“Half a truth is often a great lie.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
Cato rushed to Proxima. His mind was racing, but first he had to deal with him. He grabbed Roderigo by his collar, and stuffed him in the boot of the jeep – not paying any attention to what the moron was saying. Then hurried over to the front seat and rummaged through his bag for the water-skin filled with Dyonuxiot blood. Finding it, he raced back to the unconscious Proxima, and trickled the blood over her leg wound. Her lips had gone blue from the poisoning and the limbs were cold.
Please, please be okay, Cato mentally begged.
He unsparingly poured some of the blood into Proxima’s mouth.
Immediately, she gagged and spluttered – the color returning a little to her face.
“Ca… Cato?” she said, trying to breathe.
Cato slapped her several times on the back, “Damn it!” he yelled, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you choke.”
Proxima turned away from him, and threw up. After a few deep breaths, she was [relatively] all right. She looked at the state of her leg, and stared.
“It can be fixed,” Cato said, “But first we have to get out of here.”
She shrugged, and allowed him to drag her into the jeep.
* * * * *
“Oh, will you shut up!” said Proxima.
The whole damned way and Roderigo would not stop talking. Cato had stopped cursing him ages ago, and was muttering under his breath about something that sounded like “would kill him if he wasn’t so bloody important”. Now it was Proxima’s turn. Her leg had been bandaged up, and was healing rapidly [thanks to the Dyonuxiot blood]. But it also burned like crazy [thanks to the Dyonuxiot blood]. And the taste of the blood hadn’t left her mouth even though they’d been driving around for two or three days! And Roderigo seemed to be trying his level best to get himself killed by both Proxima and Cato. Even though his voice was somewhat muffled [because he was still in the boot], he just kept talking!
His muffled voice came again, “If you let me out, I swear I’ll –”
“Roderigo!” yelled Proxima, “You come out of that boot, and I swear I’ll tie you down to the road and run you over with the jeep! And I don’t care what the Empire thinks about it! Now, shut up!”
“Feisty little halfer, aren’t you?” taunted Roderigo.
“I’ll show you feisty!” Proxima unclipped her seat belt and threw herself over the headrest. She opened a compartment in the back seat, and yanked Roderigo’s head through it – practically ripping the hair off his scalp. He yelped.
“Let go, you little b–!”
“Say the word, and I’ll be stuffing your head right up your arse!”
Roderigo gritted his teeth, “Let – Go!”
“Will you promise to shut up?”
“I don’t do pinkie swears, kid.”
Proxima gave another hard tug of his head.
“Argh! Quit trying to rip my head off!” he growled.
“Then learn to shut your face!”
“Proxima, that’s enough.”
Proxima looked at Cato. He’d pulled up, and she didn’t even know it.
“Outside,” he said.
She nodded, and got out of the jeep. Cato locked the car, and Proxima limped her way towards him. He steadied her onto the floor, and sat next to her. The sun had reached its zenith, and it was blistering hot – even though it was still springtime. Proxima took off her jacket, and stroked the soft grass through her fingers.
“How’s the leg?” said Cato, after a moment’s silence.
“You haven’t said much except ‘shut up’ since The Buck’s Tooth incident…” Cato paused, “You’re mad at me, aren’t you?”
She looked away a little, “What… what was Roderigo going to say before you stopped him?”
Cato let out an exasperated sigh, and then said, “It was me, Proxima.”
“What was you?”
“I suggested Phase Two of the Project.”
Proxima looked confused, “Wait… it was y…?” she let the information sink in, “Why?”
Cato winced at how cold her voice had become, “I wanted them to stop Phase One. A hundred people, Proxima, you have understand. I couldn’t take it. The other thing was that they were randomly choosing people. It could have been anyone of us that was dragged down to that laboratory to be experimented on. I…” he paused, “I was scared.”
“You lied to me?” she rasped.
“I…” Cato stopped. He wanted to tell Proxima that he hadn’t lied to her, and that he had told her the truth and only the truth – just not the whole truth. But he stopped himself. He had lied to her. Cato bowed his head.
“You told me…” Proxima’s hands were shaking and her face had gone red, “you told me that your life changed when the Empire gave me to you. It was all a lie, wasn’t it? The Empire was just putting you on a guilt trip, handing you one born of your mind! You thought you could make it up to me by looking after me, that’s it isn’t it? You thought it could all be taken back and everybody would be happy. Well, let me tell you something, Cato – nobody is happy!”
“Proxima, please – try to understand I –”
Cato closed his mouth.
