THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
For years to come, the same scene would play over and over in his head. There wouldn't be a day where Michael would not try to understand.
It had been an uneventful Monday. Like all the other days in his young life so far. There were long hours filled with lessons : languages -many of them-, physics and maths, sports, with a focus on martial arts, History, geography... Only too few hours of recreation with games that were rarely idle : the computer games were supposed to develop reflexes and a sense of strategy, when he would play "hide and seek" with the other kids, he was to use a gun firing red paint instead of bullets and his guardians insisted he called it "blood". The weeks and months flew by, lonely and monotonous. There were other kids to play with or rather "interact" as Madeline put it but noone he felt close to. He did what was expected of him and the adults were pleased. But he wasn't.
There was something really wrong with his life. He didn't know what and at first he had believed his young age was to blame. He had learnt about the outside world in books and on CD-Roms but had no experience of it. Like the other kids sharing his fate, he had been told he was "unique" and that was the reason why they all had to stay in this place called Section for now. The children from "outside" were not as bright and talented as them and that's why they had only two parents to raise them. But they, the Section's kids, were "special", "unique", "flawless" and therefore needed more attention. That was why they had so many parents, so many mums and dads, there was Father Bashir, the literature instructor, Mother Jane the science teacher, Father Karl the German professor and so on... The guards were their natural protectors like uncles and aunts. They were one big happy family and all the kids were brothers and sisters. And noone could take better care of them than Madeline, the queen Mum, the ruler of their perfect if little world.
But Michael was beginning to realize that their upbringing was not as it should be. He couldn't really verbalize any of his doubts. All of his needs seemed to be tended to. His innate curiosity was more than sated with numerous lessons, his gifts acknowledged and nurtured, his physical needs assuaged with the best foods, his health protected by dozens of doctors... Still, something was lacking.
How come none of them here had a last name? It was common in the outside world. Why not here? For a long time he had believed it to be Alpha. All the kids were Alphas. It made sense if they all belonged to the same family. But he had begun to understand it was not a name but more a reference. He had heard one of his "uncle" talk about the "Primes" in opposition to the "Alphas". Who were those "Primes"? And how come the adults kept whispering around them when they used words like "clones", "genes" or "freaks"? Madeline had refused to clearly answer his questions and he had started to distrust her. Not openly, of course. It was not wise to upset Madeline. The children who did were sent to a place they never returned from. It was best to play along and hide his true feelings. Anyway, most emotions were considered a weakness. He had found surprisingly easy to conceal them from those he considered more and more like his jailers. Somehow, he sensed that his "uniqueness", his "superiority" might not be an asset, that maybe the outside world would be a better place for him. But he wasn't sure yet.
Michael was 8 when he was given the proof he had been expecting. It happened on an uneventful Monday, in the most subtle way and his whole world shattered. He didn't know he had been waiting for her, until she came along.
She was... Michael searched for the right word to describe her. Beautiful? Sweet? Feisty? She was all that and so much more... At a loss, he finally settled for "adorable". He didn't voice it out loud but in his head he used the French pronunciation. He was studying it along with other languages and Madeline had insisted that he kept a French accent when he spoke English. She had explained some people, especially women, loved it...
On that fateful Monday, Madeline gathered Michael's group to introduce a new member. She explained that the child didn't fit in her previous group and that she expected them to help her perform better. After her introduction, she called the little girl to join her.
Her name must have been magic because the moment she entered the room, Michael felt as if he had been blind all his life and was finally allowed to see the sun. It hurt to look at her. Only the pain didn't originate from his pupils but from his chest. But he couldn't take his eyes off her.
She was indeed "adorable" with her shining blue eyes and her long blonde hair. But there was more to her, she looked fragile and fierce at the same time. Her gaze kept wandering as if she was a deer caught in flashlights and she clung to a rag doll as if her life depended on it but her chin was lifted up in defiance, warning the kids gathered not to mess with her. Plus, when Madeline announced that Nikita was a five-year-old, the little girl's voice didn't waver when she corrected her : "I'm 5 and a half", she insisted.
When Madeline told her she was now to answer to what Michael would ask from her, he barely registered it. It was a common procedure. He was a natural leader and his instructors expected him to help the newcomers to take their place in the group. The only thing he noticed was that Nikita was now watching him. He distinctively felt his heart stop the moment she did. Her piercing gaze seemed to be able to read his innermost thoughts, in a way Madeline could never achieve.
She kept a steady gaze as she slowly approached him and he could clearly sense her confusion that mirrored his own. He was half conscious that Madeline was carefully studying his reactions but he wasn't able to hide his emotions properly this time. The blonde girl was appraising him too, only in a complete different manner. It was as if she was trying to decide who he really was and if she could trust him. Her test was the only one he wanted to pass. He suddenly craved for her acceptance.
