This story contains suggestive material and language.
“I can see it now.”
Carlos perched his mask on top of his head as the red faded to blue then to dark gray. The dime row bead on the metal was finally prefect. He had finally mastered the speed and feed of the material. Producing the perfect weld. Maybe even better than his brother Ricardo.
Ricardo was a master welder and held the highest levels of certification. He was a respected member of the welding community and had won numerous awards. With all his achievements, he never could shake the responsibility he felt when members of his crew had lost their lives on a welding job. It was ruled not his fault, but he took his responsibility to heart. He held himself accountable.
Carlos had just started his welding career and was almost at the end of his training. He was following in his brother’s footsteps, in a respected, but dangerous career.
With completion of his classes next week, he would be a full fledged member of this honorable profession, with his whole life ahead of him.
Ricardo, was a god, when it came to welding. He had seen and done it all. Now, after the incident, after the demotion, after his shame of letting so many die. The families of his guys, their wife’s and children became is priority. He could not help feeling the weight of those that died. He spent everyday trying to be there for each and everyone of them.
Carlos wanted to be just like his big brother, only better. He never felt his brother was responsible for what happened. He saw, first hand, the raw emotion that consumed his brother. He would be better.
As the material cooled and he wiped the beads of sweat dripping down his face and inside his mask, Carlos smiled.
The now knew the new advanced materials could be welded. His chest swell with pride. No one else had been successful. His hands were now steady and stone strong. His attention to detail had improved to expert levels, he was ready.
Exotic challenges always to come from the older more experienced students in the class. To weld exotics, as they are called, with non-traditional shapes could now be met with ease. His technique was flawless.
His eyes glazed, his mind reclaimed the epiphany he had during this last run. He finally understood why all his previous attempts to complete this bonding had failed. Why the strength of the work never held up. Why his beads failed time after time under the stress of the hammer.
It’s all about the speed, controlled breathing and steadiness of my hands.
After welding pieces together, the first test was the hammer. Failure here meant that the real tests would not be performed.
Ricardo wheeled the hammer like mighty Thor, pulverizing the weak, crashing through anything it came in contact with. Ricardo was strong, and the hammer became godly in his hand.
A dark shadow eclipsed Carlos, blocking out the artificial light overhead. It was his turn to face the hammer. Ricardo came to inspect his work. He looked down at the bead between the two piece of metal, inspecting every milometer. Looking for flaws, blemishes or cracks in the weld. There were none.
Ricardo slowly raised his gaze capturing the puppy-dog stare coming from his younger brother.
“Is it good? Ricardo. Do I pass?”
Carlos expected to fail again, he must have done something wrong, there was a bit of a wobble in the fifth row and it was just slightly wider than a dime. Would his brother notice? Would he make him do it again? Of course he would, every time.
Ricardo showed no emotion as he pulled the hammer from his belt.
When struck crisply, the gray carbon residue that covers the wound, flakes off leaving a beautiful bead. Or it breaks the seal, and the sound of the impact with the floor would wake the dead, and bring fellow classmates criticism.
He would certainly get the, “you’re waste my time” speech from Ricardo.
Carlos crossed his fingers under the table as his eyes followed the arc of the hammer to its target. Time dilatation occurred during the most agonizing half second it took to move from above Ricardo’s head to the vice holding his work.
Be strong! Please be strong.
If birds had been griping the line above the classroom outside, they would have taken flight as the hammer struck the metal and Carlos let out a yell of anguish.
Ricardo’s aim was true and direct. The sound a good weld makes when struck by a hammer is music to a welders’ ears. Somehow, even without and x-ray, Ricardo could hear the strength of a weld. This was a good weld.
“I can’t let you off that easy, Mr. Mendoza. It still needs to past the vibration and x-ray test before I can grade it an ‘A-Level’. However, I will give this one at least a thumbs up.”
Ricardo was joyed inside, but keep his hard-shell demeanor. Not letting the gawking eyes of his other studies see the pride in his brothers work.
Ricardo moved quickly onto his next student, brushing Carlos’s shoulder with his sturdy hand. A signal from his brother of a job well done. Carlos slumped back in his chair releasing all his anxiety with one giant exhale.
“That was weld done.”
Came a sarcastic giggle of a voice from the seat to his right.
Megan was the only girl in Ricardo’s class, but she had proven from the beginning she was out to be the best. Her first four welds had earned her top marks in the class and Carlos was more than a bit jealous of her fine motor skills. Plus her curvy beads weren’t half bad either.
