“One good thing about this whole mess is getting to see the world above for the first time, again,” the Terran admitted, taking another sip of her nutrient solution. Exhaling slowly, she continued wistfully, “I doubt many of those who live in the Upper Circle can appreciate just how incredible it is.”
“They did pioneer the ‘city in the sky’ trend,” Fence agreed. “If Guroto is not an artificial habitation, Nimuth would undoubtedly push for the same development. Alas, it is not meant to be.”
May shrugged; the finer details of city planning did not interest her at all. Before she could resume her accounts, the green-haired male cut her off.
“This may be irrelevant, but I do admit to being curious: how did it feel to live after losing your memories entirely?” he asked, leaning forward with head tilted slightly, amber eyes shone bright with curiosity.
Only long-time practice in customer service allowed May’s lips to quirk up into a perfectly sincere smile. “You’re right. It is completely irrelevant.”
“Indulge an old man’s curiosity,” the underground dealer chortled. “Knowing more about each other paves a better relationship. Why, just yesterday I shared an intimate dinner with a client of mine; we bonded over our shared taste for Terran cuisine, you see. Then tonight, when we fought over that precious little artifact you brought to the auction – ” he shot her a meaningful glance that she dutifully ignored “- he graciously gave way to me in exchange for occasional glimpses of it at his convenience.”
He took a sip of his liquor, tipping it at her nonchalantly. “Like tonight, I refrained from smoking my favorite Tehnan pipe, because I know you cannot stand it. Your body won’t, even if you yourself don’t mind it.” Languidly, the green-haired male sat back on his chair, smiling entreatingly. “The better one’s relationship is, the more one is willing to do for the other party.”
The underlying message being: the more she catered his whims, the more she’d get in regards to her requests. If nothing else, her life on Earth as an international businesswoman had taught her the difference between perfunctory results and one that came from goodwill.
Gritting her teeth, May conceded.
“Living without memories…is like drifting in the ocean with nothing but a piece of rotten wood to cling on; desperately trying not to drown, waiting for salvation even when you know that was an empty wish at best.”
“Yet you managed to reach the end, eventually.”
“That’s just it: eventually. Back then, when the wound was fresh, it felt like there was no end in sight…”
‘Home’ was not, as May initially thought, located in the building Kajakh had initially circled when he showed her the splendor of the Upper Circle.
Kajakh cruised through the strange structures, showing her a city above the sky. Except for that first building that resembled a beautifully carved octahedron box, the rest of the city was made up of floating spires, each one resembling upturned unicorn horns.
Hovercars traveled in a loose order, as if guided by an unseen signal, and yet not as regulated as it had been below the clouds. Kajakh brought them out of the spire-clusters towards the periphery, where spiraling upturned cones made way for cylindrical towers that suited her idea of a sci-fi building more: intimidating, unyielding, and gleaming metallic cold in the sunlight.
These structures hovered close to each other, some even tied together in a strange manifestation of an archipelago via humongous cables or pipes. Hovercars floated from one building to another endlessly, reminding her of Earth’s beehive and their drones.
Navigating his way through denser traffic with ease, Kajakh smoothly approached a cluster of three towers, held to one another by pipes at four different levels per tower, forming a loose triad. On a closer look, the pipes revealed themselves as enclosed skybridges. Through its semi-transparent shell, May saw hovervehicles and pedestrians traversing from one building to another, like ants in an ant farm.
As their hovercar came near one of the buildings, a few floors above the fourth level skyway, the seemingly smooth surface disintegrated, revealing a corridor large enough to accommodate two hovercars.
Kajakh entered the driveway that led them into a small garage, or so she guessed, seeing that they were two other hovercars parked in the room. Her guardian claimed a spot right beside them with an ease borne out of habit.
May wondered why she was surprised at this – he did say their families were close. Visiting one another’s house should be included in the package.
The orange-eyed man switched off the hovercar with several quick taps across the glowing panel on the dashboard. He sat there for a while, hesitance painted all over his face. When he finally spoke, it was with a tentativeness that she noticed had colored their interaction since day one, whether he realized it or not.
