The Planets Series – Uranus

I had been climbing for just over an hour and stopped to catch a breath. Below me was a white mist of nothingness. I had no idea how far I’d come but had estimated before I started that the full climb would take me around 2 hours.

Surprisingly my feet felt fine. I wiggled my toes inside my stiff leather knee-high protective boots and felt some joy in being able to still move them. The sharp crampons pointing from my toes held my weight assuredly against the ice, fighting against the 250 mile per hour winds which were trying to tempt my large rucksack, and by association me, out into the cold white abyss below.

Both arms, wedged into the solid white ice in front of me, were fitted with sharp axes on the forearms to assist against the winds. My hands, protected from the biting cold with specially designed gloves which hugged my wrists in a tight, warm embrace, clenched tightly two steel ice tools to help me on my vertical trek. My grip felt great, no cold and thankfully no sweat either. The insulated gloves were doing their job perfectly so far.

With my feet, arms and hands wedged firmly into the ice, I let go with my right hand and pulled my protective face mask around my mouth open ever so slightly. I swung my upper body almost 180 degrees to face the drone which flew level with my face. “1 hour down!” I shouted against the wind, giving it a reassuring thumbs up. I quickly pulled my mask back over, swung back round to face the ice which held me in place and grasped my tool with my right hand. I was ready to start, what I hoped, would be the 2nd half of my record breaking climb. I had agreed to document this momentous, WI8 graded climb, using a state of the art drone which was live streaming my progress directly back to a PPV paying audience back home. The lucky folks sat in their warm living rooms on Earth would be getting a live stream which included a constant monitoring of my mapped progress, my current health vitals including blood pressure and heart rate with some beautiful panoramic shots of the surrounding landscape for good measure.

When I’d initially announced via my social media sites a year earlier that I intended to change the ice climbing game forever by scaling the great Titan Wall of Uranus, there had been much hilarity and guffawing in the dirtsheets about my ambitions to “climb on Uranus”. The laughing soon stopped when I sold the live streaming rights for $4 million. With an endorsement deal signed with Arc’teryx soon after and an agreement in place with SpaceX, my dream had quickly become a reality.

The eerie whistling of the wind filled my entire face mask as I continued the slow lumber upwards. My hands began to shoot with cramping pains and the fear of being caught by the increasingly powerful winds refused to release itself from the tightening in my muscles and the knotting in my stomach. The hardest thing to overcome with ice climbing was never the actual wall you intended to scale, it was the fear. Fear of falling. Fear of missing a foothold. Fear of the crampons slipping and taking you tumbling downwards. This fear radiated around the body, often leaving you feeling like you had competed in a much more physical, violent sport in the days after. Unfortunately for me, once I reached my summit I would still have a solo flight home to navigate, albeit with the assistance of SpaceX’s finest remote pilots guiding the way.

In the last few minutes I had began to feel a peculiar rumbling in the ice. A kind of vibration as I stabbed my tools, arms and feet into it. As it increased I felt as I was scaling some sort of giant speaker belching out a repetitive rhythmic bassline. Increasingly my body shook in time with the force of the pattern.

Just as quick as it had arrived, it stopped. My head snapped forward in a whiplash-like motion and I tightened my grip on my tools. Looking up I could still see nothing but white, however when I reached out to plunge my tool in there was no more ice to meet it. With a rush of adrenaline I pumped my legs upwards and threw my aching body onto a solid rocky ledge. I threw my rucksack off my back and jumped up and down, screaming out into the white sky. I pointed at the drone which buzzed along level with me and threw up the V for Victory sign.

I turned to take in the breathtaking panoramic view around me. As I did, I bumped hard into something solid. Looking up, I gasped and stumbled backwards as a large man, maybe 9 foot tall towered over me. His long red robes and large, thick majestic grey beard blew wildly in the winds.

“wh, wha, whaa” I blurted out incoherently.

“YOU STAND BEFORE I, OURANUS, THE PRIMAL GOD OF THE HEAVENS. YOU HAVE SCALED THE TITAN WALL OF MY PLANET” he bellowed out into the world.

“NOW THAT YOU HAVE CONQUERED MINE, IT IS ONLY RIGHT THAT I NOW CONQUER YOUR ANUS”

As he began to unbuckle his robes, the last thing I remember was his bellowing laughter shaking the entire mountain as I dived off the side into the depth of the white below.

The Planets Series – Jupiter

Juniper Gentlin fiddled with his tie once again, then buttoned and unbuttoned his jacket, feeling the strain of his ever increasing waistline. He shot his hand into his pocket again, reassured that it was still there.

The man behind the large desk in front of him stood to catch his attention, informing him that the Premier would see him now. Juniper took a long inhale of breath through his nose, exhaling violently through his mouth. He gripped the arms of the chair he was sat in and pushed himself to his feet. Go time.

“If you could just face the pad and hold very still” instructed the man behind the desk. The security pad scaled the full height of the wall in front of Juniper. It scanned him from head to toe and then a burst of light blinded his vision. When he opened his eyes the reception he had stood in had gone and he was stood facing a large imposing oak door with the title of ‘Premier Benchoullah’ marked across it. He knocked once then delicately pushed open the door.

“Junie!!”

Premier Edson Benchoullah rose from behind his desk to greet his old friend. Genuine affection laced his tone as they first shook hands then embraced. “Please. Sit”. He gestured to a large comfortable looking couch in the corner of the office.

Benchoullah was of small height but he had a large, undeniable presence. His every word was complemented by a jerking gesticulation. The Jupitan media had referred to him as ‘The Italian Stallion’ an old earthling term, such was his habit of using his hands whilst conversing just as much as his voice.

The two old friends shared a drink and reminisced. It had been a lifetime ago that they had bunked together whilst serving with the Jupitan Army. International Service was required of every Jupitano ages 18-21 and it was a right of passage for every member of society. Every Jupitano had their own anecdote about their time fighting The Great Red Spot, the famous anticyclonic storm at the heart of the Solar Systems largest planet.

“So Junie, what brings you to see me today?” asked the Premier, placing his hand on his old friends knee affectionately.

