By the time friday came around and JJ swung by to give me the A-OK, I was still floundering with my decision. Despite our childish bickering, Olivia had visited me every day, bringing games and videos and idle chit-chat, and for the first time in a long time, things felt like they were slowly settling into place. Maybe even becoming routine. I don’t know if Kiro was right, that there was some cosmic force at play here, but it was rare I felt so comfortable with people. That alone seemed worth preserving. At least for the time being.
And though my plans had been seriously derailed, my thoughts still looked Westward. I wanted to go back, needed to even, but for the time being that trip would have to take a back seat. It wouldn’t exactly be safe to travel, what with my new favorite psychopathic corporation trying to analyze my insides, and well, I didn’t have the money.
So without realizing, it seemed I had less “made” my decision than it had been made for me. Of course, if anyone asked, I’d stay because I wanted answers.
In truth, I think I simply wanted the company.
“Okay. On the count of three. Ready?”
I nodded and gritted my teeth.
“You don’t look ready.”
“Just do it already, JJ.”
“Oh, um, alright.”
A sharp pain tore at my side and I gasped, which of course only made things worse.
“Ow! What the hell!”
JJ stiffened. “You said just go ahead?”
“The countdown. I meant the countdown.”
“Oh. Well, hey!” He flashed me a toothy grin. “At least it’s done now.”
I tried to run my hand over the wound, but JJ shooed me away, muttering things under his breath that sounded suspiciously like “infection” and “sepsis” and “death.” He grabbed a sterile kit off the shelf behind him and set to work stitching me up. As he did, he explained my injuries. Apparently I’d been shot in the lung and apparently lungs didn’t like that. It had collapsed and filled with blood, but I was lucky; the bullet missed anything vital.
I told JJ that I didn’t find getting shot to be very lucky and he laughed.
“In your case, you’re lucky all you did was get shot.”
“So I’ve been told. You don’t have to lecture me. I know it was stupid.”
JJ gave me one of his patented half-smirks. “Lecture you? You kidding, girly? Who cares if it was crazy? You’re a badass now! You’ve even got the bullet in there to prove it.”
“Really?” I ran my hand over my chest. It felt weird, knowing something was in there that didn’t belong.
“You’re own little souvenir. We don’t take that kind of stuff out. Besides, it amps up your street cred. I bet everyone’s been coming around to tongue-clean your boot bottoms.”
Well that’s a new one. I imagined Kiro getting on his knees and actually licking the bottom of my shoes, all the while ranting about how his tongue must have been destined for the job. I started to laugh, but caught myself before it could hurt too badly.
JJ was right. The team was coming around. For the most part, at least.
“Not everyone sees it that way,” I said.
JJ looked up from his work. “Aiden?”
“You’ve got to give the kid some time. He doesn’t make things easy.”
“I guess.” I watched JJ put in the last few stitches. “How do you know all this stuff?”
“One of the perks of being ex-military.”
“You were in the army?”
“Something like that.” He sowed the last stitch, cut the tie and stepped back. “Seems like a lifetime ago now.”
He placed a layer of gauze over my stitches and secured it with tape. I sat up. “So what made you leave?”
“It turned me into something else. Something I didn’t like.”
Vague. I swung my feet over the bed’s edge. JJ snapped off his gloves. “Come on,” he said, before I could press him for more information. “Let’s get you over to see the boss.”
I grabbed Alice and JJ led the way through the labrynth-like hallways of the asylum. I did my best to focus on the nothing conversation we were having, but if anything was my Achilles heel, it was my stubbornness. And that, plus my unquenchable curiosity, was a terrible combination in a group like ROOT 4, where secrets were the name of the game. My mind kept settling back on JJ and his stint in the military. It was weird. He didn’t seem the type and there was something in his voice when he talked about it that made me pause.
I tried hard not to push him, but I found myself bringing it up over and over again, until JJ finally caught me by the arm and slowed us to a stop.
The hallway lights flickered overhead. Still, I caught glimpses of his eyes in the moments of brightness. They were narrowed, and though he wore a half-smirk, he didn’t look particularly charmed by my antics.
“Sorry,” I muttered. I let me eyes drop to my feet.
“It’s okay. Just – you know how things are, Rainey.” JJ frowned. “Look, around here the past is like an asshole. Everyone’s got one and they lug it around all day and everyone knows it’s there, but you just don’t bring it up in polite conversation. And you certainly don’t screw with it.” He shook his head. “I thought you, of all people, would get that?”
He had me there. I was the queen of repression. How could I fault them for something I’d been doing my whole life?
“Right. Assholes. Got it. Won’t bring it up again.” I shrugged and held up three fingers. “Scouts honor?”
JJ laughed. “Come on, loser. We’re gonna be late.”
We turned a few more corners and wove our way into the Hive. It was like I remembered, the flat screen monitors poised above the main room, flashing through various displays, and the massive CPUs in the corner. Olivia was in the back, working at one of the computer terminals, while Kiro sat at one of the long tables in the center, paging through some notebook or other. Aiden was nowhere to be seen.
