Hector and Paige look upon the bowing young man. They can feel the aura of humility emanating strongly from him. Nani and Lennon watch, standing behind Hector, Lennon’s arm still embracing Nani, he head still dug comfortably into Lennon’s chest. Hector ponders Wei’s position for a moment, stroking his chin, scratching his head, until he gives a long sigh. A silence fills the moment, as everyone recollects their thoughts on the matter. We continues his bow and Hector thinks he sees drops of water on the ground directly below Wei’s face. Hector gives out another long sigh until he finally says, “Wei, who are you?”
Paige, Nani, and Lennon glance at Hector with confused stares. Wei continues to bow, his arms seemingly stiffening at his sides.
“Wei, you are a martial artist. Get up man. You’re looking pretty pathetic.” Hector takes a step forward to stand beside the bowing Wei. Hector holds up a clenched fist, his three friends glance at it.
Nani loosens her embrace in Lennon’s arms, and calls out to Hector. “What are you going to do?”
“Not another word Nani,” Hector says, glancing at her to connect his gaze and nodding slightly. He turns back to Wei. Hector can hear small whimpers coming from the unmoving young man. Hector clenches his fist even harder, and then he abruptly punches Wei in the stomach in a slow arching motion. Wei coughs erratically, trying to catch his breath.
Paige turns away at the sight, Nani retreats by hiding her face in her hands, and Lennon slowly shifts his gaze away, toward Hector’s feet.
“Wei, get up. You’re a martial artist. You’re supposed to be the best,” Hector declares, while Wei remains bowed, stiffening his body.
Hector punches Wei again, with the same force. Paige walks away, disappearing into the large crowds. Nani hides her face in Lennon’s chest, and Lennon averts his gaze upon Nani’s shoulder. Wei violently coughs this time, he is winded more noticeably from the second blow. He stiffens for but a moment, while still keeping his bowed form. Hector sighs.
“Wei you will fight me. But not now. Not as you are now. Right now, you’re but a shell of your former self. The Wei of past will be caught dead showing this humiliating display. Space, he would have laughed it off. The Wei I know is not the man before me. You are nothing more but the ghost of what the Academy… No… what the UTG… Space, what the HIPER wants of recruits; a mindless thrall.
Wei starts breathing wildly, he clutches his chest, and breaks into a gut-wrenching bawl. Hector steps away and covers his eyes with one hand.
Wei starts moving in long slow motions into a standing position. He wipes away the tears and drivel from his nose, wiping it on his pants and shirt. He breathes in deep and then says in a loud but shaky voice, “Hector, in recognition that you beat me in our race yesterday, I will be honored to fight you in a martial arts match.”
Nani raises her head out of Lennon’s chest and she and Lennon watch Wei’s declaration. Paige reappears beside them, materializing from among the crowded Hub around the group, to witness Wei’s announcement.
“I will do whatever it takes to get back into your good graces until you seem as a fitting equal-“
Hector interjects in Wei’s speech and says in a stern voice, “See Wei, that right there is what I don’t want to hear. When I declared I wanted a martial arts match as a reward for beating you in a race, I knew I would be fighting the Academy’s best. But that line you said just now, ‘I want to get back into your good graces.’ It makes me sick to the stomach. I cringe when I hear you say those words.”
Wei looks at him in disbelief, his apologetic declaration hasn’t worked. In fact, it’s only made his position weaker. He wonders why that is. He knows that he needs to show Hector confidence. He knows he needs to become the man he was only a day before. But every time he thinks about his defeat, about what he did to Hector and Paige, he hears a high pitched ringing noise, far off in the distance. At this point he starts to frown, his lips tremble, and he tries to fight the overwhelming feeling of guilt. It’s a feeling he knows he should purge from his body. He knows he must not have any guilt in order to be able to face Hector in a fight. But the guilt overwhelms him, regardless of the logical advantages of feeling unsympathetic about his violent transgressions the day before would give him in his upcoming fight. He wonders if he will ever be worthy in Hector’s perspective. He wonders about what Hector actually wants from him. He purges his thoughts about what the faux feelings he should be portraying and instead focuses on Hector’s words. ‘You are nothing more but the ghost of what… the HIPER wants of recruits; a mindless thrall.’ Wei places his both his hands on his face and mutters under a breath, “Am I a thrall?”
“What? I can’t hear you, man! Speak up!” Hector ardently orders.
A growing vehemence churns in Wei’s stomach with Hector’s latest order. Wei’s breathing becomes controlled and methodical—intensity in his eyes, he looks at his rival. Hector returns a matching gaze, and they lock eyes. An abyssal blackness engulfs their surroundings, eventually swallowing up the Hub patrons and the three friends at their side. Their unbroken stare intensifies, lines of communication begin to form, and they begin to speak unspoken honest words.