equipment built. Come one down to the tarmac,” He said, “We can run tests.”
Dr. Helm’s technician grabbed me by the hand, leading me down the stairs. Dr. Helm summoned the actuators that held my suit suspended in the sky grates and grabbed the sensory helm. He too joined us on the Tarmac floor, connecting the helm to a computer. The technician, obviously Dr. Helm’s most trusted hand, began giving me a physical.
He was a very adorable young man, about five foot, eight with some very dark features. He probably was an Illisian like Dr. Aheem. The technician connected a long prod to the connectors embedded deep into my skull.  
“Your vitals are looking good. Your cybercytes are functioning normally and your cybernetic nervous system is...good. Only thing that is odd, is your stress hormones are relatively high.” The technician said.
“Is everything alright with you, Denver?” Dr. Helm asked.
“Yeah…” I sighed.
“I know you’re leaving soon. You’ll be impressed by the team you’re being assigned to. The New World Cybernetic Air Force is a much, much larger sector than the Eurasian Sector. They also are a different breed of people. I got a feeling you may like it over there.” Dr. Helm said.
“All I’ve been hearing is that the place is very dangerous, far more dangerous than Eurasia.” I said back.
“It is, but we’re not sending you over there unprepared. We’re going to make your suit as advanced as the American wingsuits…” Dr. Helm said.
“Wait, the American Wingers have better equipment?” I asked.
“Miles better...They have a larger sect, so more brains are working together. Right now, they have this huge recovery mission in Patagonia, trying to recover lost files from Dr. Aheem’s huttle.” Dr. Helm responded.
“Why’d he even go to Patagonia?” I asked.
“The man was going mad and felt like he was being targeted. So like a genius, he went alone to the most remote place he could.” Dr. Helm said.
“He didn’t have family or anything?”
“He had a son named Tanzanir Aheem Zaheed that he took to Patagonia with him but his remains were never found. Tanzanir is presumed dead at this point and all efforts to recover him have been gone. Tanzanir was cybernetic just like you all, was going to be a Winger in the Eurasian Air Core. He actually was supposed to be the first Levant, but his dad took him when he was five years old and fled the country. We could track both of them for a while but when they reached Patagonia, Tanzanir’s signal disappeared and Dr. Aheem was found mutilated in his huttle. No one knows what murdered him…” Dr. Helm explained.
“That’s just…” I said, creeped out by the story.
“The American Air Force took over the case and found out that Dr. Aheem had been in communication with a faction known as the Ravagers. They found out he was the one who built the Naval fleet which stopped their coastal raids and that there was an air fleet being made. They threatened to kill him and his wife which prompted Dr. Aheem to move from the Americas to Europe. It didn’t stop there though. Dr. Aheem finished his work in Europe, creating a humongous network of Wingers and Swimmers. It pretty much thwarted the efforts of the Revivalists, here in this stretch of the world. By this time, Dr. Aheem and his Wife, Formalda Zaheed, had their first son. The Revivalists and the Ravengers somehow joined forces and began to threaten Dr. Aheem, targeting him in isolated assassination attempts. Dr. Aheem was prompted to flee Europe and head back to the Americas where his family vanished but he ended up dead.” Dr. Helm continued.
“And they still can’t detail how he died?” I asked.
“I personally think he built a robot to kill himself and sent it preprogrammed to sink to the bottom of the sea. I got reason to believe that Dr. Aheem’s son is still alive and that he holds the key to finishing his father’s work. Not only that, but the military forces have expanded considerably since their birth thirty five years ago and both the Revivalists and the Ravagers would have a hard time getting into our infrastructure the way they did before,” Dr. Helm said, making his way over to me, “I did my own investigation and learned his wife, a medical aid in the Marine Core, was best friends with another nurse named Ophelia Gonzales Logatti. Pulling her records, I found out that she is from Jeurridam, a city far to the western edge of Murica. Considering it is where Dr. Aheem would mine for gravitanium and neodymium, I could imagine it is where Formalda hid her son. Ophelia, right now is in a submarine in the Scandinavian sea. I would have investigated further, but I have obligatory duties here.”
“Wow…” I said utterly astounded.
“I got a lot of pull… I can put you on a team and make sure you’re the one investigating Jeurridam. There, I could make you Lead Wing, overseeing a team of Long Wingers. You’ll have all the authority you need to investigate fully.” Dr. Helm said.
“I’d love to.” I responded. He smiled, walking back over to the computer terminal. As he pecked away on the keyboard, mechanical arms came down, dismantling the helm.
“In the West, you won’t have to worry about many of the issues the Eastern teams have to face.” He said.
“Like what?” I asked
“You’ll be facing more human threats… Trust me, you want to fight humans.” He chuckled.
“I heard there were killer mechs to the West, though.” I laughed.
“You have no idea..” He said in sudden seriousness, “Like, mechanized monstrosities. You’d have to be retrained on how to deal with those and God knows, we don’t have that type of time.” He watched the helm slowly be reconstructed.
“Are there flying mechs?” I asked.
