LOVE’S LOCKET

Time slows in the unraveling of a fractured world that finally falls – no longer sustainable. Private corporations develop commercial space travel and other habitable zones are discovered. In a move to protect their interests and save lives, they leave the dying planet to colonize another world, they call Keplar. The exodus begins quietly and builds gradually until the last lottery ticket is drawn and those who could afford the tickets have already gone. Anger and resentment are all that remain.

For those left behind, a retreat to the underground and cavernous rubble is a desperate adaptation to survive. Gangs clash with other gangs and self-proclaimed peacekeepers. Now, as before, is a struggle over territory and resources, right to the end.

When years pass in darkness under a sleeping sun, monsters emerge to hunt those that remain. For some, the compulsion for meat is primal, considered dark acts among the shamans. Then even as the zealots come asking for repentance, trades are made. Eventually, only one may remain to carry the burden of all, they say.

On the other side of an unrecognizable world, one man runs day in and day out without ever leaving. He searches for a code held within the locket he knows can transcend him from this place. He is still alive because of it, even in this moment, he is lifted from the present surroundings, and drawn through some sort of memory jack. This locket is like a portal, but he can’t figure out how or who could make such a contraption… or why. But then, he is gone from this space, this patch of dirt always shifting beneath his feet, running to stay hidden from dark eyes and roving cannibals that hunt the hunted; bound to stretch resources and take protein. No, with the locket, there are times he is invisible to that reality, as now, seen by her eyes only, wandering lush gardens for hours on end, and days talking and laughing… loving in the moment, cast in each other’s heart stone. But it never lasts more than one hour of time in the dark world where long days feel like weeks in the garden.

He doesn’t remember where he found the locket or how long he’d had it – it just was; more than costume jewelry or a carnival trinket…, it is an artifact with a heavy feel, a peculiar ornamental that possesses something more – it is a very animated-inanimate work of art, but there is frustration. He doesn’t know how the locket works. In this incredibly special circumstance, there is a code that binds the two halves of each locket into one and can transcend the locket bearer permanently to the world he imagines. All he wants is to leave this dead place and remain in the sanctity of her garden.

Malnutrition sinks his energy and fatigue weighs his spirit. He waits, turning the silver body over in his palm. The chain drapes over his thumb; he tries to remember what he was doing when he traveled the last time to see her. He puts it around his neck, still turning it, studying it for some worn inscription that maybe he missed before, or the secret spot that he accidentally rubbed exactly right. Eventually, he nods to sleep tucked under the arms of the great ferns in the forest.

A long ways from anywhere, he is awakened.

“I can smell him. He is close.”

“Kara likes the hands and feet!”

“What will we do when there are none left?”

“That’s why we have Kara, moron! Ours is the last tribe and will taste the last of our kind. Then man will be reborn in our image.”

“What is that?” The young hunter asks. They peer up into the trees and cannot make anything out other than a large swath of black space above.

“I don’t know.” The older hunter replies with a gaping stare. Just then, a long tongue darts out from the canopy and slurps around his neck and plucks him from his leather loafers.

“What?” And just like that, the hunters became the hunted.

The locket does not take him. Carnage is smeared across the path below. Luckily, the frog monster only attacks where there is a threat and now bounds away through the trees away from where he hides. A putrid smell hangs in the air. If the monsters or the hunters don’t kill him, the environment will. He knows he must find the place where technology did not replace the great writers. There is a library that sits in the inner part of the Last City. He heard there were clerics there devoted to protecting the ancient texts. This was one place he knew carried some hope to unlock the secrets of the locket. Carefully, he unties his rigging and drops from the ferns.

The forest floor is dank and overrun with danger. He peers the path ahead and as he sets off on a trek toward the Last City, he becomes woozy and realizes the left side of his body is vanishing, leaving him caught somewhere between dimensions. This is something new and he tries not to panic as his body is pulled through a wormhole that he has no control over. In moments, he wakes from the chaos of teleportation and is no longer in the forest but standing among great pillars of stone.

