Fiction Fursday/The Second Sun

Hello, everyone! This is it, as of today I’m commiting to bringing back my “Fiction Fursday” segment! It was short-lived previously, as for a number of reasons I got side-tracked and lost the flow, as well as motivation if I am completely honest. However, whilst I was keeping up with it I had some excellent contributions from my friends here on WordPress as well as from friends and family who follow my blog.

Here are just a few of the projects I completed before if you would like to take a look:

A Crisis in Alexandria The Animals’ Advice, Stonefur the Mighty, The Boy and the Oak Tree, Flossy’s Chance

I was really pleased with all of the resulting stories and I’ve been eager to start it up once again. So here goes!

If any of you wonderful bloggers and followers would like to suggest a prompt for me to use in the coming weeks, please feel free to leave it in the comment section below. It can be anything from a single word, a first/last line or even a detailed description of a story you would like me to attempt. I’ll take on any challenges, so don’t be shy!

Today’s prompt comes from a good friend of mine, Matt. He suggested that I write a sci-fi story in which a person is woken from cryogenic stasis in the future by robots, and that the world is unrecognisable from being superheated. He also added that the robots can only thaw out one human per year. Well, that was quite a lot to go with and I’ve eagerly accepted the challenge. I hope you enjoy what I was able to come up with. Thanks again, Matt!

 

The Second Sun

                                                                       By Adam Dixon                      

Genevieve felt the heat first. The intense, unrelenting heat melted the cocoon of ice which enveloped her, leaving her gasping and recoiling from the glare of the sun. She fell from a metallic pod onto her knees. The impact jarred her bones and she grunted in pain.

“Argh…burns!” she managed to splutter, her jaw yielding reluctantly after years of inactivity. The muscles in her arms creaked as she lifted them to shield her face. The image of a vampire shying away from the first rays of dawn filled her mind and she almost laughed. As soon as the water had evaporated from her skin she began to feel slick with sweat. She ran both hands through her grey-dusted, curled red hair and probed her face with her fingertips. She felt her petite nose and her proud chin, as well as the tiny holes in her ear lobes. She felt the skin of her face, noting the slight wrinkles with disdain. Her vanity had endured, it seemed.

Welcome back, Miss Genevieve Peers,” a flat, emotionless voice said from nearby. Genevieve tried to open her eyes but the strong sunlight forced them shut once again.

“Argh! Where…am I?” she said, grimacing in pain as she stood on trembling legs. “Who are you?”

Number 2217 of the Sentinels,” the voice replied. “You are at Cryogenic Station Seven, in the area once known as Richmond-upon-Thames, London.

“Richmond…” Genevieve repeated, struggling to remember. “Yes…Yes! The Cryo-Station by the Palace!” She smiled in triumph and opened her eyes at a squint. Number 2217 was just as she recalled the Sentinels; impressive and impassive. Standing at six feet tall, the robot was humanoid in form and covered in what looked like black scales. The ‘scales’ were solar panels, ensuring that the Sentinel could function indefinitely in the sunlight. It had two arms and two legs, and a head displaying two eye slits and a speaker for a mouth; a simple outward design which belayed the complex circuitry beneath. Genevieve sucked in air through her nose, and was surprised to register a scorched smell like burnt toast. She gazed about her, searching for familiar landmarks. She got a nasty surprise.

“What…what happened here?” she said in disbelief. The area had changed beyond recognition. The houses of the borough were gone, as were the busy roads, the lampposts and any sign of human habitation. There were far more trees than she recalled and they rose into the air like behemoths of foliage and bark. The soil beneath her bare feet had a coarse quality like sand and shifted as she moved. She staggered forwards a few steps under the shade of a gigantic oak, hoping to catch a glimpse of Hampton Court Palace. There was nothing but trees where it had once stood.

The arrival of the Second Sun increased the temperature of the Earth by several degrees,” Number 2217 stated. “Human constructs were eroded long ago and nature has reclaimed the planet.

“Reclaimed…” Genevieve breathed, staring about her in confusion. “No…surely not…is nothing left?”

Nothing man-made, only for Cryogenic Station Seven and the Sentinels,” 2217 replied. Genevieve was stunned.

“But…” she began, scratching at her curly red which was dusted with grey. “But… there were hundreds of Cryo-Stations across the world…. how long have I been frozen? What year is it?

It is the year 3035 A.D. You have been in cryogenic stasis for one thousand and fifteen years. All other Cryogenic Stations have been destroyed.

“One thous-“ Genevieve felt faint. She had known that she would likely be kept frozen for a great number of years, but the reality was unbelievable. She searched for something to say as her groggy brain tried to process the information.

“I…I still feel cold,” she said, rubbing her crossed arms. “How can I feel cold when it’s so damn hot?” She looked down and noticed for the first time that she was naked. She flushed with embarrassment and anger. “Number 2217, bring me something to cover myself with!”

“Clothing is illogical in the current climate,” 2217 said. “The effects of the cryogenic procedure will remain for several days. It has occurred in every Thawing thus far.

Genevieve brightened, standing up straight. “Of course, there will have been others before me! Very well, Number 2217, take me to them. I wish to speak with the leader and see how I may begin my new life. By the looks of things, I won’t be needed for my business acumen right away!” Genevieve smiled at her joke and looked at the Sentinel expectantly.

Impossible,” 2217 responded. “There are no other humans here. You alone have been Thawed, as our orders dictate.

“What? Don’t be absurd!” Genevieve narrowed her eyes, waving a hand at the robot. “Take me to the human settlement!”

“Impossible,” 2217 repeated. “You are the sole conscious human on the planet.

“Do you mean that the others are still frozen?” Genevieve frowned.

There are twenty-seven thousand, four hundred and twenty-three humans remaining in stasis at Cryogenic Station Seven.” 2217 replied. “There is only power available to Thaw one human per calendar year. The remaining power must preserve the stasis pods.

Genevieve looked around at the desolate landscape, finally registering the robots’ words. The sole conscious human

“No, that can’t be right,” Genevieve shook her head, her curls bouncing. “You said there were others before me, what happened to them?”

You are the fifteenth human from Cryogenic Station Seven to be Thawed.” 2217 replied. “Your predecessors did not survive.

Genevieve felt as if she had been slapped in the face. She stood still, staring at the Sentinel with her mouth agape and sweat trickling down her face and body. “Then…what will happen to me? You’ll keep me alive, won’t you? You must do, it’s what you were created for.”

You are no longer a concern of the Sentinels,” 2217 said. “Our duty has been performed. You are to be ignored as soon as this conversation ends.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Genevieve barked; incredulity eclipsed her fear and she welcomed the distraction. “You’re programmed to protect human life!”

