“What am I going to figure out?” Ellie pressed on, growing tired of the games of everyone around her.
Indaya and Duncan shared a glance that Ellie did not care for and her own look said as much. If they hadn’t been in a library, which was a place of reverence to her, she would have been shouting and threatening. As it were, she sat down as calmly as she could muster next to her friend and tried again.
“What is it that I’m going to figure out, Indaya? I trust you. Him, not so much, but you… you I have grown to trust. Don’t make me regret that.”
Indaya took a deep breath in and exhaled slowly and turned to Ellie when she spoke, her words coming out cautious as if she were talking to a mental patient.
“Just that Kai doesn’t seem…right, since he got home.” That was as close to the truth as Indaya could give without endangering them all, according to Duncan, and for some reason, she believed him. She’d beg Ellie’s forgiveness later, once she knew the full story.
Ellie looked deflated. “You’ve noticed too, huh? At first, I thought it was because it was just that the mission had taken its toll on him, but that’s not it, I can’t explain it, but there’s even a difference in his eyes. Like my, Kai isn’t even in there. He has taken to being so paranoid I had to fight to get him to leave my side, he’s been locking me in any room we are in whenever he leaves, I can’t take much more. I just can’t.”
Indaya was bursting at the seams, knowing that what Ellie was saying sounded dangerous, and she felt Ellie should know the truth, but this way she was at least alive. She may be a part-time prisoner, but better caged and alive, than free and dead. So Indaya went back to reading the screen in front of her and she finally found something helpful. With any luck, she’d have Ellie’s favor taken care of in a matter of hours and Ellie could reach out to the other Topsiders, and with any luck the real Kai, but one miracle at a time she told herself inwardly.
“Guys, I gotta go. Ellie, I’ll bring your book by tonight, I should be finished by then, that okay?”
“Perfect.” Ellie slouched into the library chair as Duncan plopped into the seat next to her. “I’ll see you then.”
“Don’t, Duncan.” He sighed, a little saddened, but not defeated. Nothing was going to rain on his parade.
“We used to be friends.”
“We were never friends, Duncan. I tried to be your friend, but you got too clingy and wanted too much from me.”
It was true, well partly. It wasn’t that he was overly clingy, she just didn’t want him. She wanted Kai. And he never understood it. Most girls found him attractive. He had gray eyes, and black hair, with a slender build that toned up well. He was a bit above average height and had charisma from what he’d been told, but Ellie never looked at anyone but Kai. It was as if he was her beacon in the dark.
Duncan refused to let that affect him. He wanted to share his news with her, thought she would be proud of him.
“I report for my tests to join the Topsiders at 0700 tomorrow.”
“Great.” Ellie was listless.
“I thought you liked that type.”
“What type, Duncan?”
“Brave, selfless, the Topsiders.”
“You think I’m a Sider-Slut? Is that what you’re saying? That I’m some uniform groupie?” Ellie looked exasperatedly appalled. “Just when I think you can’t get any more wrong, and insulting, you find a way. You find a way.”
Ellie stood to go and Duncan stopped her. “Look I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry for everything. I’m sorry about the Ronin stuff, and I’m sorry about pressuring you to be with me, and I see now that it’s just Kai and nothing I can ever do will win you over. I’m … yeah, I’m a fucking jerk.”
“Yeah, you are. Sorry doesn’t fix shit, Duncan. Sorry doesn’t take back what you’ve done to me, and the damage that has happened in the last month and some change. Sorry doesn’t take back you calling me a slut in not so many words. Sorry isn’t a magic spell. You’re sorry? Fucking prove it with actions. SHOW me, don’t tell me. I gotta go.”
Ellie turned on her heel leaving Duncan speechless. All those years that Kai had been speaking for her, Duncan had underestimated Ellie’s own will, determination and sense of self. Now he realized just how badly he had misjudged her, and that he had dug himself a trench so deep, he may never get out. Especially when she found out that he knew the man following her around and touching her wasn’t Kai.
Ronin and Kort sat across from each other at the dinner table in their parent’s abode. Dinner once a week had become a tradition for their family, a way to remain connected to one another in such a disconnected world according to their patriarch. Communication had always been vital in the eyes of their father. He had been born into the lower class, but his intelligence and skills in regard to updating and maintaining the compound’s communication systems had earned him respect among the elite. He had grown from nothing into everything he was today and that made him both proud and neurotic.
