Hearing Mark instruct Bernard to follow me, I increased my speed, quickly sliding into a nearby foreign room. Once inside, I found that it was, in fact, a laboratory. Not a collection of laboratories, but just one single room dedicated to one single laboratory, probably for one single scientist.
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It was well kept and organised; white counters stretched out against every wall, biurets and whatnot on one side, and compounds and elements on the other. Every inch of the lab boasted state of the art technology; nanotechnology here, some energy-efficient water purifiers there.
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But what interested me the most was a small vile that sat alone on one of the counters, right against the wall as if whoever put it there was completely cautious enough to protect it from breaking at all costs. It was about the size of my index finger, almost fully made of glass, except for its golden lid and tiny square plate (also golden) in which the name of the contents of the vile was skilfully engraved into. I knelt down, observing every detail of it with pure appreciation.
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"What–" a voice hissed – and momentarily stopped when I screamed, ducking down, "are you doing?" it finshed.
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The voice belonged to a female, no doubt. It was rough, but not quite as rough as it was snappy and demanding, as if each word after the initial "what" was arrowed out her mouth by some invisible assistance of a bow.
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I rose, slowly from my half-crouched position, just about identifying the constricted pupils of her dark eyes. She looked about my age. Her eyebrows were drawn towards each other, illustrating a frown, and her glare just missed being homicidal. Although bizarre for a short moment, I would have thought it was Gemma herself, had it not been for the microscopic raven hair, which was razored so short that it stood only about half a centimeter off her scalp. She looked the opposite of Gemma.
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I placed a hand on my chest. "Don't do that!"
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She didn't miss a beat before replying, "how about you don't invade other people's private laboratories? There are chemicals in here that could burn right through your eyes and into your brain, you know?" It sounded more like a threat than a caution – especially with her finger prodding my shoulder like that and her chin titled high, dominance written all over the posture.
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In a weird way, I admired her attitude; she was the first person in any of the two Reynolds buildings who didn't approach me as if I were a bomb ready to explode at any given moment.
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"You're right. I shouldn't be in here," I admitted. One small step for man,—
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"And judging by the way you were ogling that copper ii benzoate dehydrate," she went on, "it doesn't seem like you know the last thing about quantum chemistry, so I'd be careful where I put my foot, the next time."
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I had actually memorised the entire syllabus on quantum chemistry when I first entered the wonderful and thrilling world of teenhood. That, and quantum physics. Nonetheless, I apologised, smiling, "I'm sorry," —one giant leap for mankind, "but it wasn't the copper ii benzoate dehydrate I was interested in – the vile it's inside looks very pretty."
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She let out one of those one-breath laughs. "The vile?"
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"If it accounts for anything, it is from the Reynolds' alchemy unit. Limited edition. They stopped making them a few years back, when the smart and talented Miss Gemma Reynolds realised that gold was a limited resource."
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"That's too bad," I was still smiling, although I didn't know why. Maybe it was because of the way she referred to Gemma in such a sardonic manner, which I didn't think was possible of any Reynolds' employees, seeing as they seemed to worship the girl – or perhaps, this girl was just being herself.
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"What's so funny?" she inquired.
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"Nothing." I wiped the stupid smile off my face. "You're just..."
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"I'm just what?"
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Confident? Fearless? A role model to all feminists out there?
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She gasped suddenly, her eyes widening and immediately narrowing, all within a fraction of a second. "You're her!"
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On a normal basis, I liked the usual "oh my lizards! You're 202!" that people reflexively gave off. Others took a safe step back, which was also satisfying. But, this girl's reaction, I loved. And what made it better was what she said, next.
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"You're the chick Gemma's been obsessed with!" She sounded accusatory, the pressure on the finger that met my shoulder increasing with every word.
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"Gemma, you say?" I leaned forward, all interested.
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"Yeah. She can't stand you," she stated it so simply, so respectably honestly.
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I scoffed. "Then, tell her to sit."
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A muscle twitched a little at her mouth, causing a corner of her lips to arch up. Strangely, the tiny shift seemed to light up her whole face. "I'll be out of my job if I so much as ordered her to take an extra breath. I've got a mouth to feed at home, so I'll leave the commanding to you."
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I tilted my head. "You've got a child?"
