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.

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