future

The Orchard

The Orchard

By J.A Scarrott

It was a cloudless morning, golden light showered down upon the small town of Appiton.  Quaint and quiet village folk slowly stirred as they carried out their morning routines. One such person was Marianne Mumford, who skipped her way down one of the winding village streets.

“Good morning Mr Thomas!” She called out joyously, waving a hand in the air.  

An elderly man, who had just stepped out from the local post office, straightened his old, crooked spine as the young girl approached. With a large, leathery smile he replied, “Good morning Miss Mumford. Off to work I see?”

“That’s right!”

“I’ve been reading some of your articles in the Apple Press you know,” The old gentleman waved a copy of the town’s newspaper, before tucking in back under his arm. “Keep up the good work missy.”

“I will Mr Thomas. Have a good day!” Marianne waved her goodbyes to the friendly local and continued on her way.

As she walked, she began to fiddle with a hair bobble, pulling back her rich, chestnut hair and tying it neatly into a bouncy bun. Revealing the soft features of her pale, freckled face.

She beamed with delight as she saw a rustic, red brick building come into view. With the words, ‘Apple Press’ displayed on its exterior in bold, steel, letters.

Marianne pushed the front door open and wiped her shoes on a floor mat. She made her way down a narrow corridor, squeezing past a colleague as they both hurriedly exchanged morning pleasantries. She twirled round a corner and into an intimate room, laden with desks that had an assortment of computers sat proudly upon them.

Marianne pulled out her swivel chair, that she has tucked away neatly the day before, and seated herself upon it. Joining the number of employees who encompassed her, who all sat their desks, hammering away at keyboard keys.

She slid her rucksack from her shoulders and reached out to boot up her computer. But before she had chance a voice called out to her, “I wouldn’t bother booting up this morning.”

Marianne turned to see her manager worming through the maze of desks toward her.

“Good Morning Phil,” She replied with a smile, “Is everything okay?”

He peered over his rectangular glasses, that sat on the tip of his red nose.

“Everything is fine. It’s just that you won’t be in the office much today.”

“Why’s that?”

“I received this yesterday,” Phil sharply presented a small brown envelope to her, which she picked delicately from his hand.

“What is it?” She asked, inspecting the letter.

The Apple Press’s address was written across it in fine, flowing,  handwriting, and large red ink seal had been stamped on its surface, which simply read “The Branch.”

Mariannes eyes widened, before drawing the pale letter from it’s envelope.

“This, is an incredible opportunity, for you.” Phil replied, pushing his thick rimmed glasses to the bridge of his nose.

The letter read:

To whom it may concern,

Dr Dourley and his research team at the The Branch laboratory have made a world changing scientific breakthrough.

We’d like to offer Apple Press full exclusive coverage of our findings and our works, on the condition that you send your junior journalist, Marianne Mumford, to report on them.

Please let us know if this opportunity interests you.

Kind regards,

Dr I. Dourley

 

“Look, I know that you may feel uncomfortable going, on account of Dr Dourley and your father’s disagreement. But this far too good of an opportunity to give up.” Phil continued, as Marianne came to the end of the hand written letter, “People have been wondering what that Dourley guy has been doing in that bloody pyramid of his for years and now we’ve suddenly been given full access!”

Marianne slid the letter back into the brown envelope before placing it on her desk.

“You don’t need to convince Phil, I don’t mind going,” she replied, much to her boss’s surprise, “I haven’t seen Dr Dourley in years, I used to know him quite well when I was younger, I even called him Uncle Ian! That was back when he and my father worked together. It’ll be good to see him.”

“Well thats great then!” Phil replied with a wide delighted smile, “For I’ve already booked the taxi this morning. It should be waiting outside for you. Take your things and I’ll see you tomorrow morning okay?” He swiped the letter off her desk and grinned with delight, before leaving the room.

Marianne wasted no time and quickly checked the contents of her bag, before swinging it back over her shoulder. She left as quickly as she had arrived, filing out into the sunny street where a black taxi promptly pulled up beside the pavement.

After a short drive, into the rural countryside that surrounds Appiton, the taxi came to a stop. “Here we are, the fares already been paid for. Have a good one.”

Marianne peered out of the window, to see a wooden stile in the centre of a long green hedgerow.  

“This can’t be right,” Marianne replied, turning in her seat to see only more hedges on either side of the small country lane, “I’m supposed to be going to The Branch… The large laboratory?”

The taxi driver looked at the girl via the rear view mirror and pointed a finger to the broken wooden stile. “Over that love, the pyramid is located in the centre of a field for one reason or another. I can’t get you any closer than this.”

Marianne slowly reached for the door handle, and awkwardly stepped out. The taxi took no time in waiting and instantly vanish down the country lane. Leaving nothing but a trail of muddy dust in the air.

The young girl hauled herself up the dirt embankment and clambered over the wooden stile into the open, emerald field. Standing majestically in the distance was the pyramidal laboratory itself.

Marianne had heard about the famous building, but had never seen it for herself.  It was enormous in size, it’s four sloping face were made of blue, reflective, glass. It emitted a low glow ever as the morning sun’s ray bounces off it’s smooth, polished surface. The young journalist was overwhelmed by its grandeur.

Despite being a modern piece of architecture, the building blended well with the natural surroundings. It’s shimmer blue casing melted into the soft, cloudless, skies behind it.

Marianne made her way across the emerald field. Gliding through the blades of soft grass until the Pyramids mighty slopes towered above her. The Pyramid section of the building was not actually situated on the ground as it first appeared, but in fact sat upon a solid black box that supported the structure from beneath.

She looked about timidly as she tried to find signs of a door.

“Hello?” She called out softly.

“Miss Mumford?” A gentle female voice replied.

Marianne jumped, and turned on her heels to see a woman approaching her. She wore very smart, well fitted attire. That emphasised the bold, natural curves of her body. Her hair was perfectly straight and cut off sharply at her shoulders.

