It’s a New Day by David Macfie
Following its shocking announcement, the robotic messenger trundled back out of the large area with its panoramic window. The sliding panel in the back wall slid closed, leaving the ten prisoners in a frozen daze. They didn’t have long to get used to the idea that they’d been abducted because, in moments, the sliding panel opened again. Rapidly, more of the robots entered, one for each prisoner, and led by the messenger, which stopped in front again.
“You will now be ungagged and unstrapped. Take the uniforms that your trainer will give you and get dressed. Then join the other member of your pair. We are sure you will know who that is.”
Jamie Calhoun looked to his left, where a robot, identical to the one at the front, raised a pair of arms and removed the gag. It then unstrapped the restraints and helped Jamie to his feet. He staggered a little because his lower limbs had become numbed by the restricted position he’d been in for so long. Gently, the robot supported him until he could stand normally.
“You may call me ‘number one’,” it said in a quietly computerized voice.
“Dress in this, please,” it added, handing Jamie a coverall that had his name on the left breast pocket. “From now I will have my number displayed on my head so that you will know me from the other numbers,” added the robot.
Highly conscious of his state of undress, Jamie got into the uniform with no hesitation. Then he looked for Jenny. He saw her as she also finished dressing, and hurried to her side.
“Are you OK?” he asked her, with a worried look. She looked up and gave him a brilliant smile.
“Am I glad to see you,” she said and threw her arms around him. “I’m so scared.”
“Me too, but we’ll survive this and get home somehow,” he offered, knowing how empty the words would sound. “We just need to learn as much as we can about these aliens and stay calm. We’ll get an opportunity sometime.”
She smiled again and regained a bit of composure. Then her eyes twinkled a little.
“Not really the way I expected to see you naked for the first time,” she said, in a playfully flirty way.”
“Were you disappointed?” he asked, in a matching tone.
“Not at all. I could clearly see that you stay in shape and all the necessary bits seemed to be perfectly acceptable.”
Jamie laughed and, in a moment so did Jenny.
“I feel much better now,” she said, looking around at the others. All were now dressed and standing in pairs.
“May I have your attention, please?” came the voice of the messenger.
All eyes turned to the front.
“We will start the program with breakfast and during that you will have time to introduce yourselves to the others and get to know each other a little. Then you must decide which one of you will be the leader of this group. By now you know that your trainers are numbered in order of your acquisition by our gathering group. These trainers will stay with you throughout your time of education and will then remain with you during your lives in your new world. They have been programmed with all the knowledge you will need. You will come to rely on them as memory banks, assistants and protectors. Over time other groups will join you. We have high hopes of all of you. Now, if you will please follow this robot that is called ‘Teacher’, it will take you to eat.”
The prisoners shadowed, two by two, like little ducklings. Jamie held Jenny back until they were the last pair in the short line. He carefully studied the other four pairs. When he whispered, to Jenny, what he was doing she also looked at them. She’d immediately understood that Jamie was weighing up the rest and that he and she would compare impressions later. None of the others looked as if they were even thinking that way. Jamie immediately noticed that all of the prisoners were about the same age – in their early twenties.
Teacher led the group along a corridor that was shaped like a horizontal cylinder with a flat base for the floor. It was made of the same metal as the space they had just left, but Jamie couldn’t see any joins. It was about three meters high and dead straight. Number One watched everything Jamie was doing through eyes that looked like camera lenses.
“You may ask, this number, the questions you have later,” it stated from close beside him, on his left. Jenny was on his right with her trainer, displaying the number seven, outside her. The other trainers were positioned similarly next to their pairs.
After twenty meters or so, Teacher turned through a sliding panel on the left. The space beyond was similar in shape to the window space but about two thirds of the size. It had been laid out like a canteen and there was a serving bar on one side. All of the tables were circular and each seated ten. On one, the chairs each had a name on the back. Jamie stopped and walked round it. He found that he and Jenny were next to each other and guessed all the pairs had been pre-seated. As the group reached the serving bar, a conveyor started moving from a wall hatch in a bulkhead on the right. Shaped trays of food with beakers of liquid emerged as the pairs passed by. Soon all were seated. Introductions followed. Jamie and Jenny met Brian Faulkner and his wife Amy, Peter Bishop and his girlfriend Gillian Marshall, George Montgomery and his fiancé Elizabeth Grey and, finally, Robert Calder and his wife Laura. Each of them gave a short resume of who they were and what they did.
“Full dossiers on each of you are stored in all the trainers’ memories and can be accessed, any time,” pointed out Teacher, which was watching with the other robots.
“Now you must choose a leader,” added the messenger.
“Can we change the leader at any time?” asked Jamie.
“Yes,” replied Teacher.
“Any volunteers or suggestions?” asked Jamie, looking round the table.
“In the short introductions I just heard,” replied George. “There was only one of us in a leadership position. And that was you, Jamie. And as a regimental sergeant major in the Special Air Service of the British army, I’d guess you know stuff that might be useful in our current situation so I’d suggest you be the leader.”
The others quickly agreed with this.
“Will you agree?” asked George.
“Yes and I’m sure Teacher will tell me what I’m expected to do,” said Jamie. “Now let’s eat.”
Jamie was surprised that the food was tasty, although it looked like nothing he recognized. He figured that the Taurians had a vested interest in keeping the prisoners healthy. While he ate, he listened to the desultory conversation and wondered what came next.