Rion saw the car pass by the block once. From his vantage point on the roof, he knew it was them because they slowed down, and he could see Scooter leaning out the window. Then they drove off as Rion scrambled down the ladder. By the time he started to chase after them, the car had come around again.
Scooter rolled out the window. “Hey, get in here, quick.” He said to the driver. “See, I told you.”
Rion ran up to them. “Sorry. Sorry. My fault.” He jumped in the car.
“We just passed by and you weren’t here. Then ten seconds later you were. You’re like a ghost.”
Rion ran up to them. “I know. I’m sorry. I was on the roof.”
The car sped off.
“We almost skipped you. But I said, ‘no, no, he’ll be here, don’t worry about it.'”
“I’m here. I’m ready. Just tell me what to do,” Rion said.
“Okay, that’s Vian and Skyler up there.” Scooter pointed out the driver and passenger, then handed Rion a piece of lined paper. “Here’s a list of some stuff we could use.”
Skyler said, “Dude, you better burn that after.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Scooter said.
Rion squinted in the dark and held the sheet up to his face. “What does the doctor need coffee filters for?”
“For coffee, duh,” Scooter said, looking out the window.
“What about starting fluid? What’s that for?”
“Look, if you’re gonna ask about everything on the list, we’re never going to get this done. Just get the stuff you recognize and don’t worry about the rest.”
Rion studied the list, committing it to memory. “Are we going to have to break in somewhere?”
“Not breaking in,” Scooter said, “Building’s already broken. No one owns it.”
“Like the moon. Can’t steal the moon,” Vian said.
“The moon’s way up in the sky, how would you steal it?” Skyler said.
“I don’t know. Maybe you could plant a flag or file a lawsuit.”
“There’s already a flag up there. Does that mean we own it?”
“My point is,” Scooter said, “That no one gives a shit. We went into an old crack house once. No one was there, no one saw us, but I didn’t even go into any public places for three days. Then I realized no one cares. Thousands of crimes happen every day–bikes get stolen, people get assaulted.”
“But we are technically stealing, aren’t we?”
Scooter rolled his eyes. “Would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family?”
Rion crossed his arms, and looked out the window. “I don’t have a family.”
Scooter huffed. “Well, would you steal some bread to feed yourself? We can’t afford to be all nice and kind every time. If you want to do surgery on someone, you have to cut them open first.”
Vian said, “Boy, Scooter, you sure got friends.”
“Shut up,” Scooter said.
Rion didn’t say anything more for the rest of the ride.
“Is that it?” Vian pointed out.
“I think so,” Scooter responded.
They passed by a generic brick building with no names or signs. Yellow caution tape had been wrapped around the front door and windows. They pulled around the block and into the alley.
“Holy shit,” Skyler said. “Look at that.”
There was a large hole gouged out of the building’s back wall, marked by another ineffective strip of caution tape. Jagged bricks lined the gap, making it look like a shark’s mouth. Inside Rion could see boxes and computers strewn amid the debris.
“Looks like Bigfoot attacked it,” Vian said.
“Bigfoots need their fix too,” Scooter said. “Maybe there was an explosion.”
Rion knew this wasn’t true, but didn’t know why. He thought it looked like someone had busted in, maybe driven a car through. The hole looked too neat for an explosion.
Vian shut off the car and the four got out. Scooter opened the trunk and pulled out some tote bags. He gave one to Rion. “Don’t waste time. If you don’t know what it is, just take it. We’ll sort through it all later.”
“Don’t worry, I know what to look for.”
Everyone took a bag and stepped under the caution tape. “Rion, you take this room,” Scooter said. “We’ll take the others.”
Rion nodded with the determination of a soldier as the other three left through the nearby door. He wandered around, looking for valuables. There was a nice overturned computer in the corner. The doctor could sure use it, but it wasn’t on the list.
What this building was for? Maybe finding out would help him know where to look. In the center of the room, there was a large metal gurney knocked over on its side, covered in papers and debris. It looked like an operating table with a flat, perforated metal back. Maybe this was a dentist’s office, but it felt too industrial.
He looked through some drawers, seeing nothing but papers, baskets of pens, paper clips. He found a PDA with a cracked screen, and tried turning it on, but nothing happened.
Rion tapped his fingers on the counter as he surveyed the room. Was it a doctor’s office? A research lab? If so, why had there been an explosion?
Or was it an explosion? Nothing was burnt or broken. It would take a Mack truck to break through the brick wall, and it wouldn’t be able to get up enough speed in the alley. If he sensed something-
No, he wasn’t here to play detective. He was here to find things. He resisted the urge and moved across the room to a three-drawer file cabinet.
The top drawer held nothing but more documents. He leafed through them, checking for hidden items like money or misplaced tools. There was nothing but a lot of text and photographs of brains and cells.
