Quin was still surprised at the quality of food that the HUE had to offer. Everything was freshly made and tasted delicious. He finished his meal at the small table where he sat with Blair, Jordan and Timothy. They had finished their food as well. They ended up getting the HUE a bit later than their scheduled time. They didn’t arrive until closer to noon. Not much had been said between the four of them. Blair attempted to break the silence a few times throughout the meal, but the conversation would quickly fizzle out into an awkward silence. She tried one more time.
“So, how long have you guys been together?” she asked Jordan and Timothy.
The two looked at each other, then started laughing. Jordan replied, “Oh, we aren’t together.”
“Yeah, we’re just friends,” Timothy added. They didn’t seem defensive about the matter, just matter-of-fact. However, Blair seemed to have broken through the tension, and the mood was lighter.
“Sorry for assuming. In that case, how long have you been friends?” Blair asked.
Jordan sipped her water. “Almost a year, I think. We met in our very first college class as freshman, an art class. I’m an art major. It was just an elective for Tim. We sat next to each other and just hit it off.”
“Her art is truly spectacular,” Timothy commented. “I was horrid. She used to do some of my homework for me so I wouldn’t fail.” Jordan pushed him lightly in the shoulder, and he laughed.
“Yeah, but I always made sure it was worse than mine, made sure he didn’t get above a B.” She smiled and looked back at Blair. Jordan wagged her finger between her and Quin. “What about you two? What’s the story there?”
Blair turned to Quin. “You’ve been awfully quiet. Why don’t you tell them?”
Quin sat up in his seat and brushed some crumbs off his shirt before speaking. “I’ve known Blair for the majority of my life. We grew up in the same town and went to the same school. We were friends, more or less. It wasn’t until I was 16 that we got really close. I was going through a lot of changes in my life, changes that my parents weren’t very receptive to. She found me crying in the bathroom one day at school. She knocked on the stall door, asked if I was okay. I don’t know why, but I opened up to her. She was the only person, besides my parents, that I told about my secret.” Quin turned to Blair, grabbed her hand and continued, looking into her eyes the entire time. “And she was the only person who understood me. After a year, she asked me out on a date. I was confused. The idea of us together had never crossed my mind, not because I wasn’t interested, but because I didn’t know that anybody could love me. My own parents couldn’t even do that.” Blair’s eyes began to water. Quin reached up and ran his thumb tenderly under her eyes. “So of course I said yes. Two years later, I asked her to marry me. We’ve been engaged for over three years. We haven’t been able to afford a wedding because of all my surgeries and medical expenses. We signed up for The Prism to win some money so I can give her the wedding she deserves. And now we’re here, and all I care about is making it out alive. The money is meaningless if she isn’t there at the end of it.” Quin smiled at Blair and kissed her on the forehead. He looked back at Jordan and Timothy. Jordan had tears in her eyes, and Timothy was sitting with his elbow on the table and his chin resting in in his hand.
“Wow,” Jordan said.
“Not to ruin the moment,” Timothy stood up and pushed in his chair, “but we have to get up to the medical wing. It’s time.”
The four of them made their way to the elevators. Once they were all inside, Jordan hit the button for the fourth floor and they began to rise. The elevator moved at a glacial pace, but eventually they stopped at the fourth floor. The doors opened into what seemed like an average doctor’s office lobby, but the space was much more modern. Black furniture contrasted with white floors and walls. There was a white receptionist’s desk with black countertops on the right side of the room. A set of swinging double doors were on the far left side. The group approached the receptionist desk, but there was no one on the other side. A door behind the desk opened, and a woman walked through.
She was short and petite. Her long blonde hair was pulled up into a ponytail that hung over the front of her right shoulder. She sat down in the chair behind the desk. Her right eye turned white as her Shell encased it, then she spoke, “Hello. Welcome to the medical wing. Tell me your names, appointment times and purpose.” Her voice was very high-pitched, and Quin instantly found her annoying.
The four of them said their names and that they were there for their one o’clock appointment for the plate and Shell installments.
“Thank you. Please take be seated until you are called.” She gestured towards the furniture. She then got up and walked back through the door behind her desk.
The group sat down in chairs that were as far away from the double doors as possible. No sooner than they sat down, however, did the doors open and a tall dark man walk out with a white lab coat, surgical mask and rubber gloves on.
“Follow me,” he said.
Quin and the rest of them hesitantly stood up and walked towards the man. When they got close enough, he turned around and walked back through the doors. Through the double doors was just a single long hallway. It seemed to go on forever. They reached an intersecting hallway. Two people in matching white coats and surgical masks were waiting for them, one on each side.
The man they had been following turned around. He gestured his hand toward the right. “Blair, you will be here,” he said through the surgical mask. The woman on that side of the hall beckoned for Blair to follow her. Blair looked up at Quin, scared.
“You’ll be fine, I promise,” Quin said and gave her a kiss. He nudged her to follow. Blair walked towards the woman, who then turned around and walked down her hallway. Blair followed, looking back at Quin the entire way.
The man then gestured to his left and said, “Jordan.” Jordan walked straight toward the man waiting on the left and followed him down that hallway. The man in the surgical mask pivoted and continued down the main hall. Timothy and Quin followed. Another moment or two and they reached an identical intersecting hallway with one person waiting on the left and no one on the right.
