Hanu spent the next hour in silent acquiescence. He allowed himself to be escorted to the living unit by Mr. Carlisle. There, he packed his few true belongings- his sneakers, a toothbrush, a framed photo of his mom holding him and his little sister, and a large collection of socks. Then he was allowed one last shower and a clean jumper.
After Hanu said goodbye to the staff and some of the more interested patients, his therapist led him through the social room and unlocked the door that led to the courtyard.
Hanu stood in the doorway and looked back one final time, regretting not having said a proper goodbye to Akesh. If he’d known that yesterday would be the last time seeing him, he would’ve said much more. Hanu would’ve told him that he didn’t think anything was wrong with him, that he was fine just the way he was. And he would’ve made sure Akesh knew that he was Hanu’s best friend. He maybe would’ve hugged him, even. But according to Mr. Garrett, he was with his therapist for the morning. Well, maybe Hanu would get to see him in the District of Operations after the Bowl- that is, if Hanu was still alive.
He equally regretted not being able to return a smile to Titanya. However, he did get a chance to say goodbye to her. Before packing all of his things he went into the social room to collect the black duffle bag he brought with him all those years ago. While Mr. Garrett was unlocking the storage closet to retrieve it, he walked over to speak to her. She was sitting on the ugly moquette bench that nobody ever chose if other seats were available. Hanu put his hand on her shoulder and said, ‘smile always’.
She always exuded calmness, which lately inspired Hanu, but today he just couldn’t be consoled enough to smile with her. Titanya scrunched up her face and chuckled, ‘sure thing, Hanu’. Then he walked off rather awkwardly, feeling her eyes on his back. He wasn’t quite sure why he said that, and now thinking back on it he probably just ensured her a few more prescriptions with that bit of advice. He wondered how many more weeks it would take before that smile faded for good.
Hanu finally turned around and walked through the door, kicking himself. He often fantasized about the day he would be walking through this courtyard to the discharge office- the day he would go home to his mother and baby sister. Well, she’s not a baby anymore, he told himself. His sister, Kait, would be eight by now. It was somewhere around her first birthday that his teacher and the principals at his school called his mother in for a meeting. He remembered because he had to wait in the hallway with Kait that day. She was learning to walk at that point, and kept wailing and kicking to get out of his lap. But when he let her down she would just bumble into people and furniture, so he’d have to pick her up again. It was on that day they tried to convince his mom to take him in for testing because he always talked about events and voices nobody else seemed to notice. Hanu wondered how much Kait had changed in the last seven years.
He had to wait to find out, because now he had to go to the District of Operations. This mysterious walled sector deep within the Capital City was reserved for politicking among the Council and the Ancient Ones. The general public could only speculate on the types of activities that actually went on in the superstructure, but they were convinced it was nothing short of magic. For what reason they’d be requesting a group of mental health patients, Hanu was unsure. But maybe if he cooperated he’d be in a better position to return home.
Hanu tried not to allow himself to entertain the possibility that he was going in for override. Then again, I’d been cheeking my meds for quite some time, he reminded himself. That was grounds for severe punishment in and of itself. But still, the Council never just requests a group to override. Patients had to be recommended by their treatment team and then parents had to be notified. It was a whole process. Hanu went back and forth in his mind, trying to convince himself that he definitely wasn’t going to die.
Approaching the discharge office at the far end of the courtyard, Hanu could see several other patients in the lobby. To his surprise Ester was there, along with two other girls from his unit. One of the girls, whose red hair served as a warning sign, was called Sadie. She sometimes broke out in unexpected fits of anger, so Hanu learned to never stand in her vicinity for too long at one time. He does respect her from a distance though, as she is one fun character. She also suffers from paranoia, but unlike Hanu, she’s not afraid to call anyone out when she thinks they’re lying.
