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Gin opened his eyes, blinked, then closed them again. He wanted to rub his eyes but his arms refused to listen. They remained motionless by his side. He tried the same for the rest of his body, but it gave the same result. He could make slight neck movements but felt a sharp pain in his chest that stopped him from continuing further. The pain meant he was alive at least.
The brown, wooden ceiling he saw, before losing consciousness, had become a metallic grey. The dirt and blood-stained floor had become a comfy bed. Where am I? he wondered.
‘Finally awake!’ someone cheered. It was a woman’s voice and it sounded like a relieved one at that. ‘Who would have thought it was possible to live without a heart? Funny thing is, here I am, a rank B utility medic, and I still have no idea what’s going on with your body. I’ve got so many questions to ask you. Mind explaining?’
Gin wanted the person to keep it down. He wasn’t in the mood to hear a monologue from anyone. He forced himself to open his mouth ajar, then focused on trying to speak.
‘Can’t talk? No surprise there. Can you hear me at least?’
Gin nodded, but at the expense of suffering a sharp pain in his chest again.
‘Good. I’m going to do my dailies now. Try not to move too much.’
I wasn’t planning to, Gin thought.
He could hear the clink of glass followed by the feeling of something pricking his arm. From the corner of his eyes, he saw his arm outstretched at a perpendicular angle. A pale finger rested on top of it with a long, thin nail digging into Gin’s skin. He guessed it belonged to the woman that spoke.
An orange fluid ran through the nail into Gin’s body. Once done, the woman retracted the nail, leaving a circular hole. A gel surrounded the wound, causing it to neither bleed nor close up. Instead, it allowed the nail to return with a new serum to inject. The process repeated itself until she spoke up again,
‘OK. Last one.’
She inserted her nail into the wound once more, this time injecting a grey liquid. Afterwards, she removed the original gel and replaced it with a different one. It stung but the skin around the wound began to grow, enveloping it until no trace of it remained.
‘That should do it. I’ll head off now, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Glad you’re awake though. At one point, I feared I was vaccinating a dead body.’
Gin heard footsteps that led into the sound of a door closing. He closed his eyes. As he drifted off to sleep, the door opened again.
‘Oh, I’m Joan by the way. I’ll be taking care of you from now on.’
Gin woke up, his head aching as much as his body. He tried to move again. He worked through each part of his body in a systematic fashion. Apart from his head and fingers, he still couldn’t move. At this rate, he was going to be bedridden for much longer than he had anticipated. Damn. Where’s my INS when I need it? he thought.
‘Good morning!’ a familiar voice sounded. ‘Awake again I see.’
Gin tilted his head, causing a satisfying click in his neck from its lack of use. On his arm was a nail, closing the wound he didn’t know he had. The wound began to irritate, like a mosquito bite when you first see it, but Gin’s attention was on the medic herself.
His new position allowed him to see Joan for the first time. She was a slender brunette woman, with pale white skin which contrasted with the black t-shirt and trousers she wore. Her nails, that wrapped around his arm, each varied in length from finger to finger, each with different coloured pigments. Even though she didn’t strike Gin as someone who was spectacular, she was pretty in her own regard.
‘Want to try and talk?’ she asked, giving a warm smile as she closed the lids on some jars.
Gin opened his mouth, uttering a single ‘ah’ as a test, like a baby checking its capabilities. His chest burned as he did so, prompting him to stop. He knew he could talk, but decided it wasn’t worth it and closed his eyes to show his intentions to the medic.
‘At least you managed to make a sound,’ Joan commented. ‘At this rate, it’s going to take another two weeks for you to recover fully.’
Gin’s eyes flashed open. Two weeks?! he exclaimed in his mind. It was far too long for his liking. For him, that was precious time that could be used for valuable research, not for lying in bed!
‘Give. INS,’ he said, a lengthy pause between each word.
‘Huh? I don’t understand. INS?’ Joan replied, an eyebrow raised in confusion.
‘Integrated. Nanobot. System.’
‘Nanobot? I can’t really help if you keep using made up words.’
Frustrated by the effort he had to put in to speak, Gin thought for a moment. From her reaction, and from his first impressions of squadron W, Gin concluded that the mages didn’t have anything as sophisticated as his nanobots. Either that or they had a different name for them.
‘Cuboid. Metallic. Silver,’ he oversimplified. She must understand that, surely?
‘Oh! Those weird objects you used for the test. Yeah, they’re over there.’
Joan headed towards a desk where she picked up a basket containing several cuboids and a belt with its slots emptied out. She picked out the silver coloured cuboid, as instructed, She inspected it, wondering what it was, before turning back to Gin.
‘This one, right?’ she asked.
‘Mm,’ Gin confirmed, the sound hurting less than actual words.
Joan placed the (what Gin called) the INS in the palm of Gin’s hand. She stood there for a few moments, expecting for something to happen but, when both Gin and the INS stood motionless, she wondered if she did something wrong.
‘Now what do I do?’ Joan queried.
‘Leave,’ Gin responded.
‘Wow. Rude much?’ she retorted.
It wasn’t that Gin was trying to be rude. However, the single word was much more efficient, considering the pain that arose with each word he spoke. He wanted to be alone. The faster that happened the better.
Joan listened, grabbing her medicine and left the room. She didn’t harbour any resentment towards Gin’s attitude, or at least she didn’t show it. It allowed Gin to carry on without feeling any guilt.
He fitted his finger inside the first slot of the INS, pressing a button at the bottom of the chamber. A needle emerged from one end, facing away from him. In one swift motion, as if second nature to him, Gin twisted the INS, stabbed his arm and activated the mechanism in the second chamber.
He could feel the contents coursing through his veins. It put him at ease. From his calculations, his recovery rate should rise exponentially. All he had to do now was rest.
