Chapter 20: The Sharpest Lies
Keith was the last to exit the ship.
He was hiding in his bedroom, underneath the bed. He wanted to delay this for as long as possible. Maybe, everyone would get tired of waiting for him, and they’d cancel the trip to the memory lab. That would be nice.
He took shallow breaths, but gasped loudly when he heard something else move under the bed. A pair of purple eyes looked back at him from the darkness.
“Hi, Keith!” Molly said. She scooted closer to him.
“Molly?!” he whispered. “How did you get here?”
She shrugged and winked. “I have my ways. So, anyways, what are you doing under the bed?”
He didn’t want to answer that. “Uhhh… nothing,” he lied.
“Ooh! Are we playing hide and seek?”
Keith motioned for her to shush. “Yes, but don’t be so loud! The seeker will hear us!”
Molly nodded. “Okay!”
They sat there for a while. Neither of them said anything, but Molly hummed a little tune (it was the theme song to Sparkle Hooves). Keith tried to stay alert, but had zoned out after a few minutes.
He quickly snapped to attention when he heard distant footsteps.
The footsteps got closer. He could guess who it was just by the intensity of them: Rei. At first, he squished himself further under the bed. But when Rei was right outside the door, he realized that he couldn’t hide any longer. It would be better to just face her.
He scooped up Molly and got to his feet. Molly waved her little arms around in confusion. “Huh? Why are we—”
“Shh!” Keith said through gritted teeth.
The doorknob rattled, then the door opened. Now, he was face-to-face with Rei. They stared in silence for a moment.
Rei crossed her arms and looked him up and down. “What took you so long?” she sneered.
Molly spoke before Keith could. “We were playing hide and—”
Keith quickly covered her mouth with his hand. “We were just getting ready, that’s all!” he said with a smile. Molly squirmed in his arms, her words muffled.
Rei scowled at him for a few more moments, before leaving the room. “Come on,” she called from the hallway.
Keith let out a sigh of relief. But he was confused when his hand suddenly felt warm and wet.
He reeled back in disgust. “Ugh, are you licking my hand?!” he shouted to Molly. She wore a guilty smile on her face. Keith groaned and quickly wiped his hand on his shirt.
They followed Rei out of the ship. Keith held Molly defensively in his arms and made sure to stay a good distance away from Rei.
There were moments when Rei looked back at him. Her face was still concealed by her hood, but Keith could guess what expression she was making. He could guess what she wanted to say:
I know your secret, Earthling.
The three of them were at the top of the ramp. At the bottom stood Sylvie and Flax. Keith’s gaze lingered on the cervitaur, and not for a good reason.
Keith felt that his situation was, in some part, Flax’s fault. Maybe he was just deflecting responsibility, but Flax knew his secret the whole time. He knew that the memory lab wouldn’t be a good idea, and yet he didn’t speak up about it. He was a co-conspirator, a negligent criminal.
You can blame nobody but yourself.
Keith jumped at the voice in his head, before quickly realizing that it was Avery. He stopped walking for a second just to process this. He had never heard Avery speak a full sentence outside of his dreams. They usually just took the form of a gut feeling, or a whispered word at most. But now, they seemed to have more power in their voice—more emotion.
Maybe… maybe their strong emotions had caused their voice to be so clear. Keith was just theorizing, but it made sense to him.
They walked down the ramp to meet everyone outside, and—
Both Keith and Molly were in immediate awe at the HQ.
The HQ was bigger than any building that Keith had ever seen—and if it was anything like the spaceship, then it was probably bigger on the inside. It looked like a water molecule; the center was one big dome, and there were two smaller domes on the top. The domes shimmered with blue panels, and the whole thing was surrounded by luscious vegetation. People poured in and out of its wide doors. Portals appeared in the air, which brought spaceships.
Gosh, he wish he had his camera right now.
There was a fence around the perimeter of the land, but Keith couldn’t see anything past the fence. It was all foggy and obscure, as if nothing existed beyond that point.
He pointed in the direction of the fence, and asked a question to no one in particular. “Why is—”
“Pocket dimension,” Rei answered as if reading his mind. Could she read his mind? Probably not, but he wouldn't be surprised if she could.
