This Chapter has been Re-written/Added to, and it is recommended to Re-read
The Double Standard
The human mind is a rather curious thing; it has empathy, apathy, sympathy, and can easily dystrophy. It is malleable, yet unbreakable at times, it is tender, yet tough at others. Is it simply because the human mind can’t decide what it wants to do? Can the mind, being trapped as itself, really comprehend what it is that it wants?
At times, the mind can be full of only the best. But should a single entry of thought prove just lightly off balance, everything of the mind becomes dark.
To these people, we say, "let them be, because we have no idea what they've been through." And to those that are balanced, we say, "it must be nice not to have a care in the world."
The mind is never in the middle of opinion. It is wanted, or isolated. It is loved, or hated. It is strong in solidarity, or weak in separation. It is coveted, or it is despised.
It is innocent… or it is evil.
Innocence is a Virtue
“Remember, Stacy, we’re only gonna be at your uncle’s for a few minutes, but you need to leave him alone, alright?”
“But why, mama?”
“He’s very angry, and hasn’t entirely recovered from his accident yet. You know that, so why do you ask every time?”
“I don’t know,” a very young girl, around 13 years old, sat idly in the backseat of her mom’s sedan, concerned about her meeting with her uncle.
“I know you’re sad for him, but sometimes, things happen that no one could have been ready for and can very easily destroy everything we’ve worked so hard to accomplish,” the driver, a woman in her mid-thirties, glanced in her rearview mirror at her daughter.
She sat there, gazing out the window with pale-blue eyes and a sad frown. Her blonde pigtails bounced as she swiveled her head around to look back at her mom, “How come he doesn’t go to a doctor?”
The mom sighed deeply, “I’ve told you that already too: he has, many times, but there just isn’t anything anyone can do.”
Stacy just glanced down at her little hands, saddened by her uncle’s plight, but unsure of how she could help.
For several silent minutes, the sedan cruised through neighborhood roads until they slowed to a stop at a specific house. The house was very small, and seemed unassuming enough that no one would guess that a once incredible man lived there, now turned angry and spiteful. After her mom opened her door, Stacy hopped out and gazed up at the house’s front door, already dreading her uncle’s empty stare.
Every week for the two years that her uncle had been in that accident, they would stop by and drop off groceries or help with any chores that were out of his ability. Today was a grocery drop.
“Come on, honey. We still have a lot to do at home after this,” Stacy’s mom declared, slamming the trunk of the car closed and began walking to the door with multiple plastic bags in each hand.
Hesitating for a moment, Stacy watched her mom’s ponytail, equally as blonde as Stacy’s sway with her steps until Stacy began walking along as well. The trip to the front door seemed to be much longer than the ten paces it took to get there, and in that expanse, Stacy thought of something to ask her uncle, without her mom hearing of course, as she wasn’t supposed to be bothering him anyway.
“Rick? It’s me, Ally!” Stacy’s mom called through the door after a firm knock. After only a moment, the whirring of an electrical scooter could be heard moving toward the door from within, a creak as someone pressed against the door, followed by a metallic sliding and clacking of the deadbolt and doorknob being relieved of their locked positions.
The door slowly whooshed open and Stacy had just caught a glimpse of the back of her uncle’s scooter as he withdrew back into the house.
“Come on, sweetie,” Ally whispered to her daughter, slipping through the doorway.
Stacy swallowed her fear, steeled herself for her plan to confront her uncle, and waltzed right in. Her mom had already headed to the kitchen to drop off the groceries and sort them to put them away in their respective places. However, Stacy continued walking through the main hallway, passing the kitchen, and heading straight into the living room, where her uncle sat in his scooter, lazily staring out the window overlooking the barren backyard.
All around the room, the walls were plastered with accolades and awards and mementos. There wasn't even the tiniest bit of the original wall in view; all of it covered by various posters, shelves, plaques, trophies, and knick-knacks of varying shapes and sizes.
All of it was a sorrowful reminder of who Rick once was, and it made Stacy mourn for her uncle even more. She hoped that what she had to say would spark something in his head.
“Uncle Rick?” Stacy whispered.
He made no indication that he had heard her, so she moved to his side so that he could see her. Even after she stepped right into his line of sight, he still made no movement. His eyes only flickered toward her, barely acknowledging her presence. At his seated position and Stacy’s standing height, they were eye to eye.
For a moment, Stacy wanted to just forget what she had planned, and wanted to just leave this place. The coldness she got from him contrasted painfully from the twinkling warmth she remembered. But her mind was made up; she was going to tell him what she needed to say.