“Yes! There are giant mechs left over from the war that are built like dragons and pterosaurs. There also are giant mechs that resemble dragonflies and they are very dangerous as well.” He responded.
“And they can’t be shot down?” I asked.
“Shooting down a machine that is covered in dense, re healing armor and thinks its a creature can be tough. Not to mention, these things have been operating for over seven hundred years, adapting to human countermeasures and even their own mechanical failure! The Cybernetic Force is something recent, a new counter measure that we’re simply afraid to test against mechs.” He said.
“Damn, it must be terrible over there…” I sighed.
“Yeah. But you’ll be ready. I’m getting you some new tech for your suit.” He smiled.
“Can I get the cloaking stuff that’s on the Forest Winger team? It is so awesome!” I asked.
“No, it isn’t compatible with your suits metrics and would have to be recalibrated which takes a long time. But the new sensors on your Helm will be quite sensitive. I’m also considering putting a pulse weapon on your Helm. It’d be good for targeting bogies while you’re flying but not while you’re on the ground. Your next mission will be a ground mission.” He said.
“Ground mission? You mean the Spain mission?” I asked.
“It’s not in Spain. It’s in west England on the coast in a botany lab called Spain. It’s gonna be very, very, very dangerous. You’re retrieving a machine called a mallet. That’s all I’m at liberty to say.” Dr. Helm said.
“Oh.” I responded, “And please give me the pulse weapon… I hate the quills.”
“OK, but we can’t test them in here.” Dr. Helm warned.
“It’s fine.” I reassured, “Am I cleared for a test flight today?”
“No, there’s supposed to be a surprise party for you today...well it’s not a surprise anymore.” Dr. Helm laughed.
“Ew why?” I asked, bothered.
“Because of all teams, you have the highest success rate.” He said.
“I’m not going…” I said.
“You won’t have much choice, I’m afraid.” Dr. Helm laughed.
“Oh so it’s gonna be an order…” I sighed.
“Your Helm’s ready.” Dr. Helm said, reaching to grab it. He walked over to me, gently placing it onto my head. My computational systems detected new components, syncing with them. I held up my finger.
“It’s updating.” I said nervously.
“Ok.” Dr. Helm smiled. I watched anxiously as the computer reached the final stages of syncing. As soon as my HUD said one hundred percent, I squealed like a child with a new toy! I saw high and low frequency Sonar, advanced mapping firmware, new ISPs for the new sensors, as well as motion detectors, infrared detectors, ultraviolet detectors and an ISP that compiled the image feed into something called the ultra spectrum.  Not only that but I had dual pulse lasers that shot from my optics. This was a complete overhaul considering previously, I only had a motion sensor, passive radar and cyberoptics. Even better, this tech was very discreet, the helm only being minutely more crammed in the inside.
“Activate ultra spectrum.” I said. The helm whirred and a fraction a second later, the compiled imaging activated. It normalized every shadow and overblown highlight to draw out more detail for the optics. It pretty much was super advanced High Dynamic Range. I was impressed by the setup! The ISPs had to be powerful to not only render such a detailed image but to be able to keep up with my eyes, refreshing at up to two hundred forty hertz. This could prove very useful in dark situations or when facing the sun.
“How is it?” Dr. Helm asked.
“It’s pretty cool! I can think of a thousand ways I can use this.” I laughed.
“OK, turn off the lights!” Dr. Helm shouted. I waited for the lights to be turned off but it didn’t happen, “How’s the night vision?”
“Wait are the lights off?” I asked.
“Yes.” Dr. Helm smiled.
“It looks the same.” I laughed.
“Alright, try the stereoscopic sonar.” He said.
“Activate Ultra Sonar.” I said. The Helm whirred and this white flash reverberated all around me. It startled me so bad, I jumped in my seat. The ping returned, sounding like a mix between a shrill squeak and a basey rumble. As it did, the Helm began calculating. It rendered a very accurate three dimensional map of the Hangar. It highlighted the exits as well as the organic matter in the room.
“This thing is unreal.” I laughed nervously.
“Lights on!” Dr. Helm shouted. Again, I couldn’t tell if the lights were on or off. I took the Helm off, handing it to Dr. Helm.
“This thing is sick!” I smiled.
“Everything that we talked about is of the highest confidence. Do not repeat any of this information.” He said firmly.
“Will heed.” I said.
As I said that, Raul walked from a cubicle behind our station and headed to the Main Sector. It was the strangest coincidence ever. What reason did he have to be here.
“So how are things?” Dr. Helm asked.
“They could be better. I’m still coping with the Italy mission.” I sighed.
“Man, I’m so sorry that mission took a turn like that…” Dr. Helm said.
“It’s not your fault. I blame it on Jarvis… His negligence was purposeful and because of something he did, well something he didn’t do, it lead to the greatest winger of all time being slaughtered!!!” I said.
