The morning passed in a blur, and at lunch time, Roy met Felix at a cafe, where they sat at a small table hugged by a patio railing.
"I just can't believe it," Felix muttered, staring at his steaming coffee. "How does it benefit Aldheim to sabotage a quartz' fortitude? Why would she do it…?"
"To prove herself," Roy said, holding his head in hands. "You move up in Aesthetica by growing stronger, and manipulating others."
"Why? We're supposed to serve the people, not manipulate them…"
"But even we manipulate them…" Roy muttered. "Ken was right. We just play into the system that herds the citizens like sheep. The system uses our ability to manipulate the citizens, and those over us do the same to us. It's like a pyramid."
"How come your eyes are still green, then? You even accepted the promotion…"
"I'm not sure," Roy said, looking down at his cup full of steam, and hiding his jagged nails.
"But I don't understand," Felix replied, gripping his mug's handle. "You said before that killing another person will make you a red eye. But she didn't do it herself."
"That's probably why only one eye was red," Roy said, sighing. "She must believe she purposefully caused her death."
"So it's possible that she didn't," Felix muttered. "That it wasn't the placebo's fault. She might not have been able to overcome her pain even with the max dose…"
Roy lifted his mug, but set it back down before it met his lips. "That won't matter to Ken…"
The two parted ways, and Roy went through the motions like a normal day. Except his smile was manufactured, his words mechanical. None of the citizens he screened noticed, nor did Aldheim or any of his coworkers. The only one who knew was his navi, who'd given him the space to think to himself without a response for once. It never even asked him about his dream, which he couldn't get out of his head.
The evening passed without Roy visiting the hideout. For the first time all week, he went to bed on time, and without calling out to Ken or Bian, he fell asleep. The same dream as the night before replayed, but this time it flashed forward. The thin black-haired boy stood on a rooftop, holding a recording device up. Headphones covered his ears, so the words on the recorder were heard only by the man and woman standing meters away from him. The woman's eyes turned orange, and she faced the man with tears filling them.
"It's okay," he said. "You had to do this, eventually. For Roy."
Another flash forward brought him to a different gym, where the woman stroked his hair with bright red eyes. "What happened isn't anybody's fault, Roy. All that matters is that we get you to Aesthetica. Your father can help you even more now as your navi, so just listen to him, okay?"
"Roy, you're going to do whatever it takes to get to Aesthetica."
"Even if it's without your mother."
"The founders only want one person from this convoy to make it."
"That's going to be you, Roy."
Roy woke up and started his morning without a peep from his navi. He went to work, where he took over Aldheim's old office, and went through the motions once more. He made it to his appointment with his AI officer on time, and counted one more person that had no idea he was faking every mannerism.
"You know about the navi system's disturbance due to the firewall being damaged, right?" the bearded man said.
"Yes, I do," Roy replied. "I was there when the towers were destroyed."
"So I've heard," the man said. "Then I don't need to explain to you that your navi might be acting strangely. It's more important than ever to monitor your fortitude closely, and manage your relationship with your navi appropriately."
He nodded, and left to eat lunch at the same cafe with Felix. "You aren't going to visit them today, either?"
"No," Roy replied, staring at his mug. "Not yet."
"You still haven't heard from Ken?"
"Do you think he'll come after Aldheim?"
"I don't know."
"What are you going to do if he does?"
"I'll stop him. Somehow."
"I still couldn't talk to her before she moved out of the office. I don't how you're able to."
"It's my job," Roy replied, squinting at the steam. "I'm just deciding to bear with it."
Another early night came, and with it, the same dream continued. The red-eyed woman stepped over the ledge of a rooftop, and turned to Roy with a smile.
"Remember Roy, it's nobody's fault."
In a flash, nobody stood where she should have been. Roy scaled the stairway and found the black-haired boy in the gym, brewing himself a pot of tea. In seconds they were on the floor and his hands were wrapped around the boy's throat. All he saw was the skin going pale blue around his mole, and all he heard was the neglected tea kettle's whistling.
Listen to me, Roy. What happened is nobody's fault.
Just like your mother said. She chose this for your sake
Let him go, Roy. Everything's going to be okay.
Go to Aesthetica. That's your path. It's a better way for you, Roy.
Roy woke in a cold sweat. His nailbeds were already bleeding, and his stomach rejected.
Shouldn't you be telling me my heart rate is too high?
I'm sorry, Roy.
I don't feel like I have the right to get in your way right now…
Because those dreams are my fault.
Does that mean you're going to tell me? Are you my father, or my mother, now?
Your mother, Roy.
Without a long sigh, he prepared to leave at the normal time, before checking his watch and realizing it was Saturday. So, he walked around town for several hours, and finally found himself at the gate, face to face with Sable Rausse.
"Here for work on a Saturday?"
"Yeah," Roy said. "Ken's baptism is Monday, after all."
"Yeah, right," Sable replied, chuckling. "I heard he disappeared the other night and hasn't been seen since. I don't think you have a shot in hell at getting the kid baptized, now."
"I'll figure something out," Roy replied, walking through the open gate. "Say, Sable, do you mind if I ask you one more strange question?"
"Sure, just don't ask anything that'll get your ass kicked."
"What is it that makes a red eye free of falling deranged? Why does… killing someone… make your fortitude stronger than the rest of us?"
"Hmm, I guess it gives us a certain wisdom."
"Wisdom? Where exactly in killing another person is there wisdom to be gained?"
"From the guilt," he replied, a vacant smirk on his face.
In a daze, he arrived at the hideout, where only Rocks sat on his knees, chiseling away a stained glass pane. The four corners of the alleyway had been transformed into a stained glass fort, a dozen cleaning bots polishing or placing more panes.
