I didn’t want to write this.
It felt too much like taking all of the worst traits of these characters and amplifying them into a sordid and depressing story. I very much didn’t want to do that.
But the idea has been niggling at me for months. It won’t leave me alone.
I’ve caved. Fine. I’m writing it.
But this is a very sordid and depressing story.
Master sergeant Hartmann wasn’t certain when he had first begun to notice the cleaning lady. Two years prior, more for the sake of politics than anything else, the General had declared that they were going to improve national security by limiting the soldiers’ access to the Suit, and a civilian was picked out of the Base’s janitorial staff to be the designated caretaker of the military’s top asset. It turned out to be a plain, mousy woman, who quietly devoted herself to the job then faded into the background as another functioning cog, and business moved on as usual.
Hartmann was by far the best at piloting the Suit. Although it was obviously alien technology, he had an intuitive understanding of how to operate it, and was consequently given all of the important missions. He had already been considered something of a hero due to his ‘bravery’ and ‘leadership’ beforehand, but the Suit had skyrocketed him to the status of a superstar. He was worshiped by those below his rank, and greatly respected by those above. It was unspoken, but everyone pinned their hopes of winning the war on his abilities, and he was more than willing to accept the mantle.
Yet, somehow, the moments he had spent basking in the adulation of a job well done melted away as the cleaning lady took up more and more of his awareness.
There were moments when it was comical to watch her, a slim 5’4” woman standing on a stepladder with a soapy sponge, contrasted against the 12-foot mecha that she rigorously scrubbed. However, when she worked on detailing the interior, it stung to realize that she was more intimately familiar with the Suit than he was. He felt like the interloper, good for a wild ride before the Suit returned home to its loving family. He never had the liberty to simply touch and examine the Suit, no matter how much time he spent inside.
To make it worse, the cleaning lady was completely unaware of him. Hartmann was attractive and muscular, with sandy blonde hair and sharp eyes, and took it for granted that women would preen and flirt as they competed for his attention. The cleaning lady, however, never smiled or brushed her hair behind her ear; her eyes slid over him as if he was any other uniform in a sea of soldiers. He had even bumped into her deliberately to see her reaction, but she had tersely apologized then skirted around him, never quite managing to raise her eyes to his face during the entire exchange. The other soldiers had snickered, and someone had said, “I guess you aren’t her type,” as Hartmann stared after her, his face hard.
That was two strikes against her.
In between missions, he kept an apartment off Base, and he liked to amuse himself by taking out a few of his buddies to pick up women at bars and clubs. The thrill of simply bedding them had vanished years ago, but he still got his kicks out of playing with them. He had developed a good eye for finding the ones that were attractive enough to be worthwhile, but still had the shadow of desperation that spoke of a willingness to do anything. That night, he imagined that he had the cleaning lady in his clutches, and pushed the woman to a level of filthy that he had never gone to before. Unsatisfied with how easy it had been to control and degrade her, he sent her away from his apartment with one of his friends, and from the way she giggled he knew that she was up for another round of debauchery.
Alone, he knew the folly of his fantasy. The cleaning lady was the sort who spent her evenings curled up with a book and a glass of wine – she would never be under his power.
So he watched her. He watched her clean his Suit, watched her love what should have been his, all the while knowing that she was untouchable. The cleaning lady was ranked above him, the master sergeant.
And that was strike three.