The Stone Flower
The hope of humanity and the despair of the sacrifice. Red flowers blossom within her two pierced eyes.
The dreams she had at nap time were always warm and bright. Running about on the lawn, holding a kitten on her lap. Her father's back, the treats baked by her mother, the row of planters in the greenhouse... The dreams she had at night were different from her dreams at dawn.
How strange, thought Halua each time she awoke in the brightness of mid afternoon. Everything she forgot while she was awake, she saw in her dreams. To see them so clearly, even though they were all gone...
Her mother and father died in an accident. The kitten might be alive still, but it would have stopped being a "kitten" long ago. Two years had passed since then. She was sure another family would be living in the house with the greenhouse by now.
All she had left was Emil, who had played tag with her on the lawn. Her little twin brother was the only one who had always been with her since she was born - the whole of the past ten years.
"Are you awake, Halua?"
The bright, warm memories vanished without a trace. She could no longer even remember what she had been dreaming about.
"You're covered in sweat. Perhaps it would be a good idea to change into your summer clothes soon."
Sensei took a handkerchief from her pocket and used it to wipe the sweat from Halua's forehead and neck. Then she awoke Emil, sleeping beside her.
"You wake up too, Emil. It's snack time."
"What is it today, Sensei?"
Again?, she thought, to the response of biscuits and cocoa. Biscuits, rice crackers, sponge cake: these were the only three treats they were ever given. This was a "facility", after all, and she had no mother to make different snacks for her each day anymore. Halua knew it was wrong to even ask.
But children enjoy snacks, so whatever they were given, as long as they were called "sweets" they would be happy, the adults thought. She was left with no choice but to pretend that she was the same way.
Emil, unlike Halua, was a "childish child". Today, as usual, he happily arranged alphabet-shaped biscuits on his plate and struggled over which to eat first, before finally putting one in his mouth.
The biscuits weren't particularly tasty, but as she watched Emil eat she wondered if maybe they tasted as good as the ones her mother used to make. Somehow frustrated, Halua tried saying something sisterly-sounding.
"Don't play with your food."
"You've got the spelling wrong, too. You're missing an 'e' here."
At the facility, Halua and Emil weren't taught in their native language. The language here was Japanese. The last time Halua and Emil had been taught in their mother tongue was more than two years ago. It was only natural for Emil to forget how to spell things.
"Look, this is how you spell it."
Halua took an 'e'-shaped biscuit from her plate and moved it to Emil's. Right away, Emil smiled broadly.
"You're such a great big sister, Halua."
Sensei, holding a cup of coffee, smiled. At snack time she always sat at the same table as Halua and Emil, drinking coffee and talking to them. When she was at the facility, they would eat meals together, too. Sometimes she would read books to them in bed at night, and in the morning she would always come and wake them. She was just like a real mother.
"I'm an only child, so I'm really jealous of you two."
Was it true? Did she really think that? They hadn't left the facility even once, spending each boring day there. They had lived this way for two years. What about it was there to be jealous of?
Most of all, nothing about the facility was normal. Halua, who loved books, knew what kind of place orphanages, which took in children without parents, were.
Lots of children in a school-like building, several beds to a room, tens of them eating simultaneously in a big dining room...
She had been in a room with six others when she had first been admitted. There were lots of children who looked to be the same age as her. They ate their meals in a big dining room, too. Maybe that's what you would call a normal orphanage. One by one, the children she shared a room with disappeared, a steady stream of new children entering, which didn't seem quite normal.
Finally, since Halua and Emil spoke a different language to the other children, they were moved to this place and given their own room.
Thinking about it now, that seemed strange, too. It wasn't like Halua and Emil spoke no Japanese at all. In actuality, since they had been moved here they had had lessons each day, but they were conducted in Japanese.
The very lessons themselves were suspicious. They weren't the kind you would have in school. All they did was answer questions in front of a machine. It was more like a test than a lesson. Sometimes, the "lessons" seemed more like playing around. Those were like games rather than tests.
Something was definitely strange about the place. They rarely saw any children besides themselves. The only other people in the building were adults wearing white outfits like Sensei.
Sensei looked at Halua, who had suddenly stood up, with worried eyes. She ran behind Sensei, burying her face in her back.
She felt faint laughter. Sensei slid out of the chair and turned around, embracing Halua.
"You're so spoiled, Halua."
The hand that stroked her hair was gentle. It was a little like her real mother's.
"That's not fair! Me too!"
She heard Emil stand up, and a voice saying "alright, alright" with a laugh.
