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1.           char strg1 = "

           “He hesitated before surfacing,” Gale noted, “That action might prove him to be unreliable for battle later.” 

Gale and Serph had seen the sun before, but it was the first time Argilla and Cielo were able to witness the phenomena beyond the Underwater Cable. There was nothing but clouds and rain in the Junkyard, but the surface climate of what was promised to be Nirvana was the contrary: all too dry and all too sunny.        

            “You were the one that said we could trust him.” Argilla bit in retort.

Roland and his comrades had lived in days where the sun was not black. Even Fred could reminisce of a sun too bright to stare into—not that any of them would be trying, especially not Roland. The sun was not particularly fond of him, and he was not particularly fond of the sun either.

            “Just don’t fight outside,” Fred said, “or leave him behind if you do. We’re all afraid of the sun now, but Roland’s got problems with it.”

It did not take long for Gale to realize that Roland looked different than the rest of those in the Underground. He was the only one with eyes like them—like those from the Junkyard. No one had pink eyes like Argilla; although he had seen a few with blue eyes and a few with green, they were not as striking as Cielo’s own blue, nor his own emerald hue. 

           Roland’s eyes were red. Gale had seen red eyes before, however their bearers’ hair had always been colored to match. Roland’s hair was white. 

           “What do you mean?”

           “Roland, uh… he has that stone disease… that’s what my dad told me. It must’ve stopped since we started living underground though. He always has been somewhat of a scaredy-cat over that kind of thing. I guess he just has more of a reason now.”

He remembered the sunburn being unbearable. As was the eye strain. And the migraines—the nausea, the vomiting; the fatigue. Roland never remembered those problems being as severe before the sun had gone black, but he could remember months spent hospitalized from them after it had, even if just for precautions. Although, symptoms he had never experienced before—stiffness, numbness—started immobilizing him also. Those problems were more of a nuisance than something overbearing, but it did not make him hate them any less.

           After a while, Roland could not differentiate which variable caused what symptom anymore. He did not care to tally if his doubling over was from the UV, the Curvier, or the Midleton, but he did presume his cowardice resulted from all three.



2.            char str2 = "

       “Damned thing cured the Cuvier. Couldn’t do anything else?”

Roland was unable to recall all the details on the last time he had seen the sun. It was years ago; the sun was black then too. It was not as much a pain in the backside now thanks to the Atma virus, but it did not make the sun any less bright or the ozone any more protective.           

       “I wasn’t expecting it to change what I’ve always had,” Roland stated, squinting. 

Adil was able to recall when he had seen the sun last. It was recent, weeks ago, underneath the dome just like they were now outside the Interment Facility, but then was a failed attempt at scavenging the City. Roland had stayed behind, but not this time; now they both stood under the sun in the wake of success—a happening neither of them thought they would live long enough to see.         

       “Then you should’ve known better.”—Adil forfeited his hat and scarf to Roland as a courtesy—“You have sunglasses.”—He almost asked Roland if he still owned sunscreen as a jest, but he held his tongue.

It could have been Cuvier Syndrome that caused Roland’s complications to jolt from accountable to agonizing—that is what Greg advised anyway. Greg was not a doctor, but he was a scientist and worked with people that were the closest to understanding the specifics of the syndrome.

       Roland had survived longer than most with Cuvier. Its effects were much slower to show through from factors they never figured out, but he still obliged to the caution.       

       “You’re right. They’re not doing any good in the room. Once we bring the prisoners back, I’ll remember to bring them along,” Roland replied, his undertone sounding as if to scold himself for having gotten comfortable living underground.

Roland wished he could have kept the hat a bit longer, but he knew Adil was fond of it for the same reason he was. Having returned to Old Portland beforehand made up for it, considering the Karma Tower was what one would expect from an institution of heavy, high influence or one with the slightest bit of architectural-art understanding. White walls and white floors with the façade made more from widow than wall. Lights from the ceiling, lights from the floor; it gave impressions of every adjective the Society could want to associate with: supernal, celestial, ethereal—annoying.

       It created a glare in the lobby, but it was voided with the change of eyewear. The world tended to look better behind a tint, as long as it was beyond the eyes, opposed to over the head and heart.


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1.            str cognition {"

Gale was able to conclude three things about the Jailer’s bind from the sound of Roland’s weight colliding into the steelwork floor, considering it did not occur from physical force. One: the enclosures around him and his comrades were for being careful; because, two: the skill’s effect was through the target’s internal influence rather than external forces. And, three: that he had seen something like it before.

            It came in a haze, like the visions that came and went of that woman, Jenna Angel, whenever something felt reminiscent, even when he knew there should have been no connections or reasons to feel such. The dream was in a medical ward, nothing like the dark, rancid interior of the Internment Facility prison. The room had walls of perfect white and sunlight managed to find its way through the doorway and slits between shut window blinds. Roland was there with a therapist evaluating motor skills. Roland’s motions were not the smoothest, but Gale sensed he had seen worse cases—until Roland’s legs had given out without warning, without reason.

            Despite the binding effect ensnaring all of the Embryon, Roland was the only one of the group that collapsed and reverted back into human flesh. He choked a few breaths after hitting the floor. It was a poor substitute for what should have been sharp breaths and a rapid heartbeat when he realized the Jailer’s focus was singling him out. The demon’s laugh sounded somewhere between a screech and a neigh as it stalked towards him.

            “It’s dog-eat-dog here,” the Jailer said in the form of Kumbhanda, taunting them, “the strong devour the weak,”—Kumbhanda hoisted Roland up by the throat—“and I’m going to devour you first. My orders said nothing about capturing you, Lokapala scum.”

            It was simple biology. Animals that stood out, the weak or defected, more easily fell victim to becoming prey. Albinism was a survival disadvantage in the wild, and Roland was experiencing that consequence first hand. There were plenty of things Roland could list as what he should have died from a long time ago. Cuvier Syndrome, terrorist arson, years spent as Lokapala, his drinking habits—it was all too familiar wishing he did go down by any of those means, but he was not ready to give himself over to death by the Jailer’s hand.

            Roland slammed his heel into Kumbhanda’s kneecap with surprising force given his situation. The surprise was enough to free him, but he ended up in the same predicament as he was earlier: lying on the ground stunned—although now it was not much of a struggle to move. Indra inside him gave an effort to bringing his vessel to his feet with ease.

            “Why you—!”

            A brisk cracking noise came from the contact between Roland’s fist and Kumbhanda’s face.

            “Fine. Have it your way,” the Jailer snarled, deciding to toss Roland into a cell first.


David was saying something, most likely to Roland, but it was not as if he could tell. Roland did not hear much besides a muffled tone from behind him, stopping and starting every once in a while, that sounded reminiscent of David Gale’s voice. Its sound was not something Roland readily recognized, but it was getting there. At that moment, Roland’s focus was too preoccupied with trying to move either of his legs, but all they did was mimic the rest of him: remain idle in their place. But he was moving. He could see the floor pass by underneath the wheelchair’s footboards.

