126. The Aspiration Project on Colony IV


Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

Gemma poked her thumbs through the holes in her sleeve cuffs, then crossed her arms over her chest. Mum said she could sulk and regret it, or make the most of the few days they had left together. If she wanted to be taken seriously and be treated like an adult, then now was the time to start, and to try to appreciate that difficult decisions weren’t taken lightly. Gemma couldn’t understand why Laura had picked that stupid, greasy, lanky boy over her own sister. It wasn’t fair. Dad was dead. Laura was leaving. Every penny they had went on Mum’s medicine, and it wouldn’t be long before Gemma was on her own. At least she’d get to keep most of Laura’s clothes, including the jumper she had on. She looked at the fabric composition label. 60% Recycled Polypropylene. 35% Recycled Acrylic. 4% Recycled Viscose.1% Reclaimed Wool. Almost everything she had ever owned was second hand, vintage, hand-me-down, used, pre-loved. Clothes, toys, books. Colony IV was brand new. Laura would get her own apartment, and everything in it would be straight from the factory. She imagined how Laura would peel off the plastic wrapping from the front door and it would make a sucking sound as it opened. Shiny, clean and white. New intakes always moved into a hermetically sealed zone for the first two years, so they could acclimatise and be monitored for disease. All those teenagers. Taking classes together. Being trained for something important. Good food and free medical treatment. 


Early Colonisers had worked hard to set up The Aspiration Project, and reliable fresh air was a real thing now. There were enough trees growing to make it a renewable resource. She’d heard that people could run outside – on purpose – and were still able to breathe! It sounded amazing. No wonder she felt so jealous. Mum said that she would get her chance soon to apply and to not give up, and that everyone has to make the best life they can with what they’re given.


Laura’s Fare Well Event was in nine days time, and then she would be allowed only five minutes worth of video calls during the rest of her life. Due to the physics of space travel, it would take Laura six months to reach Colony IV, by which time, Gemma would have aged eighteen years. She doubted that Laura would care enough to ever call her again, and that she would sell her video slots to other people who were actually going to miss their families. But there was always the small chance that some time in the future, Laura would contact her. Gemma might even recognise her on one of those Colony documentary shows.


What neither of them knew, or the majority of people on that dying planet would ever know, was that the voyage Laura and her boyfriend were about to take, was not to The Aspiration Project on Colony IV, but to a human recycling plant. Those who actually got to go to one of the Colonies were not the most fertile, physically strong or genetically healthy specimens like the adverts showed. Prime humans at the start of their adulthood were not living their best lives on Colony IV or any other Colony for that matter. Colony IV was designed as a hospice paradise for in-bred, sickly offspring of legacy investors and their extended families. All of the spaces were always going to be permanently reserved for those who could afford it. But to avoid any hint of a rebellion or civil unrest, the lottery for tickets had to be seen to be a fair system for everyone. People cannot be allowed to give up hope.

Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno on Unsplash

One of the benefits of lockdown is that I have been able to attend creative writing classes on Zoom and continue to work full-time from home. If I was still commuting, I would not have had the time to travel to different locations for classes.

The above short fiction was written to a Science Fiction brief in an ‘Investigating Genre’ class run by InspireCulture.org.uk


JOIN ME ONLINE!

As part of my professional development short story writers group A Brief Pause I am doing a “tight three minute’ reading on Tuesday 27th April 2021 at just after 19:00 BST, as part of their new short story reading series. This monthly space is for writers, readers and publishers to listen to and discuss short stories.

Click here for a link to the Eventbrite ticketing page.

UPDATE- Me doing my reading!

117. How to Choose Which Shoes to Wear in the Apocalypse

Photo by Philippe Jausions on Unsplash

My wardrobe, floordrobe, was supposed to be a curated collection of neutral basics plus a smattering of thrifty vintage pieces mixed with designer splurges. There was that pair of leather strappy sandals bought in Greece that I could never wear for more than half an hour before they rubbed my feet raw to ribbons. After every hangover, I vowed to give up my late nights. I was going to reinvent myself and spend my Sundays outdoors, just as soon as I’d broken in the hiking boots that pinched so much that I lost all feeling in my toes. I knew they were supposed to be tight but once they’d moulded to my feet, they would be the most comfortable footwear in the world. I thought I looked the business in those silver leather brogues until I saw three other women wearing the same shoes at the same event as me. Embarrassing wasn’t the word.

I know now to never buy this year’s colour in a leather handbag. It’s a waste of money because it only lasts one season and I’d have to keep it for 12-15 years before I could use it again. Chain store coats are also a mistake unless I wanted to look like everyone else.