Blue eyes met brown, Stacy noted the scars along her uncle’s right brow, cheek, and jaw line where he was burned or surgically repaired, and she gulped nervously. Finally, her hands raised and flashed in numerous signs so that she could silently speak to her uncle without her mother hearing.
Uncle Rick, can I ask you something? Stacy’s fingers danced out. Since her uncle was mute, the family had learned sign language so they could understand what he was saying.
He didn’t move, but she could tell that his focused had shifted to her.
When I was little, you told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do when I grew up. I just had to put my mind to it. What does that mean?
Her uncle remained motionless still, the same scowl ever present on his forehead and eyebrows.
What did you mean ‘just put my mind to it’? Stacy’s fingers asked again.
Finally, her uncle’s hands moved, Forget everything I ever told you about that, it’s a waste of time and worthless effort that can be easily taken away.
Then can I tell you what think? Not about putting my mind to something, but thinking about somebody else? , Stacy asked.
Her uncle returned to being non-responsive.
I want to ask if you remember someone. Someone who told me that my mind was special, that my mind was perfect just for being mine. So what’s wrong with yours that you don’t think yours is just as special?
Her uncle just sat there, still not responding by body-language or sign language, with his cold eyes just staring into hers. He recognized the words he told her back when he was still a whole person, but they seemed to ring very differently now than back when he first spoke them.
Nothing is wrong with my mind, his fingers flashed, but everything is wrong with this God forsaken world, where people can so easily steal your health, so easily ruin your life by being stupid and brain-dead. Forget all that nonsense I ever told you about your mind because, in the end, when someone wants to take everything from you, intentionally or not, it’s meaningless.
Stacy let her hands fall, tears slowly coming forth into her eyes. It so badly hurt her to see her uncle so low when he used to be on top of the world. This wasn’t how she thought this was going to turn out, her young mind fantasizing about her uncle realizing her words of wisdom and deciding that enough was enough and he would remember who he used to be.
“It’s not meaningless,” Stacy pulled something out of her pocket and unceremoniously tossed it onto her uncle’s lap, “because you were the one who said it.” Stacy shuffled out of the living room and into the kitchen, away from her uncle’s coldness.
Once again, he was left alone to his own devices, but he wasn’t any happier from it. He could hear his sister and niece finishing up in the kitchen, move to the front door, open it up and call out a goodbye before it closed once again. The house instantly fell back into its almost lifeless atmosphere.
For many hours, Rick sat there, unthinking, unmoving, and uncaring to the world and time around him until he became vaguely aware of a weight in his lap.
He looked down and picked up the offending object, just about ready to toss it aside without a second glance before he caught something glittering on it.
Carefully, he looked it over, not immediately recognizing the object itself, but immediately noticing what was attached to it. A cartoon atom symbol, a cartoon rocket, a silver panel with a brain etched into it, a cartoon horse with a rainbow over it, and finally, a simple golden ball.
He remembered each specific event for every charm that he saw. The atom symbol was from the chemical and medicinal labs he worked at, studying the effects of biochemical interactions with synthetic chemical and non-biochemical substances. He brought her one time to try and make her own weak form of aspirin. Somehow, she managed to create a sweet tasting substance that seemed to pack an energy blast rather than alleviate small pains.
The rocket was from a time that he took her to an air show that was demonstrating the prowess of a new jet plane that he designed with a team of engineers. Just after the show, she wanted to meet the other engineers and they spent the rest of the night tinkering in the air hanger. Stacy had cobbled together a rather unimpressive looking rocket that had surprisingly flown quite well and even landed on its tail end after its chutes gently guided it back down from a better-than-most launch.
The brain was a simple charm that he had given Stacy after she won second place at her school’s science fair. She was younger than almost all the other applicants, and alongside her impressive dioramas and models of the respiratory system of the human body, she had caught the interests of many. Her face as it lit up with pride when called on stage to receive her prize and her turning to find her uncle in the crowd to wave at him with a bright smile on her face. He had smiled and waved back, cheering loudly and causing her to smile even more than what was previously thought to be impossible.
The horse was when he came back from Spain, where he had participated in the Running of the Bulls event. Purposefully, he had stayed in the back of the crowd with a stabilized camera strapped to his back so he could come back home and show Stacy what he did. All the while, during the review of the video, Stacy sat, mouth agape in amazement as she watched the powerful creatures trying to reach her fearless uncle. She could hear his raucous laughter and the cacophony of angry snorts from the bulls as the video jostled about. He promised he would take her one day to join him when she was older, giving her the charm as a reminder.
