Cocoon – Episode 6

(Trigger Warning – Depictions of violence, slurs, and mild blood and gore.  Reader discretion advised)

The past years hadn’t been easy, and if it hadn’t been for certain people fighting for me within their privileged roles I might not be here today.  For that I am thankful.  But it’s time for me to leave the protective cocoon I once occupied.  It’s my time to shine, or fade into oblivion on my own power.  The military, more than anything else I’d faced, was more like child’s play.  The cherished powers of tempests were something that gave them a certain kind of leeway other people didn’t have.  I walk proudly into this institution because in my life I really did make tremendous sacrifices to get this far, even saved people who hated me.  Even while thinking about this, I walked into that building with an invincible air.

One of the men I rescued when I was 14 saw fit to attempt to assault me just after I saved him.  I gave him back his life after the riot that hit lower town.  Lower town was the basically, literal part of town that was at street level.  The towering skyscrapers did nothing but block out the social problems of the lowers from those who lived in those high rises.  Most of the upper class lived up at those heights, and they even went through measures to help them stay up there, like a massive network of interlinking sky-bridges at about the 75th floors of most buildings, and flying cars.  Most of them could afford fusion-powered, turbine-engined flying cars that allowed them to never have to step foot at the street level.  Not only that, but they could afford maintenance on them to keep them air worthy.  Most of those vehicles that couldn’t fly existed at street level, and were several years old and “strangely” had no parts to make them air worthy again, and for good reason.  It was prohibited by law to allow Aircarrs older than 10 years to fly, and the law made it prohibitively expensive to get parts and waivers to allow you to fly.  Sometimes a wealthy, well-to-do would ditch a 7 – 9-year-old Aircarr for a newer model down at street level.  But most of the time the parts were so expensive that you could only hope to make it street worthy.  During rush-hour, the old refurbished freeway system was jam-packed with the worker class people trying to make it to their very low paying, often antiquated jobs in Aircarrs that weren’t flight worthy.  The only real “Technological Charity” that existed was that artificial limbs were church subsidized.  However, the models available to ordinary people were substandard, and having one meant that you had to work twice as hard for menial pay raises.  The arms broke so often, and caused so much damage to the bodies of their owners, that the successive replacements usually became extensively more aggressive every time.

You could always tell too… After a dozen repeated mods they had hulking amounts of modification, and ridiculous amounts of scaring.  Most of those who’d developed Cybernetic Neuropathy ended up being retired, out of work, or forming street gangs.  Even though angel class clerics existed who could regenerate lost limbs, most of the clinics that had such a rarity charged hundreds of times the amount for those services than regular medical care.  And considering the cyber-prosthetics they subsidized were pretty damn cheap you almost never saw anyone get their limbs regrown.  The police were equally brutal to the gangs, and would shoot on-site anyone with prosthesis at rallies, protests, and riots.  The lower classes may not have been branded, but they were no less marked, so many with shoddy cybernetics that no on in the church would ever have to put up with.  The cybernetic enhancements of the elite were genuinely “enhancing”.  They were sleek, and elegant, and some of them could often times be mistaken for real limbs until closer examination.  The wealthy retained the option to be pure, or to actually enhance themselves.  The subsidized cybernetics were often far less efficient than the natural human equivalent, however the wealthy had access to highly advanced technology.

I am on autopilot now, walking around, handing over paper work, and signing tablets with my advocate, seemingly lost in the thought of that man.

In my memory, it was raining ever so lightly, occasionally some lightning, and we’d just had severe hail that day.  It quelled the riots now a week in.  I never thought I’d find the sound of a hail of ice pummeling the roof of my attic room to be peaceful.  It was a welcome respite from the voices and sounds of violence outside.  Our temple though well protected from the event, this time, was still close enough to reverberate with the screams of the masses, gunfire, and destruction.  I actually fell asleep to the thunderous sounds of that ice.  I awoke at around 2 am.  The hail had stopped.  Apparently there was a short burst of violence that had gotten close to our door steps.  The triage room had finally emptied from a new full capacity that day.  Me, and three of the other nurses, as well as one of the guards hear a knock at the door.  I had been out to get some pomegranate seeds to help me go back to sleep.  When I would collapse from healing people, Mahala would feed them to me one by one to get my strength back.  Usually taking care of the wounded myself made the experience of being cared for a particularly bittersweet moment.  I got to be helpless, I got to be cared for.  Emotional support was quite devoid of that life, so I longed for anything that transformed that relationship even just a little bit.

