Hanu became less aware of Yaar’s words, if he was still speaking, and more aware of his own heartbeat. He closed his eyes and listened. Sure and strong, it beat on, and everything else fell away.
After a few rhythmic moments the heartbeat began to slow, and Hanu was afraid it would stop. He tried to will it to keep beating, but he found that the more he struggled, the slower it beat. He silently panicked, urging his heart not to give in, and then he realized that it was inevitable.
Hanu forfeit his life. He figured that if this would kill him, he would go peacefully. He was tired of being fearful, and honestly no longer saw the benefit of it. He was finished with running and hiding, and he was tired of his heart constantly racing.
But he didn’t die. Suddenly he was aware that he could sense everything around him. Though his eyes were closed, he could tell he was in a spacecraft, but it wasn’t a spacecraft. He realized that it was alive. This vehicle was Yaar’s astral body. It was what enabled Yaar to be here with Hanu in this dimension.
He also sensed the Earth below. The sphere was more than a large chunk of dirt and rock- it was also alive. He could feel that she was struggling, that certain places on the planet were decaying, but her pulse was strong. He felt he could go and speak with the planet as if she were one giant being.
He detected that the air itself was thick with energy. He could see it spiraling in the air in certain places. In other places he could see this energy take on the form of wildlife. This is what Vanessa had been seeing the whole time. He, on occasion, would catch glimpses of these things, but never as he saw them now.
Hanu pulled a deep breath in, and felt life pulsing through him. Then he exhaled, and as he did he felt that he had slipped into nothingness. Into a void. But he wasn’t afraid, because he knew that in the next breath he could be whatever he chose. He was potential.
After a few moments, or possibly an eternity, Hanu came to. And when he did, he found that he was sitting on a bench at Tantra Coffeehouse. He looked around, perplexed. Children were playing in the rocks as parents congregated at the various tables in the yard. It seemed as though nobody noticed that a boy had suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
Hanu looked at his hands. He was shaking so hard that he wouldn’t have been surprised if they were blurred. Hanu took a deep breath in and ran his hands through his curls. Whatever Yaar had done to him, it seemed it would take some time to get comfortable in his own skin again. Hanu leaned back in the seat.
Had Yaar meant for him to head back to the Underground through this route? Hanu knew he would have to deliver the information soon. He couldn’t do it alone. Maybe he should’ve told him that Paula no longer operated Deprogramming down there.
Hanu sighed. He was just in the Underground with Yaar, and now he had to find his way back. Well, maybe getting back is all part of the struggle, he thought. Or maybe Yaar intended for Hanu to choose for himself what he would do next. He did say that he wouldn’t be interfering anymore.
Whatever the reason, though, Hanu realized that this was a good place to be right now. There was something he had to do.
The sun, rising in the east, told Hanu that it should be around midmorning. He stood up and oriented himself, then he stepped over the picket fence and walked off. Hanu was no longer afraid of walking out in the open. His meeting with Yaar had incited a confidence that Hanu never felt before. He knew their secret, and he would soon be using it against the Ancient Ones. He crossed the street and headed toward the park space, almost daring someone to approach him.
While he walked, Hanu thought about his journey over these last few weeks. He had escaped the District of Operations twice now, and saw his family for the first time in years. Then he tried to attack a scout, and was taken aboard a living craft to speak with an other-worldly being who gave him a gift. If someone had told him a month ago that all of this would be happening, he would’ve thought them crazy.
Midway down the street, Hanu stopped in his tracks. Just around the corner somewhere, something else had happened recently. He didn’t dare look directly down the alley, but allowed himself to peek from his periphery. Maybe Harris hadn’t died that day, but was just beat up badly, and was waiting for Hanu to return to save him. But Hanu knew that wasn’t possible. He knew what he saw that day.
Hanu wondered why Yaar didn’t intervene then. Well, maybe because he wasn’t a part Harris’ council, he reasoned. He wondered what Harris’ council was like, and if they thought about intervening. Maybe they allowed him to die because it was part of Harris’ struggle.
A month ago, Hanu wouldn’t have believed that he’d meet someone that would change his life so drastically, and that he would be gone in an instant. But it did happen, and despite that and all the other terrible things that the Ancient Ones had done to him, it seemed as though destiny was on his side.
Hanu continued walking a little more quickly now. Then he realized something: Harris died for what he believed in. He was also a martyr. And in this way, Hanu felt more connected to the man.
He knew he was taking another risk by coming here, but he had to do this first. After all, he would have to make it to the Underground without Paula’s help and then try to convince them to fight. Hanu didn’t even know the mechanics of closing a portal, so he would have to hope that someone else had that information. The task he had to try and carry out would probably kill him, regardless of what Yaar said, so he needed to speak his peace while he could.
