Cold from the metal table he was strapped to shivered down his back. The only part of him that was not anchored to the table was the limb the doctors were currently removing. He felt the scalpel bite into his shoulder. His tear ducts leaked and his jaw flexed as his teeth ground together. The arm had bonded too long ago so it was excruciating to remove. Bones. He hated when the bones were separated. The feel of air on a joint. That part was coming. Soon. Too soon. Unfortunately, once a limb was bonded to a host it soon begins to rot. Provided you didn't excessively injure the limb a transplant could last six months. Give or take. He craned his neck to see the man beside him. The leather strap round his forehead only allowed him to see the man from the corner of his eye. He could see the tubes and drains and drips and bright red blood as the surgeons removed the other man's right arm. He could see the golden hair of the other man's eyebrows through the paste coloured tape that held his hollow eyes shut. The other man, the harvest, was blissfully unconscious. A complex concoction of soul dampening anaesthetic and painkillers flooded the harvest's system.
"Stay still 32 we're going to attach the new limb now."
32 saw his old teal coloured right arm slung onto a separate metal table in the corner of the theatre. 32 knew the ex- limb was headed for the incinerator. All used limbs were burned. 32 clamped his teeth together with a force that made his jaw ache. He prepared for the blue flamed fire of pain that was the attachment of a new limb. No void of unconsciousness for 32. Medicines had no effect on the jigsaw bodies of the un-dead. So 32 could only grind his worn down teeth and bear it. As the doctors pressed the fresh arm to 32's shoulder he felt the human's technicolour blood mingling with the black sludge of his own. What number was this right arm? 32 thought as he tried desperately to distract himself from the pull of the needle and shimmering dark thread suturing the new arm to his shoulder. Twelve? Fourteen? 32 had lost count. There was a bloom inside of him, something like thankfulness, that it was only limbs that needed to be replaced. His head and torso were always his own even after the disease struck. Something to do with his brain and heart. The pull of the needle was on the underside of his arm now and the glass-like sting made 32's vision sink and swim. 32 pulled his eyes towards the harvest again. Anything to distract from the stab and pull. The human still had his left arm but the full left leg and just above right knee had been harvested. The nub of the human's right thigh was flushed pink with fresh healing. 32's face spilt into a lopsided grin with the knowledge that his new arm would be that delicious shade of pink for a few agonisingly short weeks. That was part of the reason 32 waited til the brink for a transplant. If he had joined the wait list a few months ago he would have only needed a new wrist and hand; half a forearm at the most. Half of a new arm would have bled life into the aging bicep. Extending its shelf life. But, no. 32 waited until the gangrene snaked up his arm and singed his shoulder. If he had hidden and waited much longer the teal surge could have taken his lungs. If it reached his heart or head he would have fallen into the depths. Become the grim monster he resembled. All obsidian stitches, teeth and need. And if that happened the high-ups would lose another solider. And the conference room collective couldn't afford that. The pain of attachment had dulled now: the surgeons had finished stitching. 32 shot one more look at the harvest as the doctors wheeled the human to the recovery cells. He only had one arm and a thigh left to give. Then he would be disposed of. Limbless was useless to the cause. 32 glanced down at the fresh arm and seriously considered tearing the right arm from all his issued black turtlenecks just to parade its newness. He heard the gentle hum of the tattoo gun. 32 readied himself for the pleasurable buzz of his number on his pink bicep. Compared to the agony of removal and attachment the tattoo gun was bliss. While the etcher got to work one of the surgeons tightened the strap round his head as his fingertips wormed into 32's mouth and prodded his gums. The surgeons white moustache and grey eyes twitched at the corners simultaneously.
"Your mouth has just enough pink for you to continue. If you'd waited one more week you would have fallen."
The surgeon leaned closer and 32 was swamped with the rank swirling stench of rotting blueberries.
"That fresh arm of yours could have serviced three separate units. You will be under tighter security from now on. If it were up to me I would transfer you to the labs and use you as a new rat. But, you are one of our best trackers and our harvests are dipping to dangerous levels."
The surgeon moved back and the stench went with him. 32 thought the doctor must have been one of the first infected. The sweet fruit rot only settled in after decades of disease. Now that the tattoo was completed his restraints were being removed. His chest tightened and he smiled inwardly at the feeling of bright red blood mixing with the tattooist’s balm. As he sat upright heard the staccato pop of his spine. Like trampled bubble wrap. 32 swung his legs off the steel table. The surgeon's eyes bored into him again.
"You will be back in three months to replace the left foot."
32 nodded and headed towards the surgery door where he knew his minders would be waiting. He relished the feel of his whole arm. If he ever wanted a fresh intact limb again 32 knew what he needed to find.
Meters up, surrounded by mirrored glass and steel, sat a patchwork of people. Their tailored suits were a sharp contrast to their greying skin and the putrid smell of berries filled the conference room. Most stared at the presentation numbly. The shifting colours of the screen playing likewise on their pallid complexions. You would think that this level of chaos wouldn't require PowerPoint slide shows--you would be wrong.
'So, what you're saying is- you have not located the colony.'