Hey, Sensei. Are you on our side? Can I believe that you're different from the other adults?
Her carefully-ironed white coat smelled faintly of chemicals. My mother never smelled like this, Halua thought. Was it because of this smell that she couldn't fully trust her? Or maybe it was because Sensei really thought the same things as all the other adults.
"Do you love me?"
"Yes. I love you, Halua. You too, Emil."
Then be on our side. Don't betray us... Protect me. Halua repeated this over and over in her head as she pressed her cheek tightly against the white coat-wearing chest.
After her nighttime temperature measurement, and having just a chapter of a book read to her, it was time to sleep. Another long, boring day had come to an end.
Despite each day being like this, Emil was always smiling. He counted the clouds that drifted past outside the window, banged randomly on the keys of the piano in the corner of the room, and drew the same picture over and over on drawing paper.
Emil had not a single doubt that this wasn't an orphanage you would find in stories, where something bad was happening.
For Halua, this was simultaneously relieving and a source of worry. She wanted Emil to smile. But she couldn't help but worry about how defenceless he was, so Halua thought she had to be cautious enough for both of them, vigilant towards everything.
What "lessons" they'd had that day, what they had eaten and drunk, what kind of adults they met, what they spoke about. She wanted to write these things down so she wouldn't forget, but she couldn't. They were probably under surveillance.
When they had only just arrived there, she had intentionally pretended that her left eye hurt. When she was alone in her room, she would frown and press on her left eye. She kept this a secret from both Emil and Sensei, of course.
The following day, her eye was closely examined, despite the fact that she only did what she did when she was all alone.
"Are you awake, Emil?"
"Huuuh?" responded a sleepy voice. She softly reached out and touched Emil's hand.
When they were moved to this building, she was actually supposed to have been put in a separate room to Emil. She had insisted that they couldn't sleep if they weren't together. After spending the whole evening crying, they were finally allowed to share a bed.
Be careful. Don't trust the adults.
She couldn't say it out loud. She was sure someone was listening. But she wished hard as she gripped his hand. She dearly wished she had the ability to convey her thoughts to him just by thinking them.
That day, she had a bad feeling that began in the morning. Something felt very wrong.
When Sensei had said that instead of their morning lesson they would be undergoing a physical examination, the feeling turned to conviction. Nothing good came after an examination.
When she thought about it, when she had been in the first building, several children always vanished after having a "health check". It was after an exam that they had been moved here. Perhaps they were held in order to ascertain the optimal time to move the children somewhere. They might be moved to yet another building. They would be separated from Sensei.
"What's wrong, Halua? Are you feeling ill?"
Coming back to herself, she was standing before Sensei, who looked at her with worried eyes. The hand that touched her forehead to check for a fever was so comforting she could almost have cried.
I don't want to move again. I don't want anything done to me. But she couldn't say it. There was a part of her that couldn't trust Sensei after all. She could call her "Mother" and be pampered by her, but deep down she couldn't rely on her.
Halua marvelled at how Emil wasn't upset about the exam. Having blood drawn was fine. It hurt a little, but she knew right away what they were doing.
But when they attached cold, sucker-like things across her body and connected her to unfamiliar machines, she found it hard to bear. Like when they put her inside a box made of machines. She wanted to tear out the cords from the suckers and run away.
Just when she thought she couldn't take any more the exam would finally end, and one of the adults would tell her she could go back to her room.
Today was different. After removing the suckers and cords attached to her body, they told her to go into the next room to change into her exam clothes. Besides that, Emil, who should have been in the same room, was gone.
Anxious, she began to sob, and a woman in white opened the door as though to hurry her. She was an unpleasant-looking woman who both did and didn't resemble Sensei.
The adjacent room was large and empty. Strange patterns were drawn on the walls and floor, and a large chair stood all alone in the centre of the room. A crowd of adults in white coats stood around the chair. One of them told her to sit. Before she could answer, another adult made Halua sit down. The chair was metal and cold.
"Don't get worked up. We discovered during the exam that you have a serious illness."
The voice was gentle, but she didn't know which of the adults was speaking. At some point she had been blindfolded. She tried to tear it off, but her hands and feet were bound.
"If you don't undergo surgery to remove it immediately, your life is in danger."
It's a lie, she thought. Nothing is wrong with me. Nothing hurts, and I don't have a fever. My stomach is fine, and I don't have a cough.
"Emil! Where are you!?"
"We mustn't allow the infection to spread, so Emil has gone back to his room. There's no need to worry."
