Nedjma hatches a plan – a very, very bad plan. Finally, Kenneth’s magic is revealed. Meanwhile, Luna and Kacie offer a case study for the slow descent into madness.
“I’m in,” whispered Kenneth, very stealthily.
“I know, idiot, I can see you,” Nedjma said back.
Kenneth shivered, causing Jose (whose limp body he held in his arms) to shudder ever so slightly.
“Oop –– sorry, bud,” said Kenneth.
“Hrrrrrnggg,” Jose groaned.
In front of the boys, a set of glass doors slid open. Beside them, unbeknownst to any spectators, the ghost of Nedjma Sanders hovered like a stressed shadow.
“Go time,” Kenneth muttered. Then he threw himself into the hospital and released a horrible cry.
“PLEASE HELP! MY FRIEND IS DYING!”
Immediately, all the nearby hospital staff sprang into motion. Nedjma watched tensely as Kenneth explained bits of the situation –– “miasma sickness, and I don’t know, I think something bit him in there!” Receptionists frantically jabbed at buttons on their desks, and in moments, a flurry of nurses arrived to take Jose away.
“They didn’t ask for I.D. or anything,” Nedjma said to herself. “Rad.”
“Excuse me, sir, but could we get some I.D. for your friend,” said a cherry-cheeked receptionist, tapping Kenneth’s shoulder.
“Shoot,” Nedjma grunted.
“Uh, sure . . . but I need to go to the bathroom first,” Kenneth lied in a rush.
The receptionist, who seemed to have far too much experience with situations like this one, nodded and quickly directed Kenneth towards the nearest men’s room. Unenthusiastically, Nedjma followed him inside.
“Smooth,” she whispered in his ear.
Kenneth did a strange little wiggle with his shoulders. “Ga-ha-hah! That’s freaky to the max, Nedj.”
“Oh, shut up,” Nedjma retorted. Outside the miasma, she couldn’t get anyone to see her ghost, but for once, somebody could hear her. Meanwhile, her body was back at the start of the miasma, lying in a crumpled, dead heap beside Kenneth and Jose’s HCP suits. “I’m sensing Jose. They’re fixing him up now. I can sense . . .” She laughed weakly. “I can sense his life force coming back. He’ll live. He’ll live . . .”
Kenneth slumped against the sinks. “Oh, thank god.”
At that moment, another man staggered into the bathroom, looking green. Glancing briefly at Kenneth, he threw himself into the closest stall and started throwing up noisily.
Delicately, Kenneth shut the stall door.
“So what do we do about the you-know-what?” he asked through his teeth, masking his voice under the ambient sounds of vomit.
“You mean the I.D.s?” Nedjma asked.
“Uh, yeah, obviously.”
Nedjma bit her ghostly lip. She sighed. “I have an idea. A bad one.”
“So, Marranon hospitals are fine,” she said, gesturing around at the walls, “but Demonwall is the best. Plus, if Jose recovers in time to help stop this whole mess, it’d be better to have him on Demonwall anyway. So . . . he needs to fly there . . .”
A frown filled Kenneth’s face as the realization sunk in. “Oh no.”
“Yeah,” said Nedjma unenthusiastically. “Find a payphone. Call Jose’s mom. She . . . she can get his dad to fly her over.”
“This means she and Jose’ll owe his dad a huge favor,” Kenneth pointed out. “They might just prefer the Marranon treatment plan.”
“This is life or death,” Nedjma reminded him grimly. “Not just for Jose, but for everyone at home. We’ll have to manage.”
Kenneth sighed deeply, but nodded. “I’ll call her then. Which means I might as well just give them Jose’s name, huh?”
“Might as well,” Nedjma agreed. “We’re wanted, but like, he’ll need to be alive before he can be arrested, right?”
This, shockingly, didn’t soothe Kenneth’s nerves. He buried his face in his hands and groaned. “This is a mess.”
From inside the stall, the sickly man managed, “S-sorry.”
“Not you,” Kenneth told him.
“Here’s part two of my bad plan,” said Nedjma, leaning her ghostly form closer to Kenneth’s ear. “It’s the even worse part. So, according to Lulu ––”
“Shshsh,” said Nedjma impatiently. “According to Lulu, the miasma is made up of necromantic residue and, uh, other gunk I can use. I can use my ghost powers outside my body there . . . so I think I can teleport my actual body to the mouth of Demonwall mountain.”
“You think?” said Kenneth anxiously.
