Erna Was Here
A Short Story by R.M. Kelly
“Does it matter when there’s no choice?” Erna asked, hands slamming down on what had once, a year ago when she first deployed, been her desk. Now it lay covered with documents of her test patients. A monument to the tests she’d conducted in this room.
“There’s always a choice left, somewhere outside there’s a chance to not become this,” Uel said, begging Erna with his eyes to hear sense.
“Oh if only I believed that.”
Erna was tall, well over the average five-foot two-inches of the Na-rena. Her long hair, though hidden in braids for her uniform, was a pale sand that turned brown under the right indoor lights. At present though that ill-lit hair was tumbling down her lean back, the brown uniform with those dark slashes of red at the neck mostly off, leaving only her small arms sticking out from the sleeveless muddy and dried blood colored tank. Erna’s breath came in bursts, as though she kept forgetting to breath, having to remind herself of the process.
“What did you do as a girl, for fun?” Uel asked, turning back around to face Erna. His eyes were dark but that spark she'd first seen was still there. Only now the spark lay beneath layers of steal thick enough to build a fortresses upon.
“I took my dolls out to the tree-line and made homes. Believing fairies would land and play with me if I kept ever so still.” Erna wanted to sigh, let out a great breath of air from her lungs at the memory of her childhood spent so beautifully. It was a soft memory that Erna held near her in this time.
“No, but I still look twice at trees in the summer,” Erna replied, smiling at the ability to discuss all those summers spent in the Rainer Mountains dreaming of flying far away from that perfectly regimented life. The life of The Great General’s daughter was not one of ease and daydreaming. Erna got up, moving slowly to the table. Her hands reached out, Erna adjusted a neuron probe and scanned Uel’s head. This had become a familiar exercise.
“Funny what this time will be seen as. Who wins? My side and I’m a hero, your benefactors and I’m hung,” Erna said.
“They wouldn't hang a woman.”
“No? You do see what's going on here don't you?” Erna put down the scanner and sat down again, the data would take time to process, time Erna knew wasn’t going to pass quickly enough to guarantee her survival.
“You served our homeland.”
“Or myself,” Erna told Uel, their eyes meeting between the dark room as an explosive Emp rocked the clinic walls.
“Well, one is the same these days.”
“These days? Uh, sounds odd. In a way this is the best time I’ve ever had. Power, respect, success,” Erna said as she adjusted what was left of her uniform.
“Doesn’t come for free.”
“The world will be cleaner when we’re done here, it will be better if the world is purer, filled with less.”
“It will just be filled with more of the same, the men fighting out there aren't different but for their colors.”
“It is historically true, they reach for more than is right,” Erna replied, standing to look at the data on the screen. The last of her research finely saving to the small, purple cube. The next moment would determine if her people ever saw this data, so painstakingly gathered on the lives of internment camp patients sent her way by harsh and big guards. Erna had often thought she was glad the guards were on her side.
“What are you doing this for?”
“For the chance to be happy with how this place is going.” Erna played with the cube, her small fingers rubbing the edge as she talked with Uel.
“In this? Yes. How could any human find happiness in Genois? I do this so one day, when the bombs cease and the gas is all used I can go home to Nirium and live in the home my grandfather built. So I may watch my children grow into adulthood without the fear of these people. You reach for so much power, all that matters, and someone has to control your people.”
“And your great fleet doesn’t wish for too much power?” Uel asked, wanting to grab the woman in front of him and make her understand.
“All men are wicked if given the chance, only degrees separate animals from society’s downfall.”
“I fear you’ve become my downfall, Erna,” Uel said, pushing off the table to look down at the woman in a uniform once worn proudly.
“Don’t say stupid things.”
“Someone so beautiful,” Uel pulled Erna to his side, garbing her wrist roughly, ”So smart and yet you see us only as they tell you to. Is peacetime so important that you give up your reason?”
“What you don’t see is it’s all I have left.” Erna knew this was true, she had cocooned her mind in a perfect package of purpose to survive the camp and the cold eyes of the patients she scanned and studied everyday.
“I fear when this is done you will not be able to live with what you have done here.”
“Only the weak succumb.”
“Only the weak? How much strength does it take for these people to wake up each morning knowing one of these days will be their very last one? They look at you and smile knowing you’ve become their angel of death. Tell me, Erna, could you smile at someone like you?”
“I can smile when I’m told to. I can smile when I need to.”
“I hope you can. I pray for you that a day comes when there is no need for all the hate you’ve grown so high around your heart.”
“Know what I pray for? That it ends, but God doesn’t grant Death’s wishes.”
Uel held Erna in his arms, her head above his and yet she felt a rare protection being held by the traitor of the war. Strange what traitors turned out to be like when you came face to face with one; they were not nearly as evil and powerful as Erna had always believed. The internment had withered Uel to a shadow of his past glory but Erna could see what the articles, news casts and speeches had shown clearly years before; a man who stood above others not to rule but to help because Uel could not understand how a person did anything other the right thing.
“When you were a girl those eyes weren’t as cold as they are now. You’ve given something that can never be returned,” Uel said, looking painfully into Erna’s face and wishing he could see her eyes better in the descending darkness.
“The war’s taken from everybody.”
“Nearly time then?” Uel asked.
Erna looked at Uel with sorrowful eyes, giving a glimpse of what they once held. That spark that had been held brightly in the two blue orbs, they'd fought hard to stay bright but the endless battles across worlds alien to Erna had burnt the spark out. Uel believed in his way of seeing through people that a spark can't be burnt out, just dimmed and he'd find a way to prove himself right.
“I know what they look like,” Erna said, turning her body into Uel’s and kissing him softly, lingering over his face as though she might not ever get the chance again, ”I know what stares back in the mirror.”