The young woman in front of him couldn't hide her disgust very well. James rarely ever put himself in situations where he dealt with high-class citizens, but it seemed like this time it was unavoidable. Sighing to himself, he tried to ignore the annoyed feeling that was welling up within him. She was making that process incredibly difficult though. It seemed like everything about him annoyed her immensely.
"Your nutrient levels are terrible."
Another snide remark, followed by her studying his face for a reaction. He felt like he was being tested like a lab rat, and he hated it. James took a steadying breath, but even that action was followed up with a criticism.
"Is that your actual lung capacity? Ugh. I'll add it to the list."
The whole day had been like this. First a man had come in and asked him a series of questions about his therapy sessions over the last few years. James could tell immediately that the man was important. He had introduced himself as Graham and had been incredibly friendly and apologetic. A part of James felt like the conversation with Graham was just to lure him into a false sense of security. The young woman that came in after Graham was more interested in James' physique and general health. Judging by the two varied reactions, James was pretty sure that he had a clean bill of mental health... but that his physical health was a disaster.
"Take off your shirt."
The young woman gestured with her hand for him to take it off.
"But we hardly know each other."
James responded dryly.
After a few moments of silence passed, James nodded his head and started to unbutton his shirt.
"No sense of humour, check."
Her brow furrowed and James could tell that he managed to finally strike a nerve in the young woman. A part of him admitted that he'd find her attractive if she wasn't treating him like dirt on her shoe.
As soon as the shirt came off, James heard a sharp intake of breath.
"I knew it. Do you just want to kill yourself, is that it?"
James was incredibly taken aback and had no idea how to respond to the outburst. At first, he thought about trying to calm her down or maybe apologising... but then a thought occurred to him.
What exactly was he apologising for?
"I believe I've already completed the psychological evaluation."
James responded in what he hoped was a calm voice.
A few more minutes passed of silence between the two as she ran more tests on him. She kept her opinions to herself this time, and James could have sworn that he saw her fighting back the urge to snap at him at random.
After a few more tests, the silence had become almost unbearable. James decided to end it.
"Why do you hate me?"
The look of surprise on her face was worth asking the question. James decided to go for strike two.
"Is it because I'm an E-Classer?"
Seeing her speechless was the new highlight of James' day.
"I... I don't hate you. I just hate your society."
She answered finally before burying her face back into the tests on her interface.
James repeated, trying to decipher the meaning by saying it slower.
"Yes! The drug addictions, the illegal VR rigs that you seem to love frequenting."
She gestured at all the scarring on his arms and chest as though it proved her point.
James couldn't believe what he was hearing, but she wasn't done.
"... and don't get me started on your culture of taking loans you can't pay off! It's the height of irresponsibility and shows a severe lack of foresight. How can you people ever hope to ascend to a higher class when you're so set on screwing up your lives?"
"I think it's better if we stop talking now."
James said quietly.
"You think I want to be here? Talking to you about how society drags along because of its slowest members? No... I don't want to be here."
"So why don't you fuck off then?"
James asked while staring at the young woman.
"Even if you're going to go out and kill yourself tomorrow, you're here in front of me today. So I'm going to do my best to fix what I can."
"How noble of you."
For the first time since she entered the room, she smiled. James was right, she was attractive.
"James Sylvester. I'll remember your name."
"As the first ever E-Classer that you treated?"
"No, nothing silly like that. The man that treated you earlier is my father. For some reason, he's very invested in you being fit and healthy. I personally think you're going to wind up dead sooner or later, so I made a bet with him."
"What are you going to win, you know, when I die of stupid causes?"
Shaking her head, she just sighed.
"You're taking this personally again, it's nothing against you specifically. It's against..."
"My people. My society... yeah, you mentioned."
James snapped, which caused her to flinch back in surprise.
"When I win, I get the top floor of NuHype Plaza. If he wins, I sign a non-compete for a year."
Whatever answer he had expected, that most certainly wasn't it.
"NuHype? That new skyscraper in District 1?"