Kort sat picking over some boiled cauliflower. He’d always hated the texture and the taste of cauliflower, but his mother always insisted on cooking it and in the interest of not wasting food, him eating it. He stabbed a piece angrily with his fork before shoving it into his mouth.
“Where is your little girlfriend?” His mother asked with a hint of malice in her voice. “The ladies in my exercise group have told me they’ve seen you roaming the halls with that orphan girl that Kai has always taken up with.”
“She’s not my girlfriend, mom,” Kort retorted while trying to swallow his food. “Anyway, she wouldn’t be welcome here even if she were.” Kort was right. While his father may have come from nothing and worked his way up to the title of Communications Director in the government, Kort’s mother had always been privileged. If he had brought Ellie along, his mother would have done her best to make her feel as though she wasn’t welcome.
“Don’t speak to your mother with that tone of voice, son,” Royce spoke sternly, gesturing toward Kort with a piece of bread in his hand. “If she is your girlfriend, of course, she’d be welcome here. We’d be happy to meet her.”
Ronin let out a hearty laugh, almost choking on his potatoes. Jemma shot him a telling glance.
“And what have you been up to, Ronin? Hopefully finding a suitable woman who will provide me with grandchildren,” Jemma smiled at him as she spoke.
“Oh, mother, when are you going to give that up? I don’t want any wretched children.”
Kort looked over at Ronin, a bit shocked by his candor. They typically didn’t speak to their parents in such a manner. They did control their inheritance, after all, and both of them were absolutely certain that if they didn’t play the role of perfect obedient children, they would leave everything to Kai. Despite his having been a disappointment by making some of the choices that he’d made, Kai was obviously still their favorite child. They appreciated that he had garnered so much prestige as a member of the Topsiders and had risen through the ranks so quickly, regardless of their feelings about the job itself.
“Well, it looks like we’ll just have to rely on Kort and his little orphan girl then,” Jemma said smugly. “Kai is married to that awful job and you’ve resolved yourself to a life of solitude.”
“People procreate, son. That’s what they do. You’ll never find yourself a woman with an attitude like that,” Royce said jokingly before taking a sip of cider.
Ronin laughed along with his father, watching intently as he drank.
“I do have some news today, good news,” Royce said, placing his glass back on the table. “We’ve been able to intercept a communication sent from one of the Topsider watches. It suggests that while some of them may be in trouble, they are still out there. It came from Kai’s watch. He’s still alive.”
Ronin’s smile shrank and Kort looked over at his brother, a pit growing in his stomach.
“Well, that is excellent news, isn’t it boys?” Jemma had grown increasingly worried about Kai. She may not have agreed with his life choices, but he was still her son.
“Yes, absolutely,” Kort managed to spit out. Ronin sat still, as if deep in thought.
“Finish your cauliflower, Kort,” Jemma said, sipping her cider.
The room grew quiet until Royce began to choke. He grabbed the table, eyeing his family with a worried look on his face. Jemma and Kort sprang from their chairs, rushing to his side. Royce grabbed his throat, twisting in his chair and falling over to the floor. Kort immediately pushed everything out of the way and tried to help his father. In a matter of moments, he had stopped breathing and lay motionless in the spot where he fell.
“Help him!” Jemma screamed so loudly it could be heard throughout the quadrant. “Help him! He’s dying!” She began to shake uncontrollably, the tears welling up in her eyes. Ronin wrapped his arms around his mother as if to comfort her, providing her with a drink to calm her nerves. Jemma hugged her son and took the drink graciously before crying into Ronin’s chest.
Kort sat on the floor with his father, stunned, unsure of what to do. If Kai were here, he’d know what to do. He had been trained for this sort of thing, knew how to resuscitate people. Kort, on the other hand, had always been preoccupied with himself. He had no idea how to save someone else.
As Kort sat there thinking that maybe he should run for help, Jemma too began choking. She convulsed violently in Ronin’s arms and managed to raise her head enough to look into his eyes. Ronin smiled at his mother, and as she struggled to breathe he laid her down gently on the floor. He watched as she reached out to him, begging for help with her gestures. “Goodnight, mother,” he said as she took one last breath.
Kort scuttled backward, staring at his brother, shocked at what he had just witnessed. “You….you did this, didn’t you? You killed them? Why did you kill them, Ronin? Why?”
Ronin knelt, closing his mother’s eyes with his fingertips. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, brother. Clearly, it was just their time to go.”