This information hit him like a truck. Suddenly, everything about the multiverse made a lot more sense.
Keith supposed that dimensions were like worlds—which made pocket dimensions like miniature worlds with defined boundaries. Of course, this was all just speculation, but it was speculation that he could wrap his head around.
They went in and, just as he suspected, it was much larger than the outside. Keith could barely comprehend everything that he saw.
The whole place was sleek and white, with bright fluorescent strips on the ceilings. As he looked up, he saw an impossible number of floors—it had to be well over 200. Some things felt reminiscent of Earth, while other things felt completely alien. There were weird plants and purple fountains and strange structures that he didn’t know the function of.
“Whoa,” he and Molly said at the same time.
Sylvie led them to a big glass tube. Keith looked up to find that the tube stretched all the way to the top of the building, and he realized that it was an elevator.
“If I remember correctly,” Sylvie said, “the memory lab should be on floor 50, sector C.” She turned to Rei for confirmation. Rei thought about it, then nodded firmly.
They all stepped inside. It was big enough for everyone to fit inside, with some room to spare. Molly hopped out of his arms. Sylvie entered in a code, and they slowly began to ascend.
At first, it felt just like a normal elevator. He could see everything below get smaller as they climbed higher. But Keith was confused when the whole elevator began to tilt. The world outside began to look more lopsided. He expected to fall over, but he didn’t; his feet were still planted on the ground.
“Whoa, this is super-duper cool!” said Molly.
“What’s happening?” Keith muttered to himself. Everything about this was boggling his mind.
They all looked at him, confused. “It’s… an elevator,” Flax said.
“Do they… not have these where you’re from?” Sylvie asked.
“Of course we have elevators, but not ones like this!” Keith’s face flushed red when he realized his mistake. He shouldn’t have said that. Everyone already knew that he was an “other;” he had just given them another reason to be suspicious.
He could tell that Rei was glaring at him. He looked away sheepishly.
The elevator twisted and turned, and even went upside down at some points. In Keith’s opinion, this was completely unnecessary; sure, it was cool, but it wasn’t efficient at all. It would be much faster if the elevators went in straight lines. He saw other people in other elevator tubes, which were also doing loop-de-loops. None of them looked as sick as he felt.
When the elevator finally stopped, Keith’s head was spinning with nausea. He clutched his stomach as he stumbled out of the elevator. The floor here was shiny and silver, and he was frightened at his reflection—his entire face was a sickly green! Oh, the woes of being a living cartoon character!
Conveniently, there was a bathroom a few feet away. “I’ll be back,” he said quickly, before running through the door.
After a few minutes of vomiting, he was back. His legs were still wobbly and weak.
Sylvie took a step back. “Are… are you okay?”
“Yes,” Keith muttered as he joined the group. Now that his insides weren’t threatening to burst, he could take in his surroundings.
Floor 50 wasn’t as colorful as the other floors he’d seen. In fact, it felt less futuristic and more like something you’d see on Earth. It was more drab, more formal.
More like a hospital. This realization sent a shiver down Keith’s spine.
Sylvie led them through a pair of red doors, into a long hallway. All was quiet; everyone’s footsteps echoed through the hall.
Keith still had his doubts. He still had no idea what this “memory lab” would look like, or how it even worked. And what would happen when they found out he was lying?
“So, uh,” he spoke up quietly, “how does this work, exactly?”
“Well,” said Sylvie, “it’s—”
“It’s a room that shows you your memories,” Rei interrupted. “It harnesses the power of memory pools—little tears in the fabric of reality that make you relive your past. Even though memory pools are usually unpredictable, those at the memory lab have figured out how to harness their essence safely.”
For once in the past 10 minutes, Keith looked at Rei. He still didn’t like her, but he could appreciate how knowledgeable she was.
But this moment of appreciation quickly diminished. There weren’t any more orange rolls in his stomach to mask his anxiety. Every part of his body was shaking.
Was lying the right choice? Should he have told them the truth? He still couldn’t tell which was worse.
After what felt like hours, they arrived at the memory lab. The door was decorated with brain stickers. Keith idly wondered if Sylvie had decorated it.