            “Roland?”—That voice was one Roland was able to readily recognize, and was enough for Roland to tilt his head up. Greg was walking down the hallway at a brisker pace than average, although his height already gave him an advantage. Roland could not remember Greg commenting prior that he intended to visit, but perhaps he was there for professional purposes, Roland considered. Greg continued: “David, what happened here?”

            “He lost motor function in his legs,” David replied. Seeing the sudden, sharp concern on his colleague’s face, he continued: “It sounds worse than it is. It’s a common symptom, but most are able to overcome it with therapy. I’m sure he’ll be able to walk again.”

            “I do not doubt it myself,” Greg said, “He would never admit it, but he is a tough one. He will fight even when he says he would not.”

            Roland could not help but sigh.

            “You two talk about me as if I’m not here right now,” he commented.

            Greg let out a low chuckle, smiled, and said: “They are all good things, my friend.”



2.            str cognition {"

The most Angel ever knew of Roland was through folders and files, archived records of standard documentation—name, age, height, weight, and a sum of medical history—that she never wanted to see again. After all that had happen, she rather he be dead and forgotten—along with Greg, along with David.

            “He’s survived twenty-three months at the clinic,” David said to her once, “He hasn’t even shown severe symptoms either.”

            Research on Cuvier Syndrome was next to nothing when he had said that comment to her, so it caught her attention. Twenty-three months was unheard of, impossible even; the longest recorded case of a patient was a week over eighteen months. At first she did not believe it, but once she went to check it for herself, the same information stared her in the face on Roland’s documentation under “Clinical Admission”—as was his profile shot.

           David never mentioned that he was albino. Angel guessed that he must not have considered it a factor. Neither did she, but she looked into it anyway. Nothing—there was not one common connection between his case and the other one, but she did find one recent transfer admission seven months prior of a patient with vitiligo experiencing similar progression.

            Then, the same file made its way into a manila folder years later, after the International Environmental Stabilization Committee dissolved and Angel took position as Director within the Karma Society. It was when the military started stepping in as if to take for keeps. One of the soldiers came in with a confirmation of a resistance group forming in the scrapheap, Old Portland, and that two members were identified over cross-referencing the Society’s archive database with the little field information they gathered.

            The first folder was Roland’s medical record from the Cuvier Syndrome Isolation Ward. The second folder had the photograph of a man with a grown out buzz-cut in a black T-shirt under a lab coat, placed on a layout that she recognized well enough to know that one like it existed for her as well, or should have existed. It was an employee record for the IESC. It was Gregory’s file.

            It was not until the third time Roland reached Angel’s concern when she met him in person, in tow among Sera’s precious children of Purgatory. She thought it amusing that he painted his sleeve with that lurid orange marker, but she did not laugh at the Atma brand apparent on the back of his left hand.

            “What the hell is it you want, anyway?”1—There was so much ire in the AI’s voice.

            “I want everyone to have an equal chance”2—It sounded more like a threat than an answer. Angel might have gestured to the Embryon as a whole, but Roland grew uneasy from the sting of her stare singling him out silently afterwards.



3.            str cognition {"

The day had thrown quite a number of surprises at the Lokapala; anything they heard now would fail in comparison, fall short—they would not be fazed at all. Common sense was enough to tell them that Angel was coming for them at the power plant, but when Angel personally stepped in, a heavy weight bore down across them all.

            Most of them withdrew, or that proposition was what Adil hoped they did, but he decided to disregard his own rational and stayed behind. He could not bring himself to leave without Roland. Adil wondered if he felt that way because he was always the one to pull him out of the tight situations, or maybe it was because they—he decided for the Lokapala as a whole—was not ready to loose another leader, another friend. Maybe he genuinely cared, but was as stubborn as Roland could get and did not want to admit it.

            Roland heard his transceiver gargle static.

            “Status report, Adil.”3

            “We got a problem,” Adil radioed back, his breath heavy, “Angel—”

            An abrupt crash as Adil’s handheld collided with the floor. It did not take long for Roland to decide that he had to go back there.


The solar noise was unbearable. Angel had never saw a berserk form like Roland’s; she would almost describe it as elegant, poetically appropriate. His skin remained pale, making the bruising much easier to see, and the clear spots appeared luminescent against the yellow brand on his hand and its tendril extensions fracturing through his skin. The entirety of his eyes glowed red, madness manifest, except it was not figurative.

            “How remarkable. You should be grateful for me,” Angel said to him, her clothes stained with blood courtesy from a few different casualties, “To think without the virus, you would have continued to deteriorate underground. Without my research, you would have wasted away in that hospital years ago. You owe me your life.”

            ‘You owe me David’s.’

            It was not a fair exchange for Angel to think, because by those means she owed him Greg’s life, but nothing about anything in their lives was fair—they both knew that grievance. David had spent extra days in the ward because Greg asked him, as a friend, to look out for Roland. He was not a doctor, none of them were, and he did not need to be there, but worked with the patients anyway.

            “I suppose you’re right,” Roland said. His eye stung from blood trickling into it, and his legs wanted to give out.

            “But you’re not the only one I owe my life to,” he finished.

            Greg and Roland formed the Lokapala because they thought they could make a difference, but both the Lokapala and the Karma Society never did reach their intentions. Both of them ended up being nothing more than nuisances for each other, but the Society-military collaboration wanted the Lokapala gone because they were considered a threat. In the end, Margot Cuvier and Jenna Angel had to approve any eradication propositions before any advancement could be taken.

            They were even.

            They both had lost, but Angel was less willing to reconcile with it, so she spoke a parting gift to him: “War between gods and demons has always been the universe’s way to maintain balance. There once was a battle where Indra had bested the demon king Ravana. In response, Meganada defeated the King of the Gods and his army. Death was decided as Indra’s punishment.”

            Roland wondered if that was Angel’s way of telling him the writing on the wall—not that he needed reminding. Angel figured her squadron was not tactful enough to finish the fight for the Embryon even outdid her once as a group, so once she returned to the lobby, she commanded the soldiers to release Meganada.


Roland did not need Adil to tell him where Greg was, he was aware of what happened, for the most part, he just could not recall how the two of them ended up underground. The last things he remembered were the sun, the surface, and the sound of gunshots—a lot of them. Adil tried to fill in the gaps for him, but it took him a few tries, and even then not everything got through to Roland.

            “We need to go back,” Adil said hoisting himself up from a crouch and reloaded his pistol.

            It was difficult for Roland to breath out an “I can’t,” or maybe he dreamed he had said it because Adil still seemed serious about going back, seeing as he started walking away, not in the direction of Old Portland either. When he noticed Roland had not moved, he turned around and growled:

            “What?”—Silence—“Roland, Greg can still be alive. You’re going to leave him?”

