Chapter 5:



Roy and Ken were escorted out the gate by a silent snarl belonging to Sable Rausse, who, when asked why he looked so deflated, saw them off with a gut-punch that doubled Ken over.

"You okay? Need some aesthetics for the pain?" Roy asked, smirking as they walked.

"Screw off, I'm not the one who had a liquid laugh just a minute ago."

Roy's smirk faded. "Can you really blame me?"

"Yeah, it stank up the room! Even that Akos guy ran away. Shows a lot that a soldier on aesthetics has a weak stomach just like you."

"He still has better fortitude than me, though…"

"Yeah, so do I, without aesthetics."

"I wonder if you really do, though," Roy muttered. "We won't know until I get you on a proper aesthetics regimen."

"Before you even think about that, we have tomorrow to worry about. I can't believe I agreed to this… I swear I'm throwing you in the line of fire if we run into Mika."

Roy glanced at his watch, which read: "New appointment / Tuesday / Military Convoy Assistance."

I can't believe I'm going outside the walls…

I'll be here to provide any assistance I can, Roy. Though, I can't do much if you're not taking your dosage.

"Exactly right, Roy's navi— He's gonna be fully present in mind and body. Like a real soldier."

"I won't lie, it's hard to think about. I'm afraid I'll remember something from before I immigrated."

Ken's hand moved to scratch his throat, but stopped before the itch possibly could have been satisfied. "Even better if you do. Your past makes you who you are. Citizens living with only the perspective of their perfect lives in Aesthetica are no more than sheep. Right, Roybot?"

Roy's arms suddenly bent at perfect 90 degree angles and chopped the air in stiff arcs. "Stop it, Ken. Save your strength for Mika."

"Ugh, don't remind me." Roy's arms folded instead of Ken's, but he did the huffing and puffing.

"How are you going to handle him? He's even more talented than you, right? Since he can… hack the synthetic brains of citizens from outside the walls, and you can't do it at all."

"I didn't say I can't do it at all."

"Oh? Were you lying to Ellie?"

Ken let out a yawn that turned to a sigh, and then a groan. "I said it's not easy, okay? Plus it leaves your own mind vulnerable. Mika can only do it because he's already a psycho."

"You sure do have a lot of unpleasant feelings for him. I don't know what happened in your past… But is being the person you are today worth holding onto those unpleasant feelings?

"Yeah, of course," Ken replied, looking at Roy's feet. "I'd rather know all the worst parts of living in this screwed up world than sacrifice my identity." He turned his gaze up, and Roy gulped, staring at his hands.

"Are you saying I lost mine…?"

"Only you can answer that, not me," he replied, ducking under a wooden sign into a pitch black alley. "I'll go back from here. The gate's just up ahead."

"See you in the morning, then."

"Right. Ah, wait." He peered out from the dark, fashioning a devilish smirk. "Did you have fun?"

"Fun…?" he murmured, his gaze pinballing off the tattered bricks before resting on the ground. "I—" When he looked up, Ken wasn't there.

A different guard awaited Roy at the gate, and checked his eyes. The upper left corner of his contacts displayed the message: "Roy Grainger / Aesthetics Officer / Night Pass signed by Officer Akos Braun.

The man opened the gate and waved him through. "If any Inner District red eyes give you trouble, just show them your itinerary."

"Thank you," Roy said with a curt nod, and made his way back into town under the constant threat of his eyes shutting.

You've never been around town after dark, Roy. I'll help you get back.

That's fine. Thank you, na

He doubled over at the sudden fire threatening to rend his stomach into two.

That's right! You didn't have supper! I'll get you to the closest diner! I know this may not be the time to talk about this, but you should really consider taking your dosage despite your deal with Ken. This is the worst condition I've ever seen you in.

He shook his head, fighting another rejection from his stomach as he dragged himself forward. The hunger pangs haunted his every step down the cobblestone roads, and by the time he could see the 24-hour diner, Donny's, he was using both hands to forbid the vomit from escaping his mouth.

Just when Donny's flickering beacon of hope made him blink to no avail, he spotted two sets of gray fatigues walking along the canal across the street from the diner. No sooner than he had, their rifles spotted him.

"You there, eyes."

Before he could flash his tired emeralds, someone else ran in front of him from the alley behind Donny's. The blond-haired man wearing the same uniform as Roy stopped when he saw the soldiers, and turned to Roy with desperation in his blue eyes.


With the only defense gone, the once forbidden spew burst free and colored the cobblestone. Felix's eyes turned pinkish, the terror in them spreading like a stink as the text above them read: Felix Rathskell / Aesthetics Officer / CONFINEMENT STATUS: HOME FORTITUDE THERAPY.


Wait! Don't make eye contact!

Felix, who had already started turning his head as ordered, whipped his gaze back to Roy.

What? You heard that?

What do I do, Roy? Please, help me!

"I SAID EYES!" the soldier shouted, the barrel of the guns breathing down their necks.

Umm… Act like you're throwing up too!

