Kerith told both the officer and doctor everything he remembered. The officer had left with three pages of notes, explaining to Kerith how he’d go about finding out who did this as well as finding his friends who had left him – their dealer too.
He had taken a short nap after that and awoke in the afternoon to a tray of lunch. He thanked the nurse and slowly began eating and when he was finished, he nestled back against the pillow and stared out of the windows to his left, watching the rain slide down over the glass. Somewhere in the hospital – or maybe it was a car outside – he could hear music.
His eyes drifted shut as his head bobbed absently with the beat. This was one of the things that caused his father to hit him a few years earlier.
But he was nowhere near Kerith now.
There was no one to stop him from enjoying the music.
The same car Kerith heard the music from had pulled out of the hospital and made its way through the streets of the city, passing the diner where Jaryn was working, and currently taking trash out.
She bobbed her head to the music as the car pulled up to a stoplight by the alleyway the dumpster was in, closing her eyes for a moment as she leaned down to pick up another bag of trash. When the light turned green and the car sped off, Jaryn sighed and threw the rest of the trash away in silence, squinting against the raindrops that fell on her face.
After she shut the lid of the dumpster, she turned to head back to the entrance of the diner and saw three people standing against the side of the diner.
She recognized them instantly as—
The assholes that left Kerith.
-- her brother’s so-called friends. Her hands, which were masked by latex gloves and covered in trash excess, balled into fists, her crooked nails digging into her palm and cutting through the gloves.
“What are you doing here?”
Tommy and Elya hung back by the wall of the diner under the awning and out of the rain, while Steve moved forward slowly, shifting a coin in his fingers. “We just came by to check on Kerith, sweetheart.”
“Check on him? You want to check on him?” Jaryn could feel every muscle in her body tense. “Then go to Justice Hospital if you want to check on him. And don’t call me sweetheart.”
She noticed that Elya and Tommy flinched behind Steve at the mention of the hospital. Steve didn’t budge. “Why not? I think it suits you. It’s fitting. Your brother always talked about how wonderful you were.”
Jaryn felt her lips thin. Kerith talked about her to his friends, about how wonderful he found her and then she went and left him in the apartment the night before, alone, to go back out and stumble straight into danger.
“Why didn’t you get him out of there? Why didn’t you do anything?” Jaryn could feel her cheeks flushing with rage. The fact that they had the nerve to wander here in the late afternoon to check on what they called their friend, hours and hours after he had been hurt.
“To tell you the truth, hon, I was a little messed up and shaky. I had just visited my dealer and taken a—“
His words were cut off by a fist in his jaw. Remnants of the trash that had been on her gloves – a slimy piece of lettuce smeared with cold cheese, specifically – were now spread across his face, the blood that dripped from his nose tracing the outline of the lettuce that was on his cheek. The rain carried the blood downwards, splashing onto his shirt.
She felt a moment of shock at what she just did, but quickly controlled her surprise and stepped forward to Steve, who had fallen to his knees and was holding his face.
“Shit, babe. What’d you do that for?!”
There were traces of cherry pie and ketchup still on her gloves and when she heard babe she knelt down in front of him and stuck two of her fingers in Steve’s open mouth, hooking them into his cheek and pulling him towards her.
“Quit calling me your stupid pet names, asshole.”
Jaryn made sure to slide her fingers out of his mouth slowly so the rest of the trash stayed there where it belonged. She then stood, peeling the gloves from her hands with two snaps and eyed Elya and Tommy with a narrowed gaze before looking back down at Steve, who was stumbling to his feet.
“I never want to see your faces again. I really don’t think Kerith does either.”
“Uh-huh, right. We’ll see,” Steve was mumbling from a swollen jaw as he backed up towards Tommy and Elya. “We’ll be back, Jaryn. Don’t you worry.”