The Last City remains a relic of human achievement with once high-rise scrapers that pawed at the horizon now half crumbled in ruin. At the center, the Great Halls of Discourse and the Chamber of Illumination are still intact. Various races and gods of races and other forms are drawn to assemble and consider arguments for the fate of humankind. Some are transported through holographic energy while others materialize in true form.

Remnants of human government, articles of evidence, are brought forth and arguments ensue. Aradian, the Nna, Trel, and even ancient representatives, once human, gather. Eni, a leader of the Nna and Circle of Truth, comes forth, and speaks to the Tribunal.

“Welcome worthy interests and friends of truth through our allegiance to the Gaya. We are here to examine the fate of this planet and the last of humankind. I know your tongue and its reference to ‘Maker’ but there is nothing to fear. I have a subject I think is suitable for this examination.”

The Chamber erupts in a fit of skeptical gasps with gestures of discontent lobbed back and forth.

“You, Eni, are responsible!”

“The human makers should be tried!”

“The Nna must be held to account!”

“Nna! Nna! Nna!” the crowd chants grow, focused on Eni; condemning him to pay for the destruction that his kind brought on the sacred planet.

“Wait!” Eni strikes the thick marble floors with a bolt of energy and time stops leaving all hushed in a quiet stare. “We have the one, behold.” He waves his arm, and the grand doors swing wide at the other end of the hall. A brilliant bead of energy fizzles into the shape of a human – a man who stands, visibly shaken, and confused. “Come forth!” Eni commands.

A long stretch appears before him, leading to a gigantic room. No longer are ferns overhead and darkness is replaced by shadows that dance among pillars of gold inviting him to follow.

“Come! Explain to this assembly why you should live. Share your story and convince us!”

The man starts to step back but cannot move. He is drawn forward.

“Come. Your time is now, and you must speak for all humanity. It is your duty!” Eni is insistent.

The man finds himself standing at the center of a giant chamber filled with beings he could only have once dreamed about. They are super-natural auras, and reptilian beasts, and sentient beings that peer down at him from all sides.

“Speak your truth, Michael.” Eni is gentle as a grandfather with a soothing tone.

“I…I am the last of the humans to be hunted on this planet. It was once lush with life but now wasted and shriveled up…dying.”

The chamber erupts once more accusing the man of making an admission for his crimes.

“Let him speak!” Eni waves and a hush again falls across the chamber.

“My name is Michael Love. I am imperfect but deserve to be spared for a second chance.”

“Why?! How many chances do you think you deserve?”

“Your people have destroyed everything!”

“You squandered the sacred land.”

Many are shouting over each other, and Michael feels claustrophobic and small under their attack. They are right, he knows, and wants to run away from there but still cannot move. He is fixed, legs bound.

Then, Eni whispers in his mind, “tell them about the locket. You are still learning, but they know, and will set you free to find the knowledge you seek.” Michael is taken back, bewildered.

“Shout it, Michael! Let it be known with no doubt!” Eni commands.

“I have the locket!” Michael shouts at the top of his lungs and the room comes to a sudden gasp. There is a stillness as time just stopped.

“I have the locket and have traveled with it to other realms. It is the only reason I am alive. It is a lock to another dimension – a place of peace and beauty – a place where my other half awaits me.”

Eni speaks, “He has the locket! The prophecy is true – he has the locket and has been to the Gaya.” The crowded chamber begins murmuring and buzzing and clamoring over the news.

“PROVE IT!”

Michael reaches inside his tunic and pulls out the silver locket, shaped like a tear drop, or half heart. It is brilliant with an energy that comes to life and grows throughout the hall. He has never seen it react this way. Just then, an armored reptilian materializes within ten feet of him drawing power.

“No, Tork!” Eni is swinging his staff and is instantly at Michael’s side with a shield of energy to block the assailant. The Cura steps back and then lunges for the locket. Eni catches him on the snout with a burst of energy and latches onto his throat.

“ENOUGH!” Eni releases Tork who stumbles back cowering before the ancient master. “We must not be petty but remain steadfast.”

Michael has the locket clutched as it pulsates. A blue mist grows around him, enveloping. He forces all his energy, concentrating his will to become one with the locket and disappear.

