Chapter 11- How we evolve
“How do I look?”
“Hot DAMN.” Helda exclaimed through a mouthful of chips.
Startled, Ralph’s eyes darted over to me, where he melted in his chair, “You look… Fantastic.”
“You should have worn that on your guys’ date last week.” Ralph and I froze.
Date?! Helda laughed at us. My vision grew shaky as I looked to Ralph, who’s eyes were as panicked as mine. Guilt pouring from his lids.
“No, we didn’t… That wasn’t a date! We were just hanging out, getting some fresh air. Being, friendly…” Ralph clasped his hands, stuttering.
Helda squinted, sharing judgment towards Ralph before looking at me. Her face grew wide with rounded eyes and an open jaw.
“Oooo. Shit, my bad. I thought, nevermind. I get it now...” She nodded with her hands on her hips, giving a subtle nod. “Where were we?”
“My sweater?” I desperately tried changing the subject.
“Ah, yes. You look fantastic.” Helda exaggerated another nod.
“Thank you. I love it.” I replied.
“Blake and I tried.” Ralph rested his hand on his chin.
“I’m just glad I don’t have to borrow Bhaskar’s clothes anymore.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mind.” Helda waved her hand, bracing herself against the table.
“I know. But I felt bad. I don’t know how to talk to him.” Quite literally.
I only knew english. In the form of words. From my mouth… So trying to communicate with sign language was out of the question.
“I can teach you! Got nothin else to do.” Helda offered.
“I would appreciate that. I feel bad for not being able to communicate.” I nodded eagerly.
Helda exchanged a sympathetic smile, “We all learned it from him, you’ll catch on.” She encouraged.
“Of course! Complete 180, but,” Helda crossed her arms with pondering mischief, “Is it my turn to spar you today?”
“I believe so. Why…?”
A devilish smirk lined her lips, “Because I’m bored, and I want to kick your ass.”
“Helda…” Ralph struggled through a laugh.
“What did I do?” I threw my hands in the air.
“Nothing... Nothing,” Helda’s playful expression shifted, “Look, everyone gets to go out, have a good ol time, work, do whatever the hell they want. And I’m just stuck here.”
“Because you’re a minor and I want to keep you safe.” Ralph reminded.
“I know. I know. But I’m almost 17, and I want to go out like a normal teen.”
“When I was your age, I was also stuck at home and not allowed to go out.” Ralph crossed his arms.
Helda rolled her eyes, “Because you were a crippled gay man living in nazi Germany. And, your dad was an asshole.”
That was clearly a reference I didn’t understand…
“I just want to go hangout with a friend. Please??” Helda begged, sitting on the table.
“Is your school work done?”
I covered my mouth, barely restraining my laughter. Ralph sounded like a burned out parent. An interesting side of him, given his relationship with Helda.
“Yea, finished it this morning.”
“With Lin?” Ralph guessed.
Ralph squinted his eyes, “I expect you to be home in 4 hours, do I make myself clear?”
“Ugh, yes dad.” Helda rolled her eyes.
“And keep me updated, please?” Ralph leaned across the table, smacking her arm.
“Yea yea yea…” She hopped down, “Thank you!!” She shouted as she ran to her room.
Ralph leaned against his chair with pursed lips. Watching Helda leave his sight. His features grew sternfully thoughtful.
“What are you smiling at?” He turned to me.
“Nothing." I held my bicep, “Are you alright?”
“You know I worry.”
Standing up, I walked over to his table, “I know. But she deserves to get out like the rest of us.”
“Yeah yeah.” Ralph responded dismissively.
“Any progress?” I leaned over, viewing the computer screen.
Ralph shook his head, “No. It’s all, encrypted. I can’t seem to figure it out.”
“You will get it eventually.” I smiled.
Ralph shrugged with his hand resting above his eye.
“Hey, I mean it.”
“Thanks, where are you going?” His forehead creased as I started walking off.
“I’m going to do some training. Need to refocus my energy. You’re welcome to join me.” I offered, now in the middle of the factory floor.
“Maybe in a little bit, I like watching you use your light.” He agreed.
“It may not be a constellation, but it’s a lightshow nonetheless.” We both grinned before I disappeared towards the stairs.
Thankfully, I was alone today. Having to train alongside the group filled me with anxiety and always led to a poor performance. The others always seemed better. Faster. And stronger.
But when I was alone, peace filled my soul. My mind able to concentrate on refining my skills. To fail without consequence. Catori and I continued training alone in the morning, and it helped me tremendously. Her encouraging attitude motivated me to push further, and become more advanced in physical skill.
