Sleep made Liam more tired than anything he did while he was awake. He was never more exhausted than the moment he woke up. Though he was nearly too tired to move when the facility alarm shrilly echoed through the halls and bunkrooms, something was different about today. He was, for once, aware of how tired he was. Usually it was just a torturous discomfort that was too perpetual to even realize. He habituated to it. But today, it was as though his fatigue lessened just enough that he could feel it, weighing his body down, his eyes dripping wet from the near-constant yawning.
Breakfast time. The hardest part of the day. Liam shuffled behind the rows of other “sleepers” that were being herded along the facility catwalk by research supervisors who wore soft blue-gray uniforms so as to keep the subjects feeling tranquil. Scratch scratch scratch went the slippers as they dragged lazily step to step, carrying their wearers slowly, placidly forward. Everyone was yawning. Subjects of all ages emerged from their bunkrooms, roused either by the facility alarm or the research supervisors, who occasionally had to drag men and women out of their beds and place them on their feet. More than once Liam saw a supervisor hauling a half-sleeping test subject in a fireman’s carry in order to bring them to the breakfast table.
Down the stairs. Hardwood floors. Liam’s fuzzy slippers, right, left, right, left. He let one eye close, to let it rest, while he kept the other open. Then he switched them. A trick he learned years ago, before he came to the facility. Rest and alert at the same time. Most of the others hung their heads, too tired to lift them, and their eyes drooped half-shut. How they managed to keep on their feet long enough to make it all the way to the cafeteria, Liam never knew. He never wondered about it before. Today was different.
He had a dream last night. The first dream he’d had in … he couldn’t remember when. Months. Years. He lost track of the days. But last night, he dreamed of a man in a lab coat so bright it hurt his eyes to look at it. A surgical mask covered the man’s face, and he carried a needle, and pressed his latex-gloved hand to Liam’s ear, pushing him to the pillow. His neck tickled. Then he remembered nothing, until the alarm chirped him into consciousness.
“…nurses tell me you’re taking too long,” said someone nearby. Liam realized he was nearly at the cafeteria, still herded along with the zombie-like test subjects that shuffled and moaned and yawned and yawned.
“I’m still getting the hang of—” said a different voice.
“I know you’re new, but the process requires a very strict timetable. The schedule must be maintained, or we lose hundreds of dollars worth of juice. That’s just from missing one minute per patient. More than one minute, we’re looking at thousands of dollars of lost revenue. Our shipments cannot be short.”
Liam caught sight of who was speaking. Two researchers, one with hair so white it matched his coat, and the other, a young woman with flushed cheeks. Liam never paid attention to researchers before, but the woman caught him staring. She quickly looked away, then back to the older researcher.
“Should we be talking about this elsewhere?” she said in a hushed tone that Liam nonetheless heard. “The subjects—”
“Oh, the subjects aren’t listening,” replied the man so loudly as to illustrate his point. “You’ll learn that—that they are hardly able to think, let alone listen. Anyhow, don’t change the topic. You took too long to perform the procedure. You started late. That’s wasted energy, you understand? Wasted on them. They can’t do their job if you can’t do yours.”
That was all Liam heard before the researchers got out of earshot. He could still make out the booming tone of the older man, but no specific words, and the woman’s voice was far too soft to make out through the nearby yawning. Normally, he would ignore them, and find a seat. He barely remembered what curiosity felt like—until today.
Today, he followed.
Day 213’s three random prompt categories were, “Professional sleeper,” “Lab coat,” and, “Running late.”
Gonna have to be a part 2 for this one.