The chief brought the silver-haired boy in his arms. He did not seem to have trouble with the boy’s weight at all, he was that thin and light. Rowan followed as the chief brought the boy through the coffee shop, through the kitchen, and up the stairs to the little apartment on the second floor.
A small table with a few chairs for meals. A small kitchen. A small bookcase with some cookbooks. The chief placed the young man over the small worn-out lumpy sofa. He crossed the open area and went into a small bedroom beyond. He returned with a pillow and a blanket for the boy.
Despite all this movement, the silver-haired new program trainee had not stirred awake.
“Too long,” the chief finally said, placing a hand over the boy’s heart. He scratched his head then faced her. “Rowan, please, find Master Beika.”
Rowan nodded and tipped her hat. The chief could order her to jump off a travel cloud a kilometer off the ground, using his Selati-accented Pendika. Rowan would probably do it after a long argument why it had to be done, but ultimately believing that the chief knew best. She did not bother arguing. She ran off for the hospital.
Rowan was familiar with the coffee shop regulars and the chief’s friends; Beika was both. She found heal programmer Beika at the second floor of the hospital. After a few moments of asking superiors for permission to leave early, the healer with salt-and-pepper hair followed after her.
“Who is he?” Beika asked her.
“I wasn’t able to get his name yet,” Rowan told her with a shrug. “He’s thin and shorter than me, has silver hair. And his legs don’t work.”
Rowan was yanked back. Beika had suddenly stopped walking.
“What?” Rowan asked.
“Nothing, I think I remembered something. Come on.” Beika walked briskly along the sidewalk.
The boy had not awakened when Rowan returned with Beika. The chief was sitting beside him, cooling a cloth on the boy’s forehead by tapping a finger, ice programmer that he was. “Ah! Master Beika!” he said with a warm smile.
Beika rushed to the boy on the sofa, almost knocking over the chief. “It’s him, it’s him!” She brushed away the long strands that covered his face, placed a hand over his heart and read lifecodes. “Soji! I can’t believe it! It’s him! It’s him! It’s Sereno!”
“So?” Rowan asked. “Can you help or not?”
Beika looked at the boy on the sofa again. “OH! Right!”
She placed a hand over the boy’s head and heart and encoded for Basic Heal. The lifecodes brightened for her and corrected themselves under her guidance. She shifted her hand and placed them for some time at both his legs, encoding more specific basic heal programs there.
Some color returned to the boy’s face and lips. He started to turn to find a more comfortable sleeping position.
Beika brushed his hair with her fingers. “He’s just exhausted, he’ll be fine soon.” She lost all professional composure again. She got up excitedly and happily shook the chief at the shoulders. “It’s Sereno, Soj! He’s now in the capital! Can’t you see how awesome that is! Sereno, in the capital!” The chief endured the shaking with a confused smile.
Rowan rolled her eyes and gave up hoping that Beika would make any sense to anyone but her friends. “So who IS this Sereno of yours?”
“Sereno of northwest, originally of northeast,” Beika said. “I met him in the infirmary back home.”
Ren slowly reclaimed consciousness. He ached everywhere, but not as much as he expected. He lay on something soft now, no longer prickly grass. A blanket and a pillow had also been provided. Voices muttered beyond him, nearby, but they did not laugh or sneer. He realized that he had not been captured by whoever bullied him earlier. The voices were tsk-tsk-tsking and making other pitying sounds.
He sighed. He must be back in a hospital.
Bu when he opened his eyes, he saw he was not.
He first looked up at an old ceiling, with some of the wood dust falling near his feet. The room–it was a room he was in–was not very large, already filled with the sofa he was on, a small table beside it, a taller table for meals not far away, a few scattered chairs where several people sat, and a small kitchen. Herbs and spices filled the air, but today it was laced with antiseptic and bandages.
He groaned as he moved an arm and felt for his crutches. He was so stiff everywhere, and where were those crutches? He needed them! Did the girl break them after he got knocked out? He hoped not, he did not want to spend for new crutches, now that he had little money left until his mother sent more.
“Ah! Finally, he’s awake!” a girl said from nearby. The girl’s voice was lower than most, mistakable for a boy’s voice. “You had me worried back there, kid!” He looked to his right, and wondered if his ears deceived him, for the girl’s voice came from what looked like a boy.
But the next face he saw shocked him more than the experience of being bullied at his first day in the capital. A young woman with glasses and salt-and-pepper hair came up and embraced him. “Sereno. You should’ve told me you were coming. This wouldn’t have happened.”
“Miss Bei.” She had not changed, just grew taller. She still loved hugging people at all the wrong times. She still smelled of sandwiches and antiseptic. “I…I didn’t want to bother anyone.”