“Mmhmm. I’m trembling in my boots with fear.” She watched them vanish around the diner and she moved to the opening of the alleyway, turning her head to watch them until they were out of her sight. When she couldn’t see them anymore, she looked down to her right hand with a mixture of trepidation and awe. She hadn’t felt that sort of rush since dealing with Gregory in the back of the roller rink, or when she introduced that ashtray to her drunk father’s head.
Her knuckles were beginning to slightly bruise – she noted this as she walked back into the diner with a thin and satisfied on her face. She dumped the gloves she had taken off into the trash bin on the way back to the kitchen and threw a glance to the gaudy, chrome clock.
Only a couple more hours until she could go back to the hospital and check on her brother.
He found Dr. Tan in a chair by his indoor pool, sunglasses on and sipping a drink from a tall glass with a little umbrella in the top. Oblio dropped his helmet on the chair next to Tan and seated himself beside it, resting his elbows on his knees and leaning towards his stepfather.
“Did you send those men after Kerith?” Oblio asked, point blank.
“Some men beat Kerith up in an alley behind Cathedral last night.”
Dr. Tan took his sunglasses off, replaced them with his spectacles and set his drink down on the ground to his left, sitting up and swinging his feet over the right side of the chair to face Oblio. He mirrored the way the other man was sitting.
“What do you take me for, Oblio? A monster?”
Yes. The word popped into Oblio’s mind in a heartbeat. He had no real reason to think that at that specific moment in time, but all the things he had been piecing together in his mind were guiding him in that direction. He always looked for the best in people – he had done so since he had begun his meditations – but it was becoming increasingly difficult to give Tan the benefit of the doubt.
“Are you sure you didn’t?”
“Why would I do that, Oblio? I need these dancers at their full potential. Full potential is not physically injured.”
“You’d do that to get to Jaryn.”
Dr. Tan tilted his head and stared at Oblio over the top of his glasses. “You have grown attached, haven’t you? Isn’t that adorable?” When Oblio didn’t respond, Dr. Tan pressed the issue. “Are they coming tonight?”
“Kerith is in the hospital.”
“I assume she’s going to be staying with him.”
“Assuming makes an ass out of you and me, Oblio. Why don’t you run along and get yourself cleaned up for the party in one of the guest rooms upstairs. Call your little girlfriend while you’re there and find out what she’s doing.”
He was staring at the younger man, arms crossed and eyes narrowed. Oblio was proving to be more trouble than Tan originally thought he would. He would have to keep a closer eye on him.
Grabbing his helmet, Oblio left the poolside and made his way through the estate, dodging the staff that was tasked with getting the party set up. He shifted upstairs and peered down the hallway towards the guest rooms. He had stayed in one when Tan was originally trying to court him into helping him with his plan concerning Bernice, so Oblio knew the layout of the estate.
The room looked exactly the same as it did before – lavish décor, an oversized bed and a huge picture window. The window was filled with gray clouds and obscured by the droplets of rain on the glass. He made his way over to the bed and sat down on the edge of it, putting his helmet at the foot of it. As he did, he could feel his phone vibrating in his jacket. It was a text.
Hi. How’s your day?
alright. it could be better but i won’t complain. how are you?
Okay I guess. At work. Just got off break. Didn’t get any sleep last night so I just woke up from a short nap in the food storage closet.
oh wow. nice. was it a good nap at least?
It was. It was too short but it was helpful enough. Refreshing. Had a dream about you.
Oblio inhaled slowly, pushing himself back further onto the bed and resting his back against the pillows. He was relieved to see that she was feeling better. Must have meant her and Kerith had patched things up somewhat.
did you now? you gonna tell me about it?
I don’t know. It’s a little embarrassing.
what? why? you can’t tell me you had a dream about me and then clam up about it.
Sure I can. I just did.
It involved you and me and giant bed full of silk sheets.
Oblio dropped his phone at his side, shut his eyes and let his head fall back against the headboard of the bed. He could feel his cheeks flushing and his body growing warm at the mere thought of the dream she had hinted at and his mind raced back to the matter at hand. This was all going to be ruined if his stepfather had his way. Something would happen. Something always happened.