Juniper cleared his throat.

“Well Premier, you may be aware that I was recently elected leader of the UMJ.” He bristled, awaiting a reaction from the notoriously hot-headed Premier. Instead the response was non-plussed. “UMJ?” asked Benchoullah.

“The United Moons of Jupiter?” replied Juniper. “I was elected by voters from all 79 moons, Premier. Having moved off-planet ten years ago to Europa, it occurred to me that decisions are made here on the mother planet which directly affect billions of families living on our moons. I felt someone should be representing the views of the UMJ to try to influence decisions made by you and your Cabinet. I’ve come to you today with a proposal, Premier.”

Benchoullah stood from the couch and paced the room. He began nodding and muttering to himself. Finally, he fixed his gaze back on Juniper. “Well, that’s quite the tale” he chuckled. “As you well know Junie, the Luna’s who elect to live on our moons do so off their own volition. They are afforded no Jupitan rights and nor are they, technically, able to call themselves Jupitano.” He scratched at his chin and ruffled his hair, pacing again as if trying to solve a puzzle which had a missing piece.

“So, let me get this straight“ he went on. “You’ve decided to cash in on our relationship to see what you can get for these billions of Luna.” It was a statement not a question.

“Please Premier” said Juniper “we prefer not to use that word, we see ourselves just as Jupitan as you do.”

The word ‘Luna’ was a derogatory term used by the Jupitan to refer to those who lived on the 72 surrounding moons. It’s origin came from the Earthling phrase ‘lunatic fringe’ meaning a political group which shared extreme or foolish ideals.

Benchoullah threw his hands in the air. “Well they’re not fucking Jupitano” he spat. “I govern this planet Junie” He rumbled, arms flying in different directions to pontificate his annoyance. “And you fucking Luna’s will accept any decision I make. You’ll get on with it whether you like it or not” he banged into a chair whilst pacing and turned to kick it hard across the room.

“No Junie” he continued. “I’m sorry but you Luna’s will be happy with what you’ve got. You’ll take what you’re served, you’ll eat it up, smile and ask for more.”

Juniper sighed. He knew Benchoullah as a hot-head from their time together and what he’d watched on TV but he hadn’t expected this reaction. Regretfully he placed his hand into his pocket, felt the device between his thumb and forefinger and clicked it three times.

“I’m very sorry old friend. My intention was to come here and talk things through. Have a measured discussion about what you could offer us. I never wanted this.”

The man from behind the desk who had beamed Juniper through, entered through the office door behind him. He held an automatic pistol in one hand and a recording device pointed at Benchoullah in the other. The Premier shielded his eyes from the shining light coming from the recording device. Suddenly, he saw the weapon.

He began to protest at Juniper. He tried to reason, then he aggressively spat threats then pathetically begged for help, snivelling and crying on his knees.

Juniper took the weapon from the man and turned to face the recording device.

“My name is Juniper Gentlin. I am the leader of the United Moons of Jupiter. This man here makes decisions everyday which affects billions of people living on our planets‘ moons. I came here today to discuss the rights of those people to state their opinions on decisions which affect them. He refused. Therefore, this is now a coup. The UMJ runs this planet.”

He turned and blasted a hole through Benchoullah’s forehead. Blood and brain matter spattered the walls and carpet. He turned back to the recording device. “I suppose you might say the Lunatics have take over the asylum.” He kicked Benchoullah’s lifeless body, adding “and nobody calls me fucking Junie anymore”.

The Planets Series – Mars

I’m writing this on the eve of my 25th birthday.

Can you imagine every miniscule detail of your life being documented on a daily basis? Think of some of the stupid shit you do every day when no-one else is around, then think about everyone you know watching you do it. Bad huh? You might pick your nose on your daily commute. Chat to yourself whilst you pee. Trip up over a pavement then do that little run/jog thing that people do then look around to see if anyone noticed, remember to laugh so people think you’re a good sport. Yeah that would suck right? Now think about not only everyone you know watching you but everyone on the planet watching you. No, everyone on the planets!! That’s right, planets – PLURAL. That anxiety-inducing thought I’ve just introduced to you is my life. You see my name is Martel Venson, you probably know me as Marty or ‘Mars Boy’. I’m the solar system’s first ever Martian.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m not a green skinned little guy with three eyes who flies a saucer shaped ship. No, nothing like that, it’s much more straight forward than that. I was the first child to ever be born on Mars.

In 2040 when humans officially began to migrate to the Red Planet, my parents were part of one of the very first groups to make the momentous trip. Two twenty-somethings with very little money, not much prospects and one very real bun in the oven. After they miraculously won Elon Musk’s Willy Wonka-esque Red ticket competition they were inducted into an intense life changing experience which whisked them away on a one-way journey to Big Red.

Dad had been a great manual labourer on Earth and despite his modest upbringings, he had become instrumental in helping to develop and build the societal infrastructure which we now live in today.

Fast forward 3 months and I was ready to make my first appearance. 10 or so years had gone into prepping and colonising Mars before the first group of travellers embarked on the journey with health and medical care at the forefront of developments. Thankfully therefore, the medical care both me and my Mother received in the Neuralink Royal Medical Centre was technologically groundbreaking and so beyond the medical attention we’d have received had I been born on Earth.

By my 6th birthday the population of Mars had exploded to 4 million. More new migrators were arriving annually whilst the birth of Martian children increased year on year. Even so, The Red Media Team (RTM was our planets flagship mainstream broadcaster) had never forgotten Mars’ favourite son. Luckily for me, my parents in their infinite wisdom, had decided to sell away the rights to my life. ‘Marty – Mars’ First Son’ would be an innovative reality television show which would document, yep you guessed it, the life and times of the first person to be born on Big Red. The 25 year, multi million Musk deal (Musk was the Martian currency, modestly named after the man himself) had dramatically changed my parents fortunes and had cemented me as the planets premier megastar.