            More silence. Adil stalked over to Roland and hoisted him up by his coat.

            “Don’t you care about him? He’s your friend, damn it!”

            All Roland had the strength left to do was apologize to Greg for not being the fighter he believed him to be.



1-3. Shin Megmai Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2. Atlus Co. Ltd. April 5, 2005. video game.

Chapter Text

cout <<


“So there was a boat in that game you’re from, but no water? Huh… that’s weird.”

“It was a large seafaring vessel designed to carry passengers instead of cargo or other amenities,” Gale corrected Fred, “yet there were no such locations in the Junkyard that met those specifications and needs.”


            Roland bit down on his teeth when he moved. It was painful for him to sit; it was painful for him to lie down. Standing still was the only reasonable option he had that would not agitate his reddened skin, but he knew he could not stay standing for forever. He had been on the verge of dozing off on their return trip, and still could have gone for a nap. In that case, lying down appeared to be the favorable option, but some of Roland’s pride would have docked off if he casually slept in front of Greg, no matter how long they had known each other.

            After wetting some spare washcloths and setting them to chill with some ice, Greg had pulled over a chair. It seamed sitting down was chosen for Roland.


“Oh, that sounds like a cruise ship,” Fred said, “I’ve seen those before. They’d come down from Alaska… When my dad took me to the beach, we’d see them pass by. It’s kind of a long drive from here though, but it’s worth it… Roland would tag along sometimes too because my mom couldn’t go.”


            Greg had seen Roland get sunburned before, but this time it was a bit ridiculous. Two or three hours out in strong sunlight would have left some marks if Roland was not careful about it, but Greg thought he knew better than to allow it to become something serious. The same duration never had—should not have—cause blisters. Roland recoiled a bit out of reflex from the initial shock of the cold, makeshift compress against his skin.

            The panic that circulated around the International Environmental Stabilization Committee began to murmur behind Greg’s ears. All he could do was hope and pray that it was not that thing his wife was suspected of having contracted—that disease. Whatever it was, both of them knew it was not normal.


“Oh man, last time we had gone, he turned into a lobster! Even with sunscreen! He couldn’t move for days.”—Fred’s enthusiasm vanished; his smile along with it—“We left early that time. That was a few years before the sun went black… …I don’t remember much else.”


            There had been a steady, gradual increase in cases of the stone syndrome within the past decade, much in parallel with the steady, rapid increase of the list of environmental issues that pressured the IESC’s work. Regardless, the amount of recorded cases was within the classification of a rare disease. It said as much in the report Greg was given to brief over, but he had heard enough from David to know that the disease’s cataloguing of “rare” would change to “common” in the future with or without a catalyst.


<< endl;



Cuvier Syndrome’s chronology predates 2020, wherein the sun’s alteration merely increased severity and concentration of malicious data, not create it. Mixing environmental deterioration with the sun’s alteration prevents accountability of being able to withstand such data.


Chapter Text

It was unlike Gale to mutter under his breath, searching for a conglomeration of thoughts like a delay in loading time. Serph wanted to speak up and confront Gale over the matter, but he could not dwell on it. Rescuing Sera was the larger priority, and he knew Gale could handle himself, so he left him be to arrange his thoughts on his own.

            “Are those your true feelings, Jenna… …Angel?… who is… David?”1


The Embryon did not have the time to be dawdling around, but the Solar Noise was waxing towards full. Roland felt it in his knees—and his elbows, and in his wrists, but the worst of it always seemed to gravitate towards his legs. It was as if his body wanted him to feel it like an expired reminder, because he knew well he could endure the sun and Cuvier Syndrome. Fred mentioned something to him about how Serph and Gale had come from the surface during the day, and so did infected Karma Soldiers. With some hesitation, he had been to unprotected portions of the surface after having contracted the virus, and nothing happened, nothing related to Cuvier Syndrome anyway. His eyes did suffer some instead.

            The Solar Noise’s static also brought back a sharp humming pitch that sounded low in his ears. The first time it had happened, Roland figured his hearing was going awry, but after it happened a couple of other times, he assumed the white noise was caused more as a reaction from something in his head than from hearing problems. Roland figured he was not the only one that was getting agitated.

            To Roland’s request, the Embryon situated themselves in an abandoned research room to rest. The proposition sat well with Serph and Gale, both thinking that if they were not performing optimally then, it was more likely they would run into complications and make mistakes later on. Out of habit, Roland started kneading his kneecap, hoping to ease the discomfort despite knowing it was an empty effort. Living underground helped somewhat, so Roland had forgotten to keep up with stretching it regularly, especially within the past two years. No one seemed to notice the gesture, but it caught Gale’s attention.

            The humming sound had turned into a ringing, high-pitched frequency, and the brand on the back of his hand began to prickle from a static discharge.

            “By performing stretches regularly, your legs would strengthen and the aching would be reduced,” Gale said, “To do so, calf, quadricep, and hamstring extensions would be beneficial.”—He walked over to meet Roland—“The stretches are for leg muscles, but working them conditions the joints as well.”

            Gale was surprised, yet confused, at his own impulse. He was the Embryon’s tactician, not its medic. There had been specific, more qualified, members of the tribe that served the healer’s role, and yet the information and rational had come to him like he had explained it before. That variable was what he did not comprehend.

            “My leg is petrifying—turning to stone—and you expect that to work?” Roland said. Something hot swelled in his throat as he continued: “Can’t you understand how ridiculous that sounds? What you’re asking for just isn’t possible. I thought you of all people could understand that, David.”

            Except, again, he knew it was not—not any more at least.

            Then, Gale was not the only one shocked by the response, for Roland’s reply came out like a pre-programed reaction, like he had explained it before. Hearing it sent a chill down Gale’s spine, but he did not know how to process that sensation into emotion. Instead, the enigma translated into a compressed brow and parted lips as if he meant to whisper something under his breath. If he ever did mutter anything, Roland could not hear it, and there was not much of a chance to after Gale covered his mouth with a few fingers. It looked somewhat off-kilter to Roland, because his demeanor was not quite the glower Gale would sport when he was showing emotion nor was it something Roland would describe as confused, shocked, or worried either.

            Roland broke his glare, glancing to his side.

            “I’m sorry, Gale… It wasn’t right of me to lash out… Especially when you were only trying to help.”

            There was silence until Gale came back from his strange sort of reverie.

            “We have been here for some time,” he noted, “and should make our leave soon… Sera’s current location is the EGG inhibitor. That is where we need to go.”


