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and everyone is loved, somewhere in time

Art by Mary Pelc.

In a world where two souls can be reborn in a thousand universes, two lovers navigated through memories and tried to remember who they were for each other.

The story started like this:

The body laid unmoving, colors draining from her face, down to the pool of blood wetting the soil under their bodies. The world stopped in motion, saves for the crow hovering above and far cries of battle shedding another body to dispose of behind.

The air is thick with blood, but Ava knew better of grief materialized.

Her consciousness thinned; body ached, straight down to her bones, and for all that she finally found her triumph, it was nothing compared to losing the only one worthy enough of her trust—a safe keep where she, a flightless bird, could land.

Had she been more foolish she would have named it for what it was, but she had not. The word felt too big—too heavy—and she was a soldier terrified.

Terra. Lacing her fingers to the stiffening frame, she pulled the woman into her arms, crouching above the limp body.

The sky was getting darker, signaling a storm nearby. Ava cradled her face, hair heavy and wet, crimson-stained. She looked beautiful like this, Ava thought; eyes closed and pale lips slightly puckered, as if waiting for a promised prince to wake her up from eternal sleep. There were pieces of silver and bronze armors scattered beneath their feet. Ava remembered the sword in her hand, glistening with blood not her own. How she could feel the other’s heartbeat stopped before the last blow.

They had been Ava and Terra, in this life, born to serve a losing battle.

She had long ago learned that bonds are temporary; the Divine could confiscate it as easy as taking a child’s toy out of their embrace. She had accepted that, understanding the reality of the battlefield and the ruthless nature of war. War was not poetic nor noble; it did nothing but take without permission nor restraint, and she could only hold as much as fate gave her permission to.

Ava was not, in any sense, a believer, but there was always a sense of truth in prophecies. For she was once destined to drift alone; orbiting a peace whose name dissipates at the end of her tongue. Sympathizing with your enemy was a betrayal, let alone falling in love with them.

Of course, she knew of this. She already paid her price.

There was a later time to mourn. Not far from here, there was a legion who needed her help. She was a soldier first, even before she was a human. Taking someone’s life had always been as easy as breathing, and she still had a war to win. Her logical part told her to run away before someone laid their eyes on them and realized what they had done; to find refuge before it was too late. 

She stayed still with Terra’s cold body in her arms instead.

They looked like lovers like this, almost. The kind that poets would sing and lament upon.

For whatever it’s worth, this moment was theirs alone. No one could see them here, burrowed beneath remnants of what once had been empires—two people terrible in their love it tore each other apart.

The last thing Ava saw had been long eyelashes, dropping long shadows over the curve of Terra’s cheeks, barren of life it once possessed.

I’ll always think of you. Ava closed his eyes and thought about black orbs, boring back into her heart.

This was the first of many ends.

Everyone wanted to be anywhere else than where they’re currently at. Imagine high school. Now imagine graduating, missing it while not wanting to repeat the bleak days of repetitive schedule, the empty faces desperate on each others’ validations like whirring moths to a flame. 

College was not very different from high school in some ways, and this was the place where destiny was repeated for the second time.

Classes were more silent. Everyone was surrounded by a degree of anonymity. The names were long with even longer numbers following them. The professors were less strict. Ava realized that she liked college better. Remembering names had never been at the top of her skill set and the place trivialized it.

She had been in three consecutive group projects with someone and still had no idea who they were at the end of the semester. 

He found several students ditching the class after the empty seats started to engulf the room, as if the old, plush red were swallowing the people inside, insistent on keeping the space devoid. She ignored it, turned in her assignments on time, went to all the exams, asked meaningful questions, and provoked discussions.

She was good at what she did, as long as it stirred her interest and forced her to feel as inadequate as her feet brought her running, always wanting to chase and surpass.

Sometimes she caught herself searching amidst the crowd. What for, she could never answer. A feeling, perhaps, of something she had lost years ago, and like a particularly good dream, she couldn’t help but chase it forward.

At times, it was a woman with brown, verging black eyes, staring at her through an array of books, amidst the slow hours of the library. Other times, it was a girl leaning on her shoulder for too long when the bus alighted. In that span of a moment, she would trade anything for another line of traffic.

