Short Story: Rescue at North Point

This story was inspired by a piece of the same name by my friend Col Price, who is a concept artist and art director who has worked in video games, TV and film for the last 20 years. Definitely check out his work! I submitted this story as part of a recent Creative Writing assignment for my course at Kingston University that scored a First; fair to say, I am extremely proud of this one! – Richard

Rescue at North Point
by Richard Holliday

Spittle mixed with dirty, salty air caked her hair as the wind whipped it into her face. Andrea winced, but looking down toward the waves that grew smaller and more distant under her with every second, she finally felt dry.

“We’re nearly there, Ms. Cross,” a voice, battered with static and interference, said abruptly into Andrea’s battered helmet. “The Ranger is standing by.”

With a gust a sheet of icy rain tumbling from the grey mass above Andrea was blown into her face. She winced instinctively and looked up. What little sun that penetrated smog-like clouds was blocked by the enveloping mass of the VTOL rescue ship Ranger that had plucked her from the gloom below.

Andrea clamped her eyes and the blood flowing through her veins began to warm core. The wind, so vicious and angry before, now merely rocked her gently in the harness.

A brook babbled innocently. Reeds gently ticked her face as she wriggled through. A young girl laughing, joyful and merry. The brook babbled and the reeds gave way to a pond, reflecting the sunshine from the cloudless sky in the crystal-clear water. The little girl ran along the bank of the pond, her blonde hair whipping with the gentle breeze. She never saw the root, jutting from the grass like a troll’s dirty hand, ready to grab her sandal and toss her into the water. What was clear and immaculate now threatened to envelop her, the sky turning black with every cough and gasp for breath…

Andrea opened her eyes. Whatever that was, what she faced now was reality. She put the dream about the little girl back in her mind, locked away. She fidgeted in the harness as it bucked and swayed and felt into her soaked uniform. The little locket was still there.

That one summer’s day led the girl to hate the water. For years the girl was told that water was the source of life. How could that be true? Water wanted me dead. Water hates me. Water must be conquered. Water is my enemy. Andrea followed it to the ends of the earth. Watching the last glacier dissolve into a surging mass of liquid. She remembered being there, hovering from a VTOL and cracking the ice herself with a titanium pick. That was part of her revenge.

“Are there any more survivors?” Andrea called toward the hoistman. The wind picked up, and carried her words out to sea. The hoistman remained motionless against the buffeting chassis of the VTOL.

“I said are there any more survivors?! The crew must’ve gotten…”

“No,” the hoistman called back. His irritation was clear over the static. “No-one else survived. They’re all dead. So shut up and hold tight if you want to see land again.”

A few hours ago she’d walked the rusting walkways that made up North Point. The undersea observatory had creaked and whinnied. A trickle of icy liquid fell into her hair. That was when it began. The trickle became a surge that punched through metal. It wanted Andrea. It wanted to make her pay, and pay dearly she would. The frothing mass that had laid all around North Point, eager to smash it to pieces and claim its mortal enemy, had waited to exploit the tiniest of flaws. Which it did. Nature always did.

The sea roared victoriously, gurgling into the hole below. Above, sheets of rain cascaded from the angular sides of the Ranger, forming a curtain of waterfalls that enveloped Andrea. Feeling entombed, her eyes closed again.

She remembered running along metal corridors that groaned underfoot. The fluorescent tubes bursting and flickering, sending sparks through a gloomy hell. Irregular movements as the undersea platform disintegrated, throwing her against walls. The screams of all those around her washed away. Trying to catch her breath on the ladder, but slipping on the cold rungs. Her bare knuckles turning white and, as the grey sky beckoned, a surge of water coming through the hatch, as if to say: “Not so fast. I’m not done with you yet.”

Andrea took a breath and looked down to see North Point disappear, the light of the service hatch flickering through the waves. A hand grabbed from the gloom above. The hoistman sighed with effort as Andrea’s soaked form fell onto the deck. With a final glance, she looked down to the sea. It was finally over.

© Richard Holliday, 2016

Update: If you’d like this story in Kindle format then visit my Short Stories folder where you’ll find it and all of my other stories!

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Short Story: Port of Call

Port of Call
by Richard Holliday

6,810 words

“Hello?” Jake called, his voice echoing in the darkness. “Is anyone there?”

