Chapter Five – The After(math) Party
November 7, 3211
CITY-STATE – LAYER SEVEN
THE CAPITOL DISTRICT – THE CAPITOL BUILDING – MELCHIOR RECEPTION HALL
Jeremy and the group of doctors were escorted to a reception hall a few doors away from the Senate chamber. The National Police Force officers jabbed at them with batons to force the visitors along the way. It was not an easy journey. The doctors kept tripping over each other’s feet, and they scrambled to keep in front of the police.
Jeremy kept wondering what matter of hospitality this was as he kept a secure grasp on Alaya’s arm – partly to help keep her on her feet and partly to restrain her from confronting their friendly escorts.
They entered a large, rectangular room near the Senate chamber. Two hammered brass doors sat on the long sides of the room opposite each other. Accents of imperial red and gold glittered the hall. There were no chairs or tables in the room, just a hard stone floor with a crimson plush rug in the center.
Jeremy’s hands clasped the shoulders of the visibly upset Alaya who still squirmed like a wild animal. His arms grew weary of trying to control her.
“I’m okay,” she snapped as she broke free from Jeremy’s grasp. “I can’t believe that just happened!”
Jeremy exhaled loudly as he ran his hand through his brown hair. Small beads of sweat trickled down his forehead. “That was unreal,” he said.
“I’m not sure what happened in there,” added Dr. Smith. “When people hear about this…”
“No one will hear about anything,” came a nasal voice as three men in black suits entered the brass door opposite the doctors. The man on the left, whose name tag read “Golson”, was short and thin with gray hair. “Every single one of you signed a non-disclosure agreement before you entered the chamber. Any discussions will lead to your immediate arrest, removal of your employment, and possible imprisonment as per the agreement.”
“What?” huffed Alaya.
“We are very sorry about the scene you just witnessed,” continued the man in the middle, who was the same height as Golson, but he had a bald head and beefier build. His name tag was missing. “I can assure you that it is not normal procedure. Things simply got a little out of hand in the Senate. Your cooperation with us is most appreciated.”
“Who are you, exactly?” asked Jeremy. He was annoyed.
“Yes, excuse me. Pardon my manners. I am Darden Geist, Senate Attorney Advisor,” the man answered with an emotionless smile. “Like I said, your cooperation would be most appreciated, and it would benefit you greatly.” Geist straightened his triangular shaped collar and adjusted his neon yellow tie.
Several doctors shifted nervously. Geist snapped his fingers, and the other two men turned and opened the doors on the other side of the room.
“Now,” said Geist in a more genteel tone. “Your group was invited here today to watch the proceedings of the vote regarding the S-Amendment to the StarChild Act and to meet and greet some of the senators, and that is exactly what is going to happen. And please remember, what happened in the Senate moments ago affects you, your families, and most importantly, your job. City-State values your knowledge and your commitment in making this nation a flawless entity.”
“That almost sounded like a threat,” said Alaya.
Geist ignored Alaya’s comment, stood to one side, and waved his hand in the direction of the doors. “Ladies and gentleman, please proceed to the party.”
The group was shown into the next room. As they passed by the open brass door, Jeremy caught the words “Melchior Reception Hall” etched into the polished metal. The room sparkled with elegance and prestige. Lighted candles throughout the space created an intimate setting for the politicians and the healthcare workers. Chandeliers, silver serving trays, marble statues, colorful paintings, and golden plates were set against a background of blue tapestries and ivory walls. Jeremy was astonished at how quickly many of the doctors forgot the traumatic scenes of just a few minutes ago. Even Dr. Smith seemed to have a smile on his face.
“You’re not going to fall for this, are you?” asked Alaya as she lightly jabbed Dr. Smith in the ribs.
Dr. Smith’s face grew serious. “Look,” he said, staring hard at both Alaya and Jeremy. “Let’s just get through this party and get out of here without getting into or causing any trouble, alright? Okay? Nobody died, those were stun batons. We just need to keep quiet, smile, and nod. We can discuss this later. Please behave. This is a special occasion.”
Alaya frowned, but she did not protest.
Jeremy did not say anything; he followed Alaya’s lead.
“Good,” said Dr. Smith, “now, at least pretend to enjoy yourselves.”
Jeremy decided to heed Dr. Smith’s advice. After the doctors were ushered to their assigned table, Jeremy walked to the buffet and grabbed a gold-trimmed, porcelain plate. He stepped up to the food line and grabbed a pair of sliver-plated tongs. As he began to place small hors d’oeuvres on his plate, he felt the heat of Alaya’s body directly behind him. He was pleased to see her carrying her own plate.
