It was time for the bar to close, so I set to work on my daily routine.
It was really a much-needed peace to calm my heavy heart, so I started working without any comments. The barkeeper noticed, and made some snarky remarks about how quiet I was, but for the most part, we worked in silence.
And just like that, we were done, about ten minutes faster than usual. Somehow, that made me a little sad.
“Something on your mind, Tarik? Why are you just standing there?” the barkeeper asked me.
“You know you’re done, right? You should probably go home and get some rest.”
With a wave of her hand, the lights to the bar dimmed. It really was quite dark in here, and if I tried, I could see the stars outside the window.
“…I should,” I finally said.
“You don’t want to?” the barkeeper said.
“No. Not really.” I smiled bitterly. “I just want to stare at the stars a little longer, that’s all.”
“Something is definitely on your mind.”
She turned the lights back on, but only halfway. Then, setting down her bags, she pulled out a chair.
“Well, I guess I might as well stay a bit longer too. Here, have a drink. On me. Uh, no alcohol in this one, sorry.”
She poured me a glass of apple juice.
I drank, and we sat in silence for a bit, watching the stars.
“Thanks,” I said. “Every time I have any kind of an issue, you always seem to know, and help me out. So, thank you. And sorry for wasting your time.”
“Wasting my time?” she laughed lightly. “It’s not a waste of time at all. I’m glad I’m able to help…it’s what I’m here for, isn’t it?”
“A bar usually isn’t the first place people look for therapy,” I said.
“I suppose not. But this is peaceful in its own way. The bar is a place for people to gather, and a place for stories to be shared. That kind of simple joy is the best, I think.”
“Yeah. I get what you mean.”
She didn’t respond to that, but there wasn’t a need to. I hadn’t had that many conversations with the barkeeper before, but for some reason, I trusted her. She could not be older than 20, definitely younger than me, yet I couldn’t help but admire her a bit. It took a certain kind of skill to run a bar at this age.
And somehow, she seemed awfully familiar, yet almost entirely alien…
“You know, Tarik,” she spoke all of a sudden. “You always looked like you were very sad, in some way. It was kind of funny like that…you were always the most optimistic, idealistic person, but there was always this sadness to you. I noticed it the day I met you, but I didn’t know what to say.”
I didn’t know what to say either, so I just kept quiet.
“I guess that I just noticed that the sadness was a bit greater today…sorry if I’m being insensitive.” she said.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s just…been a hard few days. Thanks for being here.”
“I know I shouldn’t be here right now, but I kind of want to just sit here for a while longer. You mind, Phyrum?”
“Hmm…I don’t like the word ‘should’. Just because something ‘should’ happen doesn’t mean it actually happens, and what you think ‘should’ happen is different from what I think ‘should’ happen, and different from everyone else’s definition of ‘should’. As for what I think, well, I don’t think you shouldn’t be here right now, so feel free to stick around.”
There was a long quiet, before I sighed softly.
“I just…don’t really know what to do,” I admitted. “The last mission caused nearly half my troop to get killed, and I’ve just been really depressed about it. Everyone else is already back to normal, joking about the next mission, and here I am, scared to death about the fact that I might not make it out alive.”
The barkeeper played with the glass a bit, her metallic fingers reflecting what little moonlight came in through the window.
“I think most people would be. People aren’t always as fearless as they’d like to imagine themselves being…and people are more affected by tragedies than they’d like to believe, too. I think that’s where part of your sadness comes from, Tarik. You’re the kind of person to want to care about everyone, and so when they are hurt, when they die, you accept their anguish. It’s kind of painful to be like that, because you want to help everyone, and everyone dies in the end…yet you never stopped,” Suddenly, she smiled. “Ah, what am I saying? I suppose I see a bit of myself in you, that’s all.”
“What do you mean by that? Have you seen death too, even at your age?”
At that, Phyrum began laughing, laughing for a long time without end. It was a gentle, light laugh, though, one that was oddly relieving. It made me want to laugh as well.
“At my age? Tell me, Tarik…how old do you think I am?”
Uuuh, isn’t that a dangerous question?
“I’m thinking somewhere between 16-20. You’re definitely younger than me, at any rate.”
She just kept laughing for some time.
“…what’s so funny?”
“No, nothing. I probably should be flattered, actually. But you know, I’m a lot older than I look.”
