A Friend's Secret War
by Terence Im
HIDDEN INSIDE GRAHAM’S stunned look was a subtle fright which had been patiently growing and manifesting for fourteen years. As he held Dennis’s letter in his hands, Enesera took a sip of her tall hot matcha latte. Instead of giving into preconceived anxious conclusions, she simply let the soothing warmth of her drink overtake her senses and remained calm. Graham set the letter down on the coffee table and looked out the window at the falling snow. The yoga classes that he, Dennis and Enesera used to frequent together drilled into him this simple approach to distancing oneself from anxiety-inducing questions:
Appreciate the moment and appreciate one’s surroundings.
Still, it was difficult for Graham and Enesera to allow the radiance and beauty of the present moment to reveal themselves to his heart, for this was the monumental power which fear and anxiety possessed over the human psyche: the clouding of one’s senses. Graham reflected...
I’m at Daphne’s Cyberpunk Lo-Fi Cafe in my dear hometown Blue Ceramic, where the holographic wall art show monumental skyscrapers from Earth, that all but forgotten world. I always dreamt of time travelling back to Earth’s 21st Century with my friends when I was a teenager. Is it the 34th or the 44th Century now in Earth’s time zone? Dennis would probably know considering how many random facts are stored in that guy’s head.
“What are you thinking about Graham?” Enesera asked.
“I’m trying to think about anything but this letter which is proving to be quite impossible. Damn! I can’t believe he’s gone all of a sudden!” He whispered, “To think that he used to work in espionage!”
“Well, if you think about it, he does fit the stereotypical image of a spy. Dennis does look like he might fit into a film like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or Le Samouraï considering the way he dresses.” Graham was too rattled to comment on this though usually he was one to talk about films with immense passion. “Let me see that letter again.”
Graham handed Enesera the letter which was written on pH neutral paper, written in what was most likely Dennis’s favorite fountain pen, The Black Lacquer Mars Classic. Though it was extremely rare to hear of anyone writing analog in this part of the solar system, Dennis was the sort of person to indulge in as many historically outdated habits as a result of his immense fondness for history. The letter read:
Dear Graham and Enesera,
I must leave town. By now, I already have. As you read my letter, try not to panic. All three of us have to remain calm and focused throughout the adversities ahead. You two might have already surmised that there is a lot about my life I have been keeping concealed from you two. This must be especially apparent to you Graham since we’ve known each other for fourteen years. Almost fifteen come to think of it. Graham, you must have noted how much quieter I’ve become since I returned from my six years of military service.
As for you Enesera, you’ve known the version of myself post-military, and I’m sure whenever you’ve spoken with Graham one-on-one, he must have said how much goofier and off-the-wall I was before my time in the military. You might think I’m a funny guy now, but I’m a spiritually scarred and stoic monk compared to who I used to be.
As you two know, I was initially enlisted in the military for three years, but my stay extended for another three. I’m sorry to say, but I lied about my entire life anecdotes pertaining to those three years. Long story short, I was working in espionage, and the reason I am leaving is because, in spite of my early retirement, I am now on the run from certain adversaries who are far more dangerous than I’d like for you two to know. For your safety, I have to be real with you: it is possible that you two may be in danger as well. Although it reassures me that you two are incredibly gifted and capable in combat, you should know that my hunters are the type of individuals who are capable of bringing entire governments down on their knees just by the mere mention of their names. I am not exaggerating.
You two have to not only leave Blue Ceramic but, I’m sorry to say, the entire planet as soon as possible.
I will give you two a call on a secure channel when I'm able to. I recommend emigrating to planet Akan since that planet is not only the most convenient to travel to, but to the best of my knowledge, it’s difficult for my enemies to plant spies in that planet, especially on the Maunan continent in the northern hemisphere.
Hopefully, the money and forged passports I’ve left you two with will be enough to cover all of your travel expenses and concerns. Once I call you two, we can make plans to rendezvous. Just be sure you emigrate to any country on the northern side of the planet. The telepaths of Akan’s northern governments are adept and would be able to almost instantly detect my adversaries, though their own telepathic prowess is not to be underestimated. There are most likely other government spies stationed on Akan’s fifth moon, Ilos, who may end up cooperating with my hunters so avoid going there altogether.
I’m so, so sorry for the danger I’ve put you two in. Once we meet again, all will be made clear once we re-unite. Stay safe until then. And stay strong. Don’t be surprised at anything to come. The moment you let surprise overtake you, that’s when your adversaries will be able to capitalize on your stunned state and then kill you.
Enesera put down the letter. A myriad of thoughts caused her to worry to the point where not even the soothing warmth of her matcha latte could help her realize a semblance of tamed mindfulness.
