Interlude 9.C

Clarence turned around, only to yelp as he came face to face with a woman who could have been pretty.  She was a few years older than Clarence, with high cheekbones, long dark hair, smooth skin, pouty lips, and dark eyes.  Had she been anyone else, she might very well have been gorgeous.

Her eyes stared through him, not seeing anything.  Her mouth was open just enough that drool threatened to spill out.  It was like looking at a close approximation of a human, and nothing more.  Just close enough that you could recognize the beauty, but with enough missing that the recognition came with a hint of revulsion and discomfort.

God damn, he hated walkers.  He stepped out of her way, but she didn’t seem to notice.  With a heavy sigh, he moved behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, and carefully maneuvered her out of the way.  When she seemed that she wasn’t going to go anywhere, he hurried away quickly.  The further away, the better.

It wasn’t only the walkers that Clarence hated.  It was the visitors.  As he peeked in the laying room, there was a guest hovering over one on the bed.  A lean man (most people were these days) dressed in black, with one of those skullcaps on his head.  At least his beard was well-trimmed, even if it was starting to show a hint of gray.  And he hadn’t been here the last time that Clarence had made a pass.  He glanced at the clipboard on the wall, and there wasn’t a note saying to expect a visitor.

They had to keep track of these things, to make sure that there weren’t any errant odors when someone showed up.  And to make sure that the radio wasn’t too loud.  They had a station dedicated for when visitors would see someone.

But you learned to roll with the punches.  You sucked it up, you straightened your back.  You sucked in a breath, put a sympathetic smile on your face, and you took a step forward.  “Can I help you?” he asked softly.

The man jumped almost as much as Clarence had a few minutes earlier, a hand coming to his chest.  After a moment, though, the relaxed, looking back down at the bed.  “No.  No, I’m just here to see him.”

Clarence took a step closer, looking down at the patient in question.  Ah, one of the new ones.  He actually knew who this one was.  He’d dealt with the man on the reclining bed elsewhere.  “I wasn’t aware that Father Presley had any relatives.”

“He doesn’t,” the man admitted.  “We’re, uh, we were… friends.”

“Are friends,” Clarence stressed.  “We have an expert that will be in by the end of the month.  We’re hoping that he can help Father Presley.”

The man looked at Clarence, hope lighting up his face.  A light that faded quickly, though.  “You said help, not…  Not cure.”

Clarence shook his head, but his smile didn’t fade.  “We aren’t sure.  The scans show… quite a bit of damage.  We aren’t sure that even our expert can bring him back to full capacity.  However, we are fairly sure that we can help.”

He looked down at the figure in the bed.  The man’s eyes were closed, and his face was flaccid.  One could be forgiven for thinking he was just sleeping if it weren’t for the tube up his nose and the incision marks that could be seen through the stubble on his scalp.  “But we do know that there’s still a lot of brain activity there.  He’s there to some extent.  We just need to help him to wake up to find out how bad it is.”

He could say more.  Try and give more hope.  But he wasn’t as comfortable doing that as some people were.  False hope was fine for some, but he’d rather give the real hope and not get people hoping for more than was reality.

The man in the skullcap nodded.  “Good.  Maybe I should chew him out, then.”  He paused and looked to Clarence.  “Sorry, it’s a joke.  A bad joke, I suppose.  Charles…  Father Presley and I, most people would think that we were enemies.  We argued a lot.  Well…  It wasn’t so much arguing as it was… very vocally debating our beliefs.

“But we never, never got angry with each other, no matter what others thought.  There was as much laughter as there was yelling.  And we always appreciated each other’s views.  And when someone needed the other and he wasn’t available, we’d always step forward to help that person.  We…”

He paused for a moment, then chuckled wealky.  “There’s an old story about a group of rabbi who were debate over…”  He paused to look at me for a moment before revising what he was about to say.  “They were debating over some measurements, and what would happen if you were inside or outside.  Understand, this was very serious.  So when one wiseass rabbi asked what if one foot was within that measurement, and one foot was outside, the others told him…”  He lifted his arm and violently pointed at the door.  “To get out!”

Clarence chuckled a little.  It honestly was an amusing mental image.

“They did!  And he left, and stood against the wall, staring at the door with a smirk!  And wouldn’t you know it, ten minutes later, they were debating something else and were making absolutely no progress.  They looked around and realized he wasn’t there.  When they asked where he was and were told that he was still outside from earlier, they asked why the hell he was still out there and demanded he get in there.

“That’s the sort of relationship the two of us have.  Had.  Ha…”  He shook his head.  “Regardless, we would debate, perhaps even argue on occasion, but that did nothing to diminish our respect and admiration for each other.”

