It has only been a day since I collapsed, and I spent the whole day thinking. The whole day reflecting on what I had become.
The last three years changed me. I admitted that. I felt distant from the world and the world felt bleak. The sound of metal clinking on metal disturbed me, not being able to see the sky made me unseasy.
This wasn’t what I was like when I left, but I think I understand. It was Taker’s final insult; a final torture.
He was letting me remember, slowly. Each memory that showed me how pathetic I was in front of him, how weak I became before hot irons and spikes. Every now and then It hit me. Another horrid nightmare that was all too real.
Today I remembered being patched up. He said that I ‘didn’t need a single painkiller’. I remember begging as the machine set bone and made incisions, pumping fluid to allow rapid growth of ruptured lungs and torn tendons.
I sat there looking at the glass of water on the table before me, thinking about it.
“Ryan, are you able to answer my question?” repeated Dr. Meadows.
“Sorry,” I replied. “I forgot.”
Dr. Meadows frowned a little, and restated her question. “Do you wish to continue?”
I thought about the expedition I was tasked to go on.
“I can, can’t I?”
She smiled. “Mental health isn’t something the higher ups really care about, but I wish you would reconsider.”
I took that a clearly worded disapproval in my plans. The only disapproval at all. I’d been cleared for hypnosis, being a sleeper agent or anything thanks to a check up by some psychic or mind reader of some sort. I felt as though I could do away with the trip, but at the same time it was part of a larger deal. I’d have to do it if I wanted to further my own goals.
Taking the plunge, I looked at her in the eyes.
“I’m doing it. I’ll go,” I said, standing up. “I think I can do it, I have support.”
I said my goodbyes and left, looking for Maxine. I have one last thing to do.
I got lost almost instantly, seeing as I’d been restricted in where I could freely wander for the longest time, and I spent most of it reading books. The hallway I found myself in was surprisingly bright, but not relevant at all to where I was wishing to go as it was filled with visitors of all kinds.
The sounds of chatter filled my ears.
“-om, I want an ‘Unpers-”
“-aw ‘Galactic’ in fra-”
“-ot my fault, had wor-”
I turned back, looking for actual staff. Receptionists at desks filled with visitors are not allowed to divulge info on who is out or not. I read a case on that being used to plan a murder of a cape known as ‘Ogre’ in the eighty’s. I remember reading that, that stood out.
Nobody noticed me as I returned to the hallways and finally approached a NHN unit member as he walks about with paperwork.
“I’m looking for Maxine, have you seen her?”
He takes a quick look, realizes who I am and points me in the general direction. “Capes like you at the top floor, Blocker.”
I found my way with the aid of an elevator, and caught Maxine in normal gear as she left her room.
“Hey,” she said, slightly surprised at my sudden appearance.
“Hey,” I replied, waving a hand. “I’m after a favour.”
Maxine gave me a glance. “…Yeah?”
“I want to see Derek’s grave, if it’s okay with you.”
“Ryan,” she began. “You can visit it any time you like. I was heading out anyway so I’ll take you, okay?”
I nodded, a little worried I put a negative mood in her day by saying what I did.
I followed her back to the elevator.
“I figured you’d want to see him,” Maxine said.
“Really?” I asked, intrigued at what her insight on me could be.
“Yeah, you’ve always had a hard time letting things go.”
“Y-yeah,” I replied, a little shocked at the comment as we entered the elevator. “I do, don’t I?”
The elevator opened at the ground floor, and we walked out down the hallways.
Maxine parted more words. “Trying to fight for what you want is good, Ryan. You tried.”
Trying doesn’t amount to anything when you lose so much. I lost Derek, Ellen was a lost cause. Michael and Ricky are miles away. Samantha and Margaret underwent nasty changes, and re-triggered several times.
“Trying ain’t enough,” I said to myself. I have to succeed, not try. “Nobody famous tried. They won all the way until the very end, and in their final moments? That’s where they tried.”
Maxine sighed, pushing past reporters. Taker’s blowtorch shone in my face, making me take a step back before realizing it was a camera flash. I ducked my head down and powered outside, waving off the reporters. They don’t chase far and very few were there. I just had bad luck with a boisterous one.
I pushed my way in front of her and turned to see her wave her hand at me, a final reporter changing his mind about giving chase and leaving for the NHN building, looking at his camera.
“How’d the vultures get tamed?” I joked, making an elbow gesture.
“NHN gives them what they want and they don’t go hungry,” explained Maxine, walking ahead of my on the roads.
We reached the gravestone. It was chipped, which was odd for such a new stone. Maybe the fact it was a cape gravestone gave it value? Maxine walked up and touched the grave.
“Hey, we got Ryan back,” muttered Maxine. “Now all we need is…”
“Maxine,” I said as she trailed off. “I’d like some time alone, please.”
She looked back at me as she knelt over the grave and nodded, heading off.
“Good luck with it,” she said, a final parting.
“Yeah,” I replied, still looking at the grave.
Only one thing ran through my head. I have three friends left.