Ch 4 - Eden

Days of Light

Jackson tapped the key card against the reader and pushed through the hotel door.  The room was larger than he’d imagined.  Large floor-to-ceiling windows covered the main room and opened up to a beautiful overview of the city.  A cozy fireplace sat near the windows with two single seat sofas and a small coffee table.  Beside it, two single beds and nightstands stretched against the wall, covering only a third of the room.  To the right of the front door was a decent sized bathroom equipped with a shower and hot tub.  To say the hotel room was decent was a severe understatement.

As he set down the duffle bag, he could hear Mark’s small gasps of awe as he walked through the room like a child in a candy store.  Amused, Jackson watched as the latter touched everything he could brush his fingers against. 

Mark touched the wallpaper and the closet sliding doors.  He looked into the mirrors briefly before poking his head into the bathroom and letting out an audible gasp.  After disappearing inside for a few moments, he reappeared with stars in his eyes as he walked into the main room and looked at the fireplace.  He touched the faux brick surrounding it and blinked in surprise at its rough texture.  Moving on, he looked outside to the setting sun and placed his palms onto the window.

Jackson could almost see the sparkles in Mark’s face as he turned his head from side to side to take the amazing view in.  “It’s a nice room,” he said, taking the menu from the table near the entrance, “We should get some dinner.”  He flipped through the book and browsed through the entrees.  Everything looked quite delicious and he was torn between getting two particularly delicious looking items.  He blinked, though, when he received no response from Mark.  Looking up, he watched as Mark circled a coffee maker with extreme interest.

“Jackson,” Mark whispered, as if someone might hear him, “What’s this?”  He touched the machine and leaned in closer to take a sniff.  “It smells… funny,” he concluded, looking at Jackson with a curious face.

“That’s a coffee maker,” Jackson replied, returning to his menu.  He was quickly getting used to answering mundane questions.  Without being asked, he explained, “It’s a machine that makes coffee.  Coffee is a type of hot drink that’s made from ground coffee beans.  The machine drips hot water onto the ground up coffee and, eventually, drips into your cup.”  He paused and looked up to find that Mark had moved on to the fireplace.  “That’s a fireplace,” he continued, “You burn wood in it for heat.”

The next few minutes consisted of him explaining everything foreign that Mark came across.  All it took was a curious glance from Mark before Jackson launched into an explanation of what the item was.  After the sixth item, Jackson was getting tired of it all again.  “Let’s eat first, okay?” he said, holding up the menu, “Come order something.  I can explain the rest afterwards-”

“What’s this?” Mark asked, pulling something out of the drawer with wide eyes.  It was something circular covered in a plastic wrapper…

Jackson reached for it quickly and grabbed the from Mark’s hand.  He threw it into the duffle bag quickly as if worried that someone might see it.  He sighed in exasperation as he looked at Mark, who gazed back at him with curious eyes.  He felt as if his son had just discovered his personal stash of condoms.  “It’s… nothing important,” Jackson said, taking Mark’s arm and pulling him over, “Now pick something from the menu please?”

Finally, Mark turned his attention to the menu.  He read through the items, his eyes growing wider and wider as he read farther into the menu. 

“Impressive right?” Jackson muttered, going through the menu himself, “I can’t believe they have lobster on this too.  Since the company’s picking up the tab…”  He snickered and flipped the page.  “Should we get something to drink too?”  he asked before he looked at Mark, “Er… maybe not for you.  Drinking isn’t…”  Definitely not a good idea for someone with failing kidneys.  Clearing his throat, he raised an eyebrow when Mark stayed silent.  “What?” he asked as Mark bit his lip.

“I’ll have what you have,” Mark said, giving him a smile before getting up and roaming around the room once again.  He paused and added, “Just… just no fire.” 

Jackson blinked before he realized what had just happened.  He mentally rolled his eyes at himself as he looked down at the menu.  Words like lemon braised chicken, Italian meatball tortellini, kimchi tuna stew, and vegetable stir fry with black bean sauce… Mark probably didn’t know what a single menu item actually meant.  Jackson couldn’t believe he’d forgotten about that after having just explained what a toaster was. 

Sighing, he picked up the phone and called room service.  After placing two orders of the butter lobster, he set the phone down and looked up at Mark… who was now busy browsing through the mini refrigerator. 

