she doesn't know how to cry
(can't you see?)
she lost that in the place where childhood innocence goes to die
How does one sleep?
It seems that she forgot how without the aid of some kind of drug. Ever since she was young she was given so many sedatives and sleep aids that just falls asleep whenever it was convenient.
Now she stays up days in a row, unable to sleep unless so exhausted her brain shuts down so her body can rest.
It's their fault, she tells herself. It's their fault that she has insomnia. It's their fault that she has such a high fear of sleep medication. It's their fault that her education is non-existent. It's their fault that her aging is all wack, it's their fault!
How does one sleep?
Ben lays on top of her, pinning her to the couch.
"What are you doing?" she asks him. She doesn't mind, he's like a weighted blanket, comforting her.
A piece of paper is placed into her hand. "You need four hours of rest," she read. "Ben, the average amount that people need is 8. Oh, there's more….Huh….How thoughtful of you."
She felt his smug smile.
"Well fine, since you insist."
The lab is one story high and sprawls out over the plains. It's short but long and looks like someone had placed a bunch of rooms together and called it a functional building. There's not much thought into how it's set up other than the roof being ever so slightly angled so the rain and snow can slide off, the antenna poking up from the very center that boosts the range of the hand-held radios, and all of the exterior windows are invisible from the outside.
It's very lonely here. It was Jubi's idea to place her here to guard the antena and do periodic maintenance on it, as it's cheaper for the Traveller guild to have someone stay there full time than to send a Traveller there once every so often. But Ioa isn't a Traveller, she never earned the privilege to wear black cloth and her power to manipulate dreams isn't something you can use in a fight against monsters.
Jubi is an idiot for thinking that a girl rescued from the clutches of a rogue science lab can maintain an antenna all by herself.
No one argues with Jubi. Not Joden, her little brother who she practically raised, not Emalee who had lived with her and looked to her as an idol. Hope was the only one who would have objected but she said that there was test that she needed to take and left as soon as Ioa was safe.
Well, Emalee technically lives here too but her job requires her to travel from town to town, leaving Ioa by herself most days.
And the worst part of it?
Ioa can't sleep without Emalee nearby. Talking to her on the radio isn't enough.
The outside is barren but if Ioa looks out a window at dawn she could see the dark splotches of the shadow monsters milling around, waiting for something to eat. She saw them eat a bunny once. The monsters seemed to toy with it until it nearly died of fright, then one picked it up by a hind leg and dropped it into its mouth and swallow it whole. Then the sun was high enough to shine as bright as it could and the monsters fled towards the trees.
It's odd watching them. They seem like normal monsters. But whenever they sense a Sewoan they converge on them, following the Sewoan until they are eaten.
This one, however, is odd.
It stands by the door, completely three-dimensional save for its feet. It looks just like a young kid, with round eyes to match, but it's all black except for its eyes. Another shadow monster appeared nearby. It bared its teeth. The child bared its teeth back, it's form molding to something more like a bipedal wolf. A [bipedal wolf], she reminded herself.
Then they attacked, a violent clash of teeth and claws. Ioa couldn't tell one shadow monster from the other.
The sun got brighter and the two monsters separated. Both were covered in grey blood, but the child look so much worse. It's eyes were watering. The other one still had its teeth on display and the child fled. She hoped that it would be alright.
"It makes no sense," Ioa said over the radio.
"You're damn right it doesn't," came Emalee's staticky voice. "Then again, no one ever really gets a close look at these creatures. You and that one Lab are perhaps the only exceptions."
"Wasn't that one Lab massacred by the SMs they captured?"
"Yep. Gone. The Travellers that dispatched to help brought back as much of the books as they could And you know what they found?"
"Apparently they tamed one. Called it Ben, were really fond of it."
"Did Ben prefer a child-like form?"
There was a pause and Ioa could easily imagine her friend flipping through the pages of a notebook. "Yes. How'd you know?"
"I think the one getting attacked was him."
This lab is meant to study plants, particularly the ones in the forest half a league away. There's a lot of potted samples sitting under UV lamps, slides of plant cells stacked in little shelves, computers filled with information on the local flora. Once Ioa spent the entire week scrolling through all of the available information, barely understanding anything.
They mentioned the bioluminescent flowers but didn't expand on it. Everyone knows about them, every scientist has once studied them.
The child is back again. It knows where the door is even though it blends in with the rest of the wall. This time it's dusk and still bright enough to safely travel and the shadow monsters has not emerged yet.
According to protocol it's not too late to let someone in. She pressed the intercom button. "State your name and business please."
