Bit by bit, Rion identified each object and moved it to a better location. He couldn’t help smiling. The idea of cleaning up a mess, putting things in their proper place, appealed to him. He felt so good that, occasionally, when he found an orphaned pack of gelcaps, he used his power to find its corresponding box.
Around noon, with a third of the work done, the doctor came to check on him. “Wow, this place has never looked so clean,” he said. “You’re discovering stuff I thought I’d lost.”
Rion smiled. “I’m just happy to help out.”
“Between you and me, I’ve never had anyone so industrious. I mean, look outside.” He pulled back the curtain. “That’s a quarter of our regulars, just because it’s a half day. The others only come in when they need a couple bucks to get food. That’s no way to live.”
“Do you mean because they’re treating you like a quick source of money?”
The doctor nodded, “I’m hoping they use it to save for something. I’m not running a Boys & Girls Club. You’re not like that, are you? You’re trying to earn some money and get out of your situation.”
“That’s what I intend to do, sir.”
“Call me, Kinney,” the doctor laughed. “Are you ready to go?”
The doctor and Rion exited the storeroom. “Let’s pack it up, done for the day,” he called out.
There were some groans, but the teens started putting away the equipment and sealing up the jars and left.
“See you tonight, Rion,” Scooter called out. He and his friends drove away as Kinneburg pulled down the rattling garage door.
“Why do you use homeless kids?” Rion asked.
“Using them? I’m not using them. They come to me. They offer to help. Teens are the biggest customers we’ve got. They don’t have any money, any insurance, but they get sick the same as adults. I eventually got so many I couldn’t do the orders by myself, so they offered to help. And I could pay them either in meds or money.” They entered the doctor’s car and he pulled out. Rion watched the passing road.
“How can you trust them? I think kids on the street would be the least reliable people to work with.”
“Over time, you learn which ones work well, and which ones won’t. But overall, if you want to earn someone’s trust, you have to give something of equal value. I don’t condescend them, and I don’t treat them like criminals, like a lot of adults do.”
“How do you know they won’t steal from you?” Rion said, “How do you know they won’t turn you into the police for a reward?”
“I suppose if one wanted to sell me out to the cops, they could, but that would be shooting themselves in the foot. They lose a source of income or cheap medication. And he could say goodbye to his friends. And they got to follow the same policies you do. If someone’s going to make trouble, they’re out. Permanently.”
The mood in the car had taken a chilly turn, so Rion changed the subject. “Who’s this guy we’re going to? He’s going to help with my headaches?” Rion said.
“Hopefully. You can’t be chewing prozium all your life, you’d never be able to afford anything,” he barked. “His name’s Dr. Hardin. He’s working at a Starkweather Clinic downtown. You know those?” Rion shook his head. “They’re owned by Starkweather Industries. It’s a free clinic, but they do almost entirely drug therapy. But they’re faster than any ER in the city. He’s the only neurologist I know who works at a non-profit.”
“You’ve done this with other kids?”
“Just a few, if it’s really serious. The drug addicts, I just send on their way. I’m not even going to deal with that. But if it’s something serious, I couldn’t live with myself if I found you collapsed on the steps one day.”
“Do you think it’s serious?”
“Maybe. Mostly I’m concerned about that scar of yours.”
Rion touched the back of his neck, the knotty tissue. He’d almost forgotten it was there. “What about it?”
“Clearly, it didn’t heal well. So I’m wondering if it’s related. And if there’s memory loss, you’d never know what caused it. You could be hemorrhaging right now and you’d never know why.”
Rion’s breath seized.
“Sorry,” the doctor said, “Sometimes I forget who I’m talking to. I just want to know what caused it. Make sure it’s nothing serious.”
They pulled into the back parking lot of a one-story clinic. They entered through the back, avoiding the bustling waiting room, and walked to the back. They came to an separated office marked “Dr. Hardin”.
The doctor knocked, “It’s me.”
They entered into what looked like a patient room, but all the medical elements had been removed–no diagnostic table, and an outline where a blood pressure monitor once was. Instead, it was filled with things from a psychiatrist’s office–a tall plant, mahogany desk, and a leather, seat-back couch. Dr. Hardin, a man with a bulbous nose and gray, curly hair was sitting at his desk.
“Kinney, how are you?” He stood and shook Kinney’s hand.
“Not too bad, still holding up. How about you?”
“Business is good. Profitable. Have a seat. And you must be?”
