This whole story is one giant BO3 campaign spoiler. Turn back now if you don't want to know more details about the game.
Good? Alright, cool. This story begins immediately after the mission "Demon Within" and goes…well…a lot further than that. I hope you enjoy.
It wasn't the first time he had asked himself the question, but it may have been the first time he couldn't answer it, and not even a little.
What were they doing, really?
Fighting the NRC and the robots, that was normal. That was what he signed up to do. They were the bad guys. His perspective on that hadn't changed on that. No 54i ultimatum or DNI virus was going to convince him they were the good guys. He could think up an excuse for that.
But this time…no. No way. They told him that he very well might see his friends die, but they never said he would have to kill his friends. That wasn't supposed to happen. You weren't supposed to have to do that.
Hendricks had been right, for once. Hall wasn't even bleeding out; she would have easily survived had he helped her. Right? He could've done that. He could've done that instead of killing her. Instead of forcing her to confront the torture that was a DNI-enhanced subconscious.
"Is this Hell?" she had said. He knew it was Hell. And he was the one that brought her there. Maybe the virus, whatever it was, had been the start of all this, but he let it happen. He made an innocent person go through Hell and then killed her. Killed her. He had killed her.
It still didn't feel real. Not as real as when he was in there.
"Was it worth it?" Hendrick had snarked.
He wasn't going to admit to Hendricks that he had done something wrong. Not now. Not after the way he acted – the way he had tried to discourage him from saving her.
He had shut himself in his chambers at the safe house that night and gone just about mad. He questioned everything he had done up until that point, and everything he was going to have to do. This man, who had tried to stay as stone-faced as possible all the time, was bawling his eyes out, mentally damning himself for his own actions, knowing that he, soon, would find himself in the same Hell that she was in. Except there would be no escape. No merciful bullet to end the suffering. He would be there forever, tormented by the ghosts he's made. The DNI would ensure that this nightmare would be as realistic as possible.
And maybe he deserved it.
Kane had initially considered trying to talk to him remotely. But the circumstances made that a dicey choice. He seemed to be hearing voices that weren't there; or maybe ones were there. She knew that adding another to the mix wouldn't help.
She had questions of her own. She knew first-hand that the DNI procedure made its hosts considerably less…human. And not purely from a mechanical standpoint. John became almost completely devoid of emotion. There was no consideration of…feelings. No. Those would only hold the mission back. Take the focus away from what's important. As if emotions were worthless enough to cast aside for another morally ambiguous covert operation.
Sure, Diaz and Maretti remained their usual goofy selves, and Hall still acted like she was in the academy, but everything was more...reserved. Like a dial had been turned down a notch. Or a few notches.
She didn't know Hendricks before the surgery. Not enough to get a gauge of his personality, anyways. At first, he would show some signs of humanity. He wanted to save those civilians in Singapore. But his demeanor didn't last. Even before he interfaced with Diaz…things were starting to turn south. His constant outbursts of cursing and rage were not at all characteristic to the attributes described in his file.
Complacent, controlled, content. That was the report on Hendricks from his commanding officer at West Point. Almost none of that to be found today.
But, Kane thought, there was an anomaly that seemed to utterly defy this trend.
He had kept his head level on missions, not risking the compromise of the objective, not even to save the lives of two civilians from the 54i (albeit inevitably doomed ones, though). But he had done something more compassionate, more indistinguishably human than anyone else she knew.
Kane knew that Paszek was still a human under there. He had to be.
She knocked on the door. Immediately she heard a few hasty clicks of the keyboard and the faint sound of a chair grating against the floor.
He opened the door, beginning to speak before he even knew who was behind it. His hand covered his eyes and the bridge of his nose.
"I'm sifting through some intel right now, so unless this is urgent business…"
He removed his hand from his face, revealing Kane to be standing in the doorway.
"Oh...it's you...come on in..."
"It's okay if you don't want to..."
"No...I need to talk this through with…and, uh, right now…I trust you more than anyone else here, so…"
Kane flashed a brief smile. A subtle one, at that, but enough to show her approval of his statement.
He shut the door as soon as she entered.
Paszek took a seat on his cot, while Kane sat in the chair next to the computer, spinning it around so they faced each other.
"You told me…right after you interfaced with her, it was like walking through her nightmares. What…what does that mean?"
"Hall, she told me…a long time ago…that when a person with a DNI dies, their mind has this…dying dream. I think that's what it was. The whole time…it was just a mess…a mess of her memories and fears and emotions. She wrote a report on the Bastogne – we were at the Bastogne. She had nightmares about these monsters – they attacked us."
Kane opened her mouth to speak, but Paszek shook his head to indicate that he wasn't quite finished yet.
"And…and we weren't alone. When Taylor's team went down into the Hypocenter, they interfaced with the mainframe, and they…they caught something from it. A virus. It's alive. It's been feeding on them…or something, I don't know. But it's been controlling them. Forcing them to do things. That's why they went rouge! Why they massacred those people at the safehouse!"
"…What? Like…a computer virus? It did…it's doing that?"
"It could talk to us. It just always…there…lurking. It didn't sound like a human. None of this would have happened if I hadn't…"
"No. No, you are not doing this right now. This is not your fault."
