Chapter 2:

You will still have a heart

City of Gods

A strong pulse beats from the sides of my head. 

My white clothing has become stained in sweat and my lungs feel as though they have shrunk down to half their size. The air in and around the city is hard to breathe as is, so after running, inhaling a sufficient amount of oxygen becomes a chore. 

Despite my less than optimal condition, I am doing better than most other patients. 

One man is laying down face-up near the center of the courtyard with his hands held over his head. He is carrying a look of pain in his expression. He is wheezing hard enough that I can see his chest rising and falling with every breath, even being a good distance away from him. The man has been laying down like that since the tiles stopped moving a couple of minutes ago.

I start walking towards the metal door where we entered the courtyard. Passing the man I notice that his jumpsuit, instead of being completely white like the rest of the patients, has a thin black stripe wrapping around his ankle. I look at my jumpsuit to make sure I don't have the same feature.

After a few moments of waiting the same female voice sounds from the box speakers. Simultaneously the metal door leading into the room that we came from starts to open.

“Patients, please make your way through the opening. Once you are inside the building, find yourself a station and allow the specialist situated at that station to prepare you for the nanotech injection. Before you make your way in, one last thing. If you have any doubts about becoming a rustwalker please speak up. Once you enter the building there will be no opportunity for you to back out. Beyond this point, there is no turning back.”

Silence ensues for a brief moment before the man laying down on the ground grunts. I hear him whispering something to himself. Over the wind whipping in my ears, I can just barely make out what he is saying.

“I can't do this”

He repeats the phrase multiple times. Everyone else is sluggishly walking towards the opening except for him. Suddenly, the tile he is laying down on begins to sink. The man stops whispering to himself and he lifts his back off the ground in shock. The ground beneath him isn't just sinking, it is churning in a downward spiral swallowing the man up.

“Hey wait, I wasn't being serious. I want to continue. Hey, stop it.”

The man sounds panicked. 

He is too far into the ground to escape. 

He finally stops yelling. 

I look around to see everyone staring at the hole in the ground where the man was taken. A few of them looked scared and surprised, others look unbothered. The female voice sounds once again from the speakers.

“I repeat, if you have any doubts, do not continue beyond this point.”

The door has now lifted fully into the building. We all shuffle into the opening.

I may have had doubts in the past about becoming a rustwalker, but now I am certain. Everyone else seems to have no doubts as well, except for one woman. 

She is standing to my right with her fists closed and her head down. She is standing still, directly on the border between the room ahead of us and the courtyard behind us. Tears have formed in her bloodshot eyes, and her jaw is clenched tightly. It is clear that she is hesitant about the procedure she is about to partake in. After a few seconds, she takes a deep breath and walks through the entryway.

The inside of the room is completely different from what it was when we were being screened for the procedure. 

It is still cold and the room is the same size, but it is brighter. The walls, floor and ceiling are completely white and massive rectangular bulbs hang from the ceiling bouncing an artificial light all over the room. There are thirty or so hospital beds lined up on the far wall, their ends facing the lot of us still standing near the opening from the courtyard. Beside each hospital bed sits a small metal table; on it lay a cylindrical container and a needle filled with black liquid. In between each bed are people dressed in all white. They have masks on that cover their entire face. These people must be the specialists the female voice was referring to.

I hear a tapping sound emerge from the end of the room. It is faint and constant like the sound of water droplets falling from a leaking tap. I begin walking towards the sound. It is getting louder. The speakers inside the room activate.

“Please find a station. Once you have, specialists, you may begin the process.”

I reach the end of the room. The tapping stops. I turn to my right and make my way to the nearest hospital bed. The specialist beside me does not acknowledge my presence and waits for me to lay down in the bed.

The specialist begins to tie down my arms and legs to the bed frame using leather straps. Looking to my left I can see a row of hospital beds with each patient going through the same process. Every single bed is occupied. It’s almost like they knew exactly how many patients would enter the room, despite the man who was swallowed up by the ground in the courtyard.

My heart is racing. Mostly due to the run, but partly from my anxiousness. 

My mind is starting to race as well. 

All I can think is that I will never be the same after this. 

My brain will become a mechanically influenced weapon and my veins, a cable used to transfer nanotech throughout my body. Nanotech has turned this city unnatural. It has made humans capable of doing things once thought impossible. Humans should not be capable of turning their arms into guns and using their teeth as bullets. We should not be able to alter our appearance at will or control our nerves to not register pain. This dose I am about to take will undoubtedly make me less human.

“You will still have a heart”, the specialist beside me whispered.

He finishes strapping my leg down to the bedframe and walks over to the metal table near my head. What just happened. Was I thinking out loud? No, I couldn't have been. The specialist just happened to make a statement closely related to what I was thinking. That has to be it.

He grabs a cylindrical container from the table and twists off the cap. Using two fingers, he scoops out a translucent gel from the container. he looks directly at me. Even though a mask covers his entire face it feels like he is staring directly into my eyes. He speaks again.

“You’ll still hurt”

This time he spoke a little bit louder. I recognize his voice from somewhere.

He begins to rub the translucent gel into my forearm before turning and placing the container back on the table. My arm is starting to go numb.

“Turn your head”, the man said.

I look away from him. His fingers press up against my neck. my pulse, still rapid, beats up against his cold fingertips.

I’m uncomfortable. I'm trapped on this bed. I have no control over what happens to me next. All I can do is focus on the shuffling of footsteps and whispering coming from the other specialists in the room. My heart is beating so loud that it feels like everyone in the room can hear it.

The specialist grabs the needle. It’s like I don't have an arm anymore, it has gone completely numb.

“Are you ready Vincent”, he says.

I turn towards him and give him a nod. How he knows my name, I am uncertain. All I know is that I am prepared for whatever happens next.

“This needle holds the nanotech that defines humanity's future”, he says quietly.

I look at my arm. The needle head is pushing through my skin and the black liquid inside it is slowly draining into my veins. The specialist leans in closer.

“You must not let that be true”

The needle is now empty. 

He puts it down and presses a switch on the side of the bed. A jolt stiffens my body and the bed begins to tilt. My feet begin to lift towards the ceiling and my hair starts to dangle. A low buzzing sound fills the room as every bed rotates simultaneously. 

I feel myself starting to drift off. 

My vision is going foggy. 

The bed is now completely vertical and all I see is a blank white wall in front of me, glossy enough to see my reflection. This is the last time I will look at Vincent. The shuffling and whispering of the other specialists stop and a fuzzy white noise falls over my ears. The white wall fades to black as I hear the specialist standing beside me call out.

Let them in Vincent. Let them in. 

Taylor Victoria