Sunrise and Spaceships
The world moved on through time and space.
Species grew dominant, or survived, unremarkably in the background, life evolved or perished, and geological structures came and went in the space at hand, grew or vanished with time.
Extinction was nothing new in the universe.
The current dominant life form spent their short lives having children, doing menial tasks, taking billions of photographs of food, arguing about politics or religion, and generally ignoring the cosmos.
A few dared to look, up and out, but most never saw what they longed to see, spending life spans cataloguing far distant specks that they would never see, puzzling over physics that was far beyond their understanding, and arguing, always arguing, about who was right and who was just an annoying geek.
Amongst the billions, even fewer than the annoying geeks, a minute number actually saw. Confused, annoyed, terrified by the confirmation, often unwanted, that they were really, truly, actually not alone.
Some argued the fact that they had seen and weren't just being slightly weirder than usual, some went mad, others became recluses and never shared their experience.
Carol, however, just sat in the works canteen, playing with the sugar and complaining about the saucers.
Ted waited impatiently, the Zamboni vibrating beneath him, causing ripples to move up and down all twenty-eight stone of him.
The dimensions of the big, square ice resurfacer mirrored in his huge, but very squat, frame.
Ted awkwardly reached up with meaty hands and checked for the umpteenth time his woolly hat covered the foil beneath.
Although the ice rink had a metal roof, Ted thought it was still prudent to keep them out, just in case.
Satisfied his befoiled dome was in place, he slouched over the wheel, and waited for the teenager to finish her very long session. All the other bloody kids had been collected by their relatives twenty minutes earlier.
Ted seethed as he watched her churn up his ice, her blades adding ever more spirals and circles with each twizzle and pivot.
The world moved on through time and space, unconcerned with Ted's foil-protected dimensions or the relative who had totally forgotten to pick the girl up from skating.
'Next item waiting. K.9. 0.0.D. Two of.'
'Okay!' Carol confirmed the order with the automated headset and set off down the vast warehouse to Aisle K, Row 9.
'Warning: one customer waiting! K.9.0.0.D. Two of!' The store's cyber system always sounded a little impatient if the order wasn't obtained within thirty seconds, the recorded male voice in Carol's right ear becoming slightly louder and more insistent.
'O.K.!' She unconsciously quickened her pace, eager to please the cyber-master.
It had taken her months to find a job that was suitable, totally enclosed space, times to suit her family commitments and, most importantly, no windows and a steel roof. She couldn't risk upsetting the company and losing her job again.
Aisle K. Row 9. Top shelf, nine in.
'Order complete, ok!'
'OK!' The cyberman sounded pleased in her ear.
She threw the pirate toy into the hopper and awaited further instructions, watching Captain Jack disappear along the vast network of conveyor belts.
Glancing at her watch, Carol raced off towards the staff room, unplugging the headset as she ran, second time this week she'd totally forgotten to pick her daughter up from skating!
Eve sat, knees pulled up to her chest against the cold, waiting in the darkened rink.
She smiled to herself despite her mood, as the curses of the Zamboni operator reached her from the still brightly lit ice.
She loved watching the sweepers at the rear of the Ice Warrior, two brushes, angling in and out, jets of water polishing away the scratches and scrapes from hundreds of blades, leaving the ice smooth and perfect.
Ted cursed again as the sweeping angle was adjusted with a clunk. Intricate spirals carved into his ice refused to be smoothed, Ted cranked up the Warrior, ice crystals scattering as the vibrations threatened an adipose avalanche into a sweat sea. Devil of a job finally done, the Warrior left the pristine surface and the lights died.
Cold enveloped Eve, she glanced at the time again. God, her mum was crap!
Chattering teeth finally forced her out of the rink and into the warm summer evening.
Not a cloud in the sky, but Eve was careful to put her umbrella up before stepping into the car park.
The bright blue brolly (carefully lined with strong turkey foil, left over from Christmas) shielded her as the brilliant stars danced above her head.
She waved half-heartedly as the ancient Fiat Sontara pulled into the lot, Carol apologising profusely even before the door creaked open.
Carol failed to notice the two identical vans in the car park.
The bright logos proclaiming they were part of the 'U-Knit' craft store chain...if she'd seen them.
The girls went on to fail to notice one of the U-Knit vans pulling out of the lot and totally failed to realize that they were being followed home.