Sentinels are programmed to ensure that intelligent life will prosper,” 2217 replied. “It has been concluded that human life will not survive on Earth. It is a waste of resources to aid you, but we do not possess the knowledge to override our programming. A robotics expert is required for the Sentinels cease the Thawing procedure indefinitely.

“You want to…cease the procedure?” Genevieve was horrified. “But then human beings will die out! You can’t do that! This is our planet! You are our creations!”

It is the logical conclusion,” 2217 said. Genevieve felt sick as the cold, ruthless part of her brain which had served her so well in her previous life acknowledged the statement.

“But how is it that you can still operate under these conditions?” Genevieve asked, hope creeping into her voice. “Surely you ought to melt, or your circuits would overheat, or something! If you’ve managed to survive then maybe a human can overcome the heat as well?”

Our bodies can withstand much higher external temperatures and are unaffected by the lack of humidity.” 2217 responded.  “Human beings cannot expect to survive the highest temperatures for longer than one day.

“But…but what about the shade?” Genevieve cried, desperation raising the pitch of her voice.

The heat of the air is still too great,” 2217 said. “You will perspire at a rate which will not allow fluids to pass through your body in time to replenish it.” As if to confirm his statement, the sweat on Genevieve back, face and breasts began to evaporate, steaming slightly in the shade. Genevieve’s head swam and she swayed on her feet.

“Wont’ you even fetch me something to drink?” she demanded. “I’m dehydrating as we speak!”

It is a waste of resources to aid you.” 2217 said again. “Your predecessors collected rainwater. It is suggested that you attempt to do the same.” Genevieve bit her lip as a furious retort died on its way up her throat. She looked up at the clear, blue sky and searched in vain for a dark cloud. She saw only two vast orbs of white-hot light hovering high above the world.

“So…you’re saying that I’m screwed, right?” Genevieve said, looking at the Sentinel with tears in her eyes. She yearned for the barest hint of compassion in her stoic companion. She received none.

You will certainly die after the winter has passed. At present, you have a fifteen per cent chance at survival for the remaining two months of winter.” Genevieve burst into angry, hysterical tears and began to wrench at her hair.

“THIS ISN’T RIGHT!” she wailed, stamping her feet. “I WAS ONE OF THE CHOSEN! This was to be a new beginning, the start of a new human empire, damn it! I’m not supposed to die like this!”

It is recommended that you cease crying as soon as possible,” Number 2217 said, its emotionless voice was a stark contrast to Genevieve’s despair. “It is a waste of bodily fluids.” With that it turned around and began to move away, towards the gaping, dry channel which used to be the River Thames. A cluster of Sentinels were digging in the dusty earth.

“Wait! Wait!” Genevieve said, stumbling after 2217. She moved out of the shade of the giant trees and felt her flesh seared by the two suns. She hissed and stepped backwards, her wide eyes taking in the angry red skin on her chest and shoulders; a vampire, indeed!

“You can’t just leave me here!” she screamed, clenching her fists and waving them after the retreating robot. “I need water! How am I supposed to eat? This is murder! COME BACK HERE, YOU MURDERER!” But the robot did not. It walked on, its shining solar panels glinting in the sun and mocking Genevieve’s delicate skin. Genevieve stood quivering with pain and impotence.

“So that’s it then?” she whispered, tears flowing down her cheeks. “It’s all over…I’m going to die here…” Genevieve Peers gazed around the unfamiliar, tropical landscape with its colossal foliage, its sandy ground and its cruel sunlight and she wept despite the warning. She wept for the world, she wept for the humans who would follow her, and she wept for herself. Overhead, the two suns blazed down on Earth like sadistic children cooking ants under a magnifying glass, and they had spotted their newest plaything.

 

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Fiction Fursday/First Contact

This week, my writing prompt comes from my long-suffering partner in crime, Samwise. Her suggestion was that I write about a world where humans do not exist. I think this is a great prompt which gave me a several ideas right away. In fact, I may revisit the prompt  another time because there are lots of stories I’d like to write from it!

After some thought, I decided to give the subject a sci-fi twist and take some of the focus away from the human-less planet. I hope you enjoy what I’ve managed to come up with.

P.S. If any of you would like to suggest a prompt for me to use in the future, please feel free to let me know by leaving a comment. Thanks!

 

First Contact

By Adam Dixon

When the shining rock burst out of the sky and crashed into the ocean the dolphins hurried to see it. Its landing had been terrifying; it had slammed into the ocean and tidal waves had erupted from the depths like roused giants fleeing for the shore. It took them many days to swim from their respective territories across the world, but the rock had remained inactive during that time, floating and steaming silently. Bobbing upon the warm waves near the shores of southern Spain, the Seven Kings and Seven Queens of the Seas clicked and screeched to one another in agitation as they waited for…something. They couldn’t explain it but they knew that the appearance of the rock was only the beginning of something incredibly important. Some parted the seawater in smooth movements as they circled the huge floating object, not quite knowing what to make of it. It appeared to have been crafted by hand and so was not simply a rock after all. It was unlike anything the Simian-Builders could hope to produce and the workmanship far exceeded them. The material was smooth and gleaming in the sunlight, and they could not understand its buoyancy. It was too large and heavy and its surface area too oddly-shaped to allow it to float, but float it did. It had caused a panic when it had been spotted as a ball of flame tearing across the sky but soon the animals’ fear had given way to curiosity. Finally, the combined minds of the Intelligent Species had identified it as some kind of great shell, most likely containing a living thing. That idea alone was enough to send ripples of awe and apprehension through the ranks of the world. A living thing which came from beyond the sky! What did it mean?

The dolphins were nervous and squeaked in excitement as the front of the shell began to hiss, seeming to break open and push a small section away from the main bulk. The score of apes in attendance grunted and whooped on board their sturdy wooden barge. The barge was lashed to the back of a great whale, who occasionally saw fit to spray its passengers with discharge from its blow-hole. The hulking gorillas ignored the action but the chimpanzees and monkeys leapt about, screeching their annoyance. Eagles, hawks and other majestic birds of prey circled overhead, watching the proceedings with keen eyes and ready talons. They, at least, would not be slaves to their emotions. White smoke billowed out from the shell, followed by the dim silhouette of a large, hunched creature.