THE WALK TO GRAHAM’S PLACE was a surreal one for both of them. Every place in Blue Ceramic possessed the imprint of their past memories. As Graham and Enesera's pasts unfolded with nostalgic animation, they had simultaneously revealed their slow yet sudden end. This was Dennis’s and Graham’s childhood hometown, but it also felt like Enesera’s, who had moved here three years prior from a country which she claimed was Araturia. Really, it was a country that, should Dennis and Graham have known, might have made them consider any close friendship with her to be an invitation to unwanted complications. Dennis most certainly wasn’t the only one with a past he struggled to detach himself from.
Running through Graham and Enesera’s minds were images of their past with Dennis. Graham was the first one to meet Enesera. He was reading Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami and an anthology of Italian Renaissance poetry when she was sitting at the table next to him. Enesera spontaneously brought up how much she adored Strange Weather in Tokyo which put a smile on Graham’s face since rarely did he ever come across anyone who was into literature from Earth. From that very moment, the two would unknowingly plant the seed for a new friendship which would sprout quickly, at times with inconspicuous though restrained romantic colors throughout the years. Once Graham had introduced Dennis to Enesera, the three formed a trio and would often spend time at Daphne’s Cyberpunk Lo-Fi Café to enjoy conversations on books, art, science and cinema and anything else that intrigued their curiosities, like the worlds they wanted to travel to out there in the deeply mysterious cosmos.
At some point, Enesera took Dennis’s advice to take up New Ancient Striking classes with him, a martial art whose curriculum was a fusion of hand-to-hand combat, telepathy and ancient weaponry from different Earth cultures. Enesera was hesitant at first to join, afraid that she might expose too much of her true martial arts capabilities for indeed, there were dark secrets of her past which might have been revealed should she have practiced with a bit too much passion and naturalness. Still, she couldn’t help but take those classes, wishing to bond with her new friend, and the two had begun to train together regularly. Dennis would often instruct Enesera on the fundamentals, adopting the role as her “second teacher” outside of their school, believing that he was dealing with a raw beginner who just happened to possess a certain degree of natural talent.
Being a practitioner of boxing and several grappling arts which he practiced long before embarking upon his journey as a state police officer, Graham soon began to join their training from time to time outdoors. Eventually, their training at the beach at Blue Ceramic’s northeastern edge had become a weekly commitment, and each training session was special for all three of them, for they had enjoyed many wonderful experiences which had compelled them at times to write of their memories down in a journal or to capture each other’s smiles on camera, though in the end, they wished to just live in the moment more than anything else.
During certain moments, Graham and Dennis couldn’t help but feel that there was a mixture of naturalness and unnaturalness in Enesera’s movements. At times, she seemed a frustrated beginner; at other times, an uncharacteristic genius of fighting.
Passing by the dojo where she used to train with Dennis, Enesera recalled all those moments of hard training and fun and was tempted to cry. Oh, how fine it would be to cry, Enesera thought, but she’d been through much and wished to reserve her tears for only the most unbearable of tragedies. Dennis was still alive as far as she knew, wasn’t he? Enesera reminded herself of this and chose to be calm now. Graham on the other hand couldn’t help but feel flustered at the suddenness of this change in life’s rhythm. How comfortable it was to enjoy their peaceful and pleasurable life in Blue Ceramic without worry of an ending to it all.
After their visit to Graham’s house and then Enesera’s, they’d be embarking upon a new journey where new worlds awaited, dangerous revelations and unknown enemies. Dennis and Enesera tried to become open to it all, though there was this one thought haunting Enesera:
I hope Dennis’s enemies aren’t who I think they are. I don’t want my past to put my loved ones in danger.
Graham tried to concentrate his thoughts on the present moment, but to no avail. He wanted to dream away the present by losing himself in nostalgia. Though there was this conflict involving unknown sinister forces that were threatening all three of them, he couldn’t help it. Memories of the past came flooding into the most vulnerable fortresses of his mind.
“If you don’t mind Enesera, I’m going to tune out a bit and just listen to something.”
“No problem. Going to relax with some music? Music always has the uncanny ability to bring me mental clarity in a heartbeat.”
“No. I’m going to listen to a journal entry of mine, in particular one I wrote a couple of months ago about one of our training sessions at the beach. I rarely ever write in my journal. Usually, I just live in the moment. But there was a particular day when Dennis said something, and I didn’t want to ever forget what he said. I’ll read you the journal entry at some point during our journey.”
“Yeah, about our journey... We should get down to the travel details, talk about how we’re going to defend ourselves in the case of an attack by whoever it is that we’re supposed to look out for... but yeah, we can talk about it at your place, or when we get to my place. I suppose no matter how hard we plan, we’re just going to have to adapt to unforseen circumstances anyhow, just as everyone must with any plan in this unpredictable world.”
