From across the city street, it looks like nothing.
A building that was once a cradle of the great scientific invention for the old world now resembles a building that has been through the thick, unpardonable hands of war. To be fair, it has. Darthler’s hands are no less cruel. A building which was once called the ‘Tower of Hope’ for the future of science now stands in ruin, burnt, and abandoned. The gigantic metal doors that were the warm welcome of the Lab-Tech’s hub are all rusted, threatening to fall off. The glass windows that reflected the sun rays on the city’s streets are shattered, inhabited by cobwebs. I stand in front of it, watch it with disappointment and wonder if anyone cares about it anymore. My heart constricts at the thought of what the new world is willing to give up, at how much of humanity we are losing just so we can adapt. Anyway, that is not why I am here. I cannot lose focus. The mission is as important as my concern for what used to be. I turn to take a final glance across the street to check if I am not being followed. I am certain I am alone, well, not totally alone. I would have been save for Jeff, my friend, the computer geek (one of the few hackers and programmers who survived the Law and are living in hiding) who is here to give me the “secret eye” as he calls it and intel.
"Are sure about this Jeff?" I ask almost in a whisper as I push the doors in.
"Yes, I'm positive. There's a part of me that's sure that he is in there. This is where everything happened. If you were Darthler, where else would you be?"
"Exactly, you have a point..."
"Good. So we go in anyway, but not storming in like an FBI team. We go slow and silent. We can't underestimate him. Just follow my lead."
"Alright. Roger that." I say as I adjust the silicon earpods sealed in my ear. The earpods are the only way I can communicate with Jeff. He is still in hiding but before the old world ended, he made a pact with me to be here when the time comes. He is making true his promise.
“Being in hiding shouldn’t stop me from coming along,” he had said, the last time I sneaked off to his bunker, before handing the silicon earpods to me. He said he made them himself. It has visual and audio sensors and so he will be right there with me, through it all, he will see it all and even see ahead, he will walk me through it all. I trust Jeff. I know I am safe going in.
“I am ready for action,” I mutter, push the rusty metallic door in, walk into the darkness that resides inside the building. I pull out a flashlight from the open compartment of my backpack, shake it to switch on, pouring out its neon streak. I flash it around, left to right, front and back.
"All Clear Jeff," I say once I was certain of my proclamation.
“It is clear ahead too, within a two hundred meters radius,” Jeff adds.
I take steps forward. The air inside is different from what I had expected it to be. I can't put my fingers on why it is so or what exactly it is I smell but it gives me a deja vu. It is as if I have been in contact with it before or worse, I have been in here before. But how is that possible? As I stand there battling with my mind, searching the archives of my brain to find out how exactly I knew I know the scent, it hit me. Darthler! That is his cologne. I know it for sure. I remember it from that night twelve years ago. The night everything I had grown up to know and love began to fall apart. The night he took my entire family from me, leaving me orphaned, lost in the system, from one foster home to the other, a bitter teenager.
Darthler...the Dark Lord as he is known in Ivorwatch’s Pop culture—a pop culture influence by the Ivorwatch gazette. And so I am not surprised that after the gazette’s editorial about Darthler, the name ‘Dark Lord’ has come to stay.
“He [Dr. Darth Ratched. Now: Darthler, the Dark Lord of Ivorwatch country] was a charming, curious, intelligent boy as a child. Which wasn't out of the ordinary for someone in his position. He was born into a wealthy and notorious family of scientists. Scientists who gave the old world hope in the future. He lived comfortably until he was about 19 years old when things changed. He had taken over his family's business as a new scientist in the family graduating top of his class.
Albeit being a student and that young, he had been very successful in a lot of inventions. He boomed in an ever-changing world. But with his wisdom and brilliance, he felt there was nothing to stop him from going beyond expectations. He tried a change of career path and started building nuclear weapons…”
The gazette’s editorial read.
“Jeff you are right. He is here,” I declare, a bit scared and also filled with anger.
