Valerian Nico Alvarez-Knight
Valerian woke from a fitful slumber, hazy impressions of eerie dreams fading into a gradual alertness. They had a few recollections immediately upon rousing; drowning in toxic yellowish gas, scrambling for breath, bodies mingling close-by facing the same predicament, a mechanical being – contraption? – emerging in their vision, a susurration of voices offering advice, guiding, tempting with forbidden knowledge, deceiving with the unknowable…
Val shook out of it with a sigh, nighttime hauntings morphing into the jittery anxiety of what they already recognized as the start of a Bad Day. Scratching at their inner upper arms, shallowly marking the already irritated skin, Valerian stumbled out of the bed. Thankfully, it was the only one in the cramped bedroom/living room of the dorm, though the bathroom the student shambled to was shared with one other. However, it was early enough that they did not have to wait to have access, and so they did their morning ritual of toilet, shower, tooth brushing, and hair combing, all without ever looking into the mirror. The clear, artificial reflective surfaces gave them the creeps; they always got the feeling that something else was lurking on the other side. Besides, ever since they nearly disassociated from staring into the reflection of their own eyes, they had all the more reason to refrain from checking their image unless absolutely necessary.
The next step was to check their daily agenda – it was a Thursday, which meant Stanton in the evening, thank God – taking their meds (and making a note that they did so), and getting ready for the rest of the day. The routine was mindless, their focus fleeting, thoughts skittering from topic to topic, but keenly drawn to various paranoid musings. Fuck, is it surveillance? Human or non-? Will they get me today? God, I don’t wanna be disappeared like that…A tremulous exhale as Valerian did their best to come to grips with reality, but sneakily checked for shadows that might be too long or too deep, the glint of cameras (or eyes), misplaced sounds. It felt like something was there, observing, hiding, watching; waiting to strike. Val hunched into themselves as they picked their attire, firmly thinking different thoughts. It would soon be Christmas; they still had to get gifts for the family…a family lacking Vivi. With a shudder, they bit their lip; her death was still fucking devastating even three years later (and counting). Closing their eyes, they offered a silent, wordless prayer. Then, a comforting thought. Right, it’s Stanton day. Just get through all else, and you can see him, talk to him. And the others, yeah. It’ll help.
And then you’ll be fine. Just fine. Right. Fine.
It was finally evening, and when Valerian stepped off the bus at the station just by the monument, they had a pressing need to meet with Stanton face to face. All day long they’d been plagued by whispers, nearly inaudible voices whispering to them or about them, laughing or urging, driving them to distraction even when they’d plugged their ears with buds and tried to drown out the auditory hallucinations with music. Every person they’d seen today had seemed more suspicious than usual, and they hadn’t been able to shake off the notion that they were being followed even when no one but them was there.
Their black boots crunched on the fresh layer of snow swiftly melting into indistinguishable slush on the salted sidewalk. Valerian paced steadily towards the meeting spot, head tilted down. They drew the coat (black, faux leather) tighter to their body, its hood offering additional protection, and their backpack (carrying a wallet, water, folding umbrella, bandages, gauze, and scissors) slid slightly down their right shoulder. They were glad for all the layers they’d put on for the evening; leather gloves (black, studded), two shirts and a pullover underneath the coat, thick jeans (black) shredded very lightly at the knees which revealed the crimson nylons (very warm) underneath. The wine red knitted scarf was wrapped around their neck and half their face, and the clammy breath being blown back into their face didn’t bother them as much as the cold would. The exposed piercings (eyebrow studs and two pairs of rings, cuff and chain industrial, as well as a pair of crimson crosses for the ears) were cooling quicker than their skin, and the effect was a startlingly cold pinched feeling, almost as if someone had pressed ice cubs there.
Though uncomfortable, the cold was grounding. It was a matter of a couple or so minutes before Valerian was at the monument, though their steps faltered when they saw Linda, the assistant, waiting along those who’d already arrived. Val wasn’t sure why, but seeing her there felt wrong. Still, they walked the remaining few steps towards the group, nodding at the gathering. They recognized all of them without having to look at their faces; Valerian was more familiar with their figure, attire, and – though most of those were currently covered – their hands. He very rarely looked at other people’s faces, and almost never directly into their eyes.
Rather than strike up a conversation, as a few had chosen to do, Valerian lingered on the outer boundaries of the group; still a part of them, but not directly involved with anyone there. They weren’t much for small talk, especially not today. Their gaze darted around quickly, biting their lower lip. They felt antsy, keyed up, tense, and high-strung. If they could, they would be scratching at their skin; they had a brief longing for something sharper. Instead, they crossed their arms over their chest, practically hugging their torso, and a light shiver overtook them. They weren’t certain it was just due to the cold.