Chapter 4 – Archimedes
“Slap her again. I’m not waiting for her to calm down on her own,” Brad complained as he tapped his dress shoe at the foot of the hotel staircase.
Nguyen glared at him, but lightly slapped Maryam’s face as she sat on the floor sobbing hysterically.
Maryam shook her head as she came to her senses again. She looked around, tears still running down her cheeks and gave a weak smile. “I’m sorry. I can’t help it. I’ve never seen anyone die before.
“Don’t worry about it, sweetie,” Stephanie said as she held a hand for the woman. “ I don’t think any of us have. We’re all probably in shock and you’re probably dealing with it much better than we are.”
Maryam gave Stephanie a small grateful nod as she took her hand and was helped up. The woman brushed off her bottom and was a little unsteady as she followed the rest of the group through the door to the staircase that would lead them up to the conference rooms where their reunion was being held.
They walked up the stairs in silence, each contemplating the near death experience they’d had and the horribly gruesome departing of a man they’d known. About half way up to the next floor Maryam stumbled and almost fell backwards but was caught by Stephanie.
“Ugh, this is the last time I’m wearing heels to impress some guy,” Stephanie said, breaking the silence as she pulled Maryam forward and her shoes slipped on the floor slightly.
“The event is on floor forty-two. It’s only four freaking floors. Just calm those stuffed pads you call tits and deal with it,” Lucy snapped back.
“You know, you can just take the heels off till we get there.” Archimedes had no idea what the use of complaining was when a solution was easily at hand.
Lucy continued her derisive comments. “Oh no, you can’t suggest that to her. If she takes off her heels, her butt won’t look as big. God forbid Mrs. Prom Queen be caught flat-butted and flat-footed in a stairwell with us peasants.”
“Hey, bro, don’t be giving chicas any fashion advice. You’ll only end up dead before you can say cappuccino latte,” Chedderfield advised Archimedes.
“I do not drink cappuccino lattes.” Out of everything said, Stephanie chose that one point to deny.
“Right. Not enough edible gold flakes for you?” Chedderfield snickered.
“Ugh, sorry,” Stephanie said, looking at Chedderfield as if he were someone pitiable. “I . . . I didn’t realize I made you feel that way. I know not everyone has the same opportunities in life. I’ll do my best not to make you feel ‘lesser’ in the future.”
Archimedes, who knew how proud Chedderfield could be, felt the burn down to his bone. He knew Stephanie didn’t even mean it like that, but he couldn’t help but watch the group’s expressions change three or four times as they processed that ridiculous statement.
No one even bothered saying anything after that as they trudged up the stairs, Brad in front, the man acting as if he were leading an expedition through the wild.
“Ha! Made it!” Brad bragged as he opened the door to the forty-second floor. “And Steph, if you want to ride home in a gold Lambo after this party, just come find me. I’ll give you a lift after I finish tying a few on with the other Tri-Alpha bros.”
“Oh, umm. Thanks!” Stephanie said as she followed up behind Brad.
“Hey, is that Danielle on nametag duty?” Chedderfield asked as he exited the stairway with Archimedes and Lucy, seeing a table for name cards far down the hallway and people handing them out.
“Oh, you mean that cheerleader you had a crush on senior year? The one whose pom-poms you kept wanting to cheer with?” Archimedes said, remembering how flustered Chedderfield had gotten on Fridays when she came by to say hello to them.
“Don’t act like you’re better, Mr. Never Asked Out Stephanie,” Chedderfield shot back, stabbing Archimedes right through the chest verbally with such an open and public betrayal.
“Aww, you liked me?” Stephanie teased.
“I . . . it was just . . . Umm, you know what? I was young and dumb.” Archimedes managed to form the words despite his nerves nearly seizing up his tongue.
“Ah, so you have to be young and dumb to like me?” she asked, her tone taking a sudden drop in friendliness.
“Et tu, Chedderfield?” Archimedes, not being able to handle being put on the spot, only turned to face his betrayer, the social wound still bleeding out all semblance of dignity as the character assassination left him dead in the hallway.
