“Han? Can I come in?”
A woman came inside his room. Han was drinking his Scotch. The woman sighed.
“I didn’t permit anyone to come in Lamy, that includes you,” Han said.
“Since when did you start to drink three bottles of Scotch all at once at night?” she demanded. The bedroom was only dimly illuminated by the bed lamp just beside him.
“Since now, Lamy. And hell, you can give me a break for drinking three bottles of Scotch all at once at night,” Han said in annoyance. She took off her uniform and sat beside him and gave him a light kiss.
“What happened?” she asked gently.
“Michelle died,” said Han. Lamy looked shocked. When Han saw her face, he only smiled coldly. “Unbelievable isn’t it?”
“I thought they had her recover from her wound,” Lamy said worriedly. Han did not respond but emptying the entire third bottle.
“This was a mistake… I shouldn’t have hesitated back then,” said Han almost in a moaning tone. “If I had decided faster, Michelle wouldn’t be dead. In fact, Leon would have his normal life by now too. The two of them would be having a normal life – a happy life.”
“You don’t know that Han. It was not a decision you can just be over with and it never will be,” Lamy tried to comfort him. But Han only continued to drink, bringing out more bottles from his drawer.
“I love you Lamy but you don’t know anything… you weren’t there,” said Han. He laughed out loud in a cynical way. “I actually was on the verge of falling for the bullshit that bastard offered me. I should never have trusted him. I should have simply told Jerrod what I wanted and none of this would have happened… it’s my fault Lamy.”
“Don’t… don’t say it like that. No one can say it’s your fault,” Lamy sobbed beside him. “You can’t just sit here and drink the entire night. Michelle wouldn’t have wanted any of this…”
“No, she wouldn’t,” said Han. “And I just wish there was a chance I could get it right…”
The hand offered Michelle some water. She refused by saying nothing.
“You’re shocked. I understand. It’s not easy waking up after being heavily drugged,” the doctor said. “But you’re fine. The cause of your death is from the poison of the black substance, but I already removed all of them the last time I treated you.”
“Where’s Leon?” Michelle demanded with her hoarse voice. “Get me out!”
“He’s probably in his house mourning to death – I don’t know and I don’t care,” said Dr. Greg. “What I do care is that there are only two humans in this planet that know you are alive. There is no chance of breaking out unless I let you – which is… like impossible.”
“What do you want… why are you doing this…” her voice started to fail. The doctor offered the water again and this time, she snatched it from his hand and drank the entire bottle.
“You are going to cooperate on my final test for the Raven Project,” said the doctor. Michelle frowned, puzzled. “It’s like phase 2 of Crusader Project. They already extracted your DNA and will have the results soon enough.”
“Wait… that’s it?” she asked dubiously. “You went through all the trouble just to extract a human DNA?”
“It’ll be the end of the official test, meaning the Raven Project will be formally launched by this week, replacing many of the lost Crusaders. These Ravens will prove much more efficient. They’ll be unquestionably loyal, following a set of strict rules unlike the Crusaders,” explained Dr. Greg. “And since just in time, we are short on fighters like Crusaders, I think it is simply perfect to release this project.”
“Wait… that means… you convinced Jerrod to wage war that claimed hundreds when there was actually no need for it?” questioned Michelle. “Are you mad?”
“Yes, and no. Yes for the fact that I convinced Jerrod to wage a war and no for that the war was not needed,” he answered. “But that’s irrelevant since you’re locked up here. Now, your role is quite different.”
“What are you up to Vincent? If you want to kill me, I suggest you just get over with it,” she scowled.
“I’m going to run you with another ‘unofficial’ test. Technically speaking, it was never authorized. Jerrod doesn’t know it either,” said Dr. Greg. He sighed. “Poor Jerrod thinks I’m actually whole-heartedly helping him just because I feel ‘sorry’ for him when I left to the 1st Ark. But I’m not. Jerrod is the only other person who knows you’re alive but he doesn’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to –“
There was a knock. And another person peeped in.
“The president wants to see her before you take her,” said the person.