“Rion,” Rion said.
“Rion…” Hardin waited for a last name, but Rion didn’t give him one. “All right, have seat up on the couch.”
Rion climbed onto the padded couch. He noticed on the side facing the wall there was a burst seam oozing yellow, foam guts.
Hardin addressed Doctor Kinneburg. “You said he had headaches and possible memory loss?”
“Yeah, Rion, show him your scar.”
Rion rotated on the couch. “This thing, I don’t remember where it came from.” Why wasn’t he telling these people about his amnesia? They were trying to help him. Why couldn’t he show vulnerability to anyone?
“Looks like some kind of botched surgery to me,” Kinney said.
Hardin rose and took a look. “Hard to say. Do the headaches get bad enough that he gets nauseous?”
Rion answered, “Yes, they have.” A thought occurred to him–when his headaches got bad, his power grew stronger. That’s why he could sense so much in Moss’s car. It was like pain amplified the power. Which made sense–more adrenaline, faster heartbeat, raised body responses.
“Makes sense. Probably some back pain, too?” Hardin continued to address Kinneburg instead of Rion, as if he wasn’t in the room.
“I don’t know. Rion?”
“No, no back pain,” Rion said. “To tell the truth, I’m not so interested in the headaches as solving this memory loss thing.”
Hardin grunted and opened his desk drawer. “Well, they could be part and parcel of the same thing. But if you’re really interested, I have some Hypnocil here we could try.”
“What’s Hypnocil?” the doctor said, sounding concerned.
“New experimental. Haven’t had the opportunity to try it, just because haven’t had that many symptomatics. But you sound like a good candidate.”
“I don’t know if we want to start trying psychological drugs. Aren’t you worried there’s any neural trauma?”
Hardin said, “You’re talking MRIs, CAT scans, neural imagers. You think I’m going to order all that for a stray you brought in?”
“What does Hypnocil do?” Rion asked.
“It’s derived from some of our other memory drugs. It’ll put you in a state of hypnosis. Sort of. You’ll be semi-conscious. Some people say it’s like being in a dream without imagination. It might coax out some of your memories, if they’re repressed. Maybe we can find out what caused your headaches.”
“Yes, yes,” Rion said. “Let’s try it. What do I have to do?”
“Just take two of these,” Hardin tossed him the bottle. “Should start working in fifteen minutes.”
Rion had already screwed off the cap and downed two.
“I’m really excited about this drug,” Hardin said while they waited, “I might write up a paper on it. If I get enough studies.”
“What if it’s not a memory. What if it’s a tumor? Hypnocil’s not going to help with that,” Kinneburg said.
Hardin shrugged. “This is cheaper, and he doesn’t look like he has insurance.”
Rion started to feel dizzy. “Something’s happening.”
“It’s invoking your subconsciousness. Bringing it to the forefront. Go ahead and let it in. Don’t fight it. You won’t feel different.”
It felt like an ocean tide rising up and drowning his thoughts. He had to resist the urge to brace himself and resist. He closed his eyes and relaxed.
Hardin waited a few minutes, then said, “Rion? Can you hear me?”
“Yes,” he said robotically.
“Where are you right now? Do you see anything?”
Rion did not respond. Hardin explained to Kinney. “His senses have shut down. Now we’re talking to his brain. Rion,” he said, “I want to talk to you about your scar. The scar on the back of your neck.”
“Focus on it. Tell me about it.”
Rion did not respond.
Hardin looked confused. “Can you tell me about your scar?”
“Rion, feel the back of your neck. Is there anything there?”
“Yes, but I don’t want to touch it,” Rion said.
“I’m not supposed to touch it. It might jostle it.”
“The TKID chip.”
Hardin and Kinneburg looked at each other. “What chip? What’s a TKID chip?” Kinneburg said.
Hardin asked Rion. “What is the chip? Do you know what it does?”
“Safety. Tracking. Pain suppressors.”
“What do you mean?” Hardin grabbed a leather binder and started writing furiously.
“Kills the pain. Pain wrecked the others. Tracking lets them know where I am. If you want to be free, you have to take it out.”
“Free from what?”
“I don’t remember. But you can’t take it out yourself.”
There was a pause. “Why not?”
“It will kill you. It will release a neurotoxin that will kill you instantly.”
“So is there a way to get it removed?”
“There’s help. There’s a man who can help.”
“Who is this man?”
