“You’re kidding me,” Jackson said flatly as he frowned at his supervisor, “You’re kidding me, right?”
His supervisor returned his look with an equally deadpan face. “Jackson,” he sighed, rubbing his temples, “This is your third accident. Your third-”
“How does the first two even count?” Jackson asked, gesturing wildly with his hands, “They weren’t even my fault-”
“You set your first partner on fire,” his supervisor said through gritted teeth, “And you poisoned your second partner.” Standing with anger, he slammed his palms onto the desk and said, “Nobody wants to be your lab partner anymore Jackson! Do you know how much begging I had to do to get you your third? And how do you thank me?”
“Boss-” Jackson started but was quickly cut off.
“Jackson! You melted his shoes!” his supervisor yelled, “You’re damn lucky he was wearing thick boots! Had they been only a few millimetres thinner, it’d be his feet we’re peeling off of the floor!”
“Okay, I admit the acidic gel was my fault,” Jackson backtracked, “But the fire was purely coincidental and the-”
“Jackson!” his supervisor yelled, “Enough! I don’t want to hear any more excuses. You should be grateful your sorry is still allowed to stay.”
“But babysitting duty?” Jackson complained, adjusting his baseball cap irritably, “Don’t you think it’s under-utilizing my intelligence? I’m one of the best bio-engineers you have and yet you have me wasting time watching a Critical?”
“You’d be one of Facility’s best if you’d just stop tampering on the job!” his supervisor seethed, “Now go pick up your Critical and spend this week clearing your head!” He pointed at the door and breathed fire as he glared at Jackson.
With a sigh, Jackson his feet and walked out of the office. He could feel his vein pulsing against the side of his temple as he shrugged out of his lab coat angrily. Opening his locker, he threw the coat inside and stared at his reflection in the magnetic mirror. He took a moment to calm himself before grabbing his leather jacket and slamming the door closed.
In his five years at Facility, he’d never once been assigned to babysitting duty. After all, he’d been recruited straight out of university as one of the top percentile in his class. He’d made his rounds in the labs during his stay and had produced several new perspectives and work in his field. Sure, he’d made a few careless mistakes but it had rarely been his fault alone. But Facility had its rules, and even the best couldn’t escape them.
Jackson stepped into the elevator and pressed the button ‘SG’. As the elevator began descending, Jackson stared at his reflection in the elevator walls and frowned. In all his years, he’d never once been down farther than the first seven floors of laboratories. Though Facility was built completely underground and spanned across the entire city, only the first ten floors were office and laboratory related space. The remaining forty floors underneath were living quarters and storage space for the test subjects, or Numbers as everyone called them. Unless a technician had a reason to personally visit their Numbers, they were rarely required to go past floor L10.
Jackson looked up as the doors opened to the Storage Ground floor reception area. Walking up to the front desk, he sighed again irritably and tapped the table. The receptionist looked up and raised an eyebrow.
“No technicians allowed down here,” she said in a bored voice, “L10 is one floor up.”
“I’m here to pick up a Critical,” Jackson said, “Number…” He glanced down at his palm, where he’d written the name, “Number 907. Sector A-93?”
The receptionist’s other eyebrow raised as she began shuffling through her files. “Oh, babysitting duty for a technician?” she teased, as she printed out 907’s specifications, “What’d you do? Blow something up?”
“Just give me the file,” Jackson muttered, taking it from her and glancing over the numbers. His eyes lingered on the test results. A Number became classified as a Critical once they became terminally ill. “Kidney failure?” Jackson muttered.
“Yep,” she replied, handing him a duffle bag, “This is your diaper bag. You’ll need it.” She winked at him as she returned to her computer. “Have fun,” she said in a sing-song voice.
Snorting, Jackson grabbed the bag and headed back towards the elevator. His Critical was on another twelve floors down. Sighing yet again, Jackson pressed S12 and turned his attention to the duffle bag. ping it, he rummaged inside. He found a pre-loaded card and some cash. Inside was also a key card to a hotel where they two of them would stay for the duration.
