Po looked at me inscrutably. I said again, “Po, they are ready.” and a deep sigh left my body. He stood up and I grabbed my pants from the hook.
“Jake, there is something troubling you.”
He was right and with a heavy heart I said to him, “Po, I have mixed emotions about this. When I was alone in the wastes I took care of myself, if I made a mistake, it was on my head. The goal was not to win and make anybody proud, the goal was to survive. I’m afraid, now for the first time in my life, I’m afraid. With so much responsibility…”
He looked me in the eyes and with a great smile he said, “Jake, it is always about survival.”
He was right, this was not about me, or him, it was about each and every human being. We were dying, and we had to stand up to them if we ever hoped to live.
“Jake, winning and losing are temporary, the only thing that matters is surviving. These people need you, they need each other. That should be reason enough to set aside your fears.”
He was right, I was letting my fear get the best of me, something I had never done before. I never had anything to protect, now suddenly I did and with that came responsibility.
“Po, you’re absolutely right,” This wasn’t about me, or my fears, it was about human life. We had to take a stand. I pulled myself up and tightened my belt.
“Has John taken his troops to the surface?”
His stern, dark features belied any feelings he may have had, “No sir, they were waiting for you.”
I grabbed the two short swords that I had taken to using the past few months, the blades were slightly curved and the hilt was angled sharply allowing me to use my wrist in a more fluid motion. I sheathed them in a crisscross back scabbard of my own design. Po turned to leave and I put my hand on his shoulder, he turned back and faced me,
“Thank you Po, for a moment I thought I had lost my way.”
He smiled again and said, “For a moment you had.”
We headed down the long hall leading to the training room where I heard the men cheering and clanking their weapons together with great bursts of excitement. A tremendous wave came over me and warmed me from the inside; the hairs on my neck stood on end. As I came closer, I saw John standing in front of them. This day would mark the beginning of the end, the end of slavery and imprisonment, the dawn of a new era for mankind. If any of them were not ready, they did not express it. John saw us as we entered, gave a short nod, and continued speaking. Rensa ran
up to us quickly, a bewitched look had taken over her face.
“This is it!” she giggled insanely.
Her energy was palpable. She had become as wild and unrestrained as her hair. She had taken to painting her face with the blood of reptiles, and she had become filthy from not bathing. The smell was horrendous. But her fervor had captured the imagination of her troop, who also wore the stains of entrails and excrement. Her style was distinct and unconventional, but it worked, and for that we had to admire her.
“Jake, I’m so excited to see you! We have been waiting for you…take your place beside John and rally your troops!”
I was in a daze. I knew it was coming, but now, as a reality, I felt unprepared. Po nudged me from behind, I turned and shot a bewildered glance toward him, to which he merely nodded. His smooth skull pointed toward John, and like a wounded beast, I stumbled to him into the cheers of the soldiers. My troop beat their fists against their bare breasts and cried out in jubilation.
“For so many generations our people have been enslaved, beaten, murdered and scattered to the far corners of the Earth. Today is the beginning of the end!” John roared.
I was in a whirlwind, lost and confused. These people had become my own, and as their leader I was duty bound to them. I stammered for a moment, hesitant…
What came out of me was unexpected.
“I have lived with all of you for the past few months. We have experienced great difficulty in coming together as a unit. I didn’t know what to expect from some of you and I had my own reservations many times; I thought I wouldn’t be able to help you. There were times I wanted to give up, to go out on my own and leave all of you…” The group was silent as I continued, “But, somehow I found the courage to keep going. You’re strength gave me strength. Your bravery awakened something in me, and made me believe something I didn’t think was possible. For the first time, I believe there is a chance for us to stop hiding, to stop being slaves and to take back what is rightfully ours from these beasts.” The men let out a roar in favor of this, “We are about to head out on a journey that will change the world forever.” The more I spoke the louder I got, and the louder I got the more impassioned I became, “Today we will rewrite the history books for future generations, no longer will the word human be eradicated from definition, we will be remembered! We will be called heroes and no matter what happens…we will live forever! They say history is written by the winners, well this is our story, and we will write it the way we want it to be remembered!”
Clamorous hoorahs followed. The men were rallied and ready. John took over and began leading everyone in what would become their assignments for the next few months. We would travel together in the wastes. Food rations had been prepared by those who would stay behind. The soldiers gathered their packs, equipment and supplies. I looked around for Sarah, but didn’t see her. Dade walked up to me and thanked me for such a moving speech, and in my distracted state
I ignored him.
I had to find her.
I ran down the long hall, past the ready room and into the infirmary. “ROGER, have you seen Sarah?” I begged.
“She is in her quarters, resting. She was complaining of pain, for which I gave her a mild sedative.” He said.
The news was disconcerting; we would all need to be in the best possible shape if we expected to be of much use. I opened the door to her room where we had hid her from the rest of the population.
“Sarah,” I started, “Are you feeling ok? The troops are preparing to leave and I wanted to make sure,” I found her there crying. “Sarah? Are you hurting?” muffled sounds came from her lips between sobs. I didn’t know what to do.