"You won't find him here," Rocks said without looking back.
"I know," Roy replied. "I didn't expect to. Can I come in?"
"Sure, just don't break anything."
Roy nodded as he stepped gingerly up the glass stairs and through the incomplete wall. "What exactly are you building, if you don't mind me asking? The patterns look more like the towers than Aesthetica's buildings."
"Exactly," he said, wiping his brow and tossing his gloves off to take a cigarette. "It's going to function like a tower. Meaning it's a place where navi can come to rest."
"You aren't doing that for… Ellie?"
"That's right," he said with a grunt as he let smoke fog the glass he was working on. "It's the only thing I can do for her, now…"
"That's… amazing, Rocks," Roy replied. I hadn't thought about her becoming a navi. If this works, she'll be able to talk to everybody again… You really care for her, don't you?"
"Of course, I do…"
Roy gasped. "And it might make Ken come back, too."
"There's that, too."
"You really have no idea where he is, then?" Rocks shook his head.
"I'm worried about what he might be planning," Roy continued. "I'm afraid what happened might make him want to continue his and Mika's plans to destroy the navi system. But, if he knew about what you're doing, that there's a possibility he can talk to her again, he might change his mind. Wait, you thought about that, too, didn't you?"
Rocks finally turned and faced him, his eyes red and swollen. "I've only ever wanted to look out for him. He didn't have it easy before he met me. Of course, nobody on the outside has it easy. It's going to be hard to change his and Mika's minds on that."
"What do you think?" Roy asked pointedly, drawing a disdainful glance. "I know Mika had a mission for you to complete. I believe you and Ken that you came here to get away from him, but I know you still sympathize with him on some level. Should I be worried about that?"
"I've seen a lot," Rocks replied. "I know how hard it is on the outside. But I'm no saint. I'm selfish. I don't feel a sense of duty to the people outside anymore than you do. So, no, you don't need to worry. As long as we get Ken back here, things will be okay, I'm sure."
"Thank you, Rocks. For doing this."
"Thanks for coming… Even if you are three days late."
Roy bit his lip, and stepped outside. He was met by Gabi, whose face squirmed when she noticed him.
"Roy? What are you doing here? Oh, you must be looking for Ken…"
"Yeah," Roy replied with a smile. "How come you're alone? Where's Hai and Dmitri?"
"Ah…" she said, looking around as if the answer was somewhere in the alley. "Well…"
"Hey, would you like to search for Ken with me for a bit?"
Her twitching worsened as she blushed. "Um, sure, I can do that."
The two traversed the worn streets of the Outer District together in silence, until Gabi finally relaxed a bit. "Sorry, it was hard to just say earlier in front of Rocks. The truth is, that Braun guy asked Hai to join the military. He's probably at the compound now."
"Really? What about Dmitri?"
"I think he's probably looking for Ken, too," she replied. He comes to the hideout at night, but we've all been going back to our dorms to sleep. It doesn't feel right staying there, but I feel bad for Rocks."
"He must feel lonely," Roy said, before smiling weakly. "But at least you're still going to see him. That's important."
Her cheeks reddened, and she looked away. "Oh, there he is! Dmitiri!" She pointed down an alley, and chased after the short boy, who sat on the wall when he saw them coming.
"Hey! I brought Roy, too."
Dmitri blinked at her, and looked away.
"Listen, you two," Roy said, taking a slow breath in. "I wanted to apologize for not coming to see you sooner. I didn't know what I could possibly do to help. But I think… that's just an excuse. I was scared. Scared of facing you. And scared that sharing your grief would make my fortitude worsen."
"Are you still off your aesthetics?" Dmitri asked in a mumble, which Gabi gasped at.
"Yeah, I made a deal with Ken," he replied, chuckling through his nose. "I'm going to see it through till his baptism."
"That's… so cool," Gabi said, beaming.
"That's a big if, though," Dmitri muttered. "Who knows what he's doing? Not preparing for baptism, that's for sure."
"Probably not," Roy said. "Will you two help me look for him until then?"
Gabi nodded readily, while Dmitri turned away. "You can't, Gabi. Did you forget?"
"What is it?" Roy asked, which reset her flustered demeanor.
"I'm… They're actually baptizing me today."
"What? I didn't know you were ready! That's great, Gabi!"
"I don't really know… If I am ready," she replied, laughing nervously.
"First Hai gets recruited, and now you…"
"They're taking us away from Ken," Dmitri said. "I don't know why, though."
"Except for you and Rocks," Roy replied. "When is your baptism?"
"So that just leaves Rocks here after two weeks… They shouldn't know about him being here, though."
"It's only a matter of time," Dmitri said, eyes downcast. "The red eyes saw him the other night. I'm sure they'll be looking to jail him soon."
"So his plan to build the tower for Ellie…"
"He might not get to finish it, and we won't be there to take over."
At the top of the bell tower, Ken sat hunched over, his stomach growling mercilessly as the bell rang in his ear, rousing him from his half-sleep.
"Hey, Navi, how's my fortitude? Oh that's right, you can't tell me unless I'm baptized. What good are you, anyway? I can already do everything you can. Huh? Did my navi just leave me?"
He pulled up his synthetic brains' settings with a swipe of his finger. He blinked his eyes, but no matter how many times he refreshed, there was no navi ID.
"Did you leave because I was bad-mouthing you? Wow, they really have lost their hold on the navi system. Can they just do whatever they want, now? Huh…"
Suddenly, a navi ID appeared in his lens. For a moment, he simply stared in silence. "Wait…"
"Hold on… that ID… You're…"
I'm sorry it took me so long to find you.
His arms flailed and he nearly slipped off the side of the tower's shingled roof.
It's me, Ellie.