Gin woke up, his head aching as much as his body. He tried to move again. Even though he felt continuous pins and needles as he moved, he managed to lift his body into a sitting position. He noticed that his old clothes were gone and replaced with a vest and shorts, both made up of some sort of tanned leather. He looked around for some better clothing, his neck clicking with every turn, but couldn’t find any.
The room was spacious. Despite the metallic plating on the ceiling, the walls were made up of dirt and tree roots. To his side was a desk with some paper and stationery with a basket placed on top of it. Its cover prevented Gin from seeing what was inside. His curiosity got the better of him and he attempted to stand up.
The sharp pain in his chest returned. He collapsed back onto his bed under the stress. The muscles in his leg constricted, refusing to move, leaving him helpless, unable to get up again. His heart fluttered in his moment of weakness.
Gin placed his hand on his chest. A continuous beating echoed through his palms. He grinned at the new revelations. Something was beating inside there. What was beating he didn’t know yet, so Gin made a mental note to find out sooner or later.
When his legs relaxed, he sat up once more. Satisfied with the progress so far, he looked around for the INS he used yesterday. He went through the same procedure of activating a needle then piercing his skin to inject the contents.
‘Looks like sitting is all I can do for now,’ he noted, realising that speaking was tolerable now.
‘What is going on?!’
Gin turned around to see Joan holding the usual tray of medicine. He finished injecting the serum before extending his arm out for his daily treatment. When he didn’t hear her footsteps, he looked back to find that Joan hadn’t moved from her position.
‘What?’ Gin said.
‘How are you sitting up, let alone talking properly?’ Joan replied, gobsmacked by what she was witnessing.
She didn’t wait for Gin’s answer, putting down the tray to do an immediate check-up. Her index finger’s nail went from white to red then back to white as she emptied the blood into a container. Her middle finger dipped into the container, turning a myriad of colours.
‘There’s more of those things,’ Joan analysed.
‘I don’t know what they are. It’s not organic though.’
‘Oh!’ Gin realised. ‘That’s probably because of the nano-booster.’
‘Yesterday it was nanobots. Now it’s nano-booster. You keep throwing these words around but I still don’t understand any of them.’
‘Guess you mages don’t have them,’ Gin said under his breath, not expecting Joan to hear it.
‘I’m lost,’ Joan said, doing her duties along with her attempt to decipher Gin’s language.
‘Doesn’t matter. Forget about it.’
‘No, tell me. As your medic, I need to know what’s going on in your body so I can tend to the best of my ability,’ Joan commanded, more out of curiosity than necessity.
She stopped the injections, looking at Gin with a stern expression instead. Though Gin wasn’t in the mood to give a lengthy explanation, the silence that filled the room created an air of awkwardness that he wanted to dispel. It was better than letting Joan remain in her stubborn state anyway.
‘Ok, fine,’ Gin conceded, sighing as he did so. ‘In my body, there are nanobots: little machines. The ones in my body heighten my bodily functions, recovery rates and, in dire circumstances, can act in their place. I didn’t know if the last part was true but, after living through a destroyed heart, it looks like that’s the case. Though the rest of my body probably went into standby mode for that to happen.’
‘Really?’ Joan responded, unsure whether to believe him or not.
‘You’ve seen it too, right? Something’s beating in my chest.’
‘It’s a newly formed heart. I’ve watched as it grew, though I’m not sure how it grew back.’
‘Oh? That’s quite the development. My calculations were a bit off,’ Gin contemplated while allowing Joan to continue with the dailies. ‘Thought I’d be living without a heart.’
‘You definitely have one. The problem is, once again, that thing’s not fully organic.’
‘That part’s probably the nanobots I was talking about before.’
‘Then the things in your blood?’
‘And that- what was it you called it again?’ she asked.
‘The INS?’ Gin responded, pointing to the metal cuboid beside him with his free arm. Joan nodded in response. ‘Also nanobots, but programmable ones this time.’
‘Programmable? What? Why do I get the feeling you’re mocking me with your made up words?’
‘I’m not. It’s the truth,’ Gin shrugged. ‘And all the words I’ve been using are a hundred percent real. I can guarantee you that.’
‘This is the first I heard of it then. Anyway, to be able to regenerate a heart from nothing, they really do breed the most amazing mages in the MBP.’
‘Oho,’ Gin chuckled. ‘I’m not bred.’
‘Not bred? You’ve lost me again.’
Gin leaned closer.
‘I’m what you call,’ he said, each word a whisper, ‘a manush.’
Joan stared at Gin. She blinked several times. Like a machine, she processed what he just said, figuring out how to respond. In the end, she went for a smile that led into a burst of laughter.
‘That unevolved extinct race?’ she said after she calmed down. ‘You must still be delirious from your injuries. Get some rest, Gin.’
‘Yeah. I make weird jokes when I’m tired,’ he lied.
‘I’ll leave you to it then,’ she agreed, packing up her equipment. ‘Oh, almost forgot. Maria wanted to know when you think you’ll be ready to join a battalion.’
‘At this rate, I’d say four days,’ Gin calculated.
‘I’ll tell her a week to make sure.’
‘That’s fine,’ Gin complied, not wanting to argue further, even if he did think the extra days were a waste of time.
‘Well, take care. I’ll be back tomorrow like normal,’ she waved goodbye, giggling as she did so. ‘Manush? As if!’
Gin laid back. He cursed himself for forgetting to ask for a pen and paper. He placed his hands on his chest, the rhythmic beating of his heart calming him down. His mind wandered off, making several mental notes from the conversation he just had.
‘Heh. The mages really think we’ve gone extinct?’ Gin thought out loud. ‘Well, after what happened back then, we might as well be.’
Synopsis: The online game <