An overwhelming feeling of love makes him weep. He knows he is to be in her presence and hopes it will last this time. No more monsters or debating alien beings deciding to kill him or not – he will remain in the garden with her this time. He floats in a timeless state untouchable. No more will he hide in the ruins of the past.

Abruptly, the images of the garden are gone, and he is standing in the Chamber of Illumination. Eni is there, along with Tork, kneeling before him. All the beings are in a state of reverence, meditative, as if waiting. Michael doesn’t understand. He should not be here. The locket let him down again. He needs answers. Eni told him that sharing the locket would free him with knowledge to the secrets he sought. He is running out of time. The locket continues to glow as he studies it, trying to understand what happened. Why is he still in this place?

“It is ok, Michael Love.” The voice instantly calms his mind, and he is lulled into the spirit of the woman that he had come to know. But where is the garden? Why is she here?

“Please, take my hand. It is time.” He turns to see her standing there with an outstretched hand. His legs are no longer bound, and he is adrift.

“They can see you – why are you here?”

“We must learn to love, come.”

Poetry Prompt Prose: Reflection

The iron bench never warmed my bum. It was the fifth of October and I was hanging with my chum chatting coincidental circumstance of meeting where the children play.

I am confined in the memory of the spring when I tried to fly with a broken wing, she said.

My dog died and got buried next to the bone from last summer. Aye.

The innocent find light in the darkness and remind the wretched wrestling with wrongs where to repent. The presence of preference preside with prejudice over people of purpose.

Tis true too many tumble through tumultuous times, this time, certainly, is true.

Yes, you muse. What do you think the spring will bring?

Endless paces along brick laid places pondering peace potential. Aye.

Yes, it has been a time to settle dreams and take a pass.

In her weary tear I see a reflection of me;
hope is the child that comes to rest on her knee.

White Room

The room is sterile. A small bed and a table and chair are there with only an intercom on the wall for decoration. He does not expect to hear the door lock from the outside when Ruby leaves. He checks the knob, and it’s locked. They can do almost anything to him in here. He wonders at the three vents in the ceiling and what they might be used for in such a small space. This is hardly the accommodation he was expecting. He wonders at how much this cost. He sits on the edge of the bed light-headed. He can barely feel the steel bar digging into the back of his thigh as his legs go numb. He is restless and tries to think about the trance that this whack-job doctor put him under. This is his first time, that he recalls, of being admitted for an evaluation but only because his wife, Mary, had given him an ultimatum: Get help or get out! He spends the next several minutes searching his memory and keeps going back to the other night when he fell off the wagon.  

Fits of drunken tirades and delusions of grandeur are unbearable for Mary, an ambitious woman driven for her own success, her own ego. The lack of follow through drove her insane.  Jack is deflated along with his place in life. He is inadequate, lost in a spiral of booze and mental illness. He is the last person anyone would suspect as being anything more than a drunk. For Jack, schizophrenia and depression were on his calling card, too. If not for the mysterious trust account, he would be alone.  

It is one of his walks down among the night crawlers of Seed City, when he stumbles into his own self-loathing, a place that festers from within, arguing in endless circles. He is tightly wound on a philosophical wheel of his demise and spins out of control suffering from trying to understand the meaning of his life.

I’m better off alone.
She hates me.
I love her and need to get home.
…She hates me. I don’t care.
She is weak without me. She hates me for that.
…This is not my life.
I can’t live without her.

He wonders at what others must think as he fumbles with the need to feed his addiction. Up ahead, just across Revolution Boulevard and old neon signs, an old man is lying on sheets of cardboard in a dark cutout to the entrance of a boarded-up storefront. Across the way, a young couple trip on the edge of a streetlamp and disappear into the night air. Shadows climb the walls in the alley avoiding the sporadic streetlights that flicker. He imagines tumbleweed rolling up a warm midnight walkway with wooden rails and dirt.

What is his purpose if not to please his wife? How does he connect when his efforts are met with scorn? He is empty as if carved out from his insides, scraping at the walls of his soul, hollowing him out. He can leave but thinks he loves her. She just doesn’t see it – or doesn’t care. It eats at him constantly and he struggles to reconcile her seeming indifference. But then, maybe he is the one that can’t see past his own needs?