Clarence folded his hands in front of him.  “And it hurts to see him like this.  He’d most likely have something to say to you about it.”

“Of course he would!”  The man smiled fondly.  “Several things, most likely.  All of them loud.  And yet, here I stand, unsure of what to say to him.”

“I think that you’ve actually said plenty,” Clarence said softly.  “If he can hear us, he’s most likely wishing that he could roll his eyes.”  The man smiled a little.  “But he also probably appreciates it.  Especially the fact that you took the time to come and visit him.”

“I’ve been helping his flock, but the entire community agreed that someone should visit him.  I also wanted to talk to the rabbis here about some things, so it worked out well.  We were able to get someone to cover for us while the both of us are… away.”  He paused.  “You’re so young, and yet here you are, offering me council.  And…  Are you a nurse?  A doctor?”

Ah, the age card.  “I’m still in school, actually.  My village is paying for my education, but working here gives me credits and helps lower the cost a little.  They, uh, had to send some kids here long ago, before I was even born, and they were thrilled when I said that I wanted to be a doctor.”

He nodded sagely.  “I’ve heard of that.  Still, I remember a time when someone your age wouldn’t even be in college yet.  Are you happy with your decision?”

This again.  But Clarence smiled patiently.  “I’ve been coming here for schooling since I was twelve.  I like it, actually.  I started out having to have a few classes to advance me a bit, but I’m effectively in my second year of med school now.  I expect to be here for another three years before I’m done.”

“And your village is okay with this?”

“It’s for a good cause.  I’m looking forward to being a dedicated doctor, and they teach classes here specifically for villages that don’t have electricity.  The ivy league schools back on Bet don’t do that, so I like to think that I’m going to end up with a better education than what they offer.  It does mean a little more work, but it’s already been worth it.”

“I see, I see.”  The man nodded, then shook his head.  “But look at me, taking up your time.  You probably have rounds to do.”

Clarence bowed his head in thanks, a habit that he’d picked up from the locals.  “Thank you, sir.”

Somehow, he kept a pleasant expression on his face as he made his way back to the hub even though he was mildly angry.  So young?  So…  Ugh, it was annoying.  He was seventeen for crying out loud!  It wasn’t odd for someone sixteen to enter the university program here.  There were a lot of kids who waited until they were eighteen, but it still wasn’t uncommon for them to hurry through.

The pleasant facade fell as soon as he stepped through the door.  “Someone is here to see Charles Presley.”

Kendra smiled sympathetically.  “He surprised us.  We didn’t have a chance to update the board before you went to check on him.”

Ah.  Fucking brilliant.  Clarence slumped into a chair, letting his head fall back until he was staring at the ceiling.  “He gave me shit about my age again.”

Kendra’s laugh was downright musical, melodic and bubbling.  “Oh, you get that.  If they’re old enough that they were in high school during Gold Morning, they’re going to be dumb over it.  Even if they’re pushing for people your age to be working for a living.  Just relax, realize that they’re hypocrites, and move on.”

“Easier said than done,” he grumbled quietly.

There was a pause before Kendra spoke again.  “You okay?  You’re a little more wound up today than usual.”

“Yeah.”  He paused for a moment.  “No, not really.  I just…”  He lifted his head to look at her.  “Can I go upstairs?  The blanks are getting to me today.  Had a walker pop up right behind me, and it’s still got me rustled.”  It was more than just her, though.  It was all of them.

Kendra’s smile turned sympathetic.  “Are you sure?  In a way, it’s even worse upstairs.”

“At least the retards have something behind their eyes.”  He winced.  “Handicapped.  Sorry.”  They were retards.  The word was made for people like them, but everyone got upset when he used it.  “Even the weird ones…  Yeah, it gets to you, but just for one damn Saturday, I’d like to deal with people who have at least something upstairs, you know?”

“That I can understand.  Besides, if it’s only for one day…”  She reached over for the phone.  She was the head nurse for this station, and even though he was going to be a full doctor, she way outranked him.  Even when he graduated, he’d defer to the head nurses — she’d been through more than he could even imagine, and was still doing it without complaint.  She knew more than many of the doctors here, so hell yes, he respected her.

The fact that she wasn’t full of herself, was still in her twenties, and wasn’t bad looking didn’t hurt.  But she was married, so he fought to keep her out of that list.

“Ron, it’s Kendra on first.  Do you have any students wanting to switch out?”  She paused.  “No, it’s fine.  Let me check with the others first.  If nobody wants to switch, I’ll call you back.”  There was a pause before she hung up.  “Damn, Ron woulda been good for you.  You’d learn a lot from him.  He’s got nobody who wants to switch, but he’s got some crap jobs that need done.”

