I started reading the first volume of Eden! one midterm week and then I didn’t stop until the tenth. I couldn’t. This is one of the few sci-fi manga I’ll always love – in fact one of the greatest stories told on this medium, I dare say.
My favorite characters are Sophia, a half-human, half-cyborg hacker, and her partner Kenji, an assassin. I’d like to think there was more to the rare intimacy they occasionally let out.
Kenji’s first impression when she first joined the group was that she was just another one of those pretty women who had talents that are essential to the operations.
He was unfazed to hear that she is over forty, that Sophia Theodores is just a human by spine, brain, heart and blood and cyborg by everything else, and that she had gone through drugs and withdrawal, pregnancies and abortions, murder and suicide attempts.
She’s done everything. So? He wasn’t surprised. He need not be wary. She’s not dangerous. She’s essential to the missions. It’s natural that he act professional.
Sophia’s first impression when she first joined the group was that he’s just another one of those tight-lipped, stoic, morbid but talented young men who came to sit on a high rank despite their age.
She didn’t blink even once at the mention that he was a former yakuza son. It didn’t affect her that he is said to be mentally unstable. It did nothing to her when she heard that he is a murderer, a psycopath – a monster.
She believed them, but she stood steady. Monster? Who isn’t one?
He saw her prowess. Not only was she a clean, first-grade hacker – she was a very effective strategist. A devil’s advocate – just what they needed in the team.
She was impressed by his array of skills. He wasn’t a cyborg but he could stand against as much as five.
She became his favorite instructor. He liked following her orders because she gives them clearly and he knew that they worked well.
He became her favorite pawn. She liked sending him out to do the work because she knew he’ll never fail.
This was how they started. Reliable professionalism. There was no hint of bias – they were there for work, and they were honest about their statements of wanting to work with the other.
Khan saw it and simply acknowledged that his two aces had become inseperable.
“I’m not working on this without Kenji.” – was what she always says. Sophia had that determining grin in her young face as she started her hacking. “Send him in, connect me to him. My instructions are ready.”
And oftentimes, Kenji would say “I don’t trust this without confirmation from Sophia.” He says that seriously as he stubbornly waits for her voice to come through the intercom.
They don’t use titles.
The introduction was as such: “Kenji, meet Sophia Theodores, our new hacker. Theodores, Asai Kenji. Second-in-command, best assassin in the team.”
On their first mission, as Kenji addressed her by her last name, “Instructions, Theodores?” he heard a chuckle over his earphones.
“Call me Sophia, Kenji.” the confident voice said.
He simply nodded and said, “Sophia.”
“Mission starts in five minutes. I’m sending in some coordinates. Wait for my signal.”
They were partners working on different fields of expertise and Khan knew that in his team, they were indispensable just as much as they’re inseperable.
And they remained utterly professional.
But despite that, she’s just a lovely woman…and he’s only a lost boy.
Somewhen, somewhere, they broke past professional boundaries.
It was in the middle of a torrent of congratulatory greetings for another successful operation. Someone, a member of the same squad, offered the assassin an extra cup of hot chocolate, pointing to the woman sitting on top of one of the vehicles, looking up on the sky. “Could you hand this over to her? She must be cold out there.”
It had been a general assumption that they got along well. In truth, that night will be the first night they would talk not as strategist-and-mainman.
The request was simple enough. Of course he heeded to it. He climbed up the tank and she heard the creak. She turned around to look at him. “Oh. Kenji?”
He offered the drink. She accepted with a smile. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. It’s from the others.”
It started there.
For some reason, she wasn’t as rowdy as the others. He expected her to ask him to join in the celebration with the rest of the team. Around the others, she was always such a jolly person – throwing jokes around with the rest of the rowdier team.
Her silence was a welcome one, and that was what made Kenji stay there. He sat on the other side of the tank roof, his back to her, his own cup in hand. He said nothing.
She got bored. “Tell me ’bout yourself.”
For some odd reason, he did.
She did, too.
They were then friends.
When he talked, she listened. Sometimes, she gives him advice that she doesn’t expect him to heed to, and then pats his head.
“If you didn’t leave them, you would have been a good mother.”
He believed so. This was what he wanted his mother to do, but he didn’t remember having any.
“Do you think so?” she asked.
She laughed, then looked away and turned her back to him. “Thanks.”
She never pat him on the head after that. Ever.
Sometimes, he woke into nightmares breaking down. He threatens the Colonel’s life. He always stood by the older man’s bed and puts his knife over the head of the person who killed his brother and made him into the monster that he is now.
Sophia was the only one who never hesitated to put her hands over his and rub his back, whispering that it’s okay, everything’s fine – he has to drop the knife and stop it.
