Chapter 12:

3 Reasons to Visit Mylo in the Hospital

Mylo and the Summoned Hero

Kasumi had never seen anything like that before. Sure, she had experienced a few minor earthquakes in her life, the kind that rattled your fork off the table. Seeing the ground lift and twist, that was new.Bookmark here

"Holy s—! How much money did the developers dump into the game engine? That was next level terrain deformation. And the destruction physics were top notch."Bookmark here

If only she’d been streaming. Or at least recording. People need to see this. To put it in other words, Kasumi needed to tell someone about it.Bookmark here

"Mr. NPC!" Kasumi ran through broken streets calling. She’d neglected to find out where he lived. "Mylo! Oh, right. He was working, wasn’t he?"Bookmark here

She made her way back to the tower. The roads, under which the mana pipes mainly ran, shouldered the brunt of the damage. In places cobbles held together but thrust upward steep enough to be rock climbed rather than walked. Elsewhere, pulverized stone fine as beach sand was all that remained of the road. Most of the buildings seemed intact from a distance, but closer viewing showed their newly acquired list and snaking cracks. The further Kasumi went, the more the destruction demanded its realness acknowledged.Bookmark here

This ingame event hadn’t just ripped up the terrain, they even had NPCs running around fighting fires.Bookmark here

Kasumi stopped looking around in wonder. Better to keep her eyes on the cobbles directly ahead. That way she didn’t have to see. She covered her ears so she wouldn’t hear.Bookmark here

Did they have to make the NPCs that real?Bookmark here

Her heart wedged in her throat. It was an event. It had to be. Everything would be okay. All just 1s and 0s on a server. But the evidence kept wandering into view—here a patch of blood, there a small missing shoe.Bookmark here

Storyline NPCs. The devs can’t kill off them so easy. Mylo, he’s well voiced. He won’t even have a scrape. Maybe a bandage, but it’ll be purely cosmetic. She just had to find him to prove to herself that nothing was wrong.Bookmark here

She went to find him at the pumping station, which was roped off with its front falling in fragments around tortured pipes. The tower atop which they met lay tangled and draped across several roofs.Bookmark here

She picked her way inside, over small glowing stones until she found a trio of people in concerned whispering. "Hello! Is Mylo Bract here?"Bookmark here

Mr. Morin turned, looked at her with bleary eyes, and screamed at her to get out.Bookmark here

By asking around a little, she learned where to find him. Someone said they'd seen Mylo at a healer’s house.Bookmark here

Fine. Everything’s fine. He’ll be here just to check on a relative.Bookmark here

Did Kasumi really expect that Mylo had gotten through such a violent event unscathed because he was, in her mind, an important part of the game? No, but it was the only shred of normalcy she could cling to. Apart from monsters in the ruins dropping money and items when they died, apart from the user interface, this world routinely ignored game logic.Bookmark here

It was a clear and brisk morning despite the season, but that’s not why that’s Kasumi shivered in front of the healer’s hut.Bookmark here

If she was wrong, and Mylo really was a person who could be hurt, that meant—Bookmark here

Kasumi pushed open the door to room number 8, and there discovered Mylo. His skin was paler than normal for him, but no obvious injuries. No bandages adorned him. Plus, he was clearly laying in a hammock. Who puts a patient in a hammock?Bookmark here

"Yo, Mr. NPC." She walked over to stand above him. Mylo, breathing softly, didn’t stir.Bookmark here

From out in the hallway, shuffling steps preceded the healer, a hunched old woman with wrinkles aplenty and wise, glacial-lake blue eyes. "I thought somebody came in. Don’cha ever sign in the visitors’ book?"Bookmark here

"Oh, uh…"Bookmark here

"Just do it next time. Today’s a little crazy." The healer looked between Kasumi and Mylo. She wore a kindly smile. "Came to see your friend?"Bookmark here

"Is he okay?" Kasumi pulled back the sheet to see Mylo’s wounds.Bookmark here

Instead of bloody bandages or gauze, she found Mylo. Lots of Mylo.Bookmark here

Kasumi flushed straight red and threw the cover back into place. Springing back, she asked, "Why is he naked?"Bookmark here

"Ran outta gowns. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do. Lots of patients less lucky than this one." The healer reached out a gentle arm to prevent Kasumi pulling up a chair beside the hammock.Bookmark here

Kasumi discovered how hard it is to purge a visual memory before it forms and carry a serious conversation at the same time.Bookmark here

