Short Story: The Cloud

The Cloud (New Edition; September 2014)
by Richard Holliday

2,039 words

“Sonny, you there? Sonny?”

The sound of dripping water reverberated along the concrete tunnel. Putting down his tools, the man, Kal Donovan, called for his workmate again.

“Sonny, where are you?!”

He was getting concerned now. Where had Sonny gone? He was sure he’d been here just a minute ago! A surge of concern swept through Kal’s system but quickly dissipated; Sonny had almost certainly surreptitiously made off to lunch early yet again. Sonny had form for this; Kal sighed knowingly.

Kal didn’t like the claustrophobic space offered by the maintenance tunnel. A few inches of decades-old concrete were the only thing separating him from the millions of tons of damp, waterlogged soil under London. Maintaining the underground railway system was hard, dirty work. Skipping for lunch early wasn’t such a bad idea. Turning back, Kal chuckled to himself.

“Could’ve at least told me it was lunchtime, mate!”

The man walked back along the straight tunnel toward an open metal door at the end which grew in size with every step. Beyond this open metal door was a ladder that led up the twenty feet or so to the surface and the busy, buzzing streets of London.

It was odd, Kal thought as he ascended, his heavy boots ringing out on the metal treads of the ladder, that he’d not heard his friend making the same clattering, noisy journey. The sound was usually unmistakable in its reverberations

Sunlight, and a curled cheese sandwich, beckoned. Kal hoisted himself out of the anonymous doorway and onto the concrete and asphalt of the urban jungle beyond.

It was a hot July, and the city had been thronging with tourists. The Olympics were weeks away and already the mood of the city had changed for this great international carnival. The weather that day was clear, however on stepping out Kal immediately noticed a strange, unearthly chill hung in the air outside of the tunnel. Looking around, Kal noticed that there was not a soul in sight for hundreds of metres. The streets were completely empty.

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Short Story: Criticality

Criticality
by Richard Holliday

The corridor hummed eerily as the young man paced it nervously. The sign on the wall indicated it to be an experiment chamber, and as he approached the bulb-like pods that were the experiment came into focus.

Stasis, or suspended animation, seemed more than plausible. It seemed like wizardry, yet before the young man stood a bank of pods designed to perform that very wizardry.

“Let me show you to your chamber,” the white-coated scientist said to the nervous young man before him. “It’s all waiting for you. You’ll be safe, like I told you.”

“I dunno Dr. Rezan,” the young man, Malloc, said uneasily. The older man’s features wrinkled in intrigue as they paced the end of the corridor toward the holding chamber. It was cramped and claustrophobic. “I’m not feeling it today. Can I not go into holding tomorrow?”

“Come on, Malloc,” Rezan urged. “The sims showed you it’s possible, and safe. Have you ever been awake during a full-powered hyperspace jump?”

“No, of course not,” Malloc said quietly. He’d the horrific stories of people compressed against walls with the grav-force of a hyperspace jump. Becoming wall covering was an ignoble death. “But that’s not for three days. It’s on the schedule…”

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Short Story: Awaiting Instructions

Awaiting Instructions
by Richard Holliday

A finger pushed gently on a plastic button in the depths of a control room. A millisecond passed before electrical contact was made, and the whirring began in an instant. This wasn’t conception of a robot; that has been done in the design labs long ago, where the ideas and plans for a thousand droids had been generated from a million different permutations. With a gurgle, the assembly plant devoured the plans. These were robotic DNA, and were the basis from which everything that followed came from.

The operator went for lunch. There was nothing more for him to do, anyway. Like any other day the great machines below his control room would create other machines for use by his species brethren elsewhere.

From hoppers high above the assembly frame designated for one particular robot droid, through conduits and chutes came parts that under the guidance of manipulator arms clicked into place. First, a titanium frame formed a skeleton, with sockets and holes ready to hang components on that arrived afterwards with an unceasing regularity and in a predetermined order that had never deviated.

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Short Story: The Jump

The Jump
by Richard Holliday

Damp asphalt crunched under Jaime’s feet as he ran across the rooftop in the drizzle. It was dark and covered in trash but the man was focussed on one thing – getting away. There wasn’t time to turn back or look at his assailants now, he had to keep jumping over pipes and boxes, dodging air conditioners and water tanks until he came abruptly to the edge of this particular roof. Jaime’s booted toes felt the air beneath them but his heels were resolutely rooted to the spot.

Down many stories was the street, bustling with the existences of countless people, oblivious to what was happening right above their very heads. Jaime had a few seconds to evaluate his next move. The footsteps were already closing on him, oddly and ominously overpowering in his own consciousness the sound of his own heavy breathing.

Warm, welcoming light shimmered from the building across the street – the one Jaime had been aiming for all this time! It was too near to be captured now. The window was so near but it seemed like safety, and his objective, was an asphalt gulf away. Taking a final breath, Jaime reached a decision. Taking a few strides back, Jaime ran toward the ledge and just at the moment he felt concrete was no longer beneath his feet he leapt into the air. The dark wall, punctuated by regular sheets of light, moved in unpredictable ways and wind rushed through his black hair. In the maelstrom created by gravity and a cool breeze, Jaime closed his eyes and braced…

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