Super Support Group

The blood forms a red bead on my middle finger as the orderly withdraws the needle and squeezes. He dips a white strip into the drop and pops it into the reader with a click. The reader’s familiar whirr ends in a single beep and a friendly green light as I’d expected. Acceptable levels. But I must intervene when the orderly, who is new, makes no move to replace the used needle.

“You’ve got to discard that one, and get a new one now,” I say helpfully. When he looks skeptically at me, I smile to show him that I am a friendly and good patient and not troublesome.

“Oh.” He replies. “You’re the last one in my line so it doesn’t matter.” He looks down before he can see my face sour. This one is too lazy for safety, it seems. What would it matter to him if some Obuny Syndrome patient gets a contaminated needle?

I open my mouth to say something when the alarmed shrieking of a red, unsafe levels light sounds. I turn to the other line of patients across the cafeteria’s dining room. There, shirtless, braless, with a wholly tattooed torso and a Mohawk—bright blue this week—is Darvey. She is laughing, of course.

The new, unsanitary orderly curses and flees the room; the double doors bang with his retreat. Mac, Pansy, and Will, the support group’s usual orderlies, swing into well-practiced action. Pansy tosses Will, who is nearest to Darvey, a pre-prepared Obulin syringe. He plunges it into Darvey’s exposed pectoral muscle, jingling her collection of nipple rings. This week Darvey wears an amusing chain made of metal hand-holding monkeys suspended between her breasts by the two biggest nipple rings.

Mac counts 60 seconds aloud while most of the other patients assume the position: crouched with head between knees and hands covering the face. I roll my eyes and don’t crouch. Neither does Wilson, my pod mate who is ahead of me in line. He will probably make a joke later that his knees are ‘just too old for this nonsense.’

A second finger prick yields a yellow light on Pansy’s reader and the tension among the couple of dozen folks assembled in the high school cafeteria eases. The third prick shows that Darvey has a green light. No Level Spike today; there will be no torrent of uncontrolled flame.

“Hey, Darvey!” Yells Wilson in his creaky old man voice, “It seems like your levels are as spiky as your hair!” Everyone laughs and breathes easy, though Darvey’s chin is up in petulant defiance. Wilson has a way of diffusing tension. He is glue for human hearts, good for both sealing the cracks and glomming them together.

“Seriously, though Missy,” He continues to Darvey, a little sterner, but no less good-natured. “I have to hit the deck almost every time you walk in here! My knees are just too old for this nonsense!” Everyone laughs again, and Darvey looks sullen. He grins back at me and I smirk and shake my head. He has told me, and only me, that he is closer to my 36 years than the 80 he looks, but that his Obuny Syndrome symptom ages him rapidly.

“And that,” Says Dr. Tallanton, banging the double doors wide and striding dramatically down the polished cement ramp toward the group session tables, “Is a classic example of resistance to therapy.” He smiles happily at Darvey. The flighty new orderly slinks back in behind the doctor; he looks hang-dog and thoroughly chastened for running in the face of a Level-Spike. I consider mentioning the un-discarded needle to the Doctor as well.

“Darvey,” the doctor says, his thin, pink face grinning in his balding head. “You’ll join my pod today. I’ve got,” He looks down at the clipboard in his hand. Please not Pod 4! Darvey annoys me and will probably make the whole group discussion about her as usual. “Pod 4!” Of course. Wilson glances at me for my reaction. I mouth a sarcastic “woo-hoo!” at him; he smirks.

The other doctors arrive a few moments later. They are always careful to arrive after the orderlies check the levels to be sure no patient is about to unleash a storm of uncontrollable power. These well-paid orderlies are the only normals who take that risk.

Despite my dislike of him, I give Dr. Tallanton credit for always arriving at the weekly meetings first of all the doctors. Of course, the support groups are his pet project. The groups meet in most of the ObSynd ghettos that cropped up around the nation’s major research clinics as more and more dangerous Obuny syndrome patients were sent to these clinics for treatment and observation. Our group, based in the ghetto surrounding the Mayo Clinic, is the project’s flagship.

The doctors call out their various pod assignments and the patients and medical professionals seat themselves in groups of five around hexagonal tables. I have always thought this arrangement is bonkers. There are six bloody places around the table, so why can’t there be five patients instead of four plus one doctor? When I had asked about it they told me that the grant Tallanton got to start the project had specified 4:1 as the ideal patient/physician ratio so the group is stuck with it.

Well there is one good thing about the shady young prankster joining Pod 4 today: that stupidly empty table side will at least be full. Of course, Darvey makes a spectacle of pulling a plastic lunchroom chair from her usual pod over to Pod 4. Today is going to be the Darvey show.

