Paradigm Lost

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Hair on Hera’s eyebrow bends and snaps as it presses against a strip of expanded metal. The energy released launches her towards a bulkhead against which, in about twenty three thousand years, a crease in her skirt will disintegrate, propelling her back.

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Theophanis stares through the perspex lined cabin of a family jet plane. He’s frowning. A thousand metres below, a peninsula appears for the fifth time – always looking a bit closer. At the front of the aircraft his parents are arguing but keeping their voices too low for him to hear. They’ve been like this since they stopped banging on the pilots’ cabin door. The plane should have landed in Hatteras Island three hours ago.

At twenty-three Theofanis can drink as much Champagne as he wants but no steward answers the buzzer. The only evidence of any staff is the rigid and upraised arm of a stewardess, a hand with fingers splayed protruding from her red uniform sleeve. About fifteen minutes ago she fell sideways behind potted plants, shook for a while, and now lies still.

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Lauralie admires her latest skin in the mirror. No wrinkles, nothing loose, not even a tiny freckle mars the flawless surface. This clever new skin, unlike previous technology she also spent fortunes on, will never need replacing.

Lauralie touches a screen, highlighting the face she wants to wear during the afternoon’s entertainment, choosing makeup which will survive even harsh sun and the new water flume system installed for her daughter’s birthday celebrations.

She places her head in the oval of robotic components and waits for them to engage as media and pigments are prepared. “News,” she commands.

A voice, mimicking recordings of herself at the age of two, replies, “From what source?”

Just anything that is likely to be true and not denied or shown to be rubbish ten minutes later. There’s been too much of that over the last couple of days.” Jets of cosmetic spray press on Lauralie’s temples and face.

The voice continues, “In that case updates are all I have for you. Begins: many, if not all, laboratories attempting to rush through methods of supplying immunity have been stormed by mobs in recent hours. It is doubtful if further medical aid is available anywhere. The last known batch was estimated at a value of eighteen billion per treatment. The number of countries no longer responding to official enquiries rises every few minutes.” The voice drops in tone and slows. Lights flicker and fail. Makeup sprays in a black smudge across Lauralie’s forehead and clogs her hair.

She jerks back as the lights are restored. The voice continues as if nothing has happened, “The spores are airborne and any human affected can produce up to an estimated three to seven trillion. Population loss of mammals worldwide is calculated at 99.999% of susceptible…”

The lights dim and Laralie’s wrist alarm flashes. “Damn, curse everything!” She stands so quickly her chair spins across the room on its castors, and ricochets from the porcelain tub of a bonsai tree. Kicking her heels off she races through her boudoir door and heads for the panic room.

A general alarm wails as the corridor grows dark.

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Desdemona is tempted to throw her phone away. In the last few seconds it’s failed to find news or signals. No news is bad news. Her 21st birthday is ruined. Sitting on the balcony wall she lifts binoculars warmed hand-hot by the sun. In the distance a white ship reflects dazzling sunlight from solar cells. Looking like a sea-borne star, it heads directly for the private harbour far below her.

High above, a jet leaves a hypnotic circle of contrails descending in a gentle spiral.

She flicks away hair a breeze pushes over her face, and wonders how soon the building’s batteries will fail and silence the estate’s alarm systems.

To Desdemona’s left comes the sound of her father approaching, clicks on tiling. He rounds a corner, his immaculate blue suit stained by brown and black smudges of grease on the sleeves, fingers streaked in oil. “Mona! Where is everyone?”

Desdemona scans the sky. “Dying by the looks of things.”

No staff,” he stutters, “not … I can’t find anyone. I need their assistance. Your mother is trapped in the panic room lift. The door’s jammed.”

Still studying the jet, Desdemona replies, “It’s gas proof. She’ll suffocate soon. Lauralie the princess of panic probably thought the alarm was about some uprising of the lower orders. She’s paranoid.”

The door failed before it completely closed. She has air but can’t get out. Come and help me.”

What can I possibly do which you cannot? I suggest you pass her a gun to shoot herself.”

This is no laughing matter.” He takes her arm. “Come now. She’s distressed.”

Of course she is. She’ll die of thirst or hunger eventually.” Desdemona pulls away from him. “It’s Armageddon. The meek have inherited the world. The meek being birds and reptiles – possibly fish too.”

Her father barks, “What nonsense is this? Come with me! You do care about your own mother, don’t you?”

One eyebrow raised, she looks at him. “You ask such naive questions even when reality is slapping your face? This is family: genetics. We tolerate each other. I can’t believe you two, with such childlike comprehension of life, rose to command so much wealth and political power – or gave birth to someone as clear-thinking as me. Forget mother: she is going to die. Go and have your tantrum about it elsewhere.”

Get off that wall now!” He slaps the stone for emphasis.

Desdemona points into the sky. “Right up there, somewhere, is Hera. Her shuttle from Australia reached low orbit and then my phone lost contact. I suspect the crew went mad and died.” She nods at the plane still circling. “I think that is the Angelicoussis’ jet, though it’s hard to tell from this distance. It’s clearly not being flown correctly and at some point will hit the sea. That ship,” she jerks the binoculars at the growing form, “holds the only people who will make it to my party. Or will they? Ah…” She puts the binoculars down. “The lifts will have stopped working. Everyone will be stuck down there.”

For the last time. Come with me.”

Go away. Neither of us know how to open a jammed armoured door and are not strong enough. The power won’t come back. We need service staff to maintain and control that sort of thing. They are all dead. You bought the family immunity at enormous expense but, assuming some servants would survive, failed to protect any. We’re trapped. The security gates need power to open. I watched two staff in the perimeter a few minutes ago. Their last moments were quite dramatic with the alarm system releasing the attack dogs. The main exits will be sealed too, so we can’t even use the stairs to the harbour. You have no way out unless you’ve suddenly learned how to fly the helicopter. But what’s the point of leaving? Everywhere will be a mess of corpses. We are alone. There is no one left to do things for us.”

Her father thrusts himself back from the wall. “You’re useless. I’ll phone for help.”

No signal – and no one to answer. Oh look…” She raises the binoculars and points them at the jet. “They’ll hit water or the ground before they come round again. Wave goodbye to the Angelicoussis family. Poor Theofanis will have to die without me and my fortune.”

Her father stamps away, arms and fists rigid.

The ship is close enough to discern its towering superstructure, sun decks and the explosions of wash, like monstrous angels’ wings beating to the rhythm of pounding hydrofoils. Travelling at fifty-nine knots it takes long seconds to smash itself to pieces on a rocky promontory and roll over, displaying its eviscerated belly. Scattering debris and fuel, the wreckage flashes incandescent under a boiling torus and column of smoke. Desdemona stands on the balustrade and drops her binoculars, counting several seconds before they strike rock, erupting glass sparkling in sunlight.

Welcome to Hell, everyone.” After a few moments she follows the binoculars.

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©Gary Bonn, 2017

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