“Well, I was actually getting tired of explaining,” the doctor said as he stood up. “Take her. I’ll be kind and tell Jerrod he can have her until the day after tomorrow – that is… until Sunday.”
The person stepped forward and two other people followed him inside. They took Michelle by the arm and the third person injected something inside her. She soon blacked out.
Lost in disarray.
It was the state I was in backing the cold bed beneath me.
What was I supposed to do? How was I going to go on?
What happens if the only person to teach you the right direction is gone?
What if the only person who treated you like a family is lost?
When everything seemed to go on perfectly, when you just finished placing the final block on top of your tower, fate didn’t hesitate to smash it down, crumbling the tower to the ground.
How long did it pass?
Her death seemed like ages ago, and yet it also felt so close, so near that I could simply touch her cold body.
What am I going to do?
What am I doing here?
Why is this happening to me?
My mind malfunctioned. I just threw random questions that came into my mind. The questions only brought even more confusion and maddening grieve. Ironically, I did not cry; I did not shout out in agony; I did not wail out to the sky cursing for the thing that happened barely a few hours ago.
I went deeper into my unconsciousness, at the same time remained very conscious. The more I entered inward, I lost track. The signpost that was always there when I asked for it wasn’t there anymore. Now… all that left was either to wander in dismay or circle around with the painful memory that crushed what I most cared for.
I waited on my bed.
I was arrogant enough to long for a new signpost. A new sign to show the way. A new –
The door was knocked lightly.
I sat up straight.
There was another knock, this time harder.
I swallowed the saliva in my dry mouth.
There was a third knock.
I walked slowly to the door. The legs seemed to pull me back, but I managed my empty body to door. The door was weakly pulled back by the very hand that killed the mighty Controller; the very hand that slayed the Chimera.
“Leon…” it was Scarlet. I noticed it was still raining cats and dogs. She was holding the same umbrella she held when taking me to home. A new signpost… I stared blankly at her face. She looked worried – so worried that she looked like she could burst into tears any second. “Leon… please, let me come in.”
I let her in, still thinking about something entirely different and irrelevant to her.
“I… I heard you left the hospital without seeing her last moment,” her words were feeble, very unlike her. I must have remained staring at her from the moment I saw her at the doors because Scarlet frowned. “Are you… Leon…”
“I’m… fine,” I faltered. It was clearly a lie and I knew Scarlet knew it. Then, I limped back to my bed.
“Leon… you… you want to talk about it?” she asked behind my back. I stopped. Do I? “Leon… please, I probably can’t even imagine how you feel but… just give me a chance.”
She was only lending a hand. She was only trying to help me. I only gave a cynical laugh at her face.
“I didn’t stay because I denied the truth. I denied the truth because I only wanted to,” I said. I waved my hands. “Just… just go back Scarlet. I just want to stay alone at least for this night.”
I collapsed onto my bed and soon, I heard the door creak open, and then quietly shut close.
What am I doing…?
“Leon, Ms. Nathans is here,” said the nanny. “Get back to your room and get ready.”
“Tell her I’m not home,” I said. The nanny opened the door. “Screw you, Rinda.”
Michelle Nathans, the one and only teacher I had, came in to teach me every day. School? School was something of a joke for me. I went there to do nothing.
“Leon, you shouldn’t say things like that to her,” said Michelle. 9 years older than me, everyone in the Ark knew her. They called her a genius. She graduated college at 18 and became the prime history professor and expert for the one university inside the 3rd Ark. There were even rumors about her that she contributed to a huge science experiment when she was only nine. Every time I saw her; therefore, I saw a huge wall that seemed to block me from keeping a friendly relationship.
However, her generosity and broad-mindedness for my behavior that seemed to provoke everyone destroyed that wall. In the time when my parents were out for work every day, she was the only person close enough and trustworthy enough.
Still, I never liked studying.
“I’m 13, Michelle, I can handle things on my own,” I said, sighing when she handed a huge bundle of work for me. “It’s not that the world’s going to end just because I don’t study.”
