By Von L Cid
The men wheeled John down the hall as his side was throbbing with pain. They unstrapped him from the gurney and sat him up. His knees shook when his bare feet hit the ground. He was only able to stand because the men were holding him up. The sore on his abdomen ached from the procedure. It was pain he had felt many times before. The men pulled him into the room and released him letting his body slide to the cold concrete floor.
Thanks were no longer given. His doctors stopped saying it weeks ago. His body was no longer described as a scientific marvel. Rather than a source of salvation, his body was now simply a bile creation factory. The genetic mutation that allowed him to survive the plague was not unique anymore. They had identified dozens just like him.
Gone were the days of him walking among the scientists as they would explain how his wonderful gift saved the lives of so many. No, all that stopped when they brought in others just like him. He and his new peers were now confined to their respective rooms, only coming out when it was their turn for an extraction. The rooms became holding cells, or prison cages as some of the new people called them.
Yet it was this evolutionary success that was the reason for his entrapment. At first the doctors and scientists tried to make his stay as comfortable as possible. His room was nicely furnished with a soft couch, a black leather arm chair and a welcoming bed. However, the white barren walls, odd light fixtures and cold dry air still reminded him that this was nothing more than a converted laboratory.
The doctors recently switched to a new anesthetic for the procedure. It helped with the pain, but he hated the effect it had on his mind. The anesthesia made it impossible for him to enjoy a book anymore, the only real escape he had left. He couldn’t remember more than a few paragraphs at a time, forgetting what he read as soon as he turned the page.
He had a roommate his name was Henry. John was one of the last people to get a roommate, Henry had only been there a week.
“They shouldn’t be doing this to us man,” Henry would say. “Do you think it’s right? I sure as hell don’t.” Henry had undergone two draws.
From the concrete floor, John glanced up at his roommate. It was too difficult to keep his eyes trained on him, instead he looked down and focused on a small crack in the floor. Henry stood by the window. In a way John was thankful for people like Henry; they made it possible for him to go several days between draws. John had endured well over fifty.
“Did you sign up for this? I didn’t.” Henry liked to answer his own questions. John had heard the story of how Henry ended up in the program several times and he was sure he would hear it again.
Henry stared out the window as he talked. “Does anyone out there even know? I doubt it.” The window was fashioned with iron bars. They were put in after John had attempted to escape.
After a draw it was painful for John to talk. Luckily with Henry he didn’t have to. He had not needed to say a word in days.
“You know what I think man? It’s survival of the fittest, it’s evolution. Some people weren’t meant to survive, they shouldn’t be sucking on our guts to live. It’s wrong.”
John didn’t agree with his take on evolution. Perhaps the ruthlessness with which their bodies were being tapped was survival of the fittest. This is how humans have taken over the planet, by sacrificing the few in the interest of the whole. It only made sense that they would sacrifice people like him to save others.
“I knew this was coming man. The news talked about how they were looking for people who lived through an exposure.”
John knew of these news stories. He had been interviewed by numerous stations during the first few weeks of volunteering.
“I watched my daughter die in front of me man. Do you know what it’s like to see your two year old cough up blood and die slowly? I do. It’s the worst feeling in the world.” Henry's mouth was wide open, it only closed when he spoke.
“I couldn’t even explain to her what was happening." There was always a pause after every bit of mental anguish that flowed out. "Watching her die slowly was worse than anything they’ve done to me here.”
He continued, “they came in suits. They closed us up in the house. They wouldn’t even let my wife come in to see us.”
He was fighting back tears now. “They wouldn’t give my daughter medicine man, not even something to kill her pain. They were more interested in watching how the disease affected her.”
Henry sobbed as he sank into the leather chair. As much pain as John felt, it couldn’t compare to what he thought Henry must have gone through. John didn’t have any family. This is why he was so eager to cooperate at the start. The program had brought meaning of his life, something he had long been searching for.
The door opened and four large men in white coats walked in. They were followed by a heavy set doctor carrying a clipboard. The man with the clipboard was the director of the facility.
“Take anything that’s loose or that can be easily taken apart. Take the chairs, take the couch. We’ll have to take the bed too.”
The director turned to John. “We have to take these away. Some of the other participants have attacked our men with the loose objects in their rooms. It’s for the safety of our doctors and scientists. We can’t take any chances. I hope you understand.”
Two of the men pulled Henry out of the chair and dropped him on the ground. They took the chair and couch promising to be back for the last piece of furniture, the bed.
The director pulled a piece of clothing from under his arm. "John you’ll have to put these on." He dropped a one piece suit on the bed. “This wardrobe change is for your safety.”
"Take him," the director spoke to the other two large men as he pointed to Henry.
"Take me where man? Where am I going? Get your hands off." Henry's limbs flailed wildly just before they were pinned to his side by the men as they overpowered him.
"When am I going to get out of here huh? Never? This isn’t right man. How do you guys live with yourselves? I bet you don’t even know...." Henry’s voice trailed off as they dragged him out of the room.
"Dr. White will come in and meet with you soon John. She’ll check your vitals and mental health as usual." The director paused and said one more thing before he walked out. "You are very important to the welfare of many, I hope you know that."
John was alone in the room. He didn’t care to put on the jumpsuit. What would they do to him if he didn’t? Put him out of his misery? He could only hope.
