Man of Time

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Chapter 16- Fighting Doubt

I am not stupid.

Pathetic.

Or weak…

My name, is Raymond Walters. I am 21 years old. Born in 1899. I have a mother, a father, and a little sister. They raised me to hide my light. To hide my identity because the around me could not handle authenticity. I watched tensions within my country crumble the foundations of democracy in the wake of WWI. White women fight for their rights while my mother sheltered us from the repercussions of it.

I like candles. The way their natural glow illuminates the darkness of my heart. How they demonstrated optimism to my pessimistic conscience. I modeled my light off their glow. A fusion between nature and man. Reflective of two worlds colliding, providing light where there is none. A neutral presence. Not good. Nor bad. Just, there. In existence.

I thought I would live a boring life shielding my truth from the world.

But this changed when my curiosity guided my decisions. Apprehensive of my surroundings I discovered a group of drunken white men. The concept of that seemed horrifying enough, but they turned out to be employees of a time traveling corporate heist to destabilize equality and justice on a global scale in the future. A true mouthful. And incredibly difficult to swallow…

They prayed off the vulnerable. Twisted lies and deception for personal gain. To maintain the established hierarchy that decimated communities across the globe.

And here I stood.

Caught between a war of time.

There were people before me, hundreds of them. Thousands. Most of which were slaughtered when they stood up against their oppressors. This trend of history, one that I’ve grown too familiar with, needed to be stopped.

The enmity of the situation narrowed our choices. A thinning tunnel that constricted our will and forced us into action. No longer could I stand by and be content with casualty. This would be a fight for my life. I have to defend my freedom. My life that the corporation robbed me of. I had to get it back… I just had to.

But to do that, I needed to train.

My light demonstrated an extension of my person. A gift from god. I had the ability to create the world within my palms, yet I refused to take advantage of it. Allusive fear of the creation of my own destiny terrified me. But that’s the thing about destiny, it’s inescapable.

Light bloomed from my palms, swirling around me in dense walls. These walls folded to the will of my wrists. Accompanying the fighting stances I learned in the modern world. With each action, my light followed with force, flying into the distance. Each move more calculated than the next.

There’s no getting home unless I can defeat the corporation. I’ve known this fact for some time, but I haven’t fully digested the implications. To get home I needed to fight. And to fight I needed to win. And I’ve never won a fight before, but I needed to try. Because if I don’t…

I don’t want to think about that.

As I continued training, the wiring of the elevator echoed throughout the floor. I didn’t have to turn around to know who it was. He came to comfort me. But I didn’t want comfort, I needed to focus.

“I am not in the mood to train with someone right now.”

My light dissipated. A soft exhale followed by hollowed eyes. My vision fixated on the pale sunlight glowing of my skin.

“I wasn’t planning on it. I came to check on you.” Ralph said.

I turned, eyes fallen to the exhausted man before me. “Are you, okay?” I looked at his legs.

“You don’t need to worry about me.” He crossed his arms.

“And you don’t need to worry about me.”

“But I want to.”

“I know.” I took a step back. “I know. But please, you don’t need to. I don’t want you to.”

Ralph’s posture stiffened, “What do you mean?”

My expression softened with crossed arms, “I don’t need your protection. I can handle myself. You must have better things to do than watch over me.”

“Does my presence bother you?” Ralph’s arms gripped his wheels.

“No. That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what do you mean?” He shook his head, “You’ve been like this for a couple of days now, Ray. What am I doing wrong?”

“Nothing…” My mind pulsed, “I- I don’t know.” I looked away.

“Please don’t lie.” Ralph pleaded.

“I enjoy your company Ralph.” More than I’d like to admit. “You are very kind, and sweet.” In the way no one has treated me before. “But I need to focus on getting home.” Because when I leave I will never see you again.

And I need to get over this attachment.

“Is that what you and Blake talked about?”

“Ralph…”

“No it’s okay.” Ralph forced a laugh, “I know I’m a lot. I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time.”

No no NO NO. Stop pushing him away. I like him. He’s nice to me. I like him a lot. More than- no. This is what I’m supposed to do. I need to focus. Focus on helping the group fight the corporation when the time comes. Not… Not… TELL HIM YOU’RE SORRY. It’s my fault for being so inconsistent. For allowing myself to get close to him. That’s STUPID. And pathetic. And weak.

“Are you serious?”

My stomach dropped as my feet twisted towards heartbreak. But Ralph’s comment wasn’t towards me, but Bhaskar. Who stood panting from his race down the stairs, speaking frantically with his hands.

