Ch 11 - Don't

Days of Light

Jackson couldn’t focus.  Since waking up that morning, he couldn’t think of anything else but how quickly time was passing.  Though they had woken up at the crack of dawn, the morning seemed to pass by in a single heartbeat.  It felt as if they had just sat down for breakfast when the waitress brought them their bill.  They had only just walked into a music record store when their stomachs began to rumble again for lunch.  Why?  How did time sudden pass so quickly that Jackson could barely remember the contents of that same morning?

“Jackson?”

Mark’s voice brought him out of his daze as he spun his pasta round and round on his fork.  “Hmm?” he replied, cursing himself yet again for losing track of time.

“Are you listening?” Mark asked, spooning some soup into his mouth before taking a small bite of his bread, “I asked if we can take some pictures when we get to the park.”  He smiled as he chewed, not a hint of worry on his face.

Mark had woken up ashen faced.  Though Jackson had asked, Mark denied having any kind of pain attacks during the night.  It was a farce though… Jackson knew it.  Though he probably could have slept through an earthquake, he knew from the look on Mark’s face that the latter was not feeling well at all.

“Yeah,” he replied, his throat tight as he set down his fork, “That’s a good idea.  Let’s… let’s take some pictures.”  He smiled the best he could before taking a sip of his water.  Pictures.  Why didn’t he think of that from Day 1?  They could have had so many pictures by now.  Why didn’t he-

The both jumped as the glass in his hand shattered.  Shocked, Jackson stared at his hand as red seeped from the multiple cut wounds.  What just happened?

“Jackson!” Mark exclaimed as he dropped his spoon and leaned forward to grab Jackson’s wrist.  With a napkin, he gently brushed aside the stray pieces of glass and dabbed at the blood.  “Oh, what do we do?” he asked, looking around with panic, “Hospital?”  Several other restaurant guests looked their way as some rushed off to find a waitress.

Snapping out of his stupor, Jackson stood and gave a strained smile, “Must have held the glass too tightly… it’s fine.”  He accepted a gauze from a waitress and said quickly, “I’m fine, I’ll visit a clinic.”

“Clinic?” Mark asked, gripping the hem of his shirt tightly, “Shouldn’t we go to a hospital?”  He looked to the waitress for confirmation anxiously.

“No, it’s not that bad,” Jackson reassured him, “It’s bleeding a lot but it’s not deep.”  He dug in his pockets for a few dollar bills before nodding towards outside.  “Let’s go, I’m sure there’s one near here,” he said as he led the way out.  Mark followed him silently, a look of anxiety still present on his face.

With a short taxi ride to the clinic, Jackson received a similar diagnostic to the one he had given earlier.  The cuts were shallow though large and wouldn’t require any stitches.  With sufficient disinfectant and gauze, they were out of the clinic in less than fifteen minutes.  Even still, Mark remained silent and frowning as they stepped back outside into the sun.

“I’m fine,” Jackson repeated, letting a small smile fill his lips, “See?”  He held up his bandaged hand and waved it.  “I’m sorry you didn’t get to finish your lunch,” he added apologetically, “Are you still hungry?”

“No,” Mark shook his head, looking at the bandaged hand with a small frown.

“I’m fine.  ” Jackson said, pointing to a convenience store, “You don’t have a phone so let’s get you a disposable camera,” he said.  Taking Mark’s wrist with his good hand, he led the way in and walked down the aisles.

They were already on their second last day.  Tomorrow, they would spend most of it driving back to Facility and… that would be it.  Jackson picked up a camera and stared at it, not quite seeing.  Blankly, he walked over to the cashier and handed her the camera. 

It felt as if he were going through the motions.  He felt strangely disconnected as the thought of the end settled in his head. 

Tomorrow, he would return the Critical to Facility and put back on his white lab coat.  Tomorrow, he would resume his life as a technician and look at test results and lab findings as if he had been doing it his entire adult life… because he had.

