Chapter 3:

Water Droplets Beep Beep Beep

Medial Space

Nothing.Bookmark here

She’d been holding right onto my chin and nothing, this wasn’t normal. It took me a moment to realize but once I did, I stumbled back. Apparently, I’d sufficiently showcased how shocked I was since the detective girl gave out into a little fit of laughter.Bookmark here

“Have you never seen thin fabric before?” she giggled at me, holding her hand up and pinching at it, revealing an almost glass-like transparent thin piece of fabric.Bookmark here

“Dear God, don’t scare me like that. What is that?”Bookmark here

“Actually I haven’t got a clue, rather useful though, don’t you think?”Bookmark here

She was smirking at me with a face so smug you’d expect to see it plastered all over the internet. Now that I mention it, her entire demeanour had shifted along with her outfit. She’d changed into a pair of plain sweatpants and an old white shirt, as dressed down as you could get. Instead of the cold and harsh image of a detective on duty she now rode dangerously close to the impression you’d get from the friendly and comfortable childhood friend trope character, soft-spoken and well-mannered, the obvious choice in almost any romance story.Bookmark here

That is until she spoke.Bookmark here

“What are you gawking at? Close your mouth, I can smell it from here.”Bookmark here

“Ah—”Bookmark here

“And you’re aware I wasn’t joking about the stripping, correct? You’ll be making your own Outfit as well, everyone who joins does.”Bookmark here

“Joins?”Bookmark here

“Well yes, I’ve already decided it best for you to join the group,” she said.Bookmark here

She said it with so much self-assurance that I didn’t know if I could oppose her.Bookmark here

“Well… First, you’ll have to tell me about what it is you do, I’ll consider joining after you clarify a few things. Like if this is a cult or not.”Bookmark here

She laughed, “I don’t think we’re a cult, though perhaps recently we have been trending in that direction. Before any of that though, I’ll have to assess you.”Bookmark here

“Assess? You mean like, a physical?”Bookmark here

“No, you pervert,” she seemed to be holding back another giggle, it was a stark contrast from the prior cold declines to answer my questions. As much as the change in attitude was welcomed, it still worried me a little. I would have to stay alert, “Think more like… a mental.”Bookmark here

“Oh, you mean, that.”Bookmark here

She nodded.Bookmark here

“Not much, really. I know that it’s a sort of connection.”Bookmark here

“Mhm,” she urged me on.Bookmark here

“I know that there aren’t many of us. In fact, you’re only the second I’ve met.”Bookmark here

“And who was the first?” she asked.Bookmark here

I paused, “An… old friend. She’s dead now.”Bookmark here

She stopped, dropped her head slightly as if somewhat regretful to have asked, “I’m sorry for your loss.”Bookmark here

“It’s alright. It was a… long time ago.”Bookmark here

She brought her head back up to look at me, “Very well then. I suppose I’ll be clarifying some things for you.”Bookmark here

“Here?” I stopped her, “With this room’s privacy rating?”Bookmark here

She smirked a little, “No need to worry, there have been a few modifications made to the room.”Bookmark here

None that I had spotted at least.Bookmark here

“Right to it then,” she started to pace between the two couches as if this weren’t her first time giving the rundown, “I wasn’t being entirely dishonest when I said we were simply a group of friends, we are friends. It’s just that… the circumstances in which we all met were, well, they’re familiar to you now. We each seem to possess this… ability, to see a place that no one else seems to see. We aren’t sure why, and most of us aren’t sure if we’d like to know why. Though we do all have a few things in common,” she stopped walking to look at me, “I’d be willing to wager that you don’t have a neural chip.”Bookmark here

“I don’t.” That was something she could only know if... “No one in the group does?”Bookmark here

“Not a single one of us.”Bookmark here

“That’s nuts, isn’t something like eighty percent of Japan chipped?”Bookmark here

