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#and the corruption picks off the rest of the surviving citizens
hiddenwashington · 8 months ago
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the antique door closes exactly at 11:59 p.m, the owner believing that teenagers will find themselves entering the store for ancient artifacts that might pair nicely with an ouija board, like a glass of wine pairing with a sliver of cheese. a board game hovers, nearly teetering off the edge, a possibility that ends in fifty-fifty. the old man grumbles quietly, the lights dimmed as he pushes himself through, finger running along the shelves and picking up dust. an antique shop without dust isn’t an antique shop in his opinion. the dust gives it a voice. he moves slowly, careful not to trip over the floorboards that creak beneath his weight. he knows where every divot is, where everything that might trip him, except for the cane that a pair of teenagers dropped once they ran out of the shop laughing about the ‘haunted’ doll that they bought and were willing to hide in a friend's closet. his footing catches, he stumbles forwards, and the hand reaches out, pushing the board game to topple to the floor with the pieces falling. he doesn’t realize until it’s too late, of what had happened. an ancient myth comes to life as a rumble shakes the city at 12:00 a.m. exactly.
it happens overnight. there’s a rumble, commotion being raised as citizens feel the earth shake between their toes, but the moment they blink, everything has quieted. it’s not new, strange things happen all the time here, but it’s different. strange things aren't new when it comes to washington, d.c.; but this time there’s a moment of brief fear, a moment of foreshadowing whispering that it only grows worse..
citizens wait through their moment of paranoia but nothing follows, so sleep takes hold again, washing over all the citizens as if they hadn’t heard anything. it’s not until 3:00 a.m. until unrest stirs. families, friends, couples, find themselves whisked away in different sections of the city. they don’t know how they got there, or why. just one second they were in their beds, the next they find themselves… elsewhere. commotion rises, when something new occurs, something that isn’t understood, panic always rises.
unknowingly, the residents of the city have become pawns in the city. it would have been better if they could stay with those they love, but each section of the city brings them somewhere else. it starts off easy for some, a windstorm that they have to avoid or brave with the risks of the powerful gusts sweeping away memories; the first level. fears come to life, citizens are left to their own imagination as they see their form take shape and form, claws scratching and terrors haunting each and everyone, the second level. there are rumors in the city, that there’s something off in the city. people have always said that the city water can’t be trusted, but slowly, they turn out to be right. powered beings sinking lower and lower, losing their humanity and grip on their world, and darkness peeking through if it overcomes them - the third level.
for some, they might find themselves lucky. through the windstorms, the fear, and the supernatural - some might find themselves surrounded by growing trees and exotic flowers, but no danger in sight. it’s a breath of fresh air, a moment of peace for those who manage to bypass the levels. it’s a break and a reward, where calmness is installed
if you manage to make it through all three levels, you will find yourself in a tropical jungle. it’s not home, but it’s safe enough, a reward for fighting your way through the game. there you will remain until the game is finished, able to get a moment of peace among the chaos. it’s a victory, a shout in the dark, a knowledge in knowing that even in the darkest of times - survival is possible.
welcome to jumanji, try your hardest to survive - if you can. 
-- washington is divided, three levels for the people of dc to fight their way through to survive. but this isn’t unfamiliar territory, it’s things they’ve seen before. a windstorm, citizens rushing to escape swirling whorls of magic that can rip their memories away or return them just as easily. a monster who shows you your worst fears, manifesting them into reality, and setting them on you. and something in the water turning any powered being into a cold, bloodthirsty beast, the darkest parts of them shining through. you can’t escape, but you can watch what happens in the levels adjacent to yours through the barriers between them, unable to keep your loved ones from what’s to come. it’s a gamble where citizens end up, and they can level up at any time. welcome to the jungle.
OOC INFORMATION
hey hi hello friends, and welcome to hidden’s tenth event! yes, that’s right, ten !! we are beyond blessed to be able to bring you guys something so monumental, and to have been here with you all for so many amazingly successful events we decided to pay homage to some of our favorite ones over the past two and a half years, with a bit of a twist! 2020 has been almost scarily similar to jumanji, so why not play into the strengths of this year and get a little wild for the next few days? we cannot wait to see what you all bring to this event, as we’ve been working on it for weeks now. please let us know if you have any questions as you digest the rules of our game! and best of luck surviving the trials set out before you! 
DATES : 
9/12 - 9/21 9/26
this event will last 9 14 days in and out of character !
