Set Course For The World Without
By John Adams
“What shall I wish for?” I asked the man who led me along the corridor.
Friends of mine had done this. Members of my extended family had done this. Some of them never came back. That must mean they liked where they ended up. The silver-haired man’s lapel badge said, Sylvester: Experience Enhancement Executive.
Sylvester looked me up and down. “Some people wait until they get into the pod. I don’t recommend that. We’ve had some downright irresponsible choices over the years. But you don’t look the type, James.”
I bristled. Who knew what I’d be, in another world? “What are the most requested destinations?”
“We no longer make them available.”
Sylvester pressed his index finger against the biometric reader. The door sprang back and we shuffled into a small room. I frowned. I’d paid a year’s salary! I was about to step into a machine that would propel me into an alternate universe. A world in which I could select which feature of our current existence was missing.
Another door led into a vestibule. Sylvester pushed me towards a pod in its centre. It looked like a giant metallic cigar. It was resting on a blue neon base. I shivered. As a scientist, technology was supposed to be my friend, yet it never turned out like that. Younger, smarter people always seemed to be pushing ahead.
I felt a wave of anxiety as I clambered inside the pod. I stared at the control panel as the hatch whooshed shut. I typed in no technology. Nothing happened. I pressed the red button and gave the machine one almighty kick. I felt it rumble beneath me.
I opened my eyes and threw open the lid. I jumped out, eager to greet a new world of hope and opportunity. With a sinking feeling, I realized that I was in a forest clearing. It felt cold. There was nothing here, just the occasional sound of birdcall from the canopies. I’d never been anywhere so quiet. It looked like a photograph out of those National Geographic magazines, two hundred years back.
I turned back towards the capsule. I just wanted to go home to London. The endless concrete. The gun ownership. The segregated communities locked behind gates with troops of security guards in tanks out front.
The pod began to disintegrate. I grabbed onto it as best I could, but the surface was too smooth for me to get any kind of purchase. It disappeared in a puff of smoke.
The clearing seemed chillingly real. The tiny mud huts with their bracken roofs. The tired wisps of smoke rising up into the sky. I glanced down. I was wearing animal skins. In my hand was a flint axe. I had a bow slung over my shoulder. I put my hands up to my face. Damn! I had a bushy beard that a Viking would’ve been proud of.
I heard rustling in the bushes. A man I barely recognized as Sylvester emerged. He wore furs over his pasty flesh. I glanced at him with scorn. Those chin pubes weren’t exactly manly.
“I’ve been sent here as a punishment for getting you trapped. If I can get us back, I might get to keep my job. No technology, you fool? Really? Strictly speaking, you shouldn’t even have that axe.”
I gazed at my weapon as it evaporated. Suddenly, we were both stark naked. No axe. No bow. No skins.
“Can’t we just hop home in your pod?”
“I don’t think it’s going to be as simple as that…” Sylvester replied.
- - -
John Adams was longlisted for the Aeon Award in 2012 and 2013. She lives in Edinburgh, UK, and is currently writing a techno-horror novel.
Thursday, June 4, 2015
Set Course For The World Without
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