No one really knows when and why the timers were put in.
Rumor has it they weren’t exactly factory standard, though they are now. Order likes to use them as another cog in their giant grotesque machine. Mary and John will sync up, meet, and carry on calmly. That’s what the soulmate counter is for. To keep the peace and not let something like random love interfere. It used to in all the movies, before those were outlawed and destroyed. The evil government would rise up and control every detail of the world but love. John would meet Mary and break every mold possible to be with her, and their true uncontrollable passion would overturn the whole system. It’s a nice story idea sure, but unrealistic. Two people can’t change the world.
But if that was true.. why outlaw the movies saying it could be done?
Tristan was going to be a caregiver. He’d scored high enough on his aligning year tests to go on to skill focus classes, which would ready him for a full home in caregiving. It sounded nice, but he felt nervous. Caregivers got a lot of scrutiny for being loose canons. Too much risk, people claimed. He didn’t think he had even a drop of empathy in him, but that didn’t stop other people from looking at him funny when he announced his path.
Still, he kept his eyes forward and feet moving. People would think and say what they wanted, and he couldn’t control that. So he didn’t try to. He just kept to himself, staying on his schedule in strict quiet.
Friday afternoon he had finished his fifth class and went home. He had lunch, then completed his assignments, and when all was said and done he found himself on his computer. There was the usual login process to attend to, but he never complained. Some people didn’t like the identity verification and mandatory news stream. Tristan did. He liked hearing about the world events.
His city, Prill, was located just outside the region’s capital city Haven. He liked being close to the exact center of the continent, where resources and breathing room were abundant. He’d heard from another student at his skill focus that supposedly the outer edges of the American region were much more compact, and because of the danger of pirates when shipping things out from the inner cities the outlying towns had limited resources.
Tristan had never been outside of Prill, but it sounded awful. The news only served to remind him of that. Pirates and Dealers were large threats to the people, and despite Order’s best efforts bad things always happened. He supposed in a subtle way he was afraid of that. But Order always made it clear that fear was not an illegal sensation or sickness. It was only human, only natural, in small measurements. That reassurance had the sensation leaving his mind quickly. It was hard to be afraid when you knew everyone was.
Strength in unity- all for Order and Order for all.
Finishing his daily online digest, Tristan moved straight to his routine.
Twenty minutes on discussion boards regarding the news, then one hundred minutes reading the current topics his skill focus was covering. He spent thirty more replying to mail from family and fellow students, then a final thirty updating his personal log on the day. It read a lot like every other day did, with the minor changes made for class content and conversations.
When it was all said and done he took a hot shower, redressed in casual clothes, and put his school clothes in to wash. Doing a final sweep to be sure he had attended to everything, Tristan gathered his glasses off the kitchen counter. He didn’t like to wear them in his house, as most all he did in his dwelling was access his rooted computer.
Clicking his door shut quietly, he left the apartment complex with glasses on and screen open. His grocery list came to the forefront, and he reviewed it meticulously as he walked to the store in the shopping district.
Jane August was an unpredictable woman.
Tristan disliked her for that. She tended to calculate new plans and ideas on the fly, which often resulted in an announcement of plans on short notice. He didn’t mind the little time to prepare, since he considered himself to always be prepared. What he disliked was the risk of it. People like her tread a fine line between their paths and chaos. It probably wasn’t a productive thought to have, but Tristan always knew in the back of his mind if someone told him Jane had dived into drugs he wouldn’t have been surprised. She was one of those types, always had been. He still interacted with her though, because she was Garette’s soulmate.
The thought had him scratching his wrist idly in the grocery store as Jane spoke to him.
Her words popped up in quick lines at the bottom corner of his glasses screen, stacking in little message clips as she rattled on. She’d been on her way to organizing dinner before the idea came that a group outing would be pleasant and reasonable. She knew a place that was doing a group deal all weekend.
Tristan couldn’t argue it much. He was hungry, and while he needed groceries, being able to get a group deal for one night instead of a full food package from the store would be financially beneficial. So reluctantly he agreed, and his response began the torrent of other students in his and Jane’s shared social circles to respond.
In the end they had a group of almost thirty ready, and Tristan checked out while the rest of them decided an exact time. He knew the place Jane was talking about. It was a very short walk from his apartment. He assured the others he would organize his groceries at home and meet them at the bustling restaurant in due time.
It was, looking back, sort of a shame he never made it.
