After the Tilt: Book 2

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Chapter 22: Hana

“It’s from Hana,” he said, bitterness lingering in his voice.

I didn’t know how to react.

My heart had skipped a beat at the mention of her name. I had been afraid of her. I had spent my time at the hotel trying to avoid her. I was filled with regret. Back then, I didn’t know what I know now. I didn’t know any of it. I knew nothing about myself. Nothing about my family, about Hana, about Evian. Nothing about the world outside my orphanage.

I took it from his hand.

“Is that so,” I finally answered.

I was surprised by the lack of emotion in my voice.

I was holding it all in; my torments, my angst, the conflicted feelings brought on by her name.

I stood there like an idiot, fighting the urge to show the flurry of sentiments rushing through my veins.

He didn’t say anything more and finally crashed on his cot.

I let out a sigh of relief.

My whole attention shifted.

I had to know.

With a mix of excitement and dread, I quickly ripped apart the packaging to find inside Lianna’s picturebook.

I frowned.

I flipped the book over.

It looked almost exactly as it did the last time that I saw it. I flipped the pages but noticed a page missing.... The “B” page with the yellow bird had been hastily ripped off. Where the yellow bird should have been, instead, a golden chandelier showed. I tried to ignore this violent act of desecration and kept on flipping through. I made it halfway through the book when an envelope slipped from between the pages.

It was addressed to me.

I threw the book onto the cot and pulled the letter out.

It was from Hana.

If you are reading this letter, then I have succeeded. If all went according to plan, you should be in a safe place with our friends and Evian. It is also safe to assume that by now you are aware of our family ties.

I am deeply sorry…

A million times, I wanted to tell you. But I just couldn’t.

I’m sorry.

Lianna died a long time ago, and with her, any link to the Li family. It was a past too heavy to carry. I never was good at facing reality. I always felt safer in my own little world of lies. I created Hana; to stay alive, I played the part of a strong women. But in order to do so, I couldn’t let my heart love. A million times, I wanted to hug you. A million times… but instead, I just stood by. And for that I am sorry. But I want you to know, from the day you were born, all that I ever did, I did for you. I had but one desire in life and it was to save you. You and all the children Shan Li damaged. My whole life became driven by the need to rescue you, JESS0305, ELI1126, EDEN1125 and EYER3141. Somehow, I felt like I would never be guilt free, until I fixed our father’s mistakes and assured the survival of humanity.

I pray you will find the strength in your heart to forgive me.

I asked Evian to fill in the gaps for you. I gave him access to as much of my memory as I could. But there are a few things I wanted you to hear directly from me:

First, it never was about the piano. It never was about my hand. I was just jealous of the love Evian received. I hated him for it. I killed my nanny out of rage, yes, but mostly out of jealousy. I will never forgive myself for that.

Second, I wish you and I had had more time together. I wish we could have gotten to know each other. But since rescuing you, if I have kept my distance from you, it was only because I didn’t have the courage to lose you again.

Third, I don’t know if putting all of you under Evian’s care was the right thing to do. I spent my entire life plotting my revenge. Making plans for the rescues. Making plans for my death. But never once did I stop and make any plan for what was to come after. Evian and I never saw eye to eye. Deep down, I have always hated him. But this is how things are right now. Trust him. He is far more trustworthy than I ever was.

Last, I included some documents that might be of interest to you. Use them well. The future you face is uncertain. The road ahead winding and treacherous. But what ever you do, wherever you go, stay alive. You are one half of what humanity needs to survive. You are important. Stay alive.

Stay alive and take back what is yours.

I love you, your big sister, Hana.

I turned the letter over, hoping to find more text. Anything! A few rapid words scrambled in the margin maybe. Or a post scriptum… But there was nothing.

So, this really is goodbye then

Following Hana’s letter, there were three lab reports.

As curious as I was, I found myself unable to read on. I wanted to stay in that moment. My last moment with Hana. I wanted to feel sad. I wanted to feel the tightness of my chest a little while longer. Because that sadness was all I had left. Being sad was, in a weird way, the proof of her existence. Being sad was unexpectedly comforting.

It was Evian and Hardi’s voices coming closer to the tent that put an end to my grieving. I didn’t want them to see the documents. I very carefully, almost ceremoniously, refolded Hana’s letter and reports. I quickly put them back into the envelope and slipped it into the book. Before putting the book away, I looked for the inscription I had noticed, what seemed like ages ago:

Lianna’s book.

I ran my fingers over it, wondering what the little girl was going through when she wrote these words. Was she sad, was she lonely, was she happy to have gotten the book? Or did she only know anger and pain?

I laid down on my cot stiffened by the cold. I raised the blanket all the way to my nose and pretended to be asleep.

Evian and Hardi entered the tent.

They kept quiet for a few minutes. Then resumed their conversation.

Hardi sounded vexed.

“As I said, as long as they stay here, it puts the entire orphanage in danger. It took me years to gain the trust of the government, and Ted…. I can’t just risk it all for your estranged sister’s friends. They are putting at risk the lives of three hundred Aethereusians. They are terrorists! They are a danger to Antarticum! Ted will find them! There is nowhere to hide in Antarticum.”

“You are talking about your son, my brother, their friends! They are not strangers! They are not some random group of people that we picked up on the side of the road! And where are they supposed to go? Where am I supposed to send them?”

They were whispering but the tension could be felt in their voices.

“I give you one month! No more! Then you need to bring them elsewhere!”

“I need at least two! Three would be better. I need more time to figure it out.”

“It’s simple, I tell you! Stick them on a boat and off they go! They will never be able to hide in Antarticum anyway.”

“And then what? Where would they go!

There is nothing left outside Antarticum! Frozen countries and burnt wastelands. And that is IF they are lucky enough to cross the ocean. And you know very well that journey can’t be done during the frozen months!”

“Evian! It doesn’t matter what we know! The only thing that matters is what they know. Make them believe there is a life out there for them. Make them believe anything you want… but get them out of here. I won’t trade the life of my people for the lives of seven murderers.”

“Not even for your son?”

“Not even for my son. There are sacrifices that must be made to protect the masses.”

Evian didn’t answer.

Evian didn’t fight back.

His silence sent a shiver down my spine.

Could my own brother sell us out?

Worse, I was shocked by Hardi’s eagerness to get rid of his son. Had Meyer heard any of this? I swallowed hard. I tried concentrating on keeping my breathing steady. I didn’t want them to find out I wasn’t asleep!

I tried to clear my mind. Air in, air out. I counted to ten each time.

Finally, Hardi left. Evian dropped onto his cot. I extended my ears, trying to make sense of his silence. I wished I could have stolen a peek. I wished I could have seen his facial expression. Any clue as to what he was thinking. My throat closed up as I faced the unknown.

I laid there motionless for the greater part of the night. When I finally did sleep, my dreams were filled with Hana. Hana’s sadness. Hana’s anger. Hana’s pain. Lianna’s piano. Lianna’s book. When I woke up the next morning, I knew I had to do what ever needed to be done, to stay alive. However, I wasn’t so sure that I could trust Evian.

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