Mark pulled out a bottle of rum and looked at the contents curiously before putting it aside and taking out a bottle of vodka.  Again he looked at the liquid through the bottle before setting it aside again.

Jackson watched with mild amusement.  He couldn’t deny his curiosity about the Critical; he’d never actually met one face to face after all.  Since technicians never really crossed paths with them, most had no idea of the kinds of lifestyles Numbers led.  They knew the basics of course; that Numbers lived in the Storage section of Facility and that their areas of movement were restricted to testing labs only.  He’d heard of rumors about an artificial garden created on the lowest floor of Storage but he’d never spoke to anyone who had actually ever been there. 

“Hey,” Jackson said, curious about the Critical, “What’s Storage like?”  He was honestly curious.  What did they do all day when they weren’t at testing labs?  Their food wasn’t normal either; he heard they came in cube shaped bits. 

“Storage?” Mark replied, picking up a bottle of what looked like coffee liqueur, “It’s… Storage.”  He shrugged and put the bottle down. 

“What do you do all day?  Outside of testing,” Jackson asked. 

“I get books to read,” Mark said, putting away the bottles and closing the fridge door, “It’s mostly books that teach me how to read and write but sometimes I get one on topics about the outside.”  He looked at Jackson with excitement.  “Sometimes, they come with pictures,” he said, “I like those the most.”

“Other than reading?” Jackson asked.  He couldn’t imagine having nothing else to do but read the entire day.  “I heard there’s a garden on the lowest level,” he asked, “Is that true?”

“Oh, you’re talking about Eden,” Mark said, picking up a magazine, “It exists, according to the book we get about Facility.  It’s supposed to be quite beautiful and only the Numbers who’ve contributed to Facility the most get to go there.”

Jackson raised an eyebrow.  Contributed the most?  How did Facility even tabulate that?  When they had thousands and thousands of Numbers that did several hundreds of tests a year each?  “What do you mean by contributed?” he asked.

Mark looked at him with surprise.  “Contributed?  Isn’t it the one who’s given themselves up wholly for Facility?  That’s our purpose after all,” he said nonchalantly, “It’s what our book says.  I’m sure all the Numbers have it memorized already.”

“Your purpose…” Jackson repeated, “To give yourself to Facility…”

Jackson frowned, slightly disturbed by Mark’s words.  Given themselves up for Facility… now that he thought about it, what else did he expect Mark to say?  That he wanted to be an astronaut or an entertainer?  Of course their purpose was to ‘give themselves up’ to Facility… it was the only choice they had.  Somehow, he had never really thought about it until now…

“Have you ever wanted something different?” Jackson blurted out without thinking.  He bit his lip; wasn’t the answer to his question obvious?  How could the Critical have possibly wanted anything different when he didn’t even know any different?

Mark paused mid-flip and looked at him.  Instead of his usual look of innocent confusion, a heartbreaking smile spread across his face.  “I wouldn’t dare think that I had a different purpose but…” he said softly, “I do wish I could have at least lived a life under the sun.  There is so many things to see that I don’t think I could see it all even if I had all the time in the world.”  He looked at the magazine in his hand and brushed his fingers across the page.  “Even so… I’m so grateful that Facility gave me these days,” he said, “They’re so very precious to me.”

Jackson gazed at Mark in stunned silence.  Before he could really delve into an appropriate response, a knock came at their hotel door.  Grateful for the interruption, he jumped up and opened the door to their dinner.  Rolling the food cart in, he watched as the melancholy disappeared from Mark’s face instantly. 

“What’s that?” Mark asked, his eyes wide as he stared at the covered plates, “It smells really good.”

“It’s dinner,” Jackson said, opening the cover and revealing a beautifully placed lobster atop a bed of creamy pasta, “Eat up.  Facility’s taking up the tab.”  He took the plates to the coffee table and set them down.  Grabbing a cold beer from the fridge, he turned around to find Mark gazing curiously at the can in his hand.  “No alcohol for you,” Jackson said, taking a bottle of soda from the plastic bag and handing it to him, “You can drink this.  It’s orange soda.” 

Mark looked at the bottle in his hand with fascination as Jackson finished setting the table.  He tipped the bottle on its side and watched the transparent liquid bubble.  “It’s bubbling!” Mark said, holding the bottle for Jackson to see.