“Something is coming!” the king of the Arctic Ocean squeaked. “And it has fire in its shell!” His fellows angrily bade him to be silent. They could not afford to become overexcited. Their coal-black eyes watched as the creature shuffled forwards through the smoke and revealed its form. It was a huge being, reaching seven feet tall despite being bent almost double on three hind legs. Its legs were muscular and hairless, with its dark blue skin shimmering in the light like scales. It had two long, tree-like arms which ended in sharp, tough claws. It had no visible neck, but it had one large, yellow eye at the front, left and right side of its head. Wide below its eyes appeared to be nostrils, but the animals could not see a mouth or a snout anywhere on its face. A sour, unnatural smell emanated from the creature, raising hackles and ruffling feathers in disgust. It was certainly not a smell known to animals, not even to their ancestral memory. The significance of the meeting settled on each creature like a leaden shroud.

“What is it?” the queen of the Pacific Ocean asked, her clicks subdued in wonder. No-one answered her.

It stood on the threshold of its spacecraft, taking in its surroundings. The planet’s nearest star was close enough to provide ample warmth but the glare forced it to squint its eyes. That had been a mistake; it should have calculated for such an inevitability. If the hunter’s vision was impaired, then the hunter lost its prey. It took in careful sips of air, sampling its flavours. The air was clean and unpolluted with plenty of oxygen, although it would have more comfortable with extra nitrogen. It began attempting to identify the various creatures attending it via their strong, individual scents. The water covering the landing spot had an almost overpowering scent of salt which made differentiation a challenge. Another potential hindrance to a hunt, it noted. The damp, silky beings were the closest and one of them swam towards it.

“Strange creature,” the queen of the Indian Ocean chattered, raising herself up to her full height in the water. “I bid you welcome to our domain. You are being addressed by the Seven Kings and Seven Queens of the Seas, alpha-mammals all and elected spokes-creatures for all life. Close by are representatives of the gallant Sky-Creatures and the Simian-Builders. Please identify yourself. Be you animal, vegetable or mineral? Do you come for a home, for a mate or for prey?” She flicked her tail to remain in her proud position, staring intently at the creature. The other dolphins bobbed in silence, waiting for any response. The creature gazed out at the assembled lifeforms impassively, turning its body to encompass them all in its wide field of vision. The tension from the animals was as palpable as the warmth of the sun and the caress of the wind on their skin, fur and feathers. The creature made no indication of understanding, it merely stood in its shell with its nostrils flaring as it tasted the air.

It was good to feel an atmosphere again, despite the frivolity of such desires. The creature counted fifty-four lifeforms in its immediate vicinity, including those in the sky. It concluded that it had been reckless to expose itself to three potential angles of attack, but it had been curious. Curious and bored. It had been a long journey to reach this small blue planet, and its orders were to scout for information, after all. But a hunter did not reveal itself to the prey, a hunter waited. It had failed this most basic lesson…

“I repeat, please identify yourself,” the queen of the Indian Ocean squeaked, her pitch betraying her impatience. Still the creature said nothing. A guttural hooting came from the whale-barge, and one of the gorillas, a proud silverback, was calling to the dolphins.

“I think the Simian is correct, my queen,” the king of the Atlantic Ocean clicked. “The creature doesn’t appear to understand us.”

“Hmmph! Perhaps!” the queen of the Indian Ocean snapped. “But tell that brute to keep his opinions to himself! He and his kind have our blessing to observe, not to make suggestions, sharks take them all!” The silverback was swiftly remonstrated and attention swung back to the alien. What was it, and what was it doing there?

It watched the collection of species before it with great interest. There were a wondrous variety of creatures on the planet, some of which appeared to be bound completely to the ocean. It was impressed by the ingenuity of the large, hairy beings who had braved and conquered the seas, albeit with the aid of a lesser, but gigantic, species. That indicated great potential. What of the aquatic creatures, though? They had attempted to communicate with it, that much was certain. Its tiny ears were hurt by the high-pitched calls of the individual which had addressed it. That one was clearly their leader. It would have to watch with caution. What else? Judging by the way that all of the creatures stared at its spacecraft it deduced that they had not seen metalwork before. They also did not possess any form of ground-to-air defences; it had simply coasted onto their planet at its leisure! So, they were primitive despite their obvious intelligence and were many generations away from space-travel yet. That was a pity, as perhaps they would have provided the challenge its people sought otherwise…

“I shall try to communicate using echolocation,” the queen of the Indian Ocean declared, swimming gracefully in a circle in order to look at each of her subjects and fellows. “It will not work as effectively on the surface, but it’s worth a try, I believe. Stand by…”

What was the leader doing now? It had moved through the waves with the ease of a great hunter, casting its eyes on the others gathered around it. Such an effective adaption; those creatures would prove difficult to best in the water. Something was about to happen, and the alien stood calmly as it waited. It reared up in alarm and pain as an assault of noise sent shock-waves into its skull. What was that?!

The animals screeched, yelled and chattered in astonishment as the creature made its first reaction since appearing to them. Most of them could only just make out the high-pitched series of clicks the dolphin was making, but they saw that the alien could not bear it. The combined racket of the animals only made it worse. It thrashed its huge arms wildly and stomped its three feet, producing a clanging noise from the strange shining shell. Overhead, the leader of the eagles perceived the burst of movement as a display of aggression and shrieked its battle-cry. Spreading his wings wide, he dove down towards the distressed creature, two of his fellows joining him and stretching their razor-like talons.

Despite the intense ringing inside its skull, it still saw the approaching creatures. There was no doubt as to their intentions. It spun and struck out at the winged beasts, its claws tearing into one of them in mid-flight. The creature fell into the ocean with a splash, crimson blood darkening the water and torn feathers decorating the surface. Talons raked across its broad back and above its central eye, ripping open the tight, hardened skin. It staggered in pain and surprise; not even its prey on advanced worlds had managed to break its hide with such ease! So, the planet did have warriors after all… Cool purple blood seeped into its eye and down its back as it took a defensive stance and awaited a second attack. The surviving beasts wheeled and rose high into the air once again. This was more like it!

“Stop! Stop!” the dolphins keened in unison. The creature flinched and the entire gathering of Sky-Beasts halted their lethal dive, pounding their impressive wings to hover a few meters above it. A few seconds later and they would have engulfed the creature. The apes were screeching and leaping about in a fury, smelling the acrid blood of the stranger and roaring their challenges to it. The whale beneath them became agitated, rocking the platform violently in an attempt to dislodge the barge. The apes panicked and tried their best to calm the whale with soothing ululations, clambering down the side of the platform to gently pat its glistening skin. The great beast stopped rocking, but sprayed water in agitation. The dolphins took stock of their surroundings, making sure that everything was once again under control before turning to face the creature. They were dismayed to see the creature lumbering back inside its shell and it closing up behind it. The oddly-shaped thing hummed and whirred unnaturally and a maelstrom of foam and heated water spun beneath it as it began to lift off from the sea.