The presenter's jaw dropped and closed as he pondered the most pacifying answer, 'We have narrowed down the location and with our best trackers functioning at full capacity once again it is only a matter of weeks before Eden is known to us.'
'You are cutting a fine timeline; we need to begin extending the captive breeding program in eight weeks at the most. Our supplies are running low.' The speaker turned to another, 'Doctor, have we perfected the growth stimulants for the hosts...'
Kyanne excused herself; she needed to tend to her leg and rest. She would return for the meetings in the morning. As she limped down the hall to her cubicle the joints in her leg screeched and she grunted in turn. Kyanne turned on the light and lurched straight for the metal workbench where she kept her oils. She swung her leg onto the bench with a clank and set to work oiling the hinges. The metal leg was a failed experiment, one of many, done on willing participants before the infected discovered that live limbs were needed to stem the progression of Disease Z. Further months before the horror that the limbs needed to be replaced truly set in. Once her leg was oiled Kyanne flopped into the battered recliner she used for rest. She didn't need to sleep as such, none of the infected did, but she did need to settle for a few hours here and there.
She stared out of the high rise windows and started playing the insanity playbook of the situation again and again. Ten years since the dead had risen. It was only freshly dead (if there can be such a thing) who rose. Anyone who had been deceased for longer than three months stayed right where they were. Those that rose looked like every horror movie ever made. Strong, relentless, rotting and hungry. Hundreds were bitten before the armed forces were mobilized and shots to the head were dispensed. The sickness that followed baffled doctors and scientists alike. The infected turned violent within hours of contact and were biting those nearest and dearest before a jerking painful death. Kyanne remembered the foaming, seizures and blackness all too well. Mass graves were dug to accommodate the thousands dead. The pits were to be filled with concrete to stop the infected rising like the firsts. However 72 hours after 'death' those who were infected: woke. In a very different state to the original lumbering starving corpses. They were, are, sentient and essentially wholly themselves. But, the disease had not left the re-animated. It creeps from the extremities and if it reaches the brain the reanimated become like the firsts and are destroyed. So, experiments were done on willing volunteers to stem the diseases rise to the brain. The horrible truth was discovered in mere weeks. Artificial extremities were permanent as Disease Z fused the joints to the metal and they only caused constant agony. Live limbs from a live donor. It was the only way. So the warring began. Enough of the clean were detained to begin a captive breeding program. Those that were captured who could be useful, mostly doctors and defense personal, were deliberately infected. We had to be sure they would work with us to survive. The doctors have made leaps and bounds with the accelerated growth hormones which allow the harvests to be of use sooner. But we need to expand the gene pool. We are constructing larger containment areas for when Eden is found and its population is relocated. Of the stock we currently have the males are being used at an alarming rate. To replenish the limbs of the army. No one wants to fall to the blackness. Theologians have assured us that the harvests do not short out like faulty electronics. They go to another place, filled to bursting with warm light. This was confirmed in experiments where doctors extinguished and revived harvests to see where they went. The reports are all the same. Warm sunshine. Unlike the infected where there is only absence. Blackness. It is worse than nothing and was experienced by all in the 72 hour transitional stage. No one wanted to go there again. No one.
For the infected to survive--Eden must be found.
Kyanne stirred from her thought filled rest feeling stiff and in no way rested. Her eyes were drawn to her green tinged hand. She needed to fill in a form to request replacement. So much paperwork to insure those who most needed new limbs got theirs first. It was not a smooth process and riots were frequent when people thought they were not being serviced quickly enough. Some had fallen to the blackness whist on the waiting list which proved their point and fear in the diseased populous rose. Kyanne stepped closer to the window that was welded shut like so many high rises. On the pockmarked bitumen below rioters were ever present; demanding updates and action. They were consistent in their demands. More harvests. Now. It was Kyanne's role to reassure. Reassure that the army is mobilizing. Reassure that Eden will soon be located. Reassure that the medical breakthroughs will benefit all. She must be the calm voice as the people surge.
Fear can make people do many things.
'I heard they make the big boys lift heavy things so their arms get strong muscles...'
'I heard they don't let you sleep ‘cause they don't need too....'
'I heard they smell like rotten sprouts...'
One of the bigger kids chimed in now
'I heard they rip your arms and legs off while you're awake!'
