Keith went straight to the elevator. Its doors didn’t seem to have any difficulties opening this time, which sent a wave of relief through him. Getting trapped in there once more would’ve been the last straw.
When he finally arrived on the third floor, he practically jumped out into the hallway – if one can call stumbling into his walker and almost falling a jump.
The patients on this floor seemed to be less friendly today. Barely anyone was chatting or reading outside their rooms, and there was no small crowd around the elevator like there usually was during the days Keith visited this floor.
Anyway, there was no time to be wasted thinking about the other patients. It was a doctor he was looking for.
He started making his way down the hallway towards the offices of Dr. Trigel and Dr. Sendak, which were right behind the fire door if he remembered correctly.
Walking wasn’t quite as easy as it was during the night, but Keith still noticed that he had improved a lot in the last few days. Using the walker felt almost natural to him at this point. Now that he didn’t have to concentrate on every step, he had time to look around and observe his surroundings.
This also led to him noticing the not-so-promising, ominous gray clouds outside. It would start to rain sooner or later this afternoon, that was for sure. He was by no means a meteorologist, but even he could tell it was going to be one hell of a weather for the next few days. The clouds’ appearance was a bit surprising though, it had been so sudden. He didn’t remember any of the staff talking about an oncoming storm being announced in a weather forecast either.
Well, there was someone who had mentioned it. Or rather, something – It didn’t matter what the voice exactly was, after all. Not for now, at least. The voice predicting a storm, though… First of all, now Keith could assume the voice really did mean a literal storm. Sure, it still didn’t explain why it was crucial for him to know about it or why the voice
knew that it was coming a week prior.
His thoughts were interrupted by a gentle hand on his back. He jolted back, turning his head towards the person behind him with an expression that could’ve been surely described as resembling a deer in headlights.
“Oh, I’m sorry I scared you, Keith. I just wanted to let you know that you’re on the wrong floor.” Shiro spoke slowly, and after seeing the look of confusion on Keith’s face, he added: “This is the adult ward.”
Keith sighed. So that’s what he meant. He had almost thought Shiro had figured out his intention so fast. A feeling of guilt and bad conscience settled in his chest, even though it was clear he had done nothing wrong yet. But how could he explain to Shiro what he was trying to do? It’s not like he could just announce who he was looking for, there was no logical reason the other doctors wouldn’t be able to help him with whatever he would come up with as an excuse.
“You forgot which floor your room was on, didn’t you? That happens sometimes, don’t worry. I’ll take you back to your floor, then-”
“D… Doi…” Keith’s tongue just didn’t seem to cooperate with his jaw when he was attempting to form a ‘k’. It was as if someone had put weights in his mouth, forcing his tongue to stay down and thus resulting in a weird, gurgling ‘ch’ sound. He sounded like a hissing cat mixed with a gorgon. That description may sound weird, but that’s the only thing he could compare it to at the moment.
At least Shiro didn’t show any doubt concerning Keith’s sanity after that pathetic attempt. Instead, he smiled and tried to encourage him with the typical nurse pep-talk Keith hated. “Just try again, it’s okay. You’re doing great, getting better at it.”
Keith sighed and started over, this time giving up on saying ‘doctor’ though. ‘Zarkon’ would be enough. “S-z-zzz… Sa. Zoa...” No matter how much he tried, he couldn’t figure out the right order of the letters in the word and messed up over and over again. Except during his very last attempt, where he didn’t even have to think about all the letters or pronunciation of ‘Zarkon’. He said it without any difficulty. “Zarkon.” That’s it. Perfect. No slip ups, no stuttering. Nothing.
“Good job... That sounded great. Are you looking for Professor Zarkon? Is that what you mean?” Shiro asked, actually sounding a bit surprised, probably regarding the immaculate pronunciation his patient had managed. To be honest, Keith was even more surprised.
He nodded and watched as his nurse turned and made his way towards one of the rooms on the opposite end of the hallway. A few seconds later, Shiro returned, this time followed by none other than Professor Zarkon. A deep frown rested on the man’s face, but his lips were still twisted into his usual, confident and charismatic smirk.