Hanu didn’t remember the other girl’s name, but he often saw her trying to convince the staff that she was cured and that her therapist recommended her immediate discharge. This girl kept her blonde hair in a very short cut because she often complained that things were crawling in it.
There was also a younger girl with braids and twin boys from the unit that housed the younger patients. Hanu moved from that unit when he turned twelve. The twins sat erect in their seats, arms crossed and wearing identical scowls on their faces. Three nervous looking staff members stood directly behind them. They were alert enough to respond to any behaviors, but they were also aloof enough to not aggravate them either.
Mr. Carlisle checked Hanu in at the front desk and then said his goodbyes, closing the door with a loud click. Standing in the doorway, Hanu surveyed the group.
“Let’s not waste a minute more. We’re already behind schedule,” a feathered woman shrilled as she crossed the room to collect Hanu’s bag.
She was wearing a turquoise and yellow dress with an excessive amount of frills and high heeled boots so tall that only her toes touched the floor. Her jet black hair was pulled into a tight bun behind her head and she wore several layers of white eyeliner, making her eyes look orb like. Like many of the holographic actresses, she wore black blush on her cheeks, making her pale face appear skinnier than it already was. Hanu didn’t know this woman’s name, but he often saw her walking here and there through the courtyard, always looking equally as eccentric. Seeing her this close was downright alarming, though.
She grabbed Hanu’s bag from his hands and turned to walk away, revealing the stupidest bow Hanu had ever seen pinned right between her shoulder blades. She shoved the bag into one of the staff member’s hands.
“Mr. Ervin, please load that with the rest of the luggage, will you babe?” she said.
“Of course, Annabelle,” Mr. Ervin said as he turned on his heels. Annabelle rounded on the desk and entered a code into the speaker system.
“Mr. Wolfe, would you guys come up? We’re ready to sign over the patients,” she chimed into the receiver.
“On our way,” said the now familiar monotonic voice of Mr. Wolfe.
Without saying anything further she hung up and grabbed a metallic wand from somewhere behind the desk.
“Alright, children let’s get you out of here,” she said excitedly, turning to the group. “Everyone please stand up and form a line. As soon as the transport team gets here I will scan your trades and you can be on your way!”
Just as the group shuffled into a discernable line, three robed men and a scout arrived through a door behind the desk. Hanu was beginning to feel the authenticity of his situation. To have a scout as part of their escort was basically the same as having an Ancient One present. These innocent looking agents, dressed in boyish uniforms, were created for nothing more than intensive surveillance. They were peacekeepers, but Hanu always felt certain that they were used for other, maybe more sinister, things as well.
“Ladies first,” Mr. Wolfe said, inviting the receptionist to scan herself first. He seemed quite aloof, with his salt and pepper beard, offering no further gestures of cordiality.
Anabelle waived the metal wand over her own wrist, pulling up her profile on a holographic screen. Next Mr. Wolfe scanned himself. This changing of hands took place in a matter of seconds, after which Mr. Wolfe walked over to the door behind the desk and held it open.
She scanned one of the twins. His holographic profile only revealed the boys picture with his name and age underneath: Tui Feng, 9. Annabelle motioned for Tui to go through the door that Mr. Wolfe was holding. Next, his brother, who was named La. Then Sadie and the other girl from his unit, who happened to be named Vanessa. Hanu was thoroughly curious by the time it was his turn.
He remembered back to a time before the hospital when he accompanied his mother to the Food Distribution Center. They had waved a wand just like this over her wrist, but her profile looked a lot more impressive. Under her picture it read: Kara Manel, 39, Genetics Advisory Committee. It also showed her address, bank account balance, social network map, and food and water credits. Hanu couldn’t wait to get a trade of his own, but he would have to wait until he was sixteen. Then, he would be a grown up.