Jackson raised an eyebrow as he pulled out a small metal cuff and what looked like a remote. He’d seen these before though only as they passed through the labs for testing. They were static-trackers often used by babysitters to control their Criticals. The snapped onto the wrist and monitored the health condition of the Critical. If one were to ever misbehave, the remote control could send out signals to the bracelet and electricity would discharge to subdue the Critical. Jackson turned the bracelet in his hand as he examined it. It was a discreet piece of technology that was created by a previous Facility engineer.
Jackson put the items away and hoisted the bag over his shoulder. As the elevator came to a stop, he glanced down at the paper in his hand again.
The Critical he’d been assigned to, Number 907, had been at Facility for over twenty five years. It was primarily used as testing for new kidney-related drugs and bio-technology. That explained why its kidneys were failing so quickly.
Jackson walked down the halls and followed the direction boards overhead. Most Numbers were segregated based on their birth year and ethnicity. They were clones of their original, secretly taken from all over the world and gathered at Facility for bio-testing and experimentation. Though Facility was secretly funded through the government, its existence was none in the outside world. To this day, Jackson’s parents believed he worked in a large nano-technology firm.
Jackson blinked as he walked past one of the many metal doors. Backtracking, he paused outside and glanced at the plate. It was room 907… this was the place. Lazily, he placed his finger over the scanner at the door and waited for the lock mechanism to release. With a soft click, the door unlocked and slid back into the wall.
Jackson took a bold step inside and looked around. The room wasn’t as big as he’d thought. It held a single bed and a small desk. To the side of the room was a segregated area for a sink, toilet and a showerhead. A curtain could be drawn to cover the bathroom section, as was the case in 907’s room.
He frowned as he heard coughing noises from the drawn curtain. He waited as the sound of water drifted across the room briefly. Walking over to the desk, he ran his fingers over the books stacked neatly against the wall. They were standard Facility-distributed books covering general topics about the outside world. They were mostly for Numbers to use in between their lab tests.
Jackson turned as he heard the curtain being pushed back. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected of the Critical but it certainly hadn’t been a handsome young man with bright and curious eyes. The Number that stood before him looked as if he belonged in the backdrop of a university, not a testing lab.
“Er,” Jackson mumbled, caught off guard, “Number 907?”
No. 907 nodded, wiping a hand over his mouth to get rid of some remaining water. He seemed curious but also hesitant as he waited for Jackson to continue speaking.
“You know you’ve been granted seven days outside right?” Jackson asked, hoping the Critical knew what he was talking about. He certainly wasn’t in the mood to have to explain.
Fortunately, 907 nodded. To Jackson’s surprise, the boy’s face cracked into a small smile as he looked at Jackson expectantly. The Critical’s eyes roamed Jackson’s face before lingering on the duffle bag with curiousity.
“Get your stuff,” Jackson said as he looked around the empty room, “Today is your day one.” He walked past the boy and stood out in the hall. “Follow me when you’re ready,” he said, leaning against the wall. He didn’t have to wait long; 907 followed him out almost immediately his eyes sparkling with excitement. “Don’t know why you’re so damn excited,” Jackson muttered as he led the way to the elevator. He meant it too; he couldn’t understand the excitement since Numbers were only ever given days outside if they were dying. Did 907 not realize that?
Shrugging, Jackson pressed G and waited as the elevator began to make its way up. Beside him, the Critical waited with a small smile on his lips. Through the reflection, Jackson had a good look. The Critical’s face was slender compared to the rest of the features. Large eyes sat atop a dignified nose that ended with heart-shaped lips. The boy’s hair was kept long enough to fall over his forehead but short enough that it was swept up from the nape into a slanted buzz cut. It was the average haircut but it seemed to frame his small face just right.