Marie said to put all of my clothes onto the bed so I knew what I’d got. Passers-by could see right into this basement flat, but I didn’t care. They also didn’t seem bothered because it was still raining, so they were hurrying by, just wanting to get where they were going. 

I was down to my bra and knickers, trying on everything I owned, chucking my clothes into piles –  keep, bin, donate, sell – whilst dancing around to an 80s pop mix. Between songs I could hear a burglar alarm wailing like an old-fashioned air raid signal so I just cranked up the music a bit louder to drown it out. Then someone startled me by banging on my window and shouting “get out!”. I quickly put on a pair of comfy cord jeans and an old baggy t shirt and ran to the front door to yell right back at them. Before I could open it, I heard water trickling down the steps and saw it creeping under the door towards me. For a moment, I stood there, watching my slippers get soaked.

“This is the police helicopter. The river has breached its bank. You are in imminent danger. Please evacuate your property immediately and make your way to higher ground.”

In less than thirty seconds, I was out of there. I grabbed my phone, purse, glasses, a pair of trainers, socks, knickers, a jumper, that book I was reading and (weirdly) a pillow. I put on the first coat I saw hanging up and snatched another. Then, swinging a black bin bag containing all my worldly goods, I pelted up the street, splashing through the ankle high water in my sodden slippers, as if I had seen the last bus coming.

Photo by Gabriele Diwald on Unsplash


109. Answers on a Postcard

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Photo by Wherda Arsianto on Unsplash

I went to a small college in a small town, in the early 90s, with about 500 other students. Education was free then, I was given a modest grant to live on, and cheap basic, accommodation. My weekly food bill was more than my room. Everyone was there to learn the modern Business Studies methods of the day, conveniently with our tutors’ own published books as set texts. We had optimistically enrolled on a handful of randomly specialist, semi-practical courses, to find out about the future of electronic mail and networks of personal computers that were not yet part of our working environment. However, less than a decade later, that knowledge was obsolete.

There were 24 six inch wire cubes (aka pigeonholes) fitted to the wall outside of the Student Union office. A ritual daily gathering for the latest gossip coinciding with regulation mid-morning coffee break. The arrival of the mail was a big deal, so we’d hang around for our fix of letters from home, whilst desperately trying to not look overeager. It was clearly an inefficient method of distribution by Surname, as some of the cubes, (H, S, B) could barely hold a day’s delivery, yet others, (U or Q) were nearly always empty. If we wanted to leave a message for a tutor, we’d pop a note into their personal wooden pigeonhole in the Secretary’s office.

This was pre-internet, pre-mobile phone times. I’d ring home once, possibly twice a fortnight from one of the payphones dotted around campus, using a prepaid phone card. I was glad my room wasn’t located near to the phone in my halls of residence. The perk of having the convenience of a phone so close by, would quickly dissolve, as most of the calls were for other people. You were damned if you took a message, as whatever you did next was bound to be wrong. Do you leave the message on the pinboard next to the phone, push a note under their door (if you knew where they lived) or hold onto it until you found them? Were you supposed to go looking for them? If you saw their friend first, do you tell them what the caller said? Living closest to the phone also meant that no-one else would ever answer it, including during the night. You were fair game to be scolded if someone’s boyfriend had called and they’d missed them, because you couldn’t be “bothered to get out of bed” at midnight to answer the phone.

Whenever an essay or assignment was set, I’d go straight to the library after class, to check out the recommended research books, and get first reserve on the others that had to be ordered in from other libraries. On the first Monday of every month, new magazines went on display, so I’d spend many a glorious afternoon reading the latest issues for free. With hindsight, it would have been better with a grande latte and a granola bar on the table, but we were years away from food and drink coexisting in a public space with books. We didn’t know we had to carry our own water with us at all times back then, and only our grannies had a thermos. Staying hydrated was reserved for hot days or hangovers.

Information about the outside world arrived in the form of giant newspapers attached to long, wooden rods. These were apparently required to deter theft of the biblepaper-thin sheets. I figured that if something important happened, I was bound to find out eventually (people would be talking about it and I would hear or they would tell me!). Hence, my knowledge of history from that period is sparse. We felt no responsibility (or addiction) to stay up-to-date with current affairs.

Music magazines, flyers on record shop counters, photocopied fanzines made by dedicated sixth-formers, and postcards from that place in Leamington Spa, provided all we ever needed to know about what was happening in our own music bubble.

We weren’t missing out if it hadn’t yet been invented.

In a decade from now, will facial recognition, spyware, satellite surveillance, contactless payments, automatic numberplate recognition technology and body microchip nano implants be the norm? Will it even be possible to go off-grid? Will it seem an incredible waste to cut down trees for paper, when they’re needed for much more important things like clean air?

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Photo by Hannes Wolf on Unsplash