This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.
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╗ FOUR ╚
THE LOVER DRUG
Anna had heard the horror stories along with everyone else: the outer suburbs and the country were to be avoided at all costs. Central Admin issued warnings concerning the city's dark edges along with the daily newscasts. Every day some new tale of suburban or countryside woe: a horrible public suicide by fire, a murderer on the loose, some crackpot who had somehow acquired a gun or other weapon and was killing people just for the fun of it. The last of these was by far the most widespread. Anna personally knew two people who had been killed by these crazies. “Bored killers,” the police called them, and they popped up everywhere. Nobody could figure out why exactly, just one day the random person would snap and start killing. The most frightening thing was the rapidly increasing number of people that snapped.
Those warnings, and those stories, made up the bulk of the local news. No wonder everyone crowded into the cities to escape. Crowding closer to the mother hen that was Central Admin and its promises of safety.
Perry's thrived somehow, though, right on the penumbra of order and chaos. Maybe the universal taste for alcohol brought people together in a way that other things did not. Maybe a touch of class in a decaying world gave people hope for the future. Whatever the reason, people came, people drank, and people liked. And Perry's thrived.
The place was only a third full, it only being a Thursday night, and the usual crowd sat idly at different tables or at the long curved mahogany bar that formed the convergence point for the entire floorplan. A couple of lonely businessmen sat by themselves at one half of the bar and a gaggle of women they were too afraid to talk to sat at the other half giggling to themselves. A lesbian couple occupied a dark corner in the back, and in the front at their own table sat Anna and Jesse.
In a tinkle of crystal and expensive brandy, they touched glasses together and toasted her promotion. Anna gazed into the translucent brown liquid in front of her for a long moment before shrugging, taking the glass and upending it into her mouth in one gulp. Jesse stared at her in disbelief.
“This stuff is expensive!” he protested. “And since when did you start drinking like that?”
“Just proves you were not paying attention all those times I drank at home,” Anna replied, setting the glass down on the table with a satisfactory clack. The brandy burned an exquisite trail down her throat and into her stomach, causing her to glow. Her cheeks were flushed, she knew, and the rest of her body would soon follow. Probably not a good idea to get drunk with Jesse around, but tonight she didn't really care.
Jesse leaned across the table. “So, if you're working for Central Admin, does that mean you'll be getting a gun?” he asked.
Anna's brow furrowed. She understood the question even through the growing alcoholic haze but it took several seconds for her to formulate her thoughts. A gun? Her? “I-I don't know,” she said uncertainly, regarding her empty glass with a vacant stare. “Officer Holloway and Officer Garnham wore them. But they said I'd be working with another wing of Central Admin, so I don't know.”
Jesse sighed and leaned back. “Somehow I think working with computers and 'transfer protocols' doesn't exactly put a target on your back. Not sure why you'd need a gun.”
More like 'Not sure why they'd let me have a gun,' Anna thought ruefully. She had heard enough of the news to know she wanted the protection of a gun. But for years firearms had been illegal if one didn't work for the government.
She motioned to the bartender for another tumbler of brandy, and when it arrived she sipped it rather than throw it back. It was good brandy, and she quietly rejoiced that he was the one paying for it. Served him right. She licked her sticky lips and looked up, and noticed that Jesse was staring at her. Or rather, his eyes were aimed lower than her face, and she recalled through her increasing buzz that she had worn her little black dress tonight. His gaze was firmly and obviously affixed to her plunging neckline and was not going anywhere.
She shifted in her seat, half-consciously crossing her sparsely covered legs with vague embarrassment. As stupid as it was, turning Jesse on in increasingly obvious and pandering ways seemed to be the only exciting thing left in her sexual arsenal these days, but even this felt wrong. She knew going out tonight was a mistake, and she racked her brain for a good subject of conversation. Abruptly the image of Mr. Vickers materialized in her mind's eye and the whole uncomfortable exchange she had shared with him came back as well.