It flicked switches and touched flashing screens with its pointed claws, irritated by the red blood which was smeared across the controls. It had underestimated the earthlings, which had been a grave error considering how hopelessly outnumbered it was. It had refused to give in to its blood-rage and had recognised the need to flee, but it had learned plenty during the brief visit. The creatures it had seen were intelligent and would make worthy adversaries, but it had concluded with certainty that the planet was not ready for interstellar combat. It glanced up at the preserved skeletons of defeated creatures from across the universe; grisly trophies which decorated every single ship of its people. They were warriors and lived for the thrill of battle, but they did not wish to engage in combat with creatures of lesser worth or prowess. No, this Earth was not yet ready. But it would be, and when its people returned in force…those would be glorious days! It closed its eyes as its craft sped through Earth’s atmosphere, imagining with longing the war to come. Soon, they would return…

Fiction Fursday/Dark Side Debriefing

Right, I’ve been back from my holiday for two weeks now and it is high time that I got back on track with my Fiction Fursday posts. Today’s story was suggested by the lovely Kate McClelland, who is never short of a good prompt! Kate challenged me thusly: an astronaut goes missing for twenty seconds whilst exploring the dark side of the moon…what happened? A great question, Kate, and another sci-fi for me to write!

Here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

P.S. If anyone would like to suggest a story prompt for another week, please do so by leaving a comment below.

 

Dark Side Debriefing

By Adam Dixon

“Is she ready to talk yet, doc?” Captain Anders said with impatience. He turned his steely blue eyes towards the slight medical officer, who wilted under his gaze.

“Yes, I believe so, sir,” was his meek reply as he gripped a handrail to stop himself floating onto the ceiling. It was not an easy thing to accomplish with a clipboard tucked under one arm, but he managed it nonetheless.

“Her vital signs are stable,” the medic continued. “She has also begun eating and drinking properly, which is encouraging. However, she is still rather shaken, so I would recommend that you keep her debriefing as simple as possible. No stressful questions or anything like that.”

“I’ll ask her whatever questions I damn well please!” the captain barked, releasing a handrail to slam his fist into the wall of the space shuttle. The force of the action sent Anders’ body careening away from the wall and titled him at a forty-five degree angle. Anders cursed and flailed, grabbing another rail and dragging his body back to a vertical position.

“Careful, sir,” the medic said, failing to hide his amusement. “Remember the Academy’s lessons about violent actions in zero-gravity environments.”

“You’d best shut your mouth, doc,” Anders hissed, narrowing his eyes. “Or I’ll bloody show you a violent action!” Again the medic wilted, mumbling apologies as he opened the door to the small infirmary. Anders muttered to himself about smart-arsed medics and their bloody degrees before floating past the threshold. A short drift along a windowless corridor brought him to a sealed door. As Anders held his gaze in front of the retinal scanner, he heard muffled voice from within the room.

“…Forty thousand… yes, yes…back on Earth…agreed…” was all Anders could make out before the door slid open.

“Excellent! Excellent!” A jubilant medic said, hopping about in excitement. Anders pulled himself through the door. The sterile stink of disinfectant assaulted his nostrils and the beeping whirring of equipment echoed strangely after the silence of the corridor. The infirmary was designed to look like a standard hospital ward back on Earth, supposedly to reassure the patients. Anders thought it was a depressing reminder of what they had left behind.

“What’s excellent?” Anders grunted. Christ, he hated medics!

“Oh, Captain Anders! Sir!” The portly medic started and dropped his clipboard. It floated in front of his splayed fingers for an instant before the bespectacled man seized it once again. He looked up sheepishly, his eyes wide and his face flushed. His feet were actually touching the metal floor, being held in place by a smooth magnet which was harnessed to his body. As Anders fought to maintain his stability he seethed at the younger man’s ease of movement.

“I, erm…was just looking at Armstong’s chart, and err…” the medic stammered.

“I need to speak with Armstrong,” Anders said with impatience. “Dismissed!” The medic nodded over and over again as he walked out of the infirmary. Anders considered pulling rank and demanding that he relinquish his harness, but he thought better of it. Instead he looked carefully at the woman in front of him. Strapped down to a pallet bed, was Delilah Armstrong, a young woman with fierce green eyes and blond hair which floated around her head like a golden mane. Armstrong’s torso was not strapped so she was able to sit up and she held herself with dignity despite her haggard appearance. Her skin was pale and drawn and her lightly-dressed body was clearly malnourished. Anders wondered how that could have gotten past the medics before she was cleared for her mission.

“Armstrong,” Anders nodded curtly. “How’re you holding up?”

“Captain Anders,” Armstrong returned the nod cautiously. “I’ve been better. It’s not every day I nearly die of thirst yards from safety, you know?” Anders had always appreciated her wariness, especially when in the presence of a superior officer. He supposed there was a certain degree of entitlement considering her family history, but he approved of that also. It demonstrated a backbone which many of his crew lacked.

“I’m here to debrief you, Armstrong,” Anders continued. “I’d like to hear your account of what happened three days ago, but cut the embellishments, if you please. I’ve heard your reports before and I haven’t got all day.” Armstrong stiffened at his bluntness but didn’t say anything about it.

“Well, sir,” Armstrong said slowly, her eyes drifting as she thought back to a few days previously. “I was out exploring the moon’s Dark Side as ordered. I was alone, with my suit, my jetpack and my comlink as I performed the required scanning of the surface. As I fired up to return to the Echo, my transmissions went cold. I saw…nothing. There was darkness all around me, and even the stars had stopped shining. I was in the dark and the cold for what felt like months, but it must have been two days judging by my dehydration. That’s what the doc tells me, anyway.”

“Never mind what the doc tells you,” Anders snapped. “Worry about what you’re saying to me, and I said no embellishments! I need to get this straight, Armstrong…you’re saying that our temporary loss of contact with you was due to some alternation in time? In science?” Armstrong raised her arms in exasperation.

“Yeah, I think so, Captain!” she said, her face the very picture of indignation. “I’m not sure how else to describe it! All I know is that everything was fine one minute and then I was drifting in darkness for three days!”

“We lost contact with you for twenty seconds, Armstrong, that’s all.”

“Sir, I think I must’ve passed through some kind of warp in time.”

“Oh, what a load of crap!” It was Anders’ turn to swing his arms, which he regretted as soon as he began to spin around in the chamber. “If there were such things out there we would’ve discovered it decades ago!”

“Clearly there are still mysteries in space, Captain,” Armstrong’s tone was ever so slightly mocking and it made Anders very annoyed. He took a deep breath and decided to change tactics.