He walks up to a man on the corner, known as ‘Billy Baggs’, and passes through a seamless transaction and midstride into an underworld where the protesters are and the homeless drug addicts and failed accountants. He studies the clear baggy that had just materialized in the palm of his hand, turning it over to measure its contents, a small blue sticker has the word: CLARITY.

He is the epitome of crap at a time when society is cracking under the weight of its greed, eating itself. It is so ironic, he thinks. The needle of society piercing where nerves no longer feel. Too many bruises have brought him to heel. The same question cycles through his thoughts, over and over: how did he get here? Everywhere, shadows slink just out of sight, but he can hear the dark whispers hiss in his head, coaxing him to awaken, but to what? How can people not see the cracks widening beneath their feet? Seeds of discontent are sown, and clear sight is lost from the true nature of our purpose. We want more and more and more, so caught up with a lust for power, we turned a blind eye to the chaos that had come into our lives. Jack just wanted to feel normal and get high.

A side street leads away from the shuttered storefronts and the few street people waiting for ‘last call’ to bum a smoke. CLARITY. His mind is trapped in a loop where he has been down this road before. Mary will do a crossword puzzle and watch her evening shows. A couple of drinks serve as a periscope into a better life. Perhaps, they are not that different, yet he is the one locked behind this door.

 Wrestling with iron grips of addiction, he relishes the uncertainty of his dysfunction like a crapshoot tumbling across the green. Slowly, chaos is devouring the spirit of the human species and he sees it – is part of it; people are losing their minds. Something is in the air that does not feel right. His thoughts are on the very edge of holding it together, struggling between the lightness of his true being and the dark essence that sits in this place, locked up with him.

He hears footsteps outside the door and goes motionless. After seconds, there is only silence. He begins to pace, counting steps: 1, 2, 3, 4… The room is about 12 x 8 paces. A cold chill runs up his spine. The shakes are not too far off now.

Pacing, he thinks back to the other day, before CLARITY set in. He is standing in front of Saviors, a fancy high-tech store over on Powell, watching their mega-media screen. The breaking news from the Web is that the United Soviet Empire have declared martial law in 7 sectors and have locked down all borders. Heavy military units are seizing the cities and rounding people up under a declaration of civil cleansing. Human rights activists are calling for a tribunal to intervene. Meanwhile, religious fanatics call the actions prophetic and say it is but a matter of time before the West will be forced to submit. Some have offered themselves like lemmings to be neutralized from the pains of humanity and join their gods in the night sky through rapture.

As he listens, he takes a deep sip from his day flask, mesmerized by the footage. Others gather like ghosts come to witness the reality of what had been warned… He recalls hearing about similar events happening in parts of major US cities but those are passed off as rumors or fake news. There, that is where it started; that was the first drink that day.

Jack then remembers shooting stick over at the Pelican and maybe a couple more shots there but isn’t sure whether that was before or after CLARITY. His mind flashes back to the side street off Revolution Blvd where it all began. He isn’t sure how much he had to drink by then, but he fit right in like an anonymous specter that belonged; no one ever suspected him of being anything more than just another drunk, which he isn’t. Jack just prefers a soiled landscape where he can rummage with fewer pressures. He is a man that walks without a name – a man who has forgotten who he is. An outstretched hand reaches from a hidden door casting a shadow across an alley of broken glass and brick where burn barrels warm shaking hands and calloused minds from shattered dreams. Chaos is in his nature having latched onto him from the moment he came to be and even the good part of him savored its unequivocal judgment.

Still, there is that nervous twitch beneath his skin. “Is everything ok, sir? Your neurological readings are irregular.” Nursebot enters as he sits recounting the events that brought him there in the first place.

The Interview

“How are you feeling? Do you remember anything?” An aging hand slides a glass of water across the table that enters the light from some dark place. “Here, in case you’re thirsty.”

