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The_Harmacist

The Truth About a Liar

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An Excerpt From the Mind of Dorian Elswood

Part I: An Honest Liar 

 

I lie. I lie a lot, and I tell my lies for any number of reasons. I don’t mean to say that I am disingenuous, or that I am strictly dishonest. I know it seems counter to my opening statement, but it is true--that much is true, anyway. Here, maybe if I explain a little you’ll catch the gist of what I mean.


What people see, and what goes on inside my head are two very different things. In fact, it might be accurate to say that “Outer Dorian” and “Inner Dorian” are two different people. Both of them are Dorian, but they don’t quite match up. Outer Dorian is confident, self-assured, sarcastic, and witty. I like Outer Dorian, he’s who I want to be--a colorful, spirited, extroverted kind of guy. Inner Dorian is who I’m afraid to be. He’s unsure, scared, and scatterbrained. Inner Dorian is terrified of any situation out of his hands, and he strives to always keep a hand on the steering wheel. These two facets of the so-called “Complete Dorian” are usually at odds. So, I lie.


Wait, roll it back a little bit. It’s probably not as clear as I want it to be, so maybe I should start a bit further back. Perhaps I should start with where my whole journey began? Or is that too boring? I’ll risk it, let’s take a look.

 

***

 

Sigma Octavius is a small system you’ve probably never heard of. It consists of a star, two planets, and assorted small moons. Sigma Octavius II, a “garden world” as they called it, played host to Armadi, a fledgling industrial colony dedicated to the manufacture of weapons and military equipment. Why post such an important startup in such a small, insignificant system? Due to its proximity to Sanctuary, of course. It proved more logistically sound to manufacture weapons in an adjacent system than to ship them in to the resource-hungry Sanctuary system. Maybe you can already see where this is going, but on a Saturday morning like any other, I was completely unaware of what waited just around the metaphorical corner.
 

“Dorian? That you rummagin’ around in the kitchen?” A long career in the Mobile Infantry conditioned my father into mode of speech that consisted in large part of barks and growls. Combined with a deep, raspy voice that one would only expect from a man who gargled with gravel after brushing his teeth, my dad sounded angry at all time. I knew better, of course, but most everyone else found him intimidating.

 

“Yeah,” I called, bent over at the waist the scour the refrigerator for worthwhile leftovers to eat. “Just woke up.”


“You gotta stop sleepin’ in so late, kiddo,” my dad grumped. “I get that it’s summer and all, but Soleil, Tatiana, and Cadence all vid-called this mornin’ to say ya didn’t answer your PDA. An old man gets tired of fieldin’ calls from young girls lookin’ for his son.”


I had ever been a “girlfriend” sort of guy. The security of a relationship appealed to me for as long as I could remember. I wanted to be part of something that shared mutual care and support--maybe because I spent so much energy taking care of my chronically ill little sister. Not to say I was some sort of user or serial-dater. It just so happened that I made friends easily with women, and if (and, more often than not, when) things did not develop into a romantic involvement, I still managed to stay close friends with them. My dad had always been ignorant of my romantic adventures, though I always suspected he chose to keep it that way.


“Shit,” I sighed. “I was supposed to meet’em at the park like an hour ago.” My mind has always been keen when it came to technical matters and theory. I knew more about the M.I., their weapons, their tactics, and general matters of science than veteran soldiers thanks to my dad. However, with a skull so packed full of information, I tended to be eternally scatterbrained.


“Well, I need ya to pick up your sister from the clinic,” dad said, or rather, instructed. “I know your mother was supposed to pick’er up, but she got word from Mrs. Dobier that Mr. Dobier passed away last night. She went to the store to get some groceries to make a sympathy dish.”


I sighed again; it was a tired sort of sigh, not the frustrated kind. I will always be grateful that my father knew the difference between the two, as we might have argued a lot more. Taking care of my sister was a full-time job with my mother working and my father too decrepit to do anything but sit and collect his Federation benefits. It fell to me to take care of Lisette, and ended up as the primary reason I had yet to join the M.I. like my father. With my head so filled with the wisdom imparted upon me by dad, it felt like a waste to play nanny all the time.


“Yeah, alright, I got ya,” I said, closing the fridge. Food could wait, and maybe Soleil would want to get food--if she wasn’t mad at me, that was. I went to slip on my shoes before heading towards the door, but my father stopped me before I reached the knob.


