48 hours after the incident
When I was a child, well younger than I am now, I believed life never stopped moving. I believed time was fact, that the world did not wait for an insignificant person. I believed individual life was insignificant. I believed we would forget our losses and keep moving on. Yet I found myself staring hopelessly through a sterilized window, begging the earth to begin again. The pain was still as raw and as fresh as it had been last week, when I accepted the challenge of playing God.
The cool glass rubbed against my temple, relaxing the spasms shooting in my head. The swell of my cheeks only increased as time, evil time, ticked by slowly. My teeth chattered, even though the room temperature had been adjusted perfectly by Chuck hours earlier.
My brother was incarcerated by tubes and machines, locking him into position and pain. Something I had directly and inadvertently caused. For your own good was a term I had been disgusted with. I saw it as an excuse. Right now it is the only reason I have to justify my actions and calm my ever quickening heartbeat. Johnathan was pale. His body withered away on a mat, used to bring good men and women to a comfortable death. Rarely, did it bring a person back to life, back to loved ones. Time was never on the doctors’ side.
Lilith had gone home hours earlier to soothe her daughter. For her time moved on. It seemed it moved too fast for her. I was envious. She had a plan. Lilith knew exactly what was going to happen. She knew the proper amount of days she could mourn her husband. She knew the day she would have to get back to work. She already knew the name of the nanny she would need to hire. Structure was beautiful.
Lilith couldn’t know I was here, so Emmett had volunteered to take nights. He had told me all about Lilith’s desperate proclamations. Her never ending begging for Johnathan’s assistance in the delicate upbringing of their daughter, burdened with such an intense amount of glorious purpose.
I entered the room, sterile and smelling of disinfectant. The protective gear I had been thrown into rubbed against me awkwardly, creaking an uncomfortable sound. Artificial light tainted the atmosphere. Everything was fake. Coldness created the relationship I had with my siblings, and emptiness would destroy it. Fate was twisted.
“Are you going to pull the plug?” I spoke with a deeper voice. It was the only tone where I could keep my voice level headed and hidden of the weaknesses currently overtaking my body.
Emmett propped his head up, cracking his neck as he moved. His tense muscles loosened slightly with the change of position, but his hands had to aid his legs as he uncrossed them. He pulled the cloth mask away from his face, over the hours it had stuck to his oily skin. He needed a shower. “He’s not brain dead.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“He’s weak, and it’s not good. But he’s still there. My big brother who let me sleep in his bed at night when I was far too old to need his comfort is still there. He promised me, after mum and papa died, that he would never stop fighting for me. He’s still there,” Emmett reached for my hand, “I will never stop fighting for my siblings. No matter what.”
“Over a cliff?” I made myself comfortable on the floor. The airduct lifted the corners of my hair.
“Over a cliff and straight into the depths of hell with no regret,” he insisted, giving my hand a gentle squeeze.
“You’re too good for man.” I brushed a fuzz away from Caleb’s pallor cheek.
“No, I am man. I am one small dot connecting everything together. I am a variable in the equation where x equals humanity is good. Humans are good. We are good,” desperation filled his voice as he continued, trying to convince himself of something he had believed so unwavering before I sabotaged him.
“Life sucks, the world sucks, and then you die,” I said mechanically, while I watched Johnathan’s chest rise and fall.
He was breathing on his own. He never stopped. There was something wrong with his head. His body had entered survival mode and it hadn’t escaped it yet. Johnathan was in between life and death. Fighting the good war, the war against himself. He was his enemy, and he was his savior.
What had I done?
“We’ll walk away from this,” Emmett said, after hearing the heart monitor as the only noise in the tense room became too common.
“No we won’t. Something has to give. Someone’s gotta fall, and fall hard. I’m afraid this is only the start.”
A Week Later
Emmett rested in the same chair. A dark stubble kissed his cheeks, but his hair wasn’t clumped together like previously. He had made some progress. His eyes were still bare, the only expression he carried with him was exhaustion. I could understand though, for I had been moving mechanically through my day to day exercises as well.
Time had only stopped moving for me. Reports were still needed, would always be needed. Victories and defeats constantly had to be bookmarked. I was still a spy, cranked up on caffeine and anger. I carried on with my job almost systematically. I punched more ruthlessly and showed less mercy, if I had ever showed mercy before.
There was no longer an end and beginning of the day for me. I was on a time continuum. I could still feel the vibrations of my fist colliding with the punching bag well after it had happened. All of my feelings, both physical and mental never ended.
The hotel room had been cleaned spotless by the extraction team. The attempted assassination had no leads, and it never would. Only conspiracies would be written down in history as solutions. Closure would come when the war ended, when the decision I made was proved right.
“I know you think we’re all alone in the world, that the universe is out to get us, but it’s not. We are energy, energy that does not end. We are hope and loss. We are human beings, a species who has adapted and powered through unthinkable challenges. You and I have survived. The three of us, we are survivors. There is mercy in this world, Ara. Don’t give up him.”
“And there’s your optimism, shining through the darkness like a fire lit by Jesus himself.”
“Ara,” Emmett warned, gripping his cross necklace.
“I’m sorry,” I held my neck as I spoke, starring ashamedly at the ground. Emmett was coping well. I should be happy for him. I didn’t think I could ever feel happiness.
“I know you are. I know you’re sorry for everything. And he does too.”
“If this is permanent, I don’t want to live,” I confessed.
Emmett’s jaw lagged. His eyes widened and he twisted his body so he faced me. He fell out of his go to chair slightly, which caused him to press his heels against the floor with more force than necessary.
“You will,” he insisted, “you’ll survive whatever happens because while you don’t want to live, you can. You are a gift, a present and a debt owed to humanity. You’re going to fix this war. not because you want too, but because it’s your duty. You may not have started the pain, and we should have kept you away from it. But Ara the fire burned you. Not only did you fail to treat your wounds, you went back for seconds. And you started lighting more fires. You’re finishing this battle, for Johnathan.”
Emmett was right, as usual. I would stick around to fight. Not because I wanted to, or because I would be rewarded for the amount of blood that fell out my veins, but because I had to. I owed it to everyone who got stuck in the crossfire. Most importantly though, I owed it to myself.
And as if Emmett had confessed something the universe hadn’t realized, as if time had deemed me worthy, as if my soul had been unlocked by the facts I already knew, Johnathan opened his eyes.