The second one yielded several pads of paper with the words Rx on it. Nothing the doctor needed, but he could always use something to write on. He pocketed it for himself. Then he opened the third drawer.
Combipositors. Eight of them. All lined up in a specially designed rack. He took one out and examined it. The clear parts of the barrel were filled with a translucent blue substance, like colored water.
“What the hell is this?” Rion muttered as he held it up to the light.
Now his curiosity couldn’t wait. He used his sense on it, but received only blackness. Either the device had no memory, or had nothing to say. No headache yet. He risked using his power with another combipositor. Still nothing. The same results on the third.
There were other objects in the drawer–tweezers, empty plastic containers, tubing covered in metal foil. Nothing looked valuable or like a clue to what went on in this place.
On a whim, he grabbed some folders and tried sensing them. Nothing. White pain pinpricked the base of his neck. His rational side told him to cool it with the power, but his curiosity wanted him to go on.
Rion returned to the center of the room and gripped it with both hands. It was heavy–whatever had knocked it over had been strong. He briefly focused on the table, wanting to conserve his pain and his pills.
Someone screams. Something crashes. Then heat, warm and comforting. A body is thrown into it.
Rion let go as the ache blossomed. The visions were dream-like. He could tell the action was happening, but no idea of whose body or what it looked like. And where did the heat come from? There was no charred black on the walls or scorched furniture.
But he could assume whatever happened wasn’t an accident. More like an attack. But it would take more than a fist-fight to cause this kind of damage.
This was getting him nowhere. Picking up individual objects would take forever, and he still had to gather up things for the doctor. Maybe he could do a little experimenting with his power. He palmed the painkillers in his pocket, and decided it was worth the risk.
Rion stood in the middle of the room and raised his arms as if he were pandering to an audience. Then he kneeled to the floor and touched the ground. With one big breath, he sensed.
There were no images, no sounds, no movement, just feelings. Terror, horror, fear. They felt… recent.
Underneath he found interest, wonder, frustration, rage, discovery, fury, innocence. It was a smorgasbord of emotions, one from every facet. Whoever was here worked for a long time, and was working on something significant and dangerous.
Then it was all wiped out by overwhelming loss and despair. It blanketed every other emotion.
Why? Why couldn’t he see anything? Rion concentrated on his sense, as if clenching his fist tighter. The pain filled his brain like a water jug.
He stood up, keeping his arms out, unaware he was even rising. He focused on his power, extending it beyond mere touch. Its strength was weakened, but encompassed more objects.
Then there was something. Not an image or a sound, but pure knowledge. A name–Dr. Mason.
A single jolt of shocked nerves broke him out of his reverie. Once he realized the agony he had caused himself, he fell to one knee. It felt like someone taking a power drill to his temples.
Rion crawled to the counter, and pulled himself up. It hurt to move. He fished a gray pill from his pocket and downed them. He leaned over the sink, breathing in and out. The torture wasn’t subsiding, so he took another pill. Maybe two was dangerous, but anymore pain and he was going to pass out again.
He stared into the sink as he waited for them to start having an effect. His eye caught a picture frame that had fallen in face down. He pulled it out.
It was a picture of a man in his fifties, embracing a young woman, maybe his daughter, in a forest or garden. The man had a white polo shirt on.
The woman was wearing the pink sweater.
“Oh my god!” Rion said.
The door burst open. Vian and Scooter ran through. “Rion! We gotta go, come on,” Scooter said.
Rion tore his gaze from the photo and looked up. “What?”
“Cops. We gotta cheese it,” Vian said.
“Cops? I didn’t see any cops,” Rion said as Skyler bolted past.
“Out front. We’ve-got-to-go,” Scooter commanded.
Rion turned back to the photo. “No, no, I can’t. I gotta stay here. I gotta-“
“No fucking around, Rion,” Scooter said, and grabbed him by his collar. The tightening around his trachea made Rion drop the photo in the sink.
Scooter pulled on his shirt. “Come on.”
Rion clung to the countertop, but the formica slipped from his hands. “NO! Let me go.” Rion screeched and lashed out to grab the picture.
“Leave him,” Skyler said as he jumped in the passenger side.
“Rion, let’s go. I’m not letting you get arrested,” Scooter said, pulling him out of the hole.
“No,” Rion squeaked. He was forced to turn around and head in the same direction as Scooter, lest he choke to death.
Scooter opened the car door and shoved Rion inside like a sack of potatoes. Rion started to climb out again, but saw the cherry red klaxons bouncing against the alley walls. Even though the building beckoned to him, he couldn’t be the cause of his friends’ arrest.
Vian’s three point turn rocked the passengers back and forth, and they zipped out of the alley.
Rion pressed his hands against the window, trying to find an address or street signs, but it was too dark and they were moving too fast.
The first real clue to his past disappeared around a corner.