Orphaned (Commission) – Ch 12 – lostandwhatever
Series commissioned by Areat, originally published on my Patreon.
“You live here?” Eddie asked, as Ms. Peach pulled into Charlie’s apartment complex.
“I do,” Charlie said. “Or, I did when I was an adult.”
“Which building?” Ms. Peach asked.
Charlie pointed, “That one right there.”
She parked near the door, and everyone got out of the car and stretched. They were stiff after an hour-long drive.
Eddie walked up to the door of the apartment building and tried to open it. “It’s locked,” he said. “How’re we supposed to get in?”
“I’m on the first floor,” Charlie said. “My patio is over on the side. Come on. We can use my back door.”
They followed him to a recessed patio with a pair of outdoor chairs and a small patio table. Again, Eddie tried turning the handle of the glass door. “This one’s locked too,” he said. “Damn, someone find a rock. We’re going to have to break in.”
Charlie picked up a rock next to some bushes and carried it over to the door. Eddie held out his hand, but Charlie just stood there fiddling with the rock. Suddenly the bottom of the rock slid open, and Charlie pulled out his spare key from inside.
“Oh,” Eddie said, sounding impressed.
“Excuse me,” Charlie said. Eddie stepped aside to let Charlie unlock the door. Once it was open, they all entered Charlie’s apartment.
Charlie was home. He let out a big sigh of relief, finally letting out some of the tension that had been stored up inside of him for weeks now. It was only now after coming home that he realized how homesick he had been. At last, he was back to something safe, something familiar.
The scale of things was not very familiar, though. He walked by pieces of furniture that he had carried into his apartment on his own that were now too heavy for him to even lift. He felt a little disturbed, and the feeling only grew more intense the longer he stood in his own apartment. It seemed as if everything he owned only existed now to emphasize how small he had become, leaving him with a sense that he was shrinking again. Though, a quick check of his relative height to his friends convinced him that the feeling was just in his mind.
Ms. Peach shut the door behind them once everyone was inside.
Eddie surveyed the room and said, “Nice place you have here.”
“I used to apologize because it was so small,” Charlie said. “It was the biggest place I could afford on my own. Now, it just seems… huge.”
Jack said, “Can I use your toilet?” He did a little dance, indicating he had to pee.
“Sure,” Charlie said. “It’s just down the hall there.”
“Thanks,” Jack said and ran off.
“Got any food?” Davion asked.
“There’s some cereal in the kitchen. You’d better not look in the fridge.”
Davion nodded and went to the kitchen.
“Whoa,” Eddie said. “You’ve got a Playbox 6!”
“Oh,” Charlie said as Eddie ran over to the TV. “Yeah, I don’t have many games for it yet, though. If you want, you can…” Before he could finish talking, Eddie had already turned on the TV and the game system. “Have fun,” Charlie said and turned back to Ms. Peach.
“So,” she said, looking around. “This is your place?”
Charlie nodded. “You still want some proof of who I am. Don’t you?”
“Well…” she said with a barely perceptible shrug.
“Come to my bedroom,” he said and felt himself blush at the accidental insinuation in his words. He led the way, and she trailed behind him. In his bedroom, he found a box next to his bed and grunted as he lifted it up onto his bed. “Check this out,” he said as he hopped up onto the bed and lifted the lid off of the box.
The box was filled with old family heirlooms. Framed photos were layered besides souvenirs from family trips. Charlie pulled out a family portrait and showed it to Ms. Peach. “Here’s me with my parents from back when I was a kid… originally.”
She took a seat on the bed next to him, and he felt the bed sink under her weight much more than it had done when he had sat down. His heart began racing as he realized he was eye level with her sizable chest.
“I remember going to this amusement park when I was a kid,” she said as she noticed the roller coaster behind him. “They shut it down a few years ago, didn’t they?”
He nodded and pulled out another framed photo. “This was from when I graduated high school.”
“Wow,” she said.
She pointed at the year. “You’re older than me. I graduated a few years later.”
There was an awkward moment of silence, during which they both became aware that they were on his bed together. She stood up and took a few steps away.
To break the silence, he explained, “These photos were from my parents house, the house I grew up in. I kept them after they… after the accident.” He held up a more recent photo with him and his parents and then slid it quietly into his pocket.
“I see,” she said.
“But,” he said, trying to sound upbeat. “That’s not why we’re here.” He walked over to his desk and opened a drawer. “Let’s see. It should be in here.”
“What is it?”
He pulled out a lanyard with a card hanging from it. “My old ID from before my last promotion,” he said as he hung the lanyard from his neck. “My current ID is with all my other personal stuff at the office. I had to leave it there in a locker when they sent me to the prison to make me younger. This ID probably will still be able to open most doors in the office.”
“‘Probably’ is the best I’ve got right now. We just have to hope this will get us inside. After that… Well, I hope that there won’t be any other locked doors between us and the antidote that I need to grow up again.”
“What if we can’t get to the antidote?”