“Quin,” The man said, gesturing to the left. “And Timothy, you may follow me.” The man turned down the right side of the hallway, and Timothy followed.
“Come, please,” the woman on the left said to Quin. He followed her down another long hallway. They stopped at set of double swinging doors. She spoke quickly, “Go in there, remove your clothing and enter the shower. Stand on the X and don’t move. When you’re done, there is a gown on the bench outside the shower and shoes underneath. Put them on. Leave your clothes there and don’t touch them. They will be returned to you after the surgery. Understand?”
“Uh, yeah.” Quin replied.
He pushed open the door and found himself in a small bathroom. There was a glass door in the center of the right wall. A bench with a gown and a towel on it sat along the wall outside the door. There were a pair of sandals underneath it. Quin took off his shoes and clothes and laid them neatly on the far end of the bench, away from the gown and towel. He then pulled the glass door open and stepped inside. The shower was larger than the bathroom outside. Quin covered his genitals with both hands. He’d never been exposed outside the comfort of his own home. He never felt so vulnerable before. He saw a black X in the center of the shower. He stood there, waiting for something to happen. After a few seconds, he heard a voice over an intercom.
“Close your eyes and don’t move off the X,” A man’s voice said. Quin did as he was told. He heard a humming noise and cringed, unsure what would happen next. Pressurized water hit him from all angles. It stung in certain spots in his body, but not terribly bad. The scars beneath his chest were especially sensitive. The water had a chemical smell to it that made him close his eyes tighter.
After a minute, the water shut off. Quin slowly opened his eyes. The man’s voice came over the intercom again. “You’re all done. Exit the shower, dry off and put on your gown and shoes. You can then leave out the door you came.”
Quin exited the shower and grabbed the towel. He quickly dried off, put on the gown and stepped into the sandals. He was happy to not be naked anymore. He walked out of the room, and the woman greeted him again.
“All right, we are going to get you into the OR now,” she said with the enthusiasm of a customer service representative.
Quin followed her deeper down the hallway. The sound of the sandals slapping on his feet echoed off the walls with every step, just off the beat of her heels striking the floor. Click, Clap… Click, Clap. The rhythm sounded like a heartbeat. She eventually stopped outside another set of swinging double doors and said, “This is where I leave you. Head inside, and the surgical team will give you further instruction.”
Quin nodded and walked inside. Seven people, all wearing full surgical attire, stood around a surgical table. Quin could only see their eyes. The tallest one approached him.
“Hello, Quin.” Quin could tell he was smiling by the wrinkles around his eyes. “This won’t take long, and it won’t hurt a bit. You may be sore afterwards, but it will be very minimal. We will be using a controlled anesthetic so we can wake you up as soon as you are done with little to no drowsiness or side effects.” He guided Quin to the table. “Please, lay down.”
Quin awkwardly sat himself on the table and laid back. All seven doctors surrounded him; three on each side and the one who spoke to him at his head. The woman directly to the right of Quin’s head said, “Close your eyes and relax.” She placed her hand on his forehead and he felt a pinch in his neck. He glanced over to see her pull a large syringe out of him.
Within seconds, Quin’s vision went blurry. He tried to speak, but nothing comprehensible came out. Then everything went black.
It felt like he woke up immediately. Quin opened his eyes, and the woman who put him to sleep was standing over him. He felt a bit stiff but was otherwise fine. He sat up with some assistance from the woman. He looked down and saw no trace of the surgery, no scars or cuts. He touched himself all over. He could feel the outlines of small disks placed all throughout his body.
He dragged his fingers up his entire body then stopped at his chest. He had no scars. The doctors had used the location of his surgical scars as an entry point for the plates and sealed it back up with whatever technology they had to do it scar-free. Quin started to sob. He wasn’t sure if they were happy tears or sad. All he knew was that he couldn’t stop crying. Ever since he’d started his transition, he’d prayed for no scars. That was what he’d wanted, to look and feel exactly like the person he knew he really was. But then afterward he became happy to have the scars. He embraced them. They were battle scars, reminders of the long war he fought to become who he wanted so hard to be. He wore them like a badge of honor. He was proud. Now they’d been taken away from him. He continued to sob.
“We need to get you back to the lobby,” the woman said. Quin couldn’t move. He was stunned by his own reaction. The woman called for other doctors to assist her. They slipped a gown over him and lifted him into a wheelchair. Quin didn’t resist, just let them do whatever they needed to do. He was too caught up in his own emotions to know what was happening outside of himself. They placed his clothes and shoes on his lap, then wheeled him down the long hallway. When they reached the lobby, Quin faintly heard Blair yell.
“What did you do to him?” Her voice sounded like it was far away even though she was right there. Quin felt like he was outside of himself, seeing and hearing everything through a window. Everything was muffled except the sounds of his own sobs. Blair wrapped her arms around him. “Quin, what’s wrong? WHAT’S WRONG?” She cupped his chin in her hands and placed her forehead against his. Quin couldn’t answer. Timothy and Jordan stood idly by, feeling helpless. Quin clumsily patted his chest with one hand, hoping she would understand.