IV: Second Chances
Lights fade in, and two men in full military gear with hats over their heads appear standing side to side inside an elevator.
Beside the man on the right was Susan, her figure rising above my head, which rested lightly on the wheelchair that I was on. I stared blankly ahead; my departed eyes seemingly fixed on the elevator’s control buttons. One of the men stretched his right hand to reach the buttons, then pressed “2”. That’s when I blinked a little back to the moment I was in and strained to look up. My neck muscles didn’t allow much, but a brief marvel at the soft white lamp over our heads. I turned back ahead of me, and noticed the button representing the second-floor lit, while the others remained dark. The buttons were arranged in two rows of three, and in horizontal ascending order, the first row topped by button “1” and the second ended by “6.” Slightly above this typical set but etched on the same system, was an access card slot, with letter “0” inscribed on top of it.
We were headed upwards, and after some seconds of smooth mortar-roars, the elevator came to a halt, and a wide landscaped display screen on top of the elevator’s door came to life, showing the number 2. A female AI voice filled the tiny car, “Floor-2. Doors opening.” The two men looked at each other once. The one on the right and near Susan approached the door. Both ends of the elevator clicked, and the door split before sliding to its either side. The man walked out, and his partner followed closely.
Susan thrust my chair forward, and the notice: “Doors closing,” sounded as the doors behind us closed. I touched Susan’s left hand lightly. “Let me do it from here, please. Thanks,” I said. Susan walked ahead of me. I could see the two men a distance off from us, and they chatted as they walked, but didn’t at any point turn to look back. Susan bent down a little. “Sure?” She asked.
I tried to nod, but my neck gave an early warning with a lock that I could feel from afar. “Yes,” I said softly.
Susan then rose, went to my right side, and looked down at me. “Okay, Jo. Let’s go.”
I looked at my left index finger with a distant smile, then dropped it on the navigation stick. The chair jolted itself forward in motion, and I smiled on, hoping I could look up at Susan as I did. She stretched her left hand, and I felt its warmth over my arm.
I started to look around me, and the corridor we walked through this time was slimmer and went for only a short distance. It had a twin and parallel corridor to our right; like the one we were on, it was secured by a glass balustrade that went up to about a meter high. The two corridors were about five meters apart and were bridged by a short pavement in the middle. We moved ahead, both looking over to the parallel corridor as we did.
I wondered what Susan had in her mind when I threw a glance at her before turning back ahead lest I hit some wall with my attention as absorbed. I noticed a door at the end of our corridor; it appeared closed. The two men ahead of us soon reached it, and one of them pulled the door open. Some light washed in, to a little distance into the corridor, but not enough to show what lay outside. The second man followed out, supporting the door before him as he did, then letting it slam behind him as soon as he stepped out.
We approached the same door, quietly, and when we were close enough, I noticed a staircase to our right, which made a turnabout to the direction we had just walked, only going up. Susan stopped, turned, then took it, which upon turning to, revealed a complementary ramp to its left. Susan looked at me, smiled lightly, then took the ramp. I followed her closely before she stopped a few seconds up. Susan turned behind her, looked at me, then down. “Please, go ahead,” she said.
I looked at Susan in the face once, then nodded as I responded with a, “Thank you.” I geared up my chair, and I could feel it struggle with my weight. The machinery did its job well, nonetheless, and lifted my pounds gently over the ramp, and to the top of the floor.
Ahead of me to a few meters, was a blank wall, half as wide. It took a curve where it ended on the right, and stretched to the left for quite a distance as it followed the corridor, which disappeared into a bend. To my right at about the same distance off was a balustrade, similar to the one below. It stretched on to form a long straight glass fence, which extended into a lobby, then broke at a distance, adjoining to a stone wall. The wall took a smooth curve to the left and completed a connection with the former curve—a corridor going between the two parallel curves. I looked to my left, and chipping out of a wall was a door that stood closed.
“This way,” Susan said as she walked ahead of me and towards the door to our left. I turned as Susan yanked it open before looking at me. I navigated closer to her and towards the door, then looked outside the first chance I got as I geared my chair with me.
The outside was no outside yet. I looked on top of me, and it was rough and rocky. Soil particles had over time, weathered, stiffening their bonds with the old rocks, steadying the earth’s roof underneath which a whole human-made structure sat. The path I followed out looked slim, and the walls on my side were almost similar to the roof atop, with chips of rocks sticking out and one or two areas along, having shallow, empty hollows.
I moved, Susan behind me, and darkness around us. Some light from the end, a few meters away, dimly lit the path. I turned to Susan when I was almost out, and she just nodded lightly from behind, as if approving my childish ventures. I soon felt the wheels of my wheelchair shift to a rougher ground; you could tell by the way it rocked in movement, leaving my body with minor vibrations as I moved.
I was surprised when I looked all around me. The land was massive. It was dry, brown, and scorching to the eyes, for there was no end to it—the brown, and the death underneath it. A mirage danced off miles ahead, and I moved my chair towards it, a direction I couldn’t tell. I looked down, and the earth was dusty. It looked barren and rocky. The little creatures didn’t seem to like these lands, so you would expect the only rare rise and falls to have come from everything else landform.
A wind blew, a whistle sweeping through the dust, which left its residue all over my chair. The closer I moved towards the mirage, the clearer the lands around me became. I stopped at a point, then looked behind me to confirm whether Susan had followed. She watched me from a distance, her hands shielding her eyes from the sun’s rays. They were not as strong, but with all the brown, some shelter would do a great deal.
I noticed that the path we had just followed, emerged out of one of five hill-like structures, which surrounded the emptiness in the middle. They were huge, the structures, and from where I sat, I could read strategy written all over the place—it was a clever place to be, for anyone who wanted to be completely hidden; the camouflage made the place almost unnoticeable.
