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Earth Fragment on the Horizon ch2
What do you mean I was kidnapped? Konomi wanted nothing else but to have an answer for this question after hearing its outlandish backstory out of nowhere.
Omitting the fact that she didn’t have any strength to speak at the moment, so all thoughts she had were impossible to be translated into immediate words. “Before I go any further, let me explain to you what this Genesis Project thing is. First of all, it’s a secret plan devised by a broad syndicate of scientists and doctors from twenty other participating solar systems across the entire galaxy, including this one. What they do isn’t really that hard to achieve, but since you might not understand the details I’ll put it into easier terms. With the technology that’s been available for the past two hundred years, they’ve been able to open portals to other planets they deem as inferior in the galaxy and bring back a small number of people at a time so they can conduct their twisted, sick research using them as guinea pigs.”
The female scientist paced a few steps and back as she went into detail, long hair trailing at her shoulders.
“If my suspicions are correct then that's the only logical reason that can explain what happened at my doorstep a few days ago. Not only that but judging by your appearance, lack of any identification, and especially your strange blood type. All other variables have been tried and tested. There's not a doubt in my mind that you're a victim of this plan. I'm ninety nine point nine, nine, nine, nine, nine, nine, nine percent sure you're a human from a different planet, another civilization. You were just at the wrong place at the wrong time when the portal was opened, and here you are now because there's someone out there who wants to play god with your life…”
Taking in this information in only a few seconds was daunting for ten year old Konomi’s brain to fully process. She wasn’t really sure how to respond to all of this either since it seemed like one big lie put together by a lying witness pressed for time. But then again, she couldn't find an explanation as to why her body from the neck down wouldn’t respond, and the justification she had gotten for it earlier was because of a gunshot to the spine, which if she looked at it that way it made sense to trust what this stranger said.
“To be frank, the higher ups at the Genesis Project aren't just involved with human experimentation, nearly half of those they snatch from their home planets are taken into forced slave labor everywhere and anywhere they want without regards to their safety or wishes. That’s what The Bringers are for as well. Their privately owned special task force that does the dirty work for them. Using the portal openers they've created to step into unknown territories and kidnap unsuspecting victims. So far, no one’s put up a fight against them once they're here on the other side and it appears unlikely anyone will ever be able to in my book.”
The woman in the lab coat shook the short bottle in her right hand to which a plethora of beady sounding objects fumbled around inside as a result from the disturbance. She then continued to unravel these secrets.
“You're probably wondering how the hell I know all this information or where it is I got it from. It's supposed to be a secret after all, classified and kept away from the general public like myself.” As if ashamed about something, she snickered nervously then looked away from Konomi and furrowed her brows hard while trying to maintain a smile, though pain showed right through her. “That's because I used to be a part of it myself. A part of the Genesis Project to bring people from less developed planets and conduct experiments on them against their will.”
An eerie silence blanketed the atmosphere and Konomi could only watch and listen as she heard these truths from someone who had contributed in a way to her being here. More of the pieces were falling into place now to complete the picture. Yet, she couldn’t actually feel any ill will against her despite now being a paraplegic, or it could be because she still couldn’t fully wrap her head around the whole idea that any of this was really happening.
This train of thought she had wasn't exactly wrong per se, since anyone else would likely have a hard time keeping up as well.
“And so, to conclude what's been said…” Konomi breathed in deeply, feeling danger in the woman's tone. “until three years ago I was still working at the central headquarters where they developed the Genesis Project’s initial concept two centuries prior. I was appointed director of the cyber prosthetics branch where I supervised artificial and semi artificial body transplants of all kinds. I'd say the money was what initially caught my attention after a former university professor introduced me to a friend of his who worked there. They offered me a high position with some of the best benefits out there, so I accepted after only a few hours of consideration.” She paused momentarily for a breather, still refusing to look at Konomi in the eyes and opting to stare at the metallic floor beneath her feet instead out of shame.