As she stood in front of him examining him curiously, he found the strength to voice : "I'm Michael", hoping this would be explanation enough, hoping he would be good enough for her.
She smiled for the first time. An eerie smile that brightened her whole face.
"Hi, I'm Nikita", she replied. Then, she took his hand in hers and pulled it so he would bend down. He complied shakily thinking she wanted to whisper a secret in his ear. He was so surprised that she would touch him! So few people did. He didn't know why, but everyone seemed to fear him. Strangely, this brave little girl didn't.
When he was on level with her, she surprised him even more by giving him a peck on the cheek. And for the first time, Michael blushed as he struggled with his emotions. She created a whirlpool of conflicting feelings in his young body he just couldn't comprehend.
She kept his hand in hers, giggling sweetly at him and said as if it was the most natural thing in the world :
"I like you".
Her innocent statement left him completely bemused. Suddenly, with her 3 little words, he could clearly see a new reality emerging, a whole life concept completely opposed to the one he had been taught to accept. The proof he had needed was finally there in front of him. He had been living a lie. His intuition had not failed him, there was a different world out there where instead of fearing him, people could "like" him. A world in which it would be right to return this feeling. A place where it was normal to feel and express emotions like Nikita did, innocently and honestly, without any ulterior motives. Feelings were more than a tool used to manipulate or deceive. Emotions were not weaknesses. He was full of them at the moment and he had never felt stronger.
held her hand tighter and smiled at her with gratitude, his eyes thanking
her when his voice could not. Her effect on him had been devastating and he
was convinced Madeline wouldn't like the results. Despite the scene that had
unfolded before her, she had no way of realizing its consequences yet. Michael
had to make sure she wouldn't understand that like a butterfly fluttering
its wings in China could create a hurricane on the other side of the world,
Nikita's innocence had just wreak havoc with the foundations of his Section's
Hours later, laying on his bed, eyes closed for the sake of the cameras, Michael was still entirely focused on Nikita. She had fallen fast asleep a few beds away from him in the dormitory. While he had helped her settle in the room, explaining how things worked in Group 1, she had kept her tiny hand in his. She seemed to trust him instinctively and Michael had never felt so important in his young life. Only when he had showed her the bathroom, had she let go of his hand to get ready for bed. But before leaving, she had given him a worried look.
"You'll still be here when I come back, right?", she had asked.
Michael had smiled warmly and said "I promise".
He had been rewarded by the sight of her radiant smile and the same sweet pain had settled in his chest once more. Weird...
Later, he had tucked her in gently as she yawned holding her doll closely against her.
"'Night Michael", she had whispered before drifting off.
"Good night, Nikita", he had answered resisting the urge to caress her cheek. Strange...
They had only met a few hours ago and already he felt closer to her than anybody else in his short existence. If he focused long enough, his trained ears could perceive the sound of her quiet breathing above the others'. They all slept in the same room. The boys on one side and the girls on another. Her bed was the second on the left facing his. He had picked it up carefully, it was close enough so he could watch over her and notice if somebody tried to bother her or take her away...
He didn't really question his feelings for her but he wondered how come they had bonded so quickly. It was as if they had recognized each other somehow. He had learnt about reincarnation during lessons about India in History class. He had never given it a serious thought before, every religions were studied from an historical and theoretical point of view but Section's emphasis on logic and pragmatism discouraged any moral considerations. But that's how it felt, as if they had met before in a previous life. Maybe they were destined to be together. It conflicted with everything he had ever been taught but he knew better than to trust his teachers now.
Instinctively, he sensed that she didn't truly belong there with them. New kids were introduced to the group from time to time. Over the years, the number of arrivals had increased. Michael knew they were several groups, he didn't know how many, only that Group 1 was the most important to the people in charge of them. Usually, kids arrived at 3 not at 5 and they were sometimes transferred elsewhere after a while but it was the first time a kid was transferred "from" another group.
Madeline seemed to have taken a special interest in the child but still... Was it a test? On him or on Nikita? Michael willed himself to focus, he was good at analysis. Section may not be the best place to grow up but he fitted there. His grades were excellent, he easily reached his instructors' expectations and often exceeded them. What was Madeline trying to do to him? She had just given him the proof his doubts were justified but she was still unaware of it. She had observed with a genuine interest how he had reacted to Nikita. Why? It was as if she had been expecting something would happen but had still been surprised when it did.