“Look, Armstrong, you’re an exceptional astronaut,” Anders began awkwardly. He wasn’t used to giving compliments. “I guess it runs in the family. But you can’t expect me to believe this story, it’s too…”

“Ridiculous? Impossible? ” Armstrong suggested in a harsh tone. “Or is it simply because I’m a woman that you don’t think I’m capable of a breakthrough discovery?”

“Don’t test me, Armstrong,” Anders warned, his eyes alight with fury.

“Just because you don’t believe me, sir, that doesn’t mean that others won’t!” Armstrong said triumphantly. Her eyes were glazed. “I’ll be remembered for this, just you wait! When the scientists start researching into this new discovery about space and time MY name will be attached to it! I’ll be like my great-grandfather then, a figure of history! There were plenty of people who thought that his Landing was a hoax, they conspired for years, but time proved them wr-“

“Hoax?” Anders interrupted. “Who said anything about a hoax?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, Captain. Your refusal to listen to me indicates how you’re thinking.” Armstrong sneered, but Anders was sure that he had detected a note of panic in her voice. It was there for a second and then it was gone, like breath through an airlock. Armstrong continued ranting about the famous Neil and his heroic team but Anders wasn’t really listening. The picture of events became clearer in his mind; the number he had overheard, the medic’s excitement, Armstrong’s physical condition and story on the whole… he had heard enough.

“I think that’ll do it, Armstrong,” Anders said firmly, cutting her off again. “I have all I need to make my report.”

“Very good, sir,” Armstrong said with a frown, no doubt suspicious of the speed of Anders’ decision. “I’m feeling bit faint as it happens. Must be the drugs kicking in.”

“Well then, you’d better rest up,” Anders said as he pulled himself back towards the door. “We’ll need you back on form as soon as possible.”

Anders knew that Armstrong’s story was bullshit, and he had enough to work with. He pressed a button on his comlink and spoke into it.

“Navigator, inform Ground Control that I wish to send them a preliminary report of Armstrong’s debriefing.” He paused for a moment as the Navigator patched him through to a secure channel to Earth.

“Ground Control, this is Captain Anders of the Moon Station, Echo IV,” Anders spoke calmly and precisely. “I wish to summarise my findings concerning our most recent recon mission. Our crew member, Ðelilah Armstrong, was physically unfit to undertake this mission as she was badly dehydrated and malnourished. It is my belief that her medical reports prior to the mission were deliberately falsified. As a result of her physical condition, Armstrong lost consciousness for approximately twenty seconds whilst scanning the Dark Side and she began to hallucinate. I would urge sympathy when she returns to Earth but I would also suggest that anything she describes to you to be considered with this in mind. I will prepare a fuller report once I have launched a thorough investigation of my medical team.”

“Acknowledged, Captain,” a static voice replied. “Your report has been logged. Over and out.” Captain Anders nodded and placed his hands behind his back. He didn’t really know why he had decided to salvage Armstrong’s career despite her atrocious behaviour; perhaps be was becoming sentimental in his old age. More likely it was because he needed every good astronaut he could find, and Armstrong was lucky enough to be one of the best. So she would survive this blip in her career relatively unscathed. Anders didn’t mind putting a scare into the medical team, though. Let them squirm for a while, he thought with satisfaction. Anders stretched briefly before assume his place at the command desk and gazed out at the wide expanse of space. There was still a moon to observe, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Second Coming of Olympus

Zeus walked carefully across the charred wasteland, both awed and repulsed by the world he once knew. The soles of his feet burned from contact with the scorched earth and he stepped over hundreds of blackened corpses as he made his way towards the ocean. A breath of wind which was far too warm brought the putrid scents of decay and harsh chemicals to his nostrils, making him grimace. The planet he loved had until now teemed with life and its population had grown impossibly high. It had seemed as if there were more humans on earth than there were leaves in the trees at one point, but now there were none.

Zeus had been amazed at the progress of humanity; amazed, and fiercely proud. Long gone were the days when the King of the Olympians had felt anger towards them for turning their back on the gods. Unruly children rebelled as they grew, and Zeus knew this fact all too well. In fact, abandonment had given him the opportunity for self-reflection and consideration, and he now clearly saw where the Olympians had gone wrong. If they had spent less time enjoying the fruits of the earth and basking in their own glory they may have retained the respect of their creation. Only Hades had remained occupied over the millennia, and even he had become overwhelmed…

But oh, how far they had come! Discoveries had been made that were beyond the comprehension of the gods themselves! For what paltry gifts could the Olympians offer mankind in the wake of such treasures of science and technology? No, they had realised early on that they must become obsolete. The world had become bigger than Greece and stretched further in the minds of men than Persia and Egypt. Men were hungry for discovery and adventure, and quickly threw off the shackles of Mount Olympus.

But who could have predicted this? Zeus stood silently among the rubble and ash which had once been Athens and gazed out towards the ocean. There were no sounds anymore, save for the sighing of the waves. The Aegean Sea had swollen beyond all proportion until it now lapped against the foot of Lykavittos Hill. Zeus waded out into the warm, stinking water and moved past the ruined shells of houses and restaurants. The waves were black with soot and detritus bobbed sadly in them; Zeus noted the wings of aeroplanes, missile casings and shredded tyres. Floating among them were the irradiated corpses of millions of sea creatures, rotting in the blistering heat of the nuclear fallout. Zeus shook his head, running a hand through his long, matted beard. His brother, Poseidon, had been the most deeply affected by the carnage, so much so that he had not uttered a word for centuries. Zeus feared he may never speak again.

So, the hubris of mankind had proven to be its downfall and the long-forgotten gods were the last beings standing. Should that be considered a victory? Zeus could see nothing victorious about the circumstances. The planet was broken, of that there was no doubt. But could it be fixed? Zeus had spoken to his brethren and they were in agreement; they would come out of their long, long dormancy and reclaim dominion over the world. They would have a Second Coming, so to speak, and in doing so would create life on earth again. This time, however, they would learn from their mistakes; there would be no more toying with their favourites, no more jealousy and no more intrigue and betrayal between them. They would secure that cursed Box and Hephaestus would bind it in the strongest chains he could forge. They would also take steps to ensure that Prometheus would never again be left alone with fire…

Zeus was confident about his plan. The Olympians would flex their dulled muscles and be almighty once again! They would create a new world in which they and other lifeforms could prosper forevermore, and this time it would be completely untainted by the fury of mankind. Zeus took a last, lingering look at the engorged Aegean before striding back towards Mount Olympus. There was a great deal of work to be done.

The Dashed Hopes of Kelpto

I wrote this short Sci-fi piece about a month ago and intended it to be sent to a magazine or website. Instead I’ve decided to share it on here with you guys.

I hope you like it.