“Virtual data and data from the real world are essentially the same… It says that’s the reason they choose you—people of the Junkyard—as test subjects for the virus.”2

            To Roland’s understanding, he had just reiterated professional research that had been conducted over years, saying the world functioned off of some sort of singular, universal coding language. The Karma Society defined it as “data.” The file he read proposed that data code was not platform specific and could be communicated amongst a multitude of compliers and executables that ranged beyond computing. The point of testing the virus within the Asura Project was more than just for assuring similarities. It was to further a boarder break between the organic and the digital and contrariwise—possibly even farther into metaphysics.

            The most Roland remembered about the natural or physical sciences were from a select handful of mandatory classes he had taken during university years ago. He had graduated with a degree in English Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing. Focusing on the sciences were not exactly a priority for him at the time, but now he wished he had a better memory or paid a little bit more attention during class, since Greg was no longer around to educate him over the fine, complex details. It was more or less both better and worse than having to patch together an understanding of computing and programming via mangled self-teaching from finagling with source codes stolen from the Society courtesy of Angel, the Lokapala’s informant. Comprising and intertwining the concepts together in the way the file had explained gave him whiplash, or a headache, or more likely a headache from whiplash.

            Roland fathomed that living things—their entire reality and existence for that matter—could be deconstructed into a metaphoric conglomeration of ones and zeros, or something of that ilk. Ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid essentially served the same purpose; that bit he remembered thanks to Greg’s help. Nothing suggested otherwise so far; he had offered allegiance with a team of combat AI models made physical and sentient—made human—after all. It sounded like some strange reassessment of life imitating art, or the other way around.

            His legs started to tighten, and his knee buckled and began to ache again.

            After a mishap with receiving manipulated content, Roland was wary of tampering with code; worried over taking out a colon or semi-colon in one spot for it to never be replaced or add an extra brace or bracket in another to throw everything off. There also was that one time he tried not to recollect where he was intoxicated and attempted to manipulate something or other while for some reason he could not remember—if there was one at all. He bore a bit of shame over the fault of witlessness after his fair share of drinks in the past. At least over time he had learned to pick out the programmer’s notes scattered throughout the code.

            Roland started to wonder if those mishaps and follies were also applicable to humans. An annexation of data could make a mess of everything else and how it was all rendered if there were inherent missing or misplaced hypothetical colons or braces somewhere, or if a line of code was incomplete or over done yet functional elsewhere. A thought occurred to him.

            His legs started to tighten, and his knee buckled and began to ache again, because that was how he knew it should have reacted, but now with the demon virus, it was a matter of accepting it did not have to be that way.


1-2. Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2. Atlus Co. Ltd. April 5, 2005. video game.

Chapter Text

1.           cout << "paternal:

One of the Lokapala must have been out surveying a vacant residential district to see what had become of it, because the word that Fred had been spotted hanging around in those areas multiple times traveled far enough to reach Adil’s ears. Keeping the kids out of abandoned areas of Old Portland was a general practice, so he decided to tell Roland about it since dealing with it was his responsibility. Roland was the boy’s guardian, not him—although tallying his actions made him feel like it.

            A few days after Roland was enlightened to what Fred was up to, another one of the Lokapala ushered Fred back after he had gotten into a run-in with a Karma Soldier he had coaxed. Then, when the time came where it was Adil’s turn to catch him trying to venture out, he asked him about how Roland felt about these outings. That was the time he found out the fact of the matter was Roland had not said anything at all. Hearing Fred explain it like it was nothing to get hot over initiated a reverse effect, so Adil decided to marshal all three of them together. Neither Roland nor Fred would evade a proper resolution in that situation, he figured, hoping his presence alone would be enough to get it out of them.

            They found neutral ground in a disused room, which was only a half-gesture since Adil settled himself by leaning against the door of the exit. Adil explained yet again what Fred had been doing to occupy himself, because it was his first assumption that some alcohol must have gotten to more than just Roland’s sense of judgment the first time he told him. 

            “Don’t pick fights you can’t win, Fred. All we’re asking is to not wander around parts under Karma occupation,” Roland said to Fred once Adil was done with his exposition. Roland had not had an ounce of alcohol during that day—yet—so any irritation in his tone was lost between being from a craving, concern, or both. 

            “Oh, so now you’re worried?” Fred said with a little bit of bite, “You don’t give a damn about me or fighting the Society. You only care about hiding… Don’t tell me what to do. You’re not my dad.”

            If Roland was looking for a reason to have his next pour, Fred just gave it to him, but it had been a long time since Roland excused his drinks with transparent justifications. The difference was that now the hole he wanted to fill was large enough for an entire bottle.

            “You’re right. I’m not your father… But, I am the one who looks after you.”

            “You sure pick and choose when to do that.”—The words came out like how water boiled over the sides of a pot that had its lid left on top of it. Fred did not have much left to say, let alone anything for Roland, so he shoved Adil aside to leave. It was better and worse off for Fred’s own interest that he left because the larger the space separating him and Roland became, the easier it was for him to well tears.


The room was for multiple occupants, but Roland was the only one residing there at the moment—unofficially. He was admitted into the hospital, but only Under Observation; its definition stretched itself very thin considering he had been there for three days already this time around. The doctors and nurses said he was being kept there so they would be at the ready if something drastic or unpredictable happened, but a part of every party involved accounted that it was because they had less of a clue than average on how to proceed.

            Time ran differently in hospitals for people who were not employed there: took too long when something needed to be done, checked on, and accomplished, but it liked to be hasty when nothing pressing was present, at least that was how Greg experienced it. On the other hand, Fred usually seemed present in the regular time continuum, often getting antsy after an hour or so and would swing his legs in attempts to occupy himself. This time he was trying to prop himself up against his father’s side because the clock on the wall read 8:47pm, but the chairs’ armrests were a considerable impasse for a child to do so comfortably.

            Standard shifts for Greg ended at 5:30pm, but he had not clocked-out until 7:00pm. He stayed until then to record sample tests; he left then for his good health and necessity. Since Roland was admitted into the hospital, he was not the one looking over Fred in Greg’s absence, so he had to relieve Fred’s sitter from their due duties eventually. Then, there was his promise to himself that he would stop by the hospital that day.

            Roland was scheduled to transfer to the Cuvier Syndrome Isolation Ward the following afternoon.

            “The ward is to easily account for the disease and patient’s needs,” David had told Greg the day prior when he broke the news to him, “There are ways it can cultivate, but he’s the best case we’ve seen. If anyone has the odds on their side, it’s him.”

            As goodhearted as David’s intentions were with the optimism, Greg was not entirely convinced. He had already been through this heartbreak with his wife, and there was the risk that those with lesser morals would take advantage of Roland’s longevity to the disease. In truth: David was not convinced either. So far, the only people that walked out of the Ward alive were the staff. That information—that seemingly unchangeable truth—chipped away Greg’s composure, coming to the realization that he would have to survive through the suffering of loss again. It made him uncertain whether or not he would be strong enough of a man to bear that burden, but there was not much he could do besides watch it run course like a lit trick candlestick.