“You try to understand!” Proxima snapped, “The last few months have been like a crazed nightmare! So far I’ve been told that I’m part beast and you knew about all this time; that I was part of a Project that you’d never told me about; I’d been stuck in quarantine for a whole month where they tortured me; I was submitted into the Legion and got absolutely no say in it whatsoever; I’ve been fatally wounded by a Dyonuxiot; and I’ve been on this wild goose chase for over two weeks, looking for and finding a guy who doesn’t even have the decency to shut his fat mouth! Cato, the least you could have done is told me about all of this and your part in it! Were you ever even intending do tell me? Suppose the Gateway wasn’t attacked; would I ever know what I am, where I came from, what you threw me into?”
For a moment Cato didn’t reply, and then, “I… I didn’t want to lose you. Proxima, I’m sorry but I was scared how you’d react to it all.”
“Because this is so much better!” Proxima snapped.
Cato remained silent.
“Cato, all my life I thought that you’d never ever lied to me. Not even once. You didn’t even feed me the Father Christmas farce! And now I find out that everything I knew about the world, everything I knew about myself was all a bloody lie!” Proxima got up, “What else is there that I don’t know, Cato? What else have you conveniently hid from me?”
Looking up slowly, all Cato could whisper was, “I’m sorry.”
Proxima cursed, and stomped off.
Cato followed her with his gaze, but didn’t get up. She limped away and sat under a nearby tree, banging her head against it.
I’m sorry, he thought mournfully.
Everything Proxima had said – though it wounded him deeply – was true. He’d kept information from her, information that she needed to know, information that she needed in order to prepare for her life. He’d lied to her, and pretended that nothing of importance had ever happened. And he’d done it because he didn’t want her to go away and leave him to suffer in lonely misery. He’d done it because he was selfish. Cato had told Proxima so many things of his past, so many memories he thought he could never make peace with. And she’d always been there to take his side – even if he’d been wrong. She’d kept him in high spirits; she’d kept him happy.
And he’d rewarded Proxima by lying to her.
Cato wanted to call her back and offer her anything for mercy. But he couldn’t. He’d broken her trust. Something that Proxima would never have done – even if it meant sacrificing her life. It didn’t matter what he promised to her, she’d doubt him from now on.
And who could blame her? thought Cato miserably.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
“Oh, for goodness sake, let me o-u-t!”
Cato looked at the jeep, shaking his head, but got up and opened the boot.
“Finally!” said Roderigo, “You’ve come to your senses!”
Cato regarded him a moment, before going back to sit and quietly lament.
“What happened to you two?” said Roderigo, looking from Proxima to Cato.
Cato didn’t reply.
“Ah,” said Roderigo, “You told her, did you?”
“She wouldn’t have had to know, if it wasn’t for…” Cato stopped himself. This wasn’t Roderigo’s fault. This wasn’t anyone’s fault but his own.
“What is she to you, anyway?”
“Well… she was my protégée,” Cato looked at Proxima, “But I doubt she wants to be any longer.”
Roderigo looked at Proxima thoughtfully. “She means a lot to you, huh?” he said a little more sympathetically.
“I don’t know… She’s, more or less, all I’ve ever had. I… I’ve become attached to her… like she was my own.”
Weakness, the wind hissed in Cato’s ears.
Roderigo looked again at Proxima. She was hugging her knees, her head bowed. He wondered whether he’d just destroyed two people’s lives – because that certainly wasn’t his intention. Proxima deserved to know everything; no matter how hard it was to swallow. But, now looking at her, Roderigo regretted his revelation to Proxima.
Roderigo looked back at Cato and murmured, “Let me see if I can fix this.”
Cato snorted, “You reckon you could reason with her before she rips your head off?”
But Roderigo was already walking away.
On seeing Roderigo, Proxima scowled.
“Which Devil let you out?” she said, spitefully.
Roderigo ignored the comment and wore a serious expression. He then said, “Why have you two kidnapped me?”
“Couldn’t Cato tell you?”
“He could, but I don’t trust him.”
Proxima narrowed her eyes at the remark, “The Emperor wants you,” she said simply and then changed focus, “And what makes you think that you can trust me, hmm? I threatened to run you over.”
Roderigo shrugged, “You’d never be able to do it.”
“I don’t see what’s stopping me,” Proxima scoffed.
“Oh, I don’t know, the fact that you can’t drive?”
“How would you know?”
“You’re seventeen or eighteen by the look of it, and you can’t get a license unless your twenty-four – That’s the law, ain’t it?”
“Please! Cato’s taught me to drive before I turned–” Proxima caught herself.
“Oh, he has, has he?” Roderigo sat opposite her, “Why would Cato do that?”
Proxima made a sour face, and turned away from him.
“Angry with him, are you?” Roderigo continued.
“Go away!” Proxima snapped, but her voice was weak.
