Chapter 24:

A Fair Future (END)

The Leigh Theory

We won.

We might’ve lost a limb or two, but we finally won.

I couldn’t move my hands with my broken bones underneath the shattered gauntlets. I should’ve felt severe pain, but for some reason, it was like nothing happened, although I believe it will all hit me later on like a fucking bullet train.

“You see, some Paradise officials didn’t like the direction our government was going, but we can’t do anything. We tried to oppose this entire project, but Adam just sent us to the slammer,” the official-looking guy said.

“Oh, right, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Daniel Allen, Paradise’s Deputy Leader.”

Even though my eyes got covered with sweat and blood, I still saw his messy dark hair and unkempt eyeglasses. He had a vibrant smile, almost telling me everything was going to be okay, like Georgia’s but much brighter.

“I believe that we share the same goals and aspirations, and that is to bring change to the government. Now that Adam and his Exalted were defeated, we’re free from his tyranny and will do everything in our power to help your group’s cause,” Daniel explained as he fixed his glasses.

I wasn’t quite sure if what I heard was true. Maybe it was just fatigue, or my injuries finally registered in my brain. Either way, I couldn’t believe that there were actual people from Paradise who shared the same ideals as us.

Perhaps, it might not be enough, but we agreed on a resolution as Daniel released an official statement saying that Adam’s Project ArqL didn’t pass the medical standards, thus halting its implementation. While he gave that order, the Paradise medics assisted and took us to the infirmary in the headquarters. Those with severe injuries got immediately treated, and during the operation, I fell asleep as my body finally gave in and entered dreamland.

A guy was standing before me in a pure white room. I couldn’t make out his face except for that familiar and hopeful smile. He extended his fist to my chest while I tried reaching him with my arms but couldn’t touch him. He then turned and walked away from me, and as I attempted to follow him, I suddenly woke up.

I woke up on a nice, comfortable bed with a bag of liquid hanging beside me, and on the small desk were my damaged gauntlets. I tried moving, but then I realized my arms had casts on and wrapped with bandages. Van and Georgia slept soundly on my left and across, respectively. To my right were Megan and the other Omen members looking through the window.

“I can’t believe Paradise is actually helping people and transporting them back to their homes,” Megan muttered.

I could hear multiple people yelling from below, saying they were still mad at us. Someone that sounded like Daniel spoke through a megaphone and said Paradise would take all of the Omen members into their custody. It seemed sketchy, but I believed that was the best move to please the people.

We spent a few days in the Paradise headquarters to recover. Megan took care of Georgia, who was still asleep, while Van finally woke up and tried to eat a piece of bread. I knew it came from Marvin because no other baker could make that criss-cross pattern.

I started walking toward the window as I finally recovered my strength. Things did become better as Omen members roamed the streets of Paradise without a care in the world while occasionally visiting us. However, for the past few days, I never saw Janus again. Perhaps, he had already left to start over with his new life.

However, he surprised me when he visited and checked up on us one day. While he chatted with us for a little, Georgia slowly regained her consciousness and started coughing.

“I’ll go and inform Daniel and the medics,” Janus said and got out of the room.

That was our last interaction with the man we owed our lives to. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have met Daniel.

Medics rushed to the room and checked on Georgia. Thankfully, she was doing fine and just needed to eat and drink lots of water. After they treated her, Daniel suddenly entered the room with the same disarranged glasses.

“Mr. Janus said your leader is finally awake,” Daniel said as he confusedly stared at me, Van, then at Megan.

“Which one–”

“This is our one and only leader, Georgia Thompson,” Megan said as she placed her hand on Georgia’s head. Daniel apologized and grabbed one of the chairs to sit beside her bed.

“Excuse me, but where’s Janus? I still need to thank him,” Georgia asked in her raspy voice.

“Oh, he left after informing us that you’re awake. He didn’t say anything after. He just walked out of the building and never looked back once,” Daniel said as he scanned through a holographic device with words on it.

“Anyway, I came here to discuss a few things…”

While they were discussing, I couldn’t help but stare at Georgia’s missing left arm, and I just noticed that the black mark on her chest had finally reached her neck. I was sure that Van’s had also gotten wider.

“...Well, I think that’s all I want to discuss. You guys just rest here while we’ll handle the rest of the paperwork,” Daniel said and repeatedly bowed down. He then stood up and left, but as soon as he got to the door, he suddenly stopped and turned to us,

“Oh, I almost forgot. I have been discussing this with the other officials, but we’re still unsure how we could ever repay or honor you. However, I think we agreed to give you military ranks and become our new special force, the Paradise Champions. How does that sound?”

Paradise Champions. It sounded good to my ears.

A year had passed, and I was with Van, assisting him as he tried his new prosthetic legs in a hospital in Paradise. Things have changed since then, as they got seven large vans that served as public transport to the other cities and back. The lines to ride them were always long, but it didn’t matter as that was one of the best things that Paradise had provided to the people.

It was pretty cramped, but we had no choice as it was our only means to travel back to Chora City. Marvin gave us the old shack Leo and I used to live in before, and we did quite a lot of renovations to turn it into a real house.