But it was that last simple charm that did something phenomenal. Normally, younger children aren’t very careful of such small belongings and wind up never completing a charm bracelet. This particular charm was the first that he had ever given her, and one that he was especially surprised to see even now. She was only six when she got it. She kept her bracelet for seven years.
The phenomenal thing that had happened when he saw that gold ball… was the first tear to ever fall from his eyes in two years. His fist closed down on the bracelet, and a strange, raspy whimper emanated from his throat.
For the first time in years, he cried openly, his body wracked with unsuppressed sobs as he remembered the events of him giving her that ball with the lucidity only granted to those with photographic memories.
When she was only four, she decided she wanted to learn how to play the piano. Since she knew that he could play, she had come to him to ask him to teach her. Everyday after school, she came to his house to sit and learn how to play. After she learned how to place her hands and to time the motions of the chords with her feet depressing the pedals to allow the chords to ring or mute in time, he moved on to teaching her how to play in time.
He remembered smiling at the site of such a small girl in such a large instrument. He remembered how he built a special bench just for her, and placed extensions on the pedals to allow her to reach. He remembered the sheer joy in her eyes as they glistened in excitement as she immediately jumped on it and delightedly screamed that she was ready to learn.
Above the cabinet of the piano was a silent metronome that worked on two magnets pulling a metal ball from side to side so that it swung forever on a one-fourth time. It could be adjusted, but he left it at that time to confuse her less. The little gold ball that hung from the charm bracelet was that very ball.
She would watch it sway, playing the keys of the piano in time to the ball hitting the arc of its swing, smiling as she would often say that she “liked watching the ball dance” when she played.
As a joke, Rick had picked up the metronome and started ballroom dancing with it as if it were a human partner. Stacy laughed loudly, trying to keep up her waltz on the piano as she watched her silly uncle prancing and skipping about with the metronome. He danced so vigorously that the string on the ball snapped.
They had both collapsed to the floor, laughing uproariously at the comedy of the entire situation. When they had finally calmed down, Rick took off his silver bangle, soldered a hoop on it, and tied the little gold ball to it, giving it to his niece and saying, “You can do whatever you want to do when you grow up, sweetie. You just have to put your mind to it and then you can do it! Just like how you learned to play the piano. I want you to look at this ball and every time you do I want you to remember one thing: My uncle is such a good dancer, he can break metronomes!”
Now, sitting alone in his empty house, Rick cried openly, finally remembering the man he used to be and now very angry that that man was killed by him.
For another hour, he cried and desperately clung to the charm bracelet. The bracelet itself was not the same as the one he used, but rather a more feminine chain, more fitting for a little girl, rather then the solid band he gave her. That as testimony in itself with how much she cherished her uncles sentiment.
She may have discarded a the body, but she kept the core of the item, the charms that made such a trinket special. He could only weep that she had more faith in him than he had in himself.
He was ready to give up after his body was destroyed, becoming a prison for his mind. But now, he was going to break free.
Slowly, he gathered himself together before turning the scooter to the kitchen where his phone was. Steeling himself, he picked up the phone from the base and punched in a number.
It rang a few times before a woman answered. Since he couldn’t speak, and the receiver of the call was familiar with how he would try to communicate over the phone, he tapped on the receiver of the phone in a very precise measure.
“Rick? What do you need?” Ally’s voice responded in surprise.
I need some more things from the stores, but I need you to go to my old Chem. Lab and get a bunch of stuff for me first. Talk to Clarisse, mention test number Zero Four, she’ll take care of the rest, Rick tapped out in Morse code.
“Uh, alright. You feeling okay?” Ally asked.
I’m doing very well now. Tell Stacy that she was right, something was wrong with my mind, and I’m going to need her help to fix it!
If it’s Broke, Fix It
“So what exactly happened that he just calls for me out of the blue after five years?” a voluptuous redhead with frameless glasses who sat in the sedan’s passenger seat asked.
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask my daughter,” Ally replied.
The redhead turned her green eyes to Stacy, who sat in her place in the backseat with a hopeful smile on her face, “He said he’s going to fix himself.”
“You don’t say,” the redhead turned back around, “You do know that what he probably plans on doing with this equipment is highly illegal, right?” she asked Ally.
