Chapter 8: Logen
Orientation was in full swing at Healing Rose Medical Center in Vera. Even before officially starting his work, Logen had learned much about how assignment hospitals work, from the inside out. Having declared and initiated his therapy when he was thirteen, he had forgotten the grueling process each individual must go through.
Each assignment required prescription of hormone medication, blood tests, government paperwork, and many more processes. Not to mention the optional name change or augmentation surgery. Besides that, most therapies required sporadic follow-ups. Everything coming along with assignment therapy incurred a small fee.
Building the assignment hospital to begin with was a herculean task. Luckily for Logen, he joined a year into the project. All there was left to do was add furniture to the interior and fill a few more employee positions. The finishing touches would have to be made, and the rest of the positions would have to be filled. If Logen persisted until the hospital opened to the public, he would earn himslelf a position within the system.
The downside to coming in this late was most of Logen’s coworkers already had their own groups of friends. Additionally, none of them were from Fenicia. Besides Eden, Fenicia was considered the most privileged province in the world. Everywhere Logen went in Vera, people saw him as an outsider. In many ways, he felt like one. He did his best to focus on his job, which wasn’t hard. He liked what he was doing, and reveled in the chance to be a part of something bigger than himself.
Logen was breaking a sweat after spending the last forty minutes walking home. He was only fifteen minutes away from his house now. Perfect timing, he thought to himself, as darkness was falling on the neighborhood.
As if the area wasn’t grim before, it harbored fear when the sun was fully beneath the horizon. Logen had never been exposed to such a despondent place until he arrived here a week prior. Fenicia’s worst homes matched the best houses in Vera. Debris filled the streets, and the smell was wretched. Logen had not yet acclimated to the stench. He didn’t even know dirt could rot until he saw it for himself.
The most distinctive difference between Vera and other provinces was the number of dogs. In all his life, Logen guessed he had seen two dozen dogs before moving to Vera. Now, he saw at least three stray dogs a day. He knew the province of Muniti was overrun with feral dogs, to the point that it was unsafe for humans to live there. Vera was not far behind, but these dogs were under control. He saw dogs with their owners, roaming the streets, and even in some of the buildings at the hospital. Stories about Pre-SHF Era people domesticating dogs began to make sense. Vera must have been the only place in the country successfully continuing to do so.
A yawn escaped from Logen’s mouth. Not only did he have a long day at orientation, but he hardly slept most nights. The only thing louder than the movement of the city was the raucous vagabonds and brigands roaming the town at night. At first, Logen had hoped the screams and random banging were just a part of his dreams, now he knew better.
Logen was not one to fear much, but that didn’t mean he was stupid enough to think he should be out this late. Not many people were asleep at this time, but they certainly weren’t leaving their house. Logen held tightly onto the pack on his back, reflexively protecting it from a thief who wasn’t there.
In fact, there was nobody around him for the entire walk home. He had stayed at the medical center longer than the first two times he had gone in to work. At least a few brave souls usually scurried home at the same time as him. Apparently, the outdoors cleared out rather quickly, and this may be the calm before the storm.
Far ahead, Logen noticed the first person he had seen in half an hour, walking the same street and direction, meaning they were one of his neighbors. All the other residencies on the rest of the road appeared uninhabitable. Whoever it was, they were moving slower than Logen. He was gaining on them quickly, and wondered if he should hang back so as not to chance a confrontation.
The person stopped and glanced to their right. Logen could tell this was a woman from her silhouette, young but fully transformed from assignment therapy. She couldn’t have been much older than Logen. A second person appeared off to the right of the woman. Where this person came from, Logen had no idea. Maybe an alleyway of some sort he couldn’t see from his vantage point. Still, he continued walking, determined to get to the place he called home in this province.
As the second person, a man, approached the young lady, she changed her stance to be defensive, and possibly fearful. Logen could tell with certainty she was leaning away from the man accosting her. They were speaking to each other, but the conversation was indiscernible from Logen’s distance. He would be able to hear when he passed them.
The conversation ended as quickly as it began, and the young lady moved in the same direction as before. This time, it was more of a trot than a walk. Logen noticed himself speeding up to match her speed. Then he noticed a third person, a larger man, appear from the same alleyway as the first man. The two men eyed each other without saying a word and followed the woman.
