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The Cellar City Chronicles

By Oru Manna All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Scifi

Chapter 28: Ocular Troubles

Renee got off of her shift at four o’clock am. She was tired and cranky, and her shoulders ached. After a few minutes of sitting in her car with her arms dead at her sides, she decided that now was a good time to go home.

As had become habit since the shooting at Crank a month ago, Renee went the long way home, making a pass at Lenora’s apartment. She wasn’t sure what she thought she would see, but more often than not Lenora’s lights were all off, or she saw the soft glow from the ad-screen through her big window.

They had spoken very little since Crank, and when they had it was short, easy conversation. Usually it involved Renee inviting Lenora over for dinner and Lenora politely refusing because she was sick.

She was getting sick a lot.

To be fair, Renee had to cede that Lenora had ended up coming over for dinner once before ducking out because of illness. It had been three weeks ago at least, and honestly Lenora had looked like she was going to hurl all over their table.

As usual, Lenora’s street was quiet. Usually past two am this whole block was like a cemetery. All the street gangs were probably in their hide-outs for the rest of the night and the crazies had all passed out or crashed by now.

As she rounded the corner onto Lenora’s street, however, Renee was surprised to see that Lenora’s lights were on.

Renee parked outside of the building on the other side of the street, staring quizzically into the window. She could see the play of shadows in the apartment, and as she watched, something popped up into the window.

Squinting her eyes, Renee’s mouth dropped open.

When was Lenora able to afford a CAT?

Curiosity got the better of her, and Renee pulled herself out of the car and locked it behind her. She strode up towards the front door, and tried to come up with a reason to visit this early in the morning. The most natural response to that question would be the honest one – Just got off of work, wondered if she was still up, saw the lights on…

Heaven forbid if she said that she’s worried about her friend. Then of course she would look like a bad guy.

Renee paused in the street, casting her eyes back up towards the window.

Maybe she should just go home. If Lenora wanted to hang out she would have called.

David would call you an idiot right now. Renee thought with a dry chuckle. She shook her head and hooked a few strands of pink hair behind her ears.

She could call Lenora tomorrow and ask about the CAT. Maybe she would want to do lunch? That way Renee could get some sleep in before she had to meet other people in public…

As Renee started to turn away, she took another glance at the window – and her mouth dropped open once more.

From where she stood out in the street, Renee could just see the pale skin of a bare back standing somewhere in Lenora’s living room. The hair was short and a messy sort of light brown and from what she could tell, he had his arms crossed in front of him. Renee couldn’t see his face, or his expression, but his posture seemed totally relaxed.

Like being half-naked in Lenora’s living room was perfectly natural.

Renee turned abruptly and scooted quickly back into her car. She fumbled with the keys with a half smile on her face.

Oh my God, she’s got a boyfriend. No wonder she hasn’t had time for us recently! She felt a bizarre mixture of sisterly concern and a best friend’s elation. Concern because she didn’t recognize this man – granted she’d only seen him from behind and from the waist up, but Renee didn’t like that. Not that she was some professional boyfriend-screening expert, but she couldn’t help it.

Elation was mostly because maybe Lenora was finally turning back into Lenora. Maybe after she warmed up to this guy she would bring him around their place to meet her and David! Maybe they could all go out together, and David would have someone to hang out with that wasn’t a cranky older sister and a borderline hermit!

Sighing, Renee pulled away from the curb. She had felt alarm, but it had been a brief flicker.

Regardless of her protective nature, Renee had seen the MACE in Lenora’s bag, and she knew that Lenora was not afraid to use it. She seemed small and frail, but she was stronger then she looked. Renee was confident that Lenora would be able to protect herself from any unwelcome attention.

Not like last time.

Which was why Renee was so sure.

Being satisfied with her train of thought, Renee made her way back home. She listened to some of the early morning broadcasts, but barely even heard the music that was playing.

When she finally returned home, Renee would have lounged on the couch for a second, but David had beaten her there. He was half on/half off the dilapidated sofa, snoring softly through the wavering threads of green hair that were in his face. Renee shook her head at him and immediately went to the fridge.

