Reaching the Omega Point

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Chapter 6 The Rhiannon

The halls were eerily quiet that night. My mind was now clear as I hurried after Mary. I had to know why it was that Edith no longer considered me to be her brother. What had happened during the war that had caused me to change so drastically? After that, I would have to do everything in my power to reverse that change before Edith did something reckless. Unfortunately, it seemed that Mary had gone too far ahead for me to catch her. I decided to visit her quarters. Surely she would be there since it was nearly midnight. I knocked lightly on her door.

“Mary, it’s Conrad. I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour, but I couldn’t sleep and I have questions that I must ask.” I said quietly, hoping that she would not be too angry at me for waking her.

The door opened and I was surprised to find that Mary was not only fully dressed but also clutching my handkerchief in my hand.

“What did you need, Conrad?” She asked, wiping her eyes.

I looked at the handkerchief and frowned. “What’s wrong, Mary?” I asked. “Why are you crying?”

It was strange, but seeing the tears in Mary’s eyes caused me to suddenly forget why I had come to speak with her in the first place.

“It’s nothing, Conrad.” Mary sighed and tucked away my handkerchief. “Could your questions wait until tomorrow when we get back to work?”

“What do you mean, Mary?” I asked, quite confused. “Why don’t you want to speak with me?”

Mary sighed and looked away.

“I just can’t stand it, Conrad, to know that you’ll be leaving soon. Though, it doesn’t matter how long you stay because you don’t love me.” I gaped at her. I didn’t want to believe it but there was some truth in what she said.

“I don’t want to become too attached to you before you go,” she wiped her eyes again, “but it’s hard. I guess that was why I couldn’t help from crying. You said that your sister meant everything to you, so I think you should spend more time with her.” Mary said slowly, trying to hold back her tears.

I stared at her, dumbfounded by what she had said.

I took her hand. “You may want to avoid me, Mary, but I do not feel the same way!” I said sternly.

Mary blinked at me in confusion.

“Tell me, Conrad. How do you comprehend love?” She asked.

I sighed. “You were right, Mary. I cannot explain it, however, I do feel something toward you, but it is so different from the love I feel for Edith. I do not understand it, but it is there.” I tried vainly to explain.

Mary sighed. “Conrad, you aren’t making any sense . . .”

The engineer then had a brilliant idea: He would describe his feelings through scientific means, for it would be the simplest way to express himself.

“Mary, are you at all familiar with chemical bonds?” I asked hopefully.

Mary laughed. “Yes, of course.”

“Ah! wonderful! I would compare my feelings by using a covalent bond, perhaps even a sigma bond. You see, I cannot be satisfied without you, Mary. I think it would be insane for us to stop seeing each other as we have been.” I smiled. “Your lessons and company are most enjoyable. In fact, I have never felt such joy before. I do intend to spend more time with Edith, but I refuse to forsake you, Mary. I may not be able to fully comprehend my feelings toward you, Mary, but they are there. I promise. I wish I could love you, Mary, but, like all other emotions, it feels just out of my reach. I can’t—”

I stopped when Mary embraced me. I gasped and looked down at her.

“Who said you ever had to comprehend love in order to feel it?” She smiled. “It’s fine, Conrad. I understand how you feel, and I feel the same way toward you.”

“Well I had hoped you did; otherwise, my covalent bond illustration would have been pointless.” I said in relief.

Mary laughed and clasped my shoulder.

“Well, I’m glad that we can still be together. I was quite worried. Why don’t you come inside? You must be exhausted.” Mary said, taking my hand.

“Oh, actually, Mary, I think it would be best if I spent tonight with Edith.” I said hastily.

“Well, all right, but that means that you have to spend all day with me tomorrow!” Mary said sternly.

I laughed. “Of course! I’m excited to begin constructing our vessel.”

“Wonderful! Good night and . . . be easy with Edith.” Mary said and quickly shut the door.

I resolved myself to return to my own quarters and face Edith. My questions would have to wait for another day, and I certainly wasn’t going to risk inquiring them from Edith. It was well past midnight when I arrived back at our quarters. I slowly entered the room. It was black as night. Hopeful that Edith was already asleep, I walked quietly over to the sofa and seated myself. Suddenly, the Seren fixtures within the walls of the room were lit and Edith stood before me, donned with her nightgown.

“Where have you been, Conrad?” She asked sternly.

I jumped up in shock and smiled at her. She didn’t smile back.

“I apologize for worrying you, Edith. I was merely testing some new formulas on our designs.” I said, wiping the sweat from my brow.

Edith laughed and embraced me. I sighed in relief and laughed with her.

“You just can’t rest if you have work to do, can you, Conrad?”

No, if there was ever a time I could not rest it was then, for my mind was in a storm, trying vainly to fathom why it was that Edith no longer considered me her brother.

“Yes, you are right, Edith, but now I am weary.” I said and promptly lay down on our bed.

Edith gave me a strange look and sat down, opposite of me on the bed.

“Are you all right, Conrad?” She asked. “You seem upset.”