“I’ll go to him. But they can’t know. It has to be fast, or they’ll catch me.”
Hardin grinned at Kinneburg. “These revelations are amazing. I’ve never heard anyone talk about their memories in such detail.”
“Fantastic. What about his headaches?” Kinneburg said in an unamused tone.
Harding waved him off. “It’s probably this chip. Who knows if it’s real or not though.” He turned back to Rion. “Where are you right now?”
“I’m in the lab,” Rion sighed. “I had to sneak in. It’s midnight. It should be safe. No one knows where I am. He can remove the chip, maybe. But something might happen. We’re messing with the brain here, it’s directly attached to the place where the spinal cord meets the medulla. It’s a dangerous operation. I know, but I have to do this.”
“Rion, is this you talking?”
There was a pause. “It works,” Rion said. “I’m laying on the table healing. She’s come to visit me. I’m not sure why but she says there were consequences. We both know it. Something unexpected happened, but it’s okay. In fact, it kind of works out for me. Then the wall bursts open. He’s standing there. I should have known he’d come.”
“Rion, you’re not making sense. Who came?”
“Myself. I’m standing in the wall, staring at him.”
“Who are you staring at?”
Hardin shook his head. “This isn’t making any sense.”
“I hate him,” Rion continued. “We got into an argument before this. A big one, the biggest one we’d ever had. We left without saying a word. Then I felt bad and went to go find him, but I couldn’t. Then I knew where he was. He went behind my back and did this. Now both of us are going to suffer the consequences.”
“Who betrayed you? Is this somewhere else? Are you still getting the chip taken out?
“The chip affects us both. At least it’s out now, but we’re both going to have to suffer. They don’t know why, but I do. It’s obvious.”
“Rion, listen to me carefully. Are you on the table or standing in the wall?”
“Yes. Both. No.”
Hardin dropped his head. “He must be having a dream.”
“Really? It sounds to me like he’s got a split personality. Like he was arguing with himself about something.”
“Either way, this isn’t how the drug should be working. I can’t help anything if he’s rambling on incoherently like this. The drug is supposed to deliver clear memories. This is garbage.” Hardin slammed up his book. “Useless.”
“Rion, what happened after the lab? Do you know?” Kinneburg said.
“I can outrun it. I am resigned to my fate. But the damage is done. I have to go my own separate way.”
“No,” Hardin said. “Don’t bother. The drug is a failure. You won’t be able to trust anything he says.” He put his leather binder away and clapped his hands. “Wake up!”
Rion jolted, but didn’t open his eyes.
“Rion? Rion? Do you remember anything else about the scar? Or the explosion?”
Rion opened his eyes hazily. “Mmmf,” he said.
“He’ll be like that for a few minutes. Neural submersion.”
“What? You broke the spell? We were so close?”
“Close to what? He’s saying he’s in two places at once. That’s nothing. Look, Kinney, I hate to do this to you, but I have a three o’clock in a few minutes, and drug trial data up the ass.”
Kinneburg sighed, “Come on, Rion.”
Rion didn’t move so Kinneburg grabbed him by the arm and led him out of the office. “Sorry, Rion, I thought he would help you, but I guess Hardin’s not the same guy I knew.”
“Mmf,” Rion responded.
They walked out of the clinic and after a few minutes on the road, Rion started feeling better. “Sorry about your friend?”
“Do you remember any of what happened?” Kinneburg said.
“Yeah… sort of… not really. It feels like a dream. Do you remember what I said? I said something about a chip.”
“You said that scar came from a chip, but the rest of I didn’t understand. You said you had to go somewhere and you were healing, then you busted through a wall, and said you were talking to yourself.”
“I busted through a wall?”
“You said you were in both places, then Hardin snapped his fingers and woke you up. Too early in my opinion. He wasn’t even trying to find out what the problem with your headaches was.”
“That’s okay. He’s not the only neurologist I know. Maybe I’ll give Doctor Frias a call. But he’s in the Bahamas until Tuesday. I’ll never remember.” Kinneburg picked up a pen from the alcove under his dashboard. “Do you see any paper around here? A candy wrapper or something? I want to write a note to myself.”
“Um,” Rion looked around. Then he remembered the pad in the back of his pocket. “Oh, here, use this.”
“Thanks,” Kinneburg placed the pad on his knee, and started writing. Then he saw the Rx logo at the top. “Rion, where did you get this?”