“Um… where are we going?” Reuben asked, looking out the window of the hovercar.
The car had come to Luca’s house out of nowhere. Someone was obviously directing it where to go since there was no driver. What had most confused the others was that Ace didn’t question it at all. He seemed to know exactly where it had come from.
“The real question is, why are we all coming with you?” Rhydian said as he pushed up his glasses. The car didn’t stop just at Luca’s house. It knew where the rest of them were, too. Rhydian, of course, had been at the coffee shop, and Oscar and Jasmin hadn’t moved from the riverside.
“Yeaaaah, I was having so much fun with Oscar-chan~!”
Oscar sent Jasmin a glare but didn’t say anything to him, too uncertain about the current situation to do so.
Luca observed the interior of the hovercar. He had never ridden in one before. So, naturally, he took out his camera and snapped a few pictures, capturing Reuben’s look of awe as they went across a bridge that overlooked the river and Jasmin playing with an irritated Oscar’s hair.
Ace put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his seat. “Relax, guys. I know exactly where we’re going.”
Oscar raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
Ace nodded. “We’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
Oscar narrowed his eyes at the cyborg but didn’t reply, pulling out his book instead.
“Eeeehhhh, Oscar-chan don’t ignore me~!”
Reuben sighed. “You two are so loud…” his tongue played with his lip ring as he glanced at them. “It’s giving me a headache…”
“Oscar-chaaaaan~!” “You heard him, damare!”
Ace finally had enough and karate chopped both of them on the top of their heads. His eyes glinted in annoyance. “If you two don’t learn to get along, I’ll drop you off in the middle of nowhere,” He snarled, sitting in between them. Oscar sent another glare at Jasmin as he rubbed his head. Jasmin smiled back innocently.
“Tch.” Oscar opened his book and disappeared behind it, anger coming off him in waves.
“Hm… Oscar’s getting ******…” Rhydian mumbled quietly to Luca, who nodded. “Jasmin better stop soon, or he’ll get his head bitten off,” He whispered back.
The rest of the ride was a lot quieter since Jasmin had stopped pestering Oscar, who was still fuming. The blonde, however, was swinging his legs as he looked out the window, seeming completely oblivious to Oscar’s annoyance with him.
After what felt like forever, the hovercar stopped in front of a large, white, seven-story building. The car doors slid open.
“Well, here we are,” Ace said, jumping out of the car first. Jasmin followed and blinked several times so he got used to the somewhat blinding building. “I’ve been at a place that looks like this before!” He exclaimed excitedly. “Although, that was for-” “I know,” Ace replied, glancing at the 20-year-old.
Jasmin sweatdropped. “W-w-wait, you do?!” He ran a hand through his hair before saying quickly, “P-please don’t tell the others! I want to keep a secret!” He clapped his hands together, practically begging Ace.
The cyborg laughed. “I wasn’t planning on telling them.”
Jasmin collapsed to his knees and let out a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness…”
Luca and the others got out of the car before it sped off in another direction. In a matter of seconds, the photographer was snapping more photos.
Meanwhile, Rhydian and Reuben went up to Ace. “Er, so, why are we… wherever this is?” The taller of the two asked, playing with his lip ring again.
Ace looked up at the building. “There’s someone I want you all to meet. C’mon, he’s waiting.” He didn’t say anymore as he began heading toward the entrance. Rhydian and Reuben exchanged a wary glance before following the cyborg, Oscar and the other two right behind them.
The interior of the building was very clean, almost spotless, and it smelled like someone had sprayed lemon scented cleaner everywhere. The walls and floors were white, just like the exterior, but they had a much softer sort of feel to them.
“I’m pretty sure he’s still on the 5th floor…” Ace muttered to himself as they all piled into an elevator. He pressed the 5 button and the doors slid shut.
There was a lively chime as they reached the floor and Ace once again began to lead them, this time down a hallway.
“One… two… three… four… five, here it is.”
Ace stopped in front of a pair of double doors with tinted glass. The words Hacking and Technology Division were printed across them.
Oscar, Rhydian, and Reuben alike had their eyes pinned on the word ‘technology’ with disgust.
Ace glanced back at them. “Just… don’t be too surprised by him.” He flashed them a momentary apologetic grin before opening the doors.
The room beyond them was huge; there was a very high ceiling and the walls spread out in a large rectangle below it. Desks were everywhere, along with papers that were strewn across the white tiled floor. A few people stopped their conversations to see who had come in, but most of them didn’t.
“Wow…” Luca mumbled as they walked inside, itching to take more pictures. He didn’t let himself this time, though, because he wasn’t sure he was allowed to.