“’Unpredictable’ is right. It’s the key-defining term for this strange world.” In fact, I’m pretty sure any word that implies uncertainty is a word that contains a bolder implication of truth and knowledge than their antonymous counterparts, Graham thought. It's a weird time to be thinking philosophy right now, but whatever. Just gonna' flow. Who cares at this point? Anything can happen, and I'd rather not try to wonder about the nature of my thoughts right now.
Dennis commanded his brain-chip interface to play through a recording of his journal entry. He had forgotten to write down the date which didn’t matter much to him anyhow. So long as he could retain the clarity of that day’s emotional impressions, then it didn’t matter if the moment was ten years ago or ten days ago. The BCI played back the journal entry with an automated voice-over narration which had perfectly mimiced Graham’s voice. Sometimes Graham thought he might like to record his own voice for the sentimental value, but alas, it was satisfying enough to him that he should be able to enjoy the effortlessness that came with certain technologies. Besides, it felt strange to hear his own voice for some reason.
OFTEN, AFTER OUR TRAINING SESSIONS AT THE BEACH, the three of us would sit down near the shore and relax with canned fruit sodas and music playing on our phones’ speakers. As we stared into the majesty of the horizon, we would feel ourselves to be totally at one with the moment, never minding any of the concerns and anxieties that painted our pasts or future. Each one of us felt some fear from time to time that perhaps the happiness we’d experienced together might be subject to inevitable decay, though none of us understood why. I could feel it in my bones that these were exactly the sort of emotions Dennis and Enesera were feeling. I did not need to use my telepathy to know this.
I think we feared the impermanence of our friendship as a result of our acquaintance with the strange patterns of life which play out their mysterious dramatic cadences in the backgrounds of not just our lives but all human lives.
“Do you guys ever stop to think how too good to be true life can be?” Enesera asked. In the absence of our response, the waves of the shore especially sounded fierce, and it was as if the sheer intensity of their otherwise gentle, breathtaking sound could carry us away to a far, far distant future.
“I think about it all the time,” Dennis said. I looked over at Dennis and experienced that same feeling again. I’ve known Dennis since we were teenagers, back in the days when Alesssandra was still with us and breathing in this world, but ever since he came back from the military, it was as if he’d become a totally different person. Did he lose a part of himself during his time there? Why did it feel like he was always carrying a great weight on his shoulders, a load heavy enough to break the shoulders of most mortals? I used to be able to communicate such questions to Dennis, but by this time in our lives, it had become incredibly difficult to be able to get past whatever invisible barrier that had formed up between us. I looked at Enesera, appreciating that such a barrier hadn’t formed between us. Yet.
With Enesera, I could still let loose the spontaneity of my thoughts and allow themselves to be expressed no differently than the free-spirited improvisations of a guitarist. Still, there have been ocassional times with Enesera as well where I’d feel that she too were carrying a great weight on her shoulders, though paradoxically, every single physical motion, from her hand gestures to her carefree walk and the magic of her brilliant laughter, hinted only at a truly joyful person. Perhaps her joy was the resulting aftermath of her peacemaking with her long relationship with melancholy.
“Life is too good to be true,” Dennis suddenly said after those several intervals of waves filling up the silence. “But I always think that there is some hidden code in the universe - or... maybe it’s better to say, in ‘our minds’ – that is constantly trying to separate us from our harmony with life. Why is it that we should feel anything about anything outside the present moment? The human mind complicates everything. We should just enjoy the moment, enjoy being with each other and enjoy the sound of the waves of the ocean, and then move onto the next moment when the time comes.”
“Maybe it isn’t our minds that complicate life and the world,” I said. “Maybe you’re onto something. Maybe there is something written in the dramatic script of the universe itself that has caused so many unnecessaries anxieties over the immense complexities of life. Maybe it's the universe itself that is the problem, although to be fair, without the universe, I wouldn't exist. I wouldn't have been born. You two wouldn't have been born. Everyone I love and all the beautiful people of the universe wouldn't have been born. So, yeah, never mind..., but I wonder...”
Dennis interrupted and said, “Maybe we should just stop wondering what the universe is and experience it for ourselves. We can be philosophers right now in this one moment, but in the next, we’ll come to realize we must be real human beings. No one moment can nor should last forever, so how can we feel convinced that whatever fancy philosophical revelations we spit out from our mouths will sustain themselves and survive with the passing of time? We just have to ride the waves of time, and let go of all questions. If we let it all go or not, in the end, nothing changes about the universe, does it?”
STANDING BEFORE HIS HOUSE, Graham looked at Enesera, appreciating that first day they met at Daphne’s Cyberpunk Lo-Fi Café, feeling the essence of the past arise in an unbearable yet breathtaking outburst of longing. Enesera would have also found herself in nostalgic appreciation were it not for the bad hunch scratching at her telepathic senses that there were two or three intruders waiting for them inside Graham’s house. “Something bothering you?” Graham asked.
