“Wake up Dr. Blay, wake up.” I open my eyes slowly to look around but have to shield my eyes from the sun when I accidentally look upwards.
I try to wipe my mouth since I feel something sticky beside it but my helmet is down so I can’t do that. We are obviously away from the Osamanpa tribe exactly how far away are we?
“Who’s there? Alex is that you?” I say while trying to recognise the figure above me despite the blinding sun behind them. “Where are we?”
“We’re here?” she says and I realise that it is indeed her.
“Huh?” I say. “Here where?”
“The cave Dr. Blay,” she says. “You fell asleep on the way so I got us here by myself, safely, you’re welcome,” she says boastfully.
“Yeah, thanks,” I say sarcastically.
“Whatever Monsieur Pantalons grincheux,” she calls me a ‘cranky pants’ in French. “I allowed you sleep to drive away your crankiness but it guess it didn’t work very well.”
“So how long have I been asleep?” I say as I change from a lying position to a sitting one and see the bike parked beside the entrance to the cave.
“About, thirty minutes,” she says.
“Thirty minutes?” I say in shock. “That means we have only two hours to do this!”
“Yes, well two hours and ten minutes.”
“This is no time for specifics Alex,” I say as I get to my feet and drag her up. “We have to do this now!”
We grab our gear bags and enter the cave with less inhibition than the last time. There is no obvious threat this time so we basically sprint through the cave toward the room where we saw the woman. Considering the job we saw the Nakamura triplets do on the post-humanoids when we were here last, I’m pretty sure there aren’t that many of them left to fight.
“How many people are in here?” I say to Alex as she scans her communicator screen.
“Seems there are three,” she says.
“Only three?” I say and she nods. “That’s impossible.”
“Well that’s what it says here,” she says as she shows the communicator screen to me and I see only three active red dots on the map. “Those ninjas must’ve done a really good job of cleaning the post-humanoid scum out of this cave.”
“Yes, but I just hope that they remembered not to hurt the woman like I told them else they’d better wish they were already on the next flight back to Japan,” I say and Alex starts laughing hysterically for some reason. “Why? What’s funny?”
“Oh nothing,” she says and continues to laugh as we jog through the partially lit caves.
“Come on tell me.”
“It’s just that it’s really funny when you try to sound tough,” she says and continues to snicker at my expense.
“I wasn’t trying to sound tough,” I say, “I am tough.” For some reason this has the opposite effect I wanted since she begins to laugh even more.
“Yes Dr. Blay, you are tough,” she says with obvious cynicism and keeps on laughing.
“Why did you stress the ‘you’?”
“No reason,” she says and snickers as looks into her communicator screen. “Tough indeed; I’ve eaten cereal tougher than you,” she says under her breath and I hear it.
“Now that was just mean,” I say as my wounded feelings spill out.
“Huh? What?” she says while feigning innocence. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Don’t play dumb with me.”
“Who’s playing? Hold it,” she says and grabs my arm firmly so I stop running and hide behind the wall like she’s doing.
“They are right around that corner.”
“The three dots,” she says almost in a whisper. “It’s either the woman and two of her post-humanoid pets or three vicious mutants who somehow survived the clear-out. Let’s just hope it’s the first one.”
I peek around the corner and sure enough it is the woman and she has her head in her hands and there are two partially mutated post-humanoids skulking around all her and the carcasses. I make a sign to Alex that I’m going to approach the woman and she nods in approval. I slowly step out from around the corner and sneak toward her. She is totally unaware of my presence as I sneak up slowly behind her but I accidentally step on a bone and it loudly snaps in two. She immediately looks behind her and spots me and Alex and so do the two half post-humanoids.
“You!” she screams.
She immediately leaps at me with shear ferocity and grabs my throat in her hands. She knocks me over and sits on top of me squeezing frantically but definitely not succeeding to strangle me since she has tiny hands...just like Martina did.
“Look around, you see all this? You caused all this! Because of you, all my children are dead!” she screams in my face. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t rip your throat out right now!” I remain silent. “Answer me! I said answer me!”
As she yells at me, I manage to take a glance at her nose and there is a tiny black birthmark just below her left nostril and in the exactly the same place Martina’s was; I’m convinced now.
