Flung Forth

EotE4: The Thanks of a Grateful Universe:

In a style borrowed from Mr Webster, a microfiction about luck:

When the fog cleared, the debris swept away, the buildings rebuilt and the criminal proceedings complete, the universe was thankful. Someone paid off her mortgage. Some anonymous donations meant she would never have to work again. She didn’t give many interviews – a publicist worked hard to keep her out of the spotlight – and those she did were unremarkable. She was the right person at the right time. She stood up for what she believed in, and it turned out to be enough. In time, the media attention and the words closed around her, until only the occasional reminders in the background when she shopped (“Isn’t that the girl who saved the world?”) and the thanks of a grateful universe remained.

To be owed a debt by reality in general is a thing that manifests itself in a myriad of strange ways. Her headphones didn’t tangle in her pockets anymore. Buses tended to arrive as she reached the stop. Things she wanted tended to be on discount. She had just enough milk left for cereal and tea. It started to escalate, though.

She noticed that when she was running late, her train would have had signal problems. It seemed like coincidence, but the guilt of making a whole train full of people late for work wore her down, and she went to great lengths not to be late anymore. When she didn’t have a pound for the trolley, someone had left one in the last one; but who? Could they afford to lose the deposit?

She fell through the cracks of her phone company’s systems, and they stopped billing her. When she phoned up to query what had happened, the supervisor said “Someone will be fired for this”, and she worried about who. It became a constant worry, who was paying for all the things that were going her way.

On a hen party trip to Vegas, she was arrested. The casinos couldn’t understand how someone won every game, every time, and assumed she was cheating. It took a couple of weeks for them to decide they didn’t have any evidence that would stick. She was deported.

She tried to be generous with her money, and every pound she donated was returned in a surprise raffle win. When she won a holiday, she gave it to a neighbour, only to discover that due to a clerical error she’d been given a voucher for two holidays, and they wouldn’t take it back.

Without a possibility of failure, she became reckless. Throwing herself from an airplane with a parachute seemed like easy mode. Without a parachute she discovered the existence of a world record pillow fort, over sixty feet high, and fell to a gentle landing.

Eventually she took up being a vigilante, and stalked the streets in the name of justice for some years. The criminals of her city grew to fear her name and her costume alike, though she never happened to show up on camera. Bullets handily missed her. Knives skidded off jewellery, cigarette cases, novels and other unlikely objects in freak demonstrations of physics edge cases. Others around her weren’t so lucky, though, and she abandoned the streets for a quieter life.

Then, one day, a grand scheme arose. Like the plan she originally thwarted so carefully, the world itself was at threat, and reality couldn’t stand the cost of losing.

And this time, she didn’t stand in front of it.

It would have been literally self-defeating.

So she won, with the help of a grateful universe.

Flung Forth

EotE 3 – Executing

The bunker was dark and still, and had been for a while now. The doors pointlessly locked and bolted – there was nobody to find them, and the tunnel had been collapsed – a room made remarkable by its ordinariness. On a desk in the corner, a screen came to life, briefly.

Battery levels, 23%. Estimated time remaining: 104 days.
Lifesigns detected (est. 3sf): Human: 12,500, other: 411,000,000. Undetermined: 1,440
Press any key or wait to continue. Ctrl-C to stop process.
[3.....2.....1..... Continue]
Progressing state.

The screen stayed on for a moment or two, illuminating abandoned coffee mugs, sheets of paper, the edges of a whiteboard, the back of a chair. Then everything was dark.

For two weeks there was silence, until a fan chirped up, was followed by its fellows. A screen lit once again:

Battery levels, 22%. Estimated time remaining: 90 days.
Lifesigns detected in range (est. 3sf): Human: 10,500, other: 403,000,000. Undetermined: 3,440
Press any key or wait to continue. Ctrl-C to stop process.
[3.....2.....1..... Continue]
Progressing state.

Another fortnight. Dust formed over the screen and the keys. Silence continued in the room, far below anyone. Above, the blackened ring of the last launch was slowly washed away by the rain, as slowly the forest reclaimed the city. The brief and scratchy white noise of a dusty fan spinning into action, and the screen came alive again.

Battery levels, 5%. Estimated time remaining: 7 days.
Lifesigns detected in range (est. 3sf): Human: 4,550, other: 253,000,000. Undetermined: 9,440
CRITICAL: Battery Failure. Executing final state.
Press any key or wait to continue. Ctrl-C to stop process.
[3.....2.....1..... Continue]
Procedure BREAK [AUTH:CleaverK] "Remember, Actual hardware connected now. 
Be absolutely fucking sure before this times down."
10.....9.....8.....7.....6.....5.....4.....3.....2.....1..... Continue]
Procedure DEBUG [AUTH:CleaverK] "I hope you know what you're doing"
Progressing state.

