5-2: The Hidden Thoughts of His Friends
Hey Red, buddy, do you remember the first time we met? It was on the first day of our first year in high school. In the layout of a classic classroom, there was a specific spot that I really liked to sit in: it was the one near the front and off to the right side by the door so that you get to see the corridors. I’ve always had that spot for as long as I remembered and have eventually grown used to it, but on that day, you beat me to the punch; by the time I got to the classroom, you were already sitting on that spot, drawing stick figures on a notepad. I approached you and asked if you could give the seat to me because I was really used to it.
Remember what you said?
“Get your own seat.”
This clearly startled everyone in the classroom at that time, including myself. I had been used my entire life to have things go my way, and that moment of rebellion really got to me. While I was at a loss for words, our classmates started talking to you with scared expressions on their faces.
“Hey dude, are you sure you should be talking back to Jason like that?”
“Oh man, this guy’s in trouble.”
And then finally, someone whispered to you, “He’s the son of the president, Red. You should really just back off.”
I didn’t hear what he said, of course - I only found out when you talked about it later on - but then you responded in a normal voice while pointing at me, “Last time I heard, everyone here’s equal as students. What happened to that?”
“Dude, seriously, you should stop...” the other students suggested.
“No,” you clearly replied. You then faced me and asked, “You’re name’s Jason, right? What do you think? I came here first, but you’re apparently the son of a public leader. Do you want this seat so badly that you’re gonna use a title that you didn’t earn to get it?”
Everyone was scared, and that much we could both see at the time, but you were dead serious. You were so serious about a single seat, and I realized that I was, too. As we looked at each other, you with a questioning expression and me with one of shock, we eventually smiled and just exploded laughing in unison at how such a stupid thing escalated.
At that moment, we became friends.
I had never met anyone who dared to see me as a normal teenager, and as we spent more time with each other I eventually came to realize how awesome you were, and then I started feeling lucky to have met and befriended you. While I stood out as the son of the president and felt strangled by it, you on the other hand had hidden, implicit expectations from those who knew you as the son of the great scientist Adam, the man hailed by his generation as a genius that appears only once every few decades. To add to that, with the passing of your mom and your dad’s eventual estrangement from you due to that tragedy, you’ve stopped seeing the point of human interaction. After finding that much out, I became more and more thankful that we had that confrontation on the first day of classes.
The first time I invited you over to my house was on your 16th birthday. It was a Friday and you had no plans, so I insisted that you stay over for the night while we played video games. Inviting friends over wasn’t a new thing for me, but you know what was? Your reaction. Everyone whom I had invited to go to my house always turned really embarrassed and reserved. It felt like they were always on their toes around me inside my house and I could never fully enjoy the time that I spent with them.
But you were different. Sure, the moment you stepped in and saw my parents, you introduced yourself politely and all, even asking if you had to take your shoes off or not, but after that you really acted as if you owned the place. I’ve always said the line “Make yourselves at home” as a routinely-done form of courtesy, and yet I was always disappointed when my friends acted more as outsiders than as guests. Seeing you joyfully roll around in the bed the moment you got there, grabbing drinks for us straight from the fridge after I commented that I was thirsty...it felt like I was sharing the house with a brother that I never had. I dunno, people might think of it as disrespectful, but all I saw was sincerity and a pure heart that was only in it for having fun with me.
I still vividly remember the first time I went to cheer for you during one of your tournaments. It was for Bo Staff martial artists like yourself, and you were ranked #1 in your age group. I had always known that you were crazy about the way of the staff, but seeing you in action felt like something else, like you were a completely different person from the Red that did stupid things with me and the Red that did whatever he could to get away from the center of attention as possible when in a group. And now, you’ve become even more amazing as you wield a heavy metallic staff that’s smeared in the blood of thousands. You’re probably the closest to mastering your craft in the world, but is it worth being at the center of the battlefield for?
What happened, Red? What has this war done to you?
The last time you had normal eyes, you invited me out to play at the arcade center because you wanted to get your mind off of having given Catherine a confession letter. You spent your final moments as a normal teenager one-sidedly tunneling on making that girl happy, and right now I can see that that’s the only thing you carried over after becoming the Crimson General. How about the other traits? When I finally got to see you again, your mind was completely focused on the intricacies of the war. Heck, the first thing you said in front of me pertained to meeting authorities to discuss the final battle against the Golden Army. Yes, that night, you turned into the good old fun Red that I’ve always known as we exchanged fist bumps, but then after that you instantly turned back into being a workaholic general that would easily make anyone wonder if you were actually an adult inside a kid’s body.
