Chapter 34: Brain Pain
Lenora quietly closed the door behind her. It was hard not to make noise with the crinkling plastic of the shopping bags, or the weird thumping of the CAT’s leg on the floor, though.
Once the door was locked, she swiftly piled the grocery bags on the counter and began putting things away. The CAT looked up at her expectantly, and she took a brief moment to give him a pat on the head.
It had been two weeks. Lenora had taken to calling it a ‘him’ and calling him Trap. (It was short for contraption. X had thought it was painfully clever, and would not stop teasing her for it.)
The CAT didn’t seem to mind, however.
Lenora smiled down at the CAT and as she turned to put some canned beans away, she caught sight of her ad-screen.
Furrowing her brow, she saw that it was stuck on ‘end call?’
Grumbling, Lenora quickly went to the screen and manually disconnected. Whoever the screen had decided to call had already disconnected, so the only thing on it was a freeze-frame of a popular ad. Rolling her eyes at the broken screen she returned to putting away her groceries.
For the past couple of days, the ad-screen would randomly link up with someone in her telecomm book and dial the number without her even being in the room. It had been more than a little annoying, but thankfully she hadn’t gotten too many complaints about it. The last time it had dialed David and Renee, David had been there getting ready to go out on a date with his new girlfriend, and he had offered to try and fix it. Again.
Lenora had told him it wasn’t necessary.
Lenora felt a stab of guilt in her heart. She had seen the sad look in David’s eyes when she had turned him down, yet again, for a visit. She could only imagine how upset Renee was – she hadn’t called or even tried to get in contact with Lenora since the last time they spoke, which was before X had come to her apartment.
She would have to tell them sooner or later.
Sighing, Lenora finished putting everything away and peered across the way towards the futon. Trap followed her gaze from one of the stools.
X was sleeping on his face with a leg and an arm thrown over the side of the futon. Lenora had stopped pulling it down into a bed when after the third night he kept waking up the same way.
“X?” Lenora lifted her voice just barely over the distant noise in the morning street.
X mumbled something into the futon.
“I brought food.” Lenora responded, organizing a pot on her stove to begin the preparations for soup.
With her back turned she could hear X get to his feet and stagger around the living room to find the pieces of clothes he had discarded in the night. As it turns out, he was a bit of a thrasher, and would often times peel off layers and fling them across the room. The second night he had pelted her in the head while she was on her way to the bathroom.
Trap had mrowed at her in a fashion akin to a good scolding from under the futon.
A sharp inhale from very near to Lenora’s ear made her jump.
“Smells good.” X murmured, followed by a dry little cackle at her reaction.
Lenora cast him the gentlest of scowls. “I haven’t opened anything yet.”
“I meant me.” X rolled his eyes, taking another deep breath. “I used your shower again. And your soap. Do I smell like Hydrangea?”
“Thank you. You still stink, you metal annoyance.” There was a soft skid on her linoleum.
“Mrow.” Was the CAT’s only response to being pushed across the floor by X’s foot.
Lenora opened the soup and poured in three cans to the biggest pot she had. She put the lid on and let it simmer at medium temperature. Once she was sure it would be fine for a few minutes, she turned back to her new roommates. X was seated on a stool, and Trap was sitting on the floor again.
“So…” She started as she tugged on the long ends of her sleeves. “Want to do anything today?”
X was staring at the tabletop. “You said you would help me.”
Lenora smiled. “I want to help you.”
Lenora’s smile vanished and she looked at her feet. For all her CoreComm searching, with her limited access, she couldn’t find a thing about this mysterious Arrowhead Corporation. Every weekday for two weeks she had gone in and tried, and every day she came home empty handed.
She could feel X staring at her, but she couldn’t bring herself to look up at him. “I’m sorry, I don’t… I couldn’t find anything.”
X let out a vibrant and enthusiastic string of colorful curse words, drumming his fists on the island counter top for emphasis. Lenora kept her eyes on the CAT, who gazed at her with patient understanding.
After a moment X calmed down. “You said you could help me.”
Lenora swallowed and nodded. “I can, I just… I don’t have access to-“
“Are you even trying?!” X shouted. His voice cracked at the last, and she heard him push off of the stool and stomp away.
Lenora’s heart ached at his voice, and she ventured a look in his direction. X was staring at the muted ad-screen. His hands were balled into fists and his head was cocked forward as if challenging the repetitive images on the screen.
Lenora opened her mouth to speak, but X beat her to it.
“…I…I can feel…”
Lenora barely heard the words, so she took a step closer to him, straining her ears.
“…It’s like…a burning in…in my…”
Lenora took another step closer and reached out her hand to gently touch his elbow. “X?”
