Saga of Hearts
The change in atmosphere was felt almost immediately as the group was somehow spirited away to some kind of facility. The floors were cold, hard metal, and the room was quite chilly. All around Sora, people sat at computer terminals doing various observation work of some sort. A single, large glass window overlooked a much larger room below that was filled with various kinds of equipment. Sora saw what he thought were some kind of child-sized pods.
Below, in the pod-room, two people had just entered. The first one was a man, middle aged and with fading blonde hair. He wore a lab coat and glasses, and his look was punctuated by his receding hairline. Still though, the shape of his eyes and the way his hair just sort of stayed slightly messy seemed familiar for some reason…
The woman that accompanied him was much younger, probably in her mid-twenties. She was of moderate height with chin-length brown hair and green eyes. She had a pretty face and wide hips that were hugged tightly by her blue dress suit. She looked a little more than worried.
"Dr. Yuriev, Are you sure this procedure will be able to help Sakura?" Sora had heard the woman ask.
"If our hypothesis proves correct, then yes, Dr. Mizrahi," the middle-aged man answered, "We believe that your daughter suffers from no mere mental or physiological illness. Our research has proven the existence of malignant waves similar to that of the UMN. We believe that the U.R.T.V.s' anti-U-DO-Retrovirus can work a similar effect upon the waves affecting your daughter's neural passageways. But all of this is mere theory, I will give no guarantee that this will work."
Dr. Mizrahi looked solemnly at the pods, as if all hope somehow counted on them. "Mental illness caused by hyper-sensitivity to the UMN…we didn't have diseases like this when the Universe was still small…"
Dr. Yuriev gave only a solemn nod.
"What is this place?" Sora asked.
"This is the place where we-"
Jr. was cut off by the sound of a cool, female voice over the loudspeaker:
Now deactivating dive pods. All conditions are normal. Now deactivating dive pods starting from number six-six-zero.
Sora watched as the dive pods began to move upright from their horizontal position on the floor. It was then Sora was taken aback—as well as a little repulsed—to find that each one held within it a young boy. All of them seemed as old as Jr.; in fact, occupying one of the pods was Jr.; the one from fourteen years ago. The pods on either side of him held the unconscious bodies of Albedo and the young Guinun. It took Sora several minutes to realize that every other boy looked exactly the same! Nothing, not one detail was different as far as Sora could tell. All of them had the same blonde, messy hair. All of them had the same pale skin. All of them, in fact, looked like younger versions of Dr. Yuriev! And coincidentally, Jr., Albedo, and Guinun, also resembled this man. The only differences were the colors of their eyes and hair.
Before Sora could really register any of this information, the mechanical sound of one of the pods opening before him caught his attention. The past Jr.—Rubedo—leaped out from the pod.
"…well…how'd it go?" Dr. Yuriev asked.
"I talked to her! It worked, it really worked!" said Rubedo. excitedly. Dr. Mizrahi was now eyeing the redhead hopefully. "She said to me, 'tell my mom that I love her'." Dr. Mizrahi was almost in tears, "…what else? Oh! She said she got a shell covered music box for her birthday last week. She said 'tell my mother and she'll understand'."
Now Dr. Mizrahi really was in tears. She said to Rubedo, "What's your name?"
"Rubedo," he said. Then, straitening up as if he had somehow made a mistake, he said, "I mean—U.R.T.V. number Six-Six-Six!"
"So…the waves matched up," said Dr. Yuriev as he noticed the other two variants rising from their pods.
Then, abandoning her composure all together, she knelt down and embraced him, smiling and crying at the same time; soaking his shoulder with tears. "Please keep telling me the things she says…Rubedo."
Then there was a bright flash…and they were gone.
"What was…that about?" asked Sora.
"Ghosts of my past," said a solemn Jr.
"It seems we all have our little demons…" Jin added. Jr. raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
Just suddenly, Sora noticed Goofy walking over to one of the people at one of the terminals. "Hiya, my name Goof-" but before he could finish is introduction, the person got up, as if he didn't even hear or see him, and walked right through the dog-night to another terminal. Goofy recoiled. "Whoa!"
"Goofy!" called a frightened Sora.
"It's like I just said," Jr. explained suddenly, "they're the ghosts of my past. They can't see or hear us at all."
"But how are we supposed to find MOMO?" Shion asked in a panicky voice.
