Ira leaned up against a small, pallid table in front of a mirror and stared at me across the hallway. I looked in the mirror behind him. We looked so much alike considering I was wearing his clothes. I could feel him searching my mind for my response to his confession but I had nothing to say.
“Say something,” he urged.
“I can’t be here.”
“Your father is the King and I’m in his house. I could be killed. For one, I’m not even supposed to be in Central. Two, I don’t think he’s going to be happy that you took in a stray.”
“You refer to yourself as a stray?”
“That’s not the point.”
“And, what exactly is the point, Kai?”
“I have to go.”
“Back to Austral?”
Ira nodded. “Everyone leaves me.”
Raising my eyebrow, I said, “What do you mean?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said quickly. He turned on his heel and stalked down the hall. “I’ll show you out.”
He paused in front of the entrance and gestured to it. Go ahead. I felt weird leaving now. He seemed upset. I opened my mouth to speak but closed it immediately. What was I supposed to say? Straightening my spine, I marched back the way we came, knowing Ira would follow. I nodded to the family photo.
“Your mother is from Province,” I stated.
“How did you know?”
“I know someone with the same color eyes. He is from Province as well.”
“Business partner is more like it. He’s the one who sent me to Central. He’s the one searching for his brother.”
You’re from Orient, Ira spoke to my mind. I raised an eyebrow. You look just like them, he remarked. Sprinting down the hall, he stopped at his room and entered. Coming out seconds later, he presented me with a book and flipped to the page he was looking for.
“This is a book I got from school. These people here are from Orient.” He pointed at the picture. “Don’t you think they look like you?”
I shrugged. “That’s a little…” I didn’t want to say it.
“Racist?” Ira finished.
“Well, I’m sorry if you feel offended but you all look the same. The same way you can tell my mother was from Province because of her eye color, I can tell you are from Orient because of your facial features. Slanted, dark eyes, sharp nose, thick hair. It’s all there.”
“You seem so sure.”
“It’s because I’m right.”
He slammed the book shut and a rush of air ruffled my hair. He tossed the book onto the ivory table and towed me to the front door with him where we walked out into the street. Apparently we were going to do some sightseeing. I wasn’t here to see sights and he picked in my brain long enough to know that, yet he insisted it was part of the adventure. I wasn’t here for an adventure. At least, I didn’t think of it that way. We were heading towards the clock tower. I sighed. What was so special about a clock? Be patient.
“Can’t we just talk out loud?”
“No, it’s tiring and people could eavesdrop.”
Everyone. Anyone. You can never be too careful.
Where are we going?
Walking takes too much time. We’re taking the Sky Tubes.
I don’t particularly enjoy being underground.
Are you claustrophobic?
I’m not sure.
Do you know anything about yourself at all?
I paused. “What does it matter?”
Lower your voice.
“For what? There is no one here!”
Ira turned his head to the side and looked at a camera making its way around to focus on us. Grabbing my wrist, he quickly pulled us into an alleyway virtually invisible to mechanical eyes. Now they’re watching. Why doesn’t anyone ever listen to me? We kept our backs pressed to the wall until Ira yanked us back out and ran towards one of the stations. He took the stairs two at a time with me close behind. There was a small window where I watched as Ira pricked his finger and squeezed a drop of blood onto a disk. The window identified him as Ira Collins, displayed his citizen number, and spat a card out at him. It was to get into the tubes. He swiped the card on the side of the transparent cylinder and hopped in, motioning for me to follow.
Once the lid closed he sighed in relief. “They can’t monitor conversations in here. We’re safe.”
The tube jerked forward, moving slowly at first, then gradually gaining incredible speed. I watched a simulation of The River Siobhan—named after our late ruler His Majesty Siobhan Alera—flit by on the ceiling.
“Do you want to know why I’m taking you to the clock tower?” I nodded. “You can see everything from the top. It’s like standing on the moon and looking down at the whole planet.”