“I’m waiting!” she says as I snap back to reality. “Give me a reason why I shouldn’t kill you and your little girlfriend here!” she shouts and Alex yelps in fear.
“Because you are my wife, Martina,” I say and feel her grip on my windpipe loosen. Her face immediately changes from blind rage to shock in milliseconds as she eases off the squeezing but after thinking for a few seconds, she seems not to believe me so she continues.
“Good try you imbecile,” she says. “But I’m not married!”
“Yes you are!” I say with difficulty. She’s suddenly managing to cut of the supply of oxygen to my lungs. “I know you remember me because you mouthed my name when you saw me too.”
She pauses to think for a minute. “Well, yes, but that was a coincidence and besides, I don’t see a wedding ring on your finger.”
“Well, no because mine got...missing but check your finger,” I say and reach for her left hand on my throat which she pulls away. “Yours should still be on it. It has an inscription on the inside that says ’To my love Martina, I’ll love you forever, love Ignatius.” That sure was a mouthful for someone who was being strangled to death by the woman he loves.
She uses her teeth to remove her ring from her finger and she uses her free hand to hold it up to her eye as she checks the inside with her other hand firmly on my throat. I’m sure what I just said would be there is because when she finishes scanning the inside of the tiny cylinder, she immediately gets off me and sits on the floor by me in obvious confusion. I rub my sore throat and sit up beside her. I look at her face and she looks completely knocked for six.
“Who are you?” she says suddenly.
“Huh? I already told...”
“How do you know what is on the inside of this ring?” she says coldly with obvious suspicion written on her face. “I have no husband but you say I do and I know I don’t. I don’t remember anything like this but you must be telling the truth because exactly what you said is there and...I’m very confused.”
I put my arm around her shoulder and say, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine soon. Trust me.” She slaps my hand away for obvious reasons.
“You know the funny thing?” she asks me.
“I remember you,” she says and looks deeply into my eyes with her pea green eyes and this sends a chill down my insides. “I don’t remember you per say, well I guess I do remember you, technically but I don’t remember remembering you, I just remember someone like you in my memories but I can’t quite put my finger on why or how I even remember you at all.”
“Wow,” I say after trying to process that. “Your memory must be badly scrambled b’cos that was complete gibberish.”
“Heck yeah,” Alex says from behind us and I glare at her.
“That makes sense,” she says as she keeps on looking at the ring as if to find some hidden clue on it.
Even though she looks unkempt and smells as if she hasn’t bathed in weeks, no months rather, she’s still as beautiful, if not more beautiful than I remember her to be.
“Ummm, Dr. Blay, sorry to interrupt but,” I hear Alex say and we turn to her. “A little help over here.” I look over my shoulder and see the two half-mutated post-humanoids looking at Alex with a hungry look in their eyes and watering mouths as they slowly approach her.
“Martina, could you please call off your boys,” I say. “I think they want to eat my friend.”
“Ricardo, Jason, stoppa det, de är vänner!” she scolds them in Swedish and they immediately back away from her.
“Can’t believe you still remember the Swe...Wait! Did you just say Jason?”
“Yeah he’s Jason,” she points to one of the boys skulking in the darkness. “Why?” I don’t answer her but I rather get to my feet and walk toward the two boys standing in the corner.
“Our oldest son was called Jason,” I say just loud enough for her to hear when I get close to them.
I look into their eyes and after observing them for what almost seemed like an age, I decide to hug them both since they both have her eyes. They seem to be confused about this but I don’t let that faze me.
“Ricardo, so where are you from?” I say to him and he looks vacantly into my eyes then looks to the floor. “Why, can’t he talk?” I ask Martina over my shoulder.
“Oh he can,” she says. “He’s just shy.” She gets up and walks to where we all are. “When I first came to this place, I was pregnant and I already had Jason with me. I entered here and was badly injured for some reason. After I settled in, I gave birth to another son, whom I named Ricardo. The name felt right for some reason. That’s as far back as I can vividly remember. I also remember her, partially,” she points to Alex and walks over to her, looking her straight in the eye. Alex looks a bit weirded-out by this. “Yes it’s her, the red-haired girl from my flashbacks. Your name is Alex-something.”
“Alexandria. How do you know my name?” Alex says suspiciously.
“I don’t know girl,” Martina says.
“This is all getting a teensy bit strange,” she says.
