“Your predecessor went missing,” Mr. Kumar told Meira, his toad lips curling a smile. “In any other case we would have been hiring a much more experienced surgeon but we had no choice but to accept the very first person who was basically qualified and available.” His accent was so thick that Meira doubted any non-Indian could comprehend a word he said. “You are extremely fortunate to enjoy this opportunity,” he continued, “and I hope you will be making the most of it, Meira. Very fortunate, indeed.”
Meira fumed stonily, a carved idol slighted. “Thank you, Mr. Kumar. I’m sure the hospital will find my performance more than satisfactory. If you don’t mind terribly, in my previous position at Boston General Hospital I was accustomed to being addressed as Dr. Ram. I would prefer to keep things formal, especially in the Middle East given that I am both a woman and a foreigner.” Her accent was similar to his though softened by years abroad.
“Of course, Dr. Ram!” he said, emphasizing her Dalit surname. “In America they address surgeons as ‘doctor,’ isn’t that correct? We British surgeons go by ‘mister’. Or missus, of course. But at BGH you were not yet a fully qualified surgeon so I guess the difference is not relevant in this case. How is your house?”
On his fiftieth birthday, Stephan bought himself a True Beauty™ doll. It was the most advanced in the range: an intensely lifelike silicone model equipped with some movement and conversational AI.
Stephan was well-off. He’d risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the army and had diligently saved and invested his income over the years. He now had a house worth half a million euros, almost paid off, and a salary that he found difficult to spend as a single man with no children.
Bill, Mark, and Elon sat down in the control room, preparing to argue again. Their families and the others sheltered deep below. Only the Steering Committee were allowed to come up here. Only they could be trusted to remain calm when scrutinizing data, and to make the right, critical decisions.
After all, they’d paid more than their fair share for a place in the bunker.
The old fighters greeted each other with their traditional, shoulder-bumping handshake. They went to their usual table on the raised section where they could look out at the other customers in the restaurant. There were two types of food to choose from: Eritrean or Italian. The fighters could remember when this colonial-era hotel had been owned by actual Italians. Their fathers had told them of the time before that when natives had not been allowed inside.
For better or worse, the Italians were long gone. The friends ordered a simple meal of lentils and injera because both were adhering to an Orthodox fast. It was late afternoon.
In any group of three there is a government spy but Johannes and Tesfay were only two, and the other customers were slightly too far away to hear their uninhibited conversation. They spoke of blackouts, feuds with tenants, mandated food prices, the water shortage. The coup attempt. The boys who’d been arrested for it, who they knew. In a small city of old families, there were only a couple of degrees of separation between anyone.
“Bastards!” The man’s exclamation rang out through the bush, fading until the only sound was the cicadas droning in the heat. His vegetable patch was completely turned over, the chook-wire fence pushed down and flattened.
The man looked like a retired bikie but in fact he was a retired biologist who’d let his greying beard grow wild. He stood bare from the waist up in the blinding sunlight, a surgery scar livid on the brown skin of his chest. He stared at his ruined tomatoes.
“What did it, Julius?” asked Alina. “You said there are no bears here. Was it wild pigs?” His young wife put an arm around him sympathetically. She spoke with a strong Russian accent.
Danae insisted on driving as they crossed the desert near Joshua Tree. She’d insisted on a lot of things since becoming Assistant Principal and Meilani decided not to argue. She remembered the time Danae had berated her during a staff meeting.
They’d been close friends for years. Probably Danae’s military contractor boyfriend had been giving her misplaced ideas on how to lead a team. Being an administrator of a suburban high school is different to commanding a brigade of mercenaries in the Sahel.
Whatever; it was water under the bridge. That and other things. Now they were just two BFFs on a road trip together. It was technically work because they were going to an education conference at a desert retreat but on route they could gossip and chill.
A Japanese labourer seeks solitude in a room that reeks of death. A scuba instructor volunteers for a bizarre experiment. Judas preaches his own gospel. Chinese scientists clash in a grim, winner-takes-all struggle. An outback miner’s attempt to raise money to return home ends in chaos. An old, African freedom fighter plots a daring murder. A kidnapped billionaire escapes across the remote highlands of Taiwan.
Tales From Captivity introduces you to scenarios which, while fantastic, are only one or two steps away from real life. It is these tiny little patches to the fabric of reality that lead to profound consequences. In it are placed normal, real, fallible human characters, and things unfold in unexpected ways. For almost all of these stories the ending was not what I predicted. Even in the most harrowing moments, I was captivated, and read on . . .
Tales From Captivity is aptly named, macabre, entertaining, and well worth your time and money.
You can read the first story on Amazon’s free preview:
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Thanks to Lemmiwinks, Deacon Blues and SR for their eagle eyes in spotting errors and for other feedback.