            David had tried comforting Greg by reassuring to continue to look after Roland as best as he could on his behalf, since he would no longer have access to visit, but David knew words and pledges were only temporary damage control.

            Remembering the day before made Greg hold on to Roland’s hand harder, clasping it tighter between both of his hands as he held it up to his forehead while he sat hunched over the hospital bed’s rails. That gesture was a metaphor Roland would have written in his notebook if he had not fallen asleep.

            Given the time and how the bed’s head-side was still propped upright, his turning in for the night seemed unintentional, and the fact that Greg had to move the pocket notebook off to the side—as well as the pen, since he did not want it rolling off by accident—to get to Roland’s hand gave a strong suggestion his sleep was premature as well. Roland was probably going to wake up at an odd hour of the night because of falling asleep early.

            Fred started to groan as if to say it was almost bedtime on a school night. Visiting hours ended at 9:00pm, so he would not have to wait long to leave regardless of his father’s intent.

            “I know, bud,” Greg said, straightening himself, and let one of his hands go from the clasp to pet Fred on the head.

            “Hey, Dad? Is Roly gonna be my new mom? ...If he gets to come home.”

            Greg’s thoughts immediately divided between wondering where that question had come from and how to answer it. There was a clue in Fred’s attentive watch over how his father’s hand held onto Roland’s own, but Greg could not see it and inquired: “Why do you ask that?”

            This time it was Fred’s turn to think.

            “You’re not home much. You’re at work,” Fred said, “Mom’s not here either… Roly’s home with me after school like Mom was. I thought maybe he was gonna take Mom’s place.”  

            Fred’s head shifted about under Greg’s hand as he tried to look up at his father.  

            “He visited us a lot when Mom was here. We visit him a lot when he’s here, too,” Fred continued, “and everything’s… happier when we’re all home.”

            By the time Fred finished, Greg felt more awake and alert than he had in the past two weeks. He let go of his son’s head and returned the due attention by meeting Fred’s view and asked: “Would you like it if Roly was your dad, too?”

            An amalgamation of considerations that he was not ready to identify formed in the pit of Greg’s chest, collapsing and consuming itself because they were the wonderings if his own question was meant for more than just Fred to answer.

            “He doesn’t make me eat spinach or peas or broccoli. Not like you do,” Fred answered, “I bet he’d let me eat all the cookies and ice cream I want! …He tells stories better than you, too… and he picks better seashells for our sandcastles.”

            Greg raised his eyebrows with widened eyes, and added playfulness to his tone.

            “What are wrong with my seashells?”

            “Yours are ugly. Roly picks pretty ones.”—At least Fred’s blunt honesty warranted a chuckle from Greg—“But, I don’t want Roly to be my dad, if you can’t be my dad too. None of my friends have two dads.”

            “Then having two would make you a very lucky and very special kid,” Greg said, kissing Fred on the forehead.

"<<is_volatile<paternal >::value <<endl;

/* extra: direct prev. script cont.*/


Greg used a day of sick leave to go to the hospital early one last time before Roland was transferred to the isolation ward since he had been sleeping when he had visited the night before.

            “You seriously asked Fred that?” Roland exclaimed once Greg was done being storyteller.

            Roland expected as much from Fred because he was just a child. There was not much for him to assess: Fred’s mother was a casualty of Cuvier Syndrome, his father was rarely home due to his job, and because of those circumstances, he filled those slots the best he could when he could. He considered Greg’s family to have been his own family—but not to such an extent Greg had suggested. The idea felt imposing to him, especially since he knew Greg had loved his wife. 

            “I’m not fit to be Fred’s father”—Roland took a good, long look at himself and the hospital bed he was in—“I’m certainly not in the health for it.”

            “You are too hard on yourself, Roland. I think you would be a great father,” Greg said through a smile, “Fred already seems to think so.”

            Roland did not have a response.

            “Do you remember when we had studied together?” Greg asked to break the silence. 

            Both of them had studied together numerous times during university, and yet despite that vagueness, Roland knew exactly which specific time he was referring to. It was during one spring semester Finals. Roland timed it that way, because if the night had derailed to any less-than-desirable deviation, he could just try his best to ignore Greg over summer vacation after the fact.

            Asking Greg out on a date—that Roland specifically stated held romantic intent—had not played into his favor, but they had still socialized that summer as if nothing ever happened. Despite the outcome: Roland had still received his dinner with Greg, albeit a casual one as friends, a few weeks afterward.

            Roland’s voice had hushed, and he found it hard to look at Greg—“That was years ago… It’s different now.”

            He had not had a girlfriend back then, who later became his wife; he had not had a child back then, one he had with her, either. And yet: Roland was right, Greg thought; everything was different since back then, and how he was the fool to not recognize and acknowledge the thing everyone else, even his son, had enough perception to see. So, he whispered out a “yes, they are” as he brushed some stray hair away from Roland’s forehead, and pressed his own against it before going to kiss Roland.

            Greg’s lips only caught the side of Roland’s cheek at the corner of his mouth because he was too quick in turning away.

            “If it’s an isolation ward... Isn’t Cuvier Syndrome contagious? What if you catch it?”—It was a genuine concern, but Roland also convinced himself that Greg was acting out of confusion. Every last rational thought Roland had fought against his feelings for that conviction, saying that Greg did not mean it, that the affection would peel backwards once time had eased his mind and set his troubles straight.

            “I do not care about the consequences.”

            Roland tried to shift himself away from Greg, so he could look him in the eyes, but there was not much he could do given his situation. Instead, he got Greg to yield by pushing at his shoulders. 

            “You should, Greg! What would happen to Fred, if you’re gone?”—‘What would happen to Fred, if we’re both dead?’—“Your son needs you. Think about that for a minute.” 

            “I will. I promise,” Greg said, kissing Roland on the forehead as compensation. There was a certain, sharp stare waiting to ask ‘did you not listen to what I just said?’ to Greg for when he straightened himself out to leave. All Greg cared to retort was that the last kiss was from Fred. He thought it would make him feel better in the same way how getting kissed on his cuts and scraps made them heal faster, he explained. Somehow, both of them had made Roland spend the rest of his day imagining what it could have been like, if he had not turned away. The feeling was so familiar to those university days all those years ago where he would daydream about what it would have been like if he had the courage to ask to give Greg one and he let him. Except, there was no pain associated with the wonderings years ago.