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"Reproduction; one of the seven life processes."
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"But... you look so young."
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"Ever heard of teenage pregnancy? What boring society do you live?"
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"Well, Director rarely ever let me leave the gates of the Front without authorisation, if that explains anything."
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"The Front!" Her eyes glistened. "That name is thrown around at least twice every hour in this place!"
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"Same thing happens with Reynolds Corporation over there."
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"Really?" She was now wearing the same smirk I had on.
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We lapsed into silence for a few seconds. I took in her unmissable almost-bald head for a second time. It seemed to take all the customary attention that hair, in general, gets, and concentrated it all into her facial features instead. The result made them look even more beautiful.
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"What's your name?" I asked.
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"Arya. With a 'y'."
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"Nice name. I'm Emerald."
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"Is it? I can't be sure, I've only seem your face and name on the front page of a newspaper fourteen times, in the past two weeks."
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"Wow. That's precise," I deliberately focused on the wrong part, just to see how far I could tick her off.
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"If you're trying to annoy me," she responded, reading my thoughts, "it's working."
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"Annoying people is second nature to me," I replied, proud of this useless quality.
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"How charming," she stated flatly. "I took the hint when you came in here without permission."
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I shrugged. "I get curious."
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She smiled a proper smile now. "Me too."
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"So how come you had a child so early?" Again, it was curiosity provoking that question. As soon as it left my mouth, I expected a scowl from her or an even rudely phrased "mind your own business" comment. But instead, her face lit up, as if she felt genuinely enthusiastic when on the topic of her child.
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"Well, I don't know if I've mentioned this but I am quite the prodigy when it comes to quantum chemistry,"
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"So, it was no surprise when I'd gotten into Harvard three years prior to standard college applicants. Guess who else got into Harvard three years prior?" She asked with a knowing smirk.
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How could I forget? It was all they ever blabbered on about at the Front, for a whole week without end.
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"You had a child with Gemma?"
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"No. I attended Harvard with her. There, I was introduced to the fabulous wonderland of college parties."
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"And that's when contraception was ignored, and ta-da a child is born! I finished. It was the typical story of accidental pregnancy. Easy.
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"Gemma and I got really close, thanks to those exciting strings of parties, and half way through the course, she to talk to her father about getting me a job at Reynolds. Amazing pay cheque. It was irresistible. You should have seen those digits—"
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"Are you promoting Gemma's wealth?"
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"Right. What was I saying? Oh yeah! And then I met Noah, and bam! Now I have a daughter."
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Not that I've ever been to school but from what I've heard, you know when teachers explain the most important part of the lesson real fast? That was what just happened. I shifted on the spot. "Um, I think I just missed something. Slowly, now. Who's Noah?"
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"Oh, he's my boyfriend. He works here too."
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I liked the way she simply stated things, as if reading facts out of flash cards. If there was anyone I'd trust to tell the truth, it would have been her. I smiled at this. "What's your daughter's name?"
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"Arya the Second," she replied with a straight face.
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I gave her a blank stare.
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"Put that face away. I'm just messing with you."
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"What is it, then?"
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She ran a hand over her head. "It's—swear you won't laugh?"
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"I would never," I promised. "Besides, I get called by a medical drug's name, so who am I to judge?"
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"Alright then," she took a breath. "It's... Fluorine."
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There was silence.
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My laugh broke that silence.
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"You said you wouldn't laugh!" she yelled.
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I laughed harder. "Oh my god!" I wheezed, tears brimming over my lower eyelids. "Fluorine! Like the element?"
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"Shut up! It was his idea! The name was supposed to be poetic. Fluorine is one of the most reactive metals, consisting the highest attraction of—stop laughing!" She shoved me.
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"Hey! Dangerous chemicals behind me! I can't believe you! What did the poor child ever do to you? Do you know how much bullying little Fluorie's going to encounter? I mean, not that I've ever been to school myself," I explained, "but I've heard horrible things."
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"You've never been to school?"
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"Explains a lot."
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"Hey! You're mean!"
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"And you're childish. When I saw the broadcast of you at the launch evening, I don't know, you just seemed so serious, so solemn," she made a face. "But you're the opposite! You looked so boring on that camera."
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"I wasn't boring. I was bored."
