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The Lie that Saved the World: Chapter 0, the end.

by VengefulReaper


Warning: This work has been rated 16+.

Ethan heard the rumble of his link on his wooden dressing table. Groaning as he forced his eyes open, he slid out of bed and walked over to his link. Through his misty eyes he was barely able to make out Troy’s name. He picked up and cleared his throat.

“Hey, Ethan. Sorry to trouble you. I mea—”

“What the hell, man. It’s like four in the morning,” mumbled Ethan.

“Four? What clock are you looking at? It’s nine.”

Ethan looked over at his clock. He rubbed his eyes until the blurriness faded. “Oh yeah, my bad. I probably overslept. What’s up? How’s she doing?”

“Not good. She’s in a coma.”

Ethan rubbed his forehead and paced up and down his bedroom. “Do they know when she’ll wake up?”

There was a moment of silence on the other side of the line. “No.”

The scientist sighed. “So, you’re going to have to pay for her as long as she’s there? Can your medical aid handle that?”

“I don’t know. But I’ll make a plan,” Troy replied without an ounce of confidence. Ethan could tell he didn’t believe his own statement.

“Well, if you need some help, just shout. I’ll pop by the hospital during visiting hours tonight.”

“Yeah… about that,” Troy said hesitantly. “I wanted to ask one more favor of you. I’m going out of town to tell my parents about her, so I need someone to handle anything that comes up. Can I put you as an emergency contact?”

“Uh, yeah. Sure. I’ll send you, my details. How long are you going to be gone for?”

“A while. They live pretty far,” Troy replied.

But you can just teleport there, right? Ethan thought. Perhaps they lived some place remote that Troy had to drive to. A while was terribly generic. That could be days, weeks or even months. Regardless of the period, Ethan had nothing better to do with his free time. He wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.

“A while is alright,” Ethan shrugged. He didn’t want to press the matter too much. After all, Troy didn’t have to share everything with him.

“Thanks, mate. Sorry for dumping this all on you, but I don’t have anybody else.”

The call cut. He doesn’t have anyone else? Ethan thought Troy would never have a problem finding friends. After all, they became friends in just a few months, and he’s shared more information with Troy than he had with Sarah.

Oh shit! Sarah…

Ethan had forgotten today was the day she returned from her operation. If it was nine o’clock now, he only had an hour and a half to get to the station. He tossed the sleep that lingered over him away and rushed into the shower.

***

Locking his front door, he briskly walked down the road as fast as he could. The streets were filled with people walking to the station for work. As he slipped through the crowd, apologizing to those he pushed passed along the way, he glanced at his wristwatch. Twenty minutes left. He poked his head above the crowd and looked how far the mass of people went. He finally made it through and entered the swinging doors of the station.

The scientist opened his link and looked for the terminal Sarah would arrive through. 4478…4478…Come on… Ethan found a group of people surrounding a row of terminals. One of them read ‘4478’. People materialized in one terminal and proceeded to another terminal adjacent to it to collect their luggage. There was a continuous humming noise emanating from the terminals as hundreds of people teleported through them.

Within a few minutes, a maintenance officer arrived at the arrivals row and closed the terminals down for half an hour. The machine’s needed to cool down due to the influx of travelers. Ethan wasn’t aware of why the station was so busy today. It was just another Monday for him. What was so special about this Monday?

Spotting a pair of empty steel chairs, Ethan rushed over to them before they could be taken by someone else and sat down. After a run to the station and a jog to the terminal, he certainly needed to catch his breath. Sarah had told him that she would be staying a few days with her parents since she was in the area.

While Troy used to walk with Ethan from the restaurant until the station, he missed her company between the station and his house. Ethan had walked alone for the past week which gave him ample time for his thoughts to run wild. Something he was hoping would never happen. Thoughts of Max and the DNA-DEC, of Mr. Singh and his advice, and of Troy and his sister. He knew he’d have to think about it some day soon. Perhaps Sarah leaving gave him the time he needed to decide. But he needed her opinion on it first.