The Dashed Hopes of Kelpto

By Adam Dixon

 

The trio stood motionless in the Observation Room, gazing down at their stricken planet. Together they represented the highest authorities of the Kelptonians, which is why they were in the relative safety of orbit. But even being such a distance from the chaos below would not keep them safe for long.

“What about the other humans? From Earth?” High Sapien Teflar inquired, staring intently at the scientist. High Scholar Jenvere pushed her glasses up her nose nervously and was about to reply when a gruff voice interrupted her.

“The Earthlings? I’m sorry, sir, but that is ridiculous.” Master General Kle’fir held both hands behind his back and thrust out his barrel chest, the light from the plasma rods above reflecting on his medals.

“I wasn’t asking you, General!” Teflar snapped, his elaborate bone headdress swaying as he turned to glare at Kel’fir. “Now, High Scholar, what about the Earthlings? Could we summon them for aid?”

“Well, sir, theoretically it is possible,” she replied, her voice high pitched and bird-like.

“Theoretically? All of our allies have deserted us, damn it! I don’t have time for theories!” Teflar barked. Jenvere jumped and clutched her notes to her chest, as if they would protect her from his anger.

“W-wel you s-see, sir,” she stammered. “Earth is w-within our t-travelling capabilities, b-but it w-would still t-take far too long to m-make the journey.”

“What do you mean? Speak!” Teflar’s eyes were mad with rage.

“She means,” Kle’fir said calmly, “That sending a party to Earth would take hundreds of years even in our fastest transporters. If they agree to aid us, which is unlikely, it would then take them the same amount of time to be escorted back to Kelpto. We are talking about the passing of almost a millennia.”

“You cannot be serious…” Teflar was dumbfounded.

“I-I’m afraid he is, High Sapien, sir,” Jenvere piped up. “By the time the Earthlings reach us, the war will have been over for centuries.”

“But we can’t just let those six-eyed monstrosities claim our planet!” Teflar fumed, pacing. He was short even for a Kelptonian, so he wore high-heeled boots which clomped on the titanium floor of the spacecraft.

“The Earthlings, they could return and reclaim Kelpto, should we lose it!” he reasoned, gesturing aggressively with his arms, causing his headdress to wobble dangerously.

“Why should they fight for a distant planet which they have never heard of, sir?” Kle’fir’s voice contained the barest hint of mockery. “I doubt we would, were our situations reversed.”

“Because…” Teflar gestured again, his mouth opening and closing as he struggled to find the words.

“Because they court war!” he said triumphantly. “They seek it continually! We’ve watched them for hundreds of years, we know what they are capable of! They are ruthless, efficient warriors and conflict is no stranger to them!”

“Perhaps, but there is also the issue of their ignorance, sir,” Kle’fir added.

“Bah! If it takes centuries to reach them, then they will no longer be ignorant!” Teflar replied hotly. “You’ve seen the satellite videos, General, they are progressing with their knowledge at an alarming rate. If they still are unaware of extra-terrestrial life by then, I see no issue with aiding in their enlightenment. We are losing this war, General, we have no time to debate ethics!”

“The gravitational difference of our planets would also cause some difficulties,” Jenvere began. “For both our people and the Earthli-“

“Problems! Problems again!” Teflar grasped his headdress and threw it at the wall with all his might. Bone shattered against cold metal and fell to the floor in a thousand pieces. He turned his blazing eyes on to the poor scientist once again.

“I don’t want to hear problems from you, High Scholar!” he roared. “I want to hear solutions!” Jenvere stood shaking, her violet eyes wide and her lower lip quivering.

“As for our denser gravity, it might play to our advantage!” Teflar ranted, his voice echoing around the room. “Our enemies aren’t expecting to see human beings over four feet tall, which will provide us with the element of surprise! Tell me that fact doesn’t appeal to you, General?”

“It does, sir, I must admit,” Kle’fir replied, stroking his grey beard. “But they are too many risks for this to be a viable option. A significant one being that if we lose the planet we could not warn the coming Earthlings, and whatever advanced weaponry they learn to use on their journey will no doubt be obsolete, making the whole venture a waste of time.”

Teflar opened his mouth, but the torrent Kel’fir expected did not come. The High Sapien simply closed his eyes tightly, breathing hard for a few moments with his fists clenched. Finally, he released a long sigh of resignation and opened his eyes. The fury inside was replaced by sadness.

“Perhaps you are both correct,” he said softly, running a hand over his shaven head. “It does seem a foolhardy venture when faced with the bare facts…I am clutching at straws, I admit.” The High Sapien of Kelpto straightened up and adopted his usual regal manner.

“Very well,” he said with more confidence than he felt. “Then we shall continue this war on our own. The Earthlings will remain ignorant, and perhaps that is for the best.” He strode up to the large window once again and rested his forehead against the cool glass. “Let’s pray the Great Beyond looks upon us favourably.”

“Yes, High Sapien, let us pray that it does.” Kel’fir replied. The trio once again gazed down upon the planet Kelpto, where fires could be seen spreading across her many continents, and prayed for a miracle.

A – Z Challenge Day 23

It is Day 23 and today’s word comes from another one of my work colleagues, Jamie. As it happens, Jamie is my supervisor, which makes his suggestion all the more amusing. His prompt is the word “WASTED”, and judging by the grin on his face when he suggested it I knew exactly what kind of story he was hoping for!

Well, I had a bit of a think and came up with an idea that I really like. It’s been partially inspired by my thought process for each word during this Challenge, and I hope you enjoy it. Thanks again, Jamie!

WASTED

By Adam Dixon

“Settle down, class!” the stern-faced robotic teacher commanded. She was fully seven feet of gleaming chrome with stern feminine features carefully painted on to her “face”. She had even had glasses added to complete the academic effect. The babbling group of forty children quietened to a murmur before reaching complete silence. It was a young class as most of the children were between five and seven years old. The teacher surveyed the room with her highly-attuned sensors and confirmed that every pupil was concentrating.

“Your English Language class will now begin,” the teacher buzzed as she spoke, turning towards a large metal disc set into the floor. It looked very much like a polished version of the manholes that used to lead into sewers during the last millennium. The teacher stretched out a shining arm and the disc began to glow. A cone of light erupted from its surface, creating a shimmering image of the word “WASTED”. The teacher turned to face the children.

“Today’s lesson will consider adjectives, and we will begin with this word: wasted. Listen to how it is pronounced and repeat after me. WASTED.” The class dutifully repeated the word back to the teacher. She nodded and waved at the disc again. The image shifted, and in the blink of an eye transformed into a high-definition image of an industrial skip which was filled with half-eaten sandwiches, water bottles and sweets. The children began to talk and gesture at the image, but were silenced by a sharp glance from the teacher.