“Excuse me, but he’s looked after you all your bloody life – changing your diapers, and feeding you, and buying you pretty clothes. Blimey, the man’s probably been through so much agony – looking after a little ingrate like you! I’m surprised after all these years you can still throw a flipping tantrum, people are usually all grown up at your age.”
Proxima clenched her fists, “Leave me alone!”
“Really? Would you have said something like that back when you were that sniveling little rodent? All helpless and stuff? You’re a right little bitch, you know that?”
“Fall in a hole and die!”
“No! That guy’s never let anything happen to you, has he? He’s always been there for you, always looked out for you, always protected you. I’d bet he’s never let so much as a fly land on your pretty little face without killing it! And he makes one tiny little mistake, and suddenly he’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, is that it? Would it make you happy if he just disappeared from your life? I’m sure some orphan living in the middle of nowhere would appreciate him a million times more than you. Probably deserve him more too. More than you, by any rate. And perhaps he’d get some love back.”
“I–” Proxima was about to curse the hell out of Roderigo, but she was shocked to find that she was crying.
Crying and sniveling like the little ingrate she was.
“You… you don’t understand!” said Proxima, which sounded more pathetic that frightful.
“What I understand is,” said Roderigo, softening his voice a little, “that you’re sulking because Cato didn’t tell you he was the one that brought you about. Would you even be here if he hadn’t suggested Phase Two? Can’t you at least try to see it from his perspective? He regrets it with his life, Proxima. The man can’t live with himself. I mean, look at him,” he pointed to Cato, “He’s a wreck. And he’s been trying to make it right for ages and ages. The only thing that’s been keeping him together for all these years is you! Even if you are an overgrown brat!”
“It’s not that, Roderigo,” sniffed Proxima.
“Well, what is it then?”
“I… I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. I feel like the whole world has turned upside-down. Any Dyonuxiot could be family. Even that thing I killed two days ago, he could have been my brother or my uncle or whatever. I could have killed my own brother! Only on the mere assumption that he was my enemy – because that’s what the Empire wants me to think! And the Empire,” Proxima shook her fist, her knuckles going white, “The Empire doesn’t even treat me like I’m a person! Just a chess-piece on their game-board. They don’t care. The only person who has ever cared was Cato,” her vision became blurry again, “and to know that he’s kept things from me… it… it…”
Proxima looked up at Roderigo. She hadn’t had a good look at him before. He wasn’t what Proxima expected him to look like. Drunks and womanizers had a tendency to look horrible – fat and messy, their eyes bloodshot and smelling like onions [Well, to Proxima’s mind anyway]. But Roderigo looked like he could have posed as Proxima’s long-lost brother. He had fair hair, green eyes, and pale alabaster skin. He even had freckles. And he was in tip-top shape for someone who’d spent the majority of his life wastefully. But his good looks were marred – by time, by weather, and perhaps by self-harm. His hair was matted and his skin had a papery quality to it, due to the absence of oil and perhaps sunlight. There were peculiar marks on his knuckles, like skin and flesh had been torn outwards. Marks riddled his arms and neck like the stripes on a zebra. And on his forehead was a diagonal cut that could only be a biopsy scar.
Just like Proxima’s.
He took hold of her shoulders and said, “I know this does no comfort to you, but…” he paused, “Pain is a part of life.”
“But, at least you have someone to help you through it,” he nodded in Cato’s direction.
Proxima looked up at Roderigo, and didn’t know what to say. Proxima had Cato. Roderigo didn’t have anyone. She suddenly felt pity and admiration for the ill-mannered drunkard.
“Why… why are you doing this?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Roderigo, “Maybe it’s because – even if I am part monster – I have a heart?”
Proxima bowed her head. “I’m sorry I said I was going to run you over with the jeep,” she said, “and for trying to yank your head off.”
Roderigo snorted, “I think there’s someone else who deserves all those apologies.”
Proxima got up and ran towards Cato, her leg complaining angrily. She crashed into him so fast he didn’t know what happened.
“I’m sorry,” said Proxima quickly.
Cato awkwardly hugged her, “For what?”
“For… for whatever it was that made you upset!”
Cato laughed a little, “No. Don’t worry about it, Proxima. What you said was true. I shouldn’t have kept those things from you.”
Proxima and Cato looked behind them.
“Are you two waiting for me to run away?” smirked Roderigo.
Cato and Proxima exchanged a look, smiling at each other.
“Right,” said Cato, “Back to the Decagon it is.”
“About time! All of this sloppy nonsense was going to drive me crazy!” said Roderigo.
“Whatever,” Cato walked got up and opened the boot of the jeep, “In you go.”