Logen watched as the woman crossed the street. The two men followed. They were much closer now, and Logen could get a better feel for the situation. Whenever the woman twirled, Logen could see the tension in her hourglass figure. Even at night and with her dark complexion, her fear showed in her widened eyes.
The shorter man jogged in front of her and spun so she was between them. The only one who continued to walk was Logen. When they were directly across the street from him, Logen realized he had a choice to make. Leave it alone, he thought to himself, you don’t know this province very well.
As dangerous as it seemed, and as much as Logen didn’t want to get himself involved, he’d rather be knocked unconscious than have his conscience deal with his inactivity. Someone needed to intervene. In Fenicia, an allo or a man on a horse would have been driving by on the street by now. But this was not Fenicia. No one to witness; no one to help. Either Logen would be the one, or there would be no one.
Out of habit, Logen checked in both directions to make sure there were no vehicles moving on the poorly-lit street. Or he hoped to find somebody else who might help. He could feel his heartrate quicken as he marched across the street towards the three.
“Excuse me,” he said with a raised voice. His words came out calmly, which covered up his concern for his own well-being. The two men and woman looked at him. They must have known he was there; they didn’t seem surprised when he said something. But the men didn’t appear to be too happy Logen came over and interrupted. “Is everything alright over here?”
His voice may not have been authoritative enough to evoke the response he was hoping for. The two men stared at him like two lions would an antelope. He was nothing more than a piece of meat to them, and they weren’t hungry. “Piss off,” one of them said, turning back to the woman. “Mine y’own business.”
“I wasn’t addressing you, actually,” Logen said, the sincerity in his voice still present. How he was staying so calm was beyond him. He turned to the woman, who appeared more innocent than before. “I was asking her. Is everything—”
The tall man on Logen’s right spun on him aggressively. “Hey, who fuck this guy think he is, Dom?”
“Relax,” Dom said to his partner. Now that Logen could observe them from a shorter distance, they did not appear to be any older than him, and may have even been younger. But they still had the upper hand. “You’re not from around here, are you? I can tell because you’re stepping into some shit with shoes that are a little on the fancy side. I’m telling you now. If you’re going to be in Vera, you’re going to have to live by our rules. We don’t condone your behavior right now. If it happens again, there will be punishment. This is your final warning. Walk away. Go home. Sleep in your bed, not out in the middle of the street. Because that’s where you’ll wake up if you don’t leave now.”
Logen wasn’t sure how to react, especially considering the contrast of the two men’s speech. Rather than say anything, Logen turned once more to the woman.
“Just go,” the woman said, no louder than a whisper. Her mouth told him to leave, but her eyes said Logen was her only hope. Logen had never held someone’s gaze for so long, and forgot where he was for a moment.
“Come with me,” Logen offered.
“Oh geez,” the one on the left said. He sounded annoyed, but also concerned for Logen’s well-being. The tall one to the right came toward him. “Last chance,” Dom said.
The one on the right paused, waiting for either a reaction from Logen or the go-ahead from Dom. Logen alternated glares between the two of them. Everyone was silent for five long seconds. The first noise was Logen removing his backpack and placing it on the ground.
The big-headed one smirked and approached Logen, raising his fists. Logen returned the gesture and used his peripheral vision to be sure the other wasn’t coming toward him too. Logen had never been in a real fight before this, but many sparring matches. He hoped that would give him an edge, considering how much taller his opponent was.
Two quick punches came at Logen’s head, both of which he parried. Punch number three also came at his head, and he realized the tall man was not using all the moves at his disposal. A big man with a small repertoire, Logen felt a little more comfortable in his southpaw stance.
Another swing flew over Logen’s head, and he took the chance to strike. Logen’s right fist came up and into his opponent’s jaw. Bighead stumbled to his left, tripping on the curb to the street, and Logen exaggerated his shifting of position to make sure Dom wasn’t sneaking up behind him. There was not enough time to find Dom’s exact position before the other one was coming at him again.
This time the man was running at Logen, not to punch, but to tackle. It came at him so slow he didn’t even move as quickly as he could have. With the swiftness of a bullfighter, Logen sidestepped to his left and tripped his adversary, who barely put his hands out in time to keep his head from hitting the ground.
When Bighead rose, a blade flashed in his hand. Now Logen’s movements were going to be more important. One slip up would cost more than a bruise or a bloody lip. He had to act fast.
