Wednesday, January 18, 2012
When the side door of the house opened, a small gust of wind escaped into the warm enclosure of the room and sent unexpected movement along its path. A log croaked and snapped in the fireplace, a dustbunny was whisked across the hardwood floor, and several pages of the book Alesha held open in her hands fluttered backwards, sending her deeper within the story.
She didn't look up; she could hear the sound of the footsteps and the heavy breathing of the entrant. Alesha didn't need to see to know who it was.
Without act of surprise, she lifted a hand and flattened out the turned pages of her book. "It's about time you came back," Alesha spoke with an edge of bitterness in her voice. "I was beginning to think you forgot you even had a family up here."
She waited for a response, but it was some time before one finally came. "Alesha." Bradley's voice was hoarse, and almost sounded like it was not his own. "I know you're angry, but right now, you need to help me."
Alesha finally lifted her eyes from the pages of her book, but what she saw she could have never been prepared for.
"BRAD!" Alesha sprung backwards in fear the moment her brain registered what she was seeing. She had called his name, but what she saw did not look like her husband.
Over the years, Alesha had seen all manner of strange things walk through her door: the first artificially intelligent being, a kidnapper with her daughter in their arms, a grown man dressed as a neandrethal, but this... it was impossible. It had to be impossible.
As if in mocking echo, Brad's response began, "Alesha."
It took a moment for him to catch his breath. His lungs, he imagined, were turning just as green as his skin was. His hair. His eyes... They all felt as if they were burning, but none so much as his eyes, which made him wince in pain every time he had to blink. He did not know that they were aglow, but if he did, he would not have been surprised; everything he saw was tinged with emerald. With tiberium.
"Alesha, please," he said again, sourly, as if losing his patience. "I need you to stay calm. This is not the time for panic."
Alesha slowly nodded, but she couldn't help feeling as if that was some kind of joke. This seemed like the perfect time to panic.
"What... what happened to you?" She managed to ask after swallowing the frog in her throat.
"That's not important, right now," Brad said with a weak shake of his head. "What's important is that you do exactly as I tell you. Can you do that for me?"
As she nodded, Bradley continued. "There is a syringe in the bathroom, looks like an Epi-Pen but with a... a big..." He wheezed. "Big yellow sticker on it. Use it."
"... On myself?" Alesha stuttered.
"Yes. On yourself. Then I need you to call..." He swallowed, heaved his lungs again, but every breath felt empty to his chest. "To call..."
His sentence left unfinished, Brad's body slowly began to descend, tumbling forward like a defeated tree leaning towards the ground.
"BRAD!" Alesha screamed again, this time flinging herself forwards rather than back; her book was tossed to the unknown as she dived to him, barely able to support her husband's body before his knees thudded heavily onto the floor.
"Stay with me," she murmured softly as she embraced her arms around her husband. "I-it's going to be okay," she voiced from some deep desire for it to be true.
With what strength he had left, Brad's arms lifted and held her tighter, squeezing the warmth of her body to him as he could feel his own warmth leaving him. His fingers found her hair. He gently smoothed through it.
Brad weakly placed his lips behind her ear, and uttered a small whisper towards the nape of her neck. She felt a shiver down her spine as he said, softly, "I'm sorry."
She had to let the weight of him slip through her palms and onto the floor. There was no energy left between them to keep him from falling, now.
Alesha could hear the sound of Bradley's heartbeat through the glass windowpane of his room, but she feared that at any moment, it would cease.
It had taken them til dawn, but Brad's complexion was finally restored--if still a bit pale for Alesha's tastes. The rest of him still showed no change, though. Aside from being able to draw breath on his own again, he laid as motionless as stone in his bed.
And still no word if he would ever move from it, again.
"You really should go home and get some rest."
Alesha felt Moe's hand on her shoulder, but it brought her no comfort--only a heavy push back into reality. "I'm not leaving until he wakes up," she finally responded with a shudder. "He needs me here."
Moe frowned. "The girls need you too, Alesha."
"Lil can watch them just fine," she muttered between the heavy nail-biting on her teeth. "Besides... I don't even know what to tell them. What's going on, Moe?"
Before he responded, Moe gently guided Alesha where she could no longer fixate her gaze on Brad's heart monitor.