We ignored the knocking and banging, as we were closed up for the night, and it was a security hazard at this time of night, and in such a tumultuous time like then.  But they pounded again, and again.  The rapping sounded like a metal exoskeleton, and then I heard a thud and it stopped.  So I decided to check.  The guards nodded, and one of them went back to his room to sleep.  I open it and one man was there.  He was a mess.  Someone had broken off his prosthesis and impaled him with it.  He’d lost a lot of blood and was completely incapacitated at this point in time.  One of the nurses came over and helped me drag him to the cot closest to the door.  He was limp and cold, and his face had been beaten rather thoroughly.  I knelt and began to work on him.  My turquoise flames emerged, and her yellow-green flames.  She worked on healing the wounds and removing the impaled metal, and I started regenerating the blood.  Still with gashes some of the new blood began to flow out, “Hurry up, Jabala.  I can’t regenerate his blood forever”.  Regenerating blood was the most taxing on both the victim and the healer.  Turquoise flames were powerful healing agents, but they worked more on the cellular and sub-cellular metabolic levels, and had little effect on larger wounds, like the ones this man had.  Jabala, the other nurse, was a yellow-green only healer, and her power was much slower than some of the other nurses.  She kicked it into second gear and began to produce more flames than I’d seen her do before.  I could tell it was taxing her.  If she failed we’d be unable to revive this man.  I ran out of time, he would have to have a transfusion and I would be bed ridden for several days.  But alas, she finally managed to heal the wounds, and the blood regeneration brought the color back to his face.  There was blood ever where and my clothing and hers was soaked in the blood from the floor that had spilled over from the cot.  I dreaded the idea of having to clean it later in boiling water, as I had many times in the past.

The stumps the man had for shoulders began to extrude the metal cybernetic pieces as I turned my flames more green.  Slowly as the stumps began to turn into small arms the metal fell to the floor, and then the arms grew bigger, and bigger.  She helped me stabilize the reaction as I was fairly fatigued already.  The arms now looked like a fully grown mans arms, accept slightly more pink than his complexion, and much of the mans previous body fat was gone.  The man began to breathe normal, and I looked over at Jabala she was white as a sheet and sweating profusely.  She collapsed, and started to go into shock.  She’d over done it.  I climb around to the other side of the cot and begin trying to get her to wake up.  I am exhausted and I begin to pour as much of my deep green flame into her as I have left.  She still doesn’t wake, but her color improves.  I lift her body up onto a cot.  I can’t do anymore.  I am on the verge of collapse myself, especially after record numbers of wounded that day.  I cover her in a blanket.  She is out of danger now.  From behind me I hear a rustle.  I turn, and the man is waking up, and he appears to be anxious.  I look to him, and one look at my mark was all it took.  He lunged at me and wrapped his hands around my throat.  I try to scream, and look around but I see no guards.  I am alone in the triage room, and this man is trying to harm me.  I am in shock more than anything at this sudden attack, and my head is buzzing a bit of oxygen deprivation.  I manage to loosen his hands as I struggle only enough to let out a few words, “Help… I’m the one who saved you”.  “ARgggghhhhhh, AHhhhhh!”, he screams back.   “POP, POP, POP”, I hear, and the man goes limp and falls onto me.  The guard had come in and seen the man I’d just saved choking me, and without a second thought sent him back to the abyss whence he came.  Not a moment too soon.  I was seeing stars and I felt tingling in my limbs, and I was already so exhausted that I was unable to move.  The second guard came in and dragged the man’s body from me.

He began to drag it to the door, while the other guard lifted me up onto the cot, “Wait, let me tend to him”.  I only squeaked as I hadn’t fully recovered yet.  I wasn’t even able to hold myself up, and I felt so utterly helpless and anxious.   The guard was holding me up on the cot coated with blood from the man I’d saved.  The guard disappeared from my sight through both sets of doors at the side entrance to the temple.  “Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop”, I heard as the guard emptied half a clip into someone.  As a healer, I’d had to swear and oath to heal and do no harm and at this moment I felt a deepened helplessness to uphold this vow.  Tears began to stream through my eyes as I passed out in the arms of the guard.  Mahala came to me and began to nurse me back to health, but the impact of the event made my chest feel heavy.  I felt guilty and cold, and I just couldn’t fathom what I’d seen and heard.  It was like that day laying in the rain.  My clothing felt so heavy that it was as if it held me firm to my futon and unable to move my shaky and fragile frame.  I was trapped in this feeling.  I wasn’t even able to eat for 3 days.  The whole episode made it feel as though it was raining in my heart.