“Three intruders are waiting for us inside your home.”
Graham drew his pistol. “They must be the ones Dennis warned about. Before we go in, tell me what you’re really capable of apart from your telepathy. I’m sure that in all the sparring sessions we’ve had, you’d been holding back for whatever reason. I never figured out how I should approach you about it, but we can talk about your secretiveness later. If we’re going to team up in a real fight, I have to at least know your real strengths and weaknesses.”
Enesera said nothing for a moment, fully aware that there was no moral justification at this point to lie to Graham. All she did was nod and then proceeded to confess the true arsenal of her fighting capabilities.
“Through my telepathy, I am capable of numerous techniques such as Sentimental Provocation, Irrational Fear Augmentation and Fear of Falling. I can also see through walls.”
“An impressive set of techniques. You're ten times more adept than I’d suspected. After all these years, you couldn’t see through Dennis’s lies about his past?”
“No. His telepathy is most likely around my caliber. Rarely do I ever meet anyone who can conceal the true nature of their words from me.”
“Right… Well, where inside my house are these intruders?”
“One is in your living room, hiding inside the closet. Another is in your bedroom, standing somewhat recklessly near your front door. And the third is peeking at us through the curtains in your kitchen. Right now, he’s informing the others how you have your gun drawn. The others are now on the move, most likely to reunite with the third in the kitchen.”
“Great. I’m an idiot for having drawn my gun prematurely. With all these sudden surprises attacking me left and right, I can’t think straight. I should’ve known better.”
“It’s all right. My telepathy can reach them from here.”
Enesera closed her eyes. She looked past through the walls of Graham’s house and partially felt the flow of the intruders’ thoughts. Though she received an imperfect interpretation of their thoughts, she was able to retrieve enough information to surmise that their intention was not to kill them but only to capture. Concentrating deeper, she read one thought which ran through the mind of the intruder inside the kitchen:
I have to be diligent tonight. This mission will determine the downfall or renewed prosperity of our nation. It’s all or nothing, right here in this town so far, far away from home.
I have to be diligent tonight. This mission will determine the downfall or renewed prosperity of our nation. It’s all or nothing, right here in this town so far, far away from home.
Enesera managed to generate a firm bridge connecting her mind to this intruder, just a moment before the other intruders could enter the room. She would have enough time since subjective time slowed down in these telepathic communications, the speed and pacing of which Enesera could manipulate at will presuming her target’s mental resistance was relatively weak enough. It only took a few seconds for Enesera to discover her target’s name from inside his brain: Yelzera Atu. Considering the language of his name’s origin, there was a great chance that this Yelzera Atu had indeed come from Enesera’s true country of origin. She thought,
The past manages to keep coming back like a vicious loop without any force to stop it in its tracks. Maybe tonight I can come closer to finally putting an end to this cycle.
INSIDE TELEPATHIC SPACE, Enesera and Yelzera Atu stood at a large and spacious rectangular platform. A tall stairway led up to the front of the Shrine of Ora, Goddess of Self-Forgiveness and in the opposite direction, the city Inzera, capital of the Oner Kingdom, could be seen from here. This was a city whose architecture was like a fusion of Ancient Greek aesthetic and mid-21st Century Kyoto. This was a place where the aesthetic styles of past, present and future combined in a breathtaking fusion.
Apparently, this was the most important place inside Yelzera Atu’s heart. Although Enesera could typically choose the visual characteristics of her telepathic communication’s setting, there were times when the places most sentimental to the heart of the telepathic subject should appear instead. The knowledge that this place was so important to Yelzera Atu’s heart made her feel sympathetic towards him. Their common origin in their familiar world made her almost feel a sense of kinship with this spy even when he was trying to kidnap or even kill her and Graham.
Enesera nostalgically looked up the stairway to the Shrine of Ora. Before she left Oner, she prayed every day to Ora, hoping that her decision to leave behind her entire life here would be justified in the eyes of the gods. Looking back at her adversary, Enesera saw a distinctive feeling looming behind the war-torn eyes of this individual which caused indescribable feelings of nostalgia to sweep at her heart.
“I don’t sense that you are here to kill me nor my friend Graham. How are you three connected to Dennis? Did his life in espionage bring him into conflict with our nation?”
“You say, ‘Our nation.’ That must mean that deep down inside Princess Arusa, you still feel that Oner is your nation.” Hearing her real first name made her feel an appalling sense of fatalism tug at her heart, as if the reality of her past could never be escaped from no matter how settled in her life she was in Blue Ceramic.
“Blue Ceramic is my home now. I am no longer Princess Arusa. I miss Oner every day, but I must never succeed to the throne. I don’t want a war on my hands. Please return home.”
