Hector sees the side of a woman’s face, her short, brown, and shoulder length hair falling onto her cheeks. She is on her knees patting the ground in front of her. Hector looks down, and realizes she is molding something. A moment later, he realizes she is molding sand, into a dome shape. She pauses to lift up her short brown hair to tuck it behind her ear. Hector looks upon the woman and suddenly has tingling sensation run up his spine. The woman very slowly tilts her head upward to face Hector, and the instant before her face is fully facing him, a warm feeling overcomes his entire body. However it’s not a physical sensation of warmth. He can’t quite describe the foreign yet familiar feeling. A feeling he thinks he should know. A feeling he thinks others should know. A feeling he thinks is missing from his life at this very moment. An undeniably foreign feeling. The woman’s face is finally in full view, and Hector gasps at the sight. His earlier feeling suddenly being replaced by anguish. He weeps, tears form and roll down the sides of his face. His view becomes blurred, not unlike the woman’s face. She has no eyes, no eyebrows, no nose, and no mouth. Her face is blurred, like Hector’s vision. He doesn’t wipe his eyes, nor can he if he tried. His body he realizes, is limp and unresponsive.
Suddenly in this despair, he violently wakes up, his torso instinctually coming to a sitting position on his bed. He frantically grasps on his white bed sheets. He breathes uncontrollably as he comes to the realization that it was a dream. A nightmare. A specter, haunting his subconscious and unwaking mind. In actuality, only one half of the corporeal duo. His mind lingers on the nightmare that is fading quickly from his conscious mind, back into the memory retention centers of the brain, waiting to be recalled on a future night.
BRRRRRING! BRRRRRING! BRRRRRING!
Hector sighs, as he shifts his body across his bed toward his bedside table to lay a palm on its glass surface.
“Hector Steadfast,” the still half asleep traumatized young man states, straining his lungs for the clearest pronunciation possible, “Time?” Hector mutters into the cold crisp conditioned air. At the same time he shifts back onto the center of his bed to lay comfortably on his back.
A familiar female voice answers in a clear, not so robotic voice, “Hector Steadfast verified. Please restate your query, input not recognized.”
“Ugh. I hate asking you questions.”
“Please restate your query, input is not a recognized command,” the female voice flatly says again.
“Never mind, disengage.”
“Acknowledged, going into standby.”
‘Voice recognition, and voice assist programs have been around since- Since the ancient times. And yet, it’s unbelievable how unreliable they are. As a species, we have colonized Mars, our greatest space faring accomplishment, and yet our voice recognition software blows. What a damn useless gimmick.’ Hector’s thoughts trail off, into subconscious thought.
BRRRRRING! BRRRRRING! BRRRRRING!
“Wha- What!?” Hector confusedly asks, rubbing his eyes.
Perplexed, he shifts into a crossed legged sitting position, and looks around the room. He looks at the bedside table, an alarm clock busily flashing. He touches the glass surface, then yawns. He does a double take of the glass surface, the time displayed in the top left corner, while in the foreground the words, ‘SUMMER SURVIVAL CAMP STARTS AT 10:00!’. He does a triple take of the time, which reads, ’09:47’. His eyes widen, “NO! I can’t be late!”
He immediately runs toward the bathroom only a couple feet away from his bed, shedding his t-shirt, pants, and boxers. He jumps into the shower and repeats the motions of the previous day. He gets jumps out of the tub after shutting the water off, and reaches toward the bathroom counter for the non-existent towel. “Argh! No towel!” He stomps out the bathroom, grabs a fresh towel from the cabinet, and desperately dries his long black hair. ‘I’m going to ask Alexa after Survival Camp to cut my hair.’ He takes a mental note. He throws on fresh boxers, fresh black stretchy shorts, and a black sleeveless t-shirt that has gold stars sparsely decorated about and bold matching gold words scrawled slanted in the center on the front of the shirt, ‘To The Stars!’
“Alright, ready to go,” Hector says.
He equips his clunky metallic armband on his left wrist, puts on a pair of white ankle socks, and his pair of worn running shoes.
He heads out his apartment door, closes and locks it behind him, then quickly runs down the corridor that opens up to the terrace below.
‘I have a weird feeling I’m forgetting something, but that can’t be helped. I’m going to be late,’ he says mentally, before coming to a light sprint toward the ground level, and the nearest tubeway stop.