“One year into my new career and everything was going smooth and what have you. My pay was exceptional and I was awarded regularly with bonuses and received complimentary accommodations to the best tourist spots everywhere. Things couldn't get any better, I thought. That's when I was promoted as the director of the cybernetics department like I said earlier. I saw what we were doing on a deeper level… all sorts of horrifying experiments that are too evil to even mention. When I asked about them they told me not to take it so hard, and I quote, a colleague said to me “These specimens are nothing but subhuman creatures, inferior beings. They have no souls so don't worry about it”.”
If anything, Konomi felt more fear than anger and resentment due to what she was hearing about how this organization operated.
The room they were in gave more credibility to her story. From what little she could make out of it because of the greenish glass in front of her or the blinding light above her head like in interrogation rooms, Konomi barely made out spacious rectangles of light that spread right to left and thin silhouettes of wires and tall bar-like objects holding up the ceiling. In itself, the place had an ominous aura to it thanks to its structure and how light reflected off surfaces onto others, giving them a sense of depth.
She could also hear some vague sounds similar to running hardware behind her.
This really felt like a place not found anywhere on earth.
“I decided to leave eventually because it was too much for me, while others, like interns and surgeons, took their own lives since they didn’t know how to cope with what they were doing. I tried taking special pills designed to block out certain emotional chemical reactions in the brain to keep going, but I couldn’t find it in me to continue with it either, my conscious just wouldn’t allow me to. My peers began to notice those changes in me too and as a result I was closely monitored to not commit suicide or anything crazy that could leak details about the project to the general public.”
The young female scientist sighed heavily and rubbed her temples with her left thumb and index finger in a circular motion. You could already tell the flashbacks were giving her a hard time. “That's when I said some things I shouldn't have in the middle of a breakdown regarding the project, which scared the bigwigs at the top and it got me in some serious hot water. They treated me with drugs and ran tests to determine my level of mental stability. I was deemed unstable, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but still in the safe zone to be left alone. But ultimately it meant I could no longer function the way they thought was best for them, so they kicked me out of the project for good, revoked my license and credentials, and relocated me as long as I agreed to be visited by officials on a monthly basis to make sure I wasn’t up to anything suspicious. Luckily they’ve stopped coming that often since I’ve shown no signs of suspicious behavior. The only way I have all this is because they still allow me to practice my profession, which begs me to believe they’re gonna want me back one day sooner or later which sounds counterproductive to me in all honesty.”
As she finished revealing a portion of her past, the lab coated woman pushed a button close to where Konomi’s head rested and removed the green glass over her eyes. It slid downward about chest level with a quiet sound of air as it relocated.
Its automatic robotic motion captivated her eyes, and they glittered with surprise for a second. Color had finally been restored to the world.
“Konomi. You’re in my laboratory laying in a therapeutic capsule like the ones used in the Genesis Project for semi-artificial transplants. That’s why there’s an oxygen mask over your mouth and all these ECG cables on your arms and chest monitoring your vital signs.” This was news to Konomi since she had lost all forms of tangibility below the neck, she couldn’t feel the sensor tips of those cables tightly attached to her skin. So to verify that statement, she lifted her head up as much as possible, blinking a few times to focus out a blur caused by the light above, and caught a glimpse of her supple body covered in various cables on parts of exposed skin. The cables themselves came in through a few openings all around the capsule only wide enough to let them in for special precautions. Seeing her small body tangled up in wires wasn’t exactly what you’d call a work of art by Rembrandt or Michelangelo.
Konomi opened her mouth slightly, trembling, and mumbled like a baby at the pitiful sight of herself in such a vulnerable state. Her vision became a little blurry again but not because of the intolerable light that hung above her -no- this was now being caused by tears bubbling up in her eyes.