“I’m sorry but it’d be hard to trace him back to any deaths he didn’t actively partake in. He wasn’t Second Wing at the time of Chance’s death. If someone dies on the current mission and it’s in similar fashion to the way Chance got taken out, it still can’t be traced back to Jarvis. However, if a second death occurs under his authority then he’ll go under investigation.” Dr. Helm said.
“That’s fucked up! Three people would have died before he goes under investigation… Even then, he probably would squirm his way out of it because he’s just that type of a snake.” I said, angered by the fact.
“The rules are kind of fucked up, I know. But I can guarantee you! When you go to Murica, there will be far better organization and far better tactical information. You will fit into a well made system rather than a system being fit around you.” He responded.
“Well, that’s certainly good. Just don’t get my hopes exceptionally high…” I laughed.
“Just stay safe, Denver. I’ll get back with you soon.” He said.
“Alright,” I responded, getting to my feet. I headed to the gate, entering the long corridor  that led to HQ. There, Raul stood, pressed against a wall. This was beyond confusing. Nonetheless, I continued to walk forth, not acknowledging his presence.
“So you’re just gonna walk past me without uttering a word? You’re fucking leaving???” He asked. I stopped, his question catching me off guard.
“You made it clear that we were done.” I said, continuing forth, “I am incredibly stressed right now, Raul and have a lot on my mind. I don’t want to deal with this right now..”
“So that Italy mission was grueling, huh?” He continued to ask, arms folded looking as skeptical as ever. I was reduced to stopping again, staring at him, wondering what this was about.
“...Yeah.” I responded. His gaze softened up as he looked as though he’ve made a grave mistake.
“So you were telling me the truth?” He asked, eyes beginning to well over.
“You know damn well I’ve never lied to you!” I said, my upset trying to seep through the cracks.
“Why are you leaving?” He asked, it obviously bothering him deeply.
“Why were you eavesdropping?” I retorted.
“I mean…”
“I’m really confused right now, Raul. You made it clear that you wanted nothing to do with me and I respected that… Now you tear down the very boundaries you set and have us both standing here not know what the fuck to do...” I said.
“You can’t just leave...you...you, you have a team, and people who you look out for...and...and…”
“You know things could have been so different if I would have done something sooner or if you would have waited a little longer. We can point blame if that’s what you wish, I don’t care... But there’s still unrepairable damage done, and no way I’m going back. All this did was prove that I really have no one… NO ONE!!!! And I can accept that...” I continued to interrupt.
“Why though!?!?” Raul demanded.
“Because I don’t know why I’m here!!!! I don’t know what I want out of this place and I’m tired of this same old dry formula… wake up, shipped off to a foreign land and fighting a battle I don’t understand. I go in thinking its gonna give me some thrill, some that makes being alive worth it but at the end of the day, I’m left feeling hollow and disappointed like it was all for nothing!!!! I’m tired of that! I’m tired of hurting people here, I’m just tired…” I said, drawn to tears. Raul was reduced to staring at me.
“Is this about me?” He asked.
“Of course it is about you! I wouldn’t be FUCKING leaving if it wasn’t for you!” I snarled.
“Oh my god…” He said, feeling overwhelming guilt.
“Dude, chill,” I sighed, “It’s done now… We both fucked up royally… there’s nothing left to do but move on… I thought you already had… Guess not.”
“I thought I did to but you seemed different after that Italy mission. Even though I didn’t want to believe it, something pulled me to investigate then I found out you were leaving and fucking lost it…” He said. All I could do was stare at him out of frustration.
“This isn’t some little Easter Sunday scavenger hunt, Raul. I don’t like to play games like this… Why do you think I want to leave… you think I could see you and your wall of meat be happy together while I’m miserably sitting somewhere, contemplating all that is wrong with my life?” I asked.
“Wait, don’t act like I didn’t wait and wait and WAIT ON YOU!!!! You think I wanted to hear about all the dudes you slept with time, and time again? You say you don’t like to play games but look at the one you fuckin’ played!” He snarled.
“It wasn’t a fucking game! I didn’t know what the fuck I WANTED!!!! I was caught up on so much when I was nineteen and twenty and you know it! You know what I came from and how this place was a struggle for me! I’m sorry I didn’t fucking grow up fast enough for you! I was busy trying to forget my past and learn how to trust people again…” I said back.
“You’re not the only one who struggled, Denver…”
“Oh really? Did you lose both of your parents? Did you have to forage,  and survive on your own, be hungry and helpless in a cold wet place you’ve never been before? Did you ever have become apart of a group of bandits that did nothing but defile you from the first time they could? Not only that but they kept you around, simply so they could do it again, and again, and again! Have you ever had to have sex with someone you genuinely don’t like because it’d keep you alive? Have you ever killed anything other than an animal before? Have you experienced death they way I have? Have you ever been handed an axle bar and forced to beat someone until they weren’t recognizable? Has a baby ever been slaughtered in front of you? Have you ever had to set a town on fire? Have you ever seen people burned alive before, flames just enwraping them, just no escape? Have you?” I demanded to know.
“No…” He sighed, “That’s not fair, Denver.”  
“How’s it not fair?” I asked.