Clearing his throat, Jackson led the way out of the elevator as it pulled to a stop. As they approached the reception foyer, he heard the Critical let out a small gasp behind him. Turning, Jackson watched as 907’s face opened up like fireworks at the first glance of real sunlight. As they made their way outside and towards the parking garage, Jackson had to remind himself that this was likely the first time the Critical had ever been outside. It was both amusing and irritating for him to watch 907’s amazed face as they trekked across the lot.
Stopping outside of a car, Jackson unlocked it with the remote and climbed in. Grabbing the GPS, he punched in the location of the hotel and waited for the maps to appear on the screen. Punching the button to start the engine, he paused as he suddenly noticed the empty passenger seat. Raising an eyebrow, he looked out the passenger window where 907 stood, his mouth open as he stared at the sky. Scratching his head, Jackson rolled down the passenger window and leaned forward. “What are you doing?” he asked, “Get in.”
Confused, 907 leaned forward and looked through the window. His eyes widened as he scanned the interior of the car but made no move to actually get inside. He looked at Jackson with excitement and smiled.
Leaning his forehead on the steering wheel, Jackson let out a breath of exasperation before getting out of the car and walking to the other side. “This is a car,” he said, feeling like an idiot, “When I say get in, you pull the handle and open the door. See?” He jerked the door open and gestured inside. “Now sit so we can leave,” he said.
Obediently, 907 climbed inside with a wide smile. He jumped as Jackson slammed the door closed but quickly recovered and ran a hand over the interior of the door.
Muttering under his breath, Jackson walked back to the driver side but not before he flipped a finger at the Facility’s front door. Climbing in and buckling up, he revved the engine and took off. Beside him, 907’s jaw was slack as he watched the scenery flash by. Glancing to the left, Jackson hit the brakes and watched 907 fly forward into the dashboard. Feeling only a little sorry, Jackson leaned over and pulled at the seatbelt.
“Whenever you get into a car,” he said, clasping the Critical into his seat, “You put your seatbelt on so you don’t d-” He cut himself off as he suddenly realized what he was saying. Put the seatbelt on so what? So the Critical didn’t die? Even he thought that was an insensitive thing to say to the terminally ill. Clearing his throat, he straightened and began driving again. “So starts your seven days of heaven,” he said, “Did you think about what you want to do?” He glanced at 907, who was busy staring outside the window at passing trees and lamp posts. After a moment of silence, he added, “You… talk right?”
No. 907 turned and looked at him. “I…” he said, his voice a soft murmur, “Can I go to a market?” He looked at Jackson expectantly, his hair ruffling in the wind.
“Market,” Jackson repeated, “You want to go to a market.” He couldn’t think of a more boring place but nodded as he reminded himself, once again, that he was with a Critical. “Yeah, we can go to a market,” he said, “In fact, we’ll go to the best market.”
“Yeah?” 907 asked, shifting in his seat, “There’s a best market?” He turned quickly and watched as they passed by a few houses.
“Of course,” Jackson said, making things up as he drove. If he was going to be on babysitting duty, he may as well be somewhat amused. Opening his mouth to spout more nonsense, he was quickly dismissed from the conversation; 907 had returned his full attention back to the window, leaving Jackson alone.
Bored, Jackson the radio and turned up the volume. Beside him, 907 jumped in his seat and quickly turned to him with wide eyes. He stared at Jackson briefly before looking back into the back passenger seats where the speakers blasted out music.
“Like that?” Jackson asked, feeling a bit smug from 907’s surprised face, “That’s called music. You guys don’t get music in Storage, do you?”
Amazed by the sound blasting from the speakers, 907 shook his head. “Is…” he said quietly at first before raising his voice, “Is it always this loud? Music?”
“Nah,” Jackson said, turning the volume down and changing the channel, “This is rock music. If you’re into softer stuff, you can listen to R&B or whatever.” He paused as the station changed to a mellow R&B music. Jackson nodded along with the music.
