Hemi Aeson McQuoid
It is often the most innocent seeming people who have known the darkest parts of life. Sometimes, it is a survival mechanism in the back of the head. Still, other times, it is this innocence that lead them to dig deeper than they subjectively should. Still, other times, this is a preference, a voluntary facade. In this story, you, reader, can find an example of each.
The first definition might fit Morana, Levina, Aeson, Kesler, and Tess— known in their school as the Reforms. They have experienced something adults might refer to as a “horrible event.” Like many children who have experienced horrible events, the Reforms did not look constantly dysfunctional. In fact, unless you knew them well, you might even say they were thriving. After all, they were eight grade students at Res Novae High School of Computer Science, they’ve formed a friend group of five, and they’re all able to take care of themselves in the weekday dorm program. However, as previously stated, those who seem innocent often have seen the dark. Here, I will more or less describe the events that took place at the beginning of the Reformed Capacity Program for Gifted Minds.
March 15, the year before
Hemi Aeson McQuoid was a fortunate boy. His parents owned a largely successful clothing business that afforded the family a life of luxury. At thirteen years old, he and his slightly younger brown-eyed sister, Tess, began studying at Res Novae Academy. Res Novae, being a town and a city away from their home, caused the siblings to move into an on-campus dorm five days a week. Being thirteen, he did not see the change as a major downside.
Aeson had everything he could ask for. A good relationship with his sister, a premier school, a relative popularity, a wealthy family— this all made it harder for him to digest how he ended up on a hospital bed, scars lining his scared, rereading a note saying his sister had died.
He did want to think about her anymore, so he put the note in the drawer and headed to the room next door.
He peaked through the window on the door. In the room, curled up on the bed, was a girl barely younger than Aeson. Having shaved her head two months before, Morana Villin insisted on wearing a hoodie. The nurses and doctors were told she wore it to keep warm, but Aeson remembered the day after she shaved, when Morana said “when you see me put the hood down, I’m done thinking.”
Aeson smiled, seeing the hoodie down. Since they met as dormers in Res Novae, Morana was rarely with herself. At first, it was the fire alarms. Then, something she would not share. Being at the hospital, Morana confided in Aeson about how she worried the nurses would get the dose of some drug wrong. No amount of reason would make her stop thinking, so Aeson usually waited for her thinking to die down, seemingly on its own.
It’s also nice to note that this was the first time he’d seen his friend sitting still in almost two days. Two days prior, she had spells of headaches that had her doubling over in bed.
Morana stared at the wall for what felt like a long time. Then, she put the hood on and tightened it.
He walked in. “May I ask what you’re thinking?”
Morana expanded the opening of her hood, so that she could see her guest. “I’d rather not share.”
Aeson sat by her on the bed. “Okay,”
“It’s Tess,” she said. “I’m sure you’ve heard. My condolences.”
A knock on the door signaled Aeson to hide under the bed. A man walked in. Aeson came out, seeing it was only Nurse August, a toned but slim 20-something man dressed as a nurse.
“Don’t be scared, but next time at least wear a mask,” said Nurse August. “Just reminding you you have group PT in ten.”
“At ten?” asked Morana.
“Yes, but I meant in ten minutes,” said Nurse August, in a tone that revealed an impatience by making an exaggerated effort to sound patient. He laughed in a way that makes people question whether or not he was impatient. He smiled and left the room.
Morana and Aeson each took a surgical mask from the cardboard box on the bedside table. Morana locked her phone in a luggage. The two set out into the hall.
They walked on the opposite side of the hall from where their rooms were, so that they could check on the other patients in the Reformed Capacity Program (RCP) for the Gifted.
The program had reserved the top and smallest floor of the hospital, and was allowed any materials they required. This meant the five— or should I say four— young patients had the level to themselves.
The room directly across Morana’s was assigned to a boy named Kesler, who was currently asleep. If you’ve never been to a hospital, you might be frightened by the thought of a hospital patient sleeping. Rest assured, Kesler did not need a mysterious surgery to desire naps. He was just one of those people.
