Beginning: Möbius rose


They brought in my laptop, helpfully modified to tap the building's wireless network, and all my notes as well, but I didn't need them. For all that trouble, it wasn't very difficult to finally pin him down. I worked automatically, barely conscious of what I was doing, just relishing the absence of pain and craving. It wasn't enough to still my thoughts, however. Not this time. I suspected no dosage would ever be enough again to make me forget that moment of surrender.

I gave them the location, down to the very room. An abandoned apartment building on the outskirts of the city. He'd been there for a while. Eugene looked the screen over, scratching his goatee, then nodded. The two guards broke their statue tranquility and came to either side of me, sending a stab of anxiety through the blissful haze until I realized there were only removing the shackles. I let my hands drop to either side of the chair, exhausted. Eugene left in a hurry, followed by the guards. I was alone.

The door opened again. I paid no mind. There was nothing important enough to rouse me now.

"Benjamin?"

Except that voice. My heard shot up. Naomi stood at the entrance, changed, but still very much the same. She wore a sensible casual uniform that gave her a mature presence I'd never noticed before. Her hair was held back with a series of barrettes. Everything was in order. I had never felt so disoriented.

"Jesus... you look like shit... but at least you're safe now." She let the door close behind her and sat down at the other end of the table. There was a wariness in her expression that checked my excitement, but not by much. I was too stunned to speak.

"I... err... well, I came down as soon as I heard you were out of detox. They told me you ODed."

"It was... the heights I couldn't... I didn't know what to do... I had to get across... so..." I ended the mumbling trainwreck of an explanation with simply a stupefied nod.

Her face reddened. She took a breath, then let loose a torrent of anger. "What the hell did you think you were doing going in there you could've gotten yourself killed of all the goddamn stupid stunts to pull what in God's name were you thinking I was so worried about you and now you pull this shit fucking ODing in the middle of a goddamn--"

As she took a breath, I cut in, "Uh... Naomi?"

"Yeah?"
"What the fuck is going on?"
Her rage deflated instantly. "They didn't tell you? Anything?"
I shook my head. She remained silent, staring in confusion, then began to explain.

"I... umm... I work here now, Benji. With the organization. That's all they call it, by the way. I got the job over the summer... I was interning at one of the central processing registries and messing around with the network on the side. The people here noticed, which freaked me out at first, but they're a lot more clued in than your average government bureau, so instead of busting me they offered me a job. I was incredibly excited, but I had to keep it a secret. That's why I didn't tell you. They put me on trivial stuff at first, but it was pretty clear from the get-go that I could do a lot more, so finally they assigned me to tracking down Shikai. It was around the same time I found you... well, the same time I left.

"I thought you were tailing me at first, which was irritating as all hell. But when I started running into trouble, it turned out you were actually going after Shikai! I couldn't believe it! You were absolutely amazing." Her wide grin faded slowly as she adopted an intense stare. I turned my eyes away. "Benji, what's wrong? Are you sick or something?"

"Nomi... I was trying to find you. Not Shikai. You."
She narrowed her eyes slightly and tilted her head. "But you--"
"I had trouble keeping up with you, so I tried going after him instead and hoping we would run into each other. No other reason."
"So... you stopped at the AMMA because..."
"I though that's where you had stopped, Nomi."
She laughed nervously, without much humor. "So I was trying to rescue you from rescuing me... huh? Like an endless loop or something." Having kept her gaze averted, she finally looked me straight in the face. "But... why? Why me?"

I took a slow, deep breath. "I wanted to apologize, Nomi. That's it. Apologize and try to make things better again. Ten years of watching you grow up doesn't just vanish when you walk out the door. If I could erase memories, I wouldn't be swallowing that kep shit every day. I know you think it's all I care about, but it's not and that's why I came. To prove it to you. I don't know what you thought they meant by 'detox', but as soon as they brought me in they just strapped me to a bed and left me there. Look at the bruises on my arms if you don't believe me. You know what I'm like if I miss just a few hours, imagine for a whole day. They tried to buy me off with it to finish looking for Shikai. I told them to fuck off. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do, Nomi. There wasn't even a good reason to refuse. After that, they threatened to kill you, and that's when I gave in. I'm sorry Nomi, for everything that happened, from the very moment you knocked on my door and I was too worried about my goddamn broken connection to hug you or talk to you like I should've. I love you. No, I mean... I mean something else, I don't know what. I'm sorry. If you need proof, there it is."

The door opened and Eugene stepped back into the room. He ignored me, his attention directed solely toward Naomi. "Ah, there you are! We've gotten the OK to nab Hitasura. Do you want to come along?" She turned to look at him, then sprang from the chair and slammed him against the wall, her hands around his throat.

"Holy shit Koyabu, what are you--"
"What did you do to Benji? Tell me the truth or I swear I'll kill you now."
"Jesus Koyabu, leggo," he sputtered as he wrenched her hands away from his neck. Backing away from her and coughing a bit, he shot me a nasty glance. I returned the favor. "We brought him in, recovered him from the OD, and questioned him, that's all."

"Recover my ass, you were torturing him!"
"Koyabu, withdrawal's never that pleasant, but it's not unbearable."
"He says you threatened to kill me."

Eugene looked a bit stunned. He glanced once more in my direction. I leaned forward, just waiting to hear him deny it.

"That's true. I gave him the impression that we had arrested you and appealed to his emotional connection to gain his compliance. I know it sounds brutal, but if we waited too long his knowledge would've been irrelevant. Hitasura would've moved on. We needed him to finish the job quickly."

"I told you where he was going so you could protect him, not put him through agony! For fuck's sake, Eugene, did you think I wouldn't notice? I don't care what the reasons were, you tried to bribe him with drugs, then you threatened to kill me!"

And Eugene laughed. I couldn't understand. He was caught red-handed and he had the nerve to laugh.

"Koyabu... you've got it reversed. We used the emotional threat first. We thought it would be the quickest way. After the job was done he would see you and everything would be well again. No harm done. But he didn't respond at all. As I recall, his exact words were, 'I care shit-all about Naomi.'"

She turned from him to me. Her face was stone-set. I couldn't imagine it being anything but a joke. Not when I had come this far.

"Nomi, he's lying."
"We were pretty surprised. But when we--"
"Nomi, he's lying," I said a little louder. Eugene talked right over me.
"...offered him kepefrin he didn't even hesitate. I barely got the word out of my mouth before he agreed. So you're right, we did threaten to kill you--"
"Nomi, he's lying!"
"...and we did bribe him, but in that order. I apologize, we don't normally operate like this, but--"
"Nomi!"
"...this was a special circumstance. You can check the surveillance records if you'd like, they're right--"
"He'll edit them, Nomi!"
"...upstairs, or just look at his eyes. He's on it this very moment. The team's heading out right now, you coming?"

"YOU LYING SON OF A BITCH!" I screamed as I dove across the table. Eugene dodged aside, yelling into the hallway. As I pushed myself off my knees, a guard kicked me hard in the stomach and I crashed to the floor again. In the moments before the beating truly began, I got one look at her face. She was livid with disgust. I tried to make out a word, anything, but the wind was knocked out of me and I couldn't even whisper. She turned away as the next kick landed.

Before pain obliterated my rational mind altogether, one last thought crossed it.

"Good luck, Shikai."


Previous: I can see three corners from this corner. Two's a perfect number. But one?

End.


The world-concept and characters of 'Eugene' and 'Shikai Hitasura' are copyright Leigh Bader, drawn from her online comic "Schism." They were used with written permission from the artist. The original comic can be read at http://www.schism.org

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