By Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki
Cover art by Luka Brico.
If you read and enjoyed my climate fiction novelette O2 Arena, which was published in Galaxy’s Edge Issue 53 in November 2021 and reprinted in Apex Magazine issue 129 in January 2022, here’s some extra scenes for you, which weren’t in the original.
The two scenes are a total of two thousand words. The first takes place in the middle of the story, and the second, at the very end. O2 Arena was longlisted for the BSFA award and made the Nerds of a Feather Hugo award recommended reading list. The positive reactions to the story was what made me decide to make these extra scenes available to all who enjoyed it before.
The novelette itself is eligible for the Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Nommo and other awards. The original is free to read at the link above, and here again on Apex. Do consider it, if you like it. You can see my full eligibility post, and follow me on Twitter Enjoy!
O2 Arena – Extended
It was a few weeks after my first trip back from the mainland. And coincidentally one of Ovoke’s trips home. Okay, maybe not exactly coincidental. I left after she left, because in her absence, there was not enough presences to keep me occupied. The campus was filled with students, but it was empty of companionship in her absence.
I returned to school before her. I was lazing through the school activities with disinterest when she called me one evening, her voice a tiny scratchy whisper that I had to strain to hear her. “Ode, I’m back.”
“Oh, really?” I said, feigning disinterest. “Why is your voice so tiny? I could come see you in your room. Or should I wait for you to come downstairs?” I was eager not to seem too eager. She chuckled, no doubt aware of my ruse.
“I’m not in school yet,” she said. “I’m outside. Chemo was rough and those hostels are not the best place to recover. That’s why my voice was tiny, by the way.”
I swallowed a lecture about how she should have stayed at home instead to rest, something she sensed. Instead I said, “Well, you were no Beyonce to begin with, so it’s not like your voice is a great loss.”
She chuckled and answered my unspoken question.
“My parents agreed I could lodge in one of the affordable hotels around, for a day or two to get over chemo before moving back to the hostel. So, will you come and see me there?”
My phone chimed immediately after and I received the address in my WhatsApp. Golden Tulip Hotels. I knew the place. No wonder it was affordable. It was a not too terrible place but in the more rundown part of the Island.
“Okay, girl. I’ll see you in a bit. Though I have important things to do, so it won’t be for a while.”
“Of course, busy man,” she said mockingly.
“Bye.” I hung up a little annoyed that I was worried and she would know I was. I would have to deliberately delay now. Wait for a whole while before going to see her and be fashionably late, make it seem like I wasn’t even going to show up.
It was 8pm when I knocked on the door of her room. She opened the door, looked me up and down then let me hug her. I held on a bit, then she pushed me away. I sat on the bed and she sat at the table, and in her scratchy voice, told me how her trip went. After a while of listening and punctuating with sarcastic quips that had her chuckling all through, she got up and pulled something from a drawer.
“What’s that? Are you doing drugs in addition to your cancer?” I asked, almost impressed.
“It’s a follow-up for my chemo, to wake me up.”
“Wake you up?”
She sighed and beckoned to me. I pulled closer saying, “Oooh, the sex talk.”
She shook her head. “Do you know how chemo works?”
“I know what goes in where and how to use a condom.”
She punched me. “Be serious.” I affected seriousness and she continued. “What chemo is supposed to do is kill you.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Along with your cancer cells,” she added. “It kills you and the cancer, almost. It stops before you are dead. But the cancer is weak, then you take this after.” She held up what she had called Neulasta. “It’s for my vitality. Wakes me back up, brings me back from the edge. Rinse and repeat, almost kill me and the cancer, I slip out of its grasp with this, leaving it to die a little more each time. Rinse and repeat, till it’s eventually dead. A little game of cat and mouse.”
She stopped talking. There was a lingering silence in the room. I didn’t say anything but the unspoken question hung between us. What if you lose in this little game of cat and mouse?
I asked, “Does it kill your brain cells then? Cuz that would explain…”
She punched me and we both laugh.
“I’m supposed to take this by 9.30pm,” she continued. “And I must take it before two hours elapse.”
I nodded solemnly. “What happens if you don’t take it within that time?”
“It’s supposed to keep me alive, so…” she shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Come here scared cat,” she said, pulling more stuff from her drawer. “I had a cannula in my hand from chemo, which I would have simply taken it with. All you would have needed to do was inject into my cannula. But it fell off you see…”
“Of course it did,” I muttered.
“So I’ll need you to…”
I looked at what she was holding closely now. It was a syringe.
“I’ll need you to fix this new one for me.”
I felt blank and empty.
“I can’t break my skin myself. I’m scared of the needles.”
I looked at her face now, my disbelief plainly etched in it. She smiled a little, what she must have imagined was an encouraging smile.
“You know I’m not a doctor, or even a nurse,” I said. “But I’m supposed to let me get this straight, pierce your skin, fix a cannula, which I’ve never done before and correctly administer this drug which if I don’t, you might die?”
She didn’t nod; she just made the encouraging face. I groan and she proceeded to convince me that it wouldn’t be that difficult.