“You don’t sound amazed.” I could feel his presence in my mind. I switched my thoughts elsewhere and he slowly withdrew. “Ok, I lied,” he admitted. “It’s totally voluntary. I’m sorry if you don’t like me seeing your thoughts; I’ll stop.”
“It isn’t you.”
“What is it then?”
Ira was nothing like Julian. Julian would’ve given up by now. But, Ira. He wanted to know everything. “It’s nothing.”
“Something is clearly bothering you. Please tell me.”
“I’m just thinking. That’s all.”
That’s a bit weird.
“Not like that, pervert.”
Ira giggled. “I know. I was just trying to make you uncomfortable.” He grinned at me, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “We’re friends now, right?”
“You don’t want to be?”
“I’m not sure I know how to be.”
“It’s not hard! Do what we’re doing now. Talk. Have adventures. Stuff like that!”
“Is that all?”
He thought for a moment. “Sharing secrets is important.”
“Is it really or do you just not like being oblivious?”
He didn’t answer. With a sly smile, Ira let his presence drift into my mind once more before withdrawing, leaving my head strangely empty. Ira didn’t make any comments about what he saw and I didn’t ask, afraid my darkest secrets would come spilling out. The Tubes slowed to a stop and Ira hopped out quickly. I clambered out, glad to finally be on solid ground. My stomach flipped playfully, reminding me the nausea hadn’t completely passed. Ira took my hand as if it were the most normal thing ever and led me aboveground. I noticed the odd looks we were getting and slowly retracted my hand.
“What’s wrong?” Ira inquired, attempting to reach for my hand again.
“People are staring at us.”
“It’s uncomfortable.” I distanced myself from him slightly. “Let’s just go to the clock tower without holding hands.”
Ira nodded. “If that’ll make you feel better.”
In a bubble of awkward silence, we trekked to the clock tower and took the lift to the top floor. Ira stepped out ahead of me, stretching his arms wide in the vast open space. Wind rustled through his loose shirt and he sighed in content. What do you think? Ira nodded over the railing to the magnificent view stretched out over the expanse of the planet. I took it all in silently. The soft humming of the city below us, buzzing with technology swam through my ears. It’s nice, I replied. I do most of my thinking up here. It helps me concentrate. I hummed, showing I was listening. Ira leaned dangerously far over the railing and looked out. A ripple passed through his slight frame and he grinned.
“Do you know what his brother looks like?” he asked out loud, not looking at me.
“I have an ancient photograph from when the boy was ten. I’m not sure it’ll help.” I retrieved the tattered square from the pocket of my borrowed jeans. “Here. His name is Kali.”
Ira took the photo in his smooth hands and stared unblinking at it. His eyes glazed over and he stood deathly still. I was astounded by his level of concentration. For a moment I feared he’d be stuck that way. Ira’s head snapped up and turned towards me. His golden eyes were still glazed over, giving them a gray-ish tone that scared me more than I was ready to admit.
“I see him,” Ira hissed. His eyes remained unchanged as he spoke. “It’s not clear but it’s definitely him. Take me back to the lift.” I hesitated, mentally questioning his sanity. “I can’t see right now. Just help me back to the lift!”
His tone jolted me forward and I grabbed Ira’s arm, leading him back to the lift we came here through. Once safely on the ground below, he stepped out, eyes still hazy and spun around in a circle. His strange behavior was a good indication that Julian’s brother was right here in Central just as we’d suspected. Ira grumbled in frustration, turning every which direction with the photo crushed between his index finger and thumb. Just as quickly as this sudden clarity had come, it vanished, leaving a devastated and tired looking Ira behind.
“He kept moving and then he just disappeared.” Ira’s lip quivered. “I had it and then he was just gone!”
“I’m not upset at you. You did great. At least we know he’s somewhere in the city.” I tried to comfort him but that only aggravated him more.
“That’s not good enough. I WILL find him.”
With that, Ira stomped away, the photo clutched desperately in his well-manicured hands.