Her friends had called it soulmate, swooning at the concept. She had called rubbish.

Ava had dated several people as far as her schedule let her. Some girls, several boys, although none of them lingered long enough for her to remember them beyond their eyes, full of glitters; and lips, always saying something she wished they did not. 

Naturally, she did not remember any of their names. Halfway through the first year, beneath piles of assignments and books written by dead authors she had been required to read, she was convinced that she was not good at commitment, especially the ones that came with names.

And so here she was, navigating through the neon-lighted pubs scanning for black hair and unwavering eyes to match. It’s what people call preference, she insisted one particular night.

Yeah, as if your exes did not basically share the same faceplate, her friend replied.

The smell of piss, sweat, and cheap beers made her gag.

On nights like this, her throat craved to throw up a name into the world; head spinning the morning after. As if a name would make this any less real. She realized that she was more afraid of the prospect of it becoming so.

Every hand felt misplaced and wrong. Their eyes were too soft, too wary. Sometimes she thought about loving someone she had never met; someone who never actually existed. The images filled by the universe solely to ruin her for anything else.

On nights like this, when she was exhausted and toppling over the resolve she had built for years, she let herself ache. Aching on the loneliness she could not seem to fill. A void that had grown so big it became a part of her.

For years, she tried to make peace with this hunger. For years, she pleaded for someone—if there was any—to think of her as much as she did them; irrevocably failing.

Tomorrow, she would forget. Shed her skin and leave the room clean. She would take out the trash, come to class at eight am sharp, and refuse to hold a stranger’s gaze for too long, scorching at the back of her head. No matter how it rang true. How it made her body sang in glee.

But tonight.

Tonight, she would open the door and let the ache pour in; dissolving her into nothing.

The third time was saved for an idle city under a blaring summer eye. In the middle of a warm July. In a secluded seaside where salty air filled one’s nose and let their mind wander off to the ocean and creatures within.

The horizon stretched far, and when dusk came, it swallowed the sun and left shadows of trees behind. 

Here, she was a lanky girl whose limbs were everywhere, jutting out in every crook as if trying to make a room for themselves. Freckles dusted all over her body like a galaxy, her mother had said once, and she liked to swim.

Her mother asked her to weed the lawn and so here she crouched, surrounded by tall, yellowing grass that seemed to stretch forever. Her head spun. Below her, crickets sang louder. The summer had reached its peak and the sun was relentlessly glaring. Ava found the dizziness enjoyable, still, the kind that came with repetition and freedom of not having to think about anything else for the next few hours. Only her, the sick-looking grass, and perspiration gliding on the curve of her back.

Her feet were cold. The polar opposite of sensations felt oddly grounding.

A sudden bell startled her. In the doorway, stood a girl, hair falling like a waterfall, a sullen look on her face. She wore a plain turtleneck and a leather belt that hung loose on her torso. An unfamiliar package was held on her hands. A reddish hue tinted her cheeks and Ava wondered if she had been running here.

Ava caught her eyes, letting the stare bore into her. The drive to hold it was inescapable. The girl stared back, an unreadable look in her eyes. For a second her lips twitched and Ava almost thought that the girl wanted to say something.

“I’m leaving this package here. It’s for your mother.” The girl said. Deep in her heart, for a reason unknown, Ava wished it was something else.

“And your name?” Ava tilted her head, questioning.

“Does it matter?”

“Yes.”

The girl scowled, both of them stayed silent until she huffed, putting down the package in Ava’s doorway, and told her, voice low it resembled whispers.

“Sorry, I did not catch it,” Ava said, apologetic.

“You really don’t remember me, do you?” The girl snapped and Ava found herself staring at two searching eyes. The girl’s eyebrows frowned, face frustrated and unsure. It was as if Ava was playing a prank on the girl and she was forcing her to drop the truth bomb; that Ava was just messing around.

Truthfully, Ava had a fair share of childhood friends whom she never contacted after she moved here. Most of them weren’t that close and she simply decided not to, lest she became attached. Still, she was adamant that she had never met this girl before, let alone befriending her.

There was a moment when the girl’s face soured with grief—a realization, perhaps. Anger fled her voice, leaving the words somber, almost desperate.