“Are you Miss Mumford?” The woman reiterated.

“That’s me,” Marianne replied, exchanging a handshake with the woman, “Sorry, I was unable to find the door.”

The woman laughed lightly, “Don’t worry about it Miss Mumford, The Branch has been designed to be… uninviting, so to speak. Would you like to follow me please, and I shall take you to see Dr Dourley.”

Marianne gave a nod and followed the woman to a section of solid, black steel wall. She tapped away at her smartwatch and a section of the wall shot open in front of them. The woman then lead the young journalist inside.

Marianne was greeted with a site of men and women, draped in long, white, lab coats. The atmosphere was a busy one and doused in a heavy chatter. Groups of people march to and fro, frantically attending to errands that their work demanded of them.

The young girl followed closely to her escort as they made their way through the streams of human traffic. They came to a halt beside a balding man who had his back turned to them. He was exchanging a conversation with a younger man and peering into an open folder that he held out in front of him.

“Dr Dourley,” the woman interrupted, “Miss Mumford is here to see you.”

Dourley instantly cut his conversation and issued the man away with a flick of his arm, before turning to Marianne.

“Anny?!” he cried with delight.

“Uncle Ian!” Marianne replied, she leapt forward and embraced the doctor tightly, “It’s been so long!”

“Years in fact!” Dourley rested both hands upon the young girl’s shoulders, “How have you been?”

“I’ve been well thank you!”

“So I hear, Miss Journalist,” Dourley grinned and gave her shoulders a tight squeeze before dropping his hands by his sides, “It’s honestly so good to see you again Anny, you’ve grown so much! Come, let’s continue our talk in my office!”

Dourley thanked the woman for escorting Marianne to him and then the two of them made their way into a lift. With a flick of a button, both Dourly and Marianne were whisked up to the top floor of the pyramid, where Dr Dourley’s office was located.

“This building is grand!” said Marianne beamed, choosing small talk over awkward elevator silence, “Rather inaccessible though… ”

“Thank you,” Dourley replied, “and I know. I designed it that way to deter people from visiting. I don’t want people sticking their noses where it isn’t wanted. Gone are the days that I openly share my research.” Dourley’s words trailed off, leaving a sour sting of bitterness on the air.

Marianne tried to reply, but the doors to the lift threw themselves open revealing a gleaming white corridor that stunk heavily of industrial cleaning chemicals.

Dourley paced off down the hallway, with Marianne close behind. He came to a halt at his office door and fumbled with a set of keys that he drew from a pocket. With a quick, twist of the wrist the door swung open and the pair made their way into the office.

Instantly, Marianne was met with a sight that fouled her eyes. Two rectangular tanks, filled with teal liquid, stood in the centre of the room, set a meter apart from one another. Each tank contained one half of a preserved pig, that had been surgically split directly down its centre. The grotesque cross section displayed the swines multi-coloured organs, the sight of which brought a sour taste to Marianne’s tongue.

“Please, this way,” Dourley invited her into the room, making his way between the two tanks. He strolled off toward a large, metallic desk that sat on the opposite side of the room.

Sheepishly, Marianne followed and made her way between the severed halves of the animal. She glanced up from the floor and caught a glimpse of the creature’s intestines, that were pressed against the glass like a twisted set of sausages.

Marianne involuntarily gagged and snapped her attention to the floor. Keeping her gaze fixed as such until she reached Dourley’s desk.

“Take a seat!” Dourley offered cheerily, pulling a chair from beneath his desk.

The pair sat themselves down and Marianne rested her bag beside her. After which a short silence set in the room.

Dourley avoided eye contact with the young journalist, instead looking awkwardly to his computer screen that glowed on the desk beside him.

“Uncle Ian?” Marianne asked tenderly, “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, yes. Quite fine.”

The girl let out a heavy sigh before continuing, “I think we should get the obvious elephant out of the room…”

Dourley stared aimlessly at the computer monitor for a moment, before turning to the young girl.

“I think that would be a good idea, for both of us.”

Marriage took a deep breath before saying, “I’m sorry that stuff got so messed up between you and dad. It was pretty messed up what he did.”

“You don’t need to apologise to me Anny,” Dourley replied, “You were only a young girl and innocent of it all. Besides, I’ve done alright for myself.”

The pair shared a warming smile.

“My only regret is that I let the affair come between us.”

“But now we’re finally reunited!” Marianne beamed with delight, “And, from what I hear, you’ve made a world changing discovery?”

“Yes! Yes! That is correct and is of course why I invited you here!” Dourley rested his forearms on the table and leaned toward Marianne, “I heard that you had started work as a junior journalist and I thought, what a better way for you to gain some experience, than being able to report on this world exclusive!”

Marianne tugged at the zipper on her bag, and pulled a leather bound notepad out from it’s depth. She gently rested it’s open pages on her folded legs.
“Then let us begin!” Marianne replied, as she clicked the end of a biro. Bringing the ballpoint tip to the lined paper.

“Absolutely,” Dourley leaned back into the depths of his office chair, “I thought I’d begin by giving you some background information about the project, so you can better understand the circumstances that helped lead me up to this moment. After which, I shall personally take you to see the culmination of my works.”

Marianne shuffled in her seat slightly as she prepared herself. Ready to scratch pen across paper.

“As you know, I have had a history of working in biology. My most notable work being the experiments that I carried out with your father, Dr Mumford.”

“Our work together was centred around the idea that we could alter the genetic structure of a pig’s DNA, so that it had the genetic identity of a human. The idea being that if a pig’s DNA were to read as a humans, then a person’s body wouldn’t reject organs sourced from that animal.”

Dourley stretched out a gangly arm and nodded his head towards the split pig that lay on display behind them.  