“Well, good. Good morning everyone!” says the doctor. “Let’s go around the circle and check in with our symptoms.” He flips through his chart. “Let’s start with you, Karen. Your symptoms manifest as teleportation. How has the Obulin and diet/lifestyle program been affecting your ability to teleport?”

Teleportation is a simplified word for what I do. Really, each of my cells make tunnels and pull themselves through. If my levels are in the yellow range I can get my cells to grab onto other stuff, like my clothes. Orange levels mean I can pull other living creatures with me. But teleportation is a fine enough term, I guess.

I get out my journal and recount my week to the table, noting my daily teleportation tests: how far I could teleport each day (an average of eight feet), how many times in rapid succession (three times at most), whether I was able to teleport while clothed (only four times), while carrying an object (only twice), while carrying one of the live mice Dr. Tallanton had given me for tests (I didn’t try this week), and whether I needed any new mice this week (full up, thanks).

I am always careful to avoid the high sodium foods that lead to the dangerous Level Spikes that could cause me to uncontrollably teleport me, and anyone around me, suddenly 20 feet into the air. A Level Spike like that got me diagnosed and sent to the Mayo Ghetto two years ago. So I exercise. I meditate. I do everything I can to be symptom free. I am the model patient in Dr. Tallanton’s program because I want it to work. If someday having Obuny Syndrome outside the ghettos becomes legal, I want to go home. They’re working on a such bill in Congress, so I am meticulous in my testing, lifestyle, and group attendance.

“This morning, I couldn’t even teleport two feet to the left while naked!” I tell the group proudly. My pod members are impressed.

“I would have liked to have seen that!” Wilson grins and winks at me. The table laughs at his ‘I’m a dirty old man’ jest.  I flush and look down. I know he isn’t as old as he looks and I think I saw a bit of pain in his still-young eyes.

“You have the laser-eyes symptom, Wilson, yes?” The Doctor asks.

“That’s right!” Wilson says in the cheerful voice of the brazen elderly.  “I can pop all the corn you could want just by glaring at it!” The regular Pod 4 members smirk. The four of us have become close knit and we all know Wilson’s symptom isn’t really laser eyes. We respect his right not to say, even to the doctors, because sometimes the symptoms have caused deep wells of past pain.

He has told me in confidence that he’s really a healer—a gift, he thinks. But no Obuny symptom is ever truly a gift. It ages him each time he heals someone. He has a generous heart so he’s used himself nearly up; he has had to stop healing because he’s made himself so old. He told me that it hurts seeing others suffer and withholding help he could give. He feels miserly and selfish. He told me that he has tried, but failed, to heal Obuny itself; the disease is immune to its own symptoms.

The doctor finishes with Wilson and moves on to the young and lovely Renata, a breezy and slightly vague woman who was a brilliant modern dancer before people recognized her symptoms. She causes neuro-optical hallucinations by disrupting brain wave patterns. As a modern theatrical dancer, her symptoms blended in with the lights and choreography, creating dramatic illusions of unusual beauty. She was diagnosed after inciting a mass theater panic during a dance performance. Hundreds of people swore they’d been attacked by a swarm of violet, metallic bees that flew out of Renata’s throat.

Then there was Pedro, the twenty-four year old telekinetic who spends every dime he earns on phone cards to call home. He tells his kids, who are too young to understand their father’s internment, that he’s training to be a Jedi and he’s becoming powerful in the force. He also tells them he loves them and be good to their mother. He works too hard and eats poorly and thus he has the worst control of his symptoms in the pod.

The doctor finally turns to Darvey and requests the firebrand’s journal. Darvey extends an eloquent middle finger in response. Check in time is over.

“Good,” says Tallanton. “Is there anything weighing on anybody’s mind that you’d like to discuss? Stress contributes to Level Spikes, you know!”

Darvey breaks her sulk and leans forward. “Yeah.” She whispers. “Let’s talk about The Rescuers.” The doctor’s pink face freezes mid grin and the pod grows quiet and intent.

“Yes, it’s unfortunate about Zephyr, isn’t it?” Zephyr was a member of The Rescuers, the experimental ObSynd group of five who had useful symptoms and excellent control. The government gave them into the National Guard’s keeping and they were trained to keep their levels high, but not high enough to Spike. They could use their symptoms at or near the maximum controllable strength like a comic book superheroes. The team was allowed out of the ghettos to perform highly publicized rescue missions in response to disasters. They were the example and the shining hope for much of the Obuny Syndrome ghetto population.

“Those people were dead without him anyways!” Darvey yelled, bringing all eyes from all the tables on herself. “All he did was break a few bones!” Zephyr, who could generate winds, had a bad Level Spike during an exhausting rescue mission to  a tsunami-devastated Oahu. He had accidentally sent a microburst of wind into a crowd of survivors gathered in the rapidly shrinking dry ground of the Punchbowl Crater. Many were severely injured; three had died. Darvey conveniently failed to mention the dead.