"This is mine and Sakura's memories," said Jr., "I don't think that we can go anywhere where one of us is not or never was at the time. That me from fourteen years ago went outside, let's follow him."
Everyone agreed. Sora and the others pursued the ghosts of Jr.'s past outside to the garden area, obviously it was a recreational center for the U.R.T.V.s. Sora caught only a fleeting glimpse of the three phantoms, Rubedo, Nigredo, and Albedo, before they had turned the corner and had descended down a walkway into what looked like a residential area. Jr. had obviously seen them too, for they had had called out from way ahead of the group near the walkway entrance, "C'mon! They went this way!"
Sora and the others raced along the sidewalk to the descending walkway. Along the way, Sora spotted a number of the blonde-headed U.R.T.V.'s, all looking exactly the same as each other, and all with the exact same blank expression on their faces. It was starting to creep him out.
Sora had lost sight of the phantoms before entering the residential area. He was puzzled to hear what sounded like a piano playing a very somber tune. There were no houses in this area so much as there seemed to be a long stretch of building with many windows and doors; one window and one door per every apartment room. And standing in front of one of these many windows, which was open, was the Jr. from fourteen years past.
From this open window was where the somber, yet somehow sweet music had been coming from a finely tuned piano. Sora and the others moved closer, Jr. stood directly to the right the ghost of his past.
There, slowly and softly banging on the ivory keys was Sakura Mizrahi, and beside her, Juli Mizrahi, her mother. Sakura's movements were sluggish: she didn't even seem to notice that anyone was there.
Neither Dr. Mizrahi nor Rubedo spoke. Both of them seemed as somber as the music being played—sluggishly, as if being played by a primitive robot, yet sweetly and beautifully at the same time; though there was no trace of any real emotional human touch to it—really did fit the overall mood quite nicely.
Suddenly, Jr. spoke.
"She really can't talk in this world…" he observed in a tone that seemed both casual, yet emotionally distraught at the same time.
"That's right," said Dr. Mizrahi, "The neural pathways that allow her to express herself and recognize the outside world have been completely severed. The doctors had said that it was caused by a deficiency in her electrical brain potential, but neither glucose nor any nano-based glillial supplements had any effect."
"It's strange," said Rubedo, "that restoring her Electrical Brain Potential didn't do anything."
Dr. Mizrahi gave a sad little nod, only slight and subtle it was.
"But now," she said, "your waveform—the particular wavelength you possess—is making up for her deficiency."
There was another bright flash of light. A feeling of weightlessness washed over Sora. When he had regained a sense of gravity, Sora realized he was no longer at the institute. They were all back at the two-story doll-house that was Sakura's retreat inside her own mind. It was twilight, the same as it was when the party had been there last. Only now it was Sora and the others that had appeared spectral, and on the porch swing sat the two very solid figures of Rubedo and Sakura.
"…I guess it's just…I don't want to make my mom sad anymore," came the sweet voice of Sakura now within her own subconscious she can talk freely, "You don't know what it's like being trapped inside your own mind like that. I see my mom talking to me, I feel her warmth and the softness of her kisses, and I can smell her perfume. But I can't say anything; I can't react. And then she cries. She's gotten good at hiding it, but she always cries and I can tell.
"You are the only one I can talk to," she said.
"She…uh…your mom, that is…she seemed really happy that you liked the music box she gave you. She was practically in tears," said Rubedo.
Sakura gave a heavy sigh. She stared down at the floorboards.
"See…it's like I said. All I can do is make her cry."
"No, no! It's not like that," he said, "Not at all! She was happy!"
Sakura gave a sweet, faint smile. In fact, everything about her seemed sweet, as if she were not capable of vehemence in any form at all.
"My dad's trying really hard to give me a way to communicate in the real world," she said finally. "He says he's going to make a realian and that he's going to make it so that my senses are always linked up to it. Then, I won't have to make my mom sad anymore."
"Sakura…you sure have nice parents." Rubedo observed.
"Well, what about your parents?" asked Sakura inquisitively, "Your dad is Dr. Yuriev-"
"-Yeah, if you want to call it that," Rubedo said vehemently. He turned with an angry gesture out towards the pink and orange sky and the sun that was always setting, but never sets, just over the wheat fields.
"But he seems really nice," Sakura fired back in a way that seemed not at all angry; again, it seemed as though she wasn't capable of such sentiments. "He is trying to help me, you know."
"He's just using you for combat practice!" Rubedo retorted, still staring out irritably at the twilit horizon, "To him, your nothing more than a human obstacle course for the U.R.T.V.s!"