“Princess Arusa, we were initially assigned to kill your friend Dennis after having discovered that he had infiltrated Oner for three years. He had made friends in the upper levels of our government and retrieved major military intelligence and scientific research. Eventually, we took matters into our own hands when we had discovered that Dennis was, coincidentally enough, connected to you.”
“Which division do you belong to?”
“Unbound 15…” Enesera was always quite terrified of Unbound 15. Indeed, they were a group whose legend among the intelligence organizations of the solar system had been able to cause even the most steelhearted to shiver. They were called the Unbound for they were known to be such intricate masters of espionage that they had taken its heights to that of an art, and their untainted record of consistent success had made them known as ones whose goals and ambitions acknowledged no boundaries.
“What is your objective now?”
“To ignite a new era in our history which will spark innovative and monumental change!”
GRAHAM CAUGHT ENESERA before she could collapse to the ground. “Are you all right?” Enesera nodded and returned her gaze to Graham’s house.
“I was pushed out of the telepathic link from one of the other two. Let’s go in and finish ‘em.” Dennis was about to ask Enesera what she had uncovered from her interrogation, but he would ask that later. Instead of fixating on details, he wanted to be sure that these adversaries were dealt with immediately. This wasn’t his usual style, but his mind was too rattled to strategize with reason and calm.
They went through the house’s front door. The living room was spacious and open (he was the kind of person who was obsessed with organizing his home with the philosophical outlook that a well organized room contributed to a well-organized mind), and so it was not ideal for any hiding spots. At this point, Enesera told Graham, the three intruders had put up defenses around their minds to prevent further telepathic holds. They’d have to rely on their reflexes and good judgement the natural way.
Graham took a second to glance over at a painting he had hung up of a lone Sōhei (Buddhist warrior monk) hiking through the wintry mountains of Japan during the Kamakura Period. The calm, focused look of the monk’s expression in spite of the overbearingness of the snowstorm inspired Graham to be prepared for anything to come.
The moment the two entered the hallway to the stairs leading up to the kitchen, they had already found the three intruders at the end, waiting for them inconspicuously without their swords and guns drawn.
“Atypical of Unbound 15 members to be so out in the open,” Enesera said. “I wonder, is this a telepathic mirage? Or do you three really mean to bring me back peacefully?”
Graham looked at Enesera, confused with the lack of context. For the first time perhaps since he was just a rookie patrolman, Graham almost felt completely amateurish holding his gun in his hand. Was he to shoot? Was he to just wait and let these three intruders speak with Enesera? He wanted to know about Enesera’s role in all this. His curiosity begged him to be patient while his nervousness simultaneously begged him to fire.
Yelzera Atu raised his hand to the air, aiming it at Graham. At that moment, Graham felt a terrible force of agony overcome his left thigh. Still, he aimed his gun at Yelzera Atu. At that moment, the Unbound 15 agent to Yelzera Atu’s left had drawn a dagger from his inner left jacket pocket and threw it at Graham. It was aimed at his right chest though Graham managed to muster up enough willpower to move to his left. He wasn’t quick enough however, and the dagger struck him in his right shoulder!
For a few seconds, Enesera’s mental fortitude was in shambles while worrying for Graham, but she quickly regained her composure. Though unarmed, she ran towards the three Unbound 15 agents. She noted the coffee table on the right side of the hall adjacent to the three agents. On it was an East Asian style porcelain, a large rock containing glistening orange crystals which Graham had brought home from a beach trip and a framed photo of him, Enesera and Dennis smiling in front of the camera during a trip of theirs overseas. These were improvised weapons she could use.
The three agents restrained from drawing their weapons. Yelzera Atu was the first one to attack. He threw a straight left kick, the best kick he could utilize comfortably within the narrow width of the hall. Enesera checked it with her left knee, feinted a jab and then threw a high left side kick to Yelzera Atu’s ear. A ringing noise pervaded his ear as well as a dizzying sensation as he nearly fell backwards, though he quickly recovered.
The agent to Enesera’s right threw a straight right cross. Enesera bobbed her head to the left. In the same instance, she bobbed her head to the right and grabbed the rock from Graham’s beach trip and smashed it into the agent’s face! With the way his head rocked backwards and collapsed to the floor, Enesera worried she might have killed him.
Just when Yelzera Atu drew his dagger, meaning to stab Enesera in a non-fatal spot, he was shot in the neck by Graham! Graham fired again, trying to get the last Unbound 15 agent in the skull, but he moved his head back quickly and added more telekinetic pressure to Graham’s legs. At this point, not even sheer willpower could help Graham move another muscle.
By diverting his eyes and attention to Graham, the last agent left himself vulnerable. Enesera lunged towards the agent and smashed the rock into his left ear! The agent grunted in agony, but he was far stronger than the other agents and survived the attack. Enesera was impressed in spite of her rage.
