December 23, 2500
Fresh fire lit Tarsonis’ cooling dusk air. The stench of burning alcohol filled Daniel’s nostrils as he watched old firewood and broken glass burn along with several of his favorite beverages. Daniel had brought them out of his chest in the bedroom and used them as fuel for his little campfire positioned on his porch. With a few cough’s from the smoke, Daniel hurled another bottle into the fire. It exploded and a wave of heat passed over Daniel.
“Daniel?” asked a sweet familiar voice from behind Daniel. It was the voice of Ruth Fisher. Jennifer’s closest friend. Though Ruth never truly approved of Daniel’s relationship with Jennifer, she knew it made Jennifer happy. Most of the time. The two shared a special bond when she died. Mourning together day and night drew them close. They put their differences aside and honored their old friend.
Clearly Daniel had no intention of answering to his name, so Ruth expounded on her question a little more.
“What are you doing?”
“Just sitting here with my beer, you know me.” Daniel replied without giving her a glance.
“Aren’t you supposed to drink the beer – not burn it?”
“Yeah, well.” Daniel hurled another bottle into the fire with all his anger. “I’ve never been one to follow the crowds.” Ruth picked up one of the dozens of bottles laying around Daniel’s porch and examined it’s label. It was expensive Umojan imports. She exhaled deeply and set the bottle back down. Though she had hundreds of questions, she knew Daniel would answer them the same way he had been. So she resorted to sitting on the ground beside Daniel.
“Are you still a doctor?” Daniel turned asked after minutes of silence. Ruth was taken aback by the random question and frowned.
“Nurse. I’m still a nurse, yes.” Daniel had always called Ruth a doctor even though she’d been a nurse her whole life.
“Are my eyes bloodshot?” he asked, giving no attempt to widen his eyes. She examined each one individually as her glance darted back and forth between Daniel’s eyes.
“They’re a little bloodshot, why?” Daniel looked back at the fire, refusing to answer. Ruth was no psychologist, but this was particularly odd behavior – even for Daniel. Ruth knew Bill had been trying to convince Daniel to rescue the little girl. They had a particularly interesting conversation when Bill was in the “hospital.” Ruth had been his nurse. Considering there were only three nurses and Ruth knew Bill personally, it wasn’t a far stretch.
It was Bill that resurrected Ruth’s faith in Daniel. Despite Daniel turning down Bill’s multiple offers, he still knew there was a hero in Daniel. The same hero that fought against aliens and then resigned to protect the innocent.
Ruth was skeptical, but had to admit she felt bad for Daniel. The two had been disconnected after Daniel picked up his drinking habits and Ruth moved on with her life. Now Ruth had returned to see if there was anything salvageable in their friendship. She wondered how much influence she had on Daniel.
“So” Ruth cleared her throat. “Has Bill spoken to you recently?” Daniel remained frozen for roughly ten seconds before he angrily hurled another bottle of alcohol into the fire.
“Why?” He eyed Ruth suspiciously.
“Just wondering. He seems to be doing much better since he was attacked by that hydralisk.” Daniel sighed and pushed his fingers into his eyes. He knew where this was going.
“Have you heard of the little girl whose missing?” Daniel picked up another bottle and threw it in the fire.
“Bill’s tried to convince me to go after her today.”
“And what did you say?” Daniel picked up another bottle and read the label before tossing it into the fire. All the other bottles he had hurled, this one was gently tossed. Ruth wondered why for a moment, then dismissed it when Daniel spoke up.
“Heroes don’t retire, Daniel.”
“Yeah, well I’m not a hero.” Daniel eyed another bottle before tossing it in. Ruth wanted to encourage Daniel, but didn’t know where to start. She knew he was some kind of war hero, but he probably didn’t want her bringing up the war. It was too recent to bring up, too fresh in his mind.
“You would be to that little girl.” Ruth argued without her mind’s consent.
“Look, I’m retired and I’m not a hero.” Daniel made eye contact with Ruth for a long while before breaking it to throw the last bottle into the fire. He took a long stare at it before letting it slip from his fingers into the flame.
“Besides” he took a pause, “It would be a suicide mission anyways.” Those words reminded him of several other suicide missions he had undertaken in the military.