I’ve never ever been able to come to terms with strangers approaching me to tell me how thrilling it was to share with me my first bath, my first feed, taking my first steps or horrifyingly my first kiss. It’s absolutely mind bending. And, for me, completely inescapable. On my first ever trip to Earth in my teens I had concocted a foolproof plan to escape the film crew and disappear into anonymity on the planet for the remainder of my days. Foolishly I hadn’t realised RTM broadcast the show into the TV screens of Earthlings too. As I had tried to slip away into a crowd I was chased down a street by a bunch of screaming Earthling teenage girls as they sang in unison the theme song to ‘Marty’. “Mars Boy, Mars Boy, You’re Our Favourite Mars Boy” they sang. Eventually I gave into the inevitable and posed for the selfies they craved.

It’s so incredibly odd how people, Martians and Earthlings alike, treat me as a commodity. An object they want to attach themselves to so that they can post a video or photo online to gain internet points from strangers. Others believe they know me, feel that I’m part of their own family. They’ll stop me and tell me they’ve grown up with me and laugh and joke about some horrible experience of my life I’ve since tried to forget. But I don’t know them. I don’t really know anyone. I don’t have any friends. And I certainly don’t have any girlfriend. I soon learned in my late teens that the type of girl who gravitated towards me wasn’t doing it for my rugged looks and charming personality.

So, although tomorrow I’ll be completely free of the blood sucking agreement which has literally followed me around my entire life, I’ve come to the realisation that I’ll never be free.

“Marty? Where are we going?” enquired the cameraman as Martel Venson put down his pen and slowly walked out of his bedroom, down out of his front door into the enclosed night, safely breathing the internal Martian air. “Marty?!” he asked again, this time with a little apprehension in his voice. Martel approached the emergency doors and typed in a code. He bypassed the external Bio suits hanging by the doors and opened them out into the gravelly red field. He quickly sealed the doors and paced forward. “MARTY!!” screamed onlookers.

Martel Venson, Mars’ first son, fell to his knees sucking for breath that would never come. As he lay alone beyond the transparent quadruply sealed glass a large group of Martians gathered, watching him from inside. They wailed and weeped uncontrollably as Mars’ first son who had shared so many firsts with his fellow Martians shared with them his final ever smile. He was finally free.

The Planets Series – Saturn

I sat alone in the small, dark cockpit large enough to fit one average sized person and no more. My senses tingled as the lights on the dashboard blinked yellow and orange in my peripheral vision. I dipped my head to look left, then right, through the side windscreens of my pod at 2 of my opponents. It gave me some small sense of relief to see that each of them looked as nervous as I felt.

My ear piece crackled to life giving me a jump. My AI co-pilot, VAHMIS (Vehicle and Human Maintenance Internal System), advised me that the race would commence in 2 minutes time and that he had began warming the engines. The large transparent bag strapped to the right hand side of my seat expanded with a dark yellow as I involuntarily emptied my bladder for what felt like the hundredth time since I’d climbed in the pod. I compulsively checked to make sure my feeding tube was plugged in correctly above me then sat back to take in the view in front of me.

2 or so clicks (km’s) ahead of me stood the enormous, terrifying black void. Only the twinkle of star light and the shining of 2 or so of Saturn’s 62 moons provided a hint of illumination ahead. The mixture of the gritty brown and icy white track below me seemed to be swallowed up by the darkness as it disappeared off into the distance.

This was it. I’d literally dedicated my life to this moment. 12 participants. 550,000 miles. 1 lap. I would be navigating this icy, rocky terrain for a period of 2 days (or slightly less I hoped). But the navigation was only half the battle. The other, arguably tougher test, was the mental game. Confining yourself to a small box with only a computerised voice in your ear for company and carrying out all bodily functions through tubes was not everyone’s idea of a good time. It was all I had dreamed of since I was kid.

In the 3 days previous I had embarked on an intensive stretching routine for 4-6 hours a day. This would allow my body to settle come crunch time. I’d also went through 2 hours daily digestive therapy involving a number of terrifyingly huge needles. This would provide me with a specially developed serum to relieve my body of all requirement to sleep for the following 72 hours, maintaining my optimal functionality for what was to come. The reported after-effects weren’t pretty – a migraine on steroids mixed with temporary paralysis of the body – but these were the sacrifices those at the very top of their field required to make and I was more than ready to make them.

“30 seconds” crackled VAHMIS. As the familiar cranking, whirring and whooshing of machinery and engine fire burst into life my small pod raised itself slightly above the track until it hovered a metre or so in the air. Following my pre-race routine, I slipped in my gum shield to avoid crushing my teeth during the initial acceleration and then commanded VAHMIS to commence playing my personally devised playlist. An aggressive, thumping bassline filled the space around me and vibrated through my whole body. I watched the lights above me begin their ten step sequence to indicate the start and bit down hard on my gum shield.

As they hit green I slammed both feet down onto the accelerator and planted them as hard as I could. My teeth bit down even harder on the protective shield in my mouth whilst my head and neck slammed back against my chair. Pinned there for a number of minutes I began to panic as blood poured onto the panel in front of me. On cue, VAHMIS indicated to me over the pounding bass that I was experiencing a number of ruptured blood vessels in my face but it was not a risk to retaining normal physical or mental functions. Great.

I felt a slow trickle of relief as the initial rush of acceleration eased and I settled into a steady pace on the shoulder of the defending champion who had evidently elected to make himself the pacemaker. I could see on my screen that one pod had already crashed out, disappearing wildly off the pod’s radar as their name was dramatically scratched from the digital leaderboard. 11 of us remained.

With 499,000 miles to go, I spat my bloody gum shield out, checked my vehicles’ vitals across the panels in front of me and slowly began to settle my nerves.

The annual F Ring Endurance Grand Prix around Saturn had begun.

DRI 5154: Part 2

Before starting Part 2, you can read Part 1 of DRI 5154 which was published here

Junior United States Senator of California, Kane Woodbridge, emerged into the golden sunshine of downtown San Diego from his chauffeur driven blacked out SUV. It had been an atypical day for him, certainly a slightly different one from his normal routine of shaking hands, kissing babies and passing laws. Woodbridge’s decorated career as a lawyer and politician had been a hugely successful and rewarding one. He had served as the 28th District Attorney of San Francisco for a period of 8 years and then as Attorney General of California for a further 4. Today had been momentous though, he had officially announced his campaign to run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2024 election.