Michael sighed. Maybe this made sense to her because she knew of the outside world while he didn't. He couldn't recall ever living anywhere else than Section. His earliest memory was one of a lab. He was only a toddler then and he had fleeting images of a white lab. He remembered fear because he was tied up and pain because of all the tubes that linked him to beeping machines. But that was all. There were no familiar faces, only grown ups in white gowns, face covered with surgical masks, who only touched him with gloves on. After that, he had vivid memories of the first day he had joined the nursery when he was 3. There was only a handful of kids, back then. Nikolaï, Fatima, Jurgen, Egram and Simone. Others had joined the group over the years, Seymour, Sofia, Jan, and more. Later, some children, like Jurgen, Simone and Egram had been transferred, he still met them in the halls from times to times. But the marginal performers left never to return. When questioned Madeline said they had gone "outside" and if he performed well, one day too he could go to this mythical "outside". But Michael had never believed her. These kids had been lagging behind the group. Surely the reward for failure was not freedom. No, it was most certainly death.
shivered at the thought Nikita would not adapt and share the same fate. She
was so different, so trustful, so sweet and tender. He had to do something
about it, help her keep up with the group and protect her. His whole perception
of the world had changed when she had appeared. He had changed. It didn't
really matter why. He couldn't let them hurt her or take her away from him.
She trusted him for some reason and he wouldn't let her down. For the first
time in his life, Michael began to pray. He prayed to the powers who had allowed
them to find each other and wished to be taller, stronger, smarter, older
so he could fight their jailers better. Before allowing himself to rest, he
made a final wish to be everything Nikita would ever need him to be.
Sitting under a tree, in the heart of Section's greenhouse, Nikita was smiling. She sat her rag doll on h er lap and began to comb her unruly red tresses. It had been 6 months since she had joined Group 1 and she had never felt better.
She had fitted easily in the group, the other kids were okay, at least they didn't bother her like the ones she used to stay with. She even had become friend with Seymour who was 7. He spent countless hours trying to make her share his obsession for computers. But her best friend in the whole wide world was Michael.
She liked nothing more than to train with him, he knew so many things! He made her rehearse for her karate classes, repeat her lessons and he taught her how to make funny knots with ropes. He always found time for her even though he was busier than the rest of them. Michael was important, after all. It was natural, he was so good at everything! The thought made her giggle, he had the best grades everywhere, only Seymour managed to beat him at computer analysis and programming. But Seymour didn't have Michael's strength! He always won even when he sparred with older kids. Nikita smiled proudly. Her Michael was the strongest and gentlest. She simply adored him.
But he was so quiet all the time. Not like her. He could stay hours without moving. It was something the adults made them play sometimes, stay completely immobile for SO long! She was always the first to give in, she couldn't help fidgeting. When she would feel Michael's disproving look on her, she would smile in excuse. Somehow, he could never stay mad at her for very long. Yes, he was quiet but she wasn't. She always wandered where she shouldn't. She was a bad girl, she knew. She just couldn't be obedient and nice all the time like the rest of them. But she liked this group and was trying her best to be "good". It was much better than the other group, the classes were nearly the same but here she had Michael. It made a very big difference.
"Very big", she repeated out loud for the sake of Missy, her doll. She suddenly placed her hand on her mouth to quiet herself! NO! She had forgot again! Michael had told her a hundred times that it was not right to speak her mind out loud like that. He kept repeating that "they" listened.
It was one the things he had taught her a few months ago. She had taken him to a tiny room she had discovered one day by slipping through the ventilation system. It was very deep below the level they usually stayed at. Very dark too. But she wasn't afraid. Michael had been very pleased to learn of her hiding place. He had said it was a good place because there were no cameras and no bugs. She had showed him a cockroach on the wall to prove him wrong but he had just laughed. She hadn't understood but she had never heard him laugh before and she had enjoyed it. He had told her that nobody could listen to them there. That it was all right to talk. Michael had taught her then, it was okay to have secrets, that she shouldn't trust everybody so much. Also, she shouldn't tell Madeline all that went on in her head during her weekly sessions with her. He wouldn't really say why, he just kept telling her it was better that way. Secrets from Madeline were okay. Then again, she didn't understand but she trusted him. They tried to go to their secret place once a week after playing a new game Michael had taught her called "Escape surveillance".
Nikita sighed, he would not be pleased because of her mistake. She toyed with the idea or not telling him. But somehow, it didn't sound right to have secrets from Michael. Even though she knew he didn't tell her everything. Well, not at once. She sometimes had to nag him for hours when she sensed there was something wrong before he confided in her. She didn't do it out of curiosity but just because he always seem to feel better after talking to her. He talked so little to the others. No, she couldn't keep her mistake a secret, she would tell him and apologize for her error. He would give her a scolding look and she would promise never to do it again. Then, she would hug him and everything would be all right. She would even make funny faces for him to make him smile. He didn't smile enough. It wasn't right to be so serious all the time.