“Dorian, before ya go, could ya grab my PDA off the end table there? Thanks.” I looked back and saw my father pointing with his biotech left hand at the end table beside the couch. Dad lost the same leg and had it reattached twice, so in his old age it gave him real hell. Stepping back into the living room, I scooped the PDA off the table and handed it to my dad before making my way back to the front door. Those were the last words I ever head from my father, and I feel somewhat robbed. We shared no final words of affirmation, no lasting kernel of wisdom to live by. We didn’t even leave off on a sour note with which I could have been bitter. Just a simple, everyday request--the last thing my father said to me.


“I’ll be back with Lisette, then I’m goin’ out with Soleil and the gang!” I called back through the door as it closed behind me.

 
No sooner had the latch caught did I have my PDA in hand. My fingers punched up my contacts and brought Soleil’s information up. Tapping the vid-call button, it rang once before the feed picked up. An adorable redhead with enchanting green eyes and the most endearing freckles appeared on my PDA. Despite her pouting face, I could not help but smile at her.


“Dorian Tyler Elswood, you are so late right now!” The soft curves of her face, framed by her long and fiery mane, made it near impossible for Soleil to appear intimidating. “We’ve been waiting here forever!” She turned her PDA to face a pair of other girls, both sporting short brown hair and hazel eyes. Tatiana, however, stood six inches taller than Cadence and sported an athletic frame in contrast to Cadence’s petite build. Both girls crossed their arms at the camera, eyes narrowed with artificially inflated frustration. Sure, they were probably annoyed at him, but none of the little cadre stayed mad very long.


“I know, I know,” I said, offering my most sheepish smile. “I forgot to set an alarm. Forgive me, oh Mighty Maiden of the Flamin’ Mane!” My smile crept into a grin, and Soleil couldn’t help but smile as she rolled her eyes at me. Of all the girls that I ever tried to forge a relationship with, none of them had proven too difficult for me to make an attempt. Something about Soleil, however, made it impossible for me to take that final step. In retrospect, I think I was actually afraid of her saying no. More than afraid--more like terrified. She might have been my first experience with so-called "true love."


“So, you’re coming now, then?” She arched a brow at me, trying her best not to sound hopeful. I felt a strong suspicion in that moment that if I were to work up the gumption to ask her out, she would have said yes. The feeling disappeared in a heartbeat, shouted down by the little voices in my head begging the question “what if you’re wrong, idiot?”


“Uh, well,” I looked away from the screen; I could feel my cheeks reddening as warmth spread across my face. “I gotta be a little bit later. Lisette is at the clinic for her treatment, and I need to take her home.”


“Oh, of course! That’s ok, we can wait for that, obviously!” Soleil’s expression softened. A lot of my friends seemed to find it endearing that I took care of my sister, but Soleil seemed to adore Lisette, too.


“Shouldn’t be long I promise!” Again that unconscious grin played across my face, and I felt a bit foolish for smiling so wide. Thankfully, she beamed back at me, putting that bit of embarrassment to rest.


When we hung up, I jogged the rest of the way to the clinic and right up into the main lobby. Lisette, the spitting image of my mother, waited in her wheelchair. Her long, chestnut brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail--an unusual choice for her, I recall. She stared down at her PDA, not seeing me enter the building.


“Hey, Liss,” I said, coming up beside her chair. “How’d it go?”


“It’s too hot,” she complained. “The process already feels like suffocatin’, with this heat it’s unbearable!” My sister looked up at me, deep bags of fatigue beneath her eyes. It took a lot of effort not to frown. Cystic Fibrosis is a messy disease, and it makes it difficult to breathe in the best circumstances. Sweltering heat and humidity were rough on her, and I could see in her face that she underplayed how bad she felt.


“Well, the sooner we get ya home, the better,” I said, smiling at her. “We get goin’ before the midday heat catches up, and then we get ya settled in to your nice, climate-controlled room.” I stepped behind her wheelchair and started pushing before I even finished speaking. At the time, I admit, I just wanted to get her home so I could go hang out with my friends. Being older than college age while living at home made me itch for a taste of any freedom I could get my hands on.


