In breaking from the usual fare on this blog, here is yet another attempt at fiction writing, which I hope you all enjoy! The setting for this story is in the near future, in a world that might just become reality. I just hope that nobody reads this and decides that this kind of a world would be a good idea…

Time to wake up! You are safe and protected! Time to wake up! You are safe and protected! Time to…”

My hand slapped the OFF button on the alarm clock, and I groan as I roll over. Kicking off my weighted blanket, I sit up while reflexively grabbing the masks sitting on the nightstand and slip them over my mouth and nose – first one up and over, then the second, then the third. Ah, much better. I can already feel my heartbeat slowing, probably due to the sense of safety the masks bring me, though I am thankful that the government hasn’t mandated them to be worn while sleeping yet.

I stand and use my foot as a winch, folding the bed vertically and sliding it into its compartment in the wall, thus giving me some more space to manouevre in my pod. Going to the sink, I move my hands under the faucet to activate the motion sensor. Lukewarm water pours out and I quickly splash some onto my face, taking care not to waste more of my daily allotted water ration than necessary. I sometimes wish the water would be a little cooler or hotter, but hot and cold water can cause trauma for some people, and since we’re all in this together, I’m willing to be a team player. A rumble in my colon tells me I might need to use the toilet more than usual today, so I’d better forgo taking a shower. A good face splash is enough anywise, since I have today off from work.

Feeling a bit refreshed, I open the pantry, pull out a couple of soycakes and some grubacon, and pop them into the reconstituter. While they hydrate, I change out of my nightclothes and into something relaxed and comfortable for the day ahead. I will be spending most of the day in the hospital emergency room, so I’m going to need to wear an outfit that will help keep my anxiety levels down. The bell dings, and I open the reconstituter door, pulling out my breakfast. I grab some pre-cut soybutter and try to spread it on the cakes as well as I can with my spoon. I muse that it’d be easier to do this with a butter knife, but because knives and forks are dangerous and therefore outlawed, it’s better this way. I don’t think I could live with myself if I hurt myself or someone else with one of those things.

I speedily devour my breakfast and wash it down with a nice glass of soy milk – I can’t believe people actually used to drink cow’s milk, how wasteful and environmentally unsound! Back at the sink I brush my teeth. The padded toothbrush is a bit big for my mouth, but it sure beats taking the chance of hurting myself with the hard plastic found in one of those old style toothbrushes that people used to use. Spitting out the last of the toothpaste, I grab my purse and head for the door, being sure to lock it behind me. Passing row upon row of pods just like mine, I reach the elevator and press the button for the ground floor.

Once outside, I approach the bus stop, my feet springing lightly on the sidewalk beneath them. Like all sidewalks and streets, this one is made out of a rubberised type of polymer that protects against possible injury should one accidentally slip and fall. Thankfully, those were mandated a few years ago, replacing the barbaric old style concrete and asphalt types that were used before society began to really care about safety. I reach the bus stop and wave my vaxxpass card in front of the automated radio frequency reader. It detects my approved itinerary and unlocks access to the G bus which will take me to the hospital. I need to remind myself to put in a request later with the Department of Transportation to get my access switched back to the K line so that I can go to work tomorrow. I’d hate to get docked a day’s ration of grubacon because I was locked out of my bus!

My bus arrives and I step into the compartment. Like most autobuses, this one uses an automatic pilot to minimise unapproved social interactions that could spread the virus. After all, the news has already been reporting that the latest variant of COVID-48 is threatening to break out, and the last yearlong lockdown just ended a couple of weeks ago, brought on by that case that was detected over on the other side of the state. Sure, the guy didn’t actually show any symptoms, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The guy was probably some selfish jerk who didn’t renew xis booster shot soon enough. Some people just don’t realise that we’re all in this together and need to take one for the team.

There is one other person on the bus. Xer eyes widen as they meet mine – Oh dear, I’m afraid I might have traumatised xer! Instead of sitting in the seat that is the mandatory ten feet away from xer’s, I opt to move further back. Wouldn’t want to frighten xer any further and you never can be too safe. Besides, xhe looked like xhe might have only been double masked, which is really irresponsible, not to mention illegal.