“You can say that again,” I say to Alex while I ruffle Jason’s hair. He is certainly more mutated than me but not enough to lose all of his humanity like the others.
When we get back to the underworld, I’ll enlist the help of the brilliant scientists there to find a way to reverse this for him and Ricardo too. So many plans!
“Dr. Blay, I think we need to go,” Alex says. “We have only an hour left.”
“An hour to what?” Martina says. “Where are you going to?
“It’s the reason why we came here in the first place Martina,” I say as I take her hands in mine. “We want you to come back with us.”
“Back with you?” she says and pulls her hands away. “To where?”
“We’re going to a place where we can all call homes,” I say. “All the effects of the explosion can be reversed there.”
“Explosion?” she says in surprise. “What explosion?”
“Look Martina, honestly, I don’t have time to explain everything to you and the boys so I just please need you to trust me on this one and come with us, please.”
“You know what?”
“Had this been two weeks ago, I’m certain you two would both be dead by now,” she says and Alex lets out a muffled sound of fear. “BUT, after all the evidence you have shown me, I am convinced that everything you’ve told me, even though I don’t remember any of it, is true,” she says and I almost pick her up and hug her but I don’t in case she rips my head off or something. “Jason, Ricky, nu går vi.”
“Fantastic!” I say emphatically.
We exit the cave and the three of them recoil at the sight of the sun after not being in it for who knows how long. They’ll soon get used to it.
“Where to now?” she says as she picks something out of her hair and pops it in her mouth. Unsurprisingly, I still love her.
“We are going in that direction,” I point in the direction of the grassy hill far in the distance. “I doubt if all five of us can fit on this thing though,” I say in reference to the motor bike.
“That’s true,” Alex says.
“You know what?”
“What?” the two women ask me simultaneously.
“You two go,” I say. “The boys and I will come on our own.”
“Good idea,” she says and gets on the bike behind Alex. “Ricky, Jason, föija med honom, jag möter dig där.”
“Wait Dr. Blay,” Alex says. “What if we run into a group of post-humanoids on the way?”
“Post what? You mean the mutants?” Martina says and Alex nods. “That’s what we call them around here and don’t worry, I have a repertoire with them. They won’t hurt us, trust me. Let’s go.”
“It’s so cool that you speak fluent Swedish,” Alex says and waves at me as they speed off, leaving a cloud of dust behind them. I knew they’ll get along.
“Okay boys, let’s go,” I say and start to jog in case they aren’t that fast but soon I’m left playing catch up as they zoom right past me.
I speed up and catch with them eventually but I still can’t believe that my family is indeed still alive, after all these years. It’s an awe-inspiring thought to contemplate. How they didn’t age after all these years is also strange but that’s a quandary for another moment in time. My family is finally complete again.
As we run together, the boys start to show off and start flipping off mini-hills and sand dunes in a parkour-running style so in an attempt to show them that I’m not as old as they might think, I try to back flip off a small hill just ahead of me. It was incredibly awesome for about, two to three seconds, until I land on the ground not with my feet, but with my face. I hear the boys snickering in amusement as I get to my feet and wipe myself off. I must obviously show them whose boss. On another approaching hill, I pause my running to centre myself. I take up more of a running start this time to gain more momentum and launch myself off it. While in mid-air, as the world seems to be going in slow motion, I begin to feel as if I’ve messed up again since the world looks upside down but I soon realise that I am actually FLIPPING! I am actually somersaulting wickedly and awesomely through the air and I even manage to land on my two feet at the end, albeit a few sprained palms. I feel like throwing up but I’m pretty sure that wowed them.
“Whoa, that was nice!” Jason says the longest sentence I’ve heard him say since well, back when he was a kid and we were playing baseball in the backyard. Ricardo just smiles and does a thumbs up sign and we continue our run.
I continue to steal glimpses at the two of them as we run, but mostly at Ricardo and wonder how is it that he looks like me so much. I know Martina was pregnant when the explosion occurred but she was only about two months in; he couldn’t be the child of that pregnancy could he? Naah, it’s not possible; but it could be. The physical evidence sure points toward it because wow, that young man sure looks a heck of a lot like me and I do mean A LOT. I just wish I knew what happened to the girl, my girl, Alexandria. A girl of that age most likely couldn’t have survived a blast of that magnitude. Just the mere thought of that forms a huge knot in my stomach.