Twenty minutes later, foil hat now hidden by a rather jaunty Fedora, Ted squeezed his frame into the tiny Mazda Missy and headed home, the second brightly painted U-Knit van thirty seconds behind him.
6) (Fourteen years earlier)
W.P.C Morgan parked the police Astra and took a deep breath. It had been a long night shift, but with an hour to go before she could even think of bed, she had been dragged down to dockland for a complaint of Criminal Damage.
The site security guard had apparently noticed something amiss in one of the huge sugar silos at the cake factory.
Ah well, at least she might get a free breakfast out of it.
She followed the security guard, a rather rotund gentleman, up a steep flight of metal stairs. Stopping on each landing whilst the guy caught his breath.
Finally, puffing and panting, they were on the roof.
'The report said you had foodstuffs damaged, erm...?'
'Sorry, Ted, Ted Baker,' he held out a moist hand and offered a smile, 'Yeah, I know, great name for working here, Constable...?'
'Caz, Carol, it's Carol Morgan. So where's the damage, Ted?'
'You won't believe this, Caz, just how long the little buggers took to do this, I hate to think!'
He gestured out over the metal rooftops.
'I would suggest, Ted, with respect, that you are in the wrong bloody job, mate!'
As the sun rose and fire filled the Riverside sky, Caz gazed out at the most amazing thing she'd ever seen.
Probably the size of a football pitch, every inch of the flat metal roof had been covered with intricate patterns, circles and swirls mainly, white against black, literally tons of sugar must've been used to create this, this, what?
Map of the Universe?
As the thought crossed her mind, Ted whispered, 'Looks like a space scene, you know spiral galaxies and, over there, a black hole, that could be a planet....'
SOCO are going to love this, Caz thought, the science-loving geeks would be worse than Mr Baker in their drooling interpretations.
'Wow!' Gasped Ted.
'I suppose it is very clever for graf....'
Ted tugged on her sleeve and pointed up, 'Not that....that!'
Caz followed the pudgy finger.
'Oh, my sweet Baby Jesus! Wow!'
Above the river, about, well, she simply couldn't estimate the distance, no reference point of sizes, but above the river, bathed in the most beautiful sunrise, two seemingly vast and obviously metallic objects had collided in the sky!
Helix-like flaming light, (white electricity?) encircled the bottom half of a cigar-shaped (ship?), the upper and middle sections glowing but intact, a much bigger saucer-shaped (oh my God, she was actually looking at a flying saucer!) object impacting the cigar, causing rents in the (metal?) side. No sound, not a one, came from the sky.
Hairs stood up on their arms as static seemed to fill the air, the sunrise erupted into a brilliant fireball, filling the sky, Caz and Ted threw up their hands, but it was too late.
Caz checked the address on the letterhead.
Yup, no mistake, this was it.
1963 Hot Cod Row.
Slightly disappointed, she climbed out of her car, cursing the creaky door and walked up to the shabby doors of the equally shabby headquarters of her would-be employer.
She had been surprised to be invited to a final interview, doubly surprised as she couldn't even remember applying for any job with U-Knit, nevermind applying for the 'new and exciting’ position of 'Director of Communication'.
Further surprised that she hadn't even filled in a form, spoken to the usual throngs of HR people, or taken any aptitude test, not even one of those senseless psychometric online tickbox things!
However, the amount of zeros on the starting salary, the terms and conditions (she could set!) and the fact that U-Knit had taken the trouble to hand-deliver the embossed invitation, made her try her luck.
But why would such a huge, multinational company have it's HQ in a run down novel like Hot Cod Row?
She attempted to smooth down her only posh jacket, which was rather difficult, considering one hand held her foil-lined brolly over her head, and pushed open a door that made her car’s seem brand-new.
Ted banged the satnav precariously mounted on the miniscule dashboard of the Missy.
No way could this be the place, stupid street name, run down area, and an almost derelict façade.
He'd had a terrible drive in from Deeside, some woman in a souped up, tricked out bloody Yank car had cut him up, forcing him to swerve dangerously close to the central barrier on the fifty-five, bloody hot rod cow!
Anyway, he had survived and was here. 1963 Hot Cod Row, what a stupid name! Maybe harking back to the fishing or canning industry?
