Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and violence.
Silence. That’s all he heard. Ethan’s world closed in on him. The noise in the room was muted as he heard the beating of his racing heart. His fingers had grown numb, and his mouth was dry as a dessert. His legs began to shake. His entire body had frozen as reality set in.
Her skin turned charcoal-grey and flaked off her body. Her eyes were still bloodshot, and her pupils had rolled to the top of her eye as if she was staring at the ceiling. All her hair had fallen off her head and scattered all over her body. He grabbed her hand and shook it violently, praying she would wake up.
“No, no, no… Please, please, please, please…” he pleaded. “Please wake up, mom.”
Ethan held to his mother so tightly that his nails dug into her skin thinking that if his voice could not wake her, perhaps pain might. He buried his head in her arm. Now he couldn’t hold the tears back.
“Please, God. Please, ple-e-e-ase…” His words were lost in his sobs. A steady stream of tears ran down his face and dripped onto the sheets of the white hospital bed. Wails of grief painfully echoed through the hallways of the hospital.
He tightened his grip further. I’m not letting you go until you wake up, mom! Ethan thought. Eventually, his wails ceased, and his body shook intermittently as he sobbed. His sniffles were the only sound left.
A bald man knelt down next to Ethan. “It’s time to go, Ethan. She’s not coming back.”
He lifted his forehead from his mother’s arms and met the man’s gaze. His eyes were bloodshot from the tears, and his face was puffed up and red like a tomato. His hands quaked as he finally let his mother go. The nurses said something to him, but he couldn’t process any of it. He buckled to his knees, his shoulders slumped, and his head dropped like the life had been sucked out of him.
“She’s going to wake up,” he replied in a hushed voice.
“Ethan,” protested the man.
“No! She’s going to wake up! She has to!”
He wished the earth would swallow him up and grant him the same fate as his mother, only it didn’t. He still had a purpose to fulfill before his time was up. She was one of the thousands of casualties when a bio-bomb was dropped on the city she was in. It felt as if his very soul departed with his mother and all that remained was a void that could only be filled by vengeance.
The sixteen-year-old boy stared one more time at his mother. This time, he forced himself to absorb every detail. Every burn, every scar, every flaking skin, and every piece of rotting flesh he could see. He took it all in because he knew that if he ever wanted vengeance for his mother, he needed to remember this scene clear as day for the rest of his life.
A towering, brown-haired man sitting upright in his bed opened his eyes slowly, his wails from that dreadful day playing repeatedly in his mind like echoes through a long hallway. Ten years had passed and he still remembered it clear as day. Just like he wanted it to be.
His name was Ethan James Rider. A man destined to avenge his mother and the world would remember his name for it. There was no person on earth who would stop him from achieving it because, without it, he was nothing.
Ethan drifted to his bedside, rummaging through his drawers before grabbing a breathing pump. He carefully placed it over his mouth and switched the pump on. It shot a burst of air into his lungs that would cleanse him of any inhaled impurities from the suffocating atmosphere outside. Ethan’s lungs cleared and he breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
Just then, his communications device rang. Ethan rolled his eyes. My link is ringing? At this hour?
Then it clicked for him. His eyes widened and he jumped to his feet. He grabbed his link and hurriedly answered the call, afraid it may cut off.
“Did you get it? When is it coming?” he asked, a hint of desperation in his voice. The response was immediate, but it felt like an eternity for Ethan. Everything had slowed down.
“We’ve been running short on Secronium ore in this mine,” he began.
Ethan’s shoulders slumped, and he dropped his head in defeat. He was so close this time. It was basically in his hands. The key to everything.
“But we’ve found some supplies we can smuggle to you on the outer edges of the belt. They should be coming within the next forty-eight hours,”
Ethan’s heart relaxed as he calmed his nerves. Deep breaths, Ethan. It’s all fine, he thought. “Thank you, I’ll pay you double as agreed.”
There was a lengthy silence on the other end. “This better not get me busted. I’m risking my ass to get you this shit illegally. You better come through.”
Ethan let out a light chuckle. “Oh, don’t worry about getting caught. Leave that to me.”
He cut the call and calmly placed his link in his top pocket. He shut his eyes tight and clenched his fist. In a burst of youthful energy, he never knew he had, he punched the air in triumph.
“Yes! Finally!” he shouted.
His heart raced with relief. Ten years and finally, he’d get what he wanted. What he deserved. He could feel the satisfaction of his invention changing the world. The feeling was almost too real. He wanted to jump up and down as if the ten-year-old him had been resurrected. Suddenly, breakfast tasted better, his shoulders felt lighter, and victory was knocking on his door and all he had to do was answer it.
