Chapter 13
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"Did you find anything?” I asked. We were sitting next to each other for Systems Physiology class. I was sure he’d pulled some strings to make that happen. I saw a girl shooting me daggers with her eyes that Malakai was pretending not to see. “I’ve had class all morning,” he said, scrolling through the textbook on his tablet. I pressed the off button. “Why did you—”

“What happened to Gideon?” I asked, keeping my voice low.

The other students weren’t near enough to hear us.

“I don’t know. Isn’t that what we’re trying to find out?”

“I’m not talking about now.” I leaned closer to him. “Just how much was he hurt while he was here?”

Malakai narrowed his eyes. “Who told you that?”

“Does it matter how I know? The point is that you both have been hiding things from me. What happened to Gideon?” I asked. He didn’t answer. “Was it your fault?”

He glared at me. “Why do you assume it’s about me?”

“Because it best explains the way you’ve been treating me, your words and what I heard those boys say,” I said. “Tell me what happened to Gideon.”

“This is not the time Aster,” he said slowly. “Just do as I tell you and you won’t get hurt.”

I returned his glare. “Is that a threat, Malakai?”

“It’s a warning.”

“That’s just more of your bullshit!”

His eyes widened for a moment. “Since when do you curse?”

“I’m seventeen, Kai. I know far worse words.” I turned away from him. I pulled out my tablet and notebook and dumped them on the desk. “I don’t care who they are. They hurt Gideon. I’ll kill them.”

Malakai squeezed my arm tightly enough to be uncomfortable. “Don’t you even dare try to stick your nose into our past business. If you get yourself into trouble because of that, I won’t come to help you.”

I didn’t spare him a glance. “I never asked for your help. I’ll find Gideon on my own and I’ll destroy them on my own. If you don’t want to help then give me back the memory stick.”

“What do you plan to do?”

“Do you think you’re the only one in this school, in this city, who knows how to work a computer?” I asked. “You may be Neptune’s golden boy, but that doesn’t mean you’re the smartest person in this school. I may not know much now, but if I have to I’ll learn. I only told you about those things because you demanded I did and I’ve regretted it ever since.”

Malakai threw the memory stick on the table. “If you want to do it on your own then that’s up to you. Don’t come crying to me when you get stuck.”

I didn’t say anything to him for a while. “I came to you once before and you didn’t believe me. I was the one who found those things. The only thing you have done is made me a target in school. That did not help me one bit.”

I didn’t know what that expression was on his face but I wasn’t in the mood to decipher it. I shoved the memory stick into my pocket. Malakai was proving to be more of a nuisance than anything else. No one cared as much about finding Gideon as I did. I wasn’t at Neptune to make friends. I was there to find information and if he got in the way of that, I had to leave him behind.

******

That night I scoured the internet for answers. Calix was refusing to answer my messages. I compiled three different operating systems and installed them on the extra SSDs from the computer Gideon had sent me. None of them could read the memory stick.

“Melody, any luck connecting Ranger?” I asked.

“No. He is still offline,” she said.

Stupid Malakai not doing what he said he would.

I stood and paced my room. There had to be an answer. I was missing something. Gideon had sent it to me, meaning that he knew I would be able to figure it out.

Three keycards, a memory stick and a key.

I paused midstride. Four of the five items were keys. What if the memory stick was a key as well?

I fell face first onto my bed. What use was a key if I didn’t know what it opened? I don’t even know if it even is a key. I could just be an idiot.

The alarm rang for me to start getting ready for school. I hadn’t slept a wink the entire night.

I stumbled into the bathroom and somehow managed to put on my binder and uniform.

“Aster, you look terrible,” Mr. Moore said.

“That’s just what I wanted to hear first thing in the morning,” I said, leaning against the wall of the elevator. I didn’t remember walking there from the apartment.

"Maybe you should stay home today. I can call in for you.”

I shook my head. “No. School might help me take my mind off things for a while.”

“Then at least let me give you a ride.”

I forced out a laugh. “No thank you. I don’t trust your engineering skills. Your car might kill me before my eighteenth birthday.”

“Oh, did I make that sound like an option?” he asked. “That was an order from your teacher. You don’t have a choice.”

“I’m pretty sure your jurisdiction is limited to the school grounds.”

His eyebrows rose and disappeared into the wet curls that fell over his forehead. The fact that his glasses were still foggy didn’t inspire any more confidence. “Are you underestimating your teacher?” The elevator doors opened. He pushed me out. “And to think I was even going to buy you coffee on the way to school.”

