TI woke, suddenly.
I found that I was lying on a wooden park bench.
I swung my legs off the bench so that I was sitting.
I stretched my neck and back muscles.
I surveyed my surroundings with curiosity, I was not in a park, I was in a garden.
I stood; I was surprised that I did not experience the usual lower back and leg pains.
I studied the garden more closely, I realised that it was very beautiful.
I thought I was still dreaming.
I don’t know how I came to be here, I have no memory of travelling here.
I observed, to my right, an orchard; cherry trees in blossom, pear trees heavy with fruit, orange and lemon trees.
I could see fig and greengage trees trained into fan shapes on the wall that forms one of the orchard boundaries.
I squinted to see distant pine trees cloaking the hills occasionally scarred with white cliff faces.
I am aware that on the horizon, the light blue of the sky is kissing the azure of the sea, on which the rays of the early morning sun are reflected.
I wonder if I have been washed up on a Mediterranean island.
I think, however, that the lawn I am standing on is distinctly English.
I stroll, barefooted down the lawn towards a dissecting gravel path.
I feel relaxed and supple; I swing my arms and lift my knees painlessly.
I study the flower beds on either side.
I am no gardener but I feel there is something strange about the planting.
I note that the roses are flamboyantly blooming and at their feet snowdrops are blooming too.
I see daffodils and chrysanthemums flowering side by side.
I reach the path and look both ways; the path slopes gently to my right,
I see a small group of people emerging from the curve to my left.
I hear their chattering, which is dominated by the jovial voice of their leader.
I recognise that voice; it’s my old chum, Geoffrey Goodman, GG!
I shout, ‘Hello, Horse,' using his schoolboy nickname.
“I don’t believe it. It is you. Dingle Dell” he replies using my nickname.
“I didn’t get notification of your arrival. When did you register at the gate?”
I tell him I am really pleased to see him again after so long.
I also tell him that I don’t know anything about registration.
“I can’t fathom how you got into the garden without being entered in the Register.”
“I will check with the gatekeepers when we are in town.”
“I would be very pleased if you would join us, at the café. That’s where we are heading now.”
“I think we have a lot of catching up to do. You will know a lot of the folk at the café.”
“I know that Jenny will be really pleased to see you again.”
I stopped in my tracks ‘Jenny?’ I said ‘You mean my Jenny?’
“I do mean your beautiful muse and long-term lover.”
I corrected him ‘She was not just my muse and lover. She was my wife.’
I found I was excited at the prospect of meeting the love of my life again.
I quickened my pace, eager to arrive at this promised café.
“I am afraid we will have to sort out your registration before we go to the café.”
“I don’t expect it will take too long, it is probably an admin error.”
I follow Horse to an elaborate gate set in a high flowering hedge.
I wait outside, whilst Horse enters a small office building nestling close to the gate.
I note a steady stream of people coming through the gate and entering the office.
I wonder what is happening here, but I am beginning to suspect that, really, I do know.
I am summoned into the building and am ushered along a series of corridors.
I eventually find myself in a large well appointed office.
I am surprised to see Horse meekly standing in front of a large desk behind which is seated an imposing old man with a long beard.
I feel somewhat overawed and resist an impulse to bow. The old man speaks, "I believe your name is Timothy James Dell.” He reads my date of birth, mother’s name and surprisingly my National Health number from a file in front of him.
“I will investigate how you got into the Garden without passing through the Gate.”
“I assure you that if you had managed to approach the Gate you would not have been allowed in.”
“I have evidence to show that you should not be anywhere near here you should be in another place entirely.”
“I furthermore, have evidence that shows you did wilfully murder Jenny Dell, your wife, five years ago.”
I was stunned, this was not exactly accurate. Horse would not meet my eye.
‘I did not murder her. I just put her out of her agony, at her request. It was a mercy killing, I did no wrong."
“I will not argue with you. The rule is clear ‘Though shalt not kill’. you did, and therefore you are damned”.
‘I believe she is nearby, let her explain, she will verify what I have said.’
