‘I feel like I’m trapped. Caged. I want to be able to move freely. When I arrived here with the others on Jean’s back, and when he released me from the harness, I thought I’d be able to move again. But that was false hope. Why can’t my body respond to what I want to do? This is all so unreal.’ Étaín continues to think about her misfortune—as she has done ever since having her Personal Internal Communicator taken from her a few days past. Her mind takes her back to that fateful day. ‘I separated from Angelus and Hector after hiking back from Pater. Hector was adamant about bringing Angelus to the sphere, and Angelus seemed to follow along willingly, if not with greater want. I on the other hand wanted to see my group mates. I told them I would meet up with them after seeing some action in Pater. I hadn’t expected meeting Hector, and I wasn’t planning on staying for the night, so when I finally got back to the forest with Hector and Angelus, I dashed away to meet my group mates. I saw Jean first—it’s not very hard to spot him. He such a large boy for his age, he can be mistaken for a twelfth year UTG student. I shared some sweet bread with Jean and the others, and they were instantly hooked on the damn things. I didn’t bring a lot, so within a half hour, the small cache of sweet bread had been gormandized. I didn’t mind. In fact that was my expectation. But we had a problem. Night was about to fall, and we didn’t have any food. Jean and the other guys always relied on me for that kind of stuff. That had always been our arrangements when doing the Survival Camp. They would fight of the gulos and other nasties lurking about in the forest, and I would provide food and water. They at least had a fire for the night—a small one mind you, but at least we had some warmth—so we each curled up on the ground in a circle around the flickering flame. I was satisfied with how the day went, but I dread the next day—even though that next day would come faster than I thought. Before anyone in my group could catch some shut eye, we heard a creature circling our campsite about ten feet away. We all knew what it was, or at least we had some suspicion. The gulos were known to pass through this forest around this time of year, and with that big explosion razing the little town beside Pater, the gulos would surely be unnaturally roused—and we were right. A gulo peaks its head through one of the bushes almost eight feet away. The light from the weak flame of the campfire flickers to illuminate its body sporadically. The gulo is about a foot shorter than Jean, pretty much full grown, and it considered us for a moment. It was matured now that I think about it in hindsight. The younger gulos attack once it knows its been seen. But this one was smart. It had experience stalking prey. And so when we started shouting and acting maniacally, it retreated into the darkness of the forest. The moonlight unfortunately could not help, the thick forest of our campsite darkened the forest floor. We only had the flickering, almost dying, light of our campfire. We decided to dash for the tree line to an open area. But when we left the safety of the light of the campfire. The gulo took the advantage to jump us. We were only fifteen feet away from the tree line when it attacked. Jean held his own no problem, while the other three did their best and only came out with a couple of scrapes. I stayed away from the action. I can fight a man in hand to hand combat, even Wei, the best martial artist in the academy, but I will not fight a creature. Anyway the guys were able to fight it off—Jean grabbed hold of both of its hind legs with both of his hands and swung it around in circles, lifting it off the ground. In one heave, Jean threw it into the bushes, and it scampered away into the forest. Frustrated, hungry, and delusional, we decided to hike to Pater, in order to secure the treasure trove of sweet bread. Little did we know the trouble we would find when we arrived. Our states of mind only made our situation worse by hampering our ability to make quick decisive actions. When we arrived at Pater, we heard some movement, but we paid it no attention. After a couple of blocks in, our anticipation for the sweet bread and the safety of that bakery was at its all time high. That’s all we were thinking about—well that’s all I was thinking about. So when those bastardos grabbed me, I had no energy to fight back, and no mind to scream or shout, not that it would have done anything. They gagged me, and took me into an alleyway. The leader took my Personal External Communicator and forced me to open a path to its internal data. He discovered I’m an Academy student at Eco-City #9 and he smirked menacingly. I still remember that evil face. I still get chills, even though my body doesn’t respond to my emotions, nor my will anymore. But the feeling is real. That despicable man brandished a knife tucked on his waistline and forced me on my knees looking away from him. He punctured the back of my head with the knife and my body spasmed uncontrollably. His three co-conspirators held me down and the knife man punctured once more. My body became numb from the excruciating pain and I let out a shriek before passing out. The gag became lose from all of my movement, and the three conspirators were too focused on holding me down, so the shriek made its way through the alleyway, bouncing off the walls of the building down the street into the ears of Jean and the others. They moved immediately to my location as they were alert now after my disappearance. By the time they moved down the road, into the alleyway, and at my side, the four despicable men had already fled, leaving me on the ground passed out. When I finally came to, I was being carried by Angelus, with Jean and the others at his side. I passed out once more before awakening inside the infirmary at the FCTC Pater HQ. At my side were Jean and the others. Soon Hector and his group joined, and now we are all back at the Academy. I wonder if I’m ever going to be able to move again. The FCTC Captain of the Pater HQ told me very strange things. That my spirit will move into the afterlife. I’m not going to die. I still have my mind. Sure my body doesn’t do what it’s told. But I’m not going to die. Why would that strange man tell me such things?’