“Ninety, actually.”Bookmark here

“How many people are there? In the group.”Bookmark here

“Only eight. Well, nine again, including yourself.”Bookmark here

“Again?”Bookmark here

“Right, the other thing I needed to address,” she paused, opting to lean against the back of the couch she’d been standing beside. “That murder last night,” another pause, she stood back up again and resumed her pacing, “I think that the girl who died was like us.”Bookmark here

I waited for her explanation.Bookmark here

“I believe so because… the man who’d been killed by the same person about a week ago, he was part of our group.”Bookmark here

“So you think that the murders—”Bookmark here

“Are targeting us, yes.”Bookmark here

So that was the motive she mentioned. Silence befell the room for a brief moment, both of us were taking in the information. I doubt she’d have had much time to think about it herself.Bookmark here

“And you don’t suspect me?” I asked.Bookmark here

“I don’t, though I can’t promise how the rest will feel.”Bookmark here

“Damn, I guess I’m kind of curious to find out.”Bookmark here

She gave off a grin, “Wonderful! It’s about time we get started with your Outfit then, don’t you think?”Bookmark here

“Uhh… Are you at least going to tell me how it works before I have to get naked?”Bookmark here

She grabbed at my hand again as if whenever she was wearing gloves she just had the right to hold it, “Oh, I think it’s more fun if you go in blind,” she said, leading me to stand right in front of the sewing machine.Bookmark here

“Are you sure? I’ve seriously never used one of these before, actually, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one before.”Bookmark here

“Oh hush, I’m sure you’ll do fine.”Bookmark here

Starting to get a bit concerned, I continued my protest. Was I really supposed to just learn how to use a sewing machine on the spot?Bookmark here

“I have full faith that you will,” she answered, “Now close your eyes.”Bookmark here

Analyzing the mechanism in front of me one last time, trying at least to get a grasp of how it worked, I finally let my eyes close and took a deep breath. Bookmark here

“Oh just splendid! This is truly my favourite part.”Bookmark here

Right as I was about to ask for how long I was supposed to keep my eyes shut, I felt a light pressure against my nose. When I opened to look in response, I was no longer standing in that large room.Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

It was damp, all that I could hear was the faint dripping of water somewhere off in the distance. The drips were slow and equally spaced, though their echoes didn’t seem to last the same amount of time, as if it’d been differently sized droplets that were falling. I felt as if there must be a meaning hidden within the sound, for how irregular it was. Though I hadn’t the faintest clue how to decipher something of the sort.Bookmark here

There wasn’t anything around, or at least I thought there wasn’t for a good while. It would be more accurate to say that it was just very dark and my eyes hadn’t yet adjusted to the light, or lack thereof. Faintly forming in front of me was the shape of something, certain of it being a thing I was, though what it was I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone, let alone know for myself.Bookmark here

The water dripping steadily became more prominent. It was the only sound other than my breath and heartbeat in what seemed to be a massive space; if the echo was any indication of the size. I suppose this was what she had meant by going in blind. Upon second glance, I noticed that the shape in front of me was actually changing. At first, it had been hard to see through the hazy outline but with each drip of water, the shape shifted.Bookmark here

Curious, I listened once again to the water droplets. Each drip sounded the same, yes, but really, it was the echo that held all of its information; it told of the size of each droplet. Once that realization hit my brain, so too did all of the extra information that the echoes had been hoarding. Slowly, words became discernible through the overlap in each drip’s shadow; words with a familiar voice: the detective’s. Bookmark here

The more she came up in my thoughts, the more I felt it ridiculous that I hadn’t yet a name to call her by. I would have to get a name after I was out of here, no matter what. With that settled, I listened closely for her voice in the echoes. Drip. Drip. Drop. Drawn. Drought. Draft. Drawl. Germinate. Dress. Genes. Drink. Jump. Dribble. Jigsaw. Dreams. Jaffa cakes. Derivate. Jingle. Dew. Juxtapose. Digital. And so on and so on and so on. I kept listening to the words, each helped to form a more vivid image in my mind of the shape in front of me. The edges slowly gained clarity, the fuzzy-wuzzy, hazy-wazy, wibbly-wobbly, you get it, was slowly being sharpened into a fine line between nothing and something.Bookmark here