“I’ve brought some droids to clean the house,” Kajakh reported softly, orange eyes gauging her reactions. “I know you don’t like people coming and going, especially after –” he swallowed heavily, “after Uncle and Auntie are gone.”
Now the tentativeness morphed into an outright walk-on-glass carefulness.
May couldn’t wait to know just what happened to her that warranted such secrecy and kid-gloves treatment from everyone around her. She had known that she was a freshly orphaned girl on the second day of her awakening. Though it saddened her that May had lost her parents so early, it did not explain why everyone avoided mentioning it around her.
Just like how they avoided the topic of what caused her to lie in a coma for almost three weeks straight.
She had so many questions.
And this man held the answers. He could singlehandedly cleared all the mysteries that surrounded her like a thick mist.
If. He. Would. Just. Talk!
“I don’t mind,” May said instead of reenacting the Spanish Inquisition on this man. After all that he had done for her, it seemed like a poor way to repay him. “Thank you, Kajakh.”
He gave another lingering stare, then a gentle smile. “It’s nothing.”
A soft shimmering alerted her to the hovercar’s door disappearance, a normal modus operandi for the doors on this planet. Once she was out, it shimmered back to existence.
“I changed the lock password and keycodes after the authorities were done with the house,” Kajakh began, steering her deeper into the garage towards a metallic glass door bearing an ornate inscription that read ‘Welcome home’. “Now that you’re back, the control should return to you completely.”
He placed a hand on the door, which light up at his touch, moving up and down to scan his hand. “Welcome, Kajakh,” a woman’s dulcet voice greeted once it was over.
“Good afternoon, EVE.”
Kajakh smiled as the door disappeared, revealing a glimpse of a sparsely decorated hallway leading into the house. Placing a hand on her back, a feat that felt natural even for her, Kajakh continued to speak as if someone was standing before them. “I have May with me. She doesn’t have the new codes yet. Considering recent events…reset her biometrics key for emergency entries.”
In response to his request, a small metallic arm emerged from a hole beside the doorway. Green light ran over her twice, leaving tingling nerves at their wake, before the same woman’s voice said, “Welcome home, Miss May. It is good to have you back.”
Was it just her, or did the voice sounded warmer?
“Ah, yeah. I’m back…” May responded automatically, then after a slight hesitation, “EVE.”
EVE, the housekeeper AI. Kajakh had told her some about her during his daily visits. He had mentioned that the AI would be waiting for her to return. At that time, she attributed his choice of words as a comfort for an orphan who no longer had anyone to look forward to back home, but from the sound of it, the AI might be a little more than just a collection of data in this planet.
May sincerely wished she could remember even the barest of details about life on this planet. The novelty of discovering new technologies that could only exist in science fiction back on Earth was slowly eroded by her inability to do even a task as simple as opening the door.
A slight press against her back brought her back to reality. She turned to see inquiring eyes watching her, even as the owner bid, “Shall we?”
Carefully pasting a smile on her face, in hope of appeasing the worry she saw in his eyes, May nodded. “Yeah.”
Surreptitiously, her fingers unclenched its white-knuckled grip; she didn’t even remember balling them up in her ire. Trapped in a quagmire of pain and confusion that made up her life, May focused on the warmth on the small of her back, and reminded herself to be grateful that as lonely as she felt being stranded in this strange world, she was never truly alone.
She was not too far gone that she’d forgone being grateful for the small things.
“Speaking of lost memories…I think out of everyone, Kajakh was the one who wanted my memories restored the most. In fact, he was the only one sincere about it.”
“Kajakh Mun’ahasa, son of Ozi Mun’ahasa. Terran hybrid, third generation. A rare talent. Still, even with him at the helm, there is no helping the Ling Freight from its descend. Not without external help.”
“No need to remind me. I found that out the very day he brought me back…”
Seated in a spacious room predominantly metal with light blue sheen gave May an atmosphere of being under the sea. Earth’s sea that was. Except for the lack of fishes. Or corals. And the furniture around her was either white or metallic color.
May was sensing a theme here.