"Alesha--" He sighed. "Brad was infected with incredibly high levels of Tiberium. We've managed to purge a great deal of it from his system, but we won't know for certain if we got all of it for at least a week." When Alesha bit her lip and looked away, he continued, "The good news is, your blood tests came back negative--you weren't exposed long enough to Brad to get infected."
Alesha shook her head. "No, I think I was. Before he collapsed, he made me take some sort of... vaccine, I guess."
Moe's face was riddled with shock, but then, understanding. "Well, that explains a lot."
"What do you mean?" Alesha asked, still completely confused.
"The syringe--it's a blocker of sorts. A bit of a safeguard against tiberium, we all got one at the start of the project, so that we could handle the material safely--I guess he never took his."
"But all those tests you ran when he first started getting sick--how did you miss he was infected?"
"Knowing Brad?" Moe scoffed, rolling his eyes. "He probably faked his results somehow."
"But... but why would he do that?!" Alesha's fear was slowly turning to anger, again. "Why would he intentionally let himself get sick like this?!"
Moe slowly shook his head. "We don't fully understand the properties of Tiberium, yet, but the way it interacts with the body is... incredible. Over time, it reproduces and consumes all organic matter, but early on it enhances both mental and physical faculties by... unmeasurably large degrees."
"So you're saying... he let himself get sick so he could get smarter?" Alesha's brows furrowed together tightly. "That's it?"
"Not just a little smarter, Alesha. You have to understand--" Moe took a deep breath. "The further we got towards developing Amelia's cure, the more we realized it would take the better part of our careers to finish it. That's part of why most of us didn't go back to help him, after he blew up at us--it seemed like a fool's errand, and none of us wanted to risk our careers on it. But... What would have taken us 20 years, Brad did in one year. One, Alesha."
They stood quietly before each other as Alesha digested this information. It slowly began to make sense--why Brad would let no one near him, why he exiled himself to his laboratory for months. It was logical, for Brad. Why, then, did she still feel so angry?
"But what about him?" she finally asked, feeling her eyes begin to sting and blur. "Does -he- get a cure, too?"
"I have the right to know."
"You have to understand, Tiberium isn't a disease or a virus--it can't be killed or 'cured'. We can filter his blood, we can remove any build-up, we can prevent it from reproducing... But the damage is already done. His immune system is... damaged, beyond repair. That's something that no one can fix."
Alesha breathed deeply, staying strong and reserved despite the walls around her crashing down. "Are you saying he's going to die?"
"Everyone dies, someday," he offered, little hope in his voice. "Whether in a few days, a few weeks, months, years--I don't know. We'll do the best we can... that's all I can guarantee."
Alesha's eyes slowly closed. Even she had too much pride to let Moe see her collapse into sobs, but it took every ounce of courage she had to stay on her feet. She was already dying, inside.
"Can I go in and see him?" she asked weakly.
Moe slowly nodded. "Make sure you sterilize your hands and such before contact, but--yes. He should be strong enough, now."
She had to prepare herself--both physically and emotionally. The strange, clean tingle of her hands was nothing compared to heavy beating in her chest. The silent, cold weeping of her heart.
Alesha settled onto the edge of the bed; he stirred a little, but not enough to wake. 'Good,' she thought to herself. She wasn't sure what she would do if he opened his eyes and faced her, right now.
"How is it fair, to give up your health, your life, so your sister can have hers back a little sooner?" The words felt good to say aloud, though no one could hear them. "How does that make sense, Brad?!"
Beep. Beep. Beep. His only response. She wanted desperately for him to give her some reason that didn't hurt--one that didn't distort what he'd done into some sort of noble sacrifice, because he didn't deserve that. She wanted a reason she could unashamedly give to her children to explain why their father would never be well again. A reason that wouldn't leave her a widow before she deserved.
She had never felt more selfish in her entire life--and for the first time, she didn't care.
It was the one thing she had ever wanted this much. The one thing she would never get.
"Fine time for you to take a nap," came a voice heavy with disapproval from the corner of the room.
Bradley snapped upwards--as quickly as he could, anyways. His gaze looked to the corner, then looked away. "What are you doing here," he growled, turning away to hide the sudden shame in his face.
"Doing what I do best, of course--making you uncomfortable."
Bradley stole another quick glance at the corner, but the more he looked at the placid, emotionless face of his father, the more he was tempted to hurl himself out the window and avoid the inevitable conversation that was coming.