“You can’t hold all of that against me.” He said.
We just weren’t meant to be. I had to grow up at my own pace, still growing as a matter of a fact but it’s just not fast enough for you. Let’s just leave it at that…” I said, walking away. A firm hand grabbed me, prohibiting me from walking away.
“You can’t just walk away from this!” Raul said, not willing to take no for an answer.
“What the fuck else am I supposed to do, sit here and argue? What do you want! Open wounds can heal if you continue to scratch them, Raul!” I said.
“You said. You. Loved. Me!” Raul said.
“...And I do… So what! I’m not going to be caught in the middle of some type of triangle. What has happened has already happened and I have no choice but to accept that. You should too. Whatever the fuck happens man, just be happy now let me go…” I sighed, looking at his hand as he kept me there. I was left hoping this wouldn’t take an even worse turn.
“So we finally come to terms with our feelings for each other and you simply want to walk away from it?” He asked, truly shocked. It made me so angry.  
“All I wanted was just to get back to you,” I said through the grit of my teeth, once again drawn to tears, “The whole time, my team was pinned down, seeing people die left and right, people I was close to! I wondered if I ever was going to be next! All I wanted to do was see you again because I made the realization that I was small, fragile, and not as impervious to life as I thought. Those suits of armor did not mean we were invincible and and it was such a LOUD wake-up call! I realized that I took you for granted and with my life clinging in the balance, I promised myself that I’d cherish you forever If I survived! Then when I came home and I needed you the most, your back was turned! You know how I HATE being alone, how I hate being vulnerable and you didn’t even have a single care! It’s been three days since I got back from that hell and….”
“I’m so sorry,” Raul said, pulling me in close, “It was just a misunderstanding… a big one…”
“Don’t touch me…” I hissed, snatching away from him, slowly backing away, “You know how fucking shitty my life was, what you were getting yourself into… You can’t just leave someone so damaged, so haunted by their past hanging like that! That’s fucking DEVASTATING!!!!!!!”  
“Denver…” Raul said, the guilt beginning to consume him.
“You know how long it took me to be able to trust again? You know the first person I was able to trust again? You! Why would you build and build and build something only to simply destroy it? But like I said… be happy! I’m gonna fulfill that first wish for you! I wish you the best, and I hope you do the same… We’re done!” I snarled, leaving the isolated hall.
“Denver!!!” Raul pleaded. I couldn’t dare turn back. I’d run back to him with open arms, kissing him, hugging him squeezing him. This was all for his greater good. What we had needed to die.
I hadn’t realized how worked up I got over him. I was fuming, literally having to sit to cool down and console myself. Sure what I did was intentional but I had a serious headache. My stomach was even knotted up. I just wanted to keep crying, having to walk away from Raul being much harder than I ever thought it could be. However, letting someone see me cry here was simply not acceptable. I sulked up these tears and forced myself to carry on. I went about my day, returning to the archive. No one was present, just me in an empty hall full of books. I sat at the most isolated nook in the rear, wishing that I could just disappear. God knows how much time had passed. At this point, it probably was dark out. I just sat there with no clue of the time, reliving the altercation with Raul… Was it really for our better?  
After a while, tiny little Liam came across me sitting back here. He came to the rear of the archive with a wide smile. His smile diminished when he saw I wasn’t too happy.
“You ok dude?” He asked.
“Yeah, just trying to come to terms with some issues… It’ll be alright…” I sighed, swiftly trying to compose myself.
“Is it related to Raul?” He asked.
“Kind of. I officially let him go... I just need to learn not to depend on people when I’m so fucked up…” I chuckled.
“Dude,” Liam said, “Why do you always talk about yourself like that?”
“What? I am! I’m not going to lie…” I laughed.
“What precisely is the issue?” He prodded. I looked at him, wanting to tell him all that has happened but I simply didn’t know him well enough to spill everything. I didn’t know how he’d react to it all.
“It’s complicated…” I sighed.
“How complicated?”
“Can I really trust you, Liam?” I asked.
“Sure, with anything!” He said.
“I’m leaving soon.” I sighed, giving in to all the stress.
“Wait what?” He asked, unsure if he heard me right.
“I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but I am. I’m going to the Americas.”
“That explains your interest in American ornithology. Well damn, dude I’m gonna miss you!” He said, very disappointed.
“I didn’t even have intentions of leaving, it just sort of...happened. I was trying to squirm my way out of being Second Wing then before I know it, my mouth got me involved into something I couldn’t get myself out of. Somehow, Raul found this out and shit got complicated real fast, like a whole new layer of complexity! I had to break it off with him because it was starting to become taxing, you know? He has someone else, yet still has feelings for me and I didn’t want the additional stress of being caught in the middle.” I confessed.
“Well I don’t want to prod about your relationship, I just want to know will you be safe when you go?” Liam asked, full of worry.
“God, I hope so. It is what it is, man…” I sighed.
“What will everyone else, think?” He wondered.