Oscar kept his hood up, trying to shield his eyes from the bright white of the room.
Just as Ace put his hands in his pockets and began to look around for a specific person, there was a call of, “Aka-chiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin!” and someone in a swivel chair suddenly rolled past them, just narrowly missing Ace as he jumped out of the way.
He winced as the person ran straight into the wall with a crash. As Jasmin started laughing, Reuben ran over to help whoever it was up.
When the ashy blue haired boy got there, though, they had already gotten back into the swivel chair. They grinned at Reuben. “Mind pushing me back over there?”
Reuben blinked, trying to make something of the person, but couldn’t. “U-uh, yeah, sure.”
The person in the chair looked forward, toward Ace and the others. “Thank ya, Re-u-ben-ic-chi!”
Reuben stared at them. How does he know my name-? The boy shook his head quickly. I guess Ace must have told him… He began pushing the swivel chair to the group.
Ace sighed once they got there, giving the person in the chair a look that seemed to read, ‘you’re hopeless’.
The person grinned widely and said, “Long time no see, Aka-chin!” He crossed his legs on the chair.
“I wasn’t expecting to almost be attacked with a swivel chair this time. You haven’t changed a bit, Shuko,” Ace replied, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
The boy sitting in the chair laughed. “I don’t know why you’d think I would, Aka-chin.”
Shuko had an interesting appearance about him. His messy, shoulder-length jet black hair had a single bright yellow highlight on the left side of his bangs. His eyes were two different colors; the right was a dullish grey-blue and the left was a bright gold. He wore three-quarter black pants that seemed to be pulled tighter around his legs at the ends. A long black and white hooded jacket with long sleeves also adorned him, along with ankle high purple converse and what appeared to be bandages on his forearms. He was much more chaotic looking than anyone in the group had pictured him to be.
Ace shrugged at Shuko. “Dunno.”
Shuko pouted. “You didn’t get my shrimp chips!” He whined, sticking out his bottom lip. Ace raised an eyebrow. “You were the one controlling the hovercar, you could’ve let us stop somewhere to get you some!” The cyborg crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at Shuko.
Shuko leaned his head back on the swivel chair. “You had time before it picked you up!” He exclaimed and Ace pinched the bridge of his nose. “Shuko, you-” “Juuuuuuuuust kidding!” Shuko said cheerfully, sitting back up with a grin on his face. “Jing-kun went to pick up some supplies and he’s gonna get me some while he does that!”
Shuko turned around in his swivel chair so he was sitting backward and looked at the other members of the group with curiosity. “Wooooooow, Aka-chin! Your friends are cool!” A wide grin came onto Shuko’s face again and his gaze flickered to Oscar.
“I need to visit your bookshop sometime, Tsundere-san,” He said as-a-matter-of-factly. “I’ve been meaning to catch up on my reading, but I can never find a good book…” Shuko spun around away from Oscar as the peach haired boy mumbled, “Tsundere…san?”
“As for Minnie-kun,” Shuko began, facing Jasmin, “I wish you good luck. But don’t push it, or you’ll end up in the river 3 miles away from here.” Shuko winked at the blonde, who stared at him in surprise.
Ace sighed. “Shuko, stop showing off.”
Shuko spun around toward Ace and leaned on the back of the swivel chair so they were almost nose to nose. “You’re no fun, Aka-chin,” He said, before hopping off of the chair and rolling it forward.
He put his hands in his pockets. “Alright, follow me! I have something I’d like to show ya, Aka-chiiiiin.” His voice retained its partial drawl as they all began walking toward the center of the room.
“Ace, did you mention us to him?” Reuben asked the cyborg quietly, watching Shuko for a moment.
“Not a thing.” Ace didn’t seem the slightest bit astonished by the way Shuko acted. Reuben gave the cyborg a confused look. “Then how did he know my name?”
A knowing half-smile appeared on Ace’s face. “Even though he’s not a cyborg like I am,” He began, “His observation and prediction skills are one of a kind. He can read people in the blink of an eye.”
Reuben raised his eyebrows in amazement. “Really?”
Ace nodded. “Yep. Not to mention, his hacking abilities are even more advanced than mine are. And that is definitely saying something.”
Shuko stopped at what apparently was his desk and hopped on the surface, crossing his legs into a sitting position. His eyes flashed briefly in Luca’s direction, making the photographer tense a little bit, but Shuko didn’t say anything to him.
“Okay, so, what’s the job you told me about?” Ace asked, making Shuko look up at him. “Oh, right. Hang on a sec.”
He pulled up several computer screens that almost circled him entirely from his wristband and began typing something.
“I was browsing through government files earlier today and came across something I think you might be interested in,” Shuko said, as if looking through government files was something everyone did.
