ToKyotchi Chapter 53


It had been clear for quite some time that the world was meant to be cruel. Nature, at its most primal, was unforgiving. At least, that was how Che had come to understand his time on Earth.

There had been an era of his life when he believed good triumphed over evil, when everyone, no matter who they were, could find a place where they belonged. Perhaps that was why he couldn’t recognize people for who they truly were until it was too late.

That theory had been tested the day that strange boy plucked his sunflower out of the ground, and it had been all but strangled years later when his friends left him in the hallway to be beaten by bullies. There was really no point, was there? The universe assigned roles, and people played them no matter what.

Of course, his teachers tried to comfort him by telling him things would get better once he graduated high school and went off to college. He would enter a brand new world full of enlightened individuals who wouldn’t be as childish and scornful as his peers. Yet, his time in college had all but stamped out any remaining hopes of his role ever becoming something more.

Whether it was trying to convince Dr. Stevenson to allow him to explore a future outside of opera and cavernous recital halls or to be taken seriously as a viable job candidate, Che had always hoped he could forge his own path, to be more than what his professors, friends, or hiring managers expected of him.

Perhaps he could finally put it all to rest.

Che awoke in his cell, his body stiff and cold. The energy field flickered and sparked as Professor Avis’ words echoed in his mind. It was clear he now had no idea who or what he was even fighting against anymore, but he also couldn’t bring himself to care.

Whether it was his future or the fate of the world, it wouldn’t change his role in any of it. He glanced over at the plastic trays still filled with food and paper cups still filled to the brim with water. It must have been a few days since he’d been captured, not that he’d been keeping track.

He wondered what would become of him now. Would they leave him here to waste away, or would he be transported to some other high-security prison?

Che shook his head, allowing a dry chuckle to escape his lips. It was more likely he’d become a test subject just like the others. He’d be experimented on until they grew bored and eventually disposed of him just like the people he’d found in the tanks in room M-10. Professor Avis would see to that.

So, when he heard footsteps approaching from the end of the long corridor, Che was certain he’d be informed of his imminent transfer to his doom. He looked up just as a figure came into view just behind the energy field.

It was Lorenzo.

“Well, well…” Lorenzo peered down at Che. “So, you’re not even going to attempt to escape?”

Che slowly closed his eyes and felt his entire body slump. Please, no. Not now. “Lorenzo, just go…”

“You sure you don’t want some company?” Lorenzo winked, a mischievous glint in his eye, as he entered a code into the side console and dismissed the energy barrier. “I came to get you out of here, after all.”

“Please just go…” Che muttered as he turned his head away.

Lorenzo stepped into the cell, pausing for a moment before finally sighing. “You know the final exams are about to start. Bella and Kim already passed. I don’t think Tyson and Nikki have taken theirs yet. There’s still time-“

“JUST GO!” Che shouted, his voice echoing through the cell.

Lorenzo’s eyes widened as he took a step back. Che didn’t think he was capable of looking stunned, but he’d just been proven wrong. Lorenzo pouted and placed his hands on his hips, but Che wasn’t about to let him continue.

“Just stop!” Che pleaded. “No more games! No more schemes! Just go, Lorenzo!”

“This isn’t a game!” Lorenzo shot back, his gaze became pointed. “I never thought it was a game!”

“Lorenzo, please…” Che groaned, his voice trembling with a mixture of despair and exhaustion. “I don’t want to fight anymore. It’s over. Just go and save someone else. It’s all pointless.”

Lorenzo stared at Che for a few moments as if he was searching for something. Che thought he saw a hint of sadness in the boy’s eyes before it quickly disappeared.

“You know…” Lorenzo crossed the cell to sit down on a nearby cot. “Someone named Rowan once said that people who don’t want to be saved need the most saving. It never made sense to me.”

Che closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. “I never said that.”

“That’s right,” Lorenzo sighed as he absently kicked over one of the abandoned trays of food on the floor. “You, Chetachi, never told me that, but Rowan did.”

Che’s brow furrowed as he gazed back up at Lorenzo. “What do you mean?”

Lorenzo rolled his eyes. “You can be so dense sometimes, just like he was.”

Che could feel a chill run down his spine. Realization washed over him as he spoke. “Wait a minute! You knew him?”

Lorenzo nodded. “I didn’t just know him. He was my brother.”