“It’s carbonated,” Jackson said, ushering Mark to sit in front of the coffee table, “Try it.”  Taking the bottle, he twisted open the cap and gave it back to Mark.  He motioned for Mark to sip it and waited with amused anticipation.

Blinking, Mark took a sip of the soda.  Instantly, his eyes bulged and he looked at the bottle with astonishment.  “It’s… it’s gassy,” he concluded, looking at Jackson, “Is it supposed to do that?”

“Er… more like it’s fizzy,” Jackson said, chuckling at Mark’s poor choice of words, “And yes, it’s supposed to fizz in your mouth.”  He sat on the couch and took a fork.  “Let’s eat,” he said, “That rice cake was ages ago.”  He stabbed a piece of pasta and brought it to his mouth.  He paused, however, as he looked at Mark… who was watching him with anticipation.

Mark blinked and laughed sheepishly before picking up his own fork and stabbing a piece of pasta.  Like Jackson, he brought it to his mouth and waited. 

Clearing his throat, Jackson ate the pasta and watched Mark do the same out of his peripheral vision.  It was delicious and Mark clearly thought so too.  The Critical’s face lit up as he ate another piece of pasta… and then another.  Jackson cracked open his can of beer and took a gulp.  He reached for the lobster but, again, paused as he noticed Mark’s stare.  “Now what?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I… I can’t try that?” Mark asked, pointing to the beer, “It looks gassy too.”  He looked wantonly at the can and then back at Jackson with a small smile.

Jackson sighed and handed Mark the can.  Alcohol wasn’t a good idea but… a small sip couldn’t do much harm.  “A small sip only,” he said.

Nodding, Mark took the can and brought it to his nose.  He wrinkled it and gave Jackson a weird look.  “It smells… funny,” he said before taking a tiny sip.  His face contorted into a grimace as he quickly handed it back to Jackson and grabbed his own orange soda.  “It tastes bitter,” he said, quickly taking a drink from his bottle, “This one is much better.”

Jackson chuckled as he flipped his lobster tail and stabbed a piece of meat with his fork.  Giving it a twist, the meat pulled off the tail easily.  He dipped it in the small saucer of melted butter in his plate and popped it into his mouth.  The taste was heavenly and he sighed with contentment.  He turned to watch Mark attempt the same thing only to shred his meat with his fork unsuccessfully.

Mark frowned and tried again.  This time, his fork slipped and stabbed a piece of pasta while further shredding the lobster meat.  Eating the pasta with frustrated chews, Mark tried yet again to pull the meat from the tail.

“Do you need help?” Jackson asked, sipping his beer as he watched the lobster tail get mangled.

“No,” Mark said firmly, trying yet again.  This time, his fork lodged itself securely between the meat.  Instead of pulling a small chunk out, however, he managed to pull the entire tail out from the small crevice.  Looking triumphant, Mark dipped the large tail into the butter and took a bite.  He chewed for a while before he looked at Jackson with a wide smile.

The rest of dinner passed uneventfully, despite Mark’s mimicry of Jackson’s eating habits.  As they finished up, Jackson nodded towards the bathroom.  “You can shower first,” he said, laying down on his bed lazily.

“Okay,” Mark nodded, finishing the last of his soda.  He walked into the bathroom with a wide smile and closed the door gently behind him.

Jackson sighed and pulled out his phone.  He was exhausted, despite having done much of nothing throughout the day.  Scrolling through his messages, he raised his eyebrows as he came across one from a fellow technician.  Im Jaebum was a year his senior at Facility and was another genius technician that was plucked straight from school.  They shared a bond only two strange kids could and Jackson considered Jaebum the only friend he could rely on in all of Facility.

Having fun?  Jaebum’s message was short but held his usual joker attitude that Jackson both loved and hated.

Sighing, Jackson replied with sarcasm.  It’s a party.  I’m convinced this Critical secretly works for Facility and this babysitting garbage is all a ploy to get me fired.  He leaned back into his pillow and closed his eyes. 

He didn’t have to wait long because Jaebum replied almost instantly.  I wouldn’t be surprised.  If I was your boss, I’d have fired your ages ago. 

Jackson snorted and opted to ignore the comment.  Jaebum was a great guy… but he could be sassy as hell sometimes.  He glanced up as he heard something drop in the bathroom.  He rolled his eyes and pictured the shampoo bottle splattered against the floor.  He wouldn’t be surprised if Mark was having difficulties inside the shower.