The scientist contemplated whether to tell Sarah or not. Perhaps if she never knew, the thought of him dying would never cross her mind. Not until he actually died. At least, he’d still see her smile every day.

His brows furrowed as he stared intently at the floor in thought. Every moment that passed was another moment wasted, he thought. He needed to talk to Sarah about his invention, his meeting with Max and the incident with Troy. Everything except his illness. It’s hardly something he’d want to tell her the moment she returned.

The shuffling of shoes on the tiled floor snapped Ethan out of his trance. The terminals had re-opened and people once again gathered, waiting to see the arrival of their loved ones.

He turned his attention to the person exiting the teleporter. It could have been Sarah but there were too many people in his to get a full view. They slid their feet lazily on the tiled floor. Ethan caught a glimpse of some brown hair and his ears caught a familiar whistle.

Yep…That’s her, alright…

The scientist walked around the back of the crowd. For a minute and a half, Sarah looked for Ethan in every place except where he was standing. The doctor looked like a lost soul who was oblivious to the giant waving her down frantically.

Well, I would expect nothing less from a person who gets lost in the hospital parking lot, Ethan thought.

Eventually, Sarah waved back acknowledging him. As she shuffled over to Ethan with her her baggage following her in a floating basket. She greeted him with a hug and a smile he had missed for the past week.

After sharing a tender moment, Ethan’s frowned. “A few days my ass. You were gone for a whole bloody week!”

“Aw! Did you miss me?” she teased.

Ethan scoffed, “What? No… Of course not…”

“Sure thing, buddy…” she replied patting Ethan on the back. “Come on.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming,” Ethan said as he caught up to her.

They exited the station but not before grabbing some fruit from the stall at the entrance. Sarah took an enormous bite into her apple. Within minutes the fruit vanished, only the core remaining.

“Did you have breakfast?” asked Ethan as he watched his friend gobble through another apple.

“Yeah. Tea.”

“That is not breakfast. Which means I am making you some when we get home.”

“You don’t need to do th—”

“I wasn’t offering,” insisted Ethan. If he could make her breakfast, he’d also have an opportunity to talk to her about what had happened in the last week. She’d been out of the country which meant she probably knew about the bombing but didn’t know about the president’s message.

“Okay, okay,” she surrendered.

Sarah unlocked her front door and invited Ethan in. It seemed she had tidied up the apartment before leaving. At least the laundry basket isn’t sitting in the living room. Ethan got to work as he switched on the stove and placed a pan on one of the hot plates.

“So… How did the op go?” he asked.

Sarah looked over her shoulder. “Well, we managed to save his kidneys and cleaned out his liver. Overall, it was a success.” She continued unpacking her bag until there was nothing in it.

“Did you go to oversee an operation or go on a shopping spree?” asked Ethan, surprised by the amount of items Sarah had packed in there. It was a miracle that it all fit.

“These are for you. Courtesy of my mom,” she said waving a wrapped box in the air.

Ethan set the stove on a timer and joined Sarah in the living room. He sat cross-legged on the floor and unwrapped the box. He smiled when he saw hauled the jar out of the boxing.

“German coffee. One of the rarer kinds,” he remarked as he examined the container. “Tell your mom I said thanks. This will make a fine addition to my collection.”

“She was kind of mad I didn’t bring you with me. I told her I would’ve if you didn’t have a doctor’s appointment,” she said as if prodding Ethan to tell her about it without asking him directly.

“It went alright,” Ethan said in the most casual tone he could fake. “Xavier said I just developed some chronic disease. Nothing a few antibiotics can get rid off.”

“Well, that’s great!” she said without hesitation. “See? I told you it was nothing.”

“Yeah… Nothing,” Ethan trailed off.

The pan began to steam and Ethan rushed over to pull it off the stove. The aroma of perfectly cooked sausages filled the room as he pricked the meat off the pan and placed it on a white ceramic plate.

He gestured with his hand for Sarah to sit. As they both ate, Ethan explained the what had transpired over the past week. As he narrated, it seemed crazy to think that all of it happened in such a short period of time.

