It took Daniel a full two minutes to realise that he hadn’t woken up in his own bedroom.
For one thing, it was bright; something his basement bedsit had never been guilty of.
For another, he was comfortably cocooned in crisp, sun-perfumed sheets, with no hint of lurking mould and without recalcitrant bedsprings digging into the tender bits of his angular body.
Keeping his eyes shut, he gave himself over to the luxuriously unaccustomed feeling of having slept particularly well.
“Good morning, Daniel Smith.” He froze. “Please do not be alarmed, you are safe and well,” the pleasant, cheerful voice continued.
His eyes shot open, to an immaculate, empty room. “Our monitors confirm that your conversion was successful and that your condition is satisfactory. The door on your left leads to an ablution facility and the cupboards on your right contain your wardrobe. Please avail yourself of both. Dravid will collect you when you are dressed.”
In the silence that ensued, Daniel’s brain flickered fitfully through his memory. He replayed the last few seconds, in stunned incomprehension.
Wait! What conversion?! What had they done to him?!
He scrambled to the ablution cubicle, and slid to a panicked halt in front of the merciless mirror.
Once, in happier times, he had sat drinking coffee at a pavement cafe. He had amused himself by watching the passers-by, imagining what business they could have been pursuing as they bustled past. His attention had been drawn to the up-market men’s clothing store across the road, where a young, blonde woman was wrestling a mannequin out of his must-have apparel. For a few minutes, he had stood naked, as the rest of his display-mates were similarly disrobed. He was the perfect representation of the male form in all but the most manly of ways. He remembered how he had eyed the broad shoulders, narrow hips and long lean flanks with somewhat jaundiced resentment.
He stood, appalled, as he took at the reflection in the mirror. Not believing what he saw, he ran his hands over his too-perfectly-moulded, nipple-less chest. His fingers explored the supple but firmly textured material of the shiny black surface, and his chest felt the brush of cool smooth fingers. His face was a shocking, blank place-holder: he had no eyes, no ears, no nostrils, his mouth was a bare suggestion.
How long he stood there in his horrified thrall, he did not know. This was a right royal stuff up, in fact, he could not imagine a single situation in his unspectacular life that would out-rank this in the class of highly-likely-to-be-regretted-for-a-very-long-time incidents.
Slowly, his senses shifted their attention from his outraged sight. “Oh, gods!” his groan echoed in the emptiness of the room, having burst, involuntarily from unmoving lips.
He could smell water, soap and cleaning agents, and the lingering scent of the person who had last been in the room. The tiles beneath his feet felt smoothly synthetic, and under his finger tips, the porcelain of the washbasin had not been evenly glazed. As he considered his impossible reflection, he noticed that the glass was dusted with tiny bubbles.
Still in shock, and not being capable of deciding what else to do, Daniel obediently turned to the shower stall, and turned on the taps. As he stood under the prickling jets of hot water, he heard the water rushing through the pipes in the wall. He soaped, rinsed and dried off with the white fluffy towel, which had been hung just within his reach.
As he returned to the bedroom, he marvelled at how much this body felt like it was his. If he had to be honest (and for all his many flaws he had to give himself credit for being painfully honest with himself) it felt better than he had ever felt in his own body. There were no false steps, no misjudgements of distance. And more disconcertingly, there were no uninhabited spaces. He was conscious of every single part of himself, the whole time.
The wardrobe was filled with a large number of loose, hip-length tunics and drawstring pants, all in subtle pastel colours. He selected a matched pair of sedate grey, which fitted his new body perfectly. He sat on the rumpled bed, to buckle his feet in strange looking sandals.
There was a knock on the door, and after a short pause, it slid open. Dravid smiled, encouragingly, “Hello, Daniel!”
Stepping in through the doorway, he reached to Daniel and offered him his hand. “I’ve come to take you to your session with the Orientation Team. They will be able to answer all of your questions. I am able to reassure you that everything is operating within design parameters and that you are going to do just fine.”
“What are you going to do to me?” Daniel’s voice resounded throughout his whole body.
“Ah!” here Dravid’s alien face lit up with delight. “Nothing sinister, dear boy! You have nothing but the best forecast for a long and satisfying existence,”
Paradoxically, Dravid’s pleased expression filled Daniel with the deepest dread. He was keenly aware of the echo of Mum’s words in his once-eight-year-old head. “In this world, Daniel, there are winners and losers. You, my boy, are not a winner.”
Dravid led him through a maze of white, bright corridors. They met no one else, and passed no windows. Daniel flexed his senses, “We are underground.”
“Indeed we are! Under the sands of the Great Gavn’d Desert.”
The air, he decided, after struggling to identify the strange collection of smells it bore, had been recycled.
“We are not on Argle.” He dredged the name up from his ill-fated interview with Zith.
“Welcome to Bancoon, Daniel. Argle’s third moon and the Centre of Scientific Development for the entire Populated Multiverse.”
CopyRight Kim Magennis 2015