Chapter One – The S-Classer
NOVEMBER 7, 3211
CITY-STATE – LAYER SEVEN
THE INTERIOR OF AN AIRCAB
The aircab twisted and turned through the traffic lanes. The wild changes in elevation, the excessive speeds, and the failure to use any kind of approved flight plan were completely illegal in City-State. The aircab pilot did not just violate the law; he flaunted it with child-like glee. He swerved between the towering skyscrapers of Layer Seven, pushing the ion-drive engines past their government-recognized standards. Blue and red sparks of charged ions left a colorful trail of criminality behind the aircab.
“Whoa!” said the lone passenger. He tried to keep his leather satchel from crashing into the far side of the cab’s interior.
“Yeah, sorry man,” said the cabbie. “Some of these lanes are too narrow.” He laughed and turned the vehicle sharply to the left, “Some of these architects and engineers should be fired for their stupid designs.”
The passenger rolled his eyes. “Please keep me alive. I just got a new job.”
“Right. Right on,” said the cabbie. He tapped a few buttons on the steering wheel, punched the gas peddle, and the aircar ascended higher into the damp mist of Layer Seven.
The two hundred story buildings served as a child’s playground to this driver. Millions of aircars clogged the dense, hazy air of City-State, and all of them conformed to socially acceptable standards of flight except for this one.
“Please stay straight along this…” said the passenger as he was cut off by another sharp turn.
“I got it,” said the cabbie as he smiled and waved to his neighboring aircar.
The lone passenger was Jeremy Green, the wunderkind doctor. He could only smile as the adrenaline rushed through his body as he tightly clutched his leather satchel. “This guy is absolutely crazy,” said Jeremy.
“What was that, man?” asked the cabbie. The aircab zoomed to the right, nearly missing a large black skyscraper.
“Nothing,” smiled the doctor.
Jeremy embraced the distraction because he was worried about his first day on the job. At nineteen, he was the youngest doctor in his field of study: early detection and classification. It was a branch of medical genetics that intersected with childhood development, prenatal care, DNA mapping, and public health. “I’m finally here,” he said to himself as the cab took a sharp left turn.
Jeremy was designated S-Class by the City-State Ministry of Labor and the National Educational System – a classification for those with extraordinary abilities or exceptional skills. He was labeled as a genius by the government. Additionally, Jeremy had both intellect and special abilities. His intelligence rated in the top 0.3%; this was verified by standardized testing. He also had an uncanny ability to recognize patterns faster than any computer.
Jeremy whisked himself through transitional school by the age of twelve. He finished his undergraduate education by fourteen, and this young prodigy completed medical school and his residency within five years. And yet, despite his accolades in medical school, he was forced to undergo a number of questionable transactions with the City-State Government Ministry of Labor to secure this post with The National Hospital.
After his whirlwind education, where he spent much of his time educating his peers and proving his instructors’ mistakes, Jeremy was ready to take on his first assignment. His passion was research medicine; he specifically wanted to work within The StarChild Program. Everyone, his instructors included, believed he was destined for this esteemed position, but initially, he was not assigned to StarChild.
Jeremy was lifted out of his seat as the outlaw cabbie punched his aircab down below a lane of traffic. The vehicle made a sharp right turn and swung wildly around a brightly lit, one hundred seventy-five story corporate building. Jeremy caught a glimpse of some of the residents inside as they went about their morning routines. He wondered how many of them had to bribe their way into their current positions.
In its infinite wisdom, or perhaps, its infinite corruption, the government chose a position, other than StarChild, for Jeremy. The government not only dictated his educational path, it also controlled his specific job placement within the medical field. In fact, Jeremy was initially assigned to an emergency medical clinic in the Industrial Sector of Layer Seven.
The understandably upset young doctor took his case to the Ministry of Labor and talked to his case worker, an unethical slime ball named Arthur Grimsly. Grimsly feigned ignorance of the terrible oversight, and he simply told Jeremy there was nothing that could be done. Suddenly, while the aircab swiftly maneuvered to the right, Jeremy heard Grimsly’s scratchy, high-pitched voice in his head, “Unless, Dr. Green. Unless you can provide me with…”
Jeremy shook his head, rubbed his eyes, and took a deep breath. “It’s all in the past,” he whispered to himself. “It’s all in the past.”
And that was the moment that Jeremy realized that there were no innocent people in City-State – especially the government officials.
