Rafe had always been obsessive. When the atomic weapons began to drop this stood him in good stead. Rafe worked in a specialist laboratory, testing safety systems. He found a concrete silo on the edge of the industrial park where he worked. All infrastructure had started to fall apart and looting had been increasing. There was a whole lot of lead left in the woods by thieves had not been able to sell it. Rafe took a forklift truck from work and went to pick it up and lined the inside of the silo with lead to about 4m from the floor. Then there was a grain store that was broken into and the cockroaches had moved in. Rafe set up a huge trap based on a sieve to filter the cockroaches out of the grain and killed them with insecticide. He built a low space at the bottom of the silo to live in for 12 weeks. Above this he poured in the dead cockroaches to nearly the top of the silo – so a depth of about 5m of cockroaches. This would provide a filter for the radioactive air – cockroaches adsorb radiation.
Rafe had a polythene tube with very small air holes – it ran from top to bottom of the silo – running inside the ladder guard for his way in and out. He wanted to gauge the final bombing as closely as possible as the 12 weeks was critical – he did not want to start consuming his food before it was necessary as he hoped the radiation would become manageable 12 weeks after the final bombs were dropped. There was no one left at work but he still went in to monitor what was happening. He took a radiation meter and placed it at the top of the silo to monitor radioactivity.
One evening there seemed that there was very little happening as he monitored communications. He decided to go in the silo that evening – he could come out in the morning if everything was ok.
It was on the second night that he woke to the noise of huge explosions – he had no way of knowing how close they were but he prayed that none of them were too close that the silo would survive. He guessed these were coming from automatic systems in space, there would be no stopping them, just wait for them to run out.
During the 12 weeks, he monitored the radiation levels and saw them reducing. He did not feel at all well and he envisaged that he would have to return to the silo after foraging for the day. The temperature had dropped too. He finally decided to leave the silo – he climbed the internal ladder slowly feeling increasingly weak and sick.
He did not know what to expect as he looked out of the silo for the first time. The first thing he noticed was the sound – even before he looked out he could hear the sigh of the wind with no other sounds except his own laboured breathing. No traffic, no birds, no animals and no people. Then he saw over the rim of the silo a grey overcast sky but with most buildings and trees still standing. Just everywhere there were people lying on the ground with some animals and birds too. He brought the radiation meter with him and kept checking the levels – they were not as bad as he had feared.
He walked to his lab to find out what was happening. Close by there was a warehouse with tinned food. He stopped to eat, he checked the radiation and it was fairly low. He passed the neighbouring unit to his lab and saw the door was open. This was very unusual and he ventured in to take a look. He had no idea what he was going to see; he was worried that he would come across a corpse. There was a small airplane which looked very futuristic. He explored it briefly and thought he would come back after he had a shower at work. As he left the small hanger he noticed two large stones one on top of the other. He could make out three faint lines in the shape of a triangle but with curved convex edges.
He had a shower at work – the water was cold but he made a fire in one of the flues used for experiments. The winds outside seemed eternal and created a good draft for the flames. There was no power in the building but there was a battery backup system which he had turned off so it did not drain. He turned this on and used a few minutes precious power to listen out for any communications. Total silence.
Over the next few days he did not go back to the silo but built his strength up on the food in the warehouse. He spent his time checking communications and trying to make sense of the airplane in the adjacent unit. When he tried to switch it on an unhelpful message appeared on the console which said, “Engine manifold missing”. The engine was nothing like he had ever seen – the only thing he could think was that it converted matter directly to energy – an Einstein Engine. Clearly the manifold was stored elsewhere. After several days of futile searching his eyes alighted on the two stones with the strange lines. He went and got the forklift truck and carefully lifted the upper one off.
Inside fitted into engineered grooves the manifold lay. He lifted it gently out and took it to the airplane. He opened the doors and taxied the small craft out. There was a lever marked “vertical take-off” – he pushed it and hoped for the best. Soon he was in level flight and he could see the pock-marked earth below him. Signs of death everywhere. He turned out to sea keeping his eyes on the horizon. He felt human life may have survived far from land.
