No time like the present...
No time like the present...
Daisy slams a fist onto the panel of the bulkhead, aware it won't open it but at least it vents some frustration and fear as the capsule rocks slowly from side to side. 'What's making us shake?'
After some seconds the reply from the computer program. 'It is some people with what look like metal poles, trying to push over the ICL... Daisy, I'm going to let you into the cockpit and then talk you through an emergency evacuation procedure...'
'I am not going back out there, it's that cannibal and his cronies... I knew there'd be more, there always is...is the dog there?'
'No, I mean yes, the dog is there but I am not asking you to leave the safety of the ICL, just to drive the capsule away from the present situation.'
In front of Daisy the bulkhead panel slides open and reveals a small cockpit, complete with a joystick, leather upholstered chair and a heads up display on a split screen monitor showing four different views of the exterior of the capsule.
Daisy slides into the seat and straps herself in. In front of her is the joystick and the screen. Two of the camera angles show a group of four or five people, as thin as skeletons, trying to lever the capsule over with long scaffolding poles. Nearby stands the old man and his dog, shouting instructions. A closer look at this gang of walking skin and bone in their filthy clothes reveals they are tethered together with lengths of chain similar to the dog's lead. These are what...his pets...his slaves...his next meal? An image of the arm bone springs up in her mind and the thought stays in Daisy's head as the computer program talks through the start, drive and speed procedures.
The capsule rocks particularly violently and Daisy hits the start button and the engines quietly start running. 'Where to?' she asks.
'I would suggest anywhere but here!'
As the capsule speeds away across the warehouse towards the large bay doors, Daisy watches on the monitor as the metal poles are suddenly catapulted out from under the moving ICL and the gang is torn from their feet, falling like ninepins into a heap of chains, twisted metal and screaming. Running after her is the old man and his dog. In front of her, on the forward camera looms the closed bay doors. She closes her eyes and pushes the joystick to its full extent as the capsule picks up speed and hurtles at the metal. The doors are ripped open and one flies back over the capsule roof as Daisy opens her eyes in time to see it hit the man square on, pinning him under it as the dog dodges it and races after the capsule. Daisy steers the ICL through the jumbled masonry in the car park and out onto the avenue, weaving in and out of the abandoned vehicles littering the way as the capsule careers its way up to the dual carriageway, the dog barking as it races to keep up.
'I don't think they are following.'
The computer program waits for a response from Daisy but gets none.
'I don't think we need to keep driving so fast. We are not being followed. The dog stopped when we reached the dual carriageway.'
Still there is no reply as Daisy keeps the capsule driving at full speed, swerving every now and then to avoid empty cars, trucks and tanks .
'DAISY, STOP NOW!'
But Daisy drives on, oblivious to everything but the road on the monitor in front of her.
After several miles through the bleak landscape of the New Forest the dual carriageway merges into a motorway and then the motorway begins to empty of abandoned vehicles until it is just the ICL on the empty three lanes heading northeast to London. Night is falling and it occurs to Daisy that none of the motorway lights are working.
She loosens her grip on the joystick and asks, 'Do we have headlights?'
'Yes, we do. Try the yellow button on the console in front.'
Daisy presses the button and the exterior lights flood out, pushing back the night. She eases up on the speed and the capsule slows to a crawl and then to a full stop as she slumps back into the seat, the adrenalin pumping around her system from earlier fading away. 'So what now?' she asks, almost to herself.
'I thought you wanted to go to London, to the SpaceLife Science headquarters to contact the team.'
'London? Yes, yes if anywhere survives it will be London. There will be contingency plans and protocols, you know for the Government and stuff. They are probably all down in the underground, like during the wars.' Daisy sits up at he thought. 'London it is.'
She turns on the engine again.
'You don't want to wait till tomorrow morning? Till daylight?'
'I've spent the last five years waiting around. No time like the present.'
The engine purrs into life again and Daisy settles at a comfortable speed of thirty-five mph as the motorway slips past in the night. Far behind them, in the warehouse, the dog sits by the metal door pinning his master down. But his master isn't breathing and after a while the dog gets up, ignoring the chained gang still in a writhing heap on the floor and sets off back up the avenue in the direction of the motorway following the scent of the ICL.
Daisy is dreaming. On the road in front of her, beyond the arc of the headlights is a bright light, like a flame, then two flames, like a shining pair of wings. An angel! There is an angel here to meet her on the road.
'Daisy! Watch out! You're going to hit it!' The voice program overrides the controls and slams on the brakes as the capsule shudders to halt but not before the sound of an ominous thud.
'What!' Daisy starts awake. Had she been asleep at the joystick? 'What was that?'
'Something on the road, you hit it.'
'I saw an angel!'
'No you didn't.'
'Well, something that looked like an angel.'
'I am comparing images from the cameras with my database, it looked like a pair of solar panels attached to something moving. They reflected the headlights back at you.'
'It could have been an angel.'
'Or not. Go and see what it is.'
'What? Go out there again?'
'Yes, you'll have to clear whatever it is out from under the wheel anyway.'
Daisy glances at the monitors, it is still dark beyond the arc of the lights.
'Can't we just wait till morning?'
But before the voice program can reply, the sound of an irate voice can be heard through the display screen cameras.
'Oy! Look what you've done to my solar trike I was only trying to hitch a ride, ROAD HOG!'
'Did you just hear that?'
'Yes, Daisy, I did. That is definitely not an angel.'
'OY! You in there, what the hell d'you think you're doing? Look at my trike! How am I gonna get anywhere now? HEY, In the tin can, can you hear me?'
On the monitor, a lone figure appears in front of the ICL on the monitor, illuminated by the headlights. Daisy stares at the good-looking bloke yelling at them. 'Body of an angel, though.' she thinks out loud.
'I heard that.'
'HEY! What are you going to do about my TRIKE?' The bloke kicks the ICL and then hops about holding his toe. Daisy smiles. 'Look, he's hopping mad. Can we talk to him? Through the monitors?'
'Um... yes.. I can reroute the internal speakers... just a moment. Try that.'
For a moment the bloke stands still as Daisy's hello echoes out across the motorway in the dark.
'Sorry, too loud. Try again.' whispers the computer program.
'Hello? Can you hear me?'
'Er... yes. I can. You ran over my trike.' The bloke shades his eyes from the glare of the headlights but can see no door or window opening on the capsule. 'I was just trying to hitch a lift.'
'So you said. How do I know you're not another cannibal... with a gang, how do I know this isn't a trap?'
'Do I look like I'm a cannibal? Look I'm unarmed.... I'm just trying to get home.' The bloke stretches out his arms and turns around so that whoever is in the capsule can see he is not hiding any weapons in the close-fitting cycling outfit he is wearing. 'At least move your.. your whatever this vehicle is back off my trike.'
Daisy sighs and slowly reverses the capsule back a few feet. In the headlights she can see the crushed remains of his trike.'
'Look what you've done to it!' The bloke kneels beside the trike and tries to stand it upright.
'Sorry! It's just that it's been a bit of a day today and...'
'And now it's going to get worse!' The bloke springs back up to his feet with a large semi-automatic weapon he has pulled out from the wrecked trike and points it directly at the ICL.
'You have exactly ten seconds to exit the... the vehicle thing or I start blasting holes into you...ONE...TWO....'