“And Max didn’t offer you a chance to complete the design fully?” she asked.

“I don’t care if he did. Secronium is dangerous. I could kill myself using it if I am not careful. But that leaves me with a problem.”

“You don’t know what to do next,” she completed his thought for him.

Ethan nodded. “I asked Mr. Singh and well…He helped…sort of…”

“And now you want my take on it?”

“Yep.”

Sarah sighed. When she did that, Ethan knew it was lecture time. He braced himself for the worst.

“I have spent more time with you in these two months than I have in the past ten years. Why? Because you were too busy in the lab. This project consumed your entire life.”

Two months ago he would’ve rolled his eyes at that statement. I can put it down whenever I want to, he would’ve told himself. He only realized how much time it consumed until he was forced to stop.

“Now, you’ve got Troy, the folks at the docks, the restaurant and me. You’re finally reconnecting.”

“What are you saying? That I shouldn’t be a scientist? Because it’s consuming my life?”

Sarah sighed. She leaned back in her seat and stared at the ceiling. “Sometimes things just bounce right off your head, don’t they?” she muttered. “You need to let it go.”

“How do I know I’m not letting go of the one thing that I’m supposed to be doing?” Ethan persisted. “You don’t understand, Sarah, how infuriating it is to be so close and then fail. I can’t just let it go.”

“Maybe I don’t, okay… Maybe I don’t,” she surrendered putting her utensils down on the table. “And if you really can’t let it go, then find another way to do the same thing.”

Ethan looked down at his food for a moment, playing with the fork between his fingers.

Sarah chuckled. “You haven’t thought about it, have you?”

He hadn’t. Not since he left school. There was always only one path. But was thinking of a different way worth his time considering he didn’t have much left? Would he find a path more testing than the one he was already on?

What choice do I have?

“I’ll think about it.”

***

Ethan wiped the sweat from his brow as the sun’s heat beat down on him. Three months had passed and nothing had come his way. He had tried to get funding from different organizations but one look at the blemish on his record was enough for them to turn him down. He had one last laboratory he could possibly try his luck at. If that failed, he’d have to drop the project permanently. There would be nothing else he could do.

With not a single cloud in sight to give him shelter, he crossed the noisy street and found himself in the shade of a building that could only be described as pristine. Dressed in a black suit with a maroon tie, Ethan looked up at the tower. Alliance Laboratories and University. It shot up into the sky, Ethan needing to lift his head up to an uncomfortable angle to see its tip. He couldn’t imagine a laboratory better than this. Five stories of Labs, and the rest offices. It was one of the Big Three of science academia.

A partially working, yet inefficient design of his invention without Secronium sat sealed in a metal container with a lock. An inkling of Ethan’s soul told him that there was a chance for him to get in. An inkling he held onto with all his strength. It was the only thing he had left.

The scientist entered the building, the glass door closing gently behind him. He walked up to a board with a map of the facility telling him what was on each floor.

Consult room 125, third floor, left wing, he deduced from the map. He took a quick jog to catch the elevator in time and slipped through the closing doors. He adjusted his tie and tapped his feet, impatiently waiting for the lift to open.

You got this, Ethan, he told himself. He ran through his presentation in his mind, collating all the various interview questions he was asked in the past. His mind overloading with information, he resorted to clearing his head for the remainder of the trip up the elevator.

Once open, he peaked his head down several hallways looking for the consulting room. Ethan eventually asked a janitor on that floor to direct him and soon found the consulting room. The scientist checked the time. He was ten minutes early. So Ethan took a seat outside the room, waiting for his interviewer to arrive. Sooner than expected, a lady dressed in a suit arrived and invited him in. She introduced herself and the both sat on opposite sides of the table. She put on her spectacles and flicked quickly through her notes.

“Well, Mr. Rider,” she began. “Let’s start with the recent research you’ve conducted.”

Ethan nearly chuckled. It was over before it even began.

***

The scientist relaxed his shoulders the second he exited the room. That was the worst fifteen minutes of his life. It felt more like a cross-examination than an interview. I didn’t think it was possible to sweat that much in an air-conditioned room, he thought walking out of the building.

