Surrogate Colony by Boshra Rasti Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction
In MicroScrep, a post-pandemic world, one politician, Arthur Mills, brings all scientists and engineers together to create a vaccine and rebuild a world where harmony ensues. What results is a society where algorithms control who you marry, who your child is, and what position you have.
Adriana Buckowski is not normal. Her eyes are two different colors, making her less susceptible to the system’s propaganda, she has a unique connection with a boy named Zach, and she has questions. Weird occurrences happen as she gets closer to her Calling Ceremony, where she’ll be given a position. When she finally starts piecing together the twisted motives at play in MicroScrep, she becomes a cog in the wheel of the state.
Her only option for survival lies with Zach, and the hope that she will be vindicated through a vigilante group off-grid. But with time ticking against her, will she survive long enough to be redeemed?
“A stunning debut by a bold new writer whose vision of the future conjures the near-impossibility of affection, with women tossed homicidally into surrogate birthing centers and men groomed to become, yes, eunuchs. Or if you will, think Brave New World meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Boshra Rasti’s dystopia redeems itself when two young characters conceive of a daring off-grid survival among a group of elusive scientists. The author’s mature and compelling voice is not afraid to lift the scrim, but beware, for when she does lift the scrim, readers may recognize a society whose angers and horrors and violent fetishism may seem all too familiar. Surrogate Colony is a must read.”
~ Dan Gutstein, author of Buildings without Murders
“The crisp prose and vibrant characters contained within Surrogate Colonies' worldscape is a stunning debut by an author sure to capture the public imagination. Rasti writes of the not-too-distance future with terrifying clarity. “
~ Raymond Lee, author of The Race Riot
“Surrogate Colony is a thrilling tale of love, betrayal, and the dangers of a world reliant on technology.”
~ Caryn Pine
“Boshra Rasti’s sweeping dystopian drama follows two young protagonists on a journey of survival and redemption. Set in a post-pandemic world, Surrogate Colony explores the human psyche after trauma and what can happen when we succumb to fear. While Ms. Rasti’s writing is filled with vivid imagery and edge-of-your-seat action, it is also the bond between Adriana and Zach that anchors this story firmly in the reader’s mind.”
~ Katherine Day, Grattan Street Press
“It is not a surprise to learn that Boshra Rasti has a debut novel coming out. I knew that she had the goods as a writer when her brilliant short piece Creep appeared in Literally Stories UK during the spring of 2021. She writes tough, economical yet entertaining descriptive prose. From what I have previewed of it, the same holds the day in Surrogate Colony. All readers new to Boshra will be well rewarded."
~ Leila Allison, Associate Editor, Literally Stories UK
Chapter 6: The Hospital
The hospital smells of strong disinfectant covered by the artificial scent of synthetic lavender. It is eerily quiet, like being in a library. It’s as if I am on an insulated spacecraft. I scan the doorknob for microbes before knocking politely, but when there’s no answer, I help myself in. The secretary doesn’t look up from the holographic computer keyboard until I clear my throat loudly. Clicking out of the screen, she looks robotically through me.
“Ms. Adriana, am I right?”
“Here to see Dr. Marks at one p.m.?”
“Please help yourself to some water, in the refrigerator there.”
Looking towards the small refrigerator in the seating area, I am overcome with the institutional banality of the clinic.
“No, I’m all right. I’m not thirsty.”
Smiling warmly, the secretary motions to the waiting area. “Please have a seat. Dr. Marks will come out to greet you soon.”
The waiting area is quiet. The barrenness of it is made worse by the stifling heat, as if all the dreams of childhood are caught somewhere in a fog over this place. There’s one other girl in the room, sitting across from me on the wooden seats. She looks content, drinking the complimentary water in large, measured gulps.
“Hello,” she cheerfully acknowledges me.
“Hi,” I reply shortly, not in the mood for exchanging pleasantries.
She looks at me curiously, not deterred by my tone. “My name is Louise.”
“I’m Adriana.” I look to the ground, avoiding eye contact. After a few seconds of awkward silence, I ask, “Are you here to see Dr. Marks?”
“No, I’m here to see the psychiatrist, Dr. Beata.”
I tilt my head in confusion. “Oh, they have them here too?” I didn’t know they did more than egg extractions here. A psychiatrist in a fertility clinic? Maybe there is a deep psychic wound opened by the thought of a reproductive cell being stripped of you forever. Children show this fear when they are being potty trained. Some children can’t bear the thought of a part of their body being flushed down the toilet. Perhaps, it is the same sentiment for some women during their egg extraction.
She raises her eyebrows at me, seemingly shocked that I didn’t know this, and just says, “Yes.”