The Unbound 15 agent was about to make for a desperate last attack with his telepathy, though he wasn’t quick enough. Enesera threw a left jab to his nose, causing stabbing pain to overcome him. This agent wasn’t used to hand-to-hand combat and never before had he felt so overpowered as he did this moment. Enesera thrust the beach rock into his temple. He fell to the ground but tried to get up again. What the hell is his skull made of, Graham wondered.
Just before the Unbound 15 agent could get back up, Enesera kicked him in the throat, but the agent still possessed incredible resolve. He tried to get up again, but now, he was about to face his brutal death. In one swift, angry motion, Enesera jumped down on the agent with the rock held poised in the air above her head, and she swung the rock down on the agent’s left eye in one killing stroke!
As she got up and breathed with the eyes of a killer staring down at her conquered prey, Graham looked at her dear friend who had always been such a compassionate and beautiful soul in his eyes, incapable of such violence, even when taking into account her deep love for martial arts. Everything about my reality is changing all at once, Graham thought. What a night!
“Now, do we have time for some explanations, Enesera?”
Enesera was quiet for a moment. “When we’re on the train to get out of town, I’ll explain everything to you then. For now, we’ll have to get rid of their bodies. Pack all your things. We need to leave as soon as possible. Plus, I have a lot of thinking to do in the meanwhile.”
“Are you sure they’re dead?”
“Yeah, they’re dead. I didn’t want it to come to this... but I always knew all these years that a night like this was possible. The other times when they tried to get me... it never came to this.” Enesera knelt down on the floor and leaned her back against the wall. As she begun to cry, Graham’s hand and the rest of his body lost all strength, and his gun dropped out of his hand. He ran over to Enesera, and sat down by her side, putting his arm around her shoulders. He could not believe the sight of the three dead Unbound 15 agents all around them. Although light was on in the hallway, it felt as if the entire space surrounding him and Enesera was dominated completey by an invisible, all-pervading darkness. No, not just darkness. Confusion. Incomprehensible confusion.
AT DAWN, GRAHAM AND ENESERA were at the Tanan Terminal at Caymora City just next to Blue Ceramic. In Graham’s sleep-deprived mind, the suddenness of his unexpected trip to this train station and the contents of the previous day made him long for four, no, five shots of espresso. He was so exhausted that he didn’t think his body would mind, though in the end, he settled for an order of one single and one double shot of espresso at a local coffee shop inside the terminal.
Graham stepped outside the coffee shop and felt a bombardment of overwhelming sensory stimulation that attacked him from all directions. Travellers everywhere from all over the country, the planet and neighboring planets, all with different skin colors, cultural backgrounds, languages and volumes of vocal expression had made him feel, for a brief yet significant moment, connected with everyone and everything. He hadn’t travelled in several months, but here he was, about to travel to a town known as Ermania in the neighboring country Vasturu where they’d take another train to Blundusa City. There, they would take the spaceship to the country Mershan located in planet Akan’s northern hemisphere.
Mershan was a quiet country located in the northeastern tip of the Maunan continent. The nation enjoyed a flourishing economy, well-crafted and fresh foods and a balance between urban and natural life. The most important element was its uneventfulness on the world stage and its relative lack of tourists. It was the perfect place to stay safe for the meanwhile.
As for Ermania, their next stop, Graham always heard legends of it being a wonderland of architecture, fanciful coffee shops, fashion and festivities. The exciting emotions of going there during these confusing circumstances; Graham felt them blend into a dual feeling of some kind of bittersweet euphoria which he couldn’t put a name to. The trip there would take just ten hours by train. That was more than enough time to cope with the unchangeable fact that his entire reality had shapeshifted into something incomprehensible, almost out of touch and unreal.
INSIDE THE TRAIN, Graham and Enesera sat in a private cabin, the quietness of which almost instilled a profound stillness in their hearts. They had had no sleep the whole night and the loudness of Tanan Terminal had overwhelmed their already troubled minds. To enjoy such stillness, even for a moment, almost gently pushed off their minds into mystical lands in their surreal imaginations. They would enjoy a good nap soon, but first, they had a lot to talk about. Their entire conversation was conducted telepathically for they were mindful of possible surveillance and telepathic eavesdroppers.
Graham, I’m sorry for having kept all of this from you after all these years. After I tell you what I’m about to tell you…
Don’t worry. You’re still the same Enesera in my eyes no matter what you tell me, even if you did scare the hell out of me last night with the way you killed that last agent.
Enesera almost smiled. You won’t be able to take this well.
Don’t worry. After last night, I’ll be able to take anything you throw at me.
All right. My real name is Arusa Aimana, and I am a former princess of Oner, the Kingdom of Undying Harmony.