That's not what I'm worried about. I have to get Emil out of here, fast!
She called Emil's name frantically, but quickly fell into despair. Her mouth was covered, and however hard she shouted no one would hear...
She could smell antiseptic. There was a cold sensation, and then her arm prickled with pain. She had been injected with something. When her surprised cry ceased, she heard a snippet of the adults' conversation.
"This must be the sixth now. We can't scrap any more specimens..."
"No. We'll succeed with this one."
"If she has even a little self-awareness left, that alone should..."
What were they talking about? What did they mean by "the sixth"? What did "if something is left" mean?
"Even if we fail, she has a brother, right? A direct relative should have the aptitude."
She could feel the blood turn to ice in her veins. They were going to kill her. Emil, too.
Help, Sensei. Save Emil!
The scream failed to materialise, and all that came was darkness.
Halua heard a voice calling her name. It was neither her mother or her father. It wasn't Sensei, either.
Who could it be? Emil only ever called her "Sister". Oh, right. One of the adults was calling her. She was fed up with lessons. Maybe it wouldn't be as bad as a physical examination, though. Wait... hadn't she just had one of those?
Yes, when she tried to go back to her room afterwards... No, she hadn't gone back? She hadn't been able to!
In a second, her memories rewound. Halua shot up. She looked around her. It was that room. The one with the strange pattern on the walls and floor... But something was strange.
"Halua. Do you understand me?"
She turned in the direction the voice had come from. No one was there.
The voice came from a different direction this time. She turned again, but still no one was there. It seemed like she could only hear their voices. That was when she realised why she had felt that something was strange.
"Wonderful! It was a success."
Ignoring the voices, Halua looked down at her feet. The floor was so far away. Of course - this whole time, she had seemed so high up that it bothered her immensely. It was like she had been put on something tall, but she had a strange feeling, knowing that wasn't the case.
The legs looked just like the bones of a skeleton she'd seen in an illustrated encyclopaedia, as did the arms, their colour reminiscent of that of a rotten tree. Something was wrapped around her torso, and she could barely see it.
What's... what's this?
She tried to remove the thing wrapped around her, but it was too tight.
The arm... moved?
Slowly, she tried raising the hand. She found she could move it at will. She spread the hand out and moved the fingers. The thumb, index finger, middle finger...
Could... could it be?
The strange voice continued, saying things like "Experimental Weapon #6" and "the hope of mankind", but she didn't care.
She tried to stand. She couldn't move. That was when she understood that the thing wrapped around her was her own body.
No! No! This isn't my body!
Halua struggled. She wanted to run away; to get out of here. To get away from this body. She flailed her legs helplessly.
The disembodied voice changed into a soothing tone.
Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
She hammered on the wall with all her strength. Stop that, she heard a panicked voice say, but she had no intention of obeying. She banged on the wall again. Feeling a heavy reaction throughout her arms, along with a dull pain, she finally understood.
This... is my body. These monstrous arms and legs belong to me.
Timidly, she put her hand on her face. It certainly didn't feel like that of a human. In fact, she didn't even know if it was a face. All she knew was that she was no longer human.
I'll never be able to see Emil again. If he sees me like this he'll get scared and run away, no doubt about it. Emil is such a scaredy-cat.
Thinking of Emil, she remembered something else: the words, "Even if we fail, she has a brother, right? A direct relative should have the aptitude."
The adults in white coats had also said, "This is the sixth." The voice before had said "Experimental Weapon #6". That meant that five other children had previously been made to look like this.
Maybe the children in the building she had first been put into had gradually vanished because they were used as subjects for these kinds of human experimentation. Out of them, only the children with "aptitude" for becoming experimental weapons were chosen, and moved to another building.
It seemed as though Halua was the first "success". That meant that they had established a procedure by which to create them. And her twin brother, Emil, had the same aptitude...
She thought of Emil's face. His innocent, unsuspecting smile. She had to save him. This thought turned into a brutal force.
Tearing off her restraints, Halua stood. She kicked the door in the corner of the room. First of all she had to get out of there, but with her body she would never fit through a door made for humans. She tore down both the door and the wall.
An alarm began to sound. Shutter-like metal boards covered the walls. Hurriedly Halua tried to stop them with her hand, but something like an invisible force pushed it away.
Thinking about it, she was a "weapon". She was a monster with a power so dangerous that just by hitting the wall she had sent cracks running through it; just by kicking it she had destroyed a solid door. No one would be stupid enough to let something like that run wild. Wild beasts are chained up and kept in cages.
