Chapter 1: William Orson

In the mirror he saw himself but could not admit it, could not match the face with the person. His hand traced the reflection before him. Thick dark short hair in the standard style neatly trimmed along the sides, slightly longer on top and slicked back. Clean-shaven, sharp jaw line, chestnut-honey tinted brown eyes.  He stared straight into those devoid pupils which resembled deep dark wells hiding untold secrets. He was searching for something but what he was not sure. The man in the reflection was him… but it wasn’t too. The face looking back was alien and unidentifiable. Staring blankly ahead he found himself suddenly overcome with vertigo it took all he could give to stay upright. He gripped the sink steadying his balance and breathing fast as his teeth clenched shut… an immense pressure began to throb in his skull.

The sun shone through the blinds and cast its rays upon his eyes. An alarm went off and he woke with a jolt. He lay there for a few moments letting the tension from his dream dissipate. He looked around the room to regain his bearings. “Brown walls… check…gray sheets, dresser, closet, desk, chair, bookcase, hands still organic and my own… I’m not crazy yet” he thought to himself smiling. A cool calmness radiated through his body, he had a job to do, it was time to wake up. He rose slowly letting his feet dangle off the bed gingerly touching the cold wood floor. As he stood he began to stretch and yawn. Then promptly set to his morning routine, there was something about it something grounding and calming in the methodical cycle he worked through. He repeated the steps in his head as he went “Shut off alarm, get out of bed, shower, brush teeth… and floss, get dressed, make bed, feed Josie, make breakfast…” finally sitting down to eat he took a calming breath and absorbed the layout of his surroundings; an upscale downtown apartment with all the proper trappings for a person of his distinction.

He resided in a two floor luxury condo with no expense spared where even practicality was forced to take a backseat. The direct center of the apartment was reserved exclusively for a cast-iron spiral staircase connecting both floors, several rooms and hallways radiated off from this central piece. Stylistically the apartment carried a powerful sense of poise deftly melding feelings of warmth and coziness through glossy wooden floors, earth tone walls and warm dim light. However it also displayed a certain ferocity and cold efficiency. Visitors entering from the elevator were immediately shepherded into the entrance hall and forced to confront the staircase with rock infinity fountain on the far wall behind it before choosing a hall to scurry down. It remained cozy yet free; an immaculate open space sprinkled with chic furniture.

He had it all, a multi-media hologram interface in the living room, an all-natural enclosed terrace garden outside the kitchen door, an Omni-stove with the ability to acquire any food at the touch of a button elegantly placed in the center of his wide style island kitchen. A personal paper library and lab bench for at home diagnostic work, multiple guest rooms, a common area, even a small gym; and of course every room came equipped with a wall mounted virtual assistant or VA. He’d done well for himself yet he couldn’t help wanting more, more of what he wasn’t sure but what he was sure of was that what he saw didn’t feel like the whole picture it was lacking a critical component to bring it all together. Then, his eyes fixed on the bird in its cage in the corner of the kitchen. He took catalogue of Joise, a goldfinch, quite small and delicate, but beautiful colors, vibrant yellow with a gentle fade into grey, simple yet majestic. He thought for a moment how funny it was that one small bird could beat his apartment when it came to beauty.       

He glanced up at the clock, it was time. He headed to the pneumo to get to work if he could really call it that. He felt that to label it work implied it was undesirable, something that would get done eventually albeit begrudgingly; he thought of it more as his responsibility and a happy one at that. Despite the self-proclaimed dissatisfaction amongst his peers he somehow managed to stay excited to see those charged to his protection. In his mind, no matter how similar aspects of them were they all had subtle differences, unique traits which made each and every one of them worth it. He exited through the back entrance of his apartment into a small broom closet lined with pristine white tile and illuminated overhead by fluorescent bulbs. In the direct center of the room was a metal circle pad large enough for him to stand on comfortably.

“V.A. bring up the pneumo.” He called out to the air

A bright shining cylinder rose from the metal pad in the floor, a door slid open and he entered. The pneumo transportation system a tube within a tube equipped with a seat, seatbelt, and start button in the innermost cylinder. A trip consisting of no more than a few seconds in the frictionless pipe system could get him just about anywhere, however, the nausea always tugged at his stomach. He climbed in, the mechanism activated and within seconds he felt an incredible burst of speed and pressure but before he knew it the pneumo was stopped and a hatch opened above him. The opened hatch showered him in a small circular area of light. He crawled out of the top as usual. Then proceeded with climbing up the ladder directly in front of him and through a second overhead hatch opening up into another small room with a single door. He opened it and towering over him lay tightly sealed massive steel doors with the words “FORTITUDE, ENTERPRISE, SOLIDARITY” engraved in large powerful letters.

Next to the door on the left was a glowing control panel, he punched in a quick code and swiped his ID in the Card reader.

“Welcome William Orson.” the panel crackled in monotone.

The massive doors before him slowly screeched open to the second screening. He pressed on entering a slightly larger harshly lit all white sterile room which was barren of any distinguishing features, save for a long rectangular window about ten feet above his head on the right. The doors behind him shut tight and decompressed. Inside the window he could see various security personnel at work on the monitors in front of them, no doubt running DNA scans and initializing the decontamination process. A white steam rose through the floor as usual while lasers of various colors criss crossed and rose all over his body. “And next comes the water and bacteria scrub” He grumbled to himself silently. “You know maybe just this once they’ll have the courtesy to actually wa-“

Cold antibacterial gel was dumped unceremoniously all over saturating him through his clothes to the bone from head to toe. After 2 minutes of soaked shivering a red light came on and the room erupted into a wind tunnel of hot drying air alleviating him from his cold torment within seconds. Dry again and cleared to proceed, the metal doors directly ahead of him slid open and he continued  along his way down a poorly lit cinderblock hallway to the equipment room. Rounding a corner he ran straight into a colleague Doctor Opeem.

“Good morning William! How’s it going?” she asked casually waving a hand.

“You can call me Will doc, but eh, you know same old grime that decon process gets me every damn time!” whined Will

“Yeah I feel you buddy, but hey, it’s all about what’s best for the patients and the hospital, remember solidarity” Opeem chirped.

It took all Will had to not roll his eyes at the utterance of this classic nationalist maxim.

“I know I know, but c’mon you know this place could spring for a heater on that anti-bacterial gel.” he retorted

“Not true, it’s a luxury, and you know our nation needs everyone to buckle down in this time of nee-.”

“Ugh! Not again with that nationalist crap Opeem you know they have the money, we’ve all attended those budget meetings. Besides if my immune system is compromised by the cold and I catch some kind of disease then this nation is out one damn good Aug-Mech.” he griped.

Will knew it was a total bluff, not that catching a disease wasn’t possible but with all of the immunizations, sterilizing and bioT-cell augmentation over the years most common diseases had been virtually eradicated. It wasn’t really the cold gel that bothered Will at all but rather the willingness of his colleague to blindly accept what they were being told… not to mention it was early in the day and he wasn’t fully geared up with his golden boy mask just yet. Will snapped out of his self-absorption for a moment and read Opeem’s face. He noticed that she suddenly looked disgruntled; he knew that look everyone put that same exact look on if you said anything even remotely derogatory about the nation. It held a tinge of fear, which was unsettling to see on so prominent a woman, she was tall, generously proportioned and equipped with a soft yet assertive face. This look of disgruntlement didn’t suit her, it was uncommon for administrators of her stature to display such physical tells to their thoughts.  

“I’ll see you upstairs.” She stated laconically as she walked off.

Opeem continued down the hallway, round a corner, and she was gone. Will turned to resume his journey and within a few seconds of walking was face to face with the equipment room door. As usual there lay another interface between him and where he wanted to be, he keyed up his ID sequence and was in. This room was small but had an intimate sheltered feel. It had no overhead lights and its four tightly spaced aisles were illuminated by the blue glow of various computer monitors and a faint red glimmer which shone  from under assorted wrist kits in each of the aisles. Will felt at peace as he turned his forearm over to look at his caste symbol, the staff of Asclepius. The image of a serpent coiled around a staff, the symbol of a healer. “How long ago was it that I got this? I had to be at least six years old…”

Will struggled to remember what life was like when he was younger. He wasn’t entirely sure that he was born in the state education center, however, all of his first memories did hail from there. He recalled tests, piles of them always, and reading, skill set practices, mandatory socialization with peers. “Socialization” he chuckled “an activity advertised as recreation and still then, they were being evaluated, there were always educators abound clipboard handy smiling ear to ear, ready to dispense wisdom and knowledge at a moment’s notice.” The vivid memory of the educators sent a chill down his spine and the dull creeping pain of an injury long forgotten began radiating from his forearm. He could taste the pain of assignment day, when he was first joined together with his symbol as if it were happening to him all over again.

He was in a room with countless other children, they were all sitting together in a dining hall  eating small snacks and waiting in silence save for small whispers between them. There was a speaker at the head of the room clad in a fierce and tightly groomed suit who was reading off of an electronic tablet. Names were announced, children got up, and an educator led them out of the room. Will spent hours in that room apprehensively waiting. It took all he could not to scream with anticipation. A flash of his friend Alan leapt  into memory. “Now that was the right type of person” Will remarked with a smile to himself. Alan was his first true friend in the education center and today on the hour of assignment he was as faithful as ever. Alan put a hand on Will’s shoulder, reassured him with a goofy smile due to his lack of front teeth and said,

“Remember Will, no matter what we’ll still be friends, my bet is we both get some kind of leader thing so we’ll still get to hang out even if we have different jobs!”

Will’s name was called, Alan gave him a  hug goodbye and now Will was being led down a hall. Doors opened and he was instructed to sit in a chair while assistants buckled him in strapping his forearm palm side up to a table on his right. A doctor came in and praised him for how far along Will had come in his studies. Congratulated him on the great honor he was about to receive. Then the cutting began, and the burning, and the screaming, the metallic odor of fresh blood followed by the stink of seared flesh all polished up with the staff on top covering the wound, like a bow to a present. It was agony all Will wanted to do was hold his injured arm, remove it even, anything to escape the horrible pain he felt after augmentation. “That was no doctor” thought Will “no regard for others, no stake in their work, just a bone-saw. They weren’t healing people; the bastard didn’t even give me anesthetic.”

In the immediate days following his assignment Will had become uncharacteristically timid. He had always harbored a hint of distrust towards his educators but they had never physically harmed him… until now. Will’s small quirks and games of observance, his hours spent wondering why they read one book as opposed to another began to develop into a dangerous paranoia. A book was no longer just a book, it was a step towards indoctrinating him in the caste. A meal no longer nourishment but a venue for drug delivery and possible further unwanted painful modifications. He attempted to isolate himself and wallow in his new distrust of authority but his peers refused to let one of their own flounder.

His memories came back piecemeal, a hand outstretched, a friendly smile. It frustrated him that he couldn’t remember the name of the first of his cohort that ventured out to break his self-imposed isolation. “Was it Shaun…Shirley…Steve?… no no that can’t be it.” While he couldn’t remember the name or picture the face, the words he received that day rang vividly in his ears, as if they were being spoken to him right now….”Hey Will, look this sucks, believe me we all know it does but the thing is we’ve all got shit, some more some less. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve got on your plate, this distrust you’re feeling, we all get it every now and then. What matters is how you deal with your shit are you gonna sit there and do nothing? You might as well be dead…why not give trying something a chance, cause I can sure as Hell tell you doing nothing will get you nothing.”

Will smirked remembering the words, it was incredible that someone so early in their training could dispense such wise advice. Without drugs, or force, this person was able to elevate Will to the challenge at hand. Will remembered taking his healers hand, standing up and smiling back. What followed Will remembered as odd, this helper looked him square in the eyes and held up their forearm displaying their healing staff symbol. Will followed suit displaying his own. They exchanged a moment of silent understanding as if to say I see your pain and I feel it too. They hugged despite the throbbing pain in their forearms and walked together out of Will’s room and over to find their classmates.

Will shook his head pulling himself out of nostalgia and looked back to the shelf with the assorted kits. It didn’t really matter which one was picked but he had a favorite, aisle 3, row 4 column 2. It was a fairly unassuming piece of equipment, a 2”wide 3” long and 1” thick metal block with the national flag on the topside and a small hole midway in the wide side. However, as unassuming as it was this little thing was useful in the right hands. A wrist mounted tool kit, multi-functional albeit restricted according to the user’s life symbol. Will secured the wrist strap on his tattooed side, signalling the device to dig in and began the synchronization process. A small drill burrowed into his forearm and hooked itself down locking the kit in place. An exchange of fluid followed by a happy ding and gentle vibration let him know the synchronization was complete.

        William now had access to a complete surgery set, depending on the scenario the kit could range from covering basic first aid to a complex multi-bypass organ reconstruction. Granted for the more complex surgeries he would need an equipped facility to sync into and interface with as well. Will always marvelled at the device, anything he could possibly need on the job instantly materialized in his hand. He couldn’t even begin to understand how it truly worked, he knew it used some type of solid hologram inducing technology, harmonizing particles in the air and making them rigid manipulating them into any shape needed via device resonance parameters. He had no idea what kind of power source it used as well, but was grateful that it never appeared to need charging. The only catch thought Will, was that he could only synthesize the expected tools for his profession.

Will wondered if anyone ever tried to modify their kits and unlock more tools; the engineer caste knows how it really works, he mused, but his high-expectations were fleeting. He disappointedly remembered his peers and how they would consistently consult their own kits for step by step instructions on the simplest of procedures. Will began to feel dejected as his thoughts wandered “who knows maybe they don’t know maybe their symbol just unlocks the schematics of everything invented and displays it for them. There really hardly is any information you truly know anymore…” Will tried to explore these feelings that were stirring within him and think how people in the past would’ve done things, when suddenly he felt a foreign compulsion to look on the bright-side. Like a catchy tune embedded in his head he felt obligated to think of how much better off he was from past civilizations, how those people probably couldn’t even figure out how to wear this fantastic equipment, box side down and hole side facing the palm. Then the realization hit him like a ton of bricks, his mind was just invaded, he was forced to think well of the nation at the cost of his own true thoughts. Will closed his eyes took a deep breath and counted backwards, he wasn’t about to let himself turn into another blindly accepting drone. He thought logically to break his conditioning in an attempt to organize the social structure in his mind. He sought to intellectualize it and create distance allowing himself to see it and interact without being swallowed whole as a part of it. He pushed each thought into his head searching for meaning, attempting to establish the why of the things that happened. Will found that knowing why was as close to free as he had ever felt.

        From birth fate is determined, parents resign custody for the first 10 years of life. Why? to maintain control.  Placement is predetermined based off genetic tests and an early brain scan capable of producing a projected intelligence capacity. Why the tests then? To push them, get them to believe that they’ve earned their place. Then they’re…we’re shipped off to government mandated specialization classes. After about age 6 we’re given our symbol and set on our ways for the rest of our lives. He began to think of the kit, even in the middle of a surgery I could use my kit to give me a step by step walkthrough. It’s a shame, being a doctor doesn’t even take skill or tenacity anymore, just placement luck. His mind was his own again and he headed out the room down the hallway and into an elevator lost in thought. As soon as he exited his colleagues were already in the full swing of the day and ready to welcome him in; their energy helped to kickstart him into his golden-boy mask. Walking down the ward hall he was bombarded with the usual barrage of updates and requests.

“Will! We need you to run a diagnostic on patient X.”

“Will! Can you have a chat with family y, their son is in bad shape and you’ve got a special way with people.”

“Hey Will! You coming to dinner with us tonight?”

“Will! Can you give me a second opinion on this scan?” To all of which he would always reply.

“Of Course, you got it!” Showcasing his best movie star smile and a demeanor of one who could take on the world.

As he walked He flipped his hand palm side up and a selection of charts appeared hovering in his hand, he sifted through them finding patient X. Mr. David Harding room 23 chief complaint severe head and neck pain.  Will rifled through the file for a few minutes while walking. He briefly looked up at the room cue he was passing only to notice that he had arrived; Room 23 time to start the day. Will straightened his coat took a breath and entered the door.

 

“Good morning Mr. Harding! How do you feel today?” William asked casually

“Well uh Doctor, my neck feels kind of sore, I have trouble looking around especially over to my left side and my head just gets this killer pain in it anytime I think about my job but only when the day’s over. Like I don’t try to but my mind just kind of wanders you know? Then I get theses headaches I’ve been taking my daily supplements when I get into work but I just don’t think they’re doing it, do you have anything stronger?”Dave answered uneasily.

