The night had gone better than he could have expected. Not only had Shi Fen been completely thrown off by Caleb appearing in his apartment, he’d actually offered to help them get Lucidity free from Yin Jiāng. For what felt like the first time, Caleb had scored a point against that crooked corporation.
So why did he feel like crap? Physically, he was fine—his veins still hummed with jittery energy—but emotionally he felt dissatisfied. He knew he had every reason to feel like a million bucks, but something was missing. He stared at the ceiling as he searched his feelings.
After his fight with Dem, Caleb had left Marcos behind, and hadn’t talked to him since. This victory against Shi Fen was an empty one without Marcos involved. He’d been with Caleb since the start of all this. Caleb needed to talk to Marcos and fix things.
He resolved to go see his friend first thing in the morning and immediately felt much better. The adrenaline from the night’s events was wearing off quickly. Caleb turned out the light and promptly fell asleep.
Caleb knocked on the door of Apartment 531. When no one answered quickly, he knocked even harder. The door opened before he could knock a third time.
Marcos blinked in the doorway. “Caleb?”
“Hey. Can we chat?”
Marcos yawned. “Right now?”
“Yes. It’s important. I’ll be quick, promise.”
Marcos moved into the hallway and closed the door behind him. He rubbed his eyes. “What’s up?”
“Yesterday I confronted ‘Miranda.’”
“The Yin Jiāng agent?”
“Yeah. Bō brought me to the Yin Jiāng headquarters and we saw the guy as he left for the night. We followed him home.”
“You did what?”
“His real name is Shi Fen. We broke into his apartment.”
“You did what?” Marcos now looked fully awake.
“I’m done hiding from these people. We went on the offensive-and it worked. He told me how Lucidity was created, then agreed to help us free her if we destroy Obscurity.”
“He did what?”
Caleb waved away Marcos’ concern. “That’s not why I’m here, though.”
Marcos looked nearly speechless. “Then why?”
“I lost my cool and left you hanging. I’m sorry.”
Marcos shrugged. “Don’t sweat it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. You’re my best friend, man. It’s not a big deal. If you’re going to apologize to anyone, though, it should be Dem.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you forget what you told her? ‘You don’t have a home do you? Go back to your dirty warehouse.’”
Caleb groaned. “Damn. You’re completely right. I am the worst.”
“Pretty much,” Marcos said.
“I’ll go right now.” Caleb gave Marcos a big hug then hurried down the hall.
“Hey,” Marcos called behind him. “Be careful. She might try to kill you.”
Caleb reached the dingy alleyway beside Dem’s warehouse, set his mother’s bike against the brick wall, and gave himself a moment to catch his breath. With the heavy duty metal door in front of him now, he questioned his decision to come here. Dem wouldn’t be as quick to forgive as Marcos had been. Would she scream at him? Attack him?
There was only one way to find out. Caleb knocked on the door and waited.
He knocked again.
Caleb looked up at the closed circuit camera overhead. “Dem, can I talk to you?”
He received no response.
Caleb swallowed and cleared his throat. “The things I said to you were really messed up,” he said, addressing the camera. “I was wrong. I can’t take them back, and I accept that, but I don’t want you to think I don’t respect you. I do. And I deserve every bit of your anger.
“I’m sorry. You’re right about sometimes having to break the law to do what’s right. I’d just like to discuss things like that before jumping into them.
“But I recognize it’s too late for that now. My stupidity pushed you away before we even had a chance to become real friends.” Caleb sighed. “That’s all I had to say. Goodbye.” He turned from the camera and went to his mother’s bike. He was swinging his leg over it when he heard a noise behind him. He turned.
Dem watched him with narrowed eyes from the doorway. She’d dyed her hair again; it was now fiery red with yellow highlights, which made her look even more fierce.
Caleb put the bike back against the wall and went to her. “I’m sorry, Dem.”
She continued to glare silently, her jaw moving like she was grinding her teeth.
“You can kick me if you want,” Caleb offered.
