Okay, the title has nothing to do with the story. My finals are starting on Tuesday and I just want to:
1) Go back in time (don’t know why)
2) Just get it over with!
I want to get it over with but I’m just… tricky, so I chose to turn back the time. It might not be the best thing to do but… yeah, not the best…
Anyway, just enjoy the story!
8 – Ernst Sia
Imogen Sia was a rare gem.
She was the daughter of the famous scientist, Ernst Sia, and the world renowned singer-actress and psychologist, Beatrice Sia (nee Sturluson). Not only she was blessed with superior genes, she was also born a genius, proved when she showed her understanding of the black hole theory at the age of eight.
Having born after the Countdown, she had not the slightest idea of the Earth’s history but was intrigued by her father’s deep interest in the Innocent Souls. She had encountered some Innocent Souls before when her father had taken her to his laboratory to introduce her to the world of scientists. Ernst Sia showed her how certain machines worked, the human anatomy and psychology, and her most favourite, astronomy.
There was an observatory situated at the top of the hill near the laboratory – it was also a holiday house for the Sias, when they needed to stay when the experiments are taking too long. The roof was a goliath metal dome with the telescope’s massive head poking through the dome. Every night, Imogen would visit the observatory with her father; as she got older, she had gone with her little brother instead, teaching him the things that were taught to her when she had been around his age – she was actually older than her brother was at that time but she believed that if she had taught him earlier, it would benefit him in the future.
Imogen had watched every meteor shower that occurred behind the world-dome, seeing the transient celestial objects fly across the sky like fallen angels. She had also witnessed blinding eclipses, planets in the distant celestial dome, sky dance of the auroras, the arching night rainbow made up of clusters of glittering stars – she had seen the beauty of space.
One experience had her curiosity sparked like fireworks, though.
She had moved the telescope so it was watching the eastern sky. She had waited for the sunrise but as she watched the dark azure sky turn warmer every second, she noticed something. It was an island in the sky, floating freely with no pillars or strings, but it was upside-down so the ground looked as if it was a part of the sky. Golden light emitted from the highest tower visible, blinking continuously as if signalling for recognition. The walls of the needle-like towers were glimmering silver, green and red roofs vivid against the pale background. Imogen had intended to look closer, to study the island more, but the apricot sunlight had wiped off the existence of the island.
Adrenaline had rushed to her brain and she immediately raced over to the laboratory, feeling the cold morning air smashing onto her face. Rose bloomed across her cheeks and condensation occurred as she panted. Though the crisp air numbed her legs, the two limbs worked automatically down the hill, through the forest of cypress trees and to the clearing where the laboratory was situated, the grey, mechanical building stood out against the vibrant emerald ground.
The young girl rushed through the corridors, ignoring the warnings her father’s subordinates yelled. Her deep blue eyes scanned every room she passed until she identified her father in the lounge, having his cup of delicious black coffee – Imogen had nagged him on consuming too much caffeine, but the professor was addicted to it by then.
“Dad!” Imogen bounced over to Ernst Sia’s lap, breathing heavily, “Dad, it’s there! I saw it!”
“Whoa, calm down, Maggie!” Ernst Sia chuckled, “What is it? A new star? A planet? Or have you seen an extraordinary bird flying around?”
“The city…” Imogen said between gasps, “The island… I saw it! It was in the sky… and it had some sort of light… it was flashing at us!” Ernst’s expression turned serious, leaning closer to listen to his daughter.
“What did you see?” he whispered hoarsely. Imogen had calmed down, leaning against the armchair.
“I set up the telescope to the east to watch the sunrise and then I saw this island at the horizon. It was upside down – the towers were pointing towards the ground and the land of the island looked like it was a part of the sky. When I wanted to look closer it had vanished, since the sun rose so the image became fainter until it was no more.”
Ernst Sia’s gaze fell to the floor, eyes wide with from the disbelief. He trusted his daughter but he just had to see this island for himself. “Maggie, sweetheart,” he said locking his eyes with hers, “What was the time when you noticed the island?”
