“This is yours, Ollie,” she said, then used her pass to unlock the door on the side panel. An audible click was heard, followed by a whoosh as the doors swiftly opened.
I followed her slight figure into the room and was taken aback by the comfortable surroundings and the size of the rooms.
Immediately in front of me and to the left of the large v-shaped room, was a large, living area, complete with a decent-sized television and 4-seater sofa with glass coffee table. The coffee table held a small stack of books and remote controls. Artwork around the apartment reflected that seen already around the facility – mostly scenery of Earth’s magical nature; oceans, sunsets, mountains and one showing a herd of animals.
The area to the right held a dining table suitable for 4 people and a book case filled various other books. A suitably sized kitchenette, complete with fridge/freezer revealed itself at the end. As Susannah walked through and gave me brief rundowns on additional bits of information that might come in handy, I noticed a small window – with blinds, that looked out onto a large terrarium. On the other side of the terrarium I could see many windows of other apartments, which were clearly afforded the same view.
By the kitchen, there were two doors, one to a comfortably spaced bedroom, furnished with wooden items and more of the Earthly artwork, and the other door led to a bathroom with a bath, standard sinks and lots of mirrors.
“Wow. If I’m not vain, I will be by the time I’m finished here,” I said jokingly.
Susannah seemed disturbed by my comment, “finished? What do you mean? Where will you go?”
I stammered, completely caught off-guard.
“Oh…I…argh, I mean…well, it’s just a…” she stared at me, genuinely curious as to what I meant while I fumbled for helpful words – any of them.
But none came.
I shook my head and smiled thinly, hoping to convey a jovial mood that I didn’t feel and to lighten the sudden, damp mood.
“It’s really just a joke. Nothing intended.”
But Susannah stared at me for a bit longer, then seemed to decide it was a joke after all and straightened, then smiled and tapped me on the arm. It was quite robotic but I understood that she was more science than emotion and this was merely a glimpse. I didn’t dislike what I saw, but I made a mental note to tone down my jokes.
“Come on, let’s get some lunch. You must be starved!” All evidence of our awkwardness vanished as I followed her out of my new home and down yet another corridor.
Just at the end of the corridor, she moved to a picture of a sunrise over what looked like the Swiss Alps but could have been anywhere with snow topped mountains.
I was surprised when she tapped the picture and a screen came alive revealing a computer system.
“If you get lost or need any information, you can get it from here. If you click on maps, here, you will be guided through the facility. At the end of all the rooms you’ll always find numbers and letters. These will give you a marker. It will take some time to get used to it, but you will, I promise you!” She finished, turned away from the monitor and walked away.
I remained for just an additional second and took in the interface. It didn’t look too complicated but might take a while to understand. A long time had passed since I’d confidently and quickly grasped new technologies or new systems. I was certain I’d eventually grasp this one but was equally certain I’d wander the corridors for many an hour until I did.
The walls had been evenly spaced all throughout the compound, until that last one. They narrowed and ended at 3 doors. Susannah chose the left-most door and we entered a loud cafeteria where dozens of tables, filled with 8 to 10 at each one, awaited us with clanging glee.
At either end were Bain Marie’s full of delicious looking food. I followed Susannah as we walked to the closest counters and picked up a tray, a plate and cutlery and surveyed the contents.
No meat, no fish and no poultry. In fact, there were a variety of vegetables in various configurations; soups, stir-fry’s, goulash, stand-alone steamed and crispy fresh.
“Everything is organic and grown here, though we do modify our fruit and vegge, to support our findings. But we can go into that in more depth in coming weeks. For now, dig in,” as if to show me how it was done, she began to heap up a variety of food, so I did the same.
My heart pounded when I saw a nearly hidden, large tray full of pink salmon. I was certain it was salmon and it took some doing to stop myself from running to it. I scooped up 2 large portions onto my plate, not really caring whether anyone thought I was being greedy. Susannah said nothing and walked towards a nearby table in which there were a couple of free seats.
People smiled and said hello and began introducing themselves as soon as we sat down. Two tables over, I saw Steve sitting with a group and eating his lunch. He saw me and waved politely, then returned to his conversation.
My first observation was that everyone was in a kind of uniform, not too different to what surgeon doctors wore but with a white lab coat and minus the stethoscopes. I was also wearing the light-blue shirt and loose trouser combination with comfortable shoes that were aspiring to be more like slippers. I of course, had no coat.
I listened to an overly chatty guy who’d introduced himself as Ian, and another woman called Cheryl who was immediately memorable for her flame-red, curly hair as they debated whether bees had complex relationships like humans did.
It was then that I noticed everyone had a tattoo on their wrists. A small tattoo, but still, it took me by surprise. A creepy feeling came over me as I thought about concentration camps and religious sects. Thankfully, I didn’t have one and I assumed that meant that it was because I was a test subject. The tattoo itself was black with some numbers and a circle. From my distance to those around me, and with such terrible eye-sight, I couldn’t determine any detail.
Another realisation dawned on me; I seemed to be the only test subject and I was also the oldest person in the entire café by several decades. I couldn’t guess the next oldest person’s age, which was another odd thing – because everyone looked early to mid-30’s. The next person that could come even close was Ian, but even he couldn’t be more than 30.