“I cannot do that. I am having you taken down immediately.”
I hoped I was dreaming.
I pleaded; ‘at least let me see her.’
Brandon Jones woke; he checked his Fitmonitor and found that he had had eight hours of really pleasant sleep. The luxurious Sit’n’Sleep reclining chairbed, the low lighting and the gentle hum of the Airsup had lulled him to sleep. He had eaten the delicious in-flight meal provided and drunk three glasses of the Grapevine Super cordial during the first two hours of the flight, before falling asleep. He would land at the Lunaport in another hour, a total trip time of twelve hours. He was booked into the best hotel in Armstrong.
This was the way to travel.
Brandon had made this trip many times before, but never in such luxury. He had always used the ferry in the past, which was slow, crowded and uncomfortable. The ferry took fifty-two hours to travel from Earth to the Moon, which meant that you had to sleep for two nights in a basic cabin with minimal facilities. The noisy restaurants served up indifferent bland food and the bars were full of intoxicated drinkers, preparing for the debauchery of the Eagleville casinos and nightclubs.
This time it was different; his trip was funded by a consortium of Space Travel Development corporations and Higher Learning establishments. His task, as Associate Director of Extra-Terrestrial Archaeology at Minatoku-Cambridge University, was to investigate alleged interesting findings on Mars.
It was reported that, artefacts had been found that were possibly pre-settlement. The team on site were geologists, but they had provisionally proved that the objects found were not detritus from early human landings or crashes. If this was true, it was very exiting and might lead to the discovery of early native life on Mars.
He would travel on the monthly shuttle from the Lunaport to Marsbase, a journey he had only once made before. The shuttle was basically a freighter with some passenger accommodation, it was rather civilised, with dinner at the captains table and all that sort of thing.
Human settlement of Mars had been a disaster. Thousands of pioneering settlers had
set off from the Moon to escape the overpopulation, deprivation and conflicts in the World. The vehicles used were not always appropriate and many were lost on the way. Those who made it found it hard to recreate an Earth-like environment and many more died trying. The world-wide plagues of the mid twenty second century wiped out approximately half the population of the Earth and made settlement of Mars unnecessary so most of the surviving settlers returned to Earth.
Now, in 2204, there is a small Mars base maintained for scientific purposes.
Brandon justified hiring a luxury Lunapod by pointing out that time was of the essence and he would need time to bring together all the equipment required for the expedition before the scheduled Mars shuttle launch.
He stretched and considered the breakfast menu. Before making a decision he activated the blinds covering the panoramic portholes. He was surprised to find that forward vision did not reveal the fast approaching surface of the Moon and the Lunaport. Similarly there was no sign of the receding Earth in the rear view porthole. This was very strange; he activated the exterior cameras but no images appeared on the screens. Physically and electronically he could see nothing.
Brandon’s scientific training told him that he had to analyse the situation carefully.
He ripped the top off a flask of CAF and waited for the required thirty seconds for the contents to warm up. He sipped the bitter-sweet liquid and considered what he had seen, or rather what he had not seen. After dimming the lights as low as they would go, he carefully made another inspection of his external
surroundings. To the right he could see nothing but blackness. To the left there was also only blackness, but after some time and by straining his neck he could just make out some sort of horizon above which he could vaguely distinguish distant stars. This didn’t make any sense. He confirmed his original observation; there was no sign of either the Moon or Earth.
There was absolutely no sun light which was very strange. He wondered if the Pod was powered by solar energy and if the lack of sunlight would result in the closure of all the vehicles systems. There were no read-out panels or dials to indicate the charge in the crafts batteries, nor was there any indication of the remaining air supply.
He felt a little foolish to be considering disaster, whatever had gone wrong; he knew that he would soon be rescued. He found a discretely positioned big red button with an even more discreet notice saying ‘Press in Emergency’. Brandon considered his present predicament to be an emergency, so he pressed the button; he had not pressed a button like this since school days. A message appeared on the small screen above the button saying ‘Location beacon has been activated’ ‘Contact with the Emergency Services is temporarily unavailable’. Well that is great, he thought, I’m stuck somewhere in space with no contact with humankind.
