“That doesn't explain being an hour late,” said Jak as he eyed the clock on the wall. He surreptitiously stepped back from Keira as Daxter strode in. As much as an ottsel could stride at least.
“And the beer delivery got delayed, then there was the line at the tailor’s! Here, your goggles.” The stressed Daxter held up the goggles, taken by his best friend. “They’d better be desert-proof this time!”
“Forecast says no storms today,” said Jak as he fastened his goggles. “I won’t be gone too long anyway.”
“Yeah, not much to do when you’re the one reinforcing the Eco pipes every month,” stated Daxter in a chastising tone.
The blonde shot him an aggravated look. “That’s not what I’m doing today and you know it.”
“He’s activating the Green Eco shield, for the Solar Power Plant,” prompted Keira.
“Oh yeah, that,” mumbled the ottsel uninterested, scratching his back. “The project to reduce our reliance on Eco, while using more Eco.” He rummaged in his backpack. “Sorry I can’t come with, business you know. But as I said, Ashelin gave me somethin'.” He took out a device and tossed it.
Jak snapped it from the air and frowned. “What’s that?”
"Recording of today's council meeting. She said you should listen as you stormed out half-way through."
"You took off?!?" exclaimed Keira. "Jak! You said it ended early."
The blonde looked sullen. "So it ended when I left. I'll view it on the way, I gotta go."
He jumped into the flyer and flew out of the garage before Keira could argue further. She noticed her fists were clenched as she stared at her disappearing boyfriend in disbelief. Frustrated, she faced Daxter.
"He stormed out?"
"That's what she said." As he said this, the ottsel jumped up to the work bench and sat on the edge. "Ashelin said he was bored at first - understandable - but then he got edgy. They were arguing over the prison when he lost it and left." He saw the mechanic's frown deepen. "Hey, did he uh...have those nightmares again last night?" Keira nodded sadly. Daxter shook his head. "Just wake him up one of these nights."
"And do what? He refuses to talk about his time in the prison and...Daxter? What has he said to you? Didn't he ever tell you anything after waking up?"
"Not much. He once said he was force-fed, explains his puking back then."
"Yeah. He went on hunger-strike to stop them pumping Dark Eco into him, so they just put a tube down his throat instead. He never said much else." The ottsel shuddered. "The entire thing must have been really bad. You never saw what face he had before morphing, back when I busted him out. He hasn't shown it to you has he?"
Keira shook her head. "No. And why would he? He promised he'd never hurt me."
Daxter sneered. "Oh yeah? He had the same look as back then, last night. I nearly had ta kick him out." He jumped down from the table top. "You watch out, keep a gun close, just in case."
That night, at the Naughty Ottsel, it was relatively calm. Keira sat at the bar, laughing at a private joke shared between her and Tess, who like her beau, Daxter, had been turned into an ottsel. The girls shook their heads as they calmed down.
"I really don't understand why they watch that show," sighed Tess.
"Every girl wants her own knight covered in Eco," said Keira.
"I guess," responded the female ottsel distractedly. From where she sat on the bar table-top, she kept a suspicious eye on two patrons sauntering in. They each had a large weapon holstered. "Not more of 'em," she murmured.
"Are they bad customers, or what?" asked Keira.
"No, they're regulars, they don't cause any trouble." The ottsel remained uncheerful. "They never had guns before."
"More people arming themselves? Is there some sort of threat or a secret invasion I don't know about?"
"Haven City's own council, if you believe some of the rumours flying around. Some people are so afraid of a dictatorship coming back and they're convinced Baroness Praxis is taking too much power, so..."
Keira swallowed some more of her drink, then scoffed. "Ashelin? I've watched a few of those council meetings, she's pretty quiet."
"We could just have another election to keep people happy. Evening Samos!"
"Good evening, Tess, evening Keira," greeted Samos loudly as he walked towards the bar. Keira had returned his greeting with a 'Hi Dad' while Daxter dashed to him from the Metal-Head-Whacking table. "And you, Daxter."
"Great ta see you too, Samos. Isn't Jak meant to be with you?" The male ottsel sprung himself onto a bar stool, before springing onto the bar table-top.
happen in the desert earlier?"
Samos appraised his daughter somewhat carefully. "The Green Eco vent was activated and the shield surrounding the Power Plant is working as expected. It's just that, on the return here, he took meaningless detours for the sole purpose of hunting Metal Heads." He let out a huff. "Our flyer was nearly hit numerous times! And after every hunt he had the audacity to say it was too easy!" He gritted his teeth. "When we did arrive back here, he informed me he would go to the shooting range. I don't understand that boy any more; I watched him carefully during these encounters, no sign of Dark Eco appearing when he involves himself in a battle. Something is making him revel in such destructive behaviour and I don't know what it is!"
"Probably related to those nightmares," Daxter was quick to point out.
"Nightmares?!" exclaimed Samos in surprise.
"From his time in the prison, Dad."
The sage paused, as if realising something."Keira, how long has he had them?"
"I've been woken up by him having nightmares every once in a while, since we first moved in together," the mechanic explained, somewhat uncomfortably. "They've just gotten more frequent lately."