“Remember me in the next one.”

And with that, she ran; disappearance as swift as her arrival. Ava stood still, a chunk of soiled grass in her hands. For a moment, she truly thought that she had missed something important—something she should have realized upon landing her eyes on the peculiar girl. Black hair, looming eyes, knobby legs. 

The heat became overbearing; she could feel breath puffing in short gasps. Her head spun and she wanted to run—wanted to chase the girl and coax the answers she was withholding. It sounded ridiculous. She wanted to do it.

“Ava? What are you doing?” Her mother appeared in the middle of her running thoughts. Wiping her wet hands on her apron, it seemed like she was in the middle of preparing lunch.

“Ah—package.” Ava’s tongue felt heavy. She approached the front door to take the package and yet found nothing. She swore there was a package there.

“What package?” His mother sounded confused.

Ava opened the gate and scanned the road in front of her house. There was no one. The girl had left without a trace.

“Never mind,” she croaked, walking back inside. “I’m almost finished with the lawn. I’ll tell you once everything’s done.”

“Okay,” Looking unconvinced, her mother dropped the topic anyway. “Tell me if you need anything.” With a last glance, she disappeared inside.

Ava felt a lump in her throat upon the girl’s disappearance, unknowingly why. She stared at her now dirty nails and felt filthy all over.

Remember me in the next one.

Next what? The voice in her head echoed.

She tried to recall all the occasions where she could have met those glinting orbs. Unwavering as the gaze steadily pierced through her.

Her sight darkened for a moment and she felt her body hurling forward, left steadied by the trembles on her knees. Her hands were still holding the coarse grass and she wondered if it had been this red under the sun. Her back was wet, cold sweat dripping everywhere.

The smell of blood, sharp and tangy, tangled in the air. For a second she freaked out except there was no blood—she had not been hurting herself. Not for months.

The grass in her hands was crumpled and there was soil everywhere—in her palms, under the crease of her nails, her left cheek—

She was trembling.

Retching her breakfast on the unfortunate soil, Ava caught herself ripping open something she did not know she had before.

Heaving on a balmy air of summer, she laid down still, blood rushing in her ears. A crow soared above her head, croaking a premonition.

It felt like the beginning of an end.

In the fourth leap, both of them remembered.

In this universe, she was responsible for everyone’s lives, born—made—with the red-hot engraving of A1010 on the back of her nape. A1010 was not sure of what her quirk was; how far it could take her, but her unit needed an extra push, and an extra push she would be. She was pragmatic like that. Still, throughout decades worth of career in saving others’ lives, she had never thought that she would finally die.

People like her only knew rushing spare parts and different oils rubbed on her joints. Of course, the worst part was when they—their maker—had to disassemble them. She had been through that once. It did not feel like a phoenix but that was how humans understood and romanticized resurrection.

People like her did not die nor resurrect. They were rebuilt and stored in a white room full of metals. Obviously, the fact that she’s going to die that day was probably easier to discern. By human, she added as an afterthought.

There was a war, for a first.

They’re waging a war with another species or not quite, and A1010 realized that this must be the epilogue. A curtain dropped, like a holo she used to watch in the space station while waiting for her body to recharge. She had found it silly; the ones with two humans dying on-screen, screen black with a silent [I love you] at the bottom of the screen.

She was grateful for subtitles. It helped her understand the myriad of primordial emotions.

She was just about to turn back and offer reinforcements when she heard a ragged whimper not far from where she was floating. She dashed before fully realizing whose noise it could be.

Dodging debris and ruins, jumping from one shambles to another, she finally saw her under the shade of a shop’s arbor.

Laid there was a member of her alliance; her black hair matted with sweat and blood, face spasming as she hissed and gasped and tried to stay still, knowing that she would die once it stopped.

“-ey—T2307—Hey!” A1010 kneeled, ripping her left compartment and pulling her emergency kit. T2307’s core was impaled with a metal rod. A1010’s scanner whirred as she took in T2307’s status. Material unknown. Damage level: 90%. She needed to stop the short-circuiting, at the very least, to avoid further damage.