Tristan hated missing plans. It was as awful as getting sick and missing school. He didn’t mourn the event he would never experience on a social level, but as a matter of integrity. If he said he would be somewhere, he did not like to be made a liar. Even though, in the case of dinner, it was by no choice of his own.
It had happened sometime during the way to his car.
The sky was not yet speckled obsidian, so he wondered why no one saw the stranger approach him from behind. He wondered how his short cry before a gloved hand covered his mouth went unnoticed.
He wondered these things because he was not sure what else to do. His glasses were gone and his body would not respond. Logic dictated movement, a gathering of knowledge and bearings. But all he could do was lay still and stare up at the sky.
He was not in the parking lot, he knew that.
He was somewhere dark and cold and wet. The sound of water running and dripping was all around him, though the moist stiffness he rested on was not pavement or submerged. It was slick, smooth. Almost like the tile of his shower, but not quite as even.
Above him something large and white loomed, mocking. He knew it was the moon but the word never reached his tongue. He just stared at it, asking in silence what it was. What it could be.
Tristan wanted to touch it.
He wanted to graze his fingertips across the milky surface. A sigh escaped him. He couldn’t go where the white orb was. He understood that vaguely as his head felt light and fuzzy. Breathing felt awkward as he inhaled deep around the fog in his mind.
He needed to get up and go. To return home, before he missed a day of skill focus.
And then it hit him.
Waves crashed over him, drowning him in a suffocating mass of.. of.. He didn’t know what to call it. It was terrifying yet uplifting. As much as it scared his brain it made his heart feel light. His lips curved without his permission. He wanted to move but couldn’t. He didn’t need to. Nothing was wrong. Everything would be okay.
That was the best way he could summarize what swallowed him. The overwhelming, unending sensation that everything was going to be alright.
He would get home just fine. He would pass his skill focus with excellent colors.
He would meet his soulmate and they would integrate smoothly, and his life would be long and productive. He knew these things almost like fact, though they were lighter. Less substantial, as he had no reasoning for any of it.
He just knew. He just felt it.
He felt it.
Panic brought him down from his high in a hard, earth-shattering crash.
He knew what this was in that instance. It was Hope. He had been drugged.
Tristan had blacked out after the crash.
It had all proven too much at once, he surmised, as the shattering fear and panic set him off balance and left him tumbling down into pitch black where he stayed for an indeterminable amount of time.
These were the kinds of things that sent people into chaos, he realized. One high off a drug and suddenly his body was overcompensating with fear. He felt mostly even when he woke, but the fear was still there.
Tristan woke up in his apartment, neatly tucked in bed.
When he rose and stumbled out into the open living room-kitchen space, he realized there was company. A younger woman in a police uniform was sitting at the bar in his kitchen, sipping a cup of hot coffee. When Tristan stumbled into view she stood, nodding and moving straight to the pot on the counter corner. Pouring him a cup, she sat it on the bar and resumed sipping from her own while standing on the opposite side.
Sitting somewhat numbly, Tristan wrapped his hands around the porcelain and stared at the brown liquid. The blurriness of the reflection made him look even worse than he thought he did. His hair was mussed from a restless sleep, his night clothes equally messy. Slowly he took to redoing the top button of his sleep shirt as the officer began speaking.
Something about her words felt bland. Grey. Stale.
Her company was bitter and her entire way of moving and talking was unpleasant. She was too rigid, too uncomfortable. She said something about aftereffects and Tristan strained to listen.
“You’re going to feel off for a few days. Like everything isn’t quite right. That’s the drug working out of your system. It will offset your body, so other things will feel uncomfortable. You shouldn’t pay attention to any of it. Your skill focus teachers have all been made aware of the situation, and they agreed to bundle your missed assignments for when you can return.”
She took a drink of coffee and waited for Tristan to speak, but he wasn’t sure what to say.
He just stared somewhat slack-jawed at his coffee and focused on breathing evenly.
Somehow even that felt hard. Everything felt like it took a great deal of strength to bear, and he hated it. A part of him wanted to go back to the wet place where his heart felt light, as if he could float up to the moon watching him and really touch its surface.
What an irrational thought.
When Tristan sighed heavily the woman nodded.
“You’ll be back to normal in a few days. These drugs are just chemicals, and they will go away if you give it time. Just be patient.”
He nodded and she returned the motion, turning without further word to leave. Long after she left Tristan kept staring at her left behind coffee cup. He never touched his. He just went back to bed, crushed by the weight that found him in his crash. Impossibly, it felt like he would never truly get better.