Che felt like the floor had just opened up beneath him. He opened his mouth, but no words would come out at first. Moisture filled his eyes as he stared at Lorenzo in shock.

“Lorenzo, I…” Che finally managed to whisper. “That’s what you meant when you said you knew all along.”

Lorenzo nodded again, though his expression became more sympathetic. “That’s right. He and I were supposed to be taking classes together this year. I knew the moment you introduced yourself on the first day that you were an imposter.”

Che’s face softened as he took in what Lorenzo had said. All this time, Lorenzo had known he wasn’t who he said he was. Che wanted to completely sink into himself. Rowan wasn’t just a missing student. He had a family who loved him, who probably had no idea what had happened to him.

“Lorenzo, I’m so…” Che began, but Lorenzo interrupted him.

“He was a year older than me,” Lorenzo explained, though Che noticed his voice was a bit shaky now. “He joined the army when he was sixteen and was only going to serve a year. He eventually got stationed here at the academy and decided to enroll as a student since his term would be finished by the time classes started, but he was sent on a mission right before. That would end up being the last one for him.”

Che felt a lump forming in his throat. He didn’t know what to say, how he could even begin to express the sorrow he felt for Lorenzo’s loss.

Lorenzo must have sensed Che’s inner thoughts and waved them away with a flick of his wrist. “They sent us a letter and a medallion informing us he’d died in combat, but I wanted to know the truth. So, when I made it here, I did some digging.”

He stood up and began pacing the room in silence as if trying to remember all of the details. “I found out that the mission involved a man named Professor Eminal, who had been collecting orphans and using them to conduct experiments. Rowan’s task was to retrieve stolen tech, apprehend Eminal, and eliminate the experiments inside. Instead, Rowan let them go, and Eminal killed him while he was distracted.”

Che closed his eyes and slowly shook his head, trying his hardest to fight back tears. It was simply too much to take in, but Lorenzo seemed determined to finish his story.

“Lorenzo, I’m so sorry,” Che whispered, his voice cracking with emotion.

“It’s alright,” Lorenzo replied quietly before smiling sadly. “He was always everyone’s hero, but he was mine most of all. I knew there was more to the story of his death. I knew he wouldn’t go down without a fight or without having someone’s back. That’s how he was.”

Che took a moment to allow everything Lorenzo had just told him to sink in. He couldn’t believe it. Rowan wasn’t just a missing student. He was a soldier who had risked his own life to save others. He was a true hero in every sense of the word.

That was when the name “Eminal” snapped Che to his senses as he recalled his conversation with Nikki on the rooftop. He’d heard that name before.

“We were watched over by a man named Professor Eminal,” Nikki had told him. “He took us in, and we thought he was going to take care of us…”

The pieces of the puzzle were connecting in Che’s mind. “Lorenzo, those experiments, who were they?”

“Sounds like you’ve already figured it out,” Lorenzo gave him a knowing look. “Bella, Kim, and Nikki. My brother died saving them.”

Che bowed his head, covering his face with his eyes as a mixture of shock and sadness washed over him. So many threads were coming together to form a heartbreaking picture of what had happened.

This entire time, he’d simply been a pawn in a bigger scheme that had involved so many people getting hurt. Had everything he’d tried to accomplish been in vain?

He felt himself clenching his fists, now realizing it was the first time he’d done it since he’d lost control of his body in room M-10. No, it wasn’t that simple. Even if he hadn’t gotten involved, Bella, Kim, Nikki, Lorenzo, and even Rowan still would have been caught up in whatever plans Yokan and Legaros had concocted.

Che lifted his head and was met with Lorenzo’s gaze. The boy didn’t seem angry or vengeful, only sad and resigned.

“Lorenzo,” Che whispered, his voice barely audible. “I’m sorry for your loss, and…I’m sorry for everything.”

Lorenzo stared at him for a few moments before crossing the distance between them, brandishing a key before unlocking the metal clasps binding Che’s hands. They fell to the floor, no longer constraints but simple, metal rings. Their purpose was now entirely different. They no longer needed to fulfill the role they had been given.

Lorenzo then took a step back and shrugged. “You wanted the truth from me. Well, there it is. That’s why I came here, why I’ve been sneaking around, and why I’ve been working with Professor Avis.”

Che swallowed thickly and nodded, humbled beyond words. “Thank you.”

“And now…” Lorenzo smirked. “We have to stop them.”