>> Chapter Four
Naomi wrinkled her nose as she walked into the room, lit only by rays of sun sneaking under the curtains. She spotted the bucket and tiptoed towards it.
Kysa lay in a twisted mess of blankets, hair obscuring part of his face. His skin was pale and his expression troubled as he slept. Every now and then, his exposed foot twitched.
As quietly as she had entered, Naomi left.
She returned a few minutes later with the emptied bucket; a job she'd done once or twice each day of the previous week. "How're you feeling, honey?" she whispered.
"Mmm? Oh, okay," Kysa mumbled, "I'm kinda hungry though, mum." He scratched the back of his head and rubbed his eyes.
"Is soup okay?" Naomi inquired with a half smile. "Come on then," she added as he nodded slowly.
He unsteadily got to his feet and followed her into the hallway. His hair was shaggy and stuck out in all directions. Oblivious, Kysa had his hands jammed in the pockets of his old track pants and watched his bare feet as they walked.
The kitchen table already had a bowl of chicken soup on it, with a glass of water. Kysa slumped into the chair and slowly ate a spoonful. He smiled at his mother as she sat in the wooden chair opposite him, then continued eating. Naomi watched him absent-mindedly and she sipped a cup of tea.
Eventually, Naomi broke the silence. "Do you think you'll be well enough to go to school on Monday?"
Frowning, Kysa replied, "I guess I have to. Y'know, exams and stuff aren't too far away." He turned his attention back to the soup.
"You don't sound too sure," said Naomi, "I might have to tell Kris we'll cancel on the movie this weekend."
Kysa looked up quickly. "Nah, wouldn't want her to have to go on her own," he mused. "Plus it can't hurt to get some fresh air."
"In a cinema? You're joking right?" she laughed.
He gave her a lopsided grin, sipping the water. "Speaking of fresh air..."
Naomi shot him a glance and sighed. She fiddled with the newspaper for a few seconds until she realised he was still looking at her. "It's not like I haven't tried to quit before," she chuckled with a smile that never reached her eyes, "but I can't."
Remaining silent, Kysa raised an eyebrow and resumed eating his soup. Naomi blankly stared into the distance.
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"Thank you for inviting me to attend this meeting of the board. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to address you all here today."
Mr J. Conway - Head of Branch, as the folder in front of him declared, ran his hand down his tie as he looked at the nine other people seated around the table. A quick glance at the clock made him frown.
He rose and clasped his hands together. "As you all know, Project 273 has been making excellent progress since we began receiving extra funding and personnel from the government four years ago."
A few people around the table smiled slightly and nodded. One grimaced.
Conway looked pointedly at the unhappy old man and started emphasizing his words. "Our advances have been three-fold those of the previous ten years, with a fraction of the cost to Memento Corp. I think you'll all agree that despite some...opposition at the time, it has proved to be the best decision for the company."
The old man didn't interrupt, but the expression never left his face.
"All the details can be found in the handouts distributed at the beginning of the meeting, so I will not go into them fully. However, feel free to review them at your leisure."
The old man cleared his throat. Conway looked up quickly from gathering his papers. He folded his arms to meet the gaze directed at him.
"And are we also to believe a flock of birds have nested outside, singing happily, to bring joy and happiness to aid everyone in their work?" The man inquired.
Some of his neighbours smirked, but Conway was not amused. "Of course, Mr. Maitland, you are not suggesting that my report is misleading?"
"Of course not. But surely the motives behind such a large amount of money being given to us warrant questioning," he said quietly.
Conway laughed shortly, holding his hands up and addressing the whole table. "Why should we question it? Our research could save millions of people from starvation! It has purely humanitarian results."
"And that's never been said before. Look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki," Maitland growled.
"Don't be ridiculous," scoffed the indignant Head of Branch, "Besides, if anything remotely dangerous could come from this project I would have been informed, and I would have put a stop to it, as head of this facility."
Conway picked up his papers with a curt, "Good day," before hurriedly exiting the room.
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Kysa spotted Kris first, standing in the long line for tickets. He called out and waved when she turned around. She grinned and waved them over.
Naomi gave her a hug. "Sorry we're late; my fault not his," she laughed. Kris laughed too.
"Hey mum, want anything to eat?" Kysa asked, eyeing the candy bar next to the ticket counter.
Naomi frowned, "Yeah, but the line here's as terrible as the prices. You two go get something downstairs while I wait in line." She pulled a red note from her pocket and gave it to Kysa. "My shout, Kris."
"Hey, cheers," Kris grinned, "but it has to be my turn next time, right?"
"Not likely," mused Kysa.
The two descended the stairs into the noisy food court, weaving their way through the noisy masses of people and tables. "Not quite dead I see," Kris said dryly.
"Not quite," Kysa repeated as he rubbed the back of his neck, "but I'm sure you'd make a great replacement kid for mum." He glanced at her blank face and burst into laughter.
"So why are you always wearing that hat these days?" Kris asked, eyeing the black cap on his head, "I don't even remember you buying it."
Kysa glanced around. "Uh, well, that's because I di-" he stopped abruptly, "Oh, we'd better hurry up," and started walking a bit faster with his head down.
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Jag, as he was fond of calling himself, carefully examined the nearby tables. Most had chips with burgers or chicken. Others had long sandwiches, while a few were more exotic. He had little interest in the people who owned the food; they were inconsequential.
He pondered the crossword before him, chewing on the end of his pen. It was almost done, with no marks littering the page outside of the squares.
The occasional person stared at him, he assumed because of his appearance. Despite the weather, he wore an old overcoat over torn jeans and a shirt, which was probably once white. His long hair and beard were no neater.
As he wrote in the final clue, tines, Jag lost interest in the paper and rolled up his sleeve to check the half a dozen watches on his arm. None of them showed the same time, and the second hand of one in particular was motionless, however he seemed satisfied with what they told him.
After analysing the food once more, he carefully identified potential targets. People sitting by themselves were best, preferably reading the paper or on the phone. But not kids; he wouldn't steal from kids. A man has to have standards.
One man sat by himself with a half-eaten burger and untouched chips, talking on his phone. Jag looked at him cautiously, he knew him from somewhere. He listened for snippets of the conversation.
"Yeah, I know..."
"...Well it matters to me..."
"...How about I buy YOU a..."
The exasperated tone made him remember the voice. Not the best target, but he liked to live dangerously.
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I can't believe how late and short this is. But hey, it's progress, right? ^^