Chapter Text

2.            cout << "paternal:

“Alright, Fred. Sometimes Roland is an ass. You’re right. Lately, he doesn’t seem to give a damn. I don’t condone what he does half of the time. But, cut him some slack! He’s dealing with shit you know nothing about! …Fred, he… He drinks because… He drinks because he doesn’t think he could be a good enough guardian to you. He hides in this damned city because he’s afraid to repeat mistakes. He already lost your father. He doesn’t want lose you, too… It might not seem like it, but he cares about you. He loves you, Fred… He loves you…”

            “I… I know,” Fred managed to croak out in reply to not only the memory, but to Roland as well. Clutching the yoke of Roland’s coat tight was Fred’s only attempt at keeping him in his crouched embrace because of what Roland finally had the courage to say. It was the whisperings of something for only them to hear—not for the Embryon or for the Cyber Shaman, not for Angel, her soldiers, or any possible Plant personnel that still lay lurking within the facility. Roland had never said it to Greg. He had never said it to Adil either, and now he believed down to the base of his being that all his changes passed by, so he would not have been able to forgive himself further if he went without saying it to Fred. Roland sealed his words in place with a kiss to Fred’s forehead to make sure the sentiment stayed, but the spot cooled all too easily when his skin became absent from being pressed against it. With that queue, Fred let go of the fabric.

            Roland rose. There was the beginning of a wet sheen in his eyes as he did, and despite it, he could see Fred fighting against following suit. Fred had never cried in front of Roland before, at least not in any recent years that mattered, and he had not broken that resilience then. However, that time was the closest he had ever come to it, because the last time he heard his first father say such things was years ago, bearing the exact same severity.

            After Roland set himself stern and approached one of the destroyed computer monitors positioned around the Power Plant’s interior, he said: “This is my mess. You guys keep moving.”1

            Voltage began to discharge from the Brand on the back of his hand much like the broken console he thrust it into. A surge of static crawled up, then down, his arm as means to command the partition closed, but the shock was dull compared to the previous Data exchanges. The muscles there were already tense from the thought of whatever Angel had done and the fact that—yet again—he was not able to prevent any of it.

            “But, Roland…”2

            The lump in Fred’s throat was becoming audible, so he held back on continuing to speak his thoughts.

            ‘… we have a plan…

            The Lokapala were to stall any Karma advances. By that logic, Angel’s ploy was in fact Roland’s mess because of the possibility that there was no longer anyone else around who fit that description.

            ‘… You can’t fight them all by yourself.

            Roland hoped that such judgments were not the case, that his men had listened to him and followed orders, but they might have forgotten amidst fear—or that they never had their chance to withdraw. He might not have that chance either, and after pondering—paralyzed by—that solemnness, Fred finally understood what his fathers felt all those times they were unsure if any of them were coming back.

            “Don’t worry. I can handle them,”3 Roland said, softening his speech and smile in attempts to ease everyone, but mostly for Fred, “I’m a tough one, after all. I’ll fight even when I say I won’t.”

            He would have, and wanted to, annex “Isn’t that right, David?” at the end to grab his attention, because he had never given David his deserved gratitude or a true friendship. Even with the second chance, all Roland could ever recall giving David and Gale were compromises and alliances, wherein not even death had kept David from fulfilled his promises. Those sorrows were kept silent because Roland did not think the sentiment would reach that far, reach to David specifically. Gale’s only sign of acknowledgement or recognition was a tension in his face he liked to wear when he was coping with something he was not particularly fond of. That look was dismissed as his realization of the same things Roland and Fred had recognized about their situation.

            Gale spoke up when Roland was making his leave to fend off whatever exploit Angel was executing.

            “Roland… The Embryon’s color is designated for victory. May it bring you honor and glory in battle.”


Honor had been brought upon Roland, and in time: glory; but not victory—not yet. Roland had a plan to achieve such a feat, but it was not one Fred was particularly fond of, detested even—wailing, “You can’t do that!” in protest. Except, there were no other options apparent to him. The dizziness disconnecting Roland from his corporeal configuration might have been the impairment keeping him from achieving another solution. But, even if it was not, the fact that Roland was able to see the inside of his abdomen was a sufficient enough reminder that there was not a way out of this situation for him. So, he started apologizing to Fred as a final effort for a clean conscience about the death of his father.

            Even though he had his chances to interject, Fred only listened to what was transmitted through his handheld receiver.

            “… He was my best friend… that I loved…” Roland said, his breath heavy, “with all my life… And he had saved it…”

            More than once—Roland could recall one occurrence he had only ever heard through secondhand accounts because he had passed out from pain and fatigue when it had happened. Although, there were not many people that could reiterate what transpired. Greg and Adil had held on to most of that honor, but to them it had been more like a weight.

            A couple of Karma Soldiers had targeted Roland’s squad while they were on the surface; beat him, bound him, and left him amongst the ruins of Portland expecting him to die come sunrise. Everyone else expected likewise as well—except Greg. He just kept reassuring Adil with “Do you trust me?” and “Have faith.” as he had pleaded with him. There was no way either of them could survive past twilight, Adil voiced, that Roland was dead, and he would be too if he ventured to the surface so close to sunrise. Sure enough, Greg had come back with Roland slouched over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. Roland’s hands and half of his face were scorched with sunburn, and the parts that were covered by clothes were bruised and broken. Considering there were worse fates for them, he was relatively alive and well. No overt signs of petrification or crystallization; Adil was dumbfounded at the sight.

            “… so many times…”—Those words sounded quieter as they went on, and they finished with an a loud, abrupt crash comprised of plastic colliding with the metal floor, cutting off whatever contact he had with Roland via the receiver. All the speaker was able to transmit out on Fred’s end was a mechanical hum to mock him. Even the surveillance screens set around the room were silent, muted because Gale had worse problems to worry about at the control center than if audio capability was set to the system and could be turned on.

            Once Roland had come to after the affair of the surface, Adil confessed privately to him that he had suggested using him as a bargaining chip for agreement between the Lokapala and the Karma Society to Greg. In actuality, Adil was trying to apologize about suggesting such a thing because hearing it had torn off the scab of a wound that had only half-healed. Roland shared the same sentiments Greg had posed before him. At least Roland had held in his hate; Greg had not been as silent, exclaiming how Roland had gone through enough and why the Society had forfeited their chance before it even existed.

            There was only one other time after that incident where Roland was organized into a surface assignment. It was compromised because it occurred under the dome, and Greg had gone along, but later it was proven to be Greg’s last time that he could offer such security.

            After that devastation, the Lokapala belonged to Roland, and whenever he asked himself what he had done with it, he just downed another drink. He had done the same when he asked himself what he had done for Fred. At least alcohol relieved his pain, unlike any medication or therapy he had ever taken, or rather: what he was told to have been those treatments. All of the arguing and pleading Greg and David had done for his behalf could have been solved with a bottle of bourbon and some tumblers. Roland thought it cheeky in the beginning, but the irony quickly fell flat.

