Chapter 9- Acknowleding Flaws
The following morning, I trained alongside Catori. As opposed to the humiliating competition forced upon Ralph and I the other day, Catori was gentle, and encouraging with my progress. We focused more on the physical ramifications of my powers, instead of the physical. Learning to properly control my light in a state of tranquility rather than panic...
I had just come from downstairs, where I found Blake lounging on the nearby couch, “Blake? What are you doing here, I thought you had work?”
“I did, but I took the day off to help Ralph. Turns out, he preferred to work alone.” They set their phone down, focusing on me.
“Oh, you have the whole day off?”
“That’s kinda what ‘day off’ means,” Blake giggled, “Are you up to anything today?”
“I was going to try to find Bhaskar and Helda. With the exception of yesterday, I didn’t get much of a chance to get to know them. And, if I’m going to fight the corporation with everyone, I atleast want to be close to you all.”
“You’re going to fight?” Blake’s eyes widened.
“Yes. Catori is helping me train. It’s why I’m all sweaty.” I panted.
“I’m impressed,” They examined my drenched clothes, “I’m proud of you for making that decision.” Blake spoke with sincerity.
“I’m doing what I have to do to get home.”
“I know… Would you like to join me on the roof?” Blake changed topics with a smile.
“What’s up there?” I asked.
“Nothing except the view. I thought some fresh air might be nice.” They stood up, fixing their outfit before making their way to the stairs.
“I need to change, but I’ll join you in a moment.”
After a brief visit to my room, I made my way up to the roof. The natural blinding light of the late morning led to squinted eyes. Large, looming clouds from the east distributed the sun’s light across the whole sky. The still air left the world in a state of numbness.
Blake leaned against an old, red railing that surrounded the roof in curved lines. “Catori said there was a metal manipulator who designed the rails for people’s pleasure. Said a couple of artists helped make the railing resemble the oldness of the factory. They apparently wanted to give an outdoor space for people to socialize without making a scene or, well, fall to their doom.”
I noticed the strange designs within the rails, mistook them for wreckage. I loved hearing someone mention the people who used to live here. I felt as if I was a part of something special. As if they were my ancestors… Although, I guess they kind of were.
Ralph, Catori, myself, and the others were a part of a newer generation of Forgotten. And even though the Forgotten’s lives ended in an untimely demise, I could somehow picture what this place must have looked like 7 years ago. Trying to carry on their legacy gave me the purpose I strived for and reassurance I needed to feel worthy of going home.
“So,” Blake began when I stood next to them, “Is the future everything you’d thought it’d be?”
“Not at all.” I joined them, looking out towards Gowanus Bay. “I sometimes wondered what life would be like having electricity in my home, or to own a car. But this… Never in a million years could I have imagined anything like this.” I looked back towards the city, seeing the rising smoke and bustling cars in the distance.
“Good thing it’s only been a hundred years.” They laughed.
“What was it like back in 1920?” Blake asked.
“No,” Blake shook their head with a funny looking frown, “That’s not what I meant. I mean, what was life like?”
“Well… My Father served. My Mama was a house cleaner, although she was a wonderful singer. I used to encourage her to sing at a local diner, but she never got around to doing it. And my little sister, Poppy, her smile could bring the world back into tune.”
“Tell me more.” They leaned towards me, a wide smile brightening their face.
“When I got home from work, she would beg me to give her a light show. ‘Brotha! Brotha!’, she’d call. ‘I wanna see light! Your light!’. And we would sit in my room after dark, and I’d build her a galaxy, like this…”
With the flex of my palm, twinkling orbs blossomed into the still air. They hovered around my body, and eventually dazzled around Blake, and above our heads. My light wasn’t as beautiful in the day, but it’s aesthetic still presented a calming wave of clarity we both were looking for. Blake’s jaw dropped as they lost themself in a trance.
I’ve never shown them the true beauty of my light. Something pure that isn’t brought by chaos, but instead, brought by compassion. Blake saw a brief demonstration at their apartment, but never like this.
Back there they saw a young, cowardly man. Fearful of his life and confused by his circumstances. And even though I still carry some of those traits, I have grown immensely since that day.
“Ray, this- this is beautiful. Even mid-day. Poppy must have been one lucky sister.”
I sighed, “She was my everything. And now, she’s gone.” My light vanished.
I had this blissful hope that everything would be okay. That everything must workout because it somehow always does but, it’s not. We have no idea where Alexander is. Or even how to get into whatever building that has the time machine in.
