“Could you sit up on this bench for me? I’ll just check your reflexes…Very nice, very nice. Lovely weather outside huh?”
There was no response. The nurse continued her routine, talking to no one. She navigated through a very stereotypical hospital room, with all of the iconic medicinal smells and sterility. The nurse didn’t fit the stereotypes however, with her slender figure and raven black hair setting her apart from the other matronly women.
“It seems like the perfect day to fly a kite or go boating, not that you get to do that sort of thing anymore, of course.” the nurse said. There was a bitter streak behind the words.
Like always, Hunter 11 didn’t say a word. The nurse sighed and looked at the clock. Only ten more minutes till 1:27, and then just three minutes till Hunter 11 arrived. Her heart skipped a beat.
The nurse moved on to the next item on her list.
“Now let’s check your blood pressure,” the nurse said, “Perfect.” She barely noticed the fact that the numbers would be alarming for any normal human being. The consistent numbers were also unnatural, and the Hunters never seemed to have any ill health, even with their rumored line of work. It was all normal to the nurse, after thirteen long weeks with the filthy operation. Why they even needed their weekly check-ups was a mystery to the nurse, as the Hunters were never anything but perfect.
The nurse went on to examine his eyes and ears, unwillingly resigned to no response. Her resolve, her determination – it had all been slipping away as the weeks slipped by. She glanced at her silent patient, who was staring at the opposite wall, back perfectly straight, and eyes focused but unseeing. Though she was now used to her emotionless companions, every reminder of their theft of humanity was like an old wound that kept on being reopened.
“Did you see the article in the paper? The one about the murder of Mr. Rosewood?” the nurse asked, shining a thin beam of light down patient 9’s throat. “It was quite interesting.” Just another thing you were probably responsible for.
The nurse picked up the day’s newspaper. On the cover of the Naion Times was a story discussing the murder of Patrick Rosewood. The murder had happened just days after the politician had voiced his outrage at the new laws restricting parenthood. These laws had been passed because supposedly, scientists had found links between certain genetic combinations and the Demise. Of course, the general public wasn’t satisfied with such an ambiguous explanation. They wanted facts, and as no one was giving it to them, they wanted the President impeached.
Plenty of young politicians had taken up the protest, one being Mr. Rosewood. The Naion Times had spent plenty of time exploring the convenient timing of Patrick Rosewood’s death, with the author even stating at that if he himself disappeared, their suspicions were just confirmed.
The nurse tossed the paper at Hunter 9. It hit his arm and slipped onto the bed. Nothing was working. She was just so frustrated! After weeks of trying to get her patients to respond to her, after long hours spent working out how to save them, the nurse had nothing. Throwing a newspaper was how desperate the nurse had gotten.
The nurse walked back over, took his temperature and looked at the clock. It was 1:27 and Hunter 9 left, with three minutes for the nurse to relax before Hunter 11 arrived.
Exhausted, the nurse sat down on the bed. Lying next to her was the newspaper she had thrown at patient 9, in a desperate attempt to wake him up. She glanced at it and noticed that it had fallen down open to a page filled with advertisements. The headlines blended together, with only one jumping out at her: “Possible Foul Play involved in the Double Suicide of Madeline and Sadie Acosta”.
Madeline felt her knees buckle and the room spun around her. Suddenly, she could hear herself on that horrible day, screaming as the Hunters dragged an unconscious and bloodied Gavin away. She could still hear the snarky voice of Gavin’s sister, Sadie, explaining to Madeline why she had reported him. She remembered exactly what Sadie had said – “Gavin was thinking dangerous thoughts. It’s people like him that need to be stopped.” She remembered slapping Sadie and having to be dragged away herself. She still remembered escaping, and being approached by a nameless organization who wanted exactly what she did: revenge.
Everything in the past didn’t matter now though. They knew. They were coming for her.
* * * * *
“But it’s not okay Maddie!” Gavin said, angrily. “The very nature of the Demise means that no one has a clue what life was like before. How the hell do scientists think they can find the cause of it? For all we know, it wasn’t a disease, it was a war, or a weapon, or a different species. We don’t know anything. We don’t know if it can be repeated. So what’s the point in trying to prevent it?”
Madeline squeezed his hand. “Well maybe they’re just trying. They need to look like they know something.” she said, looking up into his stormy eyes. Her eyes drifted to the cute birthmark on his shoulder, and she tiptoed up to kiss it.
“Maddie, whatever they’re trying to do, all they really are doing is taking away our rights. If you and I want kids, we have to be tested now! Naion has been fine for nearly sixty years.” Gavin stated flatly, shrugging her away. “All the government really wants is control.”
