3.5: Restoration

There’re the vultures!

     Stark pulls into the lane outside of Jupiter Central Hospital, the sidewalk parallel crowded by a flock of reporters. The second they see the “FHA_030” license plate, they swarm in anticipation of Stark exiting the jeep. She’d begun to wonder when they’d migrate to the school but somehow them lying in wait aggravates the officer more. Their questions come in a rush.

     “Did you help your mother attack again?”

     “Are the students okay?”

     “Were the traitorous cops working under your command?”

     “Where’s your mother now?”

     “How far does the JCPD corruption go?”

     “Do you think you deserve to wear that uniform?”

     None of their implications or insults bother Stark. She’s squared away and resolved all doubts and insecurities about her allegiance. She leaves the vultures without any scraps, entering the hospital without answering a single question. However, the scrutiny doesn’t end there. Every television in the foyer replays her march past the reporters without a word. The citizens inside either regard her warily or give her a wide berth.

     Stark strolls to the front desk, paying no heed to the man who shouts, “Get her out of here!”

     “Headmaster Neth’s room number, please,” Stark asks the nurse at the desk that once upon a time, she was too small to see above.

     “Uh…” The nurse looks around for help, not willing to commit to a decision on her own.

     “Call Dr. Sonya. She’ll escort me up. Whatever security you think is necessary. I don’t care.”

     “It’s fine, Myranda.”

     A short, portly woman wearing a beige cardigan in place of a lab coat steps next to Stark. Hers is the only look in the room showing the officer sympathy, punctuated by a gentle hand on her shoulder. It was the same gesture she made when they were first introduced.

     “How are you doing?” Dr. Sonya asks, directing Stark to walk with her.

     “It’s not about me today.” Stark shakes the nostalgia swelling in her soul. “Have you been to see Neth?”

     “Not yet.  I gave him time to regain full cognizance. His grandson and the professor have been sitting beside him.”

     “And Professor Lynald, what are the extent of his injuries?”

     “Recovery is possible but will be long and intense. Physical therapy will be mandatory.”

     “Whatever fees they accrue, charge it to my account,” Stark orders.

     “You don’t have to punish yourself, Stark. It’s not–”

     “It’s not my fault but it’s my responsibility. My mother put them here. I’ll make sure they get out not one cent poorer. And that’s the least I intend to do.”

     The doctor appraises Stark with her trained therapists’ eyes, inclining her head after a swift investigation. “You really have put your guilt behind you.”

     “My mother is on the run now. Next chance I get, I’ll chase her to the ends of the world. Until then, undoing her damage is critical.”

     The rest of the walk to Neth’s room is silent as the pair pass by several nurse stations- suffering nasty looks- with the news still covering the War of FHA.

     “–and the main conspirators are still at large. This man here, Victa, is extremely dangerous and has been confirmed to have the ability to clone himself.”

     How’d they learn that? All of us agreed to keep that information out of the public.

     “And then there are the suspected repeat offenders, the mother-daughter duo of Liamria and Stark, both hydromantic and hydrokinetic. Tread with caution around these women.”

     Stark curses the vultures quietly, unable to combat their story, especially when she doesn’t know their source. The photos of hers between Victa’s and her mother’s makes her ill, painting them as one big crime family.

     Though, if he was my father, I could see my face deserving to be up there.

     Stark lowers her gaze to see one of the nurses whispering into a phone, casting furtive glances her way. Stark rolls her eyes and continues on after Dr. Sonya. Professor Cwen is standing outside of Neth’s room when they round the corner, a television in her direct line of sight.

     “I thought the cloning was our secret,” Cwen whispers.

     “Not anymore,” Stark says normally. “And speak up. Everything we do in public must be void of mystery.”

     Cwen nods. “Very well.”

     Stark frowns and steps into Neth’s room. His breathing and vital signs look less stressed than when Shuri hopped into the ambulance with him. From the look of things now, with more color in his face, recovery is guaranteed. Shuri’s broody posture tells her he either doesn’t interpret those same signs or he’s trying to stay alert for when his grandfather again awakens. His camera rests on the stand in the corner, forgotten.

     “He was asleep again by the time Professor Cwen and I got here. They say he tried to say a name but his speech was slurred,” Shuri explains, only briefly taking his eyes off of Neth.

     Answers that question.

     She turns to ask another and sucks in a shallow breath when she realizes the poor condition Shuri’s in. His eyes are red and swollen, his arms shiver ceaselessly, and the bandages on his palms are limp.

     “Shuri, have you slept at all since you’ve been here?”

     “Cwen tried to make me but failed. I’m not going anywhere.”

     “At least drink something.” She grabs the glass from Neth’s bedside and holds it in his face. “You stay, you drink.”

     Shuri accepts the false compromise and takes the glass. His tepid sips become a desperate chug in seconds. Stark catches the glass when Shuri experiences euphoric relief. However, it’s short-lived. His legs start tapping nervously. He flays Stark with a hot-tempered scowl.

     “Better hurry if you don’t want Neth’s room to stink of ammonia.”