Speaking of which… Jackson began typing away again, completely ignoring Jaebum’s previous jab.  Hey have you ever heard of Eden?

He blinked in surprise at Jaebum’s response.  I assume you’re talking about Eden in Facility, right? 

Jackson sat up and raised an eyebrow.  Though he hadn’t talked to many, none of the technicians had any clues on Eden.  It was only a rumor after all… at least until Mark had confirmed its existence a few hours ago.  Yeah, that Eden.  Do you know anything about it?  I heard only the privileged Numbers get to visit.  Is it like some kind of spa or something like that? 

He waited for a response but after several minutes, none came.  It had occurred to him that he’d never talked about this with Jaebum, though for no particular reason.  The topic had never come up and it wasn’t something that Jackson worried about.  Jaebum worked in a different division altogether so they didn’t see much of each other.  Jaebum worked as a lab technician that supported the Farmers who harvested healthy organs from dying Criticals.

Now that he thought about it, Jaebum would have seen Criticals… perhaps even regularly.  It made sense since he worked in that department.  Jackson wondered if Jaebum had done any harvesting himself.  The thought of it gave him a knot in his stomach.

Jackson blinked as his phone finally notified him of Jaebum’s reply.  Opening the message, he had to read it twice to make sure he’d read right.

It’s not a spa.  Eden is the final destination for Numbers… it’s where we harvest Criticals.

Jackson stared at the message for several moments before he quickly typed a response.  We… as in you work in Eden?  You support Farmers right?  So I guess Eden… is a farm?

Faster than the previous message, Jaebum replied with what seemed like a bitter joke.  More like a slaughterhouse… but yes, I work in Eden.  It apparently started out as a nickname and eventually got worked into the Facility-distributed books given to Numbers.  Ironic huh?

No kidding.  Jackson replied and set his phone down.  So Eden was where Criticals went to die… He glanced at the bathroom door as the sounds of the shower stopped.  Would Mark go there in a few days time?  To have his organs harvest?  He felt bothered by that idea somehow.  Giving his head a shake, Jackson reminded himself of his job.  What did he expect anyway?  He’d known all along that Facility’s test subjects, his specimen, got sick and had their organs harvested.  It wasn’t as if it was news… so why did he feel as if he’d only just realized it now? 

Feeling strangely conflicted, he replied back to Jaebum with a note of Good Night and pocketed his phone.  He looked up as the bathroom door opened and Mark walked out wearing the same grey sweater and faded jeans.  His hair was wet but he looked much more refreshed.  “You don’t have a change of clothes,” Jackson said in more of a statement than a question.  The Critical hadn’t brought anything with him when they’d left, though he wasn’t sure Numbers were given a lot of fashion articles to begin with.

“No,” Mark replied, looking down at his sweater, “This isn’t okay for tomorrow?” 

“It’s fine,” Jackson replied, “But you’ll get stinky if you wear the same thing all the time.  Besides, you should get pajamas so you can sleep comfortably.”

“I don’t sleep in clothes,” Mark said, blinking at Jackson, “I wear my underwear though.  Does that count as pajamas?”

Exasperated, Jackson shook his head.  “No, it doesn’t count,” he sighed, “I don’t really care how you sleep but you should have at least one change of clothes.”  He got up from the bed and stretched.  “I’m going to go shower.  You should sleep,” he said, “We can go shopping tomorrow morning for some clothes.”

“Shopping?” Mark asked, his eyes lighting up like a child, “For clothes!”

Jackson nodded and sniffed his own shirt.  “I didn’t bring any changes of clothing either so let’s stop by my house tomorrow morning.  I also need to pick up my phone charger,” he said, “You should sleep.”

Mark nodded as he sat on his bed and touched the soft covers.

Jackson walked into the bathroom and closed the door.  Sighing, he looked at his reflection in the mirror.  Feeling burdened and a bit confused, Jackson shook his head and undressed.  He wasn’t going to think about it anymore.  Why bother anyway?  All of this was just a short break from his normal life and, eventually, he’ll return to his job in front of microscopes and DNA maps and things will be normal again.  He just had to get through six more days and things would be normal again… right?

Author's notes:

Oh, finally, this story is getting more attention :D  Personally, I think the plot for this is one of my more emotional storylines.  And even I think it's quite original so I'm glad its getting more readers!  Thanks to my subscribers and please stay tuned for Day 2!

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