“Never asked her out?” Brad, who had been outpacing everyone, couldn’t miss the opportunity to turn around and laugh at Archimedes. “Figures. At least you were smart enough to know where your place was.”
Before Archimedes could say anything to squash Brad’s taunting laughter, one of the four elevator doors near the stairwell dinged, opening to reveal a sight more gruesome than their own experience with murderous conveyances. There, in the middle of the elevator, was a lanky six-foot-five-inch-tall man bent over, his skin a diseased shade of green. He was standing on the bodies of multiple people but clawing and biting at a woman beneath him, his teeth filled with blood, his hands still inside her abdomen ripping and tearing at her guts.
“H . . . He . . . Hel . . .” she said as she saw the group of them. Her expression was flat, her face pale, her eyes barely open.
“Oh shit! That guy’s Hannibal-Lectering that lady!” Lucy yelled as she pointed.
“Ugh, freaking gross,” Brad said before yelling out to no one in particular, “SECURITY! SECURITY!”
While he was calling out, Stephanie kicked off one of her heels and grabbed the other, rushing forward while holding her fancy shoe, which probably cost a thousand dollars, like it was a lethal weapon.
Archimedes recovered his wits the moment Stephanie sprinted forward, and he followed her lead and outpaced her as he did.
“Freaking savior complex,” Chedderfield mumbled in annoyance as he followed Archimedes towards danger.
Archimedes put his shoulder forward and threw his mass at the guy like a human bumper car. He crashed straight into the man, the two of them slamming into the elevator wall.
“WOMEN DESERVE TO FEEL SAFE!” Stephanie yelled as she rushed in behind Archimedes, heel in hand, and swung her shoe at the man’s face.
To everyone’s surprise, the heel broke through the skin much more easily than expected. It penetrated the temple of the man’s skull, but it broke off halfway in before it could fully sink into the brain cavity. As soon as the weapon was gone, Stephanie backed up, shocked that the man didn’t even yell or flinch.
Instead, the large bloody man just swiped at Archimedes, who had been holding him against the wall. His nails ripped and tore the sleeves off Archimedes’ cheap borrowed suit. “Little . . . Little help here!” Archimedes squirmed, shifting his body so he could avoid getting cut by the nails.
“Hadouken!” Chedderfield said as he pulled Stephanie back from the brawl and swung his meaty fist at the head of the man trying to bite his former best friend. His fist connected with a crunch of bone, and the man’s head snapped back with the force of the blow. The man went still as the broken heel, which had been embedded in his temple, was forced completely into his brain when his head slammed into the elevator wall with a thud.
The blood-soaked beast of a man stopped twitching under Archimedes.
Congratulations, humans of the 19th space quadrant’s 32nd zone, you have managed to kill the first monster in your region. Each of you has been awarded a card for your participation. These cards are the purified version of a dead person’s abilities and essence, distilled in such a way that you can absorb them and grow stronger. Though death is inevitable, struggle on for the sake of glorious battle.
Archimedes didn’t even get to finish reading the message before three bronze-colored cards popped up in front of the three of them.
“What the . . .” Archimedes felt his jaw drop as he tried to take in everything.
“Frak . . .” Chedderfield finished Archimedes’ hanging statement.
The three people in the elevator stood perfectly still as the cards rushed toward their bodies, one entering each of them.
Current Classification: Bronze
Current Level: 01
Ability: Can assemble and create a single turret. The turret will automatically defend the user from threats so long as the user is within 5 feet of the turret. After the turret has been created, the user may move it from its original location once every hour.
There, in front of Archimedes was a blue box of text. He looked over to Chedderfield to ask him what the hell was going on, only to see Chedderfield staring at a similar wall of text in front of him, the same as Archimedes’ but with a different ability described.
Current Classification: Bronze
Current Level: 01
Ability: Able to purify a small space of all negative traits. Usable once per hour.
