Disclaimer: I do not own any/ all fictional entities in this segment; they belong to Kazuki Takahashi. I rented them.
I owe for you lending your WHAT to WHO?!
I damn near had a heart attack before my mind could compute what he'd just said! It took every ounce of composure I still had not to double over in shock.
Even so, my mouth was running miles before my head, probably one of my worst moments of all time. "You did what!? Didn't you learn anything from the last time you lent him your satellite?"
Ojin narrowed his eyes. "How dare you talk to me like that! I'm the one who should be talking down to you! Isn't that right, Linda?"
Speaking of Linda, I begged His Highness's pardon for a moment or two to sidestep him. "Linda," I whispered in her ear, "can't you reason with him?"
Her face creased with tired lines. "You don't think I've tried?" she whispered back. "It's rather hard to reason with your superiors when they've been brainwashed."
Brainwashed? With what, evil psychic energy? Because we'd--I should say Jaden'd--conquered the Wave of Light a long time ago.
"What spell is he under, this time?"
"Money, Aster. Money is the spell he's under."
Well, that made as much sense as basically anything on this show. Ojin was freaking royalty! I imagined him to live in a castle built out of solid diamond and ride around in silver-plated choppers with the words "Ha-ha, I have everything and you have nothing!" printed on the sides in rubies and emeralds.
Okay, so I might be exaggerating a bit. But still, he owned a satellite! You can't be any richer than that.
As if Ojin somehow read my mind, he pulled me away from Linda and looked me square in the eyes as if I had done something wrong. "Since the events of the tournament last year, we have upgraded our satellite so we would stand a better chance against another alien attack. Only problem is, however, it...ahem, cost us a large chunk of Misgarth's budget to do so. But dear Sartorius was kind enough to offer to make a donation, in exchange for renting the satellite to him for awhile."
"Did he specify what he planned to do with it?" I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.
Ojin turned up his nose. "Said something about protecting the world from the evil Light. I thought that was perfectly reasonable, since he is no longer possessed and running a cult."
Sartorius was in the nut-house. Ojin honestly thought that he was in a totally sane state of mind, basing it solely on the fact that he was no longer under an outside influence? I shot a look over his shoulder at Linda, whose frown conveyed the message that she couldn't talk him out of it. Why does someone have an assistant follow him around if he's not even going to listen to her advice?
Ojin narrowed his eyes. "And he said that you would have the money."
"Now, hold on, what makes you sure I've got that kind of money?"
"Well, you are the D's ward, aren't you? Didn't you inherit his fortune when he disappeared? I'd like to think that with that and the extravagant salary you earn from your job, your wallet should be as bountiful as the gardens back home. This must be especially so, since you like to make a hobby out of donating to charity."
There's a saying for things like this: when you're hit with an arrow, you don't waste your time trying to figure out who shot it or why. The first thing you do is pull it out before the wound festers. I don't know about your world, but this applies especially to mine. Strange things happen all the time, like this particular moment. Rather than try to piece out how this deal was struck--without my knowledge, might I add--or how they smuggled in satellite keys into a mental hospital, or how the staff couldn't have noticed, I knew that I needed to stop the madness, before things could get any worse.
If they could get worse, that is.
I made a quick bow to excuse myself. "Your Majesty, I'm sorry, but it doesn't do any good to upgrade your satellite if you're going to lend it to a sick person who could do something stupid with it under the misguided belief that he's helping the world, somehow. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got an urgent visit to the hospital to keep with."
Sarina took my hand, and before long, we were speeding down the road like Bonnie and Clyde, with Ojin's helicopter gaining on us, the only thing keeping it from landing on us being the skyscrapers.
Somehow, over the roar of the bustling traffic and the hum of the blades, I heard Ojin's voice: "You can't run away, Phoenix! We pinky-swore!"
"Oi, what we doin' at th' looney bin?" Dan demanded as he, under my instruction, rolled into the entrance in a turn so sharp that all three of us almost got whiplash.
"You just stay here and watch the limo," I ordered as Sarina and I scrambled out. "Keep the paparazzi as far at bay as you can!" In an emergency situation like this, I couldn't afford to be cornered by a pack of reporters. "I'll raise your salary again if you do a good job."
"Look up thar!" Dan aimed a thick, hairy finger up to the sky above us, where Ojin's ride hummed like a ceiling fan. "Is that Prince Ojin's chopper?"
I didn't answer him; didn't have the time nor the breath. Sarina and I skirted in between parked cars towards the entrance, and almost didn't make it because just before we passed through the automatic doors, a frizzly-haired woman in a wheelchair shot out and hooked her finger into the waistband of my pants.
"Hey!" she squealed. "Want to get married?" Okay, I can forgive something like that. The lady was crazy, and I'm a teenage heartthrob and all. Still, that's a pretty damn creepy thing to say to a stranger who's just going into the hospital, even if I could make a million for every time I've heard it.