The child jumped, looking for the source of the sound. Then it pulled out a notepad and wrote something down. He showed it to the door. Ioa pressed the camera button. A square of the door swung open and a tiny security camera came out. The child aimed his message at the camera.
"I kome here in pease," Ioa read, "mi name is Ben."
Emalee said that Ben knew how to write.
"How do I know that you won't eat me?"
Ben scrunched up his face. He wrote something down but Ioa didn't read it, Ben's reaction was enough for her.
"Fine. Come in." Ioa pressed the button to open the door. Ben hesitated but right as the doors were closing he darted in.
She met him in the giant entrance hall. It's the biggest area and the most barren. There's just a desk and a pair of armchairs molded to stranger's bodies. Ioa never spends time here.
Up close Ben looks even smaller than he did outside. His clothes, the kid is wearing clothes!, are ripped to near shreds and Ioa could see his still open wounds. He fiddled with his notepad.
"This way," Ioa said. She led him to the kitchen. She spends a lot of time here, cooking, cleaning, pretending that she doesn't need sleep. She pulled out a first aid kit, a cloth, and some peroxide. He eyed it warily.
"Your wounds. They need to be cleaned. It'll sting."
There's a lot of dirt on him, Ioa realized, not just dried blood. She never actually opened the kit, instead she led him to the bathroom and told him to shower. He looked at her like he he didn't know what she was talking about.
"Um… twist this for hot water, that for cold water, and use the soap to get the dirt off."
He nodded on understanding, twisting the knobs she indicated.
"Great! Let me get you some clean clothes."
"State your name business please."
"I'm Hope Wright. I, uh, just 'ported here. My powers are out of whack again."
"Hope? No way! You look so different! Come in!"
They met in the foyer with a hug.
"You cut your hair!" Ioa said, running her fingers through Hope's chin-length bob.
"I know, it sucks. My hair is so poofy now and keeping it out of my face is a nightmare." Hope smiled, lightly biting her tongue between her teeth.
"How'd it happen?" Last time Ioa saw her, Hope's hair was nearly to her waist and she was intent on growing it until her hair naturally stops.
"It was singed."
Ioa didn't ask how. "Where's Nat, Julie, and Tiana?" She led Hope to the kitchen.
"They're doing hero work. Do you know how many hoops I had to jump through to get out of it? Way too many."
Ioa didn't really understand, but Hope seemed to want someone to vent to.
"It has to be illegal how inescapable hero work is. It's a government organization, very similar to the army, and they draft us as soon as we leave high school. I don't want to join the army! I want to go to college and be an author!"
"I know!" Hope huffed. "Anyway, how have you been? You been doing all right?"
"Not that great. It turns out that three months is the perfect amount of time for me to get adjusted to society and then banished to lab hosting a radio tower. And I have insomnia."
"Who's idea was that?"
"That witch!" Rage exploded from her voice despite her appearing calm. "You shouldn't be out in the middle of nowhere! Did anyone stop her?"
"No. But Emalee-"
"Everyone looks up to her too much. You should not be here."
"It's too late anyway. The Travellers are on board with me staying here. It's the tower they're interested in. Without it there's a dead zone."
Hope hummed with dissent. The kitchen is tidy and lived in and quite old. It's the homeyist place in the lab so Ioa always winds up spending way too much there. She relaxed subtly.
Ioa forgot how perceptive Hope can be. Standing at the door, silently, was Ben. His shirt was too big, he didn't need socks because his pants were so long, and he only wore a lab coat because Ioa wore one.
"I didn't know that Sewoans come in black."
"He's not. He's a shadow monster."
Hope paused. "...And you let him in?"
"He was being bullied. Obviously I couldn't just leave him."
Hope nodded, as though it made complete sense. "Of course. You need company as well. Someone who isn't constantly shoving sleeping pills down your throat."
"Now show me a map, I need to talk to Jubi."
As Emalee has a key, some kind of infrared device, she didn't need Ioa to push a button. Ioa was busy trying to dissuade Hope from doing the 3-day trek from the lab to Norview and Hope was busy finding the fastest possible route. That's why when Emalee screeched "THERE IS A SHADOW MONSTER IN THE LAB!" Hope accidentally tore the map jumping out of her seat, but then something crossed her mind so she sat back down.
"Aren't you going to…?"
"Nah, I'm off duty."
Emalee ran into the library, her green hair in disarray. Clinging to her shoulder is a ragdoll who seemed just as panicked as she was.
"Ioa! Hope! Why aren't you doing anything?"
Ben silently squeezed his way in. Emalee flinched away, cursing in Ancient Sewoan.