"The council was discussing something about a prison when he stormed out today, right?" offered Tess.
"Stormed out?!" exclaimed Samos.
"JAK! You got some explainin' to do!" yelled Torn angrily as he burst through the door. He froze in surprise. "Where is he?" Ashelin appeared next to him.
"Jak's at the shooting range, want your usual at double strength?" offered Daxter.
"Please." Torn strode to the bar, with Ashelin in tow. "He's still there?" The bar's owner darted around, preparing the beverage. Tess gathered glasses for him.
"He is taking longer than usual," thought Keira aloud. "What did he do?"
Torn sneered. "What did he do? What has he done, you mean? He's been attacking members of the Freedom League, calling them Krimzon Guards. I let it slide the first time it happened, he was pissed off, but the last few weeks...and today, when he was on his way to the shooting range? I'm not letting it slide. Thanks, Daxter." He took a big gulp of his drink.
"You want anything, Ashelin?" asked Tess.
"Just some juice," replied the red-haired baroness tiredly, rubbing the back of her neck.
"Ashelin? What exactly made Jak leave the council meeting earlier?" Keira asked, as if dreading the answer.
The baroness shrugged. "At first, he stared off into space like he has done the last month or two. Then the topic came up on what to do with the prison. Things like, maintenance, records-checks, making sure no one was there illegally, you know. He was more attentive here and asking some questions. Then they brought up the building of padded cells, or the Keris Institute. The reason it got mentioned was because some of the inmates there had pretended they had had no control when committing murder so that they didn't go to the real prison. Allegedly. Thanks, Tess. Then other cases got discussed and... Jak started screaming at them, ranting about being so uncaring of the people in there and referencing cases like they were statistics. I think he was about to do the dark freak-out thing because his eyes were black, but, he stopped and just said, this meeting's over. And left."
"But ya finished without him," pointed out Daxter.
"Of course, we had other topics on the agenda."
"Commander! Acknowledge," came a panicked voice over a communicator.
Torn flicked his wrist-communicator open. "What's up?"
"Jak's lost it again, sir!" Torn ripped himself away from the bar. "No casualties but he's doing a number on the carrier."
"Location!" growled the Freedom League Commander. A loud explosion reverberated through the area before any answer was possible. The bar emptied out.
At the end of one of the docks nearby, was a pile of smoking, torn-apart wreckage. The wreckage had been parts of a Freedom League vehicle. The culprit was obvious to everyone, for he was now beginning to punish the nearby ambulance. Jak was also not his usual self, he had changed into Dark Jak, reveling in his torture of a hapless ambulance. There was a man restrained on a stretcher, looking panicked and being covered by the paramedics. Another person, most likely a bystander, stood nearby as she watched the horror unfold. The frightened yet frustrated Freedom Guards did not know what to do.
of them tried to rifle-butt Dark Jak with his weapon, but his intended
target reacted as if the attack was merely an annoyance and ripped the
weapon out of the guard's hands. He regarded the weapon for a second,
before bursting out in maniacal laughter.
gonna have to do better than this," he growled, before crushing the
weapon with a smirk.
"JAK! STOP!" The surprised Dark Jak stared at Keira running towards him. "NO ONE'S ATTACKING YOU!" She got closer. "Just calm down! Please!" She stood in front of him, her hands held up. Her pleading eyes stared into the completely black ones of her beloved. In shock, it seemed, he started to transform and revert back to the familiar Jak.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!?" yelled Torn angrily at him once he caught up. "You've already put one of my guys in the hospital and I don't care if you're our ruler; you just destroyed public property again so I can put you in jail if I want!" The rest of the party finally made it to the scene - apart from Tess and another member of the bar's staff.
Jak did not appear to be paying any attention to Torn's tirade. He stared slowly around him, as if he had no idea where he was. As if he had been woken up from a sleep-walk. As Keira gripped his shoulders, he stared at the partially-ruined ambulance. "It's not a prison transport," he observed, dumb-founded.
"No shit!" snarled Torn.
Snapped back to his senses - somewhat - Jak faced the Freedom League Commander and attempted to explain himself. (Keira lost her grip.) "I saw the guy over there-" he gestured towards the man on the stretcher "-and I thought he was getting strapped down by Krimzon-"
"You see any red on 'em, Jak?"
The blonde stared at the guards in confusion. "No! But...I did."
Ashelin had been speaking to a paramedic and the Freedom Guards. "Keira, can you tell if this ambulance can still fly?"
The mechanic frowned as she inspected the ruined vehicle. She shook her head. "It might still be able to fly but it wouldn't be safe."
The baroness opened her communicator. "HQ, send a fresh ambulance, we have a patient with a spinal injury that needs moving."
"I think it's time we all had a chat," announced Samos gravely. "And away from those curious eyes." He suspiciously eyed the growing crowd of spectators.
Once the situation at the wreckage site had been resolved, those who had left the bar brought Jak back with them to the Naughty Ottsel. As soon as they re-entered the premises, Daxter announced the bar was closed and all the patrons were sent out as soon as possible. The other staff were told they could go home early and would get full pay. As soon as the last person had left, Jak leaned against a table and crossed his arms as he suspiciously watched every single person. Daxter, Torn, Ashelin, Samos, Tess, then Keira.
