“What are we going to do?”
Kaiser, still recovering his breath, answered first, “Well one thing’s for sure, we can’t stay here.”
A collective chatter broke out amongst everyone else in the room.
Maria spoke up, “What’s that supposed to mean? There ain’t no other place like this, is there?”
“I doubt it but that’s the least of our concerns right now, don’t you think?” said Lain.
“Pretty big concerns if you ask me…” Maria muttered.
“We’ll figure that out when the time comes, hell we can probably just come back here once this shit’s all cleared up,” Kaiser leaned on a knee to stand himself up, shooting his finger out to point towards the door, “But for now there’s someone out there hell-bent on killing each and every one of us. And if we don’t take matters into our own hands, I can assure you that someone out there would love to take your life into his.”
This entire conversation felt a bit odd to me. Everyone had an unnatural attachment to this room, and a somewhat unnatural willingness to trust everything that came out of Kaiser’s mouth. I could understand that he’d become their de facto leader but each time he spoke reeked of an attempt at being inspirational or grandiose in some way or another. Even just the Space he’d taken me to could tell me that much, I mean come on, a bear in a military uniform? How much more obvious could you get about your self-image?
The only person who didn’t seem too phased by the whole thing was Lain, she wasn’t watching anyone, just leaning against a chair and listening, speaking up when she felt it necessary. It wasn’t that she was disregarding everything that Kaiser said, just drinking it in along with a healthy serving of skepticism.
Lain pitched in again, “There’s not much more point in arguing, we’ll have to leave and that’s that. Does anyone have any ideas for another building we could use in the meantime?”
“We won’t be needing one,” Kaiser said, “We’re not meeting up anymore.”
“WHAT!?” Maria screamed, “You gotta be kiddin’ me, Kaiser. That’s not okay, we got kids here, we gotta keep ‘em together. Half o’ us ain’t got nowhere else to go, nothin’ else to do.”
“You and I both know that you’re not thinking of the kids when you want to keep up the meetings. You’d really go so far as to put everyone’s life in danger just to keep going there? If we don’t all make it through this then none of us can keep it up.”
Maria glared back at Kaiser, he seemed to be holding back from shouting out again. I only vaguely recognized that they were talking about that Space. It felt as if I was both missing a giant piece of the puzzle and like I understood the entire situation better than each other person in the room, save maybe Lain.
Something just kept bothering me. How was I even supposed to get involved in this? I didn’t have any right to interfere, no right to speak my mind, no right to start throwing out theories or suggestions, no right to get involved. That was it, I wasn’t supposed to get involved. I was new here, none of them were even giving me an opportunity to speak, they cleared me as safe and let me stand on the sidelines and listen politely. Well, that just doesn’t sit right with me.
As if handed down by the gods, a silent moment ripe for interjection was placed upon my lap. Actually, that’s not quite right. It was more like the moment had always been there, I could just see it now.
“Something’s not right here,” my voice pierced the skin of the conversation, “You’re all here arguing about what you can do to prevent anything else from happening.”
That was it, I hadn’t been able to put words to my thoughts until I tried speaking them out loud. Now that I had, the exact oddity I had been feeling was flowing out with ease. I wonder if I shouldn’t say it though? Wasn’t this a bit out of character? Ah, screw it.
I continued, “Meanwhile, there’s someone out there with a vendetta hunting each and everyone one of you. You’re all focusing on defense when in reality the best option is to find this guy before he can find you. This isn’t some god hunting you down in divine retribution, this is a human being with a knife, driving it in through your back.”
I felt the imagery might’ve been a bit harsh, especially for the younger ones in the room, but of everyone staring at me and listening, those two seemed to be among the least shaken.
“What if it is?” Char spoke up for the first time since she’d gotten here, “What if it is God’s divine retribution?”
There was a bit of silence.
She continued, “How are we supposed to know if we haven’t been breaking the rules this whole time? What if we’re freaks of nature that need to be purged off the face of the Earth? What if—”
“So what?” asked Holt.
Maria kept up with the same train of thought, “There ain’t no point in worryin’ about it if we bein’ purged by some higher power. We can’t do nothin’ if that’s how it is. We just gotta hope it ain’t.”
Lain spoke too, “They’re not wrong. Our people are being killed with a stab wound to their backs, Char. If it is some god they’ve sure got archaic measures, ones that we can prevent.”
I like how this is going.
“Okay, I’m glad we’re all getting on the same page,” before continuing, I saw Panda whisper to Haruka who was sitting right next to him, “Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Uh—Uhm… what does ‘getting on the same page’ mean?”
Oh, right, I guess he wouldn’t know. I waited for someone else in the room to fill him in on the expression but only silence followed. Seriously guys? No one?
“It, uhm… It means that we’re all coming to understand each other.”
At this point, I was starting to think that I was the last person who still read physical books in this entire city.
“As I was saying, we can make some assumptions about who might be hunting after us. The first and most prominent being that it’s someone who knows everyone here, so whether that’s someone in the government—”
“It can’t be someone in the government,” nearly everyone in the room interrupted me in unison.
“It can’t be. We don’t talk about anything related to our abilities outside of this room or crowded streets,” Kaiser answered.
“Sure but couldn’t they still listen through the Naishiyo A.I.?”
“They couldn’t,” again a few people answered in unison.
