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
Paula woke to something wet and warm on her hand and she opened her eyes to see Buffalo licking her skin. The floor beneath her was cold and hard and the room had an overwhelmingly clinical smell.
People were talking. Excitable low chatter filled her ears. She grabbed the thick fur on Buffalo’s face and he pulled her to her feet. Her head spun so she clung to him, frowning at her surroundings.
Where am I?
The last thing she remembered was the guard telling her to sleep and shooting her with what she presumed was a dart. And they’d taken her here? It was like something out of a sci-fi film. A cold room full of pods – some of which still had people trapped inside. They looked dead though it must have been suspended animation. She hoped they weren’t dead…
“Hey.” She reached out for the nearest person – a middle-aged woman with dark skin and greying hair. “What’s happening?”
“We don’t really know,” the woman said. “Some people said they saw a mouse just as they woke, I think maybe it’s one of us – a girl with an ability.” Continue reading
“Are you by nature a religious man, Technician Brandt?”
I looked up from my diagnostics pad at the anthropomorphic bust of Leon Hurst, former CEO of Temple Pharmaceuticals. “Religious, sir? Not really; not beyond a general belief in a higher power.”
It smiled. “Quite the Masonic answer. Furthermore I cannot help but notice the ring which adorns your finger.”
“It was my father’s, Mister Hurst. I wear it in his memory.” I felt uncomfortable discussing my family history with a mere pseudo-human interface and moved the conversation back to more technical matters. “I’ve completed my routine diagnostics and everything seems to be in order, as always.” I unplugged my pad from the plinth, closed the access panel, and stood up.
The lifelike features of Hurst smiled at me, benignly. “I’m sure you’re right, Technician Brandt. You are the most diligent of those who maintain us.”
I inclined my head in acknowledgement of the compliment, even though it was a social interaction protocol, and prepared to leave.
The ‘Opinionated’ gallery took some getting used to and several other technicians had flatly refused to attend, especially after hours. It housed twelve non-sentient personality constructs based on dead corporate executives, designed to provide continued boardroom insight and guidance. Continue reading
All Con had to do was find Paula and then somehow get the news to Francis and get him to get them as far away from that place as possible. Easy.
The keys she’d managed to get hold of were of little use. The door to the ominous sounding ‘basement’ was opened by typing a code into a keypad – not by any sort of traditional lock or bolt – and this information she had gathered from Mia, who’d heard it from Carlos, the chef, who couldn’t possibly say where he’d heard it from and who, in Con’s opinion, was being obstinate because he was frightened of some sinister faction probably running the facility.
There had to be another way. She’d seen guards around the stairwell to the basement and seen the ‘staff only’ signs on the wall, so there was definitely something going on. She’d been steered away by a smiling carer when she’d ventured too close and she’d had to apologise and blame her newbie status for her lack of direction.
Just as she was about to admit defeat and take the keys back to Dora before anybody realised they were missing, she stopped outside a classroom – two glass tanks at the back of the room caught her eye. She looked over her shoulder, tried the door, and then went through the keys until one fit the lock.
Pain erupted as the ibulex burned through my veins. Accelerating when it reached my heart, the drug fired into my arteries like a sling shot; an inferno deep inside my chest. When the agony subsided I saw from the deep impressions left by the restraints that my body had fought on even when my mind was helpless.
Now I sagged, drained. The fire still burned, banked coals throughout my body which could be blown to life at the slightest touch. Even in the warm release-chamber sweat cooled on my skin, leaving a trail of goosebumps behind. Breathing gradually became easier, each breath reassuring me that the worst was over, at least for now.
Voices in the background, a drone which slowly resolved itself into the magistrate reading out the conditions of my release. My exhausted mind wondered if it had been worth it.
I was given civilian clothing, the sort a tramp from the ‘forties might have owned. It had been worn before and came with its own ecosystem of lice and fleas, its own atmosphere of stale body odour. I told myself it was better than being naked and my flight suit had been damaged beyond repair during my capture.
The walk from the detention block to the main gate was an exercise in endurance; cat calls from every shielded window as the entire prison population poured their hatred out at me. I was being released while they still served life sentences, but it wasn’t jealousy that drove them: I had been the most hated prisoner in the facility, in solitary confinement for the last seven years just to keep me alive. Even then there had been attempts on my life. I smiled.
Dora had hoped to surprise Chris after her lessons but instead of bursting into the staff toilets, she lingered outside listening to his voice as he laughed and joked with another of the janitors. She leaned close to the door, knowing she shouldn’t really eavesdrop but she had heard her name. Twice now.
“…blonde bird. Nice one, mate.”
“Yeah, bit thick but nice tits.”
Both men laughed and Dora sucked in a breath. She clenched her fists, digging her nails into her palms. There was the scrape of a metal bucket across the floor and Chris’s voice came closer to the door.