LEVEL LOCATIONS : 
your characters’ location has been chosen randomly, and we are able to move characters around only if you have too many of your babes in one location. 
find out which level your current characters are on HERE. 
this list will be updated with each new character who gets added so keep an eye on that list to find out where your new babe is located
CHARACTER LEVELING UP : 
each character will begin on the level they have been assigned. they are able to level up, a different way on each level, to move to a new level and face a new set of trials.
the leveling up will be randomized. it does not go in numerical order. once your character has made it through and completed a level, please message the main and we will roll the dice for your new location. 
once your character has made it through all three levels (they do not have to actually complete the game, it’s totally up to you!) they will be transported to the safe zone.
the way to level up in character will be described below, but out of character you must play through each level for at least 2 days, so that people are not changing levels too quickly and they have enough time to play out plots.
RULES OF EACH LEVEL : 
please follow THIS LINK to the full description of each level and their locations in relations to real dc areas!
general level rules 
the barriers between the levels are see through. so you may not be able to talk to your loved ones, but you can see them, you can know what your family is going through. an incentive to level up. 
cellphone service will work between the barriers. but we do ask that you do not make all of your interactions with people over texts or calls or we will be limiting this service throughout the event.
level 1 - the windstorm
characters can’t die on this level, but they can have their memories be tampered with! be it changing from aware to unaware (or vise versa) or taking some memories from them or giving some back! 
to level up, you need to find hidden doors in the barrier, that will then take you to one of the other two levels!
for more information on the original event  click right HERE
level 2 - nightmares come to life
remember to use a read more and tag anything with triggering content!
the way your characters can level up from this event is to defeat their nightmares, this can either be conquering their fears, defeating whatever is shown to them, or facing their nightmares for an extended period of time. 
just be careful, these fears can have real life consequences.
for more information on the original event, click right HERE
level 3 - something’s in the water
all powered humans and non human creatures will be affected by the poison, becoming ruthless, emotionless monsters. for some, it takes slower to be fully affected, but within 24 hours, there’s nothing to fight. 
humans will need to run or fight off the poisoned creatures hunting them down, or die trying
the effect of the poison is not invisible to people. the affected creatures have their pupils showing hints of red, and veins becoming darker on their wrists. the creatures that do not yet show signs of the poison will however have these physical traits slowly appearing.
your characters can kill off any npcs they wish while affected, but be sure to plot out the deaths of any taken characters within the group!
to level up, the humans must defeat one of the attacking supernaturals, and the supernaturals must overcome the poison that’s corrupted them. this is a long process, that can only be achieved through two days of fighting it off
for more information on the original event , click right HERE
level 4 - the safe zone
this final level is a reward for anyone who gets through all three levels
here your characters are able to relax, to recuperate and search for those your characters have been separated from over the past few days.
it’s a moment where they’re finally able to hug those they love, hold them close, and realize that they made it through the worst and survived.
they are able to stay on this level throughout the rest of the event, but once they’ve made it to level four, they cannot return to the game.
CHARACTER DEATHS : 
we are going to be limiting the number of character deaths per mun, that way we can keep track of the updates on the main and make sure that people are branching out with different plots beyond death! 
the limit will be if you have 5 and under characters, you are limited to 2 characters. if you have 5 or over, you are able to kill 3-4 characters! 
you absolutely don’t have to kill anyone if you don’t wish to, it’s just an extra level of intensity if that’s something you’d be looking to do!
if you do plan to kill anyone, please remember to message the main, that way we are able to update the memories statuses of your characters post event!
TAGGING AND PLOTTING :
feel free to begin plotting now!
once the event begins, please hold any and all non event threads. you may pick them up once it’s over, or start fresh with your characters after coping with the aftermath of a trialing time. 
please tag all interactions/starters/self-paras with hwevent10 !!
please make sure that you tag all interactions with which level your character is currently in, that way people are not responding to threads outside their levels! you can use anything from ‘level one’ or ‘the windstorm’!
keep an eye on the main for any more information regarding the event, including after it’s begun!
please remember the event is mandatory for members!
please remember that you are free to take this event in any way you wish, you can have your characters stay on one level the entire time, they can conquer multiple or get stuck, they can complete the game and relax, or spend their time helping those around them! it’s up to you about how well your characters adjust to these new trials they are faced with.
and as always, have fun, get creative, think outside the box and enjoy the chaos of our tenth event!!! we cannot wait to see where you all take this wild ride! please don’t hesitate to ask any questions, we know this is a lot of information to take in, so let us know if you need any help! and again, as always, please like this when you have read it all! ♥
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gosagacious · 10 months ago
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HAWK fails at a postapocalyptic future
I’m waiting for my copy of HAWK from the library, but from what I’ve heard from other readers, it sounds like it hasn’t changed much since the ARC. That’s frustrating. Partly because there were so many plot holes.
In Maximum Ride Forever, the world has been hit by a meteor, and then gone through not only that fallout but numerous weapons like a lab-created plague and nuclear bombs. Major cities are flooded, or cratered, or experiencing nuclear fallout. A significant part of the population is dead. We meet only a handful of adults. The vast majority of survivors who we see are children, and quite a few of those are mutants. The ending features a battle between child armies. 