Ted adjusted his grey Trilby, feeling the comfort of the tinfoil lining, attempted to button at least one button of his only posh jacket over his impressive belly, failed miserably and gave up.
After all, they'd invited him to an interview, even though he had no recollection of ever applying for the job, but the pay! Wow!
And the title of 'Welfare Heating Officer' sounded great, he was sick of ice and cold. He'd miss the old Ice Warrior, his Sweeping Angel as he called her, but a job in the warm, with that much money? Had to be worth trying his luck!
Ted pushed the decrepit front doors open and squeezed himself inside.
'Wow, it looks a lot bigger inside!' Eve stated the blatantly obvious, standing in the vast hallway just beyond the scruffy front reception room. Doors ran the length of the room, apparently hundreds of them.
Each had intricate gold letters stencilled above the frames.
'What's a Wotch? And why does it have a door?'
'Typo...anyway, moving along, young lady…'
'And Cardiff? Why Cardi…?'
Eve was bundled through the Visitors’ Door and found herself in a small but smartly furnished waiting room.
She was leafing through the enormous stack of magazines when the door opened again and in squeezed a man who looked vaguely familiar.
They looked at each other, each trying to work out where they knew the other from, Ted opened his mouth just as the door opened yet again, a bright blue brolly was lowered and the owner looked at the other two.
'Now you've sorted out who's who, please, take a seat, thank you, and welcome to U-Knit.' A very smartly dressed man stepped into the room, commanding their attention, rather like someone who was not actually in the knitwear industry, but was very, very familiar with commanding things.
'Eve, please could you take the seat opposite, in between your mother and father? You'll see the screen much better from there.'
Eve was halfway across the room when the smart man's words struck home. 'Mother and Who?' She glared at Carol and the Zamboni dude.
'Yes, Who? No offence, Ted, but not if you were the last guy on Earth!'
'Hurtful!' Sulked Ted, unconsciously adjusting his hat to try and look a little more attractive.
'But what if, Carol?' The commander gestured to Ted, 'What if Ted was, in fact, actually the very last man? Not just on Earth but in the whole Universe?'
All three sat, slack jawed and open mouthed as they were, at last, told the truth, foil and all.
The screen showed four quadrants, the bottom right remained black as the other three showed Carol, in the canteen, doodling with salt, sugar, biscuit crumbs, but always the same doodle.
On the tabletop, next to the saucer, swirls and spirals, circles and scattered dots.
The second screen, Ted on the Zamboni, the machine slowly but gracefully swirling and spiralling across the ice, circling around until the surface was immaculate.
The third, Eve ice-skating, twirling and circling, jumping and spiralling, blades leaving the ice engraved with intricate and beautiful patterns.
The three screens superimposed, each swirl, each spiral and circle, perfectly aligned. Perfectly matching, not one dot out of place.
The fourth screen came to life, a bird's-eye view of a rooftop.
Intricate patterns, white against dark as the sun came up and coloured them red.
The camera zoomed out, higher, much, much higher. Crackling and fragmented images, something vast coming close, too close.
A ship, tortured and ablaze. Critical mass. The panic of those beings aboard.
A mission to make friendly contact, to coax, instruct and welcome a race into the universe, ruined by a silly, but oh so tragic, accident.
A decision to save the nearest pair of sentient beings, take them away from danger, keep them safe whilst the damage was repaired and systems put in place to avoid any such accident ever threatening the planet again, guardians would be appointed and trained.
The mission resumed, the subjects returned and all memory erased.
But, in the years they had spent off-world, the humans had flung to each other, mentally, and, much later, physically. Human life had been created in the darkness of space, but had gone unnoticed, human anatomy so unfamiliar to the ship's crew.
In the years that followed, all three had felt drawn to each other by an unremembered life, the star maps given as a gift, embedded in their subconscious minds. Thoughts of interstellar travel blotted out by the simple method of a metallic shield between the mind and the pull of the cosmos. The urge to cocoon themselves in a tinfoil shell.
'Now you know the truth, what you choose to do is, obviously your own decisions to make, however, the three of you are unique and here at U-Knit we would like you to consider becoming part of the team, help others to understand, connect with our visitors and help the human race learn and evolve. As I say, the choice is yours.'
The earth moves on through time and space. A few brave souls dare to look up and outwards.
Now you know who.