My… m-m-my bo-dy… Within Konomi’s thoughts, she briefly flashed back to a time when her body could jump, run, spin, move freely without having to think about what would be of her if she lost that independence. Images of her playing in the neighborhood playground with other kids, walking home from school on weekdays with friends, and going to the local shopping district with her mother struck a sensitive chord stronger than what she could handle.
How, why… I was okay just yesterday… She tried lifting her arms up a second time, but any hope of seeing them reanimated was shot down with an arrow of betrayal. Come on arms. Wha… what's the matter with you? Come on. Why aren't you moving like you were yesterday? Move. Please… please move. Even if just… a little.
Her teeth flashed aggressively in a show of strength to pull them up. Konomi continued her futile struggle for a dozen seconds longer while the female scientist examined everything she did in silence, her expression sympathetic. But now was time to stop her.
“Konomi. Listen to me, Konomi.” Their eyes met and Konomi saw the seriousness in the woman’s eyes gazing straight back at hers with a firm, solid grip to them that held her in place. “You’ve probably already seen this bottle in my hand for a few minutes.” The woman shook it next to her own face and brought the young girl's attention to it. “I'm going to give you one of these. The pills inside are going to let you use your body again as if nothing ever happened, making you better, faster, and stronger than before. But… you're going to have to stay in this laboratory for about two weeks because your immune system's gonna restart from scratch. And then another two weeks for muscle rehab, you got that?”
At this, Konomi’s brain ceased all focus on her rag doll-like limbs and stared intently at the short bottle. Her eyes widened and mouth left agape as if she had just seen an angel stretching out a helping hand. A pill that could get her body back to what it used to be.
For some reason this deal sounded too good to be true and any adult in their right mind would automatically throw in a sarcastic comment about it and walk away without a second thought. No explanation as to how it worked was offered either, so why even bother? Konomi, though, was still a child. A girl of ten years. She hadn't even reached puberty yet. Still naïve and inexperienced in the real world to know right from wrong.
But considering that she was on another planet far from Earth -also light years ahead in terms of technology- and taking into account that everything she heard was the absolute truth, what other choice did she have but to gamble on this pill of wonders? Anything sounded better than being bedridden for the rest of your life. Maybe even death...
Konomi had no internal conflict between if she should take it or not. She shook her head lightly up and down, facial expression still in awe, and the woman in lab uniform popped the lid open and took out a see through capsule with dozens of small red beads inside. She secured an already prepared cup of water ahead of time and slowly inserted the pill in Konomi’s mouth as she opened wide. Next, she gave her a sip of water to down the pill.
While she put things back, the female scientist stopped for a moment to carefully evaluate how the young girl was doing. She opened her lips abruptly but then stopped before any sound could come out. Then, shook her head in a manner to overcome the blockade of hesitation.
“There's still, one more thing I forgot to mention, and it's crucial if we want the pill to work with your body efficiently.”
Being almost mute, Konomi locked eyes with the woman to let her know she was listening.
“I-I’m very sorry to say this but… your father… he’s the one who really saved you from being taken away by The Bringers. Unfortunately enough, he… I suspect the worst case scenario most likely occurred. Your father didn’t make it.”
Konomi suddenly felt her soul being sucked out.
“He went back around to fight against them but he was already badly injured and had lost a great deal of blood. He entrusted me with these last words to you.” What the woman relayed next wasn’t heard by Konomi in her voice but instead in her father’s actual voice echoing in a void of white silence.
“Daddy loves you, Konomi.”
And faded out into miniscule vibrations.
A rush of emotions soon engulfed her cheeks to turn them reddish in color and hot tears began cascading out from her eyes at an unprecedented volume, blurring her vision for the umpteenth time. And just like that, Konomi Satou, ten year old elementary school student from Shizuoka prefecture Japan, cried a river of anguish for her deceased father who died protecting her til his last breath. She was alone in a world unknown to her that stretched from one horizon to the other and further beyond that to the stars in the sky themselves.
An unknown world bent on making her life a living hell until the day she died.
Cruel and unusual as it may be, this would be her ultimate test of learning and survival and sadly at such a young age.