“Maybe at lunch you can take me through your technique?”
Her suggestive banter made Carlos blush.
He was smitten with Megan and she knew it, but he was still to shy to make a move and get on with a relationship. It wasn’t like he had never… you know, but with Megan he felt deep queasiness when he was around her. He didn’t exactly have butterflies, like Ricardo had suggested. She awoke fire breathing dragon’s, torching his insides every time he thought about being together with her. Ricardo never understood.
Megan Markson was not your typical tom-boy, but rather an industrial hard-body with an action-figure figure. She was tall, lean with jet black-hair, Goth eyeliner, and bright green smoldering eyes. Carlos was sure her eyeliner was applied after she left her room. After all, she did not come from a liberal family, but rather a conservative, tight assed, religious pilgrim home. Her father never understood her, and only his death that day allowed her to pick this career. Following in her father’s footsteps, despite is rejection of the idea.
“Meet me in the hallway and we can discuss plans for after we are done.”
She would wait for him just outside when class was released and the two would walk and talk all the way back to their rooms.
As Ricardo inspected the last weld, he turned to release the class, noticin his little brother making goo-galley eyes at his table mate Ms. Markson.
“Everyone is dismissed. Except you Mr. Mendoza.”
He called all his students Mr. or Ms. and then their surname. His position didn’t afford the luxury of familiarization even with family. He never felt his teaching position was beneath him, but knowing the hazards of the job, he was compelled to make them the best he could before they graduated.
“Close the door.”
Carlos, felt a speech coming his way. His eyes rolled up as he faced and closed the door to the classroom.
“I know you expect more from me, because I’m your brother. I should work harder. Be better. This should come easy to me with you as my roll model. I’m doing the best I can and I think I’m pretty good.”
The sarcasm in his voice didn’t go unnoticed by Ricardo.
“That was really nice work you did today.”
Ricardo tone was low, smooth and reassuring.
“I just wanted you to know how proud of you I am. Understand, I only want you to succeed. That is why I have been pushing you so hard. I want you to be the best. To be better than me. You know the old saying… Those who can - do. Those who can’t - teach.”
Ricardo’s voice was almost shameful.
“Bro, you are the best, that is why you are assigned here. To teach knuckle heads.”
“Your not a knucklehead.”
“God, no. I meant, Jonathan and Randal. Not me. I’m going to be great like you.”
The two locked eyes and a tear had welled in Ricardo eye, he reached out and hugged his brother for a long time.
“I have to go. I’m meeting up with Megan. I’ll catch you later.”
Carlos closed the door behind him, pondered the moment he just had with his brother, scoffed and headed to meet Megan.
At the end of the hall Megan was standing looking down, dazed. She had a yellow notification letter in her hand. She was not moving, something was wrong.
“Hey, what is it? What is the notice for? Wait, did you get assigned to a crew, already?”
Megan lifted her head. Collected herself, reached out for his hand and led him to her room. Fire from those damned dragon’s started burning Carlos from the inside.
It was the most tender experience Carlos had every encountered. Most of his other times. okay time, had been awkward and messy. This was not that. It was special, direct and intense. Being with Megan was all he had every dreamed about. She was the one.
“I don’t want to ruin the moment, but what was that for?”
As the two lied there, Carlos looking at Megan as she focused on the gray cold metal beam above her bed. She never turned away from her stare, but closed her eyes.
“I have been assigned. I leave tomorrow morning. I knew if I didn’t make a move, you wouldn’t and I would regret it for the rest of my life. "
Carlos wiped the tear that leaked from the corner of Megan’s eye and gently stroked the side of her face. His tender touch increased the flow and she began to cry.
“Shhh, it’s okay. It’s not like you will be all that far away. No matter what sector your assigned, I’m sure I can still visit. And who knows, maybe I can’t put in a request to get attached to the same crew. Then we can be together. Wouldn’t that make you happy.”
Sentimentality was not her strong point. She couldn’t really dream like Carlos, that they could be together, assigned to the same post. Live out their lives together. She turned, embraced his face in her hands and once again made the first move.
“I know we are young and marriage is an old concept, but my mother would love to have a son-in-law like you. Marry me! I mean it. Who knows what will happen tomorrow or the next day or next week. If we get married, then they will have to see the value and place us together in the same location.”
Her excitement blinded Carlos for a moment. He had met the woman of his dreams and she was asking him to marry her. His heart pounded, as he kissed her back.
“I will! I will marry you Megan Markson, and you will marry me too.”