Being a practical sort of guy, a scientist and what is more, an only child; he didn’t really need contact with others.
He carried out a detailed inspection of the Lunapod, and made an inventory of the items available to him. Food and drink were not a problem; he estimated that there was at least five days supply of luxury de-hydrated feasts, including drinks, but he could not ascertain exactly how much water was on board. He was still unable to find any indication of the remaining charge in the vehicles batteries, nor the amount of air available. In a first-aid alcove he did find two small air cylinders and a couple of fully charged torches. To be on the safe side he reduced the power usage as much as possible, but ensured that the location beacon was still operating. He felt a little foolish to be so careful as he knew that it would only be a matter of hours before his Pod was located and recovered.
Bandon settled down to wait. He had his personal InfoCom with which he tried to contact the Earth and the Moon without success, his device was probably not strong enough to contact Mars, but he tried anyway. From the available information Brandon reckoned that he had somehow travelled to the dark side of the Moon. He reasoned that there would be, at least, enough air on board to support a return journey to the moon; therefore there would be another 15 – 20 hours, maybe a days, supply left.
He listened again to all the Mars reports stored on his InfoCom. He drank two flasks of CAF. He exercised in what he now realised was a very confined space. He ate another meal although he begrudged using the power. He had some entertainment on his InfoCom but didn’t feel like being entertained. He found that 5 hours had passed, although it seemed twice that. He tried to sleep but his Fitmonitor showed his heart rate was high, he was beginning to feel stressed.
Eight more hours passed with annoying slowness and Brandon was more than stressed, he was beginning to panic. He had lost count of the number of times he had searched, what he now thought of as his prison.
He even searched for a way to escape the Pod, knowing full well that escape would mean instant death. Of course there was no way of opening the portal from the inside for basic safety reasons. He was aware that this Pod would probably become his coffin, but at least, his coffin would be luxurious.
He was resigned to the fact that he was going to die so he ordered the most sumptuous meal he could find and ten measures of Grade A Wheat Spirit. Brandon was not used to drinking strong spirits, and was very quickly reeling drunk. He ordered another seven and a half measures by mistake and knocked them back. Now he saw the funny side of his situation, he laughed at the fact he was ‘Lost in Space’ like a old time hero.
He giggled when he thought he heard a screeching noise and felt the Pod moving upwards. He laughed out loud when he thought he saw the portal opening. And then he was violently sick.
The space debris recovery men had taken a chance that there might be some debris worth collecting on the Dark Side, they had not scavenged this area for a month or so.
To there surprise they found a Lunapod with its location beacon flashing. This could be a money spinner. They grappled the Pod and hauled it into the decompression chamber. Ben went into the chamber and opened the Pod’s portal, he was amazed to find a vomit smelling gent chortling to himself and obviously very drunk.
“Hey, Jerry! Look what I’ve found! Get out of the shadow and contact Lunapod,
"Tell them we have recovered their Pod No 358 and their customer who is really angry. I will hose him down and get him into a bunk to sleep it off.”
After some time Lunapod replied saying that they would pay for the recovery and transport to the Lunaport.
There would also be a reward for the men who made the recovery if the matter was not reported to the Authorities.
“Jerry, Tell them, we want double the reward in advance or we will go public.”
Lunapod transferred the money to the debris recovery ship and Ben and Jerry delivered Brandon to the hospital in Eagleville, where they were used to dealing with drunks. The magistrate fined Brandon for being ‘drunk and disorderly’ but he continued on his journey to Mars where he was not convinced by the artefacts found. He had some packaged for return to Earth and further investigation.
When Brandon’s backers heard his story, they sued Lunapod Inc. for a record sum which resulted in Lunapod’s liquidation. B&J Enterprises bought the company for a very low price and made a great success of the venture. The financial media lauded the bin men who had made the company such a winner.
Lunapod offered Brandon unlimited travel in their vehicles, but he declined preferring to travel by the slower less luxurious Moon ferry.