My advocate snapped her fingers in my face, “Hey, Earth to Alira.”  I was startled from my thoughts.  She grabbed my hand and shoved my door key into it.  We’d finished signing for things, getting my linens from the linen exchange, and claiming my personal effects from temporary housing.  We were standing in front of my dorm room,  “Are you okay?”, she asks me.  “Yes”, I retort, “I was just lost in my memories.”

She escorts me inside and gives me her contact card.   It’s a specially chipped card which when inserted into my room computer automatically calls her on a secure line.  “Become a beautiful butterfly for me now, won’t you?”, she says.  I stagger back and look at her in a bewildered, astonished way.  “You have finally emerged from your cocoon.  You are not protected here as you once were, and like the gelding you must learn to walk.  These people here will not protect you, and will seek to do anything to destroy you.  You represent something they don’t understand, and don’t want to.  I rest my hopes with you, as your advocate.  Do your best,” she says firmly and confidently while grabbing both of my shoulders.  She has a look in her eye that reminds me of my mother.  Patting me on the shoulder she turns to the door, “Take care.”  She leaves and closes the door behind her.  This room looks eerily like my room when I was first picked up by the church.  It has a bunk bed, but everyone who is tier one gets their own room.  I am in the green wing, and as you guessed it, it’s a wing for healers.  We are all segregated by our power types.  There is also an auxiliary dorm for the hybrids.  I turn to my bed and then stack the linens neatly on the upper bunk as my bed is already covered.  Neatly placed on my pillow are the green medical lapel pins, and green medical shoulder boards accoutrements.  I sit on my bed by the pillow and remove my jacket.  The pressure, and stress, both good and bad of today is finally hitting me as I press the last lapel pin on.  I puncture my fingertip with the pin, and quickly yank my finger away.  “Go figures”, I mumble to myself. I try to heal it, but only little candle like flames come from the tips of my fingers.  I must be exhausted.  The wound continues to bleed.  I reach for a first aid kit I see by the bed when there is a knock.  Placing the back on the pin on and setting down to the jacket I quickly walk to the door and carefully open it.

With a shocked look on my face I look at this uniformed girl from the green wing standing there, and she is staring back at me.  “Hello”, I say quizzically.  After a few moments of staring, “Fallon”, she says noticing the blood trickling down my finger.  Taking a look at my face and tilting her head to the side she grabs my finger and puts it into her mouth.  This induces a strange tingling response, and I reel back and little bit, but she only sucks harder and refuses to release her grip.  Then suddenly she lets go, and I fall back a step or two cradling my finger.  She just looks at me as if nothing happened.  I look down at my finger and the pin prick wound is gone.  “There are drinks in the fridge.  You are exhausted”, she says and then turns and walks away.  I lurch forward towards to door, and look out.  By the time I am hanging out the doorway, all I hear is a door latching closed somewhere down the hallway.  I shut my door and lean against its cold surface.  “What the hell was that”, I say to myself nearly shouting it.  It’s late, and the greyish sky horizon now fills the sky and I can see rain in the bluish light outside my window.  The only light in my room is the warm but insufficient desk lamp.  When I entered my room the sun was up, and it had since set.  I reach for the fridge door unleashing its orangish yellow light and inside is 3 shelves full of a milkier version of those green sports drinks I had when I was in the care of the diocese.  Grabbing one and peeling the lid I chug the beverage.  Still feeling unsatisfied I repeat this twice more.  I chuck the three containers in the bin next to the bed and lay across the bed.  “What was up with that girl”, I say thinking about our vampiric exchange.  I feel strangely tired, as though I have been medicated a little bit.  As I wonder about the coincidence of the two, I pass out.

At around 5am I hear the unusually Gothic reveille call sounding through the hallways.  It startles me a bit.  Still in my uniform but with my hair now disheveled I fly out of my bed.  I look at the mirror just across the room from the foot of my bed.  I hear the dorm super walking down the halls banging on the doors saying “Wake up princesses, nap time is over”.  I quickly, using water, and a brush I had from my stuff pull my hair tie, brush out my hair, and retie it back.  My hair is now an epic length as I wasn’t able to cut it in the temple.  It’s about 4 feet long, of my 5’6″ worth of height.  I usually tie it in a half up-do style, and let the rest just hang. I can hear the other students coming out of their doors and standing by them for roll call.  I quickly tidy my bed and follow suit.  The dorm super is a student leader by the name of “Sheila”, as I remembered her name and picture on the wall as I entered the wing.  She was a fiery woman of about 19, a senior, and had fiery hair to boot.  She was a healer like the rest of us, but she was forced to put on this little military like show of bravado to keep the Commandant’s Office from breathing down our throat.  They let it fly because healers are gentle people, usually, and because of that they function better when they are given a little more time, love and tenderness.  Or at least that is what the captain said yesterday.  However, if our wing got really bad they would crack down, but that seldom happened.  As Sheila passed me and called my name I said “Here”. She loitered around me for a moment, stared at me a bit, and then walked on continuing the roll-call.   I came to dread these morning escapades.  The medical wing wasn’t required to show for breakfast until 7am, but we had to wake up at 5am.