You’ve changed so much in just a few months, Red. Are you happy like this? Is being in command of an entire army, being in the heat of battle, drenched in the blood of countless people...is that the center of your life now? Do you actually find meaning in what you do? Or are you really, deep inside your heart, just being forced to keep a strong front while you suffer out of sight? It seems Catherine shares in my opinion that you’re just hiding the pain from everyone, but the thing is you don’t seem to show it; heck, I even crashed into your room, the place where you’re supposed to be yourself the most, and even after a few days I still got nothing. That’s why, looking at you now, either you’re actually enjoying being the Crimson General, or you’re planning on being a tragic hero. If it’s the latter, then words are not enough to show you how much I want to help you out. I may not be of any help directly on the battlefield, but if I can serve as a listener to your problems, I’m just one nudge away.
...but then again, thinking a little more rationally, I’m being pretty naïve, aren’t I? There’s no way I could possibly understand what you’re going through. Perhaps you’ve situated yourself in a league of your own, on a stage where no one other than you could possibly stand on. Thinking that, I feel even more hopeless than that time when you were dying right in front of my eyes. Knowing that you have made this war your own personal battle and that I don’t have what it takes to stand by your side the way I always have ever since that day we first became friends, it feels so crippling, but I have to accept it and simply watch as you force your way through this war.
I really hope that one day we can look back at this and joke about how your name never made sense until the war broke out. In that way, may all this tragedy come to pass as just a fleeting memory.
Hey Red, remember the time we first met? It was during our second year of high school. I was placed in the same class as Jason, and you were in another class, but the two of you always went out of your way to see each other during breaks and after school. I had always heard about Jason, the son of the president, and when I finally became classmates with him I ended up really admiring him. He was rich, smart, sophisticated, and really cool, but he was always distant towards everyone; I think that last one added to his cool factor, though. Well, distant, that is, unless he was with you, at which point he would turn into a completely different person. He had this bright smile and uncontrolled laugh whenever he was hanging out with you. I really loved his smile, but it seemed as if the only one who had access to that was you, and I was jealous of that. And so I approached you in the middle of the school year.
“Hey, Red,” I said as I stood in front of you during lunch break while you were eating on your table. “I’m Catherine.”
“Hello, Catherine,” you replied. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be eating now.”
And you didn’t even mean that in the rude sense. Back then I wondered what was up, but now I get it: You love eating. But at that point in our first meeting, people started whispering to each other because of how you essentially ignored me, and I recall feeling annoyed as well. But I really wanted to - I won’t try to sugarcoat the term - use you to get closer to Jason, so I had to get your attention somehow.
“Is it because my name is too long?” I tried saying, causing you to stop eating and look back at me. “Tell you what, I don’t really like people calling me this, but just for you, you can call me ‘Cath.’ Would that be more convenient for you?”
That confused look on your face was priceless. Jason was right; you really were like an impressionable baby in that sense. You were so shocked at how I let you call me something I never let anyone else use that the words “Are you serious?” were pretty much written all over your face, like I suddenly turned you into someone special. I guess you really were special in that sense, but...
With Jason having become a part of the student council that year, his duties started piling up and he eventually didn’t have much time to hang out with you. And so I took that chance and became your companion for the most part of that year. Whenever we were together, you would always tend to ask me things about myself, which really stroked my ego and talkative nature, and you were always up for whatever I wanted to try out, like that one time the two of us skipped school to sing karaoke, and that other time when we watched a horror movie together but on different seats; that last one scared me so much I ended up asking you to take me home while I tightly grasped your sleeve the whole time.
Yes, I originally approached you in order to know more about Jason and to use you as a bridge to get him to notice me, but before I knew it, you had taken the initiative, always asking me about myself before I even got a chance to talk about him. In the middle of our talks, we would switch topics left and right, but it was fine because you were a really interesting conversation partner, a trait of yours that only Jason was aware of up until that point. Plus, a whole bunch of my fond high school memories were with you, and there’s no denying that you’ve already become a huge part of my life even before the events of June 28.
But you see, the thing is, despite everything that had happened up until that point, I still didn’t really know you. All this time you did everything in order to know me more and more deeply, while I stuck with you simply because of how much fun being with you was, and how you were always there to make me feel good about myself whenever I was down.