“It’s not about the world going to an end. It’s about you and your brightest future stepping a step closer toward you. Come on, Leon. I guarantee you, you will come to thank me one day,” she said with a bright smile. “You’ll go to the very university I went and you’ll live the rest of your life doing what you really like. You’ll be happy and everyone around you will be too.”
“Really?” I asked her innocently with a grin. But it immediately faded. “… No it doesn’t matter.”
“Why not? Look at me, I’m doing exactly as I said and I can be at least confident about being happy,” said Michelle.
“My parents left me when I was just born. My stepparents never seem to be near me even after all these years. I don’t have a proper friend at school. There won’t be anyone to be happy with,” I said. Then I looked up at her. “Tell me, Michelle, does it matter now?”
“Leon,” she said with sigh. She embraced me. “I always thought of you like my own family even though you aren’t in every way. In fact, I feel you are more like my family than any other people in this Ark. I promise you. No matter what happens, no matter how happy you are, I will always be there to cry and laugh with you.”
“You sure? You seem to have brought that from some movie,” I said with a grin.
“I give you my word.”
Next day, Scarlet dragged me to Michelle’s funeral ceremony. Half of the city came to see her. There were sayings that she didn’t deserve to die or that she died nobly, doing everything she could to the Dominion. The ceremony was larger than any other funerals and her grave was dug right in the middle of the cemetery.
I was at the very front. I didn’t want to but Scarlet forced me. I tried not to be angry at her or feel uncomfortable about her behaviors towards me. As the coffin made its way through the cemetery and in front of the grave, I watched it absentmindedly.
In a funeral, mostly people mourned or cried either in silence or aloud. But nobody mourned in this one. She didn’t have any family that came to Earth. There wasn’t anyone to mourn her, share the grief. Everyone were complete strangers, most of them probably never had the chance to even talk to her. They all just knew she contributed to the victory of the war and that she was received, with ‘great honor’, a sword in front of the entire mass. What was more interesting was that the crowd murmured and mumbled to each other even as the pastor spoke his words for the dead. They were still talking about wonders on how she died, what her achievements were or what kind of person she was. There was no mood of sorrow; just a formal form of pity and unfortunate.
“Let’s go back, Scarlet,” I said, pulling her shirt. She turned around and I found her eyes red. “I’ve seen enough.”
“Please, I don’t think I can watch this,” I said. I looked around. They were at least looking at her coffin carried carefully inside the grave. “This is by far, the worst funeral I saw anyway.”
I left the area enraged. If they came to see the funeral, they should at least show some respect to her. Everyone wasn’t really paying any attention. They were all awed by her death, curious and indifferent. It was too obvious that they will forget all of it after a few hours. This kind of funeral for anyone was an insult. To the people who really cared about her death, such situation was intolerable.
I returned home and left Scarlet for herself for a while. I climbed onto my bed. I was just in the same shape I was in last night – lost. I was still saner than the night before but lost I was.
If Scarlet hadn’t dragged me out of here, I would have been lying on the bed for the entire morning. Maybe seeing her for the last time did do the work.
What will Michelle have done?
It suddenly came to mind: Michelle always treated me like a family. What will she have done if I was the one in the coffin? Will she be crying the hell out of her? Will she be just as confused and lost as I am? Will she strive to forget about it?
No, being totally baffled and not knowing what to do wasn’t the Michelle I know. She would have lived her life as if everything was fine, but never forget that I was absent from her life. She would have reacted much more rationally because Michelle was never like me; she was perfect.
I knew it was time. It was time for me to move on. The world wasn’t going to wait for me to find answers to all the questions I asked myself. I stood up, finally back to myself. I went out of the house and began what I thought right.
Michelle woke up in a bright room. The room was like some place inside a palace. Chandeliers sparkled in the ceiling and all the furniture was hand-carved in wood. They were polished so neatly that the gloss reflected the light from the chandeliers. The wall was decorated with luxurious paintings of the ages with frames that looked almost extravagant.