“I am merely tired, Edith.” I said flatly, turning over on my side.

Edith lay down across from me and stared into my eyes, awaiting the truth. I was overwhelmed with confusion and fear, fear that my sister was truly gone, replaced with this rebellious blasphemer. In truth, I wanted to be the brother that Edith wanted, but I was not willing to lose her in order to reach that goal.

“Edith, I-I love you!” I yelled and threw my arms around her.

She gasped. “Conrad!”

I relaxed a little and smiled.

“I’m sorry Edith, but I couldn’t help it.” I frowned. “I know I’ve changed a lot since the war, but I’m still your brother. All I want is for you to be happy, and if you aren’t happy with what I’ve become then—” I stopped abruptly when Edith touched my face. I looked into her eyes and she returned a look that was very strange, almost to the point of disturbing. Her gaze was completely blank and full of wonder while her face was a deep crimson. Was she that amazed at my words?

Eventually, she came to herself and laughed pleasantly.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting that Conrad!” She said, embracing me in turn. “You just be whoever you want and I will give you all of my love.”

I smiled uneasily. “Oh, thank you, Edith.” I murmured.

She sighed and leaned her head against my chest. We lay together for some time before Edith spoke again.

“Conrad, Mary thinks that you don’t love her. You do, right?” She asked.

I paused and sighed deeply.

“I spoke with Mary on this matter. In truth, I do not know what I feel towards her, though, it cannot be said that I despise her, for I greatly enjoy her company. If it be love, then it is a love I cannot comprehend.” I stared into her eyes and smiled. “My feelings toward her are far different from the love I feel for you, Edith.” I explained, not quite understanding my own words.

“Different from the love you feel toward me . . .” she laughed. “Oh, I understand, Conrad.”

“I believe Mary did as well.” I sighed. “Though, I cannot understand it myself, but thank you.”

Edith laughed and kissed my forehead.

“Don’t worry about it, Conrad.” She whispered. “Good night.”

“I will try my best. Good night, Edith.” I said and kissed her forehead.

Edith fell into a peaceful slumber. I, on the other hand, could not rest once again. Edith did not seem any different now, but she could well be throwing up a façade.

“Perhaps everything will return to normal once we return to the Reich . . . That is, if Edith is willing to go back.” I murmured under my breath.

No, it did not look as though seeing my home again was in the near future. Eventually, I decided that it would be best to leave this matter until after we had finished our vessel. Right now, the best thing that I could do for Edith was get us home, for I feared for our safety in this doomed world.

It is shameful to say that I somewhat forsook Edith during the following week. I spent all of my time and energy on our vessel. We did finish it rather quickly, but it cannot be said that it was a simple task by any means. I spent several hours during the night, studying the technology that, to the Maidens, was simply a part of their everyday lives. Though, it cannot be said that Edith was miserable during these days. She shared in fellowship with several of the Maidens. They were especially interested in her violin, something that had no place in their time of desperation.

At last, the day came when our vessel was finished. We were in awe of our work, Mary more so than myself. It had turned out as I had anticipated. There were no visible flaws and we had already tested its systems. All that remained was to fly it. We had already agreed that Mary should pilot our vessel as I had little flying experience, save with dirigibles. A week ago, my mind had not even considered a heavier-than-air aircraft.

I suddenly remembered that my dry plated camera had survived my initial crash. I had brought it, hoping to take photographic evidence back to the Reich for publication. I had to capture our moment of glory.

“Just a moment, Mary. I’ll be back soon and then we’ll test it.” I said hastily and left the hangar.

I retrieved the camera and began running back to the hangar when I nearly made the fatal mistake of running into Anwen.

“Ah, Conrad! Still alive, I see.” She eyed the camera in my hands and smiled. “I assume you haven’t had any trouble lately since my sister hasn’t been wining to our mother?”

“No, I’ve stayed out of trouble.” I said hastily and attempted to move around her. She grabbed my shoulder and smiled.

“Really? That’s not what Mairwen told me.” She laughed. “I’ve heard that you’ve been having . . . issues with your sister.”

I smirked. “Mary spoke with you? Wonderful! Perhaps if you stopped trying to ensue chaos and destruction, you could actually become real sisters, and I assure you that I have no quarrel with my own. I love Edith and she loves me. It’s very simple really.” I said and walked past her.

“Well, that’s the problem isn’t it?” I stopped and looked over my shoulder at her. “It’s interesting that you’re so comfortable with it. You have a most unique love life, Conrad.” Anwen said, appearing quite surprised.

As one could imagine, I was very confused by her accusation. I thought that she would mention how Edith did not consider me her brother, but it seemed she had a different intent. I decided that it would be best to ignore her and inquire my answers from Mary.

“Ha! There is nothing to be had in my life, concerning love. I am incapable of feeling such emotions.” I said and began walking down the corridor. “I have no time to waste in your snare of misunderstanding and deceit. I have a ship to launch.”

“You won’t get any answers from my sister, Conrad! She doesn’t have the heart to tell you!” Anwen yelled, running after me.