There was an unsettling strangeness about this facility that I tried to suppress. Susannah had made it clear that answers would come with time and the excitement within me, when I thought about what I was going to be tested with, was enough to keep me buoyant and positive-minded.
Susannah interacted with the others with a semblance of interest, but when I looked into her eyes, I could see she was thinking about other things. I really wanted to ask about the tattoos but decided it could wait.
I nearly threw up.
The salmon wasn’t salmon. Not really. Not if salmon tasted like cardboard and was spray-painted pink and had the texture of mushy peas. Oh, and had a smell more like disinfectant than salmon.
When everyone at my table – and even some at a nearby table stared at me, I had to think quickly and try and play it down. I forced a little laugh, put the fork down, swallowed the bite-sized lump while smiling jovially and said, “oh! I wasn’t expecting that taste to be…so different!”
Susannah smiled knowingly, “yep, it’s disgusting. But it’s really, really good for you,” the second ‘really’ was emphasised enough for me to get her point.
“In fact, we’ve modified it, so it contains high quantities of glutathione, anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories, higher amounts of Vitamins B in addition to well-proportioned potassium, protein and selenium,” she returned to her own food, which I noticed didn’t have any of the…salmon in it.
“Why aren’t you eating it?” I asked her, not caring all that much about subtlety.
Always with a smile, Susannah pushed long blonde locks behind her ears and said cool sapphire coloured eyes, “we have a tailored diet that works for each of us individually. I consume only 2 portions of salmon per week. But we will go through this with you, so you understand how diet works. For now, it’s helpful for you to get as much of the food we produce here into your body. This will supplement the treatment, which you’ve already started receiving.”
I thought about the golden fluid that had been put into me on my journey and assumed that must be part of the treatment.
All her words resounded in my head and I felt a flutter of excitement. I realised that this was the moment I’d been waiting for over the past few days. Gone was the apprehension and in its place had arrived a level of anticipation and excitement that I hadn’t experienced in many, many years.
I listened to further talk about things that I hoped would eventually make sense to me and realised that I was surrounded by scientists – people who were going to be talking a language I knew nothing about. It was clear I was going to need to adjust my behaviour to try and fit in better. With little else to do, I might start trying to read some of the books that seemed to be in abundance in my assigned abode.
Lunch finished, and Susannah showed me where the plates were loaded. A series of industrial dish-washers automatically came out and opened along one of the walls. I thought it was really cool to be surrounded by such technology and chuckled inwardly when I loaded my plate and cutlery into one of them.
Then Susannah straightened and told me we would be going through an afternoon of ‘discomfort’ and she promised that after this first day, things would be much ‘nicer’. I believed her. I said bye to our lunch companions who all were friendly enough and turned to follow her. Cheryl said, “see you soon,” as we all went into different directions.
We exited a different way and made it through another series of working areas and arrived in a decent sized area that was part office, part hospital theatre, part art gallery and part reception area for a dentist’s office. I recognised the weird armchair from the ambulance in the centre of the room. Susannah walked over to it and stood behind it, grinned and patted it, clearly intending for me to take a seat.
I did as she instructed.
Cheryl walked in from one of the doors showing well-maintained white teeth as she pulled on a pair of latex gloves and sat on a stool, then wheeled over to me.
“Thanks, Susannah,” she said politely.
“Have a nice afternoon, Cheryl,” Susannah said, then walked to the front of the armchair and crouched down and patted me on the knees and said, “no giving Cheryl any trouble, ok?” and with a finger, she acted as though she was warning me.
I pretended to be offended at the thought, then motioned with my finger and drew a halo above my head.
She left, and I realised that Susannah’s definition of uncomfortable, was completely understated.
Cheryl was efficient while being chatty, explaining some of what she was doing and assuring me that the ‘sharp stings’ would be short and this ‘little prick’ or ‘this tiny pinch’ wouldn’t hurt for long. But my sensitivity was low and each of these did hurt. A lot.
I had an IV Cannula inserted in the inside of my elbow and told that from today on, it would be changed periodically, but shouldn’t be too uncomfortable. I then got to lay on the relaxing armchair while the golden fluid was put into my body. It felt warm and soothing. Somewhere in the background I hear soft music, which Cheryl must have put on. It was such a soothing combination; Cheryl’s voice, the comfortable chair, the non-sterile environment, the music and so I fell asleep.
Given that I no longer have a mobile phone and don’t wear a watch, and there were no clocks in the hybrid room, I had no idea how long I’d been asleep. When I woke up, Cheryl was preoccupied with the contents under a microscope and beside her was Ian. He was silent for a change as they collaborated over something.
Still groggy from whatever was in the fluid, I lay comfortably in the armchair and watched them. My thoughts were much calmer. I felt like I was in good hands; that people around me knew what they were doing and were at the top of their game. The other thing that did make me feel safe to be a test subject was the perception that they were passionate about their job and what they were working on. I recognised that passion from having worked in an industry in which I had applied the same enthusiasm for so many years, so I recognised it immediately. It gave me comfort because I knew that what happened to me was their biggest priority. Failing me would fail them and that would interfere with their personal goals.
End of Part 3.
Thanks for reading another Fox tale
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