"Where's Alesha?" he finally asked, dragging his legs to the edge of the bed and letting them dangle down. Escape probably wouldn't happen, he could barely move his feet.
"I made the doctor slip her something to sleep. She's done nothing but sit here for days--I do fear she'll be quite angry with me for not letting her be here when you woke up, but it was necessary. We need to talk."
Brad's face soured even further. "I have nothing to say to you."
"You've made that apparent." Jebidiah carefully closed his book, setting it on the endtable as he made his way to the empty spot on the bed next to his son. Brad cringed, but there was nothing he could do to stop him. "You know--I can't help but feel that I am partially responsible for this."
Brad let out a subtle laugh. "Oh? How?"
"I knew this would happen, sooner or later. Your pride... Your work. It always meant more to you than anything else--and I knew this, because it is a mistake I have made countless, countless times." Jeb frowned deeper as Brad continued to look away. "Your mother always said, you were more like me than you'd want to admit."
"So--I should not have let that stand in my way. The same reason we've never been able to stand each other, is the same reason I have always found more pride in you than anyone else--I wanted you to be like me, to succeed. But instead... I should have told you that there were things that were more important. And for that--Bradley, I am truly sorry."
Finally, Brad twisted his head around to look his father in the eye.
"You were doing what you thought was right," Jeb finished. "But it was not worth this."
"I... I--I know."
Bradley stood--or rather, stumbled--up from the bed. He did not want Jebidiah to see his face, but that was impossible. Jeb knew exactly what was in his son's eyes. "It made so much sense, in the beginning--but it went too far," Brad said with a stiff shake of his head. "I thought I had control, but I didn't... and now, I--"
"You don't have to finish. I understand." It wasn't in Jeb's nature to be comforting, but seeing his son in the position he himself had been in so many times--although, admittedly, not quite this bad--he reached out a hand to steady him.
"I'm not sure you do," Brad responded slowly, looking up at his father wearily. "No offense to Mom, but you were her life, she couldn't live without you, no matter what kinds of things you'd done. Alesha... I don't think she'll ever forgive me for this."
"You don't give your wife enough credit--she has forgiven a great deal of things in her life."
"Endangering my life without even telling her? I--I'll be surprised if she ever speaks to me again," Brad choked, shielding his face as he again turned away, limping feebly towards the other side of the room. "I may as well lock the door so she can't come back."
"Don't you dare, Bradley. Don't you dare run away from this. She is your wife--she deserves better than that. You've already done enough, don't make this worse."
"What else am I supposed to do? How do I face her... how do I face my kids?"
"The same way I faced your mother, the same way I faced you, and Travis, and Amelia--with the truth. You feel miserable? You should! Let them see it! What else do you have to lose? Your pride? Trust me--it's only a matter of time before you realize that's already gone, as well."
"Say nothing else." Jebidiah reached his hand out to place on his son's shoulder.
It was frail, but that touch was more than he'd recieved from any of his children in so long that even the Mighty Kane could feel a twinge in the corner of his eye. "Be strong. Your family needs you, now. -All- of us."
Bradley fell fast into his father's arms. He could not recall the last time he had hugged his father--if ever, to be honest--but he had never wanted, or needed, comfort from him until now.
He began to cry, but in their sadness was still some sweetness. Between them, they had finally found, at the very least, a seed of forgiveness.
They were finally father and son, again.
As you might have noticed, I sort of fell off the face of the planet for a few weeks. This post was written for quite a while, but I've been hesitant to post it for... obvious reasons, probably. Not only is the nature of what happened to Brad a bit complicated and likely a little confusing (I tried to adapt it from what the original Command & Conquer tiberium's effects are), it's probably not what many of you were expecting. This was fairly difficult for me to write, and very important to me, so putting it out there isn't easy.
Now, about my absence: I mentioned briefly that I was picking up SWTOR, and between my unnatural ability to become addicted to MMOs and some very rough patches, I haven't had much desire to be on the computer. I'm going to kick myself into gear and get caught up on the blogs I should have a long, long time ago, but don't expect to see me around much beyond that for a while. I'm not in a good place right now, and no one wants a cranky Kaleeko, lol.
Love you guys, hope this doesn't break too many hearts. <3