A cure for the burn

Carol knows that Falcon 7 is the most advanced machine ever created …if only she can persuade her husband…

Image Credit: NASA

Mission Specialist Jemima McPapple was tethered to a massive satellite 22,237 miles above the Earth. She was waiting for a call. Her next move could reveal the future of everything living on the planet below.

Which is the problem with telling stories in 2043. Nobody cares about them anymore. The whole world is obsessed with the return of billionaire industrialist Reggie Snacknussen’s latest spacecraft. Called the ‘Falcon 7’, it contains the most advanced computer ever built. Reggie had designed it to calculate and simulate life. One orbit around the sun should have provided it with enough solar power to model the known universe.
Every atom.
Every cell.
Every thought process.
Every timeline for every choice ever made.

Jemima’s job was to transmit the calculations back to Earth. In less than half an hour Reggie Snacknussen was going to give her an activation code. And then show the results to the entire world.

Which had everyone’s attention.
Everyone but Carol McGoverns husband.
He was chasing a tiny lizard round the side of a ditch.
‘Barry, will ya come back, we’re gonna miss it’, she yelled.
Carol’s eyes were fixed on the dashboard of their car. The Snacknussen self drive motor was blinking on pause, and a holographic news viewer played next to it. The viewer was showing footage of Jemima McPapple floating in space.
‘thirty minutes of air left Jem’, crackled a voice in the viewer. Jemima just nodded an acknowledgement; knowing that her crewmates on the space station, and the world, were watching her every move.
Carol’s attention turned back to her husband.
‘There hasn’t been a sighting of one of these things for years’, he was shouting.
‘Well, all the more reason to leave it alone’, she replied. Barry was now scrumbelling about at the base of a whitethorn bush. ‘get back in the car now or I’m gonna drive off without ya’
‘In a minute Carol’, he replied, ‘I nearly have it cornered, I just need to lick the back of it’
‘Are you well in the head’, she shouted. Her voice was shrill with impatience, and caused the lizard to dive into a hole.
‘My auld fella caught one twenty years ago’, Barry told her as he got back into the car, ‘if you lick the back of one you get the cure for burns’. The door closed automatically behind him.
‘But your father can’t cure burns’.
Their car slotted itself back into a queue of traffic.
‘I know that’.
‘What happened then?’.
They passed under a giant steel sculpture of an umbrella, the words ‘Welcome to Snacknussen Laboratories’ were written across the base of it.
‘He puked’ muttered Barry.
Carol’s eyes rolled.
‘You don’t understand’, said Barry, ‘he tried to swallow it, you’re only supposed to lick the back; and anyway -it’s no more daft than that Snacknussen guff you believe in’.
Carol wasn’t listening, they had arrived at a parking space and she was busy pulling a tinfoil coated umbrella from under the seat.
‘You expecting rain’, quipped Barry.
‘It reflects solar radiation, it’s symbolic’, she replied.
‘Symbolic of a bunch of eejits’
Carol bit her lip. She was already late and wanted to get a good view. They joined a stream of people making their way into a large field. Each one carried a foil umbrella.
‘I’ve never seen so many dorks in one place’, Barry whispered as they made their way into the crowd.
‘Whisht’, Carol replied, ‘you’re going to remember this for the rest of your life’
The story of Falcon 7 was etched into Carol’s mind. It’s detractors had labelled it a modern day Folly; the pet project of a billionaire with nothing better to do. But Carol knew better. She had studied the Falcon 7 plans for years. Carol knew the history of every component in the processor. She knew that the logic unit was the most advanced ever created, and that the machine could allow arithmetic operations to grow exponentially, limitlessly. What Carol knew to be true, and Barry wouldn’t believe, was that the outcome of every decision she would ever make was now stored in a machine. And she would shortly have access to it.
The field stretched out in front of them towards a large white building. The building was what Snacknussen’s followers referred to as ‘ground control’; the research centre built to store a record of future humanity. Carol wanted to be close to this when Reggie arrived.
A giant screen had been erected on one side of the building. There was a stage next to it. The screen was showing live footage of Jemima McPapple’s spacewalk, and the audio feed was being relayed through a bank of speakers. Carol grabbed Barry’s hand, to pull him closer to ground control. The crowd was huge, Carol guessed it to number into tens of thousands. And everyone faced towards the stage, waiting for something to happen. As they moved forward a low fanfare sounded through the speakers, signalling that the tension was about to break.
The crowd went silent. And the spindly frame of Reggie Snacknussen stepped out onto the stage. It was time.
Reggie paused to stare at the people who had assembled. He began doing what he liked best.
‘Some people fear change’, he declared, ‘but we at Snacknussen Laboratories embrace it’.
The crowd cheered.
The audio feed from the spacewalk crackled over the public address, ‘twelve minutes of air left Jem’. The astronaut on the screen just nodded. She needed to conserve air.
Reggie Snacknussen continued talking:
‘I will shortly give Mission Specialist McPapple the access code, and before this day is out every human being on the planet will see into infinity’
The crowd cheered again, and then fell silent; waiting for his next word.

