Bigla akong nagising dahil sa panaginip ko. I was lying on the lab table as the test subject of my roommate. Nang nakita kong naglabas siya ng dissecting kit ay napabalikwas na ako ng bangon. Fudge. That was scary! Nagising pa ako during the REM stage (1) kaya parang totoo lahat ng nangyari.
Bumangon ako at pagtingin ko sa digital clock sa table ay alas-tres pa lang ng madaling araw. Medyo natakot pa ako dahil saktong nagpalit from 2:59 to 3:00 ang oras. It may sound lame but I am a scaredy-cat and I hate situations like this. Babangon na sana ako pero napasigaw ako nang makita ko ang anatomy model sa dulo ng room. Dahil patay ang ilaw ay lalong nakakatakot ang set-up.
I used my phone’s flashlight to guide me towards the switch. Binuksan ko ang ilaw at tinignan ko kung nagising ba si Elsie. Luckily, no. Well, she didn’t wake up when I screamed so maybe she’s a deep sleeper.
Kinuha ko ang tubig mula sa bag ko at uminom dahil sa uhaw. I looked at the anatomy models that she had brought. I didn’t notice them earlier since they were still covered with a huge white cloth but they were really creepy. She had models for the muscular, skeletal and one that looked like a real human.
Hanggang ngayon ay hindi ko pa rin alam kung bakit ako pumayag sa gusto ni Mommy. She said this would be a special one but I couldn’t feel it. The university I saw a while ago wasn’t that prestigious for me.
Dahil hindi naman na ako muling makakatulog ay nilabas ko na lang ang laptop ko at tiningnan ang website ng university na ‘to. However, as I was browsing their site, I didn’t find any dormitories near them. Kinuha ko ang letter na ipinadala ni Mommy at muli iyong binasa. There was no university name on it.
Is this a scam?
Binaligtad ko ang letter, pati ang envelope ay tinignan ko rin pero walang kahit anong kakaiba ro’n. But when the light from the bulb passed through the paper, I saw a faint writing in the middle of it. Using my phone, I flashed the light behind the paper and several words appeared.
Neo 7641: The Intelligence Project
“What in the world is this?” I whispered, trying to make sense of what was written.
I input the words to the search bar but there were no results. In the end, wala rin akong napala. Tinabi ko na lang ang sulat at ni-review ko ang data na nakuha ko sa experiment. I was in the middle of treating my data when I heard a creaking noise and the first thing I looked at was the collection of models. Ilang minuto akong nag-contemplate kung ano ang gagawin at napagdesisyunan kong matulog na lang dahil baka kung ano pa ang maisip ko.
Pinatay ko ang laptop ko at kinuha ko ang earphones sa bag ko. Nag-play na lang ako ng nakakaantok na playlist at pinilit kong matulog.
“Mm . . .”
Naramdaman ko ang pag-alog ng katawan ko kaya minulat ko ang mga mata ko. A woman’s face came into view and beside her was . . .
“OH MY GOD!”
Napabalikwas ako dahil sa bungo na hawak niya at sinamaan ko siya ng tingin. What in the world is wrong with this girl?!
“Sorry,” sabi niya habang nakatingin sa bungong hawak niya, “I was studying its structure.”
Napahawak ako sa dibdib ko dahil sa gulat at kinalma ko naman ang sarili ko. Pagtingin ko sa oras ay 6:30 AM na. I looked at Elsie, hoping that she would say something since I couldn’t initiate a conversation. What happened yesterday was just a spur of the moment.
“We should prepare now,” sabi naman niya at nakahinga ako nang maluwag.
“What for?” mahina kong tanong.
“According to the schedule, we’ll meet the other students today.”
“Schedule?” Napakunot ang noo ko dahil wala naman akong nakitang schedule sa letter.
“There,” sabay turo niya sa TV screen.