Imogen cocked her head, “Around four thirty or so. Are you going to see it tomorrow?”
“Yes, I have to.”
“Is it for your project?”
Ernst Sia nodded solemnly, “Yes.”
“Okay, I’ll help you.”
So the next day, Imogen and Ernst hiked up the hill, folders with unimaginable amount of paper tuck under Ernst’s arm and some instruments carried by Imogen. The flashlight light up the pathway of cold cobblestone, scaring away nocturnal animals scurrying in the dark. The two of them had wrapped themselves up nicely in warm clothes but the cold air penetrated through the fabric very easily, making them shiver against the drag.
When they had reached the observatory, the set up the equipments and laid out some papers – blank or written on – on the steel table next to the telescope. Imogen was in charge of keeping track of the sky while Ernst was recording the time, date and other jargon onto his recorder. Next, Ernst measure the sky’s colouring with a cyanometer, and measure the angle the telescope was pointing at.
As soon as the sky turned a tad bit warmer, the island appeared. Imogen called her dad to the telescope while he was writing some things down. The man launched himself to the telescope, observing the island with silent awe.
His fingers trembled with excitement, or was it just the cold? But the way his mouth twitched from an O-shaped gap to a smile proved that he was delighted, very happy.
He cheered, he laughed, and he swung Imogen into the air and caught her as gravity pulled. He praised her and showered her with the most pleasing words that could be said. Imogen was very proud of her discovery and glad that her father was overjoyed by it.
They spent the next years conducting experiments and field researches, going to the farthest parts they could go without disturbing the security. It was a very pleasant father-daughter bonding and the best project the two had ever done. But they didn’t know that the happiness could be snatched away by one man.
No, he was not exactly a man.
He was the most despised person Imogen had ever met.
* * *
It was very early in the morning. Vega and the others were still dozing off in their own rooms; they were surprisingly quiet than when they’re conscious. Imogen snickered mentally at the thought of Armada looking so peaceful – he is still human too, in the end.
Imogen was looking out the window to the east, waiting for the sunrise. When she was a little girl, her mansion was her sanctuary, the observatory where she would see lots of optical phenomena. The telescope was still standing at the top of the mansion but the door leading up to the roof had been blocked by Imogen, because she was afraid the childhood memories would come flooding back.
She turned to the decorated oak end table near her bed. Beside the vintage lamp, a photograph of the Sia household was framed inside a polished wooden photo frame with gold linings around the reflective glass.
A man with neatly cropped raven hair and a woman with shining golden threads stood side-by-side, with their children at the front. A girl with curly chestnut hair and radiant blue eyes smiled innocently towards the camera, while the little boy beside her held her hand tightly, a meek smile across his baby-like face. Another boy, this one older than the earlier two, stood between the children, posing like a gentleman. This boy had vibrant green eyes like the mother and unlike the rest of the family who had blue orbs; his hair was raven like his father, but his solemn expression matched no one.
Imogen smiled at herself and the picture. The last time she had seen her older brother, Dominic Sia, was the day he left for a field study.
The family had heard no words from him. It took two years for him to start sending letters but whenever they send a letter to him, the reply would come once a month. Sometimes, a photo or drawing was attached to the letter, showing the situation of the place he was in. Stories began floating around on how Dominic had managed to get beyond the dome and was currently studying the life outside Omnia; others said he was residing in the legendary Island of Avalon. The conclusion? No one knew where he was.
As mentioned before, her father and brother perished in the Massacre. Her little brother, who was turning five at that time, was nowhere to be found after the Massacre ended. In the end, the police had announced him dead.
The death of the boy and Ernst had devastating effects on the Sia household. Beatrice decided to retire from her stage occupation and spent her days in solitude in the countryside. She had drowned herself in the past, refusing to let go of them and move on towards the future. No. Instead, she was killing herself slowly with memory toxins.
Imogen prevented letters from Dominic from reaching, as she thought that it would be a bad idea to let Beatrice read the letters – it would just add to her depression. She had told Dominic about their mother’s condition; Dominic had acknowledged it and would always send his regards to their mother, affection clear in his writing.