 

Will looked him over quickly, judging by the accumulation of visceral fat on his midsection and thick muscular arms, coupled with unsure demeanor and lost stare as his eyes flited from instrument to instrument in the examination room it was clear that this man was unfortunately assigned to a lower educated caste. Just another victim of bad placement luck. By the patient’s complexion and caste symbol Will could plainly see that Walter ate plenty of fast food and endured a highly physical job, some type of laborer no doubt. Will also noted that Dave didn’t  display any regular obesity either; that gut was developed out of pure neglect and a lack of knowledge on how to properly care for oneself. Will wished he could tell this man that his headaches were just an easy fix solved by drinking more water and laying off the salty foods but he’d seen these symptoms before. Will had a suspicion this man might be too smart for his caste and the only remedy he could look forward to would be a few doses of Trenozene.

In the words of our great leader “All men were created to become equal and Trenozene is that equalizer” all it really did was bump off a few brain cells and Will hated it. Everytime he met these kinds of people it broke his heart. He knew that the system as he had become familiarized with it worked but the feeling that there had to be a better method never left. He knew he had to get as much information from this man as he could for the sake of his own sanity and out of respect for the person whose intelligence he would be robbing.

“Mr. Harding there are certainly other options we can switch you to but could I just ask a few questions on your background before we look at our options?” William asked

“Of course.” Replied Dave

“When did you feel these symptoms start up Mr. Harding?” said Will

Dave replied quickly “Two weeks ago after a big job, that went bad, we lost a lot of good men building and it hurt me inside you know? Those guys, I worked with them my whole life, they were like brothers to me, that loss got me thinking, like how could the machines be different, get like better work and all. I didn’t want nobody to go out like my guys did so I just let my brain wander and try to figure out ways to make stuff safer.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             ”

Well there is exactly his problem Will thought, he surmised that pre-natal rewiring and early developmental subconscious conditioning must be at war with his conscious mind. People were meant to be creative to produce novel solutions to problems. However state conditioning for the most part kept a lid on it, but with a strong enough shock creativity could be jump-started to some extent. However, unfortunately for Dave he wasn’t strong enough to beat it outright and ended up in this mess caught between a headache and a neck pain. Will wished there was something he could do to truly help this man, but time was running out. Will now turned his gaze directly into Dave’s pupils staring searching for the person he knew lurked within and he noticed something, a slight glimmer, a flit of the eyes, an understanding.

“Mr. Harding, how do you feel the nation’s daily supplements have been affecting this scheme of thinking?” Will asked practically whispering.

Un-phased Dave responded in a hushed tone “Well you see at first they put my mind in a cloud, it felt like I was at least 10 beers in. After taking the pills I just didn’t feel sharp anymore, like ideas just kinda stopped. So I stopped taking them and I felt like my mind was quicker you know? Thing is after awhile I started to get angry and my mind cleared up more, I even had thoughts to-.”

Suddenly William felt a cold sting on his wrist just below the tool kit and flinched backward startled. Did they hear my questions? Will was worried that they knew he was about to attempt to probe deeper than ethically allowed. Was security on their way to interrogate him about his own inquiries, set him up with a “friendly” class in teamwork and state ethics? Will apprehensively glanced down and noticed the urgent red exclamation mark being projected and was instantly relieved that his mind was safe for now; yet the victory was bittersweet. Will knew he had lost his chance this poor man would be “normal” by the time he returned. If only there was something he could say some question to ask, a way to acknowledge the great strides this patient was talking but it was futile. Will had seen this too many times before.

 

“I’m sorry Mr. Harding I’ve got to get into surgery, the nurse will supply you with a fresh medication that should clear things up. We’ll continue this later” Will said exiting the room and knowing full well a continuation would serve no purpose at all. He wished he could say more, console this man in some way but all he could manage was a wave goodbye and a smile to reassure the man of his coming fate.

“One sec Doc! I just wanted to say thanks I really appreciate what you’re doing, you’re the first person to ask me about why I started trying things different and really actually cared about what I had to say. It means a lot” Dave said earnestly holding out his hand.

 

Will took it and shook “Anytime” A pang of guilt shot through his body.

 

William made a left out the door and strode down the hall to the express elevator leading to the surgery wards breathing slowly trying to distance himself from the shame welling up in his chest. He accessed the terminal outside the elevator syncing his kit with the hospital database hoping the information on his latest patient would help to distract him.

The chart title read: Unknown male, multiple fragmentation wounds. Will voraciously delved into the chart excited at the new interesting turn his day was taking. The guilt of his last interaction  now a distant memory as he allowed himself to be whisked away by work. Will wondered what could’ve created such a patient.  Home-experiment gone wrong, or maybe a transport derailment, or worse a building explosion… it’d be a busy day if that were the case.

 

The elevator spit Will out into the prep room in no time at all, within minutes he was scrubbed down and entering the operating room, a bright rectangle lit by white fluorescent lights. Dead center was the patient, unconscious lying face up on the metal table draped with sterile cloth.  The assistant nurse was standing off to the side, operating various computers, diagnostic equipment and synchronization interfaces. Like Will she too had a wrist kit, albeit much more restricted in abilities. Will was glad to see her a new face her nametag read Luna, variety never ceased to spice up his life. Will glanced at the patient and counted 15 fragmentation wounds in total, 12 to the chest and abdomen, 2 on the upper left thigh, and one in the left shoulder.

It looks like this guy was hit center mass. This wasn’t an accident it appeared as if some type of scatter shot perforated this man he noted. The patient was relatively thin with tanned skin and dark hair, he appeared to have some kind of tattoo on his neck which Will recognized from an educational program he had watched the previous night. An agriculture symbol  was on his left forearm. Definitely an outskirter Will concluded, it was odd for someone like him to be so close to the hub he thought.

 

“Dr. Orson, you there?” said Nurse Luna

 

“Yeah, all here sorry about that, just taking in this wound, it’s… odd, by the spray pattern this doesn’t look like an accident, was this caused by one of those old black powder combustion weapons?” Will asked

 

“I’ll check.” Replied Luna as she pulled out a tablet “Yes, according to the scatter and burns it says these objects are something called birdshot from a weapon called a shotgun, approximate distance of assailant 5 meters.”

 

“Interesting.”

“Yes, may we begin the operation now Dr. Orson?” asked Luna.

Luna’s requests hadn’t even struck his radar, why did everyone always want to get these surgeries over with so quickly, no one ever savored their work thought Will. She missed one important detail about this shotgun weapon, it was old and the only people who would even think of using these outdated mini cannons were gangs and anti-tech terrorist groups. These weapons if anyone could honestly call them that were out-dated yes, but very difficult to get a hold of… William wondered whose life he was saving?

 

Luna spoke-up again, this time with more command in in her voice “Dr. Orson if you feel you need more information to begin the kit is always available to you….”

William’s curiosity was piqued, this nurse had grit  for a newcomer and he respected that, straight to the job, down to business, no fear in getting mired with the dangers of bruising a doctor’s ego… let’s try a little shock and awe thought Will.

 

“Actually I have, judging by the scatter and shrapnel displacement I’d say whoever shot this guy meant business, this was no accident he wanted to kill, because, it’s a gun you can assume gang activity. Because these wounds were intentional and gang related, and given his agricultural background I’d say this man is probably some type of low level laborer, just look at his body type, skinny but toned, tanned, gaunt face, untrimmed facial hair, he certainly isn’t a manager. When I pull back his lips I can see some definite blacking of the gums and yellowing of the teeth side effects from smoking  Snell bush. As for his arms, track marks and varicose veins all over. Once again side effects from any number of unregulated substances which haven’t been purified to National standards. My guess is he had a side growing operation for illicit materials, he ended up doping too much on his own product which got his employer angry. That anger had to go somewhere and now he’s here, phew those outskirts can be tough. Sooo due to the injuries and background I’d say we need to look out for drugs in his system that will cause his blood pressure to bottom out on us. The arm and leg wounds appear fairly stable, no excessive bleeding, they can wait, the 8 holes peppering his chest will need immediate attention though. He’s not breathing bilaterally, the right side of his chest sags, a right lung injury, as for the four shots in the abdomen, it’s in the upper right quadrant so he’s got damage to the intestines  as well as liver, which is probably bleeding like hell.”

“We’ll just see about that!” jeered Luna as she started running the internal scan proving William right on all accounts.

Will could see that she was attempting to hide her surprise, and had to restrain himself from bursting out in cheer.Time to finish her off with a wink and she’s as good as mine thought William. He could feel her becoming more interested in him.

 

“But Dr. Orson how could you have know all that just by looking at him?”

“The power of observation, it’s really an incredible tool, you just have to hone your mind to look for the clues and hey, you can call me Will.” He replied lightly touching her forearm.

 

She received the gesture well prompting him to take a full mental catalogue.

Not a bad person at all, she’s got me sold on first impression alone, thought William she’s beautiful, fit, blonde, curves in all the right places, and just the right amount of cleavage, not to mention that confidence she displayed just now, which is incredibly attractive. Will let a smirk out accidentally. He wasn’t about to let her know anytime soon that he had by chance watched a program on outskirt drug trade, prompting him to delve further into the subject and learn enough haphazard facts to help him draw his recent conclusions.

“Start hooking him up to the stabilizers and work on an IV growth factor delivery. I’ll take care of the fragments.” He added

The two locked eyes for a brief moment and set to work.

Two hours later Will emerged from the surgery ward, satisfied for now and ready to handle the remainder of his 12 hour shift. He glanced at his watch 8 hours left. The sensation of hunger became readily apparent to him as his perception of time returned. Will set course for his next destination a quick stop by in the cafeteria  to see what kind of unholy concoction they were serving up as food before continuing with patient check-ups. Before embarking however, Will let his ego take hold and worked to ensure that Luna really was impressed with him before resuming his workday.

 

“Luna, how long have you been with this facility, I know I would’ve remembered you if we had met before.” Will asked coyly

“I’ve been in this facility for about a year now Mr. power of observation.” She playfully retorted “Buuut, I was just transferred to this division a few days ago so it’s understandable” She added with a smile “but it still stands, seems like you need to hone your skills more.”

Wow, she really is good, that playfulness is definitely promising, now it’s time to toss on some compliments he thought.

“You handled yourself very well in there; your user to apparatus interaction was near flawless.” he motioned in the most suave way he could muster to prompt her for a high five. He knew that in this first stage he needed to induce as much physical contact as possible if she reciprocated he was on track, if not, he was just barking up the wrong tree.

She met him enthusiastically

Fantastic! Will thought to himself, well can’t leave her high and dry I’ve got to keep those questions rolling.

“What division were you in before your transfer?”

“Intensive care, they mostly just had me in the post-surgery ward so I was responsible for clean-up and physical therapy style things.”

Will had noticed that standing in the hallway for this amount of time would begin to get awkward, and fast.

“You know I’m feeling pretty hungry, would you like to continue this conversation in the cafeteria?” he asked

“Sure I’m pretty starved myself.” She said with a smile.

They both headed towards the cafeteria engrossed in conversation.

 

Chapter 2: William Orson

William stood in the hallway lost in thought. His lunch with Luna went phenomenally well and he felt energized to tackle the rest of his day. An aide passed him in the hall wheeling a patient on a stretcher and he felt a wave of pride well up within him. He always loved the hospital, the smell, the appearance, a place where everyone was so hopeful for the best. Clean, efficient, a well-oiled machine; patients came in damaged or ill and left repaired and well. And the ones that didn’t make it… he thought with a smirk. Well it was expected anyway, nothing that could’ve been done to help, they were destined to be lost. These halls and the people within them could accomplish anything, bright, clean, orderly, usually fairly vacant too, he noted, people didn’t get sick much anymore.

William pulled himself out of his internal monologue when he arrived at room 29. He activated his kit and its chart said Jessica Contino aged 8, unknown illness, four prior surgeries since admission, and another recommended, her condition remained unimproved. Will considered the opposition this family would mount against him at suggesting another operation, and rightly so. Those previous procedures hadn’t helped one bit, just gave this poor girl a few scars and medicated her into a coma, he lamented. It was rare for children to be ill in the hub during this “age of prosperity”, he thought while furrowing his brow.

        William began to plan out the best way to make this family come around to his impending proposal. He pulled up his kit to tap into the room’s internet access log from to get more information on this family. It fed him back a report that no doctor would’ve wanted to read, the girl was an only child, on the fast track for a leadership position. She was all this family had. Room 29 had researched numerous malpractice sites, second opinion forums,  they were even looking into herbal alternatives, especially so into the Obodongo bush. A plant which he knew was notorious for sending users into a paranoid stupor if inhaled in excess. Will realized that his family was smart enough to look for other options, so he opted for the subtle approach; allow them to believe that they had suggested the idea of permitting another operation on their daughter. He didn’t like the deception of this plan, but he knew it would be the best bet for this little girl. He knocked on the door.

“Who is it?” Called a female voice harshly

It really is a shame how tragedy can muddle people’s minds Will thought.

He was sure the nurse told them he’d be there in ten minutes and he was certain he was on time… he was never late, he felt it unprofessional.

“Dr. Orson” Will replied monotone, he knew that in these situations it was best not to show emotion until he had the family properly mapped out. So far it appeared the mother would be the most difficult to bend but he had no idea what the father thought of the situation, he thought with optimism.

“Oh! Please, please come in!” Said the female voice, with over the top politeness

Already this woman was off to a bad start with me, thought Will. He never enjoyed how people instantly changed their demeanor just because of his title. William thought more on the present situation. He scarcely had the opportunity to exchange 10 words with these people. All they knew was the work he’d done and not one detail about his personality.

I could be an absolute terrible person not deserving of even the most basic pleasantries he thought yet here they are placing bounties of respect on my head all because of a title. Will could comprehend their distress, he was responsible for their daughters health care and they wanted to make sure he was in a position to do the best job possible. However he was hung up on an idea now. It wasn’t  just people in stressful situations he’d seen behaving  this way, he’s seen it happen all the time. It made him wonder, how many people are faking what they feel? How many people are just being polite to further their own needs? How could one even detect genuine politeness?

 The mother was staring him straight in the eye from her daughter’s bedside, apparently expecting him to start the conversation. William figured the best option would be to open with a stern appearance, his smile wouldn’t help him here, at least not until the parents were warmed up.

“Good morning Mrs. Contino, how are you today? Asked Will

“Oh fine, you know, just hoping for the best for our little girl.” Replied Mrs. Contino clutching her child’s hand.

“Yes any news that you have for us is greatly appreciated” Piped up Mr. Contino from the corner of the room. Will picked up on this small clue of seating arrangement, Mr. Contino would not be a problem, his wife was in charge here and he would follow whatever she said.

William glanced over at their daughter who remained motionless in her bed the center of the whole room, a very scarce room at that save for the bed she was in. Her dad was in the corner chair, her mom in the bedside one and her right in the middle of it all, a girl of slight frame with a plethora of machinery connected to her chest, various tubes carrying fluids in, out, a few just working to maintain negative pressure in her lungs to allow air in, various IV’s 3 different drip bags, all criss-crossing and interconnecting, yet not a single one crossed her small face, they almost framed her face actually. It was such a shame to see such a small child in this state, she should’ve been outside playing, in the classroom, practicing her life skills, anywhere but here. She lay motionless due to an induced medicated coma to allow her body a better chance for recovery.

“About that, Mr. and Mrs. Contino, I feel its best you both come into the hall with me, don’t worry about your daughter, the monitors will make sure she’s safe.”

Immediately the parents faces dropped it was clear they were in distress, Will picked up on their cue and shot in quickly.

“It’s okay Mr. and Mrs. Contino, I’ve actually got some good news, I thought you may want to hear it in the hall so as not to disturb your daughter and to better clear your minds.” Will said reassuringly.

The Continos faces lit up, Will averted a small bump that may have otherwise caused his objective to fail, he couldn’t be distracted now though he smiled at the Continos, and they received it well. As they exited into the hall Will pushed a button on the side of the door activating the monitors, two very slender humanoid robots with staffs of Asclepius painted onto their chests rose out from underneath the tile floor one on each side of her. Their bodies were very gentle and sloping, while thin they did not gain that angular look to them that most people obtained, they remained motionless as they stood watch over the girl their electronic faces lit up with blue pixilated smiles.

Will decided to start with the negatives and work to the positive for a strong finish with her parents, people only ever remembered the end of a conversation he started with the so-called good news.

“ Your daughter has significant fluid build-up in her lungs, we’ve got a surgical procedure that can take care of that in 10 minutes tops, the kidneys and liver that she has in her right now are on I’d say about their last leg, however, we have duplicated the organs and have fresh specifically crafted organs completed and waiting for her to transplant in. This would tack another hour onto any surgery that would be done should you want to do it all in one shot which usually works the best. Also she could do with another dose of nanomachines in her abdominal cavity to assist in the cleanup of the toxin buildup, the fastest most effective way of administering these would be during a surgery. There are of course the standard pitfalls of surgery, however in an operation this quick there isn’t as much risk as a normal routine, and her just laying here is more deadly than us taking some affirmative action. Now I’d like to know, what do you think we should do for the next course of action?”