That's a terrible plan! I already need aesthetics! That's going to push me off the deep end!

Just shut up and do it! You'll be okay! I'll do the talking!

Felix did as instructed, and wretched with his back turned.

"What the hell is wrong with you two?" the other soldier cried as their footsteps met the cobblestone.

"I'm sorry, officers. We were working in the Outer District and ate some bad sushi."

"Are you screwing with us?"

"Please, check my eyes." The two men split up, and one pointed his gun at the dry-heaving Felix while the other read Roy's eyes.

"He's telling the truth, but what about this other guy? Why were you separated?"

Ken, can you hear me?

Ah! Roy? What is it? I almost had Hai! OW, I GIVE! Shit, he can't hear me—

Ken, listen! I need you to hack my eyes and connect to my friend!

What? Okay, gimme a second.

"Hey! Are you listening to me?"

"Sorry, I'm still nauseous," Roy replied, holding his mouth.

Are you in yet?

Yeah, I am. Whoa, what the hell did you get yourself into?

Just connect to Felix, okay?

Haha wait, did you make pavement pizza again?

Shut up and do it, Ken! I'll tell you what to change his itinerary to.

Okay, okay, I got it.

"I don't care what your problem is, talk!"

Roy gulped, and took a deep breath. "I'm so sorry. You see, he's a quartz I'm working with. He was given freedom to come into town with me, so I was taking him to Donny's. You know, to get some food in us after the bad sushi. Anyway, we ran into someone who'd… fallen deranged, and we ran in separate directions. Thankfully his navi got him to Donny's safely…"

The other soldier pulled Felix by the shirt and looked at his glassy pink eyes, before swiping the air with his finger. "His itinerary matches up. He sure doesn't look like a Ken Jitsuo, but his ID picture matches records."

Thank you Ken. I owe you a shot of Suntory.

Make it a bottle! You made me spill half of mine earlier!

"Where was the code orange? The deranged person, I mean…"

"He stopped chasing me three or four blocks back," Felix said, his lips quaking as he pointed toward the alley he came from.

"Okay, get your food and go home. Pass or not, emeralds and quartzes shouldn't be walking around town at night."

"Yes sir, I apologize for the trouble," Roy said as the soldiers took off down the alley. Roy waited for them to leave their line of sight, and gestured to the diner. Felix nodded, and the two walked in while a cleaning bot zoomed up and cleaned Roy's mess.

"I don't even know what to ask first," Felix said, prodding at his pancakes and cream with his fork. "When did you get so good at lying? Why were you talking like my navi?" Roy couldn't answer, at least until half of his linguini primavera replaced the roaring pit in his stomach.

Already better, right, Roy?

He took a swig of water and exhaled, before eying the empty diner. "I'll start with my questions, actually. What happened to your eyes? To your fortitude?"

Felix cast his blue eyes down on his food, and shuddered. "My screening of Ellie Rogers went so badly, I was the one whose fortitude was tested. And frankly, it failed. My eyes went blue, and I was told to confine myself at home until they were back to green for a whole day."

"So what are you doing out?"

He dropped his fork in the tallest dollop of cream, a distant forlorning in his eyes. "My aesthetics… were empty. I know I had some left this morning, but there wasn't any. My navi couldn't connect to my doctor's office, and my watch was shut off. I waited as long as I could, but I couldn't just keep sitting there without them…"

"What? Why would they…"

Roy squinted at Felix's thumbs, which were scratching the outside of his index fingers at the joint. "I started itching all over, especially my fingers and neck." He moved his thumbs to reveal bloody sores.

"I couldn't stop scratching. And then it felt like there was no air in my apartment. If I didn't get out, I was going to suffocate, Roy… I had to go get aesthetics, but before I got to my doctor's office, the red eyes saw me."

"Did you make eye contact? Did they see your itinerary?"

"I don't think so," he replied, leering at his plate like the pancakes were poised to strike. "I didn't know what to do, so I ran. They chased me for a while, but I somehow lost them before I ran into you."

"I… can't believe this."

"You're telling me… What am I supposed to do?"

Roy set his fork on his half-polished plate with a light clink. "You need to pull yourself together. You've had your green eyes for too long to let this happen. I don't know why they're leaving you to fend for yourself, but it's still your responsibility to keep up with your fortitude."

"You're right. I know you are. But… Roy, you can't understand this feeling… You haven't been off aesthetics in ten years."

Roy averted his eyes, his fingertips trembling.

"Besides, you don't know what she said…"


"She puts on a brave face, so it's hard to read her… But she's suffering more than anybody I've ever screened. Her headaches have gotten so bad, nobody knows what to do.Yet it's up to me to get her ready for her baptism tomorrow. I had to get aggressive."

"What did you do?"

"I pushed her like we normally would. Asked if she was afraid of baptism, things like that."


"She said…" His face writhed, and he couldn't bear to look at his food. "She's already figured out The Truth. The real Truth. She said there's more to The Truth we're told, and the cure."