She tells everyone to go back because she’ll handle this, talk to him and calm him down. She led him to his quarters where he shakingly sat on his bed, watching her put his knife away but near enough so he’ll still see it and be assured that he’s safe. Sometimes, he had tears in his eyes that didn’t fit his fierce expression.
She always kissed him, not only just in his lips or cheeks or forehead. She told him that temporary pleasures just might take the pain away for a while. At least long enough to drive his latest nightmare away. He didn’t hesitate to take up her offer. For moments, he didn’t feel the pain of the past.
Scars don’t ache, he knew.
It’s just that some wounds take longer to heal, no matter what you do.
At that first night, she knew of the extent of his actual emotional instability. He hovered over her with killing intent in his eyes, knife pressed dangerously against her throat. He was panting for breath. Even when inside her, he stopped abruptly to question her proximity. He said nothing, but it was clear from his eyes, what he wanted to scream.
‘WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?’ – his eyes screamed that.
“Kenji.” – was all she said, face straight as she stared up at him carefully but steadily. “Who am I?”
His voice trembles in question as he said “Sophia.”
“Put the knife down.”
Without any trace of fear, she watched his anguished face deliberate on the decision while his knife remained poised to kill her. It took several minutes for him to steady his breathing a little bit, to put his knife down with terribly shaking hands, and to say her name again. “Sophia.”
She was safe, and she kissed him again.
After that first night, he asked her as she laid her head on his shoulder. He didn’t know how the hell he knew how to hold her close. Perhaps it was the need. When you need the strength, you just learn how to hold on. No questions, no drills. You just know.
“Why?” – one word. He did not look at her.
He was too confused to do so.
Sophia smiled, and held his hand under the covers. “You’re my very first friend. This is the least I can do to help.” He didn’t answer. She went on. “I’m not good with words. But I know what I want to say. I just can’t.”
He didn’t cry any more. In the morning, he found her sitting beside him, stroking his hair.
“You should cry when you can.”
He simply stared back.
“You don’t have tear glands?”
She shrugged. “Budget constraints.”
Kenji nodded and put his calloused bloodstained hands over hers.
“I’ll never be your son.”
Her answer was quick: “I know.”
He understands and he watched as her get up, put on her clothes and walk out his quarters.
They were partners. It was rare not to see them working together, but when it came down to danger, they were friends. She will always be the firt one to scream for medics as soon as his troops come back. He was always the first one to run back to base to check if she’s still sake, un-overloaded and still capable of working.
He always brought her mug of hot choco up the vehicle roof. He would not sit beside her, but would still end up doing so.
At one times, she jokingly asked, “Would you just sit beside me? No pointing, no asking – would you just do that?”
He only shook his head. They were still too far apart.
The night she discovered that Kyle wasn’t coming back, she sat up on the vehicle roof alone again. She didn’t ask, she didn’t point it out, but that night, when he brought her hot choco, he sat right next to her and stayed silent.
She only leaned against him and sipped her beverage, then spoke up.
“I can’t imagine how it would be if I loved the rest of them the same. I’d just probably die.”
He nodded. “He was the only one of them you loved.”
“I don’t know.” She admitted. “But out of the eight, Kyle was the only one I HAD.”
“What about your other children?”
“I don’t know.”
She knew many things and he respected it enough that this was not one of them.
In days, she actually admitted that she didn’t erase the child from her memory.
She told him again: “You should cry when you can.” – because she only cried once in her life. That was one of the things she always told him: to cherish real pain because that’s proof that you still live.
In one of their longer breaks, he came home to find his flat in ashes.
Someone must have found out his occupation, then? Kenji shrugged and headed off to Sophia’s place for tea. Somehow, he knew her address. He found it in his phone. He didn’t know when it ended up there, but seeing as the woman was Sophia, hacker genius, he didn’t wonder much.
When he told her, right there in her doorstep, that his house is gone, she laughed at him.
Then the Greek hacker accommodatingly asked him when he would like to move in.
He found nothing wrong with it. He only asked how they’d divide rent.
Khan was bewildered when he found out. He knew they had been ‘close’. He knew they had been intimate on the moments it was required and they were both close to breaking point. It didn’t surprise him to find Kenji by her bedside after last mission’s “skirmish”. It only made an eyebrow raise when he saw his apprentice embracing their hacker after the death of Wycliffe and that Incan girl. It did surprise him a bit when Kenji waited for her release at the “hospital” and then the two headed off together to visit him, but he was just astounded to see them grocery shopping together.
Grocery shopping. Complete with the cart.
Sophia was good old Sophia, and she enveloped him in a warm cyborg embrace cheerfully enough. “Colonel! How’re you doing?”
“Fine and dandy, Theodores. Recovered from injuries enough.” then he regarded his apprentice. “You doing fine as well, Kenji?”
The man nodded.
After a while, he said, “My house was burned down last week.”
Sophia laughed at him again. “So he moved in with me! Oh, and we gotta run, colonel – more stuff to buy. Nice seeing you!”