“Captain chewed me up bad. He thought that I didn’t like working with him but it wasn’t even that. So now I gotta deal with him thinking I’m not happy with him... It’s just that I want to figure some things out and I can’t do that here. I got so many inner demons and having to put them to the side to do this type of repetitious work had me just… I don’t know, I can’t work on them. Eh, I don’t want to talk your ear off about my bullshit excuse for a life…” I sighed.
“I know that feeling of having to harbor something for so long because you don’t know how to deal with it. I seldom feel like I can talk to anyone about anything and quite frankly you and Captain are the only people. I at least can return the favor. When you need me Denver, I’ll be all ears.” He said. It made my stomach churn. That was precisely how Raul and my relationship started. It was how he got my trust in the beginning and then it turned into this mess. I didn’t know how to react to Liam’s offer.
“Is there something wrong?” He asked.
“No,” I said, “It’s just like deja vu. It’s how Raul and I got started and the shit went poof. He said exactly the same thing, that I could to talk to him about anything. He didn’t like half the stuff I had to say, but then again I was an idiot. Of course, the dude was in to me and I was a fucking slut so it...eh.” I kind of lost all desire to talk.
“Well, I don’t know your dynamic,” Liam laughed, “And if you don’t trust me with information, it’s fine. Just know that you’ve proven that I can trust you and...even though you’re leaving, I’ll never forget that! I do appreciate all of what you’ve done for me.”
“Eh, don’t do that! I’m trying to be sad and miserable here…” I smiled.
“You’re the one who told me that there is always a reason to be happy! Take your own advice, dude!” Liam laughed. He was right.
“You’re a genuine kid, ya know…” I said.
He slowly leaned in, our lips coming into dangerous proximity! He kissed me, it sending a powerful charge through my body! It was so unexpected, the kiss and the energy present. I pushed him away, unsure what I could have done that led him to think I wanted to be kissed.
“Dude…” I said, barely able to come to words. He then realized he went too far.
“... I’m sorry…” He pled, unsure how I’d react. He shook his head, getting to his feet. I grabbed his hand, not wanting him to leave. He looked on completely confused.
“It’s fine, just... never do it again... I like you, but not in that way. You’re like my itty bitty brother! Besides, you gotta save that for Everette.” I smiled.
“I mean… He’s nothing like you! I don’t think he and I could ever be.” He said, truly ashamed of his impulsive action.
“You never know… I’m one hundred percent certain he’s gay. I can feel it in my spirit…” I teased.
“How the fuck do I even approach him?” Liam asked, almost frantically.
“I don’t know,” I said thinking about it, “Maybe the same way you just attacked my face… I just have this feeling, that you two will be brought really close really soon!”
“I hope your intuition is correct.” Liam laughed.
“It tends to be.” I smiled.
“About others here who are in the closet…”
“Man, it is so under the rug it’s not even funny. Don’t even get involved…” I said, “It’s a can of worms I hope I never dive back into. I had my fun….for the rest of my life… Time to call me crotchety gramps.”
“It’s that bad?” Liam asked, laughing.
“Even if you slept with someone, if word gets out that you’re gay, everyone gangs up on you! Hell, even the dumbass you just slept with will act like it never happened and join in the fray! I’ve seen it done before…! You know our boy Chance? He was gay and got caught but died before he could earn everyone’s respect. I admired him for his courage, but damn… it has me scared…” I sighed.
“So do they not know that the man standing next to them is gay or…?”
“Some do, some don’t, but most don’t. Not everyone here is gay but there are quite a few people who are and… The people who aren’t gay really don’t care about anyone’s sexuality but the one’s who lay down with the dogs, try to hide the flea bites… It’s sad really…” I explained.  
“Why would they do that to each other?” Liam asked.
“It’s a pointless show of masculinity here and I guess two men having sex with each other doesn’t cut the quota.” I laughed.
“That’s funny…” Liam sighed.
“It sadly is…”
“You think America will be different?” Liam asked.
“I hope so. Oh my god… What if it’s awesome and I don’t want to come back?” I asked, truly sounding worried.
“Shit, what if it is! Shit, dude! You may have fucked up! What if you have the best time of your life?” Liam asked.
“Oh god, I’m not ready…” I said clenching my head.
“You gotta come back dude…” Liam said.
“What if like… I belong over there and shit! What if I find complete and utter happiness!”
“STOP!” Liam demanded. It made me laugh so hard.
“I’m only fucking with you man…” I said.
“There they are!” Someone shouted from up the hall. Armed men came rushing towards us from every angle. We were grabbed, thrown to the ground and handcuffed. Bags were pulled over our heads so we couldn’t see where we were being totted off to. I had no idea what was going on and was utterly terrified. We were brought to somewhere dark, dark enough that light couldn’t pass through the bag. Suddenly, the bags came off and the lights were on. A huge crowd of people stood before us.
“SURPRISE!!!!” They all screamed. Looking around, I could see the entire team was here, Liam, Everette, Jarvis, Marcell and Milan. They all looked startled, not to pleased to be abruptly dragged to the banquet hall. I truly had no shred of desire to be here.