She was the strongest woman I had ever met, and yet here she was as fragile as a dream, and perhaps just as unknowable. I approached her slowly. She was crumpled up in a mass on the floor with her head hanging low, her hair damp with tears and sweat. She kept rubbing her eyes and sobbing miserably.
“Sarah? We have to leave now. You can’t stay here, we need you.”
I thought if I offered her some support she might change her mind, that if I explained how vital she was to the operation, to the troops, she might come around; silence welcomed me. She was either ignoring me, or so far gone in a cloud of sadness that she was unable to respond.
I stooped low beside her. Crouched there on my feet, she began to speak, “I miss my family. I miss my mommy.”
A burst of agony mixed with tears and mucus quickly spewed out of her followed by a dull roar of grief, she rocked back and forth as the force of her cries made her body quiver. What had brought this on? A mixture of fear and anxiety perhaps? The very same thing that had happened to me earlier? Gently, I placed my hand on her back in solidarity for the heartache she must have felt. We sat there like that, her and I – twin silhouettes of melancholy. There was no way I could console her, I knew that, but what else could I do?
I put my arms around her and whispered into her ears,
“Listen to me, Sarah, I miss my family too. But, that is in the past, the only thing that matters right now is our future. We have a chance, you and I, to fix a great injustice that has taken place. We can change things, we can make the world a better place for future generations. I can’t do this
alone, I need your help. Please help me, and help those who are suffering right now. You are part of something very special. The most important part.”
As I uttered these words I could hear her breathing begin to slow. She stopped crying altogether. I could feel her tangled hair on my lips, the moistness. Her left arm sunk to the ground with a great thud, metal on concrete ringing throughout the room. I started to pull away, and she reached out to me with her right hand and stared into my eyes. A perplexed look came over her face, as if she was studying me, examining my soul.
She spoke in words both soft and inviting, “You are my family now.” Then she looked away and rejoined, “Do you really think I can do it, Jake?”
Without a pause I firmly replied, “Yes, more than that, I know you can!” It must have been that little reassurance she needed, because a flame began to burn in her eyes. In the months we had been training with the device, I had seen that look in her eyes only twice before. Sarah was special, I knew that. More than just special she was completely unique. Somehow she had avoided the trappings that had befallen the rest of us. She retained a certain innocence that we had long since lost, a curiosity that had kept her from becoming apathetic. Maybe it was the fact that this time period was not her own, that she had been transplanted here from an alluring past; a truly marvelous world that I never knew. Yet, she was not as delicate a person as she appeared. Inside her raged a fearsome beast that would need awakening. These demons would surely run scared back to their home world if only she would release it. I believed that after the first battle with them on equal footing, she would become that beast, realize her strength, and lead us all into battle. A revolution was coming, and we were finally prepared.
I watched her pick herself up from the floor. She had learned to rely on her right arm for strength, but it was her left arm that would prove to be the most resourceful. I couldn’t wait to see her in action. Up until now she had been using it for target practice; it was time to put it to real use. She tightened the vambrace on her arm with her teeth, accepting no help from me.
We left the room together, sealing the door for the last time. Her hands slipped from the steel crank, she turned to face me, and exhaled deeply.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon enough.” I offered.
I didn’t know if that was true or not, in fact I had no idea how long we would be gone. Sarah’s room was down the long hall adjacent to the research lab and the medical facilities. As we came to the lab I could hear the lumbering, lifeless bodies of the mechanicals humming away. So far removed from ROGER’s human-like form, and yet so much alike. I glanced at Sarah’s arm undetected, a marriage of human and machine. For so long we had hidden her from the rest.
“Don’t be nervous Sarah,” I comforted her, “once your secret is revealed, I think everything will be alright.”
She never looked up as she walked, “Jake, I was meaning to tell you about that. I’m not sure I’m ready to “reveal” my secret. Not yet anyway.” The heavy trench coat covered her body, as it did
every time we went topside. “I’m not as sure as you are that the people will be so accepting of the creature’s technology being employed by one of their own. They may see me as an outcast, or be fearful that the weapon might malfunction. I don’t even understand how it works really. I’m a little afraid myself. What if we get too close and it turns on me, or my body rejects it?”
Not wanting to lend any further anxiety, I continued walking and calmly replied,
“Sarah, I can’t tell you what will happen, because I don’t know. All I can say is that if something happens, we will take care of you the best way that we know how. As for everybody else, their reactions will be their own.”
This didn’t seem to console her, so I continued,
“If your body was going to reject the technology, it would have done it by now, you’ve been using it for months without a problem, I doubt that just because you get close to them the weapon will take on a mind of its own.”
As we walked beside each other I took a moment to glance sideways at her, she seemed unmoved.
Her mind was racing, I could tell. What else could I say?
“Sarah, you own this weapon now, it’s as much a part of your body as your lungs or heart, and nobody can control it but you. Don’t think about the what-ifs and concentrate on what must be done.”
This must have worked, because she stood straighter and started walking with a bit more conviction and I breathed a quiet sigh of relief. The hallway opened into the training room where the soldiers were packed and prepared to leave. John came up to me and told me to begin leading the men to the exits, and said he had something to do before we left. He took off down the hall from where we had just come.