I paused when she said this, but I did not speak to her. I knew well that I had to be very careful not to hurt Mary again as I had in the past. I quickly returned to the hangar, trying hard not to think about what Anwen had said. I entered the hangar and was surprised to find Edith standing alongside Mary. She turned and smiled at me.

“Edith, I had no idea you were coming!” I exclaimed.

“I wouldn’t miss my brother’s big day, Conrad! All of your hard work is going to pay off! I just know it!” Edith said excitedly and took my hand.

“Conrad, did you remove one of the drawers from your dresser?” Mary asked, indicating the camera in my hand. I couldn’t help but laugh. I had forgotten how primitive my technology was in her eyes.

“Oh, don’t be silly, Mary. This is my camera. I wish to have a photograph of our ship.” I said as I prepared the device.

“That thing takes pictures?” She laughed. “I’d like to see how.”

“I’ve procured several photographs from this camera! It is state of the art!” I said, bringing the camera up to my face.

I stopped and looked over at Mary.

“It’s missing something . . .”

I thought for quite some time but could not discern what the picture needed to make it more appealing.

“Why don’t you get in the picture, Mary?” Edith suggested.

I gasped. “That would be perfect!” I said with revelation. “Go on, Mary!”

“What? You-you want a picture of me?” She asked pointing to herself.

“Of course, Mary! Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well, if you plan to show this to all of your colleagues in your Reich, I don’t think they would―”
“Nonsense, Mary! If it would make you comfortable, I will keep it for my own personal pleasure.” I said, cutting her off.

“Oh! Well, if it’s for your eyes then I’d be happy to do it!” Mary exclaimed, running over to our vessel.

“How should I pose, Conrad?” She asked excitedly.

“However you like, Mary. It’s not professional.” I said, bringing the camera up to my face.

Mary nodded and then proceeded to jump up on to the vessel’s left wing where she seated herself, allowing her legs to fall over the edge. I heard Edith laugh from behind me.

“Perhaps I should have been choicer with my words . . .” I murmured.

“Don’t move, Mary! It will take a few minutes to capture the image.”

“A few min―”

“Silence, please! You must be completely still!” I said sternly.

Mary smiled and rolled her eyes. Once I had captured the image, Mary jumped down, quite eager to see it.

“How did it turn out? How did I look?” She asked excitedly.

“I’m sorry, Mary, but it will take some time to develop the negatives.”

“Oh, honestly, Conrad, why didn’t you just use one of our cameras?”

I smiled and set the camera back in its case.

“I will develop it tonight. For now, we must test our vessel.” I said, returning my attention to Mary.

She nodded and smiled at Edith.

“Will you be accompanying us, Edith?” She asked hopefully.

“No, I don’t think I will, but have you two thought about what to name it? I mean, it’s almost like your child after all.”

Mary and I paused abruptly and stared at each other. Edith was right. In a way, this vessel was very much like a child to us.

“To be honest, Edith, I never thought of a name for it. I guess I was just caught up in the moment while we were working.” Mary said guiltily.

“Likewise, Mary. My focus was so narrowed on completing our vessel that I never gave a thought to its name.” I murmured, stroking my beard. “Would you like to name it in memory of your father, Mary?”

Mary smiled when I suggested it but shook her head.

“Why don’t you name it after me, Conrad? That way, it’ll make you think of me when you return to your Reich.”

Edith conveyed a sorrowful expression towards me. I sighed and returned my attention to our vessel.

“My middle name is Rhiannon, if you’d like to give it that name.” Mary suggested.

“Rhiannon?” She gave me a strange look. Perhaps I had mispronounced it. “I believe that would be perfect! Thank you, Mary!” I said, placing my hand on her shoulder.

“Really? I never liked it, but I like how you say it, Conrad.” Her face reddened and she laughed. “You make it sound pretty.”

“How does one make a word sound pretty? It must be my accent.” I concluded.

“Um . . . Right! Let’s go, Conrad! The Rhiannon won’t fly itself!” Mary exclaimed as she dragged me up the ramp that led into its port.”

The interior of the Rhiannon was nothing too elaborate or grand. It consisted of a main cabin where the helm (Mary found my usage of that word quite comical) and apparatuses were held. There was also a small hold or living quarters that we had constructed around the vessel’s reactor. The hold contained two bunks, a metal desk that was bolted down, and all of my notes, which took up a large majority of the room. In fact, I’d wager that if the vessel had crashed, and the reactor’s seal broken, the hull would have cracked and melted with the heat of such well-fed fires. I shared this theory with Mary, though she did not find it quite as humorous.

Mary took her seat at the helm and engaged the engine. Ah! Now that was music that the engineer could enjoy: The low hum of the reactor, the whirl of the engine, the vibrations that ran throughout the vessel as the systems were given power. To him, it was no different than any other living organism. Mary seemed to share in my satisfaction as well. I quickly began checking over all of the formulas we had put into the Rhiannon’s systems. We had gone over them together several times, but in my sudden anxiety, I could not help but search once more for any vital mistakes. My search took an abrupt end when Mary suddenly yelled, “Brace yourself, Conrad!”