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"Yeah... you honestly looked like you were about to pass out in the first minute of Director's speech."
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That deceitful lying traitor.
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"Between you and me, I chugged down two litres of energy drink before that evening began."
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"And even that barely kept you awake."
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"I fell asleep just before he called me up."
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"Yes way! Amanda lost her mind."
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I nodded. "And part-time Emerald-sitter."
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"Not cool. The woman doesn't let me utter a minor swear word without scolding me."
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"Well, by the looks of those pictures, you seemed to love her." Ah, the press pictures.
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"I never said I don't love her," I muttered.
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"Is this the part where the audience "aww"s?" She clasped her hands holding it to her chest, acting out her words. It caused heat to rise to my face.
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"Shut up." I swatted her.
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"But, do you know what I'm wondering?"
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"Why did the director guy call you up, and then proceeded to continue talking for a good half an hour before actually introducing the poor girl he forced to get up on stage?"
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I gasped. "I. Know. Right?!" It was like Arya's actual soul was attached to mine. "For a smart guy, that traitorous man has no logic."
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"Traitorous because he forced you to get up on stage even though you clearly didn't want to, or traitorous because he lied to you and then tried to kill you for it?"
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Well, this conversation escalated quickly.
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"Everyone here knows!"
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She sighed, as if giving up on me. "Are you actually dense?"
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"You're doing it again."
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"Being mean," I huffed like a child.
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"I'm sorry, but I would have thought you knew."
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"How would I know?" I mocked.
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"How do you think Gemma created the cure for 202 without the employees at Reynolds knowing? Who do you think manufactures it?"
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I scratched my ear. Alright, I was dense. But... "But, the whole reason why Director wanted me dead is so that nobody else found out about his grand failure!"
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"Your point being?"
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"My point being, Director feared anyone –Reynolds Inc, included – discovering the truth so much, he was prepared to kill me for it – because he knew that all it would take was one good bribery and one good news story for it to be all over the media. So my question is, if everyone here knows the truth, how comes it hasn't gotten out to the media yet?"
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Arya tilted her head. "You know what the Anti-202 Squad is, right?"
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"Yes. They were embracing themselves for attack when I first got here."
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"Right. Well, Gemma has an even stronger squad to ensure nothing – and may I repeat, nothing – she wants to be kept confidential, leaks out. It's called the media-foxfire."
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I cocked my head. "Hold on. Gemma fears the media more than she fears me?"
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I shrugged. "Likewise," I paused. "Wait, so Gemma doesn't want anyone to find out about 202?"
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I was baffled. "W-w-well, why not?" I thought she'd leap at the chance to expose the Front.
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"I don't know."
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"She's planning something big. That part, she's kept hidden, even from her employees."
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My eyes glittered.
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"I need her cure," I told Arya.
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"I know. She won't give it to you."
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"You think I don't know that?"
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"Well, I'm just saving you the time and energy." She shrugged.
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"There's really no way she'd give it to me, huh?"
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"Like I said, she's planning something big. She'll look at you like an obstacle in her way."
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"Then, I guess I'd have to fight it off her, then."
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"Ooh, I'd pay good money to see that."
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"It wouldn't be long. Probably about a second or two to snap her neck, perpendicular to her shoulder."
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Arya took a step back.
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"Is it true? What they say about the – well it sounds like a childish way to refer to it but, – the powers?"
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"The superpowers." I winked.
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"They say you can bend steel under your fingers."
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"Huh. Never really tried it. I can shatter things telepathically, though."
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"That. Is. Awesome! I read about it in article 7.1. in Robert Reynold's study of The Fabrication of 202."
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"The man was a pedophile, as well as a killer," I replied looking around. "You haven't got a scrap piece of steel by any chance, have you?"
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"That third drawer labelled Transitions." She pointed in its direction.
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Once I opened it, I noticed immediately how the drawer resembled the Tardis from Doctor Who. Small on the outside, big on the inside. There were rows upon rows of sample-like pieces of metals. Although separated and neatly categorized, there was no telling which type of metal was which. One had to simply be well educated enough to look at a scrap piece of metal and go "ah, this must be zinc."
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I picked out the steel piece. It was about the size of a small pencil.
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"I hear you're incredibly smart too, despite what I said earlier," Arya said, with both elbows resting on the counter, now.
