For three days I had no word from Kenny, and hence I didn’t think about him once. On Tuesday morning, I received a message in the notepad asking me if I could meet him at the park again. Uncle Mack had no problem with me going out and so after breakfast and a shower, off I went. Kenny smiled at me as I approached where he was standing, feeding ducks again.
“Let’s go to that bench we sat on last time,” he said, emptying the last crumbs in the bread bag into the river. He stuffed the bag into a pocket and I followed him to said bench.
Once we were seated, Kenny spoke again.
“I’ve got good news for you, Jennifer. My superiors agreed that you’ve done more than enough for us. So I’m going to ask for the notepad back and take the ring off your finger. Then I have to perform a quick mind-wipe so that you don’t tell Joel what’s going on: actually, so you don’t have to feel guilty as well. Then I’ll be gone and you never have to see me again. So, the notepad.”
I pulled the notepad out of my pocket and wordlessly handed it to him.
At this point, something completely unexpected happened. Susanna ran up to us. She must have been on her break (she volunteered from 8 o’clock in the morning to 5 o’clock in the afternoon with a lunch-break from 11.45am to 1.15pm).
“Hey! Jen, I thought I recognised you - who’s this?”
I blinked, suddenly caught in an odd position where I felt more ‘awake’ and less numb, but where I still felt tied to Kenny.
“Oh, no one, just a guy who was sitting on his own,” I heard myself reply.
Susanna smiled at Kenny.
Kenny looked wary.
“Hey,” he said, not very enthusiastically.
Next thing I knew, Joel was ambling up: he had chosen to join us at a slower pace than Susanna. However, when he saw Kenny, he tensed and looked instantly serious.
“Leave Jennifer alone,” he said coldly.
Susanna looked startled.
“Joel, what’s wrong? D’you know this guy?”
“He’s a Guardian of Order,” Joel said, in that same icy tone. “And he’s not welcome here.”
“Just let me do my business here and I’ll be gone,” Kenny said, looking as if he didn’t want to create a scene. “I just have to take a ring off her finger, do a quick mind-wipe: that’s all. You see the sense in that, don’t you, Joel? She doesn’t need to be involved.”
Joel crossed his arms, waiting for Kenny to finish. Susanna had squealed “Mind-wipe?! What?!” at Kenny’s utterance of those words. She had instantly pulled me off the bench and was holding me tightly as if I was about to walk up to him and let him do it. The thing was, if he had asked, I would have.
“You just told me something that’s going to cause problems for you. You already put a ring on her. You already involved her.”
“I do have a warrant,” Kenny said, standing up and pulling out a folded piece of paper, offering it to Joel.
“Oh, spare me! There’s no justification for using humans as your tools like that,” Joel said furiously.
“This was going to be the last time we met up,” Kenny insisted. “Like I said, I just have to take that ring off and do a mind-wipe. Please don’t complicate things, Joel.”
Joel, startlingly, strode up to me.
“Let me see your hand,” he said, a little more gently, but his anger still underlay his tone. To Kenny, although without looking at him, he said “I don’t even understand how you could’ve done this. I gave her a bracelet.”
“I’d gotten there before you,” Kenny mumbled. “But Joel, please, let’s do things my way.”
“No!” Susanna exclaimed. “You’re not messing with my sister’s head!”
“I won’t let him, don’t worry,” Joel assured her as I lifted my hand for him.
He shook his head as he examined the ring.
“It’s one you have to take off, isn’t it?” he said to Kenny.
“Yes,” Kenny replied.
“No mind-wipe,” Joel said, finally turning to face Kenny.
“I can’t not,” Kenny said. “That was part of the order. Take the notepad, take the ring off, take the memories.”
“We don’t care about your stupid order,” Susanna said, angrier than I had seen her in a long time. “Just take the ring off and leave us alone!”
Kenny turned to her and calmly said “You know you two being together caused an earthquake in Europe? It wasn’t one of ours and it hadn’t been Expected. The Council was confused until I went back and told them there had been a measurement of ... well, this number won’t mean anything to you, but...” Here he looked at Joel. “7.2.”
Susanna looked as confused as I myself felt.
“What’s he talking about Joel?”
Joel looked furious again.
“How dare you try to guilt trip my girlfriend! I bet he’s lying, Susie, and even if he weren’t, there’s no way he can prove that a Chaos level he got from us caused an Unexpected earthquake!”
I personally was shocked. An earthquake? Was this one of those dangerous consequences that Joel had so calmly called unlikely?
Kenny met Joel’s gaze directly.
“D’you know how childish you sound? Believe what you will, Joel, but until the Council finds another high enough Chaos level, you and Susanna are Suspects #1.”
Joel glared at him.
Kenny walked up to me, ignoring his proximity to Joel.
“Let’s take that ring off, Jen,” he said gently. I obediently offered him my hand.
“No mind-wipe,” Susanna said, sounding scared. “Please.”
Kenny looked at her as he slipped the ring off my finger.
“I told you. It was an order.”
For a second, I felt weird and disoriented as if I had suddenly awoken from a dream and the world was distorted by the dreamscape I had been in formerly. But then...
“They caused an earthquake?” I whispered.
Kenny looked at me, startled.
“Um, yes, we think so.”
“Did anyone...?” I couldn’t say the word. Susanna looked pale herself as if, despite Joel’s words, she believed Kenny like I did.
“Fortunately not. But there was damage.”
I turned to Susanna.
“Susie, surely you see now - you and Joel can’t go on. The risk is too great! What if next time, someone does ... someone is hurt?”
Susanna looked small and frightened. I felt guilty for putting her in this position but ... surely she understood what she had to do?
“Off you go, now,” Joel told Kenny, evidently still not caring about his orders.
“Joel,” Susanna whispered.
Joel looked at her and took her hand.
“Susanna, I really don’t believe this was us. How can love be destructive? You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was someone trying to frame us, to make us break up because they were unnecessarily worried.”
While they were focused on each other, Kenny slipped his own hand into mine.
“What he’s suggesting is illegal, by the way,” he murmured.
I looked at our entwined hands and at first I had the bizarre notion that Kenny wanted to be to me what Joel was to Susanna (forgetting briefly that that would cause the same controversy), but then realized what he was about to do. His expression was sorry: he looked like he genuinely found this difficult. I didn’t want to experience this mind-wipe but part of me was saying ‘You won’t even remember it afterwards - and he’s already going through enough.’
“Tell me about 7.2,” I said, my voice quavering. I wasn’t really trying to delay him: I was more trying to ease myself into the event. If he did it while we were in the middle of a natural conversation, it didn’t seem like it would be so bad.
Kenny seemed to understand and he answered “7 is the Chaos level required for an earthquake. 8 is a tsunami, 9 is a hurricane, 10 is a volcano. 18 is the apocalypse.”
I found myself faintly relieved by the distance between 7 and 18.
“Will it hurt?” I whispered.
Kenny shook his head.
“Not at all,” he said gently.