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 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.