Carol glanced over at Barry. He looked bored. ‘This is the worst concert I’ve ever been at’, he said loudly.
He then cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted towards the stage, ‘hey, skeletor, play us some AC/DC’.
Several people were now glaring angrily at the couple.

And that is when something snapped in Carol.
She grabbed Barry by the elbow and leaned in close to his ear.
‘You are nothing but an embarrassment to me’, she hissed.
Sentences formed automatically in her head. They were venom. And it flowed.
‘Did you notice that you are the only one here without a tinfoil umbrella? We are at a turning point in history, but you are too stupid to realize it’.

Barry’s head was bowed, his eyes were looking away from Carol.
He hadn’t been listening.

A small creature running between the feet of the people in front had caught his attention, and he was watching it move towards the edge of the field.
‘I’m, erm, just gonna go back to the car’, he mumbled.
‘You do that’, she replied quietly.
She had said enough.
And was looking at the stage again.

Reggie Snacknussen had now moved to the side nearest the screen. He turned towards the astronaut floating on it and spoke loudly into a microphone.
‘Can you hear me Jemima?’.
The astronaut nodded.
‘Now, Jemima, I’m going to give you a four digit activation code -once you have it entered I want you to plug the data cable into the bottom of the panel to your right, do you understand?’
The astronaut nodded again.
Reggie glanced towards the crowd, smiled, and then looked back at the screen.

‘Seven, one, three ….’.
He paused.
The crowd laughed.

‘Sorry Jemima’, he said, ‘I’m starting again …Seven, Three, One, …erm …uh’.
He paused again. This time for longer.

The mood of the crowd started to change.
Ripples of laughter slowly died out and a nervous silence had replaced them.
‘Ten minutes of air left Jem’, crackled the voice on the public address.

A low rumble of frustration filled the field.
Reggie’s face had turned red, and was crumpled in thought.
The crowd near the stage began jeering him. But he was unperturbed.
‘Sssh’, he shushed, ‘Mission Specialist’, he continued, addressing the screen again ‘the sequence is …Three, Seven …urgh, hmm …erm’.
Reggie went silent for the third time.

The most enthusiastic of Snacknussen supporters, those who had arrived early, were packed into a section of the field close to the stage. Their disappointment was total. And the atmosphere was growing hostile.
Some from that section of the crowd had begun to climb onto the stage. It swayed under their weight. Others were throwing Tinfoil umbrellas like javelins, aiming them for Reggie. The umbrellas were absorbed by a security team who quickly surrounded him and moved away from the stage.

Reggie Snacknussen’s microphone fell to the ground, and hissed. It had signalled his departure.

Carol glimpsed a limousine moving from the field. The car seemed to have found a perfect path through the dense crowd and onto the public road. Shouts and anger followed as the black outline of the vehicle disappeared from view. For the most part, though, the crowd was silent. A communal and unspoken embarrassment had set in. It didn’t need discussion.

Carol turned back towards the giant screen, which was still relaying the scene from Falcon 7. Jemima McPapple was no longer visible, and a solitary grey cable floated in front of the spacecraft. A voice crackled over the speakers.
‘…ground Control, this is the International Space Station. We are No Go for the download of Falcon 7. The astronaut is returning to Station. Mission Aborted’.
The voice in the speakers paused, as if considering the audience below, then added:
‘hard luck folks, guess there are some things we’re not meant to know’.
The screen went black.

Carol’s tinfoil coated umbrella was now discarded.
Just like thousands of others.
The majority of the crowd had begun moving towards the car park. Carol joined them. She needed to find Barry, she owed him an apology.

Her apology would have to wait.

Barry was busy keeping up a family tradition.
And for the second time in twenty years a McGovern was getting violently sick into a hedge.
While being watched by a terrified and very unlucky lizard.

Carol was first to get to their car. Moments later their Snacknussen drive detected Barry approaching. It instantly plotted a route home. Within seconds they had passed under a giant steel umbrella and the car was darting in and out through lanes of traffic. Both its passengers were pale and silent. They were each searching for their right words.

Barry was first.
‘You know, Reggie Snacknussen might be a bit of an eejit, but his factory makes great cars’
Carol smiled.
‘You’re right, Snacknussen is an eejit’

22,237 miles above her Falcon 7 pivoted on its axis and headed back into space -its processor still calculating away.