THE GIRL WITH THE GUN
Lieutenant Megara Jane Benson. The girl in front of me is a soldier, and she doesn’t show any other side of herself. I find that she doesn’t talk much, and even less to me. She’s still angry at me, for reasons I don’t know. Most of the other soldiers give me pats on the back and friendly hugs as I walk past them. I know what they’re feeling. I’m one of them. The names are slowly registering in my mind. But I don’t know how I met these people.
There are seven SUVs parked outside, and the soldiers quickly fill them. I’m seated next to the red-headed man while the girl drives. We get on the highway and finally I see her smile. I fall asleep somewhere along the way, and I wake up at a dock. A boat is waiting for us. I shouldn’t call it a boat. Calling it a boat is probably an insult. It’s a yacht, like something a middle-eastern prince would own.
Celebrations start as soon as the yacht begins its journey. The red-headed giant is their general, and he’s the first to break open the booze. They pass a bottle of whiskey into my hand, but I figure I’m messed up enough without adding alcohol to the mix. The girl sits over by the bar with some colorful green drink in her hand and observes. She doesn’t join in and the others don’t make any attempt to involve her.
I smile and walk through, taking a seat next to her at the bar. She looks at me for a second before returning to her drink. I put my beer down on the counter and decide to try to talk to her. Even though she’s the most hostile, for some reason I feel like she’s the one that knows me best among the people here.
“I don’t know any of the things that, apparently, I’m supposed to,” I say. “I know you pretty much hate me right now, but I could use your help.”
Nothing will be accomplished by me telling you. You need to remember on your own.
“We’re going back to the telepathy again? Really?”
Your thoughts were never safe from me Charles. Besides, this way I can drink and talk to you simultaneously.
“I’m lost,” I admit. “I’ve just been ripped away from my reality in a day. My mom wants to kill me. My best friend was paid to hang out with me for the last ten years. And I’ve just escaped from a mental institute with a bunch of guys with guns. And you’re inside my head!”
To begin with, she’s not your mother. You’re not insane. Your life was in danger. We saved you.
I take a break from her answers and look up. The sky is beautiful on the boat. Pasadena isn’t exactly a metropolis, but the lights on the ground dominate those above. Here, in this immense blue nowhere, there are no distractions from the sky. A billion stars hanging over us twinkling and a moon bigger than I have ever seen.
“Our world is beautiful, isn’t it?” she asks.
I agree in my mind, not wanting to disturb the peace of the moment. The music has slowed to a jazz number and the soldiers are sitting around, staring up just as I am. The girl nods in time to the music and places her drink on the table. She doesn’t look back as she heads below deck, as if I ceased to exist the moment she turned away.
As soon as the door shuts I walk over to the red-headed man. He’s had a few too many beers, and envelops me in a rib-cracking hug as soon as I’m within reach. I carefully slip out of his grasp and take a seat opposite to him.
“Why does she hate me?”
The redhead asks, “Who?”
“The girl,” I say with a look towards the door. “I didn’t do anything.”
He laughs loudly, and most of the others around him laugh as well. They didn’t hear what I said, but I guess they figured it was smart to laugh when their leader laughed.
“Exactly it! Ya didn’t do nuttin’! Ya don’t rememba ‘er! She’s yer best bloody friend and ya don’t remember her!”
My best friend. My best friend is Travis, who laughs and makes everyone in a room light up. This girl causes everyone in a room to shut up. They’re polar opposites in every way, and I can’t imagine myself hanging out with such a girl. I can’t imagine her having fun, her laughing. I think about it and I can, but it seems like something of a miracle.
“She’s been worried sick about you the last few weeks. And then we get you, and you’re not you,” another soldier adds. “She’ll kill us now. So please get your memory back.”
“I have my memory. I have seventeen years of them,” I answer. “I don’t understand when I could have met her. Was it when we were kids or something?”
The one sober one in the group, a guy called Cecil walks over to me and holds me by the shoulders.
“You my boy, are truly hopeless and I pray that they can fix you up at the Vertex. And don’t ask me what the Vertex is. That would make this celebration even more disappointing.”
* * *
I find my way to the dining hall and sit down. There’s a woman there. I immediately think, giant teddy bear. She’s wearing a long brown dress over her large soft frame, and the pink in her cheeks is brought more into light by her smile.
“Hey there, dear! Been a long time since I saw you. I can’t come up there I’m afraid. Those boys are too loud and trust me, in a couple of hours they’ll all be wishing they were dead. I’ll end up exhausting our supply of coffee.”
“Okay then,” I say. “Where are we going?”
“We’re already there, in safe waters. We’re going to Ingan, to the Vertex. Should be there in two hours.”