“Well, when you put it like that, how can I refuse?”

His car was much nicer on the inside than I’d expected. It was spacious and the seats were covered in soft leather.

“You have to let me see under the hood,” I said.

“When you don’t look like you’re ready to pass out.” He pulled into the school’s parking lot. “Try to stay alive today.”

“I think it’s too late for that.” I got out of the car. “Thanks for the coffee.” I went inside the cafeteria. I saw Malakai sitting at his usual table with Will and the others. I walked in the opposite direction and sat next to Jericho.

“Does Malakai know you’re here?” Ezra asked.

“Who cares? He’s getting on my nerves,” I said.

“That’s not something you hear very often,” Seth said.

“Because they don’t know him like I do.”

Rachel and Callista sat at the table. The five of them started some conversation that I zoned out of. Just what did Gideon expect me to use that memory stick for?

"Aster. Aster,” Jericho called.

“Hm?”

“We were asking what you plan to do tomorrow. It’s a Saturday so you have to join a club.”

“I was thinking Astrology and Marine Biology clubs,” I said.

“That’s so boring,” Callista said.

“We do drone racing and then we’re going to watch Malakai, Rachel and the others practice for Monster Raid,” Seth said.

“Rachel is on the team?” I asked.

“Yeah. I’m one of the newest members after the others graduated,” she said.

I really wanted to see what drone racing was like and Monster Raids were always fun, but Gideon was more important.

“Sorry. Maybe another time,” I said. That could always wait until after I knew Gideon was safe.

“Suit yourself,” Ezra said.

I zoned out of the conversation again after that. I couldn’t get the keys and the memory stick out of my mind. The thoughts followed me through my first two classes. By the third, I was so exhausted from my lack of sleep that when I tried to sit down, I missed the chair. Krish caught my arm before I hit the ground.

“What’s up with you?” he asked.

I held the chair steady to sit. “Nothing. Nothing. I’m just tired. Long night.” I spotted Malakai on the other side of the room. He pretended he didn’t see me. I huffed and rested my head on the desk.

The teacher droned on in front of the class, reminding us for the millionth time that our gifts and knowledge should be used for the good of the country before actually starting the class. My body finally gave out and I slept through most of it. When I woke up, the class was empty. I cursed under my breath. Neither Krish nor Malakai had bothered to wake me. I checked my watch. It was lunch time. At least I wasn’t late to another class.

I wasn’t in any rush. I still had enough time.

I held my bag in one hand and pushed myself to a standing position. I stayed like that for a while, bracing my hand against the table until my head stopped spinning. I needed to do something about this.

I staggered outside the classroom. Someone grabbed me from behind and pinned me to the wall. Two boys stood in front of me. Two against one. I sighed.

“Really? Is this what we’re going to do?” I asked. I didn’t recognize them. It didn’t really matter. So this kind of foolishness went on at academies as well. Why wasn’t I surprised?

“Aster Arman,” one boy sneered. I didn’t recognize his voice so he wasn’t one of the boys from the day before.

“Yes. Is there something you want?” I asked. How was it that the halls were so empty? “You can have my notes.”

“This is Neptune. We don’t need your notes,” the second boy said.

“Then what is it that you want?”

“There are many things I want like—”

“Can you please just get to the point?” I asked. I felt a blow to my jaw. That finally woke me up.

“Don’t talk back to me,” the first boy said.

“Aren’t you worried that you’re leaving marks?” I asked.

He smirked. “Why would I be? They only prove that I was braver than anyone else.”

What the hell was wrong with these Neptune boys?

The second one reached into my pockets and pulled out my wallet, the memory stick and the key. He grinned.

“Hey look. He’s got the key to the arcade room,” he said.

“Now how did you get your hands on that?” the first boy asked.

This time I smirked. “Thank you for your help,” I said. They looked confused. That was when my knee came up. The first boy went down. I grabbed the second by the front of his jacket and slammed him head first into the wall. Two hits and they were on the ground groaning and clutching their wounded parts. I didn’t understand their logic. If they wanted to get on Malakai’s side, why attack me and Gideon? To prove their bravery? Were they sending a challenge to Malakai? Idiots. They were lucky it had just been me.

I took my wallet, the key and the memory stick from the second boy’s hand, grabbed my bag and headed to the cafeteria.

“What happened to you?” Jericho asked when I sat down.

I rubbed my jaw. “I had a problem and the answer just hit me.”

“You do know that statement wasn’t meant to be taken literally, right?”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. I inhaled my food. “I’ll see you in class.”