Taking the camera and his change, he led the way back out into the sunlight and pulled out his phone to search for a nearby park.  Beside him, Mark hovered with suppressed excitement.  It was enough to suffocate him.

The drive to the park was short.  Even as they climbed out of the car, Jackson watched blankly as Mark skipped his way towards the beginning of the park trail.  He gripped the camera tightly in his uninjured hand and followed.

“Jackson!” Mark exclaimed, coming back to him with sparkling eyes, “Tell me how to use the camera?  I want to take pictures.”  He gestured to the scenery.

Mark was a fast learner.  Within seconds, he had snapped up a handful of pictures.  Off again in a light skipping pace, he led the way through the trails to the park where families played with their kids and dogs ran free on the grass.  In the distance was a jungle gym where a family of four laughed as their dog bounced about excitedly.

Jackson spotted a bench where he could easily keep his eyes on Mark and walked over.  Sitting down as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, he leaned back and watched Mark.

The Critical giggled when the dog jogged towards him.  Leaning down somewhat cautiously, he reached out a hand and touched the dog’s nose.  The young children hobbled over under their parents’ watchful eye and the four of them began an innocent game of tag.

In a daze, Jackson pulled out his phone and held it up towards Mark.  Pictures… he should take pictures.  As the scene unfolded on his phone screen, he felt a familiar sense of desperation well inside of his chest.  The picture on his phone was a moment in time that would never come again because…

Tomorrow, everything would return to normal.

He jumped when something cold touched his cheek.  Looking up, he could barely believe his eyes as the dark silhouette of his workmate shadowed over him.  “What…?” he muttered without thinking.

With a smirk, Im Jaebum tossed him the cold can of soda he had been holding and plopped down next to him on the bench.  Cracking his own soda open, he took a swig and answered Jackson’s silent question.  “I was in the neighborhood,” he shrugged.

“In the neighborhood,” Jackson repeated with a deadpan voice, “Right.”  He cracked open his own can and took a long swig.  He hadn’t realized just how thirsty he really was.

Jaebum nodded and glanced in the direction of Mark.  “That’s 907?” he asked, his tone of voice lighthearted and carefree.

“Mark,” Jackson replied, “That’s Mark.”  He gripped his can and winced as pain shot through his wound.

“What happened to your hand?” Jaebum asked without looking, his eyes still on Mark.

“I broke a glass,” Jackson replied, “Nothing serious.”  He shrugged and took another swig.

“Hmm,” Jaebum said, nodding absentmindedly, “Things are good?” 

Jackson fell silent, his gaze still on Mark.  Though Jaebum hadn’t been specific, they both knew what they were talking about.  In the neighborhood, Jaebum had said.  Jackson wasn’t so sure about that.

“Good,” he replied, “Things are good.”  He leaned back and sighed.  Might as well get to the point… there was no way Jaebum was just in the neighborhood.  “What’s going on?” he asked.

“You haven’t checked in this whole time,” Jaebum said, leaning back as well and swinging an arm on the back of the bench, “You were supposed to check in every day, Jackson.”

Jackson shrugged and replied, “Slipped my mind.”  It was true… at first anyway.  He had forgotten to check in the first two days but then, he didn’t want to. 

“They’re worried about you,” Jaebum said, crushing his empty can, “They think you’re going rogue.”

Jackson snorted.  Rogue?  “Haven’t I always been?” he asked, doing the same to his own can and staring at it with irritation, “Since when have I followed the rules?”

Jaebum chuckled and nodded in agreement. Silence fell between the two as they watched the dog tackle Mark in an all-out throw-down.  It was the kind of silence that felt weighted… the kind that would eventually give way to a topic no one wanted to discuss.

“You need to bring him back,” Jaebum said, his voice low and heavy suddenly.  All traces of carefree had disappeared, replaced by a serious tone of warning.

Jackson swallowed the lump he hadn’t realized he had in his throat and glanced at Jaebum.  He wasn’t surprised to see darkness shadowed on his senior’s face.  “What if I don’t?” he asked, half out of curiosity.  What was the worst that could happen should he chose to set Mark free? 