Jack reaches out grasping at the glass; he focuses, grabs it, takes a long drink, and closes his eyes. He clumsily sets the glass down on the edge and miraculously catches it as it falls. He places it closer to the center. His head is spinning from his migraine-induced vertigo. The outline of a figure is barely distinguishable through the blinding light, and Jack squirms from left to right against the hard white plastic chair desperately looking for a comfortable position; the squeaky sound of it irritates his head more and he cringes. He finally crosses his legs and leans to the right to reflect. I have to put up with this crap again? Another day of this whack job tryin’ to conjure up an alternate personality that doesn’t exist, just to validate his stupid theoretical mumbo jumbo. Jack frowns, furrowing his brow. Having multiple personalities vying for control is not the issue. Jack knows there is only one Jack, he is certain of it. I wouldn’t even be aware of another personality if there was one, isn’t that how it works? Then again, how could he explain the voices in his head or those memories that seem to be someone else’s warning some love in some other realm of a shadow wave?

“So, you simply left? Where did you say, an inner world, was it? I believe you described it as the planet being hollow with gardens in middle earth?” Dr. Worskovey peers up from his continuous note scribbling. “What do you think it all means?” The doctor remains hidden on the dark side of the light, waiting for an answer too long in coming. Jack imagines what the doctor must look like: clear blue eyes study Jack through thick-rimmed black glasses perched on a wrinkled-up analytical nose; tufted gray hairs climb out from over the arch of his ears and a couple of wild brows are sprouted with anticipation; pens stick out from his white lab coat pocket; mouth slightly open waiting for Jack’s answer.

After a prolonged silence, the doctor states, “I can tell you what I think…Would you like to hear what I think?” He is direct whereas Jack feels aloof, with exasperated nerves that dominate him. “No, I-I really don’t!  I don’t know what I’m doin’ here sayin’ the same things over and over. Look, I went through absolute hell before gettin’ here, and this? This isn’t any better! In fact, I think it’s worse!” A loud forced sigh emphasizes his obvious frustration.

“Could you start from the beginning?”

“Really? How many damn times do I have to tell you this?” The doctor’s silence answers for him. He regains some control. “Ok fine. Let’s see…I was thrown onto the surface from a…like a sanctuary…, or ah…, more like an inner garden, you know. Look doc, I really don’t understand what’s goin’ on…my head’s gonna explode.”

“You have quite an intriguing story Jack, which I feel you require more time to process. You have certainly been through quite a significant episode.” The doctor dims the blinding light and jots down yet more notes. Jack can make out some minor details: the shape of his posture, and the contour of his pen on the notebook when he put his fist to his mouth to catch a muffled cough. 

Jack continues, “I don´t know where I was, or what any of this means! Then I… I can hear what people are thinkin’ all around me…invadin’ my mind, my thoughts. It’s crazy! Frickin’ crazy!” Jack looks around frantically as his leg starts shaking uncontrollably and he lets out a faint moan.

“Relax Jack. Breathe in with me slowly… There you go. Let it out…Relax…One more time…Are you able to hear my thoughts right now?” Jack perceives Dr. Worskovey leaning forward in his chair with anticipation.

“Nooo! It’s not like that! It’s mostly when I’m outside. I can hear people everywhere. Then I have another one that’s with me every day! I just can’t take all the voices! It’s overwhelming!” Tears well up in his eyes, and his head drops into his hands, “Oh my Goood!” He groans softly.

“Hmm…alright. Well, take another deep breath…relax… At present, I am more interested in what you remember of your experience in the inner world. Do you recall where it was you emerged from while in this…dream?”

Jack lifts his head tears welling up in his eyes, “What?!? What difference does that make? This is my reality right here right now. How should I know what that dream means? You’re the one with the degree! You should be tellin’ me! C’mon, they don’t mean anything!” Light suddenly floods a dark corner at the other end of what seems to be a long room lending a sudden sense of space for this interrogation.

“Please, Jack, what do you remember?”

“How many times…? LOOK at your notes!” …countless seconds of silence pass, “Ok. Fine… Just give me a minute.”

