Chapter 9: Does Anybody Remember Last Night?
Onin yawned and stretched. He blinked his eyes open and jerked upright—and almost dumped Kasai off him. What was going on? He was back in the common room of his dorm suite lying on the couch. Kasai was cuddled up almost on top of him. He tried to slip off the couch, but Kasai wrapped her arms around him and nuzzled up against his chest. On the one hand, he’d be happy to stay cuddled up with her like this forever. On the other, he had no memory of how they’d got that way.
The last thing he remembered was being in the Matari Enclave. Did he and Kasai walk back? He looked down. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Kasai, her usual denim shorts and a tank top. He didn’t remember changing. Had the Matari drugged them?
“Hey—” He nudged Kasai. “—wake up.”
Kasai murmured something, and he nudged her again.
“What—” she started to say.
Her eyes blinked open, and her whole body grew tense. A second later she sprang away from him and huddled on the far end of the couch.
“What’s going on?”
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out. What’s the last thing you remember?”
Kasai sat on the arm of the couch, eyeing him the way an antelope might eye a hungry lion.
“I don’t know what’s going on either.” Onin held up his hands. “The last thing I remember was being in the Matari Enclave having dinner with that strange ambassador. You know I’d never touch you without your permission.”
“Yeah.” She slowly uncurled and let her feet drop to the floor. “That’s the last thing I remember, too. Do you think they drugged us?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like it. We talked for what, a half hour or so? I don’t remember feeling weird, tired, or anything. I was fine, then, blink, woke up here. Doesn’t sound like any drug I know of.”
“Could be some weird alien drug. That juice was kinda bitter.”
“Bitter?” Onin squinted at her. “Seemed sweet to me.”
Kasai shrugged. “In any case, that whole place gave me the creeps. There just wasn’t something right. I got that whole pseudo-kinetic feeling the entire time we were there, and from everything. I’ve never felt anything like that. We should have had some sort of plan or told someone we were going.”
“Yeah. I just assumed the college knew. I did have a plan B.” Onin held up his phone. “I had Tannin’s number called up on speed-dial, I just had to press a button, and it’d send an emergency signal to him.” He looked over at his phone. “Hey, this is weird, the battery is dead.”
Kasai pulled out her phone. “Mine too. I’d just charged it. It usually goes a few days without needing a charge.
Onin ran into his room, grabbed a charger, and ran out. He plugged his phone in and waited for it to boot up.
“Whew. It seems to be tomorrow, er, today. The day after we went to the Matari Enclave. We haven’t lost a week or anything.” He checked his e-mail, and his eyes widened. “That message with the invite is gone.”
“Do you think they deleted it while we were unconscious?”
“That’s the most logical explanation.” He drummed his fingers on the counter. “What do we do now?”
“Work backwards from where we are now. Try to figure out how we got back here.”
“Backwards, huh.” Onin spun around slowly, taking in the room. “Let’s see. We were on the couch. Before that, we had to have changed out of our formal wear.”
He headed back to his bedroom. Kasai followed along behind him. He opened the door and lifted the lid to his laundry hamper.
“I don’t see see my tux anywhere.”
Kasai walked over to the closet and slid the door open.
“Not in here, either,” she said.
“Perhaps we returned our clothes, then came back here to talk.” Onin walked back to the living room and picked his phone up off the countertop where he’d left it, still plugged in. “Huh, that’s strange. The boutique’s phone number isn’t in here. Maybe I didn’t call them.” He frowned. “That’s right, I called you, and met you and Jennifer there.”
A quick search brought up the boutique’s number and Onin called them.
“That’s strange,” he said.
“They don’t have any record of us being there yesterday.”
“What?” Kasai wrapped her hands around Onin’s arm. “This is getting scary.”
“I’m sure there’s just a paperwork mix-up. It didn’t sound like the same guy I talked to yesterday… I don’t think.”