The lift abruptly stops and it startles Étaín, the mindful girl who can’t command her body to do what she wants it to do. She sighs and Hector notices this as he continue laying on the ground beside her.
“Hey Wei, I think Étaín just sighed.” Hector says.
“She can speak you know, right Étaín?”
“…Yes…” Étaín whispers. ‘You damn fools! Of course I can speak,’ Étaín continues saying but within her own mind, out of reach from the rest of the world.
“See,” Wei says.
“Okay. But she can’t say anything more than that.” Hector says.
‘I’m not deaf,’ Étaín says in her head. ‘I hate not being able to speak to any one properly. They all talk about me like I’m deaf. Like I don’t know what in the world they are talking about.’ Suddenly Étaín has a chilling realization. If the UTG also thinks she is brain dead, then they might deem her as unfit to serve society. Her mind blanks at the thought, she seemingly pushes away any thought about what her future is going to look like. But the thought eventually creeps back into her mind, and she thinks about her grandmother. How her grandmother was sent away when Étaín was in her third year of the UTG Academic curriculum. Her grandmother didn’t die, she knows, but she always suspects her grandmother was euthanized. Her grandmother was still healthy, but it was declared that she couldn’t work anymore so Eco-City #9 mysteriously sent her away. Her parents never discuss it, and any adults Étaín asks deny knowing her grandmother’s fate. Another chill runs up Étaín’s spine and she almost feels like she could move her body after having the feeling, but alas it is still unresponsive.
She closes her eyes as Jean picks her up. She hears the sound of Mr. Teech’s voice as she, Jean, and the rest of the survivors ride the lift back down on the Academy side of the giant wall, inside the safety of the glass barrier, protecting the students from the atomic decomposition barrier encasing the Eco-City. She falls asleep to the sound of Jean’s heartbeat, and when she wakes once more, she finds Jean and Wei in front of her, as they grasp her hands, one hand each. She realizes she is sitting in a wheel chair, and beyond the two boys, she sees a glass door.
“I’m going to miss you Étaín.” Wei says. “Please keep in mind what the Captain told you. Hector said it was a fine speech.” Wei kisses her forehead and turns away while releasing her hand. He desperately wipes his face while he waits by the glass door.
“I will always remember you Étaín. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you,” Jean frowns and gasps for air, “if I just… If I were more alert… That damn bastardo…”
“Please… Stop…” Étaín manages to whisper. She smiles warmly at the weeping Jean and the boy forces a smile. He wipes his tears and brings her hand up to his cheek to kiss it gently. He places her hand on her lap and slowly walks backward before turning away completely. He gets to the glass doors and they abruptly vanish. Wei and Jean pass through the doorway, and the glass doors rematerializes. Suddenly the wheelchair begins turning until one hundred and eighty degrees. It begins moving on its own toward a brightly lit room and Étaín can’t help but close her eyes and tilt her head backward, unawares and uncaring for what lies beyond the thick radiance. The light engulfs her entire body, and she disappears beyond the veil of light.