It had been far from the normal reaction. Woodbridge was the poster child for a future America which would no longer be split by blue or red. He was America’s golden boy. Democrats and Republicans alike gathered to cheer for this shining ray of hope for America. After years of prejudiced hate-filled campaigns and Presidential reigns, Woodbridge represented a shift for many Americans. A shift to an attitude of unity, of grabbing the two petulant American children by the scruff of their neck and telling them to get along or else. Let’s sort it out together. The public lapped it up.

Woodbridge was considered to be the top contender for the 2024 Democratic nomination for President. He had been coy to begin with, refusing to rule anything out but maintaining that he had a job to do for the people of California before he could think about anything else. He had published his memoirs soon after, detailing a life of dedication to seeing the good in people. His parents had raised him to see the value in everyone and he’d very much implemented those principals to the fullest as a young man, through college and into his professional career. The memoirs were a huge hit, a New York Times Bestseller which couldn’t be stocked fast enough.

So when he officially announced his candidacy, the country had rejoiced almost as one. In a country as large and fractured as the United States of America, that was literally unheard of. By the following night he had obliterated the record for the most money raised in the day following an announcement. Over 50,000 people had been there to see him announce his formal campaign in his hometown in Oakland, California. His support continued to meteorically rise day by day. There was no question as to who would be the next President of the United States, it was just a matter of time.

As he sat down behind his large desk in his US Senate office, he paused for a breath. This was something of a rarity for a man who felt like he hadn’t stopped to smell the roses since he had left college. Today though, those roses smelt like a beautiful summers day, the most beautiful of summer days. He got back up, closed his office blinds, shut the door, kicked off his Salvatore Ferragamo Italian calfskin shoes and threw his feet up on the desk in front of him. He closed his eyes and took a deep, revitalising breath.

And just as quickly as the moment had transpired, it was over. He was in his shower, the hot massaging water beating down on his aching shoulder and back muscles, relieving an ounce of the tension he’d built up over the last day, week, month, year, life. He was in his Tom Ford Navy Checked Wool Suit and in the back of the SUV again. This time he would address 2,000 wealthy potential campaign supporters, he would assure them of his policies, he would smile, shake hands and treat each and every person in that room like they were the only person there. Woodbridge had the wonderful ability to shine a light on whomever he was speaking with. It was very rare that a person would come away from personally speaking with Kane Woodbridge and not feel like the belle of the ball. Army veterans, football players, US Congressmen and women, musicians, foreign diplomats and leaders alike- they all talked about his charm, his genuity and his intellect.

As he stood behind the navy blue curtain by the side of the stage, he wiped his brow with a handkerchief and placed it back in his pocket. He smiled at the chief makeup artist who gave him one last touch up and thanked her politely. She giddily skipped away biting on her lip like a schoolgirl who had just spoke to her latest crush. He was introduced on stage to a rousing, flag-waving audience, they hung on his every word. He addressed his policies, he joked about the LA Rams who had a few representatives in the crowd, he discussed his childhood citing his parents as his heroes, the two people he said who had helped him to believe that everyone matters and that everyone deserves a chance to just be. An “everyone matters” chant began t0 buzz across the crowd, very quickly the whole audience were on their feet chanting it at him. He stood back to take it in and applauded them, indicating how much this all meant to him.

As he scanned the rapturous crowd, blowing kisses and patting his chest his gaze stopped on a solitary man stood at the back of the room. He didn’t clap. He wasn’t chanting or singing. He was just stood there, fixed on Woodbridge. He stood out for many reason. He was tall – 6 foot, at least, thought Woodbridge. Unlike his fellow audience members he was in a white muscle t shirt and combat trousers, the thought that this was strange attire for a formal event flicked across Woodbridge’s mind. He appraised the tattoo sleeves and shaved head. Despite his appearance, the main reason that this man stood out from the rest of the crowd was the M24 Sniper Weapon System he had just removed from the black briefcase which lay discarded at his boots. Woodbridge strangely pondered if he was the only one who could see this man. Was he a figment of his overly worked imagination? A demon from the back of his mind here to remind him to get some more sleep and drink less coffee?

The crowd continued their ovation, during this time Woodbridge nonchalantly waved. Smiling and acknowledging the praise. But he couldn’t take his gaze away from the man at the back of the room. He considered addressing him personally but feared the ridicule he would receive if this was in fact a figment of his imagination. However, he had no choice when the man raised the rifle to his shoulder though. “NOOOO!!” screamed out Woodbridge. The crowd, unsure of what this part of the performance was, followed his line of vision. Gasps and screams erupted, people threw themselves from their chairs to the floor or trampled their way towards any door which could conceivably represent an exit.

Only a matter of seconds had passed from the point that Reynolds had lifted the rifle to his shoulder to the point at which Woodbridge’s vision had faded and his brain matter had decorated the podium and stage. But it was in those tiny few seconds that the future of America had shifted on a dime and history had been changed forever. Or so Reynolds, Kellerman, Pendergast and Watson hoped.

Takeover: Part 1 – Outbreak

“Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it” – Unknown

Years ago our former President had wanted to build a wall to resolve the “crimewave” that was coming over the border from Mexico. The guy even tried to get the Mexican Government to pay for the damn thing. Well, like the old saying goes “be careful what you wish for, you might just get it”. Under Trump, the building of the wall had started. Under President Harris, the rest of the world finished the job.

In scenarios like this you often hear different rumours and takes on how the end of the world began. Not here. With 24/7 TV coverage and the hive mind of social media broadcasting every little human movement in real time, we all knew how it started. The whole world did. It started with him, Harris. It was always going to start with Harris. After Trump I thought that things would turn on it’s head, I thought we’d get our feet firmly planted on the ground as a nation and get back to a ‘traditional’ Presidency. I was wrong. So wrong. The campaigns were torturous. The candidates were former pop stars, movie stars and social media ‘influencers’, whatever they were. Career driven professionals, lifelong philanthropists and storied war heroes were now scoffed at and ridiculed. Apparently America no longer cared for values and policies, you know, the essentials when running one of the largest nations on earth. Instead the currency these days was online ‘clapbacks’, fashion sense, chat show appearances and social media followers. The Presidency had become a damn recording contract, $50k or whatever else reality show ‘winners’ walked away with. Harris took things to another level.