Before I could protest, Mary throttled the engines to their maximum propulsion. I was promptly cast against the back wall with a low, resounding thud. Thankfully, I had left my camera with Edith. I dared not calculate our airspeed, for the stress on my brain was already great enough. To my relief, Mary hastily cut the engines and the Rhiannon decelerated to a stable airspeed. I fell to the floor, feeling that my skull would be broken asunder. My near-death experience, however, did not keep Mary from laughing quite jubilantly. She programmed the systems to fly the vessel in a steady circle and ran to help me.

Once I was on my feet, I immediately began to stumble. Mary caught me and smiled.

“I’m sorry about that, Conrad! Truly I am, but all of your formulas worked out perfectly! The results were even more successful than I had thought! For a moment, the Rhiannon reached 12,000 kilometers per hour! I’ve never flown anything with such power!” Mary laughed. “I doubt that our spectators could even catch a glimpse of us!”

I made no response but stared off as if in a trance. The force exerted upon my body had been so great that it felt as if I had left it entirely! My mind may have been in shambles but of course, that did not stop me from developing a sense of great pride.

She frowned and held me tightly. “Wow. That really shook you up, didn’t it?” Mary said, realizing how serious my detriment was.

She helped me into the hold and laid me down on the lower bunk. I sighed heavily and closed my eyes. Mary leaned over me, awaiting any signs of my lunacy’s reduction. I believe, at that moment, that I blacked out due to the trauma my body had experienced. At last, I came to myself and was met by her cheerful smile.

“Ah! You’re awake! I was getting worried about you, Conrad. I landed the Rhiannon.” She placed her hand on my forehead. “I haven’t left your side since.”

I proceeded to jump up from the bed and dance around the hold.

“Glory to the Reich!” I cried. “12,000 kilometers per hour, you say? Ha! My colleagues will surely scorn me for saying such nonsense! Of course, they’ll believe it when they witness this power themselves! Why, I’d wager I’ll become the most renowned engineer in all the West!”

I ran over to Mary and clasped her shoulders. She frowned at my ecstasy, and I immediately tried to appease her.

“And–um–of course you will be held as a legend, Mary, revered by all scientific minds!” I exclaimed, holding my hand out before us as if to help her envision the moment.

“Fine, but you better tell your colleagues that I’m the captain of the Rhiannon!” Mary laughed as she took my hat and placed it upon her own head. “After all, it reached that incredible speed under my piloting.”

“What? Return my hat at once! I have worn it ever since the war!” I exclaimed, struggling to retrieve my officer’s hat which signified my rank as an artillery commander. I thought of how embarrassing it would be to return to the Reich without it.

“Calm down, Conrad!” Mary laughed as she evaded my grasp. “In the Matriarchy, we always say that the captain’s bond with her ship is strong, the pilot’s, stronger, and the engineer’s, the strongest! You should be very pleased to be the Rhiannon’s engineer.”

“I was all three for the Chronostat!” I yelled as I grabbed my hat in triumph and placed it upon my head with great dignity as if it were a crown.

Mary smiled and murmured, “Indeed you were, and we all saw what a disaster that was.”

“Now, I wouldn’t call that a disaster. I am alive, aren’t I?” I said with a curt smile.

She crossed her arms. “Only because we were able to revive you, and if Edith hadn’t been with you, then my sister would have seen to it that you never awoke again.”

“Of course. If you wish to be the captain of this fine vessel then I will not complain. I have neither the inspiring words nor the clever mind to lead.” I said as I reminisced on what memories I could recall from the war.

“I think you have fine qualities of being a leader, Conrad”—she sighed—“but in the Matriarchy, having the title of captain requires you to play a hand in politics, and I’m sure that you want to stay out of our affairs as much as possible.”

“Yes, that would be best, but . . .” I faltered.

“What is it, Conrad?” She asked nervously.

I sighed. “Mary, I do not believe that I will ever return to the Reich.” It was a grim thought, but I had to be open with my doubts.

Her eyes widened. “What? Why would you say that, Conrad,” asked Mary, sounding nothing at all like I had expected. I anticipated that she would shout with joy, but instead she sounded terrified.

I sat back down on the edge of the bed.

“When Edith and I first arrived in your world, I expected to be recognized as the founder of this age. You see, my plan was to take this technology of yours and give it form in my own time, hoping to increase the power of the Reich. Obviously my mission is doomed to fail. It seems that western civilization itself has fallen. The Reich does not even exist as history in your time. It is strange, but I knew this all along, and yet I built this vessel with you, Mary. I cannot explain it, but I do not believe that the prospect of returning to the Reich was what motivated my efforts.” I explained, trying my best not to confuse her anymore than I already was myself.

“Don’t simply jump to conclusions like that, Conrad!” She chided. “All of this technology that you see throughout the Matriarchy is powered by Seren. Obviously there is no Seren in your time and would thus make it impossible to give any of our creations form. I’m sure that you will return, but I’m afraid you will be unable to use what I’ve taught you.” She smiled reassuringly. “But do not lose heart! I’m sure that your adventure and our vessel will be all that the Reich talks of for quite some time.”