Clarence smiled warmly.  “No, it’s fine.  Thank you for looking again.”  He had enough of wiping people’s bottoms for them today.

It was three calls later when the pattern changed.  He knew when the phone picked up because Kendra pulled the receiver away from her head, wincing.  “What the hell, Rose?  Do we have rats in the walls again?”  He couldn’t make out what was said.  “It’s Kendra.  I got a student here desperate to get away from blanks for the day.  Got anyone who wants to switch?”

He could hear a faint “God yes!” over the static, before the voice became indistinct again.  There was a long pause as Kendra slowly smiled.  “Right, I’ll send him up.  Buh-bye!”

She hung up and rubbed at her ear before looking to Clarence.  “Good news.  Floor three, station B.”

Floor three was one of the floors that looked absolutely normal, like you were just residing in a boarding school rather than a hospital.  That didn’t necessarily mean that the people there were in any better condition, just that having an environment like that would be better for them.  But a more relaxed environment was sounding absolutely heavenly.

“Done!  Thanks for this, Kendra.”

She laughed again.  “For you, sweety?  Anything.”

She’s married, he reminded himself as he got to his feet.  She’s married.

He ignored the elevator and took the stairs two at a time; that rickety old thing was loud, slow, and no matter what they told him, it felt unsafe.  It just felt unnatural to go up and down like that.

Within five minutes, he was approaching the station, smiling at the pretty Indian woman behind the counter.  “Clarence Ryan, reporting for duty.”

The woman smiled, tucking a pen into her bun.  “So long as someone is here, we don’t keep the door locked.  Come on in.”  As soon as he entered the station, she rose and offered him a gentle hand.  “Rose.  I don’t blame you for wanting to get away from the blanks.”

“Walkers,” he said as he released her hand, taking a seat when she gestured to it.  “I’m fine with the ones who can swallow and maybe chew, but the walkers get me so hard.”

She nodded, a wide smile on her face.  “I can understand that.  It’s like…  I don’t know.”

“It’s like they’re almost there, but so far away that you can’t break through.”

“Yes,” she said, pointing at him.  “Exactly.”  She settled into her chair, tucking a leg under her.  “This?  At least here I’m dealing with thinking, living, rational people.”

Clarence chuckled weakly.  “I, uh…  I’ve never actually been on the third floor before.”

She smiled and nodded her head knowingly.  “We handle the people who are…  Well, they’re bad enough that they need to be here, but they’re mostly hands off.  Severe depression, certain kinds of autism, PTSD, you get the idea.  Most of the people on staff are psychologists, but we have a few medical doctors, too.  Way too many cutters for my liking, and the occasional attempted suicide.

“It’s…  This is going to sound horrible, but you get used to it after a while.”

Clarence chuckled softly.  “No, I get it.  The first time I saw a cadaver, I fainted.  Now I do pranks with them.  It makes me sound like a psychopath, but…”

“There’s a running joke that to become a doctor you have to become a bit of a psychopath, isn’t there?”

“I’ve heard that, yeah.”  He smiled.  “But they tell me it’s normal, just part of the coping process.”

“Exactly.  Some people think that I must be crushed working here, but it’s like there’s two different versions of me.  There’s the me here, and the me away, and the two don’t meet.  I don’t even give work a thought when I’m off the clock.  I’m sure that it’s better that way.”

Smart and cute.  But probably married.  They were always married.  Or, at the very least, wouldn’t be into a guy like him.  Girls his own age didn’t interest him much for some reason, so he usually ignored them.

“So, studying to be a doctor, huh?  GP?”

He nodded.  “Gonna be the GP for my village.”

“Oooh!”  She leaned forward.  “That’s gotta be exciting.  Are they putting a lot of pressure on you?”

The way that she spoke, the tone she used wasn’t like she was talking to a kid.  It was like she was talking to a peer.  He liked that.  “Yeah, a bit.  I mean, they’re hoping that I do well.  We had a vet for a while that served as the village doctor, but she died when I was six.  We have to go to the next town over, where they have a former EMT, but he isn’t the best and everyone knows it.  So they’re really hoping that I’ll turn out better.

“What about you?  What brings you here?”

“My parents died when I was still a toddler and they sent me here.  My older brother was actually in this wing until a few years back, so I know it like the back of my hand.  I just… never left.  The outside world never really meant much to me.”