In MRF, we are given to believe that these are the people on whom the rebuilt future rests. 
In HAWK, we get a completely different fallout.
Take all of that stuff from MRF and add in a four-year-long nuclear winter. The surviving child soldiers do have resources and can work on planning, but all the characters we know of go into underground bunkers to survive.
Eleven years after that – sixteen years total since the extinction-level event - there are multiple cities full of people of all ages. These cities feature skyscrapers, massive drug labs, evil science facilities, tanks, cars, guns with government chips in them, paved streets, plumbing. Film studios, movie cameras, animated cartoons! There is a hidden canyon city with houses carved into the walls, which one imagines would have taken a very long time, but which is apparently quite well-established. There are doctors and nurses. Where did they get their degrees? Are they all in their thirties and younger, or were they adults who we didn’t meet in MRF? 
It’s difficult to tell the ratio of mutants to humans, but from what we see, mutants are occasional but rare. (So much for Itex’s plan to have their mutants rule the world.)
On to the social status quo. Now, bear in mind that Hawk never got an education and has lived in one place for as long as she can remember. Okay: Hawk does not know what the ocean is. She does not know what a squirrel is. She believes that horses and pandas are mythical creatures, and she talks about “Crismins” instead of Christmas.
More widely, everyone, including Americans, has adopted the metric system, people talk about the “gods” and some worship statues. Okay. Fine, I guess. I can even sort of take Max’s inspirational speech reminding the citizens that they deserve to be treated like human beings.
But it’s difficult to tell how much of this is Hawk being clueless and growing up in a hellhole of a city, and how much is meant to be genuine worldbuilding of “See! See how different this dark, gritty future is! See how much has been forgotten! Our main character has heard only a garbled version of the word ‘Christmas!’”
Except that it has been only sixteen years since the world ended. It has only been eleven years since they really had the chance to start rebuilding.  I know we only see two cities and one prison island, and it’s hinted there’s more of a connection to the previous world in the free city of Tetra, but this is ridiculous.
Technology, infrastructure and population should be low. Connection to the previous world’s pop culture and society should be high. There are adults running around for whom sixteen years is only a fraction of their lives. There would still be teenagers who would have been born before the apocalypse.
Instead, the book treats things as if it has been much longer. High population, infrastructure and technology. Low connection to the previous world. 
After sixteen years, things have changed so much that a girl born at the pivotal point does not know the word Christmas. She does not know what the ocean is; she has never heard anyone talk about islands, or cruises, or going to the beach. In a world where TV is a constant presence, she thinks horses are made up. But Christmas is what really gets me. Look at how much Christmas takes over stores and media around December. Are you telling me that in under two decades, people forgot the word Christmas?! They have TV and cartoons, and in the past decade and a half, nobody has ever cranked up some old carols?? 
After all this, I want to try a quick worldbuilding of what the Maximum Ride future might look like. This is just spitballing; there are any number of directions it could go.
What HAWK could look like if the future followed a sensible pattern:
To begin: after natural disasters, plague, nuclear bombings, and a four-year nuclear winter, you’d have a vastly shrunken population. Most of the characters seen in Maximum Ride Forever are orphaned children. There will be huge gaps in the age population. I’ll hypothesize that most adults died in the plague. By the time of HAWK, you probably don’t see anyone over 65, and even that might be pushing it.
On the other hand, I expect there will be a huge emphasis on repopulating the planet. The survival of the human race is still in question. Let’s say there was a baby boom right after the nuclear winter ended and people started leaving their bunkers. You see a lot of kids around 10-11 years old. Hawk will hardly ever meet anyone her age; she was born in a patch of time when pretty much nobody was having babies. There are no abusive orphanages. Children are far too treasured. Even if death rates are high and orphans are common, there will be people anxiously collecting up those orphans and raising them in a safe place. Hawk’s orphanage could still be a weird place, but the kids wouldn’t be disappearing or taken off to evil laboratories. Although—more on that in a minute.
By the time of HAWK, the Apocalypse’s shadow still looms; anyone 20 or older can remember where they were and what they were doing That Day. They reminisce to each other or to their children about the old days. Hawk can be skeptical, as in canon, that some of these stories are true. Enough people that the world was struggling with overpopulation? How is that possible?
The survivors are people who went down into bunkers. Let’s say there were bunkers scattered all over the world. You’ll get a lot of wacky survivalist types, and also probably some of those scientists and major businessmen who were talking about the end of the world in the older MR books, and who could afford to build bunkers. Speaking of which: Himmel! This was the main villain’s bunker that the Flock and their army of child soldiers ended up moving into. Chock-full of advanced technology.