“They’ll cuff you for something stupid,” Jaebum said grimly, “You’ll spend the rest of your life locked up.”  He shook his head in disgust and added, “They might even start running tests on you, Jackson.  It won’t be pretty.”

Locked up and made to be a test subject… Jackson hadn’t thought about that.  He had imagined the worst as being kicked out of Facility and living the life of a deadbeat but never as a test subject.  Was Facility really that kind of place?  What had he been doing all these years to have not noticed the dark side?

“He’s seen the outside,” Jaebum said, his voice gentler now with empathy, “He’s gotten a chance to live like a normal person.”

“Normal,” Jackson repeated softly, images of Mark’s pale pained face flashing before him, “Throwing up blood in the middle of the night isn’t normal, hyung.”  He rubbed his eyes and tried to think clearly.  “Isn’t there anything we can do?” he asked, his voice thick with desperation.

Jaebum was silent for a moment before he said, “He’ll save lives, Jackson.  He’s already saved lives… the drugs we tested on him have-”

“Hyung,” Jackson said, feeling that sense of emptiness settle in again, “His original… tell me about his original.”  He didn’t want to think about anything anymore.  There was nothing he could do so he wanted to feel nothing.

“It’s… not a happy story,” Jaebum said with a sigh.

Jackson looked at him with questions. 

Sighing, Jaebum stared at the can in his hand.  “His original is from the United States.  Or… at least he was from the United States.  They were a family from Los Angeles.  Mom, dad, two brothers and a sister.”  He paused and threw his can towards the trash a few feet away.  It went in without a hitch.  “Had an accident a couple years ago… house fire,” he said grimly, “Whole family is gone.  They’re survived by his grieving paternal grandmother.”

Jackson stared blankly as the story settled in.  House fire… Mark’s original was already gone.  Just like that.  Was life always that fragile?  Looking at Mark now… he suddenly felt as if simply being alive was a miracle. 

“What the hell are we doing?” Jackson murmured, “We… we’re killing people, hyung.”

Jaebum’s face grew grim as he looked off into the distance at the children’s parents.  “We’re saving lives, Jackson,” he said softly, “Our harvested organs are giving people a new chance at life.  Our drugs have kept death at bay and our findings have prevented spread of mass diseases… we’re making a difference.  I believe that with all of me, Jackson.”

Jackson felt his gut twist and shook his head.  “We’re cloning babies in secret, raising them like cattle underground, testing them against their will and slaughtering them before they’ve even had a chance to look at the sky… Tell me again that what we’re doing is the right thing,” he said, “We’re saving lives by taking lives.  How the hell does that make a difference I can justify?”

“They’re copies,” Jaebum said though the sad tone of his voice greatly contradicted his harsh words, “They weren’t supposed to exist in the first place.”

“So what the hell does that make us?” Jackson asked, suddenly angry, “Are we God?  Are we some great being that can decide who we bring to life and who we choose to die?”  He clenched his fists together and ignored the stinging in his injured hand.  “How arrogant are we to do what we have done…” he murmured, feeling ashamed of his own existence.

Jaebum was silent for a moment before he murmured softly, “We are an arrogant race.  After what we’ve done in the short span of time we’ve been on this planet, Facility is only a fraction of our arrogant nature, don’t you think?”

Jackson said nothing.  It was true so how could he refute?  He knew Jaebum was right; they had saved lives.  It was something that could be proven with statistics and numbers.  At one point, he could justify it with logic.  Now… he could no longer do that.

“Jackson!” Mark exclaimed, running over to him with a smile, “The dog… did you see?  They gave me a treat and-”  He paused abruptly and looked at Jaebum with cluelessness.  He looked back at Jackson with a silent question. 

Before Jackson could answer, Jaebum stood and put on a smile of ten thousand watts.

“You must be Mark,” Jaebum said, holding out a hand, “I’m Jaebum, Jackson’s friend and colleague.”