Hector arrives at the Academy Tubeway Hub and enters the main hall, stepping out of the glass gate room. He sees Nani and Lennon awaiting in the middle of the Hub talking amongst each other. They are standing not more than thirty feet away from the set of glass gate rooms that lead to the end of the Academy’s Main Street, the same road he was on when he won his race against Wei the day prior and not a hundred feet from the atomic decomposition barrier that holds the Academy Solar Vehicles. The same type of vehicle Paige used to get to Hector when he was being brutally kicked in by Wei.
“Oh my Stars! Nani! Lennon! Where’s Wei!?” Hector shouts from across the room when it dawns on him what Wei did to him in the face of defeat.
A pale bespectacled woman interjects, seemingly appearing from thin air. “He’s currently on his way here,” the bespectacled woman says in a soft droning tone.
“Paige? You’re here too? Glad you can make it. That Wei is a sore loser. I win after cleverly coming back from a landslide loss, and what does he do? He kicks me when I’m down.”
Hector’s three schoolmates stare in bewilderment after hearing his statement. He looks in each of their eyes and asks, “What? Why are you three looking at me like that?”
“Hector,” Lennon says flatly, “you don’t remember what happened after you beat Wei?”
“No. What happened? And why do I have the feeling this is not going to be good news?” Hector shoots back a rhetorical question.
“Hector… Wei had to have his arms replaced. After you jumped of the tubeway, Wei used his arms to break your fall. The force of the impact severed all the nerves in his arms.” Lennon says calmly.
Hector waits for Lennon to give him the bad news. A pause fills the air between Hector and his friends before Lennon gives Nani a nod.
“Hector,” Nani says softly, almost whispering, “Wei had to…“ She puts one hand over her mouth, then continues, “Wei had to undergo behavioural neural correction surgery.”
Hector stares at her blankly and she explains further. “Behavioural neural correction surgery is the altering of one’s behaviour. It’s usually the result of violent outbursts towards others… Well outside of martial arts.” She leans into Lennon’s open arms, and Hector could almost hear sobbing.
“Whoa. That’s pretty severe,” Hector says with the sound of shock in his voice, “Just now I felt like he was a jerk and I was on the fence about retaliating with a couple punches in his gut. But now that I think about it, I don’t blame him for being overwhelmed with anger. His arms, his hands; they crafted his past, his present, and they are crafting his future. Martial arts is his life. Without a pair of arms, you can be nothing more than a teacher. Of course, the fool didn’t know we had readily available limb transplants… Space! We have readily available organ transplants. All crafted with your own DNA as the blueprints for the replacements. What a damn fool. And what a damn hot-head.”
A melancholic silence fills the void of time that passes, the illusion of merely a couple of minutes passing by. Then Hector asks, “So, what happened to me? I remember being kicked by Hector, and…” He looks at Paige, “I remember you being there Paige.”
“Yes I was. He also kicked me a couple of times. My scrawny body couldn’t handle it, I actually coughed up a lot of blood.” Paige says softly.
“Paige speak up next time, I can barely hear you,” Hector orders.
Paige blushes and she covers her cheeks with bother hands, looking away from the adamant young man.
“By the way Paige, you look a lot different,” Hector tells the woman, “Since when do you wear glasses? Also your hair is really long now… Oh, and another thing, why were you wearing a black turtleneck in the middle of summer? Wait, why are you still wearing a turtleneck in the middle of summer?” Hector notices her grey turtleneck covering up her neck. “I didn’t recognize you before the whole Wei incident yesterday. You were the one that counted down the race yesterday, right? And you were the one by the Admin building?”
“Uh. Uhm. Ah. Ah. Agh. Yes… and yes. I was the one.” Paige pathetically mumbles. She desperately searches aimlessly around the room for the ability to answer Hector’s every question.
“Ah… Good to know I wasn’t just hearing things then. And thank you for believing in me! You sure know how to encourage a guy,” Hector praises the red cheeked woman.
In that moment, a hand lightly grasps Hector’s shoulder. He turns around and he sees Wei’s unemotional face, blankly staring at Hector.
Wei bows down, in front of Hector and Paige. His form almost makes a ninety degree angle. He says “I am truly sorry for the misery I have caused you. Especially you Paige.” His voice is flat, and emotionless.