Beatrice wasn’t the only who had changed. Imogen, the cheerful young prodigy, had become a cold-hearted mad scientist. She was not how she was before. Much more different.
While some people said that her inhuman features were the product of her father’s experiment on her, it was actually because of her failed self-experiment on becoming one with the Innocent Souls.
Her father had always wanted to try making artificial Innocent Souls but his ideas were never executed due to financial issues. Ernst Sia had written some procedures, untested of course. Now that Imogen had all the money she needed, she conducted the experiment herself.
It worked – the experiment gave her superhuman abilities and she was able to use Blueprint. It was overwhelming at first but she had taught herself how to control her newfound powers. The problem was her physical attributes. Instead of the pure white eyes with faint grey rings the Innocent Souls had, she had pitch black orbs. From afar they looked hollow, giving the impression that she had no eyeballs. Humans would see her as a monster if they would see her condition, which was why she wore sunglasses everywhere. The Innocent Souls, however, didn’t mind. That was one of the things she loved about those complex creatures.
After finishing her flashback, Imogen turned to look at the horizon. It was there. The Island of Avalon.
It was faint and smaller without the telescope but she could still see the flashing golden light, twinkling brighter than any star she had seen. Legend has it that those who died without accomplishing their life goals would go to Avalon, watching the Earth still thinking they would someday fall back and start over again. Well, that would mean her father – or even her brother – would be there, watching over the world from the hanging island.
A knock on the door snapped her back to the present. “Come in,” she answered.
Armada’s form appeared from behind the door, all charged up as opposed to before. His metallic grey eyes were clear and his flaxen hair was smoothed down, not leaving any traces of bed hair.
Imogen greeted him with a playful smile, “Oh, it’s Arma.”
“I’m not really in the mood for jokes, especially so early in the morning, Maggie,” Imogen’s smile widened when he called her pet name. He still remembered. “Anyway,” Armada continued, “I just want to have a friendly conversation. Thanks for helping us on this.”
“Celty said that a lot before, but coming from you, it could be just a myth,” Imogen looked out the window again.
Armada leaned against the wall in front of her, watching the rising sun, “Celestia is just too… soft, I guess.”
“That’s one of her good points. Celty was always the motherly one and you’re just some fussy little prince.” Armada scrunched up his nose.
“I’m not that fussy. I was just being ‘in order’.”
“Yes, very ‘in order’,” Imogen rolled her eyes.
“If you’re talking about the school play, you should’ve known it was not my fault.”
“Well, gee, I didn’t know you were so aggressive and short-tempered. You usually appear so quiet and proper.”
“Huh,” Armada snorted, “says the two-faced goody-two-shoe.”
Imogen snickered, “At least I don’t nag everyone who doesn’t go with the rules.”
“Following the rules is obligatory, for your information,” Armada retorted, “It reflects a good image upon yourself.”
“I don’t follow the rules and they still think I’m a good girl,” Imogen pointed out.
“That’s because of your status.”
“It is not!”
“If you weren’t the gifted daughter of Professor Sia then people would see you as a spoiled brat.”
“Oh, regarding the mission, when will we leave?”
Imogen shrugged, “When we have the things we need and sort some stuff.”
“And you know we already have that kind of thing under control so, why aren’t we on the road?”
Imogen fell silent, expression drained from her. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence before Imogen stood up and walked over to the door. As she was about to turn, she beckoned Armada to follow her out.
The corridors echoed their every step, reminding them of the fact that no one was around, that the corridors were deserted. The tiled floor felt colder than it should be, considering it was in the middle of summer, but they were on top of a hill and among a cluster of trees so it would give a reasonable exception. The once dark hall was slowly gained a shade of amber, casting creeping shadows across the room, sprawled across the floor and along the walls, standing vertically or diagonally.
When they walked past the main hall, Armada could see the family portrait hung above the fireplace. It was similar to the picture in Imogen’s room but the poses were different. Beatrice was sitting on a chair, her hands laced on her lap, while the others stood in different heights around her, gentle smiles like the spring breeze. He had a sudden touch of guilt rising in the pit of his stomach.