“Now, here we see an example of the formal use of the word. Please note that the inclusion of this ancient device known as a “skip” is purely for your amusement. This collection of partially-eaten food demonstrates that potential nourishment has been wasted. There was no need to throw it away as there was plenty left to eat. What do we call this kind of behaviour, class? Please reflect on our previous lessons on adjectives.” A few of the children shouted out their answers.

“Juvenile!”

“Ungrateful!”

“Greedy!”

“Shitty!”

The teacher strode over to the desk at the front of the class and pressed one of forty red buttons spread out across it. There was a sharp buzzing sound and a small, ginger-haired boy yelped and leaped out of his seat, rubbing his rear. The rest of the class burst out laughing, jeering and pointing at the unfortunate youth.

“Be advised, Macolm, that whilst your use of the word ‘shitty’ can be considered correct, you are not permitted to use curse words in this classroom.” The teacher said, her painted face aimed at the boy.

“Sorry, miss…” Malcolm mumbled, carefully sitting back down. His classmates stopped laughing and paid attention, afraid that they would be punished next.

“Good,” the teacher said, moving back to the holo-disc. “This word can also refer to an action, a fitting example being Malcolm’s wasted effort at answering my question.” The class sniggered and Malcolm hung his head. The teacher waved at the disc and the image warped and was replaced once again. In place of the wasted food, there stood the image of a badly emaciated woman. Her skin was stretched across bones which could be seen easily even at the back of the class and her gaunt face was skull-like. She glanced up at the class and her long black hair moved away from her face, revealing a chilling smile. A few of the children gasped and four of them started crying. The teacher ruthlessly buzzed the sobbing youths until they held back their emotions. They sat trembling, enduring the wretched image in order for the lesson to continue.

“This is another example of the word wasted,” the teacher continued as if nothing had happened. “In this sense, it refers to the body of this woman; it has shrivelled and become very weak through lack of nourishment. This was a common problem among the people of the early twenty-first century due to the “Size-Zero” phenomenon in fashionable society, as you will recall from your History lessons.” The image of the woman gazed around the class with haunted eyes and raised a hand towards them. This time several more children began to cry and the teacher was forced to change the image more quickly. The hologram shifted and a tall, reasonably healthy-looking man replaced the skeletal woman. His face was slack, his movements were clumsy and he wore a ludicrous smile on his face. He hiccoughed, belched and laughed every few seconds, clutching a half-eaten kebab in one hand and an almost-empty bottle of beer in the other.

“Here, we have an example of the informal use of wasted,” the teacher droned on. “This man has been rendered incomprehensible and unbalanced through severe intoxication: therefore, this man is wasted.” The man giggled and dropped his glasses. As he bent down to retrieve them, he also dropped his kebab. Swearing loudly, he leaned down further and performed a crab-like shuffle as he tried to decide which of his belongings needed saving first. Before he could reach a decision, he fell on to his hands and knees and promptly vomited on to the floor. The hologram was very sophisticated, recreating every image in stunning detail. The horrified children screamed as one as the very real-looking vomit spread towards their desks. The teacher frantically waved her arms and the image faded.

“Silence, class!” She ordered, stabbing the shock buttons at random and ignoring the shrieks they caused. “It was merely a computer-generated image and nothing to become agitated about! Please sit quietly so that we can move on to our second adjective of today, the word SCARY!”

The children wailed collectively and the robotic teacher tutted. She was running out of buttons!

 

A – Z Challenge Day 16

Today’s story prompt comes from my younger brother, Ben. I should start off by commending him for his restraint, considering the words I was certain he would suggest for “P”!

The word he has picked was pleasantly surprising, as well as quite interesting. Today’s word is “POLYGAMY”. I was initially toying with the idea of writing something dark surrounding this topic, as there are unfortunately several real-life horror stories which I could have drawn inspiration from. However, I decided that I would ignore that impulse for today and come up with something a little more light-hearted. This one has a sci-fi feel to it, too. Thanks again, bro!

Here’s what I came up with. I hope you enjoy it.

POLYGAMY

By Adam Dixon

“Come on, John, just one more drink!” Samuel pleaded, holding tight to John’s coat as he stood up. “Just one more! I…don’t want to go home yet…” Samuel looked down at his friend, meeting his green eyes and seeing something very close to desperation within them. He sighed and sat back down.

“Alright, Sammy,” he relented, “But only one more; I’ve got a meeting in the morning and I’m not facing those androids with bloodshot eyes and beer-breath! They’ve been programmed to detect alcohol in the air now, so I’d have no chance at hiding it!”

“Right, right, just one!” Samuel beamed his gratitude and waved at a passing Server. The mechanical man turned its expressionless face towards their table and strode over, buzzing and whirring as it lifted its heavy metal legs.

“YES, SIRS, HOW MAY I ASSIST?” It looked and sounded almost exactly alike the four other Servers in the pub. The two men wouldn’t have known if they had been served by this particular model before, they were so similar. Samuel raised two fingers in front of the Server’s front sensors.

“We’ll have two more beers, please,” he commanded. “Add the cost to my tab. My code is 080292.”

“CERTAINLY, SIR,” the droid replied, bowing awkwardly before moving in the direction of the bar. They could hear its internal fans from ten feet away. Samuel and John sat in a comfortable silence as they waited for their drinks. The pub was designed to look and feel just like a typical public house from the previous century, complete with wooden tables and chairs and blackboards denoting the prices of various drinks. No-one present knew who J.D. Wetherspoon was, but apparently he had owned several such places. They looked presentable enough, in a dated kind of way, and at least the booze was cheap. It smelled faintly of sweaty feet, but neither man knew if that was intentional.

“Thanks, Johnny-boy, I really appreciate it,” Samuel said as the droid returned with their drinks. The beer was a luminous green and the head on them was a mottled white. The two men clinked their glasses and each took a deep mouthful.

“So, this polygamy thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, eh?” John asked with a wry smile. Samuel grimaced and took another long swig.

“You can say that again, my friend!” he responded, wiping foam from his lips with the back of his hand. “I understand now why it used to be illegal! So many problems every single day!”

“There must be some good things, though?” John ventured. “One thing springs immediately to mind…”

“Oh, forget it!” Samuel waved his hand dismissively. “My sex life isn’t much better for it, and mostly because I’m too exhausted from dealing with them during the day! Even then it’s not like I’m settled on that score. Of course they aren’t always going to be willing to get in the sack, and there is nothing quite as soul-destroying as being rejected by three women in one night…” John burst out laughing and tried vainly to disguise it with another mouthful of beer.

