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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

An Ordinary World

Todd Adams sat in his boss’s office on the eighteenth floor of the Guardian Insurance Company with his head lowered. He knew that Peter Stewart saw any sort of personal issue as a distraction but he couldn’t wait any longer. “Yes, Todd.”
“I need time to be with my son. He’s very ill.”
            “You’ll have to wait.”

            “I can’t wait. If the chemo doesn’t work then surgery is the only option.”
            “Not you, Todd.” Mr. Stewart flashed him a fake, noncommittal smile, and stared into the space above his head. “Leave the excess funds in the money market and we’ll consider purchasing an option on the first of the month.”
            Todd realized that Peter was having a conversation with another party at the same time. Peter, like Todd, had discarded their ear insertion phone device in favor of a surgically implanted cell phone more than three years ago.
            “Okay, I have an important matter in front of me. We’ll talk later. Did you say cancer?”
            Todd sat silently for a full minute before he blinked and asked, “Are you talking to me?”
            “Of course I’m talking to you. Why would you say such a thing? Family is the most important thing! I’m sorry to hear that your wife has cancer.”
            “My wife doesn’t have cancer. I don’t have a wife. It’s my son who does.”
            “He has a wife?”
            Todd’s jaw twitched with anger, and he fought to hold his temper, “No. He has cancer.”
            “Of course.”
            An unpleasant silence hung in the air as Todd studied Peter’s face. The conversation that he that he had finished was obviously still going as Peter’s eyes narrowed not in response to what Todd was saying but to some other stimulus. His left eye continued to move slightly outwards, an almost uncontrollable reaction to the retina implants that had replaced display glasses.
            “Are you looking at option prices or are you listening to me?” Asked Todd, his fists curling into fists despite himself.
            A message appeared on the thin sliver of silicone that coated Todd’s retina. “You had to send me that? I’m sitting right here.” He stood up, his anger swelling inside of him like a bruise, “Can you please just actually listen to me for one goddamn second? My son is potentially dying!”
            “I don’t think I like your attitude.” Peter crossed his arms in front of his chest as if he were annoyed, but he was obviously just going through the motions, “I don’t have to justify how I communicate. You got the message.” Peter reached behind his ear and pressed a button just below the skin. He leaned forward in his chair and put both his hands on the glass surface. “You’re fired.”
            Todd’s jaw dropped, and he just stood there quivering for a moment before he almost whispered, “You…you can’t…my son…”
            “I don’t think you see the larger picture. We expect all of Guardian’s employees to use the technology we have invested in to help you balance your lives. What you’re showing me is that you can’t balance. Hell, you could watch your son twenty-four seven in your retinal panel whether he’s in the hospital or at home. There are employees who would die for that opportunity.”
            “I want to be with him. I want to hold his hand, to tell him stories when he’s upset or in pain.”
            “You’re being unreasonable.” Scoffed Peter.
            “You’re an ass.” both men’s eyes opened wide, equally shocked at what Todd had just said.
            “I’m usually not surprised when employees lose their poise when life throws them obstacles, but I had expected more from you. The company made a huge investment in your future and your family’s. We expect more consideration than what you are showing, Mr. Allen.”
            “My name is Todd Adams, and my son doesn’t have a cold or a skinned knee. It’s cancer, my god. He could die. You were there for his birthday parties and at holidays.”
            “One day you’ll thank me. I’m giving you the time you want with your son and a chance to regain your composure.”
            “You’re leaving me without insurance and without an income when I’m most vulnerable.” His voice was quavering with rage, and he felt his arm start to move beyond his control.
            Peter was just starting his traditional platitude, “And then you can reapply and if you’re the best candidate you-” he never finished, nor did he expect Todd’s fist to slam into his face hard enough to fracture his jaw. When he came to, he called the police before even trying to stop the bleeding.           