The groups in these bunkers would have lived together for four years in close quarters, relying on each other to survive (or maybe fighting to the death, I don’t know). Groups like the one in Himmel will probably be incredibly close-knit. Even after the nuclear winter is over, it will make sense for people to use those bunkers as bases. Towns, and one day cities, will grow up around them. Some people may still live primarily in underground apartments.
Maybe (I could be pushing it here) there are some people who stayed out of the bunkers and ended up in a hunter-gatherer caveman-type existence. If they survived, this could be an important allyship or a source of tension with the bunker-dwellers. Do they join up? Do they keep their distance?
Major cities do not exist (so no “City of the Dead”). The older cities are uninhabitable and being reclaimed by nature, long stripped of resources even if they aren’t just piles of rubble. Most people are not concerned about rebuilding them right now, and there probably aren’t even enough surviving workers with the right knowledge; a lot of professions will have to be re-developed from the ground up. Suffice to say there are no new skyscrapers going up.
The immediate concern will be food. Agriculture will have suffered from the nuclear winter. Some people are working on traditional farms, but we do have that advanced technology from Himmel, and the surviving scientists will be in high demand for developing new food sources.
I’m thinking of lots of farming communities centered around the safety of the bunkers. They will spread outwards only gradually. And there was a large population of mutant “Aquatics”, so new towns may not necessarily be built on land. We could have towns built on or under the water, and farms focused on fish and seaweed.
Mutants make up a major percentage of the surviving population. There’s no more of scientists coming after mutants and picking them off. Mutants are the scientists now, in many cases; the mutant kids growing up in Himmel would have been studying the resources there and learning to build things necessary for the new world.
However, there’s a possibility of prejudice against mutants. Perhaps some of the human survivors, particularly from other bunkers, resent the mutants or see them as tied to the Apocalypse. The question of reproduction and having the human race survive? Maybe some people want humanity to be “pure.” They don’t want bird or fish DNA floating around in there. 
There will likely be a problem of ruffian bands who try to raid these settlements for food. Sometimes settlements raid each other. There may also be corrupt administrations, or gangs who offer “protection.”
There isn’t the same kind of worldwide connection. Although they certainly have the technology for long-distance communication, it will take a long time to rebuild the infrastructure and carry it all over the world. The postal system is gone. The transportation system is gone. Instead of booking a flight at the airport, you ask your buddy Susan if she can give you a ride in her crop duster to the next settlement. 
There are no huge, high-tech prisons, either. Nobody’s got the time or resources to devote to that, and there simply aren’t enough prisoners to fill up something like that. Prisons in this world? I’m picturing big old pits like in The Dark Knight Rises.
So here’s a shot at reworking the beginning of HAWK: Hawk’s parents leave her with a babysitter in a farming community, but while they’re away, it’s hit by raiders. In the destruction, along with food, the raiders also take kids to sell them. Hawk ends up in a weird orphanage obsessed with raising the new generation of the world and ensuring humanity’s survival. However, one of the administrators is bigoted against mutants, and when it’s discovered that Hawk is a mutant, she’s put aside with the other "non-ideal” kids, who are treated like servants. The orphanage might be under the “protection” of a gang - the Paters. Pietro can even still be around—except please less boring and maybe with a name that doesn’t sound like a tongue twister—and he might be a rare kid born around the same time as Hawk, maybe a year older, whose parents made it through the Apocalypse and kept their infant son alive because of their wealth.
That’s something I could have accepted. I can’t accept smacking Hawk in the middle of a generic dystopian city that seems a century or further into the future, when it should be only sixteen.
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neocityfics · 10 months ago
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2096: Zodiac
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Chapter: Intro < ❝  Prologue ❞  > Chapter One
➥ Chapter List
Genre: Cyberpunk inspired, mafia-esque, not-so dystopian, angst
Pairing: Doctor! Taeyong x Reader [Sprinkle of other pairings tbd]
Summary: 2094, the disaster happens. The richest become richer with their reddened backs turned, the people around you growing more and more tired, and a certain Dr. Lee plans to change it all. Lucas unknowingly pulls you into the frenzy, and you become part of this confusing and painful process. You catch yourself floating between the conflict of twelve gangs and a world where circuits begin replacing flesh.
Warnings: Moderate cursing, death, heavy events similar to real world situations
A/N: Throughout the writing, there’ll be links (indicated by ▶ Ambience) for a more immersive experience. These are YouTube links, so it may be difficult to switch between YouTube and Tumblr (especially for those unable to have video pop-outs on mobile), so please keep this in mind. I’m also working on a Spotify playlist. I really hope you enjoy my first published piece!