Ernst Sia had been like a father to both Armada and Celestia, who were orphans in the Sia Orphanage. Imogen and her brother used to visit them regularly, in the weekends, and the four of them would have ultimate adventures in the forest of cypresses. When the sun was setting, Beatrice would call them in and the Sia family and the orphans would enjoy a healthy dinner made with pure love. When the news of Ernst’s and Imogen’s brother’s death reached the orphans, the once merry group of children couldn’t even appreciate the warmth of the sun anymore.
Armada felt a lump in his throat rising. He looked over at Imogen, her back towards him. She might not show it but he could feel the sorrow behind the lady’s tough shell. He took a glance at the picture of the kindly man and bowed, biting his bottom lip to suppress his emotions.
They walked on and on until they reached the dining room. The vermilion paint enclosed them in a fiery atmosphere despite the chandelier turned off, the room still in the darkness, the sunlight not strong enough to illuminate the whole room. A long decorated dinner table took up the centre of the room with matching carved chairs with rosy cushions accompanying at the sides. Paintings of landscapes were framed in golden or silver frames, making them look more expensive than they already were.
A window at the farthest wall from the door was overlooking the backyard, the colourful trees visible, swaying back and forth like lazy dancers. Imogen walked over to the window, followed by Armada. She peeked right and left, and then settled on looking at a kakoa tree on the far left. “Look there,” she said.
Armada poked his head at the window and looked at the direction Imogen was pointing at. It was not clear but the figures of two men were hidden almost neatly behind the bundle of turquoise leaves. They were holding something silver and log-like – a laser gun? – steady in their arms, fingers twitching slightly hovering over the trigger.
Just when Armada was about to lean closer to the window, Imogen pulled him back abruptly, making his head a little giddy sue to the sudden movements. Imogen’s face was straight, index finger over her cherry lips. “They’re watching. Don’t go too close,” she warned.
“Are they with the Filters?” Armada questioned.
“Look at their guns; it’s a CL-0900 type. Of course they’re from filter!”
“How long have they’ve been there?”
“I noticed around yesterday as soon as I stepped into the garden, but something tells me that they might’ve been there earlier before.”
Armada nodded, “So what’s the plan?”
“Just wait. I got this.”
* * *
It was the eighth time he had changed his position; it wasn’t getting better.
Vega was wide awake.
He was having the best rest anyone could get and he wasn’t dreaming of anything in particular – the Professor had once said that Innocent Souls were less likely to have dreams, they usually only see darkness. It was all peaceful. Well, it was.
It was the second time – or third? Vega couldn’t recall – he had dreamt of something, and to make it to the record it was the most unpleasant dream ever experienced.
At first, he could feel a rush of air hitting his face, gently but in a speed. He opened his eyes slowly to see the stars, millions of tiny shining specks sprinkled over the navy-violet sky. He was in a train, roofless and empty. The windows floated in mid-air, unsupported by any kind of walls. He tried to touch the empty space but when his fingers made the slightest contact, it repelled his hand but not with a harmful force – much more like an invisible gentle trampoline.
He couldn’t tell if there was anyone beside him aboard; the locomotive stretched out as far as the eye could see, ending in dots of yellows and brown, indicating the wooden floor and the saffron seating organised in rows of two. The seats facing Vega were empty and so was the spot beside him, and the seats across the pathway. He could hear the wheels of the train hitting the metal beneath it, making clack-clacking metallic-blue sounds as they go along, into the night.
Vega looked back and forth at the long path, looking out for any passengers. He dare not to call out for no one in particular, else it will disturb the rhythmic clacking of the wheels. By the looks of it, he was alone –
“Such a beautiful night, isn’t it?”
A voice made Vega turn to face a boy sitting in the once empty seat in front of him. The figure was familiar, like Vega had seen him somewhere before – the stark white hair, hospital pyjamas, and porcelain-like skin. The boy’s eyes were hidden underneath the mop of pureness but his smile was genuine.