Far above in the blinding daylight, from the top of a non-descript and abandoned skyscraper, a large amount of red gas blows out into the world like a mushroom cloud. In a few days time, when it rains, the rain is red. It rains like that for a week, staining the roads and pathways, the plants and farms. Where it snows, it snows a light pink shade. It rains an awful lot.

It doesn’t rain in the bunker, where the fan announces its familiar presence.

Battery levels, 1%. Estimated time remaining: 0.01 days.
Lifesigns detected in range (est. 3sf): Human: 0, other: 273,000,000. Undetermined: 0
Task complete. Shutting down
Press any key or wait to continue. Ctrl-C to stop process.
[3.....2.....1..... Continue]

Soon the screen turns off, and the room will never be lit again. The remains of an office that looks so ordinary, in a bunker so deep, below a skyscraper so tall, won’t ever be seen again. Nobody will read the post-it note that long ago fell from the monitor it was attached to:

“The computer was left on to kill the world.”

Well done.

Flung Forth

EOTE2 – London Town

I awoke from dreams of a blue plague, on a train out of the city.

I returned to London this weekend.

The letter from the doctor said I was clear, my infection wasn’t fatal, and that I was cleared to return for periods of not more than twelve hours.

Jenna also got a letter, which was harder.

The guard at the station took my letter and checked it against the registry, and let me inside. I was surprised to find that the Underground was still operational – some kind of early version of the entirely automated network they turned on – and rode the train, the journey a strange mix of the familiar routines of travelling though London and the alien silence of the abandoned and dirty carriage. The lights flickered off between stations occasionally, not picking up until minutes later, and the only lights into the carriages then were the bright fluorescence of an approaching station. Sat in darkness, waiting for the blinding light. Again.

My shoes clattered and echoed though the abandoned station when I got off, the routine whirr of the elevators and constant announcements conspicuously absent; though the irony of a voice reminding us to Take All Your Belongings With You has echoed though my mind from the day we evacuated to this. All our belongings in the bags beside us, that little we could grab.

The cornershops and kebab places were trashed and looted, and any house nearby, and this made me fear for my own small flat. I needn’t have bothered. Those who had stayed to systematically loot the area were just as infected as those who stayed to defend, and their short and pointless war was eventually an unscored draw a few days later. My flat was sufficiently far from an obvious target to be low on the list, and my windows were intact and the locks on the doors still hale.

The levels of the toxigen have fallen now, to the point where it is likely to be possible to stay within the bounds of the capital for nearly a day before you are liable to die. “In twenty years…”, they say publicly. In fifty, they might risk¬†themselves. Walking into the flat we’d shared, I doubted I could ever return. Memories battered me as I looked around, from the day we moved in, to the day we got the alert to pick up and move. Our bags held clothes, and toiletries, and technology. We took the things we’d need for a few days away, maybe a couple of weeks. As ignored as our house had been, it still looked looted.

Now, I picked up things I’d missed. My headphones, paperwork, a few books I couldn’t bring myself to replace. A couple of soft toys as old as I am. Jenna’s jewellery box, a few things she’d prized that her parents would want to remember her by.

(We’d left, and our neighbour had thrown us his second car’s keys. “I don’t drive” I’d called out to him “Learn fast, mate. You’ve got my number for when you can get it back to me”. He’d almost certainly saved my life)

I left the flat, locking it concienciously behind me. I was intending to post the keys back to my landlord. For all that the flat was probably mine now, I didn’t think I could cope with owning it. It wasn’t worth a lot, anyway.

(We’d got to a screening point on the way out – good little citizens – and her cough had just got worse as we slept in the car and waited for our queue. They passed us as non-infectious, but the looks they gave Jenna as she coughed and rasped her way though the interview were pity).

I travelled back down. The station took my bag of affects to be tested and decontaminated. I’d get an invoice in a couple of weeks, and decide whether I’d pay the decontamination fee. I walked down into central.

Once, many years ago, I walked here on Christmas Day, when the trains weren’t running. Then, London was eeire and quiet. The occasional car wandered the streets, the occasional pedestrian walking around, but I had still never seen Picadilly Circus without people sitting on the statues, without being lit by the neon glow of a coke advert. This October day was bleak and silent, like it was blanketed in a foot of snow. After millennia of being the best city in the world, we had broken London.