“Oh my god! Why?” I groaned.
“This party is in honor of your team’s excellent work on the field and rate of success! It will usher in a new era for our forces! We will put our forces through more vigors to get more results of the like… I want to say thank you for all who were apart of planning this and for you all to know that your hard work is appreciated. We seldom get a chance to let loose like this so cherish it but wake up tomorrow prepared for work! ” General Aquil said, standing in the middle of the crowd. We were each uncuffed, allowed to stand.
It left me wowed. This man literally stood in the midst of all these people and said that this is a party where we force our ‘failures’ to celebrate the only team capable of success, despite being the second smallest team on the force with some of the smallest and least threatening members…. He pretty much was telling them that they were pathetic excuses for cyber wings and should pity themselves. This shit was crazy!
“This was… sudden…” Marcell laughed.
“Oh my God, where’s the booze…” Milan, sighed, going over to the punch bowls. Milan hated being startled and this was no exception. Plus, alcohol was his favorite thing. He poured a cup of what looked like apple ale, only to be disappointed upon learning it wasn’t alcohol. He tried what was in the tall glass bottles, pissed that it was sparkling grape juice. He marched back over to us, trying to keep a straight face.
“What the fuck is this? How are they going to throw a party of this scale with no alcohol?” He asked.
“It might be better this way… Trust me Milan…” I laughed.
Marcell and Milan looked back and forth between one another, then to me.
“What do you know?” Marcell asked, arms folded.
“I’m not at liberty to say, this time. Just know tomorrow we have one hell of a mission…” I sighed, walking over to a seat.
“Eh,” Marcell sighed, following me, “In typical UCAC fashion, party hard one night then wake up for the call of duty the next morning…”
“Details?” Milan insisted.
“I already told you I can’t say much more.” I said back.
“Come on!!!” He prodded.
“OK, we’re supposed to be getting a computer component that recently went online, from this greenhouse in Western England.” I whispered.
“What kind of mission is that?” Milan asked, disappointed.
“Look man, I was told there was some dangerous shit in this greenhouse! I heard it was a labyrinth, one you can easily get turned around in! But that’s all I know. I don’t quite know what makes this place dangerous… We’ll be briefed in the morning. I just doubt this mission will be as easy as getting in and getting out…” I sighed.
“Hi guys…” Liam smiled, sitting at the table with us.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Not much… Some party, huh? I thought we were in trouble when we got snatched up like that...” He laughed.
“Stuff like this is far more common than you might think…” Marcell laughed.
“So what do we do?” Liam asked, obviously never having a party before.
“Just have fun!” I laughed.
“I mean…” He said, still unsure about what he should do.
“UGH, come one kid!” I said, grabbing him by the hand. I dragged the innocent boy out to the dance floor. The DJ played some new and old dance music, all of them having infectious rhythms.
Liam looked around daunted, the booming bass of the subwoofers, the flashing lights and the grunts losing their minds dancing just inches away from him, proving overwhelming. The boy was beyond adorable, a truly awkward mess.
“Just groove to the beat, Liam…” I said. He shrugged, unsure what that meant. I was left demonstrating it to him, simple body and arm rolls, with some fist bangs and steps back and forth could fool anyone into believing you were suave and had finesse on your feet.
The boy simply didn’t have a rhythmic bone in his body. He twitched and jolted across the dance floor, making everyone laugh. However, it was all in light heart and high spirits. I looked back over to Marcell and Milan. They simply sat bobbing their heads to the deafening bass. It was starting to become fun. Shit, it was up to the individual to make the most out of it in this place and this party was no exception.
At an isolated table, Jarvis and Everette sat, snickering and pointing fingers at people. It was clear Jarvis was back to his crude judgement games and Everette was along for the ride. The two, at this point, could become inseparable for all I cared. It was what Jarvis wanted… However, if anything happened to Everette, it’d turn everyone on the team truly against Jarvis and something would have to be done. I just hoped it wouldn’t have to get to that point…  
But that was too much festering over whatever relationship they had. It was time to join Liam in doing embarrassingly awkward dance moves in the center of the dance floor. Not long after, everyone shared their most cringe worthy dance move on the banquet hall floor. One of the engineers, a girl from the United States, brought back dance moves from hundreds of years ago, krumping and swinging her hair while she screamed and roared aggressively. She got into the face of one of the soldiers who returned the same favor, with equally hilarious krump dance moves.
The two then kissed, revealing they were a couple, laughing hard at each other. Then came the Soca music… I lost my mind, truly I did. The subdued and playful dance moves were cast aside, time to get serious. I was not the only one here with a Caribbean heritage. A few other engineers a Harrier grunt and a Roc Class grunt met at the center of the dance floor, all doing some serious footwork. We all got cheered on by the party goers, despite the provocative dance moves. It was beginning to get physical, the dances becoming very close contact and very sexual. However, this was dancehall… nothing out of the norm…
“WOOOOO!!!!!” A cheering girl said.
“MALCOLM!!!!!” Another one shouted.