This actually got a sly grin out of her. “Dude, don’t even tempt me. Do you not see all the spikes on these boots?”
“Ah. You’re right. What about a punch?”
Dem shrugged. “That could work.”
Caleb turned and presented his shoulder. Dem didn’t hesitate to slug it with all of her strength. It felt like a small sledgehammer smashing into his arm.
Caleb yelped and shrank back. “Damn.”
Dem pointed a finger at him. “Next time I’ll go for the kick. And I’ll use my bigger boots, with the bigger spikes.”
“There won’t be a next time. I want you with me. Not because you’re useful, but because I want you as a friend.”
Dem cocked her head. “You saying I’m not useful?”
“Oh, you are. More useful than three Marcoses, at least.”
“That’s cold. Not untrue, but cold.”
Caleb rubbed his shoulder until the pain numbed a bit. “Well,” he said, “I guess I’ll see you later.”
“Are you hungry?”
“I assume you digest food for energy like a normal human being.”
“Well, have you done so recently?”
Now that she mentioned it, Caleb realized he was famished. He’d forgotten to eat anything before leaving home. He touched his stomach as it rumbled. “No.”
“Do you like ramen?”
“Then come on.” Dem turned to walk deeper into the warehouse.
Caleb followed. They passed through a few more doors, down the hall with the grated floor, and into the giant central room with the cargo container in the center of it. Dem brought him to the corner where her couch was.
“Sit,” she said as she retrieved two cup-o-noodles from a giant pallet of them. She quickly poured water into them and put them in the microwave.
Caleb sat on the couch as instructed. As the microwave did its work he absently picked up a manga book resting on the couch beside him. The cover showed a giant robot with giant robot cleavage blasting off into space. The title read Meka. Sex. Death. Kill.
Caleb slowly put the book back, this time with its cover facing down.
The microwave beeped. Dem took both of the cups out and began adding the ingredients. She retrieved a few extra things from the minifridge, but she moved so quickly that Caleb didn’t get a chance to see what they were. She soon handed him a cup of noodles with two chopsticks sticking out of it. I was instant ramen like he’d never seen before, filled with extra stuff like little calamari bits and bean sprouts. The liquid was deep red and gave off an aroma that singed his nose hair.
“Is this spicy?” Caleb asked.
Dem sat on the other side of the couch with her own cup. “Shut up and eat.”
Caleb tried a single noodle. It was spicy, very spicy, but also the most amazing ramen he’d ever tasted. He didn’t have much problem shutting up as he inhaled the soup and noodles. He was forced to take short breather breaks every few moments to keep the still-hot noodles from burning his tongue.
Dem turned on the wallscreen opposite the couch. The wall stood all the way on the other side of the wide room, but was also five meters tall, so it was like a personal movie theater. Dem put on an episode of an anime series and sang along in Japanese with the intro.
The show was bizarre to say the least. It started simply enough, with one of the main characters, a teenage girl named Kiki, starting a new job as a secretary. Her boss acted a bit creepy, though, and kept hitting on her throughout the day. At the end of her shift, he confronted her as they were the last two left in the office. When she rejected his sexual advances he moved to grab her, but in a burst of light she turned into a magical girl with shimmering crystal knuckle weapons. The boss only laughed before quickly going through a transformation himself—into a slobbering reptilian monster. A ridiculously awesome fight ensued which left the office in ruins—and that was only from the first ten minutes of the show. From then on, Caleb was hooked, leaning forward at the edge of the couch.
Halfway through the episode Dem paused the show and turned to Caleb. “Just a few days ago you thought breaking the law was the worst thing ever. What brought about this drastic change of heart?”
“Well, last night I broke into a man’s apartment and subtly threatened to hurt him if he didn’t answer my questions.”
Dem’s eye widened. “For real?”
“Badass.” She held up a fist.
Caleb bumped his fist with hers. Without another word, Dem resumed the video. Time melted as one episode led into a mini-marathon that lasted most of the day.