"He's harmless," Hope murmured. "And I ripped your map. Sorry Epik."
Emalee cringed even harder than she flinched.
"She changed her name shortly after you left for your test," Ioa said helpfully. "And then tried to burn all of the records using that name."
"So you aged! Congrats! What's your new name now?" Hope first met Emalee years and years ago. Hope was 13, Emalee appeared to be 11 and was very intent on staying that way. All Sewoans can control their aging to some degree, most just choose not to. But Emalee stayed young for a very long time. She looks like a proper 20-something now, a huge improvement.
"It's Emalee now," she said around clenched teeth.
"E-E or I-E?"
"E-E with an A. I'm sorry, how is the way my name spelled relevant to the fact that there is a vikan SHADOW MONSTER IN THE LAB!"
Ioa curled up in her chair, her purple hair hiding her face.
"Ep- Emalee, he's harmless. If he was going to harm her he would have done it by now," Hope said as calmly as she could.
The shadow monster in question lightly prodded Ioa.
"But there's a risk, Hope! You aren't native here, you don't understand," said Emalee, flailing her arms.
"So what if I'm not? I just know that leaving someone by themselves is a terrible idea! It's not good for anyone's mental health, especially someone who had experienced trauma. Ioa needs a chance to be normal!"
Ioa raised her head slightly and smiled at Ben. She tousled his hair.
Neither Emalee nor Hope saw this.
"You're projecting Hope. You want her to be normal because you can't."
Hope's laugh was sharp and unamused. "So what if I am? Doesn't change the fact that she has been in that stupid lab for as long as she can remember, sedated 24/7, and then was almost immediately sent back to one! Your mental health facilities here are shit."
"Yours aren't any better," Emalee shot back.
"At least they tried!"
Ben was pulled into the chair beside Ioa. She finger brushed his hair in an attempt to fix his perpetual bed-head. It didn't work.
"Look, Hope, the shadow monster can't stay. It's going to eat her."
"I sleep better with him around," Ioa said quietly.
Both women turned to face her.
"He makes me sleep more often."
Hope's face could only be described as smug.
Hope stayed the night and left at dawn, just before anyone else was awake. It seems as though she's really intent on giving Jubi a stern talking-to.
Emalee had a minor freak-out because travelling without a Traveller is illegal and unsafe. Her doll and Ioa watched her pace the kitchen.
"She's going to die."
"No she won't," Ioa said, stirring together something in the kettle.
"Yes, she will. She's not a native. Oh, dois, I should have taken her seriously." She rubbed her hands over her face. "I wasn't expecting her to actually go to Jubi by herself! I have to let Jubi know!"
"Actually, Hope is just as observant to her surroundings as a native Sewoan, E.R!," The doll piped up. It sounds just like a little girl trying to sound mature.
"Eurgh, Lalu, I said either Emalee or Epic. Initials are weird."
The doll tilted its over-sized head to the side, nearly toppling over. "I don't understand. You hate being called Epic now."
"Not by you. You're mine."
Which sounds a bit creepy but Ioa knew that Lalu is Emalee's oldest toy and is the only that has never ever been deactivated. She has never seen her without Lalu on her shoulder or hiding behind her black cloak. In fact, Ioa once overheard Jubi saying that Lalu is perhaps the only remnant of a time before Emalee was Epic.
Which blew her tired mind for a moment because Epic was just Epic before she became Emalee.
It still blows her tired mind.
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
Ioa shook her head. "Oh, sorry." She tapped the spoon against the rim of the kettle and set the temperature to high.
"Where's the lid?"
"I threw outside because I was mad and when I went to find it the next day it was gone."
"And they said I was the odd one."
"I'm keeping Ben though. He's mine."
Emalee raised her eyebrows. "Whatever you say Ioa." But her mouth twitched and Ioa knew she didn't approve.
Ben tapped her shoulder five times and then thrust something in her face. Ioa pushed it away. "Don't put stuff in my face. I don't like it." Ben held it a more respectable distance. Ioa looked it over and grinned.
"Hey, show it to Em."
When Emalee saw it, a grin lit up her blue face and she hugged the little boy so tight that he was squirming to be released.
After all, who wouldn't like to be featured in a child's family portrait?
"Why is your skin blue?" Ben asked, signing.
Emalee didn't pause her sewing. "My blood is blue, that's why."
"But Ioa's skin is grey?"
"Her skin is actually a very desaturated red as her blood is red."
"What about…" he snapped his fingers, thinking. "What about that girl with the hair and the..." he mimed the satchel Hope was wearing.
