Travel is once again wrecking havoc with my schedule... luckily, it should soon be over.
I quietly made my way to the living room entrance to see what was happening.
“Really, you guys are having this same argument again!?” Hewkii exclaimed. “What’s the point!? I thought we agreed on her staying here so long as you footed the bill!” he gestured towards Hahli.
“We did, and I have no problem with that.” Hahli said. Both she and Jaller were trying to regain their composure.
“I didn’t either, but this has really gotten out of hand,” Jaller admitted. He turned back to Hahli: “at the rate things are going, she won’t even be able to walk soon. What’ll you do then? Help her to the bathroom, bathe her?”
“If I have to, I will,” Hahli asserted.
Jaller gestured wildly with his arms: “Don’t you see how ridiculous that is!? You’re willing to let her get to that point, and you’ll still help her when she gets there!”
“Okay, okay!” Hewii interposed himself between the two. “This isn’t going anywhere, you realize that, right? Look at you; you’re both exhausted. Is this really the time to bring this up?”
Having seen and heard enough, I stepped back, only to almost trip over something. I turned to find Macku standing behind me. The look her face was a worried one.
“Oh, sorry…” she apologized quietly. “We-we’ve got another room, if you’d like to use it.”
“That’d be great,” I yawned. I followed Macku back up the stairs. “Do those happen often?”
Macku sighed. “they do… every week or two that they argue about whether or not Gali can stay here. And every time Tahu shows up.” As we passed by the room where Gali and Kopaka were, I looked in. Gali was sitting by the side of the bed, leaning forward, and… doing something around the pump.
“Hang on, I’d like to take a look at this.” I stepped in to get a better look.
Gali had enveloped the entire pump in a bubble of water that she held suspended; she’d cut small holes in the lines leading into and out of the pump, diverting blood through the bubble instead… where she manipulated it to push dirt, small metal fragments, and other contaminants to the outside of the bubble, keeping them from re-entering the bloodstream. It was a slow, meticulous process, and the Toa of Water was intensely focused; she didn’t even notice my presence. That or she didn’t bother acknowledging it. Having seen enough, I rejoined Macku in the hallway.
“So, the surgery was a success, then?” Macku asked.
“Well, the pump is working better,” I informed her, “but Gali’s still keeping an eye on him while cleaning the blood.”
“She’s a miracle worker,” Macku said without a hint of doubt.
“I suppose she is.” I couldn’t help but wonder how Macku had developed such a respect for this one Toa, in spite of her obvious… failings. “What did Jaller mean when he said she’d just slip away again after this?” I asked. “She seems to be doing rather well now...”
“She is,” Macku replied as she opened the door to another room, “and it’s the same way whenever Tahu shows up. When the opportunity comes for her to do something that really matters for her former teammates, she steps up and does it…”
“…but?” I could sense there was more.
“Apart from those times, she… she feels useless. Ever since the Toa Nuva broke up, really… I think it broke something in her. Afterwards, she just didn’t find meaning in anything she could do anymore.”
“Surely, there must be something,” I argued, “I mean, imagine her working in a hospital, doing things like that… and I’m sure there’s lots of other things she’s good at. Even just the wisdom of an elder Toa must be worth something.”
“It is, and she worked at a hospital for a while,” Macku explained, “but most of the cases that show up these days are little scratches and bruises that just about anyone could fix; not something that makes her feel… essential. Anything worse usually comes out of the arena, and she won’t support those fights by fixing the gladiators up again and again. Tahu’s the only exception.” The Ga-Matoran’d taken a seat on the bed.
“So how’d she end up here?” I wondered.
“Hahli’s concern, mostly. She could see her slipping away like that, becoming more and more depressed at feeling… not needed, you know? She could see Gali was losing that drive, that purpose… I mean, anyone could see it happening. She shut herself out, her place was a mess, she wasn’t making any money, she stopped taking care of herself…”
“She let go.” I concluded.
“Exactly,” Macku agreed. “When she couldn’t afford to live on her own anymore, Hahli invited her to move in here and took her to places, tried to get her to try new things, hoping something would capture her interest and get her going again.”
“And she didn’t like any of them?”
“That’s the vicious thing about depression,” Macku sighed. “It destroys vitality. I’m sure she would have liked something, but… it just didn’t get through to her. It’s like she sees everything as doomed to be pointless from the outset, and that colors the experience a lot.”
“Except when a wounded fellow Toa shows up at the door,” I noted.