“I had a talk with Mr. Vickers when I got home,” she said.
Jesse's eyes shifted reluctantly back to her face and he chuckled. “Some stupid moralization again?”
“Yes,” Anna replied, the recollection filling her with vexation and anger. “The 'devil's work,' he called it. Some stupid shit about the Versions and human dignity and manufacturing children.”
Jesse laughed out loud and took another swallow of his brandy. “That's rich!” he barked in his humor. “What the hell does he think it was like before HomoGen came along? This planet was a crawling carpet of people without dignity.” He bent close to her across the small table. “We're the good guys, Anna. The responsible ones. Ha, if he's so old he should remember how bad it was back during the overpopulation period!”
Anna frowned and remained silent for a moment, a disturbing thought crossing her fuzzy mind. She tapped her glass with her fingernail. “He was alive then, we weren't. All we know about the overpopulation period we've been told. Told by others.”
Jesse cocked his head. “So?”
“So I just wonder...” she trailed off. The words and the thought died simultaneously and she was left with a bad taste in her mouth. She took a quick swig of her drink to compensate.
Jesse eyed her warily. “Don't tell me you're turning skeptic now. You know the history is solid: the bodies, the pictures. My old case worker's family had to help clean up that cesspool. They told me some nasty stories about it. Rumor had it their whole town devoured itself for lack of space. Be grateful we've moved beyond the worst.” He laughed again. “I prefer Perry's food to human flesh any day.” His joke so tickled his tipsy brain that he sat chuckling to himself for an uncomfortably long moment.
Anna didn't share his jollity. Her own drunken thoughts had drifted again to something the old man had said. A tear glistened in the corner of her eye. “He brought up my parents.”
“Who? Mr. Vickers?”
“Yeah. I could have wrung his neck,” she blurted, her lip beginning to tremble. “I don't bring up his wife, why does he have a right to bring up my parents?”
“Aw, do you want to talk about it?” Jesse asked in a concerned tone. He slid his chair over next to Anna and she pressed her face into his shoulder.
“He can go to hell for all I care,” she sobbed. “I won't miss him. In fact, I'd trade him for my parents any day of the week.”
Jesse was silent. He had been an orphan for as long as he could remember and the thought of parents did little for him. “Well, if it hadn't been...that, it would have been the geriatric exam for your parents. They'd already be turning sixty-five and going to a home anyways.”
“You're a real comfort,” Anna replied bitterly into his shoulder. “The worst thing is, I'm already halfway to sixty-five. Someday I'll be found unfit. Unloved. Have I really done anything worth noting yet to justify keeping me here longer?”
Jesse chuckled and put a hand on her bare thigh. “Worth noting? Probably. And you are not unloved as long as I'm around, baby. Sixty-five is a long way off yet, enjoy the ride while it lasts. Speaking of enjoyable rides...”
Anna pulled away from his shoulder and cast him a foul look through tear-and-mascara-stained eyes. Then the look melted away as desperation possessed her. “My house tonight,” she demanded forcefully, grabbing her coat and turning for the door without waiting for Jesse to follow. He got the hint, hurriedly paid the bill and followed her out to the car.
But all that night, even while making vigorous and empty love to her empty man, the conversation with Mr. Vickers haunted her. However, her drunk mind eventually faltered and spiraled, and the day's proceedings and Jesse's body above her disappeared into a black hole of nothingness.
An insistent electronic beep echoed through her subconscious and Anna mentally groped her way toward it, beating away the ethereal visions of the night with clumsy hands and heaving chest. Light filled her room, burnt her eyes, knocked hard against her brain. Her temples pounded and her skin glistened with sweat. It was morning, and a horrible hangover gripped her.
