Chapter 19: Everything’s Bad but This Food is Really Good so It’s Alright I Guess
“Wake up, sleepy head!”
Keith jolted up, his eyes now wide open. He didn't remember falling asleep at all, and it was a wonder that he had; his mind had been racing with a million ways Rei could murder him in his sleep.
He quickly searched around the room for the source of the voice. “Huh—what—”
He was relieved to see that it was just Molly at the foot of his bed, and not a mentally unstable bigot. “Oh, it’s just you,” he sighed.
The details of the world slowly came to him; the bare bedroom he was in; Molly’s silly smirk; the overwhelming guilt that came with continuous lying.
He was not too excited about that last part.
“Yep, it’s me!” Molly said. “Time to get up! Miss Sylvie is making breakfast!” She grabbed his hand and began to drag him out of bed. But Keith resisted.
“Five more minutes,” he mumbled, pulling the blanket back over him. His neck ached from sleeping in a weird position.
Molly kept trying to pull him out of his blankets. “Get up! Get up! Get up!” she chanted. Alas, she was not the strongest of shapeshifters.
When tugging on him didn’t work, she aggressively poked him instead. She morphed her blobby hand to be bigger, like a foam hand found at sports games. When Keith put a pillow over his head, she began poking with both hands.
He finally gave in. “Alright, fine, I’ll get up.” He gently pushed her away and got out of bed. “Just give me a moment to get ready.” Molly rejoiced and hopped out of the room.
Keith sat up in bed. His feet were on the floor, but he did not get up. He just stared down for a few minutes, contemplating everything that had happened. He did this every morning, of course, but today it hit him much harder.
It didn’t help when he realized he was going to be wearing the same clothes as yesterday. Gross. Hopefully, nobody would notice. The button-up shirt was still on the floor; he picked it up and put it on.
There was a bathroom just across the hall.
Keith put some water in his hands and washed it over his face. It woke him up, but only a little bit. He looked in the mirror and was frightened when he saw dark circles under his eyes.
When he dried his face, he continued to stroke his cheek. His ghostly skin was silky and smooth, free of blemishes and hair. If there was one good thing that came from his clown transformation, it was this.
He poked one of his non-hair puffs. His finger sank a little further than it should have, and the texture still freaked him out. It was strange to be able to store things in your hair, but he would admit that it was a cool ability. Perhaps it would be useful someday.
He wasn’t quite sure where the kitchen was, so he got a little lost in the labyrinth halls of the ship. That was okay, though; he was in no rush to see Rei.
After about 5 minutes of groggy wandering, he found the kitchen. But he didn’t go in immediately. Instead, he listened to the voices coming from within.
“...and what did you do?” asked a soft, librarian-like voice.
“Well I made him some soup, obviously!” said a loud, jovial voice.
Keith let out a breath of relief when he didn’t hear Rei. With shaky hands, he opened the doorknob.
A strong citrus scent filled his nose. Flax was drinking tea, and Sylvie was pulling a tray out of the oven. Molly was making wide and exaggerated hand gestures as she narrated a story.
Rei was nowhere to be seen, thankfully.
Sylvie turned her head to see him and smiled. “Oh, good morning Keith!”
Keith gave a weak smile back. “Morning,” he said. He sat down next to Molly.
Flax immediately seemed to notice Keith’s weariness. “Jet lag?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Keith lied, barely able to keep his head up.
He took the teapot next to him and poured a cup. “You seem like you could use some of this,” he whispered. “Sylvie made it, and it works wonders.”
With shaking hands, Keith took it. Unlike the tea he had yesterday, this one was more naturally-colored. He brought it to his lips; it didn’t have a scent, and its taste was dull.
But as soon as he swallowed it, his eyes shot open. He sat up as he felt shots of electricity go down his spine. All of his brain fog had cleared up, and his muscles were no longer weak. It was like a stronger, more immediate version of coffee. He even felt his non-hair puffs become spiky, just like the living cartoon character he was.
It was amazing.
He looked down into the now-empty cup. What did she put in this? He wondered. Hopefully it wasn’t anything illegal.
He saw Flax pass a cup to Molly. She reached for it excitedly, but Keith pushed it back. “No, she doesn’t need any,” he said. Molly crossed her tiny arms and shrunk back down in her seat.