            “… for me to just waste it.”—It seemed as if Fate was conspiring with Karma and they were keeping him alive so they could continue laughing at him and his misfortune, reeling around his head like the turbines he watched below him: slow, yet steady. The thought never occurred to him that it was Destiny instead that kept him alive this long on purpose, so he could specifically see that very moment in time. If he had died years ago, he would not have begun to Understand.


The Power Plant was burning; the Embryon watched the blaze, whoever was left of it at least. The Leaders of their allegiance and alliance had been sacrificed: Serph was gone; now Roland was gone too, and yet—for a reason Gale did not quite fully comprehend—that last fact did not register like one. Instead, he wondered if Roland was safe. He asked himself if Roland had gotten out of the fire. He knew he could not have. Roland was dead. Argilla was too, whom he had known longer. That last fact felt like a farce. The same could have been said for the sense of failure he felt. It was actually an apology meant for Lupa. Except, it was not. Lupa was simply the closest one he could grasp on to. He remembered Roland had addressed him as “Greg” once. But, he could only recollect slivers about who that was.

            As an attempt to focus into making sense of the situation, Gale shut his eyes. Instead of precision or clarity, all he received was a thought that felt like what the trigger “Om mani padme hum Vayu” looked like across the inside of his eyelids:

So, you were able to die by your own means after all, Roland.

            Roland—a burning facility, emotional awakening, recycled Data: a conglomeration of variables Gale had little means of knowing how or why watching the blaze stirred something inside him. Tightness in his chest and a phantom pain in the joints connected to his right forearm, those modules were not like the Deserted Ship at all, his initial instinct from a role of rationalizing event occurrences, but the Samsara Tunnels. Sadness disguised as anger—there was a specific word for it, but Gale did not bother with it. Neither did Fred. In silent stillness, just like how Gale was standing, just like how he had adapted to be, Fred felt something similar. His ache resided in the spot to the side of center chest, wanting to scream and yell at the God he had lost all faith in. As if Gale could hear Fred’s heart, he laid his hand on top of Fred’s shoulder and gently squeezed it.

            “Do not waste your feelings, Fred,” Gale said, remembering how little time he had to lament over Lupa, “Allow yourself to mourn. The chance might not come again… Your fathers’ were great men. Grieve for them; then live for them on their behalf. It is all you can do now.”

            Then, Fred wept and wailed, freeing years’ worth of tears and troubles, and asked God how many of his parents had to be taken from him. He asked how many of their lives would suffice, because if the toll were any more than the current count, he would not know what to do. There was no one else for him to give.

"<<is_volatile<paternal>::value <<endl;


1-3. Shin Megmai Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2. Atlus Co. Ltd. April 5, 2005. video game.

Chapter Text


“Hey, Greg.”


           “How about we, uh… …Would you like to go get dinner sometime?”

           “That sounds great. I hope you mean now because I could use something to eat. We have been studying all night. We need to feed our bodies to feed our minds, as you would say, right, Roland? …If not, we can go tomorrow instead. Make a gathering out of it. The more the merrier.”

           “Actually, I was hoping… it would be just the two of us… …I’d like to take you somewhere nice sometime. Have a good time together… you know, like… a date.”

           “… Oh…”

           “If that’s alright, because… …I have feelings for you, Greg. More than this friendship.”

           “… I see.”

           “So, I understand if you’ve changed your mind about dinner.”



case hosp-UO:

!b1_certitude = b2_woolgathering



case CSIW-PhysTher:

!b2_woolgathering = b1_certitude



“That was years ago… It’s different now.”

            “Yes, it is,” Greg replied as he fiddled with the hair over Roland’s forehead.

            Roland could not place what Greg’s touch physically felt like besides that it was there. Fingers neither rough from calluses nor soft to the touch, fingers neither warm nor cool above average. It was only the idea of it: skin upon skin and nothing more, yet everything else.

            As Roland lay propped up on the hospital bed, Greg bent over to kiss him. For a moment, Roland’s thoughts reeled around turning away, but in the end their lips met, feeling like nothing against each other. He could not remember the last time he had been kissed from romantic intent, so his lips were fitted haphazardly over Greg’s mouth as if he had tasted something fowl. Greg’s cheek mashed itself against Roland’s glasses, and pushed them backwards into his face. It caused concerns about the lenses gaining smudge marks and the possibility of the frames bending out of place.

            That part, being unprepared, seemed silly, and he recognized it with a scoff to himself under his breath. There was a vague sense that someone noticed it afterwards…


Roland grabbed the hard plastic of the handle in his right hand, because proper use meant for it to be on the opposite side of his body. The handle was at the top of his hip, which he thought was fine, since he did not know better. However, his physical therapist remarked that it should rest a little bit lower; the shaft shortened with the brief sound of metal sliding against metal with a light click at the end.


… For a moment, Roland’s thoughts reeled around if anyone heard the scoff, but in the end, no one seemed to have noticed, not even Greg, for he had silenced him with a kiss.

            He could not remember the last time he had been kissed romantically, and yet their lips interlocked as if they had practiced beforehand; perfectly placed and meant to be together. It caused time to stand still. Roland rendered himself unmoving because he did not know how to continue since he did not want anything different. Greg was the one who had proposed it, so he had no reason to renounce, and obeyed their wishes only until Roland shifted over, pushing farther against him with delicate yearning. Grabbing at the side of Greg’s shirt with his right hand, he tugged Greg closer, not know if he could manage with the space separating them. Consequences meant nothing there, and since Greg had cared nothing of them, Roland had no sense to care either.

            It motivated him, pushed him forward in response to how Greg had broken away and retreaded backwards. Roland gave himself the benefit of the doubt—through the benefit of ease—as he hastened after him, slinging his legs over the side of the hospital bed and rising off of it without second thought, without second-guessing. He stood. Then, he met with Greg who was a couple of paces out of the way.  As anticipation, Roland ran his hand over the side of Greg’s face—past his jaw, past his ears—and caught the overgrown hair behind it. As his fingers cupped the back of Greg’s head, Roland smashed his mouth against Greg’s lips with passion and purpose.

            A part of him wanted to cry, the sole signal being the thought crossing his mind. Unknowing whether they were meant to be tears of joy or sadness, completeness or longing, or all of his emotions all at once, Roland refrained from finding out because there were persons watching whom he did not want to bear witness the act.

            It kept him close to his reality.

            Then, before he realized it, Roland’s unoccupied hand found the other side of Greg’s face at its outline—making it easier for Greg to hold on to his waist—and they pulled at each other’s lips whenever they broke apart from switching sides or starting over. Minutes went by in this likeness. Eternity could have gone by, and they would have been thankful if it did. As Roland slowed down to assess their situation and sentiments, a thought ran across his mind that caused his brow to furrow. His eternity was shorter than others. His motions had been all too natural—


Roland staggered and braced himself, palm flush, against the cool, plaster wall. Because more than one thing had stumbled from neglect, he had shifted his bodyweight erroneously and stressed his left side. After a sigh, Roland glanced back up from his feet, and the linoleum floor beneath them, as he steadied himself straight in anticipation to continue with the session.