Ducking under two more swings, Logen wanted to take the offensive. He deflected the next blow with his right arm, stepped forward with his left foot, and brought his right elbow in contact with the man’s chin. The crack made Logen wonder if he broke the man’s jaw, but there was no time to speculate. Bighead stumbled backward, leaving the knife hand to Logen’s side. Rising up, Logen cocked a fist up to bring it down on the man’s wrist. This blow may have hurt Logen more than it hurt the man, but it did its job. The knife fell to the ground by Logen’s feet.
Logen seized the knife and raised it toward the man by the time he caught his balance. He held his jaw and stared at Logen, determining what to do next. Removing his hand, Logen could see his lips and chin covered in blood. An injury like this didn’t seem like it was going to deter him from his attack on Logen.
“Tay,” the short one said. The tall man turned in reaction to his name. “Back off. It’s fine.”
Standing silently, Logen waited for the man called Tay to march in one direction. He hoped it would be toward Dom, who hardly changed position throughout the entire skirmish. When bigheaded Tay spun to walk away, Logen did not want to drop the knife yet.
Tay spit blood out in the woman’s general direction when he passed by her. She flinched.
The shorter one, Dom, glared at Logen with his icy blue eyes. “You think you’ll be able to protect her every day…forever?”
Logen, knife still up, shrugged in silence.
“Didn’t think so,” Dom said as his friend passed by him. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
Logen wouldn’t drop his hand until the two men were completely out of sight. Once they were, he turned to the woman. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” she whispered, “thanks.”
“Do you need me to escort you home?”
“Sure,” she said, staring him in the eye. Logen felt strange, like he was being scrutinized by her gaze. He broke eye contact, picked up his bag, and they began to cross the street again. Lacking words, Logen figured he would wait for her to spark up conversation during the walk. But the trek was not long at all. Once they crossed the street, the woman walked two houses down and marched up to the door.
“You live here?” Logen asked.
“Yeah,” the young woman said.
Logen couldn’t help but shake his head. He walked past these houses a couple times before during the day, and assumed they were all abandoned. They didn’t look like they could survive a strong rain storm, let alone someone trying to break in. This house in particular may not have running water. Or electricity. Someone in Fenicia wouldn’t be forced to live like this if they owed the government money. Logen struggled to imagine someone like Zenith, or even himself, living the life this young woman must lead.
The worst part was how close she lived to where the two men approached her. They may not have known where she lived, but if it was this close it would not take long.
“I can’t let you stay here tonight. I’ll let you sleep at my place, even if it’s just for tonight. It’s not far from here, it’s in the Alkalos district. Is that alright?”
The woman stared at Logen for some time, leaving Logen to wonder if the question was so difficult to answer. He assumed she would take anything over this dump. “Yeah,” she eventually said.
The two walked, and this time Logen felt the urge to ask questions. He couldn’t wait. He had to learn this woman’s life story, and how she ended up here. But how do I start, he thought to himself.
“Do those guys bother you often?”
“No,” the woman said, “maybe a couple times a month.”
That’s pretty often, Logen thought. “Are there others?”
The conversation wasn’t going anywhere, so Logen’s mind wandered. His adrenaline rush finally dissipated and he became more aware of his surroundings. Specifically, he could have sworn his bag was heavier earlier. He brought it around to his front and examined the inside.
No wonder it felt lighter.
His e-tab was missing.
“Shit,” Logen said, making his companion jump.
“What?” she asked.
“I think those guys stole my e-tab. The shorter one must have taken it when I wasn’t looking. Shit. What’s his name? Tay?”
“Dominique,” she said. “Taylor’s the one you fought. Dom can be pretty sneaky. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, I guess,” Logen said, although there was disappointment in his voice. “My other one is still at home, luckily.”
“You have two?” she asked. “Ain’t they expensive?”
“Yeah, a little,” Logen said, realizing she didn’t know how expensive. It was the norm to have an e-tab in Fenicia. The cost didn’t matter. Vera was a different story.“Who are you?” she asked, although it sounded rhetorical. “Some millionaire from Eden?”
Millionaire was an exaggeration by anyone’s standards. There was no such thing as a person with over a million grams of sex hormones. There were some citizens of Eden, the richest province in the country, who may have come close. But that was it.
“No,” Logen said with humility. “I’m just a regular guy from Fenicia trying to do my part in the world. Not a millionaire, but my family has enough to get by. Oh yeah, my name is Logen. What’s yours?”