No response. Just the gentle hum of machinery. To his right, Jake observed the great bulkhead that separated the crew passage from the holding tank stood motionless. A gentle rumble inside murmured. Akin to a metal stomach, Jake thought nothing of it. These noises were the normal thrum of the ship as it ‘lived’. Further down the passage, where the low lights became hazy with the distance, metal banged against metal. A peeling sound followed, with a scream unmistakable with death coming just after. Erupting in an aural explosion into the odd, misplaced serenity of the corridor.

Jake gulped. The clipboard dropped from his hand as sweat trickled subconsciously from every surface of his skin. Doors were banging in a rhythmic pattern. Down the passage. Coming toward him. Frozen, Jake looked down the passageway, waiting for what would no doubt be death.

Unexpectedly, the door behind him flung from tis hinges, impacting the opposite wall and becoming embedded in it. Smoke rose from the crumpled metal as it dissolved into a putrid, jellified mess, leaving a pool of reacted acid forming on the floor. The diseased blood of a mechanical being.

He spun round and looked up at the being eight feet tall that had smashed the door. A drop of viscous and rancid fluid, its composition clearly alien, fell onto his fabric uniform. The patch of embroidered lettering, spelling out Jake’s surname, Green, discoloured and started to smoulder. With a wince, the young man gripped his eyes shut. A sticky heat enveloped his chest, seemingly destined right for his heart.

He screamed for a millisecond before the sound of another door crashing away brought an instant darkness.

Continue reading “Short Story: Port of Call”

Short Story: Traffic

Traffic
by Richard Holliday

1,888 words

Fans whirred in the server hall. It was raining outside but here the weather never faltered from a dry warmth. The detritus of packing crates filled the floor. In ill-fitting, standard issue navy-blue jumpers, a couple of technicians unplugged their diagnostics equipment and stood back, with one’s finger poised above a red plunger.

It had been a long month, but between them they’d done it. Installed the whole system. Wired it in. And now they hoped for the best.

“Ready to make the trains run on time?” the first technician chuckled before releasing the catch. Plastic snapped and the hall burst into electronic life with a flutter of LEDs. The smell of electrical contact filled the room with a dry, instant heat as the hardware dialled up.

After a few minutes, the second technician looked around. The server monitor remained blank.

“Is it ready?”

His colleague arched his eyebrows. The manual specified no post-powering up tasks. The shipping notes and guidance files had been littered with redactions. Wherever this system had come from, it being here was all they needed to know.

The technician took a breath of the dry, stale air. He hoped to the affirmative, after weeks of delays and pressure from up-above. A sip of cold coffee punctuated his response.

“Guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

TRAFFIC v.0.6.08 booted. Importing passenger database. Enacting traffic-management subroutines. Local time: 07:52. System ready…

Sat 02/05/2015 07:59. System uptime: 0hrs 7mins 18secs.

User detected: John Butler. Initiating file…

Walking past endless lines of cars, the man paced slowly down the pavement. He looked at his watch and sighed happily with relief. He recalled the advertising. The apologies. The delays. This was the last day of all of this. They’d promised something new and maybe today he’d be on time for work.

Cars were going nowhere near the City now; they were barred. Any vehicle with a driver had been deemed by the powers that be as inefficient and obsolete. Looking over his shoulder, John saw the past and then looked the way he was going – the future.

John gave a quick glance at his watch. 7:56. Four minutes. He joined the queue at his usual Tube station and waited in line, tapping his travel pass on the reader just after the hour. The train slid into the station as if it were a toy controlled by a perfect little boy. The reality was less romantic; the train was now driven by TRAFFIC, the new central computer and, as first impressions counted, this was good. The doors hissed as compressed air slid them open and John took his seat in the immaculate carriage. How did TRAFFIC clean the trains? A new broom, John presumed, sweeps clean completely. The train glided from its stop at the station to its next destination which, funnily enough, was just where John wanted to go.

He didn’t understand how the new system had done it, but overnight, his commute had changed, and now he looked forward to it. As long as TRAFFIC kept doing whatever it was it was doing, John’d keep tapping in.