▶ Ambience
The sea of neon purples, pinks, and blues drowned out whatever background activity filled the hustling life of the city. Light harshly touches the exterior of small shops endlessly lining the streets. Though full of living people, it always seemed a bit lonely. Everyone for themselves as it had been before the disaster happened, before life became even harder and resources scarce. Half the world is gone, but for whatever reason, humans continue to persevere. This strength is a unique feat, but it comes with consequences. With the remaining 3 billion people left on Earth, only the Eurasian continent remains the only habitable land thus forcing people to squeeze in tightly. It’s like this everywhere-- tiny housing, famines, and the overgrowing hunger to hold power and wealth much as we did before. The rich stay rich, the poor stay poor.
Life’s tough in Neostone. With hundreds of thousands of people and little food, restaurants struggle to keep open with enough to sell. Fresh water sources and land were replaced with tall housing structures and corporate buildings. Most have to work two or more jobs. Education is non-existent and relies on parents teaching kids different skills through child labor. Further industrialization in the little space the planet has left led to bouts of acid rain from overworked factories. The world’s leaders morph into the same guise: ties stained with blood, suits the product of cheap labor showed off status, and their white-gloved hands tightly gripped heavy silver suitcases. Corruption still plagues the broken systems that hang over society, sustained from before the disaster happened. It seems like we’ll never learn.
Sure, it’s difficult to get by day to day without much, yet the communities outside the wealthy rich businesses were tight-knit. Everyone knows each other’s names. People often trade food scraps for little luxuries to feel any ounce of happiness. Friends hang out near street food vendors where most people are, begging for any kind of calorie. While life in Neostone is tough, the citizens depend on each other for care, not anyone from above. 
I don’t think of it much-- how different life would be if the disaster didn’t happen, if the world had never been touched by so much chaos. I knew it’d be the same, that I’d end up still struggling to get from morning to morning. Even with the big drop in population, we live as sardines squished together under a layer of plastic that suffocates us. Nothing has changed. I lost everything.
Though the neons felt like home and they were all I’ve known for the past couple of years, I do remember who I was before this all went downhill. Fresh in college with a mind set on (major(s)/minor(s)), and although uncertain of the future, I was ready to break free from family and understand what it means to live a good life. Debt would hit me hard on my head but I was certain to find ways to pay it off without burdening others. Between jobs and school, I felt like there was a purpose for my movement, for my existence, to be a small gear of a clockwork world. For three years, I managed to get stuff done and become my own separate identity. I never felt more myself for the longest time. One more year to go, I said to myself as my third year comes to a close. But fourth year never came. It happened. The start of summer into my last year in college was the best time I’ve had in my life. During an internship in Japan, I’d gotten a handle of how it was in the real world as part of the workforce. A month into the most enjoyable moments of my life came the disaster.
▶ Ambience, Ambience
I watched the television screens throughout the subway, making my way to my 9am train when the static and distortions of color accompanied the shaking ground beneath me. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as the news shifted to an emergency alert. All of a sudden, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, building collapses, and tsunamis were destroying the western hemisphere. The disaster was inexplicable, the most spontaneous event in the history of Earth. I hid in the nearest shelter in Tokyo as realization hit how horrifying everything was. Buildings toppling left and right, people being crushed beneath the debris, splatters of fresh red on the broken bits of glass and metal heaps. That was a day of absolute terror. Within twenty-four hours, half the world was gone. My heart sank as the disasters settled throughout the world, and the news focused on the western hemisphere where I had lived most of my life. That part of the world was gone. My family and college friends were gone. 
And I was left alone in Japan.
But the world didn’t change. The same evil corporate heads enforced the same evil policies and practices. The same tired faces dragged their tired bodies until no end just to, at the bare minimum, survive. No matter what form the world took, this was our fate until we went extinct. The only thing that changed perhaps was how many of us were kept in that system, and that the system favoring the wealthy became stronger. So the cycle continues.
▶ Ambience
With the scraps of money I had left on my name and picking up little jobs, I was able to get into a micro apartment. The government was eager to take advantage of the situation and make just enough housing to keep people happy and off the streets, but also enough to ensure some people couldn’t get out of the vicious system so labor was cheap. My space is dingy at best and quite small, but it’s all the comfort I have. Not a day passes where I’m not grateful for a private place to sleep, do business, and let myself feel at ease. Others aren’t so lucky, sleeping behind their food and merchandise stalls or in the nooks and crannies of back alleys. Weeks passed into months where my body ached from overwork, the same for the people I’ve been surrounded with and worked alongside. It’s only been two years since everyone had to rebuild what’s been lost, but it looked only slightly different in Neostone where Tokyo had once been. Only the mega cities were somewhat unscathed by the disaster, and businesses collectively chipped in to remodel them. Rural and suburban areas were either flooded or full of toxic waste.