“It’s beside the point. You are the only one capable of even having a shot at rescuing her and you know it.” Daniel remained silent. She was right about one thing – Daniel did have the most combat experience out of any other possible rescuer. Especially against the zerg.
Standing up, Ruth walked through the front door of Daniel’s old shack. The door had been left ajar since Daniel started the fire on his porch. Daniel heaved a sigh and watched his alcohol burn. It had caused him so many problems in life. Jennifer would still be alive if it wasn’t for the cursed drink. At the same time, it was a useful tool Daniel used to forget several memories. So many unwanted memories.
Memories of the war. Memories of the zerg. Memories of cold, dark nights alone with nothing but a name and a gun against an unforgiving, unending enemy. The zerg had killed too many of his friends. The zerg destroyed everything he ever knew. Tightening his hand into a fist, Daniel squeezed his anger out of the air. A scowl grew onto his face. The sound of Ruth’s footsteps was enough to wipe it off. He didn’t want her asking questions or bringing up unwanted memories.
Ruth returned with a dusty old photograph in a frame. Daniel recognized the frame. He had intentionally struck it from his wall. How Ruth found it would remain a mystery to Daniel. Maybe he never remembered to pick it up off the ground? After all, he was drunk.
“See this man?” Ruth asked, holding the picture level to his eyes. It was a photograph of him and his platoon. Ruth was pointing to a young man Daniel recognized as himself a few years ago. “That man is a hero.” Daniel saw the picture, but wasn’t looking man at the tip of Ruth’s finger. He was looking at the other faces that never got the chance to age.
“See every other man in that photograph?” Daniel asked, raising his misty and bloodshot eyes to Ruth’s. “Every other man in that photograph dies the day after it’s taken.” Ruth’s heart sank. She knew she had stepped in it now. Daniel’s tone had changed into a furious one.
“The camp we were at, Camp Englebright, was a burning heap of rubble the very next day and I’m the only person who knows why!” Daniel’s lower lip quivered as emotions ran through him unshackled.
“I was on watch duty and passed out after drinking one too many. I woke up to screams!” Daniel was on the verge of bursting. Ruth knew it was a mistake bringing up the past. How could she be so stupid?
“The screams of my friends!” Daniel continued, “My friends who trusted me to do one task! One simple !@#$%^- task!” Silence befell the two. The fire crackled.
“Daniel, I am so sorry.” Ruth fell to her knees and did everything in her power to refrain from crying. This was all her fault. Why did she have to be stupid enough to bring up the past?
“Those men” Daniel shook his head. “Those men deserved better.” Daniel hurled the last drop of alcohol into the fire. A large crash followed by a burst of flame ensued.
“I had no idea, Daniel, I am so sorry.” Ruth tried to pick up the shambles of her emotions. How could she be so inconsiderate? So naïve? So selfish! Daniel reconnected eye contact with Ruth.
“I’m not a hero.” He said softly, his voice broken up with emotion. Ruth understood now. All became clear. So incredibly clear. Ruth inhaled through her recently congested nose causing an audible sniffle. She let the photograph slip from her fingers onto the wooden deck. She was in no shape to continue “encouraging”, but she felt like she had to. The other option was to leave. She couldn’t abandon Daniel in good conscience.
“You may have made mistakes in the past, but you can’t let that dictate what you do with yourself now.” Ruth pleaded. Every cell in her body wanted to run. She wanted to flee the discomfort emanating from Daniel. Daniel drilled Ruth.
“Haven’t you done enough?” He croaked. “That picture is one of many.” Ruth stuttered over combinations of several defensive excuses before silencing herself. She knew she should just leave.
Rising to her feet, Ruth looked down the road. It was roughly a ten minute walk back to her house. The distance didn’t bother her as much as the consequences for leaving. If she left, Daniel might never come around. If she stayed… Ruth didn’t know what would happen if she stayed. She couldn’t stay.
Ruth put one foot in front of the other and began her journey back home. She paused when one last retort came to mind. One that could mean Ruth’s demise, or Daniel’s ascension. No. It was too risky. The last thing she wanted to do w-
“What would Jennifer have you do?” The words escaped her lips without her mind’s consent. She meant what she said, but only a fool would say it at the time she did. Biting her tongue, she continued down the road.