“Then I’m out of luck, I guess.” He shrugged. “No point in worrying about that now. We’ve got to move. Once they figure out that I’m not in Greenwood anymore, I bet Dr. Wolff and her goons are going to come looking for us here or at the office.”
“Then, we’d better get moving.”
“Right,” he said.
“Oh, shit!” Eddie yelled from the other room. “Look out!”
Charlie and Ms. Peach exchanged a worried look and ran into the living room.
“Shoot that fucker!” Eddie yelled at Davion who was holding a Playbox controller. On the TV a character was blasting away at a horde of zombies that were surrounding Davion’s avatar.
“Use the grenades!” Jack said.
“I know,” Davion said as a few explosions blasted zombie parts into the air.
“Behind you!” Eddie cried.
“Shit,” Davion said as his character was overrun by the undead horde at last.
“My turn,” Jack said.
Charlie let out a sigh of relief and said, “Sorry guys. We’ve got to get going now.”
The other boys all whined and complained.
Ms. Peach, using her most commanding tone, said, “That’s enough. We need to get moving now. Shut down the game and get back into the car.”
The boys grumbled a bit, but they did as they were told and left the apartment.
Charlie followed Ms. Peach out the back door and took a moment to look at his apartment one last time. He tried to ignore the feeling that it might be the last time he saw it. Then, he shut the door and locked it.
Once they were all back in the car again and pulling away. Charlie checked in his pocket to make sure he still had the family photo with him and his parents—a keepsake and, he hoped, a good-luck charm.
Sitting inside a car parked at the other end of the parking lot, Dr. Wolff watched Ms. Peach drive away.
“Follow them,” she told Bud, who had taken over driving the car. As their car started moving, she took out her phone and made a call.
Kingsley answered, “Have they left the apartment?”
“Yes,” she replied. “We’re following them now.”
“Don’t do anything to stop them from getting into the building.”
“It will be easier for us to deal with them behind closed doors.”
“Right,” she said. “I’ll keep you updated.”
“Good work,” he said. “Don’t let me down.”
He hung up, and she put her phone away. “Keep your distance,” she told Bud. “We know where they’re heading. No need to rush. They won’t get away from us again.”
The sun was setting when Ms. Peach parked down the street from the Arvaxis Pharmaceuticals office. They all sat in the car for a minute just looking at the front door of the office building.
“So,” Eddie said. “Let’s just get in there already.”
“What if someone’s still inside?” Jack said. “Maybe we should wait until after dark.”
“It’s a Saturday,” Davion said. “The place is probably empty.”
“Well?” Ms. Peach said to Charlie.
“Let’s go,” he said. “We don’t have the time to wait for dark.”
They got out of the car, and Charlie led them to a side entrance to the building, the same door he had exited from the last time he had been inside. The security camera over the door was intimidating, but Charlie did his best to ignore it. Instead he just held up his ID, and said, “Here goes nothing,” and swiped it by the reader on the doorframe. A little LED went from red to green, and the door clicked unlocked. Charlie pulled the door open and took a deep breath. “Let’s do it,” he said. He walked inside with the rest of his group following behind him.
The hallway was dimly lit by only an occasional ceiling light, the rest of them having been turned off to save power. There was an unnerving feeling of being in a haunted house as they walked through the empty building.
“This place gives me the creeps,” Jack said.
“Don’t be a pussy,” Eddie said. “It’s just a building.”
“I dunno,” Jack said. “I just feel… worried. Something’s wrong about this place.”
“Here,” Charlie said and stopped by a secure door. A sign next to the door said, “Testing Laboratory.” He looked around for some place to swipe his card, but there did not appear to be a reader by this door, only a black glass panel at eye-level for an adult. Charlie tried the door handle, but it did not budge.
“Shit,” Eddie said. “What do we do now?”
“What’s this panel up here by the doorframe?” Ms. Peach asked. She leaned in to look at it and jerked her head back.
“What happened?” Charlie asked.
She blinked and rubbed her eye. “Something in there flashed at me, like a camera flash.”
“Maybe it’s a retinal scanner,” Charlie said. “Damn.”
“Okay,” Eddie said. “So, we just need to get one of those fuckers and cut out one of their eyes.”
“You are not cutting out anyone’s eyes,” Ms. Peach said.
Eddie sighed. “Fine. But, it would have worked.”
Charlie noticed Davion quietly put his pocket knife away again.
Meanwhile, Jack was standing on his tiptoes trying to look into the retinal scanner. “I want to see it.”
“Maybe we should go,” Ms. Peach said.
Charlie said, “But… we’re so close.”
“Help me up,” Jack said to Eddie. “Let me stand on your back.”
“Fuck you! You’re not putting your dirty-ass feet on me,” Eddie said, then he turned to Davion. “You get his left leg. I’ll get his right.”
Ms. Peach said, “If we can’t get in, then there’s nothing more we can do here. Is there?”