Mark reached out to hold Jaebum’s hand, looking still confused.  “What… what’s a colleague?” he asked, look at Jackson.

“I work with Jackson,” Jaebum said quietly, “At Facility.”

Mark’s face faltered, as he stared at Jaebum with apprehension.  “Oh,” he said, taking small step back without realizing, “H-Hi…”

“He was in the neighborhood,” Jackson said, standing and putting himself between Jaebum and Mark, “He’s leaving now though.”  He looked at Jaebum with sadness.

Jaebum returned his look with sadness as well before giving his head a shake.  “Yeah, I was on my way home,” he said, giving Mark a warm smile, “Saw the two of you having fun out here.”

Mark nodded silently, gripping his camera tightly in his hand. 

Jackson felt a small tug on the back of his shirt and swallowed the lump in his throat.  “We still have some fun to be had,” he said, “So we’ll get going first.”

“Right,” Jaebum nodded, stepping to the side, “I’ll walk you to your car.”

They were silent as they made their way to the car.  Jackson led the way with Mark trailing behind him and Jaebum walking a few feet away.  It was suffocating, despite the warm breeze that blew through the park.  He knew it was no coincidence, meeting Jaebum at the park.  Whether it was Facility’s doing or Jaebum’s own intention, the meeting was meant as a warning.  Bring back the Critical or face becoming one yourself.

As they approached the car, Jackson looked at Mark and said softly, “Wait in the car?”

Mark nodded and climbed into the passenger side quietly.

Jackson turned to Jaebum and said with a grim voice, “I know… I have a lot to lose if I don’t bring him back.”  He wanted to believe that Jaebum had come of his own volition to warm him.  Jaebum was his senior and a close friend.  Even so… “But, hyung, if I do bring him back… I will lose the one thing in my life that I think I might want the most,” he said softly, “I… I’m not sure at this point that I can face that.”

Jaebum was quiet for a moment before giving him a soft smile.  “Jackson… trust me,” he said softly, “It won’t be easy… but it’s for the best.”

Jackson opened the car door and placed a hand on the doorframe.  He couldn’t convince Jaebum of… what?  Letting Mark go?  The Critical was already dying… what could Jaebum even do for them?  What was he even expecting?

He felt a hand on his shoulder in consolation.  With a sigh, he made a move to climb in when a sharp pain pinched the base of his neck.  Jolting in surprise, he turned to see Jaebum pull back away from him.  “What?” he asked, feeling a bit bewildered.  Did Jaebum just pinch him?

“Trust me,” Jaebum said, his face pulling into a worried frown, “It’s for the best.” 

Jackson felt his knees buckle as he stared at Jaebum’s suddenly warped face.  Trust…?  Why did he suddenly feel as if all the strength had been sapped from his body?  “H-Hyung?” he said, his own voice sounding distant in his ears.  It… couldn’t be.

“Trust me,” Jaebum said in a voice that sounded both distorted and tunneled.

Darkness filtered through his vision as Jackson gripped the car door frame.  He wouldn’t believe it.  His most trusted friend and colleague… no, he wouldn’t.  “Don’t,” he slurred, his vision darkening, “Don’t… please…”  Jaebum wouldn’t drug him… he wouldn’t.

“Please trust me,” Jaebum said softly, reaching forward to hold Jackson up, “I’m sorry.”

“No…” Jackson said, “Why..”  He could no longer speak.  The drug Jaebum had injected into his neck had taken effect quickly.  He was already useless.  Even so, he refused to let go of the car door.  From inside the car, he heard Mark call out his name with hesitance.

Please, Jackson begged with his eyes as everything went dark, please don’t bring him back.  He felt his grip slip as his arm fell to his side and his head lolled backwards.  Through the roaring in his ears, he heard Mark’s scared voice calling his name.  His blurred vision gave him a glimpse of Mark’s worried face before everything went completely dark

Please… don’t.


Author's notes:

Oooh we're basically nearing the end!  Last chapter coming up :)  

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