Divergent

Hi! Happy 2022! Yeah, I know it’s not the first post of the year and that I already put up a post saying Happy New Year but it doesn’t hurt to say it more than once. Plus, this is the first post of the year where I introduce something. And to that ends I have a Sci-Fi story as the first for the year. Shocking, I know. Anyway, this one changed a number of times. At first it was a vague idea, then it was joined with another story idea I had and finally I wrote this but decided the other story idea would remain separate. Phew, that was quite the chop and change. Still, I think I need to wrap this intro up soon, so I’ll add that this might not be what you may first think and that it’s about 11,000 words. That’s me done. Hope you enjoy, Divergent!

“O’Shea what’s going on?” Is the query fired off by Henon, who barely awake is stood leaning against the smooth surface of the metal bulkhead, adorned in last shifts clothes.

Evidently he’s slept in them again. Not that it matters as he wipes at his eyes half-heartedly. The act part of some begrudging attempts to clear sleep from his eyes though not really wanting to for what he principally would like is to go back to bed. Proof that he isn’t serious about waking up is how he’s using only his ring finger and thumb on one hand to do so.

“We’re being called for an em-fix.” O’Shea replies stating what should be obvious to the equally experienced Henon who like him is an engineer. After all, the only time the siren, currently bleating, ever screeches is when there is need for an emergency fix of some kind.

What could have ruptured this time O’Shea hasn’t a clue but he isn’t about to stand around and consider the matter, wasting time. Chiefly because he’s paid to fix and so that’s what he’s going to do. Still, he’ll be more than a little relieved when in two months he’ll be headed back to civilization.

“Can’t we ever get a break? I was…” The shorter wider Henon begins to complain, evidently ready to explode into a long rambling rant about how they are overworked and so on.

O’Shea doesn’t have time for such things, “Stow the martyr act Hen we need to get a move on.”

“But I’m not awake and haven’t…”

“Tough, now get your ass into gear and meet me in equip.” With that O’Shea jogs off leaving Henon, who feeling defeated drops and allows his head to hang. Several flashes pass him by. He takes them as the only thing he can, more engineers. Five is a lot for one fix, he thinks. Means it has to be real and not some sort of drill. The prospect had crossed has mind.

Sadly drills make up for nearly half of the reasons as to why this siren screams. Part of the reason he’ll be thrilled when he rotates out in a couple weeks.

The wide man with dirty blonde hair and dark brown eyes has been bleary eyed for much of his stay because got here earlier than O’Shea. They aren’t best friends. Glorified acquaintances truth-be-told, one’s who share a kinship for no other reason than due to the fact that they’re stuck together until their tours end.

Yet, it wasn’t until O’Shea, and a number of other engineers admittedly, showed up that the relative calm ended. Such things might lead some down a superstitious route, believing O’Shea is somehow the result of the increased action but Henon knows better than that. He’s no rookie. In fact he’s been doing this vocation for near nine years. As a result he should only need to do a few more rotations and then never have to do this kind of work ever again. That day cannot come soon enough. Though, in reality it’ll be a few years until he gets the satisfaction of saying, loud and proud but not needing to; I quit. He’s got it all planned out and relishes the prospect. And is something that no one is going to take away from him, of that much he is adamant.

“Come on Hen, move your ass.” One of the engineers cries as they half-jog down the metal plate corridor toward the equipment section. Even at this slower speed the dirty blonde haired man doesn’t catch who it is.

A growl, low and begrudging, leaks from between Henon’s lips but following a deep sigh he nods, accepts he has no choice and breaks into a full jog of his own heading for equip.

When he gets there it is just in-time to see O’Shea shoot him a look and then become enveloped in the Likwid pressure suit which all of them will be adorned in so as not to be crushed by the pressure which lies beyond these walls that keep them safe.

The Likwid, yeah Henon knows it’s a dumb name and has said it many times, loudly, only to be rebuffed that it doesn’t matter so long as it successfully does the job its meant to, is a pack which once fastened, properly seated and activated envelopes the wearer in a type of liquid metal. Henon doesn’t understand how it works in the slightest, and against his wishes has had a number of people make efforts to explain it to him. Thankfully, that was back in his early days.

Stopping them had been simple task, he’d shot them a look. Had they known him they would have known he had no violence to back it up with, but they didn’t and so mercifully it ended the attempts.