She rolled up her sleeves, and revealed her metallic arms. I wasn’t surprised to see them – I’d always known they were there – but they really were incredibly sophisticated machines. At times, I even forgot that she had lost her arms, the robotic ones moved so realistically.
But this time, something was slightly different. Her hands glowed with a dull pink light, and somehow, I could feel the force emanating from those palms. It was such a soft light…
“A long time ago, and I mean a very long time ago, way before you or anyone else in this world even existed, I lost my body and my life trying to save the people I cared about. But I was saved by a miracle, and a friend built this robotic body so that I could continue to live.”
She rolled up her sleeve all the way up to her shoulder, and I could see that even the joints and the part of her exposed torso was also metallic. In fact, underneath the shirt she was wearing, her body seemed to be glowing with that same soft light.
“So…you aren’t human…”
“Does it matter if I am or not? All I will say is this: In the time I’ve been alive, I’ve seen a great deal about the world, Tarik. A robotic body like the one I have does not die, and I’m sure you understand that…so I have been living for a very long time as well. I’ve seen so many people die – because I inevitably will outlive them – and I’ve seen entire civilizations rise and fall on these very lands.
“As an immortal being, seeing people grow up and live is at once very happy, and very sad…because at any point in time, I’m always reminded of the fact that they grow up, grow old, and are inevitably getting closer and closer to death.
“But at the same time, life cannot be meaningless. Because although I’ve witnessed the beginning and ending of so many lives, every single one has been incredibly unique, and incredibly beautiful. I see humans, and witness their joys and hopes, and I accept their sadness and frustrations…throughout the many, many years, I have gained countless experiences, made countless friends, and witnessed countless tragedies. Yet, even if I could change the past, I would not wish to negate all the tragedies I’ve seen…sadness is, in a way, also a powerful aspect of human existence, and I don’t want to deny people the paths they have traveled to get to where they are now.”
“That kind of life difficult enough, and here I am speaking from the perspective of an immortal being. For you to try to take in all the good and evil of the world around you, I think you know as well as I do how much pain that will cause you. To care about everyone is far too much strain for the human mind, yet you choose to keep this path and keep that morality in the face of the death. I must admire you for that.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I just nodded.
“The reason why I’m telling you this now, Tarik, is because you stand now at the edge of a crossroads, much like I did when I was younger. You’ve seen the ways your path could lead you, and the limits of both kindness and evil. And, though you are fortunately not immortal, you will see your fair share of tragedies and sorrows as well. I had someone who listened to me and helped me out when I was where you are, so I think I should at least pay it forward a little bit.”
“What in the world do you mean…?”
“You, as with everyone else in the world, exist in contradiction against yourself. You wish to save the world, as fitting of your job as public defender, yet you also wish to protect yourself and the few people close to you, as the human being named Tarik Kono. And, especially with this next mission, those two desires may become mutually exclusive.”
Her eyes grew sharp, and I felt a slight chill running down my back.
“I suppose you could be unlucky in a way. Most people don’t have to choose between those two desires in their lifetimes. But somehow, I think you will. And some day, if you have to decide between the world and yourself, could you make a choice?”
I thought about it for a moment, but Phyrum immediately waved it off.
“You don’t have to think about it right now. I’m getting waaay too ahead of myself, anyway. I guess, the only thing I really wanted to say before I got carried away, is this: no matter what you choose, it will be true to yourself. That goes for everything in life. No matter what you choose, at that moment, it is correct for you, so you shouldn’t blame yourself if the result isn’t the best option.”
“That’s all I have to say. Sorry for offloading that onto you all of a sudden.”
“It’s okay. It’s just a lot to think about. How old are you, really?”
“I’ve lost count by now. Older than you could imagine.”
“I…see. Sorry for being rude earlier, then.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. I do look to be about twenty, so you weren’t exactly off the mark or anything. And seriously, after all that, THAT’S what your first concern is?”
She said that so outrageously I couldn’t help but laugh too.
It was still dark, but Phyrum’s arms were glowing that soft pink…it really was kind of soothing.
“The mission starts tomorrow, doesn’t it?” she said. “I know that you might not remember this conversation after that…but try to get some rest. Don’t worry too much about the moral dilemmas that face you, because in this situation, no human being can be perfect. Good luck, Tarik Kono.”
It seemed a good time as any, so I stood up, and waved goodbye to that weird barkeeper, before stepping out into the starry night.