It was Nikita's personal crusade everyday : make Michael happy. She tried hard to have good grades even in the domains she hated most, like maths or biology, because it always made him smile when she had As. She still had problems with biology though, everytime the teacher wanted her to dissect a frog or a mice she just couldn't. And even for Michael, she wouldn't do it. It was cruel to hurt little animals like that, even if they were dead. She sighed, she could be very stubborn. So, as a compensation for him, she tried to eat those awful broccolis. The nutritionist insisted that it was good for her, only it didn't taste good! She hated it and usually put it on the side of her plate to give it to Seymour. He really liked the greeny things. Yuk! Michael didn't like them either she knew, he always did this funny thing with his nose whenever he forced himself to eat them. But still he ate them and never complained. He always did the right thing. She tried hard to be like him but it was difficult.
She stopped combing Missy's hair and began to braid it. Missy was a very old rag doll but it was the only real toy she had ever had. It was... What had Michael said? A strange word... Oh yeah, an "exception". Nobody had toys in Section. Not real ones. Only useful ones. But this old doll was not. It was only for fun. Nikita liked funny useless things, too bad the adults didn't. This "exception" was a gift. It was the first time she received one. She had learnt about birthday parties and gifts in books. But there were no parties in Section and no presents either. Michael said it was because most of the kids had the same birth dates.
Missy had been her only friend before she joined Group 1. She had been very unhappy with Group 6. She used to cry a lot back then. There were more kids her age but she couldn't relate to any of them. They never played with her, all they did was study. She didn't seem to do anything right. When she would do something forbidden, like wandering in restricted areas, the kids would report her. They said she was not like them, that she didn't belong here and that soon they would throw her out. She didn't know where "out" was, but it didn't sound good.
She was so lonely and breaking the rules was her only hobby. She felt that maybe elsewhere, she would find something else, something good. She didn't know what she was looking for when she explored forbidden areas of Section but the grown ups kept saying she was looking for "trouble". Only Madeline tried to understand and asked her why she felt that way. But she honestly didn't know. She liked Madeline, she was nice to her. She always smiled when most adults would frown. Plus, she often let Nikita sit on her knees and brush her dark hair. She had been very sorry when she had cut it, it was not long enough to braid anymore.
One day, Nikita had fallen very sick and Madeline had sat at her bedside at nights holding her hand and promising everything would be okay. That's when she had given her Missy. She had said the doll used to belong to a little girl she had loved very much. She had said it was her dearest possession since the little girl's death, but that she wanted Nikita to have it so she would feel better. It was Nikita's greatest treasure and she was forever grateful to Madeline for Missy.
She had recovered but she didn't want to go back to Group 6. She had said to Madeline that maybe she'll be better outside. Couldn't she go with her to her real home "outside" and stay with her all the time? Madeline had looked very surprised but very sad by her suggestion. She had explained that she was too young to go out but that if she was very nice, later she would be allowed to. Nikita had insisted that she could never be nice enough to go out if she returned to Group 6. That's when Madeline had taken her to Group 1.
When she had introduced her to the other kids, she had been intimidated at first but she had tried hard not to show it. She was grateful that she had Missy with her. Most of the kids were older than she was. Could she fit in there? Madeline had asked one of the boys to watch over her. Well, it was not exactly what she had said but when Nikita had looked in the boy's eyes all her fears had disappeared. He had the most beautiful green eyes and she had seen in them that he intended to take good care of her.
She had let go of Madeline's hand and even forgotten that she held Missy. She had walked to him a little puzzled and when he had said "I'm Michael" she had thought it was the most beautiful name in the world. She had felt so good then. Happy. He looked at her with his clear gaze as if she was priceless. Nobody had ever made her feel so welcomed, so important. Not even Madeline. He liked her, her heart rejoiced. This older boy did like her and she wanted to show him how much she liked him too. So, she had kissed him. She had never kissed a boy before and she felt like giggling. It was funny, he had blushed. Gee! He was so serious her Michael.
She examined Missy's braids, happy of the result. Immediately, she undid them to do it again. She combed the doll's hair one more time, but her mind was focused elsewhere : what could she do next to make Michael smile? A real one, one that touched his eyes, not the kind he gave Madeline or the other kids. The one that belonged to her only. She didn't have to think for very long, it was easy for her to find new ways of pleasing him. It was the most natural thing in the world.