If he were asked Henon would declare that he’s had a good life, he thinks. Sure, there have been ups and downs but try and find someone whose life hasn’t. You won’t. You can’t. It simply isn’t possible. At least as far as the wide man with dirty blonde hair is concerned anyway. A few, and it is only that as he could count them on one hand, have made efforts to ‘amend’ his thinking; try to make him believe that there are those who have never suffered. He thought, and still thinks, them fools. Not everyone who suffers wears the scars for the world to see. If you think they do… Well, he would term you naïve to the point of delusional.

“Your turn Hen.” The dirt blonde haired man hears someone call.

He does a quick scan of those around him only to conclude the statement was issued by O’Shea, who wrapped in the Likwid looks more like a torpedo than a man.

The response given is a curt inverse nod followed by his large hand reaching, grabbing and then slapping the Likwid pack into place. He does it without looking, making it look effortless in the process. It’s what you get for becoming so used to adorning the piece that looking feels like a betrayal of his knowledge and expertise. Not that anyone would judge him if he did, other than himself that is.

And so, with the pack in place he slaps the activation button, hard. Immediately the liquid metal bleeds from the central hub, covering his upper torso, neck and then head before the rest of him. A HUD blinks into life, goes through its boot sequence which includes ascertaining the wearers’ identity, which greenlit, flashes a welcome.

He hates the welcome and rolls his eyes as he always does hearing and seeing it emblazoned right in his face. More than anything he wishes there was a skip function, or better yet a disable. He’d asked about such implementations once. The response he got; not a company problem. It sounded about right. After all, Likwid is a niche product not meant for public consumption in the twenty seventh century. Yet, you wouldn’t know it to look at the world. Not that Henon, O’Shea, Barrett, Yacob or any of the other engineers here can see the state it’s in. That only happens when they finish their tour and rotate out.

Regrettably, humanity didn’t continue to ascend ever higher like it had hoped and planned. No, one disaster after another befell the species leading to a more than five century fight for survival. One it came perilous close to losing many a time.

Cities were swallowed, literally and figuratively, by shifting weather patterns. You would think changing sea levels, tides and weather formations would be the worst of it but they weren’t.

 Earthquakes tore massive gouges in landmasses above and below sea level, volcanoes clogged the skies with ash and then there were the diseases. They were the worst of it and spread through humanity like a wild fire fanned and fuelled unending. Billions died as a result because leaders and individuals failed to understand that things would never be the same.

Everyone wanted them the world to go back to how it had been but it wasn’t in the cards. And that lack of sense and cynicism proved to be the final nail in many a million coffins. Not that there was enough land or survivors to bury all those who perished. But that was a long time ago. Henon, O’Shea, everyone else in the world were born so long after it that they don’t know what it was like. They can only read about it.

O’Shea has and thinks that him being oblivious to the hardship might be for the best.

Henon comes online, appearing as a white dot on a three quarter circle in the lower corner of his HUD. Thankfully, though the Likwid are not allocated per user they are all coded to use configured presets from their respective users. If they weren’t O’Shea would have needed to struggle with getting used to a placement that wouldn’t have been at all to his liking. Such things can be the difference between success and failure, keeping a limb or losing it. At worst it could cost a life.

“All Likwid’s showing active.” A voice calls over the built in communication system of O’Shea’s Likwid.

“O, where we headed?” Yacob questions at the same time creating a mesh of the voices which doesn’t gel in any way, shape or form but somehow he manages to comprehend.

In response the tall man with blue eyes raises his hand, palm open, to ask for silence. He isn’t in-charge but tends to be the one the other engineers look to. He doesn’t know why, but it’s been like that since the day he joined, fresh out of prison. Yeah, O’Shea unlike Henon is not a man who had an easy start to life. His mother was a drug addict and his father, well no one knows. He either crossed the wrong people and paid with his life or skipped out on his newborn baby and ended up lords knows where. Whichever it might be it meant his ‘family’ were the streets, and on the streets of New Washington there aren’t many role models. In fact, all there tends to be are gangs, crime and death.

In this instance a barely adolescent O’Shea fell in with one of the small local gangs that had some turf on the south side of the city. As a teenager he ran drugs, dodged corrupt police who wanted the drugs to sell themselves, as well as other gangbangers.

