A journal by Flag and Neb
Flag would never admit it, but he was thankful that the “doctor” had come in when he did, for the jester - with all his talk about the proper way to do things - seemed unable to handle himself politely in a hospital situation. While everyone was focused on what Phillipe had to say, the sorcerer took the opportunity to slip out of the room and make his way to the cafeteria a level down.
He could never really pin down why, but Flag wasn’t particularly fond of Stone Harbor and rarely ever visited it in the time that it served as VILE’s headquarters.
"Are you out here for a reason, or couldn't you sleep to the freezing lull of such a loud ocean?"
The memory - and the musical voice behind it - jumped into his mind and he smiled faintly. Perhaps her observation had pinned that down. Regardless, Carmen was the only reason that he ever willingly came to the island.
Unfortunately, she was not here now.
He sat down at a table and leaned against the wall to contemplate what he was going to do next. Somehow the idea of going back to Leo’s seemed out of the question. This was a pity, for the old bookman would love to hear about the collection that they had just obtained.
He would also scold me for not having something proper to keep them in. Flag chuckled at the thought of Leo staring him down from underneath those bushy eyebrows and realized that he very much would like to have a quiet drink with a kindred spirit again; someone that also realized that the only good things about people were the stories that they left behind.
The sorcerer left the theater and wandered around the island for a while, trying to find a container that would be suitable for protecting the rare collection from the hazards of travel. Eventually, he found a leather case in an abandoned fishing store of all places.
When he returned to the tiny hospital wing of the converted theater, he was pleasantly surprised to find that he had missed the jesters exit. He knocked on the door to announce himself before entering to see Neb sitting on the bed, attempting to read, but looking far more perplexed than seemed right.
Neb had certainly tried to get back to her studies, but Joe had inadvertently stirred her up too much to do so, and she took the offered opportunity to vent without giving full thought to who she was venting it to.
“Man, like, I don’t know. Close the door, I got to say some things.”
Flag backed up to nudge the door closed before handing the leather case to Neb, assuming that she'd understand what it was for. He then took a seat in the chair that he had occupied before the jester had arrived.
The woman looked the box over quizzically, then eventually got it and slipped her current volume inside. “So like,” she started, then paused to find a starting point in the flurry of angst.
“Joe came in, and that was cool, you know? Visiting is cool, and I felt bad that he was so out of his league. That was my fault, and I paid for it.” She pointed at the bandage on her arm. “But then he’s like, ‘Carmen would have done better. Carmen would have had a million backup plans’. I don’t think that’s true. I think Carmen would have had the sense to leave Bran alone. Joe didn’t have to come. What else could I have done?”
Flag raised an eyebrow at her and shrugged. "Does it really matter at this point?"
Neb leaned her head back and sighed. “No….”
Then she looked back up again. “This.. is going to sound like a weird question, but...you think that Joe has got something extra going on? Like, supernatural?”
A small laughed escaped the sorcerer as the irony of the question hit him, but he shook his head. "Perhaps not more than anyone else in Carmen's employ."
“So the answer is yes,” she replied dryly “But really, like…”
She dropped her voice. “He started asking questions about the books, so I straight up told him I wanted them for immortality, because who’s going to take that seriously? But he got on about it! I kept trying to change the subject but he wouldn’t let go. So I let him talk, and he had so much to say on it. It felt like he wasn’t even talking to me.”
Flag blinked and looked away. "While I can agree that he was worked up about something, I'm afraid that I am having a hard time following what you are saying."
“What I’m saying is, why? It’s almost a ‘thou dost protest too much’ sort of thing, and I’m left wondering if Joe knows about something I can use. He says no, but of course he says no. Do you pick up anything on him?”
"Am I supposed to detect something?"
Neb waved her good hand. “I don’t know. You’re a smart guy, you notice things. I’m assuming by this lack of reaction that you haven’t,” she ended with an air of defeat.
Somehow Joe not hiding something behind his speech made her feel even worse.
“He was going on about how much it would suck, all the ways it would suck. Who would want that, who would choose that if they had the chance? What does he know if he doesn't know?”
She went silent in her bitterness. “What do you think, magic man? Why haven’t you gone after it?”
Now that he was finally able to figure out what it was that Joe had said to the girl, he was able to guess why she was frustrated - and in part why he might have been as well. Aside from whatever Neb offered him, there was no payout for him. His tirade simply could have been due to that. He should have taken more.
Immortality is an easy thing to have a high opinion on. For the most part, it's theoretical and philosophy could be drawn from any number of movies on the subject. Flag's experience with it came from a different source and his thoughts resonated in his answer. "I can't truly say that I haven't, but it wasn't an active pursuit."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "And what?"
Neb sighed inwardly. If Joe saying too much was the problem before, this was by far the opposite. Getting information from Flag required a certain amount of conversational skill that she knew she lacked, but she would give it a go anyway.
“Why not? Why didn’t you actively pursue it? What did you see that made you turn away?”
"Nothing made me turn away. It was a more a side effect of things that I did." He gestured toward her. "You've stated that you remember a timeline alternate to this one as well, so - in a manner of speaking - You've experienced it too."
