A Touch of Sun
When I signed up for this program, I don't think I quite realized just how much the life of a student is unpleasant. Or as Duo'd been so fond of saying, it bloody sucks.
There had to be a storm the one morning I had an early class. So, of course there'd been a power outage during the night, and my alarm didn't go off. I woke barely in time to throw on clothes and make it out the door. It had still been raining. I hadn't replaced my stolen umbrella as yet. Since it was only a block and a half to the metro station, I ran.
Unfortunately, I'd discounted the news the night before discussing potential unrest with the public transportation department. The rails weren't running. The workers had gone on strike.
Standing inside the station, I counted the cash I carried with me. Barely enough for a metro ticket and a sandwich for lunch. The small amount of credits wouldn't cover a taxi fare. I'd have to walk to the university and be late for class, but that's all that mattered. Part of the pact meant making the effort to be at every class, complete the assigned material, and pass with no less than an average achievement.
The two miles to the university wasn't daunting; not even running in the rain actually bothered me. At worst, the two in combination were inconsequential, as long as I made it to class. Though why I wanted to be in the class in the first place had me questioning my own sanity. Nineteenth Century English Literature had never appealed to me, and it'd only been by Duo's persuasion I'd even signed up for the course. The fact he dropped out after the first session to meet a required subject, did nothing to encourage my interest in the field of study.
On the way, I had to dodge around a couple huddled together under one umbrella. The slick sole of my shoe slipped with the abrupt direction change and, unable to stop the descent, I went down. Back up almost immediately, I took off again, sprinting for the university and disregarding the calls sounding out from behind me. The couple would realize I hadn't been running from something or someone, but rather to something.
The campus grounds had been strangely quiet; not unusually so for a rainy day, but the normal traffic between buildings hadn't been apparent. Entering the Humanities wing, I'd tried to ignore the squelching of my shoes and hurried to class. The white cardboard notice tacked to the door did not bode well; I knew what it meant before reaching it, but had to check irregardless. The silent hall echoed my solitary footsteps as my belief the emptiness had been due to the early hour and course schedule.
All morning classes had been cancelled due to the metro strike.
My next class didn't begin until later in the afternoon. It wasn't even nine in the morning, and already the day had exceeded the usual quota of vileness.
In light of the previous week's humiliation at the hands of the course's professor, I should have gone straight to the library to study. However, I believed no amount of contemplation would bring me closer to understanding what message Bronte had hoped to impart in the various themes of "Wuthering Heights". My essay, though written within the specifications listed in the syllabus, fell far short of the instructor's expectation, and she held it as an example on how to write a stilted, forced, and unimpassioned paper.
Though I'd never questioned my intelligence, reading the novel had been a struggle; understanding what motivated the author to write it, understanding why and how she set up each of the characters, went beyond my emotive capacity and intellectual training. What motivated the story's figures, I grasped. It had been a simple matter to state ‘Catherine acted in the manner she did to gain wealth and social status', but as to why she would continue to involve herself with Heathcliffe, or why she felt compelled to wander the moors, I couldn't offer an argument.
That essay had been my first - and only - failed assignment.
Just thinking of the below average score associated with my name brought back my displeasure with the whole ‘integrating into society' program set up for us. Though for a large part, it'd been set up for me and secondary for Duo. The other pilots had their own modified plans and programs; they too, had to check in with the governance board. The new government, regardless of its pacifist leanings, had wanted to imprison or execute the terrorists from both wars. It'd only been by Relena's intervention and entreaty we'd remained unmolested, and these individual programs instated to be strictly enforced.
The rain hadn't lessened on the walk back to my apartment. I glowered at my shoes; soaked, they would become worthless after this day of rain. As I'd become. I'd been a weapon, raised and trained for one reason, a means to an end. Now that end had been reached, I'd outlived my usefulness to this new society.
My reunion with J, after the Mariemaia incident, hadn't been all that distasteful. He'd supplied necessary answers that I'd been seeking for some time and unable to locate. His answers generated more questions, added uneasiness about my origins, and increased my sense of inutility. To learn I'd been created with nine others, and lived to be the only survivor, added to my feeling of displacement.
J'd gone on to tell me how of the ten of us, two hadn't made it to infancy, two had been killed in different war-related bombings, one had succumbed to a childhood illness, and two hadn't lived through their training. The other two he refused to elaborate on other than to say they were no longer alive. Both my mother and father had been anonymous donors, one of European descent, and one of Asian descent. Both had been highly intelligent and dedicated to the cause for peace. When asked, J stated none of the other pilots had been my test-tube brothers.
It'd been after his revelation that Relena approached me with the Integration Plan. I should have gotten a lawyer. I should have gone public. I shouldn't have agreed. I'd been the one to convince Duo to sign up for whatever they'd suggested. In the vain hope I wouldn't be the only one, I could only hazard the guess.
As part of the Plan, I had to forfeit all proceeds garnered from my espionage skills out of the Alliance and Oz's various accounts. That I'd done so without question, or leaving myself a hidden account might not have been the best possible course of action. Duo'd pointed that out to me often enough. Apparently he'd squirreled away at least one account with enough to "tide him over" under an assumed name. He'd never lie and made a point to tell the governance board he held no funds in his name.