"So, he’s okay?"Bookmark here

Closing her eyes, the old healer pondered for a moment and pursed her lips. "He will heal. Time is all anyone can give him now."Bookmark here

I’ll come back and see you later, Mr. NPC. Don’t worry, this town of yours soon be back to normal. Through the blush, she smiled. No. It’ll be even better.Bookmark here

Kasumi left, and the healer went to check on her more tenuous patients.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Picture a flat and sunbaked land. Dark gray columnar basalts sprout from the ground. Gangly trees wave flowing, draping leaves wider than Mylo’s arm span. Pale yellow grasses rustle with iridescent beetles, and woody green shrubs thrust crimson cones toward the sky.Bookmark here

Got all that? Good, now turn it sideways, ground on the right, sky on the left. Orthogonal to gravity, that’s right. Loose pebbles tumble free and spin into a brilliant purple sky that drops on, and on forever.Bookmark here

Like a cliff, only not, because the plants grow straight out toward a stationary sun and the horizons are up and down.Bookmark here

Now you understand why Couzinet arrived falling and screaming.Bookmark here

With cat-like reflexes, she lashed out and snagged the branches of a shrub. They creaked and bent under the strain, threatening to break and drop her.Bookmark here

"Oh no you don’t." Couzinet got better purchase with her other hand and hauled herself up, her feet scrabbling on dirt that happily took the suggestion to tumble into the sky. After some minutes, she grappled her way around the side of a columnar basalt outcropping just above the shrub, and sighed relief from its top.Bookmark here

Couzinet leaned back against the ground and called, "Anyone home?"Bookmark here

Mylo appeared on a tree trunk a little ways above and to her left. He blinked and looked around. Then down.Bookmark here

"Is your subconscious always like this?" Couzinet yelled at him.Bookmark here

"Pretty much."Bookmark here

"What happens if you fall and don’t wake up?"Bookmark here

Mylo shuddered at the thought. "I hope that never happens."Bookmark here

An annoyed, lynx-like ear flicked. He looked like the hero’s guide, not that Couzinet had ever seen him up close. If she was right, then she could stop hopping, finally. That manaquake had ruined everything, Couzinet had the guide’s apartment and routine all worked out so she wouldn’t have to search for the right mind, but instead she had to run around searching. Better confirm.Bookmark here

"Do you know Kasumi Hoshino?"Bookmark here

"Yes, but she wants me to call her by a code name, Pelgram," Mylo said. His air was affable, chatty.Bookmark here

Couzinet smiled and crossed one ankle over the other, hands behind her head as though lounging on a deck chair. Here in the cellar of the mind, the host lacked armor. They didn’t realize when they gave up sensitive information.Bookmark here

"So, I got a glimpse of you, a couple others, and Kasumi entering a boss room in Old Edule."Bookmark here

Mylo nodded.Bookmark here

"Kasumi got the killing blow, or did most of the damage, right?"Bookmark here

"No, I did both."Bookmark here

Couzinet’s tail thumped the wall, which was really the ground. Not how this was supposed to go. But she relaxed. Bound to be a few setbacks along the way. She looked over at Mylo, tinged green by the light shining through a huge leaf. Lounged with his stomach against the tree, he looked relaxed, almost in a trance. But his brow bowed under tension.Bookmark here

"You know you’re at a healer’s, right? You okay?"Bookmark here

"Well, first off, I don’t know how much that boss monster dropped—that’ll determine whether I can quit this town. Meeting Kasumi has been a whirlwind. Oh, and then there’s my boss. I used to think she didn’t like me, but earlier…"Bookmark here

Mylo went on unpacking his uncertainties for a few minutes. More concerned with matters of the heart than his injuries, apparently.Bookmark here

Dipping into someone’s liminal space for answers cut both ways. They couldn’t filter what they said to hide information, nor could they whittle their answer down to the asker’s interests. Pose a vague question, get a seven-generation familial saga.Bookmark here

Couzinet cleared her throat. "Look, I’m glad the spring of your life has finally come, right, but there’s one thing I want to know: what are your intentions with Kasumi?"Bookmark here

"I want…" Mylo trailed off and stared across the dusty, tilted terrain for a while. "I want to spend more time with her, and learn what this feeling is."Bookmark here

Picking her words carefully, Couzinet asked, "What would it take for you to stop hanging out with her?"Bookmark here

"If she stopped wanting to be around me, I guess that would do it. I feel like she’s going places. I hope she takes me with."Bookmark here