Kiro motioned for us to join him.
“Rainey,” he said, as JJ and I sat down. “It’s good to see you back on your feet. How you feeling?”
“Great. And have you come to a decision yet?”
I ran my fingernails along the tabletop. “Yes. I’ve decided to stay.” I paused. “For awhile at least.”
Kiro looked up from his notebook. If he seemed surprised, I didn’t catch it. “That’s excellent. Unfortunately, I won’t be around to help get you settled – JJ and I have some business to attend to – but I’ll have Olivia show you to your quarters.”
“You’re leaving?” I asked. I was looking at Kiro, but the question was for the both of them. JJ hadn’t mentioned he’d be away.
“For a few days,” Kiro said, “a week at most. Some leads have emerged that we have to follow-up.”
“Did something happen while I was out?”
JJ shook his head. “That’s the thing. Nothing’s happened. And yet the word is that Vert’s spreading faster than ever. There’s so much on the streets now that the dealers can’t even move it all.”
Weird. “I don’t know much about drug economics, but isn’t that counter productive? You know – the whole supply and demand thing?”
“Unless you’re goal isn’t to make money,” Kiro said, “but simply mass exposure.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” I said.
Kiro stood up and rummaged around the table. He found his flak vest and strapped it on. “No, it doesn’t. Which is why JJ and I need to find out as much as we can as soon as we can, before we’re all blindsided by whatever Valtronic’s planning. I’m sorry to take off on you like this, right when you’re getting back, but I’m afraid it can’t be helped.”
“No,” I said, “it’s okay, really. Go kick some ass.”
Kiro smiled, nodded and turned to JJ. “We’re all set. Pack what you need. We’ll leave within the hour.”
JJ nodded, then glanced at me. “Rainey – see you when we get back. Try not to burn the place down.”
As I watched them head off toward the garage, suddenly it hit me: I had no idea what I was supposed to do while they were away.
“Kiro,” I called out. He turned. “What do you want me working on? What can I help with?”
“I have you set up with Aiden. You’ll help him sift through all the data you were able to pull off the depot servers.”
I cringed. “Aiden? You sure?”
“Very.” He waved over his shoulder and pointed to the ceiling. “It’s out of my hands.”
You know, your style has shifted significantly from how you started, and I’m not sure how much it’s better. I would love to see more of that awesome social espionage from the beginning, and it feels like her ability to erase memories is getting seriously sidelined. Also, I want to see some more characterization of ROOT4. I can’t tell them apart sometimes.
That out of the way, really great stuff. I wonder if she’ll set off metal detectors now.
Really appreciate the criticisms, my man. They help a lot. I know authors use this excuse all the time, but here it’s sort of true: I think some of the issues you pointed out will make a lot more sense once the story is finished.
Style wise, the first part of this Arc is supposed to sit as a juxtaposition to the first Arc. It’s supposed to represent what Rainey’s life could be – that she doesn’t necessarily have to live the way she does because of her power. That she can still interact with people in a meaningful way.
Her ability to erase memories – this is one of those things that will make more sense in the end. It’s a lot less blatant right now, simply because she’s not actively using it (i.e. the social espionage), but yeah… just wait.
Characterization — it’s a pain in the ass. Working on it 🙂
Hey, I know how it is. My current arc is basically all characterization and it’s HARD.
Nice 🙂 I am glad Rainey is coming around – and even decided to stay.
I hope she can get her problem, her Achilles heel, under control – it might become awkward if she does not.
I wonder how she will handle the sifting through the data – and if she will find out something important…
PS: Typo found:
I grabbed Alice and JJ led the way through the *labrynth*-like hallways of the asylum. => I think that should read *labyrinth* => I grabbed Alice and JJ led the way through the *labyrinth*-like hallways of the asylum.
Thanks man 🙂 I will go ahead and fix that.
Hey, you still there? It’s been more than two weeks now since this was posted, and I haven’t seen you in the lair in a while.
Yep, still here. Had some snags come up with work but I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. Should hopefully have some new stuff out this weekend.
awhile -> a while
Same thing, you want the noun here, not the adverb (after ‘for’ you need ‘a while’).
Obviously I just started reading your story a few days ago, but I’m hoping you continue it. 🙂
So I just caught up on your story, and I’ve really liked it, but I notice that it’s been 4 months since the last chapter. I see where you replied to someone after 2 weeks of not posting, saying you would have something up that weekend, yet here we are in June. Is this story dead?
did he died?
I think he ded.
It’s a shame this seems to have been abandoned. The writing is beautiful and very descriptive, in my opinion, and there’s no easily solvable or cliche plot. In fact the originality of pretty much everything was what kept me rivited to the screen. Blew through the entire thing in a couple hours without even noticing the upload dates, and then I get to 3.02 and notice that there hasn’t been a chapter in over a year and a half. It makes me sad to see such an awesome read left unfinished like that, but stuff happens, I guess. I hope the author is still alive and happy.