A half-hour later Dr. White came in. Even in his dilapidated state he could still admire her beauty. Her stunning blue eyes hidden behind black glasses and long blond hair tied in a low pony tail. She reminded him of lost love. He was thirty and she was of similar age. Under different circumstances he could see himself asking her to dinner. She was the only bright spot in what used to be his daily routine. Now he only saw her after every draw, a couple times a week.
“Hi John.” She knelt beside him and put her hand on his shoulder, a frown weighed heavy on her face. She strapped a blood pressure meter to his arm and began pumping it up.
“I don’t like the direction his lab has taken,” she confessed. “Things are not right. This is not how things should be.” She always apologized for what happened in the facility.
Her voice now dropped to a whisper as she shot a look to the door. “I’ve been hearing talk from the outside. People are learning about what’s happening in this place.”
John could only stare at her. She wrote something in her clipboard and removed the nylon device from his arm.
"John when people learn the immoral things going on in here, people will fight to stop it. Don't you think?"
John didn't agree. People wanted a solution to the plague, they didn't care about what happened to people like him. The solution to their suffering, the liquid from his liver, was more valuable to society than any moral dissonance created by the imprisonment of the few unfortunate souls trapped here.
"You haven't talked to me in what feels like weeks. I need you to keep your hopes up John, I swear there are people working to end this gross and unfair treatment.”
It was hard for John to see any hope she spoke of, she was after all one his captors.
She read his mind. “I’m low level here John. I’m just here to make sure you guys stay alive. Please don’t think I have anything to do with this. Every part of me disagrees with what they are doing here. I’m one of the few on the inside who care. I am here to take care of you and the other participants. Most of the other doctors have grown a callous heart.”
Why did the doctors and scientists keep calling people like him "participants"? It was true that he came to this place of his own free will, but he didn't stay by choice. Surely the first few that came in after him had done so voluntarily as well, but people like Henry were brought in by the military. No they weren't participants anymore, their rights had long been forgotten.
“Things are changing John." She closed her clipboard and hugged it to her chest. "They think they may have a synthetic compound soon that could work. Keep the faith.” She left.
John never saw Henry again. Perhaps they moved him to another facility. He overheard the director talking about how the government was opening up more centers. This one had reached full capacity months ago, it was never really meant to house people to begin with. There were more "participants" than they could efficiently pull the life giving nectar from.
John liked to imagine a daring escape with Henry having punched his way out, perhaps leveling a few punches at the director's face. Imagining different escape scenarios for Henry was all John could do to pass the time.
A few days later just before he was scheduled for another draw Dr. White unexpectedly entered the room, she was beaming.
“I have some great news John. Someone has come to visit you.”
John couldn’t think of anyone who would visit him. A stranger in a mechanized wheel chair rolled in. “Hello John, my name is Atticus Walker.”
“He’s one of the first people your fluids saved,” Dr. White said. “He found a way to get you out of here.”
The old man had a lazy left eye and a folded up plaid blanket in his lap. He leaned forward lifting himself a bit on his elbows and spoke through his heavy beard. “My boy, you have no idea how thankful I am for the gift you gave me. I’ve been dealing with the board of directors for this place and they have agreed to set you free, in exchange for a sizable donation to the facility of course.”
John turned this gaze to Dr. White who was nodding and smiling. This was the first bit of good news for John in half a year. Could it be his torturous confinement would soon end?
A sense of relief swept over him. All of sudden every breath felt easier, Dr. White looked even more beautiful, and he could feel energy surging through his body.
"I’m finalizing paperwork with the director right now," Mr. Walker said. “You could leave as soon as this afternoon.”
“You won't have to do today's draw John." She said with excitement. "Just promise me one thing. Promise me that you'll go to every news organization out there and shout your story. People need to know what’s going on in here, this practice needs to stop. Promise me John.”
Seeing that she was waiting for him to respond, John gingerly nodded. He then turned to Atticus Walker, his savior had a silent smirk on his face. John let out a loud sigh which he felt could be heard throughout the facility.
In the early evening two men came in with a wheel chair and picked John up from the concrete floor. They sat him in the wheel chair and pushed him through the halls of the facility. The scientists and doctors lined up and watched as he was taken outside. In the parking lot a white van was waiting. Atticus Walker sat in front of it and the director stood next to him. An elevator attached to the van was being lowered.
As they were backing John onto the elevator he could see Dr. White smiling and waving at him from the entrance to the facility. As soon as the short elevator ride was complete, and he was in the van, something happened that John did not see coming.
The director stepped into the vehicle and shoved a syringe into John's left arm. John heard the director whisper to him, “I’m sorry, but Walker’s donation will help millions.” The doors to the van quickly closed after the director jumped out. John didn't have time to contemplate the words he heard. The view from inside the van quickly turned black.
John woke up in a silver steel cage. Looking around he saw another man in a cage next to his. There was a food tray with beans and bread in front of him. There was a terrible pain coming from his abdomen. He ran his left hand over the point of pressure and felt a metal tube sticking out of him. It was closed with a cap on the end.
The man in the other cage wasn't awake, but John could see he was breathing. The room was dark, but light streamed in through the tiny windows that were near the ceiling. The air was damp and smelled like wet dirt.
John saw a man glide past the windows as if rolling down a ramp. There was a door across the room that began to open automatically.
Atticus Walker rode into the dimly lit room and moved towards his cage. “Welcome to your new home John. You should know that you are very special to me.”
He rolled up even closer holding a vial of yellow fluid. “You see I desperately need the treatment that you and your friend there provide. It is the only reasons I am still alive. I owe you more than you could possibly imagine.”