Three Keys in the Desert (part 24 of 26)

Transfer Day

Kim tried to close his eyes. The sun was going to come up soon. He’d never felt more tired, but his body refused to let him sleep.

Arai was slouched against the wall, by the door. If she’d tried to sprawl on the cold stone like Kim they’d have to touch each other, and nobody wanted that.

Bo was still snoring quietly on the bed. It had taken most of the night to calm him down. Kim had assumed things would get better after the Shutdown, instead he’d spent the entire night talking Bo down from tearing the room apart.

Getting Bo away from here had turned out to be complicated. There were apparently rules about Keys sleeping in other people’s rooms. He’d discovered that in the middle of a screaming match with Arai. Not that anyone would check where Bo spent his nights, but Arai had a point about Bo blurting it out accidentally and getting them into even more trouble.

The night after the Shutdown was always a giant party, so Kim hadn’t planned on sleeping much, but staying up with Bo had been torture. When Arai suggested getting a pipe Kim didn’t even fight her. Bo had been hiding under the bed, trying to scratch off his own skin. Kim held him while Arai lit up the sau. He stopped fighting after a few puffs.

By the time they got him to sleep all Kim wanted was to be unconscious.

He rubbed at his eyes. If they’d given Bo too much, if he slept through whatever was expected from him at the Compound… Kim tried not to imagine the possibilities.

They’d have to wake him up soon, make sure he’s at least semi presentable. The shower alone would take forever. Kim spent half the Shutdown with a boy from another district who was deaf in one ear and could barely walk and he’d still been more cooperative than Bo was going to be.

Kim tried to sit up but his head started spinning. He’d been awake too long.

There was still time, they weren’t in a hurry. He stopped resisting and let himself slide back down to the floor.

Arai had said they’d need to prepare Bo for voucher negotiations. Get his confidence up, go over whatever plans Sol left. But there was also Kim’s secret, the thing that would help Bo if he used it right. Kim wished he didn’t have to get Arai involved, but this was the one thing she had more experience with than anyone.

“There’s something I can give him,” Kim said, quietly, staring at the ceiling. “Something useful.”

“It’s probably a good idea,” Arai said, slowly. “He’d be easier to control.”

Kim frowned and looked over. Arai’s eyes were closed, head resting against the wall. “What?”

“With Sol, he wasn’t like this,” she said, her lips barely moving. “You’re right that it might help. I’ve seen how he’s always touching you, he’s probably desperate. There’s time before the Key meeting. It might calm him down.”

Kim sat up, leaning on his palms. He was dizzy again but he ignored it. “I’m not Sol,” he said, louder than he’d intended, “and he’s practically a fluff. You’re disgusting.”

Arai opened her eyes. “You think this’ll get easier?” her voice was calm but Kim could hear the panic underneath. “You know what a year on the vouchers he’ll get us will be like? This is nothing.”

Kim didn’t know much about vouchers and allocations but he had to believe Bo could get them the bare minimum. He had to believe they’d appointed Bo for a reason. Like the foreign Key had said, no one was born knowing how to do this. A week ago Sol was alive and Kim was afraid to walk past this neighborhood. He had to believe in Bo’s potential.

Of course, a different part of him said, if Bo trusted Kim even more, relied on him like he’d relied on Sol, getting rid of Arai would be easier. Kim could do more, help the people who really mattered. The people who’d been on the bottom for as long as he could remember.

Kim sat up fully, forcing the thoughts from his head, and crossed his legs on the floor. “Like I said, I have something real that could help. One of the other Keys owes me a favor.”

Arai’s face drew together into one tight spot of concentration. “Who?”

Kim tried to think about where he’d met the other Key. Which district was on the other side of that door? At least there were only two options. “The 745.”

“Ebie?” Arai said.

“Yeah,” Kim said, still uncertain. “I did her a favor so she’d go easy on Bo.”

Arai started laughing. She clapped her hand over her mouth to keep down the noise.

“I’m serious,” Kim said.

“Ebie asked you for a favor?” Arai said.

“Yeah,” Kim said. “Before the Shutdown. She said she’d help him in return.”

“Wow.” Arai let out a last huff of laughter. “Ebie usually keeps her promises. But today?” she shook her head. “Who knows.”

“I don’t care what you think,” Kim said. “I’m telling you so we can get him ready. You know the other Keys.”

“Sure. I guess.” Arai struggled to her feet. “I’m going to shower.” She opened the door quietly before adding: “Wake him up while I’m gone.”

Something about her smirk made Kim nauseous. She liked the idea of leaving him alone with Bo, now that she knew he didn’t want to be Sol’s replacement.

He should have told her that it was too early, and they’d have time to wake Bo when she came back. He should have told her to stay, wake him up herself.

He wanted to. But he didn’t.

 

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