A deep depression in the middle of the living room served as the seating area, with yet a deeper depression amid the ‘seats’ where holographic projection shot up to show just about anything available on the Collective Intergalactic Network or CINe.
CINe acted as a curious amalgamation of TV, internet, and mobile network packaged into one convenient package accessible from just about any communication devices.
For May, it meant she could watch the news on a home-theatre style holographic projection aptly dubbed the Holo-Viz. Kajakh had to explain how to use it, and set it to a 3D-mode, a norm for interstellar in-house entertainment.
“…king news: our very half-Ernan actor Giliga Metiz was spotted exiting the Huma-huma Starhill in the small hours, wearing a hat and a mask. Speculations run rampant as to who he has been visiting, but the most popular theory to date is the Medelonian actress Siraguna Mina who has been rumored to have bought a suite in this prestigious sky-condo last year. Though we have sent inquiries to –”
Finger Flick. Change channel.
“ – and he comes! Our reigning champion! Give a waaarm welcoooome to the dazzling GOLIATH!! Despite his Terran descend, GOLIATH has managed to climb up the ladder and occupy one of the three top positions in the Wreck-Cage Intergalactic Race for five years in a row! What a star-defying feat! And today, my dear gentle-sentients, we get to witness for ourselves his –”
Finger Flick. Change channel.
“ – so in my opinion, unless drastic action is taken, the Ling Interstellar Freight is done for.”
Hearing a familiar name, the Terran aborted her finger-flicking and stayed on this channel.
There were two aliens, one dark green skin another with orange-tinged one. The green one must be a native Er-nan; May had seen enough of them in the hospital to recognize their characteristic six fingers, red irises, and hexagonal pupils. No idea about what the orangey one might be though.
The humanoid orangey one’s antenna twitched – he had three of them on the apex of his bald head. “Rumors are flying around about the possibility of a takeover. What is your opinion on that?”
“It is very possible. With the current situation, a takeover might be the only thing that can save Ling Interstellar Freight from closing down. With any luck, they might even preserve their name in the end, but to prevent a sudden collapse in the economy – their company employed at least one-tenth of Er-na’s population after all – their Common Directorates has to seriously consider this alternative.”
The green man projected a very wise-guy type of atmosphere. For some reason, May felt like throwing a rock at his face for his comment.
“Speaking of Board of Directors, we have confirmation that May Ling, the sole heir to the company was just released from the hospital.” The orangey creature turned towards the audience while explaining, “Though the company’s communication officer had not given any statement as to the cause of Ling-sa’s collapse, we have received confirmation from a reliable source that the company is currently under the leadership of Ozi Mun’ahasa and his son, Kajakh Mun’ahasa, who we know – ”
The channel suddenly changed to a bunch of singing and – was that dancing? – aliens.
“Don’t listen to that rubbish,” Kajakh said, smile taut.
The first hint of her life Before-Amnesia flicked away just like that.
May resisted the urge to pout at Kajakh’s impeccable timing; she hadn’t even heard him returned from the kitchen.
As he slid onto the seat next to her, he handed her a clear, scentless liquid in a transparent glass shaped like a pear with its head cut off.
Ugh. Nutrient solution. The only thing she could stomach right now.
“Is the company doing that badly?” May asked. Although she didn’t want to add more trouble to Kajakh, who wanted to hide the world’s problem away from her, this was not an issue she could let go and forget.
Despite his obvious desire to be a pillar of comfort for her, the tight clenching of his jaw made it obvious that not all was right in the world.
“We’ll pull through,” he said, reaching out slowly to place his six-fingered hand on her free one, only relaxing when she did not pull back. “Father and I won’t let it fall. We’ve promised Uncle and Auntie.”
Uncle and Auntie. May’s father and mother.
People who May still couldn’t bear to call as ‘mom and dad’ without feeling like she had stolen a little girl’s life.
In her head, they remained May’s father and mother.
A sudden buzzing broke the solemn mood they had fallen into as Kajakh wristband blinked red, then green, then back to red.
May felt its vibration through Kajakh’s hand before he pulled it back, swiping a hand over the bracelet, then flicked his eyes to the side. A sure sign he was reading a private message via his CINe-comm.