It was all quite inconvenient as with my girth of hair, it took me at least that long to get ready.  However, I’d already decided that I was going to cut it to military length, or just past my shoulder blades that day.  That was the regulation for female hair, however, healers as I mentioned were giving special provisions.  For us, it was optional.  I showered and got ready, and while my hair was still damp I pulled it altogether.  Then tying it off I cut it at a length just below my shoulder blades. I seriously felt about 10 lbs lighter.  This uniform seemed slightly more loose on me than it did yesterday, so I pulled it straight after ironing it, and put it back on.  I slide on my leg garter with a deck of 99 blue-cards loaded into it, and slide it up so that it won’t be visible from under my skirt.  These boots, and this outfit almost feel awkward on me as I think about the cutesy Gothic look of the more mature female uniforms.  However, there is never any showing skin unless your skirt gets flipped up, and then it’s only minimal with the thigh high boots, socks and bloomer style underwear.  They have a little wedge to the heel, and it’s just a little over an inch.  The men were knee-high combat boots, but they wear trousers over them, so you never see them outside of combat uniforms where they have to tuck them in.  Rubbing my rank for good luck, I do one last check and walk out the door.

I hadn’t worn make-up in a decade, and to be honest it felt… Weird.  However, I’d opted to wear as little as possible, and I only used lip balm.  I’d wiped as much of it off as I could get away with once I put it on.  It was like some sort of foundation slash moisturizer and it just made my skin feel awkwardly clammy.

The stairwell was packed with students with their shoulder bags on, and green clad shoulder boards.  There was a little bit of chatter in the hollow echos of the stair well, mostly that of females as the ratio in green wing was 1 guy to every 4 girls.  However, it was mostly just boots clambering against the plastic slip-proof stair covers.  As we exit into the basement floor hallway, there is a long hallway with a bunch of isolation rooms for people recovering from tempest sickness (the sickness you get when you overuse your powers).  This awkward chain of people progresses towards double doors, and already I can smell the odors of artificial eggs, soy meats, and the clanking of trays and silverware over the dull roar of student chatter.  I had a little bit of dread for a moment thinking about this being the first time in years I’d eaten food like this.  The temporary housing only offered food preparation and delivery from the temple as they were required to provide my meals while I was there.  So Mahala worked in the hall’s kitchen preparing Islamic Approved meals.  I wasn’t really sure if I was happy about this or sad, as I’d really had little dietary change in 9 years.  I enter the dining room and it’s a medium-sized room with a much stronger neo-gothic flair than the rooms had.  It was a very, very old building with a kind of “churchly” feel to it.  It made me a bit uneasy, but I progressed.  As I grabbed a tray from the side by the entrance, I could still feel the warm dampness from the high pressure dishwasher they cleaned them with.  I progressed up the line.  The smell of the food was both appetizing and strangely unbalancing.  However, tempest like us will pass out if we don’t eat high protein, high calorie, high sugar, high electrolyte foods, especially us tier 1s, doubly so healers.  My shoulder boards have 3 star marks on them in the form of 3 dots in a triangular pattern.  This gives the cafeteria workers the go ahead to give me more food of more types than the other students, as I am more than likely to burn off my energy in the course of a day.  This cafeteria is shared by all three wings, also formed into the shape of a 3 pointed star.  The wings themselves are mini-highrises around 30 floors high, me being on the upper floors because of my tier.  I got eggs with cheese on top, something that looked like biscuits with gravy, a 1 inch long wedge of cheese, ice cream, gelatin, and 3 of the enhanced versions of the drinks in my fridge only in cherry like flavors.