Nagulat naman ako nang makita kong may naka-flash doon. I thought it was just a defective TV since Elsie tried to open it yesterday but I guess it was modified to only project things like this.
Lumapit ako at binasa ang schedule na sinasabi ni Elsie.
7:30 AM Shuttle departure
8:00 AM Arrival at the campus
8:15 AM Class 7641 meeting (Rizal Building)
8:45 AM Campus tour (led by Dr. Vergara)
12:00 PM Lunch
I stared at the said schedule and hundreds of questions lingered inside my head after reading it. Shuttle? For what? Malapit lang naman ang university rito pero wala akong nabasang Rizal building sa site nila. Class 7641? Is that related to the words hidden in the letter? Simula na ba ng klase?
“Sige, mauna na akong maligo,” sabi naman ni Elsie pero hindi ko siya kinibo.
Habang nagpe-prepare siya ay nakaupo lang ako sa kama ko, nag-iisip kung ano ba talaga ang pinasok kong ito. Elsie looked calm but I was worried and rattled. It has been a long time since I met a large group of people and I don’t think I could handle a crowd anymore.
I tried calling my mother but to no avail. Still worried, I texted her and demanded an explanation. After a few minutes, her name appeared on my phone’s screen and I immediately answered the call.
“Sav, sorry for not telling you earlier. I thought you might freak out,” sabi naman niya.
“Yes, Mom, I am freaking out. What kind of show is this? What in the world is this Neo 7641?”
“You’ll know everything once you meet your professors.”
“But Mom, I don’t have any stuff—”
“Don’t worry, I already made arrangements.”
Pagkasabi niya no’n ay may kumatok naman sa pinto kaya napatigil ako. I carefully approached the door and slightly opened it, just enough for me to peek outside.
“Miss Savannah Solomon?”
Nakita ko naman ang lalaking sumundo sa akin kagabi at may dala siyang isang maleta. Binigay niya ‘yon sa akin at agad ko naman ‘yong kinuha. Doon ko na-realize kung ano ang nangyari.
“Did they arrive?” tanong ni Mommy.
“You really planned all of these.”
“You bet. Anyway, there goes your new stuff. Good luck, Sav.”
“You said this is a special class, right? What do you mean by that?”
Even though I couldn’t see her face, I knew she was smiling.
“A class of students just like you,” she said.
“A class of special people, Sav. A group of prodigies, and this time, your intelligence will be tested.”
After saying that, she ended the call. Her words were still ringing in my ears and surely, I didn’t hear that wrong.
“Savannah, your turn.”
Napalingon naman ako kay Elsie at mukhang tapos na siyang maligo. Kinuha ko ang mga gamit ko at dumiretso sa banyo. Habang papasok ako ay bigla kong naisip ang sinabi ni Mommy. A group of prodigies, she said. I don’t know why but for the first time, I felt excited.
Nakatayo lang kaming dalawa sa may pintuan dahil hindi ako makalabas. Naririnig ko kasi ang pag-uusap ng ilang tao sa labas at paniguradong ang ibang estudyante ‘yon na nandito sa dorm. Dahil nasa unang kwarto kami ay hindi namin nakita ang iba pang units at gabi na rin kasi nang makarating ako kaya wala na akong naabutan.
“Ano na?” tanong ni Elsie at dahil mukhang gusto na niyang lumabas ay binuksan niya ang pinto.
Hinatak niya ako palabas at binaba ko ang cap na suot ko. At most twenty students were walking towards the shuttle parked few meters away from the dorm. They seemed excited, some of them were confused, but nobody was worried like me.
When we boarded the shuttle, most, if not all, chose to sit with their roommate. Elsie and I sat at the back. Inobserbahan ko naman ang mga kasama namin at halos lahat sila ay, more or less, kasing-edad ko lang.
“What’s your favorite subject?” tanong ng isang lalaki na nasa harapan namin sa katapat niyang babae sa aisle.
“Biology,” sabi naman ng babae. The guy suddenly snickered.