"But it is! I was the one that interfaced with her! You know what I did while I was in there? I killed Hall. Her mind was still hanging in there, but she asked me to end it. I killed her."
"I was the one that ordered you to interface..."
"I didn't have to listen! Hendricks was already affected by the virus; I could have asked him to do it! I could have gotten a medic, could have done something to help…and it wouldn't have been nearly as painful."
"And we wouldn't know where to find Taylor."
"I...yeah, sure…but…I can't help feeling guilty about all this. You know…" He lifted his hands and clenched them halfway, as if he was going to continue that thought, but he put them back down and closed his mouth.
But Paszek realized he had yet another mental despair to discuss. This one being a bit graver.
"The reality is that I'm infected now, too. How do we stop this thing?"
"When we find Taylor, that should tell us everything we need to know, right?
"But what if we don't? What if we never catch Taylor? Even if we do, what if he doesn't want to talk? Or interfacing makes the problem worse? There's still so much that we don't understand."
"In the very...the most...bleak...case, we can purge your DNI...or surgically remove it. It would get rid of anything lurking in the DNI, but it's affect on your thoughts is...unknown."
"But what do we think it does?"
"Wipes your memory...you would lose all the experiences you had while your DNI was in."
"I…I got this five years ago. Everything from then on? Gone?
"I…can't let it come to that. There are lots of things I wish I hadn't seen...but I've learned more than I could ever afford to lose."
He had wanted to say something more…but he knew this wasn't the right time. They were in the middle of a war. How could he be so selfish to think that his feelings mattered, in the grand scheme of things? This wasn't relevant. This wouldn't help him. This wouldn't help them.
On second thought, no. This is what he had been doing for years now. Suppressing all his thoughts so he would look strong. That's what the WA wanted. Maybe that's why they gave him the DNI.
He wasn't sure how much longer he would be able to think for himself, and for his friends, for that matter. He had to make it count.
"Do you know why I ran into the safehouse?"
Paszek lowered his eyebrows as she continued.
"I mean…I told you not to come for me. You had a mission objective to follow. More importantly, you were ordered to stay as far away from the safehouse as possible."
"And…and look…I don't mean it that like…I can't…I can never thank you enough for coming back. For saving me. But…yeah…I don't know why you did it. Were you trying to follow protocol? Or break it? Did you even know…did you even think I was alive?" she continued.
Protocol? That was rich. If only he had been a good little solider and followed protocol in the first place. Then maybe he wouldn't even be here in the first place. None of this would have even happened. None of it.
"No. No…I didn't know. In fact, just about all the signs pointed to you being dead. Not two minutes earlier there was a huge explosion near the front of the building. Hendricks…he said we had to get out of Singapore. He said that you were dead, that there wasn't even a chance. And you know what?"
He paused for a second and stared Kane down.
"A part of me believed him. Wanted to just turn around and go home. It just kept saying…kept saying 'protect the mission, protect the mission'…"
"I still don't get it." said Kane.
"Because there was a part of me that wouldn't believe it. Part of me that could not exist knowing you were dead."
"There are lots of things I could deal with forgetting...my training, all the people on Taylor's team, hell, even growing closer with Hendricks. It…wouldn't be easy…but I could do it. I could do it."
"I can't describe it a way that doesn't sound insane…" he trailed off. "When…I when heard you were in there. When I saw the flames…I just…lost it. I felt so many emotions at once, it was just…fear and anxiety and anger and just this…attachment. This attachment to you. I felt it. I don't know why. I can't rationalize it. But it was for you. All of it was for you. It was genuine! Genuine emotion! Genuine passion! You did that. You did that for me."
He covered his face with his hands. He was ashamed of what he said. He was going to have to apologize later. Could he be that stupid? That absent-minded?
Kane was a bit taken aback. She had her suspicions that Paszek was interested in her...but to that degree? It was certainly heartfelt...the cold atmosphere of the CIA and the even colder world around it didn't exactly encourage this level of emotion. She did feel a particular level of sentiment for him...camaraderie…respect. Was there a hint of anything else? She can't say she hadn't toyed with the idea once or twice…but…it was nothing. An innocent, naïve, little fantasy. Having a nice home out in the middle of nowhere. She'd had a million nigh-identical ones before.
Kane knew that whatever was going to happen in the next few days would change Paszek forever. It would likely change the whole world, too. That wasn't to be taken lightly.
"Whatever it is…whatever is keeping you…well…you…whatever's keeping you human. Keeping you on the right side of all this. I'll do everything…I'll do anything to make sure it holds."
Paszek's mouth shaped into a relieved smile.
"You proved that you're here for me. It's only fair…that I'm here for you, too."
"I…" he stalled. "Thank you. Thank you…so much. If you…if…"
Kane shook her head, stood up, and held her arms out. Paszek slowly arched out of his cot and walked directly into her embrace. The hug was loose at first, but she soon pulled him closer. After a few seconds, Paszek reciprocated and wrapped his arms around her.
In that moment, both of them, to a degree, forgot about the problems that faced them and the world around them. In that moment, the only thing that mattered was them…this trust that they had.
It was a damn shame, he thought, that it wouldn't last them for the next three days.
Chapter 1 is the shortest chapter in the entire story. I hope you enjoyed it.