“That’s the weird part,” Macku acknowledged. “The moment she’s got that opportunity, to help out and old ally… it’s like that fire in her instantly sparks up again.”
“What keeps putting it out?” I wondered.
“Well, in Tahu’s case, they inevitably end up arguing about what he does, and how she disagrees with it. Then he gets angry, bashes her on her weight, and they throw insults at each other. When he leaves, she feels worse than ever about herself.”
“That’s rather rude of him,” Really, I knew Tahu was temperamental and prone to acting without thinking, but I couldn’t imagine him being that vicious towards Gali… even when the team broke up, I remembered him being relatively civil about it.
“To say the least. I swear, if it wasn’t for the fact that he at least gets her to get off that couch for a while, I wouldn’t let him in.” Thinking about Tahu seemed to make Macku’s temper flare up too. Was Tahu really that bad?
“Well, insults aside, he would be right… I mean, Gali has gotten rather big…” I still found it hard to believe Gali’d let herself get to this point when she could see it happening. “She does know, right?”
“Of course,” Macku said, somewhat indignant. “She struggles with it every day; you really think she doesn’t know?”
“No, it’s just… How’d she let it get to this? Couldn’t she see it happening?” That comment set Macku off.
“You really don’t get it, do you?” she got off the bed. “She can see it every time she looks in the mirror, feel it every time she struggles to get up of that couch, or wakes up gasping for breath! Believe me, she knows!”
“Okay, sorry…” I raised my hands slightly to indicate I meant no insult.
“And you know what?” she continued, “Hahli’s right: Gali’s ashamed of herself. You know, she used to go outside occasionally, until those rude Agori kids started calling her names; now she won’t even go near a window. Jaller tried his ‘tough love’ approach, and guess what? It only made things worse. Whenever Tahu comes along, she still helps him, and he goes and confirms her fears by saying she should be ashamed of herself, and that he’d be embarrassed to be seen with her. You know what that does to her!?” Macku pounded a fist in the air to drive the point home. “They’re making her feel terrible! Worthless! They’re only driving her down further!” She shook her head… “She knows she has to do something… but she can’t do it when everyone around her just makes her feel bad about herself. I-I honestly think she’s given up on it.”
Macku seemed to be at wit’s end. I stood by, a bit surprised by how emotional of a subject this was for the Ga-Matoran. For a few seconds, the room was quiet as she collected herself. “Sorry I went off on you like that…” she continued, more quietly. “It’s just… It’s hard to look at her like this, you know? She was a hero to us… she still is. I can’t even count how many times she was the only thing standing between us and death… and saved us. So I don’t care, I don’t care what state she’s in or what she looks like; neither does Hahli. It’s our duty now to take care of her, regardless of what Jaller, or Tahu, or anyone else says.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, I think you’re right.” I told her. “And if what I saw today is anything to go on, I think you’ll pull her out of it, too.” I honestly did. If, when he woke up, Kopaka broke her the way Tahu did, I’d have some serious words for him about the concept of gratitude.
“Thanks. I hope you’re right.” Macku gave an earnest smile. She sighed, then turned her attention to the room: “Anyways, uhm, there’s a bed, some cabinets if you need to bring anything in here, and the bathroom’s down the hall…
“I think I’ll just need the bed…” I was having trouble just keeping my eyes open.
“In that case, good night, and I’ll make sure to have breakfast ready in the morning.”
“Thanks. ‘night.” Macku proceeded to leave the room. I closed the door, still trying to process everything that had happened in the last few minutes, but I was burnt out for the day. After I turned off the lights, I pretty much collapsed onto the bed and was out in seconds.
I’m seeing something… I’m in some kind of complex underground… a brutish, dark being is standing in front of me… is he laughing at me? I look around… there’s figures, figures lying on the floor... it’s dark, but I feel like I can recognize them… hang on, is that… is that Kopaka? And Tahu? They’re not moving! None of them are… are they… dead? I can’t tell from here…
“You were fools to come here," the being says in a deep, ominous, twisted voice… a voice of madness. “This staff belongs TO ME!”
“Not if I have anything to say about it!” I’m surprised to hear my own voice… there’s a dark determination to it…
“There is NOTHING you can do!” the being’s eyes flash red.
“Watch and see!” I call out. Suddenly, there’s a growing sensation all through my body… first it’s a kind of tingling, then more like pressure… I feel like it’s something I’m doing, but what is it? It’s getting painful… a sharp, unrelenting pain… I want to scream, to shout, to stop, but I can’t. The pressure keeps building… It’s becoming almost unbearable… Suddenly, I hear myself screaming, but it isn’t pain… no, it’s… it’s rage.