A growing sense of anxiety filled his stomach the longer he thought about what had just happened. He had nothing to do. No aspirations, no ambitions, no dream, no purpose. Ethan was nothing more than a piece of paper, at the mercy of the wind, drifting wherever it took him. What did he want to do before his mother died? He couldn’t remember.

Could he just stand every day cooking the same dishes for the same people over and over again for the next three years, trapped in a mundane cycle? He felt as if everyone around him was moving forward, yet he was trapped in the same position, unable to accomplish a single thing.

The anxiety grew, his doubt fanning its flames. He was afraid. For the first time in his life, he couldn’t control nor could he see where he was going. He could be heading towards heaven or hell and not know which was which until it was too late.

Ethan looked back at the elegant building sparkling against the sunlight. He pulled the schematics out of his bag. A white ream of paper rolled into a cylinder and bound by an elastic band. He unraveled it and looked at his own invention. A beautiful image of his failure.

Ethan rummaged through his pants pocket and pulled out his lighter. A spark and then a small flame ignited at the tip of it. The flame jumped to the paper turning its edges black and slowly fizzling away. The ash piled in his palm and a white sliver of smoke trailed into the midday sky, disappearing before his eyes.

Emptying the palm into the nearest trashcan, he set his sights on the teleporting station standing tall a few streets from him. Closing his eyes for a moment, he exhaled through his nostrils and continued walking.

Questions:

1. How do you feel about two time-skips thus far? A two month one earlier on and three month one now. Is it jarring for it to happen mid-chapter?

2. This is the end of Chapter 0. Overall thoughts on this extended prologue? Anything you felt was missing or wasn't needed?


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Fri Nov 25, 2022 1:59 am
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SalisRuinen wrote a review...



Hey! Salis here with a review!! Sorry it took me so long to write one for the prologue's end, but these last two weeks at work have been nightmarish to say the least, leaving me little time and energy to think about anything else.

Starting off with your first question, I don't think Sarah's reaction to Ethan's fake diagnosis necessarily stems from innocence. She is a very intelligent woman and one who knows him well, in my opinion better than Mr. Singh. Rather she suspects her friend's condition is a lot worse than he's saying, but wants to believe it's not that bad, because of how much she cares for him. But that's the impression I was left with, anyway.

As far as the time-skips are concerned, I myself try to always make the skip in between chapters and never within one, let alone do it more than once, but then again, I've never written a prologue before, so perhaps it's OK to have more than one timeskip per chapter. In your case I don't feel the timeskips have a negative effect on the flow of the story and that's the most important part, so you can keep them as they are.

Overall thoughts on the prologue ... first of all, it was awesome!!! It really set the scene for the events that are going to follow, the most important contribution on that account being that you gave us a better idea of what the country's current political state is and how it's connected with the charaters. It was important to establish those connections, because any conflict that doesn't directly affect or in which the characters aren't somehow involved, can quickly make the reader lose interest. There is no risk of that happening after you've given the right amount of detail on this subject in the prologue.

What will stick with me the most from the prologue are the characters it introduced, however, this being true the most for Troy. The first time I read about him, I was certain he was going to be a very secondary character with little focus on him and if there was any focus, it was likely to be for the sake of comic relief. And boy, was I wrong! Troy really grew on me during this prologue and knowing now about the relationships he has with other characters (Sigvald being the biggest surprise for me among those), I can only say I'm really looking forward to see what happens to him next! Max is someone I also wasn't expecting to see a second time after his introduction, but seeing how he might actually care about Ethan's well-being and isn't simply the typical callous and greedy boss I took him for at first, I'd actually love to get to know even more about him!

Now that the focus will shift toward the main storyline again, I'm most curious to see how you'll go about things in the future! One thing's for certain: I've got very high hopes you'll bring us a great story to surpass everything you've already written! Thank you for the wonderful and intriguing prologue and keep on writing!!






