The morning of the tenth dawned bright and clear like every other morning as far back as Sara could remember. The blue of the sky matched the blue of the cup half full of tea she was still holding from earlier that morning. The tea was cold now. Her stomach rumbled for solid food, but she was too nervous to eat. At least she didn’t have to report to Assigned Learning until after her appointment.
Her lenses had kept her awake and in pain almost every night this week. Advertisements uploaded at random. A classmate sent her notes on their combined tribute to the First Inhabitant project, but they came through at three in the morning and in a language Sara had never seen before and that her lenses refused to translate. Her eyes were stinging and red. She still hadn’t taken her vitamins. Not trusting her lenses, she consulted her holo-pad for the time: nearing noon. She decided to leave now. The sooner this appointment was over, the better.
Adjusting her stance on her hovboard, Sara glided through the park and down a side street, careful to avoid the platform in the square. The second tier traffic was light today. Sara looked down at the first tier pedestrians beneath her feet. Most Inhabitants preferred to use their air-cycles or hovboards for efficiency as well as distinction. Walking was for the poor. Cars were for the rich. Sara looked up at the smooth-bottomed XI-47 humming six feet above her head. Like hov-boards, cars used the city’s magnetic grid to float above the streets, but in the third tier and twenty-eight feet in the air. The most expensive cars had a special tint to keep out the commercials that beamed in from every business in the city. Sara had never ridden in a car, much less owned one.
She clapped her hands twice to disengage her shoes from her hovboard, jumped off, folded it down to pocket size and walked towards the gray building. It was almost indistinguishable from every other gray building in the city, save for a stubby black cross above the main entrance that marked it as the only Health and Wellness Center in Barter. For the first time, Sara noticed how gray the city was, how smooth and free of color. The one bright place in the city was the park next to the Center, but even there the benches were gray and the walking path as well; all smooth and made out of the same metal as the platform in the square.
Sara shivered and shoved her hovboard in her pocket as she walked inside.
Black plastic chairs lined the waiting room on floor eleven. The walls were off-white, the tile floor two almost indistinguishable shades of gray. Sara could have sworn the floor was green the last time she was here. She closed her eyes and waited.
“Inhabitant Sara Todd, you’re super early,” Amie, the receptionist sang out.”Why don’t you just go ahead and wait in the room for the Doctor?”
Sara’s forehead furrowed as she stood to walk back to the secondary waiting room. This was going to be a long day.
Outside the waiting rooms Doctor Aliah was training a new technician to read the diagnostic screen.
“This is where I plug in the wires that attach to the patient’s temples” she pointed, “and here is where you will sort the information feeding from the lenses. Bugs and glitches in the software are sorted into the blue folder, everyday patient life into the yellow folder, and any potential misconduct or peculiar behavior is sorted into the red folder.”
Her eyes searched the young technician’s face.
“Do not delete or misplace any information, Ro. I will know, and you will be banished. You will help with three patients today, then report back to your Assigned Learning. Have I made myself clear?”
“Absolutely,” said Ro.
“Good. First on the list is Inhabitant Tovah Fields. Let’s get to work.”
The Doctor and her technician came into Sara’s room at exactly two o’clock. Sara lay half reclined on the chair, her eyes shut. The technician taped the wires to her temples and sat behind her, reading the information that flowed across the screen in her lap, her nimble fingers sorting the information into the proper folders. Sara opened her eyes.
“Where did you purchase the lenses, Sara?” Doctor Aliah asked.
“A bargain basement trader. Elias.”
“Ah. And how long have they been glitching?”
“Not long. I made an appointment with the General Health Doctor, and he told me I needed to see you. I made an appointment right away.”
Doctor Aliah looked at the technician for conformation, and Ro nodded.
“Good. Please be comfortable while I consult your chart,” the doctor smiled, and then her eyes began to twitch and blink as she consulted the information on her lenses.
Sara’s stomach burned. She had erased the note from Love, but a good technician could find just about anything. She couldn’t see the tech sitting behind her. She hoped it was Culper. He was too lazy to dig deep into people’s heads.
Ro recognized Sara from the lab class they shared, but said nothing. She was too busy looking at the note she had found from a former classmate, presumed dead. Definite red folder material.
Doctor Aliah stood.
“Let’s see what the problem is, Sara,” she said, walking towards Ro.
She consulted the screen behind Sara’s head, pressing the blue folder, then the red. Sara held her breath.
Doctor Aliah walked around to Sara’s right side, leaned on the chair, and pursed her lips before speaking.
“Inhabitant, is there anything you want to tell me before I alert the authorities?”