When you gave me that letter, I was worried about you no longer being my friend if I rejected you, but I guess...you never really were my friend to begin with.
You were a tool of convenience for me.
There I was laughing with you, sharing stories and experiences with you, but when it came down to it, I never knew the person behind that kind face. I knew nothing about your struggles in having high expectations of you due to your being the son of a world-renowned genius, I knew nothing about your mother passing away and how it tore your family apart, and most of all I knew nothing about your feelings for me. You were just kind of always there, and I made the most out of it for my own personal gain, never really looking at you or even considering that you also needed attention.
After that night when you risked your life to save me from those three drunkards, I eventually realized how much you’ve come to mean to me. Everyone else was looking at me like some sort of celebrity, but you saw me as just one of the normal, vulnerable girls that you can encounter anywhere, but one unique enough that you would go out of your way on a regular basis just for me. With you gone, it felt like nobody understood me all of a sudden. Remember how I suddenly shifted from really hating you to wanting to make amends with you within minutes when we finally met again during the war? That was because I finally admitted to myself that in the end, I really wanted to be with you.
That was the beginning.
During my time with you in the army, I’ve finally gotten the chance to know more about you, be it in our talks together after your training sessions, or whenever I’d ask the soldiers and women about you. And to be honest, more than admiring and falling in love with you, what I felt as I tried to be a part of who you are now was more of regret. It had been roughly a year since we first met when you gave me that letter and saved me from those three men, and yet it was only during the war that I was finally finding out who the person named Red really was, and it’s all coming together. I’ve seen the you that cracks funny jokes like it was nothing, I’ve seen the you that freezes whenever you were put on the spot in front of many people, the you that could barely speak when giving me the letter that contained your short declaration of love for me, the you that relentlessly pushed forward despite the intense emotional pain of being the strongest fighter in a global war, the you that deep inside cared for humanity as a whole to the point of knowing and grieving for every single one of the lives lost in the war, and many more.
It has only been less than three months, and yet I’ve gotten to know you more than in the one year that we’ve spent as high school friends. I can’t help but wonder: what if I had started earlier? Perhaps I would have been able to prevent you from suffering through the pain of that gunshot, I wouldn’t have had to make you want to kill yourself just because I was blindly mad at you, and maybe, just maybe, I could have been with you during the tragedy of the battle against the Cerulean Army. I could have stayed by your side when there was no one else for you to cling onto. Deep inside that monstrous fighter holding a metallic Bo Staff and having complete command of fire lies a boy that’s suffering due to this war just like everybody else, and I want to help that boy as much as I can. I want to be more than just someone to fight for.
But in the end, that’s all really just wishful thinking, isn’t it? There’s no way a sheltered, normal girl like me can understand what battles you’ve fought as the Crimson General. You could have stayed under the protection of your army to ensure your safety, but you decided to always be in front of them, that they were the ones meant to be protected. Being in the frontlines of battle like that must not have been easy, and yet that’s all I can possibly say: just words that I don’t completely understand. You have no idea how helpless I feel whenever I look into those crimson-dyed eyes of yours.
Until this war is over, I can only pray and wish that we all survive until the very end as I watch you from afar. And then, when the time comes that we can all finally live in peace once more, I’ll make it up to you; I’ll be with you to do things that you want to do, and we can start all over again with me trying to become the friend that you deserved way back then. I have so many more things to say and do for you, so please, Red...
...I need you to survive.
Jason and Catherine were staring at a large room via a window. With them were the scientists Harry and Larry, as well as Adam and Emily. The two teenagers were stunned, their eyes widened and mouths agape.
“A-amazing...” Jason managed to say eventually.
Catherine stretched out her arm and placed her palm onto the window. “I always knew he was amazing, but...”
In front of them was an empty, metallic room whose floor level was 30 feet below from the laboratory that the spectators were in, and the two rooms were connected via an elevator. This barren environment was decorated with complicated holograms of multiple people with various weapons, and then there was the center of attention: a boy holding a metallic Bo Staff. He was moving at blinding speeds, attacking holograms to make them disappear as if he were killing them in real combat. On the walls were six turrets that fired harmless lasers on certain intervals to intensify the fighting simulation.