“I like this one,” 907 said, smiling at the radio, “It’s very nice.”
“I never would have pegged you as the R&B type,” Jackson snorted, turning the car down a fairly busy street, “This road has a lot of open markets. Let me find parking first.” He stopped the car near a lot and climbed out. Walking over to a station, he entered some change before returning to the car with a paid pass. He paused, however, as he noticed that the car was empty. His heart suddenly racing his chest, he looked at his surroundings with alarm. He let out a small curse of relief as he spotted 907 standing near a fruit stand.
Clasping his hand over his heart, Jackson leaned against the car and glared at 907’s back. He’d almost had a heart attack; if he lost the Critical, he could kiss his job goodbye for good. That and he would likely get detained then sent to jail for losing a precious test specimen. Would that be fun.
Placing the pass on the dash, Jackson walked to a nearby food cart and ordered two shishkabobs. He leaned against the lamp post as he watched 907 out of the corner of his eyes. Taking his food, he munched on them and watched 907’s actions with amusement.
The curiously excited 907 stood outside of the fruit stand staring at every single fruit as if he’d never seen them before. He ran his fingers over each and every type of fruit, his face spread into a wide smile. Picking up a pineapple, he looked at the fruit curiously before giving it a few sniffs.
“Are you going to buy the pineapple?” an elderly woman called from inside the door near the fruit stand, “Are you going to buy anything?” She frowned, clearly unhappy with his touching. She came out holding a fly swatter as she gave 907 a look over; standing to her full height of five feet, she clucked her tongue at him and waved the swatter.
Jackson raised an eyebrow as he ate the last bit of his shishkabobs. He didn’t blame the owner; he wouldn’t be too happy either if a random person started caressing all the fruits on his fruit stand. Jackson gave 907 a look over again. Still though, the Critical didn’t look that bad; he wore a decent-looking grey sweater with faded jeans. Sure he didn’t look too posh but not bad enough for the lady to start getting snappy.
“I’m not buying,” 907 replied, looking at her curiously, “What’s that in your hand?” He set the pineapple down and took a step towards her, his eyes on the swatter as she waved it in his face.
“What?” she asked, alarmed as she took a step back, “You-You stay away! Are you crazy?” She held the swatter out in front of her like a weapon. She swatted at him and, slightly startled, 907 took a step back.
Sensing trouble, Jackson quickly crossed the street and intervened. “Aigoo,” he said with a pleasant smile, “I’m so sorry for the trouble. My cousin is a little weird in the head so please forgive him.” Nudging 907 away from her, Jackson picked up the pineapple and a few oranges. “We’ll take these,” he said sweetly, pulling out some cash, “Sorry for the trouble.” He bowed with a sheepish smile as she packed his fruits while muttering under her breath. Taking the plastic bag from her, Jackson sighed and turned to 907… except once again, the Critical was gone. He didn’t have to look far this time; 907 had moved on to a food stall selling spicy rice cake.
“What a good looking young man,” the old lady said as she gazed at 907 with a smile, “What’s your name, lad?”
Mesmerized by the red ddukbokki, 907 looked up at her and gave her a smile. “Name?” he asked, staring at her with intrigue, “Hmm… nine-”
“Ahohoi!” Jackson interrupted loudly as he made a mad dash to 907. Bowing to the old lady, Jackson said, “I’m sorry, he must be bothering you.”
“Nonsense,” the lady said, smiling, “I was just asking the young lad’s name.”
Name? Jackson wracked his brains for a name. What was 907’s name? Did he even have one? Everyone at Facility referred to Numbers by their actual room number. Looking around, Jackson spotted a ‘Marketplace’ sign hanging above the shop next door. “Hi-His name is Ma… Market… Mark,” Jackson said quickly, looking at 907’s surprised face, “His name… is Mark.”
And here we go again with the beginning of yet ANOTHER story! Haha I have a short plan for this one already so please give it lots of love!