“Ah, Keith Kogane! I heard you were looking for me. What can I help you with?” Zarkon inquired, coming to a stop a few feet from Keith and taking a good look at him as if he was trying to figure out what his patient wanted just by looking at him.
Keith knew it would be impossible to communicate his request through his usual signing. He would have to speak and hope for the best. “T-t-t… Ta- Wal...” After a minute or so, he could finally get the message through, though he couldn’t comprehend how the two men were able to understand what he was saying. What left his mouth sounded nothing like ‘talk’.
“Would you like to discuss something with me?” Zarkon asked, just to make sure. “I suggest we go back to your room then, I wanted to go through a few questions with you anyway.”
“Professor, what about Mr. Holt?” Shiro spoke up, motioning towards the room Zarkon had exited just a few minutes ago.
“Just let Dr. Trigel continue. I doubt I’m the only one capable of doing such tests, Shirogane.” Professor Zarkon flashed Shiro a smile, then placed a hand on Keith’s back and aided him towards the elevator.
Keith sat on his bed in awkward silence while Zarkon grabbed the only chair in the room from the side of Lotor’s bed and scooted closer to Keith’s. His roommate was still staring at the closet between their beds with glassy, unfocused eyes
“So… What did you want to talk about? Do you mind if we start with the tests first? I want to get this over with.”
Keith agreed, and Zarkon began going over questions. Whether or not he felt dizzy, or if he had a hard time following conversations. Such stuff.
Then, finally, as the Professor was running out of questions to ask him, he voiced the one question that grabbed Keith’s attention. “Do you sometimes have hallucinations? Spiders crawling on your bed or flying cups, something like that. Auditory hallucinations included. Like hearing a voice when no one around you is talking.”
This would be his chance to find out what was wrong. Zarkon would be able to help. Then again, the main reason he was here now was that Keith wanted to confront him about the conversations with Sendak. The two were not to be trusted. Despite that, the Professor was still a doctor, he would have to let someone know…
‘Don’t tell him.’
Keith shuddered at the voice suddenly reappearing. Just an auditory hallucination, as Zarkon would explain it. How much could he trust a hallucination telling him to not admit to hallucinating? Gosh, this was confusing.
At last, he shook his head and scooted over to the clipboard at the end of the bed. He waited until he had eye contact with Zarkon, who was curiously leaning over the clipboard now, then pointed at three letters on the sheet of paper. NBI.
Zarkon sighed and let out a laugh. “Oh, so that’s what you wanted to ask me? I thought it was something more serious. And to answer your question, NBI Generation 3 just refers to the surgery equipment. That’s the newest model. We doctors simply like to note such details on the medical papers of the patients, just to see which equipment is more effective. Any more questions?”
Oh, that explained it. Though it didn’t further his knowledge when it came to figuring out the foul play in this place. But, would it be reasonable to just tell Zarkon the truth? That he had overheard his chat with Dr. Sendak and knew that they were planning something?
A second later, the voice cut in again, making him forget about all of his thoughts from just a second ago and leaving nothing but static silence in his mind. ‘He’s lying.’
Why would Zarkon lie about that? What use would that have? If NBI was something they had to hide from the patients, why would they write it on the clipboards presenting their medical issues?
“Keith? Can I go then?” Zarkon had stood up and was now eyeing Keith with an unreadable expression.
“N… I-” Keith had begun, but was interrupted by his vision becoming out of focus, as if he was watching the scene before him through a bad VR headset. He saw Zarkon double for a second, although he wasn’t aware of squinting, and the next second following that, he couldn’t see anything. Only darkness.
When his vision cleared again, everything went back to normal. Except for a weird sensation in his head and in his throat. Kind of as if someone was pressing their hands against those two spots, in a way that it didn’t hurt, but still felt uncomfortable.
“Zarkon.” He couldn’t feel his face muscles moving, but the voice clearly belonged to him, despite being a bit deeper than his usual tone. But he wasn’t trying to speak at the moment, at least not Zarkon’s name. Why was he doing it then?
“Yes? Your speech, it’s-” Professor Zarkon stuttered with wide eyes, stepping closer to Keith.
“They’re becoming independent. You’re losing control over them.” Keith said coldly, immediately followed by a loud gasp, from him as well. This was like that one night when Shiro had found him, except this was much, much worse. Now he couldn’t even control his own mouth, or rather his brain, what he was saying.