As the bus trundles its way toward the hospital, I stare out the window, my mind wandering. I think back to the events that led to my needing to go to the emergency room, and involuntarily shiver. I’d been at the library and accidentally gotten off the elevator at the wrong floor. I’d found myself in a dank and dusty unused corner of the library full of old books that I’d never seen before. My curiosity got the better of me – cursed curiosity! – and I opened one up. It talked about someone called “God” who it said was all-powerful and wanted to be obeyed. I’d begun to hyperventilate for several minutes straight at the thought! I mean, the idea of someone all-powerful taking care of me is great (but isn’t that why we have the government?), but what if this person wanted me to do things I didn’t want to do or refrain from doing things I wanted to do?? The idea nearly sent me catatonic, and I was only rescued a few moments later when library staff had detected my unauthorised presence and sent a care team to extract me. The dangerous book was, of course, sent down an incineration chute immediately, but the damage was already done. I’d been traumatised by the experience, which is why I now needed to go to the emergency room for my ETI, Emergency Trauma Interdiction.

The bus ride is short and speedy, thanks to the minimal traffic. Ever since private automobiles were banned, the roads were almost always clear. Though there are apparently a few people who still grumble about the ban, I honestly can’t think of any downsides to it. There’s very little traffic, it prevents global warming, and it keeps people from going to places they shouldn’t be going to anywise. Good grief people, just stick to your approved vaxxroutes. We’re all in this together, just take one for the team.

Soon, my bus pulls up in front of the hospital and I step off. Following the path, I walk into the ER and register at the front desk.

“When was your last COVID-48 test?,” the on duty nurse gruffly asks.

“Uh, two days ago, I think.”

“Okay, you’re going to need another one then.”

Xer assistant walks around the desk toward me. I feel a brief flush of anxiety as xhe lowers my masks, but then relax as xhe shoves the swab into the back of my nasal cavity. Sure it hurts, but it’s for the best, taking one for the team and all that. Xhe places the snot-laden swab into a bag and whisks it off to the lab for testing. Meanwhile, I hastily replace my masks – safe once again! – and move to the designated ETI waiting area.

There are a few other people waiting for our session with the Interdiction Counselor. While I’m waiting for my test results to come back, I strike up a conversation with the ones sitting within shouting distance. The woman sitting nearest to me asks me what my ETI is about, so I relate to xer the details of my traumatic incident. Xhe appears to be in shock and amazement behind xer masks at my having escaped from it as relatively unscathed as I did. I inwardly feel a sense of pride stirring from knowing that xhe must think that I am one of the bravest men xhe has ever met.

In return, xhe related xer trauma to me. Apparently, xer latest grocery shipment contained some flavours of carbopatties that xhe really doesn’t like, which triggered xer pretty badly, so xer doctor scheduled xer for an ETI. Pretty bad, I had to agree, though secretly I have to think that it doesn’t compare to my most recent trauma. When I was in here a couple of weeks ago for my previous ETI, I might have been impressed. But not now.

Eventually, the nurse came out and announced to those waiting that our COVID tests had all come back negative. Whew! I’d hate to be the selfish idiot who put us all back into lockdown. Soon, the Counselor calls us back to the therapy room. Finally, a chance to get this all off our chests in a safe and loving environment!

I always enjoy these victimisation sessions, they instill a sense of solidarity through our shared struggles. Each of us went around the circle, relating the traumas we most recently suffered.

One man’s seatbelt on an autobus was too tight, which made xis arm go numb for a few moments. A woman saw somebody say something xhe disagreed with on social media – and the person refused to take it down immediately until compelled to do so by a moderator. I had to admit, that one was pretty bad. Another man told how xe couldn’t find a skirt xe really liked in xis size and the store couldn’t get one because it was on back order.

Around and around the circle we went, each retelling xis or xer traumas as a means of overcoming through shared struggle. It really makes you feel like we’re all in this together and that we’re each taking one for the team.

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