Hanu walked past a blue door now. He knew he was on the right route. He would go just a little further and cut into the building with the statue in front.
When Hanu walked into the lobby of the apartments the clerk gave him a nod. Hanu thought for a moment that maybe he had recognized him, but he was just being friendly. Hanu waved back, then he took the stairs for privacy. When he got to the fourth floor he checked Harris’ doorknob. He knew that he locked it the last time they left, but he checked anyway. Hanu stood at the locked door, trying to figure out how he’d get in. He checked the little window beside the door. It was also locked.
He silently apologized to Harris and shoved his fist through the middle of the window. Glass fell to the floor as it shattered. Hanu looked around. Nobody noticed. He quickly unlocked the window and pulled it open, then he leaned into the apartment and unlocked the door.
Hanu walked in slowly, and took in the now familiar smell of oregano. All of Harris’ books were thrown to the floor and plaster was knocked off of the walls in some places. He thought about the Ancient Ones blowing up that other building. Guess they didn’t have to blow Harris’ place up; they already killed his only family, he thought. But they did destroy the man’s belongings. Hanu felt his nostrils flare as he looked on in disbelief. But it didn’t matter because Hanu planned on destroying their belongings, too. This just added fuel to his fire.
Hanu picked up a couch cushion. It looked like they were searching for something. Maybe they confiscated some of his things, he thought. Hanu tearfully looked under the coffee table and found his rock collection. He slid the box out and opened it. The gemstones and rocks had kept their secret. Hanu collected four shiny black pyramids and three rocks, and put them in his pocket. He might need them later.
“They messed your place up pretty bad, Harris,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry.”
Then he picked up Harris’ books and carefully replaced them on the shelves. He smoothed out the wrinkled pages and put them back into their neat rows like they were before. Then he went to the kitchen and did as Harris had done so many times- he packed a bag of food and found a spare change of clothing.
He went into the bathroom and washed up. His face was scratched from the bushes and he looked much older, worn. Hanu looked in the cabinet for a pair of scissors. He found a heavy silver pair, for cutting hair. Perfect. He leaned over the countertop, grabbing a lock of his own curls, and he started clipping.
“You’re not a kid anymore, Hanu,” he told himself rather proudly. And he smoothed out what was left of his hair.
When he was finished, he went back to the living room. It was mostly cleaned, besides the big holes in the walls. He sat at the table and ate some bread and jelly that he found in the refrigerator, and as he did he thought about Harris’ daughter. He wondered if Harris would have still chosen to lead people to the Underground if she was alive.
He stood up, noticing the plants under the window. Nobody had come to give them water or open the blinds for them, and they were dying. Hanu knew he couldn’t stay here for much longer, and neither could they. They would surely die. So he quickly pulled the door open and checked the hall. Then he grabbed the first pot and carried it to the elevator. He pushed the button with the R on it. When the door opened, he carried the pot onto the roof and put it up against a cement shaft. Here, it would get plenty of sun.
He did the same for six other pots, rescuing them all in turn, and on the last trip he brought a big blue watering can. When we was finished watering the last one he sat on the cement shaft. The curt breeze felt strange against Hanu’s head- it was no longer protected by his curls.
He looked over the city. The roofs of the apartment complexes were separated by treetops and supply stores here and there. Further off were the oddly shaped buildings in the Entertainment District, and then the modest skyscrapers off in the Business District. Hanu trained his gaze further into the city until he finally set his steeled eyes on those massive walls looming in the distance.
“Why can’t we just be free, Harris?” he whispered into the wind.
There had been so much that he wanted to say to Harris and never got the chance, so he let it out now, hoping that the words would reach him.
“I’m sorry your daughter died, and I hope that you found her. I know she would be happy to see you,” he said gently. “I didn’t know you very well, but I feel like you could have been like a father to me, you know, if we went to the Underground when we had the chance.”
That lump came back to Hanu’s throat, warning him. He couldn’t let the words out all at once or their heaviness would crush him, suffocate him. He would have to set them free little by little so that the wind could carry them to wherever Harris was. Hanu paused for a while, wiping his face with his two-sizes-too-big shirt. Then he looked up, letting the sun warm him.
“I actually went to see my mom and my sister. They still think I’m crazy,” he said, laughing now. “But it doesn’t matter. I’m going to save them anyway, Harris.”
Hanu stood up and walked to the edge of the roof. Looking at the District walls in the distance, he exhaled, knowing that in the next breath he would decide his future.
“I’m a full-fledged Dissenter now,” Hanu smiled to himself proudly, thinking about Paula’s words. “I’m going to fight the Ancient Ones when and how I can. There’s a portal in there and we’re going to close it, Harris. I’m going to find Reggie and Andy and that’s the first thing we’ll do. After that, we’ll go after the rest of them and wake our planet up.”
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