Entering through the sliding doors, smelling the scent of death pungent enough to nauseate most, and looking at the thoroughly sanitized surfaces of the interior unnerved Kieran.
The uncanny environment triggered some of his memories — mainly the ones of his death and the days leading up to it.
Images played in his mind like an antique film watched through noticeable camera shutters. He was a spectator, yet it was also his memories, which again produced a sense of impostor syndrome... as if he weren't him or wasn't supposed to be.
Or maybe he was being overwritten and too aware of the process.
Nevertheless, Kieran experienced the memories in an agitated dazed.
There were moments when the memories focused on when he would lose grip on cutlery or randomly lose feeling in his limbs and fall. That was a harrowing feeling, but it didn't hold a candle to what he felt toward the end of his crisp experience.
There, he saw it, felt it... experienced it — Charles, accompanied by carrion agents, clawing at his legacy until everything had been stripped bare.
Kieran froze at the threshold, sorting through the memories as reasonably as any could manage.
He thought he had made amends with that past fate and learned to value the boon it gave him, but he was wrong. The emotions rooted in those memories hadn't been handled at all, only displaced and set aside — out of sight, out of mind.
But burying it could only do so much when triggers existed everywhere. He would spiral out of control with a grave enough stimulus if he weren't careful.
Altair, noticing that his friend was lagging behind, turned and saw Kieran frozen with a pained expression. The pain didn't seem physical as much as it did emotional. But even then, Altair felt it was more anger than sorrow.
He shook Kieran, lightly rapping his shoulder afterward.
"Are you good, bro? You looked like you were heading to a dark place."
Jolted by Altair's abrupt shaking, Kieran gasped, looked at his friend, and nodded. He had been in a dark place just then, but Altair brought him out of it; however, that didn't stop Kieran from attributing his fragile emotional state to his Advancing.
Some gate in his mind had been opened, and things were seeping out from within.
Suppressing the dark thoughts sprouting in his mind, Kieran approached the front desk, where a heavy-set nurse enjoyed what he assumed to be her lunch. She hummed and bounced in her chair, enjoying her own little world while eating a... well, garden.
Kieran stared at the helping before looking at the amicable-looking, middle-aged woman with short, curly ginger hair.
"That's a whole lot of greens if you ask me."
Altair scanned the plate and frowned, shaking his head.
"Must be on a health kick."
Kieran tapped the desk within the nurse's field of vision, giving her a start. As she looked up, she saw two tall men of differing stature waving back at her.
She held her chest and breathed heavily.
"Gods, you scared the bejesus out of me. That's no good for my heart palpitations. My doctor already has me on a strict diet."
Kieran pressed his hands together with a contrite grimace and praying hands. n)/o(/v-)e))l--B((I-/n
"My apologies. Could you tell us if there is anyone visiting by the name of Thomas Navarro? And if so, could you point us toward the room he's visiting?"
The nurse didn't immediately answer, instead giving Kieran and Altair critical looks. She seemed almost skeptical and distrustful. That's when she resorted to facility policy.
"That isn't information we can just hand out to anyone because shady business is often conducted in this part of town. And... two young men coming in here is pretty shady."
"No, no. Good intentions. That's all we have. I promise."
Not the most convincing argument, Kieran had to admit. But he felt pushing too hard would make them appear far shadier. Sadly, the nurse just wasn't having it.
"Been there, heard that. It's the handsome faces that you should be most wary of. Deceitful! How about you take a seat, and after my break is over, I'll call up."
After pausing, the nurse added:
"We're short-staffed, so it may take a while. I still have rounds to make."
Deep inside Kieran, he just wanted to jump over the table and handle matters himself, but he breathed despite the constant denial. That's when Kieran had an idea and stepped away from the counter.
'Oh... this is rich and ironic.'
The nurse had called them shady, and he was now... about to engage in shady business.
Stepping outside for a moment, Kieran called Weasel on his holographic receiver.
"What is it, my criminal bestie? What are we getting into today? Is it more gambling?! I love a good gamble."
Kieran sighed a breath of relief. If he had taken that call inside, there was no telling what kind of looks the nurse would have given him.
"Nothing much. Hack into this facility and tell me who is related to Thomas Navarro, the room number, and perhaps details on her health if possible."
"If possible? You underestimate me, and DANG! Watch us work our technological magic. No mainframe can withstand my insidious penetration. I weasel my way in there, and they are none the wiser!"
"Right, buddy. Just get it done."
Kieran ended the call abruptly before Weasel could spew more foolishness, then waited for a chime to come through minutes later. The message was fitted with all the details Kieran required, leading him to gesture to Altair.
"Excuse me, miss. Where is the bathroom?"
She pantomimed the direction with a few gestures. Then, returned to listening to her tunes and eating her plate of a garden variety.
The two slipped around the corner, walking past the bathroom and towards a staircase that didn't even require a key card for access. Needless to say... the security was pretty lax.
They ascended many flights of stairs, soon arriving at the seventh floor, scouting for room 711. It was quickly found with sixteen rooms per floor and four to each cardinal wall.
Kieran peeked through the glass window, finding Bastion hunched over his grandmother's bedside, holding her hand in his hands and trembling.
He lightly opened the door and slipped inside, gently pressing a hand on Bastion's shoulder. He didn't start like Kieran imagined, only slightly lifting his head to acknowledge the touch.
Then, his hoarse voice came as if exhausted from crying.
"Ah, you're back, Arthur? If that's the food... you can set it aside. I'll try and eat something later."
His statement was met with silence, and that's when he turned and simultaneously heard Kieran's reply.
"Not Arthur, bud."
Tears welled in Bastion's eyes as he craned his neck to look at Kieran. He was distraught, hopeless, and in pain. Kieran knew those emotions, so he pulled up a seat, spun it around, and sat, staring at the peacefully sleeping Dahlia — Bastion's grandmother.
Altair entered the room, gently shutting the door behind to avoid disturbing the resting lady.
Kieran didn't talk for a while, staring at the room's monitors that felt almost nostalgic. The drawn-out beep of Dahlia's heart monitor was as slow as Kieran remembered, showing how old and decrepit his body had been on its deathbed.
After giving Bastion some time to process, Kieran smiled at him.
"I'm here, Thomas. I'm late... but I'm here."
Bastion wept, and Kieran listened to his woes.