That was all too common around here.  “Uh, can I ask about…”

“He’s fine,” she said warmly.  “Survivor’s guilt, mostly.  An extreme case — the school he was in collapsed from a flyby, he was one of four survivors.  My mom was pregnant during Morn, and I was born a while later.  After they died, I was pretty much the only reason why my brother didn’t off himself.  They said he was fine for years, but he had some anxiety over being discharged, so he earned his keep by doing clerical work.  These days, he works in the main offices doing that.”

“That’s great,” Clarence said, genuinely meaning it.  “I’m glad they found a place for him.”

She chuckled a little.  “Yeah, well, there aren’t a lot of people who want to do clerical work for–”

Rose was cut off by a girl flinging the door open.  She was a dark-haired girl, maybe thirteen or fourteen years old, with the kind of face that never lost all of its baby fat no matter how skinny she was.  What drew the eye the most was the blood.

There was a smear on her cheek, but that was just a transfer smear.  Her hand had enough blood on it that he wasn’t completely sure if it had a cut or not.  Her arm, though, had a lot of blood running down it.  Not an injury that hit the artery, it was on the outside of the arm anyway, but enough to make Clarence rise to his feet.

“David,” she made out, looking between them.  “David, he…”

“Is he hurt?” Rose said, gently taking the girl by her uninjured arm and leading her to a chair.  Clarence looked around for the first aid kit.  All stations had a fully stocked one.

The girl nodded, then paused.  “He didn’t hurt himself, but he hurt himself.”  Rose turned, but the girl latched onto her arm.  “No, don’t go.  You can’t…  He has the room set up…”

“Deep breaths,” Rose said, her pitch lowering.  “You aren’t making sense.  I need you to to take a deep breath through your nose–”  The girl did.  “And hold it.”  She’d already released it.  She took another and closed her eyes.  Rose took that chance to point to the kit for Clarence.

When the girl let the breath out, she looked up at the woman.  “There’s glass on the floor, and he has things set up…  If you aren’t one of us, you could really hurt yourself.  I…  He might hurt you.”

Rose paused for a moment before nodding.  “He’s done this before.  It’s been years, but we’ve seen this.  I’m not stupid enough to go into that room myself.  Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” the girl said with a nod.  “He didn’t hurt me.  He wanted me to stay, but I told him that I had to get my things…”

He didn’t hurt her?  Then what caused that wound?  Clarence didn’t move to treat it yet, though.  It wasn’t life threatening, and Rose seemed to want the girl’s undivided attention.

“It’s alright.  You did a wonderful job.  Now, before I call security–”

“No!”  The girl paled at that, and Clarence prepped himself in case she fainted.  “Don’t!  He has the walls open and speakers attached!”

Rose blinked at her in confusion, but Clarence got it.  “We don’t have rats in the walls, we have someone tapping into the phone lines.”

“Alright,” Rose said in that calming tone with a nod.  “Thank you.  That’s very helpful, but I need to know more.  Tell me about what he did to the room.”

“Um…”  The girl shook her head.  “There’s boxes stacked up around the door, so you have to go down a hallway or something.  He did something to the boxes, but I couldn’t tell what.  There’s glass on the floor, too.  It’s broken up and stuff.  He, uh, flipped the big table.  It’s pretty heavy, so, uh…  I dunno.  He boarded up the windows, too.  There’s…  He’s built things.  Machines of some sort.  I don’t know what they do.  There’s a place with…  I think he was expecting us to stay with him.  And there’s a lot of food in there.  I don’t know where he got it all.  Water, too.”

“He’s bunkering down and setting up defenses.  Alright, thank you.”  Rose looked to Clarence.  “I’m going to get security.  Take care of her, alright?”  He nodded.  “If I call, I’m going to play it like there’s nothing wrong.  Read between the lines, alright?”

“Gotcha.”

She looked back to the girl and smiled.  “Don’t worry.  We’re going to help him, alright?”

The girl didn’t look convinced, but she nodded.  Rose returned the nod and hurried out of the room.

Clarence moved to the girl slowly, listening as Rose broke into a sprint.  He wished that she would have waited longer; the girl heard it, too.  Oh well.  Nothing to do but push forward.

“I need to see your hand,” he said in his doctor voice as he opened the kit.  Ugh, it had rubber gloves.  A pity, but latex gloves were expensive.

She offered her hands to him, but even a quick visual as he put on the gloves revealed nothing.  A more in-depth examination showed that he was right.

“He didn’t hurt me,” she repeated.  “He’s…  He’s bleeding, though.  I got this from touching him.  I’m surprised that he’s holding it together.  Tony warned me that he doesn’t handle the sight of blood well.”  She was disjointed, her mind skipping back and forth.  A sign of shock.

“You have a bad cut on your arm,” he said as he peeled the remains of her sleeve away.