            “Slow day?”  Asked Todd to the rather normal sized guard sitting in the front of the van. Todd had imagined that the guards at the prison would be knuckle-dragging animals who enjoyed beating prisoners, giving firehouse showers, and throwing delousing powder in his face.
            “Unusual.” Said the guard.
            “Unusually light or unusual?”
            The guard’s mouth turned up slightly at the edges. “Unusually light.” The young man hesitated and then answered what he believed would be the next question. “Usually seven or eight.”
            “I didn’t expect that you would answer my questions. I thought this would be a three hour ride where you let the silence intimidate and scare me. You know, let the tension build the closer we got to Laubner.”
            “I, we, know who you are. You pose no immediate risk and danger.”
            “I meant what I said.”           
The correctional services van pulled into the compound and Todd shuffled towards the door the bus’s articulating door. His path to the front door of the Laubner Prison, once sanitarium, was lined with armed guards, all standing at attention, looking angry enough to put a bullet in Todd’s head. In a peculiar way, Todd was relieved that what he was seeing matched the dark images of prison that lived and thrived in his imagination.
Laubner Correctional Facility was a strange animal: with the influx and popularity of Medial Research Prisons, the prisoners convicted of lesser crimes than murder, rape and the like were usually confined in sensory depravition rooms, where they quite literally floated in oppressive nothingness for years. Laubner, on the other hand, operated much like the standard prisons of earlier centuries: they had metal bars and wardens, and the stories that had leaked out from there about the cruelty of the inmates and guards alike had been the nightmare fuel of the populace for years. 
            Once inside the gray walls, Todd was left alone with a single guard who was unarmed. “Mr. Adams. We need to get started. I don’t want you to be alarmed but your first few days will be unpleasant.” the man offered him a sympathetic smile, “You will be in isolation for a few days. It’s necessary for your well-being.” The guard knelt by Todd’s feet and unlocked the leg shackles. “That should be a relief.”
            “What happens now? Fire hose shower and then standing naked in the courtyard.”
            “Wow. You have a vivid imagination. Let’s try something else just as dramatic but maybe not as denigrating.” The guard led Todd into a spotless medical clinic which was well-lit and full of modern equipment.
            “What are you going to do to me?” Todd asked nervously as five or six technicians collected instruments and moved deliberately towards readying the room for a procedure.
            “We call it detoxification.”
            “You mean a lobotomy. I knew you were sadistic bastards.”
            Every head in the room rose and knowing smiles broke out on the technicians faces. “There is that vivid imagination again. Try to relax Mr. Adams. We have no ill intentions.”
            Before Todd could protest, a mask was put over his nose and mouth and he was anesthetized.
            Todd awoke in a sparse but freshly painted room on clean sheets, his aching limbs dressed in blue slacks and a white button-down shirt. He tried to push himself into a sitting position when the same guard he met earlier transition can be difficult.”
            “Who are you?” Todd slurred.
            “My name is Jim. Jimmy is you prefer.”
            “What did you do to me?” Todd’s hand slowly rose to his head and he could feel small bandages on his left temple and on the back of his ears.
            “We took out your cellular communication devices, removed your retinal implants and the impulse upload port near your temple.”
            “Why would you do that?”
            “You don’t need them and they’re not allowed at Laubner.” Said Jim. “You will need a few days for your head and body to get used to not having all of those extraneous devices. They cause cognitive confusion but like most people you have gotten used to them. Having them removed causes even more confusion. You should lie still for a few hours. You body needs to adjust.”
            “Why are you here in my cell?” he shuddered. “Are you going to…?”
            The guard openly laughed at the sinister implication, “I’ve been assigned to you. I’ll come to your cell at anytime of the night or day. You only need to push to button above your bed. Take two of these.” Jim handed Todd two white pills and a glass of water.
            “Some kind of hallucinogen or tranquilizer?”
            “There’s that imagination again. The pills in your hand are aspirin. They work wonders. I’ll bring you more as the discomfort intensifies.”           

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