“We can’t know what would have happened if the responders had been human.” Tallanton said. Wilson and I looked up sharply, meeting each other’s eyes as the doctor continued, unaware of his slip. “In any case, it was a tragedy—one that is being dealt with and one that we are, in our support groups, working to prevent on a larger scale. Our group represents a different approach to Obuny Syndrome. One that seeks to rehabilitate and not to use the patients…”

“I heard they locked Zephyr in a subterranean compound!” Darvey interrupted, her voice squeaking in rage. The cafeteria hushed.  The treatment of the Rescuers was a dear issue for all the patients. “They’re pumping him full of Obulin around the clock. They say he’s in a permanent coma and the rest of The Rescuers aren’t allowed to visit him. The talking heads are running the gamut from demanding a halt to the Obuny Rights bill all the way to gassing the ghettos.”

“Darvey, will you sit down?” Said Tallenton in his calm voice. “You’re only working counter to your aims with this display.”

“Fuck you!” Darvey yells. This time she seems, not crass, but righteous in her explicative. “That Obuny rights bill is never going to pass and they’re never going to let us back out. So all you!” She shouted and gestured at the whole room full of patients. “You want to stay here, cozy in your concrete cubical apartments? Locked away from normal people like we are criminals? I say we FIGHT! We’ve learned to control our levels. Instead of suppressing our symptoms, we can take them to their zenith! We can take our freedom back!”

Darvey’s ethos changed before me. Her nipple chains, tattoos, bone through her nose, and  Mohawk transformed from the trappings of a vulgar, rebellious teenager into the regalia of a warrior goddess. As the fires of revolution lit her too-young face, she became a Valkerie, one of the Furies, the incarnation of an ancient spirit of rage and righteousness.  She pulled a plastic water bottle filled with a greenish cloudy liquid from her fanny pack and chugged. She grinned at Tallanton and said, “Pickle Juice.”

My God. The sodium. Gasps went up around the room as everyone realized Darvey’s levels were going to Spike hard. Her flame symptoms will quickly rage beyond her control and she’ll spew torrents of fire in every direction.

Fast, thudding footsteps sound behind me. Darvey’s eyes widen and she extends her thin, sinewy arms in front of her, too small to brace against 260 muscly pounds of Mac the orderly hitting her from a full speed flying leap. The pair sprawl fat to the floor with a thudding crack that sounds like it may have been Darvey’s skull. Pansy, Will, and the new orderly, anxious to redeem himself, are instantly on her, stabbing her with Obulin syringes. Three, four…seven full Obulin doses and they are reaching for more. Darvey thrashes wildly. “Too much! Too much!” Wilson yells, wide-eyed, but the orderlies don’t listen. They are neutralizing the threat.

They step back from Darvey and I realize she wasn’t thrashing so much as convulsing. Thick white foam pours from her mouth and blood gushes from the back of her head. Her color is gone. She will soon be in the same permanent Obulin coma as Zephyr, if she survives. Many patients hug each other and watch her twitching body in silence. Many others applaud the orderlies.

Before I realize what he’s doing and before I can stop him, Wilson is by her side, gripping her shoulders tight and rocking back and forth with closed eyes. “No!” I shout at him, but I know he’s not going to stop no matter what it costs him.

Darvey’s wide eyes close as her convulsions slow. Her heaving breath evens out and the blood flow trickles to a halt. Her skin turns back to mocha from the frightening gray green. Wilson crumples to the floor and wheezes, “Karen!”

I am at his side and holding his hand before I even realize I am moving. “Karen, I wish things could be different. I wish I could have…” He brakes off in a fit of coughing. He looks well past one hundred years.

“Wilson, you idiot!” I sob. His hand is trembling, almost translucent white and I can see the blue blood pulsing in his bulging veins. How long does he have now? He surely isn’t able to walk anymore.  I kiss him. I know he has feelings for me and I had imagined kissing him before. I had been curious and wondered if it would feel like kissing a young, interesting man or an old, beloved relative. That all seems so childish now.  There is only pain and regret in the kiss. And love of some kind, it doesn’t matter what.

The orderlies move in to help him. I won’t let go of his hand. His breath wheezes as he struggles to get used to lungs that have aged decades in just a few moments. My eyes are fixed on Darvey’s fitfully sleeping figure. She is right. We are never going to diet and dose our way out of the ghettos. Only a fight can win our freedom. When that hot headed, showboating young idiot wakes up, I’m going to join her.

Emily says: I am a Lawrence native and a former geologist. I write science fiction, nonfiction science stories, and plays. I stay at home with my 2 year old daughter, Nora, and am supported and encouraged in all things by my husband, Nick.

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