For some reason, Sakura seemed to be hurt by this. She said nothing, and took to staring at the floorboards once again. The red-headed ghost of Jr.'s past turned to face her again, realizing the error in his choice of words.
"I-I didn't mean…" he tried to say.
"It's okay," she said finally, looking up at him, "Don't worry about it." She gave a quick and sweet smile. Rubedo returned the gesture through imitation.
Silence. Nobody spoke. The pair just stared straight into each other's eyes.
"So…what about your mom?" she asked finally.
"I never really met her…" said Rubedo, looking once again out at the horizon, though solemnly now as opposed to angrily, "I don't think I know anything about her."
"Why aren't you trying to find her?"
"Why?" asked Rubedo, "So I can run up to her and say 'Hi, you're the mother of a bunch of genetically engineered bio-weapons?'".
"Why do you always say things like that?" Sakura asked.
"Because that's exactly what I am, Sakura—I'm a weapon; a tool for war. Don't let my guise as a child or my personality fool you, because they don't matter; not my soul nor my heart—they're insignificant! They don't matter as long as I fulfill whatever mission it is that the Military Brass doesn't want to risk real human life for!
"And on top of that, being bred for war means we're constantly thirsting for battle. I'm just a tool, Sakura; my heart is just a plaything created by God, and because I don't believe in any God, that God is whoever has jurisdiction over the actions of the U.R.T.V.s. That's the real truth. There is no god, not for me."
Sakura seemed shocked by Rubedo's ranting. Her eyes widened, and then turned sad and sympathetic as she laid a hand on Rubedo's leg.
"I don't believe it!" she said, in a forceful, but again, never angry way, "You're not a weapon. You're no tool. You can be in charge of your own destiny and nobody, be they a God or a Military officer, can tell you that you're not a person!"
"—No! Tell me, if you don't have a heart then how can I be in love with it!"
Now it was Rubedo's turn to be shocked. Sakura herself looked a bit flustered by her accidental confession. Both were blushing profusely. Finally, Sakura said, rather chokingly, "And it's because of that, that I would trust no one else with the well being of my mother and sister."
"My sister's going to be born soon. My mother won't be giving birth to her, but I want her to be treated just like she was my little sister," her heart went to her chest. "I can fell it, Rubedo, I won't last much longer. I know this disease will take me soon. I want you to treat her like a real girl," tears were now filling her amber eyes, "I want you to make sure my little sister and my mother will live happily, even without me…." She sighed a heavy sigh, and then added, "And I want you to start treating yourself as a real person, too."
A quick kiss on the cheek caused Rubedo to go rigid. By the time he had looked back on her, she was already at the door of her "Dream House".
"Good-by, Rubedo," she said cheerily, as if their moment had never taken place, "I-I'll see you tomorrow."
And she went inside, leaving the ghost of Jr.'s past alone, with one hand on his cheek.
Another bright flash and Sora found himself standing on a sidewalk once again. It was desolate, except for the rest of the group, that is.
"Gawrsh," said Goofy, "That sure was sweet, a-yuk! Whatever happened to that nice young girl? She seemed to really be in love with ya. Sounds like somebody else I know!"
Sora blushed, hoping nobody had noticed.
"Yeah, but…she didn't live too long after that," Jr. said, "It's obvious we never could get rid of the disease."
Donald and Goofy clasped their hands to their mouths. The two of them had never known such tragedy. Sora, Shion, and Jin took on an expression of sympathy; chaos seemed passive. KOS-MOS and Ziggy seemed to convey no emotion at all.
"I…I think that those phantoms went back to the lab," said Jr., "c'mon. I think there are a couple more things we need to see."
And with that, they followed the ghosts of Jr.'s past back to the park area, the sun on their backs, bringing back memories of the days of summer.
Those days are gone and so far away,
I'm still singing your sweet song alone.
End of Chapter. Sorry again for the delay. But hey, now that school's out, I'll have the time to write chapters by the butt loads! Expect to see more frequent chapters in the coming weeks. Maybe even two or three a week! I still have a job and a life, you know, but I can still find time to write more now that school is out. Thank you for your support for both this story and for your sympathy for my family problems earlier (we're still picking up the pieces, but its getting better all the time). Thank you, and please read and review.
And I apologize if this just seems like a retelling of Xenosaga Episode II. The story will take a different turn soon enough.