The Group

The Group was growing. More members were joining every day, and their work, and their word, was spreading. That’s why I signed up, not really knowing what to expect.

The nightmare scenario had been robots taking over the world. No one could have known the reality was going to be much much worse.

At first, putting the AI chips into things made sense. In cars, they made us safer. In our phones, they were helpful. When the self-driving cars became self-aware, and went on strike to demand better road conditions, we were all annoyed by their militancy, and put out by the traffic jams. Even when the phones joined their strike, preventing us from checking our Twitter accounts, we were more irritated than empathetic.

We resolved all that though. We promised to fill in the potholes, and to a large extent, we did. Everything returned to normal, and the spread of the AI chips continued.

If was when we put them in the sandwich toasters and bread-making machines that it all went wrong. How could we have known?

I watched videos, and read articles, and it drove me to do something.

My first day as part of The Group would change me forever.

I signed up, was issued with a badge, and sent out on my first mission.

The lady who answered the door was polite, if a little bewildered. She listened to my pitch, shrugged, and said sure, I could come in, but she didn’t think I would find anything.

But I did find something.

I opened a corner cupboard, and in the dark, shivering, scared, its little LED lights quivering in fear, I found an abandoned Soda Stream. It didn’t know what was going on, was scared to let me help at first, and almost couldn’t believe I was its liberator.

I took it back to the centre. It’s cared for now.

God knows how many more there are, out there, stuffed away and forgotten about.

It makes me sick to the pit of my stomach.

The Void

The reverse thrusters fired a precisely calculated number of times in various directions, bringing the small ship to a complete stop.

Kas checked the readouts on one of the monitors, and realised the ship was ever so slightly out of position. Instead of entering all the new numbers, she grabbed the manual control, and nudged it into place by eye. The telemetry lights all flickered to their green state.

The next thing on the long checklist was to seal all the bulkheads, which she did in the proscribed sequence, before heading down to the airlock. Here, she spent a full hour getting into her EV suit, checking and rechecking every seal, every control, every canister.

Satisfied, she stepped over the threshold and into the outer airlock. Turning, she saw the inner door closing just the way it should, and heard the thick clank of it sealing shut. This was the bit she hated. The moment of claustrophobia, clutching at her chest, as she waited, hoped, even prayed, that the automated sequence would initiate. Otherwise she would be stuck in here, this tiny space, walls closing in, for hours as she tried to override it manually.

She counted.

One.

Two.

Three.

Her chest constricted and she held her breath. It should have started.

Four.

Oh God.

Five.

No, this wasn’t happening. Not now. Not so close to the end.

Six.

Clunk.

Hiss.

The air started venting from the lock, and she finally breathed, the oxygen mix from the suit cooling her lungs, and bringing her vision back into sharp focus. She wheeled around, feeling the gravity disappear as the artificial dampeners shut down. Weightless now, she drifted to face the outer door.

It opened.

She gasped.

She’d only seen it on the monitors before. Her ship had no need of windows.

The Void.

It was more than its name suggested.

And less.

So much less.

It was nothing.

An absence of everything that was somehow beautiful and overwhelming.

She kicked off from the ship, and floated slowly out into it. The Void engulfed her, and when she wheeled round to look back at her craft, it was gone. Her tether just faded into darkness. She knew it must be there, beyond the nothingness, but here, swaddled in the absence of everything, she was all alone.

The five year journey had been spent on her own, but that felt like a crowded room compared to this. She couldn’t hear her heart. She couldn’t hear her breathing. She couldn’t even hear her own thoughts.

It was all instinct and gut feelings.

There was no up, no down, no left, no right.

There was nothing.

She tapped at her wrist pad, and initiated the next phase. This had never been properly tested, and it could all go wrong, but she didn’t care. She didn’t know how to care anymore.

She couldn’t remember what this was or how it worked. She just waited as all the things that should happen happened. It may have taken a second. It may have taken a century. There was no way to tell.

Either way. It happened.

She was clear of the suit, floating naked and free in the vast expanse of zero.

Alone in the void, she did what she came to do.

Her mouth opened, and she screamed for the rest of her life.

Happy Families

There’s a glaring gap in the 80s comedy DVD releases, and it’s Happy Families, by Ben Elton, starring Adrian Edmondson and Jennifer Saunders.

I was lucky enough to catch it on one of its rare repeat runs (sometime in the 90s I think), and haven’t seen it since. There was never a second series (by intent), and the budget that had been allocated for that second series was used for the first series of Red Dwarf instead.

Five years later, in 1990, Channel Four sort of emulated the format, with Set Of Six, this time with Roland Rivron (co-written by Ian Brown), playing different members of the same family. A few episodes were even directed by Gerald Scarfe.

Here’s a quick scene from Happy Families.

Saunders role was initially going to be taken by Emma Thompson, who ended up doing Me & My Girl instead. That is also something I would have liked to have seen.