He's from too young a generation to know who Bogart or Bergman are, but he knows the saying. It was, after all, once spoken to him. It is with this memory that he foolishly leads his squad into the ruins of the former capital of France. Paris fell nearly three months ago and, by all accounts, was annihilated. The intelligence reports - human, signal, and image - all agree that La Ville-Lumière is permanently and completely dark.
One light, however, does remain. And the image of a pendant and chain hanging from the neck of a woman lustfully and lovingly hovering above proves far too resilient to extinguish without irrefutable proof.
Master Sergeant Ocean is not a stupid man and his mission has been carefully planned and disguised as a legitimate reconnaissance op. Some of his promotions have been attributed to being the last man standing, so to speak, but an equal number have been granted due to competence and candor. Outside of this one indiscretion, he maintains a reputation for bluntness that those in offices far outranking his - indeed, offices of men and women he's likely to never meet - often give him extra rope with which to tie loose ends... or hang himself. There is a pang of guilt in taking advantage of this reputation for such a personal matter, but ever since the Coalition tore through the coastal European plains - stopped only by a desperate Alliance defense of the Pyrenees - he's been unable to sleep.
She is the last woman he's loved. His favorite. Given his hopeful hopeless romanticism, without her - or the idea of her - he fears his uselessness to the world at large. It is an arrogance to think the universe cares about one small heart wanting another, but such is the nature of men whose pulls of triggers have altered political landscapes.
"Two klick spread. Everything might look dead, chaps, but that doesn't make it so."
Three green lights appear on his VISOR display, signifying acknowledgment from elements Charlie Echo 2, 3, and 4.
"Verify active camo batteries above point-seven-five. We're going to need them," Ocean relays to the response of three more greens.
"Dissipators at full." And still three more. Parts of Paris are still burning, even after this much time, but Ocean is unsure if the fires are hot enough to cover his team's heat signatures. Bad enough that he could only acquire Talos suits for this recon - the Achilles were far more efficient at moving undetected - but many of their vents had been battle-damaged during whatever previous engagements they were a part of.
"Flares at ready." Only two green lights this time. Ocean is a millisecond away from inquiring of the third when a vocal response is received.
"We've done this before, Captain Obvious."
Ordinarily Ocean would berate such a blatant disregard for transmission protocol, but the response comes from Ioannis, his best soldier and one whose tactical reputation is Ocean's equal. Not only that, but the other two members of the recon come from Ioannis' unit, and their loyalty is clearly to Ioannis and not Ocean. As if driving the point home, the third green appears on Ocean's display.
It proves too much.
Ocean deactivates his disippators and drops his active camo, utilizing all-too-hot and all-too-bright jump jets to close the distance between himself and Ioannis. He imagines three masked "uh ohs" as the two kilometer separation disappears in a matter of seconds.
Not wanting to exacerbate things, Ioannis' Talos maintains its position and he waits for Ocean to jack-in the direct line.
"This is not the time, Ioannis."
"You're not yourself," Ioannis replies, tone respectful of rank, if not of man. "We're heading to Aulnay-sous-Bois, which has no reconnaissance value whatsoever. Care to let me in on what the fuck we're really doing out here?"
Ocean sighs. His irritation subsides, giving way to a crescendo of guilt. There's no point in keeping it a secret at this point.
To Ioannis' credit, he says nothing to the other Talos-operators. Even when Ocean disengages from his Talos' cockpit with a DNA scanner and enters the ruins of what was once an upper-middle-class residence. Instead, Ioannis issues a simple order: "Triangle out, center-point here. Max limit."
The three other Talos' jump away, giving Ocean much-desired privacy under the auspices of a defensive formation. He waits until the others disappear from view, staring through a foyer window that somehow remained intact. When he's finally alone with his ghost, he begins the search.
Finding her body doesn't take as long as Ocean feared. Burnt and rotting, the smell is almost too much to bear. She is unrecognizable in her current state and Ocean cuts off a tissue sample, placing it into the scanner. Holding his breath for the few seconds it takes to analyze, the news is bad... and entirely expected.
What is unexpected is the second body. A man's. Possibly a brother, he hopes, but just as practicality dictates that Ocean returns to his Talos, curiosity results in another analyzed tissue sample. And another.
Ioannis catches up to Ocean back at FOB Azores and notes Ocean's dour expression.
"You find what you were looking for, Master Sergeant?"
"I did," Ocean mutters behind a slow nod.
Something's wrong, and Ioannis knows it. "I'll handle the debrief."
Ocean stands on the banks of Lagoa das Sete Cidades, the charred necklace he found in the rubble of Paris in his hand. He's crying, an activity rare in his lifetime, and falls to his knees.
"We'll always have Paris." A whisper in memory; a scream in imagination.
Fear of being seen forces Ocean back to his feet. He takes a longing glance at the necklace before throwing it into the volcanic lake.
Conscience resolved, Ocean gives thanks that Paris is gone and heads back to the base.
In the months ahead, Ocean formally takes command of Ioannis' unit. It is the beginning of a beautiful friendship and what is recorded in combat reviews as the most effective fighting unit of the war.
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