“Well, I guess your chromosomes have combined beautifully.”
Naghiyawan naman ang mga nakarinig at maging si Elsie ay napangiti. If we were in a normal school setting, students might have called them nerd or freak but the atmosphere right now wasn’t like that. They liked it and they were teasing both of them.
Umandar naman ang shuttle kaya nag-settle down na ang lahat. Sabi ng driver, approximately fifteen minutes daw bago kami makarating sa “campus” na hindi naman sinabi sa amin kung saan. I really thought we were going to the university near the dormitory but we didn’t. May iba pa bang university na malapit dito? Wait, don’t tell me may hidden school sa loob ng gubat or something?
The shuttle took the road with a warning sign saying, “Private Property: No Trespassing” and that made me more uneasy. The students, who were excited a while ago, showed hints of concern and perturbation. The setting was quite eerie because of the uphill road and nothing could be seen except the forest on the left and the sea on the right.
“An inclined plane (2),” rinig ko sa bandang gitna at naging alerto rin ang ibang estudyante. “I wonder what the degree of inclination is.”
“Easy as pie. It’s just a sine function,” sagot naman ng isa pa.
“But we don’t know the height nor the length of this path.”
Natahimik naman ako nang marinig ko ang usapan nila. Whenever I look at a scenery, I would always ponder about the science behind it, but only in my mind. Baka kasi ‘pag narinig ako ng ibang tao, kung anu-ano na naman ang sabihin o isipin nila, tulad ng nangyari noong nag-aaral pa ako sa isang school.
I already knew the answer since I saw from the warning sign that it would take 3.5 kilometers to reach that private property but there would be a sharp turn up ahead. The next road sign stated that there’s still 2.5 kilometers remaining and assuming that the sea level is our zero, the height must be easy to estimate. If it’s just the steepness just before the road sign, it should be . . .
“More or less 11 degrees,” I muttered and Elsie looked at me with those big eyes. Buti na lang at siya lang ang nakarinig dahil ayokong makakuha ng atensyon mula sa iba.
“It’s roughly 11.5 degrees,” someone said and all of us looked at the direction where the voice came from. The guy stood up, yawned and rubbed his eyes while all of us were still looking at him.
“How did you compute that?” tanong ng isang babae.
“Our destination is about 3.5 kilometers away from that warning sign,” sabi niya. “I saw it a while ago. Since we’re about to reach the 2.5 kilometer-sign,” saka niya itinuro ang sign sa harapan, “that means this road is one kilometer long.”
“I see,” sagot naman ng isa pang babae. “And if we estimate the height based from the sea level, it should be around 150 meters more or less.”
“I think 200 meters is a good estimation,” sagot naman ng isa pang lalaki na naka-yellow hat pa. “Trust me, I’m good with numbers.”
“Using those data, we can now compute the angle of inclination. Easy, right?” sabi ng lalaking nakatayo habang nakangiti nang malawak.
“Well, that was a good brain exercise,” one commented.
“Wow, you got it right,” mahinang sabi ni Elsie habang nakatingin sa akin. Nahiya naman ako bigla kaya tumingin na lang ako sa labas.
“I-it’s because I know the measurements,” sagot ko naman.
Napaisip naman ako sa nangyari. They were right. As long as you know the basic trigonometric functions (3), you’d get the right answer.
With those given measurements, we could compute the angle of inclination using the sine function and the right triangle.
sinϴ = opposite / hypotenuse
sinϴ = 200m / (3500m - 2500m)
sinϴ = 0.2
ϴ = arcsin (0.2)
ϴ = 11.5°
Pagkatapos no’n ay puro curves na ang daan kaya medyo nakakahilo. After a few minutes ay huminto na ang shuttle at isa-isa naman kaming nagsibabaan. Pagkalabas namin ay napanganga naman ako sa nakita ko at halos lahat kami ay ilang segundong tahimik na nakatingin lang sa lugar.
