The Pre-Trial

“I don’t need to take this crap from a robot in a horsehair wig.”

As opening gambits went, it wasn’t the best. She knew that. But Kate was at a bit of a loss when it came to these proceedings. It was a side effect of being born in 1982, and twenty two years later being in a courtroom in 2764.

It was like any courtroom she had seen on the telly. Except everyone was a robot.

And they were all wearing those stupid things on their heads.

She just about had a grasp on what was going on. Something called a pre-trial. The light she had seen was a time funnel, and she was pulled forward to here, from moments before they claimed she was about to commit a crime.

“And now you want me to defend myself against the charge?”

The robots beeped and whirred. They weren’t well manufactured. The Steno-Bot’s fingers kept falling off whenever it typed. Kate had never had cause to wonder how one might pick up one’s fingers when they were all on the floor, but with each new digital dismemberment, the prospect of an answer seemed likely.

“You are charged that on the 27th day of September, in the year of 2004 you will, with malice and forethought, burglarise the home of Mr Ted Wills.”

“Haven’t you got any murderers to catch before they do a murder?”

She was stalling.

Because they had a point.

She WAS just about to break into Ted’s house.

But it was all perfectly innocent.

She’d sent an email. It said something it shouldn’t have said. He hadn’t read it. She wanted to delete it before he could. There was never any thought in her mind that she’d nick something while she was there.

“Exhibit 1a.”

The Clerk-Bot’s chest flapped open and a little conveyor belt brought the exhibit forward.

“Do you deny those are your teeth marks?”

The Prosecutor-Bot pointed at the half-eaten sandwich in the evidence bag.

“I probably got hungry. I mean, I’m hungry now, and it’s later, about how long it would have been … my brain hurts.”

“So you admit you were going to be in Mr Wills’s house?”

“I was thinking about it,” she said by way of obfuscation. “But I’m also thinking about leaping over this stand and unplugging you all.”

That bright swirling light again.

She blinked.

“You are charged that on the 12th day of April, in the year of 2764, you will, with malice and forethought, cause reckless damage to the property of the Crown.”

“We could be here a while.”

The Photograph

She pushed the battered looking photo across the table, and his gnarled hand reached for it. His skin was paper thin and had liver spots, and his knuckles just made him look gaunt. His finger touched the image, and he looked up from it, to her, his eyes milky and bloodshot.

“What’s this?” she asked, gesturing to the photo.

“Who are you?”

“It’s me Dad,” she said, ignoring the pang of mournful rejection from this lapse of memory.

“Dana?”

“No,” she sighed, swallowing back the lump in her throat. “Lucy.”

“I don’t know a Lucy.”

She let it go. These moments hurt, but they soon passed, and his lucidity quickly returned.

“Look at the photo Dad,” she said, pushing it closer to him across the table. “I found it in the loft last night.”

“It’s me and mum,” he said.

“And who else?”

He looked at her again, blinking, not understanding the thrust of her question.

“I found it last night, and I was looking at it,” she explained. “That’s you, that’s Mum, that’s Dana. Who’s that?”

She stroked her finger around the fading gloss of the photograph, circling the face of the unknown young man standing in the middle of the family photo.

“That’s Danny.”

“Who’s Danny?”

“He used to live next door.”

She almost clicked her fingers as the memory slotted into place. Of course it was Danny.

“So, who took the photo? Can’t have been me, I was only two.”

“Probably Danny’s sister.”

She shook her head, not recollecting the sister, but sure he was right. They moved away when she was four or five, so it wasn’t any wonder that she was struggling to place them, or the photo.

“So where was I? Asleep in the cot?”

“Who are you?”

“Lucy. I’m Lucy Dad.”

“Lucy?”

“Dana’s sister.”

“Dana didn’t have a sister.”

She resisted the urge to make a snarky comment about her sister’s lack of familial bonds, or the fact she never seemed to visit Dad, or even talk to her about anything. Indeed, she couldn’t remember the last time she even spoke to Dana. And yet, he remembered Dana more than her.

It hurt.

A lot.

“Dana has a sister called Lucy. That’s me.”

“Dana was an only child.”

That one was new. She made a mental note to ask the Doctor how his decline was going to proceed. She needed to be prepared for more things like this.

“She was, for a few years. Then I came along. Remember?”

“Who are you?”

“Lucy.”

“Lucy?” he chewed his mouth for a moment, ruminating on the information. “The girl who came to stay?”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Lucy. They girl who came to stay.”

“Yes, but I don’t know what that means.”

“Dana made her up. She pretended they were sisters. Lucy. The girl who came to stay. Dana forgot about her after a couple of years.”

Lucy looked at her hand, noticing now that it was as frail and paper thin as his. Her skin was translucent, and little wafts of smoke drifted from it. She looked through her hand at the table below.

And disappeared.

The Speaker

Gary hated the thing on his shoulder. Always had, but now more so than ever.

It started as a little lump. Nothing big, nothing to really worry about. It was there from when he was about six. Maybe it grew a little as he grew, he could never be sure. The doctor had a look at it, poked it with things, and sent off for tests that came back negative.

Then came puberty, and as the rest of his body sprouted and evolved into something he found difficult to fit in, so did the lump. This time, it definitely got bigger. Still the tests came back saying that everything was fine.