And the colonel watched at Kenji pushed the cart after the still laughing Greek woman as she picked cartons of milk one after the other.
Khan would just watch – as he always did – how the combination of a broken, conceited, masked fallen angel and an unloved, lost unstable young man would work itself out.
Sophia knew that the reason why this is still working is because she knew that she’d made so many mistakes in her life that she couldn’t afford to make another one. So she’s keeping herself intact and making sure that she isn’t caring for Kenji just to compensate for the other seven children that she didn’t give a damned care about even once.
She couldn’t blame Andreas for bitterly accusing her that she’s almost 50 and Kenji Asai is not even 30 yet.
She had not apologized to Andreas even once.
That day her dear firstborn said those accusations, she dismissed it with a frown and left him with a kiss on the forehead that rendered him speechless. It was somewhat a token of apology for the boy. But perhas the greatest “sorry” she gave him was the fact that she left him into the instituion – he’d have a better life there. Of course, he did.
Her boy didn’t say anything more. Kenji stayed. They worked, both contractual with Nomad and as freelancers together. They worked and went home.
Back at China, they got separated.
“Sophia? Sophia. Come in, So-”
He paused. “Copy.”
“She’s alright. We’ll have to leave at once.”
“Then go now. I’ll be okay here. You have to save her now.”
He paused for a moment. His ward was a VIP and first priority, This was work. No matter how close a friend Sophia is, she’ll have to be put second.
He only nodded, as if she can see him. “I’ll see you at home, then.”
“Sure. You have the keys, right?”
The connection was cut midway the woman’s amused chuckle.
They met a month later. After she had successfully recuperated and after he’s done hiding.
He cried when they got home and she simply held his hand. She was tempted to sob, but she’ll just feel empty because no tear will fall.
He was right. But who had taught him that notion? That protecting and saving someone is much harder compared to killing people?
He told her that she had mentioned that to him once.
She remembered him asking “Why?” – he always asked that question because he always needed reasons. Oftentimes, though, she never knew the answer.
It’s so easy to know what. Never to know why.
In the end of that statement, he had whispered that so many things are unfair. She agreed.
He didn’t ask why.
He didn’t need to.
There were times when she sat between his legs, her back to him, and he wrapped his arms arouund her and cired on her shoulder for reasons she didn’t want to know. He didn’t ask whenever she asked him to give her a hug, anyway. This was just fair.
So, even if she sometimes felt as if he will just crush her in his arms, she simply let him hold her.
Once over a meal, he suggested that she buy herself some tear glands.
She laughed at him again. She always did.
He was serious. He told her that if she can’t afford, he’s gonna chip in from his savings.
So she politely said “No, thanks.”
Loji thought that the man who picked her up was just another heartless artisan who wanted yet another skilled member of whatever group he is working for.
But he didn’t bring her to a lab, a warehouse, a gang base, a pub, or a big building. He brought her to a house. The initial feeling of coziness and warmth the flat exuded disgusted her. She expected a handful of whores to come out and greet him then.
She didn’t believe that she will be living in a house. Maybe he was just stopping by.
But then a young woman stepped out from the kitchen: fair, blonde, smiling, donning an apron and mixing dough. “Hey.”
Loji observed and noted Kenji looking blankly back at the woman. “Another cake?” – he said in a monotonous voice.
“This isn’t for you this time!” she beamed, then grinned evilly. “I’m sending this to Andreas. He was so snobby last time, so I’m sending him a birthday cake even if I don’t know when his birthday is!” The woman then noticed the girl. Loji stared back. “Hi!”
Kenji nodded. “This is Loji. I am going to train her.”
Sophia’s mouth formed a small ‘o’ and then she smiled. “Cool.”
“She is Sophia.” Kenji turned to the girl. “My partner.”
Loji nodded. She didn’t try to shake hands, or to bow. She just nodded and stared. She gaped when Sophia told her to excuse the mess in the empty room by the end of the hall and that “Loji can throw away everything left in there and put her own sutff now.”
“Welcome!” – it all ended to that.
When Kenji found Loji and made her his very own apprentice, Sophia was unsure.
She’ll be a “mother” that way, but…
She won’t be there for Kenji forever. Somehow, she got the feeling that she has to leave him with someone.
It was okay at some point. The girl was young, fierce – red-handed, on top of it. Sophia enjoyed cooking for three and watching Kenji ignore the adoration in Loji’s eyes.
The girl didn’t get along so well with Sophia. Kenji will always tell her to “respect your superiors”. Sophia always shushed that off and told him that it’s just natural.
A Greek hacker, a Japanese assassin, and their African-American apprentice. On one roof. It somehow worked.
