I drift into consciousness slowly. I am somewhere soft. So beautifully, unimaginably soft. And it's the absolute perfect temperature. There is something soft over my eyes and something slightly warm and fuzzy hugging me in just the right way.
I remove the covering from my eyes - a silken eyeshade - and find that I am in a bed, under temperature-regulating silk sheets and a weighted blanket. The blanket is lined with what might be vicuña fur, and is unimaginably soft. My sheets are lined with the same thing. Oh how lovely. What a wonderful place to wake up. Much better than waking up in ... in what? I lost my train of thought.
I gaze up at the sparkling, multi-coloured crystal mobile that is turning up on the bed above me. It throws glowing bits of light all around, against a light blue background that is so light it is almost white. How lovely. How free. How perfect.
I get up, and sit cross-legged on my soft bed, looking at the room.
It's a big room, with plenty of space to move around. It has a brilliant blue carpet and bright pink wood lining the floors. One wall is made of immaculately clear, glass panes each tinted a different colour, held together by a lavender frame of wavy wood. Outside the windowed wall is an artificial forest, with shimmering trees of many colours and bright natural light coming through the roof. The trees faintly shimmer in the light. Another wall is filled with paintings. Bright, beautiful paintings of all sizes in coloured frames, depicting many scenes. One wall is beside the bed and the last wall is occupied by a pink and blue shelf made of many squares, each occupied by a porcelains doll or a small vase or a little sculpture or miniature, frilly furniture or animals made of metal and gems. There are also many jars filled with items ranging from gems to fake leaves to dried flowers. It's so very pretty.
The wall next to the bunk bed has a door on it, beside the bed. Its threshold is glittering blue and decorated with metal snowflakes. The walls are light purple and have the faintest bit of sparkle in them. There are two escritoires in the middle of the room. They are painted pink with intricate patterns of blue and purple and green all over them. The paint shines in the soft morning light. There are vases full of flowers and jars full of gems lining their sides. There are shelves with squares at their ends, back-to-back with each other. The floor is softly carpeted, purple with many tiny blue dots, and there are dolls and stuffed animals around the edges of the floor. The room smells nice. Very nice.
I'm very glad to be alive today. Who wouldn't love life? I'm very glad to be in this soft, lovely, beautiful room. I put a warm, fuzzy robe on top of my light, short silk shift and I step onto the heated carpet. I look out the window for a while, gazing at the beauty before me.
"Hi," a voice above me chirps sleepily. I look up to the top of the bunk bed, where another girl is sitting cross-legged, hugging a life-sized magenta teddy bear. She has curly black hair, broad cheekbones, dark skin, and warm, night-dark eyes. Seeing her sends a jolt through me. For the first time I can remember I feel worried. I feel scared. I feel protective.
As quickly as they arrive, these feelings leave and I am once again peacefully contented. Sated.
"Hello," I reply politely, smiling softly at her. "My name is Simran. What's your's?"
"My name is Maggie," she replies.
"Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too."
"How long have you been here?"
"I just woke up here today. How about you?"
"Me too. I just arrived in this room."
"It's a very beautiful room, isn't it?"
"It is. I think I'm going to like it here." A bolt of dread shoots through me but it's gone before I can really notice it at all. Maggie climbs down from her bunk bed and puts on her own light green robe. We gaze out the window in silence, looking at the beautiful trees.
Eventually there is a knock at the door.
"Come down for breakfast," a cheerful, masculine voice calls. We follow it out the door of our room.
And we are met with a large hallway lined with all sorts of carved tables in all sorts of artful shapes. Some are swirling at the edges and down the sides, some are round like bubbles, some are carved into the shapes of animals, some are blocks arranged artfully, some are framed. Some are short, some are tall, some are curved, some are made of straight lines, some go up, some go down. They are made of wood of so many different shades of brown. Warm and cool. Light and dark. Arranged so that they compliment each other perfectly. They all are perfectly polished and shiny. They all are beautiful.