Graham’s mind felt as if a bulldozer had shattered the foundations of his reality yet again. But he quickly recovered, at least partially. He tried his best not to seem shocked, but the naked look of extreme surprise on his face was so intense (for his body was shaking immensely no matter his attempts at self-restraint) that it made Enesera laugh, and her laughter made Graham laugh. It was their doubly-enjoyed laughter that made the rest of their train trip easier on them, even when things would get even more exciting and overwhelming.
So you’re… the former princess of Oner, the same Oner that attempted to invade the entire planet twenty two years ago?
Yes. I’m sorry I kept this from you all these years.
No, don’t be… You’re not joking, right? I mean... He scratched his head. I’m farely aware of Oner’s politics, but I’ve never come across your name.
There were reasons for my identity being concealed from the world, though I’ll explain the details regarding that later. For now, all you have to know is that there were special and unconventional plans orchestrated for me by my parents which involved several different domestic and interplanetary factions that they have secret associations with.
“Okay, so what was your previous...,” Graham said aloud unknowingly.
Stay focused! Remember to sustain all your focus on telepathic communication!
Right, sorry! I wonder if he wonders if he’s dreaming at this point, Enesera wondered privately, adept enough to multi-task between her private, concealed thoughts and telepathic communications with rapid ease. Hell, I wouldn’t blame him!
What was your previous life like? Why did you leave it?
Ever since I was a child, I knew that my destiny resided elsewhere outside of Oner, away from the destiny that life handed to me. I had no interest in continuing my obligations as a member of the royal family. I only wanted to live a normal life, travelling the world in search of happiness, friendship and adventure.
I had no interest in any of the military aspirations that my father tried to drill in me and my siblings. My brothers and sisters were deeply passionate about our nation’s military cause, but the more one of my tutors had taught me about the nations of the solar system, the more I just wanted to see them all for myself. And so, I escaped ten years ago. Alone. My journey across the solar system took me to many different places, but it wasn’t until I arrived at Blue Ceramic and met you and Dennis that I felt perfectly happy, as if everything was right in the world.
None of the suffering that I went through from fighting for that happiness seemed too much for me to handle whenever I’d look back to my past, though I have to admit, my journey to find happiness in the world was long and dreadful. Several times, I was found by certain spies who wanted to bring me back home. Thank the gods, I managed to spare all their lives, until last night that is..., and planted a false set of memory narratives in their heads, forcing them to remember a false past in which they had never found me. If it weren’t for the passion I had for training fervently in my martial arts and telepathy along with my tutor’s guidance and wisdom, then, I would surely have been brought back to Oner in less than one year after my escape. I’ll tell you more about my tutor later as well. He was the kind of teacher whose memorable sayings would become forever engrained into my heart to the point where his wisdom is now an inseparable part of my soul, even when he is still residing in Oner, so, so far away.
“As for how Dennis falls into this picture, I can only say that it is an unbelievable coincidence that his destiny in espionage had pitted him against my homeland’s government.”
They unwittingly switched back to normal conversation aloud, fatigued by their lack of sleep.
“As for how Dennis falls into this picture, I can only say that it is an unbelievable coincidence that his destiny in espionage had pitted him against my homeland’s government.”
“That’s all there is to it? A coincidence?”
“Do you think he knows about your past?”
“With all things considered, most likely, but of course, considering our friendship, he must have never held it against me. Still, he must have kept a watchful eye on me and maybe even did some research just to be sure I wasn’t plotting to do any of my own sneaky espionage. I’m surprised he didn’t talk to me about it, but I guess if we manage to reunite with him, we’ll be able to finally have a good talk about this matter.” Enesera went on to tell Graham about Unbound 15’s fearsome reputation within the government as well as how their original mission of hunting down Dennis had organically led them to discovering Enesera’s location. The more Graham listened to tales of Unbound 15, the more he was amazed at how well Enesera had fought such seasoned agents back at his house. Just what sort of warrior and political force did her parents attempt to groom her into, he wondered.
“So, ever since they found Dennis, they changed their mission and decided to bring you back. Or do they mean to accomplish their new mission and their previous one of killing Dennis?”
“I don’t know what their current plans are for Dennis. You see, Yelzera Atu told me that their direct superiors, among them being my father and mother as they personally supervise a lot of their operations, were not informed of their intention to capture me. During their mission to hunt down Dennis, they secretly began formulating efforts to ignite a revolution within the government to overthrow my father. The members of Unbound 15 aren’t trying to bring me back to Oner in order to force me back into life as princess of Oner nor imprison me. They mean to commit a coup d’etat and install me as the nation’s first prime ministress with temporary absolute power as the nation transitions from absolute monarchy to a full-fledged democracy. They are definitely intending to try out a prototype of a brainwashing machine which only members of Unbound 15 and two other intelligence divisions are permitted to use so that not only would I ‘willingly’ lead this revolution but also forget about my past in Blue Ceramic.”