He would lose one of the only people that made his mind clear. Just like he lost the very few others.
He picked the phone up when it vibrated again.
What can I say? I dream big. Maybe I’ll show you someday.
i wouldn’t want anything more. i just have to hope that someday is sooner rather than later.
Maybe. If you’re lucky. I should get back to work. They’re already going to wonder why my face is so red.
He tucked the phone in the pocket of his jacket and took it off, setting it on the bed by his helmet. He buried his head in his hands and began to slow his breathing. His heart had started hammering in his chest – most likely from the mixture of intrigue and heat he felt towards Jaryn at that moment and the sudden flare of anger he felt towards his stepfather.
Pushing himself to his feet, Oblio shuffled slowly back out into the hallway, letting his eyes scan the corridor around him. He could hear the people on the floor below him, still setting things up. His eyes slowly moved to the staircase he had ascended, and then shifted to the right of that to the next set of stairs.
Tan’s personal office was one level up and in the west wing.
Moving one foot after the other, slow step by slow step, Oblio made his way over to the stairs and peered over the edge – no one was on their way up to the floor he occupied. Without hesitation, he began to make his way up to the next level. The staircase was too large and covered in red and black carpet which Oblio’s boots sunk into with every stair he took.
Tan’s personal office was a place he had also been in when the man was originally informing him of his plan. It was a large chamber with high ceilings and it was filled with similar equipment to the pieces he had in his office at the Tandance building, but not to the same extent. The floors were marble with oriental area rugs scattered about in different places. The desk was where Oblio’s eyes went though. It was a huge piece of furniture made of rich mahogany with a tall leather chair behind it.
He padded softly across the floor, making sure to stay on as many of the area rugs as possible. When he had to place his foot on marble, he did it on his toes.
Rounding the desk, Oblio’s eyes ran across six messy stacks of paper and files. He could see at least three notepads here and there, Tan’s chicken scratch writing scrawled across them. Oblio stood to the right of the desk chair and reached out, pushing papers around. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for specifically, he just knew he wanted answers to anything. Especially since Dr. Tan never straight out told him specifics.
A hint of color caught his eye between some of the papers and he reached his other hand to the surface of the desk, where he focused them both on fishing out this bit of color in the sea of lined notepads and printouts. He pulled out a purple folder with a plain cover, turning it over in his hands before opening it.
STRONG ENOUGH TO LEAD
The words were scrawled in a bold print, thick and black on a sheet of white paper. It was under two pictures, what looked like screen captures from some of the security tapes Oblio had brought back for Tan.
They were photos of Kerith and Jaryn.
Under the large print, Oblio saw schematics for three robots. In that same jagged font were the labels D-Cyphers and Bernice.
His mind began racing again, the incessant voices of his, the questions. What was his stepfather planning? First the army of robots and now this? What was this?
As he stared at the photos of Kerith and Jaryn, he thought he should look around for something more.
The chatter in his head was cut off though when a needle was jammed into the back of his neck.
“You don’t take direction well, do you, boy?”
Oblio could feel himself being pressed down to the desk, the folder falling from his grasp and hitting the surface seconds before his face was pressed into it. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the photo of Jaryn. When he shifted his gaze, he could see Dr. Tan above him, holding him down. His limbs were getting heavier by the heartbeat and he could feel something oozing from his lips.
“This isn’t the guest room I told you to occupy.”
Tan’s voice began to echo in his head. He tried to protest and tried to ask questions about what he had found, but when he tried to move his lips Oblio found he couldn’t. His vision began to blur and that was when Tan ripped him away from the desk.
The man was a lot stronger than Oblio had taken him for, and besides noting that fact, he briefly stared in shock at the black liquid that was left on the papers where his mouth had been pressed.
“Come on, Oblio. Time out.”