The sourness returned, flaring up the sides of Marianne’s tongue.

“And as I recall, you both were very successful in achieving that goal?” Marianne added, as she turned back to face him.

“Indeed we were. Your father went on to be well recognised for the work that we did. However, as you know, I did not receive the same recognition he did and my name was left off the research papers.”

Marianne sprawling hand stopped as Dourley finished his sentence. She glanced up to him with a sorrowful stare.

“However!” Dourley beamed loudly, “It was a blessing in disguise. For I have built upon that research since and have created something truly spectacular! A method of growing human organs on demand, free of all ethical implications. Would you like to see?”

Marianne slammed the pages of her notebook together, “Yes! Absolutely!”

Dourley jumped from behind his desk and bounded through the two halves of the preserved pig once again. Marianne threw her notebook back into her bag, before walking swiftly after him. Following the Dourley as he vanished through the office door.

The pair wound through a series of rigid corridors, before making their way into a low lit room. It was featureless, except for a row of full body protection suits that lined one the rooms four walls.

“Please pick one and put it on.” Dourley asked, as he made his way to the suits, “We have to be extremely careful whilst inspecting the work.”

Marianne clambered awkwardly into one of the suits, pulling it over her clothes and securing a large dome helmet over her head.

Dourley then ushered her through a circular doorway and into a thin glass corridor. Jets of compressed steam hissed violently as a steel disk like door shut behind them.  A white misty vapour fogged up the glass hallway.

Marianne looked to Dourley’s hazy figure in the fog and staggered after him.  The scientist came to a standstill as another vault door appeared through the fog. A golden plaque was mounted on its centre with the words, “The Orchard, “ elegantly engraved upon it.

Dourley’s cumbersome fingers punched at a large keypad that was situated below the glossy plaque.

“I hope you’re ready,” he said to her, his voice crackled through an internal communication channel, shared by the suits.

The door rolled open and streams of sunlight bled from the opening. Marianne brought her gloved hand up over her visor, attempting to shield the blinding rays from her eyes.

However after several seconds of exposure, her eyes adjusted and the scene behind the doorway became clear.

Fresh, green grass blanketed the floor and a series of short trees stretched up from the soil. The scene looked as if it belonged to a farm in rural Italy, not a controlled, sterile laboratory.

Marianne staggered into the small ecosystem and cast her view upward to see a refractive glass ceiling spanning the roof above.

“Welcome to the point of the pyramid, home to the orchard,” Dourley announced. He caught sight of the girl staring up at the ceiling and explained, “The roof reflects, and amplifies, the outside sunlight. Which helps feed the trees that stand before you.”

“This is quite impressive,” Marianne replied, “but I’m failing to see what this has to do with organ transplantation?”

“Well why do you take a closer look at the fruits of my labour?” Dourley made his way beside one of trees and gently cupped an apple, that hung from it’s branch, “Look.”

Marianne shuffled toward him, staring intently at the red lump within his hand. Her eyes widened as fruit appeared to pulsate, pumping slowly in his palm.

“Is that…  a heart?!” Marianne exclaimed, snapping her attention to the other branches of the tree.  A collection of fleshly lumps hung from them, each of them wet and pulsating.

“They’re all human hearts. Ripe and ready for harvest,” Dourley’s fingers slipped from beneath the organ, “Each tree has been engineered to produce human hearts that have a human genetic identity. Each heart also acts as a blank slate, meaning two things. The first being that, they can be universally used on any patient and the chances of a body rejecting them is almost completely zero. We’re planning on starting human trials soon.”

Marianne peered up closely to one of the hearts and ran the back of her hand against it’s surface. She cupped it gently, feeling it thump softly between her fingertips.

“This is crazy…” She whispered in disbelief.

“The greatest ideas are. Have you seen enough for your report?”

“More than enough.”

“Good! Then I would recommend returning to my office, where I can explain the science behind it all, ” Dourley suggested, as he made his way back to the circular vault door, “plus I don’t like lingering in here for too long. For risk of contaminating my work.”

Marianne loosened her grip on the frail organ and let it hang gently from it’s tree branch. She turned her back on the magnificent orchard and joined Dourley as the disk door creaked open once again.

They both made there way through the glass hallway and removed their suits. Returning them to their resting place against the wall, after which they promptly returned to the Dourley’s shimmering office.

“So what did you think?” Dourley asked with intrigue, as they both approached his desk once again.

“What do I think? Uncle Ian, that orchard is unlike anything I’ve ever seen!” Marianne exclaimed, as she sat herself down, “It is world changing, there’s no doubt about that! You’re going to save so many lives.”

A smug smile slimed it’s way across Dourley’s face.

“The only thing I’m concerned about is whether my writing will do it justice or not!”

“I’m sure it will. Would you like me to continue by explaining the science behind it all?”

Marianne pulled her leather notebook back out from her rucksack, which was still poised by the side of her chair.

“Of course!”

As she clicked her biro, a knock came from the office door. Marianne turned in her seat to see the straight haired woman who had met her previously, leaning in.

“Dr Dourley, can I borrow you for a moment?” The woman asked, “There’s been an incident.”

Dourley jumped up from his desk, “I’m sorry Anny, you’ll have to excuse me. I shan’t be long.”

“Take your time Uncle Ian,” Mariannae replied with a smile, “I’ll draft up some notes while you’re gone.”

Dourley silently thanked her, before shooting off towards the doorway, bringing it to a close behind him.

The room went silent. So quiet in fact the sound of Marianne’s biro scratching across her notebook paper was  clearly audible. However it was another faint noise that caught her attention.

A low hiss snaked through the air… Marianne raised both her head and eyebrow, as the sound continued. She sniffed the air and found the room to be odorless.

She looked over her shoulder at the office door, which was framed between the two halves of the pig. There was no sign of Dourley or the assistant through the doors clear glass window.