To secure his position, Jeremy bribed several officials in the Ministry of Labor, including Arthur Grimsly, and he provided them with vague promises to help them in the future. Though unethical, Jeremy felt uneasy yet validated. He needed to work on The StarChild Program. And if this was “the way it had to be”, then he would have to settle with false promises and empty lies.
He succeeded: filth was apparently the cleanest way to live in City-State. Jeremy became the newest member of the medical field’s finest work in City-State: The StarChild Program – the project that would end all health complications and create an ideal, healthy population.
For the moment, his anxiety and wariness subsided. The bribes were technically illegal, but the labor placement was completely official. Jeremy got the feeling that crooked deals were often the most “official” when it came to the government. And to some extent, he had to become part of the process.
The aircab took a sudden dip. Jeremy’s head bashed against the overhead, and his body slammed to the cab floor. The aircab took another sharp left, lifting the young doctor’s body off the floor and crushing it against the door. The insane cabbie swerved just in time to miss three oncoming airtrucks as they sped along their legally defined vectors.
“Ishmael’s pain! Whoa! That was close,” cursed the cabbie in a gruff, gurgled voice. “You okay back there, doc?”
“Fine,” Jeremy yelled with his face planted against the side window.
Jeremy got the day’s first good look at Layer Seven. The sprawling megalopolis spanned nearly two-hundred fifty miles in every direction. Two-hundred story buildings poked the bottom of low-lying clouds. Swarms of aircars, transports, hovering police platforms, and floating billboards nearly blotted the sun from view. And any sunlight that managed to get past the airborne screen of traffic was choked out by the ever-present dome of fog, mist, haze, and smoke that wafted up from the city, into the gray, overcast skies.
Seconds later, the aircab flew by the great Capitol Building. Built on the top layer of City-State, it was one of the first of the massive structures to be completed on Layer Seven. It was a massive, one-hundred fifty-story tall, pyramidal structure precisely situated in the center of City-State. It was no longer the tallest building on the surface, but the stepped, ziggurat design made it the most massive and uniquely crafted building in City-State.
“Hold on, kid,” barked the cabbie as he maneuvered the aircar through a string of low turns under a line of glimmering steel overpasses.
“Can you please watch where you are going?” yelped Jeremy in desperation. “Look, I need to get to work – alive!”
“Sure thing,” said the cabbie as he momentarily leveled off the aircab into a constant line of traffic. “The StarChild Program needs you.”
“What?” inquired Jeremy as he peeled himself off the ceiling. There was no way this guy knew why he was going to The National Hospital.
“Nothing,” chuckled the cabbie. “Just hold on. Yeah, and put on your seatbelt.”
The driver ascended into the air at a rapid pace, leaving Jeremy to extend his arms and secure his palms to the ceiling of the aircab. He used upper body strength to prohibit the lower portion of his body from crashing into the top of the cab.
“Wait, How do you know…” Jeremy was cut off in mid sentence.
The aircar swooped down and around the Capitol District. Jeremy regained his normal seated position, he secured his seatbelt, and he gazed out of the window. He spied the intricate tubing system of the surface.
The Capitol was connected to the rest of Layer Seven through a number of high-speed transport tubes. There were three terminals at the Capitol Building at the first, fiftieth, and one hundred and twentieth floors. There are also numerous landing platforms for aircabs, private cars, and large military police transports – it was the busiest place in all of City-State.
The ominous stature of the Capitol was accentuated by the tens of thousands of lights streaming from it, but perhaps this structure was notorious for its foreboding black appearance silhouetted against the cloudy monochrome palette of City-State’s skyline.
Jeremy felt the aircar slow. “We’re nearing the Capitol District, so I gotta reduce speed,” said the cabbie. He slowly turned his bald head toward Jeremy. “Hey, so what’s your story? What’s a kid your age doing working at The National Hospital?”
Jeremy examined the polished silver rings in the cabbie’s pierced ears, the sleeveless leather vest he wore with no shirt, and the tattoos that marked his body like a seedy, underground art show. The Seven Point Star of City-State was the cab driver’s most prominent tattoo. It was strategically placed on his right forearm. “What a creep,” thought Jeremy.
The doctor took his eyes off of the cabbie’s body art. “I’m going to work in the Early Detection Lab,” replied Jeremy, straightening his body with pride. “You know, StarChild.”
“Oh,” sighed the cabbie as his shoulders slumped a bit. “You’re working on that scam of a project?”