“You were never a bother, Sereno!” Miss Bei rumpled his hair. Ren hated when she did that, but tolerated it for old times’ sake.
Pity. The last few years of his life had been full of pity, and he was sick and tired of it. He had hoped that proving himself enough to get to the capital would change it. But there was no such luck.
A young man with sandy hair also came up to him at that moment, such that three people now gazed at him from overhead. The young man carried a tray and placed it on the small table. On it was mushroom soup and a glass of water. “Alright to eat, Master Beika?” the young man asked.
“Of course, Soj, of course!” Beika said, then faced Ren again. “I forgot! Sereno, these are Soji of the meridian and Rowan of southeast. This is Soj’s little place. Rowan brought you here, after you got…”
“Don’t rub it in, Miss Bei.” Ren gripped the sofa and pulled himself to sitting. “I got attacked on my first day in the capital, I know, I know. A girl attacked me, then a girl rescued me.” He found the crutches on the floor.
Beika chuckled with embarrassment toward the red-haired girl and the sandy-haired man. “He’s not always like this. I bet he’s really thankful for all this effort you both went through. Isn’t that right, Sereno?”
Ren nodded and smiled his well-practiced, made-for-hospital-contributors-and-philanthropists smile. He hated this smile.
“Is alright, Master Beika,” the one she called Soji said. He spoke with an unusual accent. “Boy still tired, I guess.”
Meeting a red-haired tomboy and a sandy-haired foreigner, seeing Miss Bei after three years, having to change all his plans, and facing a bully– all of these things in one day. Ren found it hard to take it all in so quickly.
He had only wanted a calm life studying as a scholar then becoming a librarian back home. The simple dream began to collapse before it even began.
Ren took up the crutches from the floor and hooked them to his upper arms. He gripped at the handles with clenched hands. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me, but I don’t want to impose. I’ll be going.” He focused all thought into moving his legs, waiting until he felt a surge of energy pass through them. With one hand on the sofa and the other planting the crutch to the floor, he lifted himself to a standing position. He then planted the other crutch onto the floor. He hated that he still wobbled on his feet.
Beika stared at him with wide eyes and dropped her jaw. .
Ren looked around the sofa and soon found his satchel. He alternated his crutches and his legs, swinging them until he reached the satchel. He lifted the bag off the floor and slung it over him.
Beika had not stopped gaping at him.
“What, Miss Bei?” he asked as he settled the bag to his back.
“I can’t believe it,” she muttered. She then said more audibly, “I can’t believe it! By He who controls all programs!” She stood up and reached over to him. She wrapped her arms around his thin frame and his arms holding the crutches. “I’m so proud of you, so very proud of you!”
Ren wished she would let go of him already. He felt choked and snuffed. He did not know what he did to get a hug from her. He had just gotten up from the sofa, after all. It was nothing special.
“Sorry. I just….didn’t expect you here, and standing, and walking!”
What was wrong with her? He used to stand and walk like any other person, before THAT happened. Now she made it seem like it was something important.
“Please, Miss Bei. I need to get going…”
Beika finally released him. “Where do you live? Have you made arrangements? I’ll take you there.”
Ren suddenly remembered. The arrangements for housing were what he was supposed to do after enrolling into the scholar hall.
But when a programmer did a System Scan on him during the enrollment process, he had been told that he could not proceed. He was a programmer, not a scholar. They told him to enroll into the basic program training halls instead. It was after he finished the process for enrolling in the halls that he encountered the blue-haired girl who bombarded him with water pellets.
He had no money left for board and lodging. He had not even had lunch.
“I’ll take care of it, Miss Bei, don’t worry.” He wondered how he would take care of it. But he would not bother anyone more than necessary. He had to leave.
“Are you sure? You still look pale.”
“Yes, Miss Bei.” The surge of energy through his legs stopped. They became dead weight again. He felt the cold sweat on his forehead and back, sensed the loss of strength in his arms. But he did not dare show weakness. “I’ll be fine. I’ll be…”
Someone caught him from behind before everything went dark.
When he woke up again, it was morning, the next day. The crutches were once again on the floor, and his satchel had been placed beside them. The scent of warm milk and oatmeal mixed with cinnamon filled the air.
“That settles it!” Beika’s chirpy voice came to him from the dining table. “You’re staying here! With Soji!”
The declaration fully woke him. “What?” Who was she to dictate his life!
“Is alright,” the sandy-haired foreigner said as he presented a bowl of oatmeal. “You stay on sofa. Also, Harmony near program hall, yes?”
Pity. He hated it. Absolutely hated it.