“I know,” Charlie said. “I just need a minute to think. I know I can figure it out.”
“A little higher,” Jack said as the other boys lifted him up by the legs. “Good. I can see inside it now. It’s…” He yelped when the scanner flashed his eye. Then, the three of them tumbled into a heap on the floor.
To everyone’s surprise, a light on the panel went green, and they heard the lock click Charlie tried the handle again. The door opened.
“Whoa,” Eddie said. “You did it, Jack.”
“What did I do?”
“You opened the door,” Charlie said with a mixture of awe and surprise. “What did you do?”
“I… just looked in the scanner.”
“Come on,” Eddie said. “Let’s find that drug to get Charlie back to normal. I bet we can find some files about our families in here too.”
Charlie led them into the lab. There were rows of cubicles near the door and, past them, lab equipment covered long tables. Fume hoods lined one wall, and empty cages of various sizes lined the other.
“This is some mad scientist shit,” Eddie said.
Charlie said, “Look around for a refrigerator or cabinet or something. The drug I need should be around here somewhere.”
They spread out and started searching around the lab equipment and computers.
After a minute, Eddie said, “Whoa, cool!”
“What?” Charlie said.
“I found drugs!”
Charlie walked over to the small cabinet that Eddie had opened and asked him, “What’s in there? Bottles? Can you read them?”
“Let’s see,” Eddie said as he squinted at the bottles. “Morphine, Codeine… I don’t know how to pronounce that one.”
Charlie dragged over a chair and stood on it to read the bottles. He sighed. “Doesn’t look like there’s anything out of the ordinary in there.”
“Wait,” Eddie said. “If these are drugs, then where are the needles?” Eddie opened some drawers and cried, “Bingo!” He pulled out a handful of syringes. “Wait,” he said. “They’re empty.”
“You’ve got to stick the needle into the bottle and suck up the medicine first.”
“Oh!” Eddie said and nodded. “I get it.”
“Hey,” Davion called from across the room. “I think I found something in a box here.”
Charlie and the others walked over to examine what Davion had found. Sitting on a table was a plain cardboard box that had been shut with packing tape. A sticker on the side of the box said, “Tabula Rasa Test Supplies.”
“Your knife,” Charlie suggested.
Davion unfolded his knife and sliced opened the top of the box. Inside, some styrofoam packaging surrounded a pair of bottles. Charlie pulled them out and read their labels, “Tabula Rasa A and Tabula Rasa B.”
“Is that what you’re looking for?” Eddie asked.
Charlie shook his head. “I don’t think so. I think these drugs are going to be delivered to the prison to be used on another convict. You see, ‘A’ changes the body, and ‘B’ changes the mind.”
“What about the antidote?” Jack asked.
Charlie pulled the styrofoam out of the box to check it again and sighed. “There’s nothing else in there,” he said.
“Charlie,” Ms. Peach called to him.
“What is it?”
“Was the doctor in the alley named, Wolff?”
“I think I found her office.”
Charlie ran over to Ms. Peach to find a reinforced glass door. Sure enough, the sign on the wall said, “Dr. Linda Wolff.” He tried to turn the handle, but it would not budge. Then, he noticed that the lock was unlike the ones on any of the other doors. There was a black glass pad just above the handle that was lit by blue LED lights.
“Thumb print…” he said and thought back to the retinal scanner. “Jack?”
“Try your thumb on this.”
Jack walked over and tried placing his thumb against the touch pad. Nothing happened.
“Damn,” Charlie said. “I bet everything we need is in there.”
“Hey,” Davion said from across the room. “I got this computer working.”
“How?” Eddie asked as they all walked over to Davion.
“Someone left their password on a sticky note. Not a smart move.”
“Search for Tabula Rasa,” Charlie said.
Davion did and found a file folder. “Here we go,” he said. “Files, videos… everything.”
“You see anything in there that says antidote?”
“Nope,” Davion said.
“Open a video!” Eddie said.
Davion opened the folder, and they all read through the list of files. “There I am,” Davion said.
“Open it!” Eddie said.
“I don’t care,” Davion said, shrugging. “I don’t remember it, and it’s not me anymore.”
“Fine,” Eddie said. “Then, open mine.”
Davion opened Eddie’s file. It was the same video that Charlie had watched in Roger Kingsley’s office. He thought about warning Eddie, but he decided that Eddie had a right to see it.
“Hey,” Eddie said. “Is that me? Whoa, I look cool! Check out those tattoos.” As they listened and watched him change into a boy, Eddie became less proud and more horrified. When the video ended, Eddie turned and walked away without another word. Charlie thought he heard Eddie sniffle a little as the boy wiped his face on his sleeve.
Jack pointed at the screen and said, “Why does mine look different?” They all looked at the thumbnail for Jack Smith. It was much darker, and, unlike the other videos, it did not show the same prison room.
“Want to see it?” Davion asked and glanced over at Eddie briefly.
Jack hesitated, and then he nodded slightly.
Davion pressed play…
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