“Excuse me, what?” The professor murmured.
“You know. Gray.”
“I- Keith… Wha- Keith, this is fantastic! Your speech is absolutely fluent!” He was now grabbing Keith by the shoulders, grinning like a madman – fortunately, or at least Keith hoped it was fortunate, the grinning was most likely caused by the sudden euphoria the doctor was clearly experiencing.
Keith’s expression, however, was the exact opposite of that. Panicking, utterly confused and afraid of what was controlling him. He was sweating heavily and at this point, he had clasped both hands on his mouth to stop himself from talking again. That wasn’t the slightest bit working. And yet the voice, his voice, which he didn’t even want, stayed emotionless, or even judgmental.“Your fault.”
“What is my fault? Keith, I-”
“I am not Keith.”
That left both of them speechless. Keith, now that the discomfort and whatever that had been had stopped, didn’t take his eyes off his bed sheet before him as he was panting heavily, fighting to return his breathing to normal. Professor Zarkon stayed collected through this whole experience and was still looking at Keith with narrowed eyes.
“Yes, you are. You’re Keith Kogane, remember?” He sighed and leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. “First of all, take deep breaths. Good. I will get you a psychiatric appointment at the hospital once I get back, most likely this evening or tomorrow morning. Then, it will take approximately a week to ten days before we can drive you there. Your stay would be two days, we’ll drive there, you’ll get some sleep, next day you’ll get examined and get driven back here right after. How does that sound?”
Still not looking Professor Zarkon in the eye, Keith nodded. It was about time that someone figured out what’s wrong with him, and if it took a psychiatrist to do that, then so be it. The only thing he didn’t like about this is the fact that he’d have to wait so long.
The rest of the evening was mostly uneventful for Keith. He stayed in his room while Zarkon left to talk to his colleagues and to call the hospital and let them know when he’ll be arriving. Meanwhile, Keith pretended to be asleep and had the chance to hear about the newest rumors about him that the nurses who brought him his dinner talked about.
Even Adam visited at one point. He figured out that Keith wasn’t sleeping the moment he entered and asked about his speech. As it turned out, his speech had gone back to the way it was. That meant that he was incapable of expressing himself once again. Yay, awesome.
Well, that was still better than not being able to choose what to say. On the flip side, though, he had kind of confronted Zarkon. In an indirect way. Yeah, maybe it wasn’t him but whatever had been controlling him. Still, he had shown Zarkon that he seemingly knew about his little chats with Sendak. The professor knowing that would be enough for now. He could achieve the rest another day.
Lotor was in bed this time. Leg dangling off the side, muttering incoherent sentences. Not fully asleep, but in his bed. Meaning he wouldn’t chase down his roommate.
Keith climbed out of bed and went straight to his closet to put on a jacket.
He didn’t expect a sleeping Matt in front of it, to be honest. Sleepwalking, maybe? That was most likely the case, but even if it was something else, he had to take Matt back to his room.
Taking one glance back at his nightstand, he could tell that the nurse-calling-button was missing again. Despite him clearly remembering that he put it there before he went to sleep.
“Hey, Matt. Wake up. You should go back to your room.” He whispered, this time actually controlling what he was saying.
His friend slightly raised his head. “I just want to help him,” Matt muttered before he relaxed his muscles again and let his head drop into Keith’s lap.
“I’m not sure. I…” Matt’s voice was getting quieter with every word he said, to the point Keith could only guess what he was saying.
He lifted Matt up, or at least tried to, and wrapped one of Matt’s arms around his own shoulders to support his weight. After somehow making it to the door, he pushed it open with his elbow and peered into the hallway, just to see if it would be safe to come out.
There was a shadow at the end of the hallway by the stairs. The shadow of a boy. Lance McClain, probably.
As Keith stepped out into the open, the figure’s head shot up and they were soon hurrying towards them.
Once the faint ceiling lights shone on the boy, Keith couldn’t help but flash a smile.
“Hey, I was waiting for you!” Lance stopped abruptly and looked at Matt. “Who’s that? Wasn’t he present at that meeting in the yard a while ago?”