After an exhausting twenty minute sprint, we finally arrive at the field where the rescue copter is set to land and I lie down on the grass beside the girls as they chat away. The two boys choose to play some sort of rough-housing game and I’m quite surprised that they have so much energy left considering how tired I am and the immense amount of energy we used on that run. I guess they are younger than me that’s why.
“Hey you guys finally made it,” Alex says. “I thought you guys won’t make it.” I just lie on the ground close to them quite close to passing out from exhaustion.
“I’m good,” I say. “Quite winded though.”
“Oh no,” Martina says and places her hand on my chest. “Wow that is one freaky heartbeat; come hear this Alexandria,” she says but Alex hesitates a bit but after looking into Martina’s eager face, she obliges and places her hand on my chest.
“Whoa! Is that normal?” she exclaims and I immediately become alarmed. “Are you sure he isn’t having a heart attack?”
“Naah, the boys have weird heartbeats like that after a long day of playing,” she says. “I guess it’s just something with them mutants.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Alex says. “But it’s a pretty funky beat though.”
“You hear it too huh?” Martina asks her. “Sounds like some kind of reggae tune with a bit of hip-hop fused in...Or wait.” She places her ear to my chest and listens again.
“Okay, enough of that,” I say as I move her away and change into a sitting position. “My chest isn’t a beat box.”
“Such a killjoy,” Martina says as she pouts like a little child just like she always used to do. She is always beautiful but honestly I think she’s most beautiful when she does that and it sends shivers running down my spine.
“Okay, so what have you guys been talking about all this while?” I ask after she stops the pouting and looks into my face as if looking for something.
“Oh so much,” Alex says vaguely.
“Like what?” I say curiously.
“You know,” Martina say, “Her life’s story, about her brother and how she met you and et cetera.”
“Really?” I say. “What did she say about how she met me?”
She looks into Alex’s face then back into mine. “In light of female confidentiality rules, I can’t tell you that, right Alexandria?”
“Right,” Alex says with a nervous, red-cheeked grin on her face.
“Oh okay, if that is the case then I’m leaving.” I get up and walk a few steps away with arms crossed to where the boys are lying on the grass exhausted from playing.
“Where are you going?” Martina asks me.
“I’m going to a place where I’m not marginalised and sexually discriminated.”
“Stop being a drama queen and get back over here,” she says sternly.
“Are you serious Dr. Blay? There is nothing sexually discriminating about this, in fact, you are discriminating us by implying that we can’t keep our secrets under the guise that it is indeed a female pact.”
“Way to tell it to him Alexandria, girl power,” she says and they fist bump then look at me as if throwing the gauntlet to me to formulate my retort. After looking in my mind for something witty to retort with and drawing blanks, I just give up and back go to join them on the grass.
“They were right when they said you can’t win an argument with a woman so if there are two of them both ganging up against me, then I guess I had no chance right?”
“Who is this ‘they’ who made that statement?” Martina says.
“I would so love to tell you but according to the rules of the male confidentiality league, it must remain confidential. Sorry,” I say sarcastically and they smile at me when I say this because honestly, it was a brilliantly constructed retort.
“Touché,” Martina says.
“Your too has indeed been shayed,” I say something I honestly should never be said because seriously, that was just sad.
“But you know that statement was extremely sexist?” Alex says to me as Martina looks on.
“How so?” I say.
“You just hastily generalised that all women are hard to beat in arguments when that is clearly not true.”
“Are you being serious right now?” I say.
“Why?” she asks.
“Are you really about to start an argument with me because I said that women are hard to beat in arguments buy arguing and hopefully winning an argument about not being good at arguments? Do you see the number of paradoxes and ironies that exist in that?” I say.
“Yes, but still true.”
“Wait, did you say hasty generalisation?” Martina asks her after she finishes making my life difficult just for her own sick amusement.
“Yes, why?” she says.
“Oh nothing, I just haven’t heard that term since my psychology courses back in college.”
“You studied psychology in college?” Martina asks with superb interest written plainly on her face.
“Oh yeah, I took a few psychology courses alongside my Mechanical Engineering ones back in college.”