In an instant, a scowl appeared as his hand twitched, as if resisting the urge to close the message. She’d know – he had shown such expression before when he visited her in the hospital, except back then, he didn’t hesitate to dismiss unwanted messaged with a flick of his wrist.
The fact that he hadn’t now highlighted its importance.
“If you have somewhere to be, don’t mind me,” May said, intuitively caught onto his internal struggle.
Kajakh’s frowned. “I shouldn’t leave you alone,” he stated, eyes flickering towards something she could not see and back at her. “You didn’t even know how to use the Holo-Viz.”
“I lost my memory, not my brain.” The sarcastic remark came out reflexively before she could stop it. She couldn’t tell which of them felt more surprised by it, but strangely enough, the outburst seemed to alleviate some of his burden, his shoulders relaxing slightly. She took this opportunity to press her case. “I’ll be fine.”
Kajakh hesitated, clearly weighing his options before waving his hand – presumably to close the message. “If you’re sure,” he finally conceded.
“Yeah,” May confirmed. “Besides, I have EVE with me. She’ll let you know if anything happens. You can do that, right EVE?”
“Affirmative. Setting emergency contact and house access codes. Primary emergency contact: Kajakh Mun’ahasa.” EVE’s voice crisply responded.
He raised his hand towards her, visibly hesitated, then rested it on her shoulder. “Promise me you won’t do anything but rest.”
May rolled her eyes at the unwarranted solemnity. “I promise,” she said, feeling like a child whose parent was leaving for work and the babysitter was not around.
“If you need me for anything – anything at all, have EVE call me, okay?” he insisted, orange eyes locked onto hers, gauging her sincerity.
“I will,” May responded, placing her hand over the one on her shoulder. Pressing on it, she assured him, “I can take care of myself.”
The way he failed to reply was a huge tell in itself, making May twitched with indignation. However, she wanted him out – fast – so she limited her rants into the confines of her own head.
She followed Kajakh to the door, watching as he visibly struggled through his decision.
Honestly, this man worried a little too much, in her opinion.
Once they reached the hovercar, Kajakh turned to her after opening its door. It took her all not to blurt out, “What now?!”
“I know you’ve forgotten everything,” he began, reaching into a compartment in the vehicle to pull out a thin box. “But I hope you would still wear this.”
May looked at his hopeful expression, taking the box from his hand. Inside the crystalline box was a metal bracelet, craved in a tribal pattern that wove red, blue, gold, and green curves together. A pang of familiarity ran through her, and the next thing she knew, she had worn it on her left wrist.
The weight of it felt right.
Kajakh smiled one of his rare happy smiles, and took her hand gently in his left one, pulling his long sleeve to show an identical bracelet.
“They had to take it off to – when healing you,” Kajakh stumbled over the words. She gripped his hand back in comfort. Whatever procedure the doctors had done on her, her friend did not seem to be over it yet. “It’s our star-band. Stupid name, I know,” he chuckled at the incredulous expression she hadn’t manage to hide, “but we never took it off since Mother and Aunt made them for us.” His sixth finger caressed the one on her wrist gently. “They said we designed them ourselves.”
A friendship bracelet. One important enough for the two of them to keep until adulthood.
Despite the ridiculousness of it all, telltales of impending tears prickled her eyes. “Thank you.”
“You’re always welcome,” Kajakh said sincerely, releasing her. “Remember – ”
“If I need anything, I’ll call you,” May promised seriously.
With that, the man finally left her alone.
May made her way back to the living room, retaking her seat and staring blankly at the empty room. Beside her, the nutrient solution floated in its container, waiting to be consumed.
“EVE,” she called out.
“Yes, Miss May?” the AI responded readily.
May hesitated, battling the guilt that was eating at her. She knew she shouldn’t. Knew that this would be akin to spitting on her friend’s kindness.
The bracelet that mere moments ago brought her comfort now weighed heavily on her wrist, like a shackle.
She shouldn’t do this.
But she must.
Bracing herself, May looked up, and asked the one source who would not – should not deny her.
“How did I end up in the hospital?”