They stood there in silence for a moment. Something strange was going on. Onin paced back and forth across the room He was a lot more freaked out than he wanted to admit. A shop with rental prices that high just didn’t lose paperwork. Also, that e-mail inviting them to the Matari Enclave wasn’t anywhere. Onin saved stuff like that, and even if he didn’t, it wasn’t in his trash, and he only emptied that once a month.
“Do you want to go to the boutique and investigate that further, or go to the monorail station?” Onin asked.
“Oh, yeah—” Kasai pulled out her wallet and flipped through the contents. “—the monorail. I have a receipt for that.” She frowned and stuck a hand into her right-rear pocket. Her frown deepened, and she checked each of her other pockets. “That’s odd, I could’ve sworn it was in my wallet.”
“Maybe you left it in a pocket in your dress?”
Kasai shot him an odd look. “Dresses don’t have pockets.”
“You’re telling me. So, was I robbed, or did I lose the receipt? This list of coincidences is getting a little long.”
“Yeah. Let’s go to your place, get Jennifer, and go back to the boutique. That way we have someone else to identify the salespeople, in case our memory’s screwed up from a drug or something.”
Jennifer opened the door on the second knock.
“Oh, hi there, Kasai.” She winked at her. “So, get lots of studying done?”
Jennifer waggled her fingers in the air when she said “studying.” Onin looked over at Kasai.
“Um, what?” Kasai said.
“You know…” Jennifer elbowed Kasai in the ribs. “You went over to Onin’s to ‘study’ yesterday, and didn’t come back. I didn’t think you had it in you.”
“No, I didn’t. The three of us went shopping, and you help me pick out a dress.”
“No.” Jennifer drew the word out and cocked her head to the side. “I was here studying all day.”
“Let’s go Kasai.” Onin took her hand and turned to leave. “Perhaps we just misremembered. We were up pretty late. Sorry, Jennifer.”
“That’s okay. You two have fun!” She winked at Kasai again as she closed the door.
“You ever get the feeling that a lot of people are pulling a big practical joke on you?” Onin said.
“This isn’t funny.” Kasai wrapped her arms around herself and leaned against Onin. “I’m scared.”
“Me, too.” Onin generated a servitor, and it took up a sentry position above and slightly behind him. Onin glared at it. “No, stupid, her.” He pointed at Kasai, and the servitor adjusted its position slightly.
They left the dorm rooms and walked down the street.
“Is there any point in visiting the boutique?” Onin asked. “They’ve said they don’t have any sales records, and Jennifer doesn’t remember going.”
“I don’t know. Let’s ask Saija if a Natas could do anything like this.”
Onin pulled out his phone. Fifteen minutes later they met Tannin, Cerina, and Saija at the campus coffee and sandwich shop.
Onin told the others what had happened last night, and the lack of evidence for any of it they’d found this morning.
“Wow.” Tannin punched Onin lightly in the shoulder. “Are you sure you’re not pranking me? Because this would be the perfect payback for some of the stuff I’ve done to you.”
“I might, but would Kasai go along with it?”
“No.” Tannin slouched in his chair.
“Wait.” Cerina leaned forward and held up her hand. “You expect us to believe that the Matari just invited you over, out of the blue? The same Matari that hardly anyone knows anything about?”
“The Matari are enemies of the Natas,” Saija said.
“Speaking of that—” Onin turned in his chair to face her. “Could the Natas do something like that? Make us remember something that didn’t happen, or alter other people’s memories?”
“Hmm.” Saija rested her chin on her hand and bit her lower lip. “Maybe. I couldn’t, when I was… uh, before. But my old master just used me for combat. He has other minions for clandestine ops. I don’t know his capabilities if he chose to directly get involved.”
“Do you know if the Matari could do it?” Kasai asked.
Everyone turned to look at her.
“Yeah, the Natas seem to hurt people, and you’re not hurt. We don’t know anything about the Matari,” Cerina said.
“I don’t really know much about them either, other than the Natas hate them,” Saija said.
