While you were sleeping

In which we step, momentarily, into another world

The sphere market is a strange place (though perhaps not as strange as its purveyor).

Tiered shelves are ranked against the walls, blocked from wandering fingers by a coarse weave wire mesh.

The spheres on those shelves hum softly to one another, together creating the prickling feeling that I am entering a hive.

I nod to the slumped figure in the far corner, he/she is so immobile that my eyes had slid over them before realising what they had seen. The figure grunts, still without moving.

I return my gaze to the spheres. They are marvellous feats of engineering. Around a century ago, two enterprising researchers discovered that they could link small engines to individual humans, harnessing energy while they slept. These generators could be linked into systems and used as a reliable and strong power source – if you could afford one. Even the cheapest (those that were twinned with the arguably-humans that require only four hours sleep a night) cost more than half a year’s earnings.

On a rickety, splintered wooden tray next to the purveyor are the broken spheres and the unpredictable. One has rolled into the corner and repeatedly flashes on and then off – narcolepsy perhaps, or a new parent. Another seems to be humming happily enough, but the stallholder jerks and mutters ‘sinus issues’, I nod, it’s not likely to have a reliable burn time.

The most precious spheres are kept in a smeared glass case in the centre of the room – the pride and glory. They glow in harmony, guaranteed to provide at least ten productive hours a night, and often last much longer than that. The humans they link to suffer from constant fatigue, some due to depression, others due to physical health disorders. In order to be considered the best possible supply, these humans must have been reliably over-sleeping for at least a year under testing.

One sphere sits on a dusty velvet plinth, emblazoned with ‘commar pashunt‘. It’s been there a while, judging by the cobwebs that twine with the filigree of its sphere.

I’ve heard the whispers that the engineers have been pushed harder and harder by demand. That they have been seeding the humans with disease to increase the worth of spheres, and interfering with efforts to research cures. They live in fear that humanity might get its act together before the engineers can figure out how to stop spheres from becoming obsolete.

I suspect that’s giving humans too much credit.

The stallholder shifts, impatience clear in the lines of his/her body. I return to the sinus sphere and slide my fingers around the warm wire cage with its vibrating hum.

After all, sinusitis hardly ever gets better.

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