I was so lucky to have a job. It gave me a reason to be. While it was menial in nature, and its long hours of manual labour had already begun to wear me down so early into my working life, it was my reason to wake up in the morning. So as I lay in a hospital bed, my right leg having been amputated above the knee, my world began to implode.
Through the dense fog of painkillers, I was dimly aware of songbirds chirping outside my window.
They had a simple life; they searched for food, they searched for a mate, and they fed their young. They were rarely in view - always hiding away in bushes and little alcoves - but you could almost always hear the songs they played as they went about their business. The clear, shrill notes were glass-like; they sounded as if they’d shatter if I reached out and tried to touch them.
I was in a hospital on the edge of the Schiaparelli Basin. Songbirds had been one of the multitude of common species of flora and fauna that were imported here from Earth. From the first floor of this gargantuan building I could only see some of the surrounding trees, but the sound of the streets carried on the dry, Martian wind.
The myriad variety of common songbirds hadn’t all adapted to the Martian climate as well as humans had. Or rather, while humans had been able to artificially evolve through their use of technology, the biological evolution of the songbirds would take many millennia to catch up. You’d often find little songbirds dead on your windowsills, the environment having finally overcome them. You could collect these and sell them to street vendors who’d make them into some amazing tastes with their secret cheffing techniques.
Apparently though, their small, singing replacements were grown in labs.
The thinking behind this theory was that the sound of songbirds gave a sense of normalcy and utopian bliss, so they needed to be replaced at least as fast as they died. The morale of the general populace was hard enough to ascertain as it was; with the abundant resources that were available, the governing bodies were trying anything that could help keep spirits up.
It would have been hard for the little birds to naturally replenish their population, therefore they must’ve be grown in labs. That was the theory, and it wasn’t such a stretch. Had I the money, I could have paid for a brand new flesh-and-blood leg to be grown for me in just such a laboratory, so how could a little songbird be much more difficult?
Did they grow people in those same labs? I hesitated to vocalise such a question in case anybody answered it.
As it was, I was going to have to settle for a shitty, second-hand piece of junk to replace what had been a perfectly good right leg.
I turned back towards the sterile walls of my hospital bedroom and began to wonder how long it would be before I could escape this prison. In an attempt to stifle my boredom, I checked my lottery numbers. Buying it was one of the first things I did upon regaining consciousness in this white room. It was a tradition of mine to buy a lottery ticket whenever something unlucky happened to me. I’d done this since I was a young girl, after a friend had introduced me to the concept of karma. Since then I’d tried to claim monetary compensation for all my worldly woes. Light flickered across my retinas as I brought up the lottery interface on my HUD lenses. I was greeted by a big flashing sign that I’d never seen before.
YOU HAVE WON 1 BILLION CREDITS! it exclaimed.
My heart sunk into my stomach. I refreshed the page in a panic as my heart rate hit the ceiling, and almost fainted when I saw the page didn’t change at all.
I could buy new legs, I could buy an entire asteroid with that money. Thoughts rushed through my mind at breakneck speed as I tried to comprehend my situation.
Out of nowhere, a wave of pain racked my body. My muscles stiffened, my breathing became sharp, and my eyes rolled back into my head. After what seemed like hours of this torturous pain I saw a nurse out of the corner of my eye.
She had appeared seemingly out of nowhere with the form of an angel. Her blonde hair was fastened tightly with snaking braids, and she moved like a ballet dancer. Her expression was soft and caring, and a gentle smile gracefully curled the corners of her mouth. Her blue eyes reminded me of the azure sky that hung silently outside the window. They were crystal clear, and while they seemed devoid of any pity, there was certainly no malice in them.
“Layla,” she said, “I’m going to give you something to help with the pain. Don’t worry.”
Tears rushed down my cheeks and through clenched teeth I tried to thank her. After pressing a button on a monitor, she turned back to me with that gentle smile. The last thing I saw was my right hand reaching out to those gemstone eyes as a chemical darkness enshrouded my mind.
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