“Oh.”  She seemed genuinely surprised.  “I only brushed up against one of the boxes.  It doesn’t even hurt.”

He would have just written that off as shock, but the cut was very, very clean, with almost no tearing.  Clarence had a bad feeling as he got the bottle out to wash out the wound.  “You said that he did something to the boxes.”

The girl frowned a bit.  “They glittered in places, but they were dark.  I think he just painted them.”

Either glass or obsidian.  He didn’t know this kid, but by the way that both this girl and Rose were acting, he was dangerous as hell.  If he wanted to cut someone, and cut them well, then glass or obsidian were the way to go.  If there was broken glass on the floor, he was willing to bet on the boxes being glass, but he didn’t want to rule out obsidian either.  He knew that the medical school had a lot of obsidian scalpels.

They fell into silence as he worked.  After he got the wound clean, he applied antibiotics.  After that came the sutures.  Four stitches in her arm, just from supposedly brushing up against a box.  What the hell?  But she took it like a champ, just wincing once or twice even though there was no anesthetic.  Either she was in shock, or she had good pain tolerance.

He was applying gauze around her arm when she finally spoke again.  “He’s going to hate me.”

Clarence blinked at her, and she shrugged her other shoulder.  “He’s going to hate me for telling on him.  I betrayed him.”

Clarence gave her a sympathetic smile.  “He needs help.  You did the right thing.”

“Maybe,” she said quietly.

Well, that went well.  He took a breath, trying another tactic.  “My name’s Clarence.  What’s yours?”

“Kaitlin.”

“Alright Kaitlin.  Why don’t you tell me about him?”

She took a slow breath, looking away.  “He’s…  He’s nice.  And weird.  And smart.  But nice about it.  Like, he expects you to know everything that he does, but when he realizes you don’t, he does everything in he can to help you understand without…  Well, he doesn’t make you feel dumb for it.

“And talking to people is hard for him.  He’s only comfortable with Tony.  You don’t get it at first, just how hard he tries.  But…  I hung out with them for a week, and one night I was laying in bed, trying to sleep, and it just sort of hit me.  I thought he was always nice but kinda distant, but he was really trying, you know?”

He wasn’t sure, but he tried a stab in the dark.  “Like he doesn’t know how, and he’s afraid that he’ll mess up?”

“Kinda, yeah.  A little.  But it’s also like…  Like, for you and me, talking is natural.  For him, it takes energy, and he’s only got so much at once.  So he has to build it back up.

“He’s also batshit crazy.”  Clarence frowned, but she shook her head.  “He isn’t that bad, but he thinks that he is.  He’s sensitive to almost everything.  Turn on a light without warning him, and he’s grabbing his arms so bad that he might make himself bleed.  Everything…  Everything hurts him, and he knows he doesn’t respond well, so he thinks he’s crazy.  This… isn’t going to help.”

No, it wasn’t.  But some things you don’t say out loud.  “You mentioned Tony.  Is that his brother?  Boyfriend?”

She snorted, but before she could answer, the phone rang.  A quick glance to the clock revealed that it had already been fifteen minutes?  How did that happen?  Clarence licked his lips and picked up the receiver, already bracing himself for the static that assaulted his ear.  “Station 3C, how may I help you?”

“Clarence.”  Rose’s voice was soft behind the static.  “Chad did cut himself.  It isn’t bad, but can you meet me at his room to patch him up?”

That had to be a code.  But if he hesitated…  “Can do.”

“I’ll see you there.”  With that, she hung up.  He was all too eager to do the same, just to get the wailing banshee out of his ear.

Meet at the room.  Almost the moment that the receiver was put down, the meaning became clear.  He turned to Kaitlin.  “I need you to lead me to where he is.”  The girl frowned.  “Please.  They’re going to help him, but they may need your help.”

She hesitated, but nodded and stood up.

The room wasn’t all that far away, honestly.  By the time that Kaitlin lead him to it, he could see Rose further down the hall… along with a huge mass of security officers in full armor and a bunch of doctors.  It was probably a good idea, but still…  It did nothing to help him feel any better about the situation.  He was out of his league, over his head, and felt like a war was about to erupt in front of him.  At least they weren’t armed.

Clarence hurried, leading Kaitlin to meet them, not daring to say a word until they got close.  Even then, he approached the guy he thought was in charge of the guards.  “I think he’s lined the boxes with broken glass or obsidian.”

The man nodded once.  “Thank you.”  That was surprisingly polite, enough to make Clarence blink.