Annabelle finally waved the wand over Hanu’s wrist. A screen appeared, revealing his picture, along with his name and age, but the feeling of being a grown-up was somehow diminished. Hanu shuffled through the door into a very narrow corridor, rejoining the group. At the other end, there was another door. They quietly waited for everyone else to be scanned, trying not to breathe on each other or lock eyes for too long. Only after Ester and the girl with the braids entered the passageway did Mr. Wolfe and the other staff follow. He squeezed his way to the other door and addressed the group.
“I want you all to look around. This is the group that has been invited into the District of Operations. I will introduce your escorts. In the back- Mr. Ervin, Mr. Trattonere, and Ms. Felix- your residential staff.” The three staff, distinguishable by their black jumpers, gave a nod at their introduction. “These gentlemen are my assistants-Mr. Assieger and Mr. Helm. As you can see, a scout will be traveling with us today, to ensure our safe arrival.”
Hanu was wondering if the scout was ensuring that the escorts were safe from the patients, or that the patients were safe from the Dissenters.
“Without further delay, we will begin our journey, being as we are running behind. Once I open this door, we will quickly board and be on our way,” he concluded. Then he unlocked the door and led them into a rather large indoor port.
This was the same port through which Hanu arrived years earlier. The loading dock gave way to a single elevated rail and a strip of metal street that ran parallel to it. This magnetized railing was the only track in the port, suited for one train- the one that took you from the Flush to the Capital City. There were only five cities on the continent, and they weren’t meant to be traveled among so freely.
These small cities were on the fringe of the Capital, and they were reserved for water sourcing, food production, University, international and space travel, and of course, mental health. And they only housed the production workers and scouts that were assigned to those duties. There was never really any traffic here, except the patients who were brought in and discharged or the staff who would travel to the Capitol on their days off. It was more efficient this way, according to the Ancient Ones.
The guideway of this port was vacant, though. Instead of the train, there was a large sleek vehicle pulled right beside the dock. It was a Convoy. Unlike the train, it didn’t require a track. He’d seen these before, rarely, as well as other smaller vehicles called Nomads. When he was out and about with his mother, sometimes he’d see them on the narrow streets in the city. They were always either going to or from the District- official business, his mom would say. He’d definitely never been in one before.
“Why aren’t we taking the Maglev?” Hanu asked the man named Mr. Assieger.
“As a matter of convenience,” the man said, gruffly.
“Convenience, yes,” added the scout. “For the sake of timelier travel, we’ll be taking a Convoy. The train makes two stops- one just inside the habitable zone, and another at the inner rung of the city- before turning around. With the Convoy we’ll travel directly into the District of Operations without interruption. The Convoy uses the same magnetic levitation as the train, so we’ll still be traveling at optimal speed. For these advantages, transports directly into the District of Operations are always done by Convoy.”
“Uh, thanks,” Hanu said, uncertainly. He didn’t expect the scout to be so thorough.
One by one, the passengers took their seats, according to Mr. Wolfe’s seating chart. Hanu sat between Ester and the staff member called Mr. Trattonere. It was comforting, being next to her. Though they never technically had a conversation, he knew her better than anyone else in the Convoy. True, that little staring thing was unsettling, but Hanu was comforted by it now. He felt as though Ester would be watching his back.
The interior of the vehicle was of a soft, black material, and it was deceivingly spacious. The ceiling was tall enough for the passengers to stand up and move about freely. Seats were placed around various tables, and there was a small bar that was decorated with various muffins and wrapped candies. If Hanu wasn’t so utterly terrified of what the end of this journey might entail, he would’ve enjoyed the comfort. He might’ve even asked to have something to eat from the bar. He hadn’t had real sugar in years.
After everyone was seated, Mr. Helm took his place at the control panel. He stuck a small rectangular key into a port and typed up a few notes on the computer. Then he programmed a course for District of Operations.
“We should be arriving in two hours,” he announced.
Mr. Wolfe closed the doors and took his seat. The children inspected the inside of the vehicle, impressed. Then Hanu looked up and was surprised. He didn’t even realized they had taken off until the scenery in the windows changed.