That something was also turning into a recognizable shape, one that I myself could nearly put to words. To tell the truth, it was tip of the tongue levels of frustration, to the max. I stopped listening to the detective’s words for a moment, trying to grasp at what this something was called, it had a name I was certain. It was the name of some clothing, an outfit, it was… Bookmark here

And then everything went black again.Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

I don’t remember the conclusion I had come to, perhaps I hadn’t even had the time to think it once it had come. Instead, I awoke on the floor, my cheek nearly merged into the rough concrete that I was laying on. I’d been asleep. The first thing I could hear was the sound of the television, it seemed to be playing a movie in a language that I couldn’t understand, maybe Spanish. I groaned, peeling my face from the ground and forcing my vision to focus on a far-off point, though there wasn’t one in my immediate vicinity, I’d passed out right in front of the sewing machine.Bookmark here

“Look who’s finally awake!”Bookmark here

I heard an unfamiliar voice coming from behind me, I leaned on one arm to get myself sitting upright, turning to look at who’d been speaking to me. What greeted me was the wildly grinning face of a man I’d never met before. He had scruffy hair on top of his head and a scraggly layer of it across his face, his limbs seemed to shoot out from his body like trees of an enchanted forest sprouting from the ground in every which direction. Hiding the core of his body was a patterned Hawaiian dress shirt and a pair of loose egg-white shorts. He was sitting on one of the couches, leaning over the back of it and staring right at my face, enough to make me a bit uncomfortable. The detective that I’d met earlier was standing next to him.Bookmark here

Upon shifting my head slightly to the left, still in the process of waking up, there was a large cube sitting right beside me. I wasn’t sure who’d put it there or what it was but it must’ve been difficult to carry going by how big it looked. At the bottom of the cube, two cylinders shot off in either direction, and two more again near the middle, craning my neck upwards, I noticed one last cylinder sticking upright out of the cube’s top. The one on top almost resembled a head, and on either side arms and legs, as if it were some crude attempt at turning a box into a human. That was when I realized it was a human, only about two or three times the size of a regular one.Bookmark here

“That there’s Holt,” the voice came from the scruffy man on the couch, “I heard Lain gotcha all acquainted with the facilities.”Bookmark here

The detective girl, supposedly named Lain, elbowed him in the arm.Bookmark here

The man flinched back a little as if afraid she’d hurt him further, “Name’s Maria, by the way, you been out cold there a couple hours, y’know that?”Bookmark here

“Feels like it,” I answered.Bookmark here

Finally, Lain spoke, “I honestly hadn’t a clue how long you’d sleep for. My apologies if you’re missing something important.” Bookmark here

“I’m good, haven’t been busy in years,” I dragged my hand along the front of my face.Bookmark here

“Would you mind standing up? I haven’t seen your Outfit since you finished it.”Bookmark here

“Since I finished it?”Bookmark here

“Since you finished it. I told you that I had faith.”Bookmark here

Now that she’d mentioned my Outfit, I remembered why I was passed out in front of the sewing machine in the first place. Or more accurately I made the connection in my head just then, the memory was still foggy. Glancing down at my torso, I looked to be wearing a beige sweater and a short pair of shorts, shorter than any I’d worn before. I could also feel a tight fabric on my hands and up my arms, presumably, the same one the detective—I mean Lain, had been wearing.Bookmark here

I stood up to comply with her request.Bookmark here

“Hmm, looks to me that I was correct. We’ll call you Little Fledgling.”Bookmark here

It took a second to register, “What?”Bookmark here

“Your name, well of course just Fledgling should suffice,” she said.Bookmark here