He didn’t have time to respond, however, as the man was turning to the others.  “Alright, it doesn’t sound too different from last time.”  He pulled the visor down over his head.  “Everyone, be extra cautious, and expect damn near anything.  He’s creative, and he’s likely to have a trick up his sleeve that we can’t account for.  Also, pin him against the wall, do not take him down to the ground.  I don’t wand a repeat of last time.”

He paused for a moment, watching the nods.  “Alright, team one will go in first.  Hopefully, we can subdue the target ourselves.  If we can’t, the Matron is bringing an Ace in the hole, but we’d rather she not have to use it.

“Team two, your job is to wait.  If the Ace needs help, then offer any assistance that you can.  Otherwise, your job is disarmament.  After the target is secure, go in carefully and begin disarming anything that might be a danger.  Exercise extreme caution — last time, there were traps all over the place that we spent days finding.  When in doubt, request extra eyes.  If there’s still doubt, then wait.  We’ll get an engineer or something to take a look.

“Any questions?”

“What are our limits?” a woman asked.

“No broken bones, not if you can help it.  I understand if you can’t, but he’s the real victim here.  Don’t forget that!  It’s not his fault he’s been brain fucked.  If I think you’re crossing the line of necessary violence, I will stomp you so hard you’ll come out in China.  China Bet, you get me?”

As everyone nodded, he looked past them for a moment.  “Alright, Ace is coming, so team one, in position.  Now.”

As half of the security guards moved, Clarence could finally see what made the guy in charge move so quickly.  Five figures were heading their way, though slowly.  The Matron was leading the way, two men carrying what looked like a wooden statue following her.  Behind them was another teenage girl, wringing her hands nervously.

Kaitlin hurried ahead to meet the group, causing the statue’s head to move.  Clarence’s heart froze in his chest.  That wasn’t a statue.  That was Tony Welsh.  He’d been becoming a local celebrity for the creative use of his power for entertaining.  A power that killed whatever he used it on.  That was her ace?!

But Kaitlin moved past Welsh, only reaching out to brush her hand against his outstretched wooden one as she moved past.  Instead, she  moved straight up to the nervous girl… and spun her into the wall.  “Mandy,” she said sternly.  “Go.”

“What the–”

“No.  No questions.  If you stay and see him like this?  He’ll never forgive you.  Go.”

“He needs me here,” the girl whined.

“Bitch, he knows!”  The Matron twitched at the cursing, but did nothing to stop the argument.  The girl against the wall, Mandy, grew visibly afraid.  “So you either get gone right now, or you’re going have to deal with him never, ever wanting to deal with you again!  And God help me, I will beat you within an inch of your life for it.”

They said nothing for a long moment before Kaitlin let go of Mandy.  The pretty girl looked back down the hall for a long moment before turning on her heels and sprinting away.  Clarence let out a breath that he hadn’t known he’d been holding.  Guards were about ready to bust into… who knew what, and yet the timid little girl suddenly threatening violence made his breath catch in his chest.

There was the sound of splintering behind him, followed by a yelp.  Clarence spun around to see a guard go flying into the wall opposite the door.  What the hell had caused that?  He didn’t have time to contemplate it, though, as the guards hurried through.

“Let him down,” the Matron said, and the two men put Welsh down.  The woman turned to look at him, her voice sounding… heavy.  Tired.  “We both know that they won’t succeed, Tony.  Please.  Go.  Help them.”

The wooden form of Welsh marched slowly, past the Matron, each step slow and echoing as best it could over the surprised yells and shouts from the guards.

Clarence hurried past Welsh, moving to Kaitlin, who was watching to make sure that Mandy was really gone.  Hesitantly, he reached down to take her hand, giving it a comforting squeeze.  He really wasn’t sure what else to do.  She looked disturbingly close to tears.

He wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that before the Matron stepped in front of Kaitlin, a sad smile on her face.  “You did a wonderful job.”

Kaitlin looked down at the ground.  “Sorry about the cursing.  I know you don’t like it when we do it.”

The Matron smiled a little wider.  “I’m against inappropriate cursing from students.  Right then?  Right there?  That was an excellent time for it.  You did a great job there, even if I’m not sure of the situation with that.  You also did a great job in getting help.”

“This isn’t the first time that it’s happened.”

“No,” the Matron said, her voice going from comforting to solemn.  “And I’d hoped that he’d never have to go through it again.  I’m only hoping that all of the progress that we’ve made isn’t undone.”  She took a slow breath.  “Now I know that you’re torn up–”

Someone in that room was screaming especially loud.  There was also an almost bestial roar from in there.

“–and that’s perfectly understandable.  I know that you’re scared for so many reasons, and you have every right to be afraid.  But I have to ask you for a favor, Kaitlin.  It’s a very important thing, alright?”

