The barracks washhouse is quiet now they’ve gone. Bone-weary and bruised, Experiment 125 takes off her stained utility-suit and sets it down beside the cleansing machine. This new model offers a range of programs: Medium-deep, Purify and Freshen-up.
So far, 125’s run Freshen-up as instructed but tonight she’s using Start Over, the program she discovered on Shtum Browse in a moment of illicit communion with her zone of irreconcilable discomfort.
She fills the dispenser with powdered Eco-soul-clean, opens the front-loading door and, clutching her Instruct-o-file, climbs in. She presses a button; the door clicks shut. Once settled, 125 syncs Instruct-o-file with Shtum Browse and activates Start Over.
‘You can do this. Life can be good. What would you do if you knew you could not fail?’ Soft music cradles the words that weave their way around her. A blind descends, blocking out the wider world, creating a hemisphere of twinkling stars, a satin universe that heals her tattered spirit as suturing-light repairs a ragged wound.
Flicking a switch, 125 releases the Eco-soul-clean. The sparkling powder ignites and a fiery whiteness envelops her, stripping the day’s dirt and disappointment from her body, drawing it from her mind.
White light turns to hazy red. The music morphs into the lubble-dubble of an occupied womb sustained by the rhythmic beating of a mother’s heart.
‘Almost done,’ whispers Instruct-o-file, as the programmed environment recedes.
125 climbs out of the machine and puts on a fresh utility-suit. She memorises her Shtum Browse map then secretes Instruct-o-file beneath the washhouse floor.
‘Process complete,’ says the hidden device, a moving red light flashing on its screen as 125 slips away from the building, eludes the night-scanners and passes into the darkness beyond the compound gates.