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I turned the steel over in my knuckles, as if it were a drumstick and walked back over to her. "When I want to be."
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Which is never.
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I looked up. "You seem to be hearing a lot. But the question is, who's saying these things?"
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She shrugged. "Sentences just get thrown around in here. I pick up on them."
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"Do they talk about my potential death?" I winced a little, awaiting her answer.
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Her face dropped a little. "You don't want the answer to that."
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I gave sad smile for reasons I didn't know. I didn't care about what these people thought of me. But, this was more than reputation. It was death. My actual death. My potential death. These people were celebrating it even though I had never done anything to them. It was a laugh behind my back, even though they were the ones who wronged me, and my parents, and the whole of the Front. It was like they were talking about my upcoming birthday, except it was the opposite. It felt weird. Maddening.
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The steel bent into a 'U' shape under my hand.
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Arya smiled at it, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. "You know, I'm really beginning to wish I hadn't met you. Because if what happens, happens," she deliberately failed to mention the words. "I don't think I'd be as stony about it, as I once thought I'd be."
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I wish we never met, because before I knew you, I wouldn't have cared whether you lived or died. But now, I just might, was basically what she was saying.
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"Hey!" She now had a happy smile on. "If you know when you're going die, aren't you a bit like Jesus?"
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I laughed at the absurdity of her sentence. "I'm not Jesus!"
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"You're like him. You know when you're going to die, and you make subtle references to your death like it's no big deal. Besides you're kind to the world, as Jesus once was."
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"I am many things, Arya," many, many things. "But, I'm not God."
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"Of course, not. But you're a giver. You give your all."
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"I'm selfish," I argued. "Yeah, I give my all to get the cure from Gemma. But I do it, because I need it."
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"Is that the only reason you do it?"
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"So you've never once thought about doing it for all the people who were promised a cure for cancer?"
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I remained silent.
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I sighed. "I have."
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"You have. See? You're not selfish. Wanna know why?"
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"Because you have time! Death isn't going to come to you until you are at least twenty years old, and how long is it till your birthday?"
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"Half a year."
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"Half a goddamn year! That means you have at least 6 months until things start to get serious. You didn't have to travel a quarter of the way across the world to get the cure. But, you did. Why? Because you're selfish and wanted Gemma's cure all to yourself? No. It was because the rest of the world doesn't have 6 months," she stopped momentarily like people do just to make sure everything they just said actually goes into the other person's brain. "I have known about you for years. But I've only known you personally for—" she looked at her watch. "Twenty-five minutes, and I can say this: Yes, you are many things, Emerald. But, selfish is not one of them."
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You will meet some people, very rarely, perhaps only once or twice if you're lucky, for they are very sparsely distributed around the world. And when you encounter them, you sort of just click – in a weird way maybe, or in a straightforward way possibly, but ultimately you will click just like the pen that drew this picturesque outline of a friendship for you.
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I had known Arya for not even a day, and she was already one of those people.
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"Nineteen years, I've been alive. Nineteen, " I iterated. "And, I only meet you now?"
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She flicked some imaginary hair back. "I'm irresistible, aren't I?"
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I cracked a smile. "Did you really mean what you said?"
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"Hell yeah. That speech you gave here in LA at that protest? Well, we all watched it in the cafeteria. About twelve people welled up. I'm pretty sure Gemma fired all twelve of them."
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"Did they really?" A proper smile returned to my face.
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"Yes! Gosh, after what you said, I'd bet my master's degree that every guy in that audience fell in love with you," she answered with iron certainty.
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My heart pounded when she said that. It shouldn't have, but it did.
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Eesh, chapter titled was a little deceiving. I'd choose Arya over Everest anyday. Joke. I think.
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What do you think of Arya?
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I know there are many minor characters like Bernard, Brian, all those staffs, and even Heather, but Arya's actually a pretty important character, which is why I dedicated a whole chapter for her (p.s I think she's pretty cool). Fear not, there's more Arya in the next chapter.
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Thank you for reading! Please comment and feedback if you liked it. And vote too if you want idm ;)
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P.s. This chapter's called "Are we Soulmates Yet?" because it's the 21st chapter and Everest is 21. Okay, I lied again, it was just a coincidence.