M1lk, protein, greens…SuperSoda…? Renee poked around in the fridge, but was unsuccessful in her search.

“Jesus, David.” She muttered, slamming the fridge shut.

David murmured, but did not otherwise respond. His foot twitched a bit as it dangled off of the cushions.

Renee dropped her bag and keys on the small kitchen island (much like Lenora’s) and moved to David’s side. She shoved his shoulder a few times until she got more than a grunt.

“…yeah…?” David croaked.

“We’re out of SuperSoda, genius.” Renee chided him.

“…have…bag…” David grumbled, one hand raising off of where it brushed the floor and gesticulating lazily across the living room.

Renee sighed and crossed to David’s bag, where sure enough she found a six pack of SuperSodas. She immediately threw them in the fridge and then moved back to where David was struggling with wakefulness.

“Let me see.” Renee helped him sit up, and moved some hair from his left eye.

The shutter on his ocular was fully cinched shut. From the depths behind his left iris, she saw a tiny blinking light.

It was a pretty easy system. A green blinking light meant hibernation mode – if Renee pried his eyelid up while David was sleeping, she would see that color. It meant that his energy levels were fine, but that the eye itself was resting. (For all intents and purposes, it was in stand-by mode.)

A yellow blinking light meant that he was getting low on energy and if he didn’t ingest some vital nutrients, his ocular may shut down temporarily. Unfortunately, because they couldn’t afford regular upgrades, the yellow light did not work all the time, which was why Renee insisted that David always have a SuperSoda around.

The blinking red light meant that the ocular had been forced by adrenaline or other body functions to remain operative, therefore draining from the nearest energy source to remain operational. I.E. The natural energy produced by the human brain. The owner of the device was to seek immediate alternative sources of energy.

The static red light meant that the ocular was out of energy. That was a bad sign. If that ever happened, she had been instructed to manually shut off the ocular, force-feed David several specialized energy bars, make him swallow them down with two SuperSodas and then under no circumstances was she allowed to let him fall asleep.

Side effects may include dizziness, upset stomach, severe migraines and lethargy, loss of motor functions, brain cancer, or coma.

David’s eye was blinking red again. Renee cursed, rubbing the back of her hand against her eyes.

“Aw, David…” Renee groaned.

David’s head kept lolling to the side, and his good eye was squeezed shut. The one time they had gone back to the doctor to see what was wrong with the damned ocular, he had said that it was synced very well to his central nervous system, however, the work may have been too precise. That doctor’s theory was that David’s natural system had grown into the ocular’s synthetic one to a point where it bypassed the protocols that had been programmed into the ocular device.

To repair that damage, it would apparently cost a couple thousand more credits than they would both make in a year.

The consultation had cost almost two weeks of Renee’s wages.

They had discovered through trial and error that as long as David had a SuperSoda on him at all times, whenever he started to feel a bit dizzy and groggy, or whenever he got a headache, he could just down one. It usually worked, and whenever David slept, the ocular tended to shut down. Thankfully neither one of them had had to deal with the ocular blinking red in David’s sleep.

“I just… normal day…” David grumped.

This wasn’t becoming unusual either. Sometimes, he would just over work himself, or get into a fight with his boss and it was like his ocular would just sop it all up and leave nothing for him.

“I know. Come on, you gatta go to sleep.” Renee got him standing and leaned him against his bedroom door frame.

Renee quickly fetched and unwrapped an energy bar, and after she had flopped her brother onto his ramshackle bed, she fed him the pieces of the energy bar until he was passed out and his ocular was blinking green, contentedly.

She left what was left of the energy bar on is night stand and closed the door behind her. Renee hated to see him like this – and she knew he hated it too. He was such an active person, so energetic and alive…no one knew what happened when there was no one around to watch anymore.

Sighing, Renee allowed herself to float in her thoughts for only another moment before she too, retired to bed.

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28. Chapter 28: Ocular Troubles