A few minutes of silence passed us before Lisette glanced back over her shoulder at me, an inquisitive look in her eye.


“You’re movin’ awfully quick,” she accused, an almost amused tone coloring her words. “Got a hot date or somethin’?” Lisette smiled impishly at me. My little sister liked to tease me about all my female friends--especially Soleil due to my mistake in confiding in her how I felt about the redheaded spitfire.


“I’m meetin’ up with Soleil, Tatiana, and Cadence after I get you settled at home.” I told her the truth, no point in lying at that point. Note, we are still at the point in which I spoke more truths than lies. Lisette laughed, shaking her head at me.


“Doesn’t it get awkward hangin’ out with two of your ex-girlfriends and the girl you wish was your girlfriend at the same time?” Like my father, she did not seem to understand my penchant for friendships with the opposite sex.


“No, not really.”


Lisette had been about to respond when warning klaxons began to blare. Little red lights started flashing atop the light posts, and I distinctly remember thinking to myself “well, isn’t this disruptive.” My first, stupid thought had been to consider how these warning sirens would impact my plans.


“Attention! All residents are to report to their local evacuation sites immediately.” An automated voice played from speakers I could not spot from where I stood. “Your local evacuation site is: Hyde Square. Do not return to your homes. Do not pack any bags. I repeat: all residents are to report to their local evacuation centers immediately.”


The hand of panic squeezed my lungs shut, I struggled to pull in any air at all. Then, I caught sight of my little sister’s face. Wide-eyed and fearful, she looked to her big brother for guidance. For the first time I could remember, I shoved my concerns deep inside and pulled a veneer of calm confidence across my face. Lisette needed me to get her to safety.


“Alright, let’s go,” I said, and my voice sounded foreign to my own ears; the bottle panic in my head could not reconcile the demeanor I wore with what I felt.


“But, what about mom and dad?” She sounded as frightened as she looked, and I could see the uncertainty of it all taking its toll on her already strained respiration.


“Don’t worry, just focus on keeping calm and breathing normal,” I said, pushing her wheelchair along at a jogging pace. “I will get you to the evac site and go back to check on mom and dad.” She seemed satisfied with the answer, or if she wasn’t, she didn’t say anything else.


Overhead, Federation aircraft zipped overhead, screaming off in the opposite direction from us. At first I thought I heard thunder, but the more educated part of my brain interjected. Explosions; those were definitely explosions. I started jogging faster, and more people began to flood the street moving towards the evacuation site.


Everything blurred together in the mess of bodies streaming towards the evac site. Thankfully, everyone on the move fit into the designated zone. At the time I thought it was because the city planners did a good job of dividing up the residential districts with a reasonable number of evac zones. Looking back, however, I now believe it was due to the tireless work of the M.I. organizers and Fleet pilots that kept the evacuation running.


It was a stroke of luck in my favor when I arrived at the evac site and recognized one of the M.I. troopers assisting the residents. Sergeant Buckol was a friend of my father’s, and I met him on multiple occasions.


“Sergeant! Sergeant Buckol!” I called to him, and to the man’s credit he heard me over the clamor. Recognition flashed in his eyes, and he fought the throng of panicked civilians to get over to us.


“You’re Elswood’s kid! Dorian and Lisette, right?” Buckol needed to shout for us to hear him. “Where’s your parents?”


“I don’t know!” I said, shouting above the roaring crowd. “I need to go make sure Dad gets out of the house, Mom wasn’t home when I left! Can you make sure Lisette gets out?” I felt my heart racing--thudding against my ribs-- but the practiced expression of control had already started getting easier.


“Absolutely, I owe your dad my life!” Buckol came around to the back of the wheelchair and took the grips from me. “I wouldn’t go back out though, it’s about to get bad!"


“You know I have to!” I shot back, shaking my head at the man.


“You really are your father’s son, you know that?”


“What?” Lisette exclaimed. “You’re just going to leave me here?” That fear on her face tightened, contorting into outright horror. She did not like crowds, and being alone with a crowd on the verge of panic felt like a nightmare come to life.


“I told you I had to check on mom and dad, I’ll be right back, ok?” I offered her an apologetic smile, one I hoped also appeared reassuring on some level. Before she could retort, I turned and jogged back against the flow of incoming evacuees. By the time I broke free from the thickest part of the mob my PDA started to ring. Thinking it was my parents, I answered the call without checking who it was.