“I think we should go spy on the Matari and learn more about them,” Tannin said.
“Or—” Kasai drummed her fingers on her leg. “We could go to the library. The college has one of the largest libraries in the nation. Even if they only have a little information, it’s something to go on.”
“Good point.” Onin drummed his fingers on the table. “I’d still like to check out the boutique and the monorail station. Assuming that someone has bribed or threatened them—or is playing some sort of elaborate joke on us, someone else might be able to get more out of them. If, say, Tannin and Cerina, ask some casual questions, perhaps they can get some different answers than Kasai and I did.”
Tannin and Cerina looked at each other. Tannin frowned, and Cerina scrunched her eyes shut and shuddered.
“Fine.” Tannin slumped further down in his chair. “We’ll go.”
“Can I invite myself along?” Saija smiled and leaned in closer. “I’m good at getting information out of people, and libraries are kinda boring.”
“You’re not gonna stab someone are you?” Tannin asked.
“No.” Saija crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Tannin. “There are much more effective means. Besides, I’m reformed now.”
“Sorry. We’d be glad to have you with us.” Tannin looked over at Cerina, and the corner of his mouth pulled to the side. “Well, I can’t speak for sourpuss there, but I’ll be glad to have you along.”
“All right. We’ll meet back in me and Tannin’s dorm in, say, three hours?” Onin asked.
They all nodded and got up from the table.
The campus library was a six-story structure at the center of campus. A large concrete box lined with windows. You could mistake it for an office.
Onin and Kasai jogged up the steps and walked into the library. The interior was just as bland as the outside, but at least it looked like a library. A small plastic desk was just inside the door, and beyond it were rows of gray steel shelves filled with books.
They found an unused catalog terminal. Onin pulled out the chair and swept his arm toward it. Kasai smiled and sat in front of the computer. Onin stood behind her and leaned his elbows on the back of the chair. A search for ‘Matari’ had brought up five hits. Onin frowned at the catalog computer screen.
“That’s not much to go on,” he said.
“More than we had.” Kasai shrugged. “Let’s go check on these.”
She stood and stretched. Her tank top rode up and showed off the smooth curve of her waist. Onin felt his face flush, and he looked off to the side. He’d love to see more of her, but now was neither the time nor the place.
They found the first book in the history section. Kasai pulled it off the shelf and flipped to the indicated section. Onin leaned over her shoulder and read along with her. The book appeared to be a general history of the world and covered pretty much all of time. As such, it was sparse with details.
“Not much here,” Onin said.
“No.” Kasai shook her head. “Just what we already know, they’re aliens that came here about a hundred years ago, and they like to keep to themselves.”
“Next book?” Onin said.
This one turned out to be a historical fiction about a boy who saw the first Matari ship crash, and his adventures in helping them settle and make friends with the Gesarans.
“I wonder how much of this is true?” Onin said.
Kasai flipped to the back of the book. “Sweet, the author listed all his sources!”
She pulled out her phone and scanned in the extensive footnotes. A quick check back at the catalog computer showed that the library had about three-quarters of the documents on the list.
“Hmm.” Onin pointed to the screen. “This guy did his research. About half the sources that the college has are in the special archives section. Do you have a history major?”
Kasai shook her head.
“Know someone with a history major?”
“Unfortunately, not.” Onin drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “I wonder if Professor Jekao could get us access to these documents?”
“I don’t know.” Kasai pursed her lips. “We’re supposed to be investigating the Natas. We think we’ve got good reason to look into the Matari, but since they keep to themselves, us poking around might have political implications.”
“Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that. Well, let’s check out the sources that are open to the public.”
Ten minutes later they had a sizable stack of books on the table in front of them. None of them mentioned the Matari in the title. Onin slid half the stack from in front of Kasai and pulled it in front of him. He grabbed the first book and flipped it open, taking notes on a separate sheet of paper.
