S1| Ep20: The Forgotten (下)
February 11, 2013
(A/N: Happy Snake Year!)
Kikue didn’t stop to think. She seized Hadil’s sleeve and pulled her back, out of the room, out of the chamber of rusted tables and into the damp tunnels, slamming doors shut behind them as if the act would trap her nightmares in those dark, unreachable corners of her heart or erase the truth of what they had seen.
Or at least, what Kikue thought she had seen.
Hadil continued to scream. Names, scraps of incoherent pleading in heavily accented dialect that Kikue could not make out and did not even bother trying to.
“Get a hold of yourself!” she hissed, shaking the other girl, not quite certain what else to do, knowing only that they were in severe danger — though what manner of danger, she could not say for sure either.
All she knew was that she did not want to be found, here and now. By anyone.
Soon enough, the screams broke down into choked sobs. And then, at last, blessed silence.
The silence dragged on. Kikue shifted her weight uncomfortably. Her mother would no doubt know precisely what to say in such a situation, but Kikue would never be her mother, no matter how she tried.
“My mother…” said Hadil then, and Kikue jumped.
“Her research… Was this what she was trying to accomplish? But why?”
“I’m not sure I follow,” Kikue said.
“Just what was AUSOS intended for? A weapon? How could something like… something like that…”
For a moment Kikue was worried the other girl would break into hysterics again.
But instead, Hadil said, “I still don’t… can’t remember what exactly happened that day, five years ago. But there is one thing I seem to recall very clearly now. He was drawn here for some reason, that day. He’d always been drawn to this place. As if someone — something — kept calling him back. And that day — he sacrificed himself to save me.”
“My brother is dead. And the dead cannot return in flesh.”
“He must not have been the only one,” Hadil continued, as if she hadn’t heard. “Growing up, I always wondered… Why there weren’t many kids our age. There was the plague, of course. And all those who died during the war. But by the time we were born, the plague was already petering out. Everyone’d already come back home from the fighting. Those who didn’t stay behind at the capital, at least. This does explain a lot. But no — there’s still things that just don’t make sense.”
“Project AUSOS was instituted to create a weapon. A weapon meant to end the war once and for all,” interrupted Kikue, too irritated to make heads and tails of Hadil’s rambling train of logic. “What kind of weapon?”
“That’s the key, isn’t it?” said Hadil, who apparently was paying attention after all. “I always assumed it was some superpowered Doll. All those malfunctions — it seemed obvious to me that they were fiddling with the machines themselves. And Ma and the rest of our village — we’re builders and tinkerers. What else would they have wanted our skills for?”
“But what if… what if… it wasn’t our skills they wanted? What if it wasn’t a new Doll model they were trying to create? But a new…” Hadil gulped. Lowered her head. “… A new breed of pilot?”
“Human experimentation,” she said flatly. “Is that what you are implying?”
“It’s the only conclusion that fits.”
Kikue considered this. And mentally conceded the point.
Still, she said, “What kind of pilot? Faster reflexes? Superhuman strength?” But why then such secrecy? Such terror and resentment? Surely it would be an honor for one to be chosen for such an experiment.
But the experiments, whatever they had been, had gone horribly wrong.
“I don’t know,” Hadil replied in a meek, teary voice. “Like I said, there’s still tons of things that don’t make sense.”
That thing in the chamber. Was that the result of their failure?
Had it even been alive? Could such a thing be called living?
It had been five years. Or more than five?
A shiver ran through her. Kikue reined back her hurtling thoughts and shut them away again. Sighed, in a weak attempt to disguise her unease.
“My father’s even more of an idiot than I thought,” she muttered, “if he truly chose to involve himself with something like this.”
Hadil made no such effort to hide her distress.
“But what I really don’t understand is — why did everyone just… keep on going like nothing happened? Grandfather, the aunties, my uncles. Why didn’t anybody say anything?”
“Shame,” Kikue suggested quietly. She knew it was not the answer the other girl wished to hear. But it was the only answer she could offer.