Some of the young ones lips trembled at that last one
I didn't want to play 'I heard' with the others. I'm thirteen and old enough to move to the adult quarters within the camp. It's my last night with the kids and I have other things to worry about instead of telling stupid stories: I'm an adult by camp standards and I'll join the army tomorrow. And I need new batteries for my Discman. You were allowed to bring one box of stuff to camp. I guess you were only allowed one box ‘cause the leaders didn't want the camp stacked full of personal crap from peoples old lives. Once you get to the camp your box is sorted and the goods are given to people who need your stuff more than you do. Dad snatched the Discman out of his box before the rummagers saw it. Said he wanted something to give to me from his teen years when I got to be a teenager. At least he said he said that to me. I was three when we came to Eden and don't remember much of anything. Plus, teenager is an old word you’re either a kid or an adult here. I'm an adult. It's pretty cool ‘cause I'll get more food and a big gun that's mine. The bad thing about being an adult is that everyone watches you more. You're more important ‘cause you protect the camp. So seeing as I'm in the kid’s quarters for one more night (away from the cameras) it's my last chance to steal batteries from the supply shacks. No one notices when I leave the room. They're all still trying to spook each other. I don't know why they bother. We are all told when we start training at three that there are sick people who want to grab us and kill us. Or worse. We are all taught how to fight and shoot and stab so that we can defend the camp when we get big. It's freezing outside as I creep in the buildings shadows to the supply shack. I know I can never just ask for new batteries. I'm not even supposed to have a Discman. We're not supposed to have anything ‘cept a gun and knife when we join the army. But I don't care. My dad gave this Discman to me. I only have a few CDs. CDs are these round discs with one shiny colourful side and one plain side. You put the colourful side down in the Discman, put the earphones in your ears, close the top, press play, and music comes out. But the batteries run out after a while. I'm going to have to stuff a couple packets in my pockets, but not too many. Don't want anyone to notice. Sticking to the shadows I sneak past the main tent where most of the adults are having a defense meeting. I'll have to go to those after tomorrow. Every night. Crap some rovers are coming. I duck back further into the folds of the tent and stay perfectly still. I slow my breathing to the barest rasp. I was always best at this in training. Staying still. Becoming invisible. The rovers pass with the clank of metal and clomp of boots. As I continue past the main tent I hear a weird question:
'Estimated approach and advance time of Z?'
It's weird ‘cause the diseased are nowhere near Eden. The Rovers would have seen them. Suddenly all their beepers go off and they all start rushing. They probably want to go check the progress of the new catapults the gate guards have been practicing with for the last hour. Before I snuck out to get the batteries a solider came to relocate us to one of the underground bunkers and then they started using the catapults. I wasn't surprised to have our rooms shuffled and neither were the other kids. We get shuffled around all the time. Not to the underground bunkers. But still, we just go where the adults move us.
Kids. I need to stop roping myself in with them. Soldiers quarters soon which means adult me. Soldiers are rushing everywhere now. I don't have to hide. Everyone is too busy darting around to remember where I should be. Prob doing a drill. The leaders always make soldiers do random drills. And you had to pretend it was real. Perfect. I can just waltz in and get the batteries with everyone so busy playing pretend. I saunter to the supply shed, pick the lock, and remove the chains without my usual nervous backward glances I usually do when taking batteries. As I step into the shed and lock the door behind me I hear a deep throated scream from a nearby tent. Its sound is muffled by the steel of the shed and the hundreds of boxes that line the walls. Screams? The soldiers are REALLY taking this drill seriously. I walk with practiced steps to the sections the batteries are in. I fumble around to find the Double A’s. This Discman only takes Double As. Ah Ha! Success. Three packets of Double As. I rip one of the packets open and slip two of the batteries into the Discman. My smile is so big I can feel the dank air of shed hit the gappy gum that I got in a close quarters training incident. I'll just pop a CD in to make sure I have the batteries in right. I ram the ear buds into my ears and hear the soft tinkling of a piano. At least my Dad always told me it was a piano. I've never seen one played in person. Through the plunking I hear gunshots. I rush to press stop. Gunshots. Voices I don't recognize. Panicked: screaming. I feel my stomach flip and my head pound. I start to pant in the dark damp shed. Then I catch myself and stop. The soldier’s aren’t doing a drill. They lied. I can feel the colour leeching from my face and my flipping stomach feels like a boulder has been dropped in it. That's why they moved us to the bunker. They have finally found us. I go to stand but my legs shake and won't hold me up. I curse my coward legs. I need to go help. But then I hear a small voice in the very back of my head, it sounds like Dad's: Maybe you should just crouch down behind those boxes. Curl up as small as you can. Then they won't find you. You know what will happen to you, or at least bits of you, if they catch you. And if the soldier’s lied to you about what's going down imagine what they didn't tell you about what happens when they get a hold of you. My smile is well and truly busted now. I should go and help. I should fight. I should claw and rip and stab and shoot. But Dad is pleading with me to sit down. His voice is more soothing than I remember. I thought I'd forgotten the way he sounded. I hadn't heard him in so long. It feels like he is sitting next to me as I fold up behind the tallest boxes. I can almost feel his arms around me and smell his chest. More gunshots. I think I can smell blood, shouts, screams, screams, screams. How ‘bout you put your earphones in and press play buddy? Sure. Ok. I sob as I put the earphones in. Now is not the time for crying. As I draw my knees closer to my chest the piano starts up again. The woman sings like she's felt nothing and everything before. ‘Who do you think you are? Runnin’ ‘round leaving scars’ I can still hear thuds and scrambling feet so I use my clammy fingers to turn up the volume ‘collecting your jar of hearts and tearing love apart’ Screams. My throat hurts ‘You're gonna catch a cold from the ice inside your soul… Don't come back for me. Don't....’
Reference: The song lyrics are by Christina Perri. Song title: ‘Jar of Hearts’. Album: Lovestrong. Sourced from: http://www.songlyrics.com/christina-perri/jar-of-hearts-lyrics/ Last viewed: 9/6/2011