Konomi laid in the capsule bed bawling her eyes out in a silent cry with trails of snot also pouring out from her nose. The female scientist in lab attire took out a handkerchief from one of her pockets and dried up her face while she tried consoling her with words of encouragement. They stayed liked this for the remainder of the night until Konomi’s eyes could no longer withstand the weight of her eyelids being driven down by the gravitational force of sleep. The young female scientist -now her guardian- stayed to sleep by her side on a metal chair she pulled up the minute she knew Konomi was fast asleep.
Over the course of two weeks, Konomi followed the female scientist's instructions to stay in bed and indoors in a special isolation room located on the lab's second floor designed for those with weakened immune systems. Her vital signs were checked every three hours by vital signs machines integrated into the bed while her muscles were still in a flaccid state.
In that same room she ate regular meals prepared by her guardian three times a day and when the female scientist had to go inside, she wore special isolation gear that covered her head to toe so as to not contaminate Konomi while her body's defenses were recovering.
Having said that, by the end of the second week, her blood pressure, pulse, oxygen levels, temperature, and absolute neutrophil count (ANC for short) had gone back up to their normal levels.
Meaning her immune system had been finally restored.
For the next few days that marked the beginning of the third week of the recuperation process, Konomi would undergo a steady exercise regime to get her muscles back on track after having a bullet disrupt her central and peripheral nervous systems, which the female scientist had done a surgery to extract the bullet out the same day they crossed paths. Similarly, being bedridden for a total of fourteen consecutive days only added to that. She would need to learn to walk again from scratch if possible.
Moreover, in those inactive days she had developed what is known as muscle atrophy as well, in other words, the decrease in muscle tissue throughout the body attributed to the lack of any exercise whatsoever. But it was a given that she would anyway. After being shot in one of the most vital regions of the human body not even a professional bodybuilder could get away unscathed.
Those three weeks were crucial for the two of them to get to know each other on a deeper level, allowing an intimate bond to form a bridge of trust and that’s how it happened. They both took turns in talking about each other’s worlds and how they compared and contrasted. Konomi would have at times a crying episode when talking about her family, especially her dad who was no longer with her which troubled the female scientist in a way that wasn’t unsympathetic. She thought that later in life Konomi might start to remember the events leading up to when they were both kidnapped in Japan by The Bringers which might then send her spiraling into periodic breakdowns, hence also setting one foot in the field of PTSD. She had just come out of this one ugly life altering experience however and by no means was she intent on telling her about her possible near future mental complications any time soon. Likewise, it was too early to be certain of anything.
So the female scientist kept her mouth shut and decided there was no need for anything of the sort for now. She would treat any symptoms immediately whenever they became more relevant and she herself suffered from the same disorder so she knew how best to treat it accordingly.
One evening on that third week, Konomi was left alone in the lab after the female scientist had gone out to take care of some errands around the area. That time was close to early sunset and right about now it had nearly sunk below the horizon line completely enough to where you couldn’t tell only two hours had passed because it was so dark.
Konomi was doing the usual rounds about the lab where she fancied taking a little tour to check out all the futuristic and interesting pieces of sophisticated equipment that made up the lab’s back bone.
Laying over her neck was a white towel she had just used to dry her hair from having taken a relaxing bath after a day’s worth of physical rehab. She had on a plain white shirt that went no more below the belly button, dark blue compression shorts two inches above the knees, a pair of plain slippers, a walking cane made from polished wood, and held onto a cute elephant stuffed animal the female scientist had bought for her a few days earlier as a gift. By this time she had already taken back nearly seventy percent control of her legs which made it that much easier to walk.
The cane was there mostly because the remaining thirty percent was her still fumbling and tripping over herself on occasion.