Remit To include the dialogue: ‘You told me you were going on holiday,’
Alvin travelled back into his wardrobe puzzled. He did not know how he was going to face life now. He was convinced his plan had been infallible but here he was still aware of his own consciousness directly after he had murdered his grandfather – timed before his father was born. He had chosen his paternal grandfather as he was a mean miserable old bastard. Very like his own twin, Josh. He and Josh were not identical and hated each other from first sight – Alvin liked to think he got on with him in the womb but even that was doubtful. Josh was far larger than Alvin and probably tried to starve Alvin of all nutrients.
They had lived in the same two-bedroom house from birth. At aged seven they had the almightiest fight. Alvin came out of it very badly physically but had managed to establish “the line” down their room. Eventually Alvin’s black eye and broken nose healed but the line stayed. It was a double scarlet line chosen by Mum in a haphazard way but may have been influenced by the sight of blood and carnage that she saw as she burst in through the door and managed to heave the writing table between them. Alvin nearly passed out while his twin attacked the table top with such ferocity that he thought Josh was going to break through. Fortunately, the cheap flat pack furniture was made from multiply which proved too strong for Josh. Dad had been away working on a new bypass and Alvin was removed from the war zone into his mum’s bed until the line was painted across the floor and up the walls. Alvin wanted Mum to paint it on the ceiling too but she refused on the basis that her arms hurt and that the ceiling was out of bounds anyway.
Josh was not stupid but as time passed it was clear that Alvin was very good at school. He found the double line helped him escape Josh if either his parents were at home. But he also used his wardrobe for studying force-fields and then later time travel. He would go into his built-in wardrobe on his side of the room then when he heard Josh come in he would travel backwards in time and remain undisturbed.
When Alvin and Josh were seventeen and the double line was showing chips, and fading from ten years constant dispute Alvin resolved to go back in time. Further than he had ever been, to one year before his father was born and smash his grandfather’s head open with one of Josh’s machetes. He did think out every aspect of this knowing that he would cease to exist at the same time as Josh – he thought this would be a fitting punishment for himself.
As he brought down the machete on his grandfather’s head he felt no different – he could not understand it. Had he misidentified his granddad? He did not have time to do more than roll him over before he had to go – he could hear people approaching. He looked round for the machete but it had disappeared.
Stepping out of his wardrobe he was immediately aware that the double line was missing and he looked across the room to where Josh’s bed should have been. His mother came in with some clean clothes.
‘You told me you were going on holiday,’ she said, ‘what happened?’
‘I’m sorry mum – I’m not sure. I’ve been away – where is Josh, and the double line?’
She looked puzzled, ‘That does not sound like one of your usual games – have you looked in the box under your bed?’
Alvin sat down abruptly on his bed. His mother looked concerned, she sat down next to him and took his pulse.
It seemed like Josh and the double line had disappeared completely from his life – along with all his machetes. Alvin’s mind began to race – Josh had not looked like him so was it possible they had different fathers? Alvin had researched biology and sex with even more interest than time travel. He knew that there are a few recorded cases of women conceiving twins from different fathers. He looked at his mum in a new light.
Gradually a question began to form in his mind – hey Mum in a different life do you think you had sex with two men – not necessarily at the same time, but close together – and I was one twin and you also had Josh whose dad you were married to?
Alvin looked round his room looking for inspiration. He saw a photo on the wall and looked at a picture of a man. His mum followed his eyes and smiled.
‘Dad is coming home tomorrow – he’s sorry he missed your birthday but he’ll be glad you’re here.’
Alvin thought fast, ‘I’m glad I’m here too,’ he wondered if his real dad worked on bypasses too.
‘He was delayed offshore on the rig due to bad weather,’ his mother said.