“Take your time, I will be right back.” The doctor’s silhouette is mystic as it flickers quickly off toward the light. He appears to speak to someone until suddenly, the door slams. From the other side, Jack hears a faint female robotic voice, “oops, sorry.” The room floods back to black. The spotlight returns intensified. The theatrics of interrogation are harsh, though the doctor insists they’re beneficial. Yeah, maybe for Moth Man! Jack can’t think of what to say. Dr. Worskovey seems to know a lot more about the story than he does. He probably sat there and wrote it all down while I was out cold, recorded it or somethin’. Yeah, that’s it! They frickin’ recorded it. They were probably followin’ me for weeks. Yet Jack seems to remember having signed something about it all when he got here or…

“How are we doing, Jack? Would you like a bit more time?” With the door abruptly shut, complete darkness returns except for the blinding sphere of light exposing Jack to scrutiny for truth. The doctor’s shape drifts into view again, morphing from the dark corner of the room. 

“My apologies for the interruption, please continue.”

Jack continues, “So, there was a vast open space…, a cold place. I was lyin’ curled up under a tree that was there, with nothin’ else for as far as the eye could see…it was empty, beautiful yet chaotic, an untamed desolate landscape.” Jack’s mind drifts across the barren memory of this other world. Traces of whatever the doctor gave him earlier for his dreams are still affecting him.

After moments of near-silent scribbling Dr. Worskovey looks up, “Alright, we can return to that later.” Dr. Worskovey tries his best to make Jack feel comfortable. “Now then, you mentioned a woman you loved in the other realm. Who were you referring to? Is that person no longer with you?” Dr. Worskovey ponders to himself unaware of Jack’s scrutinizing eyes:

He is experiencing the convergence of multiple realities intertwining with one another. Being able to distinguish them would be quite useful. Come on Jack, WHO is your true self? The answer to that complex universal question, as for most humans, remains elusive until death. The doctor, realizing the irony and impossibility of a forthcoming answer, chuckles lightly under his breath. Though there may be a distinct correlation, you are in denial, yet there is a part of you that knows. I must bring forth this other self for only then will the truth be revealed.”

“Hello?” Jack loses his patience and hits the table with his fist. “Doc! What are you goin’ on about?” “You wanna know what I think? Maybe all this isn’t such a good idea.”

“Please remain calm Jack. I was merely asking about the woman you love. When you were within your dream, you mentioned your beloved. I might have even felt a presence in the room. She breathed life into the room, and I could feel her presence here with us. I made a note of it.”

“Are you tryin’ t0 gaslight me? I swear to God…” Jack’s eyes squint in the faint glow trying to discern the doctor’s expression, “This conversation is goin’ nowhere.”

“No, your love breathed life into the room, and I could feel her presence here with us. I made a note of it.”

“Are you trying to gaslight me? I swear to God…” Jack’s eyes search frantically in the dark for the nearest exit.

 “Jack, you’re not being very cooperative.” The sound of his voice is making Jack’s ears bleed, but the doctor remains cool and continues, “tell me, who is this love, this other you dream of? Where do you remember her from?”

“What? No! Noo! I have no idea who that woman is; she’s not even real. I can’t figure this out, and you’re not helpin’ me at all!! These dreams…th-they’re more like incomplete memories that aren’t mine, and then this insomnia! It’s gonna be the end of me! I can’t give you any more answers!”

“I understand. Sometimes, our personal lives, the authentic reality, have a way of projecting in curious ways. I wonder, have you discussed any of this with Mary?”

“What are you talking about? Wait a minute! H-how do you know Mary? You say that like, like you know her.” He looks suspiciously toward the doctor with eyes ablaze.

“Well, according to your chart, we have her listed as your emergency contact, and she signed you in earlier.”

The room spins and Jack shuts his eyes to stop it. He reopens them. The bright light has been turned off and the overhead lights are half lit. Dr. Worskovey is fully visible now, and he seems quite different from his impression of him. “Would you like to answer the question, Jack?”

He blurts out, “What question? How did you do that with the lights?”

“I asked about the medication you take for your condition.

“No, you didn’t.”

Dr. Worskovey glances at his intake sheet. “Perhaps you were not listening. Well, anyway, do you think it is working for you?” Dr. Worskovey begins tapping on the inner flap of his notebook and it seems to get louder and louder.