“Dorian!” Soleil’s voice sounded over the speakers, and I could hear the sounds of panic in the background. “Where are you?”


“Soleil? I’m goin' to check on my parents,” I explained. “I just dropped Liss off at the evac. I didn’t see you there! Where are you?”


“I’m at Youngs Park, remember? It’s in a different residential district from home!” I nearly slapped myself for being stupid. The girls had been waiting for me at the park, of course they would be out of zone.

 

“Where is your evac site, then?” I asked through heavy breaths, my lungs starting to burn as I tried to run and talk.


“It’s the park, luckily! We’ll be first away when the ship arrives.” Relief spilled into my mind like ice water over a sore muscle. My friends were safe, and that meant one less thing I had to worry about. “Dorian? Dorian!” I must have spaced out for a moment, it didn’t feel like very long has passed.


“Yeah, sorry! I’m here!”


“Be safe, ok? Please be careful!” I wanted to tease her for pleading with me. Despite her adorable appearance, Soleil could kick the shit out of me with an arm tied behind her back. A real spitfire, that one, and I loved that about her. I couldn’t muster up the wit, though--not with the situation being what it was.


“I will. You too, ok?” It was all I could manage. I never heard the response. The storefront across the street from me exploded as what I can only assume to be an artillery shell pierced the roof and detonated inside. The concussive force sent me sprawling across the pavement, and bits of glass and gravel bit into my bare arms. My PDA flew free from my fingers and clattered, screen-down, on the pavement. Struggling to my feet, my whole body throbbed as if I were a cartoon character smacked by a croquet mallet larger than me. I stumbled over to my PDA and found it to be nonfunctional. Another explosion rocked the street, a building on the far side of the block erupting in a pillar of fire and smoke.


Adrenaline spiked my blood, and I took off full tilt towards my parent’s house. My ears rang and I could hear my own muffled breathing. All of my extremities tingled with warmth that bordered on discomfort. I had to get home, I had to get home. It was the thought that stuck foremost in my mind--above the pain, above the burning in my lungs, above the blood running down my arms. I. Had. To. Get. Home.


Though when I arrived, it was not home anymore. I saw the smoke before I even came upon the scene, and some part of me already knew what happened. Where my family home once stood, little more than rubble remained. While explosions thundered around me, reducing other homes to ashes and dust, I gawked at the wreckage. My mother’s car sat in the driveway, relatively unscathed by the destruction of the house. Whatever cruel fate presided over the affairs of humanity decided that my mother should return home with the impeccable timing required to die. To salt the wound and add insult to my injury I spied a single familiar item in the wreckage--the scorched remains of my father’s biotech hand. Mom would not have left without him. I knew in my heart that she, too, rest somewhere amidst the ruin.


An overwhelming sense of numbness came over me. I wanted to cry. I wanted to feel something--after all, my parents had just perished in an explosion. I felt nothing but confused and hollow. Who was attacking us? Why? Who cared about this shitty little colony in the middle of nowhere? Another explosion erupted too close for comfort and my instincts kicked back in. I needed to get back to Lisette, she needed me then more than ever.

I wish I could tell you that my return to the evacuation site was heroic, that I dodged explosions and arrived just in time to catch the last evac shuttle. I wish I could say that I saved someone’s life, or that I witnessed some act of bravery. In truth, it had all been a blur. I don’t remember much about it at all. When I arrived at the evacuation site, I caught a shuttle and left my home behind. There were still plenty of people waiting for evac when I left, and I often wonder if they all made it.


There is, however, an image seared into my mind--one I can’t forget no matter how hard I try. Looking out at the devastation below through the small window in the repurposed civilian shuttle, I got a bird’s-eye view of the destruction. Outside the city bullet tracers left angry yellow trails, and small dots scurried around other small dots. As I surveyed the devastation we passed by Youngs Park. The whole thing burned--the grass, the trees, the… corpses. Wreckage of what must have been a shuttle lay strewn about the park, smoldering. An impact crater similar to that which remained of my house took up the majority of the space. I remember an arm laying in the dirt and thinking how odd it was that I could make out that detail from so high up. Just a human arm laying in the dirt, no corpse nearby to speak of.