Kaitlin looked up, biting her lip.

“We both know this isn’t like David.  Not going this far.  Not any more.  So something had to set him off.  Something had to push him over the edge to think that this kind of behavior was the most sane, logical route.  Once they’re done in there, I want you to go into the room and look around.  Can you do that for me?”

Kaitlin didn’t say anything for a long moment.  Damn it, Clarence knew he was going to regret it as he squeezed her hand.  “I’ll go in with you.  Don’t worry, nobody’s going to let anything happen, and it’ll help your friend.  Please.”

There was a pause before she nodded her head jerkily.

The Matron smiled and ran a hand over the girl’s hair.  “Thank you.  You’re such a good friend.  Both David and Tony are lucky to have you.”

The screams suddenly died down, but the howling intensified.  Clarence looked back, only to find Welsh slowly tromping out of the room, the form of a boy trapped in his arms, more wood wrapped around the boy’s body to pin his arms down as the legs kicked and flailed.  He even tried biting Welsh’s wooden neck, but the tall boy didn’t seem to even register it.

The shorter boy, David…  God, how was he able to fight like that?  There was… so much blood soaking his clothes.  Had he hurt someone and bathed in their blood?  How could someone who had lost so much blood… do anything?  Clarence couldn’t even see if there were any wounds as Welsh slowly plodded by.

A quick glanced behind them showed guards being loaded onto stretchers.  A part of Clarence felt like he’d stepped into another reality.  Was David a parahuman?  What the hell was his power that Welsh had to be called in?

It felt like a blur as wounded guards were taken out and fresh guards were lead inside.  Clarence was happy to stand there, just trying to get a grip on what the hell had just happened.  He felt like he’d missed several important things, but he wasn’t sure what.  But Kaitlin was tugging on his hand, pulling him behind her.  Funny, she wasn’t even five years younger than him, and he was thinking of her as a little girl until that very moment.  Then she was the strong one.

Being strong, though, didn’t mean that she didn’t pause at the door.

There were pieces of metal all over the room, and black boxes strewn everywhere.  The floor was coated with pieces of broken glass, and pieces of wood that seemed to have been in the process of being sharpened into stakes were strewn about.  Why?

Even more disturbing were the scorch marks on the floor.  He hadn’t heard any explosions.

Guards were all over the place, ever so carefully looking over everything, checking for things that might be trapped.  Two of them were standing in front of the boarded up windows, examining them closely.

“He’ll have hidden it,” Kaitlin said softly.  “Whatever it is…  His guilt means that he wouldn’t want us to see it.”

“Right.”  If he were a paranoid genius, what would he do to hide it?  Hiding it down below the floor?  No, the guards were checking all over there.  If there was anything on the floor, they’d find it.

Clarence looked up and around, only to pause as he looked at the clock above the door.  It wasn’t working.  Sure, whatever had happened in here might have stopped it, but…

He’d just begun to pull it off the wall when a hand gripped his arm, making him yelp.  “What the fuck are you doing?” barked a guard.

“David hid something.  We’re, uh, trying to find it.”

The guard shook her head quickly.  “Didn’t you hear that he might have trapped the place?  Let go.”

She called a taller guard over, who began the slow process of checking the clock.  After a full minute of poking, prodding, leaning this way and that, and examining it from every angle he cook, the guard slowly pulled it away from the wall.

“Clear.”

Thank.  Fucking.  God.

The guard flipped the clock over, revealing an envelope.  Clarence, Kaitlin, and the female guard all crowded around as the man pulled out a single page and opened it for them to read.

David,

I honestly thought that I’d lost you forever.  I looked high and low for you for years now.  Not a day has gone by that you haven’t been on my mind.

And then I find out that they’re keeping you there, as if you don’t have family that’s perfectly willing and capable of taking care of you.  No son of mine will be a prisoner.  Ever.

Don’t worry, David.  Daddy’s coming to set you free.  You’re no orphan.

Love,

Daddy

The woman spoke quickly into a radio.  “Matron.  We found a letter from his father.  It says that the father is coming to… set David free from the Orphanage?”

There was a pause before there was a response.  Today might have been the first time that he’d seen the Matron in person, but she’d given him the impression of a kind, caring woman.  Now she sounded the exact opposite.  “Find out how that got to him.  Call the Wardens and Dragon’s Teeth.  We need extra patrols and an examination of the entire city, now.”

“Roger.”

Clarence looked around, his eyes wide.  “W…  What’s going on?”

He looked down at Kaitlin, only to find her face almost purple, twisted into a look of fury.  “He was trying to protect us.  The traps weren’t for us, it was for him.”