“DENVER!!!!!!” Someone else screamed. I really didn’t expect my name to be screamed.
Not long after, I got tired...having to take a seat. I went back to the table where Liam, Marcell and Milan sat. All had hanging jaws.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re a fucking slut!” Marcell said, truly shocked.
“That’s how people would dance back home!” I laughed.
“The people back home are sluts!” Marcell laughed, nodding.
“How can you make your body move like that...those little ticks, pops and rolls?” Liam asked.
“It’s called whining. It’s for grown folks,” I said roughing up his hair, “You’ll learn when you’re nice and grown!”
“I’m twenty!” He laughed.
“Such a baby…” I continued to tease.
“Nice dance moves…” Someone said from behind. I turned and it was Ghost, still hadn’t learned the kid’s name yet, “They really warrant you your reputation…”
“I haven’t caught your name yet…” I smiled, not bothering to acknowledge his very shady remark.
“Call me Philip…” He said, standing their arms folded, expecting this to turn into a very long and dragged out verbal exchange.
“Well nice to finally call you something other than Ghost,” I grinned, before turning back to finish conversing with Liam, “Well anyways, there’s whining, stepping, grinding, rolling and popping. It all begins with using your core and your thighs… It tends to be a party showstopper…”
“What is this music called? The rhythm is like... infectious and like… I can’t stop moving! But the singing is so throaty and punchy…” Liam asked.
“It’s called Soca. There’s quite a bit more than this from the Caribbean.” I laughed. Marcell’s eyes wondered, following what was presumed to be Philip across the room. A smile came across his face.
“Did you fuck his girl?” Marcell asked.
“He’s just mad because I fucked him on the field and put a pillow under his head…” I sighed. Milan burst out laughing.
“OK, because I thought he was going to snap you in half. He’s one big ass bloke…” Milan laughed.
“I know...he’d destroy me with one thump…” I chuckled. It was more so funny because, the two brothers didn’t know the entire story behind this. They didn’t know why Philip truly had a problem with me.
“So like where exactly in Murica are you from?” Liam asked.
“I was all over the place. Mainly between the swamps of the east and plains of the central plateau. Then we moved to the islands but still were back and forth a lot. It’s kind of a blur. We didn’t stay in one spot for longer than a year.” I smiled.
“That’s crazy!” Liam said back.
“You never told anyone that before…” Marcell noted.
“Eh, why not?” I shrugged with a grin.
“You’re becoming…” Milan said with a childish dramatic gulp, “Compassionate…”
“Ya’ll my lil babies and I must take care of ya’ll because ya’ll might die and shit!” I teased.
“I’ll be alright if I don’t get smacked out the sky by a giant metal goshawk…” Marcell joked. It warranted laughter from us all.
“Why didn’t you save me when I fell?” A familiarly sickening voice asked. I turned, Jarvis and Everette making their way over to the table. Jarvis sat next to me, smiling. It left Everette awkwardly scrounging for a seat on the other side of the table, between Liam and Marcell. He sat next to Liam, sighing, making it quite clear he was upset. It didn’t make sense to Everette for Jarvis to bad mouth me one minute yet try to edge his way closer and closer to me. I sighed.
“You just insist on violating my personal space, don’t you?” I asked.  
“Damn, can someone be nice to you?” Jarvis laughed.
“OK, Jarvis…” I sighed, not wanting to engage in anything more than what was stated.
“So,” Jarvis began, “About those dance moves… Everyone’s going crazy over you…” A hand creep up my leg under the table. It startled me but went unseen by anyone else.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“What do you think I’m doing… I like the way you move and I wanna learn how…” He smiled...devilishly.
“You’re not even social… no one likes you… Who’d want to dance with you?” I asked plainly. He sighed, leaning back into his seat.
“Eh, there’s a start for everything, right?” He asked. I scooted up as far forward as I could, supporting my throbbing head in the palms of my hand. Jarvis took his games to an entirely new level, one that I’d come to never expect. My fear of him was intensified, now seeing how low he was willing to stoop to get what he wanted. Should it even be called stooping though? Little was know about Jarvis, being the most private and the most...alluring. Despite his wicked ways, I couldn’t deny that Jarvis had a way he carried himself that made him appeal to so many. He was appealing to me too but I could never go to any depths with him. Jarvis was simply a danger…
Everette sat there, boiling in his skin. He knew what was happening on this side of the table because it happened to him, probably within the same span of the night. Jarvi made the boy feel special, like he was the only one in the world. I knew just how berating it was to have someone you care for do this to you and I really didn’t want to be caught in the middle of it. This idiotic act could put so much static between Everette and I, it wasn’t even funny. I’ve already told Everette that Jarvis was treacherous and have given him a hard time over it. It probably made Everette sick to his stomach to know Jarvis was doing to another man what he did to him. However, I couldn’t even feel sorry for Everette right about now. I just wanted Jarvis to get the fuck away from me. His touch was…
Jarvis was smart though… At a big social event like this, everything had to look good between us all. Considering General Aquil was here, making a scene would be a very bad move. I had to sit here and endure this pulling on my sexual longing. It was utterly insane how the people in this room were oblivious to what was going on under this table! It felt so blatant, so...good, so wrong. I just wondered why he did this… Why was he going to these lengths?