Tues 05/05/2015 08:18 User input detected: Felicity Bates. Initiating background check…

Webmail password bypassed; metadata analysed. Indexing keywords. Proceeding to interrogate cellular devices. Pattern recognised. Adapting.

Felicity looked at her phone and smiled wryly, conscious that anyone could see her or, worse, recognise her. It was lunchtime, and a smart businesswoman like herself would be entertaining clients to secure deals over a brisk lunch. Her phone buzzed again. It was Client X. Name unnecessary; all cash. Her favourite, it seemed, from the amount of messages exchanged, and it was quite a deal she hoped to cinch.

Tapping into one of the silver autocars that now paraded about the clean City streets like dodgems, Felicity kept texting. Exclaiming almost as the replies came in. Whatever they were, they were hardly professional in subtext.

The venue came into view as the autocar slid around the street corner. Not a quaint cafe or trendy coffee bar but a house in a leafy suburb. The lack of any traffic snarling through the asphalt pavements had made the journey quicker than ever. Usually on a Wednesday this appointment was barely kept. The new system made things so much easier.

Getting out, Felicity tidied her hair and smacked her lips before approaching the house. Taking the huge knocker in her hand, she raised it before letting it fall.

The party was just about to start.

Unable to reconcile workplace/destination mismatch. Journey discarded; reason code “not beneficial”. Travel pass cancelled.

Fri 08/05/2015 19:42 User input detected: Anthony Fletcher. Cross-referencing social feeds with known occupation. Unable to process.

The wind ruffled the young man’s hair as he emerged from the subway and into the cool, spring evening air along the river. The riverbank was thronging with silent commuters heading into the subway, presumably homeward bound. Squares, Jonathan thought, while he was early for the big party – his party. Clean, expensive leather shoes beat along a dry pavement which turned into a creaking boardwalk while water lapped gently underneath.

This was the venue, Jonathan smiled, as he gazed upon the palatial pleasure boat that was his for the night. He gripped the velvet cord that lined the edge of the jetty, preventing him from tumbling into the jet-black river water below. A steady beat of music drew nearer, thudding through the air with the sound of trickling water and getting louder with every step…

Something was missing, it seemed, and Anthony walked forward, intent on allaying his ominous sense of curiosity.

Anthony stopped at the threshold to the function room aboard ship. It was empty, whereas it should have been heaving with guests enjoying the ambiance. All that seemed to be enjoying it was the DJ and the bartender, but they were just the hired help. Doing their jobs.

Anthony’s phone buzzed.

Couldn’t get on a tube. Sorry mate.

And it kept buzzing, leaving Jonathan to enjoy his birthday alone.

126 travel passes cancelled. Cannot reconcile destination with known occupations. Societal value of journeys deemed: minimal

One of the technicians put his coffee on the desk. The monitor flashed subtly. 126 passes cancelled due to a lack of credit.

“Very good,” he hummed contently, approving the action. Saved him a job updating records later. Maybe now Control would rest easy now TRAFFIC was consolidating the accounts as well as managing the trains…

Mon 11/05/2015 09:09 User input detected: Sam Jacobs. Initiating usage patterns. Cross-referencing against known occupation. Mismatch identified. Correcting.

Tired from another night restless surrounded by loud kids, Sam was shattered. Nearly late for his omnibus, which was packed now with people looking just like him. Tired and ground down. Fed up with modernity. In need of a change. Something to break the monotony. The omnibus wheezed smartly to life, but the route changed every day. It was never the same bus with the same people, but strangely he always ended up at work.

Things had changed yet work remained a constant in his life until now.

Sam’s eyes narrowed as the bus made another turn. The buildings he saw through the window started to become strangely and unwelcoming in their familiarity. He was sure this wasn’t the place to his local. That’s where he wanted to be; instead, it was as if he was going where he ought to be. No, this was worse. This was the way to work! He didn’t want to be there; heck, he didn’t even work there any more. But slowly and surely work loomed into view before he realised where he was going. Not to the pub. Or work. But to a place of work nonetheless. Everyone on this omnibus had been lying about it too.

Mon 11/05/2015 07:35 User input detected: Felicity Bates. Repeat journey detected. Calculating societal value: minimal. Consolidating.

