Go Get Mars!

Just after she’d closed the office door, but before she could finish her first sentence, Mr Sharples, in an ignorant fashion, interrupted Willa.
“Willa, before we get into this conversation, I have some bad news. It’s been decided, the decision taken and confirmed as final: you are too old to go out into space and travel to Mars, and you’re off the project, with immediate effect.”
“What? What are you saying to me?” Willa staggered, overcome by a sense of disbelief, frantically trying to absorb and process what she’d just heard. Despite the short notice, she had readily agreed to the request for an early morning one-to-one. Now, she found herself plumped in a seat opposite her boss, speechless.

Continue reading Go Get Mars!

The Princess’ Hair (~1,450 words)

Since waking and despite a deceptively calm appearance, sat alone in the spartanly furnished kitchen, Bryan eagerly tracks the arrival of a delivery. A web page displayed on his kitchen table laptop, shows a pinpointed map and a thick red line reaching towards his address.
Midway through pouring a morning cup of tea, the sound of tyres crunching gravel on the driveway release the tension. Continuing with the ceremony, he adds milk while listening to doors slide open and thud, followed by footsteps approaching the front door.
“Dr Bryan Northwood?” The delivery driver scrutinises a handheld e-POD device. Bryan recognises the manufacturer’s dark green and black livery from the website emblazoned across the MPV.

ROMBOTS • A Family Business • Purveyors of the Finest Robophilia • By Royal Appointment

Tinted windows obscure the interior. Tantalisingly, the rear passenger door of the vehicle is open, a silhouette of an occupant discernible.
“Could you squiggle here please, Dr Northwood.”
Bryan obliges, his fingertip forming an unrecognisable representation of his written signature upon the small screen.
“By the way, my name is Chas.” A lanyard ID ties up with a neatly embroidered name badge sewn onto a shirt pocket of his uniform, confirming the information. “I’m an employee of Rombots and I am here – not only to deliver, but also to help with personalising the set-up for you, today. We have as much time as is required – and I will follow up with visits over the following weeks until you are entirely satisfied with your purchase.”
“I understand, thank you.” Bryan’s attention alternates between man and stationary vehicle.
Chas looks back over his shoulder, “I have the Princess model, waiting to meet you. May I ask sir, do you have a name ready for your new companion?”
“Indeed I do, my new companion’s name is Sandy.”
“Sandy it is, sir.”

While Chas is fetching Sandy, Bryan waits back in the kitchen, pacing around the breakfast bar. He feels torn between the event unfolding and his desire for the cooked breakfast he’d wrongly anticipated having time to prepare and eat. This would now have to wait. Different from his usual flat line mood, Bryan is feeling a mix of nervousness and excitement. Naturally, he knows what Sandy looks like; he not only computer-modelled her, he approved a one-twentieth scale model two weeks ago. Now, his imagination has sprung into life. Lucid visualisations flash through his mind, showing Bryan and Sandy both devotional, eagerly engaged with one another in several different scenarios. His daydreaming is interrupted as Sandy walks into the kitchen, Chas following close behind.
“Good morning Dr. Bryan Northwood.” Sandy says, her voice calm, her tone polite. “I am very pleased to meet you.” Auburn hair frames an oval face of fair complexion tapering towards a chin, green eyes look back into his eyes of grey. She is exactly as he imagined – except for one detail.
“Good morning Sandy.” Eyes widening, fixated, Bryan combs his fingers several times through his beard. “Welcome – please, would you like a seat?”