The young journalist got up and nervously paced her way across the office.

“Uncle Ian. There’s a strange hissing noise in here, ” Marianne called out, “I think it could a gas leak. Uncle Ian?”

She tugged at the doors metallic handle, but the door wouldn’t budge. She tried again and again. Frantically lashing at the handle as her palms began to sweat.

“Uncle Ian?!” the girl cried, “Uncle Ian!”

Suddenly, Dourley’s old grey face appeared in the door window.

“Oh thank god! The door is jammed!”

“It’s not jammed. It’s locked.”

“Locked? Well, can you unlock it…? ” Marianne suddenly choked on the end of her sentence. She brought a hand to her throat and began gasping for air. She violently bashed at the door handle as desperation sank in.

“What’s happening!? What’s going on?!” The girl choked harshly, “Uncle Ian please! Open the door!”

“The room is filling with an invisible gas called Halothane. You may find it hard to breathe for a short while,” Dourley replied coldly, as he watched the young girl claw at her throat, “Don’t worry, you’ll be unconscious soon.”

“Why are you doing this! Open the door! Open the door! Please!”

“Do you know why I’m so interested in organ transplantation Anny? I suppose you’re too young to remember.”

“Uncle Ian! Please!”

“I had a daughter myself once. She was just like you, bright, beautiful, full of life.”

Marianne weakly banged her fists against the glass as the energy drained from her body.

“But her heart was not as strong as she was. It was diseased and it failed her,” Dourley stared into Marianne’s blood shot eyes, “I did my best to help her, I tried to find a donor,  I tried to save my baby. But I failed her and she passed.”

“Please! I can’t breath!” Marianne choked harshly.

“After she passed, I dedicated myself to my work. Determined to find a way to help those in need, so they didn’t have to know the pain that I did. Your father joined me in my quest Anny, and he took all of the glory for himself. He insulted my cause, he insulted the very memory of my little girl!”

Dourley slammed a tight fist against the door, and seethed heavily, “But now, I have his!”

“Uncle Ian! Please! Don’t kill me! I don’t want to die!” Marianne begged as she sagged limply against the door, tears streaming down her cheeks, “Please…. Uncle Ian… ”

Her pleads faded away as she slumped to the floor like a tossed ragdoll. Completely cold and unconscious.  

Beep… Beep… Beep….

Marianne’s eyes stirred beneath her eyelids and with great effort she dragged them open. They were heavy and sore, as was the rest of her young frail body.

Beep… Beep… Beep….

“Where am I?” she asked hoarsely, both mouth and throat were completely dry.

Her vision sharpened and a collection of hazy figures came into focus. She tried to lift up a hand, in order to rub the soreness from her crusty eyes, but found herself bound by both wrists, and both legs!

“You’re finally awake!” A familiar voice cried out.

One of the figures came closer, looming over her like a venomous shadow. Dourley’s long grey face came sharply into view.

“What’s going on Uncle Ian….?” Marianne wheezed weakly.

The girl watched as Dourley was handed an object by one of the elusive figures and presented it to her. It was a clear jar, inside which sagged an oozing human heart.

“I don’t understand….” Marianne croaked.

Dourley spun the jar in his hand, revealing a label that had been plastered across it’s curved surface which read ‘Marianne Mumford. Patient Zero’.

“Your father would be so proud of you Tinman.” Dourley said to her warmly. A huge hearty grin spread across his face as he pointed at her chest, “Look.”

Marianne titled her stiff neck forward and looked down upon her exposed chest. Running clean down it’s centre, between her breasts, was a long, surgical incision, which had been bound back together with metal clips.

“The hearts from my Orchard!” Dourley continued with glee, “They compatible!”

Tears started to pour from the girl’s eyes as she watched Dourley laugh with delight. Shakily, she opened her mouth, but her tongue offered no words to her. All the young girl could muster was a shriek of pure, bloodcurdling, horror.

Beep…  Beep… Beep…

Beyond the Windowpane

Jak brought a soap sudded sponge across a dinner plate, whilst staring aimlessly out of the kitchen window, paying little attention to the task at hand. Limply, he passed the plate over to Vikram who stood beside him, tea towel hanging from his fingers.

“You haven’t cleaned this one properly! Look!” Vikram exclaimed, thrusting the dirty plate back into the stainless steel wash basin, “Quit star gazing and get on with it properly!”

Vikram’s bitter words however did not draw Jak from his aimless stare. He found himself spell bound by the scene beyond the windowpane.  An enormous purple planet captivated him, it was poised steadily in the starry canvas of deep space, like a festive ornament hung from a Christmas tree. Gaseous storms violently danced about within its atmosphere. However from the distance that Jak looked upon it, the spheres surface appeared as if it were a swirling water colour painting, with different shades of violet melting softly into one another.

“Hey? Jak? Are you even listening to me?!” Vikram barked in annoyance.

“…How long do you think it’ll be before we’re picked up?” Jak replied as he brought his attention to the soiled plate within the sink, wiping away the remaining tomato sauce that was plastered across it. He passed the crockery to Vikram once more, who snatched it from him with a scowl.

“Please, for the love of god stop asking me that!” Vikram cried as he chucked the plate carelessly into a cupboard, “How am I supposed to know!?”

Jak turned a tap, and rinsed the sink out gently, before whipping up a spare tea towel to dry his hands. Then turned  to face the cold, tiny kitchen. It consisted of one dining table, two very basic dining chairs and a multitude of battery powered heaters that were sparsely dotted about. Two, thin piles of cloth and clothing had been placed on the floor, used as make shift beds until help arrived.

A frown sank heavily into Jaks  features.

Vikram sat himself down onto one of the dining chairs, and opened up a book that lay on the dining table. “Just accept the fact that we’re going to be floating about in deep space, until someone decides to show up and save us.” Vikram looked over the pages of his book at Jak, who was leaning against the kitchen side, both arms folded tightly across his chest.