The music began to wane as General Aquil walked up to the podium. He cleared his throat, gearing to speak.
“All my Long Wingers come to the stage.” He smiled. I didn’t know why we had to come up on stage but I was beyond glad we did. I didn’t know how much more of Jarvis’s touches I could bear. We then lined up in height order, Liam, me, Marcell, Everette, Milan and Jarvis. One by one, a medal was placed around our necks.
“This is for outstanding teamwork and diligence on the front.” General Aquil said. It was truly a cringeworthy statement and prize. It was now clear that General Aquil knew very little of how we actually functioned, or maybe there was some deeper motive behind this. Maybe if we looked unified and polished enough, everyone would think we truly were and wanted to function the same way.
General Aquil handed the microphone to Liam. The boy nearly shut down on stage, looking out that crowd him simply smiled warmly at him.
“I don’t know what to say! I’ve only been on two missions… It’s been tough but I’ve learned a lot about my team and I’ve been taught that not everything is going to come out like a page in a book. Sometimes you have to write your own plan as you go and Denver was the person to teach me this.” Liam smiled, handing the microphone over to me.
“I just want to say that you all are successes and wonderful works of art! I would like to encourage you to build relationships with your team because these relationships will keep you alive in times of need. We may seem perfect on the exterior but inside we do have our quarrels. However, we put these issues aside and work as a unified front when the time calls! Everything we do is for each other and we make sacrifices for one another to push the next man forward. Even though this is for us, I must applaud you all for your hard work and perseverance because each one of your roles is just as significant as the next man!” I smiled, passing the microphone to Marcell. I began clapping, urging everyone on the banquet hall floor to do so. They did, cheering and hooting wildly. When the clapping died down, Marcell began to speak.
“I um… God I don’t know what to say,” Marcell chuckled, “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the heroics of Denver, Milan and First Wing. I often am the one hovering or kiting in mid air, getting detailed scans of surroundings and enemies. I’m put in harms way so the true heroes which are all these guys standing up here, can get the job done. I must say thank you to them because things would be very different without them.” He gave the microphone to Everette. Applause erupted after his acceptance speech. Everette looked on, having the most nervous smile. The crowd fell silent.
“I’m the newest member of the team. I still have a lot to learn and it’s definitely has been tough. I’ve only had one mission so far and I’m thankful for teammates like Jarvis, Milan and Denver because they are not afraid to get their talons dirty and fight for what they believe in! I look up to them all and aspire to be great a great Cyber Winger just like them.” He smiled. He gave the microphone to Milan. The crowd clapped for him, making the boy blush. They became quiet again as Milan geared to say his piece.
“Speaking of getting talons dirty, I’ve yet to meet a Winger more fit for the job than Denver! He’ll dive in headfirst and will be the last to leave. He’s often the first to break through with the mission, paving the way for us to complete the mission. Marcell, my older brother, often is in harms way. In order to get data you got to seek data and that is what he does. So I cover him will all my might because without him, this team is crippled. If we lose any man, the team is crippled! It’s why I’m thankful for new winger, Everette. He’s some new talent with a great instinct and I want to see how he grows. Not only him, but Liam. Liam is also a new recruit and his flight potential is unparalleled by any of us and he’s the one who asks the questions no one wants to ask! He makes us thorough and efficient and his position on the team can’t be filled by any other soul.  Then there’s Jarvis, our most regal member. When anyone see’s him and his white plume flying by, they know he’s something heavy duty. He and I are the brawn of the team. The gist of what I’m saying is that, we’re all different but come together to make one formidable unified force. Differences make the best unity!” Milan said, giving the mic to Jarvis. The crowd roared out at his speech. Milan always had a talent for speech. The roaring crowd made Jarvis even more confident. He stood there with that cocky grin, that grin that made me want to hit him…
“Well, well, well,” Jarvis smiled, making my stomach churn, “I am the Second Wing of the Long Winger Platoon. I am charged with the duty of keeping all of these guys kicking and thriving. I am responsible for each and everyone of them coming back home at the end of each mission. Denver is right… we make sacrifices for each other and I make the big sacrifices as a whole. After losing Chance, the former Second Wing, it’s become my serial duty to make sure no one else on this team becomes a casualty on the battlefield. As you can see, it’s been a big success…” He handed the microphone back over to General Aquil. Somehow, the crowd roared over his narcissistic statement. It truly boggled my mind.
Hell, we all had to applaud Jarvis’s bullshit this time. He was the only one of us all who made the speech about himself and not about the team. Not only that but he was lying... He cared not for any one of us, only about how he could rise in rank the quickest way possible. Jarvis seemed to be running away from something, fleeing from some deeply repressed fears. What was he harboring on the inside that sent him on this run for security? Why did he feel the need to so desperately run over others to get what he wanted? What was his true end game?   


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