Working up a polite smile, I pried her finger out of my pants. "No, thank you. I've got business to take care of."
The manic grin on her lips flipped upside-down. "Gaw, that figures! All the good ones are faggots!" I didn't think the mentally ill had the time to read tabloids. Although...with the kind of sludge you'll find in a tabloid, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they caused mental illness.
In spite of everything, I bowed, then jogged after Sarina, who stood in the threshold to keep the doors open for me. The receptionist sat at the front desk, the receiver of her phone cradled between her head and her shoulder while she filed her nails. She didn't look up to see us hurrying towards her.
I cleared my throat, trying to keep a straight face through this entire ordeal. "Excuse me, ma'am, we're here to see a patient, Sartorius. Which room is he in?"
Still without looking at us, she deadpanned, "Room 104. Go down the hall, make a left, right, and another left."
Well, that was easy. That would be the only easy part. Unable to run through the corridors, we were forced into a brisk jog, the kind of gait you'd see in those jogging nuts with music blasting in their ears. As soon as the door with the numbers 1-0-4 on the plate entered our sights, a nurse was passing by with a cart of meds.
She whirled around when I clapped my hand over the knob. "Um, excuse me, sir, you might not want to go in there."
"But we need to," exclaimed Sarina. "Sartorius is in there, trying to destroy the world!"
The nurse looked as Sarina as if she were an escaped patient from the mental ward. "Sartorius? The one with the PTSD and photophobia? Yeah, you don't want to see him, right now."
"My apologies, ma'am, but we kind of need to. It's an emergency." I dare you to try to say that the next time you've got an emergency with a straight face.
"Well, I wouldn't think you'd get a lot done; he's in there, sleeping off his meds." She continued on her way with a roll of her eyes. I didn't believe that for a second. In fact, as soon as I saw her vanish around the corner, I was off jittering the knob, hoping on my life that we weren't too late.
Creeeak, groaned the door, all dramatic-like, to reveal a stark white room on the other side. Just as I suspected--because my instinct is never wrong--Sartorius wasn't in bed, sleeping off his meds. He was, however, around it. I could tell because his bare feet stuck out from underneath, his toes wiggling with delusional anticipation as a series of beeps streamed out around them.
My blood turned crispy with ice. He was already at it.
"Come on...come on...why won't this device work?"
Then again, it also sounded like he was failing. Not to put him or Sarina down, but Sartorius had about as much understanding of computers as his sister, before falling under the Wave of Light's influence.
It's usually below me to get down on my knees and go crawling under beds, but that was the only way to reach him. The other way was to yank him out by the ankles, but he'd already been subjected to too much abuse.
"Sartorius!" cried Sarina.
The beeping stopped. "S-Sarina?"
By then, I had managed to squirm underneath the bed, my skin under my suit numbing against the sterilized linoleum. Just inches across from me was my sick friend, his features dimly detailed by the light pouring from behind him. His eyes looked empty and sunken into their sockets, his pupils dominating like two black holes where his irises should've been...God, he never looked so pale and gaunt and flat-out miserable since he was possessed, like an animal that'd never seen the light of day.
In front of him sat that computer which would doom all of humanity once he figured out how to work it. He peeked over the top and blinked once, twice, three times. It was like he didn't recognize my face, at all. Probably because he's spent most of his time here under the bed or in the closet.
He pulled the computer closer to his chest, like it was some sort of treasure. "Away with you, stranger!" he said, hoarse and desperate, as he clenched a fist with delusional conviction. "There's nothing you can do to stop me from obliterating the mother cell of all Light...the Sun! Just as soon as I figure out how to admit the password." Apparently, Ojin had made a few security modifications, in addition to the keys. Not that they mattered if he was going to hand it over to a sick guy.
Okay, that plan was wrong on so many levels. Number One: I don't think a mere satellite cannon could blow up the Sun, since it's essentially a giant ball of gas. Number Two: even if it could, it'd take centuries for the beam to reach it, maybe millennia. So, either way, his plan to blow away the Sun would fail.
Still, something was going to get messed up if I didn't get that computer the hell away from him. And no alien duel monsters or kids with mutant dinosaur skeletons would help me, this time.
Actually, I wouldn't have and duel monsters to help me out, period. I figured this out when I reached over to activate the duel disk on my arm (it's a reflex of mine, most duelists have it), only to learn that I didn't have a duel disk to activate. I guess I'd left that and my deck in the car, by...I wouldn't call it a mistake, more like a momentary lapse of reason, common to people like me under a lot of pressure and not a lot of time. Maybe I should get a secretary or something, to carry my stuff?
I didn't have time to kick myself for it, though. I'd have to use...an alternative.
With the stiffest lip I could muster, I tried to reason with him with words. "Hey, take it easy, it's me, Aster!"