—His motions were natural, limitations: obsolete. Because he could, Roland hastened after Greg, slinging his legs over the side of the hospital bed, rising off of it without second thought, without second-guessing, as if they were completely coordinated; not deadened, or numb, or prickling and hurting from recovering from either of those options. He stood unaided, hands unoccupied, free to run and roam alongside the contour of Greg’s face or figure as he pleased. He walked—fluently, effortlessly, painlessly—and Greg was there as his only company, although he had moved a couple of paces away. Because of a combined will, Roland stood there next to Greg, and as anticipation to kiss him again, Roland ran his hand over the side of Greg’s face. The bristle from the beginnings of a beard that was not normally there scratched against his palm and fingers.

            Before he realized it, both of Roland’s hands had found homes with Greg, and his sides were being caressed and coddled with the light and gentle motion of Greg’s fingers. As they kissed, they pulled at each other’s lips with playful intent, both of them hoping that the other was able to feel the smile that ran across their expression…


Roland was fond enough of his smile that it forewent boundaries and crept across his face for people to see. His therapist commented about it before streaming into advice and instruction that Roland should have been paying more attention to.


… The same could have happened a month or so ago. Greg had come into his home after what had only seemed like no more than an hour after Roland had convinced Fred that he needed to go to bed. Whether or not he had gone to sleep after getting there was something left for Fred to know and Roland to never find out. Roland had long since shut off the lights, spare a few, and situated himself on the living room couch, engulfed in a book, waiting for Greg to return so he could make his leave for his own home. Yet, even after he heard the door close and heavy footsteps shuffle by, he had not faltered from eyeing his place on the page. When he had reached the end of the sentence, Roland acknowledged Greg’s entrance by telling him that he had set aside a plate of food for him on a shelf inside the refrigerator.

            Greg had not bothered with it. Instead, he had switched on a kitchen light, gone through a cabinet, and grabbed something with a plastic wrapping out of a box.

            “Thank you, but it is late. A full meal would not sit well in the stomach,” Greg had said as he sat down at the opposite end of the couch, and had torn into a bag of fruit gummies that would have been put in Fred’s lunchbox for school. He had extended the bag across the midsection of the couch as an offer to Roland, but the gift was declined. Instead, Roland followed up with wondering what time of the night it was. Since he was grabbing for his mobile phone as he asked, the verbal reiteration was slightly rhetoric, but Greg had mumbled out that it was after eleven o’clock the moment before he had turned the phone on. Then, the screen had lit up and read 11:18pm.

            For certain, Roland had recognized it was well over an hour after he had convinced Fred that he needed to go to sleep.

            “You are more than welcome to stay the night,” Greg had said in reply to how Roland’s expression pinched together.

            “I would stay”—Roland had marked the last page he read of the book, and then set it down on the end table—“but I have work in the morning.”

            Acceptance and affirmation had come from Greg as a mumbled groan. By the time Roland had peeked around to look at the source, Greg’s head was reclined backwards on top of the couch’s backboard, eyes closed. An editorial meeting was not quite comparative to preparations over the IESC’s reports and its responses, so for a short moment Roland had wondered how their lives stayed that way, that familiarized, that close to each other, and how lucky he had considered the circumstances to still have it. His chest had wrung itself at the thought of letting him know, and watching the hand he wanted to hold was as much as his courage had allowed.

            But, consequences meant nothing then, so he twinned his fingers between Greg’s set. It was his way of saying how he was not going to leave—only if he was asked to—no matter how trying the times would ever get. Hope and faith were his only way of knowing the sentiment translated at all, let alone correctly. As an extra marker for reassurance, Roland squeezed inward onto their palms, causing Greg to open his eyes again, wide and attentive. Then, Greg shifted his head until both of them were mirrored by each other and locked in place.

            “I know I’ll never be able to replace Annette, but I’ll be here for you all the same,” Roland said in a hushed tone. Moving over to the other side of the couch, he made certain their mouths met. No resistance, no withdraw—it was as light as air, existing only in existence and the will of it. Their lips became ghosts over the other so Greg could tilt his head away from Roland to relieve discomfort, then returned with vigor. Roland wrapped his hand around the far side of Greg’s waist, gliding over everything there as if his touch would turn it all to dust and ash; carful because their breaths and bodies were meant to be warm, alight against each other.

            A still silence, an endless second long—or a brief eternity—engulfed them as Greg caressed the outline of Roland’s face. His thumb stroked at the skin there in slow, wide gestures. Roland felt the delicacy of the motion against his cheek because he missed the sensation of his touch, the sentiment of home…


It reminded Roland how much of a liar he would have been. Being there for Greg seemed like a situational oxymoron when Roland was the one confined to the Isolation Ward unable to walk well. At least therapy allowed him to walk at all. Everyone liked to remind him of that thin comfort on his behalf.

Hey, nowDo not worry, do not cry,” the after-audio reassured.

What am I thinking?’ Roland thought, cutting through it, ‘This isn’t right.

Back when the two of them were still students, Greg liked to tease Roland about his apparent charm that caused more than enough people to pursue him romantically. But, that means of measure was on the basis of preferring less, and because it had fallen short with the one person it would have made the most sense to work on—until years later. That delay was a mockery; he could hear it laughing.

            Roland gripped the cane’s handle tighter, its hard plastic constricted in his grasp, turning his knuckles white, and gnashed his teeth that were concealed behind a façade that should have been a scowl. The red he had been seeing was not meant to be bitter poetry or morose metaphor, but this situation made him see ironic appeal. Thanks to David’s concern, persuasion, and courtesy: Roland had started wearing glasses with lenses that were, in actuality, more a shade of pink than red. They were more suited for the indoor than grey ones, and the tint worked in accordance with how his pain and pleasantries should distribute.

“Love is not finite,” it continued, “I have always loved you, too,”


Synchronicity—there was an overlap of voices in his ears. One belonged to Greg, who was not present; the other belonged to who was there the entire time: one of the Isolation Ward’s physical therapists.

            “… Did you understand all of that?” his new therapist asked, gently grabbing and guiding Roland’s thoughts back to reality.

            “Is something on your mind?” his therapist continued, “You’ve seemed rather distracted today. But, I don’t blame you. These past few days have been eventful for you.”

            Roland took his time with responding.

            “I’ve just been… reminiscing on some things… daydreaming really, that’s all.”

            It would have been a more reassuring reply if his tone were not vacant. But, at least he gave an effort with an unconvincing smile. The hope was to subvert his therapist’s solid demeanor, but his physical therapist remained quiet, pondering over the possibility of Roland having disabilities that could not be healed this way.