Will caught an expression of confusion on their faces, he figured his colleagues never asked them what they thought the next course of action should be. Not surprising, you don’t learn much about social interaction from the wrist kits  or schooling he thought. He was staring at the parents waiting for their response, Mrs. Contino was the first to come around.

“Well doctor you seem to be making a fairly strong argument for surgery.” She said curtly.

Here we go Will thought, time to call upon all that I’ve learned from observing daytime work drama and watching old 20th century romance movies.

“It’s just the data ma’am I’m sorry if it seems like I’m trying to sway your opinion to one side I just wanted to make sure you had all the facts.” Said Will apologetically.

Mrs. Contino stared Will down expecting to see a break in his act but he was well versed in these situations, Will looked straight into her pupils pleadingly and continued.

“Mrs. Contino I have to admit it is quite rare that we get a child with a debilitating illness like your daughters’, this is the primary reason why care for her has been coming along at such a sluggish pace. We had to order special equipment just for this treatment, now while we still can’t say for sure what your daughter has become ill with we can say that she is returning to her normal state very slowly, the combination of IV’s and coolant in her system have returned her temperature to a normal rate and her pulse and respirations are closely following suit, however if we don’t take affirmative action all of this progress may be for naught” Will finished with the a look of sorrow and regret.

“Doctor Orson-.” Started Mrs. Contino, but already Will saw she was not going to say what he wanted so he interjected bringing up the issues she wanted on his terms.

“I know it may seem like I’m pushing for surgery Mrs. Contino but I do want you to know there are other options, we could wait it out, with her progress there is a slight chance that she may continue on her route to recovery, and there are also non-conventional herbal remedies that I would be more than happy helping you with are you familiar with the Obodongo? And there is also electro-stim and chemical-stim therapy that we can try, and as I said before there is surgery” Said Will almost convincing himself he was truly offering these people other treatment options.

As he spoke he pulled up electronic pamphlets and articles on each option from his kit carefully selecting the longest most confusing articles for the alternatives and leaving the surgery option as the shortest most friendly pamphlet comfortably at the bottom but still very visible. Mrs. Contino hungrily grabbed each of these articles trying to read and make sense of them flipping through them quickly, she was looking for something familiar and Will knew he had her right where he wanted her. She scanned the Obodongo pamphlet trying to see something that she read about in her online research, but she turned to the side-effects page and was greeted with illustrations of treatments gone sour from paranoid stupor. Finally she came to the surgery pamphlet shorter, but not noticeably so, a feature only the subconscious would pick up on and cling to, she skimmed it and immediately it was familiar to her, she read it more intensely than the others, when she was done she looked up at William.

“Now this surgery, you’re positive it will be the shortest most effective option?” She demanded attempting to appear an authority on the matter.

 

Will looked at her and wished she wasn’t wearing long sleeves, he was sure her symbol would confirm his suspicions of her being in the governing caste, the way she wanted to make decisions and do his job for him, taking over without truly understanding the situation, it was typical of those people.

 

“Mrs. Contino I have reviewed and studied all of these options thoroughly and I am convinced that surgery would not only be the safest but the quickest, I’d just like to know what do you think we should do that would be best for your daughter?” Said Will softly

He thought it may have been over the top but he knew it would be the final haymaker to this woman’s decision against surgery, he threw a concerned glance into their daughters room and gave a ginger touch to her mothers’ forearm and said. “I just want her to make it, no child should be in this place.”

Sure enough he was right, Mr. and Mrs. Contino followed his gaze and started to tear up, after a few moments they snapped their faces back to Will their stared at him with an intensity that said we are trusting you with the most important person in both of our lives please don’t let us down, an intensity that told him they would both be destroyed if anything were to happen to their child. Will stared right back almost piercing their souls with understanding waiting for their choice.

“We want you to operate on her” Said Mrs. Contino slightly choked up tears welled in her eyes

“I will, and you can count on me to get her through this” Will looked at both of them, gave them a nod and said “She’s a strong girl, together we can pull her through, we’ll start prepping her in an hour, why don’t you go inside and spend some more time with her.”

Mrs. Contino stifled a sob, Mr. Contino took her by the shoulders and led her back into the room, as they entered the monitors retreated back into the floor and the parents resumed their previous posts before Will had entered the room. Will watched them enter with a feeling of accomplishment burning inside him. He turned to look at his next chart.

Chapter 3: Alan Green

An airborne timer blared out its thirty-minute warning over barren dirt wasteland a single twenty foot wall divided the arena cleanly in half. Trenches zig-zagged and crossed reaching every corner of the massive desolate field. War cries rang out on both sides and Alan Green lay in a muddy trench clutching his side as blood poured out from between his fingers. His assailant was just three feet away from him upside down feet against the trench wall and head in the mud. Both men were dazed from the concussion burst Alan released from his kit. Alan stumbled back further and worked to his feet releasing his grip on the sword slice to his side. He rose his left arm towards his attacker and kept his hand open as a dagger materialized in his hand. Alan lunged straight for the man’s heart and plunged the dagger deep in his chest, and heard a great shlucking sound as he felt the blade pierce flesh bone muscle. The man finally awoke with a hiss of air leaving his body, he grabbed at Alan’s arms feebly trying to release the pressure forced upon him. His eyes bulged out of his head as he fought to remain alive, then, suddenly the man went limp and all of his muscles relaxed. Alan finally opened his eyes and jumped back from the man, he looked at him for a second before the man erupted into a burst of light and pixels, his body instantly gone and the information it carried flying away from him.

        Alan sank back into the mud dropping his dagger and taking a deep breath. As he inhaled he felt a sharp pain to his side and instinctively reached for his sword wound, but when his hand finally touched it the bleeding had stopped and the wound was closing up. Alan took a moment to thank his nanomachines for working properly, he then turned his left palm up and had his kit generate a map. A dull orange grid appeared hovering above his hand, in the top left corner were the specs of the terrain. A 5 square acre dirt field with forty different trench networks to slog through in the direct center a large muddy cylinder sat  waiting to unleash whatever horrors sat inside it at the five minute mark, effectively wiping out every soldier on this battlefield…no one ever survived, even the “victors”. Alan scanned the map for platoon mates, only four blue dots out of twenty-three remained, that left him and three others, Captain Franklin, Weapons Specialist Leary, and Corporal Davis.  Alan activated the enemy filter to see how many his group was up against and his heart sank, they still had eleven units left, six preparing to engage the Captain, two on Leary, another two had Davis on the run, Alan had a decision to make.

        He considered his options, even though he knew he had already decided. Davis was a better war-fighter than him but then again so was most of his platoon, Leary had access to all the traps and extra firepower on this map, and the Captain…well the Captain taught him everything he knew about fighting, close quarters, how to use the kit as more than a weapon, and above all stealth combat. The Captain wasn’t just his platoon leader, he was a mentor. Alan was already moving towards the Captains’s dot on the map before he even formally decided.

        Alan was sprinting through the trenches, mud splashing up with each stride he took. He looked like some laboratory abomination that might emerge from the endgame cylinder. Alan flew through the corners running down the passageways like a madman, into a foxhole, out of another and finally he arrived just forty yards away from the Captain’s signal. From here on Alan knew stealth is what was going to save him and the Captain. He took a few steadying breaths and readied himself to become a shadow one with the mud and grime that filled these trenches. He took a quick look at himself to make sure his camouflage fit his surroundings, he like the eight foot high earth walls all around him all shared the same deep red-brown color. Alan closed his eyes and applied a fresh handful of mud to his face when he reopened them he was ready, focused and deadly.

        He proceeded slowly and with caution to the next intersection that came up in 10 feet. Alan crouched low and quickly stuck his head around the corner, first left, all clear, then right, all clear, straight ahead lay an 8 foot tall wall at the top the killing fields from which he could strike. He stood and walked right into the corridor he had just cleared and pressed his back against the wall in front of him. He pulled up the map and read it, right on the other side of this wall was the Captain standing right in the center of what was meant to be a staging area for assaults a circle with a fifty foot diameter. Leading into this circle were six trenches, four of which occupied by the enemy, all slowly closing in like wolves sauntering up to a wounded animal. Alan had to act now, he took a few steps away from his wall, and used his kit to generate a hook and rope system to help climb the muddy wall, one toss up and it sunk in. Alan gave the rope a test pull and it stuck, he ran and jumped to give himself a head start and his shoulders were already at the top of the wall. He pulled as hard as he could on the rope and dug his feet into the wall as he heaved himself up and out of the trench, it was more difficult than he had hoped but he was up and out. He allowed his rope system to disintegrate. Alan looked around on his belly, this field really was desolate, save for a massive twenty foot all-encompassing wall off in the distance, he started to crawl towards the Captain’s signal. On his map the enemies were closing in on the Captain, as of now they were fifteen feet away from him, and Alan was ten feet away from the ledge of the wall that overlooked the whole thing.

        Alan still wasn’t sure on his plan of attack, maybe just a distraction? Maybe try that crazy airborne attack his assailant had tried? None of his ideas seemed appealing, but he couldn’t think now, he had to act. Alan began to slow his crawl at three feet from the edge. The Captain was right in the middle of the circle and the enemy just ten feet away forming another circle right around him. From his vantage point Alan saw everything and his course of action was clear. All four enemies rose their swords in unison ready to dispose of the Captain, who just stood there unflinching waiting for his opening as they closed in. Alan stood and jumped as far as he could towards the mass of predators, a sword had generated in his left hand as he came down. Alan sent two concussion bursts straight into the air and that was all the opening the Captain needed. By the time Alan had dispatched one enemy upon landing the Captain had already cut down four. The final soldier charged towards Alan sword pointing straight for his heart. Alan parried the thrust and moved to counter, but the enemy had recovered and kicked Alan in the chest. Alan fell back into the mud dropping his sword.

        The enemy soldier slowly approached the winded Alan and rose his sword for the final blow. Alan looked toward the Captain wondering why he hadn’t helped at all, the Captain simply stared coldly back at Alan saying something he couldn’t quite hear. As the blade came down Alan understood the mouthed word, “Move!” Alan rolled to the right and the enemy’s sword just grazed his left shoulder. The attacker disintegrated his sword forming a knife and charged at Alan with a stab. Alan generated his own knife and parried his enemies away from his body. Alan reacted with a haymaker to the left temple of the foe. The enemy soldier dropped like a ton of bricks and lay there motionless.

Alan looked towards the Captain who sternly nodded him on without saying a word. Alan fell to his knees and rose his knife high in the air yelling in frustration as he brought it down. Just as Alan’s knife made contact with the enemy soldier, so too did the enemy soldier perforate Alan’s heart with a knife he had hidden. The life left both men, and Alan fell backwards in the mud, the Captain slowly walked up to Alan and stood over him looking down. The Captain generated the countdown timer from his wrist kit and looked down. The last thing Alan saw before he closed his eyes was his mentor disapprovingly shaking his head at him as the timer read twenty minutes remaining. Alan’s body disintegrated and the Captain took a quick assessment of who remained in the platoon, Leary was gone, but he managed to take out an enemy with him, all that remained was Davis and two enemies. One was on Davis’s tail, the other prepared to ambush him, and they were all headed straight for the Captain. He couldn’t have asked for a better situation.

Captain Franklin set up a trip wire at the entrance where all the men would come through, he then sat a few feet back, sword in hand and waited. Sure enough Davis rounded the corner and came barreling for Franklin. The Captain motioned Davis to jump and he did, the soldier fresh on his heels did not and fell face first in the mud. Davis spun and drove his sword into the body of the fallen man killing him. The second soldier flew from atop the trench planning to land his sword right in Davis’s skull but the Captain swatted him away knocking him into the ground. The remaining soldier backed into a corner as Davis and the Captain approached him. The man batted at the two victors like a frenzied wounded animal but the Captain and Davis did not yield. They both pulled back their swords in unison and skewered the man. The arena let out its ten minute warning chime and suddenly the entire field vaporized in a bright intense light.

Alan opened his eyes and looked around his liquid stasis tank, his body was hooked up to various electrical sensors, he inhaled through a breathing mask, his body suspended in a conductive fluid. Alan watched as the rest of his platoon began to awaken in their own tanks, one by one the body stasis tanks opened and the men came pouring out on the floor in a wave of their suspension fluid. Captain Franklin began to assemble his men.

“On your feet!” He barked.

The Captain as always didn’t hesitate for a second, thought Alan. All the men rose immediately and stood at attention as Franklin began his routine post combat portal breakdown.

“Clean-up and rendezvous in the de-brief room in twenty minutes.” ordered the Captain.

Alan smirked to himself as he exited the room, it never failed after every single mission the Captain would always address the company in the same manner, he bet the Captain even replicated the same pitch every time he gave those orders, practically robotic. By the time Alan was suiting up in his uniform the haranguing of his field conduct by his comrades had already started up.

“Woaaahhh Alan, big man rookie, with his, what is it, third portal kill?” said Davis.

“No no no, I believe this may be his fourth!” replied Leary snarky

“Hey Hey, how about last mission where he tied up those retards in the desert?” laughed Ramirez

“Yeah I killed people, so what I’m good punks!” retorted Alan. “You apes better hurry up if you want to make it to debrief on time” he added.

Ugh that was horrible, what the hell was I thinking?! Punks apes, goddamn it those were terrible comebacks! Why am I so stupid in front of them?

Alan enjoyed the company of the men in his platoon regardless of the insults they could come up with he thought as he got ready for debrief. They really were just a bunch of goons when it boiled down to it, they could never truly understand why Alan avoided killing so much, after all, yes he was in the military, but he was leadership caste through and through, he was just serving his time waiting to earn his spot on the national council. I’ll finally shine there, no machismo to work through, all diplomacy, I can make some change for the betterment of all nations maybe even unify them, that’ll be the day he beamed.

Alan’s position in the unit was unique, unlike the rest of his comrades who would fight for the rest of their lives he had a sentence to serve, a four year combat minimum before he could begin to transition into the leadership caste. The Captain was a stern reminder to Alan to be grateful for his early retirement from service. Alan estimated the Captain to be somewhere in his 60’s. An age he couldn’t tell from looks because Captain Franklin didn’t look a day over 20, Alan saw it in his eyes a grizzled knowing look that had seen years of killing. All children were injected with an anti-aging hormone during their state education making age irrelevant. The hormone was able to slow the body’s metabolism just enough to greatly prolong life, the biggest issue was the mental capacity of those who reached the later stages in their lives. Eventually they just couldn’t retain any more information and would start to live in their own world, one made exclusively of memories. These people who could serve no purpose to better the nation were promptly decommissioned once identified and shipped off to a retirement zone. A “garden of paradise” Alan thought.

        Alan doubted the Captain would get any of the proper recognition he deserved, he would fight until he couldn’t anymore, slowly descend into madness, be identified, decommissioned, and forgotten by history, an old dog of war, nothing more. Alan wouldn’t let himself be forgotten by history he’d serve his time and make a name for himself among the leadership caste. He vowed to be one of the few who would be remembered. He snapped out of his thoughts as he entered the debriefing room. A large bright cold gray room with a high vaulted ceiling and a circular desk in the middle for the whole platoon to sit at… everyone was there already and watched him take his seat.

“Who’s late now bitch?” Snapped Ramirez.

“Nobody.” Interrupted the Captain entering the room

A formidable man, five foot, eleven, but built like a tank, with crisp silver-blue eyes which took you in and enveloped you all while piercing straight through you. He was everything you might imagine an elite commander to look like. One punch from him would easily break ribs

“Listen, today was not how I expected this combat scenario to play out, WE have trained SO hard for this day and I’m not comfortable with a victory of this caliber. Have you forgotten this nations tenants?” He plainly stated

“ENTERPRISE, APPLICATION, SOLIDARITY!” erupted private Jones immediately followed by his fellow privates.

The entire room turned to face the private, Captain Franklin allowed a smile to come across his face.

“Right you are Jones, you and the rest of the Privates are dismissed.”

The privates exited the room.

“The Fuck? We worked damn hard out there.” Complained Ramirez

Franklin snapped, he was waiting for this, a little dose to strike professionalism back into this platoon, his eyes narrowed as he stared straight at Ramirez.

“THAT IS IT! NONE OF YOU HAVE BEHAVED LIKE WARFIGHTERS I’VE TRAINED I’M ASHAMED OF EVERY ONE OF YOU, THERE WILL GREAT REPERCUSSIONS FOR TODAY!” Screamed the Captain

The Captain pulled up a quick film breakdown of the battle as he continued.

