Bastian peeped out of the room and all he saw were vacant corridors running on both sides. This…place…what is this?
He carefully peeked into the cell directly opposite to him to see a woman fast asleep. Not sure what to do, he took slow steps towards his right and trudged using the wall for support. As he went closer, he seemed to be nearing a door that had some sort of sign in block black letters on it. The letters became more clear, forming the word ‘Restricted Access’ on it. Restricted Access?? He hesitated as he held onto the handle, looking the other way. Have I come to the wrong place? How the fuck do I navigate? He turned back, trying to look through the small see-through glass and saw an unfamiliar scene which sent chills down his spine. Instinctively, he pushed hard and the door flung open easily. Isn’t someone supposed to be guarding or something? The Incubation Chamber. No one was joking when they meant it looked otherworldly. Gold fluid was being pumped into thousands of dead humans that were destined to become Draphas, their useless survival. Wait. Why does this feel familiar…I’ve never come… He stared hard at the transparent gargantuan chamber in the centre that was continuously supplying the gold liquid through pipes. The gold liquid. The Ambrosial Liquid. The life-giving liquid. He facepalmed himself as it all came back to him. That’s it! Those idiots at the initiation were blabbering something about how……A new kind of hope hit him. But, would it save Erska? This sudden intrusion had him halting in the tracks. I have no time, I have to see her before she..but if this could keep her alive, then maybe.. after all, time of death can vary…..He exhaled. He was going to gamble with Erska’s life. His toes shifted nervously. What could happen..? He looked around. Obviously, for some reason, no bloody person was in sight, not even cameras. There were a lot of empty vials with black lids arranged on a tray in a corner table. Can things happen that easily? If so, then it wouldn’t hurt to... He strides grew a bit more confident while his fingers trembled to reach for the vial and tightened its grip around it so much that he chipped the rim, surprising himself and let it slip out of his sweaty palm. The vial hit the ground, dispersing into minute pieces across the floor as a shrill was audible throughout the extensive hall. He was stunned, looking around as if someone would whisk him away all of a sudden. That made everything even more suspicious but he went ahead and took another vial because he had no time. Then, he turned towards the cylindrical chamber. The top was sealed off except for small openings for the pipes to connect, the only problem was that it was at least 200 metres in length, making his figure similar to a Lilliputian. He began to inspect the chamber to see if there’s an opening that he could reach. There has to be one. If they’re going to be getting it from Heaven, they probably have to be re-filling this thing. He squatted down, crawling around the bottom. No way. He rubbed the microscopic extension, more rubbery that the hard material that held most of the liquid. It was present at one end of the chamber which had a cork-like opening. He carefully plopped it open. Seriously, what instrument do they use to transfer? He unscrewed the black lid fast and attached it to the extension, fluid started filling fast. He fit the cork right before the liquid could overflow from the chamber. Then, he screwed the lid back on vial which would hopefully save Erska. He held onto it tightly. Please.
The doors flung open, startling Bastian’s hunched figure. “What are you doing here, Bastian?”
“Not bad. A lot better than last month,” affirmed Orfer as he looked at the monthly evaluation report of the lastly initiated rookies. He looked at the instructor and said, “For the physically deft, new modules are being prepared. I want them tackling newer, riskier simulations. So, make sure they are ready for it. Shall we begin today’s inspection then?”
The instructor nodded and turned towards the rookies, all assembled uniformly. “Rookies!” he shouted on top of his voice. “We are-”
This was interrupted by cacophonous sounds of jogging headed their way. Fully clothed members of Umbra entered the training arena which got all the rookies riled up at their appearance so much that they started murmuring at the same time. “Rookies!!” called the instructor to quieten them down.
Orfer crossed his legs in displeasure. “What do you people want? I’m starting to think that I’m giving you guys too much freedom to come and go as you please. Go and do your normal duties instead of disguising in black suits, thinking you’re all cool and stuff….” he ranted breathlessly without allowing the guy in front of him to talk.
“Orfer..it’s not that.. first, we wouldn’t be here if it is not the emergency ..” he whispered. He looked at the rookies standing behind them and walked closer to Orfer’s ears and said, “We have some problem at the Waiting Room.”
Orfer jerked back in reaction. “What’s with all the whispering? Is there a problem you can’t solve on your own?”
“Ummmm..” he dragged, not sure how to explain. Someone from behind nudged him.
“Look, I don’t have all the time. Better say it fast or scram! Listen carefully,” snapped Orfer. “If this is not worth my time, I’m going start adding restraints to the Umbra. You get me?”
That was threat enough for him to start blabbering. “There’s a huge riot at the Waiting Room. Some active Draphas, Surveillance and few at the Administration and Finance have all joined in it. Surveillance is taking a huge hit currently – 80% is absent.”
Orfer’s eyes widened as he stood up. “What?! What the hell is happening all of a sudden?”
“Administration had tried to contact you but since you weren’t available they asked us to take direct charge. When we reached the Waiting Room, we were shocked at the huge number. They demanded that they see you right now or all operations would go awry. That’s why we thought it’d be better to see you right away.”
“They don’t use the General Hall meeting for anything, then they go complain for the simplest things,” mumbled Orfer. “Anyways, what is that they want?”
“They…” the guy hesitated before continuing. “They wanted you to promise that they have kangaroo meat the next Annual Dinner because you fooled them last time.”
Orfer exhaled, clutching his chest. “Did I hear it right? Are you being serious right now?”
Bastian quickly inserted vial into his pant pocket as he stood up slowly, dusting off his pants and turned around. “Wal-Waldo?”
“What are you doing in the Incubation Chamber?” he asked in a resolute tone as he walked towards Bastian.
“No-Nothing. I must have misled myself,” said Bastian quickly as he walked past Waldo cautiously. “I’ll get going.” What the fuck is he doing here?