“You didn’t explain the room to him at all?” Kaiser asked, looking at Lain.
She just shrugged and brought her hands up, like it shouldn’t have been her responsibility in the first place.
“Explain the room? She just told me you’d made modifications.”
“Well yes, we have. The room’s rating would be perfect if we were to update the software,” Kaiser answered.
“What do you mean ‘update the software’?”
He sighed and rolled his eyes a bit, “This building’s not on the main grid, actually no one else lives in here, we just do the bare minimum to make the other rooms look lived in. This building was part of the alpha testing program for Naishiyo’s system and never got updated or had its A.I. removed. It’s bare-bones but to an untrained eye, it looks like the real deal, keeps us off the radar. The microphones have all been removed too, they didn’t have the anti-tamper worked into them yet. Long story short, any conversation in here doesn’t leave the room.”
“Huh,” I paused, “Then it’s a shame we can’t use this place anymore.”
“As I said, we’re not using any place anymore. No more meetups.”
Kaiser stared at me like I was crazy, “Who the hell do you think you are? You just got here today and you’re telling me no?”
“Yeah, I am.”
Kaiser started to stand up taller, walking over to me as if he were to slam his palm into my face again.
“Don’t you want to know why? I got a little off track but if it can’t be the government, then you’re one of the least trustworthy people here, right? What were you doing right before you got that call from Lain?”
Kaiser chuckled, “You’re accusing me? Lain didn’t tell you anything, eh? We don’t share our personal lives here Lil’ Fledgling, maybe the nicknames weren’t enough to cue you in on it?”
“I’m sorry about your arbitrary rules but we’ve got people’s lives on the line here.”
“No way. I’m not having some stranger waltz in here thinking he’s the new top dog demanding that we change everything we do. We do it for a reason and we’re not just going to throw that all out the window because you’re politely asking me to. Ain’t that right, everyone?”
The room’s atmosphere had changed. Before Kaiser could even feel it for himself, it came back to nip at his skin.
“Kaiser, what were you doing before I called you?” Lain asked.
Lain stood for the entire group when she spoke, it was easy to tell what everyone was thinking, the only person who seemed to be reacting differently was Char. She looked frantic, glancing at Kaiser and then trying to keep her face down. I assumed it was because she’d also arrived after Muse had gotten here, she would naturally be the next to get questioned.
“No, no way. You're gonna be so insistent on asking me where I was? Huh? Well, what about you? Where were you?”
“I was right here, with everyone else.”
Kaiser grinned like he hadn’t had a fair fight in a good long while and was finally getting one, “You piece of…”
The words were pointed directly at my throat.
“Look, I’m not trying to solo you out. This isn’t some personal attack like you seem to believe it is. Char, what were you doing before you got here?”
She still seemed nervous, her breathing was clearly quickened and her arms were folded in front of her, shoulders down, head down, “I can’t say that…”
“Well which is it, you can’t or you won’t?”
This wasn’t getting anywhere.
“Is this normal? That neither of them wants to share?” I asked Lain.
“A little. We can’t exactly force them to and it’s most definitely not a daily occurrence for us to share anything personal.”
“You two realize that unless you tell us what you were doing before you got here we can only assume the worst?”
“Lookey, they ain’t sayin’ nothin’ so quit with your interrogatin’. Best to keep ‘em in our sight than to keep on askin’ ‘till they had enough time to make up an excuse.”
Maria was right, on top of that, the more I pushed the more suspicious it might make me look.
“More importantly, we’ve gotta consider all the possibilities. Like some outsider who could know about us, about this place,” Kaiser tried to move the conversation forward.
“Is there anyone like that?” Haruka asked, just as eager to get away from the accusations.
“Well… we can’t just rule out the possibility, that’s all I’m trying to say. We have no idea what kind of person we could be up against.”
Silence followed once again. The tension in the room had risen significantly, with their leader as one of the main suspects it didn’t seem like they were very willing to hear him out anymore.
“Look, how about we come up with a plan of action for right now? I’m sure Kaiser and Char are aware of how suspicious they seem and want to be proven innocent as soon as possible. Would you two be willing to stay under someone’s supervision for a while?”
“God… Supervision? You trying to tell me what to do is really starting to make me sick. I know that I didn’t kill Muse and everyone else in here does too, I have no reason to and neither does Char, alright?”
“I don’t mind…” Char spoke, “I don’t mind being put under supervision.”
“What? Char?” Kaiser was starting to look nervous, “No way, this isn’t right. Look, Char, you don’t have to do anything, alright? I know none of us would ever even think of hurting Muse, we’re like a family.”
“Yeah? Well, our family doesn’t trust us right now and whatever we can do to help that I want to do. If that means being with someone the whole time then I don’t even care, I’ll do it.”
Kaiser grumbled for a moment and then finally conceded, he would stay under supervision. Holt was asked to be the one to watch them and he readily agreed.
“Either way we gotta find a new place to stay because Char and I know that the killer is still out there and just because we’re being watched doesn’t mean that any of us are safe.”
“Makes perfect sense to me,” Lain spoke while she was gathering up her clothes from the couch.
“What about the machines?” Haruka asked.
“It’ll have to be somewhere with enough space…”
The room went quiet again, as it often did. Though this time it was Panda who broke the silence, “I think I know somewhere that could work…”