“THE FIRST, of many issues we encountered today was a lack of self-preservation, too many of you recklessly charged in, this battle was a stark difference from what we’ve encountered during normal entertainment skirmishes! I’ve told you this so many times before, we were fighting against Quaria today! There was a lot at stake on this fight! Even though we were in the portal the enemy team has died, executed by their countrymen as part of the agreed terms for this battle. That could have easily been our platoon if we didn’t get lucky. The resources that were wagered on this battle between Quaria and our nation are invaluable to our survival, you are all damn well lucky the rules for today’s engagement only allowed for concussive bursts and swords!”

The entire platoon kept their gaze fixed on the Captain unflinching. A quick image of Alan glancing at his combat map appeared on the screen.

“SECONDLY some of us allowed emotion to influence our tactical decisions, this is unacceptable, we’re all professionals here and if I see any one of you making an emotional decision in combat again I will personally put you down.”

Again the platoon remained stone faced, Alan however had a look of distress cross his face.

“Battle reports will be sent to your drives, Sergeants make sure they all know their shit before the next encounter. I want you to think about what happened today, enjoy the “party” our nation is throwing for you” he said with a false overbearing grin” because procedures will be changing and I will ensure that we perform at the level we are capable of…DISMISSED!”

The soldiers still remained uneasy and dispersed each heading towards their respective quarters to prepare for their victory party, Alan as usual lingered behind.

“Captain I’m so sorry about today, I just couldn’t stop, you’ve taught me everything I know, if anyone could’ve pulled us out of that mess it was you, I knew that you had the tactical and combat skill to-“

“ENOUGH GREEN! You do this after every match and I’m sick of it, you’re better than this and I won’t tell you anymore, sentimentality will bring you down! You need to be out for blood but you just can’t get your damn conscience out of the way, you think about the enemy too much what you need to do is use your will to survive, you always show this pathetic regret when you purge someone from the portal, do you want to go back on the wall? Because I can put you there, this is a reward, the portal is where the best go and if you’re not cut out for the portal then I will be damned sure to send you where you belong, do you understand me lieutenant?!”

“Yes sir.”

“Get out of my sight”

Alan returned to his quarters, deflated, scared, reliving the battle and thinking back to his time on the wall. A barbaric place where your enemies didn’t explode into a bright pixelated mass, but just sat there, bloodied, decomposing bruised mutilated, it was too much, he could never go back there. He tried to wash the memories away, cleanse his mind. He went to the bathroom and washed off whatever stasis fluid remained then stood staring at his reflection in the mirror, he was still quite formidable looking despite his reduced exercise regimen standing a solid 6 feet with a dense and cut muscle structure he found himself wondering why his comrades didn’t give him the respect he felt he deserved. He really looked at himself in the mirror staring into his own piercing blue eyes and temporarily lost himself… he was there again, at the wall.

Outside the wall was an expansive wild land, forest as far as the eye could see, the wall had about a mile of buffer region where no trees grew and the area was littered with the corpses of enemy and comrades alike. There was wreckage of numerous primitive vehicles abound. Flimsy looking transports on large rubber wheels, and more formidable turtle-esque type weaponry with a single large cannon on them equipped with auxiliary turrets. On the far end near the tree line sat numerous mortar pits; metal barricades scattered all around the wall’s buffer region providing cover and preventing the enemy vehicles from advancing, and Alan stood amid the chaos perplexed by his first victim. All sounds trailed off, he could only hear the sounds of gunfire and artillery. Screams of agony cried out from all over, the victim,  some scraggly kid there was no way he could be past 16 years old, his eyes were sunken in, he was emaciated to the point where his ribs were blatantly visible.

The rifle he was holding appeared larger than him, shoeless, frail, the people fighting Lazora on the wall were nowhere near their newsreel portrayal. Those people were massive, standing at 8 feet tall, stronger than any Lazoran warfighter could ever hope to be… but these people they were nothing like that, these people they were starving, feral even, they must’ve been driven completely mad by the radiation out on the wastes beyond Lazora’s great borders, why else would they attack us thought Alan. Another feral popped up and ran at him firing off a rifle sporadically, Alan flew backwards to the ground brandishing a pistol firing as he fell each shot hitting center mass of his attacker. The feral crumpled to the ground. Alan got on his knee synthesizing a sniper rifle and started picking off combatants he saw in the distance then another feral tried to choke Alan from behind with a wire. Alan rolled down and lunged forward flinging the feral over his shoulders, it got up quickly and wildly charged at Alan, but before it could close the distance to land a punch Alan had already stepped forward and threw a punch of his own making contact with ribs, he felt the body give under his strike, he heard and felt ribs cracking, the feral hit the ground hard and Alan beat it mercilessly until it remained motionless. He began to feel a strange satisfaction from each feral he put down, looking towards the tree line with new-found resolve he let out a guttural cry as he charged in synthesizing a large machine gun from his kit.

 

Chapter 4: William Orson

Will returned home later than usual, satisfied with his evening; he decided to take Luna out to dinner when they both got off shift a move which proved to be very fruitful for him. His home assistant greeted him with a holo message from his fiancé Meredith.

“Heyyyyy, I hope you’re ready for a delightful day off tomorrow, we’re going to the museum then lunch at Hardwicks followed by a wonderful stroll through the park, after that I was thinking we could go shopping for a bit in…”

As her voice trailed off Will set about his night routine, straight to the exercise equipment to ensure a fit demeanor; his fiancé’s message logged in his communicator establishing an alert and directions for the venue guaranteeing he would arrive to their date on time. After exercise straight to the shower followed by feeding the bird and dinner a’ la’ omni stove. Once settled in he decided to accompany dinner with a show, an educational documentary about the savages which live just on the outskirts of their wonderful nation’s borders. His program was cut short though by a newsflash from the nation’s capital.  

“Today our hero’s in the portal have won a great victory for the glory of Lazora, our rivals across the ocean in Quaria made a fool-hardy wager attempting to best our warriors, but thanks to the superb leadership of Captain Franklin our boys pulled through. The final three to stand up to the enemy onslaught deserve our gratitude facing a total of 11 enemy combatants in the critical last ten minutes of the skirmish. These brave men are Corporal Davis, Weapons Specialist Leary, and Lieutenant Green, the victors will be enjoying their victory dinner hosted by Lazora, stay tuned for victor intervie-….”

Green, now that name brought me back ,thought Will, how many years has it been since my assignment on the wall, 5, 10? I’m not really sure anymore, but damn certainly glad to see that guy is still alive, a true equal.

Will thought about his time on the wall for a bit, and savored the feel of adventure he got while on duty, nothing like the patients he treated now, those warriors could pose quite the challenge to him at times, dismembered limbs, shattered psyche’s even strange and exotic diseases contracted from the ferals every day was a new challenge, far from his current humdrum life but still something felt off, despite the challenges of the days those too could still become routine, but then he met Alan a fresh officer in training.

Will chuckled remembering Alan’s initial disposition to combat, eager was a Captain understatement, he was fresh out of the academy mind brimming with propaganda and patriotism, he would blow up the capitol just to save the capitol if that’s what it took.

Will awoke the next morning in the usual fashion. By the time he was sitting down to breakfast his visitor alert chimed. A hologram of his fiancé appeared in the doorway.

“Wiiiiiiilllllllll let me innnnnnnnn” she playfully whined

Will couldn’t help but smile as he instructed his house virtual assistant to open the door. She came barreling through despite her delicate appearance practically hurdling over the table to plant herself on his lap to give him a kiss.

“I wanted to surprise you by coming early I figured we could walk to the museum that way!”

Will considered this option and weighed it against staying. If they stayed she’d be all over him, talking, eating, prodding, playing, most likely sex. That wouldn’t do, there’s no relaxation in that, he didn’t need the sex, at least at the museum he could be free in his thoughts he decided.

“Sounds like fun, lets go; Casper” he called to his VA, “close up, I’ll be back sometime tonight.”

“Received sir.” Chirped the VA

The two left the apartment headed down the elevator and stepped out onto the sidewalk. The intensity of the sun temporarily blinded them, once adjusted they were able to take in the beauty of their city, impossibly tall glass buildings which just touched the surface of space, and against the crisp clear blue sky above them, vehicles criss-crossed, coming and going like a swarm of insects. The entire block was absolutely pristine, not a scuff mark or piece of litter to be seen, the street was bustling with people, but devoid of children, they were socializing, exchanging contacts, eating, playing, regaling the shows and stories they had seen the prior evening, while patriotic music of Lazora’s many anthems played in the background. The maintenance caste was just barely visible remaining on the fringes of the socialites neatly tucked away in side alleys waiting for a mess to clean.  Meredith tugged at Will’s arm.

“Come on let’s get moving Mr. Lazy!” She exclaimed

“Alright alright, sorry I enjoy the scenery.” He retorted

As they started walking Will took note of his surroundings, judging by the forearms he glimpsed today’s crowd was pretty diverse, scientists, diplomats, engineers, even brokers. As he walked he thought to himself how amazing it was that their civilization progressed, especially considering their humble beginnings, he prepared to dive deep in thought on the subject when he glanced at his fiancé. She seemed uncomfortable.

Probably the silence bothering her, that business caste with advertising specialty makes her such a chatterbox, being quiet must be so unbearable, he thought.

“Hey so did you sell anything ridiculous yesterday?” He asked

“Ha did I ever, get a load of this! There was this pitch for an omni-stove, they had me work on that has backwards compatibility so you could cook like they did before Lazora was founded.”

Will was intrigued, he always had a soft spot for pieces of antiquity, there was a mysticism that he enjoyed with the relics of days past, he felt that those primitive tools allowed people to become more in tune with what they were actually doing. However, there was an aspect about this venture which tugged on his conscious. Meredith was in charge of creating some advertising campaign in order to sell an out dated product most likely at an astronomical price, and to make matters worse people would happily pay the price to buy it in order to be in style thanks to the expert attack that would be created. He accidentally allowed his negativity to creep into his speech.

 

“Ugh leave it up to advertising to create and sell a product at what will most likely be sold at exorbitant mark-up for something that was cheaper when it first came out. Sometimes the way we operate frustrates me, I mean you might as well just try to set your whole house on fire to make a pizza with these things, they’re open flame! What’s the point of that? None of our peers will be able to effectively use it.” Will said incredulously.

 

Meredith did not allow Will to deflate her spirit.

 

“It’s an open flame type that requires so much attention to use I wonder if the food comes out of the fire” she thought aloud

 

“I’m hoping we can see something about it in the museum to help with my research.” She added

“And don’t think I didn’t hear you grumpy! Just relax because no one is forcing you to buy one and you can still pretend to be smarter than everyone else when you don’t buy one.”

Will begrudgingly smiled, “As usual you’re right on the money, I’m sorry I lashed like that”

He kissed her on the cheek and took her hand, then added in an innocent tone

 

“Yeah, I guess but that museum place is horrible, they make it nigh impossible to find what you’re looking for about our history.”

 

“I know, but I have a good feeling about today, besides you know what they say about information, it is those who work for it which earn it!”

 

Will stared at her for a second, she stared back with her full round vibrant blue-grey eyes. He truly saw her, to him she was gorgeous, flowing neat thick blonde hair dipped below her delicate shoulders, while each individual component of her body was unremarkable it was the sum of her parts which truly made her unmatched in beauty, it was her demeanor, can do, nice, optimistic, innocent attitude which put her over the top. Absolutely the best human being he had ever met, and for that matter oddly enough the perfect citizen as well. The two kissed, then kept walking as they proceeded they heard a commotion just around the corner, it sounded like several people were yelling and chanting all together.

“Do you hear that”? said Will

“Yeah, want to check it out”? replied Meredith

Will smiled, he always loved her adventurous attitude “Definitely!”

They picked up their pace and lightly jogged to the end of the corner and peered around the side of a building; the two were greeted with an eyesore that Lazora had been trying to eliminate for about the past ten years but had been failing miserably at. A group of around thirty people all dressed in hoodies with long sleeves purposely fitted over the thumb to prevent their sleeves from rolling up and exposing their caste symbols marched and chanted in unison. They were brandishing large signs with various slogans

“MOD’S ARE MAD”

“YOUR HUMANITY CAN’T BE UPGRADED”

“IMPLANTS ARE IGNORANT”

“NATURAL IS NORMAL”

They chanted “KEEP YOUR SOUL KEEP YOUR LIFE, DON’T YOU DARE GO UNDER THAT KNIFE!”

Meredith and Will both recoiled in disgust; the group was a coalition of anti-implant protestors. They were marching outside a new modification center and harassing citizens who were venturing in to expand their horizons and perceptions. The modification movement started innocently enough will recalled; after all he was a part of it having to learn some of the history surrounding the movement to assist with his own procedures. The base idea was known as trans-humanism, first there was a boom in prosthetic technology, 3-D printing combined with enhanced electronics and their work on nerve reconstruction allowed patients who had lost limbs to fully regain complete control and function albeit now with a mechanized stronger and faster limb, the intentions were good and the results phenomenal.

However, as they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and that’s just how it went. The first scandals to appear were on the news, it all started with sports, people were upset at finding out that some of their favorite idols were achieving and breaking records with mechanized limbs, they felt cheated, their competition was upset they couldn’t keep up. From there is where the seed of animosity grew, what Will and Meredith were now observing was the fruit of that seed. The desire to compete was unfathomable, people would attempt to remove their own limbs for the opportunity to get an improved mechanized prosthetic. Sanctions were put in place. Insurance companies revolted struggling against the new economic strains imposed by people willfully sawing off their limbs to compete. Yes the risk was great, however, the people perceived the rewards as much greater.

In the early days there were very few restrictions as to who could receive a prosthetic and how much it would cost; many made their fortunes by this path, in those times it was a sellers-market and the public was all too willing to pay. The general public perceived University as the only venue by which to attain success in life. Will chuckled to himself as he remembered that simpler time before the caste system had fully taken root. It was a rat race if there ever was one, it had been blown out of proportion to the point where you had to have a degree just to be a janitor, sterilization sciences they called it.

However, as with all things the exploit was patched, but at great cost, there was a massive economic collapse from all the students who couldn’t pay back their loans from all the exorbitant costs of their superfluous education, too many people were too qualified for too few jobs. There was chaos, “educated” people were out in the streets battling it out for the basics, food, water… shelter. Street wars were waged, despite everyone fully knowing the dangers that lay outside the walls they still wanted to destroy each other.

Luckily for Lazora strong leaders were there to pick up slack, the caste system was introduced as a public aid and gained traction as parents lost their ability to provide for their own children willfully giving them to the government. Those children were raised, taught and assigned caste jobs by government facilities and conditioned through experience that community conquers all. Several generations later it was in full swing.

The anti-mod movement was just about the only group that remained from that tumultuous time, they had strength in numbers and anonymity. It was rumored that this organization was actually cooperating between capitols and had numerous outposts and headquarters through the entire planet. Lately the anti-mod movement was gaining traction, more and more people were finding reasons to disagree with the latest advancements in neural implants. The people argued that it was another example of the rich exerting their control, creating a system in which they and their progeny could succeed. At this point both prosthetics and now neural implants came at an extremely high premium only the cream of the crop could afford them and the results were more than worth the cost. Children with implants could essentially write their ticket to wherever they wanted to go, neural implants granted them access to the internet propelling their scores far beyond an imagined high score thresholds set, 100’s on tests were no longer good enough. With prosthetic advancements sports were shattered, only those with the latest in robotics attached could compete. All this and more led to the current animosity.

These events coupled with the current weakness that prevailed through their entire government fostered the environment for a group like the anti-mod coalition to flourish. Too many politicians were too preoccupied with fighting the other nations for resources and getting re-elected to even attempt the necessary maintenance that was needed to quell the storm that was brewing within the coalition. Meredith and will backed away from the group slowly, holding hands the crossed the street and kept walking cautiously until they came to the massive structure which was the national museum. It wasn’t wholly unheard of for protestors to become violent with those who they discovered to be implanted, and unluckily for the couple Meredith and Will were sporting neural implants of her own, while it was unlikely that anyone would notice it was a risk neither wanted to take. They arrived at the museum district and the street music took on a different tone, a much more somber melody, one that told of the suffering prior to Lazora, and the struggle to found the nation.

 

Before them was a building as wide as an entire block, and while not tall it was formidable, massive white columns planted at the entrance framed a powerful wooden doorway fit for a giant. The entrance sat at the top of a mountain of wide stairs giving the building the appearance that it was simply lying in wait ready to pounce on its patrons from above. Will noticed that Meredith appeared to have apprehensions about entering put off by the formidable building. He knew that comforting her would be the best option so he gave her hand a squeeze and they ascended the staircase.