People from all races and backgrounds who survived into the aftermath of the disaster poured into the cities. I was kindly taken into the dangerous but welcoming community of downtown Neostone, where cooking and selling food in addition to helping at clinic became my new life. At the clinic, I met someone I familiarized myself with to be comfortable and close enough. Having someone around lifted up my motivation. Going by Lucas, a name he adopted to fit in with the rest of downtown Neostone, he worked assiduously the same shifts as me at Pearl Park Clinic. Besides weekends, Lucas and I leave for work together as he lives just a few rooms down in the complex. While working at the clinic down on East Row, he comes to visit for a bite at the street food stall that keeps me busy half the week. Throughout getting to know him within two years, he revealed he also lost family he was close with-- a younger brother and sister who by the sound of his stories were needy brats that he loved so much. It hurts to know they’re gone like my friends are. I was glad I could relate to him and also be someone to lean on. On a roller-coaster of life’s tests, Lucas and I know we have each other’s back.
▶ Ambience
Today was like most days, another Friday morning. The green flash of LED at 7:00am with a loud beeping, a quick splash of cold water against my face, clean clothes, and a quick bite of fruit. The same mindless routine guides me out of the door of the room and down the hall. From my room, 716, to Lucas’s room, 718, was only a few meters away thanks to the tiny size of rooms. I knock once, twice, then thrice, but no reply. Strange. I’m used to Lucas whipping the door wide open at the slightest sound of my footsteps to poke his head out and greet me loudly. Should I knock again? Call him? My hand gravitated towards the doorknob, uncertain if we’re on the kind of terms where I can barge in whenever. “Lucas,” I decide to start softly, “I’m here now, we can leave for the clinic.” No reply. Maybe I’ll text him. Unlocking my phone, a smile cracked on my face as a photo of Lucas and I hanging out with some other friends posed in front of our favorite ice cream shop flashed across the screen. No red numbered badge on the messaging app. Today feels a little bit unusual. Typically, he texts when he needs help or won’t be at work. Inhaling in, I choose to try the knob in which a turn and a push of the door unveils the dark, musky room. A room with no Lucas. Noticing the tension in my face and shoulders, I relax them and try not to think of anything bad that could happen to him. Maybe he needed to stop somewhere before going to work. Maybe he’s just out to get groceries and whatnot. Maybe he’s just busy doing something else. I trust he’ll get back to me soon, but the weird pit in my stomach bugged my thoughts.
Down the long winding halls, unlocking my phone seemed all I could do, the worry taking over. My pace quickened. It’s 8:00am, the clinic starts up at 9:00am. It’s a long walk through a rather sketchy part of downtown, but it's one I’ve mastered throughout the couple of years and certainly made friends in. Reaching the staircase, my breath was noticeably shallower. This was always the worst part. It took much time and energy just to get to the first floor. Upon stepping into the lobby, I swiftly pick up an umbrella from the community box set near the entrance and begin my path out. The clerk at the counter peaks over his rather raunchy motorcycle magazine, riddled with messy yellow text, and he subtly waves at me. I send the gesture back, taking my leave from the complex. Rain besets Neostone often, the overcast weather permitting low fog and grey clouds to lurk the bubble that is downtown. Chatter and noise blend together from all sides with the rushing waters eagerly greeting storm drains and early risers setting up their stores. In comparison to the staircase, the lengthy walk to the clinic is always a breeze, and it helps calm the nerves as I ready myself for a busier pace of day. Every five minutes, I unlocked my phone again to see if Lucas had contacted me. Still no sign of him.
▶ Ambience
After what seems like the longest walk of my life, some staff of the community medical clinic greet me and provide a list of my duties right away. 9:00am right on the dot. I take in what needs to get done, reading off the slightly crumpled paper between my fingers. Towel laundry… Disinfect beds in the North Wing… Prepare a warm epsom salt bath for patients in the East Wing… Always busy on Fridays when the work week is over and people live out their less-than-safe life decisions. Less work, more injuries, and more patients. A voice sharply interrupts, “Hey! Where’s Lucas? You two always arrive here together.” My heart sank. So he isn’t at work. Where could that man possibly be?