To supplement the student stipend doled to me each month, I had to work a part-time job. Well, I used to work a part-time job. I'd recently been fired for correcting an error in their program. When I'd been out-processed, I'd been told a data entry operator had no business hacking into the company's system and making unauthorized changes to the programs that had been running, and working, just fine for years. And I'd been lucky I hadn't been arrested as well.
Nearly to the apartment, I changed direction and crossed the street. The small one-bedroom with its box-like walls encouraged these negative thoughts. Since I was as soaked as I was going to get, I thought a short walk in the park could lighten my mood.
It was times like these I keenly felt the lack of friends, to be able to drop in at someone's home, to talk or watch a movie. Though I'd been at the university for three months, I'd yet to make more of my classmates than acquaintances of them. I'd never had the need for friends; it hadn't been part of my training to become involved in anyone's life. During the wars, it had been a necessary enhancement to the over all plan, and temporary allowances had been made.
Duo, I'd come to consider a friend. The other pilots also, I'd thought of as friends. Even Relena, with her relentless perseverance of peace, I felt friendship for. All others on the planet fell into three categories, those who knew of me and wanted to be an enemy, those who knew of me and wanted to make a hero of me, and those who didn't know who I'd been yet.
As part of the Plan, our aliases had been dropped and new ones given. Duo and I rarely used our names any more, even when alone, and never in public. To the world, I'd become Peter Ryko. Duo elected to use the name Gene Pare. For some reason, at times, the pseudonym would cause him to laugh inappropriately. I did not see the humor in his new name, nor did I understand why he requested I call him ‘Levi'.
His other friends called him Levi. I knew they did only because he made a habit of bringing me with him to some of the social gatherings he went to. Part of the integration plan, he'd say. Most of the time I'd want to stay in my apartment rather than face a roomful of strangers, and the certain knowledge my past actions had effected at least half of them.
A hard burden to carry, I'd no idea how he did it, how Duo could face his friends knowing he might have killed one or more from their family, their friends. He appeared to have adjusted to this new lifestyle. But then, Duo'd always been a survivor. His life had changed directions more times than a mobile doll in combat, and yet, he still found it in him to smile for a friend. I'd been engineered to be strong, stronger physically than normal, but my body strength had nothing on Duo's spiritual strength.
I turned slowly, not recognizing the voice immediately. Duo stood a half block away, dry under his umbrella. At my acknowledging nod, he hurried over.
"What the heck are you doing out in the rain? You're soaking wet." His expression concerned.
"Class. I had an early class today," I managed to speak.
"But classes were cancelled today, buddy. They've been announcing it all over the news." His eyes asked questions his mouth never would.
Feeling somewhat embarrassed for the way my morning had gone so far, I confessed, "I woke up late. There'd been a power outage. I didn't listen to the news this morning."
By this time, Duo stood quite close, partly shielding me from the rain's onslaught with his umbrella. "Then how come you're out here and not at home?"
I looked from him to the park I'd been heading for. Part of me knew he'd understand if I told him; he was like that. Part of me didn't want to share those secrets and wanted to keep them locked away. I was still debating my reply when he spoke again.
"I'll bet you didn't eat yet, have you?" I shook my head, and wiped the rain away from my face. Duo smiled, and, shoving a small sack in my hands with the umbrella handle, he said, "Wait here. I'll be right back." And took off at a run, splashing through the rain.
He emerged from the coffee shop across the street, and I watched, curious, as he ran back, dodging a car before he reached the sidewalk. He grinned at me, holding up two styrofoam cups. "Come on, let's find a place to sit. Only you'll have to hold that thing. My hands are full." He seemed quite cheerful to walk in the rain.
Following the ever present swinging braid, I paused briefly to wonder what my insouciant friend was up to. He acted unconcerned with getting wet as he made his way through the park coming to stop at a bench near the river-walk. A brow raised in question, and I nodded. Wet was wet; it was irrelevant at this point since we were both soaked. Duo sat and carefully placed a cup to each side.
When I took my seat next to him, he scooted closer to where we both shared the cover of the umbrella. "Here," he said quietly taking the bag from me. Opening it up, he removed a croissant and napkin. "This one's for you." Reaching in once again, he took another out for himself.
In between bites, Duo chatted about his classes, the party he'd been at the previous night, and the call he'd received from Quatre recently. As I sipped on my coffee, I alternated listening to him, and listening to the rain tap on the fabric of the umbrella. His words washed over me, bathing me with their familiar comfort.
"I didn't want to be alone."
Duo stopped talking at my interruption and looked surprised for a moment. "You could have dropped by, you know. I'm always there for you, pal."
I smiled for the first time in many days. It felt good as miserable as I was - wet through in ruined shoes. A chill had set in; the only warmth felt came from the body next to me. But, just the knowing that there had been, and will be, someone there, someone I could go to, someone to talk with who would understand, made the most vilest day that much better.
"Look," Duo nudged my arm. "Here comes the sun."
And through a break in the clouds, the barest hint of light shone.