“Stay with me,” she blurted, already planning the shortest route to the nearest station in her head.

T2307 was another quirk-bearer who enrolled in the same year as her, with an electromagnetic field as her main affinity. Back in Academy, A1010 often slept in the same capsule as her, alongside the other heroes, waiting for an emergency call while the wires charged their semi-robotic body. They were in a battle together, once, fighting side-by-side, and their quirks fanned each others’ fire like it had been invented only for them to wield.

People like her did not have friends. Only units and allies, she was told. The fact did not stop A1010 from telling T2307 the holo she just watched when they were placed on the same duty—T2307’s face had soured with annoyance yet she still listened in silence—or asking T2307 to spar with her while everyone mindlessly raced for the first annual checkup.

Both of them found a mutual interest in reading, A1010 came to understand during one shift. T2307 dryly admitted that she had hidden several old books under the billet of her capsule. Books were not strictly prohibited, although still ill-advised, and it was best if someone with their rank of duty did not leave suspicious belongings laying around. They were not meant for attachment, after all.

T2307 had been fond of picture books, and A1010 literature. The translated ones, unfortunately, since the language of homosapiens had gone extinct long ago. She had tried to borrow one of T2307’s collections out of curiosity, finding strange comfort in the myriad colors of oddly-printed pages. In return, A1010 read her some of her favorite poetries.

“I don’t know what you see in them,” T2307 once confessed, head leaning on the edge of A1010’s shoulder. It was late and everyone was deep in slumber, save for one or two soldiers patrolling around. And yet here they were, hiding in an unused storeroom with a flashlight in hand. To read, as if their choice in fooling around was not already absurd as it was. “Poetry, I mean. It’s confusing.”

“It’s meant to be confusing, in a way,” A1010 hummed. “It’s a private story. The reader is always overhearing a confession.”

“What does that even mean?” T2307 asked. From her point of view, A1010 looked far away. Eyes bright, face all sharp angles illuminated by the moon-shaped luster of a flashlight.

“Poets never write with an audience they can visibly see,” A1010 felt her shoulder getting sore so she patted her lap, silently asking T2307 to lay her head there instead. The other woman complied. 

“They write to converse with themselves, make sense of what they are feeling. At times, when you write, you’re both the author and the reader. You remove each layer you have and suddenly you’re at the center of it all.” She paused, considering the next sentence. “The greatest part of it all is that poetry helps you discover yourself; the crooks and nooks and the parts you’ve never thought you had before. And to have such power—it’s like every time I read poetry, I have a piece of that writer and they have given it to me to help me make sense of myself—sorry, I probably sound ridiculous—”

“No.” T2307 uttered, face still comfortably burrowed in A1010’s lap. 

“What?”

“You don’t sound ridiculous. Hell—I don’t understand most of it, okay? But you sound really passionate about it,” she was facing A1010 now. “And that’s what matters.”

For a second, A1010 only gaped.

“Okay,” she huffed, her cheeks felt warm all over. “Okay.”

“So,” T2307 snickered. “Are you going to recite another poetry or not?” When A1010 looked at her, she was fully grinning, eyes bright under the dim light. 

She looked beautiful.

“Right, Princess,” Gaining her composure back, A1010 grabbed her book and skimmed the page, trying to find the one she had bookmarked for today. “Whatever you want.”

“Say that again and you won’t be able to recite anything for a week.”

 

Picture books and poetries; it was before the war, of course. And everything that preceded the war had become mere history.

“Stop.” T2307 sounded horrible. A large gash was tearing her left ribs, wires and blood splattering everywhere.

“No—stop talking,” A1010 was not the most skilled in the medical part of things, but saving T2307 was the paramount importance. She had to suffice with sheer will. “You’re worsening the wound.”

“You don’t understand—” another lungful of air, “you can’t fix this.”

“You don’t know that yet.” 

Leave.”

“Shut up,” A1010 spatted, panic rising as T2307’s face went pale and ashy. The gushing blood and electrifying sparks from her short-circuited wires acted as a painful reminder of her looming end. A1010 was running out of time, and she painfully realized that, at that moment, T2307 was a ticking bomb in her hands, silently waiting to explode.