Eventually because of that life he killed a few people. No, he wasn’t a murderer. You shouldn’t think of him like that. Rather, the people he killed were all the result of self-defence. They started it. He ended it.

The first, he continues to believe, was the hardest. It had haunted him for weeks after. It’s why he sat in that grubby one room apartment of his staring at one of the walls unable to go outside. Luckily food got delivered to him by the gang. It was to show they cared. And it was the first time he’d ever been shown that he’d mattered. Before that it was evident no one had cared whether he lived or died. Later he learned that the gang, South Satan’s, didn’t really care either. In fact they only showed a modicum of concern because it was in their best interests.

Cutting a very long, convoluted and at times tragic story short, O’Shea Alvarez ended up in prison. It wasn’t for the three murderers which weren’t but rather because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Well, right place for South Satan’s but wrong from his point of view. And this being where he could have done with not being resulted in him being stitched up. Sacrificed as the fall guy and sent to prison for seven years as payment for it.

From that moment until the day he stepped out of prison he had no one. His gang affiliation was cut. They wanted nothing from him and in the end he wanted the exact same from them. Still, it took a couple years to reach that conclusion, that epiphany.

Early on in his incarceration he’d still believed this was part of some plan. But it wasn’t. He was a scapegoat and he came to hate them for what they did. But no, he didn’t think to seek revenge when he stepped out into the world a free man. In his eyes it would’ve got him nowhere if he’d tried and so he got a job, this job.

Years in prison with nothing to do had lead him to make something of himself, if nothing else so he could fill time. So he studied engineering, fixed things around the prison, made use of himself.

The inmates tolerated him and the guards exploited him for his knowledge but it meant no one was willing to shank him in the showers.

Yet, the problem with New Washington prisons is they aren’t ran. They’re simply decaying structures refitted with tech every few years to contain those locked inside for however long their sentences might be. As a result you can’t really say you’re looked after. Meals are a bland paste that is grey in colour, or brown if you’re unlucky and whatever the meal is supposed to be has expired. The cells, well they have maybe three walls if you’re lucky, are exposed to the soft driving rain which pours out of the sky turning to snow and ice in the depths of winter. It’s an easy way to keep prison population numbers down but a barbaric one for sure.

Anyway, that’s all in the past. From a life that is no longer lived or wanted, which is why O’Shea is stood here about to deploy on his… He honestly can’t remember what number walk this will be. He’s done so many on just this tour alone it long became impossible for him to keep a count.

When it’s over he might be capable of working it out. Likely he won’t waste his time on such things. Rather, he’ll find some temp work to fill the hours until he’s called for his next tour. What might be days, weeks or months of waiting. You can never be sure. Yet, the extra work isn’t so he can make more dough. His job pays more than enough to keep his simple tastes fuelled. No, whatever temp job he takes will be voluntary. More often that not, it tends to involve aiding those who, like him, have grown up, or are growing up, on the streets.

Not as many as he would like to have, has he gotten through too. However, he remembers being much the same when he was those kids ages, and he wouldn’t have listened either. With age comes experience, he feels. As well as a healthy dose of cynicism to help wade through peoples lies.

“Deployment will be to the Trench.” Is the declaration O’Shea hears ring in his ears answering a question he didn’t utter. Not that he’s surprised; and following a slight shake of his head alongside a hard blink, which puts him back in the moment, he looks to the faceless head of Yacob and informs, “Trench. Prep extra sups and deploy in two. No arguments.”

If he didn’t add that last part then he would inevitably have been met with demands as to why, what’s going on, what’s happened, yadda yadda. If that happened he wouldn’t have anything to offer. He knows as much as they do, only a hair in advance. In many ways he’s an experienced mouthpiece. He puts the thought out of his head.

The joy, if you can call it that, of Likwid is that though comms are centred on one individual, him in this instance, the suits are all open mic’d. Why their paymasters operate this way he hasn’t a clue and feels if he asked, he never has, would be met with a: because that is how things are.

It’s the sort of generic non-answer that grates on him, more than most might imagine, principally because it reminds him of South Satan’s. Though, up to this point he’s opted not to rock the boat, no pun intended. Mainly because doing so in the corporate world rarely appears to end well. He’s seen it firsthand a few times on this job, and isn’t inclined to put himself through that kind of trouble.

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