“This is straight out of a sci-fi novel!”
It was at this moment that in the hall outside was a spy slowly moving towards their private room with his hand on a weapon, though this weapon was not a gun or a knife. It was a small bomb which would release a pre-modified gas containing the telepathic wave of hypnotic suggestion which this spy had conjured up patiently for the past several hours. The spy was a certain individual who looked like he might fit into a film such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or Le Samouraï , and yes, this was Dennis. He was just several feet away from the door to Graham and Enesera’s room when a myriad of regretful thoughts had weighed down on him.
Our life together is over. It’s been a good many years that we’ve been happy together, but because of our destinies, the designs of which cannot be understood, what I am about to do must be done.
Dennis couldn’t comprehend that he held within his inner coat pocket the very device, this pre-configured telepathic suggestion bomb, which would cause his best friends to forget all about his existence. Should this bomb be thrown into the room and release the telepathy-infused gas which would reconfigure their pasts, then Graham and Enesera would be influenced to continue their journey off-planet, which he had already suggested to them in his letter, except in this fabricated future of theirs, there would be no recollection of Dennis. They would be lovers who had just simply decided to leave behind their lives on this planet, wishing to experience for themselves a breathtaking new life on the planet known as Akan. The hypnosis would be naturally convincing enough in terms of the romantic context. Dennis always knew that deep down inside, Graham and Enesera had feelings for each other all these years though never developed the courage to confess them.
Still, will they feel that someone is missing? That there was once a friend who was so dear and precious to them who should be there with them, though they can’t remember his name. They can’t remember his face. Perhaps they could remember my smile or the sound of my laughter, but surely, they will forget me. They must! This has to work for their sake!
There in that new world, Dennis knew, they would most likely be safe from the grips of Unbound 15 forever. And since they wouldn’t ever remember their dear friend Dennis ever again, they would have no desire to leave Akan, and thus would keep themselves out of danger forever. Just before Dennis was about to open the door, his telepathy penetrated through the cabin’s door for he had wanted to hear the voices of his friends for one last time, though he wished he could hear their naturally spoken words, so that he could hear their beautiful voices in their most authentic expression for one last time.
All these surprises remind me of this one conversation I had with Dennis, Graham said. This was when we were in high school. We were smoking outside Daphne’s Cyberpunk Lo-Fi Café, just about to meet a friend of ours, Alessandra.
Alessandra…, Dennis thought. He tried not to let his memories of the past flood his mind, but the deepest parts of his sentimental side had effortlessly plunged him into the abyss of remembering.
Alessandra was a close friend of ours who had just been diagnosed with a terminal disease, one that doctors claimed to have no knowledge of. Just the day before, she told Dennis and I about this. Outside the café, we were waiting to meet Alessandra in just about five minutes.
I want to forget about the past! Dennis presently thought. I want to erase all those painful images, and I feel guilty at the same time for wanting to erase all those images because in those images, Alessandra is still there, half-dead, half-alive. There in the echoes of the past, Graham, Alessandra, Enesera and I live on, though who we were in the past can be said to be mere figments of our imagination. Who are we now? And were we ever truly alive in any one moment if the future should end up like this? Throw the bomb. I have to just open the door and throw it!Just throw it in there now!
Dennis and I were crying, Graham continued. We were unable to process the reality that our friend whom we had known for so many years was going to pass away in a month. And out of nowhere! We couldn’t say anything for a while when we first met at the café, but then Dennis said,
‘Is it just me Graham, or does it feel like our lives have just ended? Two days ago, we were alive, living the moment as teenagers who didn’t believe that the future’s reality would ever solidify into something real. But then yesterday happened. And here we are now, seeing Alessandra for one of the last times in our lives.’
Presently, Dennis felt a terrible pain in his chest that begged him not to drop the bomb inside the room. After he let his pain express itself in the form of a boa constrictor wrapping itself firmly around his heart (though not a malevolent boa constrictor but a gracious one that induced revelation through the simultaneous dance of agony and bittersweet joy,) he finally refused to throw the bomb.
He knocked on the door.
“...Who is it?” Graham asked.
Without thinking twice, Graham opened the door. He stared into Dennis’s eyes in disbelief. It really was Dennis looking back at him! “Dennis! It really is you! But…” He saw the bomb inside Dennis’s hand.
“Oh, this. I’ll explain later. Don’t worry, I’m not hypnotized. Enesera can vouch for that. My mind is free. Hell, all of us are free! Let’s get away from this nasty situation and figure out a way off this planet together in one piece. We might not make it out of this alive, but damn it, we have to go through this together!”
Published: December 6, 2022
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