Kaitlin looked up at him, her eyes virtually on fire.  “That son of a bitch hunted him and his mom for years.  He watched that fucker torture his mom before finally gutting her.  And if I get my mitts on him?  They’ll never find the corpse.”

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2 thoughts on “Interlude 9.C

  1. Thank you for reading this chapter.

    If you need a reminder as to this particular plotline, here are all three parts.
    https://goo.gl/hzVDle
    https://goo.gl/EQ2Dbr
    https://goo.gl/6yDqkI

    It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Did you forget all about these three? I haven’t. I’ve been meaning to get back to them for quite some time now. Unfortunately, nothing ever seemed quite appropriate. However, I decided that this arc would be interlude heavy, allowing me to touch back on some old familiar faces that we haven’t seen in a while, and maybe some new ones.

    If you’re particularly good with the timeline (in which case, I’m impressed!) then you might notice that Tony probably should have already joined the Wardens somehow. No, he didn’t flunk a class or anything. The answer is actually in this chapter.

    Kaitlin is timid, yes, but she has some steel to her. I like backing up my timid characters with steel. Nobody is timid all the time, and sometimes people just need the right circumstances to show their strength. Kaitlin is stronger than she looks, and most of her emotional wounds from the loss of her family have healed nicely. A good portion of that is due to her friends, which is part of the reason why she spends so long timid here. She’s caught in a bad place.

    The logic that she states a couple of times may not make perfect sense, and some of you might be quick to jump on the shock bandwagon. I admit, I play that card a lot, but in this case, it’s partially due to her experience with David. His logical conclusions don’t necessarily make sense to most people.

    Much like a disease, his mental and emotional problems work to sustain themselves. They corrupt his thoughts in a way that helps support themselves. This happens a lot with depression — it encourages behavior that separates you from positive coping mechanisms, making negative coping mechanisms seem better to you, which only helps to strengthen them. Such as removing yourself from your social circles, denying you emotional support. To the person suffering from depression, they might be doing others a favor. They don’t want to inflict themselves on others. Of course, the opposite is true — they’re only making things worse, both for themselves and for those who care for them.

    Mental health issues are ugly, partially because they’re so much harder to see most of the time. And when you can see them in someone, it can easily be the tip of an iceberg, or perhaps a desperate cry for help. It’s complicated, and no two individuals are the same. What might be a cry for help from one person might be something completely different for the next, which only makes helping those who are suffering even harder. Even worse if they’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t help them.

    In David’s case, yes, he will see her going to get help as a betrayal. It is a betrayal to him; he offered her safety (or in his mind, as much safety as one can get) and she turned against him. It’s not true, but his own issues are twisting reality for him. He sees the world far differently than the people around him.

    And we see Charlotte! Being both tender and a badass. I really like the way she’s grown, and feel horribly bad for her. The weight on her shoulders has only gotten worse since the Brockton Bay days. I really have to show one of her happier days soon. She does have them! I promise!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haven’t posted in awhile, so to start with: Happy New Year! This story is still going strong and still one of my favorite bits of webfiction to read every week.

    As for the chapter itself, I am extra happy to see these kids come back into focus. I had forgotten most of the details about them, but each of the previous three chapters about them made me really curious. I am looking forward to how they all tie in to the overarching Jordan story, but even if that takes awhile they are still interesting characters.

    I really like the clear dichotomy that exists between older folks who remember how the world used to be, and the younger ones who have grown up in a post-GM world. All of the preconceived notions that people hold on to despite the world being vastly different, young people having to put up with their elders throwing out random little comments like in this chapter, it all paints a really interesting and fleshed-out feeling world.

    Age in general feels like a really interesting thing in the story setting. Clarence talks about not being that interested in women his own age, and seems to have a thing for “older” women. But those older women are only his senior by a few years and even today a seventeen year old male and a twenty year old female wouldn’t be all that strange. A little unconventional, but not worth much more than a raised eyebrow for most people. And I feel like even that is just from the difference in position in life. A highschooler and a college student being together sounds a little off to my social sense, but in this chapter you essentially have a med-school student and a RN who are just a few years apart. That sentence seems much more reasonable to me.

    I will have to go back through and read those previous three chapters with these characters, but I feel like the timing of the chapters in relation to the main story hasn’t really been clarified. And until I find evidence that these are happening around the time of the main story, I am going to keep championing my old conspiracy theory: Something breaks David and makes his power even stronger (second trigger? bad power interaction?) which ends up with him turning into Agemmemnon. The whole organic-mass absorption link between the two of them is just too strong for me to drop unless I get something concrete saying that Aggy attacked before these chapters occur.

    Liked by 2 people

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