It was difficult as hell. Her veins had collapsed from many needles and her general condition. She had what she called ‘vein trauma’ which made it more difficult. And I just couldn’t believe how difficult it was slipping a needle into a human vein, especially for someone with no professional training. Her skin was soft under my touch and she tried to hide the tremble, then the tears as I miss the vein over and over and over again. Then before I know it, I flung the needle away.
“This is supposed to be a normal visit. You just called me to come hang as a friend. Why didn’t you warn me? Why didn’t you tell me? How am I supposed to do this, which I haven’t done before and it means so much, maybe even your life? How can you do this to me?”
I realized I was yelling.
She was quiet. I already knew the answers to my questions. She wanted to leave home, not stay home and get proper care and miss out on life and all that. I swallowed the rest of what I was going to say, about this being irresponsible and unsafe. She handed me another needle nonchalantly. Yeah, I realize she must be used to these kinds of outbursts. I was one of those worrying people that didn’t understand the situation. So I took a fresh syringe and tried again, and again and again. This time, I didn’t snap; I just tried. But if she took my yelling stoically, she didn’t take this. She was crying. And then I started crying too. She hugged me and rubbed the back of my head, saying she was sorry. I snapped out of it. She shouldn’t be the strong one, comforting me. I was not the one at risk of dying. I pulled back and looked at her.
It was an hour before the time limit for when she should take the drug. And she was starting to show signs of damage. Her eyes were dripping an odd, slimy liquid, and she was drooling too. She looked a little distant, not quite herself. Then the realisation came to me and I said aloud, “I can’t do this. I’m going to get help.”
She nodded weakly, as it absent minded and not present. I looked at the time. One hour more, going by the time she said she was supposed to take it.
I was conflicted as I left. Should she lock the door? What if she was in no condition to open it when I got back? Should she leave it open? What if someone came in to do something to her while I was away? Should I lock it and take the key? What if she needed help while I was gone and couldn’t get out?
I slipped on my O2 mask and left. One hour to go. I stumbled through the streets, asking directions to a chemist, any chemist. It was dark, past 10pm, and I got suspicious looks as I strolled along. I stumbled from closed chemist to another closed chemist, frantic, semi-insane with the urgency of the help I needed. Then someone told me about a lady—not a chemist but a nurse. She sold drugs at home.
I rushed to the direction I was given and found the nurse. She was in her backyard smoking weed. She said she’d had a long day and just wanted to chill. She offered me a blunt. I looked at her incredulously and almost started to cry. But there was no time for that. I walked to her and said with as much empathy as I could summon. “PLEASE HELP ME.”
She followed me to the hotel. On the way, I explained in more details. We only needed her to administer the injection. She was high and sang all the way. But her hand was rock steady.
She asked no questions; apparently, she was used to strange, odd hour jobs. I was glad of that. I was in a random hotel with a very sick, near comatose girl and a strange, high nurse injecting something I don’t know into her at my behest. I briefly wondered what would happen if she were to die. What kind of narrative would come out of this, and what kind of explanation would I give?
Then I violently shoved the thought from my mind. Ovoke ISN’T DYING.
The nurse finished her job. I gave her a bunch of O2 credits with me. All the cards I couuld lay my hands on. She thanked me, lingered to look back at me and Ovoke. She opened her mouth as if to say something, then decided against it and left.
I watched Ovoke 30 minutes after. The colour came back to her. Her eyes had stopped dripping and she was not drooling anymore. I crawled into the bed next to her and fell into a dead, dreamless sleep.
When I awoke in the morning, someone was holding me gently, cradling my head to their chest. I extricated myself and she woke. I got up, frowning at her. She smiled. I pointed at the bed.
“We’re not like that. Also, did you get my consent before cuddling me?”
I shook my head.
“Oh, and your breathing is really bad,” she said sympathetically. “You slept so badly, I was worried all night.”
“Worry about yourself, punk.” I said in mock annoyance.
She smiled and got up, pulling a toothbrush from her bag. “You should call a cab now while we get ready for class. You know they usually take forever to get here.”
“Why are we going to class again? After last night?” I asked. And answered it myself. “Live before you die, right!”
She beamed at me. Grumbling, I pulled out my phone to call a cab.
The protest had begun. A protest that would likely spiral into a riot as it wasn’t being led by the gentlest and most conscientious groups in society. But it was no matter; for what was peace without justice? Refraining from the fight when you were already oppressed wasn’t suing for peace but the continuation of your oppression. Still, I didn’t lead the protest, even though I had initiated it. I used the funds won from bloodsport to attempt to disrupt the bloody cycle this city ran on to generate its power. I had handed over both funding and control of the group to Efeturi, now the number one, and in command.
I drove out of town in a fairly used Camry which I bought with the only part of the money I took for myself. Jaiyesimi in the passenger grinned in satisfaction. He had made me say it when I called him. No vagary and insinuations. I had spelt it out. “I want you, romantically, to come with me. Run away with me.”
Once I summed up the courage to, he agreed quickly enough. I looked at him and he smiled encouragingly and winked at me. This world had taken enough and I endeavoured to keep some joy, some happiness for myself before it was all gone. We drove off into what wasn’t sunset, but an ending nevertheless, to be followed by a beginning, for me at least.