She rolled over painfully and grabbed her commex to silence its infernal beeping. The words Doc Appt blinked cheerfully on the screen. In a sudden rush, she remembered Holloway's warning about her fertility appointment and realized she had set her alarm for it during her inebriated ride home last night; she had done it even in the midst of Jesse's crude petting and heavy breathing. It took a moment for her to wonder why she operated better drunk than sober. A bad sign. Turning into an alcoholic like her parents.
Damn, not my parents again.
Shoving the memories aside, she pulled a bottle of pills from the bedside table and tossed two into her mouth. The lozenges dissolved in an invigorating fizz on her tongue and the drugs began working immediately. Sitting up, the nausea only briefly assaulted her stomach before sinking sullenly into the background. The pounding in her head subsided and she turned around to see if Jesse was still there.
He was not. The imprint of his body remained in her bedclothes, though, and the debris of last night's indulgence lay scattered randomly about the room. Anna blinked and grimaced. It must have been fun; she couldn't quite remember. Although if the soreness between her legs was to be believed, he had had the lion's share of said fun. She dressed quickly in a comfortable sweater and slacks and walked into the bathroom to fix her hair, and was immediately assaulted by the stench of Jesse's cologne. Swearing to herself, she grabbed a hair clip and exited the house as quickly as she could manage, shoved the whole episode from last night out of her mind, and grumbled her way into her car.
During the entire drive she wondered why the joy of yesterday's announcement failed to register the same with her today. The euphoria was gone and all that was left was the fear of the unknown. She had had a brief glance at the schedule Officer Garnham had given her and it looked grueling: the orientation lasted two weeks and ranged all over the spectrum of intensive activity. However, the item that stuck out the most from her cursory scan of the schedule was at the very beginning of the list. It simply said “09:00 to 12:00 Monday @CATC, Level 2. Bring hearing and eye protection.” Now that the alcohol had worn away from last night she had a sneaking suspicion of what it might mean, but she dared not speculate about it even to herself.
The car pulled up into the parking lot of the Becker Clinic exactly five minutes before her appointment time, and Anna hopped out and rushed madly for the door. They were sticklers for patients being on time, these clinicians, and the punishment for violating that inviolable rule was to run the gauntlet of stares from the other patients as one made one's way to the back of the line. Therefore, Anna picked up her pace and attempted to take the porch step in stride. The attempt failed, her foot caught on the edge and she fell sprawling onto the concrete. Pain seared through her shins and hands and up one elbow; she cried out in pain and tried to stand.
From out of nowhere a pair of hands appeared and grasped her under one arm. Big, powerful hands, pulling her back to her feet in one motion. She blinked through her pain and looked up to see who it was that had helped her. It was a man; a very tall man, wiry and broad-shouldered, with mid-length dark hair sprouting from under a cap and heavy stubble on his chin. He smiled at her as he set her back on her feet and his dimpled face crinkled pleasantly around his sunglasses.
Anna blinked again and suddenly felt shy. “Thank you...”
“No problem at all,” the man replied. His voice was raspy and just as pleasant as his smile. “You might want to slow down just a bit. Although,” he chuckled, motioning to the doctor's office, “for a couple of skinned hands and knees you certainly did pick the right place to fall.”
Anna laughed and winced simultaneously, gingerly rubbing her arm. The man held his hands out to her, as if to catch her if she fell again. “You're sure you're all right?” he asked with some concern. Anna nodded hesitantly.
“I think so,” she replied. She was on the verge of asking his name but the urgency of the pending appointment shut her up. Instead, she smiled a genuine smile at him. “I really have to get inside. I'm sorry.”
“By all means,” the man said, grabbing the door handle from where he was standing and pulling it open. Only then did Anna realize how long his arms were. She thanked him and limped inside to the reception counter to confirm that she was signed in for that day. The receptionist confirmed her name on the list and silently waved Anna towards the nearest exam room door. With a nod of appreciation Anna slipped into the exam room and shut the door behind her.