These metal boards are probably part of some kind of special system. Something that even an "Experimental Weapon" can't destroy.
Suddenly, the room was plunged into darkness. The lights had been turned off. The alarm ceased, and all was silent. She had been shut in. They had stopped the alarm because they had decided that Halua couldn't get out.
She tried touching the wall again. It looked like blue fireworks had been set off in the darkness. Halua's body took the full force of the power pushing her back.
I won't give in. I'm going to protect Emil. I can't give in!
Her arms, legs, her whole body creaked, intense pain shooting through her. Her vision went white. Something swelled and exploded.
Suddenly, her body became light. The repellent force vanished, and her limbs were freed. It was neither pitch black nor bright white. Halua stood in completely normal brightness.
A shrill alarm bell rang out, bringing her back to her senses. The wall was crumbling. She went outside, but no one tried to block her path. They probably hadn't expected Halua would escape from the room.
Maybe they hadn't even imagined that she would break free of her restraints. She recalled the panicked voice commanding her to stop.
Shutters had been placed where the corridor began, but compared to the wall they were like paper. Halua kicked through them with ease and proceeded onward.
I have to destroy it - every single thing in this facility. I won't let them make Emil into a monster. I have to get rid of everything related to experimental weapons.
A brutal force welled up inside her. Letting it out, it turned into a blade that cut up all around her. Glaring at the wall blocking her path, it burned down in a mass of flames. Just by wishing it, she could destroy things in all kinds of interesting ways.
Now that she could no longer be called "human", she reasoned, she had obtained inhuman powers. Were the adults trying to use this power to fight something? Had they thought they could use obedient children since it was convenient for them?
The adults in white coats fled in a panic amidst the rubble and clouds of dust. She couldn't let a single one escape. Halua grabbed the ones closest to her and squeezed. Like ripened fruit, they were crushed limply in her hand, without leaving a trace.
Where is Emil? What about Sensei? Maybe she took Emil and fled.
No, Sensei wouldn't have done that. She knew what was going on here; knew that the siblings were being raised so they could be turned into monsters. After all, she was one of the adults, too. She had been nothing more than their kind keeper.
At some point, she appeared before her. Wearing the same white coat as always, she stood there looking up at Halua.
I wanted to trust her. I was so happy when she told me she loved me. I loved listening to her voice when she read to me.
Sensei's lips moved. She seemed to be calling out to Halua, and saying that she was sorry.
I can't forgive you!
She was so angry she almost lost control of herself. Her heart tugged, like it would burst. Something was trying to blot her out...
With all her strength, she mowed down what was before her. A white coat shot straight at the wall, stained red.
Liar! I hate you!
Halua sobbed and screamed. Neither tears nor sound came out. And still she cried. Still she screamed.
As she did so, she saw herself reflected in tempered glass. Her face, round with red eyes, was that of a monster. But strangely, she didn't feel sad. If anything, it seemed comical. That wasn't why she was sad, why she was crying...
Run, Emil! Go somewhere far away from here, somewhere with no adults in white and no Sensei, no one.
How long had passed? It felt like days, and yet only a moment. Everything on the facility's premises had been reduced to a pile of rubble. Would destroying this be enough? She hoped so.
She wondered if she was hearing things. No one would call a monster like this their sister. She turned. It was Emil, without a doubt. Wearing a somehow sorrowful expression, he reached out his hand.
Forgetting how she looked, Halua rushed over to him. We have to get out of here, Emil, right now. Let's go somewhere far away together.
She wanted to run to him, but her legs wouldn't move. They had begun turning to stone. It wasn't just her legs, either - her entire body was petrifying.
Naturally, at this point, if she felt like it she could quite easily release herself from the petrification. She knew this. It wouldn't take much. But...
Emil had been turned into a weapon, just like her. He looked the same, but he had been given terrible eyes that would turn whatever he looked at to stone.
I couldn't protect you. I wanted to, but...
Something tugged at her heart again, and she felt it being blotted out. Was it anger? Sadness?
It's fine now.
Halua smiled. Her face had already turned to stone, and she didn't even know if she could smile with that face. But her human mind was vanishing. She knew that.
"Your magic is too powerful, so... they said you have to be sealed away because it's too dangerous. I'm so sorry."
Just looking at Emil's face, on the verge of tears, hurt. Please. Petrify me more. If you don't, I'll get straight out. Don't let me wake up again...
What colours would she dream in when she turned to stone?
Emil's voice calling to her grew faint. Halua simply gave herself up to a cold sleep.