Daunte Harris was a former child rapper (Lil Vanilla), singer, author (“Lil V’s Guide to Life” was a New York Times Bestseller) , fashion designer and tequila company owner. His policies? he only had one: “Peace, Love and Positivity”. #PLP trended on twitter daily, weekly, monthly and annually ever since his campaign had begun. The irony of his message was that this man essentially battle rapped his way to the White House, his team digging up every little misstep and controversy his opponents had ever made. He of course used this to publicly decimate them one by one. America ate it up, we love a scandal. Some gossip to feel like we’re getting a peek behind the curtain. Harris shovelled scandal after scandal into one giant online heap and set it alight.

Once he got into the White House “Peace, Love and Positivity” became hard to maintain on a daily basis when the majority of the world despised the country you’re running. The economic structure of the country was in the toilet, 65% of the population was overweight and with the introduction of AI to the majority of manual jobs, unemployment rates were the highest they’d ever been. That’s without mentioning the damn climate. People were literally cooking on the street on a weekly basis.

In what I can only imagine was his way of boosting morale, our esteemed leader’s social team had begun posting about a very special scheduled broadcast. These broadcasts had become a norm for the Harris administration since his Presidency had begun, they were streamed live automatically to any device with a screen and an internet connection. I wasn’t the only one who had become tired very quickly of these broadcasts which mainly spewed faux positivity or even worse became thinly veiled advertisements for the First Lady’s latest venture into fashion or the fragrance market or even worse a promotion for the First Dog’s Instagram page (5 million followers and counting). This broadcast, we were told, was to be a major groundbreaking event. I’d normally have found myself a good paint to watch dry during these broadcasts but I have to admit, even I was intrigued by this.

With a small sense of apprehension and a large spoonful of skepticism I hopped onto my exercise bike and waited for my television to jump into life. After cycling a few kilometres, my TV screen jumped into life with the usual graphic:

THIS IS A PRESIDENT HARRIS PRODUCTION. PEACE, LOVE AND POSITIVITY TO YOU ALL. #PLP2025

The graphic faded out into a beautiful blue sky, not a cloud was present, just pure blue tranquility. The familiar drums and piano keys of Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z bounced into life as the camera snapped down, spinning slowly to show a beautiful panoramic shot of the New York City skyline. This seemed to be being filmed from the very top of the Empire State Building. The camera panned right across the Hudson River, zooming into the Statue of Liberty. I admitted to myself that it looked amazing, as with all of Harris’ productions, the guy knew style. Just as Alicia Keys hit the crescendo on the chorus the camera peeled back to the top of the Empire State Building to reveal Harris, arms wide open, a movie star smile aimed directly at the camera. With his shaved head, shades, open necked white shirt and tattoo sleeves you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a music video or movie trailer. His tanned skin glistened in the sunlight. He was stood alone next to a square glass structure. The glass structure looked a bit like an old telephone booth, almost 6 foot high with the Presidential Crest emblazoned across it. The glass was clouded, no doubt to arise interest from his adoring public.

“What’s up my fellow Americans!” he announced. “Today, you join me in the birthplace of my hero, a true inspiration of mine: Shawn Carter, otherwise known as the rapper, Jay-Z. I have some major groundbreaking news to share with you my fellow countrymen and I thought to myself, where better to unveil it than in the city that never sleeps.” He smirked to himself, like he was the only one in on a private joke he was keeping from the nation. He moved to the front of the phone booth. “As you know, I preach Peace, Love and Positivity wherever I go. I believe it’s the key to us as a human race finding our purpose. But, just like I found out when I entered the music business as an enthusiastic 13 year old, not everyone welcomes a new fresh outlook on life. When I dropped my debut album “Not 2 Young to DM” all the top rappers in the game laughed at me. They had fun dissing me, they said I was their son – that they’d fathered my whole style and that I’d be forgotten in months. What happened? oh yeah, that’s right, I broke every single streaming record there was. When I unveiled my “Albuquerque Tequila” business the industry laughed. They called it corny, a rip off, they said it tasted like pisswater.” He raised a small shot glass , toasting to himself and, as he downed the drink, proclaimed “Well who’s laughing now?” He laughed theatrically, smashing the shot glass on the ground and, opening his arms out wide, he looked to the sky and screamed “I’m literally on top of the world!”

In an instant he fixed his gaze back on the camera “I’ve encountered unprovoked aggression and unfair judgement from world leaders wherever I’ve went since I started this project…” Wait a minute, I thought, did he just call the fucking Presidency a project? like it’s a damn concept album or a bit part in a movie? Jesus. “….just because I’m an American. A successful American leader. These attitudes have lead me to today’s major announcement. For the last few months I’ve been meeting with the nations top scientists and weaponry experts. The objective I set was to develop a deterrent for anyone, ANYONE, who will even consider trying to take away from us our peace, our love and our positivity. I want my countrymen to live a relaxed and secure life with no concerns about your future….” I scoffed. This guy was unbelievable, he could sell snow to the eskimos. . “…now we have that deterrent.”

By this time I’d stopped pedalling the bike and was now firmly fixed on the screen. Icy trickles of anxiety slithered up through my stomach and crept into the back of my throat. Where on earth was this going?

He disappeared off screen for a moment, reappearing with his smug smile beaming into the camera. He was pulling along a heavily chained up person by their shackled hands. The person shuffled along, their legs bound together by chains. Their face was hidden by a black bag which had been taped over their head.

