The instructor was talking about this protocol and that procedure.  It was only the beginning of classroom instruction, but already I…I didn’t know how I was going to do this.

            Who was I fooling?  Why did I ever think I could do any of this?  And with my condition, I wouldn’t understand half of the instructions.  What would even happen if they found out about my condition?

            The desk I stared down at seemed to be infinitely pulsing away, then fading back into existence.  The instructor’s voice continued, but the words were jumbled and distant – nothing more than noise in the background.  I could feel my heart drumming in my throat.

            “Recruit Dax,” the instructor called.

            I looked up.  “Yes, sir?” I heard myself ask in a dreamlike haze.

            The instructor eyed me from in front of the podium.  “Go to the infirmary,” the instructor commanded.  “You’re looking pale.”

            “Yes, sir,” my voice replied.  The sensation of me rising from the seat and walking to the infirmary felt like someone else was moving my body.  I was nothing more than an observer.

            My heart still pounding in my ears, I reported to the infirmary and waited to be called.  After the physician finished examining me, she set her notes to one side.  “Everything alright?”

            I shrugged.

            “I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me. Andifjduahkfjshjbsjdjdkeye, you’ll have to be discharged.”

            I shook my head.  Nothing was wrong – this sort of thing happened to me from time to time, rare as that was.  I’d get over it…probably.

            “Recruit Dax,” the physician said.  She was looking at me with a firm gaze.

            “It’s just,” I began, the words drifting out of my mouth, though it sounded like a stranger spoke, “there’s a lot I don’t know.  I’m…not sure this was a good idea.”  I heard myself sniff.  “I may have made a mistake,” I whispered, my voice cracking.

            “Oh, goodness, you’re the fifth one this week,” the physician replied.

            I blinked. “What?!” I exclaimed, looking up to see her rummaging through her desk drawer.

            “Whremfdslkhrdit,” she muttered.  “There’s always a handful like you every training period.  I know exactly how to handle you.”

            My reaction was normal?  This was…expected?

            She paused, glancing back at me.  “Have you ever done soot before?”

            I flinched.  “Um,” I replied, scratching at my head and glancing away, “…no?”

            “Congratulations, you’re a terrible liar,” she said with a flat stare before returning to her search.

            You’d be surprised, I thought.  When it came to such a sudden question, of course I’d have a hard time with it.

            “You’re a former byte, right?” she continued.  “Soot might be illegal in the System, but not here, sosyeufdmskhfewnhtiejrmfd.  Aha!”

            She handed me a brown vial full of liquid.  “This has the same calming effects as soot without the…floating feeling.  Put a drop in your drink tewiemkdshdijcmlk.  Dizziness ismtehfdsjmktfdjhcvfmdklnghdfjmsle.”  Goodness, she was a fast talker.

            Then, she shoved a pamphlet into my hands.  “This one’s up to you, but we’ve had lots of success with other patients.  Foelkfhusiojmfeuhrijdmksnchid or right after you wake up.  Whichever works for you.  Or skip it entirely if you feel that’s best.  Any questions?”

            I forced out a smile.  “No,” I replied.  “Thank you for all of this.”

            “Are you sure?  I know this can be really confusing.  Buthedmskjthfjdlmsjthdknssioemdfjhsm.”

            She raised an eyebrow expectantly.

            “Um, …yes,” I replied with a nod.  “You explained everything very clearly.  I think I’ll be alright with what you gave me.”

            “Well, that’s good to hear,” she said with a warm smile.  She led me out the door of the examination room.  “Remember, if you have any questions, comekhtemdslkhtdmstime.”

            “Got it,” I lied.

            “Excellent.”  Suddenly, her smile disappeared.  “Now, shoo!”  Then she slammed the door in my face.

To be continued…

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