The most impressive thing was that Paradise gave each household one Arq Shard. Since then, gloomy and quiet nights in Chora have become things of the past.

I got to research a bit about planting and gardening whenever we visited Paradise, and thanks to that, Mabel and I were able to plant a couple of dwarf apple trees at the back of their house. It wasn’t that much, but at least she profited from selling our backyard-grown fruits.

That wasn’t just the only good thing that happened recently.

The old Omen hideout became a place of trade and business. The last time we saw the establishment was when Van and I got discharged from the hospital, and since then, we have never stepped foot in it. I heard about the changes from Omen members who went to cities to distribute goods, kind of like our old operations, but legally.

Since we got restless and couldn't imagine the renovations done, the four of us decided to head to the old hideout.

"Welcome to New Doors," said the enormous billboard that greeted us after traveling for two days. The once abandoned buildings got restored, and people were bustling with their shops and kiosks.

The transport van parked in front of Hannah's old medical lab, which became a clinic. We didn't bother going up to her to catch up and talk as we could see from the window that she was busy checking and talking to a patient. As we observed further, the other rooms became pharmacies and stores for medical equipment.

The Communal Building became like an inn, as it had a food hall below, and our old rooms got renovated and became rentable sleeping spaces in case people got stranded for the night. It was full of diners while Reese, as usual, was busy listing things from multiple crates.

We then went to Eli's old workshop in the northern building, and we were surprised by the amount and variety of devices and things he was selling. That man went beast mode and created various gadgets for people to buy and use.

Realizing we needed new light bulbs, the four of us stayed a bit and bought them from his store. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Eli since, according to one of our Omen friends, he was in his office, pitching something to a few investors from Paradise.

Everyone had come a long way, and I couldn't be happier for them.

Marvin and Mabel stayed at Eli's store to look for more things while Van and I went to the Leaders' Hall, which became an office. I didn't know much about legal things, but I believed that was where official transactions and negotiations went through.

I tried waving at Megan, but she looked busy while she talked to the other Omen members. We didn't call for her as I overheard her saying they needed to head somewhere immediately and suddenly left with her group. We looked around the place one more time, and as we were about to exit, someone called us from the second floor.

"Van! Oliver!"

Georgia was the one who shouted, overlooking us from the railings. She immediately ran down the stairs and ran towards us.

"I haven't seen you two in a long time!" she exclaimed as she tightly hugged us.

"Oh, Megan already left? She’s been saying for the past months that she misses both of you."

Georgia looked way better than she was before. It was like she finally put down the heavy burden she had been carrying and left it to move on with her life.

"Megan is closing a deal with a city far in the south because apparently, it was one of the cities that survived the Great Decline," Georgia explained.

"You guys are more suited for this kind of job than being soldiers, huh?" Van said as he smiled at her.

It was the best decision we ever made.

"I guess you're right. We're more comfortable with this life. The others also didn't want to join them because they wanted to return to their everyday lives," Georgia responded. Her eyes suddenly sparkled as if she was talking about the most incredible thing in the world when she continued.

"We don't have to fear anymore since we got official licenses and stuff! However, I'm still confused why you two rejected a position in Paradise's research team."

Van was more knowledgeable than me when talking about things such as research, and I believed he would be a perfect addition to their team. We might consider those things later, but for now, we just wanted to be reunited with each other and live our days peacefully.

"Oliver can’t focus on his responsibilities because he needs to take care of me," Van jokingly said, but it was partially true, to be honest.

"...but hey, where's your bionic arm? I thought Paradise gave you one?"

Georgia held her left shoulder and smiled. Like Van, she was offered an arm for her heroic deeds in fighting off Adam and the Exalted.

"I don't need it. I'm happy with what I have now, plus I want to make this as a symbol that I fought for what was right," Georgia explained.

"...but I did accept the pacemaker they offered while they figured out a way to cure me fully. Can't live without a heart."

I didn't expect the day would come that we would be talking about Paradise on a lighter note. Daniel was doing his best to steer into a much better and fairer future for all of us.

Every sacrifice was worth it.

A week after visiting the old hideout, I brought Mabel with me as I went to where we buried Leo. We placed fences around it and erected a sign to let passersby know that someone of great importance was buried there.

Here lies the hero, Leo Price.

"His dying wish was to make sure I keep you and Marvin safe," I said.

"Don't worry, Leo. Oliver and his brother are always with us. And hey, we now have apples in our backyard! I remembered how you liked eating apples from my store before, so we decided to plant our own…in memory of you…" Mabel stuttered as she choked up.

Finding my brother was my only goal back then, and now that we were reunited, I had nothing more to dream of except to live a peaceful life with him and the Harrises. However, recalling my times with Leo made me realize a new dream; to live my life freely, like what he intended for himself when he was alive.

It almost took us four days to return home as the transport van made several stops in every city. Upon arriving, I saw Van reading our parents' research. I didn't realize he still had it after we moved out of the hideout.

"You know, I've been reading about their work and reflecting on the operation done to me, and something popped into my head," Van said as he flipped a page.

"What if it's not just for helping or harming people? What if it's a stepping stone for some kind of technology waiting to be discovered?"

You know what? I think he did have a point.