“W-what the heck is this?”
“Whoa. This isn’t a dream, right?”
“Shit, I’m getting goosebumps!”
Halos hindi naman ako makahinga dahil sa nakikita ko ngayon at sa tingin ko ay pare-pareho kami ng nararamdaman. All of us were awestruck, confused, excited and lost for words all at the same time.
“Good morning, Class 7641,” the woman in white suit said and all of us stammered with our greeting. “Let me introduce myself first,” she said but I think it won’t be necessary anymore since almost all of us, if not all, already knew her. “I’m Olivia Vergara, a scientist.”
When I read the ‘Dr. Vergara’ on the schedule earlier, I didn’t even think it would be her. Heck, I bet nobody thought it would be her. She’s a well-known figure in the scientific community because of her innovative researches, especially when it comes to the medical field. I couldn’t believe she’s right in front of us, of me.
Yes, she’s Dr. Olivia Vergara, the top neurosurgeon in the Philippines.
2 REM stage - a phase of sleep characterized by random or rapid movement of the eyes, accompanied with low muscle tone throughout the body, and the propensity of the sleeper to dream vividly. Waking up sleepers during a REM phase is a common experimental method for obtaining dream reports; 80% of neurotypical people can give some kind of dream report under these circumstances (Solms, 1997).
3 Inclined plane - is a flat supporting surface tilted at an angle, with one end higher than the other, used as an aid for raising or lowering a load (Cole, 2008).
4 Trigonometric functions - are functions of an angle. They relate the angles of a triangle to the lengths of its sides (Klein, 1924).
I couldn’t believe what I just read.
Tinitigan ko ang sulat na dumating kaninang umaga at nararamdaman kong nagma-malfunction ang ilang brain cells ko dahil sa nakasulat. I immediately ran into my room and dialed Mom’s number.
“Hello Sav? Why are you—”
“Mom!” I yelled. “Anong ibig sabihin ng letter na ‘to? Why do you have to do this?”
She couldn’t answer immediately but I heard her heave a sigh. I was hoping she wouldn’t say those words again but I was wrong.
“It’s for your own good,” she said. The same reason. Again.
“No! I don’t want to go to another stupid school. Alam mo naman ang nangyayari—”
“This one’s different, Sav. I promise. It’s a special class.”
“No, Mom,” matigas kong sagot. “I’m staying here.”
“Sav, may pupunta na riyan mamayang gabi para sunduin ka.”
Hindi naman ako makapaniwala sa sinabi niya. Did she really make all the arrangements without even consulting me?
“May dorm sa school na ‘yon and you’re going to stay there—”
“Bakit ba kasi nagdesisyon ka nang wala man lang pasabi?!”
I ended the call without waiting for her response. Napaupo na lang ako sa kama ko pagkatapos no’n at nilukot ko ang sulat na hawak ko. Now I have to go to another school because of Mom. Masaya na ako rito, eh. Masaya na ako sa bahay at sa laboratory namin. Bakit kailangan ko pang makihalubilo sa ibang tao? I hate socializing. I hate adjusting just to fit to other people’s ideals.
Tumayo ako at naglakad papunta sa lab na nasa basement namin. I went to my sanctuary.
Sinuot ko agad ang labgown, lab shoes, goggles at latex gloves at tinuloy ko na lang ang project na ginagawa ko. In-assay1 ko ang extracts na nakuha ko from different marine algae. Habang ongoing ‘yong assay ay tiningnan ko ang data sa excel at in-input ko rin ‘yong ibang details. After four hours, I finished everything and stored the remaining extracts in the ultra-low refrigerator. I was about to get some snacks when I noticed the bulb above the door was switched on. A visitor, huh?
Umakyat agad ako sa taas at pagtingin ko, may kotse at lalaki sa labas ng bahay. Sigurado akong ito na ‘yong sinabi ni Mommy kanina sa phone. Nakakainis talaga! Naalala ko na naman ang nangyari kanina.