She shrugged, “Sometimes you gotta do whatcha gotta do; if no one else could fix him, than there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he can fix himself. Can I ask what exactly this thing is?”
“I’m afraid not,” the redhead shook her head, “it’s a secret project that you shouldn’t even have heard about.”
“But Uncle Rick knows what he’s doing right?” Stacy asked.
The redhead scoffed, “He designed the thing, so he better know how to work it ‘cause I sure as hell don’t.”
“Language. Please, Clarisse,” Ally reprimanded.
“Uhp, sorry about that,” Clarisse apologized.
For several more minutes, Stacy’s mom tried to pry any information about the strange device lashed to the top of their roof, and the odd supplies in the plastic crates that resided in their car’s trunk. But Clarisse was not budging and Ally’s patience was no where near the level it needed to be to beat hers.
However, Stacy could only sit there and think about how happy she was that her uncle was trying to come back to her. After two long and saddening years, she was going to get her uncle back!
As before, the sedan cruised through the neighborhood and slowed to a stop at the curb of her uncle’s house. Stacy didn’t even wait for her mother to open her door and just hopped out, scrambling to open the trunk as fast as she could and run the first of three plastic crates to her uncle and begin healing him.
“She must really love her uncle,” Clarisse commented, watching Stacy knock on the door and call out for her uncle.
“More than you know; he taught her everything she knows except for the things she has to learn at school. They’ve done a lot with each other ever since she was born,” Ally responded, pulling her upper body out from the trunk with the second crate.
Clarisse watched the door open and Stacy disappear within. Clarisse hadn’t seen her colleague after the accident and was a little apprehensive about seeing him now after five years, even though his accident was two years prior to now.
Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the last crate, shut the trunk door, and followed Ally into the house.
“Uncle Rick!” Stacy shouted with joy after searching the house and finding him in the kitchen, throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him as tightly as she could without hurting her uncle.
Ally stopped short watching the familiar smile spread over her brother’s face as he wrapped up his niece in his own arms. She hadn’t seen him smile in so long and it was joyous to see it again.
After all that he had been through, it seemed to have retained its shine, not at all tarnished with his antagonistic times.
“Ricardo? Estàs tù?” Ally asked, unsure of how else to respond. Her Spanish coming forward as her mind tried to catch up.
Rick leaned around Stacy and smiled, lifting his hands to sign to her, Sì, hermana! Soy yo. He signed each letter, to spell the Spanish counterparts in sign, as a poke at his sisters bewilderment.
No longer able to deny it, Ally began to tear up and joined Stacy in hugging her once lost brother. Clarisse had walked in a moment after, but decided to just continue to the living room and allow the family their moment.
I’m so sorry, he tapped in Morse code on their backs, that I lost touch with the man I used to be. But I found him again after so long! He’s gonna try to fix me.
Stacy leaned back, tears running down her cheeks but a happy smile on her lips, “Are you going to fix yourself now?”
Yes, baby, Rick signed with a smile, I’m going to fix everything!
After the two women lugged the bulky device off the roof of the car and set it up in the living room, Rick immediately began setting up with Stacy in the kitchen. Clarisse was in the living room setting up the strange machine that resembled a telescope crossed with a sewing machine, and stood a good 4 feet tall.
“So what next, Tìo?” Stacy asked after turning on a bunsen burner and sticking a crucible over it that contained a white powder.
I need you to mix that acid compound from earlier with the hydrogen solution at a four to one. Then get the .2M hydrofluoric acid and set it over the cylinder with the cleaning solution.
Stacy moved to comply, swift and sure as if she had done this all of her life. She was very bright for her age, and her excitement for her uncle only helped to ramp up her focus and concentration, contrary to what excitement normally does to children her age.
“Alright, I need the 500mL flask to move the liquid nitrogen. What measure do you need for Compound 3?” Stacy asked, hand out to receive the Erlenmeyer Flask she requested.
Rick handed it to her, never losing focus on his mixtures, a hundred milliliters.
Stacy took a pipette and measured out the mentioned amount, placing it into the powder in the crucible. Immediately, the substance fizzled and turned neon purple before clearing back up when the last drop fell in.
Rick moved over and added his own measurement to the crucible, this time turning it a deep red that once again became completely void of color the moment the last drop fell into it.
Stir it to make sure it’s perfectly balanced, and put it into the 50mL test tube, I’m going to start up centrifuge and the water bath.
“Alright, Tìo. You want me to tell Clarisse to start up the machine?”