“What . . . What was that?” Brad asked, looking past the three brawlers into the elevator. The doors were trying to close, but they kept running into one of the corpses’ legs and opening again, the elevator making a cheery ‘ding’ sound with every attempt to shut its doors. It was like the elevator kept revealing the gruesome murder scene again and again. Brad put a hand to his mouth, rolling his eyes in annoyance. “Oh my god, that’s horrible. Did you murder that guy? What are people going to think? Do you realize what you’ve done?”
“It was self-defense, Brad. He was hurting other people, and we tried to stop him. He just ended up dying,” Stephanie said as she briefly looked back at the twisted body of the crazed man. “But I think something was wrong with him. He was sick or something. He was gnawing on those people he killed.”
Archimedes put a hand on her shoulder. “Steph— You didn’t do anything wrong . . .”
“I hate to interrupt, but what about those floating cards and those words? Don’t tell me we were the only ones that saw them, Steph,” Chedderfield asked in a whisper as he stepped in close to Stephanie.
“What are you whispering about?” Brad asked, a suspicious look on his face.
Stephanie’s eyes darted to where the cards had floated before returning to Chedderfield, and she said quickly, “I don’t know . . .”
“I asked you what you are talking about,” Brad interrupted, grabbing Stephanie’s arm. “You’re not thinking of suing me for what that guy did, are you? You’re not going to tell people I didn’t help, are you? I know you’re desperate for money, but you’d never win a lawsuit against my family’s hotel.”
“Brad, could you not? Could you just not? Not everything is about you,” Stephanie yelled as she tried to pull her arm away.
“If you weren’t a girl, I’d smack you for that,” Brad snarled, his anger at Stephanie’s continuous taunting becoming palpable.
“That’s good ‘cause I can’t think of a single girl who would want you to smack her ass,” Lucy fired from behind the group.
“Don’t test me,” Brad snarled before turning back to the three in the elevator.
“Everyone must be a litt-t-t-le freaked out, Brad,” Maryam stuttered, the silver jewelry hanging from her ears clinking as she shook her head and frowned at the aggressive rich boy. “Maybe j-j-just give them a moment. Even I-I-I’m feeling a bit upset-t-t.”
“Who cares how you’re feeling?” Brad growled.
“We just watched another person die,” Nguyen explained in a calm voice, placing her soft hand on his chest since it seemed his shoulder was too high for her. “Relax, big buddy.”
Brad still looked a little angry that no one had answered his question. His face had turned red. Archimedes had no desire to go first. Even if he wasn’t feeling like Stephanie, he wasn’t going to share anything he didn’t have to with Brad.
“Stephanie, if your dad wants to keep his job, you won’t ever speak to me that way again,” Brad threatened, causing everyone to go quiet.
“I . . .” she gulped.
“You can piss off with your threats to us,” Chedderfield snapped when Brad’s eyes turned to him. “After all, neither of us have families that are high-class enough to work for your greedy ass. Right, Archimedes?”
Archimedes nodded even as he gulped down his anxiety. He hated being put on the spot, but he also agreed with Chedderfield.
Brad stepped right up to Archimedes, stood inches from his face, and said, “This doesn’t concern you, Oil Spill.” Then glancing at Chedderfield he added, “Or you, Ricotta.”
“Uhh . . . I’ve informed security of what happened. I think you three will need to wait around, but I’ll be here to testify on your behalf and get you anything you need,” said Danielle, Chedderfield’s curvy crush who had been handling the name tags, as she approached the group from behind. Brad stepped away from Archimedes and turned toward the woman.
“Oh, thanks . . .” Chedderfield replied, scratching the back of his head as he avoided her eyes and looked over at Archimedes.
“As for the rest of you all, if you’d like to stay around and make a statement for the police, you can. Otherwise, feel free to enter the party. We’ve got your names and phone numbers already registered, so there won’t be any issue if we need you.”
“Tch. At least some people know how to act,” Brad said, roughly snatching his name card from Danielle’s outstretched hand as he started walking toward the double doors that led to the reunion venue, Maryam and Nguyen following after him.