After a few seconds, Louise says, “The medication is making me anxious; I’m having a hard time sleeping. I feel quite moody. Dr. Marks says that I can’t take any sleeping pills until after my eggs are extracted, so I’m working with the psychiatrist on strategies I can use to help me sleep.”
A quiet squeak of a voice interrupts Louise from explaining further.
My eyes move towards where the voice is coming from. A frail, mousy-looking man in a white lab coat with poor posture stands in the hallway connecting the seating area with the offices. There’s something about the way he holds himself that makes me hesitant to identify myself. But everyone has said that Dr. Marks is the best at his job, and I dismiss the feeling.
“Yes, I’m Adriana,” I respond, my voice matching his tone. It is a response to his slight figure, concerned he may startle if I use my normal voice.
“Please follow me,” he says.
Walking behind him down the hall, I notice he has a slight shuffle and that he keeps his right hand jangling with something in his pocket, as if he is hiding some terrible secret in his lab coat. We arrive in an office with a full window view of MicroScrep tower. The roundabout of Purity below us is billowing with citizens and honking horns.
Snapping his gloves on, he says, “So, today is egg extraction.”
“Did they take a blood sample two days ago?”
“Yes, they have. Was that to take my oxytocin levels?”
“Yes, my dear, soon you’ll know your place in society,” he whispers almost inaudibly.
“Take off your clothes and put on this gown. He leaves, returning after a few minutes later, once I’ve changed into my gown.
Strapping a mask over my face, he says, “Okay, now sit here while I start the calming gas machine.”
Feeling my body unwind from Louise’s random confession and the general sense of distrust I have for this doctor, I relax into the thought that this will all be over soon enough, then I won’t have to be on the medication anymore. The doctor opens my legs and inserts a long narrow tube inside me. A vacuum-like sound starts and I’m in and out of consciousness. All I hear is the doctor counting. “Three, four, five eggs...goodness me...eleven, twelve, thirteen...oh dear...fourteen, fifteen, sixteen...my, my...eighteen, nineteen…”
The next thing I remember is a nurse bringing me a fruit platter. I’m still in my gown.
“Eat up, dear, you’ll need to replenish,” she says.
The doctor enters abruptly.
“Hello, Adriana, how are you feeling now?” His voice is louder and more assertive than what I remember it to be.
“Good,” I manage to slur the word out between a spoonful of watermelon.
“You had many eggs and of such rare quality!” he exclaims. His voice is not only louder, but he’s speaking much faster than how he had before.
“I have a question,” I say, my voice a low drawl. The room is slightly swimming with the concoction of medicines.
Dr. Marks cocks his ear up in the air. “What’s that? You’ll have to speak up.”
“I have a question,” I say slightly louder, but slower with the heaviness of the sedation.
“Does the state follow all young women of egg extraction age with cameras?”
“What on earth do you mean?” Dr. Marks’s face screws up as he questions me.
“A scientist, my sister-in-law, has been snapping photos of me behind my back—secretly.” I emphasize the word secretly, despite the exhaustion of speaking.
Concern fills Dr. Marks’s eyes. “Adriana, dear—this is very odd of you to ask. Sometimes these sorts of psychotic sensations take hold when you’re taking the hormones. Some women hallucinate visually or auditorily. This should have been reported when it happened, not now that I’ve extracted the eggs from you.” He takes a deep sigh in and gathers his thoughts, as if he is going through a protocol. “In this case, I’m not the right person to respond to this. I think I should send you to our psychiatrist, Dr. Beata. She’ll help you deal with this.” Taking my hand into his, he pats my back. “Don’t worry, there’s help for this sort of thing. I’m just not the right person to address these matters now.”
My mind is a fog, I remember the click and flashes of Laura’s camera, but I don’t remember the days preceding it. It is almost as if the last thing I remember is weeks ago. Come to think of it, I barely remember the parade. My face flushes, I only remember feeling panic. Then as if a picture emblazons itself in my mind. I am watching through a peep hole in a derelict building. Another flash and a human jawbone. My teeth chatter as I break out into a cold sweat. Maybe I am imagining things. Am I losing my mind?
Taking out his holographic phone, he rings his secretary.
“Please have Ms. Adriana see the psychiatrist today if possible.”
A half an hour passes and I’m in Dr. Beata’s office. She is a tall red-haired lady. Her wavy hair is impeccably twisted up around her face with bobby pins and flowers, and she is porcelain white, her mouth upturned in a permanent smile that makes her look somewhat angelic. She looks at me with a blank expression, a poker face against the pale institutional backdrop of the room.
“Hello, Adriana.” She speaks my name like pulled taffy, a slight nasal intonation in her voice.
“Hello,” I respond, overcome by the beauty of her face, manner, and voice.
