He was in the nice bathroom again. From the door he heard a whirring sound that ended with a thunk. Quick piercing drill and the bite of screw into wood. One, two. Drill screw, drill screw.
‘What are you doing?’ Tom asked Orakel.
‘You are within my jurisdiction and have been detected with symptoms of contagious cancer. You are now under quarantine.’
‘Okay,’ he swallowed. ‘What does that mean?’
‘You will be isolated and taken to a transition facility.’
Thomas looked away from Orakel. The drilling screw sound was moving around the edges of the door frame.
‘What is happening?’
‘I am attaching an isolation tunnel to the bathroom exit. In five minutes you will walk outside to a vehicle waiting to transport you to the quarantine station.’
The mirror became a view from a camera in the room outside. A trolley bot with long arms was attaching a large roll of plastic around the doorframe. Drill screw, whirr thunk.
The skin of his feet pressed against smooth clean tile. The seat of the toilet was just as smooth and hard. It didn’t move under his weight.
‘I don’t want to go. Please.’
‘I understand, Mister Huxley. But we cannot risk contaminating others. You don’t want to hurt others, do you?’
Arctic blast freezes north.
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Tom looked back at the mirror and saw a bristling black killbot rotating it’s lenses back at him. A bulbous saucer with hefty limbs, spiked with attachments and weapon spikes like a sea anemone. A fat barrel glared into Tom’s eye. He was afraid and exhilarated. He breathed deep, ready for the killbot to fire.
The mirror smashed and his fist flared in pain. Blood rain down his arm and dripped on the tiles, sink, bathtub.
‘I don’t want to die. Please, I’m begging you.’
‘Thomas, it is not because of the quarantine that you will die. You have CC. In this jurisdiction that mandates involuntary quarantine. You have the choice of walking out, or being tranquillised and taken out. The cost benefit differential is negligible.’
‘There has to be another way. You can’t do this!’
‘You will receive the best care and comfort. You will be offered a choice of living out your days at an isolated hospice or submitting to cryogenic hibernation.’
That’s what happened. Now I remember. I’m in an ark. I’ve slept through the apocalypse.
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The door opened, showing a plastic tunnel that lead from the guest bathroom, past the kitchen, around the lounge and out the front door.
‘You must now evacuate the building. Please walk slowly and take care going down the stairs.’
Through the sides he could make out people in red protective gear and face masks. The tunnel bent left and contracted through the front door of the apartment, leading him to the spiral stairs.
He turned back to watch the tunnel behind him constricting, collapsing into itself, closing off any thoughts of turning back.
‘Your brother is calling,’ Jove said.
‘You may answer if you wish,’ Orakel added.
‘Okay. Connect him.’
Patrick’s face appeared in the mirror.
‘Tom! Where are you?’
‘I’m being taken to quarantine. Are you guys okay?’
‘We’re fine. We’re together in a decon facility.’
‘I don’t know. The suits we are in are hard to see out through.’
‘I’m being moved now.’
‘It’ll be okay,’ Pat assured him.
‘Out I go. It looks like I’m walking through a transparent worm.’ Tom shared his brother a glimpse of what he was seeing as he walked out through the plastic arches.
He sat alone in a driverless van. Designed to be as featureless as possible, empty but for seats. The windows were darkened, keeping the inside shaded and private.
Thomas looked out, watching sparse groups of people holding rubber-boned sun shields over their heads, like hermit crabs with their shells held above their heads. A few turned to the van he was in, a few putting hands to their hearts or mouths; most didn’t look up.
How can such a world exist? It must be faked. Or another virus in his mind. It has to be.
Latest Government Satisfaction Ratings
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‘Orakel, what is it going to be like when I wake up?’
‘I don’t know when you will be awoken.’
‘But when I am, they will have a cure for the CC? Won’t they?’
‘Many researchers are working on cures.’
‘And if they don’t find one?’
‘In time a cure will be found and then all who are in hibernation will be woken.’
For a while they were both silent. Thomas waited to hear more about cures but Orakel was processing something completely different in thousands of other places.
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He was surprised when Orakel broke the silence.
‘Who is “they”?’ it asked.
‘“They”? You asked when “they will have a cure”. Who is they?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You use the word “they”.’ This signifies a plural entity distinct from yourself. Who are the “they” that has the cure?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I must find out. Populations are divided into groups. I must find this group you call “they”.’
‘It’s just a word, Orakel.’
‘You underestimate my ability for lateral thinking.’
‘Why are you talking about this? Do you know what this is like? I’m scared.’
‘There is no need to be scared. You will be treated gently and comfortably.’
‘You don’t understand.’
‘I understand. Humans are afraid of dying. They would do nearly anything to avoid their cessation. Do you wish to enter voluntary hibernation?’
‘You . . .’
‘What is it, Thomas?’
‘I don’t know. Nothing.’
When the van finally stopped the door slid open and he stepped out into another plastic tunnel and followed it into a building, a lobby, an elevator, through a tunnel and into a tiled room.
People dressed in protective suits stood around the edges pointing hoses. ‘Put your clothes in the bin.’
Thomas passively followed instructions.
‘Proceed to pod 116.’
This is my ark through the apocalypse. They will find a cure and wake me in a better world.
From the outside the pod looked like a plastic bathtub on its end. It had metal cover with a window for the face. His fingerprints and DNA were registered to the touch screen pad on the chest panel.
It was comfortable inside. Like a recliner. Two of the rubber-suited people tightened straps over his chest and thighs.
Through speakers near his ears a voice spoke, ‘Breathe deeply and count backwards from 30. Soon you will feel sleepy, just close your eyes.’