“This man” said Harris, now with a fire and passion in his eyes, “is an enemy of this country. This man is a murderous, despicable, cowardly criminal who has broken law after law, harming good American men, women and children. This man will today pay his debt to you and I by helping me to demonstrate what will happen to those who want to act on their negative feelings about the United States of America. He moved over to the clouded glass door, slowly opened the door and pulled out a large syringe, the contents of which were a yellowy green colour. He grabbed the man by his chained up hands, raising the syringe to the sky. The song “Takeover” by Jay-Z clapped through the speakers. Staring into the camera Harris expertly rapped along. It was pure theatre.

” We bring knives to a fistfight and kill your drama, we kill you muthafuckin ants with a sledgehammer”

With that, he injected the contents of the syringe into the mans arm. The music cut to silence. Harris let the man go and, what seemed like in slow motion, he fell to the ground like a chopped down tree, landing face down with a thud.

The camera panned in on the slumped, seemingly lifeless body. After a few seconds it started to shake uncontrollably. The whole body was flopping around on the ground like a newly caught fish, it might have been comical had it not been so damn frightening. The exposed areas of the mans skin turned a putrid shade of grey. Eventually the shaking stopped. Harris, now in picture, looked at the camera. As he opened his mouth to say something the body sat bolt upright. Harris began stuttering, trying to berate someone behind the camera “Hey…hey, asshole!! You! yeah, you! You said he would disintegrate! Cut the fucking feed, cut the feed!!” He looked panicked. There was a commotion going on behind the camera with shouting and swearing overheard, the camera jostled and shook as though the cameraman was unsure whether to keep filming or not. Just in the corner of the screen you could see the body begin to pick itself up off the floor, very slowly. It began advancing on Harris. More shouting, screaming erupted and then the deafening undeniable sound of a firearm being discharged rang out. The feed cut immediately followed by some muzak plinkety plonking over a black screen.

I leaned over and grabbed at my glasses sitting on my bedside table. The facial recognition automatically logged into my twitter account and I began using the motion-detecting hands-free lenses to scroll through my feed. The reactions were polarised. There were the usuals “WTF’s” and “holy shit”s mixed in with political opponents accusing Harris of using tax payers money to promote a forthcoming horror movie. Needless to say people were confused. The few journalists I followed could only merely speculate about what had transpired, however when I looked at the trending topics all I saw was one word:

#ZOMBIE

I laughed, yeah right. Of all the things it could be, that would be bottom of my list behind the apocalypse and the Spice Girls reforming for their 800th tour. I winked my right eye onto the trending topic which opened up a new screen on my lenses with millions upon millions of posts. As I scrolled and scrolled through the mountains of them I noticed that a video file was increasingly being tweeted and retweeted over and over. It had no subject line, just a video file attached to a blank tweet. I blinked on one of the posts and waited for it to buffer, a fifteen second clip popped up in my lenses. I watched it. Then I watched it again. And again. It showed a mans feet shaking on the same ground where Harris had been stood, that much was clear. Another man seemed to be crouched over the top of him. As the crouched man pulled away from the body on the floor, it turned towards the camera. The face was crooked and grey but more obvious and much more alarming than that was the deep scarlett mask of blood he wore. He turned methodically and then suddenly lunged at the camera. That horrible trickle of anxiety I had felt before became a thunderclap which began in my feet and rose to hit my lungs like a cricket bat. My heart rate flew. I wanted to run, it didn’t matter where, I just wanted to run. I threw my glasses across the room, jumped down from the bike and paced my flat. There was no doubt about it, that blooded thing in the video clip was President Harris.

DRI 5154: Part 1

It’s 2024. At the beginning of January, the state of Ohio in the United States of America had 56 current death row inmates on it’s books. By the end of March, 54 of them had been executed. 2 remained and plans were in place to schedule the next two injections in the following weeks.

Amongst these dry, white-painted walls of the highly guarded secure ground floor of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, something inhumane, corrupt and absolutely incredible was quietly happening. Something which would preserve the lives of the majority of the worlds population without them ever having any hint of an idea.

“54 of the bastards and nothing to show for it! Why would I come down there for that?!” spat Angela Kellerman. She slammed the phone down in a rage. She slumped back into her personalised ergo-tech chair, her body moulded into it after many a-night spent consuming awful coffee, eating vending machine sandwiches and working early into the morning. She counted to ten. Kellerman was tense, the counting took her blood pressure down from critical to barely healthy and she had a fleeting thought to meditate but knew she didn’t have the time. One day.

Kellerman was chief commanding officer of the US Government’s Department of Future Events. The DFE was a clandestine branch of the US Government whose objective was to investigate and prevent large catastrophic events or crimes from taking place. Kellerman’s performance was judged, by the President of the United States, on her ability to prevent large scale events from taking place before they happened. It seemed an impossible objective to ever meet.

The Department was established after the Long Valley Eruption (LVE) in 2021, where millions of American lives were tragically lost and many millions more were changed forever. LVE had been predicted for years by scientists, thousands had marched outside the gates of White House. No-one listened. When all was said and done the state of California was no more. A President was impeached and life as an American was brought to a standstill for years. It was only in the last year or so that life had begun to move on. For Kellerman, LVE had turned itself from an international tragedy into a job opportunity. Even more than that it provided an opportunity for this 36 year old Government agent to put into action a lifetime of work and theory.

Kellerman had thousands of staff working at the DFE. Thousands of staff working day to day to prevent crimes from taking place all across the 51 states. By this point most terror related groups were cyber based, so Kellerman had the greatest minds in America and beyond working for the DFE to prevent hackers, cybercriminals and black hat organisations from breaking down firewalls of the biggest organisations in the nation. However, it was one covert taskforce, based in Ohio which was causing the hypertension for Kellerman.

As a teen Kellerman had always loved the idea of time travel. When she was 13 her Mom had pulled out her old box of DVD’s (Digital Versatile Disc – a digital storage format used to watch movies and television shows in the 2000’s) from the garage and showed Angela her favourite movie. Young Angela was entranced, it only got better when her Mom told her there were two more! From there she read and watched everything time travel related she could get her hands on. Stephen Kings 11/22/63 was her personal favourite – she still tried to read it every year as a reminder to herself of her childhood. Movies like Avengers Endgame, X-Men Days of Future Past, The Butterfly Effect, and Minority Report fed her insatiable appetite to consume everything she could about fictional time travel.