Tension grows but a sigh leaves my chest as I formulate some sort of response to the nurse, “He might be sick, I’m not sure where he went. Usually he tells me, but I’m sure he has his reasons.” The lady nodded and clicked her tongue as if irritated. A pause before I ask her, “Why, are we short-staffed today?” She gives a vexed nod again, taking her leave as another staff member urges her towards a patient. Stupid question. We always are understaffed. Located on the intersection of Bear Walk and Oak Lane as suspension railways weave between buildings, Pearl Park Medical Clinic threw itself into one of downtown’s busiest and most dangerous areas. Crimes being committed everyday that send people into the clinic, drunkards finding their way through the doors to spew anger uncalled for against the staff, and the homeless just asking for a pillow or blanket while they sleep outside as they’re reminded of the cold, hard pavement soaked with rain. Of course, we must treat everyone’s needs… and wants in some cases. Only a couple dozen of us work the two-floored piece of the tall establishment which also houses struggling law firms, compact grocery stores, beauty salons, and wireless carriers. This place is a mini mall, but not for the faint-of-heart mall goers. Murder, sabotage, and sickness run rampant. However, it’s the place Lucas and I call home. From Tuesday to Friday, from 9:00am to 8:00pm, my hands pruned from washing equipment and fabric constantly, legs moved to and from wing to wing to prepare stations, mind boggled by the surprising sights of Neostone’s everyday life. The dirty white walls, gowns, and noise make me feel rejuvenation each time I clock in for shifts. Home. A place of belonging. Everyone accepted me in, even as a seemingly insignificant part of the operation. For Lucas, he tells me so often as if I forget easily, it’s a dream come half true.
Lucas aspired to be a doctor. It was his lifelong desire to help others, fascinated by how many times the human body tested the limits and broke them, and how he could save someone’s life. That was his purpose. Unfortunately, he fell into the same boat as I did, not being able to finish college because of the disaster. As per hiring policy, Pearl Park requires employees to be degree holders in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or any other related field. Lucas was studying biochemistry with a neuroscience minor. Beyond impressive were his grades by what Lucas boasts to me, though I can’t confirm since the disaster destroyed his documents. In his third year, he already started planning his senior capstone project with research on the nervous system of several types of animals. We bonded over doing labs, the silliest or most dreadful courses we sat through, and how the university dining food sucked and ripped us all off. But it was a waste. In this new society, formal higher education is not important. Some schooling still persists, but they’re limited to small, dusty, singular classrooms led by underpaid teachers. Families tend to force children into work as it’s deemed more beneficial in learning practical home economics rather than mathematical theories, ethics, physical sciences, and so much more. The mindset of the remaining world focused on survival versus getting jobs of higher pay and better conditions. No one could blame us when authority breaks and the top 1% fully turn their back on you. Despite being turned down for medical practice, Lucas still wholeheartedly accepted the situation and embraced helping out in the clinic. Here and there with a bit of discreteness, Lucas does patch up some patients with bandage, disinfect cuts, and give advice for those with physical pain. Might I add, he’s quite popular with the patients as well, handsome and charming as he is. I’ll admit to it, I’m jealous of how he lifts everyone up in the toughest hours. Shortly after he joined, my arrival a week later brought him joy knowing I was stuck in the same sticky situation he was in. His passion could be seen a mile away. On the other hand, I just needed this job to keep myself afloat like everyone else.
I snap back to reality when one of the doctors, Dr. Lee who made a beeline towards one of the stations, bumped my side. Asshole, I think to myself. He’s head of the Pearl Park operation, so I don’t feel the desire to cause trouble by reprimanding him. This job allows me to hang onto my existence and sanity with my apartment, I couldn’t afford to lose it. His voice booms suddenly, startling nearby staff, “Is Lucas not here? I need him to help.” His voice trails off and erupts again, “With surgery preparation on Monday,” he swivels his head to one of the lead nurses, “We’re doing a skin graft for a severely burned person.” Despite the cold aura, his face contorted with concern and urgency. The patients put complete faith into him as he’s been a well-known medical practitioner since before the disaster. My imagination briefly ponders the severity of the injury as if I haven’t seen my fair share of nasty burn wounds. Shoulders shudder for a moment, and then I begin towards the North Wing where my first duty awaits.
▶ Ambience
Phew. That might’ve been the longest shift of my life. All day, the image of Lucas constantly itched at the back of my mind. It was difficult to focus, but I managed to get through the hours until 8:00pm. With my feet aching from exhaustion and a slight headache from lack of food or water, I decide to pay a visit to my other favorite place: East Row’s finest Chinese street food, Electric Egg. In my innermost thoughts, I’d hope to see Lucas there, munching away on tea eggs. That was his go-to snack after shifts at the clinic. Being on your feet all day does quite a bit of damage and leaves the stomach to growl, to fight for a delicious energy replenishment. When I arrive, one of my coworkers greets me cheerfully, shouting and waving my name as I draw closer, much to my embarrassment. “Sicheng,” my voice laced with laughter, “how’s business!” Our most common exchange, with the most common reply. With a hardy laugh, he shoots back, “The everyday thing, you know. Slow.” Sicheng’s smile invites me towards the side of the stall as he prepares what he knows are my regular dishes of choice. “Xi’an pancake and sesame tang yuan, coming right up!” As if on cue, my stomach beams in excitement and I lay my hand on it to feel the grumble, making Sicheng to laugh. “How’s work by the way, and where’s Lucas? I have his tea eggs already here.” I glanced to the side of the cart Sicheng worked away at, and indeed Lucas’s tea eggs sat prettily in a mug, waiting to be eaten.