She didn’t have time to come up with anything better, anyway. For just then, a great tremor reverberated through the entire mountain, tossing them both to the ground.
“What on earth is going on out there?” shouted Kikue, gasping for breath. She staggered upright and held out a hand to help Hadil.
Just when they had both found their feet again, another tremor hit. This time, it was Hadil who shoved Kikue forward and into a narrow tunnel.
Rubble came crashing down where she had been standing just the moment before.
“Oh, no,” Hadil was saying. “Oh, no. They must have come again — Why now? Why now, of all times?”
The tunnels continued to shake. Even Kikue could see they must be on the verge of collapsing.
They had to get out. But they were by now so deep inside the mountain that Kikue worried they would not make it in time.
The dust cleared. A shadow emerged from the cloud.
Kikue’s pulse spiked.
But as the figure’s outline grew clearer, her nose caught an odd clean scent against the stuffy murk of the tunnel.
The faint smell of sea. The forest after a storm.
It was some small, furry being. Not much larger than a human toddler, but with unnaturally bright red hair, pointy teeth, and large round eyes that seemed to glow in the dark.
It waved at them, grinning.
Kikue took a step back. “Wong. Do monkeys live in caves?”
“Um. I don’t. Think so?”
The not-monkey closed in on them, chattering angrily at her, and tugged on her sleeve. Kikue stumbled forward, then snatched her arm back.
Hadil looked worriedly at her. “Sunagawa? Are you okay?”
Kikue stared back. Suspicion dawned on her. “What the –”
The furry little… creature turned back and frowned at her. Waved for them to follow again.
“Whatever,” she grumbled. “Come on, we have to get out of here!”
But Hadil was looking back beyond the rubble, in the direction they had just run from.
“No!” cried Hadil. “The chamber –”
“Don’t be an idiot!” Kikue snapped, grabbing her shoulders. “Your brother — he’s dead, right?”
The other girl’s face froze. Crumpled.
Kikue held her gaze for a moment longer, and was satisfied or relieved to see grief and madness replaced by the quiet light of determination.
The creature chattered at her again, more urgently this time.
She turned, rolling her eyes. “Coming, coming.”
No more hesitation, Kikue thought.
Whatever lay ahead, there would be no turning back now.
But perhaps she had already passed that point long ago.
* * *
She was still in the cockpit, lying back, strapped to her seat in the darkness.
It had been dark in the city. But then the fire had set everything ablaze in a sea of light.
She was not in the city.
The controls were dead. And though she could not see outside, she knew they were no longer airborne.
Then she remembered that she was not alone.
In the cramped space beside her, Eguzki stirred. Blood was running down from the back of his head. She reached out, concerned, but he caught her hand and pushed it away.
“What happened?” she asked.
“They came,” he said, rather unsteadily. “A whole swarm of them. The controls stopped working. After that, I don’t know.”
“Them,” she repeated, puzzled. Then her eyes widened. “You mean… the sprites?”
“Yes.” He slumped against the wall. “I told you. They hate me.”
“No,” she said, blinking back tears. “No, they don’t. They were just trying to help.”
“Wait. Don’t tell me –” He straightened, staring at her. “You couldn’t see them? You didn’t know they were…”
Intan shook her head.
“But why? That doesn’t make any sense. You’re the first person I’ve ever met who…”
“What happened?” she asked again.
It was a long time before he answered. “I don’t know. Truly. It was just… just like that time.” He buried his face in his hands. “Oh, gods. It’s happening again.”
“We have to get out of here. I need to stop them. Kasih –”
Intan pushed aside her own grief and considered his words. “Is she in danger?”
She came to a decision. “Okay! Let’s go!”
“But the controls –”
She unstrapped herself and climbed out of her seat, humming the refrain of that old half-forgotten lullaby. She pressed her palm against the spot where she knew the door of the cockpit opened. Metal hummed briefly in response beneath her fingers, then slid open.
Eguzki stared. But then he shook his head and jumped out. Intan joined him shortly after.