     Stark follows the young man to the door after he dashes away. “Follow him,” she tells Cwen. The professor starts and follows the young man as directed.

     Sorry, kid. Not even Nuria can Nuria me anymore.

     “Is…it…true?” a raspy voice calls from behind the officer.

     Stark snaps her head around so fast that it’s a miracle her body keeps up.

     “Is it…true?” Neth repeats, meagerly lifting a finger to the television.

     “A lot of viewers are sending in statements calling for the leadership of FHA and JCPD to be held accountable for the travesty. With no chance of response in sight, we’ll relay the statements on air once vetted to be appropriate for broadcast.”

     Stark nods solemnly and steps to the foot of his bed. “Yes, sir.”

     “The stu…students?” His eyes fight to stay open.

     “Zero casualties among them.”

     “You? The professors? Reddic?”

     “Reddic and I are fine. Cwen, Zathony, and Marmagar will recover easily. Tameri and Lynald are stable but their conditions are teetering every second.”

     “What’s t…the worst…of it?”

     “Our guard rotation is effectively empty. Roark’s condition is unknown to me. Most of the guards who betrayed us are in the wind. Most of the ones who didn’t are dead.”

     Neth huffs and shuts his eyes. Just when Stark believes he fell asleep, he speaks up again. “As close…to the w-worst-case scenario…as can be. I-I knew something…was afoot. Liamria att…attacking me felt like…a precursor to something…more cataclysmic.” He nods to the muted tv in his room. “Turn it on…please.”

     “No. There’s nothing you need to hear right now that I can’t tell you.”

     “The white-ha…haired man?”

     “His name is Victa. The attack was his conquest. The professors, Reddic, Crata, and I had sworn to keep his powers need-to-know, but his identity has been leaked. I have a theory but I’ll share it at a later time. Until then, I’d like to–”


     “He–” Stark quiets when she doesn’t detect an interrogative. In the doorway, the young man stands speechless and astonished. Stark smiles and says, “We can continue this conversation later, sir.”

     Stark steps aside to allow Shuri to resume his original position at Neth’s side. Out in the hallway, she’s treated to frosty stares from everyone within earshot of the television.

     “We’ve compiled a list of videos uploaded to our site anonymously and from city hall. We’ll start with the two from city hall, ready to broadcast their response to the allegations levied against the JCPD and Officer Stark.”

     Stark prepares for the worst but the screen cuts from the anchor desk to a feed that shows one of the triage tents as Wallace positions his cell phone to record. With him are Roy, Donovan, Sutar. Wallace speaks up first.

     “I don’t know how t start this, so I’m just gonna say to all the people watching- whoever you are- that my name is Wallace. I’m a sophman at Four Hearts Academy. I’m part of Sulublei House.”

     “So am I,” Sutar says, her hands hidden in her pants pockets.

     “Me, too,” Donovan says.

     “I’m in Ohaida House,” Roy says.

     “All of us were forced to fight for our lives out there.” He waves his bandaged arm. “While it was raining, Liamria was virtually unstoppable. Until Stark chased the rain away. That was when the tables turned in our favor. We–”

     “What’s going on in here?” Aven asks, stepping into the tent with Rum who’s supporting Pan on his shoulder.

     “It’s a testimonial to defend Stark from the masses,” Roy says.

     Aven scoffs and moves to the edge of the tent. “Wasn’t she already cleared? People in charge of the news are morons.”

     Stark fails to suppress a laugh.

     “They need to put more pressure on The Pure, not her.”

     “I wish they’d go after those stupid assassins. I’m tired of doing it for ‘em.” She rubs her belly gently.

     “They need to get that clone jerk. He’s the mastermind,” Rum mentions.

     The video cuts back to the anchor desk, the reporter a second too slow to disguise their frustration.

     “We have one more clip to show before our commercial break. Be warned, this is a video of the fight, unedited, so the content may not be suitable for younger viewers.”

     Stark watches carefully, unaware of any cameras that were operational in the area. Then she whirls. Shuri nods as he hefts his camera. She turns back to the television as a steady camera catches a perfect view of the front gate and courtyard. The feed shows her and Rum stepping away from Tameri’s body, Stark keeping Rum at bay, followed by Stark’s beatdown of her mother. The feed pauses once Stark is standing over her mother victoriously, then is shifted into a corner of the screen to share space with the anchor desk. The reporter is shocked.

     “A-And there you have it. Proof that Stark and her mother…are unaligned. Stay tuned, everyone. We’ll go through the rest of the video after this word from our sponsors.”

     Stark would breathe easy but the sight of her defeated mother is a slap in the face. Her escape only means more turmoil to come.

     I need to find a way to take the fight to her!

     Slow applause disrupts the officer’s train of thought. The crescendo that starts with Dr. Sonya spreads to the other doctors and nurses on the floor. Cwen, Shuri, and even Neth join in. Her phone lights up with a message from Syerus.

You can thank Cat, Andrew, Julian, and Brandon for that! And there’s more! Commissioner Daci wants you in his office yesterday!

     Her response is swift.

On my way!

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