“Wow, me too!” she says. “Only that I majored in Psychology and English since I am pretty much useless when it comes to mechanics.”
“I’m sure you’re not that bad.”
“Trust me, I am,” she says. “So what pushed you to choose psychology anyways?”
“Oh me?” Alex says and Martina nods. “Well I was always fascinated with how the brain works so I decided to get the best info available about it.”
“Wow, me too,” Martina says “Like did you know that-”
“The brain uses only five percent of its total-
“CAPACITY!” they both say simultaneously and burst into laughter.
“Yes! That was my college professor’s favourite brain fact. She always used to say it almost before every class,” Martina says.
“Wow, mine too,” Alex says. “That’s a freaky coincidence.”
“Incredibly, but I think that’s where they end because mine was called Professor Krubnitz...”
“Professor Dalton,” they say both names simultaneously.
“Oh, I guess they aren’t the same person,” Alex says.
“Yeah, because mine was a woman and yours was obviously a man,” Martina replies.
“Nope, my psychology professor was a lady,” Alex says. “Mrs. Marjorie Dalton.”
“Okay, this just got freaky again because mine was called Miss Marjorie Krubnitz,” Martina says. “She was a middle-aged lady with reddish-blonde hair, quite short and speaks with a squeaky voice.”
“You just described my professor into excruciating detail,” Alex says. “What the heck’s going on?”
“No idea girl,” Martina says. “Pretty odd though.”
“I think I know what happened,” Alex says. “I’m pretty sure that in the time after you left, the Miss Krubnitz you knew must have gotten married to a dude named something Dalton.”
“Yes! That makes perfect sense,” Martina says. “You’re a smart cookie Alexandria.”
“Thanks,” she says as her cheeks redden a bit. “I guess it’s normal of College of Riverdale graduates huh?”
“Of course,” Martina says. “Still, what are the odds that we both took the same course in the same college and had the same teacher? Astronomical if you ask me.”
“Or should you say...”
“Astro-know-me-cal!” they both say and burst into even louder laughter that leaves me sitting there feeling a bit awkward since I studied nuclear physics in college.
“Oh gosh that woman loved astrology,” Martina says. “Did she still keep coming to class with that giant chart of the star signs and their characteristics that the religion professors always kept complaining to her about?”
“Oh no, she somehow managed to get them to mount it in the class to save her the trouble of bringing it from her home everyday.”
“Wow, that’s very kind of them to do that for her,” Martina says. “The students I’m sure were cursing the school authorities.” They both burst into more laughter.
As they ramble on about school matters and brain science and strange professors, one pertinent thought burns my skull so I wait until there is a moment of silence before saying it.
After twenty long minutes of pure rip-your-hair-out boredom, they finally pause, supposedly for air and I jump in quickly before they start again.
“Wait you guys,” I say. “I have something on my mind?”
“What is bothering you Ignatius?” Martina asks me and looks at me with her green eyes that I just noticed are coincidentally similar to Alex’s.
“I was just wondering how is it that you remember all these minute details about your college and the teachers and, et cetera, but you can barely remember who me, your husband of ten years, with whom you had two, maybe three kids is.” I say and she looks at the ground but when she raises them back to me, I notice that there are tears in her eyes.
“I honestly don’t know Ignatius,” she says through tears. “I’ve been trying so hard to remember all the time we have shared together as you say but it just won’t come. Everything else comes so easily but this just doesn’t and I don’t know why.” The tears start to flow a bit more steadily now. “I know you think that I remember all these things vividly because I care about them more than about you but to be frank, I would give anything to remember our life together because you seem like such a sweet, kind and caring man who I would be glad to know and be married to. I’m sorry that I just can’t be the woman whom you think I should be.”
After all this, she begins crying in full droves and I rush to put my arms around her as the boys and Alex stare at me with contempt in their eyes. I’m such a jerk.
After she finished that little speech, I can honestly say I have never felt more shame in my life than at this very moment. I shouldn’t have blamed her for not remembering me since it’s obvious that something weird has been done to her but I also know that the Martina I know and love is still in there somewhere in there so I have to make sure she knows how much I care about her.
“Hey Martina, I’m sorry okay,” I say as she looks up at me. “I should never have blamed you, look at me,” I say as she continues crying. “Please look at me,” she looks up at me with tears flowing from her green eyes that make it look like a pea swimming in a glass of milk and I wipe the tears away.