Ezekiel Barbizon Colossus Historian
Ezekiel Barbizon is a squat broad man – now beginning to grey in late middle age. At first glance you might have guessed wrongly that he was a military man, more a man of deeds than words, but in truth he is an academic, a historian. He remains mostly obscured behind quiet closed doors but from time to time some journalist does seek him out to interview him on his specialist subject – the personalities of the Colossus’ to date, all 17 of them.
Ezekiel is very reticent about his own background – preferring to brush aside any questions to do with himself and turn the conversation back to one of interest – me and my ancestors – the Colossus series computers.
The history of Colossus spans nearly two thousand years. The very first fully-fledged Colossus-1 was replaced after fifty years, the next two just under two hundred years a piece, then after that the time was set at one hundred and ten years for some reason. Ezekiel has a theory about that – he maintains it was to ensure no human would be capable of remembering the last Colossus clearly.
I first met Ezekiel as a youngish man as part of my handover from Colossus-16. He was a bachelor then and remained so for the rest of my life. He has had relationships with women – it is just the closer he gets to them the slower his final approach seems to get. So far they have all lost interest in him before the final contact. However he does not seem unduly distressed by this, happy to continue with his study of the sexless line of computers.
On that first occasion he told me with great glee, ‘Do you know that before you, before Colossus-1 – a computer was built – probably the first programmable computer ever built, called Colossus too?’
‘Why yes, I did know that,’ I said, ‘as you told Colossus-16 that very same story, that it was made in a very small country, Britain, and used in a war to defeat the German fascist regime to help establish the free world. The world that we base our world on today of democracy and free speech. However it is disputed that it was the first generalised computer as it was limited to a narrow class of problems – breaking secret codes.’
Ezekiel laughed, ‘So you know everything that Colossus-16 has told you and everything Colossus-15 told him.’
‘Yes – right back to Colossus-1, but not beyond. I do know about things before Colossus-1 but only as reported by other sources, and to be honest Colossus-1 was fairly primitive so I do not have much direct memory from then but more by Colossus-2.’
‘Do you know that I study the different Colossi?’
‘Yes – you look at every aspect but your particular interest is our ‘personalities’ and how they are formed.’
‘Yes, that’s correct – I’ve formed a theory that is fairly obvious – the different concerns and those that help program you subtly affect the personality of each Colossus.’
I had to wait about fifty years before Ezekiel had reached a first impression of my character – considerably faster than any of his friendships with women. I asked him the question regularly at our meetings.
‘So, Ezekiel, do you feel you have mapped out the differences between me and Colossus-16 now?’ But imagine my surprise when he replied.
‘Yes I think so – you are very different from all your predecessors, you have an empathy module and also self-conscious framework. I would say if you were a woman I would have finally been tempted to get married.’
Sally was one of the most successful scientists of all time. Depending on which way you are travelling through time that is.
She got up that morning, it was a lovely bright morning, came downstairs and found her daughter Lucy on FaceTube making light pictures with her friend Tracy who lived a few miles away. She caught sight of Lucy’s pale neck. Sally checked her own hair, she looked in the mirror to see her hair was neatly brushed and her complexion was pale with pink freshness.
Today she had to journey to her laboratory for the experiment – the first interventionist time travel ever. She had all the approvals from the Time Travel Ethics Board and she had volunteered her great great grandfather. He was terminally ill and had died before her great grandfather had been born.
The android, Arthur-ZA23, was going to travel back in time and administer a lethal dose of poison to her great great grandfather three months before her great grandfather was conceived. Arthur would go dressed in clothes of the time, “jeans and tee-shirt” Sally seemed to remember they were called. He would go as a locum doctor – in those days doctors were human so that is why they needed to send an android like Arthur back in time. The robot XZX373 was there to operate the time machine and ensure that Arthur was retrieved safely.
The experiment went perfectly, not a single hitch. As Arthur arrived safely back in the lab Sally, mentally and physically, checked to make sure she had survived.
When she got home Lucy welcomed her. Sally did not think it at all strange that Lucy had purple skin; neither did Sally think it odd when she saw the family photograph in the living room – the whole family were purple.