Fiction turned to fact when she became a research affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) studying physical sciences and science in the modern world. From there, as is experienced by most young adults attempting to live their dream, the realities of life called and Angela found herself working for the US Government in a multitude of consultancy roles concerning sciences and the law. Fate had her brought her to where she was now, in her office in Washington in her ergo-tech chair cursing at the telephone and unsuccessfully attempting to practice mindfulness techniques.

She took a deep breath and picked up the phone again, punching in the number 5 “Jane, I’m going to Ohio. No, now. Can you make the arrangements? Thanks.” she closed her eyes, took another deep breath and got up from her chair to make her way towards her office door.

The private jet touched down at Akron-Canton Regional Airport 3 hours later into the sticky, wet night and a blacked out SUV took Kellerman directly to a discrete Government-owned luxury cabin, just outside Lucasville. A meeting was scheduled the following morning between Kellerman and her task force.

The feeling in the room was tense. Kellerman sat, with her folders opened in front of her, staring at the two men across from her. “We have two left gentlemen, two.” she said, leaving the obvious question unasked. The more intelligent of the two, Watson, said nothing but smiled. The other one, Pendergast who was the more industrious man cleared his breath and began. “Angela, number 54 came back yesterday.”

“The fuck?” she muttered under her breath. Composing herself, she sat up. “What do you mean came back? he came back to life? the procedure didn’t take?” She was getting animated now “Pendergast, what in the fuck do you mean he came back?”

Watsons smile got bigger “he came back Angela!” he said with a giant grin, “HE. CAME. BACK.”.

“Show me”.

They marched out the meeting room and through a number of secure doors accessed only by a small number of authorised staff. After what seemed like a trek to Mordor and back of walking, they came to their destination. Angela walked into a long quiet corridor of single cells. Only three were occupied but there were enough cells within this facility here for over 100 death row inmates. It was deathly quiet. The cells had no windows and were securely sealed the outside by three state of the art mechanical and digital locks. “This one” said Watson. He ushered Kellerman forward and pushed a button next to the cell door. On pushing the button the contents of the cell became visible as the door became transparent. In it stood a very animated man, pressed directly up against the other side of the door shouting and screaming like his life depended on it. He was 6 foot 2, shaven headed with tattoo sleeves. He also had what Angela strangely thought was a kind, genuine face. “What’s he saying?” she asked Watson. He punched another button on the wall and the sound became audible.

“COME ON!! LET ME TALK TO SOMEONE!!! YOU GOTTA LET ME TALK TO SOMEONE” “IS ANYONE THERE?” “I GOTTA KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON!!” “THE WORLD IS GOING TO SHIT AND I’M STUCK HERE IN THIS DAMN ROOM!!” “LET ME FIGHT, I CAN HELP!! The man went on like this until Watson punched both buttons again and turned back to Kellerman. “You won’t believe what he said he saw”.

Angela Kellerman sat up straight at the table with her heart racing and her body almost visibly trembling, staring directly into the eyes of a convicted multiple murderer. Watson sat to her right with his D-pad in front of him ready to assess the murderer’s vitals as he spoke. Pendergast sat to her left. “Begin recording” he said aloud and then nodded at Kellerman. “DRI 5154, firstly, please let me advise you that anything you say here is completely confidential and secure, we are recording this conversation for our own research and historical records.” “Secondly, whatever happened to you” she paused and looked up at the sky then back at the inmate “let me tell you that I 100% believe you.” “You were sentenced to death for two heinous murders of two innocent people but you have now been punished for those crimes.” Her tone now slipped from familiar to firm. “However be aware, DRI 5154, that you remain the property of the US Government until such time as we deem it appropriate for you to no longer remain so, do you understand?”

DRI 5154 smirked and nodded back at her, not giving away any emotion. He had been this way since they had digitally sedated him in his cell and transported him to this cold, nondescript interview room. He was handcuffed around the legs and arms and was held in his seat by the threat of the collar around his neck. One false move or comment and the sedation would be injected again. “So what you’re saying is, I do what you tell me or I’m toast, this time for real.”

Kellerman nodded “I’m glad we understand each other. OK, here’s what’s going to happen, I’m going to tell you what happened to you from our side of things, you are then going to tell me what happened to you from your perspective. All I need you to do is be honest. You might not understand what it is that’s happened to you, that’s OK. I just need you to be honest and tell me everything. If you do that, we’ll all be happy campers.”

Kellerman went on to outline that when DRI 5154 had been sat down behind that screen and received the injection from Watson in front of the family of the two brothers he’d executed in cold blood, he’d actually just been given a mild sedation to knock him out. Whilst subdued Watson and Pendergast had wheeled him out of view and transported him to a highly secure room that only they had access to. For the 54th time that year, they had each started up their computers, wirelessly connected their computers directly to the chip implanted under the inmates skin and simultaneously run their self-developed programmes. Nothing had happened. This wasn’t unusual to Pendergast and Watson, that is exactly what had happened the previous 53 times. However, each time previously the inmates vitals had dropped to zero and their heart had given out. DRI 5154’s vitals were steady, he was, unbelievably, visibly still breathing. Then, in a matter of seconds during which a stunned Pendergast and Watson had failed to take a breath, DRI 5146 had opened his eyes.

The inmate had sat quietly and listened to Kellerman’s story, once again he had refrained from showing any emotion. That was right up until that final detail. “Did you say seconds?” he asked looking confused. “14.2 to be exact” Watson answered. “from initiation of the DRIPS programme until you opened your eyes, 14.2 seconds”. “OK….” he said, attempting to understand “…..drips?” asked the inmate, clearly confused. “Death Row Inmate Preventative Software” answered Pendergast.

“OK” answered the inmate. “Here’s my version of events”.