“Fledge! That fits, don’cha think?” Maria added.Bookmark here

“You took it upon yourselves to name me, did you?”Bookmark here

“Oh cut the act kid, you can’t guess for yourself that my name isn’t Maria?”Bookmark here

“At the time he insisted on Santa,” Lain added, “I’m sure you can see how that turned out.”Bookmark here

Santa? Oh. The Santa Maria, the boat.Bookmark here

“Do you all have names in two parts?” I asked.Bookmark here

“All but the Kaiser,” said Maria.Bookmark here

“Who’s that?”Bookmark here

“Damn you was right Lain, he does ask a buttload o’ questions. That’s the man you can thank for settin’ all this up,'' he motioned to the room around us.Bookmark here

“Oh, I haven’t yet explained that,” Lain interjected.Bookmark here

“Huh? What on God’s blue Earth was ya doin’ then?”Bookmark here

As the two started to bicker between themselves, I noticed another unknown figure sitting on one of the nine chairs that had been present. It was a girl, considerably younger than Lain. She sat silently, looking down at her own feet. Right when I was about to look away, she peeked over her shoulder at me. She had a cute round face and clear piercing eyes but upon noticing that I was watching her she quickly turned them back to her feet.Bookmark here

“Have you ever brought in a new member? Do you actually know how many questions they ask?” Lain looked like she was about to hit Maria again.Bookmark here

“Care to introduce the girl?” I decided it best to force their topic to a change.Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s Haruka. Say hello Haru,” Lain encouraged.Bookmark here

Haruka didn’t even show signs of having heard the suggestion.Bookmark here

“And that one behind ya’s Panda,” Maria pointed with his chin.Bookmark here

I turned to look, and sure enough, behind me on the pile of fabrics laid a small boy. He couldn’t have been much older than a decade. He was fast asleep.Bookmark here

“We’re only waiting for Kaiser, Char, and Muse. Then we’ll all be here,” Lain explained.Bookmark here

“Is there some reason everyone's meeting?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Well, yes. I explained it to you before you made your Outfit.”Bookmark here

“The murders?” I guessed.Bookmark here

Lain gave a confirming raise of her eyebrows.Bookmark here

In my peripheral vision, I noticed that when I mentioned the murders, Haruka, the girl sitting alone, turned her attention back over to our conversation.Bookmark here

“Do you have to wait for them to get here?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Well, not entirely. But we should at the least wait for Kaiser and he’ll probably be the last to arrive anyways. Honestly, I’m surprised that Muse of all people is taking so—”Bookmark here

THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.Bookmark here

Instantly the room went silent, my attention shot to the source of the noise.Bookmark here

THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.Bookmark here

It was the front door. Its metal clang reverberated for a few seconds after the third thump. It sounded desperate.Bookmark here

“We should—”Bookmark here

“SHH,” Lain hushed me without taking her eyes off the door.Bookmark here

It must have been at least two minutes of stillness from the last thump before anyone said anything. Maria broke the silence.Bookmark here

“We gotta check.”Bookmark here

With his suggestion, Lain and I crept towards the entrance. Somehow we both knew our jobs without a single word of exchange. She would unlock it, I would open it.Bookmark here

Beep. Bookmark here

Beep. Bookmark here

Beep. Bookmark here

Beep. Bookmark here

Beep. Bookmark here

Beep. Bookmark here

Beep. Bookmark here

Beep.Bookmark here

Click.Bookmark here

The thing opened much more easily than I’d been expecting for such a large metal door, why wasn’t it heavy? The reason behind it opening so easily then fell right against the concrete by my feet. Head first.Bookmark here

“MUSE!” Lain screamed.Bookmark here

Before I could tell what was happening, Holt had rushed up to the man’s body, placing two of his fat fingers along its neck.Bookmark here

“No pulse,” he said.Bookmark here

There was a long streak of blood running down the hallway, and ending at the door. Muse was dead.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.