-Occulus, ocean, orchard, oasis
-One o'clock, once, October
-orange, ominous, optimal, obligation, occupational therapy, octagram, octagon, occipital lobe, operation
"The Octagram of Obligation"
Tricia had just found a quiet corner of the main floor to sit, when the silver-suited female android, Nerissa, approached her from some hidden door in the oddly-shaped walls.
“Please follow me to the Occulus,” she said. “It is time for your first Occupational Therapy session with OPHELIA.”
OPHELIA—Tricia felt the pit of her stomach tighten and twist just a little. All she had ever known of the woman was the interactive talking face on a screen from her orientation tutorial. How different would she actually be in real life? Was OPHELIA an android like Nerissa? Or some new tech that Tricia hadn't encountered yet?
Nerissa waited a full minute before prompting, "You have not started walking. Do you wish to override the prescription?"
The young woman sighed. "No," she replied, pushing herself up to stand, "I'm coming."
She nearly fell over several times as the tall, stilted heels slipped and wobbled over the sleek obelisque floors. Nerissa immediately slackened her pace and matched Tricia's wobbling stride, sticking close to her in case of overbalance. The android's reaction speed was such that Tricia would barely falter before she felt the warm, artificial touch pressing on key points around her sides, keeping her upright with a controlled frenzy of precise movements. It occurred to the young woman that this could very well be the case for the women she saw drifting around the oasis with ostentatious grace—the reason they had the silver-suited entourage wherever they went. Even their sense of balance, like so many other aspects of the Peres life that she had secretly envied for so long, was a carefully-orchestrated farce.
Nerissa led her into a large foyer-type room, oblong with a long white couch in the middle. The walls swirled with digital displays of swirling abstract colors. The android waited until Tricia seated herself on the couch, and then departed.
Tricia waited, forcing herself not to pick at that one random orange spot on the side of her skirt. When would OPHELIA appear?
At precisely one o’clock, the swirling colors abruptly halted, and a soothing chime resounded through the room.
“Welcome, Tricia Carson.”
Tricia felt a small thrill run through her at the sound of such a gentle voice saying her name.
The voice continued, “I am OPHELIA. Thank you for joining me.”
Tricia looked around her as the colors shifted into another pattern; walls began to form around her. “Where are you?” she asked.
“One moment, please.”
The image in front of her solidified, and Tricia gasped when a gigantic eyeball covered the space directly in front of her, spanning the screen from top to bottom.
“This is my original form; does it trouble you?”
Tricia could feel her heart ready to pound right out of her chest at the horrifying sight. “Yes,” she huffed. “I think it does.”
“One moment please,” OPHELIA said again, and after a brief screen jump, the “eyeball” slowly rotated, as if it had only been a decoration on the back of a round chair. Seated in the orange-cushioned interior was a familiar-looking woman who stood and walked toward her. Tricia immediately kicked off her painful shoes and rose to greet OPHELIA barefooted. She made it all the way to the point just before reaching out to take her hand—when her sense of reality clashed with the optical illusion and her fingers collided with the smooth screen.
“This form is more conducive to the intended relaxed atmosphere of our sessions,” OPHELIA intoned. She smiled, her ombre hair framing her multicolored eyes. "What assistance can I offer you today, Tricia?" OPHELIA asked from an untraceable distance.
"Offer me?" Tricia snorted. "These sessions are scheduled. You sent for me."
"It is true, these are mandatory training sessions, but I am here to tell you that there are many aspects of our sessions that are completely in your control. The environment, for example; this room is equipped to mimic the airflow and barometric pressure of all sorts of outdoor experiences. Care to join me in an orange orchard?" OPHELIA calmly took a step back, and immediately the blank walls melted and Tricia stood on a grassy strip between rows of trees, each blooming with fragrant blossoms and fairly-large fruits. Tricia inhaled through her nose and found the rich orange scent stimulating her olfactory nerves. Even the floor itself seemed to change texture, and Tricia could watch in awe as her toes curled around blades of grass projected over the once-smooth floor. She glanced around.
"What is this place?" She asked.
"The Oculus is where you will come for all your official sessions with me. It is where we can both be candid with one another, and harbor no fear of offense, no matter what we say." She paused to allow Tricia to absorb this information. "What would you like to talk about first?"
A million questions crowded into Tricia's mind: what if she didn't want this life? (What if she did?) Would she ever be able to see her family again? What about the ones who returned to St. Louis? What were the chances of checking in with them at all?
