Ivy and Clive find themselves wrapped up in a situation, one more willing to jump into danger with the new overly outgoing Defender than the other.
Ivy was given no further details.
The Officer didn’t answer her questions as she was put in the back of the auto, a thick piece of glass separating them and despite Ivy’s banging, the Officer was really good at ignoring her.
That and making faces.
Ivy slumped back in her seat. It couldn’t be Clive. She didn’t want it to be. There was no way, but it was the only one that made sense. But did they really need that much security for a teenage boy fresh out of OHS? No one seemed to like those much.
She peered into her bag, down at Courtney, who seemed to sense the mood, pressing herself against the glass closest to Ivy. Either it was truly empathetic, or just wanted Ivy to let it out.
Ivy decided to say it was empathetic, and hugged the bag close to her chest.
The Edwardian Complex came into sight, it’s towering brick majesty and the vines climbing up the walls she’d asked Alvarez about just this morning. More Defender autos were parked outside and in the gate, blocked off by bright yellow tape and holographic signs. Residents were sitting in benches outside, and neighbors watched with curious eyes.
What was going on?
The auto came to a jerking halt, nearly sending Ivy flying against the glass.
The door was slammed open, the Defender standing outside. “Hurry, Bhasin. We don’t have all day.”
Ivy was tempted to glare back...very tempted. She crawled out the auto, quick to hop out before the Defender slammed her skirt in the door.
She kept Ivy chasing after as they ascended the steps through the open doors. Stefan jumped up from the front desk. “You found the other one.”
“Is Clive okay?” Ivy cried.
Even Stedman ignored her. “They’re waiting.”
The Officer nodded, grabbing Ivy’s arm harshly. They went through the back doors, and past the fountain, now shut off to Ivy’s disappointment. They rose the spiral steps, obeying the no-first-level-room rules. She tried to squirm free from the Defender, but her grip was firm.
She threw a door open, and sent Ivy in first with the shove of her hand.
Ivy sun catching her balance, her heart leaping meeting the familiar face of her brother, sitting in a chair eat before a makeshift fold up table and multiple other Defenders. She paid them no attention. “You’re alright.”
Clive frowned. “Of course, I’m okay. What are you talking about? You’re the one who ran off, and didn't answer any of my calls.”
“Or legal notifications.” The woman held up Ivy’s Comm, tossing it to the nearest Officer. “Search it. Bhasin #2, sit.”
“Hyun, you’re not leading this case.”
The woman rolled her eyes at a man who stepped out to the table. “Co-leading, Sallow.”
‘Sallow’ raised a dark brow at her. He had a brown complexion, his hair flowing with brown curls and his brown eyes were warm in the lantern light set on the table. Like all the Defenders in the room, he wore a tightly fitted uniform, and had a gun strapped to his thigh. He was lightly muscled, and perhaps Clive’s height. He looked fairly young for his status. She knew Defenders could be as young as sixteen.
His eyes were gentle as they scanned over Ivy. “So, you’re the last suspect.”
Ivy blinked. “Suspect? I didn’t do anything.”
“You were the last person to see Alvarez,” Officer Hyun said, shoving Sallow aside.
“He’s missing. Kidnapped from his home at noon. Part of his home utterly destroyed. Our other last suspect, his scribe, dead,” Hyun said, seeming happy to get it over with.
Someone had been after Alvarez? Ivy knew he was wealthy, but worth killing for? Did they think she did it? They couldn't. It wouldn't be logical.
Sallow set a hand on Hyun’s shoulder. “You’re scaring her.”
“I’m not softening the punches, like you tend to do.” Hyun huffed.
“This is my family that’s been affected, and I’m not scaring off any evidence.” Despite the harshness of his words, his eyes were genuine as they held Hyun's long stare. She finally stepped aside, and Sallow turned to the twins.
“That was an introduction,” he laughed half-heartedly, though his smile was genuine. “My brother-in-law, Horacio Alvarez, as my kind co-leader informed you, was taken. And according to all our sources, you Miss Bhasin, were the last one to see him this morning.”
