Welcome to another free read Wednesday!
We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.
Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!
Roku wants to see the other DemiShou. Let’s hope this is a good thing.
Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1
Roku vibrated with a newfound impatience, yet allowed Arad to lead them back through the crates hiding Torrins’s scheme. As they approached the bay’s open space, Roku hesitated and the opening, he hand clutching one the crate’s edges.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to do this now.”
The blanket had fallen open enough to see the fear in Roku’s eyes. “No. I need to do this.” He pulled the cloak tight, squared his shoulders, and soldiered forward.
A hazy film coated the floor leading to the drain left behind by various fluids from Roku’s emergence. Arad had slept in many filthy places over the years, but the sight even made him cringe. He had a few standards. Aches and new bruises reminded him of the familiar mattress off to the side he’d wished they’d landed on during the more embarrassing portion of their introduction. He hoped Roku would be too engrossed in the sleeping Demis and the cryotubes to need an explanation.
“Why is there a mattress here?”
And… why would Arad get what he wanted?
“I spend a lot of time watching over you and them.”
Inching closer, Roku took a good look at Hachi from top to bottom. “You watched us?”
“Watched over you. What’s the point?”
“They’re naked.” The implicit we could be heard in that sentence.
Arad scoffed. “It’s a lot less sexy than it sounds. I brought in a mattress because all the other furniture is bolted down.”
Neither said a word as Roku moved between capsules, his fingers barely brushing the surfaces as if scared to touch the machines and make it all too solid. The blanket may have hid his face, but the tension through his arms and back was unmistakable. Shichi held his secrets as well as the mute Hachi. The next tube still sat open like some mechanical egg, and Roku’s hands stopped short of contacting the interior.
“What happened to me?”
“I wish I knew. I didn’t know you guys were on board until after Torrins and the crew got blown to hell. Best I can tell is, you’re stolen corporate property. They must have bankrupted a few hospitals putting you together.”
“It’s illegal to manufacture sentient beings. DemiShou, they’re…” Roku cleared his throat. “We’re not a commodity.”
“Corporate military killed six people to collect you lot without breaking a sweat. I imagine they don’t much care.”
Apparently content with exploring his own container, Roku moved to the last, empty and dark. “There’s one missing.”
“Yeah. Go was gone before I found you. From what I pieced together, something happened and he died. Maybe he had a seizure like you did, and they couldn’t save him.”
“Maybe they didn’t try.”
“It’s possible, but I’m trying to believe the old crew weren’t complete monsters.”
“They left you behind to face the corporates.”
“I said I’m trying. Didn’t say I’d succeeded.”
“You succeeded in saving me.”
“I couldn’t sit back and watch you die.”
“They would have.”
Arad couldn’t argue that point. The Demis appeared to be little more than a cash crop for Torrins and the crew. A lot of effort had been made to hide them for casual inspection, but it didn’t look like they’d spent much time regarding their maintenance since even the medbed didn’t have a DemiShou module installed.
So enrapt with his methodical examination Roku’s hood had slipped, leaving his face exposed. He went back over each unconscious Demi and their capsules, making sure to read the details on both monitors.
“I see why you keep calling me by number.”
“Go, Roku, Shichi, Hachi. Five, Six, Seven, Eight.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize.” Awkward moment number 4,289. Language studies had ended when Arad arrived at the workhouse.
The broader truth festered in the pit of Arad’s stomach like sour eggs. This group wasn’t the only batch of DemiShou in this project or whatever it was. He could only guess what and where numbers one through four could be. “Would you rather I call you something else?”
“No. It doesn’t bother me when you call me Roku. It’s nice to have a name.”
Roku didn’t share any information he’d gleaned from the monitors and moved back to the Demis themselves. While not a blank vegetable, Roku’s amnesia might be a sensitive issue. Corrupted Syn-users he’s met could get defensive over memory gaps after a binge. He wasn’t sure how deep he should probe the issue so soon, or how Roku could react. They barely knew each other. Perhaps he could test it in small doses.
“Do you recognize them?”
Roku huffed softly. “I don’t recognize myself.”
Arad sighed, understanding Roku’s frustration. “I mean, do they seem familiar at all?”
“No. Not even a tiny bit.” Disappointment flickered across his feline eyes.
Arad placed a comforting hand on Roku’s arm which softened at the contact. “Maybe you never knew them. There’s nothing saying there’s a connection between all of you besides the process.”
“How can I be sure? I don’t what the process is.”
“I’m not much of an expert on that either.”
“You know more than I do. Tell me everything.”
Arad hedged. Sharing information was dangerous on the streets when you couldn’t trust someone. It didn’t come automatically. Also, how would Roku digest what little he knew? It had only been hours since his awakening and how stable could he really be? Arad had only pressed him carefully as it was. There was no question Arad had no means to restrain the tiger if something popped in his brain and he psychoed out.
Oddly enough, Roku seemed structured and sane enough to handle bad news even if he was in the worst position of his life.
In the end, Arad had to decide what he would want if their positions were reversed. He would hope someone would help and hopefully save him. Or give him the chance to save himself. Like Sketch did.
“All right. I’ll tell you what I know.”
Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1
Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!