And Poppy’s dead.
I’m 100 years away from home and the only way to get home is to take on a multi-trillion dollar corporation with…. 6 other people? Hundreds of them were obliterated in one fail swoop attempting the same goal years ago. So, what hope did I truly have?
Yes, progress was being made with Catori but how could someone like me, someone as insignificant as me, fight my way to freedom against all odds? I allowed myself to be blinded by ignorant determination that I forgot to ground myself to reality.
We’re going to fail.
I’ll never see Poppy again. Never hold her in my arms. Or hear her laughter.
I’m out of time. And maybe, I need to just accept that.
Blake’s expression softened, “And you’ll see her again, once we get out hands on the time machine.” Grabbing my shoulder.
I brushed them away, turning towards the bay, “How? How many years has everyone been trying to get a hold of it? You said it yourself the other night, Edith has lived here for 10 years, and there were hundreds before her trying to accomplish the same task. And they failed. What hope could I possibly have?”
Blake stood tall, disgusted by my comments, “Where will that pessimism of yours leave you?” They folded their arms, “Your only option is hope because without it, you’ll fall victim to the worst demon of all; yourself.”
After a pause, they shook their head with tearful eyes, “Listen, your doubts are justified. But you have to have faith because dwelling in self-pity won’t fix your problems. It won’t give us the time machine… Ralph’s gotten some of the most vital information they’ve gotten in years. It’s taken so long because they didn’t have the skills to get it sooner. Ralph’s evolving with the corporation. He’s picked up more modern technology than I have in my 24 years. He’s the only reason we’re making any progress.”
Throughout Blake’s speech, the festering anger lingering within my body began to drain. Releasing into the atmosphere and being internalized by Blake, leaving my emotions as empty as the sky.
“You’re right... I apologize.”
Whenever I started to spiral, Blake was always right there to bring me back to reality. And I couldn’t be more grateful. That’s why we’ve connected so well. They are the one encouraging action while I express passionate determination. Even if on the inside I felt as if all hope was lost.
The only way I’ll make it back home is, well, believing that I will. Blake had a point, dwelling in self pity will get me nowhere.
“How did you and Ralph meet?” I asked, changing subjects.
“Oh man, it’s quite a story. We were both captured at the same time, taken to a nearby Lothat facility where they keep Forgotten. Ralph, somehow, manipulated the guards into letting us escape. Looking back, I don’t think either of us would be standing free if not for his brilliance. He’s my best friend, and I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
I bit my lip, “I want to get close to him like I have with you.”
“What’s stopping you?” They asked.
“I don’t know.” I shrugged.
Blake inhaled deeply, investigating my emotions, and exhaled with a smile, “Well, he might seem all big and serious, but he’s a real softy on the inside. Like a big teddy bear. You just have to talk to him.”
“Alright. I’ll try that.” Really helpful Blake…
We stood on the roof for a while, enjoying our company in silence. Eventually, Blake and I came inside when they told me they were going back home to get some rest. We said our goodbyes with a friendly hug before I faced the empty hall.
Looking around, it seemed about half of the group was out of the building. Catori and Bhaskar were at work. And Edith was nowhere to be found. She’d often disappear with nothing but a coat for hours at a time. She’d come back for meals before heading out to work at some dance studio.
I told Catori and Helda that I wanted to see Edith dance but the only response I got was an awkward blush from Catori and assurance from Helda that it wasn’t the sort of dancing I had in mind. Whatever that meant…
Speaking of Helda, I heard music playing from her room. She spent most of her time there, as any teenager would, only emerging for food or to pester Ralph and I. I quite liked her presence, bubbly and sarcastic. An interesting change of pace from the people of my time. Although, there were sometimes where her opinions would make me uncomfortable. She’s, how do I put this? Aggressive. But who was I to judge?
Walking past the open room, I saw Ralph standing by his desk. His chair tucked away while he typed away. The sounds of his keyboard echoed throughout the floor, indicating the aggression in his work.
Maybe, maybe I should go talk to him. Big teddy bear, right? Why am I sweating just thinking about it?! I guess I’m still not over the other day. Wait, is he over it?? SHUT UP RAYMOND. He’s just a friend, not some Lothar soldier or something…
“Hello.” I greeted, entering his line of sight.
“Hey Ray!” He exclaimed, eyes focused until he suddenly panicked, “Oh sorry, I’ve been hanging out with Blake a lot and-”
I looked down, “It’s alright.” My face felt warm. “You can call me ‘Ray’. What are you doing?” I leaned over to unrecognizable images.