Even though I liked training alone, I preferred training with Ralph. He made me feel, safe. We’d often spar after dinner when the others retired to their rooms or left for work. He understood my desire to maintain my morals. With his help, my light grew stronger each day. My moves felt more synchronized. Mind full of clarity with new, blissful memories. His presence inspired me to be stronger.
No longer was my powers limited by fragmented shards and glowing orbs. No, now the power rushing through my veins orchestrated an array of light. Extending into refined curves and edges the size of my body. With the sway of my figure, walls of light danced around me in harmony. Morphing along with me as I changed positions. Never had my light and I been so synchronized. As if the light had become an extension of myself. It’s fluid movements being controlled by even breaths and delicate pacing.
“Damn, this will never get old.” I spotted Ralph leaning against a pilar, arms folded in amusement.
“Instead of daydreaming, you could come over here. I could use a partner.” I spoke through a soft exhale, my light dissipating into thin air.
“Ugh, if I have to…” He teased, throwing his head back before joining.
“Are you really going to act like that?” I took a step closer to him, looking up.
“What can I say? I’m a tease.” He shook his head, grinning widely.
“Get over here so I can fight you.” I blushed.
“Since when have you been so competitive?” He positioned himself in a fighting stance.
I called my light, using it to deflect Ralph’s attacks. “Since I realized I need to train as hard as I can for when you find Alexander.”
“Right.” He responded coldly.
Our session quickly dissolved into silence. Tension swirling around us and our powers. Our touches were hesitant. Blows and defenses fueled by sensitivity. Ralph’s magic attacked my defenses, which grew weaker the longer we went.
“You know, there are other things you can do instead of train…”
He thinks I’m weak, doesn’t he?
“Which I do, whenever I’m not down here. I think I have an even balance.”
The more I train, the less pathetic I become.
“You do…” Ralph stood upright, panting. “But lately, it’s been more training.”
It would be stupid of me not to. I couldn’t sit around and be unprepared. I belonged in 1920. Not 2020. This time is temporary to me. I can’t get attached. I… Shouldn’t get attached.
“As opposed to trying to live in a world I won’t be in for long?”
“What makes you so sure of that?”
Even for Ralph.
“Everyone around here is constantly praising your work. I have faith that you will figure it out.” I crossed my arms, avoiding contact.
“And if I don’t?” Shakiness hovered over his tongue.
“I don’t want to think about that.” I moved away, picking up a towel resting nearby.
I felt sick. But, I had to do this. He needed to know where my priorities lied. “Getting home is the most important thing to me. It will happen eventually. I didn’t intend to put pressure on you.” I turned to a conflicted Ralph.
His gaze fixated on the ground, “I should probably get back to work."
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” I apologized.
“You didn’t,” He insisted through a fake smile, “Just made me realize I should be more attentive to my job.” He spoke before limping away.
My hand ran across my lids. I didn’t want to upset him, but it had to be said. Every night I was haunted by the thought of never going home. Never seeing my Mama sing again. Or giving Poppy a light show…
When Poppy was born, it was as if my life had found meaning. Her fragile body held in my Mama’s overworked frame. Mrs. Bonni had helped deliver her. I remember being pushed out of the room. “Women only” Mrs. Bonni teased. Father had already left for the war, leaving me in charge of the house. Although, Mama was always the real one in charge…
When I held Poppy for the first time, the joy of newfound life inspired me to be more than Father’s failure. At that moment, I decided I would do my best to protect Poppy from the horrors of our world, starting with our father.
When her eyes opened for the first time, my heart fluttered. Her beautiful, golden eyes. Sparkling ever so innocently at a loving family. Giggles of joy and cries of attention. I loved it all. I found myself hovering over her as she took her first steps, her tiny fingers clutched around mine. Everything she did, I was there for. Her first steps. First words… I was supposed to be there every step of the way. But I let her down.
Because I was pathetic. Stupid. And WEAK.
A sharp exhale exitted my throat as I buried my face into my palms. I just wanted to go home. I was sick of waking up everyday hoping I was dreaming. In my room. At home. Instead of this factory…
I sat down on my bed, hearing this repetitive ringing buzz from outside my room. I ignored it, until I heard panicked footsteps and voices. Quickly standing, I rushed outside to see Edith frantically wrapping a scarf around her neck, traveling to Ralph’s area.
“What’s that beeping?” I stuttered, jogging over to Edith and Ralph.
“Another Forgotten,” She scrambled for a device on the table, “Fuck!” Edith shouted.
