“We probably shouldn’t mention we went to a lower level.” Artie Chen ticks the extensive list of things not to mention to his parents on his fingers as he and Jay Dee ride the lift up to the higher levels of the OTC. “Or that we’ve been investigating things. Or that we know anyone involved with anything illegal – or even exciting. And you shouldn’t mention I rode a motorcycle.”
“Or that the motorcycle has AI, right?” Jay Dee suggests.
“Right, yes. My mom does not like machines that think for themselves.”
Jay Dee lets out a nervous, breathy laugh, “See, we’ve got this!”
The two had arrived back at the OTC after being told at the hospital that Artie’s dad had gone on an unexpected holiday. Worst case scenario: he was dead, like several other people Artie and Jay Dee had encountered over the past few days. But Artie’s strict mom might have some answers. So here they were, heading up to meet her and have a “table of understanding meeting,” a family tradition of Jay Dee’s which Artie had only learned about moments before.
The lift doors open and Artie and Jay Dee exchange a look.
“I’m gonna let you take the lead on this,” she says.
He nods and leads her up to the familiar door he’s lived behind for most of his life. Well, until he struck out on his own to go to university and everything started falling apart. He pushes the button.
The apartment door whooshes open at the same time Jay Dee and Artie take a collective, deep breath before facing the person on the other side.
Dr. Daniel Chen sits at the table, his hand shakily gripping a mug of coffee, and his eyes widen at the sight of them. “You’re home?!”
Jay Dee slides a look to Artie. “At least he’s not dead?” she whispers.
“I’m glad,” Artie whispers back.
Plus, his dad is the better option, right? He’s the one they were hoping to have a conversation with. At least his sudden “vacation” didn’t seem to be as ominous as it had sounded. At least they wouldn’t be having a conversation with his intimidating mom.
“Is mom home?” Artie asks.
“No, uh, no, not yet.” Daniel stutters in his shock, looking at Jay Dee now. He hadn’t realized she and Artie had connected. Good. That gave them the high ground.
Artie marches across the room to the table. “This is now a table of understanding. You’re going to sit at that table, and we’re going to have a reasonable conversation about what is going on.”
Daniel blinks. “What?”
Artie swings a chair out and takes a seat. “There is a lot of stuff going on, and we need answers. Her mom –” he points to Jay Dee “– is sick and in some kind of medical coma, and she doesn’t know what’s going on. There are armed guards there now!”
“Yes, I know,” Daniel sighs. He was Karen Dee’s doctor, after all, he was more familiar with her health situation than Jay Dee or Artie. “This is none of your business, Artie.”
“No, it is, though! I know Jay Dee, and her mom is sick. You had me deliver something to a woman, and she’s dead. I don’t know what to do about it!” Artie voice cracks at the end of his sentence, and he clenches his fist.
Daniel slowly sets his coffee on the table. His eyes glisten as he stares at Artie. “I didn’t know that was going to happen.”
“But that doesn’t mean we should be kept in the dark. Now we need to know what’s happening.”
“You don’t need to know anything. You’ve never needed to know anything. You should have never left the OTC.” Each of Daniel’s syllables are bit out and emphasized. His stare turns to a glare as he points a shaking hand to Jay Dee. “You should have never spoken to her. You should have never gone out. It was a mistake letting you go out.”
“That’s not fair!” Jay Dee interjects for the first time. She’d been content to stay silent, since Artie had this well in hand – it was his family after all, and he’d called the table of understanding. She was proud of him for facing his dad so strongly. But she could see how those last words and the vitriol behind them had rattled Artie.
He was looking down, and his shoulders had drooped. “No, he’s right; it was a mistake.”
“No, Artie, it wasn’t!” Jay Dee stomps over to the table and pulls out her own chair. “Look, here’s my table of understanding, okay? Artie’s my friend. We decided this, like, ten minutes ago, but we’ve been friends for a few days now. Friends go through a lot together, but they support each other, and that’s what we’ve been doing. I support Artie, but it doesn’t sound like you do. Artie is smart! Artie is capable! Sometimes! But that’s beside the point!” Her voice quiets as she takes a breath to collect her thoughts. “Artie can do a lot. What would keeping him in the OTC do for anyone? Especially him!”
Daniel narrows his eyes at her. “It would keep him safe.”
Artie seems to sit taller again. “Sure, some unsafe things have happened. But you’re the one who sent me out there in the first place.”
Daniel’s lip press into a thin line. His cheek twitches. “I’m not feeling very well.”
Artie pulls out the photo that he and Jay Dee had found at the apartment of the woman who had died – Lauren Curtis. She looked happy in it, holding a very young Artie. “Dad, who is this?”
Daniel snatches the photo out of his hand, staring at it.
“There is a lot of stuff you’re clearly not telling us about.” Artie was gaining ground in the conversation again.
Daniel starts fiddling with the edges of the photograph. His eyes are wide; his hands are shaking. “I need my painkillers. This is why I took a vacation.” He fishes a bottle out of his pocket and, with unsteady hands, tries to pop the lid off. “Look…”
He was cut off by a sounds. Artie’s confidence whooshed away again as the door opens and a cold voice says, “Oh hello… Am I interrupting something?”
Jay Dee meets Artie’s eyes. Artie’s mom was home. And they’d lost their high ground.
Catch EDEN, a futuristic cyberpunk story using Monte Cook Games’ Cypher System and run by GM Alice Cleaver, on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST on Scratticus Academy. I play Jay Dee, the jovial cyborg delivery girl with a growing family of robots, including her sky motorcycle, mechanical cat, and talking microwave. Artie Chen is played by Hans Chun. This particular scene is from episode 5, Turkey Burger.