When I got home, I went directly to the hospital. They tested me for further infections, but would have let me in anyway. I wasn’t going to make it any worse.

I tried to explain my day to Jenna, and I think she heard me.

By the time I got the decontaminated items back, she was gone.

The last confirmed fatality of the first incident.

Flung Forth

EotE1 – The Plague

This time, I’m a doctor.

I’ve been a doctor for thirty years, and this is the worst month of my life. Usually, I’d suffix that with “So Far” but given current circumstances, assuming the future is unwise.

(Simultaneously, I’ve only been here a couple of hours. It’s like that feeling when you’re daydreaming, and then you jolt yourself awake, and realise you actually have been listening to the teacher, and you know what they said, but before right now you were somewhere else entirely? It’s like that, except with fifty years)

The city is under quarantine, the roads blockaded by soliders on the exists, and surrounded by highly accurate snipers for anyone who tries to avoid the roads. Houses have been demolished to provide the blockades.

(Or sometimes it’s the reverse of a dream, where I start with a fragment of what I know and blossoms into an entire world with characters and history and stories. I’m almost positive it’s not a dream, though. Almost)

The hospitals are loaded, overflowing, bursting at the seems with presentations of the first symptoms. People with a blue rash on their limbs, circling their wrists and ankles like the chaff-marks of invisible restraints. Spotted at first, and then speckled and filled in as the disease takes hold, until the dark circle is complete.

I may have seen the first. A young boy carried in by his mother, who had found a strange rock (of a deep and beautiful blue) in a cave while on holiday, and was now presenting this strange rash…

Only the first stages end up in the hospitals, before the virus seems to hit the brain and the compulsive wanderlust kicks in. The streets are full of the infected, walking around, conversing, working, and for a little while it would look like the city has returned to normal, until you could see the changes of behavior. The couples walking along, touching at the wrists. More people greeting by kissing the back of the hand, but shifted towards the body a few inches. The absence of long trousers or skirts, or shoes or socks, and the faint blue marks at ankle or wrist height on walls and bushes, on dogs and doorhandles, on faucets and lips, on the edges of the city, and washed out by the rain, into the drains and the sewers.

Some people think the world has overreacted, that the disease rarely kills, that it should be accepted as a new fact of life.

But then spring came, and with it the flowers. The blue flowers, from trees that had been drinking the blue groundwater.

And the blue was lovely, everyone in the city said so. The flowers bloomed and their pollen flew on the wind, and it too, was the same deep and beautiful shade of blue, and the soldiers on the baracades started to notice that under their uniforms a blue rash was forming on their wrists.

Soon, the island country was under quarantine as the city had been.

Somewhere, an idea came up. A new concept out of nowhere. The infected seemed to agree, it was the new future, they could devote their lives to. They could build a space ship, the technology was almost here. Wasn’t someone saying they nearly got warp drives working? The top of the infected all agreed, and set to work immediately. Those who couldn’t help seemed content to die, starving themselves so the food would last for the others. They would take tickets to the coast, and lay down on the beaches.

The entire country, with their blue bracelets, began to work with a focus and drive beyond humanity. Metal was salvaged from buildings, no other industry existed. All the infected were either working to feed the ever shrinking population, or working towards the grand dream. The dream to get into space.

Those who died on the beaches didn’t decompose normally. Internally, the virus took over their organs and internals, recasting and rebuilding and breaking down anything it couldn’t use to produce energy it could. When the skin finally split, huge amounts of dust drifted into the wind, into the sea, and carried out over the waves.

Within a few months, other countries began to offer their assistance with the space program.

Leaves on trees across the world the next year were strange and crystaline, and a beautiful shade of blue. A gust of wind, a drop of rain would shatter them into dust.

The spacecraft was a large project, years in the making, even with all the humans on the planet dedicated to its production, or to their death if not possible. Billions shrank to millions as they sacrificed themselves, and with the trees and flowers turning to dust, the world began to darken with a constant and eternal cloud of deep and beautiful blue.

With drive and focus humanity worked together, advancing on their dream to cross the stars.

But with the trees turning to dust, and the darkness choking the plants from the sun, the food became scarce.

They never completed their goal, and the last of humanity, with the blue rash still encircling their wrists and ankles, died of starvation, slowly turned into bloated, crystalline forms, and crumbled to dust.

The world was incredibly quiet for a very long time after that.

Soon I was someone else.