“There’s no point sulking. You’ve only got yourself to blame.”

“Me to blame!?” Jak exclaimed pushing himself up from the work surfaces, “How is this my fault!?”

“You’re the so called pilot of this ship!” Vikram snapped back in reply, “What kind of pilot flies directly into a solar storm!?”

Jak darted a finger toward his crew mate, and leered at him with searing eyes as an anger bubbled away inside him, “Don’t leacture me on how to pilot my ship! The gravitional flux of that storm should have allowed us to fold space so we arrived back in earth’s solar system!”

“And yet it actual fact it cut the power, damaged the engines and left us a drift in deep space! Good job!”

Jak’s leg flew out as he brought his booted foot into the kitchen side. Blood pulsated violently through his body as his rage continued to boil. He thumped both hands heavily onto the work surface as he stared back out of the window into the depths of space. “How, pray tell, was I supposed to know that there was a fault with the Origamion processor?” Jak span round to face Vikram once more, who was looking blankly into the contents of his book, “I’m sorry that I don’t know everything, unlike you, Oh great Dr Omniscient!”

The book was slammed onto the dining table, and Vikram cut through the intense atmosphere with a razor sharp glare, “Without me, you would have frozen to death! So cut it!”

“Death would come as a blessed release right about now!”

“I’m more than happy to shoot you out of a bloody airlock if you like!”

“I relish the idea, if it spares me from playing another fucking game of chess with you!”

Jak’s final sentence brought with it an unsteady silence that infected the room. Both men exhaled deeply though their noses, making sure no eye contact was found between them.

Jak turned to face the picturesque star studded landscape beyond the frosted windowpane once again. Letting heavy sighs roll out from his lungs, as the fury began to quell inside of him. His boiling blood soothed and the familiar chill of the room pinched at his skin. The isolating cold of confinement returned.

“I know it’s hard Jak.” Vikram spoke out in a low sombre tone, looking up from the bland table, “Being trapped in a room like this for so long isn’t easy… But we’ve got to keep it together, we’ve got to stop ourselves from losing it completely.”

Jak remained silent, his back still turned to his crew mate, as he stared at the purple orb.

“I don’t think it’ll be too long before we’re picked up,” Vikram continued, ”Remember I set up that distress signal? It’s crude but you got to remember this system is the main shipping route to Trappist-1. We’re bound to be picked up sooner or later.”

Jak remained unmoved and Vikram sighed heavily, “Besides, We’ve got enough food and water to last us for another week and these heaters will keep us warm until help arrives… Look I’m sorry alright. For snapping at you like I did.”

Jak turned his head, and ended his muteness by asking, “Do you think we’re going to die out here?”

Vikram was silent for a moment and slumped back heavily onto the chair. He rested his head into one of his hands and squeezed the bridge of his nose tightly. Then repled after a long drawn out sigh, “Possibly… I don’t know.”

Jak walked away from the windowpane to the dining table and pulled out the only remaining chair, planting himself upon it. He fiddled with a small electronic device that lay on the table in front of him and after a few moments a holographic chess board buzzed into existence.  The individual pieces rose up from the chequered tiles and arranged themselves in position.

Jak looked over at Vikram and said calmly, “You can go first.”

Vikram chuckled to himself lightly before moving a pawn on the board. Thus instigating another game of chess between the two, as they waited for rescue. Confined to a floating kitchen in the middle of deep space.

Stare into the Light – Revision

“I flew down the flights of stairs as fast as I could, tripping down a few of them as I frantically raced for the door. Doing my best to keep my eyes shielded from the yellow artificial glow that surrounded me. As I reached the door, I flung it open and gently came to a halt outside, breathing in the cool night time air.”

I gave one of my older stories a quick polish the other day, as I cringed when I read it back to myself. So  if you’d like to give my old story some love I’ve added a link below where you can find it! —> Stare into the Light

A Glimpse Beyond

He stared up at the bright illuminescent nights sky above. A hue of gentle colours added a soft back drop to the magnificent star scape. Each one of you stars have a story to tell. He thought to himself. But you tell them in a language that we are yet to understand. Stories of the distance past and even stories of the distance future. He sat up right and scuffed his wet hair slightly, before glancing back up again at the starry nights sky. One day us humans are going to join you up there. Then he promptly got up onto his feet and began brushing off some of the water that had settled on his clothes, which he had gained from laying in the fresh evening grass. Shortly after which he returned to his laboratory.
When he returned he was greeted by an unexpected guest. “Paul!” The man cried gleefully. “It’s great to see you again my good friend!”
“Its good to see you too Dr Stothard. What brings you here at this hour?” Paul replied. “I would have tidied up if I knew you were coming. Would you like some tea?”
“That would be excellent Paul! Thank you.”
“Riley! Could you make us two cups of tea please and please pack away my notes and books from earlier!” Paul called out aimlessly into the large expanse of the cluttered workshop.
“Certainly Sir.” An inhuman voice replied. “I shall be back in a moment.”
“I see you’ve created a new robot! When is this one going to hit the shelves!?” Stothard enquired.
“Not for a while” Paul replied. “I think the hype needs to die down before releasing anymore to the shelves. The first introduction of robots to the mainstream caused a fair bit of excitement. No need to over do it.”
“Quite right Paul, as always.” Stothard chirped.
“Well? Did you come here for a reason or just for small talk” Paul asked as he pulled out two chairs for them both.
“No one has seen or heard from you for days Paul! Some folk have been saying that you might have ran off, not being able to cope with your new found fame.” Stothard replied. “But I know you well Paul. I’ve come down to see what new toy you’ve been working on. Have you made any more progress in sending people to the stars? Or have you been indulging it some other science?”
Paul laughed, and as he did his robot Riley returned with a plastic tray that held two cups of tea, a small jug of milk and some sugar. “Thank you very much Riley.”
“You’re Welcome Sir.” Riley replied as he placed the tray down delicately. He turned to leave but before he had a chance, Paul spoke up once more “Oh and Riley! Before you go, Could you bring me my notes relating to my latest project please?”
“Certainly Sir.”