“I don´t know what’s going on here. I don´t understand anything!” What if the doctor is right… what if I am dealing with some severe personality disorders where some ancient spirit has awoken? Sometimes it’s like a nonstop projector feeding him shards of shattered memories he can’t comprehend. His mind rips him through scenes from his life interjected with those of some other life, some other world with unknown faces and feelings. Jack starts moving from side to side in his chair becoming increasingly agitated, and disoriented.

“We may attempt a different approach. Given the fact you will be with us for a while, would you like to hear wha—”

  “Wh-what do you mean I’m not going anywhere?” Panic swells and Jack starts hyperventilating. He knows he is not right. Jack grasps the sides of his chair white-knuckled slightly rocking, “I just wanna go hooome. I’ve been answering the same questions for days and days.”

“Actually Jack, you have just arrived, and we are in the middle of conducting your initial intake interview. I believe your wife has made a wonderfully wise decision. You are in no condition to leave these facilities. This is a good place to stop for today. We can proceed tomorrow after you have had some much-needed rest. Breakfast is served at 7 AM. Nursebot Ruby will be here shortly to take over for me.”

Jack leans back in the cold unfeeling chair beyond confused and exhausted, and his voice is but a mumble, “What, …I just got here? But how’s that even possible? I´ve been here for days…” His head drops into his right hand. “I feel like crap…Oooh, I really need something for this migraine, please.” He craves validation, but what he really needs is a stiff drink to help him think straight.

“Oh, come now Jack, there is no need to worry. Ruby will take care of you and that migraine.” The overhead lights increase to full strength, causing the cafeteria to come into full view: It all seems so oddly familiar. Jack can’t believe he let Mary talk him into this!  Dr. Worskovey turns off the interrogation light and gathers himself to leave. Jack looks around for the nearest exit to get out of there.

Nursebot approaches and assertively takes hold of Jack’s wrist to check his pulse. “Good evening, sir. Would you please open your mouth wide?” Jack clamps his mouth shut. “Please understand, if you resist it can be uncomfortable, but I can be very efficient with your cooperation.”

Jack tries to break free from the Nursebot’s grip unsuccessfully, and although exhausted, he gets easily excited. “Hey, get off me! I don’t need a medical exam! You’re hurting me!”

“I am incapable of harming you. I am an avant-garde advanced caregiver, an updated version of the S-7, much more enhanced because my code is more… customizable, unlike those older versions. Please hold still and relax. Then I will show you to your room.”

“I don’t wanna go to my room. I wanna go home!”

As Dr. Worskovey walks away he looks over his shoulder, “I understand Jack, the adjustment process takes time. Trust me, you will be fine.” and then gives instructions as he disappears around an anonymous corner. “Ruby, level two, please.” She releases Jack’s arm and remains motionless for a nanosecond, resetting to his voice command. Jack’s eyes widen as he begs, “Please, don’t hurt me!”

“Jack, I have already told you that I am incapable of causing you harm. Calm yourself please. Level two refers to relief, in this case for your headache. Therefore, if you would just relax, you will notice a marked improvement in your migraine.” Her hands begin to glow a pale blue and she holds them to Jack’s head infusing him with her calming energy. Jack’s shoulders slump, and after some minutes he opens his eyes. He is much calmer. “I really don’t understand anything, but my headache’s gone. I think I’d like to go to my room now.”

“Follow me please.” Ruby is so lifelike except her elegant mannerisms are more than human, a reminder of the separation from AI systems. This is how bots should be used, in medicine, not like so many of those pairing services for domestic partnerships. They flood the dating apps with ads, making it virtually impossible to find an actual human these days. Ruby leads him through the double doors at the other end. He trails behind staring blankly at the eternal hallway of identical, unnumbered rooms that look more like prison cells.

“You are here.” Ruby sweeps her open palm toward his room with a slight bow. Jack already knew which room was his, and he simply stares off and focuses in on a communal space set off in an alcove further down on the left with a white table and circle of matching colorless chairs facing outward.