So he won’t chase after her, good.Bookmark here

"You have a weak heart. No resolve." Couzinet nodded to herself, satisfied now that the guide wouldn’t remain an obstacle for long. "The hero and the Jagai will leave you here to live your boring, little life.Bookmark here

If she’d been watching Mylo, she might have caught the twitch and the her words changed the light in his eye.Bookmark here

Deep burgundy gaze swiveled and searched her. A frown grew. "You’re a probe, aren’t you?"Bookmark here

Couzinet almost fell of her rock.Bookmark here

Nobody guards their mind this deep, right?Bookmark here

She was still safe, probably. Mylo remained reposed on the tree trunk, in the same pose that he’d appeared in. Not able to move voluntarily this deep, it seemed—his head would turn when he wanted to look, but deliberate motion required training down here.Bookmark here

Still, unnerving to have her class detected.Bookmark here

Couzinet shouted, "Who the hell taught you?"Bookmark here

"A detective," Mylo said, without supplying the name.Bookmark here

"You won’t remember any of this conversation."Bookmark here

"Probably not," Mylo admitted.Bookmark here

With practiced grace, Couzinet flicked herself upright and jumped off the basalt like it was a diving board. She’d already learned what she came to, so no reason to stick around remained.Bookmark here

As air fluttered her jacket, she somersaulted and twisted. Vertigo helped push her back to the safety of her own mind.Bookmark here

Mylo meanwhile struggled to surface. Paul had asked him to find the summoned hero, and this intruder had let slip a hint that Kasumi was it. If only he could hold on and remember. Maybe this explained all the wild things Kasumi said.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Ezre Lafferty signed into the visitors’ book on the healer’s coffee table, which currently held a large towel-wrapped tankard of warm coffee next to a stack of paper cups. She wrinkled her nose.Bookmark here

This healer’s hut was large by Edule’s standards, but still basically a house. From an oak beam hung a slate board with patient names and room numbers chalked on it. Cramped lettering squeezed around the sides evidenced that the healers had crammed patients into extra rooms to handle the emergency. To the board’s left hung a needlepoint embroidery that read, in gothic lettering, "These Bitches Give Stitches!" The sofa hosted a series of equally droll, but wordier throw pillows.Bookmark here

Ezre sighed and consulted the board, then hurried to room 8.Bookmark here

There she found Mylo, hammocked and covered in a cotton sheet. He didn’t look great, but she’d spent the last ten hours running with a fire crew, seeing far worse. The sun peeked onto his face, and would be right on his eyes soon. Ezre lowered the blinds, then carried the wicker chair from the corner and plunked it down by Mylo’s side.Bookmark here

It didn’t seem real or right that it’d been just a day since Mylo visited her flat, asking to borrow letters. What had he done with them? None were opened, of that she made sure. Ezre chose to put it out of her mind, and not repeat yesterday’s embarrassment.Bookmark here

He surprised me yesterday, that’s all. This time I’ll show no cracks. Perfect defense! With that, she settled in to wait.Bookmark here

She didn’t have to wait long.Bookmark here

Mylo stirred, blinked around the room and then to Ezre. "Hey, Boss."Bookmark here

"Do you want me to call you ‘Bract’ all the time?"Bookmark here

"No."Bookmark here

"Settled. First names when we’re not at work."Bookmark here

"Okay."Bookmark here

Mylo took a moment to take stock. Hints that he lay in an improvised medical room included, but were not limited to: the hammock beneath him, an ironing board leaning against the wall, lavender sock fresheners, and floral red lamp shades on the currently inoperable candlestick-style lights.Bookmark here

Interesting room, but Ezre presented the greater intrigue. Mylo may have forgotten Couzinet’s subconscious intrusion, but he remembered the stack of Ezre’s letters. Though they were alone, she carried herself upright and confident as she did on the pumping station floor. Her expression friendlier, open to the idea of idle chatter, but still professional down to bedrock.Bookmark here

"So," Mylo asked, "is everyone okay?"Bookmark here

Ezre shook her head, then qualified it. "In town? No, there have been casualties. Damage mostly to the streets, which at 3 in the morning are basically empty. If it had happened at midday…I don’t want to think about it. We don’t have numbers yet, but there are a lot of injuries and a few deaths already where buildings collapsed or burned."Bookmark here