Both Stothard and Paul added milk to their tea, before sipping gently. Riley returned in a matter of moments, carrying a large folder. “Thank you Riley.”
“You’re welcome Sir.”
Stothard picked up the huge binder and laid it out on a desk to his left before hastily flicking through the mountain of paper work. Page after page of seemingly endless mathematics greeted Stothards wide eyes. To the average man, the incomprehensible ink scribbles would look like nothing more than a chaotic jumble of numbers and letters. However to a brain box like Stothard, the numbers spelt out one thing. “Time Travel!?” He exclaimed. “But surely it is the work of science-fiction!”
“It was the work of science-fiction, Just as robots once were.” Paul lent in towards Stothard and placed a hand on his shoulder. “But my friend. It isn’t anymore. It’s ready for human trails, and that’s exactly what I plan to do this night!”
‘This… This is fantastic!! Where do you plan on going!?”
“To the future of course. I need to know what the future holds. You and I have done endless work in trying to get the human race to outer space and eventually the stars. But like it or not we aren’t going to be around long enough to see our work come to pass. But now! Now we have a gate way! A gate way that can not only tell us if mankind will succeed in settling the universe, but also tell us every secret that the universe may hold. We will be able to go to anytime and see for ourselves.”
“You truly are one of the greatest minds of the 22nd century my friend.” Stothard said as he finished his cup of tea. “You must let me know how the first trail goes! I shall be back tomorrow to ask you about your travels!” Stothard got up to leave.
“Stothard, Don’t tell anyone about this. Not yet anyway.”
“Don’t worry my friend. Your secret is safe with me.” Stothard smiled warmly. “Goodnight Paul and Good luck.”
“Goodnight Stothard. See you soon.”

With that, Stothard left. Paul was once again left alone in the silence and solitude of his laboratory, after a quick swig he finished the remainder of his milky tea. He collected his notes together and tucked them under his arm, before getting up to finally test his new invention.
Paul made his way through the strange maze of scientific equipment, wires and wonderful inventions. He continued deep into his laboratory until he reached a grand white door. He stood still in front of it whilst a small scanner located at the top of the door checked him. “Welcome back Sir.” A deep monotone voice replied, and as it did large door slowly swung open.
Paul entered the room in the centre of which sat the proud effort of his works, the worlds first time machine. It was of a simple and minimalist design. All of the complex engineering was neatly compacted away under shiny sleek white panels. The small oblong cube had enough room to fit an average man with circular port windows present on all four sides of the white box.
Paul paused for a moment to take in the sight. A gate way to the past and to the future, lay but a few feet from him. All of human history, no! All of earths history was accessible due to the small white wonder. Finally, he would be able to the see the future, a feat that nature and time would normally not allow.
He walked up to the machine, swung open the small door and climbed inside. He placed the notes, that remained tucked under his arm, down onto a small ledge to his left. Nervously he began flicking through them one final time. Even though he knew this was a pointless precaution. As the calculations were so long and so vast that to find a small fault in one by casually browsing would be impossible. Paul was annoyed that he was subjecting himself to such an illogical impulse.
He took a shallow breath and began punching at some of the buttons that lay to his right. Flashes of green and blues faintly illuminated the small compartment. Which Paul manipulated some dials carefully, making sure that he entered the correct time and date that he wished to investigate.
100 years? 200 years? 1000? 2000!? Surely mankind would have extended out into the stars by then! They’d probably have a galactic government and extensive networks across the cosmos. 2000 years. He thought to himself. That’ll do just fine.
He pulled down hard on a final lever and shut his eyes tightly in anxious anticipation. A loud clank echoed within the tiny container and slowly chimed into silence… Paul peeked out of one of his eyes and looked around nervously, he hadn’t moved, he was still sat firmly in his lab. With a sigh Paul turned to exit the tiny capsule. Seconds before opening the door, the small cubicle and Paul had vanished. Only a faint haze of purple smoke lingered where the time machine had once stood.

The machine landed as quickly as it had vanished. Both Paul’s eyes were shut once more and it wasn’t until the sweet sound of silence returned that he dared open them again. Am I alive? He thought to himself, as he nervously opened both eyes once more. Paul checked both his hands first before frantically patting his body. I’m alive! He thought to himself in astonishment. His attention suddenly drawn to a new scene out of the corner of his eye. With his face pressed up against the small window he peered out at his new surroundings. A palace? A house? He slowly stretched out his hand toward the silver door handle and stepped outside into the mysterious future.
A grand white marble floor lay at his feet, and a large full wall window stood opposite him. The glass panes were crafted into elegant shapes and held were up by gold and silver frames that caught a setting suns beautiful rays. The scene out beyond the window displayed a gorgeous setting. A glistening green grass plain spanned outwards, softly moving as wave of wind rolled over the field. Beyond that lay some winding silver mountains, capped with white snow.
The scene outside of the window was just as beautiful as the room Paul found himself in. The floor was made of majestic white marble, as were the walls, which held upon them exquisite works of art. Two large arch ways lay at opposing ends of the room, each were carved out of rich black and brown marble. Each arch way was accompanied by a silence robot. Which Paul had completely failed to noticed on first glance, due to the pure grande of the room itself. Both robots stood perfectly still and were unmoved by his presence.
Paul eagerly sprinted across to one of the stationary machines. They had sleek metallic bodies and it was clear that every piece of them had been crafted beautifully. Appearing more like works of art than simple robotic slaves. The models before him seemed to be slightly more advanced than the Riley model that he himself had recently created back in his own time. “Robot! Please tell me what year it is!?” Paul said frantically, both eyes wide in anticipation.
“It is the year 4114 Sir.” The robot said bluntly, its mouth light flashing red as it spoke.
“I did it… I did it!” Paul exclaimed. He turned to his right and ran towards the large window once more, pressing both hands onto the smooth cool glass, peering out at the beautiful scene once more. “I did it! I’ve traveled to the future!” Paul’s ecstatic grin faded as his curiosity and questions increased, so he once again bounded back over to the robot.
“Could I ask you who owns this establishment? I would like to ask them some questions and I would also like to apologise for entering their house uninvited.”
“The owner of this property is Master Stothard.” Instantly Paul’s eyes grew wide in respond. “If you would please follow me Sir I shall take you to him.”
Master Stothard?! Paul thought to himself. Of all the people, I happen to run into Stothards descendent, I wonder if he’s anything like his distance ancestor.