“The drop off was 10 minutes from here. Convenient, I just hope it’s enough time…” Ralph informed.
Edith grumbled to herself before storming out of the room. “Hey! You can’t go alone!” Ralph shot from his chair.
“Everyone else is at work… Shit. Okay come on, let’s go.” Edith beckoned, “Both of you.” She stared directly at me. “Now.”
Edith wants me to join?? “Uh, okay!” I stumbled after her.
“Are you sure you want us to come?” Ralph caught up, folding the elevator gates behind us.
What was happening?! “Yes. I’d normally bring Catori and Bhaskar, but they’re working and there’s no time.” Edith paced impatiently.
“Raymond,” Edith said as we slid through the fence and down the street, “You’ll be by my side, we’ll watch your back and you’ll watch ours. I want you to speak to the Forgotten.”
Wait, what?! “Why me??” I have enough anxiety talking to the group yet alone a stranger. From another world. Oh boy…
“Because anxious men are honest men, so you’re easy to talk to.”
Should I be offended?
“You’ll sound more believable than me. Catori usually takes care of this thing for me…” Edith started mumbling to herself as she started her car, pulling away. “And besides, being transported to the future is still fresh in your memory in comparison to Ralph and I.”
Ralph grinned with a conceded tone, “What she means is, you’re the best person for the job.”
Because of my anxiety… That’s great to know. Was my anxiety really that obvious?? “I’ll do my best.”
“Good. And Ralph,” Edith faced him with sincerity, “If it gets too much,” She glanced at his leg, “I’ll need you to fall back.
“That won’t happen.” Ralph crossed his arms.
“I’m serious, Ralph. Your safety is my utmost concern. No need to play hero.” Edith lectured, turning the corner harshly through traffic.
“How do we know they haven’t been captured yet?” I looked out the window, observing dozens of people in a nearby open space.
“We don’t.” Edith parked the car on the side of the street before we got out, “But it takes both us and the corporation just as much time to find them. As I’m sure you remember, you tend to wander around a bit.”
“What do they look like?” I asked, scanning our surroundings.
My eyes widened, “Name?”
“Don’t know.” Edith shook her head.
Are you kidding me? “Then how are we supposed to know what to look for?”
“Uneasiness. Overstimulation. Odd clothing… No way in hell they’ll have modern clothing.”
We were now in the middle of the open space. The sidewalks filled with ordinary adults taking a lunch break. Children played amongst themselves as tired parents laid under shady trees. How were we supposed to find this Forgotten here? My eyes traveled over each person, noting the complex oddities of this world. Everyone looked like they were meant to be here.
“Hey, I think I found something…” Ralph wandered off.
“Wait!” I exclaimed, getting Edith to follow us.
Ralph hovered close to me, as if our awkward conversation from earlier never happened. He pointed towards a lone black man, leaning against a tree. His hands clinging to the bark and eyes darting rapidly. His legs trembled in waisted pants flowing over his ankles with his button shirt folded loosely within them.
“I’m calling it now, he’s from the 50's.” Edith noted, focused on the man.
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“I’ve been a part of these rescue parties for nine and a half years, and I’ve learned the quirks and tidbits of every era…” Edith bit her lip, “He’s horrified to be around white people. And his outfit, he’s definitely from the south.” She gestured with a thrown hand.
“I know you’ve been in the future for 10 years, but desegregation isn’t so normal for the rest of us.” I batted my eyes.
“Okay smooth talker, go talk to him.” Edith nudged me forward, causing the man to notice us.
“Excuse me, sir. May I speak with you?” I smiled as the man retracted.
“Who are you?! Where am I??” He spat, trembling from my white friends’ gazes.
“It’s a long story, but you’re safe with us.” I smiled as Ralph joined my side, “Trust me.”
His lip stuttered, “Trust you?!” He exclaimed with plump lips, “With him?! No. No!”
“He’s not one of them.” I reassured, taking a gentle step in his direction.
The Forgotten’s breath labored as he checked Ralph out.
“Calm the fuck down.” Edith interrupted impatiently before I guided her away.
“Stop it… Yes, you’ll be okay. They won’t hurt you and neither will I. But there are people who will if you don’t come with us right now.”
“What people?” He’s really going to be this difficult… “Who even are ya’ll?” Is this how I sounded to Blake?
A suppressed sigh escaped my tongue, “We’re like you. The same thing happened to me over two weeks ago.”
“We have a problem.” Edith muttered.
“Where?” Ralph’s eyes narrowed in search.
“What’s going on??” The man peered over my shoulder.
“We will be okay.” I tried comforting him as my heart began racing.