The hacker clicked on a last thing before switching the screen around so Ace could see it. The cyborg’s eyes grew wide and he looked at Shuko in shock.
“Did this just come up today?”
Shuko shrugged and put his hands behind his head. “No, I think it’s been there for a day or two.”
While Ace continued to observe the screen and started typing something, Shuko changed his focus to the others. “If you all want, I can get some chairs or something for you,” He said.
“Ooh, could we get a tour~?” Jasmin asked excitedly, bouncing on his heels a little bit. Shuko grinned. “Sure, Minnie-kun! You seem to be wanting coffee anyway…” Shuko jumped off of his desk and turned to Ace.
“Aka-chin, I’ll transfer this to your wristband,” He said, before clicking something that made the computers disappear before reappearing from Ace’s wristband.
Shuko gave Ace a three fingered salute before smiling at the others. “Alright, let’s go to the break room!”
He lead them past Ace and toward the back of the room, where another door was. Jasmin quickened his pace.
“Minnie-kun, beyond that door is the breakroom, so get as much coffee as you want! Just watch out in about 2 minutes…” Shuko said to him, and Jasmin smiled. “Awesome, thanks, Shu!” He exclaimed before running ahead.
Oscar rolled his eyes.
“Tsundere-san, why don’t you follow him? He’ll appreciate the company, I’m sure,” Shuko told him, glancing back. Oscar scowled. “No way.”
A half-grin twisted onto Shuko’s face. “C’mon, Oz-zy-kuuun! What if Merrick-san went with you?” The hacker glanced at Rhydian with a small nod.
Oscar let out an agitated sigh. “Fine. Rhydian, would you mind going first?” he asked tiredly, giving Rhydian a look of apology. The writer smiled and pushed up his glasses. “Not at all!” He began skipping after Jasmin, Oscar close behind and muttering to himself.
Shuko turned around and walked backward as he looked at the last two. His eyes sparkled with interest as they switched from Reuben to Luca and back again.
“And finally, we have the clockmaker and the photographer!” Shuzo grinned. “Lu-ca-chiiiin, you are welcome to take pictures in here, so feel free to take as many as you like!” He exclaimed, startling Luca for a moment.
The photographer swallowed before smiling nervously. “O-okay, t-thanks.” He picked up his camera and looked for a place to start.
“One, two, three, click!” Shuzo jumped in from of Luca just as he pressed down on the shutter release button, making the photographer sweatdrop.
“Heheh…” Shuzo took a step back from Luca and tilted his head to the side. “Thank you, Luca-chin,” He said, before looking to Reuben and leaving Luca in a bit of bewilderment yet again. “Reubenicchi, you’re good with gears, right?” He asked. Reuben nodded slowly, playing with his lip ring.
Shuko’s eyes shimmered for a moment, before he said, “Don’t forget to put that skill to use about… 17 days from now, okay?”
Reuben furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. 17 days from then… he stopped walking. In 17 days it would be Caio’s birthday.
“How… did you…?” Reuben mumbled, giving Shuko a look of bewilderment. Shuko tapped his head with a half-smile. “Remember what Aka-chin said?”
Reuben paused, trying to remember before his face flickered with realization. ‘“His observation and prediction skills are one of a kind.“‘
Shuko put his hands back in his pockets and spun around. “Just be sure you don’t forget, okay? It’ll be probably needed most, then, Reubenicchi.”
Reuben opened his mouth to say something but reconsidered and closed it. His pace quickened and he passed Shuko and Luca, not saying a word.
The black-haired hacker put his hands behind his head and walked a little slower so he was in step with Luca. “Say, Lu-kun…” Shuko murmured, his voice quieting down. “You should send those pictures to them.”
Luca blinked. “H-huh?”
Shuko shrugged. “The pictures you took on… Tuesday.” He glanced at the shorter boy. “They’d appreciate it, I know that.”
Luca frowned at the floor as they walked, playing with the camera strap that went around his neck. Shuko made him confused. He didn’t understand how he knew so much about them all. It was baffling.
There was a sudden light pressure on Luca’s shoulder and his eyes flitted up to look at Shuko, whose own eyes were still facing forward.
“Just know, Lu-kun…” His different colored eyes glanced at the photographer for a second, shining with a certain sympathy. “It will get better. You have people to support you now. I know you have your Aunt, but I promise it’s much easier with them, too. They’re good friends.”
A soft smile appeared on Shuko’s face as Luca stared at him.
Does he… does he know about what happened? About what almost happened? About a year and a half ago?
“I won’t say anything to them, don’t worry. And I’ll be your friend too if you want, Lu-ca-chin!”