"You all think there's something wrong with me." He challenged.
They all paused for a moment, as if unsure who would speak first. Unsurprisingly, it ended up being Daxter.
"Honestly, big guy, we're just worried. You've been attacking Freedom Guards, getting angry for no reason, not paying much attention to City Council meetings - and storming out when you do - getting a brand new obsession with guns and blowing things up, not forgetting those nightmares of yours."
"Nightmares?!?" Jak quickly checked who he was talking to, before continuing. "I haven't had any of those for...a while."
"That's not true," said Keira quietly. "Ever since we moved in together, I've been woken up by you having those nightmares. I figured out how to make them go away without waking you up, so I did that, hoping that maybe they would leave you alone. But they keep coming, more often now. This week you've had them every night."
He stared at her, genuinely shocked. He seemed to want to say something, but looked away instead.
"Jak," started Ashelin, "if there is something going on, just tell us. It's not good hiding it if you know."
The blonde tensed his crossed arms, frowning at the floor beneath his feet. He ground his teeth slightly, possibly practicing his next words. "I guess...I...have been having...day-mares," he explained awkwardly.
The only reaction this caused was confusion. "Day-mares?" queried Tess.
Jak sighed, looking up again. "That's the best way to describe it. I do normal things and suddenly, I'm back in the prison again. I could be walking down the street and - wham! - I'm there for a few minutes."
"And how long's this been goin' on for?" demanded Daxter.
The blonde considered his answer. "Since we came back from Kras City."
was almost a year ago, Jak!" chastised Torn.
"Why didn't you tell anyone?" asked Ashelin.
The person being interrogated hardened his resolve. "Because I knew you'd all look at me like that. And...I should be able to handle this." He had sounded defeated when he admitted the second answer.
"How disappointing!" stated Samos gruffly. "Honestly Jak, after all you have done for us, have achieved, I expected better judgement from you. Instead, you keep these problems to yourself and become a growing danger to those around you and to this city. What if it had been my daughter you attacked?" At the sight of Jak becoming crestfallen, he sighed. "But I suppose I know why you did that. No one around here knows how to deal with people whose memories are scarred by tragic events, it's why more people are getting locked-up in the Keris Institute these days. So, you'll need to see someone who knows."
who?" asked Ashelin.
"I remember being told that at the entrance of the Purple Mountains, west of the Walton Forest, is a large town, where many are devoted to the study of the mind. It's best that we go there. Jak, we'll leave in two days."
"Two days?!? Samos, that town's over a day's journey from here. Longer even, I can't just go on a journey like that in two days!"
"You will! And you must!" finalised Samos.
Jak stayed where he was, crestfallen and defeated. The shame on his face and in his posture was obvious to everyone. The group dispersed quickly after that, all deciding on an early night and having priorities to attend to the next day. Keira walked with him back to the apartment they shared, after she had insisted to her father that she would be alright and would call him if she needed to. The couple walked in an uncomfortable silence. Jak seemed too ashamed to look at her directly and Keira could only watch him, wondering what she could possibly do to help him and never making any conclusions.
What was also noticeable about their walk was the way some of the pedestrians kept a steely eye on Jak. This was not lost on either of them. At one point, they noticed that all eyes were drawn to something else: a convoy. A large group of travellers had arrived, wearing robes of beautiful patterns and designs. They couldn't see much from where they were walking, or eventually standing, as the couple also watched this unusual group of foreigners. Many of them had darker skin, similar to the tone on Sig, coupled with bright eyes. It seemed entire families of multiple generations made up the convey, with many windows on various vehicles opening up and curious faces staring around them.
Jak grunted. "Great! Something else I'm gonna have to deal with the council tomorrow." At a much quicker pace, he headed for their home nearby.
Keira rushed after him as realisation hit. "Jak...Jak!"
"What do you need to do with the City Council tomorrow?"
"Tell them I'm leaving the baroness in charge, of course. I need to announce it, otherwise people will think history's repeating itself." He keyed in the code to unlock their front door. "My absences make Ashelin nervous enough already."
They stepped inside. Keira closed the door and was surprised to find Jak staring squarely at her.
"Keira, if I get another nightmare tonight, just wake me up," he quietly ordered. "Alright?"
"Why can't you just talk about what happened to you?" Jak groaned and looked up at the ceiling. "Stop it! Don't tell me I shouldn't worry about it, or any of your lame excuses, bottling this up is what's causing...this and it's affecting me."
"I'm pretty sure just talking about it is not going to solve anything," he sneered.
Keira faced him sadly. "Maybe it won't, but you have to start somewhere and you have to realise, I just want to help you. Because I love you. And...I could never understand why the charming, sweet, slightly awkward dreamer became so...angry, destructive and reckless after we came here. That part of you scared me so badly I sided against you, I...still regret that. I want to know what happened to you in that prison, to make you like that. Just so I can make it up to you somehow."
Jak continued his stony stare. Without a word, he turned away and walked to their bedroom.
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by Ruth Hüneke 2013
© Naughty Dog and Sony