I nodded. “Thank you, Mary. I’m sorry, but I was only using logic. I suppose that returning to the Reich without completing my objective was always a possibility, though I had thought it more likely that I would simply never return. Edith grows more attached to this world with every passing moment.” I frowned. “I do not understand why she hates the Reich as she does, but who am I to question her feelings when I do not even understand my own?” Mary did not seem at all pleased by my self-deprivation. “I believe I will have to choose between my sister and the Reich. I just hope that I will be the one making that decision and not some other power, for I would certainly choose Edith. The Reich may be my home, but Edith is much more. She is a part of me, and I, her. I do not know if my soul would be able to continue if we were to part. I would become naught but a husk,” I laughed, “even more so than I am now. I apologize for speaking with such pessimism, but as Edith grows more and more distant from the Reich, so do I. I’m sure that pleases you, does it not?”

Mary frowned and turned away from me.

“Nothing would bring me greater joy than to be assured that you will never leave me, Conrad, but I place your happiness above my own and I know that Edith does as well. Your choice will have severe repercussions upon your destiny. You should not bring my own feelings into something that is so paramount in your life.” Mary said with great difficulty.

“There is reason in what you have said, but during this past week I have actually felt like more than an engineer.” I took her hand. “Of course, it’s all thanks to you. I believe that it is because you have accepted me for who I am, and there is not a single person like that in the Reich. Ha! Even I am unable to cope with what I’ve become at times!”

Mary smiled and laughed cheerfully.

“Who you are is what makes you unique, Conrad. I pity anyone who is unable to accept that, for they are narrow-minded indeed.” Mary said as she took my other hand. “Now, enough worrying, Conrad! You seem to have recovered. Why don’t you take the helm, as you call it, and guide the Rhiannon?”

Before I could protest, Mary had dragged me to the captain’s chair and seated me quite awkwardly.

“Mary, I had no part in programming the piloting systems! I am ignorant of these instruments!” I exclaimed as I gazed in bafflement at the complex mechanisms before me.

“Don’t worry about any of that, Conrad. All you have to do is rotate the wheel to turn and pull that lever next to it to control the thrust.” Mary said, indicating the lever.

“Mary, I―”

She took my hands and placed them on the wheel. She then helped me to launch the Rhiannon and set it on a straight, steady flight. I was surprised at how smoothly it flew compared to my rigid dirigible. In fact, I would say that I had never had a smoother flight. Of course, the Rhiannon was mainly built for extraterrestrial travel which I had yet to experience.

“Grip it tightly, now.” She readjusted my hands. “You have to constantly be in control if you want to control it manually.”

“Sorry,” I said looking at her over my shoulder, “thank you for your help, Mary. This is quite enjoyable. Our vessel is much easier to fly than my Chronostat.”

“Really? I’m glad.” Mary laughed. “I designed the piloting systems to be similar to your airship’s. After all, you’ll have to fly it home.”

I sighed and looked down at the wheel.

“I told you, Mary. I doubt I will ever return to the Reich. I do not believe that Edith will accompany me.”

“But you have to go back!” Mary yelled shrilly, clenching her hands tightly around mine.

I stared up at her, awaiting an explanation. She began to tremble and released the wheel, leaving me to navigate it.

“I would feel terrible if you had to stay in this world. I know it sounds nice to get to be with you a little longer, but there is nothing but pain and sorrow to be found here.” Her eyes shone with tears. “Humanity is doomed, just as my father predicted, and I don’t want you to witness that final day, Conrad.”

She took out my handkerchief and began to wipe her eyes.

“We could all perish tomorrow.” Her eyes widened as if she could break down at any moment. “Death follows us as if it were our very shadow, and I am far from having the worst of this conflict. Mothers are fighting their own sons and fathers, their daughters. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters; they’re all killing each other without mercy. You saw what losing her brother did to Daiva! Why would you want to stay in a world like this?”

I smiled at her and stared up at the night sky.

“Whatever atrocities this world must face, I have become attached to it through you, Mary. The future is not completely bleak, for I have you and Edith. What more could I want? Besides, my sister doesn’t seem to mind this world.” I laughed. “In fact, it’s almost as if she hasn’t even noticed this war.”

Mary smiled brightly. “Thank you, Conrad. If you truly are content with this world, then you may stay. I would gladly accommodate you both. I’m sure that the Maidens would be very happy as well. You and Edith give us hope.”

I raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “Hope?”

“Yes, the love that you both share for each other gives us hope that we might have peace, and men and women will be able to coexist once more. Even my mother has taken notice. She said that it was refreshing to see the two of you smile in each other’s presence. I have to agree. I’d wager that it’s been centuries since a husband and wife have been truly happy together. Even my father never appeared to be content with his life or our world. Our entire society has been out of order since the end of the Great War, when my family arose to power. It was only a matter of time before the men rebelled. Once my father discovered a way to escape into a perfect world, I suppose they couldn’t resist. But if you stay, Conrad, then it doesn’t really matter to me whether the Gaelturi succeeds or not. They can have their Omega Point. Mine is right here with you. Whatever horrors the future may bring, we will face them together.” Mary said, her former unease fading away.

