The cafeteria was silent, the lights dim and deactivated, with only one corner remained illuminated, the light donning upon the teens. They were silent, the atmosphere strained, even if the light bounced from the soft metal walls, bathing them in a warm aura.
The Chinese girl’s lips quivered, the words crawling to her throat.
“Do you think we should visit Boboiboy?” Ying quizzed, mixing her cocoa in her cup with a metal spoon. The warm drink emitted steam that fogged her glasses, her eyes obscured by the vapour, yet she didn’t mind.
The remainder of the scattered team paused, their actions halted as if they were in a movie. Yaya’s spoon of rice was suspended in mid-air, her arm arched to eat; while Gopal’s teeth never detached itself from the burger, the bread of the meal sinking and rising like a steamed bun.
Slowly, both older teenagers came to face each other’s faze, their eyes squinted in worry. Sure, they might be on different sides, but they’re still friends. They’d saved countless universes and worlds together all the time. They can’t just throw that away.
“Maybe we should,” Yaya agreed, the metal spoon clinking against the glass plate. Her eyes met Ying’s, gazes determined. “It’s only fair.”
The two turned towards the Indian male, searching his expression for any hint of objection. In the dark, the cold atmosphere, sweat trickled down his dark skin, dripping past his dumpy nose, and down to his stubby neck. Fully aware of the severity of the situation, his teeth sank into the burger, biting down a measly portion before setting it down back to the plate, self-conscious and unable to chew freely, crumbs still plastered on his cheeks.
He shifted nervously in his chair, lacing his fingers together underneath the table, the underside of the furniture cold against contact. What used to be a wide space for him to move, was now a cramping space that had was closing against him with every second that passes.
“I—I, uh,” he stammered, craning his neck from them. “I think—”
He stutters the same word over again, tripping over his own tongue as the two ladies stared him down, waiting for an exact answer. Eventually his words turned incoherent, and his speech slurs. He fell into silence, looking at his boots in defeat.
“Gopal,” Yaya started patiently. “I know you can’t accept that he’s a villain—neither can I. Even so, we’re still friends, right?”
His eyes darted up anxiously, as if to say that was not the case, but he was outnumbered two to one. He pursed his lip in nervousness before nodding his head, cold sweat soaking his suit, despite the chilly atmosphere of the cafeteria, with no lights left as they left the area, the only source of illumination extinguishing into the darkness.
* * *
Their voices were drowned out by the endless screaming and expectations. There was no time for them to lament on their pasts, let alone relieve them. Shadows of their darkest had latched on them, rendering unable to move on to face their main goal.
They had searched for solace, sanctuary, but their quest had come to an ultimate demise as their siblings had been taken away, or brutally murdered. They were unable to come for them now. Not anymore.
Why was this so painful?
“You’re not doing yourself any favours,” Fang scorched, drumming his finger along his bicep as the brunette attempted to escape through the window. Shards of shattered glass littered across the floor before the hatch, the sunlight bouncing from each piece delicately.
Reverse grinded his teeth, the glass in his palm piercing into his skin. The pain was numb to him, but the warm sensation of blood wasn’t. The warm, thick liquid burst violently from his palm, dying his hand red and the floor accumulated a small puddle of scarlet, his reflection blurred out in the puddle.
There was a cluster of bandages on the bed, discarded and the blood dried into clumps. The shadow manipulator’s pink eyes glared straight at him, arms crossed in distaste as the evil twin of his former best friend returned the favour.
“I don’t see how you’re okay with this.” Reverse’s was so furious his body was trembling and tense. With a grunt, his fist uncurled, and the shard of bloodied glass clattered against the ground, clinking against its decimated peers. Droplets of blood added to the previous batch, with no sign of halting.
Fang’s glare did not waver. “I promised him that I would be there for him. This is what he would have wanted. To keep you safe, to protect his brother.”
“Like you would know,” Reverse quipped, his injured fingers twitching, creating new streams of blood caused by muscle tension.
Like always, the shadow manipulator’s expression remained stone cold. Without his glasses, he seemed less intimidating than before, but he had yet to lose his touch.
Fang exhaled in irritation rather than anger. “TAPOPS wouldn’t kill him.” His arms unfolded from his chest. “At most, they’d beat him around a little. He’s strong.”
“A LITTLE?” Reverse exploded. “Do you even know what goes on in those cells? Do you really think it’s all rainbows and sunshine? They just tone it down in front of you kids so you’d stay. The actual torture is much worse than tickling.”
For once, the alien looked startled, even if a little. His posture straightened, his eyes suddenly gained light, and his lips quivered. He’d seen many things. Sometimes a bit too much.
TAPOPS had always been a home to him, especially after his departure from Earth. He had grown to be oblivious and ignorant of the horrors that this home might hide, the evil that lurks beneath those metal floors. If it wasn’t for Reverse’s words that jogged his memory, he might have forgotten that TAPOPS was still an organization that existed in reality.
Reality can be cruel.
His fists clenched, his eyes avoiding Reverse’s.
He knew he shouldn’t believe him so easily. This could be one of his mind tricks, something that he’s done before in the past. He knew he shouldn’t let it happen again, but there was nothing he could do.