"She's human. Her blood is red, and her skin is brown because of 'melin.' I think."
"But I'm black and my blood is grey?"
"You aren't Sewoan. You have black skin because you are a monster."
Jubi is a tall woman, intimating in both her muscular figure and her color choices. Her hair is purple striped with red, her skin is orange, and her eyes are an ugly pinkish-brown. Why she chose those colors, Ioa didn't know. She's a shapeshifter, she can choose whatever hue she wants and she chose those.
She's holding Hope by her shirt collar.
"This one says I made a poor decision," she drawls, idly rocking Hope back and forth.
"Did you really carry by the collar for…" Emalee counted on her fingers. "3? You carried her for three days?"
"Nah, I just pulled out a psychology textbook to prove my point and she thought that I was being a 'show off.'" Hope shrugged, not really bothered.
"And you! I thought you had school or something?"
Hope finger-gunned. "I'm on summer break yo! I'm so glad Sewoa cool, otherwise I'd be battling hundred degree weather."
"How are you not dead yet?" Temperatures in Sewoa never seem to go above 80 degrees fahrenheit.
"I'm a southern girl. Well, south-west technically. Geography is a bit weird since the US is a little til-"
"Enough with the tangents you two!" Jubi tossed Hope away. "I am here because apparently, I didn't consider someone's mental health." She cast her glare on the two women. Emalee looked away, Hope met her gaze and held it.
Ioa walked in on an impromptu staring match, neither woman willing to look away. She turned around and walked back to the kitchen.
Unfortunately, she couldn't escape the incoming debate by hiding there.
Ioa hated being talked about, it made her feel like a test subject again, wrapped in a thin gown and referred to as an object who just so happens to have a semi-useful ability. And Ben… well, at least he isn't in the room.
At least Hope is adamant about Ioa not staying, even though her arguments basically boil down to "she needs to be normal" and "mental health."
Jubi's defense is basically "She accepted the task."
Hope doesn't have the same respect for Jubi as everyone else does. She doesn't accept any of her orders without commenting on them, which annoys Jubi and worries Joden.
Jubi is a high ranking traveller. She knows shit. She's seen shit.
Hope can travel to multiple worlds. She's seen shit too.
If Hope and Emalee go off on tangents together, then Hope and Jubi constantly get in each other's way.
They didn't reach a compromise. Jubi is stubborn. Hope is stubborn too. They fought back and forth, forth and back, with occasional input from Emalee. Ioa didn't say anything and no one asked her opinion. She ended leaving the kitchen and hid in her room. She never used it; she sleeps on the couch and her clothes are in the bathroom since she can't make herself put them away.
She found Ben with a blanket around his shoulders and playing two wads of clothes. It vaguely looks like people. She watched him bob one up and down, making its head tilt back and forth. Then the other one bobbed up and down, but more erratically. His face became angry and he mouthed furious shapes.
The first one started bobbing too. His face became soft and placating. His lips made the same shape over and over. Then, sudden determination and the first ran into the second. They stuck together. Surprise. The second is confused. The first shook its head. They stayed stuck together for a little while, Ben's face sad. Then the first moved away, head bowed, almost ashamed of it. His eyebrows drew together, the second confused. "Why?"
Sheepish, the first began explaining.
Then Ben relaxed his toys and looked up. He saw Ioa, dropped his toys and sank into the bed. She laughed. Really laughed, a full-on belly laugh.
He popped up just ahead of her, crossing his arms. He's indigiant
"I'm sorry," Ioa said in between her giggles. "It's just -ha!- you really are a kid."
Emalee's staring at her. Ioa found herself blushing as she finished making the eggs. Her skin is gray but her blood is red, so Emalee said that she was warm. Ioa didn't understand it. Like, how does blood color determine personality? If red equals warm and blue equals cold then what does yellow mean? Lukewarm? Besides, Emalee has blue blood but she's pretty warm. She thinks. What is a warm personality anyway?
"You don't have heavy bags under eyes anymore."
"The dark circles under your eyes. They aren't as noticeable anymore." She rested her chin on her hand. "Maybe Ben is good for you." She said that begrudgingly, like she wasn't sure it was possible.
"Once he laid on top of me for four hours just to make sure I rested."
Emalee snorted. "I wish I thought of that."
"If you did your toys would get mad."
Emalee couldn't suppress the laughter that bubbled from her. "Especially Barbie. She hates the fact that I don't bring her here."
Ioa scrapped the eggs onto plates and passed one to Emalee. "If… If I ever get moved to a normal town I hope I can bring Ben with me."
Emalee nodded. "Yeah. I hope so too."