“If you think she did it, you’re crazy,” Clive snapped, jumping forward in his seat.
Sallow calmly didn’t acknowledge Clive’s glower, as he circled around the table with a strap in his hand. “We already questioned your brother, but he insisted on being here.”
“Sounds like him.” Ivy’s laughed was choked.
Sallow knelt to her heir, handing her the strap. “This is a lie detector. Secure it around your wrist. The band will glow red if it senses infrequency in your pulse, and all the science stuff. More Hyun’s specialty.” He gave a nod to his annoyed partner.
Ivy tried to relax, slipping on the strap, securing it around her wrist.
Ivy nodded slowly, glancing to Clive, who’s fists were clenched and his glare set on Sallow. She looked back to Sallow. “What do you want to know?”
“When did you last see Alvarez?”
“I remember it being 8.30 when I checked the Comm somewhat after.” She held her breath, her heart settling at seeing the band not glow up.
“Did he mention where he was going?”
“No,” Ivy said, keeping her eyes with Sallow’s who watched her carefully. “He did seem in a hurry.”
“Did he say anything this morning?”
“He was outside observing the vines, so I asked him about them.” Ivy relaxed. “I already knew everything he said. Pretty basic information, unless that’s—”
“Ivy,” Clive warned.
“She’s fine,” Sallow said. He unfastened the band around her wrist, squeezing her hand with a smile. “You did great.” He turned back to the team behind him. “I think we can start circling to the next location.”
The Defenders seemed eager to gather their things, taking the band from Sallow, and move out the door.
Ivy got to her feet. “So do you think you’ll be able to find him?” She asked Sallow.
The Officer shrugged. “All the new information we got is he was looking at vines and was in a hurry. Not much to work on.” He pressed his lips together firmly, and Ivy saw his positive demeanor falter before his eyes looked back up. “Well if either of you have more information, let us know. My sister has a hefty reward of 500,000 pounds for assistance of his return.”
Ivy’s heart dropped. 500,000 pounds? That was more than enough to enter the program. That was enough to pay rent for who knew how long.
That was enough money to set things right.
“Wait!” She called after Sallow as he strode to the door.
“Ivy, what are you doing?” Clive hissed.
Sallow stopped, turning. “Yes?”
Ivy tried to keep herself from bouncing. “Where is Alvarez’s house? He seemed interested in those plants right? Maybe it has some sort of connection...a research project. I’d be the one to help identify it. And my brother—” Clive groaned under his breath. “He’s an amazing writer, and he’s quiet when he wants to be. I was the last person to see him, and I want to help.”
She did want to help.
The whole aspect that someone had died because of this was awful...but she had to admit the reward was tempting. It was the solution to everything.
Sallow’s eyes widened. “What’s your name, Miss Bhasin?”
“Ivy. Ivy Bhasin. Seventeen. Sycamore.”
Sallow held his hand out to her. “Officer Jackson Sallow. Eighteen. Amana. You have yourself a case, ma’am.”
Clive wasn’t a morning person, but to beat Ivy, he had to be.
She had grand plans to go to the Alvarez manor today, but Clive had his doubts...especially about that smiley Defender. He didn’t seem dangerous, but something about him bothered Clive. The way he smiled, and talked with a fake comfort.
Why the need to lie?
Ivy seemed to adore it though, so Clive didn’t speak up. Something about her excitement as she paced across the kitchen, her hands flying with excitement and a hope he couldn’t dream of having, made his chest warm. He would do anything to keep her hopes alive.
He moved quietly to Ivy’s door, holding his breath as he cracked the door open.
Ivy lay on her back, her blanket tucked perfectly over her chest, sleeping soundly, as the light rain hit her window. He almost laughed seeing the jar with the strange glowing thing inside, its empty holes for eyes staring at him.
“If you dare hurt her, I’ll hand you straight to that Sallow dude.”
The thing just kept staring at him.
Clive took another long look at his sister, swallowed hard, and turned for the door.
She would be the dreamer, and he’d be the realistic one keeping those dreams alive.
He closed the door behind him with a click.