“Misled, of course. I didn’t think you’d actually come here…when you’ve got a girl dying somewhere….”
Bastian’s hold on the door’s handle faltered as he turned around swiftly. “Erska? What do you know about her?”
“Just that I know she’s dying,” he said, walking towards Bastian. “But if you have taken the Ambrosial Liquid, it means you have different intentions.”
Bastian’s hands in the pocket rubbed nervously as he stood rooted to the ground. “No. I was…. just curious because I’ve never seen this place before.”
Waldo pointed his index finger towards Bastian in the eye. “Are you telling me you wanted to sightsee when someone you like is dying on the surface? You expect me to believe this?”
“I…I…” sighed Bastian as he turned on Waldo’s back. “I got to go, Waldo. I’m in a hurry.”
“Bastian,” said Waldo, quickly placing his arm firmly on Bastian’s shoulder. “Nothing in this world is irreversible, it only drags whatever is supposed to happen. Fate will always have its way.”
“Are you telling me nothing can change fate? What if there is a way, Waldo?”
“Remember what I told you, Bastian,” said Waldo as Bastian turned around. “My love Lucia and how she died….you want the same thing to happen? To make her suffer more than she deserves? Is that what you’d want for her? Don’t make the same mistake as I did.”
“Ummm…I kind of find it hard to believe.. that there’s no solution” he said, scratching his head.
“Death is inevitable, Bastian,” Waldo said as he looked into Bastian’s eyes, hoping he’d understand. “You know that better than everyone. Rather than go through all this, you have a chance to stay with her till she’s gone…why are you-”
“Waldo! I don’t think so!” Bastian interrupted rudely, raising his hands. “If there’s a will, then …it would work out... eventually…” Yet his words faltered while his chest started to feel heavy, he closed his eyes and tried to rub off the accelerating pain. His eye ducts began producing tears in reaction. No matter how much he denied, he knew the bitter truth that he wanted to debunk.
It’s the same for everyone, after all. “Come fast, Bastian. We have no time. They’ll be here soon,” Waldo said, grabbing Bastian’s feeble body.
“Huh?” wondered Bastian as he let the old man drag him. “What’s going on?”
“We’re breaking out of here, son. How slow are you?” he asked, letting out a laugh.
Bastian realized he was more than an old man with infectious laughter. He was crazy. “Wai-Wait. You broke me out?”
“I’m not letting out my secrets,” Waldo said with his twinkling eyes.
Orfer stared hard at the ceiling. Of all the days in my life, something like this…
He looked down from the makeshift podium at the rest of the Draphas who had quietened down after the Umbra had gone around threatening them. “First, why do you think I hold General Hall meetings? There was one just yesterday.”
“That was yesterday! This is today!” screamed someone from the crowd, and a laughter roulette began.
Orfer closed his eyes, annoyed. He hit his hand hard on the podium and silence was maintained once again. “I want a representative to speak up for you. Quick, if nothing proper is going to take place, I’m cutting all of your privileges and I’ll pick a special few to accompany those in The Cells.”
A round of murmurs began buzzing and somewhere from the end, a head of orange popped out and it was being pushed to the front. Reluctantly, Alejandro came forward as he adjusted his hexagonal glasses.
“You have a lot of guts coming here. I might have to start looking for a new person to replace the Drapha Surveillance Head,” warned Orfer.
Alejandro gulped nervously but with people continuously nudging him from the behind gave him some sort of confidence. “We-We want you to promise that we receive kangaroo meat for the next Annual Dinner. We had none last time. So..”
“The next Annual Dinner? The one that is like months away?” sighed Orfer. “Who had this amazing idea to protest for something so stupid right now? Are you guys making sense?” And the rookies are supposed to look up to these idiots?
The crowd blinked at each other, hearing Orfer’s statement made more sense but since they had gathered anyway, someone from the back started a chant. “We want meat! We want meat! We want meat!” Soon, the whole room was chanting.
Orfer wanted to cut his ears and throw it far away. I have better things to do right now. “Silence!!” he screamed, hitting his hands on the podium which instantly hushed everyone up. He raised his hand as if he was taking a pledge. “If the said meat does not appear at the next dinner, I’ll resign my post. How about that?”
A round of murmurs went once again as Orfer started to descend from the podium. Seeing that the crowd was still gathered, he went back up and said, “You people know I keep my promises, right? Now, dismiss!!”
In response, everyone started cheering which increased Orfer’s headache while the Umbra made sure that everyone dispersed properly but a small group stayed back, looking all excited.
“Okay, everyone,” Alejandro announced as if he was performing circus tricks. “Come along now, pass on whatever you pledged. You lost your bet anyway! I told you idiots to trust Waldo. He’s never wrong about these things!”
Waldo? Orfer walked towards the group and caught of Alejandro’s collar. “What bet? What are you talking about?”
“Ummm uhhh during tea time, few of us, along with Waldo made a bet saying you’d listen to us for any reason if all of us gathered, so….” rattled Alejandro in a hurry, without thinking an excuse.
“Well, where is the culprit?” asked Orfer, fuming.
“I don’t know…I kept searching for him but I suppose I lost him somewhere in the crowd…” he muttered, scratching his head.
He let loose of Alejandro while his brain started chugging. Something’s wrong. What’s Waldo up to? He wouldn’t go through all this for no reason….
“Sir, we’ve evacuated most of the crowd,” informed one of the members of Umbra. “We’ll all go back to The Cells and resume our original duty. We’ve left it unguarded…”
“All? All the members of Umbra are here?!” Orfer exclaimed.
“Yes-Yes,” the man stuttered.
“There might be a prisoner on the loose now!! Go! Go! Get going!” shouted Orfer, alerting the members of Umbra. Waldo, you sly old bastard.