Yes, but after you put the tube in the nitrogen, I need it at negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit in a minute or the enzymes in the second compound will go bad.
Stacy used a set of clamps and carefully set the crucible mixture into the 50mL test tube, then dipped the tube into the 500mL flask full of liquid nitrogen that fogged over the entire table. After that, she moved from the kitchen and walked into the living room where her mom sat on the couch, watching Clarisse fiddle with the machine’s instrument panel.
“Uncle Rick is almost ready!” Stacy sang out, “He needs the machine in a minute after it’s ready!”
“Roger that,” Clarisse called without looking.
Before Stacy retreated back into the kitchen, she glanced at her mother, who had turned her focus to her daughter and was smiling proudly.
To see her daughter in the laboratory smock, latex gloves, and bulky safety goggles, made her beam in pride at the initiative such a young girl could have in helping her uncle overcome a huge obstacle that everyone believed could not be overcome.
Stacy smiled back before turning and vanishing back down the hallway.
“You’re daughter must be very smart to help Ricardo with all that chemical stuff. That particular mixture is very tricky,” Clarissa announced.
“She’s very smart, yes. And her uncle’s to blame. She always looked up to him and tried to learn as many things as possible, just to see if she had the knack to do them.”
“That sounds pretty ambitious for a little girl. You must be very proud of her,” Clarisse looked up and offered Ally a congratulatory smile. Ally smiled in return before asking, “What exactly is this stuff those two are making?”
Clarisse paused for a moment, staring at Ally intently before just sighing and shaking her head, “Fine, but before I say anything, none of this leaves this room unless you want to chance a man dressed in a black suit knocking at your door with some chloroform and handcuffs.”
“Uh, sure, I promise,” Ally answered, concern heavy in her tone.
“This substance is a regenerative serum developed by Ricardo. It’s never been tested on a human subject, but it’s done amazing things in chimp subjects. But the government banned further testing and shut down the project.”
“Why? If it does so much good, why stop it?”
“Money,” Clarisse replied sourly, “it cut out the need for so many cancer treatments and medicinal applications for other ailments that the government would lose a lot of money.”
“That’s wrong!” Ally shouted, rising to her feet.
“It’s the truth,” Clarisse said sadly, “the white collars don’t like seeing their money flow get thin, so they try to shut down stuff that’s way too beneficial that it cuts out other things they make money.”
“And this serum can do anything?”
“It’s cured cancer, restored damaged vision, revitalized failing organs, retarded malignant growths, canceled addictions, and even healed damage neural components.”
“That’s amazing! There has to be a catch of some kind; something like that sounds way too good to be true,” Ally said skeptically.
“I said the very same thing! And Ricardo told me that the only side effects of the serum are cramps and pains brought on by the body reacting to the serum. He called it ‘recalibration and restoration’.”
“Whoa, hold on, some of these pains can be really bad depending on just how much damage somebody has sustained before receiving the serum into their system. If the damage is too extensive, this could potentially be fatal. Our severely injured female chimps were the only ones who survived.”
“Higher pain thresholds.”
“Oh, I guess that makes sense.”
Stacy and Rick emerged from the kitchen, a small beaker in Rick’s hand and small syringe in Stacy’s.
Hello Clarisse, Rick signed. Stacy translated for him, word for word.
“Hey Rick,” Clarisse answered after gasping. She hadn’t seen him in so long, and was not at all prepared to see him in such horrible conditions.
What? Something on my face? You’re looking at me funny, Rick smiled.
Clarisse giggled, “Nah, I’m just surprised you got even better looking now after being burned.”
That’s what I told the Doctor! Stacy and Ally were cracking up at the ridiculousness of the two. It was a little hard for Stacy to translate through her laughter
This was what they remembered of Rick: always ready to make someone smile and making the absolute best of absolutely any situation possible, including his own ailments.
Is the machine ready? Rick asked, his face suddenly serious.
“Yeah, just gotta turn it on,” Clarissa flicked a switch, and the machine began to hum with energy.
“What does that thing do,” Stacy asked.
Before Clarisse could say it was classified, Rick spoke up, or rather, signed, I could tell you, sweetie, but then I’d have to hug you.
Stacy just giggled.
It releases a hyper focused beam of radiation that will jumpstart the compound and delay its half-life so that every part of the body can receive the enzymes locked inside of the solution.
“And this will fix you?”