"As for the station…"Bookmark here

Ezre curled forward, propping her elbows on her knees and scrutinizing the floorboards. The walls around her heart were about to be tested—how do you admit you got a person you care for hurt and stay cold?Bookmark here

"A few got stunned, but none so hurt as you—except the splitter. That thing shot its reynolds valves clear through its tank. The back of it looks like a colander." Looking up, she said, "Look, Mylo, I—"Bookmark here

"I’m sorry," said Mylo.Bookmark here

Ezre looked up, amazed.Bookmark here

"You were counting on me. Putting me alone on a triple was the price of stacking my coworkers so they could share the hit and not die."Bookmark here

He didn’t say it boastfully. Most of the night crew, and most strobili in general, got hooked on coffee as children and never stopped. Caffeine poisoned the gyre—a welcome relief for a young strobilus who hadn’t learned to cap it. No discomfort, but no growth. They grew up with brittle reservoirs and anemic gyres. Ezre had learned to avoid caffeine thanks to her mentor, but she was dimly aware that Mylo had no teacher—somehow figured it out for himself.Bookmark here

Ezre sat silent for a moment. "And here I was thinking I was gonna have to explain it to you."Bookmark here

Resettling with a somber look in her eye, she said, "But I made that decision expecting the safeties to work. It wasn’t supposed to get so rough. When you hit the floor, I thought…" Ezre fell silent with hands clenched.Bookmark here

"So, do we know what happened with the safety valves?" Mylo asked, and the conversation veered into safer waters. She told him about the fellows from the print shop who came into the station before it ended, and how they got several tin-type pictures of Mylo on the floor. Would probably be in an afternoon news bulletin, along with reports of Callawea’s other shortcuts.Bookmark here

Maybe I didn’t need to worry. He doesn’t want to go through an emotional wringer either. Ezre smiled, glad she could keep her head around Mylo after all.Bookmark here

Mylo nodded at what she was saying. "If we’re making a song and dance of it, should I quit? Protest the conditions on my way out?"Bookmark here

"Uh…"Bookmark here

She wanted to say yes, to tell him that’s just what they needed to keep the pressure on. It would be easy to say and true. If Mylo looking dead on the floor did end up on the newspaper’s front page, followed by his resignation citing perpetual staffing shortage, why, the unionization vote would be all but won.Bookmark here

But Callawea wouldn’t shrug and be waltzed over. Maybe the vote would be proposed, but they’d find some condition in some dusty legal tome to snarl and delay, then force a revote. And that was the best case scenario, where that decrepit family didn’t resort to intimidation or worse. This one quake in Edule was too small, too local to impact the Jagai’s sprawling realm, and force the Callaweas to make any real changes.Bookmark here

There had to be a long game, one Ezre couldn’t quite see yet. Best to keep close anyone loyal and capable for when she had a plan.Bookmark here

"No. Don’t quit just yet. Use your sick leave and PTO first."Bookmark here

Mylo’s eyes went wide. "Wait, we have paid time off?" Under the urgency of his question, he sat up. Under the pull of gravity, the sheet fell to his waist.Bookmark here

He was wiry and tanned. The latter he got from sleeping the day away between shifts under a south facing window. Ezre noted that Mylo’s daily climb up the spotting tower had done him a few favors. She’d always wanted to pet his fluffy hair, but now….Bookmark here

Mylo scrambled to cover himself again. "Sorry! I thought I’d be in a gown or something."Bookmark here

If only I wasn’t your boss. Ezre’s free-thinking thoughts decided to think outside the brain. "The things we could do."Bookmark here

"…You want to do something together?"Bookmark here

Ezre scrambled. "Training! I was just thinking you needed real instruction from another strobilus. I’ve got a whole regimen of things to teach you! Hahaha."Bookmark here

Damn it! We’re alone. No one would know. I could grab him by the shoulders, kiss him, and let nature take its course. The thought was tried for mutiny and forced to walk the plank.Bookmark here

"Yeah, that’d be great." Mylo beamed for a moment. "But…I can’t feel my gyre. Or the reservoir. And even if I get them back, I don't really know what I'm doing."Bookmark here

"Rest, get well." Ezre turned to go.Bookmark here

At the door, she looked back. "Hey Mylo, don't write yourself off just yet. Every strobilus gets freaked out the first time they get hurt enough to not feel like a strobilus anymore. You'll heal. And you've come a long way with just the basics. We'll start training in a few days, okay?"Bookmark here

With that promise floated out, Ezre departed.Bookmark here

Marshall Eastman
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