"A...Aster? How did...how did you get here? Did the Light imprison you, too?"
Sarina got down on her knees and poked in at the foot of the bed. "Sartorius!"
"It's me, Brother, Sarina! Please, don't do anything rash!" she begged as she squeezed him on the arm. "You're not imprisoned! We just want you to get better!"
Her brother shook her off like she was contaminated. "You...You've already been brainwashed," he hissed. "The Light's trying to turn you and Aster against me! You're the ones who need to get better. The entire world will be better once I fire the cannon at the source of the dreaded Light!" By that point, he'd curled up into a practical ball, arms around the computer as though relinquishing it would kill him. I have to admit, something plucked a cord deep down in me by just looking into his face. Had we lost him? Did we ever have him to begin with?
"Sartorius, wait!" I snatched him by the wrists before he could fiddle with another button. "You got to listen: you're...not...imprisoned. You're in the hospital--"
He thrashed around like a fox with both paws caught in traps, damn near dragging me along with him. "Like I would believe that! The Aster I know would never send me away! He promised me that he wouldn't!"
I'm no softie, honest, I'm not--I wasn't crying or anything--but I thought I could feel the tiniest lump sticking to a side of my throat, gradually growing in size like a tumor that threatened to silence me before I said what needed to be said. So, I spilled it while I still could, with a kind of composure that probably seemed, from an outsider's perspective, out of place in this situation, and yet somehow--I can't really explain why--felt out of character for me.
"No, Sartorius. You are in the hospital."
He fell still. The whole room fell still, except for the air conditioner humming a monotone tune, like a flat-line.
"It was the only way to keep you out of prison for attacking the paparazzi. You have to believe me, Sartorius, if there was any other way, I would've done it."
He turned his head away, bitterness dimming his eyes. "Lies...lies, if I've ever heard them--"
"Nothing I say is a lie, Sartorius. All we want is for you to get better. We know that you're...trying...to conquer your fear, but we want to help you. And to do that, we had to..."
I didn't want to say "send you away," but I didn't want to say "find other people who could give you better help than we could," either. Huh, the day Aster Phoenix can't find the right words to end one little sentence: the end of days.
I can only guess what was running through his head in that moment. All I know is that his grip on the computer fell limp, enough for Sarina to make her move. She eased the device out of his arms and scrambled out from under the bed with it. I was expecting Sartorius to lunge after her and all, but he didn't. His arms remained in the same position, as though he were still protecting that stupid thing. It was like he had become catatonic, or something.
I was hesitant at first, but my hand inched across the distance between us and landed on his shoulder, to make sure he was alive. He grew stony at my touch, then recoiled like a threatened cat; I swear, his hair started to prickle and everything, not quite like it did when the Wave of Light possessed him, but it prickled.
His lip curled up a bit, exposing his teeth as he hissed at me, "No. Aster would never betray me. Aster would never...Aster would never...you would never..."
His eyes became glossy with those all-too-familiar tears. For a moment there, he looked like the sad kid I first met at my father's grave, a memory as dreary and wet as the weather had been that day.
No, I'm not the sentimental type, honest, I'm not.
And like I've said before, I don't get scared, though I do get startled--just a little--as was the case when he lunged at me and cuffed his hands around my arms. His nails dug deep into my skin to the point where they threatened to draw blood; I couldn't help but wince...though I assure you that you couldn't see it if you were there under that hospital bed.
For a second, he almost looked like he was going to attack me. But he didn't. I knew that he wouldn't, deep down. What he did, instead, he buried his face into my shoulder, his tears dampening the fabric of my suit. (Not that that mattered, at all, of course.) And I just stood there, every muscle in my body turned to stone.
His sobbing mangled his words to the point where I couldn't quite hear what he was saying, but I think he said something about us "being even." Perhaps he was referring to the time when he manipulated me under the Light's influence?
Whatever he said, I didn't say a word in response. What could I say? I may have two PhDs under my belt, but neither of them have anything to do with communicating with sick people, even if they were my friend.
On the bright side, at least the computer was out of his grasp.
Speaking of which--
Somewhere from behind me, I thought I heard it smashing to chips outside.
Apparently, Sarina--God love her--with her severe lack of computer-savvy, found no other way to abort the pending task except to fling the whole damn thing out the window.
With a hand muffling her words, she squeaked, "Aster, I think I turned it off! I think."
I could go on and tell you what happened after that, how all this crap worked out, how Sartorius and I managed to get over the concept of how I "betrayed" him and all. But frankly, I've dragged this story out for too long, have given myself a migraine, and I believe it's safe to assume that you're getting a migraine from listening. Besides, this all hasn't actually "worked out," yet.