This was a training mechanism created by Adam’s team for the exclusive use of the Crimson Army. The human holograms have been meticulously programmed to follow generic fight patterns focused on hitting just one target, in this case the boy with the staff, Red. Once any of their weapons or the turrets makes contact with the target, the simulation would end. The holograms were programmed to disappear once they came into contact with Red’s weapon, fist, or foot. Because these were holograms, one could easily cheat their way by just hitting any part with their weapon and breeze through the whole simulation.
The people watching Red were amazed because the boy did not do that.
With perfect form and exclusively targeting vital parts, Red plowed through the enemy holograms while gracefully avoiding every single attack thrown towards him. Beside the large window from which the scientists and the two teenagers were watching, there was a monitor that showed what was going on in extreme slow motion, and that was how they had confirmed Red’s actions: The boy was treating the simulation like a real battle, and yet he made fighting hundreds of people look easy. New holograms instantly replaced the ones that Red dispatched, so the simulation was like an endless battle that would drag on until Red gave in.
After 30 minutes and over a thousand holographic victims, Red was stabbed on his side while he was trying to turn around. A digital bell sounded and the holograms disappeared, followed by the deactivation of the turrets. Red fell towards the floor on his butt soon after.
Looking up towards the window, the boy saw Adam and Emily raise their thumbs and smile. He heaved a sigh of relief as a response and got up.
“A new record, huh,” he told himself. “I wonder if I’ll be able to be this good once the real thing happens...”
While Red was walking towards the elevator out of the simulation room, Jason and Catherine started talking to Adam.
“How long has he been doing this kind of training?” Catherine asked.
“If memory serves me right, I finished making this within the first month after he took down the Ivory Army,” Adam replied. “I’ve been secretly working on this simulation system in order to increase our military strength, and I think it’s proven to be very helpful even though a real battle has yet to occur in order to really test its effectiveness. Let me put this into perspective: When he first tried this out, Red could only take up to 10 minutes on average before screwing up. Now he has tripled his time.”
Jason raised his hand, at which Adam responded to by looking at him. “He only uses his staff and basic punches and kicks here, right?” the boy asked. “Why is that?”
“Because this is just one ‘mode’ of training,” Adam replied. “Right now, he’s practicing only his close-ranged combat. He still uses this simulation room for practicing his flames - but during those times he doesn’t use his staff - and there’s a separate room for his shooting practice. By the way, separating these practice sessions was something that Red decided on his own. Can you guess why?”
And then suddenly, the elevator opened followed by Red’s voice. “It’s because dad here can’t program holograms that move akin to bio-soldiers, as well as replicate their toughness. If I could use all three of my weapons, this simulation would be a waste of time at best.”
“And that’s how scary the Crimson General is,” Adam added. Facing his son, he continued, “Are you up for a few more examinations or would you like to keep the whole fighting momentum going? I had the training room checked, and it seems your boys are available for some more sparring.”
“I guess I can spare a few minutes to get checked. But the outsiders are gonna have to go; sorry.” Red faced Jason and gave a slight nod after saying that last line.
In response, Jason lightly tapped Catherine’s shoulder and turned around, saying, “Let’s go, Catherine. We only came here to see the simulation, remember?”
“Uh, yeah, right...see you later, Red.”
Red gave a light wave of his hand before Catherine turned around exited the laboratory with Jason.
Once the door finally closed and only he and the scientists remained, Red faced Adam and asked, “Can I review some of the footage from that last simulation while you guys hook me up on whatever those devices are? You know, the usual routine.”
After lying down on a bed where his physical examinations were to take place, Adam and Emily started preparing the machines needed for it nearby from opposite sides.
“Hey, old man,” Red suddenly said.
Adam did not turn around and continued working on the complicated machinery in front of him, but nevertheless he replied, “Yeah?”
“If I end up dying in the final battle...” the crimson-eyed boy began, turning his face away from his father even though it was a pointless gesture, “...if that happens, would you cry at my grave?”
Upon hearing this, Adam’s shoulders dropped and he stopped moving his hands momentarily. Emily also stopped what she was doing and turned around to look at Adam’s reaction.
“I would,” the middle-aged scientist replied. “But not for you.”
There was a brief silence.
“I would grieve not because you’re my son,” Adam clarified, “but because I never got to be your father.”
Adam’s hands started moving again, and the preparations for the examination resumed.
Meanwhile, Jason and Catherine walked away, each one with their own thoughts kept to themselves.