Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
A/n: Chapter 1, the chapter after this, has the final scene of this extended prologue at the beginning of it. I thought it flowed better than tagging it on at the end here. So, feel free to read the first section of chapter 1: smoke in the forest to get the full extended prologue content.
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.
“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?”
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.”