The evac shuttle took us to a Federation ship on the far side of the planet, and they offloaded us like cattle into a hangar bay already packed wall-to-wall with people. Some time passed before the ship jumped out of system, though I’m not certain exactly how long. I do remember that not many shuttles came after my drop off. A few, but they slowed to a trickle very fast.


Not until much later did I learn what actually happened that day. Civil War had been declared, and seizure of Sigma Octavius II happened to be one of the opening moves. The separatist faction based in Sanctuary would need weapons and equipment to fuel their war effort, and without supplies coming in from other Federation worlds, the industrial complexes of Armadi were imperative to their success. The small contingent of loyalist Federation forces present at the time of the attack managed to tie the separatists up long enough to mount an evacuation of the civilian population. With the exception of the ships carrying evacuees, all the remaining Federation forces remained behind. I’m told they fought to the last.


 At the time, though, I struggled through the haze of confusion and numbness that filled in my head like static. I searched for news on anyone I knew, and the vast majority of it was bad news. Tatiana Moskovi, Cadence Reese, and Soleil Masters all appeared on the list of those confirmed dead. Somehow, I managed to shove my way from the casualty board over to the portable latrines where I vomited hard enough to black out for a few seconds. The dam collapsed, and I finally let loose all those bottled up feelings. Selfishly, I sobbed in the latrine stall for an hour before cleaning my face off and venturing back into the chaos with red, puffy eyes.


The ensuing few days were a jumbled mess of hour-naps, endless inquiries after my sister, and fighting for a bit of food. Shuttles hopped back and forth between the refugee ships, ferrying people to their congregated loved ones on a different ship. Four days after the evacuation the troopers in charge of logistics finally called me up to go meet up with my sister. A short shuttle trip later and we were reunited. We cried together as I told her what happened--to our parents, to our friends, to our home. Then, it happened. It happened as suddenly as one flicks a light switch.


“Dorian? What are we going to do?” Liss asked, not a trace of her usual happiness to be found.


“Don’t worry, everything will be alright,” I lied, and then doubled down. “I promise.” It would not be alright, how could it? Without dad we were just a couple civilian refugees--not even Citizens! How would we pay for her treatments? How would we live and eat? The responsibility to provide for my little sister fell on my shoulders, and what the fuck could I do? Helplessness and frustration bubbled in my gut like a witch’s cauldron while I hugged Lisette and repeated my reassuring lies.


 Not long after I enlisted in the Mobile Infantry. If it would be my responsibility to support Lisette, I would do it in the way I already had a leg up on. Then, should I die, at least she would receive my benefits. I told myself it was for Lisette, anyway--another lie. I did it for me, too. Revenge coursed through me as if the blood in my veins had been replaced with pure hatred. Those bastard separatists would pay for their betrayal--for jumping ship when the Federation needed them the most!


It took far too long for the refugees to get sorted out and moved to new homes, the small group of Federation ships stuck on the wrong side of the battle lines. We needed to take the long way around each and every time while the war raged on without us. When finally we arrived in friendly space, I prepared to ship out right away.


“You’re leavin’ me again?” Lisette played on my guilt, not wanting to be alone again.


“I’m leavin’ for ya, Liss,” I replied, zipping up my bag of meager possessions. “We need the money for your treatments. You’re gonna stay with Aunt Melanie, she’s already got a place for you and she doesn’t have enough room for me, too.”


I knew that what happened broke her spirit--I knew it from the moment we were reunited. The old Liss would have argued with me--would have rebuked my claim or sought some other way to keep us together. Instead, she remained silent for a long while.


“You’re goin’ to be ok, right?” She broke the silence with a question spoken in little more than a whimper. I turned to face her and crouched beside her wheelchair.


“Of course I will,” I said, painting on a fake smile. “And when this is all over, we’ll be together again. I won’t leave ya alone, I promise.” Standing back up, I grabbed my bag and planted a kiss on the top of my sister’s head. Then, I left; just like that I left my sister with a lie in her ears to subsist on--to cling to. I wish I’d told her I loved her before I went, but at the time it was far too difficult for me to lie and then speak the truth in the same breath.


So, I shipped off to boot, the division between Inner and Outer Dorian having solidified with those final, dishonest words to my little sister.
 

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