Her hand was still bound, though. She was still unable to move, which made none of the room’s appearance look appealing. The shutters were down so she couldn’t guess the time. She was certain though, already a day passed since her ‘death’. She worried about Leon, the one person who might just go mad if he heard her death. She hoped Scarlet could soothe him but hope was merely a hope. She had no idea what Leon could do if he gets out of his mind. I promised him to be with him…
The door flung open and in came a tall man in his late middle-ages.
“Jerrod?” she asked weakly.
“Hello, Michelle, it’s been quite a while since we spoke in private,” the president answered. He picked up a bottle of wine and filled two cups. He helped Michelle drinking it and kept the other cup for himself. “I’m sorry about the cuffs and bounds. I had to.”
“You had to or did Vincent tell you so?” Michelle scowled. The president looked hesitative for a moment.
“You were always quick-witted. I guess the brain doesn’t go anywhere even after many years,” said Jerrod.
“What did you do with Leon?”
“We didn’t do anything with Leon. All we wanted was you,” he said. Now he was sitting on a comfortable chair, just facing Michelle. “He came to your funeral ceremony this morning, but left very early.”
“Is he –“
“He’s fine. He’s the safest person in this city.”
“Why did you drag me here then…” she asked with a sigh. She was tired, restless and she didn’t know what was going to happen to her. Obviously, though, she recognized this wasn’t going to be a happy ending from the point they announced her officially dead. “And why the hell did you keep me alive.”
“You’re my last card,” he said. Jerrod suddenly looked very grim. “Don’t here this the bad way but you’re my final card to relieve myself from Vincent’s hands.”
“What do you mean…?”
“He’s a cruel bastard. Everyone calls him the genius of genetic science. They call him the hero who saved humanity. I can’t touch him, but he can manipulate anyone he wants,” he said.
“This Raven Project… is that it?” Michelle questioned him. He nodded.
“You know how insane he can be. You know it very well,” said Jerrod. He looked Michelle straight in the eyes. “25 years ago, you saw him.”
“Don’t, Jerrod. We promised no one will ever talk about it,” said Michelle. Her face was dark and stern.
“Right… I know. But, don’t you get the point? I can’t have a mad scientist like that in this city! I honestly hoped Leon could be on my side… but he despises me ever since his parents died,” said the president. He was now crouching on the ground. “Please, Michelle. I cannot ask you for forgiveness – that will be a total insult. But I just want to ask you one thing: will you help me?”
“I…” the president was on his knees now, pleading for help in front of a person in cuffs. Jerrod was once her friend. He did lots of things for the people. He always worked to be a good leader like those throughout the history. Michelle felt pity for the man in front of him for being a puppet of that god forsaken scientist. She was going to die one way or the other. “I’m going die anyway right?”
“…” the president looked blank. “Yes…”
“Then I might as well do something good for an old friend,” she said with a weak smile. “Take me. I just want to get over with this. And may God bless whatever you are thinking Jerrod.”
“…” Jerrod hugged Michelle with his huge arms. “Thank you… thank you Michelle. After all I’ve done… thank you.”
“Is it going to hurt?” she asked.
“No…” Jerrod said, barely audible. He actually sniffed and wiped his eyes. “The room is yours for today. It’s not my place to say this but… I just hope you can be as comfortable as possible. I’ll have a man come and unbind you.”
Michelle only nodded. She couldn’t smile for what she decided.
Jerrod exited the door and shut it closed behind him. The long dark corridor was where he stood. He limped to exit the building.
“You did well.”
Jerrod instinctively reached for his pistol and aimed at his back.
“What do you want,” he growled.
“Nothing. I’m just here to tell you: you did well. I almost mistook you for a real actor.”
“Go to hell,” spat the president. “And please, don’t get in my way ever again.”
“I don’t plan to Jerrod. You know why? Because I won’t need to soon.”
“Vincent, I swear to god –“
“You can’t kill me,” he said. The dark figure of Dr. Greg started to disappear through the other end of the corridor. “But I can, Jerrod; so be careful.”