“According to your answers given on the questionnaire,” Chas is swiping through pages on a tablet screen, “this is your first Rombot, and… you’ve not had anything similar in the past.”
“That’s correct,” Bryan is distracted, “my first.”
“Right,” Chas detects a flicker in his client’s attention – but continues, “then I am going to start with the basics. The Princess model comes with three charging pads.” Chas unrolls a shiny white fabricated pad onto the kitchen table, circular in shape and of an adequate size to sit on. “One is designed for placing upon the seat of a chair, another I have here for placing on the bed, under the sheets and the third, another seat pad with an adapter suitable for use in a car. All you need in each instance is access to a power outlet.”
“How long does a full charge last for?” Bryan’s composure has returned, as he hands Chas a cup of tea.
“Thank you; that really depends Dr Northwood, on the usage.”
“Of course.” The answer was obvious.
“Dr Northwood, if I may interrupt?” While mapping the interior of the kitchen in fine detail, Sandy has followed the conversation between the two men. “If we were to share a day together that included several bouts of intense activity, I would most certainly require an overnight re-charge.”
“Right, I see.”
“Without such intense activity, my power source would not need replenishment for several days.”
“That’s right, and – when appropriate, Sandy will give occasional updates on her battery’s life, including before moving into low battery operating mode, which she’ll do automatically so as to conserve energy. She will give you good notice of this and sync with your phone and wristwatch, so you’ll know – wherever you happen to be.”
“I see.” Bryan fakes a reassured smile to both.
“Right, Dr Northwood, I am going to leave, make another couple of deliveries and be back in a couple of hours. I’d like it for you and Sandy to start to get to know each other, go through a few things.” Chas drank down the remainder of his tea. “When I get back, I’ll work the feedback you both provide me with into today’s initial set-up. Does that sound okay to you both?”

“What’s the matter Dr Northwood?” The sound of an engine disappears into the distance, as Sandy looks at Bryan, her head cocked at eighty degrees.
“It’s nothing,” Bryan replies, “just a detail.”
“A detail? Something small in scale, but nonetheless important to you?”
“Well, yes – yes I suppose so. Look,” Bryan shuffles his weight uncomfortably on the kitchen stool, “please, Sandy, call me Bryan. I think you should – I mean, Dr Northwood sounds awfully formal, would you mind?”
“I would not mind at all, Bryan. There, is that better, the problem is solved?”
“Well, no, um, the detail, it’s about something else actually.”
“I see.”
“Let me show you something.” Bryan launches himself from his seat, marches to the broom cupboard, from where he lifts a metal box large enough to hold a pair of boots, away from a shelf, returning with it to the kitchen table. Without further ado, Bryan inserts a small, precisely machined key, turning it forty-five degrees clockwise, triggering a satisfying sound as the lid releases.
“Are you alright Bryan?” Sandy asks, “Your blood pressure has risen, as has your body temperature.”
“I feel a little hot, yes – but I am fine.” Reaching inside the box, Bryan clasps and lifts out the one-twentieth scale model of Princess, as Sandy – but now obvious to anyone, not quite the same as the Sandy sat in the room.
“Oh,” Sandy says, “I see, that certainly is a detail.” Sandy closes her eyes, “Give me a moment Bryan, I’m reviewing the history file containing the original proof documentation and subsequent amendments.”
“Most people don’t understand,” Bryan is apologetic, “It relates to when I was a much younger man. A young woman I met, although present only briefly in my life, she left a strong impression on me I have never quite forgotten, but also never realised again.”
“Bryan, you’re quite correct.” Sandy’s eyes are open, “My hair should be blue. On behalf of Rombots I apologise for this error.”
Bryan turns the small, blue-haired Sandy, over in his hands. “That’s alright, your hair now – is lovely, it’s just – “
“It’s totally okay Bryan, you do not owe me any explanation.” Sandy stands facing Bryan, “Here,” she says, pointing a straightened index finger at him, “pull it.”
“Pull it?”
“Pull it.”
“What…? Pull it?”
“Pull it it Bryan, you know you want to.”
Taking hold, his hand enveloping half of Sandy’s finger, Bryan gives a gentle tug.
“Harder Bryan.”
“Harder?”
“Harder.”
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Bryan, do it harder.”
Sandy raises an eyebrow. A second later, her hair has turned blue.
“Oh my God – I don’t believe it!” Bryan is shocked.
“How’s the shade?” Sandy asks.
“How’s the shade? Well, since you ask, perhaps a little darker – shall I pull on your finger again?”
“No Bryan, it wasn’t necessary in the first place, I just wanted to make you smile.”
Bryan smiles; his whole face lights up.
“We can have whatever colour we want.” Sandy says, as the shade of her hair proceeds to cycle through from blue to black, to pink, then green, then a strawberry blonde.
“That’s amazing,” Bryan is flabbergasted, “Sandy, please follow me into the garden, I have a piano outside and I want to play for you. I want to play for you every day.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This has been something like my own, stylised version of an ekphrastic short story, based upon a collage created by pedrov_dog (found on Instagram). The word ekphrasis, or ecphrasis, comes from the Greek for the description of a work of art produced as a rhetorical exercise.