The first thing I notice is light. The color is that of a warning; It is not yet time to wake but the time draws near. The time of deep sleep, the time of dreaming, is over.
The clouds move in whispers across dimming stars. I’ve heard that every sky displayed to us is real, or has been real, at some point in Earth’s chronology. Cameras now line the Earth, certainly even the animals have no privacy anymore. Where were these clouds, I can’t say. I could run an algorithm to discern the time and place from the star-pattern but I decline. The sky will soon outshine the stars making data collection difficult and regardless, the knowledge would cause a mourning for a time long-past and space-distant.
The incident with Margery returns to my conscious thought. She’s since been returned to the general population, albeit donned with the thin white bracelets we prisoners recognize as pac-manacles; ‘Pacification Manacles’. These devices are placed on prisoners deemed a security risk; they provide more in-depth monitoring of vitals and are able to administer an immediate shock to the patient upon errant behavior. Margery wore them on her wrists and ankles but was spared the necklace. Usually a patient was given many second chances before such a sentence was given; even a small shock around the neck was considered bordering on inhumane and both warden and prisoner tried to avoid this outcome.
Despite their light weight, a chained prisoner seemed to walk even more slowly. They were usually given additional berth in a crowd as others viewed them as a danger. No one wanted to be part of an incident that would result in electrocution.
Margery had avoided eye-contact with me over these weeks. Perhaps she’d also been altering her trajectory around the premises trying to avoid me entirely. But no gamble is without its occasional failure. She would walk by pretending not to see me but I suspected she had not failed to notice my presence. As much as I tried to be inconspicuous, I could not help my differences.
“G’morn, Sophie Blue. The local time is 6:13. Consciousness-acclimation may now commence. Please indicate your current mood and desired ambiance.”
I inhaled and exhaled.
“Mood is standard. Please allow corridor-view and disable sky-view. No other media-stream is requested at this time.”
“Received and approved. Expect work-assignment by the end of the hour.”
The eastern wall lights up and projects a view of the hallway. No one is there now, but as the day goes forward, patients and employees will walk through, bound for destinations unknown. The hallway is considered public-space, visible to any patient’s cell upon request – provided the patient has not explicitly been denied this right. No prisoner, however, can view another’s cell. And any employee who requests vision of a cell must allow the observed to be notified. Or, at least, that’s the condition we trust is held.
After a moment in silence, I change my mind. “Please change the ceiling-view to Jupiter as viewed from Io.”
The ceiling alights in orange-yellow light. I know it’s a sped-up time-lapse as the clouds visibly crawl across the planet. The stripes look like sand.
The sound of footsteps nearly masked by the rhythm of wheels comes from the hallway and an orderly, dressed in white divided by a grey belt, pushes a cart down the hard floor. Most of the workers in the prison are organics, though not all of them. This woman was larger than most, strong. She seemed tired. She disappears behind the aperture of the wallscreen and seemingly related, but rationally not, the dumbwaiter opens to deliver my morning nutritional supplement.
This one is the same every day. For me, it is a dense flatbread and a large glass of mineral water. I suppose everyone receives something slightly different but I have no way of knowing.
My room has a single chair and a small table. I rearrange them from the positions I had placed them the evening prior and watch the hallway, alternating bites of cracker and water. The ceiling dims as it detects that it is receiving less of my attention. No one in the hallway talks to each other. They follow predictable patterns, keep the right arm to the wall. Here, speed is within a predictable norm. No one is in any hurry.
“Attention: Blue, Sophie. Your labors would be appreciated in meal-production or physical-fitness-maintenance.”
Every day vitals of the patients are recorded upon rising. The computer runs an algorithm that compares worker and patient potential-input to desired productivity-output. Most days a patient is given a choice of where she’d like to spend the morning. Most days I was given the same choices. Helping maintain the physical fitness of others was a no-brainer; my identity would be masked while I served as, say, a tennis opponent. My augmented body suffered less wear-and-tear than the standard Homo sapiens set of tendons and muscles. Meal-production was a mixed-bag for them; where the repetitive motions suited my innate abilities, I provided none of the organic chaos considered key to a balanced diet. I shed no hair, never coughed nor sneezed, and my ‘skin’ was nearly devoid of microorganisms.
“Received and approved. Report to Aviary Room 471 within 15 minutes.”
Here, someone in the cell next-door to mine might have had the computer braid her hair, clean the sleep-leavings from her tear duct, or place a contact lens delicately upon the eye’s membrane. I had no need of such maintenance. I did, however, habitually dispose of waste before leaving my quarters.
This was expected of a ‘bot, like of a human. The dumbwaiter had inaudibly dispensed a folded piece of pale beige linen after my cracker had been consumed. I walked over and unfolded it. Quartered, as always, with one smooth corner alone between three broken ends. Tiny parallel threads hemmed the edge. Sometimes I shooke it out, let the chaos of the fabric fill my morning. But today I thought of the tired nurse shifting down the hallway and I felt – if felt is the right word – as if I couldn’t stand to let fly tiny bits of fiber. Tiny bits of dust once belonging to a discrete structure of cellulose now haphazardly mashed into a durable, useful, yet somehow unholy, square of woven soft. I unfolded the thing, took it between my hands and
expelled from my nostrils a viscous clump. A sticky mass of goo. Dust I had filtered from the air, waste from my organic components, and a little bit of water and food to bond it all together. Easier to manage than the tarish gunk my ancestors left behind.
I folded the cloth messily and placed it back into the wall’s cavity. The door closed and disappeared.
Hanging upon the wall behind was today’s clothing, drying in the open air since the night prior. With few exceptions, all prisoners wore the same clothing. A bodysuit covering most of the skin fit slim around the core of the body, ending just above the elbows and ankles. The neckline was modest, allowing just a mention of the collarbones. A shift was worn loosely over the bodysuit, obscuring the fine lines of the body but allowing for free movement of arms and legs. If a prisoner was filling a certain social role, thin rings around the shoulders would show a signal color, but otherwise the entire garment was white.
Footwear was optional. Most prisoners went barefoot but some wore thin coverings upon the feet to reduce sensory input. In general, however, such coverings were frowned upon and taken as a sign of cowardice. Above all was a respect for the natural condition of humanity. Man was not born with hair on his footpad, nor should he be shod when to do so makes him slave to the blacksmith.
“Received and approved. Aviary Room 471 is expecting you.”