The halls were still dark, the glass ceiling shining in with the dim early morning sky. The echo of the janitor’s keys sounded as he mopped the floor with buds blasting music to his ears. Clive avoided eye contact as he skirted around him and dashed for the spiral stairway.
Today’s mission was simple: Make a few bucks to pay rent.
He had the answer heavy in his satchel on his shoulder. He ran down the steps of the apartment, keeping his head down from the Defenders still patrolling in cars outside.
Clive took a deep breath, hunching his shoulders and moving quickly, his mind racing.
The M.E.D.I.A. offices.
He’d officially gone crazy to think he had a chance.
He turned, walking slowly down the sidewalk. Only a few people passed him, and he was quick to stay out of their way.
He slipped his hand into his bag, searching around for the sleek piece of tech. A gift from Ivy years ago.
His fingers settled on it. He gripped it, tearing it from the pack. He tapped the screen. Nothing. Odd.
It struck him. The night he’d found the thing, he’d knocked it from his nightstand. It couldn’t be too bad. Maybe it just needed an extra charge?
Raindrops began to pour down atop it. He held it to his chest.
Be optimistic...like Ivy.
“Hey, watch out!”
Clive was nearly torn from his feet as someone rammed into him. He locked eyes with the kid. He frowned at Clive, then ran off. Clive had caught himself against the wall. He dusted himself off and walked down the street.
Rude. Why couldn’t the kid just have stopped? Was it that hard?
He sighed, turning his thoughts back to the tablet.
His heart skipped a beat.
“Excuse me!” Clive shouted, whirling around and running past the few people who stood in his way, his heart beating through his ears.
His eyes widened.
The tablet was on the sidewalk. He scooped down to pick it up, nearly hit in the head by someone's arm. He stood up and steadied himself in a corner under a shop shade. The tablet was entirely wet. To his horror, a crack across the screen as well.
He tapped the screen over and over.
It wouldn’t turn out. He felt like he was going to pass out.
It would need so much more than an extra charge.
He’d broken his tablet and it hadn’t been a day yet? How could he have been so careless?
It was all because of that stupid thing. Maybe it wouldn’t be so broken if he hadn’t knocked it off the nightstand in the first place.
It was a weak blame, but it burned too much inside not to direct it somewhere.
He tried not to panic. He tried desperately not to freak out. He just carefully placed the tablet back in his bag, and kept his pace down the road and tried to ignore his trembling arms.
His tablet was broken.
His face burned. He crossed his arms, his fingers digging to his arms. His spirits were only barely lifted when seeing the M.E.D.I.A. sign, but they plummeted even further remembering his tech.
He took a deep breath and made his way across the street to the slick green glass building, the glorious words “M.E.D.I.A. SYCAMORE” greeting him.
Sycamore was the region north of Imperial, the infamous home of the Defending Offices and one of the five Golden regions, and from what Clive had read, he could tell Sycamore took pride in trying to be as much like Imperial as possible.
Clive wasn’t settled by the facts as he stood at the door. The building was large, but he tried to think an Ivy thought and reminded himself it could be worse.
At least he wasn’t in Imperial, where everything was about five times bigger, and probably twice as expensive.
He reached his hand out to push the door open, but it burst back for him. Clive hid his surprise. He hesitated, then stepped inside. A woman, sitting at a levitating clear glass desk looked up, her expression bored. She tapped the desk, and a gust of air blew down Clive.
For a second, he couldn’t breathe, but then the air stopped, and it took him a moment to realize he was dry. His hood had fallen off, and his hair had taken advantage of the chance to grow a couple inches out.
Alright then. No warning.
“Appointment?” the front desk woman said, her voice deep and raspy.
Clive adjusted his grip on his bag. “Uh, no, but-”
“No appointment.” The woman scowled, tapping her holographic scene. “What department?”
Clive tensed. “Writers.”
The woman scoffed. “Don’t got a lotta those lying around,” she grumbled under breath,
A spark of hope flared in him. This might mean he had a chance.
“We have one meeting opening,” she said.
“I’ll take it!” he said, a little too enthusiastically, getting him an eyebrow arch. He corrected his posture, and forced an apologetic smile.