I laughed and looked up at her.

“I believe you are better at conveying my own feelings than I am! Yes, Mary, I see no reason to worry about the future, but if you truly cannot stand this world, then you could always come with me to the Reich and leave this bleak era behind.” I suggested hopefully. To have Mary, Edith, and the Reich, what else could I want?

“I’m sorry, Conrad, but I couldn’t leave my mother to face these dark days alone. She’s the only family I have left.” She sighed “My sister hardly recognizes me. That’s why it always pleases me to see you and Edith so happy together.”

“I understand. I am glad that we were able to help you and the Matriarchy, even in this simple way.” I paused and felt the sweat running down my neck. “Mary, is there something wrong with me?”

She seemed baffled by my question.

“Whatever could you mean? I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with you!”

I laughed amusedly. “Oh, you don’t think so? Then why did I blatantly offend you and yet felt no remorse? Why can I not feel anything for that matter? And most intriguing of all, why does Edith not consider me her brother? Did the war truly change me into a new man?”

She laughed cautiously and smiled. “I don’t quite understand, Conrad. Perhaps you should ask Edith.”

I crossed my arms. “Do not feign ignorance to me! I witnessed that conversation you shared with Edith nearly a week ago. You must help me, Mary! Surely you must know something!” I pleaded.

She sighed and gazed at me with pity. “I’m sorry, Conrad, but it isn’t my place to speak. If Edith believes that you are ready, then she will tell you.”

I then became wrathful, for her stubbornness was quite provocative.

“I suppose I should have expected no less! How could I expect you to understand my struggles when your world has not seen a united family in twenty years or more? How would you feel if you had a brother and he no longer considered you his sister?”

I could nearly feel the contradiction of my allegations as they left my accursed tongue.

“Don’t put me in your position!” Mary shrieked with a start. “We’re from completely different worlds, Conrad! If I had a brother, we’d be at each other’s throats in this war, not weeping over each other like you and your sister have the time to do! All you’re worried about is that your sister might be upset with you over some decisions you made in the past! Do you know how grateful I would be to have such frivolous concerns? If I had a brother, I’d be worried about accidentally killing him in the crossfire of a dogfight!”

I stared down at the wheel and sighed. How could I be so insensitive? Better said, how could I not, being as I am, not a man but an engineer?

“I am sorry, Mary.” I murmured. “I do not believe that I will ever be able to understand how difficult your life is or how broken your world has become.”

Mary frowned and placed a tender hand on my shoulder.

“Don’t let it bother you, Conrad. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry that I yelled at you.” She whispered softly.

“Thank you, Mary, but there is no need to apologize. I was―”

“No. Believe me, I had to apologize.” She said, briskly cutting me off. She smiled. “Now, it’s getting late. Let’s return to the compound.”

I nodded and turned the Rhiannon about. I landed the vessel and we left the hangar in silence.

“I doubt that Edith is asleep.” I smiled. “She’s probably been waiting for my return. Good night, Mary. The Rhiannon was an outstanding success!”

“Yes, I couldn’t agree more, Conrad! I suppose we’ll be continuing our work in the morning?” She asked excitedly.

“Perhaps.” I sighed. “I would like to spend some time with Edith. I feel as though I’ve forsaken her this past week.”

She shrugged. “That’s fine. I’m sure that she’ll understand. Good night!” Mary assured me and walked off down the corridor.

I returned to my own quarters and found Edith wide awake as I had expected. She jumped up when I entered the room and ran to embrace me.

“Conrad, you’re back! How was the Rhiannon?” She asked inquisitively. “Was it as successful as you had hoped?”

I smiled. “To put it quite literally, it was breathtaking. The Rhiannon achieved speeds that I had never thought possible by any human craft. It went far beyond our expectations.” I said proudly.

“Wow! I can’t wait to fly it with you!” She frowned.“Mary did teach you how to fly it, didn’t she?”

“Yes, of course! Actually, she designed its controls to be similar to my Chronostat.” I laughed

Edith smiled and laughed with me.

“She had you in mind the whole time. Mary did all of this for you, Conrad. I hope you realize that. She loves you very much.”

I nodded. “Yes, I know, and I greatly enjoyed working alongside her. She has taught me a great deal.” I said as I reminisced over the past week. “Edith, would you walk with me, just for a while?”

She smiled. “You want to go for a walk? It’s quite late for that, isn’t it?”

“I will only keep you a few minutes.” I said, holding out my hand.

She nodded and took my hand. “It would be my pleasure!”

We left our quarters and began walking down the corridor.

“It’s awfully quiet tonight, isn’t it?” She observed.

I grunted in agreement.

She looked up at me and frowned. “Is something bothering you, Conrad?” she asked.

I halted and sighed.

“Edith, do you love me?” I asked at last.

“Of course I love you, Conrad!” She exclaimed. “Why would you ask something so obvious?”