I sigh, turning Sicheng’s grin into a straight line. He’s observant and knows how to read the room well. After a pause to gather myself, I sit down on a stool facing Sicheng and begin to tell him my worries. “I’m not sure if maybe I’m overthinking this, but Lucas always tells me if he’s not feeling well enough to work or go out somewhere. But he was gone this morning, he wasn’t in his room when I left for the clinic. He didn’t show up to the shift, and so many bad things could’ve happened, especially in the area we’re in. I’ve been checking my phone the entire day, but I’ve gotten no resp--”
“My tea eggs! You’re the best Sicheng, I really needed this after a long day, oh my god. You guys have no idea, my belly’s been howling!”
I froze. I know that voice too damn well. Anger immediately boiled within me, and it burst like the hot oil that hits Sicheng’s arms as he cooked. “You. Piece. Of. Shit,” I whipped my entire self around to face the tall man who unsurprisingly turned out to be Lucas with his disheveled hair framing his stupid little face. “Did you not see your call log? It’s just me, me, me, me, me, and oh guess who… me!” The tone in my words frightened even me, even more so realizing both Lucas and Sicheng’s widened eyes. I earned some dirty looks from customers as well. Nevertheless, I was pissed.
Lucas’s heightened shoulders steadily fall. “Hey, I’m sorry… Something really urgent came up, and it’s very personal to me. I hope you understand. I should’ve told you as soon as it came up.” His jaw clenches, his fists tightening their grip against the counter as he sternly looks at me across the food stall. I shake my head and roll my eyes, gaining a scolding expression from Sicheng who’s confusion was written all over his face. Deep within me, I know Lucas is sincere.
I start back up, loosening my voice to become gentle, “Eat your tea eggs, please. They’re getting cold and Sicheng prepared them for you early.” Silence followed, then the chewing noises from Lucas hungrily devouring his food. Maybe today was a hard day by the looks of it. Lucas took care of his appearance, so it was a shock to see him in a seemingly vulnerable state. His eye bags seem bulging and darkened, a sign of a sleepless night. Unsure of what to think, I let go of my displeasure and chip away at my pancake and rice balls. After satisfying our hunger, Lucas and I bid Sicheng a goodbye and head back to our apartment complex. The walk is painfully awkward.
▶ Ambience
This feeling is nice. To have Lucas back as we go through our nightly routine of washing our faces and brushing our teeth in a tiny community bathroom. Our mannerisms seem slightly less stiff, and though minimal, it takes a huge weight off my shoulders. He’s back and I feel secure again. But he doesn’t bring up anything about earlier. I’m about to comment on his long-sleeved shirt as he’s the biggest heat anti in the world, refusing to wear anything that isn’t a muscle tee. But the rough emotions rattled us both, so I drop it from my list of questions to ask. We get ready for bed in silence, only starting to discuss things when we finish up and plop on the floor of my apartment. I tried to figure out if I was uncomfortable from the cold floor or for the conversation that might unfold. Since Lucas has been excruciatingly quiet, I take the initiative, “I sent so many messages and calls today. Do you know how worried I was?” Disappointment heavily coat my concerns. “This isn’t like you, I was seriously going to lose my mind. Please… can you tell me what’s going on?”
It pains me to see him looking like he’s kicked down again from having an already bad day, but I needed answers. He’s the person I trust the most in the life we have now. His chest inflated and quickly deflated. “I’m about to show you something. It might freak you out.” He tugs at the ribbed cuff of his left sleeve. A tattoo? Perhaps a little smiley face or some unconventional design placed oddly on his arm that he wanted to cover since we work at a clinic? Though tattoos are normalized on staff... Or an injury? Whatever it is, I just want to know whatever he’s hiding. “Promise me you won’t make a big commotion, I will explain.”
Without much thinking, I grow irritated at him for dragging this out, so I reach for the end of his shirt and pull it up quickly, unveiling the truth. My body and mind go rigid at the sight, unable to process whatever this… contraption was. “Lucas… what the hell is this,” I ask, alarmed, taking in the faintly glowing circuits and tiny sparks of blue electricity lighting up and down tubes that poke in and out of the machinery. From his shoulder down to his fingers, metals and screws and wires replace his flesh. After a long minute of examination and curiosity, I turn my attention back to Lucas’s face which expressed great worry, fear, and uncertainty. “Is this the reason you were gone today?” He gently shook my hand off and swiftly covered his arm with his shirt again. With a dejected look, he takes his eyes off mine and pins them on the dusty floorboards. His arm is no longer human.
“Dr. Lee from the clinic.”
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