“Glad to see the nice Alaya has finally joined us,” said Jeremy with a side of sarcasm.
She said nothing, but her pursed lips betrayed the anger just below the surface.
“Are you okay? Have you calmed down a bit, Alaya?” inquired Jeremy. He tried to use soothing tones to comfort her. He let her take the space in front of him in the buffet line.
“I’m not a child,” she replied in a wounded tone. “But yes. I’m fine. I can deal with all this.” Alaya grabbed a large spoon and fiddled with a purple-colored, creamy potato salad. “I can’t wait to start invading people’s privacy and placing children in S-Class transitional schools at even younger ages, robbing them of their childhood.”
“It could be worse,” noted Jeremy. “They could be D-Class children who can only hope to get on quality reality shows like Pageant Princess or Working Girls.”
“Why don’t they just label those shows as ‘sex tourism’, sell t-shirts, and shove more advertisements down our throats? That’s all it really is. Disgusting campaigning for these disgusting senators,” said Alaya. She stabbed the large spoon into the potato salad several times.
“You think?” asked Jeremy. “I never watch those shows.” He motioned to the buffet line, “Alaya, you are really killing that potato salad. You’d be a shoe-in on Razor’s Edge.”
“Are you serious?” she asked as she anchored the spoon in the mutilated potato salad. “Come on, Jeremy. You don’t watch the Video Media at all? You don’t watch V-Reel? But the Health Department strictly regulates how much television you have to watch. I think it’s three hours per day minimum now.”
“Three shows,” corrected Jeremy. “I saw it in the lobby this morning. I turned it on and muted it. I have books and other things to entertain me.”
“Books?” Alaya blurted loudly. “Dr. Green, you are such a rebel. You mean actual books? Like in hardcover?” She raised her eyebrows in a playful manner. “You are so scandalous.”
“On the MediPalm,” smiled Jeremy. “Who has hardback books these days?” coughed Jeremy. “Book-books? That’s just crazy. Who would have the nerve to use up all that video wall space to store old books?”
She leaned back to pick up another spoon. He could feel her body radiating warmth. She gently nudged him with her right hip and shot him a flirty grin. She picked up a few small bites from the buffet. “Who indeed?” she wondered.
From across the large banquet hall, heavy, intricately carved wooden doors swung open. Several senators stepped through and immediately began shaking hands with several doctors. Then, to many people’s surprise, a giant man walked through the door, accompanied by an ancient, skeleton of a man to his right.
Jeremy overheard several people say, “Hello, Mr. President.”
“Oh look, the idiot-in-chief is here to entertain us with his airball stories,” sneered Alaya. “I can’t wait for him to tell us how much he ‘rocked’ when playing for A.C. Builders.”
“He’s not that bad, is he?” Jeremy queried. He was more interested in the old, skinny man standing next to the President. “Who’s the emaciated fellow next to him?”
“That’s Eugene Grant,” said Alaya, popping a bacon and spinach roll-up in her mouth. She chewed thoughtfully and swallowed. “He’s been the Chief of Staff for the last four Presidents.”
There was a sudden commotion behind President Wilhelm. A mesmerizing, dashing man in a black trench coat and shimmering red shirt entered the room.
“Hey, Alaya, there he is. Isn’t that…” Jeremy was interrupted.
“Supreme Judge Harkin?” gasped Alaya. “What is going on? Why is he here?”
Dr. Smith happened to be standing near the two young doctors. Jeremy extended his arm and caught the senior doctor.
Alaya began her inquisition. “Dr. Smith, why are the two most powerful people in City-State in this room?”
“I don’t know, Alaya,” said Dr. Smith. He was confused as well. “I was told that this party was open to a few senators and the Health Committee.”
As more and more high-profile politicos, senators, and bureaucrats flowed into the room, the banquet became loud and lively. Jeremy saw several senators who were in the assembly just minutes ago – many of whom looked unaffected – as if they had not just witnessed their peers trampled by police with stun batons.
“They all look rather accustomed to the events that preceded this party,” remarked Alaya to Jeremy. Her plate vibrated slightly as her hands shook.
“Hey,” Jeremy whispered nudging her arm. “You have to contain yourself. Jeremy searched for the words. “No, outbursts, okay? Promise?”
“Right,” said Alaya, meeting his green eyes.
“I suggest we go mingle,” said Dr. Smith. “We might land some new funding if we talk to the right people.”
Jeremy nodded and escorted Alaya around the perimeter of the room. The two caught the wary glances of the black-clad National Police officers who escorted the President. Jeremy smiled. He also noticed another group of security officers who were dressed in blue uniforms with red trimmed cuffs and collars.
