6. Contraband People

2055, November 6th
Collapse + 6 years

Naema lay on a glass surface covered with a grid of dots spaced every centimeter. A square of light shined through the grid that neatly framed her injured hand. Above her, a giant mechanical bar slowly slid by. It was a scanner of some kind. She couldn’t read the english writing on the side of the table, but the medical assistant had said it was a “Stiller field kinetic density imager”. Apparently it was better than an X-ray. Since the glass surface was large enough for her to lay upon, she figured the device could scan her entire body, but the passing bar only slowed its movement above the rectangle outlining her hand.

A 3D image of her hand popped up on a nearby monitor. The assistant tapped an onscreen button, and the hand went transparent, except for her bones, which were color-coded shades of blue for some reason. He flicked his fingers against the screen, and the image zeroed in on her thumb. A bone was clearly disconnected.

“Yep,” he said. “It’s a clean break on your first metacarpal.”

He picked up what looked like a glass clipboard, only it had text panels glowing on it, as though it were a disembodied computer screen. With a few onscreen button presses, the scan transferred to the clipboard.

“Come with me.” He escorted her out. They had been in a small enclosure created from medical curtains. It was one of six in a row where doctors or nurses would assess a patients condition, and each were in use. Even as Naema left, another assistant led a patient in to take her place.

The medical complex was a collection of large open tents set up on the dirt road bordering the bay. Two enormous tents acted as waiting rooms. They were packed with villagers with various ailments.

The man led Naema from the diagnostics tents to a tent of larger cubicles. “Wait here. A doctor will be with you shortly.”

She nodded and sat on an examination table. The assistant left.

From this booth, Naema had a clear view of the Lakiran citadel hovering over the bay. She’d seen it plenty while waiting earlier, and plenty more walking here, but the marvel of a floating city hadn’t yet worn off. Last week, it had drifted into Port Harcourt as ponderously as the moon inching along the sky. It anchored in place over the Niger Delta, in plain view of every person living on the bay. Shuttles started coming and going from its hull like bees to their hive. Nothing had driven home the reality of the Lakiran occupation like the citadel.

And like everything else Lakiran, it didn’t fit in. It’s polished chrome glittered unlike anything else in the city. It’s massive, curved hull had hundreds of small holes from which the shuttles flew in and out. The top was a cluster of tall towers, each curved for aerodynamics. Those spires are what made most mistake the citadel as a city. They looked like the downtown heart of a financial district, but the citadel was strictly military—the Lakiran’s modern take on the aircraft carriers of the pre-Collapse days.

Naema understood the theory of how it worked. In its hull would be three powerful repulse nodes which were projecting their fields deep underground, effectively pushing at the earth. In turn, the equal and opposite reaction kept the ship locked in place. It was like an invisible tripod. The result was a midair suspension more secure than if the citadel were locked in place with steel scaffolding. Not even the wind made it sway.

She watched shuttles come and go. After spending hours under the main tent with all the other sick an injured, she’d hoped her waiting was over, but apparently not. There were few medical staff here for the number of people who needed help. Her guess was maybe three hundred to one. All she had to do was tally the number of black people against non-blacks. The assistants had the most diversity. A few were Asian. Another had dark skin whose ethnicity she didn’t recognize. Mostly, though, they were white, especially the doctors, especially the men with guns. She found it odd, considering the Lakiran empire started in South America.

It reminded her of the aid groups from when she was a child, before the Collapse. The sky had turned dark with ash, the world froze over, but some things never change. That’s what her father had always said. White people are always coming to fix their problems. Do they help? Sure, but as Mama liked to point out, Nigerians weren’t the ones who launched the bombs.

As Naema watched the people in the medical encampment work, she noticed someone distinctly out of place. A white woman was under a supply tent rifling through a crate. Her clothing was not like the Lakiran uniforms, but rather a canvas dress and sandals, like she were local, and she had a leather satchel which she was squirrelling items into like a child stashing candy.