Rick shrugged, The monkeys back in the lab liked it enough, so it can’t be too bad. But it will hurt, and you know what I like to say: No Pain—
“No Gaining experience points,” Stacy finished, a serious face present as if she spoke something that wasn’t just completely as random as her uncle intended.
Ally and Clarisse had giggled though.
Alright, Clarisse, jack me up and jack me in, Rick wheeled closer, taking the syringe from Stacy and handing it, along with the beaker of clear fluid, to her.
Suddenly nervous, Clarisse took the items. The look on her face prompted Rick to sign a quick message that Ally translated since Stacy couldn’t see it, You bail on me now, and I’ll hug you too. I’ll hug you right in the center of mass!
Clarisse laughed, relieved of the tension that had built and loaded up the syringe. The fluid defected from the beaker and relocated within the syringe, seeming almost eager to be released again.
Rick placed his arm under the machine, the part that resembled a sewing machine where the needle and cloth are, and waited.
With calm and focused motions, Clarisse pierced the syringe into the main veins in the crook of his arm, but didn’t depress the plunger yet, as Rick had motioned for her to stop.
Now, I already did calculations on this compound and how it would affect me. The damage in my body actually passed the threshold where our male test subjects died, Everyone gasped, and Clarisse made to withdraw the needle from Rick’s arm, but his hand shot out to hold her in place, that being said, I’m not going to die because I’m going to go into a state of Astral Projection.
“How is that gonna solve anything!?” Ally demanded, not willing to lose her brother when he has just been brought back, at least partially.
Theoretically, with my mind away from my body, there shouldn’t be any response to the massive levels of pain my mind would be subjected to. I’m going to be fine, but my calculations predicted I’d be comatose for two years.
“What!? No, Tìo! I don’t want to lose you for another two years!” Stacy cried, latching onto her uncle, fresh tears falling from her eyes.
Stacy, baby, I need you to listen to me, Rick tapped on the machine to get her attention.
Slowly, Stacy looked up to see that her uncle was smiling at her, tears running down his own cheeks.
She waited for him to say something until she noticed that his raised hand had something in it, rather than just being held up to begin signing.
It was her charm bracelet that she had left the other day. Gingerly, she took it and noticed there was another charm on it. It was a locket.
Carefully, she opened the case and looked within, tears renewed as she hugged her uncle again, “Te quiero mucho, Tìo. Gracias por todo que me distes.”
Rick hugged her back with his one free arm, tears of his own running down his cheeks, I love you, sweetie. So much. And I'm going to miss you too, but I'll always be here he tapped on her shoulder then poked her in the chest, over the heart.
In the locket, was a picture of him holding Stacy as a baby with a protractor in her hand. He was studying architecture in college when his sister came by with Stacy, and she got a hold of some of his drawing tools.
To him it was the sweetest moment of his life, where he had his very first niece that he could spoil rotten and teach things that the old wrinkly grandparents couldn't.
Suddenly, he swung around and took Clarisse’s hand, depressing the plunger himself, Take me to the hospital right after the machine finishes. The serum will break down after the enzymes are absorbed and look like a drug overdose.
The machine hummed louder and, from the telescope end that hovered over his arm, an intense green light shot out, making his arm glow eerily.
“We’ll be waiting for you, Rick. And if you die before you wake up, I’ll write ‘Here lies Rick, Nothing Special’,” Clarisse tried to smile, but her face faltered into a distressed frown.
“Remember, Uncle Rick, We have to go running in Spain in a few years, you promised,” Stacy added.
Rick smiled at everyone and nodded, feeling weak now that the serum was working its way into his body.
Soon, the machine chirped, having reached a radiation level optimal to activate the solution and the beam turned off before it got to levels that were too high to be safe and would destroy the serum. Clarisse promptly shut it entirely down and Ally removed him from the device, switched the scooter to manual, and pushed Rick out of the door hurriedly to take him to the hospital, Clarisse and Ally moving in stride.
Normally, it was tricky to move him into the car because of his immobile legs, but the fear induced adrenaline made it easy enough that the group was able to take off quickly and begin their journey to their destination.
All the while, Stacy clung to her uncle’s hand, scared that maybe he might not be telling her the truth about what the serum actually did. After all, didn’t a cure like that seem way too good to be true? Just a simple mixture of enzymes and cells contained in a suspension that was activated with Alpha Particle Radiation?
Rick’s eyes fluttered as he began to feel something within his arm and shoulder begin burning. The skin felt like it was on fire, and the scar tissue in particular felt like it was being ripped back open.