On the tables are mounds of decoration pieces, of all sorts, all shining brightly or richly dark, all made of immaculate quality, all eye-catching and captivating. I do not even know how to name all the things that are there. And it just goes on and on and on and on.
The hallway itself shines lightly golden, as if softly gilded, and is carved into a series of depressed squares framed with niched upraised parts. Between the upraised parts and the depressed parts are golden slants. And there are imprints of flowers and leaves and stems made of darker gold all along the depressed parts.
There are many three-dimensional paintings lining the top of the wall, where the wall meets the roof. They look like windows of colours. The frames are polished silver and they are all the same height. The make a border around the top of the wall, and I almost want to reach up and touch.
The ceiling is carved with figures all twisted around each other and it is lined with softly glowing chandeliers. The chandeliers throw soft yellow light onto the white carved figures and throw softer yellow light onto the floor. This place must really like chandeliers. I really like chandeliers too. What is there not to like?
The floor is made of speckled marble, polished until it shines. It has rich red-and-gold patterned carpets placed down the middle. I smile upon seeing my reflection in the floor. This place is so nice and clean.
Doors are opening all along the length of the hallway, and girls are pouring out, until the hallway is sparsely populated with various teenaged girls. They are all dressed in fluffy robes like Maggie and I. We make our way down the halls until we reach a large cafeteria.
The cafeteria is almost more impressive than the halls. The tables are carved ornately, with stout legs. They are made of coloured metal in all kinds of bright colours. And the tops of the tables even, are carved ornately. There are large plates of glass on the tables, as clear as air, so that we can put our plates down.
From the high ceilings, many figures of all sorts descend down like stalactites in a cave. They are made of colourful metal as well, and are embedded with many many colourful gems, that all glow softly, lighting the room in many, many colours. The figures are arranged artfully so that from each angle you can see as many as possible.
We all gravitate towards one large table in the middle, which shines ocean blue and reminds me of the sea. We look around, at each other, but mostly at the room.
"Hi, everyone," Maggie chimes brightly.
"Hi," we all reply in a messy unison.
"So my name is Simran. What are yours?" I carry this next part of the conversation.
They all share their names. There are twenty of us. Nora, Delores, Labonita, Brigely, Zeinab, Zindagee, Lumina, Lavinia, Cara, Avalon, Nocta, Bik, Aisha, Ashlee, Chin, Valentina, Ishani, and Clara. And Maggie and I of course.
Our food arrives, carried by elegant, curved robots that move fluidly, on china plates that are ringed with patterns. We all dig in happily. Hungrily. I am so so very hungry.
The flavours dance across my tongue. They are bright and beautiful and delicious. Sweet and savoury and spicy and wonderful. Every single flicker of flavour perfectly balanced with the flavours all around it. The ingredients and herbs and spices all arranged together with precision and grace. The textures of the food, too, are dancing and wonderful. Soft and smooth or crisp and crunchy.
I don't even talk. None of us do. We all just enjoy the delicious food in front of us.
Everything is perfect. Everything is happy. I'm here enjoying food that I love. Just as I should be. This must be what love is.
After the first course of breakfast is over, the robots wheel in two more courses. We eat until we are filled to the brim. Until our stomachs are stretched. Until we cannot eat anymore. And then we eat a little bit more.
I feel a little bit sick, and I wonder, briefly, if everything is fine. That thought gets pushed away from me. Of course everything is fine. How could it not be? If I am feeling sick they only means that I am filled. That I am sated. That I have abundance.
Bright abundance. Grand abundance. This is what life is meant for. This abundance.
A lady in a shimmering silver dress with long flowing sleeves and striped silver and blue pants walks up to the front of the room. Her hair is dyed dark blue and has many little pins of shining silver, like stars. Her eyes are also dark blue and on her neck is a necklace of sapphires, wide and thick. Her skin is a dark ebony.
"Hello, girls," she sing-songs.
"Hello," we chime back.
"My name is Lydia. I will be your daytime guide for these three months. Welcome to the Young Lightning Youth Rehabilitation Centre, girls wing. You will be here for three months, and undergo a precisely planned regiment of tests and and activities, designed to make you feel better. Your minds and emotions will be fixed. And you will become cheerful, law-abiding, contributing members of society.