James couldn't help but hide the disbelief in his voice which the young woman picked up on.
"You don't know who I am, do you?"
The confidence in her voice, coupled with the arrogant smile just made James dislike her even more.
"I don't think I want to know either."
James answered with a wry smile.
"Sarah Dryksell, S-Class, first bor-"
James burst out laughing which hurt his chest.
"Ah, that explains everything! You should have led with that!"
Sarah frowned at the reaction, not exactly sure what caused him to laugh.
"I need to apologise, Sarah. For a little while there, I genuinely thought you were a nasty piece of work. But I was wrong."
James wiped a tear from his eye as he continued to laugh.
"Turns out, you're just an S-Classer."
Sarah's expression darkened immediately.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh no, I don't mean offence to you personally, just you know... your people that sit in the ivory towers, benefiting from legacy fortunes because they have no skills of their own!"
If looks could kill, then James would have died the moment he said the word 'ivory'.
"Ha, now that I think about it... isn't NeuroHype like three hundred years old? I mean the original recipe? I'm sure you guys have made some massive leaps in all that time instead of just profiteering off of lower income classes!"
The wide smile on James' face only continued to grow.
"Anyways, I think I'm going to go and see a real doctor. I'd prefer I was checked out by someone that worked for their qualification instead of getting Daddy to buy it for them."
James said slowly as he picked up his shirt and hopped down from the examination table.
"How dare you..."
Sarah snarled but James turned around and mimicked her to the best of his ability.
"You're taking this personally again..."
James laughed as he left the room, head held high.
"Okay, so before you say anything, this is just temporary!"
Helena warned James as she finally allowed him to open his eyes.
Squinting against the light, James smiled involuntarily.
"So I'm guessing there's at least a window, that's already an upgrade."
When his vision finally cleared, James gasped in surprise.
"Hey, remember! Temporary!"
The apartment was beautiful, with grey tiled floors and painted white walls. Two of the walls were completely made of glass that overlooked District 6. Turning on his heels, James was rewarded with a full kitchen that hugged against a single wall. Before Helena could remind him again that the place was temporary, he was already darting into the next room.
"Helena! The bed is bigger than my old apartment!"
The Celestial Archer couldn't help but smile as she heard the excitement in his voice.
"There's a shower AND a bath!"
Helena rounded the corner to find him sitting in the bath with a wide smile on his face.
"This place is amazing... but yes, I know."
"It's only temporary."
They both said at the exact same time, before breaking into smiles.
James tapped the sides of the bath with his open palms and couldn't help but laugh in excitement.
"How long can I stay here?"
Helena looked at him in exasperation before shaking her head.
James asked in confusion.
Raising her hands and gesturing everywhere vaguely, Helena just laughed.
"You can stay here as long as you want, the reason I was saying it's temporary was that we're trying to find you somewhere better than here."
James practically crawled out of the bathtub.
"Are you serious?"
"It's District 6..."
Helena started awkwardly, as she shuffled her feet.
"Would you really want to stay here for good?"
Tapping her fingers on her chin, Helena walked out of the bathroom and back into the kitchen area of the apartment.
"I'm sure we could get you this place on a permanent basis. There is a catch though!"
She finished with a wink.
"Tell me what I need to do."
Cracking into a smile, Helena lightly shoved James with her open palm.
"You need to bring your best to Abidden."
James' smile faded slightly as he looked out the window. The view of the surrounding skyscrapers, each reflecting a ridiculous amount of light caused him to squint once again.
"My best? That's quite subjective... What type of player do you need me to be?"
Helena frowned at the question. It was something she had thought of for quite some time.
"Abidden is a business at the end of the day, James. Every action you make is scrutinised endlessly across the world. As much as Quentin is promising that this time it will be different, I need you to know that it's not going to be easy."
Helena shook her head and smiled ruefully.
"What player do I want you to be? I want you to be a player that enjoys the game and has fun."
James watched as the smile on her face faded slightly.
"But what type of player do I need you to be?"
Helena paused before meeting James' gaze.
"I need you to be our Playmaker again."