Keith glanced at Matt. Lance was right, he had really been there that one night. But he didn’t show similar intentions to Lotor and he was their friend. Not to mention he was so weak Keith was afraid he could collapse any minute.
“I guess, yeah. Help me take him back to his room please.”
“What was he doing in your room, anyway?” Lance frowned but went to support Matt from the other side, mirroring Keith.
“My guess is sleepwalking. Matt, are you alright?” They were practically dragging him at his point, and Matt didn’t even try to assist.
“My head hurts… Feels like it’s full and about to explode from the pressure.”
Lance gulped and glanced at Keith with a puzzled look.
This wasn’t good.
They placed Matt on his mattress and Keith pulled the covers over him. “We should call a nurse, can you see the button anywhere?”
Lance reached for a small device in the corner of the bed. “Here.” He pushed the button with a small smile. “Now, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about. It’s urgent- Keith are you okay?”
When Keith took a step back, it felt like someone had kicked him in the back of the knee. He stumbled and fell, though his leg hurt more than his back.
“Yeah. I’m alright. Let’s go, we don’t want the nurses questioning why we’re here.”
Lance helped him up and they both hurriedly left the room. Still afraid of being discovered, the only stopped once they reached Keith’s room again. Despite all that, Keith felt like he wasn’t as stressed during such adventures as he used to be. Maybe he was getting used to it, or maybe Lance being there helped. Perhaps both.
He stumbled onto his bed and looked at Lance, expecting him to do the same. However, his friend remained standing by the door.
‘Storm.’ Gosh, this was the last thing he needed right now.
“So, what did you want to talk about?” Keith questioned, glaring up at Lance.
“Two things.” Lance began. His expression and body language seemed to be full of contradictions. His head turned to Keith but the rest of his body towards the door, as if he would leave any second now, paired with an expression of both determination and uncertainty. “We both know there’s something wrong here. And that’s why we have to leave.”
A few, long seconds of complete silence, followed by quiet word muttered by Keith: “...What? What do you mean? Why?”
“We know Zarkon is planning something, yet if we would tell that to anyone else here, they would never believe us. We’re mentally damaged and have no evidence. But perhaps outside this rehab center, we would have some credibility. They wouldn’t necessarily know we’re… you know, and even if, if we had enough dedication to escape, there really must be something going on.”
“But what about your memory…?”
Lance smiled at that. “Actually, it’s getting better. And… Okay, you must think I’m crazy right now, but… My brain… It’s… Well, my subconscious is kind of telling me stuff. More like words, but… Well, so far it has talked about some chamber thing in my brain, that your Broca’s area is damaged, and such. It also told me to get out of here. I don’t know about you, but I trust my brain.”
“Wait, you have that too? Have we been receiving the same messages? What about the others?” Keith’s eyes widened, and he grabbed his head with both hands in disbelief. This would explain so many things. And this meant he wasn’t alone.
Lance’s smile turned into a slightly obnoxious grin now. “Oh, so you have it too? That’s awesome! If we both have, like, super brains or whatever you’d call it, it would basically count as a superpower, right? We could be a superhero team!”
“Don’t get distracted. Regarding the escape… According to the voice, there’s a storm coming. How could we sneak out and make our way to the nearest town out there during a storm? Voltron rehab is surrounded by forests.”
“We’ll figure something out. Look, I’ll write it on my arm, that way I’ll remember it tomorrow. If I don’t come up to you, just remind me of it, okay?” With that, Lance grabbed a ballpoint pen from Lotor’s nightstand and scribbled something on the palm of his left hand. “There. Don’t forget about it either.”
Keith faintly remembered Lance leaving and him going back to sleep after that. He had been planning to wake up early the next morning and go over to Lance’s room right away.
At least he managed to wake up early. However, Allura was to blame for that. She rushed into the room around five in the morning and made so much noise by her unnaturally clumsy movements that even the soundest sleeper would’ve woken up. Keith, being the exact opposite of a deep sleeper, was up in no time.
When Allura noticed that as well, she had tried to hide the panic and desperation written in her face. She failed.
The very same expression soon took over Keith’s features as well, though, after she muttered a reply to Keith’s unspoken question.
“It’s Lance. He’s… He’s gone.”