“...aaand, done!” Sylvie said to herself. Keith hadn’t noticed, but she was holding a bowl of icing over the tray of food. She brought the tray to the island table, as well as some plates.
The tray had a dozen little desserts on it. They were swirled and covered in glaze. At first, Keith thought they were cinnamon rolls, but the citrus scent suggested otherwise.
“Ta-daa! Orange rolls!” Sylvie exclaimed. “I’ve been perfecting the recipe; I think I hit the nail on the head this time!”
Keith thanked her and took one. Once he bit into it, his taste buds immediately ascended to Heaven. It was the right combination of sweet and sour—the right combination of creamy and crumbly. It was the most fall-apart, melt-in-your-mouth breakfast he had ever tasted.
Something else had accompanied the beautiful taste. As he swallowed, he felt a sense of peace and contentment wash over him. It almost felt like… the emotions came from the orange rolls themself.
He looked down at his plate. There was no way that this was just plain old food. There had to be some kind of magic involved. Was this power exclusive to Sylvie, or was all non-Earthling food magical like this?
“This is amazing,” Keith said to her. His words were muffled by the second orange roll he was stuffing in his mouth. He shed a small tear as the wonderful taste filled his mouth again. Molly was eating one after another, and she seemed to enjoy them too.
Sylvie smiled. “Aww, I’m glad you liked them! I figured you two would be tired from the journey, so I made sure to enchant them with good vibes.” She winked.
Well, that answered Keith’s question. Actually, it raised a few more new questions, but he didn’t feel like asking them right now.
There was a minute of silence as everyone chowed down. After a few orange rolls, Keith was full—full of food, and unnaturally high amounts of bliss.
But not everyone was so happy. Flax looked around the room, his worry apparent in his eyes. “Hmm… where’s Rei? Is she okay?”
Keith’s eyes shot open, and he was filled with dread. He had completely forgotten about Rei!
However, his happiness didn’t immediately fade; it was as if the artificial bliss and the natural terror were fighting against each other. His emotions were a terrifying swirly mess; he was frozen to the spot.
Sylvie looked at the door. “Huh. I’m not sure. Should I go check on—”
She was interrupted when the doorknob rattled. The door swung open rather forcefully.
Rei said nothing as she walked in. Everybody went silent—except for Molly, who was waving frantically and yelling “Hello Miss Rei!” Keith held a finger to his lips, urging her to be quiet. She didn’t listen.
Rei’s combat boots clicked along the tiled floor. Just like last time, she sat far away from Keith and Molly. He could see her squinting at him through the darkness of her cloak.
“Good morning!” Flax said rather loudly. He was either oblivious to Rei’s anger or was just trying to be nice after last night. Actually, did Flax know about Sylvie and Rei’s conversation? Judging by his smile, he probably didn’t.
“Nice to see you, Rei!” said Sylvie. Unlike Flax, Sylvie sounded a little more strained.
“Morning,” Rei said.
There was silence across the room. Awkward, tense silence. Flax passed Rei a cup of tea, but she declined it. She took an orange roll and quietly munched on it.
Keith also reached for an orange roll. For just a second, Rei flinched away from him.
Sylvie twiddled her thumbs for a moment, before clearing her throat. “So… I talked to HQ management, and they said we could go to the memory lab today.” Both Keith and Rei sat up when she said this.
“What time?” Rei asked quickly.
Sylvie checked her watch. “In about an hour. I’ve told the driver to land the ship outside HQ.”
Keith’s stomach dropped. Right. Of course. He looked down, fiddling with his hands. Somewhere inside of him, he hoped that they wouldn't actually go through with the plan; he hoped that something would come up that prevented them from taking him there.
Why did it have to be a memory lab, anyway? Why was that their first idea? The ridiculousness of it boggled his mind. It could have been a doctor, or perhaps some time to heal mental wounds, but nope—it had to be a memory lab.
But were those options any better? A doctor would be able to tell right away that he was lying, and he couldn’t pretend to have memory loss forever.
Did they want to use him as a guinea pig for their new technology? Or, perhaps, was this memory lab just a convenient plot point for this nonsensical story? There was no way to be sure.
There was nothing more to say after that. Everyone ate their breakfast in silence
Previous: Chapter 18
Next: Chapter 20