They had crashed into the blackened mountainside, fortunately missing the village. The other two royal Dolls had crashed as well, further away.
As for the rogue Doll…
It was kneeling further up the slope, arms rooted in the earth as if digging out some buried treasure — only it was as still and unmoving as a statue.
There was someone lying pinned between its arms.
Eguzki broke out into a run. Intan followed behind at a slightly slower pace.
As they neared, a hoarse voice cried out.
“Don’t come any closer!”
Eguzki slowed. Relief spread visibly across his face. “Kasih.”
Though sprawled on her back, the girl seemed unhurt.
“I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I couldn’t take revenge for Sita. I couldn’t put an end to all of this.”
“You know this isn’t what she wanted.”
“I know, dammit! Don’t talk to me about what she did or didn’t want. She’s dead. It doesn’t make a damn difference anymore.” Her voice cracked. “Even so, even so — I had to. I had to destroy this place. This desecration to her memory. The evidence of their sins. These blithering fools, living on like — like sheep, even though their hands are just as stained as those of the wolves who preyed on them…”
“Sita made her own choices.”
“And I made mine.” She rolled over, struggling upright. “Don’t you dare deny it. It’s better — this way. As if nothing had ever happened. As if none of this ever existed.”
“If it were so easy to erase the past, others would have done so long ago.”
“Still, I had to try…”
Suddenly, she pulled out a knife.
“Funny, isn’t it?” she said. “No matter how hard they try, how much money and talent they throw at it — none of them can reproduce the Goddess’s compatibility. Not the military. Not the Clans. Not a single one of them. Try as they might, they can only fake it, and only temporarily… I never expected to hold out so long myself. Just long enough to accomplish what I desired… But I suppose what they say is true. The power will turn against those who are unworthy…”
There was an uncomfortable pause before Eguzki responded. “I thought you didn’t believe those stupid old rumors.”
“It doesn’t make a difference whether I believe or not.”
To this he had no response.
Park held her knife out, hilt first. “Kill me! I hate this place. These people. Everything…”
Eguzki hesitated. Park reached up. Closed his fingers around the hilt.
He stared at his hand as if it no longer belonged to him. Raised it, arm trembling.
Intan, who had until now chosen to watch in silence, launched herself at him. “Don’t!”
He startled. The knife dropped to the ground.
“Get out of the way!” shouted Park.
She spread her arms and closed her eyes.
Stars whirled past her in a milky stream. Voices past and future echoed through her heart, chanting verses without words.
Such a nostalgic sensation. Deep and old as the mountains. Cool and still as the springs in the shadowed groves.
“You are no longer welcome in this land. But you have suffered as we have suffered. You have known our pain. Your life is no longer ours to claim…”
When she opened her eyes again, she found both of them staring at her — Park in confusion, Eguzki in surprise.
“That’s great!” she said happily to Park. “You’re free now. Go, and be at peace.”
“They will hunt me down,” said Park, still looking confused and more than a little bit lost. “The military. The Ruslis. Not even that Headmistress of yours will help me now. The drugs they gave me — I don’t have much time left. You might as well just kill me and be done with it!”
“Kasih,” said Eguzki then. “Why did you take the exams to enter the medic division?”
It did not seem to be the first time they had had this exchange, for Park lowered her gaze instead of answering.
He crouched down beside her.
“If you hate this island and its people so much, then leave. Make a life for yourself on the mainland. They will not follow you there.”
“But — what would I do? What should I do?”
“That you must decide for yourself.” He looked up at the skies above. “It’s as Intan said. You’re free.”
“Forget what happened here. Forget Sita. Forget the Academy. Us. Everything. Start anew.”
Park turned slowly. Took one step. Then another.
In the shadow of the Doll she paused.
“I won’t forget. I won’t ever forget,” she said.
Eguzki bowed his head.
Without looking back, she continued on her way. Her figure receded into the dying light of the sun, until at last it disappeared beyond the horizon.