She gave her undivided attention to a particular part of a wall that was slightly intruded like if a trapezoid had indented it. This special wall was actually more like a screen with a bunch of smaller screens satisfyingly fitted like a puzzle showing all sorts of neat graphics and hard to read data charts, and you could tell it apart just by looking since it wasn't the same chromy-metallic armor pattern like its neighbors.
The colorful frolicking pixels had Konomi in a semi state of hypnosis completely in awe by the technology spectacle. She had never seen anything more pleasing to look at other than her father's tablet she used to take hostage when they went on long road trips to her grandparent's house in Fukuoka during summer. But not even that could compare to even the simplest of gadgets scattered throughout the laboratory.
You could say in a way that the entire two story building complex reminded her of the large arcade game centers in Akihabara.
With flashing lights and wonky sounds spewing out of arcade machines on every corner. Konomi held onto the stuffed animal hooked on her left arm and slowly walked to the next eye catching attraction on the list, her dark blue short hair bouncing slightly with each step.
The sound of her cane echoing thumps in the laboratory was just another sound added into the equation. There were vents on the walls and floor that blew in air, the quiet humming of apparatuses functioning diligently, and occasional beeps heard from the many interactive computer screens. Just as she was in the midst of satisfying her curiosity, Konomi heard the mechanical unlocking click of the lab's front door and how it swung open and closed in haste with hurried footsteps marching inside. She turned her head around and saw the female scientist almost flying in all directions of the lab.
“Konomi. Quick, grab your things and let’s get out of here now.”
She had a long, black trench coat with the ends of it fluttering behind her, shiq Knee High leather boots with heels, and her hair tucked under a white thick scarf. The tone of her voice was anything but calm which brought a sense of trouble onto the ten year old. She saw as the woman opened and took out papers and files from wall cabinets, underneath desks, and secretly hidden compartments only accessible by manually moving obstacles out of the way.
Konomi, in total confusion, did nothing and only followed with her eyes how the female scientist desperately gathered documents from one place to another and so stayed still not knowing what to do.
“What are you doing just standing there like a lump on a log? Hurry up and get a move on unless you want The Bringers to come finish what they started on you!”
The Bringers: a special task force entrusted by the Genesis Project’s founders to kidnap and deliver humans from other planets they saw well suited for human experimentation and slave labor. They were the reason why Konomi was brought to this foreign planet in the first place and why her father was now no longer with her. An answer to whether she, her father, or the both of them were the initial targets for the project still left a void of mystery that could possibly provide clues. But the only way to find out was to be captured and see for yourself the hard way, which in the end probably anybody who was a potential target could live happily without knowing. After hearing those two keywords, she froze instantly in fear and widened her eyes to their limits as if on alert. That same fear took over control of her body and she quivered to the point where she might collapse. With a loud clank, the cane to help support her fell to the floor and hugged her toy elephant tightly against her chest as it were a lifeline. Konomi mumbled inaudibly under her breath but only gibberish, words lacking structure and meaning repeated themselves continuously.
Scowling hard, the female scientist, former member of the Genesis Project, rushed over to her promptly and took on a stance where she displayed a strong sense of firmness.
“Are you listening to me? If we don’t get the hell out of here, you and me are gonna get our asses hauled out by The Bringers whether we like it or not. They’re not about to take us over to an amusement park so we can have the time of our lives, Konomi.”
As she told her this, Konomi gripped her stuffed animal even harder, digging her terrified face amidst tears into it and mumbling broken words.
She wouldn’t respond. Only thing was that whenever the woman’s voice’s volume went up so did her grumbling. Knowing that time was running out for them, the female scientist approached the situation differently and grabbed her by the arm to get her attention, but this kind of contact only fueled the breakdown.
Konomi aggressively struggled against the grip by twisting and turning and yelling “No!” almost like a spoiled child. Even going so far as to retaliate by hitting back with her toy elephant, knocking down the files and folders out of her hand.
“No, no, no, no, no, no!”