Fear blazed through Ralph’s eyes as he turned to me, “Alexander just called for Edith’s arrest.”

The three of us rushed into the elevator, it’s squeaky gears filling the anxious void. Ralph starred in front of himself, jaw clenched in an attempt to withhold his reaction. Anger pooled off his posture as we rushed towards Edith. Who sat in front of the t.v.

“Please tell me you’re kidding.”

Edith’s thumb hovered over her lip, maintaining contact with the glowing screen. “This is bad.”

A light chuckle came from Helda who stood in the kitchen.

“What are you laughing at?” Edith said.

“What did you expect fighting the corporation?” Her demeanor laxed as she waltzed over.

“I had no choice. Raymond needed my help.”

Helda rolled her eyes, glancing at me.

“I had no control over the crash.” I defended.

“You guys should’ve ran away. Or not have been so obvious with your powers.” Helda crossed her arms.

“They were asking for my identification…”

“And if they found out he didn’t have any, they would have detained him and discovered he’s a Forgotten. I’ve seen it before.” Edith added.

“You said that all the time.” Helda scoffed.

“You know nothing of the corporation or its history. So I suggest you shut the hell up.” Edith snarled.

“So now what?” I stepped forward, hoping to defuse the tension.

“I can’t leave here. I won’t risk being arrested when we’re so close to the time machine and Alexander.”

THUMP THUMP. “What do you mean?”

“The machine’s here in New York.” Edith faced us. “It’s not far out from the city.”

But I thought- “Wait. We know where it is??” I questioned.

“We have for a long time.” Ralph wheeled away from my side.

“Since Ralph got that information from those guys at the park.” Helda tucked in her hair.

“It’s been that long and no one cared to inform me?!” Anger licked my tongue.

It’s been weeks since we went to the park. Did everyone know about this? The look on their faces provided my answer. The adults withheld their gazes with only Helda having the confidence to do so. Her lax demeanor juxtaposed the adults’ tense resentment.

“What?” Why weren’t they responding?

Helda sighed, “They’ve been making plans.”

“Plans?” I begged Ralph to look me in the eyes.

“To infiltrate the compound all superhero like. Like in a tacky fanfic, although, in real life. They’re been tossing around different strategies to end everything.”

“Shouldn’t I have been aware of this?!”

“If you’re not going to tell him, I will.” Helda resisted a smirk.

“Tell me what?”

“You’re not prepared to take on the corporation with us.” Edith’s cold eyes violated my security.

“You do not have the skills or proper training to fight alongside us.” Edith stood up, muting the t.v.

“I gulped. “So what? Am I going to stay here with Helda as you all fight?”

“I’m going too.”

“Wait. You’re letting a teenager fight but not me?!”

“Raymond.” Edith’s lips pursed, “This is for your own safety. There is no need to risk your life when you’re unprepared.”

“Unprepared?” I raised my voice. “I have trained everyday. My powers are stronger than they have ever been.”

“Raymond, I’m not here to fight with you. Your training has improved, yes, but when it comes to your anxieties they make you freeze. I’ve seen you fight, twice now. You’re not ready.”

Edith’s sentiment rattled my skull. The negativity swarming through my defenses. My mouth parted, giving a stance to a response that would not come from teary eyes.

“Ralph…”

I begged for his support. Praying he’d look me in the eyes in give me reassurance.

“You said you didn’t want my protection.”

Ralph left me to defend myself. Anxiety clawed up my neck. Telling me to shut down. Agree. Because perhaps Edith was right. Maybe she- NO.

“I’m going to fight for my freedom.” I stood tall.

“Pride is healthy, but don’t let your ego deceive you.” Edith cautioned.

“I’m serious.” I closed the void between us, no longer raising my voice.

“And this isn’t a game. This is reality.” Edith smacked the couch, “The reality none of us belong to yet here we are. I will not watch another Forgotten die under my watch.” Pain glazed her pupils.

“Then let me prove it to you.”

Edith shook her head, walking around me to her office. “Edith.” I stood in her way.

“You at least gotta give him a chance.” Helda chimed in.

Edith’s composure shifted with a lowered brow, “Fine. Tomorrow during training, you will spar me. And I’ll decide whether or not you’ll fight.”

A sharp inhale filled the empty air, “Okay.”

“Ralph, can I speak to you in private please.” Edith lifted her chin, beckoning him.