“Excuse me, Miss Savannah Solomon?” tanong agad ng lalaking naka-tux pa.
“Yes. Bakit po?”
“Nandito po ako para sunduin kayo sabi ni Dr. Solomon.”
Gusto kong magreklamo at paalisin dito sa bahay ang lalaki pero ayoko namang ipahiya ang pangalan ni Mommy. She’s one of the top scientist in the country and I don’t want to tarnish her reputation. Saka na lang ako magwawala kapag kaming dalawa na lang ni Mommy ang magkaharap.
Pinaghintay ko ang lalaki sa sala habang kinuha ko ang mga gamit ko sa kwarto. I needed a breathing space after he informed me about the situation. Hindi ko naman alam na ngayon na pala ang deadline ng paglipat sa dorm. Mom really planned all of this to make sure I would have no choice but to follow her.
Kinalma ko na lang ang sarili ko dahil wala na rin naman akong magagawa. My mother’s decisions would always push through.
I packed a few clothes since according to that guy, I could still return here after a week; several books including Biology: Concepts and Connections, Advanced Structural Inorganic Chemistry and University Physics; and two of my laptops which contain all my researches and journals.
Pagbaba ko ay tinulungan ako ng lalaki na isakay sa kotse ang mga gamit at sumakay na rin ako sa likuran. Tahimik lang ako ro’n at nagsagot na lang ng exercises sa isang Calculus manual na inuwi sa akin ni Dad last week.
Nasa number 43 na ako nang biglang huminto ang kotse. Sabi ng lalaki ay nandito na raw kami kaya agad akong bumaba. Pagtingin ko, nasa isang university kami na kilala rito sa lugar namin. However, instead of going to the direction of the university, we went to the other side. We walked for almost five minutes and I saw a dormitory-type compound. So this is where I’ll live?
“You are assigned to Room 7. Your roommate, Ms. Hernan, is already inside.”
“Wait. May ka-share ako ng kwarto?”
“Yes, Miss,” he said and bowed to me after. Nagpaalam naman siya pagkatapos no’n at ilang minuto akong nakatayo lang sa labas.
I swear, marami talaga akong sasabihin kay Mommy kapag nagkita kami. Alam naman niyang hindi ako sanay sa mga tao. I was home-schooled since I was young tapos biglang magkakaroon ako ng roommate?
I was still preparing myself when the door suddenly opened.
“Hi!” bati ng isang babae sa loob. “Sabi na nga ba may tao sa labas, eh. You must be Savannah Solomon. I’m Elsie Hernan nga pala. Tara pasok ka,” sabay ngiti niya sa akin at binuhat niya ‘yong isa kong bag.
Dahil bitbit niya ang bag ko ay wala akong nagawa kundi sumunod sa loob. Pagpasok ko, bumungad agad ang dalawang kama sa bandang dulo at malaki naman ang space pero nagulat ako nang may nakita akong mahabang table sa may gitna ng room.
“Oh, sorry. That’s mine. May experiments kasi akong tinatapos kaya nagset-up na ako rito sa room natin,” she explained.
“Ilang taon ka na?” tanong ko kaagad. Bigla akong naging interesado sa kanya dahil doon sa lab table.
“Uhm, seventeen.” Same as me, huh? “Ikaw ba?”
“Seventeen din. Nice meeting you,” I hastily said then walked towards my bed.
Binaba ko kaagad ang gamit ko ro’n at sobrang bumilis ang tibok ng puso ko. Geez! Bakit ko ba siya kinausap? Nakakahiya.
Hindi ko alam kung bakit ako pinadala ni Mommy rito but one thing is for sure—I wouldn’t last here . . . just like the first and last time I went to school.
1 Assay - an analytic procedure in science laboratories for qualitatively assessing or quantitatively measuring the presence or amount or the functional activity of a target entity or analyte (Boston, 2006).