“He sure isn’t one of those people.” Chedderfield’s anger was apparent from his tone.
“Don’t sweat him,” Archimedes said, half to Chedderfield and half to the mortified Stephanie, who was staring wide-eyed at the floor.
The people in the elevator, who had been killed by whatever it was they’d fought, proved a gory sight. Limbs lay severed, and parts even looked like they were half eaten. Stephanie pulled her gaze from the bodies with a shudder and turned towards Chedderfield. “What was that thing, and what did those floating words mean? Why could we see them, but Brad couldn’t?”
Archimedes answered, “We don’t know what it all is either, Stephanie. But it has to be over. I mean, how many of those creepy guys could be walking around? Why don’t we just go enjoy the party? I’ll buy you a drink.”
Stephanie snorted, and the melancholy expression shifted to a small smile as she shook her head. “The drinks at these things are free, but that was a nice try.”
“It’s the thought that counts, right?” Archimedes replied, his eyes darting to Chedderfield for support.
“Don’t look at me, bro. You’re on your own if you’re trying to score,” Chedderfield said and turned to walk away. He took the cheap sticker on the table that said, “Hello, my name is Manuel Chedderfield,” peeled off the backing, and slapped it onto the breast of his dress shirt before hesitantly speaking to Danielle, who had been watching the exchange between the three. “Danielle, maybe later I could get down with you.”
“Huh?” she asked, clearly uncertain of what he was saying.
“I mean, dance floor, me, you . . .” Chedderfield said quickly, jumbling his words in embarrassment.
“Real smooth,” Lucy mumbled behind Chedderfield’s back.
Chedderfield gave the blue-haired woman a quick glare. He then turned back to Danielle, took a deep breath, and slowly said, “I would like it if I could dance with you later. Would that be okay?”
Chedderfield’s meaning finally got through. The brunette woman’s cheeks blushed slightly, and she nodded. “Yeah, I’d like that. I’ve been looking forward to catching up with you, Manny.”
“I’ll see you inside later then.” Chedderfield could feel a bit of heat on his cheeks at the use of the nickname only she’d used with him, “Manny.” He turned and walked through the double doors because part of him worried that she’d change her mind if he stood there any longer. He heard more than saw footsteps behind him, but his mind was racing at his success, and he didn’t look back.
Still, Archimedes’ voice caught up with him over the music playing, and he turned to see both his former friend and Stephanie right behind him.
“Good job, amigo. I didn’t think you had it in you to make a move on Danielle,” Archimedes said, his hand raised for a high five.
Chedderfield almost lifted his hand to high five the man, his memories of their friendship almost overriding the memories of what happened after high school had ended. “Don’t think that I’ve forgiven you for what you did just because I sided with you against Brad. I dislike that douche only slightly more than I do you. Now that we’re away from all that business with the elevator and that crazy guy, why don’t we just stay out of each other’s way?”
Before Archimedes could reply, Chedderfield turned away and walked into the crowd of dancers and former classmates.
Archimedes sighed as he watched the man who’d been his best friend walk away. He didn’t know what he was expecting. He didn’t know why he had hoped things would magically change overnight. Their friendship ended at the funeral, and he couldn’t change what happened. He shook his head to clear his thoughts from the memory and forced a smile back on his face.
“What was that all about?” Stephanie asked.
Lucy opened her mouth to answer, but Archimedes spoke first.
“Nothing,” he said cryptically. “Nothing. Not worth the time.” With a shake of his head, he flashed Stephanie a smile that was only half forced and added, “But we shouldn’t let that stop us from having a good time. Why don’t I get you that drink I promised?”
Stephanie smiled back, glad to take her mind off the corpses and horrid violence that she’d seen that day and anxious for a drink to calm her nerves. “That sounds like a great idea.”
“Woo-hooo! Drinks!” Lucy yelled, raising her arms excitedly and pushing herself between the two as the three awkwardly went into the party.