Susan started to walk towards me, and I approached her as she did. We stopped in proximity to each other. “What do you see, Jo?” She asked, looking around with her eyebrows minimized for a less torturous vision, I would presume.
“I see earth; bare earth—no life, emptiness,” I said.
There was a moment’s silence before Susan went on, “This is where it all started, you know?”
I looked at her with inquisitive eyes, then down on the earth, as I moved my chair back a little. “Where what began, Susan?”
Susan looked at me, then back at the lands, this time, relaxing her wrinkled face as she replaced the strain with a shade from her salute. “The revolution. It happened, Jo.”
For the first time, I didn’t feel as confused. I looked on at the earth, trying hard to resurface a memory that killed me the way it hovered lightly over the surface of my consciousness, despite how helpless every leap felt. “Revolution…” I said, my left index finger going over my mouth, as I sank deeper to thought. I remained that way for a while, inwardly shifting between the overwhelming feeling rising my stomach and the overcoming uncertainty of everything I had believed in almost all my life. “Revolution…” I repeated.
And while I couldn’t remember what my role had been in the events that led us to that moment, my mind took me back to the rooms we had left as we walked out, the masked individuals, the bodies, and oh! The doctor. I choked at the thought that either my beliefs, or actions, or both, had been a cause.
“You worked so much for this, Jo. We all did. Years of preparation. You have to remember!” Susan said.
For the first time in a long time, I lifted my left hand slowly, supporting its elbow with the right, then tried to feel my head. I felt the bandaging, but it was painless. I let go slowly, replacing both my hands as I looked down at my feet, first the left, then the right. I pinched my right thigh and felt nothing. I tried the same with the left, a frown dressing over my face—nothing as well.
“This was our way in, remember that? It was your idea because…” Susan suddenly looked down as she swallowed.
“Because what, Susan?”
Susan looked up, her eyes a little misty. “It was the base of all their dark operations. Everything that ever happened to you or your family… it started here.” She sighed, then went on, “Your folks.”
“What about my folks?”
My mind had played a crooked game long enough, but it couldn’t toy with certain parts of my subconscious. I respected this fact when a tear dropped uncontrollably, followed by another, as the sudden feeling of emptiness washed through my inners.
Of course, I knew what had befallen my folks who left me and our wretched world when I was but a teenager. I didn’t know much about life then, but that it had been cruel enough to me. Dad had just gotten Mother flowers for their twentieth anniversary. He found her on the floor of their room, cold and lifeless. He hadn’t lived through the night, Dad. They called Mother’s case a ‘robbery-gone-wrong,’ and classified Dad’s as a ‘result of shock.’ I knew better. And yes, I couldn’t forget the worst day of my life either—losing Grandpa had taken a permanent toll on me, a deep mark that I would carry to wherever, heaven or hell, was made for me.
Susan didn’t respond, and perhaps it’s because she knew—there were things that never left us. Mine felt deeply rooted. I didn’t have my memories back, but the shards I had gathered reminded me of the pain that I had been in, not only of my losses but of having to live in a place that didn’t accommodate life—free, human life. “A revolution,” Grandpa had said, “is when you say NO… And you make the change—you stop waiting for it to be made for you.”
“Revolution…” I mouthed the words a third time, and Susan finally looked at me in the eyes, unwavering.
“We had a plan, Jo. You made it, and we sat on it—for years. We prepared, we practiced, we prayed, and ate well. Then the day came,” she paused, looked down, then back up. “And you told us that ‘The Day’ was here. We did everything as we had planned. And the first 12 hours of taking over were successful,” Susan stopped, then walked back towards the path we had come through. She looked back at me, and I followed her. We stopped after a few meters, then Susan turned to look at me with misty eyes, passing her hands over them lightly.
“What happened after the first 12 hours?” I asked, nonetheless.
Susan turned ahead, then continued walking. We were nearer the path which would lead back into the structure we had initially left. Susan stopped, then looked back at the lands behind us with her right hand slightly over her forehead. “I still don’t understand why you did it,” she said, “but you jumped off the first floor after the guns fell silent, and Phase 2 was about to go into motion.”
“Not a note, no explanation—nothing, Jo,” Susan went on. She hung her head, and I started to understand the conflict inside her. I wished I understood myself half as much.
A door opened noisily. It was the one that led out of the structure, and someone walked out. In a few seconds, a soldier emerged, with his weapon hanging against his left side. He had a cap over his head and looked right up.
“How long?” Susan immediately asked the man.
“Less than an hour,” he said, looking down at me then up at Susan. I turned to her too, and she nodded.
“We’ll be back in a bit. Just a few more minutes.” I told the soldier, who saluted, then took a step back. I nodded ignorantly, and he turned as he walked off.
I immediately turned to Susan, who spoke. “That’s good; we should wait for the tribesmen first.”
“The tribesmen?” I asked.
A loud, eerie cry cracked through the air, interrupting Susan. We both quickly turned to the direction we heard it from but saw nothing over the brown. Another cry joined the first, and a third joined the two, and a fourth, the three, in three subsequent cries that followed. We didn’t need to return to our initial viewing positions before the earth rumbled lightly, as it shook to some loud, chorused thumping. It was from many, maybe hundreds or more. The uniformity of the sounds made them echo for far. About a dozen other voices joined the initial four, and this time, a roar thundered. In unison, came, “HU!-AHU!.” And they repeated the same in intervals, alternating it with the thumping which grew nearer, and stronger. It was when the first clomping of at least hundreds of pairs of feet shook the earth, that a similar chorus was echoed by as many more mouths, and it was loud, war-like, and it spelled terror.
Susan and I traded looks. “They’re here,” she said.
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