“Restarting time over and over isn’t what I mean. I mean not aging and living past your natural lifespan. You know you could do it, but-” She stopped short. Her heart slammed in her chest and she slowly backed away from that edge. “But you seem like you don’t want that. And that’s unusual. Joe’s speech was unusual. I feel like I’m missing something that I should know.”
"I'm not sure about that. Not wanting to die seems pretty natural."
“All the more reason why I’m wondering why you haven’t actively sought it. You’re someone who doesn’t enjoy dying, in my observation.”
Another sarcastic chuckle left him. "True enough, though by my count I've.." He paused to mentally count on his fingers and seemed to waver on the number four and five; momentarily troubled by the indeterminable number. "Died at least four times. Possibly a fifth." He leveled his gaze at her. "Each before starting time over again."
The girl’s mouth hung slightly open in shock.
“You...died?” She finally managed to respond. “You died that day?”
She pressed her hand against her face and pushed it up through her remaining hair. “And you’ve done this four times? I don’t even know what to say about this…”
She sat in silence as she inserted this critical information into the grand machine of life, then took stock of what came of it. “Going home was worth more than immortality, and you couldn’t have both. Is that it?”
Flag didn't even try to hide his expression as he corrected the term the girl used with the truth. He then sighed, nodded, and decided to voice it to save her from asking. "Being with my wife is worth more to me than immortality. Yes."
Neb’s thoughts momentarily derailed as the sorcerer showed his heart, but honored as she was that he seemingly trusted her this much, she kept on her guard. A wrong word now could ruin everything.
“You said she might be here,” she offered gently.
He nodded while dropping into his thoughts, chewing lightly on his lip as he did so.
“How did you get here?” she ventured further. “Could she have come the same way?”
"That's likely, " He shot Neb a glance, "if it's true."
Flag shifted in the chair and eventually decided that it was uncomfortable and stood. "She may have even arrived here before me."
The urge to throw herself at his cause was overwhelming, and it took her a considerable amount of effort to beat it into submission. Flag. Is. Dangerous. Dammit! She rubbed her face again in an effort to clear her mind, but a new thought refused to leave.
Over the years she’d studied Flag’s journal to hell and noticed his time spell’s target dates were set years before his last entry on his home planet. That discrepancy had long nagged at her, but now it made sense. His wife had left long before he had. “Do you know how you got here?”
A scowl erased the contemplation on his features and he looked away from her. "Not entirely."
Unwilling to press him any more than necessary, she wracked her brain for one more lead.
He had been found injured, meaning what sent him here hadn’t been a good experience. She also knew he’d looped time three times that she knew of from the journal. That counted for three deaths, unless there were others that weren’t recorded. He was hesitant about the fifth. He didn’t know. Not entirely.
“Was it your choice?”
Flag slowly brought his gaze back to her, trying to remember why they started on this conversation before recalling that it was because the girl was flustered about her own quest and was now measuring it's value against his. Or perhaps it was simply that he was, but answering her curiosity seemed more worth it than not.
"It was not."
The woman closed her eyes and exhaled. He’d come here through death, or close to it. They both had; his wife having been so a long time before he had.
“I’m sorry,” she said at last. “I hope you find her here.”
She took a solemn drink of water, then offered it to him. “I, uh….can see why immortality wouldn’t interest you.”
He quirked a brow up at that, but waved it off. "My lack of interest shouldn't dissuade you from yours... which I don't think you've ever said."
Neb let out a nervous laugh of relief as the tension defused, then picked at her bed sheets as she debated how much to say. “I did tell you some. When you rebooted all of us, I realized how much of my life I had wasted, and how little I’ll have left once the cancer gets going. That’s the simple answer, but...”
She hesitated, then slowly held up her hands. Sometimes I hate that you’re the only person I can talk about this with.
“I don’t know why I can heal people, but I can,” she started as her gaze drifted off to the side. “But Imma tell you a secret, Flag. I don’t really want to be a healer. Sure I like making people feel better. I like being helpful, but being around people is so hard. If I could do anything, I would hide in the mountains for the rest of my life, but that’s too damn selfish. I can’t waste a gift like this. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. So I’ll stay alive, making myself stronger, more useful, try to fix as much pain as I can. I haven’t really thought that far out yet. I need more time for that too.”
Then she clenched her hands slightly. “And that’s what makes me mad about what Joe said. You think I want to stay here forever? Like I’m doing it for fun? Maybe there’s a reason I have to stay here that I can’t talk about, you know?”
He knit his brows together when she said that she didn't want to heal people, but unfurled them again when she continued. "If you want to declare it a divine mission, I won't stop you. It's honestly as good a reason as any."
“Yeah, it’s kinda that, but…” She paused. She knew she was saying too much, but it felt so good to tell someone what had been resting at the bottom of her heart like a stone. “If I could really achieve….if I could really heal…”
The look in the woman’s eyes grew distant and she seemed to age. “If I could take away the pain inside. But the brain is so complicated. It’s not like pinching off an aneurysm or cleaning out a toxin. It’s deeper. That’s the highest level. That’s the Grail. If I have to have this power, that’s what I want.”
The sorcerer leaned back against the wall and offered a complacent shrug, using the gesture to give her the encouragement that she seemed to want from him. "Then, go for it."
TO BE CONTINUED!
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