“Trying to get clues and pretend you really remember, you idiotic little twit?”
At least she’s talking out loud again. It isn’t a good thing that she’s insulting me, but her tone is less hostile. The girl walks behind the counter and opens the giant refrigerator. She takes out a pineapple cake and puts it down in front of me.
“It was supposed to be our celebratory cake. But you had to be an idiot and lose your memory. Might as well eat it.”
“I love pineapple.”
“I know, I also know that you hate shrimp. I know that you had a crush on an absolutely geeky girl in the fourth grade and people made fun of you for it. I know that you’re afraid of spiders, that your car’s name is Stella, that you love black leather jackets and want to live on a house on a lake.”
“Did you get that from reading my mind?”
“I don’t have to, Charles. I know you. I always have. And I can’t read your mind now. We’ve crossed the portal. You’re finally home. Not much use the way you are now, but… we’re back. We crossed it while I was talking to you on the deck.”
Portal? There is one thing in my mental illness that Dr. Vaidya couldn’t explain. The one thing that I think I shouldn’t have told her about. I had dreams. It was before the emotional swings and the random behavior. It was before I started speaking languages I didn’t know, before the aggression and the paranoia. They started a year ago. They’re not normal dreams, not nonsensical and vague. I see details in them, every cell or pixel crystal clear. The details don’t waver, they don’t melt into each other. And I always knew, in every single dream that I wasn’t in my world.
The coast comes into view, and I know it’s the same place. I know this place like I know myself. The grass is greener here. In fact, everything’s better. At least that’s the feeling I get as soon as I see it. The anxiety’s gone, the fear’s gone. The girl is eating pineapple cake and looking at it with me.
“I really do hope they can fix you. Otherwise you’ll be truly useless.”
* * *
The yacht docked at the port, lined on either side by dozens of identical extravagant vessels. The girl jumps down onto the port and walks over to the parking lot. I’m not surprised to see her get on a sleek black motorcycle and speed off before the rest of the party even disembark.
She’s a blur in the distance by the time I get into one of the white sedans the soldiers lead me to. I recognize the places, and am shocked I realize it further. The buildings are beautiful, postcard perfect from every angle. I stare out the window taking it all in, this new place that’s far too familiar.
I finally see it, and I finally know what the Vertex is. To describe it isn’t simple, because it’s not one thing. It’s a collection of buildings, tall and short, modern and ancient. It’s a culmination of all the government buildings, a fortress at the heart of the world.
A woman walks out of the main entrance, her white hair perfectly styled. Sapphires hang at her ears, matching the color of her eyes and a sharp contrast against the pallor of her skin and hair. She’s dressed in a business suit, and there’s a tranquil expression on her face.
“Charles,” she says. It’s not a greeting, more like a sigh of relief. She embraces me as soon as I’m within reach. Apparently I’m popular in this world. “Come in, come in. The doctors are ready to see you.”
We walk into the building, a crystal dome that reflects the sunlight in a thousand directions. The foyer is filled with a modern sculpture of the Buddha. I feel like I’ve stepped into the next century. We step into the seventh floor, and I’m greeted with the smell of nothingness. It’s the smell of labs, disinfectant and the slight edge of perfumes and steam from autoclaves.
“Charlie!” a woman yells. The voice sounds the most familiar out of everything I’ve heard so far.
The voice belongs to a small woman running towards me at a speed I can’t believe. Her lab coat knocks over a surgical tray and two test tube racks but she doesn’t even notice. She just wraps her tanned arms around me and doesn’t let me go. Looking down, I see the top of her head. Brown hair, cut extremely short with white hairs that I could see only if I looked closely. She looks up and I see her eyes behind square thick framed green glasses. They’re a light blue with specks of green, an exact replica of mine.
“Hi,” I say awkwardly.
“You’re okay, right? They fed you? There was no torture or anything, right? If there was, I swear, I know people in the nuclear physics department,” she says, and I sense that she’s somewhat serious.
“I’m okay. I’m okay.” I say, as she examines my arms and face. The way she behaves, I know what it is. It’s like a reaffirmation of what Travis and the girl told me.
“He doesn’t remember you, but I think he’s figured it out Laurel,” the girl says. She’s appeared behind me. She gives a shake of her head and throws her hands up in the air.
“What hope have we got if he can’t remember his own mother?”
I know that this update is late, but it's slightly longer and Chapter 4 is almost finished as well. I'd really appreciate it if people left comments on this work, regardless of whether you liked it or not. I'm actually thinking of giving it an image overhaul, changing both the title and the cover. If you have any suggestions regarding new titles or cover ideas, feel free to post them.