Her wailing continued but louder this time. The female scientist saw herself desperate. She clicked her tongue angrily as she lost a hold of Konomi, backed off for a few seconds, and then unconsciously raised her right hand up in the air and drove it across Konomi’s left cheek with a sharp whack that forced her body to turn sideways at forty five degrees.
“You’re going to be crying a lot more if you let them get their hands on you! Does being locked in a cage with iron shackles around your wrists and ankles sound fun to you? Does it?!”
Konomi turned back around with one hand holding her bruised cheek and met the female scientist’s gaze above, her shadow covering her as they stood under a spotlight fixture on the ceiling. This was the first and only time an adult other than her own parents had raised their voice at her for disobeying or what have you. It made her want to cry more just because it was someone else who wasn’t her mom or dad and she felt like it wasn’t fair for her to do that either. If she saw it that it made sense to hold those kinds of feelings since they were in no way related. But for some reason she felt an opposing force telling her to lend an ear to this person. This woman whose name she still didn’t know had saved her life, given her a place to stay for free, and on top of that helped her regain functionality of her limbs again.
“Staying here doing nothing but crying isn’t going to help you run away from them a second time. They’re gonna do everything they can to get their hands on you this time because they know where you’re hiding. I’m being targeted as well, so don’t think I’m just gonna stay put and let those damn Bringers do what they want with me. ”
They both looked at one another with unwavering stares.
“It’s times like these when you need to grow up and grow a pair. You think feeling sorry for yourself is gonna get you outta this mess? That's one feeling you don't need, so throw it away. Konomi, you can move on your own now. Get up! Get on your feet and use them for what they were made for. I didn’t put in nine hours of my life pulling a bullet out of your spine and repairing it so you could tell me you’re not gonna put my efforts to use. What would your father say if he saw you this very minute, this very second not taking any action to save your skin after he sacrificed his own life to give you a second chance at one? You’re throwing away his efforts like you are mine…” Konomi’s eyes grew bigger, her five senses were heavily fixated on every word every letter coming out of the woman’s mouth and as they reached her, she felt them burn into her heart as if they it were being branded with sweltering iron. She could hear them sizzling their way into her.
The female scientist made a fist and it shook boldly with all the strength she could muster. “Let this be a lesson learned and ingrain it deep into your soul so you can take it and use it as a weapon against those who tell you “No”. Prove them wrong about your kind being weak and show them the newer and stronger you. And when you’re done with them thank them for becoming yet another stepping stone to achieve your goals once they find themselves under the soles of your feet. You're not a child anymore, but an adult. That's been true since the day you set foot into my world.”
Having said all that, the female scientist took a few steps back, eyes still locked on, and squatted down to retrieve her folders on the floor.
After picking them back up and arranging the documents, she stood up again but now her back to Konomi. She turned her head slightly over the left shoulder and uttered, “Don't follow me cuz if you do and they find us together, we'll both get caught.”
Then looked straight ahead at the door and sucked in a deep breath through her lips. “This'll be my last word of advice, so listen very carefully. The pill you swallowed three weeks ago should already be engrafted into your central and peripheral nervous systems. The thing is, I have no way to be certain how much it is without a biopsy and I had intended to do one in the next few days. Some patients are one hundred percent engrafted in three to four weeks and others a bit later. My point is, if you happen to find yourself in trouble and you need to fight back, deep within your core is the trigger to activate it. Once you feel it you'll know what I'm talking about. Farwell Konomi.”
With nothing more to say, the female scientist put one foot in front of the other until she reached the door. Once there, she slowed down briefly, almost stopping as if hesitant to leave Konomi to fend for herself but picked up the pace again and soon disappeared behind a closed door.
Konomi on the other hand, was stock still after she heard such words spoken to her. For the last time she shed one long tear that ran down from her left eye and traced her jawline to the chin where then gravity took over and yanked it towards the laboratory floor. The solitary tear did not scatter nor dry out but stayed in a perfect pebble-like shape.
The entrance to the lab opened again and closed again, thus it had become vacant.