Sartorius is still in the psychiatric ward, on the road to recovery, we're hoping. But deep down, I don't think the poor guy will ever reach the end of that road. Not that I'm not rooting for him, mind you; what I'm saying is that he'll probably never be all right. When you've been through as much as he has--or what I have--you'll never be perfectly fine. I thought he was "all right" when he was freed from the Light's influence. Everything that I've just told you about has blown that notion out of the sky, leaving no remains to be salvaged.
I'm still paying back the money I "owe" Ojin, for busting his computer, and because "I promised" to donate to his fund, the Misgarth Extra-terrestrial And Non-earthly Imbalance-Neutralizing Giant Laser-Emitting Satellite Savings (M.E.A.N.I.N.G.L.E.S.S., for short). Since I've always had the half-secret habit of philanthropism, money has been, for the first memorable time in my life, a little tight. I've had to lay off people (Dan was far from pleased), cut wages, choke my schedule with extra duels. Sarina's been trying to help by doing her share of odd jobs, none involving heavy use of computers.
You must be wondering why I don't refuse to pay Ojin. Well, maybe I could, but as awesome as I am, I'm just a Pro Duelist. He's the ruler of a whole country. In terms of lawyers and all, there's not really a contest, and if I can help it, I don't ever want to share the same courtroom with Howard again. Some fights aren't worth picking, what can I say? Besides, I don't want any more dirt for the press to sling around.
Speaking of the press, I guess I can wrap this up by telling you how I finally dealt with them. Not for good, because one of my stature will never be through with them, but as I exited the arena after another sweet victory, there they were ahead of me like a human prison wall. Their camera flashes were like searchlights, searching for the next questionable thing I should say or do.
Microphones thrusted into my face, questions whizzed through one ear and out the other like darts. "Mr. Phoenix, where are you headed off to, now?"
"Is it true that your lover Sartorius is in the looney bin?"
"Provided that he is your lover?"
"Is he your only one?"
Ugh, again with the gay thing. People refuse to let that kind of crap go. My voice tempered with my trademark steely calm, and any trace of weariness blinked out of my eyes, I told them all what I should've told them a long time ago:
"Thanks for the concern, but right now, I've got a friend who needs me. If you don't mind, I'd like to get through, please. About the rumors that I am gay?" I remembered how that Joe Blow character had helped to tip that first domino. "I'd just like to say that he who plays a card, drew that card from his own deck." That's the sophisticated duelist's way of saying, "He who smelt it, dealt it."
"And even if I were, forgive me if I'm wrong, but you people act like it's a bad thing. Does orientation take away from a duelist's skill?"
I could hardly believe it myself, but that shut them up. The cameras quit flashing, the mikes withdrew back to their owners. Sure enough, the paparazzi parted down the middle like the Red Sea, allowing me to stroll by to my limo, where Sarina was waiting for me (not as the driver; God forbid I ever let her get behind the wheel).
As soon as I got far enough away from them, a smile played with the corners of my lips. I'll bet Truesdale's never said anything so witty to the press, mostly because he goes and hides under a rock when he's not out slitting throats and ripping money off of folks he "shrinks" for. I'm not sure whether to hold him accountable for what happened to Sartorius. He wouldn't have gotten to him if I hadn't let him--invited him to--slither into my apartment...and there's no way I'm going to admit fault, in the open, anyway.
I slid into the driver's seat and jammed the key into the ignition. Sarina's face looked gaunt and unreadable in the mirror underneath the blinking streetlights, but judging by the way she clutched her seat belt, she was anxious to see her brother.
I didn't tell her, but...so was I.
In fact, the only words we exchanged before I turned the key was:
"I know; buckling up."
I buckled up. As I did, I wondered what the press was going to spit up about what I'd said back there the following day. Maybe they'd blow it out of proportion, like they always do, and say that I had confirmed the rumors? Or maybe they'd still think I had "come out," but treat me like a bigger hero than I already was for being so "courageously civilized" about it?
Though to be honest, that didn't bother me a fraction as much as did what state Sartorius would be in when we saw him. Would he able to talk to us? Had he made any other recycled crazy-ass plans that we didn't know about? Was he responding well to the treatment? Would I be able to reason that I never meant to "betray" him?
I pushed the gas pedal to the floor. In spite of everything, I wanted to get to the hospital as soon as possible, so things could start its eventual return to, if not total normality, the closest to normality as we were capable of having. The limo soon melted into the cool dimness of the city streets as we left the paparazzi far behind in a cloud of invisible exhaust fumes.
God, what a crappy ending! I'm not sure if I should change the genre to "Angst" or "Drama" from "Humor;" you know that any story about insanity is bound to reach a point where it's not that funny, anymore. That thing with the satellite...that was the deja vu I mentioned before, by the way?
But, I really wanted to finish this so I could move on to other things. Couldn't leave it undone, could I? Considering how much time I've been at this and all.
Thanks for reading, though! Hope you folks aren't TOO let down...