Client X made another appointment. This made Felicity smile, and she happily accepted the time and place. An early one for a change. Unusual to their previous arrangement but something she’d happily assent to. All in the name of a good deal that was beneficial to both parties.

The autocar was unavailable, so a subway would have to suffice. It was inconsequential given the reliability of the system these days. No breakdowns, no delays, no signal failures or leaves on the line. The new system was working wonders for Felicity; she’d never missed an appointment.

That made her smile, too.

Her phone buzzed. It was not Client X, to her dismay, but rather a service announcement.

Fastest route to destination: Piccadilly line train to Knightsbridge, changing for omnibus at station interchange.

It seemed so far out, but the system knew what it was doing. It hadn’t failed so far. There was no question now of its suggestions, so Felicity relaxed and took the train. It rocked through the tunnel smoothly.

A newspaper rustled, disturbing the peace that pervaded the carriage.

“Felicity?”

She looked up. Straight into the eyes of her husband. Who was abroad. Or so she thought.

“So who’s Client X?”

Fri 15/05/2015 13:12 User input detected: unregistered user. Bypassing standard identification protocol; biometrics system accessed. User identified: Jimmy Curtis. Acknowledging police alert. Rectifying.

With a whsssh, the tube disappeared into a tunnel, with only the yellow flourescent lights of the carriage reflecting against the windows and briefly flashing against the black, densely-opaque wall of earth beyond.

The regular, staccato percussion of a zipper filled the empty carriage as the bag opened, the nylon lips that had been pursed by interlocking plastic falling away as a hand reached in.

Jimmy extracted the small plastic pouch. It was like the other dozen or so; totally regular and totally identical. All of them had a few grams of strange power in them.

Jimmy’s phone buzzed. He looked at the text message and smiled. With a contraction of tendons his thumbs tapped out a quick reply.

I’ll be there, just have my money.

The door opened at the next station. A ramshackle man in a dirty hoodie scowled at Jimmy.

“Whatcha lookin’ at, dog?”

Switching points. Overriding safety controls. Spoofing signal relay.

The train shuddered violently. Metallic clicking precluded a deafening grinding noise as the train switched tracks. Bright white lights filtered through the glass window, refracting in Jimmy’s eyes in the seconds before the impact. No time even for a final breath. And then there was silence.

One train slammed into the other, pulverising the metal bodywork into the Victorian brick of the tunnel. A moment of tumultuous roars and the sound of rending metal preceding an eerie silence, where not even the sound of wheels on rail could be heard. Jimmy Curtis was transformed from a living, breathing monster into a red veneer on smashed plastic seats.

Travel passes terminated: 17. Societally-adverse journeys terminated: 17. Police warrants cancelled: 17.

The technician showed the detective to the server room, but found his passcard wouldn’t open the door. Nor his biometric sensor. He’d just been in there! Unable to understand it, he led the detective away.

They wouldn’t enter unless TRAFFIC wanted them to. And now, it did not. TRAFFIC wouldn’t stop running the trains, but only for those who it deemed worthy of transport would it allow both passage to their destinations and the right to continue living.

The End

Cheers for reading! If you’d like to grab a Kindle version of Traffic or any of my other short stories, please feel free to visit my Dropbox and navigate to the Short Stories folder!

Header image credited to Epson361 at DeviantArt

Short Story: Epicentre

Epicentre
by Richard Holliday

4,281 words

Through the window in the cabin of the airliner to the right lay the Irish Sea, glistening in the morning sunlight and refracting it into pretty sparkles. Across the aisle and through the opposite window to the left was the muddy green of the ground below. This was fast disappearing under the wing; though it would reappear in time as the coast of Ireland.

Early morning flights were solemn, quiet affairs, even though this was routine. A passenger took a sip of whisky from a tiny bottle. Another a drag on a dirty cigarette. The smoke dissipated quickly in the pressurised interior of the 707, soaking into the fabric. Nicotine clouds clung to the brown interior. Polyester rustled in uncomfortable seats.

“Would you like anything from the trolley, sir?” the stewardess asked against the din of the engines outside that permeated the aluminium of the fuselage. The man in the seat coughed, and looked up. A bag of peanuts appealed and a tired hand reached for them.

“That’ll be…” the stewardess began, but did not finish.

Continue reading “Short Story: Epicentre”