Thanks for the review, Salis! I am so glad you've enjoyed the extended prologue and that the characters have grown on you.
(Sigvald being the biggest surprise for me among those)

The chapter that I posted up here revealing this actually was meant to be a good way into the novel...not in the prologue lol. I took it down from the site shortly after realizing I spoiled something major XD. But since you've read it, consider it a flash forward of sorts.



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Fri Nov 18, 2022 2:42 pm
Liminality wrote a review...



Hi again VengefulReaper! Lim here with a review.

First Impressions

I like that this extended prologue makes sense of Ethan’s motivations. With his existential fear about his life’s purpose, it makes his later decision to join the Alliance seem more inevitable. The sense of time feels a bit off because of the time skips (like it didn’t really feel as though time had passed, because the scenes are physically so close to each other) but I didn’t find it too distracting. Out of the characters introduced in the extended prologue, I think I like Sarah the best at the moment. The scene’s mood tends to shift around her – it’s more vibrant, which contrasts the heavier main plot.

Characterisation

Something I like about your story is that all the characters feel like they have their own lives and stories going on. In this chapter particularly no one feels like they’re just kind of there as a device in the main plot. Troy’s conversation with Ethan felt real, and it made me feel uncomfortable because I was imagining the distress that’s going through Troy’s head which is left ‘unspoken’ but implied by lines like:

“I don’t know. But I’ll make a plan,” Troy replied without an ounce of confidence.

Sarah’s Reaction
“It went alright,” Ethan said in the most casual tone he could fake. “Xavier said I just developed some chronic disease. Nothing a few antibiotics can get rid off.”
“Well, that’s great!” she said without hesitation. “See? I told you it was nothing.”

My first reaction to this bit was: OH NO HE LIED. I just have a bad feeling about this little ruse of Ethan’s, like it might have negative consequences in the future <.< As regards to Sarah’s reaction, I was actually a bit confused. The fact that she’s a medical professional herself, and that she was the one who pushed Ethan to get his condition checked out (because she didn’t trust that he was fine) makes this reaction seem kind of odd to me. Wouldn’t she actually be harder to trick than Mr. Singh? In any case, I didn’t interpret it as her being innocent the first time I read it. I thought it was more like at this point she really wants to believe that Ethan’s okay, so she accepts what he says unquestioningly.

Ethan’s Character

I liked the conversation between Sarah and Ethan as well because it helps frame what’s been said about Ethan’s character in the extended prologue. I remember noticing when I started reading this prologue that Ethan seems to be in a very different place than the one he is in Chapter 1, and that seems to be confirmed by Sarah saying:
“Now, you’ve got Troy, the folks at the docks, the restaurant and me. You’re finally reconnecting.”

Though I think in the ‘main’ chapters we haven’t really seen Ethan go back to his scientific endeavours quite yet, I think what he does there is linked to this. Ethan seems to have this tension between being in the wider world with his friends and community and his pursuit of objectives that stem from the incident losing his mother. Although this is conveyed in a somewhat internal-monologue-heavy way in this chapter, I generally like how it’s been shown through his interactions with his friends/ acquaintances and the contrasting moods.

Overall

I thought the extended prologue as a whole was an interesting and more reflective take on the story’s premise than happens in the main chapters. It definitely enriches my understanding of the characters and world. As for this chapter, it definitely leaves me with this anticipation for events to come – like after three months job-hunting, he’s *got* to have some kind of breakthrough in pursuing his goal.

Hope some of this helps, and feel free to ask for more feedback!
-Lim






Thanks for the review, Lim! I'm glad you enjoyed Chapter 0.

The sense of time feels a bit off because of the time skips (like it didn%u2019t really feel as though time had passed, because the scenes are physically so close to each other) but I didn%u2019t find it too distracting.

Do you think if I split the chapter at the time skip it could feel like time has passed?

Also, I will probably have to edit chapters 1-7 at a later stage to at least reference Chapter 0 lol.



Liminality says...


You're welcome!

Do you think if I split the chapter at the time skip it could feel like time has passed?

Yeah, I think that might work!




"There is nothing to fear from someone who shouts."
— Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

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Hint! What has a face and hands, but doesn't talk or move?