Vega sat back down, trying to be comfortable and attempted a polite smile – though he couldn’t stop his brows from knitting in suspicion and curiosity. “Yes, the stars are beautiful,” Vega started, “Do you know where this train is going?”
“To Avalon,” the boy said shortly.
“Oh… Are my friends onboard?”
“My friends. You see,” Vega eased up a bit, “they had wanted to go to Avalon so they could save the world, or something. There’s this group of evil guys trying to invade Avalon and take over it, and my friends – and I, I guess – are going there to stop them.”
“But we haven’t got such news in Avalon,” the boy’s smile dropped, “Is it that bad?”
“They said it is but I think we can save Avalon. Say, are a citizen from Avalon?”
The boy’s smile returned, “Yeah. I was just back from an event back on Earth. Do you want to go to my house when we’ve reached Avalon? You could stay there as long as you want; I could see that you’re a tourist, judging from your clothing.”
“Ah, no thanks. I don’t want to bother you. I need to go back to my friends.”
“Your what?” The boy repeated the question but this time, it didn’t sound much like a question.
“My… friends –” Steel-like fingers clawed into Vega’s wrist, digging into his flesh. Vega’s eyes widened at the boy’s sudden transformation.
“YOUR WHAT?!” The boy’s eyes peeped through the curtain of white, glaring red like a feral predator. The grip on Vega’s wrist got stronger and stronger and stronger, until blood was seeping through the crescent moon-shaped cuts, painting the boy’s nails red as well as trailing down Vega’s pale wrist.
Silent squeaks escaped Vega’s mouth. Perspiration trickled down his face, down his shirt. He narrowed his eyes in pain and bit him bottom lip so hard it nearly tear apart. He had tried to close his eyes but the blaring red dots were still watching him through his eyelids, piercing through and snaking its way into his brain. His breathing became pants, frantic, uncontrolled. His vision danced around but would always centre on the boy.
The boy was scary.
Vega tried to yank off his arm but that only made the boy held on even tighter. He begged and begged and tried to pull the hands away from him but the boy wouldn’t even budge.
Deeper and deeper went the fingers into his flesh, and Vega had finally released his lip and screamed his brains off, “Please, don’t do this! It hurts!”
“They are not your friends!” The boy shrieked, “They are posers! Murderers! MONSTERS! You belong in Avalon! They will abandon you and before they do, you must abandon them! Come with me! It’s safer in Avalon!”
“LET GO OFF ME!”
A hand swept over his eyes as he uttered those words. A gasp was let out and his hand was released. As the hand pulled him backwards, he felt himself falling continuously, not stopping but very slowly, defying space and time.
“Yo-you –!” he heard the boy stutter, “Why? Why are you doing this?”
The black cloaked figure smiled, a finger placed on his lips. He pulled Vega closer into the space portal created behind him until he was no more before answering the boy, voice low and mysterious, “Well, I wonder why…”
Ebony butterflies scattered around where Vega and the man used to be, signalling solitude once more…
Vega sprawled all over the bed, a hand on his forehead while the other limbs were placed everywhere. The ceiling was at least one thing that was comforting – besides the bed, that is. Bandersnatch was a cat, curled up into a ball in the corner, by the end table.
He inhaled a reassuring breath and shuddered as he exhaled. Thinking about it was already sickening, but even when he tried not to think about it, he would end up recalling the events over and over again like the broken cassette the Professor had – once you’ve played it, it wouldn’t stop playing unless you take it out.
That reminds him…
He hadn’t been worrying about the Professor for the last days. How was he doing? Is he eating properly?
Questions floated through his head; they were solo but he was dying to see the answer. Vega sat up, cross-legged, and stared at his feet. He was in a mansion so that meant there would be some kind of communication devices around, most likely the telephone. He glanced at Bandersnatch, who was snoring peacefully. He didn’t want to just wake it up and so he resolved on sneaking out of his bed.
It was somehow the best decision he had made. Not only will he explore the mansion to the corners of it, but he will also find something… shocking.