A1010’s voice was trembling, yet her hands were steady with years of experience. She blinked away the horrible warm pressing behind her eyelids. People like her did not cry. They did not have a predicament for that. “We’re getting out of here alive,” she said, more to herself than T2307.

The wound had stopped bleeding, but it did not require an expert to see that T2307 was beyond saving. Her core had been damaged beyond repair. And people like them, without their core, were simply a junk of trash. Uncanny creatures made of metal parts meticulously tethered all over their bodies.

For a moment, A1010 was trembling of fear she did not know she had before. Her hands were wet of blood and oil and sweat and perhaps tears but she did not care anymore. She could save her. No—she had to save T2307—

She had never been the best at denial.

She continued to pump blood before a warm hand stilled her effort. She looked up and saw rubies staring back at her.

“I can’t lose you again,” T2307’s voice was strained, face torn up in agony. A1010 had never seen her like this—like a deer in a headlight; a hopeless prey under the face of demise. T2307 had been the bravest, the brightest among them. Steadfast and confident in her own power, even when they were cornered by nameless faces they had to eliminate. “Please.” 

Her eyes used to be black, then, A1010 remembered it like the back of her hands. The eyes she had wanted to drown into.

A1010 had heard of this, whispered in revolt by her captains and lieutenants. Cursed red eyes bestowed for those who went astray; insanity, they spat. Unfit for a hero. An expert in her station once gossiped that red eyes were caused by immense trauma, loss, or painful moments. It had not been rare to find heroes dead with red eyes open, face pale with grief.

Needless to say, those were the same people who were put inside the white room. Their names stripped away from the capsules and never came back. No one ever asked questions. She had not believed the words of mouth until today.

A1010 had never seen a red more beautiful, and memories flooded into her.

A1010 saw the days they spent under the sun. Beneath the undulating ocean waves, threading each other as one. The days where love was easy as a spring breeze. The times where it was short like a winter kiss. Memories unraveled in front of her like ancient holo rolls.

Amongst millennia of memories, she found the last time they fought like this; when they were cruel and beyond saving; their beginning. How the world crumbled around them as they laid bleeding: a painful parallel. Both of them stood in opposition, then, though that did not stop them from fighting a losing battle. Eyes glazing, blade splitting the next target until it was both of them, alone, standing amongst ruins and corpses.

Terra.

She wanted to scream.

“Ava.”

“Did you—” Ava croaked in disbelief. “Did you realize who I was then?”

“I never stopped thinking of you,” Terra confessed.

Oh. 

“You don’t understand—” Ava’s breath caught in her throat. “I’ve been so alone—I thought—” Her eyes started to flood again.

“I know. I’m sorry it took so long.” Terra said, her only intact hand-weaving the loose strands of Ava’s hair, letting it fall curtaining her face. The other woman leaned to the warmth. “I’m sorry it has to end like this.” 

It was always a chase for them. Always something to triumph and challenge over. Not to win when winning always felt like a defeat. Even when Ava remembered how her hands trembled as her sword pierced through Terra’s heart, back in the beginning, that was as close as she could get to salvation.

There was a crow, then, unlike now where animals were produced in labs full of anything that did not breathe.

“How many times are we going to do this?” Ava whispered, her voice was trembling and she could not breathe. She felt like dying, or she was, but it never mattered.

“Forever,” Terra promised. Ava realized that her cheeks were wet with tears. She had been crying, too. “Forever.”

“Okay,” Ava replied. What she meant: I’ll find you again and save you then.

“I’ll always think of you.” A promise; the last one. What she meant: I’ll find you again and save you then. 

Terra felt heavy in her arms. Ava remembered the human poet she once read back in the Academy; when she did not know of fear and losing, when life was a matter of order and she would live as long as his maker demanded it.

The story ended like this:

Everyone had bones to pick, and their love came at a price bigger than they could pay.

That did not stop them from trying.

Ava understood death, now. One worse than having your joints removed and ripped apart.

There, surrounded by debris and ruins, under the shade of a shop’s failing ardor, she kneeled in defeat, clutching a part of her that, once again, went missing, and reflected how the poet’s words had never rung truer; how terrible it is to love something that death can touch.

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