This week’s instalment – look out for the full novel at Leveller’s Press. And, if you like it, please share ...
That evening Tuesday headed for the border in a secure train with nineteen other medical rejects. All were afraid; all engaged fully with their screens to avoid thinking about what would happen next. With her tongue, Tuesday felt the painful place in her mouth where the implant sat and watched the Fashion Channel. Passing through the western quarter they saw graded blocks, much like those of the southern quarter and the ubiquitous malls. Further to the northwest was the Bluesky Nuclear Facility: a grey monster. They passed a strange area called The Institute: densely packed lab compounds and elite education centres. The buildings included a few ancient elaborately decorated structures, which were still used by senior researchers; these were surrounded by wasteland and high security guarded fences. Beyond were techy blocks: each fifty or sixty stories, their tiny windows shadowed by surrounding buildings. Beyond was the Oxford Gate. It was shorter than the blocks, but thick. Authorised cityzens had to clear seven checkpoints in order to pass in and out of the City. Concrete masts, containing two guards, rose above each checkpoint.
As the train pulled in to the Gate, all screens were disabled. Each young medic listened for their number to be announced. All were focused on the cheery female voice issuing instructions inside their ears. No one even coughed. They were terrified of missing important information. One by one, unwillingly, they left the train to be scanned, registered and issued with kit.
They filed through the first checkpoint. At the second their irises were scanned and their DNA checked. At the third, they ate in the Halfway Canteeen: Betterthanmeat Burgers, with something white and sloppy. At least there was coffee. They were driven in trucks through the final checkpoints, five in each vehicle. All screens were disabled. Only the cheery voice accompanied them. There were patches of silence. The exiles looked at one another. Would someone speak? What could they say? As they passed the final stage, Tuesday turned and watched the blurred blinking green lights of the final road block through the tinted window until they disappeared.
Tuesday finished work on the fourth day long after dark, yet still had to endure the de-contamination process. Her mind felt numb: her first few shifts at the Freshair Hospital blotted out all that had happened in the two weeks leading up to her exile. She passed directly from the ward into a fine shower of chlorine, which coated the Tyvek outer layer. She then entered the safety area, where she removed her outer gear and placed it into an incinerator, guided by the cheerful female voice. All equipment had to be left in this room, which automatically disinfected every five minutes. In the next room, she immersed her naked body in a cold bath. The coolness at first was a relief, until the burning sensation began: caused by disinfectants in the water.
She was then free to dress and eat in the medic’s canteen: labmeat, soy, Perfectfruit. And hot black coffee. The pleasure of coffee had obsessively occupied her mind since she crossed the border: the sustaining bitterness and heat that warmed your insides. If she ever slept peacefully for a few hours, she dreamt of coffee.
She arrived back in her apartment with just enough energy left to remove her clothes and flop on the bed: to dream of the shrivelled half-alive patients. They were dying of a new hemorrhagic fever: bleeding to death on the inside. Solemn bloody eyes watched her in her sleep. She woke sweating. The temperature in these apartments was not well regulated. But she never opened the window; the scent of burning human flesh floated in the air around the hospital at night.