“Why do you have to use astral projection? I thought that stuff was fake anyway,” Ally called back.
Too much in pain to sign properly, Rick just tapped a response onto the back of Stacy’s hand that she relayed, Supposedly. This is the part of the experiment that starts going into theory and metaphysics.
Everyone gasped, “You mean this plan was half-baked!?” Clarisse screamed.
I’m definitely feeling pretty baked right now, Rick tried to joke.
“But you’ll be okay?” Stacy asked with concern in her eyes.
With a warm smile and a tender kiss to her forehead, Rick nodded, Sometimes, you have to be willing to risk every little thing to make things better. I have been gone for too long and caused too much pain to my family, I have to be willing to take the ultimate leap of faith.
Just remember to check back in after two years. I told you what that machine did, so I have to hug you.
Despite the pain he was in and despite Stacy dreading that she was actually going to lose someone very important to her, she giggled, finding it hard to be depressed when her uncle was being so silly.
I love you, mija, Rick tapped on Stacy’s shoulder before closing his eyes and beginning to try to project his mind from his body.
For him, the battle was now between his mind and time; if he didn’t escape fast enough—or even if he could at all, he will die. He couldn’t allow that, and he won’t allow anymore misery to fall on his family on his part.
No longer aware of the real world, Rick couldn’t feel Stacy vigorously shaking him, desperately calling his name, screaming in terror at the prospect of her uncle dying in her hands.
Ally was distraught as well and began breaking many laws of the road to speed along their trek to the hospital.
Quickly and efficiently, the three girls had removed him from the car upon arriving at the hospital, and wheeled him in where a startled secretary wasted no time in paging the first available doctor to receive them.
As fast as their hands could possibly move while retaining medical agility, the doctors and assistants wired Rick up to IV’s, monitors, and sensors. They moved him to another part of the hospital to try and decide what was wrong, leaving behind Stacy, Ally, and Clarisse.
“Blood pressure is spiking, pupils are dilated, it looks like an overdose, but I’ve never seen one like this,” the doctor said.
“We have a brain reading, he’s in a lot of pain, but it looks like he’s concentrating on something,” an assistant called out.
And true to the statement, Rick was trying as hard as he could to release his mind from his body, already feeling something fall apart as the serum began rewriting the damaged components in his body to be replaced with proper functioning cells and fibers.
The pain that wracked his body was agonizing and threatened to break his focus multiple times. Everywhere along his body and inside his body, he felt like things were tearing and being burned by an open flame.
He was vaguely aware of his physical body being jostled about and moved from room to room as numerous hands poked and prodded him, desperate to revive him. On their part, it was a losing battle, but on Rick’s part, he began to feel… strange.
It was like he found a strange part of his mind that he never knew about. He could almost see himself reaching out to the unknown section. The sensation was alien, feeling himself actually moving within the confines of his mind without actually moving his body.
Had he done it? Had he successfully fled his body so that the serum could work without killing him in the process? It wasn’t at all like how he imagined it would be. He was just floating about, spinning aimlessly though a thick fog that marred the outlines or numerous strange shapes flitting about.
“Another being? In this ascended realm?”
Rick spun around in shock, facing the source of the deep reverberating voice that had spoken. There was nothing there, only more fog.
“You have truly learned to escape from your shackles? Very interesting.”
Deciding to try and test his incorporeal abilities, Rick opened his mouth to speak, “Who are you?”
“Me? I do not know. I only know that I must reside here to make sure Wanderers are not lost.”
“The Essences that become drunk on their intellect, hyped on their wisdom, reliant on their own epiphanies, and spoiled on their own praise.”
“This is Purgatory?”
“Ah! You are human then? Only your kind has this interesting notion of religion. No, this is what is called The Bridge.”
“What did you mean then, by ‘ascended realm’?”
“As it is my duty to watch over Wanderers, it is also my duty to guide the Ascended, beings of such immense sapient power that they can no longer exist comfortably in their own worlds without being isolated.”
“This is where they go? Sort of like asylum?”
“Yes, exactly. But there is something strange about you. You are not Ascended, yet you are not Wandering. Almost as if you reside here just for a temporary amount of time.”
“Yes, my body was severely damaged and I devised a way to repair it. However, the means to do so are fatal. I attempted something called astral projection in order to try and save myself. Did I succeed?”
“That is hard to say. Your body was in that severe of a condition that repairs were lethal? I know of you, human.”
“You know about me?”