“Scam?” asked Jeremy jutting his jaw out. “Excuse me?”
“Oh, that’s right, you’re a ‘big man’,” scoffed the cabbie. “You know, a bunch of over-educated, egotistical doctors telling women they can or can’t keep their babies based off of what some poorly designed computer system tells them.”
“Poorly designed?” questioned Jeremy. “Come one. Shows what you know. The Builders designed StarChild, not some B-Class cabbie with no regard for…”
“I’m sure they did, kid,” smiled the tattooed driver, unfazed by Jeremy’s attempted insult. “But A-Class technicians still put the thing together and implemented the security processes for it. All in all, it’s a garbage system.”
“I’m an S-Class doctor,” said Jeremy in a snide, snarky tone. “I would think I know a ‘garbage system’ when I see it.”
“Big surprise that you’re an S-Classer,” said the cabbie. “Well so am I, kid. I just don’t let those government types tell me what to do.”
Jeremy laughed at the cabbie. “Okay, man. Funny joke. The system isn’t flawed and you’re not an S-Classer,” smiled Jeremy. “I’ll watch for any signs of malfunction while I’m working there. And I’ll be sure to look you up in the National Class System Database.”
“You do just that,” smirked the cabbie. “But if you’re smart, why don’t I drive you to Nocturnity right now? You can mingle with your kind. You know, other geniuses. But these guys had the gall to get off the surface.”
Jeremy’s eyes went wide at the name of the mythological underground city of the Illegals. The mere mention of Nocturnity was usually a red flag that a person was treading dangerously on the streets of conspiracy theory, speculation, conjecture, and insanity.
Jeremy coughed nervously. “Yes,” he said in a low voice. “Well, I would go, but I don’t make it a habit of going to places that do not exist.”
“Suit yourself,” said the cabbie. He revved the engine, swerved to the left, and punched the aircar’s hover system to descend. “We’re here.”
The National Hospital of City-State, the Hospital for short, was located only a block from the Capitol Building. The tall, gray structure rose to a height of seventy-five floors. The facade was adorned with tall columns and white marbled gargoyles. It was in direct contrast to the sleek, “razor’s edge” design that was popular with City-State architects in the Layer Seven Era.
Jeremy thanked the unorthodox cab driver and exited the vehicle, “Look, man, thanks for the ride. Have a great day.”
“You, too, doc,” said the driver in a more civilized tone. “And be careful – the weapons you wield in this place are the very instruments of evil you wish to destroy.” The cabbie smiled. Then, he tapped a few buttons on the steering wheel, aircar’s engine roared, and he ascended into to the dull air of Layer Seven.
“Glad I’ll never see that kook again,” mumbled Jeremy.
The young doctor gazed at The National Hospital – the source of his happiness and the source of his anxiety. This was the object of career-defining clarity as well as confusion. Jeremy’s future seemed murky despite his successful efforts. He worked towards this moment for years, fighting to obtain this position. Even on that fateful day at the Ministry of Labor when the sleazy officials sent him spinning off course, he was still able to get his way. But Jeremy could not help but ask, “Is this the right place for me?”
His dark brown hair tossed around in the light breeze. He grabbed the loose strands and cleared his face. Jeremy grabbed his small satchel, and he walked toward the Hospital’s entrance.
Determined not to have his talents wasted, Jeremy set his mind on success. He inhaled heavily and thought to himself, “The Ministry of Labor probably blackmails everyone when they place citizens in their jobs. Maybe that cabbie really was an S-Classer who didn’t play the game and got stuck with a no-good job. Well, I played the game. I had to make a few promises, but I doubt I’ll ever have to fulfill them. Never again will I have to compromise my character. Now, I’ve got what I want. I am going to put everything behind him and focus on being the best.”
Jeremy’s sharp, green eyes focused on the building in front of him. For a moment, mixed emotions ran through his body. On one hand, this building was the object of occupational obsession, and it felt almost appropriate to fall prostrate and worship it. But on the other hand, it contained the unknown and the trepidation of uncertainty. Did Jeremy make the right choice? Did the young prodigy sacrifice his destiny by bribing government officials to get here?
“This is my dream,” said Jeremy as he stared at the enormous building. “Or, this is my nightmare?”
His chest and shoulders tightened. Invisible creatures tied knots in his stomach. Within City-State and within the medical field, who could decipher a right decision versus wrong decision? Or, were choices only an illusion?