"There is a team of doctors and nurses here, and each of you will see your specially-assigned doctor once a day. They will give you a range of tests and ask you questions, in order to see how your recovery is going along. Do you have any questions?"
One girl, I think her name is Labonita, raises her hand.
"What if we are not recovering properly?"
"If there are any obstacles in the face of your recovery, you will be held here for longer as more medical procedures are done onto you."
Another girl raises her hand. I think she is Chin.
"Is it nice here?"
"This facility is designed to make you into good, healthy citizens. I'm sure you'll find that it's a very pleasant facility and that all the activities are very engaging."
Another girl raises her hand. She is probably named Clara.
"What will we do today?"
"After breakfast, we are going to get ready to go shopping. We will have lunch at the mall and will continue shopping until dinner. I want you all to pick out anything that would make your stay here feel more like home. Do not worry about money, the rehabilitation centre's expenses are all taken care of by the government. Any more questions?"
There aren't any.
We all go back to our rooms, and find that they are equipped with large walk-in closets. The closets are half filled with clothes so we have a selection to pick from. Maggie wears a bright orange taffeta shirt with blooming three-dimensional flowers of darker shades of orange, and a shimmering blue jacket that dips low, with flowing sleeves. She picks skinny jeans threaded through with shimmery blue thread and dark blue ballet flats. Everything is in her size.
Maggie and I decide to be matching so I wear the same outfit as her except my shirt is green as my jacket is purple. We look at each other and we smile. We look like mirror images of each other. Now everyone will know of our friendship.
We do our makeup in front of the large mirror in the closet, finding many makeup supplies on the shelves. And we brush oil blends into each other's hair and elaborately braid it. We look at ourselves and each other. We are the picture of beauty.
I love being beautiful.
Before we set out, Lydia gives us tracker bracelets, which she clamps around our wrists. The bracelets are lightweight. They're pretty. Carved silver that glows softly in the light. Floral patterns swirling through their surfaces. I like the tracker bracelets. I'm so glad we have them.
We all make our way down the grand spiral staircase and towards the cars lined up outside. And we stand on the platforms as they rise up and we get into the cushioned interiors of the cars.
Maggie, me, Zeinab, and Avalon are in the same car. We throw open the roof so we can see the city outside. The wind blows through our hair as we are seated around the central table, the wind messing up our hairstyles just slightly, the car swaying us softly.
I look at Zeinab and for a moment I see something unfathomably dark in her eyes. Something unendingly deep. Something inconceivably sad. But it's ...
But it's gone, just as soon as it appears, and I go back to listening to the lilting music.
We arrive at the mall and it's beautiful. Spacious and well-lit and full of things to look at and smell. Music is in the air in each of the shops. Smiling sales robots, almost realistic as people, greet us happily, their faces plastered over in smiles.
We all disperse into the different shops of the mall. Each shop is designed differently. Each shop is designed beautifully. It's a pleasure to wander around looking at all the different things. It's a pleasure to talk to the sales robots. They are so attentive.
I feel like there is a stone in my chest.
No, never mind.
I feel like I am walking through a magical wonderland, with something to marvel at everywhere I turn. I could get lost in this. I could get lost in this forever. I am lost in this. I am lost in this for what feels like forever.
I go to the bag store. And I look around all the different merchandise. I finally buy a purse made of thick, slightly shimmery material. It looks small but it can fit many, many things. It's designed to be light. And it has beautiful colourful hummingbirds on the side, slightly three-dimensional, against the fluffy clouds of a blue sky. I also buy a heavy-duty backpack, that is embroidered with all sorts of little doodles and designs. The backpack carries two-thirds of it's own weight, making any load light. It is made of a soft plastic that feels almost like silk.
