Where Good Men Stand Chapter One: Ashes
Posted By: Archangel_7<email@example.com>
Date: 25 July 2008, 8:38 am
Part One: Basic
It didn't take Aleksander very long to interpret the situation. As Assistant Floor Manager, it was, in all practicality, his job to stay aware, keeping track of the various circumstances the store could throw his way. Even something as urgent as a fire could be lost to the blind eyes of the managers, so as the floor worker's only liaison to the upper management he needed to be observant and sharp.
His job was a necessary one, but to the corporation he was a completely expendable resource in light of any profit that could be made. Which was why when he found the envelope left casually on his desk he immediately drew a cardboard box from his cabinet and began filing his belongings inside.
After a minute of packing, Aleksander opened the envelope and unfolded the letter inside. "To Whom it May Concern," he read aloud. "As of March 19, 2549, we have deemed that Aleksander Y. Kovalenko's services are no longer required and have terminated his/her employment as of 12:59 PM on this day. Severance benefits can be redeemed at the management office. With regards, AllSMart management."
"No surprises there," he sighed. He continued raking in the last of his sparse possessions and trudged through the door of the office, flicking off the light as he passed.
Without speaking he turned and shuffled down the hall, to the receptionist desks. As he entered he could hear the clatter of keyboards and the warbling drone of the phones ringing nonstop. It occurred to him that this was only the second time he had been inside the room in as many years. Two years, and he had only spoken to the Head Manager's face once.
Two rows of counters lined the walls, with the door to the office directly across. Aleksander noted the sign reading "Benefits and Employee Services" in red above the counter to his left.
The benefits receptionist was a pretty thing: A pale face with full red lips framed by locks of dark brown hair. Her pale blue eyes looked up at him as he approached, and the edges of her lips quivered into a weak smile.
"Hi, how are you?" she said. Aleksander said nothing. Instead, he shuffled to her counter and dropped his box on top of a stack of papers.
"Mind if I put this here?" he said, glumly returning her smile.
"Not at all..."
"Good." He pulled the employment badge from his pocket and handed it across the desk. "My name is Aleksander Kovalenko. I'm here for my severance check."She took the badge from his hand and dropped it into an open drawer next to her.
"Just fill out these forms," she replied, bringing out several papers from the same drawer. Aleksander reached for a pen and began scratching away at the off-white surface.
"I'm sorry," the receptionist said after a minute of silence.
"Sorry for what?" Aleksander did not look up from the forms.
"I just wish there was something I could do, you know?" Her gaze fell down to her desk. "We're having so many people laid off recently, and even I don't know whether I'm going to be here, come tomorrow."
"It's not your fault."
"I know. It's no one's fault. We didn't ask for a war. We didn't ask for tax hiking. I've seen so many people coming into the office I can hardly keep track. The corporations treat us like we're nothing. I don't know. I just. . . I don't know what to say. It all makes me feel so helpless."
"Well, look on the bright side." Aleksander signed the final paper and handed the stack back to the receptionist. "From here the only way we can go is up."
She smiled again, taking the forms. "I hope you're right." She looked up at him with a nervous flicker in her eyes. "This might seem a little odd, but I was wondering. . . you know, if you were free tonight?"
Aleksander laughed. "I wish I was, but it's. . . it's my anniversary."
"That's," the receptionist breathed, "That's sweet. I didn't know you were married."
"I'm not. Not yet, anyway." Aleksander laughed, although he didn't feel much like laughing. "I was hoping, well, that tonight I could change that. But I don't think it would be very appropriate now."
"Well, I hope you have better luck in the future," she said as she handed him his severance check.
The moment was three years ago. A bright summer sun hung above the horizon, washing the landscape with a bright golden light. Aleksander hadn't seen any star compare to Sol since he had left Earth. Not until now. Waves of tall grass surrounded them, with green ripples cascading with the wind. The tree they huddled under shook gently, rustling the leaves.
"I told you it was beautiful," said a quiet, warm voice.
"Well, I guess you had to get something right eventually," Aleksander said. He felt Cassandra's fist ram into the meat of his shoulder. His usually stern expression cracked into a smile as he looked into her dark brown eyes.
"Oh, don't you get mad at me. You know it's true." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her lips scrunched up into a pout and her eyes narrowing. She continued to glare at him as he turned towards her. The cooling breeze suddenly picked up, blowing her hair into a caramel-colored flurry. He couldn't help but laugh as she gasped and tried to stifle her surprise.
He walked over and took her in his arms. The warmth of her body fought against the cool evening air. He could feel the goosebumps running along her bare arms. Her body pressed into his, and she looked up. A tingle of electricity ran down his spine. She smiled gently and closed her eyes. Aleksander closed his and held her tighter against him. For the first time, their lips connected. . .
It was dark by the time he pulled into the driveway. Cassandra's car was gone, although this didn't alarm him. She had said that she would be absent about this time. Aleksander pulled the lever to "Park" and pulled himself out of the car.