DRI 5154 was Tyler Reynolds. Reynolds was a former marine who had served his final year proudly and quietly before being honourably discharged. On the night he had committed the crimes which had resulted in him ending up on death row he had been in a restaurant with his wife, friends and wider family, celebrating his new civilian status. Reynolds had looked at the wrong guy the wrong way at the bar, making eye contact that bit too long and that’s where things had went south. Two brothers, both drunk and full of their own hubris had taken it upon themselves to wait for Reynolds and take him down a peg or two. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t have the wherewithal to read the situation correctly. This happy, smiling 6’2 man was actually a trained killing machine and if provoked had the tools to end their lives. Unfortunately that was precisely what happened when both brothers set upon him with knives as the Reynolds family and friends left the restaurant. The former marine was left covered in blood, but not his own.

The subsequent trial was hell and Reynolds was ultimately sentenced to death. Those who knew him knew he was innocent but in the age of social media and microwaveable 24 hour news cycles it’s not the truth that sentences a man anymore, it’s the stories that are put out there in the minds of the people scrolling through their screens whilst walking out into traffic or driving on the highway to work everyday. There was no doubt the jury were going to find him guilty, the left-wing media had a field day with Reynolds’ past, dragging him and his family through the mud over his involvement in various wars and secret government operations. Reynolds was a square peg in the round hole of the world where everyone was seemingly desperate to be outraged at the drop of a hat, let alone a military operation.

On the day of his execution Reynolds remembered being wheeled out in front of the family. He remembered he felt proud as he sat there. Not proud for what he had done to those two young men, but proud of his life. He had a wonderful wife who he loved dearly and before the incident they had a great life together. He’d proudly served his country doing what he felt had to be done to ensure his country remained free, that meant alot to him. He remembered looking at Pendergast and Watson and remember thinking how emotionless they looked to be wheeling a man away to his death. Just another day at the office for them he had remembered thinking and had bizarrely chuckled to himself about it.

However, the next thing he remembered was absolute pandemonium.

He had found himself standing at a darkly lit bar with barely any space to move, surrounded by bodies. It wasn’t the usual thrum of a Friday evening after-work drinks that had created the crowd though. Every person in this bar was stood with their eyes glued to the large flat screen televisions dotted across the bar walls. No-one spoke. The only noise which could be heard was that of the newscaster.

“This will be a timestamp in history ladies and gentlemen. We have just heard confirmation directly from the White House secretary that President Woodbridge himself gave the order to assassinate the Russian President on US soil. President Yeghozin was confirmed deceased 4pm central time today by a single gunshot to the head. We expect to hear directly from President Woodbridge imminently”

Gasps went up in the bar, murmuring, shrieking, crying, screaming. Every type of reaction was heard throughout the bar, even the odd “woop” and “America!” could be heard.

Reynolds tried to collect his thoughts as best he could, a man in his mid-60’s turned to him, saluted with his piss-coloured light beer and toasted to those around him “well, here’s to what remains of this once great nation”. The bar hushed and the TV was turned to its highest volume again. A tall man in an exquisite suit walked slowly towards a wooden podium. He looked somber and serious. “My fellow Americans” he began “it is with great regret that I stand before our proud nation today. I take the defence of our wonderful nation and the millions of Americans who live in it incredibly seriously. It is with that in mind that at 0700 hours this morning I confirmed an order to Seal team 14 to execute operation Handstrong. The objective of Operation Handstrong was to identify and eliminate enemies who posed an imminent and mortal threat to the United States of America.”

“Any implications of executing Operation Handstrong were of course fully considered and the decision to eliminate the leader of a fellow UN country was not taken lightly. I believe that I owe you, the American public who voted me into this office, an explanation for why this has taken place. Unfortunately I can’t do that.” More cries and gasps went up in the bar. President Woodbridge reached under the podium as he spoke. He fixed the camera with a regretful smile “God bless America, May the lord have mercy on us all…” it was at that point that Reynolds heard a gunshot ring out in the bar. Panic stricken bodies crushed him up against the bar, people screaming and shouting. Reynolds set his feet as wide as he could to prevent himself falling over and braced himself against the bodies. It was pandemonium.

Eventually, the bar cleared and it had become evidently clear that the gunshot hadn’t went off in the bar, but instead on the TV.

President Woodbridge, whoever the fuck he was Reynolds thought, had just committed suicide on live TV , the Russian President had been assassinated on American soil and outside of the bar in the streets of the cities and towns of America, pandemonium would reign for the coming weeks and months to come.

Reynolds paused for the first time since he had began recalling this ordeal, he realised he was sweating profusely and had barely stopped to take a breath. Kellerman stared at him. She looked shellshocked. Not “I can’t believe you forgot to pick up the kid from school” shellshocked more “the sky is falling, aliens are here and Santa is real” shellshocked. “Can I have a minute?” asked a clearly exhausted looking Reynolds. “Of course” said Kellerman, she arranged for some food and drink to be prepared for him then ushered Pendergast and Watson into a separate room. “When was he?!” she demanded. Pendergast and Watson looked at each other then back at Kellerman. “Fuck me” she said.

4 hours had passed since Reynolds had described what he experienced after being “executed” by Pendergast and Watson. He had eaten, then almost immediately fallen asleep in his cell. He was awoken by Kellerman standing in his cell, flanked by Pendergast and Watson. “OK Mr Reynolds, Tyler. We need to have ourselves a serious conversation.” “Tyler?” he replied, “what happened to DRI 5154?” he asked. “Well, Tyler, it seems that you, me and my two colleagues here are in an elite group of 4 people who know that you weren’t executed and instead travelled to a future America and witnessed what sounds like the suicide of a future President following him confessing to the world that he ordered the assassination of the Russian President, on American soil. So. I think first name basis is entirely appropriate, don’t you? I’m Angela” she said as she extended her hand.

It took two days, many delivered pizzas and coffees, a lot of expletive-filled arguments, mainly between Reynolds and Kellerman, and not much sleep for the foursome to agree what they would do. Many options had been on the table including doing absolutely nothing. Ultimately they all agreed there was only one thing they could do: they were going to assassinate the future President of the United States of America in an effort to prevent an almost certain nuclear war with Russia.