Someone stood in the doorway. His upper half was human-like, but his legs were orange and furry, and two pointy ears poked out of his hair. A fox tail swished behind him.
He wore a lab coat and a translator necklace, and was writing on a clipboard. Keith was taller than him, so he took a glance at the clipboard; he was writing “I am pretending to write something down” on a blank piece of paper. Keith had to restrain his laughter.
He looked up. Keith could see his name tag, which read Vos.
“Ah, you’ve arrived!” said Vos. He glanced at Keith, then back at Sylvie. “This is the guy?” he whispered. There was a bit of ridicule in his tone. Keith was silently offended.
Sylvie nodded. Vos pretended to scribble something on his clipboard. “Right, then. Follow me,” he said, motioning for Keith to come with him.
But Keith didn’t follow. He couldn’t. His feet felt glued to the ground, and his knees threatened to give out. He felt a painful lump form in his throat.
He was scared of how everyone would treat him when they found out he was an Earthling. But there was another fear; something that he didn’t want to admit.
He was scared to face his past. It was like a big bandage that he just couldn’t rip off. There were so many painful memories that he would much rather forget.
Someone poked his shoulder. He turned to see Sylvie looking down at him. She reached out and gave him something round.
It was an orange. “It’s going to be okay,” she said with a wink. “You’ll be home in no time!”
Keith stared down at the orange for a bit before peeling it. It peeled pretty easily—much more than an Earth orange. He popped a slice into his mouth. A little burst of peace came over him, before quickly diminishing.
It’s the thought that counts.
Keith took a step, but then found that his leg was unusually heavy. He looked down to see Molly clinging to him. She looked up at him with big, sparkling eyes. “You gave me a hug when I was scared, so now I’m giving you a hug!”
Keith’s heart swelled up. When she wasn’t a murder-loving menace, she could be really sweet. He picked her up and brought her into a proper hug. “Aww, thank you!” he said before putting her down.
But neither magical oranges nor Molly’s hugs could fully prepare him for the consequences of his actions. Would they love him so much if they knew the truth?
He got a chill up his spine that could only be caused by Avery. But their ghostly presence felt less supportive and more disapproving.
Play stupid games, win stupid prizes, they said.
Keith wanted to punch them, but they were right.
He finally entered the room. It was cold and had a hospital-like smell.
There was a big control panel, with filing cabinets nearby. Above the control panel was a big window, which let you see inside of a room. It was a small white padded room, with one wall that was slightly darker than the others.
Vos rummaged in a cabinet and pulled out a headset. “Put this on,” he said to Keith.
Keith turned the headset in his hands. It wasn’t connected to anything. He put it over his ears, and stumbled back as the world lost its sound. Vos laughed a bit and opened the door.
Before Keith stepped inside, he ate another orange slice. The peace it gave him seemed to last a little longer. He stored the rest of the orange in one of his hair puffs. He took a breath, then stepped in.
At that moment, he told himself that he was being brave, but deep down he knew that he was lying. He was a coward for not telling the truth, and an idiot for entering the factory in the first place.
Lying was all he ever did, wasn’t it? He lied to the squad about his memory loss; he lied to Molly about things she wouldn’t understand; he lied to himself as he pretended to be okay.
How much lying could go on before things got ugly?
Vos had not shut the door yet; he was typing something in on the control panel.
From the window, Keith could see everyone standing behind Vos. Sylvie looked supportive, Flax looked apprehensive, and Rei… well, judging by her posture, she looked excited to see him collapse.
Suddenly, Vos’s facial expression had changed. His brows furrowed as he began to press more buttons. Gradually, everyone else in the group began to freak out as well.
But Keith hadn’t paid much attention until he saw a blinking red light illuminating the whole room. That was never a good thing.
He quickly snapped out of his trance and rushed to the door. But before he could even reach it, the door slammed in his face. The window turned black and opaque. He pounded on the door, but quickly realized it was no use.
“No, no, no” he muttered to himself. Soon, he was yelling. And soon, tears were rolling down his face.
He stopped yelling. It wouldn’t help him. His fate was inevitable. Slowly, he turned to the gray wall to face his memories.
Previous: Chapter 19
Next: [to be announced]