He slipped the keys into the doorknob and pushed his way inside, flicking on the kitchen lights as he passed through. He was setting his briefcase down by the phone when he noticed a small yellow note stuck to the wall beside it.
Call me on my cell - Cassandra
Puzzled, he set his coat on the counter and reached for the receiver. After lifting it to his ear, he dialed in her number and waited.
"Hello?" said a familiar voice.
"Cassandra?" he replied. He could hear a faint voice in the background. It wasn't hers. It wasn't a 'her' at all.
"Alex?" It struck him that there was a trace of surprise in her voice.
"If you weren't expecting me to call, why did you leave the note?"
"Oh." She paused. "Listen, Alex, there's something I need to talk to you about..."
"I think I know where this is going. Who is he?"
"What?" He had her cornered. "Listen," she sighed. "I don't know how to say this to you, but"
"You don't have to." He felt a sharp sting in the pit of his stomach. A dreadful warmth crept up from his chest. "Dammit. God fucking dammit. How long have you been messing around on me? Who is it?"
"His name is Stephen," she said. Aleksander felt a wrenching in his gut. "We met two weeks ago."
"You can't be serious." Aleksander stroked his hair back.
"Listen Alex. I love you. You know that"
"It wasn't about love. I love you, but I can't see a future with you. You're smart, you're educated, but you've never done anything with it. You're going nowhere. And you could have gone places. But I can't raise a family with someone who works in a department store. I need something different."
"The only reason I worked there was because of you." A growl of anger scratched at the back of his throat. "We could have had a good life back on Earth. I was in line for a job at the engineering firm, but you wanted to move back to the colonies. You didn't like it there"
"Listen, I didn't know there wouldn't be work out here, but that's not the point. We need something new. We need something to look forward to. We both need to move on. Stephen is a wonderful man, and he's so passionate about his work. He's running for DA. He knows where he's going in life. I'm so sorry. I know how much this must hurt. I'm sure you'll find someone better than me, someone who won't hurt you."
"Bullshit. All you're giving me is bullshit. All these years walking on eggshells to make this work, to make us work. All that time together, everything we've been through, and you just up and throw that all away? Did it mean anything to you?"
"I-I..." She was audibly sobbing now. The sound elicited no emotion in Aleksander. "I'm sorry, Alex. I'm so sorry. I only wish there was some way you could know. You've given me so much. You've made me who I am today. You've made me stronger, and I love you for that. B-but I know you can't forgive me for this. You can't forgive me for something like this, even You deserve someone better than me."
"No." His voice grew colder. "No. Fuck you. You have no right to make that decision for me. Or any other decision. I took you up from that hellhole you lived in. I loved you. I gave you what you wanted. I worked my ass off to scratch out a living. But you throw it all away. Not only that, but you're not making any goddamned sense. You don't even know what you want."
Aleksander pressed the end call key and slammed the phone down, sending it skittering across the tiled floor. A wave of nausea and anger overwhelmed him. Heat ran from his face. A jealous pang racked his insides. Before he could act he crumpled to the floor. "Fuck," was the last word he said before his ranting crumbled into incoherent sobs.
This was it. He was finally here. Aleksander had taken his valuables and put them into storage. Then, he had taken a torch to his house and watched it burn. There was nothing left for him there. Nothing to return to but ashes and memories.
Two flags stood to the sides of the recruitment officer. The familiar Darmusian flag, a four-pointed star emblazoned on a shield, meant nothing to him. It was the UNSC flag that caught his eye. His eyes wandered across it. The golden eagle seal, stamped on a royal blue background. Simple in appearance, yet representing something omnipresent, something utterly in control. Aleksander found the thought unappealing at best. But he knew that was exactly the kind of reality he was in for.
"I don't understand, Mr. Kovalenko," the officer started. "With your qualifications you could easily be part of an engineering division."
"No," he replied. "I want frontline duty. I know you aren't responsible for the decision, but do what you can"
"I'll see what I can do, Mr. Kovalenko, but between you and me, frontline duty isn't where you want to be, especially nowadays." The officer finished entering Aleksander's information into the computer and handed him an envelope. "That's it. All you need to do is report in for a physical, and if you pass you report to this bus stop. All the information you need is in this envelope."
"Great. Thanks for everything." He shook the man's hand and, taking the manilla envelope, stood up from his chair. Turning around, he took one last look at the UNSC flag before walking to the door.
The dull pang of hopelessness washed over him again. It was his fault that he was alone now. He couldn't see it any other way. He hated himself for leaving Earth. He hated himself for never amounting to anything. How could he not have seen it coming? All this time he had trusted himself, he had trusted his ability to foresee what was coming. But he hadn't seen this. Fortune had reduced him to nothing.
The only comfort he could take was knowing that chance was fair, if brutally so. It could change. All he could think to do now was throw the ashes to the wind and see where that chance took him.