Paul lost his train of thought as he was taken through the lavish estate. Large open rooms were littered with beautifully crafted oak furniture. Large animal skin rugs of every kind could be seen in each room and there seemed to be endless amount of fine art hung on every wall of every room. Master Stothard must be wealthy, incredibly wealthy. Paul thought to himself
It wasn’t long before they stopped at a large dark wooden door, which had been engraved with a subtle swirling pattern. “Wait here for just a moment” The robot told Paul, who merely nodded in reply, still taken back in awe by the grandness of the home. The robot opened the door just enough to pass through, the aged wood creaked slightly as it did. Paul pressed his ear up against the door and could faintly hear both the robot and Stothard talking in the other room.
“Master Stothard Sir. You have a visitor whom wishes to ask you some questions.”
“Oh! Who!? Are they female?”
“They didn’t give a name and no Sir. He isn’t.”
“Oh well! Send him on in!”
The robot returned to open the dark wooden door, in full this time. “Master Stothard will see you now.” With the door fully a jar Paul walked into a vast dining hall. Before him lay a grand table of which at the other end sat Master Stothard. Many excellent dishes were resting on the table in front of him, various exotic foods which gave off seducing aromas and indulged the senses. The food was accompanied with several different large bottles of brightly coloured liquid, which Paul assumed to be alcohol.
“Hello there my friend!” Stothard bellowed as he got up from his seat. “My name as you know is Master Stothard! Could I ask what your name may be?”
Paul walked over to this new Stothard and was greeted with a firm shake of the hand. “My name’s Dr Paul Davies. I’m sorry that I’ve come into your property uninvited.” Paul took a moment to examine Stothards facial features. He wasn’t surprised to find that this Stothard looked nothing at all like his good friend back in the 22nd century.
“Don’t worry about it! It doesn’t matter! Anyone is welcome here.” Master Stothard cried warmly. “How about a drink and some food whilst I answer these questions my robot said you wanted to ask me.”
“I’ll just have some water please.” Paul said sheepishly. “and not to be disrespectful, but I’m not hungry at the moment.”
“That’s absolutely fine! Come sit with me.”
A robot came instantly and pulled two chairs out for both Stothard and Paul. The robots moved about the room in such a calculated manner. The bringing of plates or movement of small objects had a sort of rhythm to it. Almost as if they were dancing, their motions flowing seamlessly.
When the were both seated Stothard grabbed a large glass that was sat upon the table. A bright yellow liquid sloshed about within it. A still glass of clear water came shortly after for Paul, who held the drink in both his hands delicately . “Before you begin with your questions Dr Paul Davies! May I ask you one first, How is it you actually got into my home?” Stothard queried with a warm smile.
“You probably won’t find this very amazing, as this is the future and the means by which I got here is ancient technology by now but, I arrived here by time machine!” Paul announced boldly! “The first time machine in human history actually! This here, right now, is man kinds first venture through time! Isn’t it amazing!”
Stothard looked at Paul with a blank expression, his glass poised steadily in his hand.
“See, As I suspected, Time travel is old to you!” replied Paul, sinking back into his chair. “Having been discovered 2000 years ago. I suppose it pails in comparison to the technology you have now!”
Stothards blank expression still remained and he slowly lent forward with a single eyebrow raised. “What’s time travel…?”

Paul was dumbfounded by the response. “What’s time travel? You know, where you travel through time, to another place in the future?!”
Stothard paused for a second and pondered the thought. “I’ve never heard of it until now. But yes, a very abstract concept. How on earth did you come up with that idea! You’re not one of those people that read are you?” He chortled heartily as he finished his sentence, but his laughter died down slowly as he noticed Paul didn’t share his sense of humor.
“Wait, you don’t know how to read?” Paul said in stunned amazement.
“Well No, Obviously not! Why would I waste my time reading when I can have my robots tell me anything I want to know? I don’t think anyone really reads these days. Only very few people carry on using that outdated retro form of communication.”
Paul was completely silence, unable to believe what he was hearing. “So wait, no one reads anymore?! But reading is fundamental! How has the human race expanded through stars yet decided it doesn’t need to read?! It doesn’t make sense!”
“That was another question I wanted to ask you actually Dr Paul Davies. Why is it you keep talking about ‘the human race expanding to the stars’? The human race has never left earth and I doubt it ever will! How could we even attempt to leave earth and secondly, If we could, why would we want to, when it provides us with everything we could ever need?”
“What? We never settled other planets? You mean to tell me that in 2000 years we still haven’t left earth?” Paul took a large gulp of water. He place the glass back onto the table and brought a hand to his head, gently rubbing one of his temples. “Furthermore the Human race has apparently forgotten how to get into space?! We had rockets and spacecraft 2000 years ago! We also wanted to leave earth because we knew this planet wouldn’t sustain the ever growing population. For that matter what is the population of the planet at the moment?”
Stothard was starting to become troubled with the constant bombardment of questions that Paul was throwing at him. He took a few swigs of his drink before replying. “Please, Ask my robots these questions. I’m sorry to say I simply don’t have the answers that you seek. However my robots have access to all the knowledge every discovered by man. Truly amazing machines”
“Yeah, you’re welcome.” Paul muttered under his breath as he watched Stothard wave one of his robot servers over to the table, who bowed slightly.