“Of course.” He agreed, following her to her office.

“Don’t worry, I believe in you.” Helda smiled, patting the couch to sit. “Both of them can be assholes. Especially Edith. And Ralph’s been acting weird lately.

“Yes, he has hasn’t he.” I sighed.

“Don’t think about it too much. He’s a bit clingy with the people he likes.” Helda yawned, slumping into the couch’s fluff.

“Why are you telling me this?”

I’ve never had a private interaction with Helda before. She always gave quirky remarks, or started drama with the others. Reassurance has never left her lips. She’s never engaged in empathy. But, she’s the only one currently respecting my wishes.

“Just an observation.” Her green eyes twinkled, “Being stuck in a factory makes you pick up on things.”

My fingers glided across each other. “What other ‘observations’ have you made?”

“You want a bullshit answer or, the interesting answer?” Helda wiggled her brows.

“The interesting answer?” I tilted my head.

“Well…” Helda fixed her posture, “We’ll start with Catori, she’s sweet but has some sort of dark ego that makes her perfect for Edith. Even though they haven’t admitted their feelings yet. It’d be only what, like 6 years? Bhaskar’s incredibly loyal, to a default almost. And Blake’s afraid of commitment and feels the need to please everyone they meet.”

“That’s not-” I breathed in. “Okay. What kind of observations have you made about me?”

Helda took a deep breath, a warm smile creeping up her lips. “You have crippling anxiety and feel the need to prove yourself cause of your past. I’m calling daddy issues.”

“Pardon?!” My attempted tranquility flew out the window.

“You had issues with your daddy!” She laughed, “Or, my bad, father, right?”

“What does my relationship with my father have to do with fighting the corporation?”

“Because you crave validation from Ralph. I’m betting he’s the only other guy in your life that’s treated you with the respect you think you deserve. But you’re a pretty solid guy Raymond, but I wouldn’t put too much faith in Ralph.”

She didn’t think- That I… And… Heh, no way that seemed impossible. I’ve never said, or, hinted that I- “What?”

“I’ve noticed you guys haven’t been getting along recently. He’s really been evasive hasn’t he? All men are like that though.”

“What has he done to you?” The question rolled off my tongue.

“I dunno.” Helda shrugged. “Sometimes he chooses the wrong side even though he’s trying his best. Sorry, I know you care for him but he isn’t as great as he may seem.”

Ralph gave the impression that Helda worshipped him. He saw her as a little sister to protect. But Helda spoke differently. Her exasperated tone told a different tale. One of distrust, and suppression. Her bubbly tone casting a facade to her true feelings of confliction.

“Thank you for that.” I suppressed my questions.

“Raymond!” A compassionate voice ended the stagnant atmosphere.

“Hello Catori.” My lips perked, leaning over for a greeting.

“Is everything okay? Are you hurt?” Her towering figure bent down.

“Only a little bit.” I said repressing a pulsing pain.

Catori’s hair draped behind her ear, “Do you need anything?”

“No, but thank you for your concern.”

“May I turn up the volume.” Her slender fingers pointed between Helda and I.

“Here.” Helda reach over me, handing off the remote.

Slowly the volume began to rise. The traditional voice of a reporter set the scene. An ordinary voice providing context to relevant news. Our attention turned to the headline gleaming off the screen. The name of our enemy.

“Oh shit he’s about to be on. Ralph! Edith!” Helda ran off.

I studied the energy within the reporter’s tone. The diction displayed across the screen as well as the flickering images. Fear festered at the pit on my stomach. Nothing good ever came from this man.

Edith and Ralph had returned. Catori stood and glided over to her admirer, “Dear?” Her hand traveled down Edith’s arm.

“I’m fine.” Edith stood tall examining the news.

“In the recent events following the troubling assaults on our dear officials, there has been much conversation on the procedures towards holding these negligent assailants accountable for the disturbance of peace in our community. It’s troubling to hear about this recklessness. As I said a couple of days ago, we are currently working with local law enforcement to investigate these troublesome activities. These assaults have begun to create a pattern that cannot be ignored, and must be brought to an end. Until these assailants could be brought to justice, I would like to formally announce an extended stay in New York. Together we will arrest these troublemakers and make them pay. If you have any information, contact the number on your screen. Your input matters, and we’re all responsible for keeping our community safe. And if you’re withholding any information, the authorities will find them and prosecute you. So I suggest you stay safe, and stay observant. Thank you for your valuable time, and goodnight.”

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