Onin opened the door to his room. Tannin, Cerina, and Saija had beat him and Kasai back to the dorm. Tannin was delivering the punchline to a joke when Onin stepped inside. Saija laughed so hard she just about fell out of her chair. Cerina rolled her eyes, but she had a smile on her face.
“Hey, you’re back!” Tannin waved to him. “Who wants to go first?” He thrust his hand into the air and waved it wildly.
“Why don’t you go first,” Onin said.
“Well, we checked that fancy clothes store first. Way too hoity-toity for me, but anyway. I told them I’d rented a tux, but lost the receipt, and I needed a copy. I gave your name, and they’d never heard of you, but…” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. “I got your receipt! No name on it, but it was for the price you said you paid, and it was at the right time of night!”
“Sweet. Any luck at the monorail station?”
“Even better there. We straight up told them we were investigating some attacks on campus and wanted to see if we could identify how the attackers got into Dabrath. They didn’t believe us, so they called the police station and Inspector Adamka vouched for us. Did we ever hit pay dirt! First, we got you and Kasai on camera boarding the monorail, even though no one remembered you. That proves you were there. Second—” He pointed to Saija.
“We looked back through the monorail security camera footage looking for anything else useful.” Saija leaned forward in her chair. “I thought a few people looked familiar, and I’m pretty sure they were the same guys who attacked us at the archaeology museum. We got their names off the monorail passes, and the police are running the names and comparing that info to the guys we captured.”
“Good job,” Onin said.
“So, did you two find anything useful?” Cerina asked.
Onin looked over at Kasai. She waved at him to go ahead.
“We found a historical fiction book that had a bunch of reference and source notes inside. The college has most of them, and about half of those you don’t need to be a history major to access. Anyway, short version, something’s going on. The Matari are extremely shy. Most of the authors of the documents we read contribute that shyness to a racial difference in how they interact with each other. Based on the questions the Matari asked Kasai and me, I’d say they’re hiding from the Natas.
“It gets really weird when you read about Matari biology. We don’t know anything about them, physically. Most sources describe their appearance as cat-like—how Kasai and I saw them. The earliest sources, though, describe them in an almost fearful tone as some sort of specter, that is and isn’t there. The fear drops off when the descriptions shift to the cat-like beings.”
“Wait.” Saija cocked her head to the side. “The Natas are some kind of spirit or something. Does anyone else think there’s more to this Matari-Natas connection than they’re letting on?”
“Exactly what Kasai and I thought,” Onin said.
“That doesn’t help us much.” Cerina shifted in her chair. “So, they’re stretching the truth. I’d probably wear a disguise too, if people freaked out whenever they saw me. We know the Natas are bad. So what if we don’t know details about the Matari? They still don’t like the Natas.”
“The enemy of my enemy, huh?” Tannin said. Everyone stared at him. He raised his hands in protest. “Hey, I’m getting real tired of everyone thinking as I’m as dumb as I act.”
“Think about what you just said for a second,” Cerina said.
“So, before this gets completely out of hand—” Onin said.
“Too late!” Tannin said.
Onin glared at Tannin, who shrugged and sank down into his chair.
“As I was trying to say—” Onin cleared his throat. “We all agree that the Matari are hiding something, but we still need to concentrate on the Natas and stopping these attacks first, right?”
“Good. Tomorrow we’ll see if the police have found anything from Tannin’s monorail lead. Also, we’ll be on the lookout for any more attacks on campus. Sound like a plan?”
Everyone nodded again.
“If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get going,” Tannin said.
“Where to?” Onin asked.
“A party. Wanna come?”
“Sure!” Saija grinned.
“Well, I meant…” Tannin shrugged. “Okay. Anyone else?”
“Why are you going to a party when there are alien demon things loose trying to kill people?” Onin said.
“Uh… security? Keep everyone safe?”
Onin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. That was actually a good reason. Did Tannin just make this stuff up, or did he think about it ahead of time?