“Any idea who they are?” asked Jeremy, nodding to the strange officers. They walked in the direction of the main bar.
“Those are Judiciary Forces,” said Alaya. “They are the personal security force of the Supreme Judge.”
Jeremy caught the eye of one of the Judiciary Force guards. Large muscles rippled under the guard’s dress uniform. The eyes of the guard honed in on the young doctor. He looked right through Jeremy, assessing him. The guard saw human life as a piece of trash – easily disposable.
Alaya and Jeremy approached the main bar. “Well, anyway, I can’t wait to go back and work on StarChild,” said Jeremy to Alaya. He was about to add more when a man wearing a black trench coat and a shimmering red silk shirt walked up to them and ordered a drink. A Seven Point Star pin on his label caught a beam of light from the overhead chandelier. His dark hair was pulled back into a loose pony tail.
“Give me a scotch on the rocks with mint,” said the man to the bartender. Supreme Judge Harkin turned and met Alaya and Jeremy with a friendly smile.
“Hello,” said the Judge. The bartender handed Harkin his drink.
“Hello. Nice to meet you, sir,” said Jeremy.
“I am assuming that you are… doctors?” asked Harkin.
“Yes,” said Jeremy. “I am Dr. Jeremy Green, and I work in Early Detection. And this is Dr. Alaya…”
“Martinez. Alaya Martinez,” she concluded.
“Well, doctors, it is a pleasure to meet two outstanding members of society. Did I hear you say something about StarChild? I hope you appreciate the effort these fine politicians put into making your project even better.”
“Actually,” began Alaya, but she was immediately silenced by Jeremy.
“Yes, we really appreciate everything you do,” smiled Jeremy. “You know, I heard my supervisor talking about an increase in funding to cover the new requirements of the program.”
“Well,” said Harkin. He looked to either side as if searching for someone, and then he took a sip of his scotch. “Appropriations are not exactly my thing, but I know you can talk to Senator Jarvis. I’m sure he’s already working on it.”
Harkin’s dark eyes focused on Alaya’s feminine form. The Supreme Judge clearly liked what he saw. “Do you also work with Dr. Green on the StarChild Program?”
“I do work on the program,” replied Alaya. Even though she tried, she could not mask the icy disdain in her voice. “And I think the S-Amendment is not necessary. It’s an invasion of privacy.”
“Oh, you’re one of those,” said Harkin waving his fingers in dismissal. “I don’t expect a doctor to speak in this manner. Some senators speak like this, you know, the ones who are still lying on the chamber floor. Though I suppose you are fairly intelligent. A-Class? B-Class?” A stray piece of hair found its way from behind Harkin’s ear to the side of his strong, pronounced jaw line. He tucked his hair carefully behind his right ear and secured it tightly.
“That is none of your business,” snarled Alaya.
“Oh, you’re right,” admitted Harkin. “But not for long. You see, there will certainly be new reporting requirements implemented for the Class System in the near future. Part of me really hopes you are S-Class, my dear.” The Supreme Judge winked at Alaya and took another sip of his drink. “You’ll get all the perks.”
“There is nothing in that law that requires anyone to self-identify if he or she doesn’t want to,” said Alaya.
“I can get that law to say whatever I want,” replied Harkin flippantly. “Why would you care anyway? It only helps you.” He looked into her dark eyes.
“Not everyone agrees with you, Supreme Judge. There are those who will fight.”
“Yes, I am sure – like the senators the police officers are scraping off the floor?” laughed Harkin. “Don’t be naive, Ms. Martinez. That’s your name, right?”
“Yes, and I wasn’t talking about them,” said Alaya. She intently stared at the Supreme Judge.
“Please tell me who you are speaking of, Ms. Martinez. It would be nice to know something about you other than your profession, your name, and the fact that you are very beautiful,” said Harkin.
“You know who I’m talking about,” said Alaya.
Harkin placed his drink on the bar, interlaced his fingers, and stared at Alaya. Finally, he smiled, tilted his head, and sighed. “Oh, I think I do, Ms. Martinez.”
Jeremy watched in amusement. But after a moment, he thought it was best to defuse the situation. “Hey, Alaya, let’s go. Dr. Smith wants us to meet Senator Tate.” His eyes moved to Harkin. “Supreme Judge, it was a pleasure meeting you.”
“Yes, and you, as well, Dr. Green. Your friend is very opinionated,” offered Harkin.
Jeremy began to pull Alaya away. “Let’s go, Alaya,” he said.
The Supreme Judge took one last sip of his drink and raised his glass to Alaya. “I’d hate for those opinions to get you into trouble, my dear.”