I sighed. “If you do love me, Edith, then am I not your brother? Am I not the boy with whom you shared a mutual suffering during your childhood? Am I not the boy who raised you? If not, then what am I?”

Edith was taken aback by my question, to say the least.

She furrowed her brow. “Listen to me, Conrad! My love for you is far greater than you could ever know! You were so much more than my brother! You were my savior! I would have never survived my infancy if not for you . . . If there’s anything you need not question, it is that you are undoubtedly my brother and I will always cherish you, no matter what may come between us!” Edith yelled, sweat beading off her forehead.

“Calm yourself, Edith! I did not mean to insult your character! I was only concerned about my . . . mental state.” Edith bore a puzzled expression. “You must understand my meaning. Is it not obvious that the war has changed me? Tell me, Edith, w-what has happened to me? Am I not the man you’ve known all your life?” I asked, stumbling over my words.

Edith paused and her face reddened. Perhaps I had been too blunt though I had no intention of embarrassing her. Suddenly, Edith began laughing quite jubilantly. I was afraid that she hadn’t taken me seriously.

“Of course you’re my brother! What would make you think—” she sighed. “Conrad, please don’t worry yourself to death on my account. My only wish is for you to be happy, and I believe that Mary will bring you that happiness. Not only that, but she also needs you. She’s had a rough life, as you know, and she could certainly use some love—no more of it than you could of course.” Edith said as she took my hand.

I smiled and nodded.

“Thank you, Edith. I am very fortunate to have a sister like you who is so willing to help her foolish brother.” I said gratefully.

It was obvious that she placed my struggles and Mary’s above her own. She wanted no concern from me, though I would have given her all of my attention if she had only asked. It was quite noble of her.

“Did you take me for a walk just to be sure that we still share a strong relationship?” She blushed. “You didn’t have to do that, Conrad.”

“No, Edith, that was not all. I simply had to spend some time with you after ignoring you this past week.”

She laughed. “I didn’t feel ignored, but thank you. Now, it’s getting late. Let’s return to our quarters.” Edith said as she locked her arm in mine.

I nodded and we began walking down the corridor to our room. Once we had returned, I did not sleep but instead began developing the photograph I had taken of Mary and the Rhiannon. I set my camera aside and began rummaging through our supplies. Unfortunately, my silver nitrate had not survived the crash, and I could not develop the picture without it.

“Edith, I’m stepping out for a moment. I’m going to see if Mary has any silver nitrate that I could borrow.” I said, opening the door.

“That’s fine.” Edith said as she pulled her nightgown over herself. “I can’t wait to see how it looks!”

I ran down the corridor to Mary’s room and knocked softly.

She did not respond.

“Mary, it’s Conrad. May I come inside?” I asked timidly, remembering that I had once again hurt her feelings not long ago.

She opened the door and I was shocked to see her out of uniform. She was wearing a gown similar to the one Edith had been provided, but what truly stunned me was the long scar that ran diagonally across her shoulder. It did not look as though she had received it recently, but it still appeared to be quite painful.

I pointed at her shoulder. “Mary, how did you get that scar? Is that why you refused to take off your jacket?”

Mary gasped and looked down at herself in horror before slamming the door in my face. I rapped the door furiously now.

“Let me in at once, Mary! You have nothing to be ashamed of! I told you that I see equal beauty in every woman! One scar is not going to make me think any less of you!” I yelled in frustration as I tried the door in vain.

She made no reply.

I sighed and sat down in front of the door.

“I’m not leaving until you tell me who or what gave you that scar!” I shouted defiantly.

A few minutes passed without a single sound from within her room.

“It’s only one scar.” I murmured. “Why would she try so hard to hide it from me?” I was nearly asleep when the door suddenly opened behind me. Before I could get up off the floor, Mary’s arms wrapped tightly around me. I gasped in surprise as I could feel that she was dressed in naught but her undergarments. She helped me to my feet and released me. I turned to look at her and immediately wished I hadn’t.

I clasped my hand over my mouth. “Dear God . . .”

The scar that I had noticed on her shoulder expanded diagonally across the entire front of her body, running all the way down to her hip. Several smaller scars branched off of it with a few even encircling around her waist. It looked as though she had nearly been cut in half from shoulder to hip.

I finally looked up at Mary’s face and she began to weep bitterly. I embraced her delicately.

“It doesn’t hurt does it?” I asked.

Mary smiled and shook her head.

“No, of course not.” She whimpered and hugged my neck.

We stood there in the doorway for what felt like ages. She didn’t speak, but I suppose there wasn’t much to say.

“May I come inside now?” I whispered.

“Hm–m? Oh, yes!” She exclaimed and pulled me into her room.

I sat down on the sofa where we had previously slept. I rested my chin in my hands and stared forward blankly. Mary sat down next to me and folded her hands over her lap.

“So . . . what happened?” I asked, my gaze unwavering.

“I won’t tell you until you look at me!” She said obstinately.

I sighed and did as she ordered. How was she acting so casual? Perhaps she was relieved to let go of this secret she had kept from me.