A blank monotone voice spoke out “What is it that you’d like to know Sir.”
“Tell me why the human race hasn’t expanded into space in the last 2000 years, when the technology to do so was almost ready?” Paul asked calmly.
“Well Sir, the simple answer to that is, there hasn’t been any need to.”
“What about the population crisis I mentioned a minute ago? There was 11 billion people on the planet in 2114 and it was still set to increase. The only solution to cope with the ever growing populi is to expand outwards to new planets and settle elsewhere. What happened? The population must be, well I don’t know, hundreds of billions now! How can this one planet sustain all those people?”
There was a brief pause, then Stothard began to laugh uncontrollably. Paul looked across at him with a stern scowl set upon his face, before directing his attention back to the robot. Who promptly answered his question. “I believe you are mistaken Sir. That is not the population of the planet. The population of the planet at this point in time is 70 million.”
Paul’s jaw dropped slightly as he stared at the robot, before replying weakly “70 million… Is that all? That’s a little less than the entire population of the UK back in the 22nd century…. 70 million, across the whole planet… How many people is that per square mile?”
“2.8”
Stothard watched the two of them talk, shifting his gaze between them as they did. Following the conversation like a game tennis. Whilst helping himself to more of the delicious delights that rested upon the table.
“2.8 people per square mile.. That’s literally no one. What on Earth happened?” Paul said in despair. His head sunk into his hands as he stared at the empty glass that lay in front of him.
“Well the human population dropped dramatically at the start of the 23rd century. Shortly after robots had become common place.”
Paul looked back up at the robot before him in horror “What? Why!?”
“Robots had become affordable and everyone had access to them. It wasn’t long before business owners realised that their work force could be cheaply replaced by robotic employees. Robots don’t ask for pay, they don’t take sick leave, they don’t ask for raises and don’t need time off. They were the perfect replacement for human employees. As a result there was a state of mass unemployment, and that’s when the riots started.”
Paul began frantically looking around the dining hall that he was in and started to realise how many robots there actually were in the establishment. Many of them had gone about their work unbeknownst to him. Robots had never bothered Paul, but at this particular moment he felt extremely unsettled more so as he turned back round to robot speaking to him. Staring into the machines cold lifeless eyes.
Paul suddenly blurted out. “But surely the governments would have stepped in!? Surely they must have done something!”
“They did Sir. They passed many regulations and laws stating that robots were prohibited from the work place in a bid to end the mass unemployment.”
“And!?”
“And the large business owners were not impressed. But again they realised that they had an endlessly amount of obedient robots at their disposal. So they started a war.”
All the blood drained from Paul’s face as he continued to listen, horrified by what he was hearing. Stothard was still sat quietly and wore a slight grin on his face, as if he were a small child being told a bedtime story.
“Needless to say that the business owners won the war and continued their robotic crusades until 99% of the population had been removed. All that remained after that were the 1% of wealthy businessmen . The human race began to settle down shortly after the war. The robots then continued to work again and began to provide every need of the human race. They have carried on doing so till this very day.”
“Genocide. The human race nearly wiped itself out for its own convenience.” A lump grew in Paul’s throat, as he brought up a hand to wipe his wet eyes.

“Yes but it’s better this way!” Stothard said cheerily. “There’s no more hunger! No more disease and no more wars!”
“What about the drive for knowledge! The thirst for understanding! What about progression and what about all those lives lost… All those families… all dead, because of me.” Paul replied hoarsely.
With a simple wave of his hand, Stothard dismissed all Paul had said. “Why would we want to spend our time studying, and reading and learning. When we could spend our time actually enjoying everything the world has to offer! If I want to know something, I’ll just ask one of my robots. If something needs doing or fixing, or whatever! A robot will do it, so that we, us humans, can sit back and enjoy life.” He took enough large gulp of his drink and ushered a robot to refill it for him. “Plus you can’t blame yourself, Unless it was you who created robots to begin with!” Stothard laughed heartily as he finished speaking.
With sullen eyes Paul looked up from the table and stared across at the jolly man with a fierce glare. “It was me.” He replied coldly.
“Oh… Well even in that case you did us humans a favour, you gave us all a life of luxury!”
“I gave 1% of the humans a life of luxury, I gave the rest a one way trip underground.”
An eery silence lingered. “I’ve got to fix this.” Paul pushed himself upwards from the table and got to his feet.
Suddenly Stothard cried out “Seize him!”
Two robots lunged forward and in a flash their cold metallic hands grabbed hold Paul. Both his arms were restrained and a pair of robotic hands had been wrapped round his neck. Paul called out in terror. “What are you doing!? Let me go! Please let me go!”
“I don’t want you fixing anything. If you hop into that ‘time machine’, you’ll no doubt go back and change it so that all this is no more and I’m not having you take away my luxurious life. I’d have to be stupid or something to allow you to do that.”
Paul’s eyes grew wide, his heat pounding frantically. He called out earnestly, whilst struggling to free himself of his binds. “Please don’t keep me here! Please!”
“Kill him.”
There was a loud crack and Paul struggling stopped. The robots loosened their grip and his lifeless body slumped onto the beautifully titled floor.
“Dispose of him would you.” Stothard said calmly. “And get rid of that machine he got here in with as well. Thank you.” Stothard took a gulp of his drink then returned to endorse himself with the lovely luscious food that still littered the table. “Ooooh. exquisite ! I can’t wait for dessert!”