Ethan threw his backpack over his shoulders and headed out. He walked down the deserted street passing by the junkyard before stopping off at a miniature, face-brick house with a thatched roof. He walked up the steps to the house and knocked gently on the oak door.
“Hurry up, Sarah. You’re making me late! Don’t make me come in there and drag you out again!”
A thud came from the other end of the door after a screeching noise of shoes on the wooden floor. She probably tripped over her shoelaces again, mulled Ethan as he rolled his eyes but couldn’t hide the smile creeping up his face. Sarah graduated the same year as him but in a different profession. She was a surgeon and he was a biomedical engineer with a master’s degree in bio-weaponry. The door creaked open as Sarah adjusted her hair and dusted her jeans.
“Okay, let’s go.”
She was just a few inches shorter than Ethan. Her brunette hair was tied up in a ponytail and draped over her shoulder. She carried a briefcase with her laboratory coat wrapped around her waist, ready for work.
“Glasses? Link? Lunch? Papers? Card?” asked Ethan, counting off the items on his fingers.
“Yes, yes, yes, and... yes,” she said locking the door behind her.
The automated streetlights turned on as Ethan passed by them. The exalted station was a lofty, elegant skyscraper.
The magnificent building was shaped like a tree. The main column was like the bark. On the third floor, it split into two smaller columns that wrapped around each other in a spiral. Running through these columns were elevators that followed the path of the column. Ethan looked at the back of his access card. It read, ‘Teleporter 9088-4’.
“Well, I’ve got to be at branch four today. It’s a hell of a walk to the south wing. I’d better get going if I’m going to make it in time.”
“I’ll see you in the evening then?” she asked.
“Yeah, have a good day at work!” he shouted as he ran to catch the lift that was about to close.
Ethan squeezed into the crowded elevator. The green-eyed scientist waited silently as it made its way up the building. The station was the highest in the suburb which meant that on the 4th branch, anyone could see the entire city. Perhaps a few decades in the past, it would be something worth seeing but now, you’d rather look at the blank floor than the view outside.
The elevator struck the 9th floor and Ethan’s card pulsed red telling him it was his time to get off. He forced his way through the people in the elevator and barely slipped out before the doors closed.
“88th terminal...88th terminal... Please don’t be busy...” he muttered to himself.
He walked around the corner of the building and spotted the terminal he needed to enter. “Thank God there’s no line,” he whispered under his breath. Ethan scurried over and swiped his card to auto-select his destination. Teleporting in 3...2...1... Please remain calm and keep your arms inside the terminal!
’Porting was a strange sensation. You were being assembled and reassembled, yet it didn’t feel painful at all. Perhaps a slight tingle down the spine on the other side of the device as all your nerves re-aligned.
Ethan was rebuilt, atom by atom from the feet up at his destination. He couldn’t help but crack a smile. Today wasn’t just a day. It was the day. Today, he’d finally get to complete his invention. If all went well, this could eliminate every bioweapon on the face of this earth. Or at the very least, render it useless.
Across that street is greatness, Ethan, he told himself. Mom would be proud knowing I got rid of this filth.
With every step, the scientist could feel his destiny edge closer. His goal was inches away from him. He’d been chasing it like a cat chases a dot on the ground. Nobody believed he’d get it, but they didn’t know. If someone told Ethan something was impossible, he’d do whatever it took to prove them wrong.
He approached the wide white doors to his lab. The door was unlocked. On the other side, he could hear people’s feet shuffling about. What on earth were they up to in his lab? He barged through the door. His heart sank. His brows furrowed and rage sparked within him.
“What is Newton’s name are you doing to my lab?” he demanded, marching up to a man carrying away his microscope in a box.
“Sorry, sir. Boss’s orders. He told me he wanted to speak with you when you popped in. He’s in the testing center.”
“About what?” asked Ethan.
“Didn’t say, he said it’s none of my business.”
Max better not be on my case about some stupid errand I didn’t run for him.
Silently, he turned towards the hallway and marched as quickly as he could to the testing center. “And don’t hold the microscope like that! It’s fragile!” he yelled at the man on the way out.
The walk was long. The main hallway was longer. It was as if it was purposefully designed to make Ethan burn his fair share of calories walking to and from the lab.
Ethan ascended a spiral staircase made from aluminum. It led him to the upper floor of the lab which had a bridge spanning over the street below him to where he wanted to be. This facility, in particular, was a wind tunnel. A fat figure, round as a football, stood in front of the control panel. His eyes were sunken in from exhaustion, but his gaze was dominating. Max, Ethan’s boss, was a ruthless businessman.
“What the hell are you doing?” the scientist demanded. “I was about to complete my admin work today.”
“You haven’t been working on what I asked you to work on. You’ve been handling your own little side project which I wrongly gave you the liberty of pursuing. It has consumed your life and driven you to extremes I would have never expected from a man like you. I’ve had quite enough.”