I woke up in cold sweat. It was still dark out, and a quick glance at the clock confirmed I’d only been out for a few hours… well, out... apart from unintentional memory sharing, I guess. That image, though… the Toa Nuva lying either dead or knocked out in front of this bizarre being… Who was it from? Who else was awake this time of night?
Oh right… Gali.
Since I figured I wouldn’t fall back to sleep all that quickly anyways, I decided to go and check on her. The room was still lit; I entered to find her still using a water bubble to ‘filter’ Kopaka’s blood, though the bubble was larger and cleaner than before.
“I guess you weren’t kidding when you said ‘all night’,” I quietly remarked.
“Oh.” Gali hadn’t noticed me coming in. “Yes… this is a bit of a long process.”
“Seems to work, though,” I noted. “That bubble already looks better than a few hours ago.”
“I think I got most of it,” Gali said, gesturing towards a small bucket set on the bedside table. I noticed there was quite a lot of a dark, grimy substance in there.
I leant against the wall opposite the bed from Gali. “How’d that even get into his blood?”
“Deep cuts that were not quickly taken care of,” the Toa of Water concluded. “My brother has never been known for his medical skills, much as he likes to try.”
“Not many doctors to turn to up in those mountains,” I remarked. “He said he studies stars up there… but he’d have to occasionally go out and hunt something to eat. That probably explains the injuries.”
Gali looked at me curiously. “Studying stars? Is that what he told you?”
“Well, something like it… you don’t think it’s true?”
“No, it probably is… to the extent that it’s the reason that he’s convinced himself of.” Gali turned her attention back to Kopaka.
“Convinced himself? What do you mean by that?”
Gali sighed. “My brother has always wanted to be alone, to do things himself. He never trusts anyone else to get a job done, so he isolates himself; alone, he can’t rely on anyone for anything. I guarantee you that’s the reason why he went into those mountains, not to look at stars; he wanted to get away from everyone to live out his ideal of self-reliance.” I was reminded of how difficult it had been for Kopaka to even admit he needed Gali’s help, even when she was standing in front of him.
“But he can’t really do everything himself. I mean, look at the state he’s in.”
“Good luck getting him to admit that,” Gali said somberly. “I tried for ages and never got anywhere. The only time when he actually worked with us was when not doing so would’ve killed him. Even then, he never asked for anything.”
“Fair point.” Again, it was Kopaka trying to be completely independent from others.
“Have you met Tahu?” Gali asked, much to my surprise.
“Yes,” I answered. “He actually pointed us to Hahli to find you.”
“You know what he does?”
“He fights in the Arena Magna. I saw last night’s fight.”
“Dreadful business, but… it’s kind of odd,” Gali mused. “You know, he and Kopaka used to argue all the time, about who was in charge, about what they thought of each other… yet for all their differences, they’re doing the same thing now.”
“How so?” I thought stargazing and arena fighting were vastly different occupations.
“They’re both living out their fantasy,” Gali answered with a hint of foreboding in her voice. “… and it’s killing them both.” She sighed again. “Look, you really shouldn’t be up at this hour.”
“I know, just… bad dreams.” I mean, it was kind of true. “This is interesting, though.”
“Get some rest, really…” Gali said dourly. “I can bore you with stories from the past later.”
“Fair enough,” I yawned. Perhaps it wouldn’t take all that long to get back to sleep after all. “Goodnight then.”
I made my way back to my room, still wondering what exactly Gali meant by Kopaka’s “fantasy.” His wish to be totally independent, not answering to nor relying upon anyone for anything… I hadn’t really questioned it before. But the old Toa of Water was right in that there had to be a reason why Kopaka went into those mountains specifically; he could study stars far better by working the telescopes in one of New Atero’s knowledge towers… and I was pretty sure that several of those already existed at the time he left. It fit, though rather uncomfortably so for me; much as he wished to do everything alone, surely Kopaka had to acknowledge at some point that he wasn’t the expert in everything that he apparently thought himself to be. He’d already reached that point at least once. It was why he was here in the first place: there were things he simply couldn’t fix. Not alone, that is.
Thing is, he had to come to death’s doorstep to admit it.
author's note: this is the chapter in which the 'folly' of Kopaka, and his way of thinking, really begins to show through; so far, I feel like he's mostly been a grumpy, taciturn, but otherwise admirable character... Gali sees things very differently. That conversation will probably continue at some point.
I'll post more chapters as I finish them. Enjoy!