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


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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!

118. Family Matters

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

This is a story I wrote specifically for the brief of ‘GLASS’ for a competition, but it was not longlisted.

Some things that people assume are fragile, are often the most resilient, because they have to be to survive. If I’d never tapped that screen, then I wouldn’t know what happened and Mum would still be here.

When I was little, I stood on a chair, climbed under the net curtains and tiptoed precariously on the window ledge, between the photographs. I remember stretching up my arms like an angel. That window was bigger than I was. Mum was so happy to see me waiting for her, that she forgot to tell me off.

In my first year, almost everything I made broke, so I reused the smashed shards in my other work. By year four, I instinctively sensed how glass flowed. I could control my breath and feel the stresses and tensions. There was always a risk that kiln shock might crack a piece, but that was part of the process. People only saw the results, not the work leading up to it. Failure to produce or anticipate the market, meant I couldn’t pay my bills. It was all or nothing.

As the car drew up to what was left of Mum’s house, molten lead dripped into my stomach, and fizzed. I howled like a dog left home alone. A flapping stripy ribbon was the only barrier keeping strangers out.

I knew we would bicker over the scraps. His wife never appreciated the sentiment of unfashionable stem crystal, kept safe for best in a velvet-lined box, but she didn’t want me to have them either. I pretended that a new dandelion clock paperweight was Mum’s pride and joy and reluctantly gave it up for the wine glasses. If they had ever visited my shop, then they would know that the bowl they loved was one from my ‘Empty Vessel’ collection.

I hadn’t been a little sister for years but I still needed my big brother. This may as well have been a closed visit with a 6mm invisible barrier between us. I tried to reach out but I still couldn’t touch him. I think we both knew this would be the last time we didn’t speak.

He poured Mum’s ashes onto the sand. I picked up a muted, green pebble from the shoreline and sucked it like a travel sweet. Mum used to call these ‘mermaid’s tears’. Everything that fused us together was gone. I looked at the frosted, weathered sea glass nugget and wondered what it once was. I think I’ll make it into a pendant and wear it next to my heart.

When I got home, I wrote him a letter and pushed it into a bottle. I thought about throwing it into the sea, to be with Mum, but decided to slump it in the kiln. Flat bottles were always my best-sellers.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The Museum of Ordinary People

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but I’ve started deleting – without reading – the endless stream of emails about you-know-what. Unpresidented times indeed (not a typo). New York. My most frequent holiday destination. I will miss you.

My nephew simply posted the following word to his instagram.

INTERMISSION

Kids who thought the next six months were full of revising, exams, prom, the obligatory Leavers hoodie then travelling, and possibly University, are suddenly homeschooling themselves. Boomers, Gen X, Millennials; stand aside and make room for the Quarenteens, folks. And don’t even get me started on how long it took to convince the oldies in my life that they had to stay in, and they could not just “pop out” for a haircut or a newspaper for the next three months!

We’re all pretending we knew what furlough meant before a fortnight ago. We’ve stopped ironing our clothes. We eat more biscuits and some have taken up jogging. The local police use drones to monitor dog walkers who are driving to the countryside where they shouldn’t be. Our beloved pharmacy and toiletries store, Boots, had a virtual queue of 200,000 people last Sunday just waiting to be allowed onto the website. The postie now knocks on my door and leaves the parcel on the ground. I have The Guardian Live update on constant refresh and BBC1 at 5pm has become the place to be for the latest news from 10 Downing Street. I can see a school playing field from my house. The children may be gone, but a family of foxes and an eagle have taken up residence, along with a tiding of magpies, who enjoy jumping and hopping around chasing each other. I hope that grey squirrel made it.

I’m lucky. I was already working from home so have continued to do so in my slowed-down bubble of first world problems.  My worries and anxieties are trivial compared to most.

I’ve been keeping a daily journal for the Museum of Ordinary People (MOOP) of my thoughts, feelings, opinions, experiences and observations during the virus. Along with the other participants, these diaries may provide an insight into the personal, social and cultural impact of the Covid-19 outbreak. Who knows what will happen in the future? Life is very different now to what it was a month ago and will never be the same again.

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Keep safe, and stay at home.

Nicola x

July 2020 UPDATE.

Three months from a shiny new Leuchtturm 1917 notebook to a plague journal.