Just You, Me and the Dog...
As Daisy picks her way back over the fallen masonry into the late sunshine of the car park outside the Isolation Capsule Laboratory, the dog keeps its distance, preferring to stalk her. She clutches the CO2 canister a little tighter to her as she heads for the nearest road junction to look for a road sign. She crosses the road and heads up a wide avenue running between derelict warehouses and business units. Here and there are abandoned cars, doors gaping. Bullet holes are splashed across the bonnet of one, windscreen glass scattered across the seats. There is no one, no bodies, no bits of bodies, nothing. Behind her she can hear the dog picking its way through the shadows, just a few yards behind her and so she picks up her pace and starts to jog. At the top of the road she finds an empty dual carriageway and finally, some road signs.
'A31/M27 Northbound' Daisy reads out loud.
'Bournemouth, that's where you are.'
The voice makes her jump out of her skin and she spins round to find a dozen paces away, the dog has company. The man bends and loops a length of chain through the dog's collar. 'Now, don't mind Nibbles here, she's alright.' He pats the dog and 'Nibbles' lies at his feet panting.
'Anyhow, that's the road back to London, if you fancy a walk, the petrol ran out about four years ago, now.' He laughs the scratchy, dry laugh of someone with nothing to laugh about. 'You in that pod thing? I thought there'd be someone in there. Any more is there?'
'No, no.. just me. I've been in there for five years... I don't know what's happened, what I've missed...'
'What's happened? What's happened? Now there's a thing. Just you though? Well, well. End of the world. That's what you've missed.' The man eyes her up and down, not with a leer but with a look of hunger, a look that says he hasn't seen live flesh for a long time. He sighs, noticing how uncomfortable Daisy is from his scrutiny.
'Don't mind me. Just a long time since I've seen a live... It was the petrol first, ran out. Some big world banking thing, the internet got hacked and all the money deleted from the system. I mean all of it. Nothing got paid, global transactions froze, everything stopped. Then, before they could get it back up and running the petrol ran out, no money no imports, food ran out in supermarkets, followed by the gas, chaos set in, riots, looting, country was like a war zone. The whole world they said, up in flames... by the time the hackers work had been undone it was too late. Then a year later, after the riots, war. Global war. Then famine... now, now well.. I think it must just be you, me and the dog by now. Just you, you say, in that pod?'
Daisy cannot believe what she is hearing but the evidence is everywhere, littering the dual carriageway, empty cars, empty lorries, empty army tanks. The man tugs at the dog's lead and starts to walk towards her. She instinctively starts to back off.
'No need to be like that, I won't harm you. Just... OK, let's stop and have a nice chat shall we, get to know each other a bit?'
The man smiles and Daisy can see his teeth, filed into points and then she notices his necklace, half hidden by his dirty grey shirt. Little bones, a necklace of little bones under an old business shirt and the suit, too stained to be just dirt...
Daisy runs as fast as she can, hoping surprise will be on her side. She easily outstrips the man for speed but the dog is another matter. As she runs back towards the safety of the ICL, she can hear the rattle of the chain as 'Nibbles' is let loose. As the dog gains on her she just has time to turn round and fire the CO2 at it. It stops the dog in its tracks and Daisy sprints across the car park and back into the ICL, slamming the door shut and pressing the seal-lock button, sinking to the floor in a heap of terror and exhaustion.
'Daisy, I thought you were leaving.'
'Yes, well, now I'm back.'
'Didn't the canister work on the dog?'
'No, it worked.'
'Did you find out where you are?'
'Yes... yes, Bournemouth. I'm in Bournemouth.'
'Good, so you can soon find your way to London.'
'No point. The world I left no longer exists.'
'Feelings of anxiety and fear are only to be expected after five years of solitude, would you like me to play some mood music?'
'No, no you don't understand...'
'Would you like to talk about it?'
'The world is over, there is nothing out there, there's been a global meltdown... there's no one left.'
'How did you find this out Daisy?'
'There's a man with the dog. He told me.'
'But you said there is no one left. Clearly that is wrong, there is you, a man and a dog.'
'Who both want to eat me.'
'That's still something, not nothing.'
'They have been waiting outside for me to come out, not to congratulate me, not to buy my diary, but to hunt me down to eat. That's something all right... that's... that's....!'
'If you can't walk to London, then you will have to drive.'
'What? How? The petrol ran out four years ago and by the look of it, there are no drivable cars left..you don't understand...it's all over, civilisation is ended...'
'The pod. You can drive the pod.'
'I can what?'
'The SpaceLife Science Isolation Capsule Laboratory was designed to not only independently sustain life for five years but also to be the first green, sustainable state-of-the-art caravan for the 21st century. Why do you think you had to compact the toilet every day?'
'I presumed so I didn't drown in a sea of my own waste in here.'
'Biodigesters eat it and convert it into water, methane and pelleted solids. The methane fuels the engines, the pelleted solids are burnt to generate electricity.'
'And the water?'
'Is filtered for reuse.'
'This has an engine?'
'It was one of the ways to maximise profit from the experiment. There would have been a country-wide publicity tour afterwards using the ICL itself, to generate sales. The cockpit is the locked compartment just below the sleeping bunk. The engine is cleverly built into the substructure of the ICL along with the wheels...'
'I've spent the last five years locked in a caravan in Bournemouth?'
''Isolation Capsule Laboratory' corrects the computer program.
'I have spent five bloody years locked in a bloody caravan in Bournemouth while the world burns outside...I've been outside! Twice! I could have been eaten alive and only now you are mentioning this capsule can be driven?'
'You are yelling.'
'So there's an engine and fuel, tell me, are there windows too?'
'No. But there is the navigational 360* viewscreen in the cockpit linked to external monitors.'
Daisy storms to the bulkhead and tries to open what she thought for the last five years was a water storage facility. 'Open the cockpit!'
'I don't think you should drive in your current agitated state, plus you have not worked through the ICL Easy-Drive training module..'
Daisy is about to reply when the whole ICL starts to shake.
'What's that? Is it an earthquake?'
But the computer program does not answer her, emergency override protocol has diverted all its attention to the external monitors.