The two laid speechless in each others arms. The waves of lust and love washed over them like a warm summer rain. Each thinking about the future together.
“Wait. You’re leave in the morning. There is no time to get married. At least not in time you have left.”
“Can you call your brother? Ask if he can help? If he can get the board to delay my deployment until the next day, then we would have time.”
Carlos paused, then reached for his com unit and poked at the keys to reach his brother. After explaining the situation, in great blushing detail to his brother, he listened to his brothers voice with great focus. His eyes spaced out and his hand nearly dropped lifeless to his side.
“Well, what did he say?”
Her voice dropped a bit at the end of her sentence as she saw the expression on Carlos’s face. His brother had turned him down. No that was not it. He gave him some bad news. That was closer to the interruption of his expression.
“What is it?”
Carlos slowly turned to face his betrothed. His new love of his life. Then without warning he jumped out of bed, rushed to get dressed then kissed Megan on the forehead, and dashed out the door. Leaving her speechless.
“What do you mean? It has to be a mistake.”
Carlos was facing his brother in the classroom. Ricardo knew the attack was coming after delivering the news to his brother. He had been waiting for him to burst through the door. Now, here he was, not really sure if he could explain it to Carlos.
“You said, when I started your class, that if I was the best or near the top I would get my choice of assignments, and now you are telling me you can’t, no won’t help Megan and I be together on the same team. That’s bullshit. You need to make this happen. I love her.”
Ricardo’s eyes had been piercing the top of his desk, since the moment Carlos entered. His hand reached for his glass of whiskey to take another brace from the brown liquid. Carlos had not seen the glass, let alone the bottle on the desk.
“You have every right to be angry. I did it for you, bro. You would not be happy on the same crew as Megan. You might love her, but you will find someone your equal.”
This was a first, his brother was saying that Megan, perhaps the best welder in his class was beneath him. How could this be. He had seen her work it was exceptional, it was the best he had ever seen. Ricardo needed to explain, and explain it now.
“What are you saying?”
“I gave your records to the board. All your records. They were fucking impressed, as was I. For the last two months I have been messing with your results. Nothing scandalous, nothing that would not get you hired. I was trying to protect you, but the board found out and made me give them your real results.”
Carlos’s expression changed from anger to fire breathing dragon. His own brother had been trying to hold him back? For what reason. What could make him so disloyal, he had never done anything to deserve this dishonesty. Ricardo looked up, into his brothers eyes, his own full of tears and regret. He push a yellow notice across the desk towards Carlos.
“They want you to report to OSES tomorrow morning. So you see, now why I did what I did. OSES is the most dangerous post. I could see it in you work, you were the best, even better than me. That is why I had to protect you. I could not stand sending another man, let along my brother, to his death.”
Carlos bent forward, took the paper in hand and read it.
Cadet Mendoza is to report to the Outer Ship Exploratory Salvage yard by 0800. For the period of no less than one ship year. Admiral Coronado, Fleet Commander, 21st Space Armada.
“So, you see, even if I could delay Megan’s deployment, there is no way to delay yours. The Admiral sent it directly to me as an order.”
Carlos’s heart pounded in his chest. He wanted to be the best, he wanted his brother to be proud of him, he had achieved both. However, OSES was a death sentence, even he knew it.
“Don’t worry, bro. You worked there for 3 years and you made it out alive.”
The words were not meant to hurt, but to be assuring to his brother that he could handle it.
“My men didn’t. I should have never let you take on this career, you should have been a cook, in a safe kitchen in the middle of the damn ship. Not boot-clamped to the hull of this ship mending stress damage in hyperspace.”
Ricardo began sobbing into his hands.
“Believe in me, bro. Like I believe in you. I will make it and I will come back. You can count on it. I have to go tell Megan.”
Carlos put his hand on his brother’s shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze.
Megan was not happy to see him, after the way he bolted out of her room.
“Where have you been? What is going on? Why did you leave me?”
All were good questions. Carlos took a deep breath and started to explain. As he laid out, not only what his brother had done to protect him, but also how sorry he was that they had not gotten together before now. Leaving their relationship until the last moment, wasting time that they could have spent together. Wasted.
As he built up to the final bit of bad news he found his inner confidence that made him believe he would make it, he would come back and they would eventually be together. After all, once his year was up, he could request any assignment in the fleet. Including, the one right next the his beloved.
As he broke the news of his assignment. Megan began to shake, then without warning she burst out laughing and threw her arms around his neck and began kissing him.
“I’m assigned to OSES, too!”