Chapter 20:

Clouds and other annoying details

The Sequence of Kai

Because Trish isn’t my partner on this mission, I’m taking a train for the first time in years. It reminds me why I hate clouds. Bookmark here

Clouds are a detail that won’t blur, that’s the problem. You can never move fast enough to trick your eyes when it comes to clouds. Only ever stains on an otherwise perfect sky. Except for rain clouds, get enough of them together and they create a lovely grey blanket. All too infrequent though, there’s usually a gap that ruins it.Bookmark here

At the moment I’m enjoying the window view while letting my music playlist cycle through. I forgot how much I like this feeling, letting the details blur into the environment, removing specifics from the equation. The music cuts out all the distracting ambience too, especially with these new earbuds.Bookmark here

Aaron is probably still sat to my left. He stopped trying to talk to me during our walk to the station. Not sure exactly when, I put my earbuds in before we left the house. By the time we had reached the ticket machines, his lips were pursed, and his brows were furrowed, so he stopped wasting his breath somewhere along the way.Bookmark here

As the train pulls into one of the smaller stations on the route, I hear a very concerning sound. 3 rapidly descending beeps. My earbuds are running out of power.Bookmark here

I’ve been using them almost nonstop since the morning, the little charge I gave them in Paul’s wasn’t enough to take me to London evidently. I take them out of my ears and put them in their charging case.Bookmark here

“Finally run out of charge, have they?”Bookmark here

I feel stupid. Of course, he didn’t give up, he was just waiting to strike. Clouds are nasty like that.Bookmark here

“I should’ve bought a second pair for occasions like this.”Bookmark here

“I could never get used to those types of earbuds. Trish got me some for Christmas one year but I couldn’t stand the noise cancellation.”
“It would be just like you to not like the best part of something.”Bookmark here

“What’s so good about it?”Bookmark here

Oh my god, he’s still going.Bookmark here

“It’s in the name, I don’t like noise.”Bookmark here

“Is noise such a bad thing?”Bookmark here

I look over at him, trying to find a trace of the shit-eating grin he must be suppressing but he’s doing a good job not letting it show.Bookmark here

“Aaron, do you like the sound of flies?”Bookmark here

“Not really, no. But what does tha-“Bookmark here

“When I take out the earbuds, flies seem to love talking to me. I relish the ability to eliminate that incessant buzzing from my life. I’m of half a mind to start wearing a blindfold so I don’t have to see them either.”Bookmark here

“I’m just trying to make conversation Kai, I’m trying to be nice.”Bookmark here

“Well stop.” Bookmark here

I turn my attention back out the window as the train pulls away from the station but it’s no use. I can still hear his breathing.Bookmark here

“Why do you keep trying to talk to me?”Bookmark here

His expression lightens a bit when I say that. Creep.Bookmark here

“I’d like it if every interaction we had didn’t leave both of us feeling like shit afterwards.”Bookmark here

“Why? I’ve made it very clear I don’t want you to talk to me. I know you don’t like me either, so why keep trying?”Bookmark here

I hear the sound of his hands digging into his armrests as he tries to keep his response measured.Bookmark here

“Trish and I didn’t get on when we first met. We only became friends because she kept putting in the effort. I’m sure you can appreciate that.”Bookmark here

I don’t respond to that. It’s not like our relationships with Trish are in any way similar.Bookmark here

“Why don’t we just try being friendly for this mission? See where it takes us.”Bookmark here

His suggestion is so outlandish that I inadvertently let out something halfway between a scoff and a laugh.Bookmark here

“What’s so funny?”Bookmark here

“We’re really going to try this again? When is enough gonna be enough?”Bookmark here

“So, are you saying you won’t?”Bookmark here

“Sure, let’s do it. Maybe fourth time will be the charm, crazier things have happened.”Bookmark here

This isn’t the first time he’s tried this, but I thought he’d have given up after how badly it went last time. No matter, I can play friends with him if it’s motivated by spite. Maybe this time will make it clear.Bookmark here

I’ll try earnestly though, I won’t have proven any point if this falls apart because I don’t try. It’s not like I want to dislike him, my life would be so much easier if I didn’t. I can do this.Bookmark here

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see him gearing up to say something to me.Bookmark here

“So, uh, what kind of music do you like?”Bookmark here

“…let’s start when we get off the train.”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Half an hour later, the train pulls into Victoria station.Bookmark here

Aaron put his hand on my shoulder when I went to stand up. Luckily I remembered quickly enough that we’re playing nice, so his wrist is still where it should be.Bookmark here

We stay put until everyone else filters off the train and the doors close. A few moments later, a familiar face sits down beside Aaron. Bookmark here

The first time I encountered one of these government agent types, I had been expecting suits, shades and earpieces. Such formal wear for people that can’t even be called employees is a laughable idea to me now. No one who works for the UK’s unofficial magic taskforce can afford a suit, they’re lucky enough not to be wearing green and yellow prison overalls.Bookmark here

Miles is the name of the agent meeting us today, we’ve crossed paths a few times over the last couple of years. He’s a fan of the shorts and flip flops combo, usually topping that off with one of his various Hawaiian shirts. Today it’s a red and orange number. He’s never once looked dressed for the occasion.Bookmark here

“I appreciate you taking the time, we couldn’t have handled this ourselves.”Bookmark here

He hands Aaron a photo of a residential block lit up in the night. Bookmark here

“This is where we think the emotion reaper has taken root, London Borough of Brent. We cut the power to that the building a week ago, the photo was taken yesterday. We’ve sent in 3 operatives and now we have 3 vacancies.”Bookmark here

Aaron’s face gradually grows more puzzled as Miles’ brief kept going.Bookmark here

“You sure this thing is an emotion reaper? Seems like there’s something else going on here.”Bookmark here

“Telltale signs of a reaper are all there, the suicide rates fit the pattern. The only difference is scale.”Bookmark here

Miles takes out a couple of folded up charts from his pocket and starts going through them. The first is a series of concentric circles around the residential block showing the aforementioned suicide rates. The second is a chart detailing the drop in calls to emergency services.Bookmark here

“What about the drug trade?”Bookmark here

“Anecdotally, it barely exists anymore.”Bookmark here

It’s all a bit hard to follow, I’ve never made much of an effort to learn about the supernatural world, I figure I’ll have plenty of time to do it when everyone is dead. Because I’ve been putting off the study, the link between an emotion reaper and the local drug trade isn’t so readily apparent.Bookmark here

“Oi!”Bookmark here

A conductor knocks on the window beside us, saying we have to get off the train.Bookmark here

Miles puts everything back into his pockets and stands up.Bookmark here

“Seems that’s all we have time for. If you’re having trouble with things… well, good luck. You know where to find me.”Bookmark here

With that, he began towards the back of the train. You’re not supposed to follow an agent after a briefing is adjourned, so even though Aaron clearly wants to ask more questions, he stays put.Bookmark here

I resist the urge to slip my earbuds back in as we exit the train. The platform is relatively quiet because of how late we disembarked.Bookmark here

Aaron looks deep in thought as we go through the ticket gates. Since we’re ‘friends’ at the moment, I decide to try and be helpful.Bookmark here

“Something on your mind?”Bookmark here

“No… It’s just, how do we even approach something like this?”Bookmark here

“Whatever you decide, I believe in you. You’ve got this!”Bookmark here

I pat him on the back, and he sighs loudly.Bookmark here

“Let’s just go see this place in person. We can decide what to do from there.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.