I go to the shoe store and buy three different pairs of shoes. The sales robots adjust them so they fit around the shape of my feet perfectly. They are so elegant and comfortable. One pair is an emerald green covered in glass with swirling green translucent patterns. One pair is dark blue with shimmery fireworks all over it, three-dimensional and colourful. One pair is a coral colour, and coral is my favourite, with layers and layers of intricate designs etched onto it. I also buy a new bike helmet. It can withstand six thousand kilonewtons of force. That's so impressive
I go to the sports equipment store and look around at all the marvellous things there are. I eventually but a self-driving skateboard as well as the kit to decorate the skateboard. I also buy light, strong fishing rods for if I ever need to go fishing. Honestly, I know I don't need these. But they were so interesting. So immensely interesting that I just had to have them.
After that my tracker beeps and tells me that it's time for lunch. So I make my way to the food court, which has large, sloping ceilings and clear mirrors everywhere and tables made of marble. There are strings of light woven into intricate patterns, arcing around the ceiling. And there are statues made of rose gold rising from the floors. There are little fountains everywhere.
The food is heavenly. It's fast food. Not very healthy. But fast food always tastes so flavourful and so good. It really adds to the feeling of being at the mall. It's strange how being at the mall has its own feeling to it. It almost feels like nothing else. Like no other experience. And eating at the mall feels like no other experience either.
I go to the clothing store and try on outfit after outfit after outfit. I don't quite like any of them though, even though all of them are beautiful. But I remember all the empty closet space I have back at the facility. I have to fill that space. I wonder if I should buy anything. I decide not to. It's better to have clothes you like than clothes you don't like.
I go to a store that is selling cool rocks. I love cool rocks. I buy a bunch of magnetic rocks and I buy little pieces of granite and marble and jade. I buy amethyst. I buy dark, glossy, polished rocks. I buy amber. I buy quartz. I buy nephrite. I buy a whole shopping bag just filled with rocks.
I go to another store and buy jars for all my rocks. Hard and made of the clearest glass, so that I can see my rocks perfectly.
I go to a toy store and buy an armful of board games, made with the latest board game technology. The technology of the games makes it impossible to cheat and also carefully arranges everything so that each player has an equal chance of winning. I know I'll love playing these with my friends. I also buy a maze game that is so beautiful. I'll have fun in this constantly-changing maze.
I go to an immersive game store and buy a few story-oriented immersive games. These are expensive so I don't buy too many. But still, they're so fun. They put you inside a whole new world filled with exciting new adventures.
A sales robot walks up to me. It shows me a world full of makeup. And it amazes me. I buy void-black eyeliner and rose-platinum eyeshadow and I buy bronzer and coral lipstick. I buy nail polish of five different blends. Each of them are multicoloured. I love multicoloured nail polish. I buy sleek and glossy lipgloss. And fake eyelashes that are so easy to put on. I buy rose-cream blush.
I go to the travel store and buy a hover board. I'll need to get around the facility fast. I buy another one, so I can have it just in case my first one breaks or gets lost. Or maybe I just buy it for the thrill of it.
Finally I go to the bookstore. I love books. I buy bags and bags of holographic books. More books than I will ever have the time to read. Still, even if most of them just sit up on my shelf, I'll have a big selection to pick from.
On the car ride home we are all tired. The car is filled with our bags of stuff. I think of all the stuff I bought on my way back from the mall. It was such a fun day.
I look up at the sky and for a moment I see something in the blackness. Something as if ... something as if it's trying to tell me something. For a moment I cannot breathe. I feel trapped. I feel suffocated.
I look around, desperately trying to find an escape. I see the shining bags scattered all around me. And the feeling goes away. All that's left is an all-pervading sense of calm.
Dinner is lovely. Delicious. And after dinner we all sit around the cafeteria, showing each other what we bought.
Today was a perfect day.
I drift away in peace.
My dreams are uneasy. I feel as if I am in the hot, wet maw of a great beast. I feel as if I am being swallowed by it. Surrounded on all sides. Sinking farther and farther. Deeper and deeper. I can't breathe. I can barely struggle against the thick, hot, strong walls around me. They squeeze me, push against me. I can't escape.
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