“Floor 3. Room 52,” she said. “You got 15 minutes.”
“15 minutes?” Clive said, scrunching his nose.
“Got less now. Hurry it up.”
Clive didn’t waste another moment. There was an opening. And he had fifteen minutes to convince them they needed him. He found the elevator easily, but figuring out the buttons was the hard part.
Apparently pressing three buttons brought you to each floor.
And he was getting anxious.
And a little mad at himself for making the stupid mistake.
He must have wasted a precious two minutes before he reached the third floor. He burst from the elevator, darting down the sleek white hallway, not taking a moment to take it in.
“Fifty-two,” he said, rushing to the door. He stopped himself, adjusting his collar and the strap of his bag, flipping his hair from his face, which was in urgent need of being cut. Hopefully they wouldn’t notice.
He raised his hand to knock, but the ground moved from under him, and he went right through the door.
Clive nearly toppled over in shock, but he froze, seeing he’d entered the room.
A large man sat at a sofa, a tablet in hand, his tinged green hair atop his head, his tanned skin not matching the light makeup of his face.
“Ten minutes,” he grumbled, looking up.
Clive rushed to the seat he gestured across from him. The man pat down his bleached moustache and raised his eyes.
“Sir, I-I want to write.”
“Yeah, buncha kids do,” he scoffed. “What do you write?”
“Another one,” the man scoffed. “This is the journalism sector.”
Clive tried to hold back his frown. “Yes, sir. I believe I have the ability to write for you. Stories or not. Hear me out before you turn to look at that tablet that’s very clearly turned off.”
The man raised an eyebrow, his tablet lowering.
Clive was dead.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“I see. Do you have a portfolio, Bhasin?”
“I have some writing,” he said, reaching into bag, removing his tablet. His eyes burned, seeing the brutal crack in the screen. The man raised an eyebrow. Clive tapped the screen. Still no life. He grit his teeth. He tapped over and over.
The man began to rise from his seat. “I see you don’t have much to show, and your time is almost up, Mr. Clive-”
Clive jumped up. “Wait! Sir, no! I promise I can write. I can really write. Sir, I’ll do anything for this job. I’ll take up the smallest article. I can prove to you I can do it!”
The man raised his hand. Clive shut his mouth.
He was done for.
A sly smile crept on the man’s lips, his moustache rising with pleasure.
“Well, then,” he said, a small chuckle shaking his bulging stomach. “You say you’re so talented. You shouldn’t be writing small articles.”
Sweat pooled in Clive’s hands as he clenched his tablet. “Sir?”
“I’ll give you the job,” the man said, a teasing grin on his lips as he clicked on his tablet. “If you can produce the story that’ll take the Capitol North by surprise. You have two weeks.”
Clive wasn’t special.
The front office woman laughed as he was ejected from the elevator. He’d scoffed, straightening his posture, telling her of the man’s proposition.
It only made her laugh further.
“Another kid falling for that same trap.”
Her words echoed in his head over and over as he trailed back to the apartment, his broken tablet clenched to his chest. Who was he to really think he could pull it off? His tablet didn’t stand a chance. It wasn’t only broken, but wet, meaning the memory, the countless years of work, was probably wiped clean. He couldn’t afford to fix it.
The offer was impossible, and Clive knew it.
He had been taunted. He was being made fun of. And he really thought he’d try Ivy’s mentality. He scoffed. Yeah, that worked out real swell.
The apartment was finally coming into view, the Defender cars still parked outside. The gate creaked open, and a familiar voice caught Clive’s attention.
“Just play it low. Nothing big yet. She might be a bit on edge.”
Clive almost groaned.
That way-too-nice-head-in-the-clouds Defender, Officer Sallow, walked out of the gate, and Clive’s heart dropped seeing Ivy following him, with her big bulging bag.
She nodded, not noticing her brother, her full attention on the Defender’s words. “I completely understand. We first have to gain her trust.”
Sallow laughed. “You make it sound like we’re hunting her.”
“Who are you hunting?”