“Please seat yourself,” she says, again drawing me in with the velvet intonation of her voice.
I pull out my chair and seat myself, somewhat trancelike, the drugs still raging in my veins. My eyes feel spellbound. I am still agitated by the jumbled flashes of memories that I am not sure took place.
“I’ve read over the notes Dr. Marks made about you.” She switches on the holographic keyboard, typing quickly. “Can you explain what you’ve experienced with your sister-in-law, Laura?”
Her words snap my mind out of its trance. Tingles move up my spine.
My heart races as I ask, “How did you know her name?”
She stops typing and looks at me, her eyes narrowing to a slit. “You must have told the doctor, or I wouldn’t...”
I searched my memory, but I don’t recall mentioning Laura’s name. Could this be some sort of conspiracy? Does Laura wield far more power in MicroScrep than I am aware? I didn’t say her name to the Doctor, I am sure of that. How does Dr. Beata know Laura’s name? Does she have access to some information on Harmony’s database about me and how I am affiliated with her? That’s the logical explanation, but why is Dr. Beata denying this?
There are a few moments of quiet, at which she resumes her typing. Breaking the intensity, I say, “Oh, I must have.” I want to have as little to do with Dr. Beata and Dr. Marks as possible now. The sinking feeling in my stomach must be my distrust of them.
“Yes, of course you have, or I wouldn’t know otherwise.” She rolls her eyes and laughs. “I am smart, but unfortunately not a psychic.”
Biting my lip nervously, I say, “Laura works for the state as a scientist, and we went swimming together. I noticed in her navel a small camera taking successive pictures of me—not once, but twice.” Dr. Beata’s typing slows down to a halt.
“Hmm,” she says, the angelic smile plastered on her face still.
Sporadically typing, Dr. Beata reads off a list of questions.
“How are you generally eating and sleeping?” she asks, poker-faced.
“I’m fine. I’m eating and sleeping well...apart from that day that Laura took pictures of me secretly...I felt my privacy was invaded, and it just made me feel suspicious, I guess.”
“You mean the day you think that Laura took pictures. Don’t be so sure; self-assurance often brings on delusion.” There’s a cautionary tone in the doctor’s voice. Opening a holographic image, she shows how light can sometimes play tricks on one’s mind, especially in water. The holographic clip showed someone swimming, seeing what seemed to be a sharp ray of sunlight, but upon surfacing, the light was all around.
“See, Adriana, this is how water can reflect light off surfaces, making it seem like a flash from a camera.” Squinting at me, she continues, “Do you think that this could be a possibility—that the reflection created the illusion of flashing lights from a camera?”
Dr. Beata’s question is a rhetorical one. I can tell she’s expecting me to agree with her. Inside, though, I feel the same hollowness that I felt when that camera captured me.
Even though I don’t agree, something cautions me to lie. “Yes.” I nod my head. “It must have been that.”
“Good.” Dr. Beata’s mouth resumes cheerfully, “Let’s forget this happened then, or else I’ll have to resort to medications, and that’s not good for anyone who might become a very important member of society.”
Her hand covers mine, and I repress the urge to shudder and pull away. She waits for my response, and I sigh and nod my head. In MicroScrep self-expression is frowned upon.
Dr. Beata spears me with a look. “Let’s forget this then, Adriana.”
The vacuous feeling in my stomach rises and engulfs my lungs with grim pain. “All right,” I whisper almost inaudibly. Is it that I’m going crazy? But I am certain that Laura snapped pictures of me. I just can’t make out why, unless the flash of images I saw are true, and there is some conspiracy afoot to have me doubt myself.
“Breathe, dear,” Dr. Beata senses my uneasiness. “Breathe.”
I take a deep breath, and she lets go of my hand after patting it a few times.
“Now be a good girl and don’t speak of this to anyone else, yes?”
Boshra Rasti is an Iranian-Canadian expatriate, writer and educator. She currently lives in Qatar as a teacher.
She is the author of several published poems, “Connection in the City”, a poem about the city of Surrey, BC, Canada, as well as the author of “In the Chrysalis”, a poem about the COVID-19 pandemic, published in Together...Apart, an anthology of creative works published by HBKU Press. Her short stories have been published by Grattan Street Press, Literally Stories, and South Florida Poetry Journal.
Boshra draws inspiration from the teenage mind, one she may not have fully outgrown. She also is an avid runner who enjoys the self-torture of running in Qatar. She has other eclectic interests such as making vegan ice-cream.
She may or may not use a pen name in the future to prevent a life-long tendency that people have of butchering her name. She hopes to someday make her home somewhere that doesn’t include burning up due to the consequences of global warming. You can find her works on her website: www.boshrawrites.com