“Gavin! Don’t say that.” Madeline exclaimed. “It was hard for our parents’ generation, because they had nothing! No memories, nothing. The world was in ruins. If the President hadn’t been able to organize everyone the way he did, no one would’ve survived.”
Gavin sighed and said “Maddie don’t let them brainwash you too.”
Madeline just looked at him, torn between the truth in what he was saying and the fear in what its consequences could be. The day was still and there wasn’t a person in sight, but Madeline still wanted some privacy before they discussed all this. Taking him by the hand, she pulled him to the bench below the big oak tree, where barely anyone could see them.
“What exactly do you mean Gavin?” Madeline asked quietly.
Gavin pursed his lips and said, “Maddie, we really don’t know anything. At work today, I got hold of an old book. It was a beautiful copy, in amazing condition. The words were clear and the inking was precise. In the book was the very pledge that our country was named after. The only difference? Instead of ‘One naion, under God…’ this copy stated ‘One nation, under God…’. No one on our team knew about this, so our boss contacted the President,” Gavin paused and took a deep breath. “Then, he contacted the President’s office and told him the news. And do you know what the president said? Burn the book.”
Gavin stopped speaking again, too angry to continue.
“But why?” Madeline whispered, almost to herself.
Gavin answered anyways. “It’s not like it matters at all. So what if we’re called Nation or Naion? No one really cares,” Gavin stood up and faced Madeline. “The only person that would care would be the President, and I’ve got it all figured out.”
Madeline started to speak, stopped, and then started again. “Gavin, why would he care at all?” She looked up and saw that Gavin’s stormy eyes were unusually shiny. She touched the birthmark on his shoulder, and looked up with worried eyes. “Why does he care?”
“Because it shows how clueless he is!” Gavin exploded. “Our president doesn’t know anything more about this world and the Demise than any of us. Sure he helped us figure out how to rise from the disaster, but after that, the power got to his head. Maddie, I can’t say it any other way. He’s blind and only wants control.”
With the books collected from some of the wreckages outside of town being the most valuable things Naion had, what the President had ordered was an unspeakable act. These old books were the only way they were able to learn anything about life before the Demise. The books were their only way to learn about their past.
They sat in silence.
Gavin started to speak again. “And guess what I did Maddie? I burnt the book.” Gavin’s voice broke as he said it.
After some time, they both got up and started to walk back home, hand in hand. Neither spoke, for both were lost in their own thoughts. They should’ve said something, because it would be the last time of peace they would have for a long time.
* * * * *
Madeline quickly stood up. It was 1:30, and there was Hunter 11 walking through the door. Still caught up in her memories, she could hardly stifle the overwhelming sense of loss that washed over her as she saw him.
Hunter 11 didn’t recognize the nurse that he had had for nearly thirteen weeks, as long as he had been a Hunter. He just sat up on top of the bed and stared at the wall, waiting for his checkup to begin. Madeline began to walk towards him, ready to check his reflexes, when she froze. From this angle, she could see the little birthmark on his left shoulder that she had always kissed before he went to bed.
Madeline ran out and collapsed inside a supply closet, sobbing. It had been fourteen weeks and she hadn’t been able to save Gavin. The memories were washing over her, replaying over and over in her mind. Once the officials had dragged Gavin away for his treasonous talk, it had changed something in her. Gone was the sweet Maddie, who always believed in the good of everybody. Here was the Madeline that the world, especially the President was going to get to know very, very soon.
Another memory immersed her. An uncontrollable sobbing took over her as she remembered how she had killed Sadie for turning Gavin in. The two Madeline’s weren’t agreeing on her part in this. When she had accidentally-on-purpose killed Sadie, it had been the sweetest revenge, yet a part of Maddie had been horrified at the idea that she could ever do such a thing. She had thought she’d covered it up perfectly, but evidently not, as the article said that the police thought that there had been foul play. Madeline remembered Sadie’s dying words, “I loved my brother,” and knew their eerie, twisted meaning would haunt her forever. She had killed a human being, yet she had done so for her love. Madeline got up and tried to rationalize her options, yet her emotions, her wants and needs to stay near Gavin were clouding this reasoning. Jeopardizing any chance of saving him was too much of a risk, so Madeline knew her only option. She loved him.
Madeline stood up, feeling out of tears. She walked out of the supply closet and back into her exam room. She let her substitute nurse go and started to check up on her husband, for the last time in what she knew would be a long time. Tomorrow, she’d leave the Hunters.