“Extremes like what?” prodded Ethan hoping Max had not found the Secronium he smuggled.
Max placed a sphere of metal onto the table the size of a baseball. Ethan shifted his gaze between Max and the sphere. “This kind of extreme.”
“I know this looks bad,” began Ethan.
“Bad? This is more than just bad,” Max whispered as if afraid someone may hear them. “This is illegal radioactive material on my business property. If anyone found out about this, I’d have one massive ugly spot on the firm’s reputation. The only choice I have is to fire and blacklist you.”
“That won’t happen, trust me. You’re overreacting,” Ethan assured him.
“Are you really asking me to knowingly allow something illegal?” Max laughed in disbelief. “You’re fired, Ethan. It’s this or I report you to the police who will then throw you in prison for ten years at least.”
“So what?” Ethan asked shrugging his shoulders. “I broke a law and smuggled some stuff here. But this device is going to change the entire world and I’m on the cusp of completing it.”
“See that? Right there,” he said pointing an accusatory finger at Ethan. “This side project, whatever it is, has driven you crazy. It’s all just about that one stupid device. You don’t care how you get it, do you?”
Because that’s all that matters Ethan wanted to say. Who the hell obeys the law anyway?
“Please Ethan,” Max interrupted, placing his hands over his forehead. “Just walk away. You’ve been here for a while so the severance pay will be good too. You should be behind bars by now, but I am letting you go.”
Ethan remained silent. Max was doing him a favor by not turning him in. At least he wouldn’t go to prison. With one conversation, the best day of his life became the worst. He had been robbed of his destiny and with being blacklisted for malpractice, the chances of getting another job in the same industry would be near impossible.
Trying to remain as professional as he could, Ethan extended a hand forcing the widest smile he could muster. Max uncomfortably returned the gesture. The scientist’s smile spanned from ear to ear, but that expression did not reflect in his raging eyes.
“Ethan,” Max called. “Every inventor thinks his invention will change the world yet very few actually do. Keep that in mind.”
Ethan responded with a half-hearted ‘thanks’ before shutting the door behind him. He bottled up all the emotions he felt directly after his conversation. The anger, hopelessness, despair, and fear he felt locked away in the back of his mind. However, he didn’t know how long he would be able to keep it in, so he left his lab without uttering a word and rushed to his apartment.
After unlocking the apartment door, he flung it open so quickly it rebounded off the adjacent wall and slammed shut behind him. He threw his backpack on the couch in the corner of the living room and stormed into his bedroom.
The scientist pulled up his laptop and searched for the equipment he needed. Perhaps if he spent his savings, he could afford the parts he needed to reconstruct his device. He scrolled through the internet, his eyes darting from left to right desperately trying to find a kernel of hope.
Secronium synthesizer, come on… There has to be another one out there, he presumed.
But every search showed only one in existence. The prototype he optimized was no longer his. Without the synthesizer, I can’t finish the design, He thought. Maybe the Belt has a synthesizer I can use.
There it was. The synthesizer he’d been looking for was being used in the outlawed mines on the asteroid belt. The asteroid belt was once a prosperous mining endeavor that provided unique ores not found on earth. After the war, however, these ores had been outlawed and the belt became a breeding ground for smugglers.
He closed his laptop, collapsed on his white bed, arms spread out, and stared at the ceiling. There is no way in hell I am buying a synthesizer from them. I’d have to donate both my kidneys.
Ethan ran his hands through his long hair, gripping it. His fingers sunk until his nails reached his scalp.
“Fuck this!” he yelled at the ceiling. His booming voice echoed through the one-bedroom apartment making the wall reverberate. Ten fucking years...For this?
He turned his head to look at his bedside table. Atop the rickety table lay a frame with a picture of Ethan and his mother at Victoria Falls. He rolled to the side of the bed and sat upright, gently picking up the frame. Waking up to that image reminded him every day of why he lived but now it would only be a reminder of how he failed, his final chance slipping through his fingers like running water.
Ethan’s pocket vibrated intermittently. He pulled his link out and glanced at the caller ID which read ‘belt contact.’ He slowly picked up the call and drew his link near to his face.
“Hello?” he asked.
“Hey, I’m on my way to the space station.”
“Don’t bring the Secronium. I don’t need it anymore,” Ethan said.
“W-w-what?” he stuttered. “But you paid me already.”
Ethan looked at the photo of his mother crumpled on the floor. I can still get that synthesizer, he thought.
“Will what I paid you be enough to purchase a Secronium synthesizer?” asked Ethan.
The man let out a sarcastic laugh, “seriously? Hell no. Not even close.”
“Keep the money. It’s over. We’re done.”