Loji learned that Kenji is training her to become a professional and to survive on her own with a decent job and a position in Nomad. While on her way, he’s going to make full use of her in his own missions. Loji learned that Sophia is not his whore and she is a steady employee herself. She is, like Kenji said, his partner. Loji learned that Kenji is a man of few words, a monster in battle and a lonely person. Loji leaned that no matter how much she adored him, he only had his eyes for Sophia. And Loji also learned that Sophia, no matter how fake her smiles are sometimes, sincerely valued Kenji.
Once she braved to ask: “Is Sophia your girlfriend?”
Kenji shook his heaed.
“Do you love her?”
He did not shake his head that time, nor did he nod. He only said, “She is very important.” and then nothing more.
Loji had seen him kiss her once of twice. She accepted his answer.
Sophia was often home on daylight, while they were training. She works by night, wired in her hacking duties, while Kenji was always out and Loki is, more often than not, stuck home with the hacker, dead tired from the day’s training. Sophia always caught her sleeping still in her shoes, hair still in disarray, the sheets not drawn and the lights still on. Sophia always fixed it for her – turned the lights off, told her to kick off her shoes, let down her hair properly and stuck the sheets snugly over the girl.
Loji never said thanks.
Once she mumbled, “You’re not my mother.”
Sophia agreed readily, fully.
“…Do you love Kenji?”
“He’s very important.”
They’re the same. Sophia taught her that adoration would not help you understand. It’s the tears the you have to count, and the laughter that you have to share, so you could know how much the pain hurts and the pleasure soothes. But sometimes the laughter hurts you too, but when it does, you just have to ignore. At least it’s laughter.
Sophia wished that she could teach Loji more. Like how to be grateful even of tears.
Loji should learn how to cry, too.
Sophia was stuck with two unstable and uptight children. It was hard making Loji open up, really. But if she had managed to have Kenji, then this should be easy.
Sometimes she really felt as if she was doing this to compensate for the biggest mistakes she had.
Kenji did not care, really. But he told her it was okay. He did not mind being used as proxy. He needed her. She’s been there long enough for her to be essential. She had been his first kiss, his first friend, the first woman to hold his hand with all her heart, stating that she understands and actually meaning it.
But she told him to “Please don’t fall in love.” – because it’ll kill her to no to that.
So he didn’t.
Loji watched him try.
Sophia watched him fail, and told him constantly to try again.
She has lost all that she ever loved. She did not want to lose her first friend.
Funny it took her almost half a century to find one.
And then she was too stupid to let her past take her away from him.
Kenji felt incomplete after losing her connection that first 30 minutes. But he trusted her and kept on the rescue mission.
He reminds himself that she had a gun with her, and she’s a formidable shooter.
He knows that won’t be enough, but he reminds himself anyway.
Mana Ballard died. Loji watched, shocked. Elijah was in the brink of madness. Sophia was missing. His mind raced when he found her unconscious on that helicopter – the sight almost killed him. She lost both arms and both legs. And then everything was a blur.
All he remembered was that he desperately tried to take her back… to no avail.
He lost his arm – the one he always protected her with. And he lost her. They lost so many things in that goddamned mission.
“…And when you get used to it, you’re going to rescue Sophia?”
He had one answer to Loji’s question as he tried to grasp another pair of chopsticks with his new synthetic hand.
His answer will never change.
Sophia woke up in Irma and Lee’s arms. She closed her eyes again and wished – like always – that she could cry.
She mumbled his name.
She needed him. And she couldn’t fathom at that moment a time when she hadn’t.
She wished that they were back in battlefield – he always abandoned position to run to her.
Kenji told Andreas, and the young man seemed like he could care less.
“You’ll never receive birthday cakes anymore.”
“She never gives it at a right date, anyway.”
“…at least she was happy at your birthday, even if it was twice a year at one time.”
He left the young man frustrated and trying to damned see what he can do.
Loji looked worriedly, suggesting that he wait. Kenji coldly shook his head, saying that SOPHIA is waiting. If they’re both waiting, when will any job get done?
He did not keep her waiting for too long. And after everything, when she came back, she was the one to sit between his legs, this time facing him, and holding on to him as if she would fall into oblivion any time soon. She cried tearlessly. It was hard, painful, and he was the one to hold her against him strongly, firmly, because he had the strength that she lacked at that point in time.
She held on with new arms and hands, feeling cold and incomplete without the tears running down in her face, and he held her with one strong, human arm and one new synthetic one as he did not let a lone tear betray him.
“Look at me. I don’t have tears yet and I’m sobbing. This looks so wrong…”
He only smoothed her hair and told her – “You should cry when you can.”
She laughed a nervous laugh and smiled a wry smile. “And would you see the tears?”
Kenji shook his head.
“I don’t need to see them to learn how to count them.”
That was when he realized that she cried so beautifully even without the tears and that was when she realized that she could love so lastingly.
Funny, it took her almost half a century to find her first love.