Consciousness returned slowly to Sarai, like rust creeping day by day across a corrugated iron roof. At last she was awake enough to take in her surroundings – the cold air, the firm mattress beneath her, breath frosting on a glass dome inches from her face. Pale blue lights glowed in a ring around her. Silence. Peace.
Memory shattered that calm. An image of a truck skidding across the street. A moment of pain as it hit her and then…
She bolted up, heart hammering as adrenaline coursed through her body. Her face hit the glass and she crumpled back onto the mattress, blood running from her nose, staining the shapeless white smock that covered her body and thighs.
Pressing her hands against the glass she strained with all her strength. Her muscles were weaker than she remembered, but that didn’t stop her. Something groaned and then popped, and a moment later the glass lid flew back, stopping at right angles to the bed.
She leapt out and looked around. The room she was in was lit by the blue glow from a dozen pods like the one she had been in, each holding a person. There was a chart at the end of each one. Hers read “Comatose in Zimbabwe”, the next “On Life Support in Canada”, the one after that “Comatose in Belarus”. Their pale faces added to her sense of bewildered terror. What was happening to her?
A door opened at the end of the room. A featureless white figure entered holding what looked like a small gun.
Sarai’s father had taught her better than to scream like a panicking infant when bad men came. He had also taught her not to let them have their way. In a split second, she lunged across the floor and slammed into the masked figure, knocking him to the ground.
Beyond the door was a white corridor smelling of disinfectant. Sarai raced barefoot down it and through another door. Here was a reception room with a secretary behind a desk and two smartly dressed men reading magazines in padded chairs. The receptionist’s eyes widened with alarm as Sarai raced past her and out the door between the two men.
A tumult of sights, sounds and smells assailed her. She had emerged into an enclosed courtyard surrounded by shops and cafés. There were people everywhere in brightly coloured clothes – some walking, some sitting, all talking loudly to each other. Music played in the background. The air was filled with the scents of coffee, bread and perfume. Gazing up through a glass ceiling, she saw the Earth hanging bright against a night black sky.
Someone shouted. Two women were running towards her, both dressed in loose grey hooded jumpsuits with respirators and goggles on the front. They carried black clubs and wore badges on their chests. They were shouting angrily, but she couldn’t make out the words.
Sarai turned and ran, pushing her way through the crowds. Up ahead was an opening on the left and she turned down there, only to find herself in a short corridor with a door at the end. She rattled the handle and slammed herself against the door, but it was firmly locked. By the time she turned around, the armed women were walking down the corridor towards her, their steps slow and purposeful.
Sarai shrank back. Still dazed from awakening, her mind became a tiny dot of fear, unable to think of any way out.
Behind the grey women, the white clad figure she had seen before appeared. In a soft, low voice he said something to the guards, who stopped and lowered their clubs. Then he pulled down his mask, revealing a handsome young face with a reassuring smile.
“There’s no need to run,” he said in Shona. Just hearing someone speak her own language brought tears of relief to Sarai’s eyes. “You were in a terrible accident. So were the other people in those pods. Our facility takes in people in your position.”
As the guards stepped back, he reached out a hand.
“My name is Anengoni,” he said. “I’m from Harare but now I live here, in Lunar Two. How about you?”
“Sarai, from Gweru.” She glanced nervously at the device still in his hand. “Why does a doctor have a gun?”
“Not a gun.” He held it up and squeezed the trigger. A thin stream of liquid shot from the end. “Anaesthetic. Come, let’s take you back for tests.”
Feeling a little foolish, she followed him onto the concourse, the grey-clad guards flanking them. Some people stared, but most looked away, like the very sight of her unsettled them. As they approached the building she had fled, Sarai saw the sign above the door. She could read English much better than she had understood it being shouted through the muffling masks of the guards.
“Chitsaka Transplant Surgery,” it read. “Real Human Replacement Parts.”
“Do I need a transplant?” Sarai asked, fear creeping once more into her mind.
“In a manner of speaking.” Anengoni raised his hand and something cold pressed against the back of Sarai’s neck. There was a hiss, a feeling of numbness, and she stumbled as consciousness started to slip away.
“What’s…” She felt almost grateful as the guards took her by the arms, stopping her fall, dragged her through the surgery door and back down the corridor. The last thing she saw before unconsciousness took her again was the small print she had missed above the label on her pod:
“Source of goods: Comatose in Zimbabwe.”
* * *
I love the word comatose. That and a random conversation on Twitter with James Worrad are where this story comes from. Sometimes odd conversations are the best inspiration. In this instance, a beautiful book of sci-fi concept art given to me by Nick of The Learning Cliff also helped.
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