* Winner of the 2016 Story of the Year Award *
I am numb, paralysed from the neck down. Strangers over-ooze sympathy when they hear the word: quadriplegic. Family and friends avoid me, too embarrassed that they can stand on their own two feet. I hate this prison of false emotions. I want to be back in the real world, the way I was before my so-called accident.
The sea was my fascination. I would sail, swim, dive, or if it was in a fury, stand back from the shore to watch pebbles being hurled out of its spindrift.
The injury happened when I was diving in the newly discovered Forden sea cave in Gothenburg’s archipelago; 33 metres depth and 240 metres in to be precise. A pink granite boulder twinkled wildly in my lights. Curious, I diverted towards it. Two strokes should have got me there. I barely got three quarters of the way. Puzzled, I checked my oxygen via my wrist screen. Levels were normal. I felt my lips with my tongue. They were warmer than normal, a sign of carbon dioxide poisoning. My diving app had gone haywire.
‘So they’ve sent another nerd-head of a cybercriminal.’ Dan turned his back on the slouching youth to continue varnishing the window frame.
‘You calling me a dumb ass?’
‘You’re the one having to do community service.’ He inspected his latest brush stroke for evenness in the varnish.
‘You don’t want me around, do you?’
‘I’ll be off like a shot if you’ll sign off my worksheet.’
Dan quickly suppressed his smile, carefully put his brush back in the tin and faced the youth, who held out his smartphone and a stylus towards him.
‘Doesn’t work like that.’
My mother clutched my hand as she lay under the wreck of the vehicle whose auto-steering had gone crazy. Pain etched heavy lines across her face. Her body trembled. She tugged at my hand for me to come closer.
I bent my face over hers, trying to hold back the blurring tears.
“Promise me…” she whispered.
“A lit candle… on the table… when boyfriends come to dinner.”
It was a crazy thing to ask for, a small thing to beg of me and I wondered why it was so important to her.
She closed her eyes and her hand relaxed, letting go of mine. She died smiling. My tears drowned out the sight of her and much of the days that followed.
The experimental spacecraft’s dashboard fuzzed. Tyrell blinked. The blurriness remained. He flicked his spacesuit’s vitals onto his visor. All green and normal. Relieved, he breathed out. The vitals remained crisp. The fuzz was definitely vacuum-side.
He wiped the outside of his visor. A thin ice layer crazed then shattered into flakes floating away into space. He glanced beyond his cockpit into the Skylon’s hangar deck. The earthlight had grown strong enough to see the sheen of a new veneer covering every surface in sight. The wide even spread meant only one thing. They had had a gas leak, a bad one.
He gritted his teeth, suppressing a groan. Even if they corrected whatever the problem was, Bob and Shirley would block his test flight back to Earth on health and safety grounds. Damn their jealousy. But they were ensconced in their control cabin at the hangar’s other end, not out here taking the risks. Something snapped inside Tyrell. He would make that flight.
Making sure of his grip on the slippery handholds, he hauled himself out of the cockpit and around the spacecraft, searching for gas plumes and unusual ice build-ups. He paid particular attention to each of the two thousand thread nozzles tucked in their cup-like dimples on the spacecraft’s skin. Nothing, not even a telltale of lithium gas. Continue reading
Sitting around a fire station waiting for the off is nothing unusual. We all find something to beat off the boredom. Some play cards; others watch videos. Whatever it takes.
In Seb’s case, it was designing a holograph of a three-dimensional chessboard to see all 512 squares at once, and I mean all. Not easy with eight ordinary chessboards stacked one on top of the other. Every square got his attention. He changed their colours, varied their translucencies and even altered the thicknesses of their outlines. No matter what he did, the result did not pass his acid test of seeing all the squares along any diagonal.
His comp-stick went everywhere with him. I’d once seen him unfurl it on a pub table, build the holograph chessboard and patiently adjust the shade of one square for over an hour. Of course it was with him at the Saint Philips fire.