It smelt clinical. Probes and lights hung on their respective racks and hypodermic needles crowded a jar on the table nearby. She hopped up onto the exam table and felt the paper crinkle under her. A generic print of an ocean stared at her from its cheap frame on the opposite wall, and a small computer sat idly on the table.
After a soft knock on the door a woman entered, wearing a long white coat and smiling widely when she saw her patient. Her face was pensive and petite; her eyes, skin, and hair all dark. A stethoscope hung around her shoulders and a tablet was in her hand. A plastic nameplate clipped to her breast pocket read Dr. Becker Criste. “Annalise! Good to see you again! What has it been, six months?”
Anna laughed and swung her legs from the table like a child. She liked Dr. Criste; the little woman almost made this semi-annual visit pleasant. “I was on time this time.”
Dr. Criste chuckled. “That's good. Although I'm guessing you had some help being so this time.” Anna's embarrassed smile was all the affirmation needed and the doctor laughed. “It's no matter, everyone needs the help every once in a while.” She pulled a small blood tester from her pocket and sat down close to her patient. “I am going to try to make this quick this time, if that's all right with you. I have so many other patients to see today it's not even funny.”
Anna sat still as Dr. Criste touched the device to her arm and pressed the button. There was a barely audible puff and a pinprick of pain and it was done. The results of the test began to rush across the screen of the computer on the table and Dr. Criste wheeled her rolling chair over to have a better look. The look turned into a longer look, and a frown crossed her face. Anna frowned as well and craned her neck to see the data.
Dr. Criste turned and looked seriously at Anna. “You like to cut things close, don't you?” she said cryptically.
Anna was confused. “Cut what close?” she ventured.
“From the looks of it, you've had sex three times just this week.”
Anna groaned. “I'm sorry, I keep forgetting.”
Dr. Criste sighed and gave Anna a pout. “Anna, we talked about this. Sex in the last one or two weeks of your injection cycle is dangerous. You're at the outermost limits of its protection. I don't want to see my favorite patient catch the bug. You got lucky this time, it looks like. But please, please don't do it again.”
Anna's spirits sank. “I'm sorry, I really am. Can we schedule any less than six months at a time to make up for it?” She knew that the clinic could not, for health reasons but more importantly because they would never get to all their patients otherwise.
Dr. Criste confirmed her suspicions with a shake of the head. “No, honey, sorry. Six months to the day, that's how it goes.” She rose from her seat. “Ready for your shot of Lover Drug?”
“Not really, but who ever is?” Anna replied, attempting mirth. Dr. Criste's smile returned briefly and she pulled a vial from her other pocket and took a needle from the jar on the table. The label on the vial read “AnnexEstros.” The lifeblood of the new responsible generation, it was the most powerful contraceptive/contra-STD drug on the planet and Anna had been dosing on it since puberty. She held out her arm, which was duly swabbed with alcohol and pierced with the long hypodermic needle. With one long push of the plunger the pale blue fluid entered her bloodstream and she felt the familiar tingling in her extremities that was characteristic of the drug. Slight dizziness made her vision blur for a minute or two, then cleared up and left her feeling normal.
She smiled and hopped down from the table. “Anything else, Doctor?”
Dr. Criste sighed. “That's all, Miss McLean. And remember two things. The first: no sex for at least a day until the drug is thoroughly distributed again.”
“And the second?”
“The second is we need to grab a coffee at some point and just chat,” was the laughing reply. “Now scoot!”
Anna exited the exam room in better spirits than when she had entered and flitted lightly to the front door. She suddenly recalled the mystery man that had picked her up and her heart skipped a beat. Just the half-minute they had been together she had started to like him. She paused for a moment, then burst outside and glanced around in the futile hope that he was still hanging around. As she expected, he was nowhere to be seen. She sighed and climbed back into her car, trying not to speculate too deeply about who he might be.
As she pulled out of the parking lot she failed to notice a much older vehicle pull in and begin to follow at some distance behind her. Behind the wheel was the mystery man.
Read Chapter 5 here!