“Let’s go get Boboiboy.”
* * *
The cells were dark and dead, with the criminal’s muffled hollering and heckling, there was nothing to it. The air was moist, with the lingering scent of metal and sour milk and rotten eggs. The lights flickered between dead and life with no sense of stability, the floor coated with moss and unknown substances.
Each containment unit was dark, the criminals residing within fast asleep, their snores rattling their metal slabs and the energy barriers remaining true to their purpose, the invisible layer preventing anyone from escaping their captivity.
Like other nights, this should be silent, quiet. But this night was not any other night. Three figures emerged from the entrance, a small lantern held by the leader, its light barely radiating any radiance.
They entered the area, almost slipping on the floor. Incoherent whispering resonated through the units, but they were safe. The criminals were dead asleep.
The lantern was their only source of guidance. Yaya held it up as she passed through each cell, trying to glimpse at the villain that was inside. Sometimes it was simple, where the criminal was large in size and accommodated half the room’s space. Some were difficult, as they were smaller in terms compared to the others.
After some searching, they had hit a dead end. They were confused—he was supposed to be here.
Ying’s pigtails bounced as her head jolted to the end of the room, where there was a few more cells that had left undiscovered. With renewed anxiety, her two friends quickly followed her direction, the lantern flickering and threatening to go out.
The first few ones were empty too. But the final one did not disappoint. At first, it appeared to be empty. The undisturbed metal slab and the floor said so. But as they inched the lantern forward, they could see the silhouette of a young boy facing the corner, his head laying on the walls as he hugged his knees.
The three exchanged concerned glances, unsure of their predicament. Gently, the hijab-wearing girl’s hand reached out, balled into a gentle fist, and she knocked on the barrier, sending ripples through the later of pure energy, creating dull electric zaps that were harmful on the other side.
“We’re going to see your brother,” Yaya declares, voice hushed. “Is there anything you want to say to him?”
The albino didn’t so much as flinch. Perhaps he was asleep. In an odd position, but they weren’t in a position to judge. Maybe they are, but they would rather not to.
For a moment, there was nothing but darkness. The lantern had settled on the floor nicely, the candle burning calmly and peacefully.
“You would help me why?”
Their gazes whipped to him in shock, but his figure didn’t even move. Every strand of his hair was donned perfectly, nothing out of place.
“Your brother is still your best friend,” Ying said. “The least we could do is help him relay a message.”
“… you’ll be expelled for treason.” His voice was barely a whisper. “Relaying messages for a criminal would deem you a traitor.”
“And you know this,” Ying noted. “Are you familiar with TAPOPS?”
Silence ensued. He wouldn’t answer anytime soon.
Yaya frowned. He didn’t sound like a bad person, or feel like it. She’d seen Reverse in person, and this was nothing like how she had perceived him to be. This seemed more like her friend, albeit a defeated version of him, and his identical twin.
Her hand subconsciously hovered over the control panels, her finger flying across each passcode.
“Uh, Yaya?” Gopal squeaked.
The barrier dispersed with an electrical hum, the exit fully provided for the villain. But he didn’t even escape, or even try to. He remained how he was before.
Yaya’s breath turned shallow and slowed, her feet moving before her mind did. The floor beneath her was freezing, which she could feel even if she was wearing boots.
With the stares of her best friends, she crouched down next to him, attempting to glance at his face. His arms were littered with dull bruises that were healing at rapid rates. His long hair was obscuring his features, but she could see the red tint of his eyes, reflecting through his silver hair.
“Why did you become a villain?” she asked.
He didn’t answer. Instead, his neck cracked as he craned his head towards him, his hair reaching to his shoulders.
Why was his hair so long? It’s only been a few days.
“Healing accelerates my body,” he murmured. “I don’t age, but things like my hair grows faster.”
And I’m getting beaten around almost every day, was his unvoiced statement.
His wounds had healed, but the bruises under his eyes remained deep and dark. His red eyes were not insane and filled with bloodlust—it was the dead stare of someone who’s surrendered. Someone who used to be kind.
Not someone like Reverse.
“You’re not Reverse, are you?” Yaya realized, recognizing the expression. It was only shown in one of the twins, and it was someone she was familiar with. He’d showed the exact same expression when Boboibot had been victorious.
He said nothing, but merely stared at her, the life in his eyes dead.
“Oh, oh god!” Yaya exclaimed, expression melting into horror. “We have to get you medical attention!”
She tried to grab his hand, but as soon as their skin made contact, he lurched away as if she was sizzling iron. His dead eyes had the hint of emotion, which was panic and anger.
Yaya stood in confusion, her eyes never leaving the albino, who had returned to stare at the corner endlessly.
“Why?” she asked.
There was no answer, so she waited. She waited until her friends beckoned her to return, but she did not. She stared at the albino, furious tears welling in her eyes, but she still waited.
An hour later, she had to flee with her friends, for the first guard had come to start his shift. She closed the barrier, heart heavy and she returned to her room, pretending to be asleep all night, which in reality, her friends had not heard the conversation and she was conflicting on whether to tell them of the new discovery.