“Turn around!” Ralph quietly exclaimed, his large figure twisted in fear. “They’ll recognize you!”
“Like they won’t with you?” Edith taunted back. “If anything, you’ll be-”
“Shut up.” Ralph’s tone dropped, scaring Edith into silence.
Muting my emotions, I focused on coaxing the new Forgotten. And Ralph joined. But Edith had remained still. Staring off into the direction of the corporation. I looked back, noting a man and a woman dressed in the same blue suits I saw when I ate pizza last week. Edith’s jaw parted slightly, brows dropped with gloss shielding her eyes. She went to speak, but her body became overwhelmed with emotions.
“Edith?” Ralph went to her, concern written over his glasses.
“Follow me.” She shook her feelings aside, returning to her normal hard boiled facade.
But her facade was cracking…
After exiting the park, Edith led us to a nearby alley. “Why do I always end up here?” I commented.
“Away from crowds?” Ralph shrugged, nervously eyeing Edith. Who seemed to be fighting an internal war.
“I was just kidnapped, and ya’ll decide to joke?” The Forgotten scoffed, disturbed by our lack of coordination.
“My apologies…” Ralph apologized before whispering to Edith.
“What’s your name?” I shifted, attempting to calm the stranger.
“Trevor, and what are we doing in a dead end?” He pointed behind me.
“Didn’t think that one through.” Edith giggled nervously, her hand resting on her hips.
“Edith, what’s going on with you?” Ralph loomed over her, trying to remain composed. “You’re normally on top of this sort of thing.”
“I know! But right now we can’t reach the car. We have to make sure the corporation’s gone first. That, or we fight our way out.”
“Pardon?” Trevor pushed me aside, confronting Edith.
“If we fight in public, they can arrest us, easily. We have to wait it out.” Edith peered towards the street.
Great. We might have to fight our way out. I guess all of that training is finally going to come in handy. Wait. Training… Ralph!
“Are you okay?” I approached Ralph.
“I’m fine.” He dismissed me, facing the street.
My thoughts were scattered from our lack of coordination. Something had happened to Edith and Ralph had returned the cold shoulder towards me. I gulped, focusing my energy on Trevor.
“Everything will be alright, I promise.”
As soon as those words left my mouth, the two Lothar Corporation officials from before marched into our alley. Their steps coordinated. I pulled Trevor behind me, joining Edith and Ralph in a protective barrier. Ralph and I looked prepared for a fight, while Edith appeared completely unprepared.
Her square jaw clenched tightly as she appeared to be slipping in and out of reality. Edith’s chest rose and fell heavily as she eyed the female official. Who’s long black hair was slicked into a tight bun. Surely Edith wasn’t afraid to fight? Was she…?
Edith answered my question by springing at the woman, deadly lines sprouting from her palms. Ralph and I followed after her, fighting the man together. Who’s buff body swung in offense, only to be deflected by my light.
We danced around our attacker, taking coordinated blows. Ralph would throw a punch while I’d be right behind him with my light, shielding our attacker’s powerful fists.
Bringing my hand up from my torso, a large shield collided with our opponent’s abdomen. Knocking him on his back. Ralph scurried over, only to be kicked in the knee. Grunting in pain, he managed to remain upright. The man took his weakness and kicked his amputated leg. Ralph’s body fell to the floor before he caught himself with his mist, using it to propel himself in the air.
The stranger looked up as Ralph spun his prosthetic around, slamming it in his head. As they fell, Ralph’s pointed leg sliced right into the official’s thigh, causing him to scream. With staggered footing Ralph raised his attackers head with his mist, and slammed it against the ground. Rendering him unconscious.
I rushed to his side as his arms clutched mine for balance. His olive orbs twinkling in exhaustion. I asked if he was okay and he insisted that he was.
The noises from the fight behind us drew our attention. Edith was still fighting the woman, who moved fluidly through Edith’s staggered attacks. She seemed unphased by her sloppy stance. More focused on the thoughts rushing to her head. A glimpse of her face revealed tears staining her cheek bones. Blurring her vision.
Edith... Never cries...
She kept mumbling things. Seemingly begging the woman to stop. Trevor stood nearby, back against the dead end. Edith’s ropes twisted her attacker’s stance. Knocking her against the same wall. A pool of dirty water resting in the cracked pavement suddenly moved, slicing away Edith’s vines with the flick of the official’s hand.
Edith froze as the woman landed a punch to the nose. She stumbled back, blood trickling down her face. The woman took this opportunity to reach in her pocket, and pulled out a gun.
“Trevor! Move out of the way!”