 

Will found himself thinking, what a nice little ploy Lazora has going here, to encourage us to think of the past in a polarized way they pull out all the stops! Somber eerie music contrary to our up-beat street music, a massive and mysterious looking building with proportions to set people uneasy. It may seem paranoid but I really think this was intentional to encourage us to shirk off our beginnings in favor of the present and to look towards the future. He glanced back and looked across the street at the much more inviting pristine glass and vibrant building behind him… Yeah I’m definitely right he thought.

 

Once inside the atmosphere didn’t improve, they were in a dimly lit circular domed grand  hall, all around the circumference of the dome were countless flags of innumerable colors and designs all draped down like tapestries. This grand hall was the central hub of the building, many doorways led out of the circle, each taking the visitor to a different point of the Lazora and pre-Lazora timeline. In the direct center of the room was a kiosk with a lone employee behind it.

 

The man looked oddly cheery thought Will.

 

“W-weel…welcome…to…the…n-n-na-national moos…muse…museum!” He squeaked “W-weel…welcome…to…the…n-n-na-national moos…muse…museum!” He chirped

 

That explains it! He was certainly not allowed high on the totem pole, that guy came from low levelers, bit more Trenozene than your average service caste member. Will studied him closely, noted the faded look behind his eyes, almost glass really just reflecting back at you, the dried droll on the corners of his mouth and shirt. A completely unkempt hairstyle, yet that look of sheer contentment, Will almost envied him, so simple and not a care in the world, no risk loss of a catastrophic nature at all. Definitely no need to put on charm for this guy, it’d be above his head. He glanced at the nametag… Johnny.

 

“Hey, where can I find an open fire stove?” Will commanded

 

“Omn-omneee stoves arrrn’t hi-history, s-s-sorry sir.” Replied the attendant

 

“No it’s not an omni, something different, before then.”

The attendant vacantly stared back at Will.

“Like from the past, the history, the things before Lazora…”

The attendant perked up feeling happy he could say something to help.

“Y-y-yes sir a-all about Lazora h-h-here, p-p-past too.”

“I know that, that’s why I’m here, I’m looking for a stove” Said Will getting frustrated.

The attendant was once again perplexed.

“Omn-omnee stoves ar-arrrr-aren’t hi-history.” He said sadly

 

“Ughhhh” groaned Will “look it’s an older model, open fire, before Lazora?”

 

“Well, y-y-yes every-everything h-here is b-b-before Lazora” Johnny said, oblivious to Will’s frustration

 

Will was contemplating yelling at Johnny to scare him off then jumping over the desk and searching himself, there was nothing remotely efficient about this employee and Will could sense that’s exactly how the nation wanted it, which only fueled his frustration.

 

Just as Will was preparing to enact his plan Meredith intervened

 

“Hi Johhny, what do you have on 20th century pre-Lazora cooking?” She calmly asked.

 

Johnny was confused he had no idea how this stranger knew his name, but he wouldn’t let that deter him, he was the best at his job!

 

“Wa-one s-sec-second m-m-ma’am!”

 

He looked down at his screen and slowly typed in the request using his index fingers one key at a time, finally he looked up.

 

“It’s d-door….n-n-num-number….tween-twen-twenty-fffffour!”

 

Meredith thanked Johnny, tipping him generously and they were off.

 

Still annoyed Will asked “Ugh why’d you tip him so much, that service was terrible.”

 

Meredith simply replied, “Because he did the best job that he could.”

 

Will rolled his eyes, “whatever you say.”

 

The dingy tunnel they walked through was lit by dim red lights along the walkway. The tunnel slowly introduced them to the time period they were about enter a lively and rhythmic rock tune was just barely audible in the air. As they were nearing the end bright multicolored neon lights illuminated the tunnel. They could see artifacts tucked away in glass cases along the walls. In one case there were fascinating and cumbersome cars with white walled tires, smooth curves contrasted by sharp points, no safety belts on the interiors. In another diorama, a band on stage and a crowd of people gathered around them. The neon lights formed the signs just a few feet above them at the roof of the tunnel which read sequentially Welcome… to the… 50’s! Suddenly Meredith and Will were outside of the tunnel and in what appeared to be a massive diorama which they could walk through and interact with. A VA in wearing a peculiar charcoal grey suit materialized to their right to greet them.

 

“Greetings and welcome to a decade which was referred to as the 50’s! If you look around right now you’ll that you are standing in a sporting arena know as a football stadium”

 

The stadium didn’t look like much thought Will who was standing with Meredith on the 50yard line, it was just an open field with wooden bleachers, nothing compared to our arenas. There was a fog surrounding the area preventing any vision of the area beyond the field and a nearby concession stand.

 

“This is a popular sporting event from the period currently being played by young teens. The persons on the field in armor are the players of the sport, both differently colored teams try violently to get an oval ball to the opponents end of the field. The people you see on either side of the field are the spectators, they frequently get very excited about games, they eat food, socialize, it was a community event!”

 

“Oh how wonderful!” Exclaimed Meredith

 

“Yeah…wonderful” Will said unenthused

 

The players from one team were slowly advancing on Will and Meredith play by play creeping a few yards each time, the crowd was frothing with excitement getting louder and louder. Players huddled in formation on the 50 yard line and set up for the next play. Will walked over to examine them closer, he looked at the faces behind the face masks, young, healthy, determined, there was an indescribable intensity in their eyes, it was as if their entire existence was at stake on this game. Will couldn’t fathom how people could get so hyped up over a recreational event. He was about to reach out and examine the uniform when the quarterback initiated play, the field erupted into a flurry of motion. Meredith jumped back and fell startled by the intense reaction by the crowd and players.

  The hologram players ran straight through Will, he turned to look at Meredith frowning as he saw her on the ground.

   “With moves like that I don’t think you should try out for the team.” Will joked as he helped her up.

    She smiled at him and they watched as the team on offense finished their drive taking the ball all the way to the end zone. Despite the small crowd the cheering was deafening.

    These people are so intense thought Will, the only time our citizens ever produce this much fervor is… Well he couldn’t really think of it, everyone kind of just did their own centric thing nowadays, there was really no struggle to unite them. Sure we all worked together and had great patriotism, but it’s like it was wasted with nothing to fight for.

    A loud horn signaled the end of the game, the opposing team gathered at one end of the field heads hung low, the victors jauntily ran to the other end, both teams lined up and in an odd ritual began to exchange pleasantries of “good game”. After exchanged the victors began to savor their moment, waving at the crowd, hugging eachother, picking eachother up, cannons went off and confetti streamed down on the field. Slowly the whole scene began to fade to black, the crowd first, then the players, the stands, the field, the VA

and finally the fog. Meredith and Will stood in the dark looking around.

“That’s it ?!” Exclaimed Will “How did that have anything to do with stoves?”

“Shhh be patient”

“I am, it’s just we came here for one thing and we’re getting sidetracked and pushed elsewhere, I feel like this happens all the time!”

 

The VA reappeared in the distance near an illuminated tunnel.

“Right this way please for the next portion”

Meredith and Will walked to the next tunnel and found a red leather bench to sit on right in the middle of the walkway.

“Have a seat” Said the VA enthusiastically, “and prepare for the next portion of our voyage through time!”

They sat and a car similar to those they saw in the first hall began to materialize around them, the VA assumed the driver side, this time wearing a leather jacket, blue jeans, and saddle shoes complete with a slicked pompadour hairstyle. The VA looked at them in the rearview mirror and said

 

“The automobile was a large part of youth culture in this period, it symbolized freedom.”

 

And they were off, they drove around for what felt like to Will was hours, they stopped at various locations, drive in movie theaters, burger stands, secluded vistas where other cars all huddled and parked together at night, finally they were pulling into a housing community, house upon house each identical to the other, practically on top of each other, hardly any space. Will was extremely fed up, he wanted a clear cut clean outing, go to the museum, see a stove, learn, move on. He didn’t want the round-about cumbersome almost theatrical experience Lazora offered, which was peppered with subliminal messages as to why our current time was better.

 

    The VA rounded a corner and a garage door opened to one of the houses, a single floor rectangular shaped abode, there were a few windows a little porch, it was evident that this arrangement would provide an ideal setup for the raising of a nuclear family which was all the tags back then at an affordable price.

Will and Meredith slid out of their seat and by the time they looked back the car was gone, they looked around for the VA but instead saw a small child probably about 7 years old with a short haircut wearing a striped shirt and jeans

“Now I’ll show you the nuclear family! Afterwards you can tour the residence and ask me any questions about the artifacts you see on display.” said the VA

 

   He ran around the house and opened the front door. Wills patience was wearing thin, he vowed to never come to the museum again… Then he paused and thought, that’s probably just how Lazora wants it. He allowed this thought to permeate getting even more frustrated. Then he glanced at Meredith, damn she was incredible, not the least bit phased at this whole ordeal, completely blind to all the “lessons” we were learning all day, he was sure she knew we were being “educated” but for whatever reason she just chose to accept it, he wished he could just choose, it’d make life so much easier. They had talked about it before, with her advertising background she realized very quickly how all of the people were shaped and molded by media, they talked about the ethics of such things and if anyone was suffering from it. In the end Metedith opted for the high road, she would see it and accept it, Will on the other hand, he couldn’t, the mere fact that he could see it proved too much for him, he felt cheated because the illusion wasn’t perfect, and those who could see through it said nothing, it was maddening really, the feigned loneliness.

 

“I don’t mean to interrupt, but please step lively and follow me.” Said the VA

“Come on Mr. grumpy!” Said Meredith as she tugged at Will and dragged him along

 

The two entered the modest house and turned immediately to their left and arrived at the kitchen, a woman in a dress was busy moving from apparatus to apparatus stirring things in various pots, cutting things, and frying things on an open flame device…. “That must be the old stove” thought Will.

“Right now who you’re looking at is the maternal head of the nuclear family unit, this person is the mother, back in this era nearly all child-rearing was done by this person. State intervention was extremely minimal children were required only to attend for the bare minimum of skill acquisition pertaining to obtaining jobs, the state offered no help to enact effective change in regards to proper citizen education.” The VA let out a wide grin and chuckled. “I’m sure you can see how this system would afford a bad stock of children, so many mothers, so many opinions so many styles, they couldn’t all be right after all so, some children would be raised proper, many more improper, and many more after that downright despicable, because of the scattershot group of youth so many good children were tainted by the bad seeds and it created a system of mediocrity.”

Meredith looked over at Will, and plainly stated.

“You know it’s incredible that the old civilizations were able to make it so far, I mean obviously the system was fraught with many bugs, just look at how they mucked up the whole world with war before Lazora was founded. But just wow, it’s fascinating.”

“I know” said Will “It makes me wonder what we could be doing wrong, the incredible clarity that hindsight offers is fantastic, I just wish there was an easier way to see how badly we’re messing up now.”

“What do you mean? Our system is practically perfect sure there could be some small tweaks here and there but any bad mess up? Impossible, delivering kids to state education at birth and re-acquiring them after age 6 is delightful. You can focus on your career, aren’t burdened with a child you can’t communicate with, and then you get to be with them when they can actually communicate, they’re already excellent citizens and you can watch them grow up.” Said Meredith defensively.

Will looked at her smiled and shrugged saying “I guess you’re right,” but on the inside it killed him. It wasn’t that he thought she was wrong in fact he absolutely loved the current child rearing scheme as well. What bothered him was her complete lack of desire to look at something Lazora had to offer critically. It wasn’t the first time something like this had come up, it wouldn’t be the last, and the true tragedy felt Will was that she was not alone. The majority of citizens were just like her, meandering along, doing their job, not rocking the boat, not asking questions, not piquing their curiosity in matters pertaining to how they lived in the slightest. Those who did have ideas were few and far in between, oftentimes they didn’t last long either before they were blasted out of that level of consciousness by trenozene. It was a pretty efficient system that Will respected despite being aggravated by it, the majority didn’t question, and those who did were compelled by their own sense of duty to curb their behavior. He just wished he didn’t feel so alienated by his thoughts.

“Show me the cooking apparatus the nuclear head would use” said Meredith

“Absolutely right this way ma’am!”

Meredith began to poke and prod around the stove recording measurements’, asking questions for the VA, she was engrossed in her work.

Will stood by the side and allowed himself to become engrossed in his thoughts. While he had never been particularly slighted by the current Lazoran arrangement of living he wanted more, he felt that their current system could be improved drastically if only their people worked together and recognized their potential. If only they allowed themselves to think, too many of them were too content with just following the rules for the sake of rules. Discarding their materials by their best by dates regardless of its quality, buying the latest iteration of personal technology gadgetry, consuming and consuming media ad nauseum, talking about the latest trival gossip about who was assigned to who, sporting plays from the latest game on nightly entertainment programs. He felt they had lost sight of what was important, growth, their education program fostered this behavior in the worst way. No one was learning anymore, they were all so preoccupied with scoring the highest, being the best in their caste on paper. No one wanted to learn for the sake of learning, everyone was taught according to state statutes, memorized and memorized answers solely to get high marks on their examinations. No one learned anything and VA’s held their hands the entire time in their professional environments. Will couldn’t understand why people didn’t want to strive for true greatness for greatness sake, they needed their papers, their certificates, their medals and status symbols and so he just leaned back, closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

Meredith had just finished her recordings and walked over to Will

“Hey sleepy head, ready to continue this tour?”

He opened his eyes slowly and stood up, he kissed Meredith on the forehead. “Absolutely”

The VA was led them outside.

“This small green enclosure is a backyard, this is where social cookouts would occur, additionally this area would be used for child recreation.”

Meredith and Will were perplexed, there was literally nothing to do in that space, it was just an enclosed square with grass, a small concrete area and chairs, sure one could talk with others back there but there really was nothing special about the arrangement.

“Sooo what would they do here for recreation?” asked Meredith

At this the VA was also confused.

“I’m not entirely sure it replied, it might be easier for me to just show you.”

Two children ran out of the house laughing and chasing each other, they ran in circles rolled all over the grass, tapped each other shouting you’re it, they talked to imaginary creatures, they pretended to fight, they grabbed small toys and talked for them creating an entire story and universe all their own in which to play int. It was unusual for Meredith and Will to see children in this context; quite honestly it was unusual for Will and Meredith to see children at all.

While Will was engaged to Meredith and they both wholly planned on having children they were not going to be heavily involved in the child’s life as it matured and they were quite okay with that, happy even. As the system was set the two were paired for their genetic compatibility and would work to create a being who would benefit the nation. They had no idea which caste the child would be assigned. They would spend minimal time with the infant before enrolling it in government education, after 6 years they would have family gatherings for holidays. Some antiquities of the past still held, they would assign it’s name and be there as one of its resources for introduction into the world for job networking. Will and Meredith looked at each other and smiled, upon seeing the odd creatures of the 50’s play they were happy to know how their system worked and looked forward to meeting their progeny. They exchanged a kiss and asked the V.A. to lead them to the exit of the museum they had seen all they needed to see.

Alan Green

An extravagant mansion illuminated a wooded countryside. Hypnotic dance music emanated from within accented by the low buzz of socialites, the atmosphere was pierced by laughs and the clinking of glasses. Alan was sitting by himself in one of the many side rooms designated for activities. This particular side room held a substance dispensary, of which numerous were scattered through the mansion. Normally he was more cheerful and social at these events, but recalling the Captain’s disappointment and remembering his time on the wall compelled Alan to wallow by himself at least for a little while, after all it was impossible to avoid engaging in the nights recreational activities for long. He observed celebrities a plenty, and could hear the booming dance music from the great hall though he was in a more secluded wing of the mansion. Everyone was here he thought, from the politician business quarter, to the designers and players from the entertainment garrison, and I’m just sitting.

Tonight Alan and his comrades were the guests of honor and they acted as such, high not only on the various substances afforded to them by the dispensaries, but also on the general aura of the night. The soldiers were frolicking from partner to partner, activity to activity, dancing, games of skill, games of endurance, games of passion, there was no expense spared for the victors tonight. However Alan just sat, not necessarily sad, but by no means at the same level of ecstasy as his compatriots. No sooner had he ordered a drink did he find himself approached by a fan gently drawing her finger across his left shoulder as she crossed to sit next to him on the barstool, a good looking brunette woman who was not at all afraid of being forward.

“Well hey their Lieutenant, I’m Stephanie it’s great to finally meet you in the flesh.” She said slowly and breathily.

Alan looked at her and unabashedly took her in from head to toe, he smirked, she’d be fun, and someone who definitely knew how to live maybe she’d be able to pull him out of his funk. He straightened up a bit and draped himself back against the bar. He smoothly motioned for two concoctions to be brought to them

“Hi there Stephy, glad I could meet you too.” He said winking “I’m guessing you’re a fan of my work?” He said confidently with style. She brightened right up.

