She always loved how her apartment looked in late afternoon sun. The light had a richer, more generous colour than it did in the morning, making the whole room feel more vivid. The décor was minimal, but each piece was richly patterned. She was especially fond of the replica seventeenth-century Egyptian carpet, with its myriad shades of turquoise and scarlet. It set off the lacquered tables and the quiet damask upholstery of the couch. The rooms had what the designers called a good use of negative space.
There was a stereo in one corner, tastefully hidden in an antique cabinet, but she rarely turned it on. Instead she liked to concentrate on the warmth of the sun slowly thickening the air, the occasional bird-chirp outside her window, and, faintly, the tick — tick — tick — tick — tick of the midcentury modern wall clock she had hanging in her dining room. The reassurance. The comfort. The stasis. The harmonies. It was all very pleasing.
Outside it was early evening, the long-shadowed, blue-grey light that happens often in the summer, when sunsets seem to fade at a quarter of the speed they do in winter. Behind her building was a park, and she took a walk on the narrow asphalt path, letting the palm of her hand brush over the tops of the long grass stalks that grew alongside. The parkland was unmanicured, feral, but convenient. She liked it that way. Just enough done — that is, the walking path — so that the area was enjoyable, but not so much that it felt manufactured. Maybe twenty metres from where she was walking, there was a shallow creek. Some stalks of grass had got caught in the flow, and there was a faint drip — drip — drip — drip — drip as the splashed water dropped into a still puddle. She liked how the air was crisp without being chilly. She liked that there were no mosquitoes. She liked how if she held her breath, all she could hear was the water and just the slightest rustle of the leaves stirred by a breeze she couldn't feel.
She had to work, just like everyone else. She was a database analyst in a large, forward-thinking firm. Like all of her co-workers, she had a mini-office that allowed privacy but still let in plenty of light and air. All the furniture and storage was built-in, even the visitor's seat that popped out from a side unit. The mini-office was made with pale-coloured materials and red trim, and had cobalt blue shades on each of the five high-efficiency work lamps. It was a productive, energising place to work. A couple of metres away, if she listened for it, she could hear the click — click — click — click — click of her nearest colleague's mouse. It was so steady, like the windup alarm clock you were supposed to place in the crate to soothe a new puppy.
She fought it, but her eyes fluttered open anyhow. She saw the disintegrating white ceiling tiles first, and then, as she turned her head, the windows, completely covered with grime for at least two generations. At least, that's what they'd told her. She turned her head the other way, and saw, like it was the first time all over again, the other gurneys, with people on them, just like her. Strapped down, just like her. Rows and rows of them. She couldn't make out the far wall.
She tried to turn onto her side, but the restraints wouldn't let her. They never did, and like a recurring nightmare the panic set in. She wanted to scream, to vomit, to move more than the few centimetres the restraints permitted.
Skrick — skrick — skrick — skrick — skrick went the robot's treads along the worn floor tiles. The robot leaned over her, and it almost seemed as if it perceived her wide, wild eyes, the back-of-the-throat whine she was making that threatened to become a scream.
A door opened in the robot's chest, and a syringe-tipped appendage slid out with a reassuring shhhhh sound. The robot threaded the tip of the syringe neatly into the IV port. Her eyes closed, the scene faded, and she decided to get up from the couch and listen to the radio for a while before she went outside for her usual evening walk.