Chapter 6:



Roy looked at his own food as in horror, his mouth agape. "The Truth, and the cure? But that would have turned her deranged… I met her tonight— there's no way she's deranged."

"You met her?"

"Yeah, she's one of Ken's friends."

"Ken… That's right," he said with wide eyes. "I should have realized in the office. She's always talking about him."

"That's not the point," Roy replied, scooting his half-eaten plate out of his glare's line of fire. "How could she know The Truth without succombing to Derangement Syndrome?"

"That's what I couldn't understand," he said, glancing at his scratched up fingers. "She said that… The real truth didn't require aesthetics in order to avoid Derangement Syndrome.

How could that be? Does Ken know this?

Communication with Ken's navi isn't open, but you aren't asking him, are you, Roy?

No, I'd better not…

"Did she say how she knows that?" Roy asked.

"Just that her navi helped her figure it out…"

Her…? Navi, you don't… know anything about that, do you?

A stack of dishes rattled from the kitchen while Felix stared at the silent Roy inquisitively.

…I don't have any information about The Truth, aside from what we've learned today.

Roy took a deep breath and clasped his hands. "We need to forget about this, Felix. For the sake of our fortitude. Did you tell anybody?"

"No… I went straight to Egen after and he called for my confinement," Felix replied, chuckling nervously. "I probably could forget if I had aesthetics, though. I don't know what to do."

"Stay at my place tonight. I'll let you have some of mine."

"Yours? Roy, you can't. What about yourself? No, that's not allowed, anyway."

"Let that be my concern, alright? Let's go."

Felix gave an uncertain nod, and took a few bites while some of the color returned to his face. They found themselves back on the cobblestone road, where the only person they passed was a young woman dressed in office wear and a light hooded jacket that barely showed her purple eyes. Without looking their way, she gave a curt smile as she walked by, which Roy hardly managed to match.

"What have I done…" Felix said, shading his eyes with his hand. "It's so embarrassing walking around with pink eyes… What would a pretty girl like her think of me?"

"She'd think you have blue eyes, which makes you no worse than Egen," Roy said, pointing at his eyes.

"What? My navi didn't tell… Oh, it just happened? Was it… her?" He chuckled, and glanced back just as Roy heard footsteps closing in behind them.

"Move!" he cried, and without looking, shoved Felix to the right while diving to the left. As his shoes slid over the cobble, he ducked his head just in time to avoid the knife swung by the woman they'd just passed. Her eyes, which had just been purple, were instead bright orange.

"What? How?" Felix's words sputtered out as he backpedaled, the woman focused on Roy. She slashed the cutlery knife at his head and chest, but Roy moved deftly to avoid it, almost like his limbs moved on their own.

Stay calm and keep dodging, Roy! Your synthetics are all acting as normal, but without aesthetics to feed them you'll still feel the pain if you get cut by that!

You don't have to tell me!

Another duck left him without another escape route, but just as she reared back, Roy threw a sweeping kick that staggered her. While she struggled to regain her footing, her eyes cast an orange glow over her face which was revealed as her hood slipped off.

Dr… Phuong?

Before her knife hand could refocus on Roy, Felix appeared behind her, delivering a forearm blow to her neck that sent her slender body crashing into the cobblestone, unconscious. The two caught their breath, shifting their gazes from the woman to each other.

"T-that's my counselor, Dr. Phuong."

"What?" Felix cried. "How did this happen? Roy, what's going on?"

"First, let's get her to my place. We have to get aesthetics going before she wakes up deranged. I'll explain what I can on the way."

Felix nodded, and they lifted her over their shoulders after tossing the knife in the canal. They made it inside Roy's green-tinted brick apartment building without so much as a cleaning bot passing by, and Roy, who breathed a sigh of relief as his living room's jazz greeted him after so long, dropped his overdue aesthetics into Phuong's orange eyes. When she opened her eyes again, they were purple once more.

"Are you okay?" Roy asked, careful not to make any sudden movement.

She looked around, blinking at the green and yellow plexiglass, and then at Felix and Roy. "What's going on, Roy? Is this your place?"

"Yes, we had to bring you here. You don't remember anything?"

"I was… going home after a late dinner. I think I saw you, and…" Her eyes darted around, narrowing as her cheeks trembled. My navi said something… bad, I think." Her breathing became labored, and her eyes flickered between purple and green as she stood up. "I need to go home and take my aesthetics."

"It's okay, I gave you some of mine," Roy said with a soft smile. "You were already changing the lighting for yourself when you woke, right? They're working, so please, sit and rest."

She nodded and sat back down, shooting the blue-eyed Felix a short glance. "What were you two doing out?"

"There's a lot going on," Roy replied with a chuckle. "But right now it's you I'm concerned about. I think you were hacked by the anti-aesthetics outside the walls. Could we talk with your navi?"

A purple avatar projected itself from her eyes. "Thank you for the aesthetics, Roy Grainger. I was hacked, but the foreign signal is no longer present."

"What happened to you when the signal was there?"

Roy, you shouldn't ask other navis questions about their existence.

"I was… also present."

"So, you remember what was said to Dr. Phuong?"

"Just Bian is fine, Roy," Phuong said with a weak smile, to which Roy nodded.

"I do, of course," the navi said. "But it is not permitted to repeat The Truth." Phuong and Felix both shuddered.

"I wouldn't ask you to," Roy replied, squinting at the avatar. "I'm trying to make sure you won't repeat it to Bian again. Can you block that foreign signal from hacking in again?"

"Yes, I should be able to."

"And you won't let her remember what she heard?"

"I will do everything in my power to prevent that.

Bian brushed her hair behind her ears with a sigh. "I should still report this, and see my aesthetics officer."

"Please don't do that," Roy replied, leaning over and gently grasping her hand. "Felix was cut off from aesthetics just for turning from green to blue. For you to have heard the truth and come back, almost like another baptism… I don't know what they'll do with you. Listen, something's changing in Aesthetica. We have to be careful."

"If citizens are being hacked, that's probably why," Bian said, resting her chin in her hand. "But our responsibility is to serve the citizens. It's selfish to put ourselves above Aesthetica."

Roy glanced at Felix, who looked away. "Trust me, I agree. But, whatever's changing here…" He took a deep breath, and drew in Bian's gaze. "Something tells me that right now, we need to take responsibility in our own way."

"Okay," she replied with a short nod. "I trust you, Roy. Thank you for worrying about me."

Bian retired to Roy's guest room, while Felix used the sofa after taking another of Roy's doses. Roy showered, and, without a word from his navi, fell asleep. When he woke, his body ached, and his head held a weary fog that followed him as he checked his empty guest room and tiptoed past the sleeping Felix.

“Good morning, citizens of Aesthetica! A perfect day is on the horizon for each of you!"

Roy, can we talk about how you're doing, now? It's been 24 hours since your last dose.

The smiling faces flooded the streets while Luiza sang across the streets. Roy winced at the sun's orange glare that nearly every stained glass panel proudly advertised, and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. His freshly trimmed nails reached for a spot on his neck, before retracting, and he stepped into the pool of smiling faces.

I'm doing fine. Look, Navi, Aesthetica is as beautiful as ever, isn't it?