“Absolutely! The way you go out there and defend Lazora, you’re just so brave and capable; you do fantastic work out there.” As she spoke she reached out and touched his arm lightly and allowed her hand to wander feeling his shoulder and muscles. Alan enjoyed the attention and played along.

“And what is it that you do Stephy, someone so interested in combat, are you a hopeful recruit?” he joked

“Oh no! I’m entertainment sector, I’m quite comfortable leaving the heavy lifting to you guys.”

She took in his body with her eyes, practically devoured him on the spot focusing on first his arms, then his chest, then headlong into his eyes.

“I’m an actress actually” She added

“Well that would explain why you’re so damn beautiful” he said while looking right in her eyes “They don’t let us warfighters get too pretty, guess we have to stay scary or something. I’m curious now Stephy, what kind of acting do you do?”

Stephanie stopped for a second asking herself what she had gotten into, this lieutenant was smooth, far more poised and self-assured than his platoon mates made him out to be… she was impressed but now also wanted to impress him. She continued with an attempted air of superiority.

“Nothing important, or well, nothing you would’ve heard of or like you could’ve it’s just not that big, but I mean it is big but like yeah, I’m rambling sorry, it’s a TV drama.”

Shit she thought, I really bungled that one

Alan chuckled and smiled, for an actress she sure seemed to get a bit of stage fright.

“Lets’ dance.” He warmly commanded

She sprung to her feet giggling and took his hand pulling him gently along to the dancefloor, they passed room after room, some had closed doors, some open, in the open doors they could make out people having the time of their lives going at it, sometimes just two, sometimes three, more often than not, massive piles of bodies all moving in one rhythmic motion swapping partners, laughing, moaning. And before I know it that’s where I’ll end up sooner or later Alan thought to himself.

He wasn’t displeased at this outcome he enjoyed physical activities of connection just as much as the next person. What he was, was bored, it had become routine there was nothing special to it anymore, sure all partners had their own unique techniques, but that wasn’t enough to keep him interested, he wanted more, more of what? He wasn’t entirely sure.

As they neared the dancefloor the music became louder and louder, a rhythmic pounding assaulting his ear drums. Electronic screeches punctuated the unrelenting bass beat. They stopped in front of two massive wooden doors at minimum twelve feet tall and eight feet across, the music quieted for a moment. Stephy cast a smiling glance back at Alan, she flung both doors open just as the bass dropped on another track and the entire floor erupted in movement and music, Stephy pounced on Alan grabbing his arm more forcefully this time pulling him to the center of the floor, right in the middle of all the sweaty hot and bouncing bodies all. She leaned close to his ear and yelled so that he could hear.

“I hope they taught you some rhythm in your trainings.”

She spun around and began to move with the music, thrusting her butt right into Alan’s pelvis. Alan followed immediate suit keeping his motions in sync with hers as she gyrated left and right up and down, forward and back. They didn’t break contact once, he put his hands on her hips, worked them along her body up to her chest, lingered there for a moment and then wandered elsewhere constantly moving. He put his face near hers the smell of her hair was intoxicating the music brought them physically closer and closer until the two were practically one. He rotated her around so they could dance face to face, the moment was magical her eye caught his they stared as they moved in unison, touching getting closer. Cheek to cheek they spun and laughed and made little jokes to one another mouthing words and doing funny moves. Alan pulled away slightly and briefly to look at her face and she pounced they were kissing now, and dancing and spinning.

To Alan it seemed like they were at it for hours, hands moving all over, and then it started up again, he found himself getting bored, self-conscious even, he despised the feeling that was coming over him, it had happened so many times before, he just couldn’t stay in the moment anymore, his head crept back in, he couldn’t find respite from his own mind. “Why is this enjoyable, this constant kissing, all it is is the smacking of lips and exchange of spit, sure I’m aroused but why do I feel nothing…” he asked himself.  He’d open his eyes to look around the room, it was massive, the ceiling had to be at least 20 feet high, the room itself a grand hall with at least 300 other people, and all the others were at it and more, everyone seemed so invested in their activity. He wondered why he couldn’t be. Stephy pulled away now, her face was completely flush and her eyes were twinkling.

“I’d like to go somewhere else with you now!.” She yelled beaming and winking.

“Sounds fun to me!” Alan yelled smiling back. In his mind though he remained tormented, this was no different from any of the other celebrations he’d attended, it was the same shit again and he was finding himself sick of it. Go to a party, meet fun girls, engage in the formalities and then copulate, rinse, repeat. Continue on that way all night until the sun came up and it was time to leave. No matter how many people he met he always felt foreign to them, no matter how many he had, or how close he tried to get to someone they always remained out of reach.

Stephy had grabbed his arm again bringing him towards the wing they had come from to look for an open room for the two of them, they exited the dancefloor, were now walking the corridors, pausing every so often to grab at each other pushing against the walls kissing intensely. His desire to be with this woman was intense, but he knew that the sensation was temporary that after the act he would feel just as empty if not more so after the event regardless of how physically enjoyable it was. He pulled away gently.

“Tell ya what, I’ve got some other people I still have to say hi to.”

“We’ll exchange contacts, you go around and have fun for a while and I’ll reach out to you later.” He added

She was noticeably disheartened, her posture slouched and her eyes sank.

“Ok, you better not forget about me Lieutenant!” She said lackluster but hopeful, she gave him another passionate kiss and the two tapped the communicators on their temples and then brought their fingers to the others communicator. The exchange registered as a success via an alert on each’s HUD. Stephy gave him one last longing glance and was on her way back towards the alluring buzz of the dancefloor.

        Alan stood in the hallway watching her go, surrounded by the sounds of dance music and now in this wing of the mansion the yells of ecstasy coming from the rooms of the other party goers. Not all of them were going at it he remembered some were just getting impossibly high on all of the substances afforded to them at this gathering, and others playing games of skill to establish their dominance over others, and even then some people sat in more quiet rooms and actually talked discussing ideas they found pertinent. He resolved to go up to the top floor to try and clear away his mind with the view from the mansion roof, however just to be sure he promised himself he would stop at as many dispensaries as he could on his way to try to numb his mind away.

He walked and thought and walked, he was empty really, watching the others at the venue, trying to just get a taste of their feeling to spark him into party activities. They were all so happy and embroiled in their struggles and Alan just couldn’t grasp it, he felt so far away from all of them friends talking to friends recounting all the stories of the days in the prior week. How George was able to overcome the plight of a finicky coffee maker, when Stacy stood up to the boss in the office and got the rest of the workers an easier schedule with fewer deadlines. It wasn’t just the trivial things either, Faussbaum was discussing the intricacies of multi-dimensional space and Dr. Mirchelli was making others aware of the psychological phenomena Sonder.

Alan liked that one the most, it helped explain his loneliness if only just a little bit, everyone is in their own little bubble, it only makes sense that one might feel alienated because no matter how hard they tried or how close they got to another they would never have lived the life of that other person and therefore never be able to get close enough to them. Sure you could have friends and meet people with similar interests but really truly care for another, be able to feel what they’re feeling well, that’d just be about impossible, and anyone who made a bigger deal about this separation than normally is made, those people were just being melodramatic, weak.

Alan approached a bar on the 3rd floor and ordered several drinks and began to get to working seriously on reaching the level of the other party goers but he unfortunately couldn’t shake his own mind, no matter how many substances he imbibed he still felt rational thought circulating through his skull. After camping at this bar for a while decided to get up and move towards his intended goal, maybe some increased circulation would allow his little chemical cocktail to take its intended effect. With his first steps from the barstool he knew that his motor functions at the very least were impaired just making it to the roof was a journey and a half. Each time he picked up a leg the floor shifted three paces to the right, that coupled with his gross over-correction resulted in a wild bee-like zig-zagging pattern which got him to his destination by the most indirect means possible. Once standing at the top of the stairs facing the exit to the roof he took stock of his current state.

“Well my legs can’t be trusted, so that’s nice to know, my arms well they’re on a bit of a physical delay as well… speech hmmm I wonder how speech would be”

He opened the door and looked straight ahead onto the roof multiple tables and chairs; or was it just one set? Thankfully no people or music though. He allowed a bit of time for his sight to stop spinning to get a good view of everything, it was spectacular. The stars the seemingly unending wilderness from the tree tops, the seclusion… the quiet… he closed his eyes and took a deep breath leaning against the nearest wall, just simply enjoying the air when he was approached by the most gorgeous woman at the party, he was sure of it. She tapped him on the shoulder and said with a wide smile in the most delicate and intoxicating voice.

“Hi there, I’m Jessie you must be Lieutenant Green?”

Alan didn’t just yet trust his speech he reasoned the best bet to keep this girl interested would be to play the mysterious but inviting gentleman. He rose up his arm show casing his symbol winked at her, nodded his head and motioned her to the closest table to sit. She was noticeably excited but picked up the game playing it cool as well. She turned her back to walk over and Alan took this small window to quickly recompose swallowing a small metabolism enhancer. He could already feel the fog lifting from his mind, gathering some momentum to walk steadily over sitting with finesse. He motioned to his communicator to order some drinks, but she waved him down; he was surprised it was borderline offensive to not imbibe at these events… she was different. The two shared a brief but intense gaze causing Alan to crack a smile. He sipped some water and marveled, her eyes were a deep full and rich hazelnut and her brown hair flowed in gentle waves highlighted with slight strips of a warm golden hue.  He began speaking without even realizing, surprisingly clearer than he thought he could.

“Well Jessie, I’m glad you found me, walking and sitting are great and dancing would’ve just been the weirdest way to see you, and since you know who and you do stuff so what do you?”

Alan bit his tongue and furrowed his brow that was not even close to coherent, he began to feel very self-conscious fumbling over his words like that. He glanced up and made eye contact again with her and darted his gaze away as quickly as she saw it. She was smiling, she thought he was funny. He was astonished at how he managed to lose all of his suaveness so instantly. He looked back up and was lost.

“I work with citizen growth and education.” She said while holding up her arm and winking just as he did.

Once again Alan found himself smiling, she just picked apart his little forearm move by giving it back in the most playful way possible, his curiosity for her grew fiercely.

“How does someone in the education caste make it to an event like this?” He inquired

She smiled coyly “Well let’s just say I know a few important people”

“Well Ms. Mysterious, what do you teach then?” It took every fiber of his being to hide his giddiness.

“Mathematics and logic, but I dip into some studies on history for my own enjoyment.”

“Wow, that’s actually really cool you’re quite the mix; most math people I know vehemently reject subjects that don’t line up with their computations.”

“Oh don’t get me wrong” She humbly stated “It’s really not all that I just read like occasionally you know, to pass the time?”

        He had no idea how but he was falling for this woman hard, her look, her presence, her words, her air it was all unbelievable. Somehow she had managed to skirt past all those hormonal defenses citizens were equipped with. True yes he was attracted to this woman but it was something more, he wanted to know more about her, who she was, where she was from, where she was going.

“What’s your favorite period to study?” He blurted over-eager.

William Orson

       

        The breach occurred on a day like any other, everyone would later agree that it came out of the blue, the truth however it was a long time coming. Anti-augment protest groups were reaching a fever pitch in the months leading up. Ferals had started more organized and exploratory attacks in what appeared to be trained units who would systematically probe no-man’s land looking for the best route to the wall. Perhaps the most telling symptom was the emergence of a new militant group which targeted government structures specifically. It was only vandalism of monuments at first, but all fires start with a spark, the acts became bolder. Will started to notice an odd uptick of trauma cases for government caste patients, all of these events culminated to Will’s most eventful day at the hospital. He was making his usual rounds checking in on the few in his charge.

“Hello Ms. Schwartz, how are things going today?” Said Will warmly

        She was a fairly normal woman of designated age: 32, caste: entertainment, chief complaint: general joint pain supplemented by frequent panic attacks. If she were a desk worker it would really be no problem, however as unfortunate as it were, she was a dancer and for her profession this sort of condition was crippling.

“Oh fine I guess…” she replied sheepishly.

        Will looked up from his charts he looked right into her eyes, searching for her so she could truly hear him.

“How’s the pain? I know you might not want to talk about it, but ignoring it won’t make it disappear. I’m here to help and I can guarantee you my absolute best effort, all I need from you is as much information as you can give me.” He was sincere, warm he’d sought to earn her trust.

“Well doctor, if you really insist my pain right now is unbearable, it takes all that’s in me just to try and keep it at bay and I just can’t hel-“

A loud low boom was heard in the distance, the building rumbled as the lights in the room shut off for a second and immediately flickered back on. Wills kit began to vibrate violently as an announcement blared over the P.A.

“All personnel not currently occupied with sensitive life preserving procedures please report immediately to the sub-basement for a critical briefing”

        Will frowned and looked back to his patient, she was visibly scared and began to breathe at a quickened pace.

“Ms. Schwartz it’s going to be okay, there’s no need to worry.” He reassured her.

“No no, that’s it, the news has been trying to hide this, it’s why they’ve been pushing us so hard lately, they wanted us as a distraction. It’s been getting worse and it’s here now! It’s that group of bombers, they’re coming for us now!” Her panic heightened

Wills kit was getting more aggressive now, it started to burn his wrist and flash a small alert light attempting to drag him to his rendezvous.

“Ms. Schwartz look at me!” She listened and they locked eyes. “Now breathe with me, inhale slowly… just like this… hold it… now out, one more deep breath… now release…”

        She began to calm slowly, as the fervor of Wills kit picked up.

“Now I’m going to have to head down now, are you feeling a bit better? I can help you out with a muscle relaxant if you think you need it.” He said with a deliberate warming calmness.

        The P.A. sounded again this time more urgently.

“All personnel not occupied with sensitive life-preserving procedures, report immediately to the sub-basement!”

        Will tensed up, he could feel that message was directed at him and Ms. Schwartz began getting scared again.

“Uh actually, you know I’d actually like that relaxant if you could please.” She said hesitantly.

        Wills kit became bolder, now releasing a directed verbal message.

“Dr. Orson, stop what you’re doing and report to the sub-basement for briefing.”

        He did his best to quiet it as he reassured his patient prepping the relaxant and delivering it to her IV drip.

“I’m sorry to cut out on you Ms. Schwartz, save the next dance for me, yeah?”

“You got it doc.” She replied as she gave him a small chuckle and meek smile which faded quickly as the drug took hold of her.

        Will lingered for a half second extra to ensure she was properly sedated and with that had exited the room. Immediately upon crossing the threshold into the hall his kit stopped harassing him. An orange arrow materialized in front of him from the kit directing him to the quickest sub-basement route. Following the route it laid out for him he began to notice just how dire the situation truly was. Room after room that he passed lay patients who were simply abandoned, those who saw called out to him but there were so many he didn’t know what to do. The hospital corridors were like a ghost town with the exception of its patients. With each room that he passed his pace quickened and before he realized he was already on his way down the service elevator to the sub-basement meeting room.

        Descending in the elevator his mind ran wild; could it be a contagion outbreak? An explosion in the lab wing, was that the boom he heard? No it was too far away, maybe another construction accident, what direction did that boom come from he didn’t remember any construction there… and then the idea began to take hold… was it the anti-modders? They were known to be violent sure but there was no way they could assemble any kind of coherent attack. The initial thought was enough though, “Meredith!” he gasped. The trip down was agonizing now, he had to know if she was safe or not, he had to know what the attack was, there were no communications from outside sources on his kit, but in a scenario such as this the hospital was on lock-down, no communication could come in on civilian channels nor could any be sent out. He stood for what felt like hours until the doors finally slid open.

        Will sprinted now, following the arrow down the corridor as it directed him left then right, left again, through a door, another right; he had completely lost track of where he was going. As he ran he began to wonder what kind of conference room they were all meeting in and where it could possibly be, while it was true that he hadn’t explored every inch of this facility he thought he had at minimum a good working knowledge of it. The arrow led him to a dead end, pointing straight ahead at a wall, he began to curse as he attempted to recalibrate the device, and just as soon as he had reached up to his wrist to adjust it the floor gave through and disappeared beneath him. As he fell, he looked up to see the light from the trap door getting smaller and smaller before it was completely extinguished by the sealing door. It was a disorienting trip, he hit a ramp sliding from right to left, up and down pushed and cushioned by air. He was eventually spat out onto a mattress in a dimly lit cement room with seemingly no entrances or exits.

        His stomach churned with nausea from the tumultuous journey, he stood slowly attempting to regain his bearings.

“Hello?” He called hoarsely

No reply, the initial shock of the journey began to wear off as his eyes adjusted to the dark. A quick survey revealed a room that couldn’t have been more than a 10ft square; the pipe he emerged from was flush with the back wall in the far corner. He noticed a crack of light emanating from the far side of the room, which appeared to be a door. He scarcely had time to approach the door before they slid open forcefully and several heavily armed soldiers poured through.

“Dr. Orson?” one of the men barked.

