A camera drone followed her through the Tuomuta hangar as she took inventory. Covered in a thin coating of dust, grime and sweat, she frowned at her distored reflection against a probe launcher. Trailing her hand across her forehead, she pushed her hair out of her face and attempted to pull it back into a ballerina bun, holding it in place with a bit of discarded wiring from one of the nearby containers.
She unzipped the flightsuit and let it bunch around her waist, having a thin tank top on beneath it with the PIE insignia embroidered across the chest.
Fanning her face with a printed out inventroy list, she moved over to 'the table', an upside down parts crate, and sat down to have her lunch."Over the last few days Raphael and I have decided that it should be safe enough to stop spending every waking moment together. We haven't had any visitors. No word from Michael either."
A look of worry washed over her face, "I think he is dead. I don't want to believe it but its been weeks now. I don't want to give up on him...but I don't know what else to do. I don't know where to begin to search for him."
"It's been an impossible situation, the not knowing, feeling helpless, thinking he may be out there somewhere hurting, waiting to be rescued."
"But I do think that if he was alive he would have found some way to contact me by now. He knows I would be worried sick, he knows that I'd be out of my mind with grief by now. That is why I think he is dead."
She picked up a bottle of water and held it absently, staring off at the Navy Slicer Garst had given her."I feel like I have failed him. He trusted me with the truth, he came to before anyone else and..." she shook her head "...and I've failed him."
A few frustrated tears slipped down her face. She quickly swiped them away with the back of her hand. "I think he loved me."The memory of one of their last conversations in St Alms played through her mind.
"Can I ask you an intensely personal question which will no doubt make you exceptionally uncomfortable."
"You may ask me anything."
"How do you feel about me?"
"Why would I be uncomfortable about that? I adore you Michael surely you know that?"
"You adore me. As... as a friend?"
"What do you mean? Of course you're my friend?"
"I just wanted to know.... to know what I was coming back to."
"What do you mean?"
"Many years ago, when men went off to war, they were seen off by their friends, and returned to their wives. Or they were seen off by their wives, and returned to their friends. The point I'm making is that when people are apart for a time, their feelings towards each other may change. I wanted to know if they had."
"Are you afraid that mine had become something improper?"
"I'm in a combat zone, dealing with lack of nutrition, sleep, and a poor conversationalist. I'm not in the right mindset. Of course, I want companionship. But I'm afraid that, yes, I let my own condition dictate my mental state."
"I think that I know what you mean. Maybe."
"You know as well as I do that war changes the way people think about those they left at home. That's why some return to wives they didn't have when the left, and other returned to friends instead. Suffice it to say, and I feel guilty saying this, but my praying for you wasn't just piousness."
"Don't be shocked, war changes the minds of those within it. I had to ask you how you felt, in order to check myself. To make sure that I really was dreaming it, or if it was reality."
"I asked if you had feelings for me, in order to see if my feelings were the result of my current situation or if they were real."
"Oh...you think you have feelings for me?"
"Right. But my question was geared more towards finding out of I developed those feelings because I was in a combat situation and miss the comfort of having a relationship, or because I am actually in love with someone who loves me as well."
"So your feelings are based mostly on what I feel?"
"I would say it like this, "It would be inappropriate to have feelings for someone who doesn't feel the same way. Being said, it is far wiser not to show feelings what-so-ever until you're absolutely sure of the other party's."
"But if both people were reluctant to share their feelings then how would anyone ever know?"
"That's the conundrum. I guess it boils down to the subtlety of body language, the inflections of the voice, the finer nuances to the way their eyes move when they're around you."
"I see....I don't know Michael. Ive never ever allowed my thoughts to go there. You are my priest. It seems sinful to think of you in any other way..."
"While it is permissable in all aspects, it may be... uncomfortable a thought."
"I just have never let myself go there in my mind."
"I'm not in my right mind anyway."
She leaned back on the crate and stared at an overhead fan, absently watching the blades circulating the filtered air throughout the hangar. "It's hard to believe in the word, love. People say it but they rarely ever mean it. Or if they do it isn't the same kind of love that you feel. Zenton loved me. But not enough to do the right thing. My love wasn't enough to keep him from piracy, to keep him in PIE. Garst loved me but we are practically strangers now."
Her gaze drifted over to the slicer he had bought her as their last conversation played over and over in her mind like a bad holo drama on repeat.
"I only came here because I wanted to find you"
"Oh? Well, you found me. Is everything alright?"
"Im leaving the Praetoria by the end of this week, and resigning my commission"
"There isnt a place here for me any more. They aren't fighting the war aggressively enough. They are bogged down in excessive tradition and obsolete strategy while our pilots suffer. New Eden is a cruel place. One must be crueler to survive. I've found many likeminded pilots in the Crusade. We're going to work together to bring death to the enemies of Amarr. Nothing more. Nothing less. No mercy expected and certainly none given. Thats why."
"Oh... I wish you luck."
"Why does everyone keep telling me that.."
"What else would you rather I say?"
"It doesnt matter. I just keep getting a feeling of dejavu."
"No. I guess it doesn't matter at all."
"Everyone acts like im never going to come back. Like im flying into a black hole and nothing anyone could say matters."
"Well what did you say when Zenton left? That he left us, remember? You said he turned his back on us, thats kind of how it feels now. But it doesnt really matter, I hardly ever see you anymore anyhow."
"You belong in PIE Shalee. It seems like you and the rest of the Praetorians are more interested in drinking and carousing than throwing back the barbarians at the gate. So yes, you havent seen me lately. And if all you ever frequent is this bar or that club, I dont think you will either."
"How dare you say such a thing to me. I do my duty, I log plenty of flight hours."
"There is only death left for me Shalee. Death and death again. You have too much to live for. You belong with the Praetorians. I'll do the dying so you can keep living your life. Its what I do best"
"Thats not true. Youre no different then any of the rest of us, so don't make yourself out to be some god damned martyr."
"There was a saying that the proctors drilled into our heads at the start and end of every day when I was training in the Theology Council. "Mankind stands on the shoulders of the martyred" Where do you think the martyrs come from Shalee? Thanks to this cu...gift of immortality, I get to fight in ways that previous generations have only dreamed of."
"Fine. Whatever. I hope you're happy wherever you go. Just don't forget about us."
"The only friendship I find is on the battlefield. Im tired of fighting it. Im tired of fighting what I am. A war dog. Nothing more."
"Thats such bullshit. I'm your friend, always have been."
"You said it yourself you never see me anymore."
"Because you are always off with militia. Not because I don't wish to. But. Whatever. It doesn't matter. I really, really do wish you the best...I hope it makes you happy. Anyhow. You know where to find me."
"Yes. With the pirates and scoundrels at the bar. Good bye Shalee. Ill miss you."