I was not the only victim that night. My family weren’t the only one to die. Thousands suffered the same fate when the bomb went off that night. We were all there to watch the new invention, the last of his “Welcome to the new future” collection: A device that translates animal thoughts into human language. None of us knew what was brewing underneath us. As we giggled at the thoughts of the dalmatian he was using as his test animal, a nuclear volcano was ready for eruption. We didn’t see it coming. It happened. It destroyed and killed. Very few of us in the Lab’s showroom survived. Why? We are still searching for answers to that question. But we didn’t make it out the same. I have never been the same since that night, a lot has changed. The bitterness that brews hot within me is just the lower shelf of all that changed about me that night. Yet, after twelve years, news is flying around that Darthler is back in Ivorwatch, recruiting secretly, trying to start all over. Hell, no! Not on my watch.
My footsteps echo on the wooden floor which is covered in ashes as I walk farther. Every footfall echoes around, not loudly, but enough to give away my position to anyone who happens to be in here. There is water dripping from the roof, rhythmically, generating a melancholic melody. It forms background music of sorts with the creaking sounds from the floor. Aside from these sounds, everything in the half-burnt Lab seems not to move. The stillness of the place sends shivers down my spine. Then…
"I see a light!"
"Great. Let's go check it out but be careful."
I walk steadily towards the light. I see a half-opened door. The door appears new. Like it wasn't affected by the explosion or perhaps it wasn't there at the time of the explosion. I open it to reveal a dimly lit laboratory. Nothing but machines and heavy laboratory equipment meet my gaze. There is no sign of anyone in there. The lights in there, like the stars in the sky, does little to lift the darkness in the room. Strong scent of chemicals fills the place.
"Jeff? You see what I'm seeing?" I adjust the silicon earpods to give Jeff a clear view.
"Cool... Let's find out what's in here." He babbles.
After taking a few more steps inside, I stop...stop moving, stop breathing, while my heart run a marathon. What appears to be a gigantic glass tube filled with water, at first sight, turns out to be a tank. A tank filled with a murky liquid. In it floats, a human-like creature, but it seems dead. In this suspended moment, I turn the gears of my brain to find an explanation to what I am seeing and yet I find no answer.
"What the hell is this, Jeff?"
"Gimme a second. I'm trying to figure it out too."
I suck in a sharp breath of the toxic-like air that fills the room and steps forward for a better look. Then I hear footsteps behind me.
"Patrick? Someone is approaching. Patrick? Do you copy?" Jeff’s voice ring in my head. “Can you hear me?”
"Affirmative but I can't see anyone."
I turn around in haste.
"Hello? Anyoneth___" Something hit me from the back sending a violent electrical current pulse through me. I feel numb. My vision blurs as I fall down on my knee.
"Patrick? Patrick? Are you there?"
The distant voice of Jeff can be heard as I lay there unable to move. Though my eyes are open, I am unable to see clearly. My vision is blurry. My heart is pounding. My mind, empty. Then I blackout.
When I finally open my eyes, It is as if a hypodermic of adrenaline has been emptied into my carotid. I strain into the almost darkness, breathing rate beginning to steady. As I stand up from the floor, I am made aware of the coolness of the air. I am naked.
I call out a few times hoping I will get help from anywhere. I wonder if I am dreaming as I walk towards the shafts of light that burst through the gaps in the room ahead.
"Oh! I can see you are making yourself at home already." A coarse voice says behind me. And I know it is him. I turn around abruptly to find a man in a daunting skull mask with impressive bone structure and a piercing gaze penetrating the eye hole. Darthler! The Dark Lord! A look into the eyes and you'd think you have met the devil himself. I take a few steps back as he walks towards me. A sudden gush of pain in my head halts my movement. There is a sudden crescendo of noise, then a profound and jarring explosion of sound, electrical fizzing and a bright flash in my vision, like someone has light a spotlight on my face. I fall flat on the cold floor. I bite my lip to keep myself from crying out. The sharp pain lances through my head. It feels like my whole body has been beaten and every movement causes some muscle or bone to ache.
Through the tears that have blurred my vision, I see him walk over to me. He takes out a syringe from the White lab coat he is wearing and injects some white-ish fluid into me through my arm.
The pain takes the exit seconds after. Slowly, I try to get up back on my feet.
"If I was in your place right now, I would stop trying because there's no way out." he hisses.
"What did you do to me?" I ask.
The last thing I remember is looking around the lab when I was suddenly attacked from the back. The rest of my memory right after that seemed to have been erased.
"I gave you what you've been looking for," he says.
"What I hav__"
"You want to avenge the death of your family, right?"
He shoots me an evil grin, mimics a moon dance and walks out.