“Yes.” Will replied straightening up, masking his fear.

“Hold out your forearm for us and please stand still while we confirm your identity.” The unknown trooper calmly commanded as the soldiers surrounded Will; he apprehensively complied. The trooper who he assumed was the leader scanned the symbol with his kit and the holographic display spat out an image of Will’s government and hospital ID’s.

“Good” he grunted as he removed his helmet and balaclava revealing his grey-blue eyes, his face carried a knowing air, this was a man who had seen the world burn many times over. “My name is Captain Franklin, my unit was sent to recover you as your expertise was deemed invaluable to the maintenance of Lazora’s standard of living, please follow us while we escort you to a rendezvous bunker.”

Will’s heart sank, if these men were here to protect him whatever was going on outside the hospital walls was dire, his mind went straight to Meredith, the Captain spoke up as if he had just read Will’s mind.

“Don’t worry she’s safe, the other half of our group went to recover her too, with any luck we’ll get there a few hours after she does but we need to move now.”

“Show me” Will demanded

The Captain looked over Will, the doctor remained steadfast, he was surprised at this sudden burst of self-assurance; maybe there was something more to this doctor; the file did say he served on the wall…

“Well?”

“Give me a second, I’ll check their status, we don’t want to disturb them during a firefight.”

Will’s stomach churned, the danger was real it was absolutely possible Meredith might not make it out. Her building was further from the central hub of the city which was promising, but there was no telling what or who the attack was targeted at… or if it was over. One of the armored troopers grunted to get Will’s attention. He carried a duffle bag to Will and instructed him on how to properly equip the gear within. The Captain pulled up the platoon’s status on his kit’s display, so far so good he thought, everyone’s vital signs were normal, no hormone spikes indicative of fear and no injuries so far. He pinged out a call to the second group leader.

“Lieutenant Green, status report, we have made contact and will proceed to rendezvous”

“All clear on our end Captain, we are currently en route to the rendezvous, extraction successful.”

Will’s ears perked up at the news “Show her to me.” He demanded

The Captain rolled his eyes as he talked to Green. “Lieutenant can you pull up your cargo on screen, we’ve got a request for recovery confirmation.”

“Yes sir”

Wills kit buzzed as his video feed kicked on, displayed in front of him was Meredith a bit shaken but unharmed and wearing body armor that was just slightly too big for her in a helmet that brought out all the delicate features of her face… despite the danger Will couldn’t help but feel some warmth in his heart, she looked adorable in her get-up.

“Hey beautiful, feeling alright?” He cooed

“Not too bad, and yourself Mr. Grumpy” She smiled at him

The Captain shot a glance to Will implying how little time they all had for chit-chat.

“Oh you know, same day different shit right? These guys seriously want us to get out of here I’ll see you at wherever they’re taking us… I love you.”

“I love you too… stay safe” she replied

        Her image disappeared from his view he felt charged, ready to take on the world; glad that she was safe but scared she wouldn’t stay that way. The feeling propelled him to tackle his present moment with all the fervor he could muster. Will looked at the squad sent to extract him for the first time. 10 men all clad in gray toned heavy body armor, the seal of Lazora on each of their shoulders, he couldn’t see through their visors but their body language said it all. These men knew what they were doing, they had seen years of killing and were prepared for whatever lay ahead. Will couldn’t help but feel a sensation of dread, he knew these men were capable but something about the air, the energy of the room it was ominous Will secured the final pieces of his armor.

“Leary and Guiterrez, I want the two of you to exit first and start scouting our route, take no chances stay out of sight kill anything that gets in your way by any means necessary understood?” barked the Captain.

The two soldiers saluted and crossed out the doors each synthesizing formidable looking energy rifles as they exited. The Captain walked over to Will sizing him up before starting.

“Outside of those doors is a small labyrinth with a plethora of installed security measures, they’re on our side and we can expect there to be no enemy combatants there. However, we’ve all encountered one too many surprises today so for this whole exfiltration be prepared for the worst. After the labyrinth we’ll be coming to street level, as of right now it is an active warzone, combatants will be coming from all directions, the squad will form up around you for added protection. It is imperative that you move with them and do everything we say. We’ll be making our way to a vehicle which will take us to the rendezvous, got all that?” asked the Captain.

“Uh-yeah…who are we fighting exactly?” Will asked

“We can talk about it on the way, let’s move!” The Captain commanded

Will fell into line, and exited with the troopers single file into the labyrinth. The corridors were narrow and dark illuminated only on the floor by green glow strips. The men were cocooned in by ceilings only about two feet taller than them, there was no doubt this labyrinth was a killing room; the entire complex was a perfect choke point, not to mention the various unknown traps the Captain alluded to.

“So, I guess first things first, what is this place?” Will asked

“A bunker.” The Captain grumbled

“And I’m guessing all facilities with “valuable” personnel have bunkers like this, Lazora really pulled out all the stops, the security labyrinth granting extra time if resources get tied up, separating us; ensuring better survival rates, can’t knock us all out at once if we’re scattered…” the thought hit him suddenly “Have they been expecting this?!”

“Why wouldn’t they? Just because you get to watch refereed duels between nations on TV doesn’t mean that there isn’t real tension. There’s always been a risk for another nation to attack; it doesn’t serve anyone any good to constantly worry about it though.” Replied the Captain

“So that’s it then? We’re in for another drawn out war, maybe this time actually succeed in destroying everyone on the planet. I thought our whole mutually assured destruction thing prevented us from getting to this point, do you know how Lazora plans on retaliating to this attack?” Will prodded.

        A large low rumble was heard far above them, the earth shook dust and concrete fragments onto the party. The Captain held up his fist signaling the group to take cover. He pulled up his kit examining the area map, they were nearing the exit. He scrolled through the mission status reports. Green’s unit is still doing ok, they’ve made it to their vehicle and anticipate smooth sailing from here on out… good he breathed a sigh of relief. At least half of his men would make it out safe. However, upon reading O’Leary and Guiterrezs’ report his mood dampened the two were currently pinned in a building three blocks away from the labyrinth entrance. The Captain signaled for the group to continue moving as he read through operation communications.

The asset coalition report brought even more dismal news, fighting on the surface was fierce; reports from recovery teams in the field were reporting that the breach was worse than intelligence had initially suggested. Ferals poured in by the hundreds initial wall defense battalions were entirely overwhelmed. It would be a tough fight to reclaim the streets but the Captain was confident that their forces could repel the ferals once they regrouped for a coordinated strike. However, there was a more disconcerting matter to account for, pockets of rebels sporadically cropping up through the city, these people were trained, every time a firefight broke out with these groups it was a calculated ambush. Especially unnerving were the reports of defectors turning on their own patrol groups in the middle of firefights, shooting their own brothers in arms right in the back. Somehow whatever group was responsible for this had amassed frightening power, and right under the nose of the government to boot. The Captain looked up from the kit to his own squad, he knew these men could be trusted but he just couldn’t shake his natural instinct for safe suspicion.

“Dr. Orson, while we all truly respect your vested interest in the politics and ramifications of this conflict at the present moment you’re going to have to be quiet now. We’re nearing the surface and it’s not looking good, we need everyone including you focused on the current moment so we can all get out of this in once piece, do you understand me?” The Captain snapped.

        Will read the seriousness in the Captain’s face, this man was a bit rattled and that shook Will to the core. He knew these men had seen the worst of the worst and for Franklin to react this way it could only mean one thing… there was a very real possibility there might not be a Lazora after the end of today. As the squad approached the end of the labyrinth the sounds of gunfire, explosions, breaking glass, twisting metal and screams intensified and pierced Wills ears. Each step brought them closer and they emptied out into a wide-open indoor staging area, separated from the chaos by a single steel garage door. This wasn’t something he could think away anymore, it was real, it was inescapable, it was right outside the steel door in front of them and it had to be confronted. Will looked to his protectors, their eyes occluded by combat visors body tense, weapons ready they knew what was coming.

“Jones, crack this door, Davis I want you and Mandell on point, Joyce and Macready will have your flank, Harper, Crane and myself have the doctor, I want a minimum of three men on him at all times…on my mark… 3… 2 … MOVE!”

        Like clockwork the unit sprung to action the charges were set instantly by Jones, everyone took cover and within seconds the door was blown open and outward onto the street. Before the smoke even had time to clear Davis and Mandell were on the outside the zapping sounds of their pulse rifles barely drowning out the screams and explosions. Macready and Joyce exited soon after and before Will knew it his detail was moving him out the doors too. The sun blinded him; he was completely disoriented from the lack of vision and incessant ringing in his ears. Had his detail not been leading him by the shoulders he would’ve gotten completely lost, when his vision finally adjusted he wished it hadn’t. The streets were utter carnage the corpses of ferals and Lazoran’s alike were strewn about like macabre confetti. Buildings were in disarray, windows busted out sidewalks on fire, people running in all directions gunfire coming from all directions, high rises in flames above them.

        Before he knew it he was catching his breath in an alleyway, the Captain was poking his head around a corner while Crane and Harper maintained watch. Will scarcely had time to breath before an explosion went off at the other end of the alley spitting debris on the group Will flinging himself instinctively to the ground. All of their kits buzzed and a message from the Jones blared out from within.

“Hi uh-guys, I set off the bomb like the Captain wanted, definitely umm confirmed kills on that one, it should clear the way for you to make it to the café we’ve set up in, we’re about a block ahead of you and have visual on Guiterrez and Leary’s position, we’ll sit tight and wait further orders till you get here, over.”

        The Captain picked up Will by the shoulders and the group was moving again, right towards the blast zone. Will felt a sickening squish as his boots shuffled around and through the crater. He looked down momentarily and was greeted with the sight of various emulsified limbs, eviscerated torso’s… blasted out faces… he couldn’t tell who was who, whether they be feral, Lazoran, civilian or combatant, as pieces they all looked the same. Will stumbled into the street his detail efficiently enveloping him they were like a living membrane making sure he was never left exposed to the elements. The group headed toward the café when someone suddenly pushed down on his shoulders forcing him to get low, he felt the screech and zap of his protective detail’s pulse rifles reverberating his chest, he looked back to see at least 20 ferals supplemented with what appeared to be several Lazoran security forces advancing on them from down the street.

        The Captain blew off several concussive bursts from his kit temporarily scattering the assaulting force and granting their group the precious seconds needed to sprint to the café. They burst through the doors to find Davis setting up a sentry gun at the back exit, Mandell propped against a wall behind the sales counter with a calm and collected demeanor despite missing the lower half of his arm and bleeding uncontrollably, Jones tinkering with her claymore wire setup for the café entrances and Macready pacing the storefront windows attempting to scope out their next move and Joyce… where was Joyce thought Will. He began to feel light headed, the group of 20 or so was closing in and this was nothing like what the Captain anticipated, they were fighting a losing battle, despite all their training and arsenal they were simply outmanned. Will instinctively walked to Mandell and crouched down to assist him with his injury. He held out his hand synthesizing a tourniquet from his kit.

“Looks like you could uh… use a hand huh?” Coughed Will.

Mandell looked up at him and smirked “Yeah, something like that doc, mind patching me up.”

Will applied the tourniquet, stopping the bleeding and asking the Captain as he worked, “Will this rendezvous be fully equipped with an operating theatre?”

“Unfortunately not doc, sorry.”

Damn thought Will if they had a theatre I could’ve given this man a new limb.

“Sorry Mandell, looks like you’re getting the basic treatment” Will synthesized anesthetic sutures and an iron. He drew up the dose and injected the anesthetic straight into Mandell’s wound “This stuff will kick in right away and then we can get to some real work”. Mandell looked at him unfazed as if this sort of thing happened to him once a week. “Well Mandell I’ve got to say your calmness in this situation is really relaxing… and oddly unnerving, most people don’t take treatment in such stride.” He disinfected and stitched up the wound then cauterized it for good measure before slowly removing the tourniquet leaving Mandell the proud owner of a fresh new stump.

“It’s a damn shame we’re not going to be near a theatre anytime soon or I could’ve given you a fresh organic limb” lamented Will.

“Eh no worries, now I can just get a fancy cybernetic guilt free” Shrugged Mandell.

“Just take it easy for a bit okay, let your system stabilize you need to sit out combat for the rest of this trip.”

The rat-tat-tat of Davis at the back entrance sentry gun punctuated the exchange.

“No can do doc.”

Mandell synthesized a new weapon as he stood, just in time to be peppered with glass fragments from the storefront window being blown in.

“Motherfuckers! I am so sick of this shit!” Screamed Mandell

“Everyone still have their vison?” asked the Captain calmly

“Yes sir!” barked the group

“Received! So these beasts want a fight lets show them why Lazora has got them on the outside everyone take a stim dose and give em’ Hell!”

The rat-tat-tat of Davis’s Sentry began to switch to a rhythmic thump followed by boom which shook the ground they stood on. Jones looked to the Captain and tapped his helmet in time with the boom from the sentry, but a secondary blast followed this one dropping Will to his knees, his ears were ringing and the entire room was enveloped in smoke, he could scarcely see  his own hands in front of him. He felt grabbing dragging, Will was moving again now the smoke cleared for a second Will could’ve sworn he saw daylight then BOOM! Another shockwave sent him to his knees and he was being dragged again, he found his legs, they were running now, he could see in front of him… 3 men? One without an arm At least Mandell is still holding up Will thought as he felt some pride at patching him up to be combat ready.

Will looked back as they pressed onward catching a glimpse of the building they escaped from not 2 minutes earlier, now crumbling under its own weight collapsing and falling across the street into the high-rise that Leary and Guiterrez were pinned in. Will winced considering the amount of damage and utter loss of life that was occurring around him. The group pressed forward even faster just barely outpacing the advancing smoke plume from the collapsing buildings. As Will sprinted with the group he wondered how the rest of his peers might be faring in their respective extractions. Not many of them tried to push their physical limits he remembered, there’s no way they could keep up with a group like this. He shook his head, they had scoffed at him saying that “mental aptitude was the only quality required of them, so why bother paining themselves with more work”; if only they had tried to push themselves in all aspects, better themselves in mind and body, best not to distract myself with it now… just survive.

They turned into alleys back into streets, scurrying through intersections dodging from block to block, there was no doubt they had escaped the current danger but the threat of what may loom hung heavy over their heads. The Captain signaled to the squad to slow to a trot, how he was navigating and simultaneously giving discreet direction astounded Will. The Captain was gliding through these streets as if he had been living there his whole life. He was a brilliant tactician no doubt somehow their group had consistently managed to avoid all drawn out confrontation, some members would break from the squad a short outburst of shrieks and pulse blasts would follow punctuated with a final boom culminating with the return of the missing member as though nothing had happened, like he simply stopped off for a quick piss break. These men were unstoppable thought Will, he always knew Lazora’s fighters were capable, hell he worked with them on the wall, and even saw them fight in matches. These men were a different breed though, seeing these men if you could call them that in action was equally terrifying and inspiring, such raw power and ability to end life to take damage to lose limbs and not even bat an eye, without question, without remorse, without fear impairing their efficiency, Will was glad these warriors were on his side.

“Hold here” the Captain whispered

        The group obeyed and bunched up along a building corner before entering the next intersection. The Captain poked his head around the corner and let out a sigh of relief, he waved his hand signaling to the rest of the group to ease up as well and follow his lead. They rounded the corner and were greeted by Leary and Guiterrez standing guard and smiling from ear to ear in a forgotten parking lot strewn with various ground based civilian vehicles.

“Good work men, looks just the way we left it.” Said the Captain proudly

“Thank you sir!” They responded saluting

“Jones start leaving a few party favors for the guests we’ll be expecting. Davis get working on that terminal over by the fare booth and raise up the APC.” Ordered the Captain

        Within seconds of Davis clacking away at the terminal the whole parking lot began to hum, quietly at first but slowly getting louder and louder until the sound was booming. The thick bass reverberations made Will feel like his bones would shake right out of his body. Then the middle of the lot split open and began to grow wider the asphalt of the parking lot retracting under the buildings surrounding it, cars fell into the pit but it was inconsequential. A new vehicle of much larger proportions began to emerge. Military grade, it was a two floor behemoth equipped with deflective armoring, cannons, turrets, various antennae and reinforced propulsion generators.

“Welcome to your ride home doctor” Said the Captain as a massive personnel loading door swung down from its back end.

“Leary get on the turret, Guiterrez and Davis pilot positions, Jones ordinance cannon, Macready and Joyce I want you on comms and EM interference, Crane and Harper stealth and shields… Mandell looks like you’ve lucked out on this one, you get to hang out as a passenger with the doctor but oh! One favor, could you please tell him goodnight for me?”

“Goodnight Dr. Orson” Said Mandell with a sheepish grin.