“You seen that mate of hers with the fat arse? I’d love a go on that.”
Dora turned and marched down the corridor, quietly fuming. People winced and turned away as she passed, blinded by the light coming from her body. She didn’t care to control it. Screw them – she just wanted to get back to her room and scream into her pillow.
She’d almost made it when somebody snatched her arm and pulled her into a room. Mia’s bedroom, she quickly realised, and Mia and Con shielding their eyes before her. Dora made no attempt to relax. Continue reading
The sweaty lowland summer set in as The Day approached; Menuil could hardly waddle. Her tongue had become even more acerbic, too, something I wouldn’t have believed possible. I had worked out something to keep me occupied out of range of her venom: flying in snow.
The midwives informed me, almost maliciously, about how miserable a delivery could be in the heat, so I’d been transporting ice. I’d developed a delivery system with the innkeeper; a small boy –originally one of his sons, but more recently any child from the poorer families in the region – would dress in warm clothes and I would fly him and a shovel up to the mountain peaks, where he would prepare loads of snow, piling it onto tarpaulins and roping the corners together. Without landing, I would swoop down and snatch one of these up, fly level and high until I almost reached the inn, then dive and, still without stopping, dump my load into the yard.
There, the innkeeper and his family packed it in straw and stored it in a cellar.
When the child started shivering I’d fly him down and the innkeeper would give him a meal, while I collected the next aspirant from the ever-waiting crowd wanting to escape the summer swelter.
The innkeeper did his part in exchange for half of the ice – and I could collect a lot more than double this way, maybe five times – which at first I found a bit strange, as his wife’s figure had not changed since we arrived, so she was probably not expecting. Strange that is, until I overheard: “Five coppers for a beer? Whatja brew it from, goldnuts?”
Mia listened as patiently as she could as Dora twittered on about Chris. She didn’t know what the girl saw in the guy – he had nothing on Carlos, the chef – his backside was too skinny and he had greasy white-boy hair. She nodded anyway and lifted another spoonful of soup to her lips, looking towards the kitchen and smirking at the idea of sneaking Carlos back to her room later.
When Dora’s topic of conversation changed to Paula’s whereabouts, Mia gave a loud sigh. “Girl, I told you,” she said. “She’s left. Finally. You should be happy for her!”
“I just think it’s a bit weird,” Dora said. “Like… It’s Paula.”
Mia rolled her eyes. “I know. And I know you miss her, I miss her too. But she’s in a better place now.”
Paula was, of course, in the basement. Mia suppressed a shudder at the thought and pushed her soup away unfinished. She wasn’t supposed to know about the basement, but she did. And she kept quiet about it because she did not want to end up there herself. She was perfectly happy in the House of Witches. Everybody should’ve just been happy and then there wouldn’t be any trouble.
Change the subject.
One morning I woke up and 1988 had disappeared. I didn’t notice at first, except for the fact that Katie didn’t ring me that day, and she had been born in 1988. I tried to call her later but she wasn’t there. Nobody was there.
The Seoul Olympics were meant to happen that year. At least that was what the newspapers and old TV footage from 1987 said, but nobody could remember the games ever happening. In fact, there was no record of it at all. The newspapers I found in my local library stopped at December 29th, 1987, and started again on March 12th, 1989.
The papers from 1989 told me more. That day, the twelfth of March, everybody panicked. Women who had been pregnant suddenly weren’t, but there was no child to show for it. Other people had disappeared overnight. Maybe they died in 1988, but there were no graves to mark their passing. Where had that time gone? “A tear in the fabric of space-time,” the experts said. “Time is dripping away.”
Con had snatched a kiss from Francis before he’d abandoned her in the Imagination Correction Facility and she replayed the memory as she waited in the check-in room, half watching a middle-aged woman setting out new clothes and books and toiletries for her.
That bloody arse. He should be getting his own damn daughter out of there, not leaving it for her to do. She shouldn’t have kissed him. It had only cemented something between them, some sort of bond. He’d probably manipulated her somehow – taken advantage of her stupid sentimentality. Except that she had initiated it. She had kissed him and that silly, confused half-smile on his face afterwards could only have come from an innocent man.
Bollocks to it. It was still his fault she was in there.
She collected her new belongings, listened to her ‘welcome’ in silence, and followed the woman down one of the clinical corridors to her room with a set jaw and a frown on her face. Then the woman handed her an itinerary and left, with the brief instruction that lunch was at one and to ask a member of staff – the ones in blue – if she needed anything.
Con dumped her stuff on the bed, vaguely aware that a thin mattress was better than no mattress, and went to look out of the window. Her room was on the second floor, overlooking a tennis court. Beyond the dome, the forest seemed impossible to reach.
So what now?