"Here is a topic of conversation that might help stimulate conversation: Eliminations begin in October; are you nervous?"
"Yes!" Tricia seized on the opportunity to fit in among the other recruits by responding the way they would. "What if I do it all wrong? There's just so much to remember! I don't think I have what it takes to succeed as Personal Assistant to President Peres."
Ophelia turned and fixed her opaline gaze on Tricia. "Has any of the medical staff approached you about the operation?"
Tricia frowned and leaned away from OPHELIA involuntarily. "What operation? I told Marcia I didn't want any body alterations."
OPHELIA smiled, and the forest melted away to a clean, white beach beside the ocean. Tricia wanted so badly to jump and splash in the waves beyond the... virtual therapist; but she knew they were just an illusion. It did remind her of the last day of freedom she and her Dad had taken, before answering the summons and leaving Paristown for Peres.
"It is not a body alteration procedure," OPHELIA was saying. "It is a small implant at the base of your occipital lobe—"
"To aid in computation, comprehension, and retention of visual data, to help you become your optimal self."
"My optimal self?" Tricia hugged her shoulders. She hated the crawling feeling of inadequacy that overwhelmed her when someone started talking about optimizing—or a new, better kind of "self" than the one she was.
OPHELIA stopped at the edge of the surf, and Tricia imagined she could almost feel it crawl over her feet when it exceeded the limit of the screen.
"You have not yet heard about the Octagram of the Obligate Identities?"
Tricia immediately recalled the design of eight interlocking rings she had seen before, but the design had seemed so ominous that she had tried to ignore it. "I saw the pamphlet in my room, but I didn't read it."
"You should; it is more of a handbook to help you understand the eight identities and their proper order, to be more conducive to optimal performance."
The room darkened, and Tricia saw eight rotating rings projected on a dark background all around the room. OPHELIA appeared next to the one at the right of the front of the room. The word "Personal" appeared in the center of the ring.
"Optimizing starts with compartmentalizing your personal identity, recognizing its connections to the identities beside it, and how they support your sense of personhood, or self."
The words "Mental" and "Physical" appeared in the rings on either side of "Personal."
"As you can see," OPHELIA continued, "your Personal identity is linked to your Mental identity—your abstract, creative thoughts and your memories—and your Physical identity—your body's health, strength, and stamina. If one of these supporting links is weak or overlooked, the outcome will affect the strength of your Personal identity."
Tricia listened to the soothing voice for the rest of the tutorial, at first wondering where her father's constant iteration that she was a child of God fit into all the sequence, regardless of whether she actually understood what he meant by it. According to OPHELIA, her Mental identity was linked to her Personal and Emotional states—her feelings and instincts; Emotional identity, in turn, was connected to the Mental and Sexual identities—her thoughts, memories and instincts guided her in forming relationships and adjusting the way she related to others. "Particularly," the therapist advised, "the clients you will be called on to assist."
Tricia couldn’t restrain a small shudder at the ideas arising in her mind, but OPHELIA just kept on talking, distracting her from the ominous ideas.
“Your sexual identity is linked closely with your emotional security and your spiritual flexibility.”
Spiritual! Tricia felt a sense of relief; perhaps now she could figure out a way to sneak in a bit of her old beliefs into this new set of principles she would need to observe.
“Your spiritual identity, is of course, linked to your sexual identity—those you would form relationships with—and the beliefs that guide the core of your philosophical identity, or the basis for your logic and decision-making.”
Logic? Tricia frowned. If her spirituality was tied into the people she interacted with and her decisions, then she couldn’t necessarily justify clinging to an identity no one else had. She worried about this while OPHELIA explained the remaining three identities, and OPHELIA brought the session to a close, though Tricia was now in worse state over the nature of her obligation than ever before, and the overpowering murk of obfuscation clouded her worse than ever. She followed Nerissa back to the oasis without even noticing. The question hammered in her head, along with everything else:
Who was Tricia Carson?
Did you enjoy this excerpt? Today's story comes from a future project stuck in several layers of rewriting, potentially due for yet another overhaul--Focal Point, the story of Esther told in a dystopian cyberpunk setting. Click on the link for the ReBible series to find excerpts from this and other planned adaptations of Bible stories, to be finished sometime in the future.
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of previous Suggestion Box installments)