“I’m pretty sure,” Nedjma rephrased, which didn’t seem to help. “Look, I’ve done it a million times in Verithiel! I’ll do it. I can. I have to.”
Kenneth still seemed unconvinced, but he pressed on: “Okay, so you go and meet Lulu –– and do not let her take advantage of you in any way ––”
This time, it was Nedjma’s turn for an uncomfortable shudder. She clapped both ghostly hands over her ears. “Gah –– ew ––gag me with a spoon, Kenneth. I’m not an idiot. And don’t say anything.”
Kenneth grumbled something that sounded dangerously like, Could’ve fooled me. Luckily for him, Nedjma’s home and best friend were at stake, so she let it go.
“Normally, I wouldn’t leave Jose,” she said, quieter now. “It’s gonna really freak him out, waking up here. But I can’t leave this up to Lulu –– she needs my help.”
“And somebody to make sure she’s on the right side,” said Kenneth.
Their conversation was briefly interrupted as the sick man threw open the bathroom door with a bang. Looking waxy and trembly, he washed his hands in solemn silence. Then, with as much dignity as he could muster, he walked out of the bathroom.
“That’s a relief,” Kenneth muttered. “And wait a minute, Nedj –– what about me?”
He couldn’t see it, but Nedjma wrinkled her nose. “Weeeell . . . I don’t actually know.”
“Figures,” Kenneth grumbled. He buried his face in his hands again. “Okay, lucky for you, I might have an idea. Uuuugh . . . it’s gonna be like something out of a stupid movie. I’ll stay here with Jose till his mom gets here . . . and I’ll go with you.”
“Just trust me,” said Kenneth. He glanced around the bathroom, then rolled his eyes. “Okay, plan: I’ll give the hospital a fake name for me. Someone from work or something. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. I’ll figure it out.”
Nedjma looked like she wanted to argue, but of course, she couldn’t. Not with so much on the line. “Okay, Onion Lord.”
Kenneth scowled. “Don’t test me.”
Though he’d been facing the wrong direction for most of his and Nedjma’s conversation, Nedjma still noticed his expression soften.
“Go back to your body before things get complicated,” he said. “I . . . I’ll meet you there. Sorta.”
“O . . . kay,” said Nedjma. “I’ll bring the other HCP suits with me, ‘kay?”
“‘Kay,” said Kenneth. “Now get out of here. And be careful.”
Nedjma stared at her brother a long minute, as if this was the last time she’d ever see him scowl. For all she knew, it was.
“You too,” she murmured at last. As goosebumps rose on Kenneth’s arm, Nedjma’s ghost vanished.
Miles away, her body gasped awake.
“Woo, very close, that was very close,” she chanted to herself as she stood, shaking off her limbs. She swayed a little, a byproduct of too many sleepless hours. Overhead, night stretched across the cloudy sky in tendrils of purple and blue.
Nedjma looked around. “Uh . . . Kenneth?”
“Hey, Nedj,” said a high-pitched voice.
Releasing a noise that was half-scream and half-terrifed-laugh, Nedjma jumped. Then, very slowly, she dropped her eyes to a small keypad on her wrist. The plastic cover was open, revealing buttons and a few wires.
Nedjma blinked. The wires had rearranged themselves, forming a crude smiley face with two button eyes . . .
“Yeah, yeah, you can laugh,” it said.
Yelping, Nedjma slammed the cover closed.
“Uh, rude!” it protested, its voice muffled.
Slowly, wide-eyed, Nedjma opened the cover again, revealing the (now frowning) face.
“Whaaaaaat the heck?” she managed. “Why do you sound like Kenneth?”
“Because I am Kenneth,” said the face, and sure enough, it had Kenneth’s voice — or at least, the voice Kenneth would have had after huffing helium.
Nedjma blinked rapidly. “What –– what kind of magic is this?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” said Robo-Kenneth. “I’m not a necromancer –– I’m a technomancer.”
A sudden tremor shook Nedjma’s surroundings, matching her shock perfectly. “A . . . what?”
Another tremor. With difficulty, she tore her attention away from Robo-Kenneth and scanned the landscape. Her eyes widened.
“Ooookay,” she said. “I’m gonna need to do that teleporting magic at this exact moment.”
“Why?” said Robo-Kenneth.
Nedjma laughed, and the sound was nothing but stress-fueled panic. “Oh, because I’m pretty sure I’m ten seconds away from being killed by a huge rockslide.”
A beat passed in total silence.
“Well, that’s inconvenient timing,” said Robo-Kenneth.