Then, one day, as he looked at in the mirror, the lump blinked at him.

More precisely, it opened its single eyelid, stared at his reflection for a moment, and then closed it again. No matter how much he pulled and prodded at it, the lid remained shut, and no-one believed him, even accusing him of making it up for attention.

It was when it grew teeth that it all went wrong.

Because covering it up with clothing became harder, especially when the lump developed a taste for cotton. It munched its way through his shirt shoulders, and then licked its lips and blinked myopically at anyone staring at it in horror.

Gary never knew how to explain it.

Often he just shrugged and looked embarrassed, and politeness took over, and so people pretended to ignore it.

At his first job interview, just as we was asked to describe his faults, the lump ate its way into the open. The man behind the desk stared.

“What are you looking at?”

It was the lump asking. Demanding.

Those five words were all it said anytime it appeared through his shirt, for a good few years. It took Gary too long to realise it would be easier to just cut the holes in the shoulders himself, and stitch them back so they didn’t fray. That way, at least he could keep his shirts for longer.

Maybe that’s what did it. Maybe it ingratiated him with the lump, or maybe it infuriated the lump, now deprived of its only snack source.

Either way, the lump got more bolshy.

And it seemed to have a direct line into Gary’s innermost thoughts. Fair enough, except the lump had no qualms about voicing those thoughts at every given opportunity. It told Gary’s family exactly what he thought of them. Told his friends his real feelings. Swore at annoying people. Heckled, taunted, shouted.

All alone, Gary was left in the company of the bastard lump on his shoulder.

He stared at it in the mirror.

It stared back.

“Piss off you fat lump of fuck,” it said, and never stopped speaking after that.

The Service

I first read about The Service a few months ago. It was getting talked about a lot all over the internet, and so I did some research. They’d started The Service about ten years ago, but only now, after the blight, was it getting any kind of traction.

It intrigued me, if only as titillation, and so I went online and applied for it.

As promised, two weeks later, I received a package in the mail. It was a large envelope, stuffed full of bumf, and a small jiffy bag, sealed inside.

I like prolonging the moment, so I stopped myself tearing open the jiffy bag immediately, and teased myself by reading the enclosed literature. It said much the same as the website. The Service takes a look at your whole life, at least in online form, and runs its magic algorithm to pick out and send you the perfect gift, a summation of your whole existence.

So I opened it.

It was empty.

Oh, ha bloody ha, I thought. Good joke. What larks. You got me good and proper. A hundred quid to be heckled by an algorithm.

It was only a few days later, when I was tidying up, that I realised the jiffy bag wasn’t empty. It had some dust in the bottom.

Not like a scary white powder, just dust.

Again, still being heckled by maths.

But something got the better of me. I had the dust analysed by one of the lab techs where I work.

Turns out, it’s just dust.

Why send dust? It’s a weird metaphor for mortality I guess, but still, if they were sending dust to everyone, why was everyone so pumped about The Service? I asked around, no-one else got dust, and everyone else seemed over the mood with their perfect gift.

I had them run more tests.

There was DNA in the dust.

My DNA.

That’s disturbing.

The Rumble

I awoke with a start. My chest was heaving, and I could hear myself in the darkness, gasping for air, while the cold sweat on my skin gave me a chill that added a shiver to the breathing.

Something had startled me. Something loud, deep, and ominous had shocked me awake, and sent a fear through me what was making it hard to get any oxygen.

I listened, trying to calm my lungs, so that I could get a better grasp on the situation. Slowly, my heart stopped pounding in my chest, and the air became more quiet. I realised I was holding my breath, trying to seek out the noise that had scared me awake.

I watched the numbers on the alarm clock, glowing in the darkness, change from one to another. I must have sat still for three whole minutes.

And just as I was deciding that it was all a fevered dream, then came the rumble.

It was deep and long, and made the whole house vibrate. The glass of water by the clock shivered across the wooden top of my drawers, and it was like a thousand massive airplanes were buzzing my home all at once.

On and on it went, until it petered to nothing, and I heard silence in the night once more.

One thing was for sure though, and that was that the rumble had come from right below me. Downstairs. In the kitchen.

Summoning the courage from somewhere I didn’t know existed within me, I slipped from the bed and padded across the bedroom to the door. Only when I reached for the handle did I realise I was shaking, and my clammy hands found little purchase on the metal knob.

Descending the stairs was the hardest thing I had ever done, not least because another wave of rumbling exploded, and I had to lean hard against the wall and grip the handrail just to stop from bolting back up the stairs.

When it passed, I moved on. Down to the hallway and to the kitchen door.

There was a heat emanating from beyond, and I know it was my imagination, but I could have sworn the door was bulging and throbbing.

How I even opened the door I don’t know.

And when I did, I retched at the sight before me.

A massive creature, filling every inch of the kitchen, dark skinned, covered in a hellish slime, its surface bubbling and boiling. Its body rose and fell, as it breathed, and I realised it was asleep.

Just then, something opened in its body, and that rumble came back.

Noxious gas expelled from that hole with a force that literally knocked me from my feet.

When it was over, I went back to bed, and tried to forget about being farted on by a hell beast.