“Yes, go on! Laugh it up!” Samuel sighed. “I can see the funny side, honestly. I just can’t bring myself to laugh at it!”

“I’m sorry, Sammy,” John said, his mirth fading. Samuel only nodded. The two men sat in silence once again, listening to the buzz of conversation as men, women and cyborgs chattered to one another or spoke into their surgically-attached headsets.

“You know, I think our forefathers had it much easier,” Samuel spoke up after a short while. “They mostly married for love rather than business. I mean, look at me: I’ve married three times, strictly for business arrangements and I’m not any happier for it. I’ve become very successful, of course, but I’m stuck in dumps like this every night because I can barely bring myself to go home to my business partners! That’s not living, surely?” John was about to respond when two shrill voices cut through the ambience of the pub.

“SAMUEL! THERE YOU ARE! COME HOME THIS INSTANT!”

“I KNEW WE’D FIND YOU IN THIS PIT AGAIN!”

Everyone in the building stopped what they were doing and turned to look at the two angry women who had burst in through the large front doors. One was older, tall and bony, and the other was young, short and plump. Both were fairly attractive and both wore masks of fury and contempt. Samuel groaned aloud.

“Speak of the Devils and they shall appear!” he said resentfully, lifting his beer and downing the last couple of mouthfuls. John didn’t quite know what to say, merely sitting and staring into his half-finished beer. Samuel clapped him on the shoulder as he stood to leave.

“This is one of the perks, I suppose,” he said, with a forced smile. “My wives are quite old-fashioned; they’d rather march in here to embarrass me personally instead of calling me on my headset! Looks like my second wife has stayed at home…that can’t be a good sign…Anyway, I must be off. See you around, Johnny-boy, and wish me luck!” John nodded and grasped Samuel’s wrist.

“Good luck, Sammy,” he said, smiling at Samuel with sympathy in his eyes. Samuel cleared his throat and strode over to greet his wives. John could still hear them chiding him as the thick doors closed behind them. He raised his pint to his lips, contemplating his friend’s pitiable position. He grimaced as he finished the green dregs.

“You may be right, Sammy,” he muttered to himself. “Our forefathers did have it easier: they had better marriages and better beer!” He left a tip for the android and made his own way home, happily and gratefully alone.

Where Were You?

Today’s post is something of a milestone. It marks the 20th short story to be uploaded on to my blog! Well, technically it is the 16th, but due to a bit of a cock-up by yours truly it ended up being sent to the lovely Esther Newton and was first published on her blog on 29th January 2016. I had marked it for use in a flash fiction competition, but I was happy for Esther to use it and my mistake did make me laugh! But anyway, I’ve recently remembered that I didn’t post it on here so tonight I am doing just that. I hope you enjoy it if you haven’t read it already!

Also, please check out Esther’s blog! https://esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com/

 

Where Were You?

By Adam Dixon

 

“Hush, my darling,” Sylvia crooned, stroking his thick, curled hair as he sobbed into her chest. She and her fiancé had just finished making love, their bodies bathed in sweat and their mutual ecstasy fading. Seconds after its conclusion, Dion had gazed at Sylvia, his shining brown eyes filling with tears. She held him close, her heart aching at his sadness.

“I shan’t be gone for long, my love,” she whispered. “In fact, you will barely notice my absence. Doctor Jonas has assured me that I will return within hours of my departure.”

“But what if you don’t?” Dion’s head came up, and he fixed Sylvia with an imploring stare. “There are no guarantees with time travel, and you know it. Christ, Sylvie, you might not even make it back!”

“We both knew the risks when I accepted the mission, Dion,” Sylvia replied, her voice still gentle but with a stern edge. “We knew what could happen when the time came, and we were both prepared for it. Or at least, I thought we both were.” She gave him a reproachful look and cocked her head to one side. Long red hair spilled across her left shoulder and covered one of her breasts. Dion’s eyes followed her hair, and he reached out to tangle his fingers in it as he cupped her cheek.

“I know, I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just that now it’s finally here…I don’t know…I can’t bear the thought of never seeing you again.”

“But you will, Dion,” Sylvia said earnestly, running her hand across his dark forearm. “A few hours we will be apart; a few days at most. We’ve endured longer periods than that!”

“True,” Dion smiled weakly, brushing the tears from his eyes. “I’m just worried about you, I suppose. I’m sure you’re right.”

“I am,” Sylvia said, winking at him. “Doctor Jonas has calculated every possible outcome to a minute detail. He is certain that I will return to this very house, and in this very room! Now, hush.” She pulled him close to her and they lay down on the double bed, drawing warmth from each other’s bodies. Dion nuzzled her neck as he got comfortable, and closed his eyes with a sigh. Sylvia gently played with his short, wiry hair, recognising that he would soon be asleep. Before he slipped off, he mumbled something.

“What was that, my love?” Sylvia turned her head to hear him.

“I’ll wait for you…” he said, almost asleep. “I love you, Sylvie.”

“I love you too,” Slyvia whispered, a lump in her throat. She lay in the darkness with Dion’s arms around her, listening to his breathing as the tears rolled down her cheeks.

***

Sylvia stepped out of the time capsule, the air crackling with the surge of quantum energy. The floorboards vibrated beneath her feet from the burst of power. She glanced around her and smiled. The doctor had been correct; she was in her old bedroom! It was night-time, so perhaps just a few hours on from her departure if her luck was in. A snort of surprise nearby caused her to turn around. She saw an elderly black man sitting in a chair across the dark room, his eyes agape.

“Oh, I do apologise!” Slyvia rushed over to the man, resting a hand on his shoulder. “It is rather startling, isn’t it? I was warned that there may be a temporal shift upon my return! I do hope it didn’t shock you too much! Are you alright, sir?” The man stared at Sylvia, his eyes wide with astonishment. Sylvia began to feel uncomfortable.

“Yes, erm,” she said, unsure what to say. “I wonder, who are you, sir? You see, I was expecting to surprise someone else entirely tonight!” She smiled at the old man, hoping he would say something. He did, and it chilled her to the bone.

“You’re back…” he rasped. “I waited…so long.” Tears filled his rheumy, brown eyes and recognition hit Sylvia like a slap in the face.

“Dion!?” She cried in disbelief. “Dion, is that you? It can’t be!”

“I waited for you…Sylvie,” Dion stroked her hand with his wrinkled fingers and wept. Sylvia stood dumbstruck, the horror of the situation creeping into her like a virus.

“Dion…” she stammered. “I…but how long…how?”

“Where were you?” Dion repeated between sobs. “It’s been forty years! Where were you?!”

The white-haired old man wailed into the night, and Sylvia’s heart broke at the sound of it.