        Will felt a sharp electric pain in his back radiating through his body, locking his joints, he fell face first towards the floor but was caught just before impact by the Captain who was chuckling and holding his hand out for a high-five with… who was that Harper? They’ll pay for this Thought Will just as he lost consciousness.

Brave Beginnings

Alan strolled through the rendezvous camp taking stock of their assets. It was a modest diamond shaped installation dug in atop a small hill giving the platoon vantage over incoming enemies albeit hampered by the dense vegetation which bordered the camp on all sides. They had a barracks and officer’s tent, operations center, civilian quarters, even a meal tent. For defenses they were equipped with an electric field fence buried under ground which would fry anyone who dared cross its border, and a turret emplacement at each corner of the diamond. It’s certainly not the best but it’ll have to do; besides we’re in the middle of the damn woods well away from the city. This’ll definitely be safe enough to hold out until further instructions arrive thought Alan. He looked over to the tent that Will lay unconscious in and was glad that fortune had ordained to bring the two friends together again.

Serving with Will was a godsend he was a man who could remain steadfast in the face of adversity saving Alan’s life with his talents on more than one occasion. He could go on about Will’s achievements and tenacity while leading the forward surgical team setting a new record of 48 continuous operating table hours and servicing 70 patients in one 72 hour deployment. What Alan liked best about Will though was not his drive but his compulsion to seek out the why; his innate need to understand everything. It started simply enough a challenging joke here or there made by Will while Alan was recovering in the sick bay, something about how many Lazorans it takes to bring down a feral. Things which made Alan think for a brief second about whether they were fighting the good fight followed by uncomfortable laughter. Then things took a turn over drinks one day, Will was dead serious… always, he looked beyond the actions we took for granted. He could hear him now “Alan, why do you think they require leadership to serve?! You don’t know do you? Don’t you think it’s a tad costly to have so many capable leaders exterminated out on those killing fields? It’s to build up nationalism, a leader people can get behind, everyone loves a Vet after all! People who are willing to give up everything for Lazora, those are the role models we churn out, and you’re just a cog in it!” Alan shook his head he may be right, but damn how is that any way to live, constantly thinking about all that extra crap it’s a wonder Will was able to keep a lid on it all. Alan’s kit buzzed and an alert flashed from it informing him of a meeting starting in the command center in five minutes. He cleared the alert and set towards the tent.

Will opened his eyes slowly, he could barely see through the darkness and for a split second he thought he might actually be back in his own bed and then his memory came to. I’m… somewhere… maybe the rendezvous and I was knocked unconscious by those bastards! Will shot up from the bed and nearly fell over from light-headedness startling Meredith in the process.

“Woah, easy there cowboy!” She called turning on a light

“Meredith?! Oh yes! You’re okay!” He enveloped her in his embrace

She smiled and laughed “You’re gonna squeeze the life out of me!”

“You have no idea how scared I was that I’d never see you again.”

“I was too.”

“Look I know it’s not exactly normal but after today I just need you to know… I love you.” He pulled away and looked deep into her eyes.

“I love you too.” They embraced again and kissed.

“So how was your trip, did they knock you out too… those assholes.”

“Nothing forceful, they just told me that this location was sensitive and couldn’t be compromised so they put a blindfold and noise cancelling headphones on me.” She said nonchalantly

“What the hell, why did they knock me out then?!” Will said angrily

“You should’ve seen the way your extraction team came in, the transport was in shambles, on fire in some spots, dents holes and one of the men on board was missing an arm! Maybe it would’ve been too dangerous to let you stay awake for the trip.” She consoled

“That bad huh? How long has it been since we arrived?”

“Oh I’d say maybe about two hours.”

“Anyone else make it back yet?”

“That’s the thing I wanted to tell you, I’ve got a bad feeling about this camp, no one has made it back yet. Normally I wouldn’t be worried but while I was walking around I overheard two of the soldiers arguing. It was something about not receiving any communications from command and that none of the other extraction teams were responding. The one sounded really scared Will, like hopeless kind of scared I don’t think he believes there’s a Lazora anymore.” She said nervously

“Shit, where are all the soldiers who came to get us now?”

“I’m pretty sure most of them are in the command tent, I know five of them took the transport you came in to dispose of it, they were saying its stealth was jammed and that made it more of a liability than asset… but like I said that was two hours ago, I’ve just been here waiting for you to wake up.”

“You’re right, I don’t like the sound of this either, we need to get out of here fast, do you know of anyone in your team who might’ve wanted to get out of here too, maybe that one who sounded scared?”

“Definitely not the one who sounded scared… but the lieutenant he might want to help us, he spoke very highly of you during our whole extraction.” She said optimistically

“Lieutenant huh? That’s weird normally those officer types are sticklers for the rules I couldn’t imagine one willing to go AWOL even considering the circumstances.”

“His name was Alan Green, he was really very polite way too nice for your typical soldier.”

“Ahhhh Alan, that’s our guy for sure we were good friends when I was on the wall. He gets it you know?”

“Whatever you say hun, I just think we should get out of here as soon as possible.”

“We will, we will, I just need to talk to him and we should be okay” Will said holding her close

        Their embrace was cut short by the sound of shrieks and pulse rifle blasts outside the tent

“Damn it, they’re here already!” She yelped pulling away to peak her head outside the tent flaps.

“I don’t see anything, follow me I can get us to the command center, maybe the lieutenant will be there.” She took Wills hand and led him out of the tent. The short walk felt like a lifetime the camp was eerily inactive considering all the commotion occurring outside the perimeter.

“Hello, anyone there?” Will called as they entered the command center… no response

        The center was set up quickly monitors were mounted all along the walls in a haphazard fashion. Some scrolling through code, others displaying radar like displays and communication diagnostics, several were displaying vital signs of the platoon…Only 12 signals they’ve already lost half their platoon thought Will. He began to sweat, the tables were unorganized, wires scattered all over, small reconnaissance drones sat in the corner of the room. Something that they weren’t ready for hit them hard, that’s the only reason why they would’ve scattered like this, jeeze this is one hell of a mess, I hope Alan is still out there. Suddenly an idea struck Will, he ran to one of the communication consoles and began mashing on the apparatus attempting to figure out a way to send Alan a message.

        Alan was running through the woods back towards the camp, they had been overwhelmed almost instantly the men in the APC were intentionally kept alive as a trap. These tactics were far too sophisticated for any kind of feral warfare. The rebels didn’t have just civilians on their side Alan and his platoon were no doubt fighting their own comrades. Why did I insist on pulling off a rescue mission?! I’m so stupid, because of me we just lost at least five more soldiers on top of the ones who volunteered to derelict the APC. Alan felt tears begin to well in his eyes. No not now I can’t do this now, they still need me. Alan’s kit buzzed displaying a recording from Will.

“Alan we need you at the camp now! Meredith and I can hear the fighting going on outside the perimeter and it’s no longer safe here, we haven’t seen any of our soldiers, I think they’re trying to drive the enemy away. We need an escort to get us to a better location please we need you it’s only a matter of time before they get to the camp and breakthrough.”

Alan quickened his pace, shit shit shit those bastards are hitting the camp now?!?! And the platoon left them unprotected, what the fuck is going on? As Alan neared the camp he could hear the staccato bursts of the enemy lead based weapons along with the  shrieks and cries of ferals being killed. He synthesized a pulse rifle and advanced cautiously endeavoring to not get caught in another trap. He saw the camp lights through the trees as he approached the perimeter, quickly checked left, then right and sprinted right through the perimeter, his nanomachine markers insuring his safety by local deactivation of the EM field where he crossed. Alan made a beeline for the command center and burst through the doors to find Will and Meredith standing by the communications consoles at the opposite end of the room.

“Damn am I glad to see you! What the hell is happening out there?” exclaimed Will

“We got overwhelmed, after a group went to derelict the APC they set a trap and we lost people, I got separated from the group, I was on my way to our rendezvous when I got your message, where’s the captain? He should be in here right now.” Alan said breathlessly

“Your guess is as good as mine.” The sound of mortar fire began to erupt around the camp, shockwaves shaking the monitors nearly off their hinges. “Look that really doesn’t sound good, we need to get out of here, please come with us we need your help.” Will said shakily

“Yeah we do this position is compromised, there’s a mountain not too far from here. It’s secluded, would give great comms reception and has plenty of hiding spots but we won’t make it far with just the three of us. I need to try to round up as many of our soldiers as I can before we head out.” Alan said calmly

“Fine call them up, but I guarantee you the longer we wait the worse our chances get” Will said frustrated.

        Alan worked on the communications console and sent a message to the whole platoon directing them back to the command center for rendezvous before immediate evacuation of the site. He looked up at the monitors displaying the vital signs of his platoon. Fuck me 8 signatures left, pretty soon there won’t be a group to bring back together. Alan began pacing in the command center planning out his next move. Okay so we re-group, I’ll send someone to each turret while the rest of us head to the rations tent, stock up on supplies. We’ll pile it all on the westernmost side of the camp closest to the mountain. The turret operators will file off one at a time. We all grab as much as we can carry, power down the EM perimeter on a delay, the attacking forces will flood in and get trapped, then we make a dash for the mountain killing anything in our way. Alan looked up at Meredith and Will, they were scared but determined, he was too it was the first time he was ever in a real world scenario this dire. He looked over to the radar, 4 of his soldiers were coming in.

“Lets head outside we’ve got 4 people coming in.” Alan commanded

        The incoming squad was in bad shape fatigued and hurt their armor was in tatters wet heavy and sticky with blood and sweat.  Will didn’t recognize anyone from his extraction team and felt a pang of guilt for wishing ill fate upon them.

“Lieutenant we need to get out of here, we’re the only ones who made it out. The captain had us engage the enemy outside the perimeter in the hopes of scaring the ferals off and driving them away to open up a hole for the APC rescue team but it wasn’t just ferals out there. I identified two Lazoran soldiers fighting in the ranks with them.”

“Sargent, did you see the captain out there at all, anywhere?” Sighed Alan

“He…he took a shot to the leg on the way to the command center with us, he told us to go on without him. He wasn’t that far out, maybe about a 5 minute run there weren’t any enemies around him when he went down…” said the Sargent hesitantly.

Alan looked long and hard at the Sargent “Sargent I want you and the rest of the men to secure the perimeter each of you get on a turret, the doctor and his partner will start collecting supplies, I’m going to retrieve the captain.”

“Yes sir!” barked the Sargent

“Alan don’t do this, we need to go, look I know this is hard but he’s already dead and even if he weren’t he’ll slow us down too much. If you make us wait any longer more people are going to die, you need to cut your losses so more of us can survive.” Whispered Will.

“It won’t be long, don’t worry, these guys will have your back I’ll see you soon” Alan said coolly

Alan sprinted out of the perimeter into the woods in the direction of the injured captain. Each of the soldiers obeyed Alan’s orders and took position at the turret emplacements leaving Meredith and Will standing in the center of the camp.

“Well now what?” Meredith said annoyed

“I guess we just wait a little longer and collect some supplies, at least right now we’ve got a few soldiers watching our back.”

        Meredith and Will were moving supplies from the tent for only a few minutes when the turrets began firing, a slow staccato at first which grew into a nonstop hailstorm. However, after a few minutes of firing the sound began to die out, one turret at a time until the camp went quiet. Meredith and Will froze in place in the center of the camp waiting for something to happen. When a soldier stumbled towards them from the north end of the camp leaning himself against the wall of the command center, he had a bloodied mangled stump where his hand should be, and a sword jammed into his abdomen.

“We’re fucked…I’ll try my best to take out as many of these bastards as I can…but we’re fucked, those bastards know what they’re doing, they used the bodies of our platoon mates to bypass the EM field… here’s some weapons.” The soldier said synthesizing two swords and tossing them to the couple.  

Seconds later a group of ferals appeared from behind the barracks and charged at Will Meredith and the soldier, the group held their own for a time their superior size, fitness and covering fire from the downed soldier sustaining them. But the soldier was overcome by his wounds and the group of ferals seized the opportunity to strike. Will caught one in the face with his fist dropping it, but then another whacked him from behind. Meredith kicked and swat at them with a sword she found on the ground forcing them to keep their distance. Will went to kick another when he was caught in the back of the head by some metal object a feral had swung at him dropping him to the ground in a semi-conscious daze. He lay there for a few seconds attempting to regain control of his body but failing, when another feral kicked him in the ribs causing him to pass out momentarily.

Meredith’s cries for help brought Will back into the fight, he groped around on the ground until he found one of the lead based weapons dropped by a feral, it was heavy and compact, able to be easily held with one hand. Will searched his mind for the name of it… pistol, that was it! And how to use it again, there was a safety Will flipped the safety off and pulled the trigger… nothing… Damn it! What else was there, the uhh, the slide! Bullets need to be… chambered? Meredith’s screams were piercing his ears, his hand slipped as he attempted to pull back on the slide. A group of ferals had noticed him getting up and began sprinting towards him, Will fumbled with the gun, they were just within closing distance, another pull on the slide SHHCK, Will squeezed the trigger CRACK! The pistol jerked back in his hands as a bullet exited the chamber and lodged itself in the chest of a feral. CRACK CRACK CRACK! Click. Before he knew it the gun was empty but it served its purpose two ferals lay on the ground the rest fleeing from him and scattering. Will grabbed a magazine for the pistol from the ground and ran towards Meredith she was encircled by a group of ferals steadily encroaching on her as she bat wildly around at them with a sword she had picked up off the ground. Will’s hands searched the pistol until he found the magazine ejection mechanism and quickly swapped the fresh one in pulling back on the slide and yelling to get the ferals attention. Two from the circle of 6 looked up at him and began to approach unaware of his new weapon.

He walked slowly towards them defying the terror they tried to impose upon him. The ferals took note of his defiance and began to charge, Will leveled his pistol and fired off several rounds in their direction catching each in the abdomen and dropping them to the ground. Will continued to approach the group harassing Meredith blinded by rage, he had no plan was low on rounds. He had no idea what he would do but it would be something. Will called to Meredith telling her to fall to the ground, she obeyed and Will emptied his pistol into the crowd, he had their attention now. Several barreled towards him knocking him to the ground, he was desperately scrapping for his life now, through the flurry of fists and blood he saw Meredith being carried away.

He began to lose hope, the fight in him was diminishing he knew he was outnumbered and against hopeless odds. He took a kick to the ribs, a punch to the face, he was done he weakly swatted them away as they continued their assault. They had full control now and began to bind Wills hands when the attack suddenly stopped, no more punches, no more hands, will looked up through his tousled hair to see why they had stopped, but the attacking group was gone, he looked around to see several dead before him. A figure was approaching him from the shadows, it called to him, but he could barely hear it.

“Will….Will get up! Will….. we need to move!”

        Will couldn’t make out the figure until it was pulling him up by the shoulders and removing the binding from his hands.

“Alan?” Will said hoarsely

“Yeah I’m here, I got you, follow me.” Alan soothed

“Fuck you” Will retorted before blacking out as Alan helped drag him away.

Epilogue

Will stood on an outcrop of the mountain they hiked up and looked out at the wall in the distance, then to the city now disheveled several prominent buildings missing from the skyline, then down at the remnants of their camp, now smoldering and in ashes. Alan approached him slowly.

“Will I’m…. I don-“

“Stop, I don’t want to hear it okay, Meredith’s gone those goddamn ferals have her and it’s because of you. Because you fucking left us for your precious captain who was dead anyway, we were overwhelmed from the start. The second that fence failed, the second those ferals didn’t get zapped you all should’ve known we needed to get out of there. There’s no honor in dying pointlessly, in holding a hill that literally serves no purpose, we needed to move! You of all people should’ve seen that, you’re not one of those stupid war monkeys!”

“I know, it’s just of all the people who could help us… the Captain … you’ve seen what he can do, he knows how to lead fighters, he knows how to win batt-“

“He’s a relic, obsolete leaders like him aren’t needed anymore” Scoffed Will

“What the hell are you talking about we need hundreds of leaders like him to fight off these rebels and ferals!” Snapped Alan

“Don’t you get it asshole? Fight for what? Lazora’s gone, we weren’t receiving any communication, the city is in shambles you can see the smoke from here. Oh and hey look at that! I can see smoke from other parts of the wall too, no doubt more breaches! That camp was built for a much larger rendezvous but only your platoon made it back…it’s over” Said Will throwing his head back and rubbing his temples

“It’s not over I can track these ferals, we’ll get Meredith back” Alan said solemnly and holding out his hand towards Will. He looked Alan up and down internally questioning his resolve they locked eyes for several moments and Will took Alan’s hand shaking it firmly.

“We’ll get her back” Will said with cold determination, he straightened up and looked over Lazora from the outcrop with fire in his eyes and vengeance in his heart.