The food reeked of the protein and electrolytic enhancement they made into them for the sake of the students, but it honestly smelled worse than it tasted.  I chose a table closest to the drink fridges at the back of the cafeteria and set my tray down.  But before I could even affix my posterior to a seat I hear that all too familiar dreaded sound flick the table next to where I was sitting.  Taking a deep breath I turned 200 degrees to see a brunette haired young man with blue shoulder boards with 3 blue dots.  He had thrown a red card down on the table.  It was a sound I was all too familiar with.  Without a sound or a word, I calmly turned my whole body to him, I began to carefully pull my skirt up a bit.  Reaching for the pouch on my garter, I reach in and with one finger slide out a blue card and hold it up in front of his face with my index and middle finger.  I look at the red card, and throw the blue down on the table and he slaps one hand over his forehead and turns his face downwards a bit.  Tilting his head back up and sliding the same hand back through is short brownish black hair he says, “Watch your back, stain.”  He grabs my blue card leaving the red and walks away with his entourage of boys in red and blue shoulder boards.  Exchange rate this week is 7 : 1.  That would upset any red carder.  I take a seat.  Out of the corner of my right eye I see Fallon sitting alone at the edge of the table I am at which is in the farthest corner of the room.  I pick up the red card and shove it in a random pocket, hoping she didn’t notice me.  However, she’d been watching me the whole time.

She picks up her tray of food which is barely eaten and walks over to the mini-fridges in front of the table and then walks past me with three of them with one arm(Orange, Cherry and Grape) while holding the tray with the other.  Closing my eyes, I breathe out a sigh, and then I hear a tray slap down beside me.  I turn to the sound as I open my eyes, and it’s Fallon.  She is about 2 inches shorter than me, but she seems much shorter than me while seated.  She hands me the orange, cherry and grape drinks.  I am startled so she just sets them down in front of me and grabs my finger again, “Wait, what are you doing”, I say.  I turn away from her preparing for her to do something odd and awkward again.  But she releases it, and I look back at her.  She has shiny black hair, and brilliant blue eyes, and I can’t tell what race she is, but for the first time I am able to see just how beautiful she is.  My heart skips a little bit while looking at her.  I quickly turn my face back to my food to quell the nervousness this girl instills in me.  Out of the corner of my eyes I can still see her staring at me.  She then turns to her food and I breathe a sigh of relief, but I am still anxiously shaking a little bit, and probably blushing just a little bit.  I barely knew this girl and she had already tasted my blood.  A very strange feeling, indeed.  The food was good, if not also being a mildly salty with a mild protein paste aftertaste.  It had a comforting feeling to it.  I ate all of it, and then stared down my 6 drinks, starting with the 3 smallest.  The three I got in line were much smaller, but the 3 she’d brought me were 24 oz bottles, not 8 oz.  A little much for even me.  Sensing this she reaches out and grabs the grape and chugs it to lessen my load.  “So, um… Hi”, I say and she responds by staring at me again making me nervous all over again.  I grab the orange one and chug it.  My stomach feels as though it’s going to overflow.

Everyone is sitting as far away from me as humanly possible, accept this girl.  I look around a bit and I am detecting stares and chatter directed at us, and I can hear people murmuring, “What’s that vampire doing with ‘her'”, “Oh my God, that is the creepiest sight I have ever seen”, “Why is she being so friendly to that abomination.”  I got the firm impression from the chatter that this girl had left similarly awkward impressions on those around her, and that she spent a lot of time alone as a result.  She is fairly average looking aside from the unique hair and eye color, but has a somewhat exotic face, very reminiscent of a vampire.  Which apparently seemed to be her nickname, so I imagine she had a notoriety for “sucking blood”, or perhaps a key incident that had triggered the nickname.

I look back at her and she is looking down at her food, and she has barely touched most of it, but there is six empty drink containers and an empty 3 pack of mints.  She looks at me, then at the cherry beverage and then reaches across and grabs it.  She then reaches around behind me getting close enough into my personal bubble that I can feel her breasts against my shoulders and she stuffs the beverage into my shoulder bag.  She then completely stands and grabs her tray, “You taste good”, she says then walks away dropping the trash by the dishwasher’s window and setting her tray at it.  She walks away and stops at the door to look at the dumbfounded look on my face.  The scene now over I recollect myself, and try to wipe away the nervousness with a stretch and a yawn.  Putting my tray away I look at the ground wondering what other sorts of strange things are going to happen to me today.  I’d been red carded, 1 of 2 I could be carded per day, I’d met someone who could be a real life vampire it seemed, and beyond that, I just couldn’t think of anything weirder.  I reached into my bag on my way out my door and pulled out my schedule.  I had an appointment at the in-processing office, then had my first class at 10 am.  Indeed, this day, this journey had only just begun and I was left wondering.  Simultaneously trapped in my past memories for the moment, and the strange new possibilities that stood before me.  It was taking more out of me than I’d ever expected.  Needless to say, it was impossible to not feel ambivalent in this moment.  I’d lost much of the seemingly indelible spirit I’d had the day before, but I wasn’t really discouraged, just a little bewildered, and perhaps still not completely awake.  The seemingly ordinary moment of walking down that hallway to start that particular day was not likely to be a day that will fade from my memory anytime soon.

To be continued…