“Trying to get this- Christ! Work! Work, god dammit!!” Ralph slammed his fist, causing me to flinch.
My hands were shaking. “What’s wrong?” I spoke.
Ralph stared angrily into his computer. “I don’t understand… Oh come on! Sorry, this is frustrating.” He looked over, noticing the slight sway in my body.
“Why don’t you take a break?” I suggested with folded arms.
Ralph’s body shifted in an intimidating stance, but he paused, “... You’re right.” He sighed, slouching.
“You look like you haven’t slept since yesterday.”
The bags under his eyes proved my hypothesis. His glasses slid down, hanging just barely to his cute nose. Ralph’s messy hair poking out in unusual places.
“I haven’t.” He admitted.
“Maybe you should.” I suggested.
“I don’t-” His large body tensed with an adorable yawn, “Maybe I should.” He agreed, turning off his computer.
After fixing his glasses, he made his way around the desk. His telekinetic leg staggering. I watched him begin to stomp away, but the weakness in his body stopped him as he collapsed.
“Are you okay?!” I rushed to his side, careful not to invade his space.
Ralph bit his lip with impatience, “ I’m fine.” He snapped, avoiding eye contact.
“Where’s your chair?” I observed the room, not finding it.
“I didn’t need it.” He insisted, twisting to stand, but stopping with a pained wince.
His stubbornness led to a frown, “ You didn’t need it? Or you didn’t want it?
“Does this have to do with what Edith said yesterday?” I asked.
“I appreciate your concern,” Ralph internalized his aggravation, speaking in a scarily calm tone, “But I don’t want to talk about it.” He pursed his lips.
“I’m sorry. At least let me help you up?” I offered my hand.
Ralph stared at my hand, contemplating dropping his pride long enough to be helped. He dropped his facade, taking his hand in mine as I hauled him up. I let go of him, as he was able to stand on his own. He fashioned a new prosthetic from thin air, ready to move. But he stopped again.
Should I ask him what’s wrong? No, he can handle himself. I’m only here if he needs me to be.
“Could you… Can you help me to my room?” He asked, turning to me with vulnerability.
“Hey, are you awake?” A gentle knock came from outside my room.
“Yes.” I answered, setting down a notebook.
The silhouette of Ralph’s wheelchair waited patiently behind the curtain, “May I come in?”
With telekinesis, Ralph opened the curtain to my room. Wheeling in a nervous manner. I sat on my bed, knees held to my chest while looking out the window.
“How are you?” He fiddled with his hands.
“I’m okay.” Yourself?” I glanced over.
“I’m a little stressed, but it’s alright.” He trailed off, itching to continue, “ I wanted to apologize for how I treated you earlier, it wasn’t fair to take out my anger on you. And, I’m- I’m sorry you had to see me like that.”
Ralph shook his head, “But it’s not. And, I know that. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. And, I’ll try to work on my anger in the future.”
“Thank you for the apology.” I nodded.
Ralphed wheeled closer to me, “Let me make it up to you?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Would you like to go out on the town with me? Only if you want to of course! It can feel a bit claustrophobic in here sometimes and I…”
“I would like that.” I grinned, cutting his anxiety short.
“Good.” He sighed in relief, “I was worried you’d think I was weird.” He shied away.
“I don’t think you’re weird.” I admitted.
The two of us locked eyes for a brief moment. A warm tingling sensation caressed my cheeks as Ralph’s flushed pink against his porcelain complexion. I found his shyness charming. There was something about him allowing himself to present vulnerability that felt, special.
“Thanks.” He folded his arms, “Uh, can you give me a couple of hours? I need to finish up some work. We can go somewhere nice for dinner.”
Dinner? Why was he acting so coy about dinner?
“Sounds great. Should I go tell Catori and Blake?” I stood up, but he didn’t move.
“Actually, I was thinking it could just be us this time…” He glanced up, uncertainty covering his olive eyes.
“Oh.” THUMP THUMP.
“Only if you want to! Are you okay with that?” He blurted.
KEEP IT TOGETHER. “Yes.” I responded, sitting back down.
Why is my heart beating so fast?? We’re just having a casual conversation and yet, my mind is racing. Maybe I’m still a bit hung up over Blake and I’s conversation. And then Ralph’s small outburst. Yes. That’s it. Unresolved anxiety. Nothing more to it than that…
“If you change your mind in the next couple of hours, let me know. Don’t feel like you have to, okay? I’ll come get you in a bit.”