He jerked out of her reach and turned away from the screen, showing her his profile as his eyes lanced across the floor. They were focused; narrowed on some evasive concept – but he didn’t stop talking. Lenora dropped her hand and stood waiting.
“I… I don’t know…” X shook his head violently, and his palms came up to press against his forehead. “I can’t… remember…”
As X squeezed his eyes shut, Lenora tried to touch him again. She reached out her hand and touched his elbow and this time he did not rip away. She heard him hiss through clenched teeth.
“I can’t do this… I can’t do this…” X started bending forward, a grimace flashing across his face.
Lenora reached out her other hand and tried to support his arm as he bent under the unseen weight. Lenora chewed the inside of her lip with worry. What was he talking about? Couldn’t do what?
“X, I’m right here, please, let me help you.” Lenora pleaded quietly, moving around so that one of her hands was resting on a tensed shoulder.
“…Help…?” X breathed, sucking in a gasp as if just coming up for air. He seemed to freeze under her touch and his hands dropped from his forehead like a puppet with cut strings.
He slowly turned around, and Lenora was startled to see a trickle of blood seeping from his nose. X very slowly, with palpable restraint, grabbed Lenora’s hand and squeezed. While she tried to catch his eyes, they very slowly opened and studied her captured hand.
“I can feel my brain.”
Lenora glanced over at Trap, who still stared at the both of them with nonchalant indifference.
X shook his head sharply. “I can feel my mind falling apart.” He said each word very carefully, and when the sentence was done he nodded to himself. “I have to… I have to do something.”
Lenora crooked her neck to try and catch his eye but he avoided it, dropping her hand and quickly crossing away from Lenora and into her living room. She watched him snatch up his coat from its place on the floor.
“X? Where are you going?” Lenora looked over at the soup.
X ‘tsked’ at her. “I gatta get outta the house, mom. All my friends are waitin’ for me.”
Lenora furrowed her brow at the shift in him. The fear and the pain she had seen moments ago was replaced by the jovial, nonsensical X she had been living with for the past two weeks.
But, had the X she had gotten to know been the real X? Maybe she had just caught a glimpse of who he truly was under all that blood?
“But… the soup?”
“Don’t start with me, rodent.” X hissed. He threw a glance at the pot on the stove and rolled his eyes. “Soup, soup, soup. I asked for Chinese.” He flashed a smile, all teeth and mischief.
“X, I can help you, you just have to give me a chance!”
Lenora started walking towards him. She was convinced he was hiding something from her. All this time X had only ever mentioned ‘Arrowhead Industries’ or ‘Arrowhead Laboratories’ or ‘Arrowhead Sciences’… Sometimes it would be mixed in with a colorful choice of profanity, but that was all she knew.
Lenora could presume that X had been wronged by these people. However, X’s passionate tirades of cussing and banging the table hadn’t provided anything more. He refused to talk about himself other than in relating all the fun things he can do with a gun or a broken bottle within the confines of a club. Most of the time he was grins and weirdness, and Lenora had accepted that…
Should she have pushed him? Lenora was kicking herself now for not having asked the right questions.
“I gave you a chance!” X snarled at her, and she froze. His eyes flashed like lightning, and a shiver went down her spine as the lights in her apartment flickered angrily. He pulled on the coat with a huff, sputtering for words through the static charge in the air.
“I can’t sit here and eat soup, and talk with a robot-cat, and watch this stupid fucking ad-screen play things over and over and over and over –“ With each additional ‘over’ he strode purposefully up to Lenora until she was backed against the wall.
“Mroooow.” Trap growled from his perch by the stool.
“Shove it, Frisky!” X snapped. In an instant his eyes were looking into Lenora’s.
Lenora’s eyes widened as she watched the tiniest stretches of lightning flare out from his pupils, glancing over his irises like solar flares. For a moment she was lost in them, tossed upon the stormy skies of his eyes. She had never been able to look him this closely in the eyes before – and especially not when they were like this. At once it was both beautiful and horrifying.
“I am losing time.” X chuckled manically and nodded in agreement with himself. “Literally, I think it is falling out of my ears.” He made the raspberry noise and jabbed a finger into her shoulder accusingly. “Besides. It isn’t like you don’t know how to find me, right?”
Lenora nodded, dumbfounded.
X was gone in a swirl of black coat and wild-eyed malice, Lenora left confused by the door.
“Mrow.” Trap said with finality.
Lenora blinked and looked back at the CAT. Without garnering any more of a response from the mechanical animal, Lenora’s eyes drifted over the rest of the apartment.
…Was he gone?
The thought pulled Lenora from her shocked stupor, and she darted to her window. Unfortunately, X had already disappeared into the streets of Sector 6.