Mary smiled and kissed my face.

“It’s getting awfully late. I’ll get a blanket.” She said and walked back to her bedroom. I touched the place where Mary had kissed me. It felt very different from Edith’s kiss. It was almost sad, as if I had felt the lips of someone who was dead, someone who longed to be filled with life. Yes, I could see it clearly now. To Mary, this entire world was dead. To her, there was no life in this world because no one truly lived. How could I help her? I can’t give her life! Perhaps she did not want my help. The more I thought about it, the more reasonable it seemed: Mary was attracted to me and the other Maidens are so fond of Edith because we are able to live in a world where people only die. These women of the Matriarchy, they don’t live. They are just awaiting the day that they all perish. She spoke the truth when she said that there was nothing but death in this world. I had to find a way to give life to Mary, but what power does an engineer have over the doom of others?

Mary returned with a blanket and threw it over me.

“I got this scar when I was little, just after the war started.” She began and sat down beside me. “The Gaelturi had somehow planted a bomb at my family’s private home. We were ordered to leave the area, but I refused because it was in my father’s study and there were several books there that I treasured. I was fifteen at the time and knew how to disarm a bomb, but the tools that were in the study were quite old and I was too late. After the explosion, I remember my sister running in through the fire. She carried me out of the building before it collapsed. Fortunately, we were able to recover some of my father’s belongings such as that journal I showed you.”

“How did you survive?” I asked solemnly.

“Well, after that, I woke up in a hospital bed. I couldn’t believe that I was alive either. Anwen was crying over me, Conrad! My sister actually loved me on that day! She never left my side, but then, once I recovered, she began to distance herself from me again. It was so strange. A month or so passed and I was back under her shadow. Though, I spent nearly half a year in that hospital, and she was there every day. I couldn’t speak during the first week of my recovery, but I could hear her comforting words and feel the tears that she showered over me. She said that she loved me, Conrad, but why doesn’t she say that now? She hates me now more than ever!”

I thought for a moment and laughed.

I smirked. “Your sister is accustomed to always having more than you. Now you possess something that she doesn’t have and she envies you.”

Mary gave me a confused look. “And what do I have that she does not?”

“You have me, Mary.” I said, taking her hand. “At the moment, I am the only man in existence who is not a part of the Gaelturi and I am your companion as well. Your sister can’t get the advantage in this battle.”

She smiled. “You’re mine? Well, thank you, Conrad, but my sister cannot stand men. Believe me, she isn’t jealous.”

“Really? You don’t recall her ever being in love with a man?” I asked, quite surprised.

Mary smiled and she rolled her eyes. “Anwen was only eight years old when the Gaelturi was formed, so no, she never had the chance to get involved in romance.”

“That must be difficult.” I frowned. “I will try to show more kindness toward her in the future.”

“Perhaps, but she still kills men without showing any remorse.” Mary said doubtfully.

She pulled the blanket over herself and lay down against me. I smiled at her and closed my eyes.

“Conrad, what do you think of my scar?” She asked timidly. “I mean, is it hideous?”

“Hideous?” I shook my head. “Scars have stories, Mary, and yours has a pleasant one. It reminds you that your sister loves you and that makes it beautiful. It is a lovely scar, Mary.”

She gazed at me, her eyes shimmering with tears.

“Edith was right then.” She smiled allusively.

Mary sighed and I felt her head press against my neck. I frowned. What am I to do? Edith only cares for my happiness and she believes that we need each other. Indeed, I cannot deny that. It seems her theories become more promising with every passing day. She knew that Mary needed me long before I realized it. What is it that I am missing? Why can’t I understand her . . . Why can’t I understand my own sister, for that matter?

Suddenly, there was a brisk knock on the door. Mary ran to the door and opened it. To my surprise, it was Anwen, bearing a look of great urgency. Mary was quite astonished to see her sister as well. Though, what was truly shocking was that Anwen made no comment concerning our intimate situation.

“Get dressed, Mairwen. Gael’s fleet is rapidly approaching Earth and we need every Maiden at its defense.” She glared at me. “We could use him as well. Prepare your vessel to join my fleet. This battle will end the war, Mairwen. This is our final stand. Do not hold back. Do you understand me?”

I had never heard anything spoken so gravely. The coming battle would determine the fate of the human race and I was to take part in it.

“I understand. Do you plan to kill Gael?” Mary asked concernedly.

Anwen smiled. “No, I want him alive. Wiping out the Gaelturi will only destroy us in turn. We will capture him and then arrange a treaty.” She said sternly.

“And who will apprehend him for you?” Mary asked, crossing her arms.

“Well, that’s simple enough.” Anwen laughed. “I could think of no one better for that than you, sister. Meet me at the Cadoc once you have prepared your ship.”

Anwen left us and we were alone once again. Mary said nothing but dressed herself in her uniform.

“Let’s go, Conrad. If we fall here then mankind is finished.” She said, beckoning for me.

I ran with her down the corridor. I couldn’t help but wonder What Edith would think of me now, fighting in another war?

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