She was stealing. It was easy enough to tell from the way she kept glancing at the guards outside the tent. Naema didn’t understand how they didn’t see her. She was in plain view.

A young doctor walked into the exam cubicle. He seemed more like a rugged, mountaineering, out-of-college type if not for his doctor’s coat. “And how are we doing today?” He fetched the clipboard. “Ms. Naema Madaki? Hmm. Fractured Metacarpal. Mild laceration to the head. Multiple contusions…”

“Who is that woman?” Naema pointed to the woman sifting through crates.

The doctor looked. The lady stashed a box of food stuff into her satchel.

“Excuse me,” the doctor yelled. “What are you doing?”

The woman glanced up, then returned to her rifling.

The doctor walked toward her. “I asked what you’re doing.”

This time, the woman startled. She stared as though he were a dog who’d just asked her for the time.

The soldiers guarding the tent looked. They took over. “Ma’am. Step away from the crates and get down on your knees.”

They startled her just as much as the doctor did.

Now,” the soldier barked. They snapped into combat posture aimed right at her. With unsure movements, she complied. Everyone in the encampment watched as two soldiers searched her satchel. They pulled out all manner of supplies—obviously from the relief tent.

The next moment, the guards had her pinned to the ground. They cuffed her, frisked her, then escorted her away.

The hum of countless conversations resumed. The encampment returned to business.

“Thank you for pointing her out,” the doctor said to Naema. “Thieves like to pick through our already limited supplies. They have no thought for the people we’re here to help.”

“Yea,” Naema said.

“Now, let’s take a look at that thumb.” He examined his clipboard again. “It’s not too bad. I’ll give you a shot to numb your hand. Then we just have to pop that bone back into place. You shouldn’t feel a thing. I’ll be right back.”

He left, and Naema was left once again waiting.

That woman appeared again, wandering back into the supply tent. Her wrists were uncuffed, she had her bag back, and no soldiers were around her. In fact, most of the soldiers weren’t even back at their post yet. Did they let her go?

Instead of pilfering crates, the woman peered around as though looking for someone. She wandered aimlessly until disappearing from Naema’s view. Naema leaned to watch. She was still there, just standing around. After a moment, the lady took a step—again out of view.

The doctor returned with a handful of supplies. He was opening the plastic wrapper to a hypodermic needle when Naema spoke. “Why they let her go?”

“Let who go?”

“The thief. She is there.” Naema leaned farther to point. The woman noticed Naema pointing at her.

“Who?”

“The white woman with the curly hair.”

The woman walked toward Naema. That’s how the doctor spotted her. “What about her?” he asked.

“She was stealing.”

What? You saw this?”

“Yes. Over there, but the guards let her go. Why?”

The woman was within talking distance now.

The doctor faced her. “Excuse me. What are you doing here?”

“Me?” the woman asked. “Nothing.”

“This girl says you were taking supplies.”

“Did she?” The woman stared at Naema curiously.

“What is in your bag?”

“Nothing.”

Supplies,” Naema said, exasperated.

“Did you see her take some?” the doctor asked.

Yes.

The doctor yelled to a soldier. “Security. This woman here.”

A few approached. “What’s the matter?”

“This woman might be a thief.”

The soldiers turned to face the woman, intimidating her with their posture. “Hand over your bag, ma’am.”

The woman did. As they rifled through it, she watched Naema, uncaring as the men found contraband in her pack, again. And again, they shoved her to the ground, cuffed her and dragged her off. Just as they pulled her from view, the woman craned to look at Naema one last time, and she grinned.

“I appreciate your pointing her out,” the doctor said to Naema. “Thieves like to pick through our already limited supplies. They have no thought for the people we’re here to help.”

“Yea. You said that.”

“Hmm?”

“You said that last time. They take that woman two minutes ago. Then they let her go.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“Two minutes ago. That woman was over there,” she pointed. “The guards grabbed her, but then she walk right back.”

“I see. She must have slipped away. Don’t worry. They’ve got her this time. Now…” The doctor took up the hypodermic needle. “Let’s get you sorted out.”

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