“In this realm, I am aware of those who have potential to Ascend or Wander. You possess a great deal of wisdom, intellect, skills, attributes, and trade talent that you were a closely watched essence.
You are Ricardo Johnson, age Thirty, born February Twenty-Ninth of the year Nineteen Eighty-Four. Mother is Isabella Bermudas and Father is Phillip Johnson. You have one sister, Alejandra Johnson, age Thirty-Three, born March Eighth of the year Nineteen Eighty-One.”
Rick remained silent; suddenly fearful of just what exactly he had stumbled into and what exactly it was that was speaking to him.
“You speak the truth, Ricardo. I can see your body now,” the fog shifted and Rick found himself staring down onto his broken body, lying still as stone and surrounded by doctors who were attaching him to life support.
It was painful to realize something that just may be true, “I can never go back, can I? I know you said it felt like I was going to be here temporarily, but something feels wrong.”
“You can very much indeed return to your body, but you’re mind was severely damaged by your STEM Regenerative-Catalyst Compound. In order to have that repaired, your mind must be exposed to even more than what you have acquired.”
“How can I do that here?”
Instantly, Rick felt his heart sink, “Then I failed them.”
Too lost in his despair, he failed to immediately realize that the omniscient voice was laughing, “Very dramatic, humankind can be! Your species, by far, is the most entertaining!
You cannot build your mind here because it is too barren, but I can rewrite your essence in another place where you can learn.”
“Please,” Rick begged without hesitation, “Send me there!”
“Given that you must return to this body in two years, I must place you where you’ll be subject to extreme hardship and naïveté from the indigenous.”
“You cannot learn quickly, when too much is already understood. In this world, you will have to rebuild your personal reputation. I will grant you your memories and old body to assist you, but other than that, it is up to you.”
"What do you mean by my 'old body'?" Rick asked, concerned that he was going to start at zero again already handicapped.
"Before your tragedy, when you were at your peak. Do not worry, I have no plans to hinder you so much. With how little this place will understand your capacity, you'll need as much of yourself as you can possibly rely on."
“I accept then.”
“Very well. Open your eyes,” the voice whispered, fully disappearing from Rick’s awareness.
Just as the voice had uttered the word ‘eyes’, Rick’s own had flown open alongside a sharp inhale of breath.
“What the hell?” Rick breathed, surprised to find that he could speak again.
Above him seemed to be a lush forest canopy, many breaks in between where sunlight filtered through.
With a grunt, Rick pushed himself into a sitting position and looked around, finding that he was laying in the middle of some woods and that he was slightly naked…okay, completely in the buff.
“That’s inconvenient,” Rick groaned. Knowing that the strange voice told him that his body was returned to him, Rick launched himself to his feet.
He had only intended to walk slowly and calmly to take in his surroundings, to try and deduce what would be an appropriate course of action when his mind decided that it had waited for far too long to feel what it was like to run once again.
In a half-second, his feet bolted. Flying as fast as the wind, Rick sprinted through the trees, deftly weaving in between them, giggling and whooping with glee instantly forgetting the fact that he was lost, naked, and on a mission of sorts.
How great it felt to be able to move under his own power again, so invigorating that he threw himself into the air, twisting his body into a corkscrew jump, landing on his feet, spinning about face, and began a trail of back flips. The fifth time he hit the ground feet first, he sprung up high into the air from the momentum of the ground reacting against him, somersaulted twice, and landing perfectly square on his feet.
He was so lost in finally reliving his old health, he didn’t notice an almost invisible line amongst the trees. At full tilt, he ran into it, throat first, and flopped backward onto his back, his head slamming onto the ground.
Retching and gagging, he tried to shake the stars out of his vision, only to feel his consciousness fading.
That’s definitely gonna be a concussion, and I won’t be surprised if I can’t talk right for a week, he thought lamely before passing out.
Alone in the woods, he laid exposed to the elements, unaware of two creatures moving in on his prone form.
“Did you see that? The snare worked perfectly!” a woman’s voice chirped.
“It sure did. And this catch is a real beauty! He’ll fetch quite a pretty bit on the market,” a man’s voice laughed.
“You thinking Canterlot then?”
“Definitely Canterlot.” Both creatures knelt down and threw Rick across their backs, lugging him over to an old wooden wagon, and tossing him inside…amongst a few other humans.
Unknown to Rick, these humans were not like him at all, and further still unknown, a certain role he was used to playing in his own world, was reversed in this one, a role that the two creatures were used to playing…just for fun.