This is certainly not the time for idioms so I reach out, take her hand, slide the ring off her finger and ask, “Do you see the words engraved in this?”
“These words were engraved at a time when I knew that I had met a woman with whom I knew I had a deeper connection with her than anybody else I’ve ever met. A woman I felt something for which I’ve never felt for any other person and a woman I’ll love forever, whether or not she remembers me or not,” I say as I slip the ring back on her finger and wipe the tears off her cheek.
Surprisingly, she begins to cry again and rest her head on my chest. I’m a bit confused and don’t know what to do so I look at Alex who encourages me to stroke her reddish-brown hair.
“I just wish I could remember all of it,” she says softly as her head rests on my chest and I keep stroking her hair.
“You will, I’m sure of it.” I keep stroking her hair as we sit on the grass wrapped in each others arms.
“Ummm, guys,” Alex says, “I really hate to interrupt this incredibly touching moment but you might wanna look up.”
We both look up into the sky together and low and behold, a giant black helicopter moves over us, creating huge winds. It stops above us and slowly lowers over us. We get to our feet and wave frantically just in case it misses us.
“It’s finally here! We’re going home!” I say excitedly to Alex.
After the door slides open, we all stand and wait in suspense with the beating of the helicopter blades creating the only noise in this tense and expectant atmosphere.
After a few minutes of waiting, which felt like hours to us, we see a figure come to stand by the door but the helicopter is too high, as is the sun, for me to make out exactly who that is but I couldn’t care less. I just want to go home and lie on my bed again.
“Your times have come!” the figure in the doorway starts to speak and the air of excitement builds even more as we await our rescue. “You people, and I use that term very lightly, somehow survived this death trap I placed you all in!” Wait what? “Yes, that’s right; you were all supposed to DIE out here! By some way in heaven, you all managed to stay alive despite my repeated attempts to eliminate you! You leave us no choice but to take you out directly!”
The figure in the doorway leaves us in suspense and confusion yet again and goes back to maybe get a rope ladder or something for us but when he returns empty-handed, I start to get a little impatient.
“Kill them!” the mysterious figure yells damningly in our direction and walks away.
“What?” we all shout almost in unison.
“Who is that?” I say in confusion.
“Oh!” the figure says as he returns to the doorway. “You don’t remember me Ignatius?”
“No, I can’t see you!” I have to shout as the heavy rotors rotate above us.
“Take her in closer,” the figure says and as they draw the helicopter in and after a few squints, I immediately recognise that face.
“Dr. James?” I say in disbelief as I stare at him in his matching black shirt and trousers with a distinctive insignia on it.
Before I can process exactly what is going on and react, he extends his right foot and kicks me square in the jaw. I fall to the ground in searing pain as Martina and Alex rush to my side but I tell them I’m fine, which is a lie. His shoe was hard leather so that hurt like hell.
“I thought you were dead!” I say as I get off the floor. “We saw you die!” I refer to Alex who nods in confusion.
He lets out a chilling evil laugh that reverberates through the air then says, “You thought you saw me die you gullible fools!” He walks back into the helicopter and comes back with a flag with an odd symbol on it.
His men also come with three hostages who are tied up and they push them out of the copter. We rush to them and untie them. We are immediately taken aback by surprise when we see that those three are Dr. Randy, Dr. Alice and my Aunt Rachel. What in the world is going on here?
“The time has now come to get rid of you Severance scum from the face of this earth once and for all!” He throws the flag into the air as two of his armed men shred it to pieces with their automatic rifles.
“Have you gone crazy?” I say. “What Severance?”
“Stop asking me stupid questions!” he says. “You and your entire idiotic family have been a thorn in the Whitfordites’ side for a long time but no more! This is the last time you will hear from me, or anyone for that matter! I hope you’re watching this General Frederick Blay!” As I immediately recognise my late fathers’ name, he violently pulls two heavily-armed soldiers to the edge of the helicopter entrance. “I said KILL THEM!”He disappears into the background and the two soldiers wielding assault rifles I assume are about to do just what he ordered them to do. I am still trying to figure out exactly what is going on here when I hear their guns cock. My brain goes into full panic mode when I see a small red dot on Alexandria’s forehead.