Ivy and Officer Sallow whipped around to Clive, who stood now drenched in the rain, trying to make himself taller than he felt.
“Clive!” Ivy exclaimed, her face brightening. “I was going to look for you.”
Clive sighed, walking up to them, ignoring the looks of the other Defenders guarding the building. “Sure you were, Ives.”
“I was just about to get in a patrol auto and look for you,” Sallow said, his voice dragging nails on a chalkboard when accompanied with his smile. “Your sister insisted we not go without you.”
“You were going to take her somewhere?” Clive stepped beside Ivy. What was she thinking?
“You don’t remember yesterday?” Ivy said, moving out from behind him and back beside the Defender. “We’re going to try and find Alvarez.”
She was serious? That was about as likely as him finding a Capitol North worthy news story in two weeks.
“You can stay if you want,” Ivy said, though her face faltered, and she bit the inside of her lip. “But I thought your skills might come in handy.”
He was really good at blowing great opportunities, if that’s what she wanted him for.
“Fine.” He shoved his broken tablet into his bag with a heavy sigh. “I’m coming, but it’s just to make sure you’re okay.”
“I don’t need a babysitter, Clive, just a partner.” She said with a roll of her eyes as if he’d just joked with her.
He was never sure whether she was seriously that oblivious or trying to lighten the mood.
“You really are siblings,” Sallow muttered, before taking a deep breath and turning on his heel, displaying the auto behind him with a dramatic gesture of jazz hands. “Our ride awaits us.”
Ivy got the front seat, and Clive was stuck in the back, where prisoners made themselves at home.
He sure felt like one.
He was glad at least the Defender had taken the glass divider down.
The sky was grey, and the streets seemed easygoing to suit the mood. Clive leaned forward in his seat, his eyes on the road ahead of them. He knew Ivy thought the reward money would be beneficial. She hadn’t told him, but he saw it in her eyes.
The way they lit up like they always did when she thought she’d had the most brilliant idea, like using her Holiday money on a pet cactus instead of a new coat that had a hole in the elbow.
But right now? She had more ideas than he did.
“You sure we won’t get arrested for this, Sallow?”
“Don’t feel the need to call me by my last name.”
Clive wasn’t exactly looking to get personal. “Jackson.”
“Just call me Jack.”
“And no,” ‘Jack’ said, taking a turn down a street that thinned the crowds. More trees lined the sidewalks, and the shops had larger windows with metallic holographic print. “I’m a Defender.”
“Does that mean you’re magically immune to arrest?”
Jack snorted. “Your brother is quite the comedian.”
Ivy laughed back, casting a smirk over her shoulder to Clive.
Clive gave up trying.
He slunk back in his seat, keeping his eyes out the window. It wasn’t illegal, was it? They were planning to go into Alvarez’s property. A high suspect area. Someone had mentioned Jack was in charge of the operation and related to the Alvarez family somehow...Clive didn’t exactly bother to remember, but he was also just a teenager.
“You’re hardly a legal adult,” Clive scoffed.
“Curatrix member Jessica Hunter became a Sergeant at age eighteen,” Jack said, matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, and now she’s an internationally deemed psycho. Great example.”
Finally, a bit of frustration from him. “I’m in charge of the operation. Don’t worry. Nothing will go ‘psycho.’ It’s just a nice little drop by.”
The auto took another turn, this time the buildings less thickly packed together, more of the open Sycamore land on display...or what could be seen of it behind massive manors lined at ends of extravagant driveways--
The blast rang into Clive’s ear, as he was slammed into the door. The auto spun, his heart tensing in his chest, preparing for impact. The spin slowed with a loud screech.
Clive jumped up, dizzy, toppling over between the seats. “Ivy!”
“Hands up and exit the vehicle. This is an in depth investigation site.”
“I’m in charge of the operation. Don’t worry,” Clive mocked under his breath as he slowly rose.
Jack narrowed his eyes at him.
The door was yanked open, and Clive hurried out before he was dragged, throwing his hands up with an annoyed huff. “Yeah, why not? Today’s already been a time,” he grumbled.