Lunch time was almost over. I sprinted to the dorm building. There were boys walking the halls. I remembered where the arcade was but it was locked until that evening. I couldn’t open the door with so many people around. I went to the lounge and sat in one of the chairs to wait.

Five minutes had never felt so long.

I waited until all the boys had left for class, then I went to the bathroom. There were no cameras inside. I put on the school jacket and pulled the hood over my head, then I went to the door. I looked around. There were cameras at both ends of the hall. I had to get in. I’d deal with them later.

I inserted the key into the lock and turned it. The door opened. I waited to see if anything would happen, but when nothing did I went inside.

I looked around. There were TVs with consoles, a pool table, darts and some arcade games. Five cameras in total. I kept my face hidden from all. I would get into trouble for this if someone found out it was me.

I walked around the room, looking at everything one at a time. The arcade games had slots for them to be connected to computers, slots that would fit the memory stick, but which game did Gideon have the key for?

One game popped out at me. It was one of the older fighting titles. We used to play it all the time when he lived with us. I went over. There was a USB port on the right side so workers could make updates. I plugged in the memory stick. The screen lit up. One word appeared: UNLOCKED. The side panel opened. Inside were two stacks of notebooks. I grabbed them and shoved them into my bag. I pulled out the memory stick and left the room, making sure to lock the door behind me. I ran out of the dorm, not stopping until I was behind the Business Department.

I hugged my backpack to my chest. I had to find a good hiding spot and fast. If anyone watching the cameras noticed I’d gone in the room, those two boys would know it was me. How could I have been so stupid? I should have waited until tomorrow before going inside. The notebooks didn’t guarantee that I’d found a clue to where Gideon was.

I closed my eyes and took some slow deep breaths. No one had come out of the dorm so far. I just needed to figure out where to hide the notebooks until I was ready to leave school. There were two people who would be free from suspicion and I wasn’t about to ask for help from one of them.

I walked to the elevator. I took it to the seventh floor, then crossed the walkway to the Arts Department. I knocked on Mr. Moore’s door.

“Come in.”

“Mr. Moore, is there—”

His eyes widened. “Aster, what happened to you?” He tilted my head to the light.

“Some boys jumped me. I got away though,” I said. I put on my best worried face, which wasn’t hard given the circumstances. “I don’t even know why they did that.”

“Sit. I’ll get something to put on it,” he said. He left the room. I scanned the walls. The security cameras hadn’t been installed yet.

I opened the closet and pulled out the box that kept our sculpting project. I took out the stuff and packed the notebooks inside along with the key and the memory stick, then put the sculpting supplies on top of that. I shed my jacket and shoved that into the closet behind the sculptures. This wasn’t the best situation but I didn’t have any other options. I’d just shoved everything back into the closet when he returned carrying a tube.

“Is it just the bruise on your face?”

I looked in the small mirror he had on his desk. “Yeah. They only hit me once.” It wasn’t like I’d given them the opportunity to get in another.

He handed me the tube. “Rub some of this on it. The bruise should be gone by tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks Mr. Moore.” I rubbed a little on the spot. The relief was immediate. I held it out to him.

“Give it back to me tomorrow. You’ll have to put some more on tonight if you want it to heal faster.”

“Thanks,” I said. I put it in my pocket. “Um, can I take the sculpture home with me tonight? I want to work on it some more.”

“Sure. Come back for it after dinner.” There was another knock on the door.

“Come in,” Mr. Moore said. “Oh, Mrs. Dixon.”

“I came to talk to you about some students,” she started. She noticed me standing by his desk. “You have a visitor.”

“Good afternoon Mrs. Dixon,” I said. My heart hammered in my chest. I kept my face straight.

“Aster had a run in with some of the boys,” Mr. Moore said. Mrs. Dixon nodded. “It is to be expected. This is a boy’s school.”

There was a slight shift in Mr. Moore’s shoulders but the smile on his face never faltered. “That is true.” He turned to me. “Aster, you should head back to class.”

“Alright. Excuse me.” I squeezed past Mrs. Dixon and took off down the hall. I ducked into an empty bathroom. I thought I’d been caught but it didn’t seem as if she’d noticed anything.

I splashed my face with water. Too much stress after a sleepless night was not good. I fixed my hair in the mirror. My eyes went down to the pins on my vest.

“Shit.”

The pins. They were unique to each student. The doors had scanners. There was no way they wouldn’t be coming after me now.

The PA system crackled.

“Aster Arman, please report to dorm security. Aster Arman, please report to dorm security. Thank you.”

 

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