“Should we wake him?” asked Morana.
“Nah,” said Aeson, walking om to Levina’s room.
Unlike most of the patients, Levina’s recovery did not go smoothly. In slightly more than two months since their surgery, Levina had been put under three medically induced comas.
They peaked in, wondering if the girl they personally knew almost nothing of had awoke. But as most people find when looking for a nice twist, it’s not there.
Unless you’ve loss someone dear to you, reader, can only try to imagine what Aeson was thinking as they walked pass the last room; the room
intentionally set furthest from his, Tess’s. At least, that’s what I’ve been told— I, too, can not imagine.
Eventually, they made their way to a room with two large doors. Aeson knew the room well. Everyday, the doctors would set up chairs, one for each available patient, and line them on the wall. See, in the RCP, group physical therapy meant taking turns watching each other discover the newfound abilities provided by their surgically implanted chips.
They opened the doors, revealing a ramp leading to the floor of the high-ceilinged room. Sitting in one of the chairs, they found Tess… eyes closed, expression blank, posture perfect with hands on knees.
At least, that was his first thought. As you’d expect, Aeson froze for a moment. He attempted to put his finger through his palm. He failed, assuring himself he was not in a dream. Then he approached the girl. Rather than sitting by her, Aeson stood, awkwardly staring. Perhaps he hoped Tess would call him out on being weird.
But no one called him out— not yet.
A door opened from under the ramp. Doctor June, Doctor March, and Nurse April walked in.
“ARIZANA, wake,” called Doctor March. The girl’s eyes opened.
“You’re early,” Doctor June gave a sweet smile. “I see you’ve met ARIZANA.”
“Arizana?” asked Morana.
“We’d rather explain when Loughty arrives,” said Doctor March.
Thanks to Kesler Loughty’s tardiness, Aeson spent thirty minutes sitting as far as possible from the strange Arizana.
Eventually, Kesler arrived, dressed in the same clothes he wore the night before.
“It stands for ARtificial Intelligence Z, Authentic Natural Argon,” said Doctor June. “She’ll be your artificial assistant when you’re reading to go into the field. She’s a part of your team now.”
“Why does she look like Tess?” asked Kesler.
“Try to understand,” said Nurse April. “If we were to let the public know of Tess’s death, it would put our mission and your privacies at great risk. The general public, including your parents. Therefor, in addition to the standard RCP AI features, it can do this. ARIZANA, cover mode.”
ARIZANA blinked. When her eyes opened, they were brown, her expressionless face beamed a smile, and her blank stare looked kindly to Doctor March. In Tess’s voice, the AI said “What do we do today, sir?”
Aeson barely had time to take it all in when “Tess” closed her eyes. A second later, the eyes opened, shining blue.
“We’ve considered the possibility of having to switch at unforetold times, which is why we have an app to control it remotely,” said Nurse April. “We won’t be releasing this app to you, children, for security reasons. Otherwise, you only have to call its name and it should follow your voices.”
They spent the rest of the session discussing and practicing ARIZANA’s preprogrammed commands. As hour later, they were dismissed for the morning and told to return to their rooms, except Kesler, who had one-on-one.
Morana and Aeson came back the way they came. Morana wore her hood, and Kesler was too busy comprehending the existence of ARIZANA. Thus, the walk was quiet.
Perhaps Aeson was thinking of what he’d do if he had a phone. Maybe he would tell his parents or a friend. Perhaps a boy as bright as Aeson could realize that even if he had a phone, there would likely be consequences to such an act.
Morana tapped Aeson on the shoulder, causing an mild electric sting. Aeson noticed the lights flickering more than usual. With heavy breathe and furrowed brows, she said “I think I’m having an episode” before running to her room.
Aeson didn’t bother peaking into Morana’s room, because he believed that’s what good friends do when they know their friend would rather not be seen.
The flickering got worse and worse as Aeson returned to his room and grabbed a Rosary from his bedside table. He kneeled, elbows on the bed, and took a moment to take in a thought. He might be the only one on earth praying for Tess.