Time To Repair

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Chapter 1

11 days earlier.

Northampton England, Wednesday August 6th 2262

08:14:22 hours

Simon R. Kingsley stood alone in the middle of his new office. It was bigger than the one he had left behind in Bristol, and far more up-to-date. His eyes swept slowly around the rectangular room.

The holographic drawings he had been sent the previous week stated the room was five metres long and nearly three metres wide; it seemed far larger now that he was actually in it. Perhaps he should have gone for more furniture, he pondered.

The sky blue walls had been the perfect choice and were complimented by the view from the floor to ceiling solar windows that filled the entire end wall.

His new data-desk had been placed where he had requested, to the left of the windows against the side wall. There was a large cream leatherette chair behind it.

Opposite the data-desk was a matching three-seater soft leatherette sofa with a small glass-topped coffee table in front of it. He walked over to the sofa and sat down in the centre of it. Very comfortable, he thought, as he tested it for strength by bobbing up and down on his back side. He pushed himself right into its soft high back and a grin stretched across his face. He had been waiting a long time for this promotion. How he had got the job was irrelevant – he did deserve it.

To the right of the sofa was his beloved weeping fig in its crazed sapphire blue pot. Its luscious green leaves spread out like a canopy above the long braided stem. Now, well over two metres tall, it was a good twenty to thirty centimetres taller than he was. This one plant had followed him throughout his career; she had been everywhere he had. The office ceiling was sufficiently high that she now looked better than ever in her new position. She would thrive with all the light from the solar windows.

Simon got up and walked over to the drinks dispenser set into the wall by the door. It was an ugly looking thing and seemed really out of place in the office; its gaudy red colour was most offensive. What office would be without a drinks dispenser though?

To the right of it was a full length mirror also set into the wall. He turned to face it and eyed himself up and down. He had opted for his navy blue suit trousers and a white short-sleeved shirt which was complemented with a snazzy red tartan tie. His best black shoes gleamed in the light and had been polished to within an inch of their lives. He had considered wearing the suit’s jacket; but quickly dismissed the idea. Who would expect him to wear a jacket in the height of summer?

His short jet black hair, along with his clean shaven handsome face and piercing blue eyes had always made him attractive to both sexes.

He had always felt that the small tick-shaped scar, which sat neatly above the very end of his left eyebrow, somehow lent him a certain manliness too. He remembered the incident that led to the scar and cringed. His mum often enquired as to why he hadn’t had it removed. It didn’t feel right somehow, telling her that too many dates in the past had run their finger over it in approval. He had always played on his good looks and this had often gotten him into trouble. He had moved to Northampton though for a new start…a new start, a new job and a new home all in a new city. He turned back to the drinks dispenser.

“Water, chilled,” he announced.

The machine hummed into life. Within a few seconds the little door in the front slid up revealing a clear plastic cup in the recess. Simon wandered over to his plant with the cup and poured the water around the stem slowly and very carefully; as though a sudden splurge of water could damage her irreparably.

“There you are Mavis, that’s better isn’t it?” He asked when he had drained the cup.

She didn’t reply or even move a leaf. Simon didn’t seem bothered. He wandered over to the coffee table and placed the cup on it, the sole item at present.

I must get something small to go on that, he thought. He noticed the small chromed waste bin on the floor below the drinks dispenser. He picked up the cup and threw it under arm toward the bin. It didn’t even make half the distance required to reach its destination. He walked over and picked it up off the dark blue rubberised flooring, noticing the cool air emanating from it as he did, and dropped it in the bin. Whilst at the drinks dispenser he asked for a coffee which he now sipped as he headed towards the data-desk. He slipped in behind it and dropped into the leather chair.

“Activate data-desk,” he said.

What had appeared to be just a solid walnut top transformed itself in front of his eyes. The middle section, approximately one hundred and twenty centimetres square, slowly changed its structure from what had appeared to be solid timber, to the thick rubbery, yet strong, matter commonly known as Plasmorph. This incredible substance could be programmed to match near enough any other matter and could then easily and swiftly switch back. Either side of the display area, thirty centimetres of genuine walnut top had remained, leaving space to keep personal items. He must get some of those too he thought as he put his cup of coffee down on the empty right side. The Plasmorph lit up displaying numerous blue three dimensional boxes.

“Welcome to your new office Simon. How can I help you today?” A female voice enquired.

“For a start,” he answered, “disable all nonessential voice interaction.”

“Nonessential voice interaction disabled,” came the swift reply.

Good, he thought. He studied a number of different titles on the boxes until he found the one he was looking for.

“Ah ha,” he said. “Music.”

The rest of the boxes shrank in size and cascaded to the bottom as the music box filled most of the display area.

“Copy and upload all music files from my dat-com strap.” He glanced down to his left wrist as the dat-com strap pulsed to let him know it had been activated. It was one of the retro kind, with a leatherette strap to fasten it; just like the old fashioned wristwatch used to have. Within a few seconds his entire music collection had been copied to the music box. Approximately two hundred and eighty thousand tracks in total; give or take an album or two.

“Play a random selection of music, volume at forty percent,” he ordered.

Almost at once ‘All I Ask of You’ by Andrea Zuvich filled the room.

“Wow!” Exclaimed Simon. What a track to open with, he thought as a tingle ran up and down his spine.

She had always been one of his favourites from that era. He had often thought he would give anything to go back two hundred years or so and watch her perform live. He had seen a lot of her shows on the ancient high-definition digital format, but live would be something else.

The one he had watched the most was when she’d been one of the chosen few that had performed at the First Lady’s birthday celebrations. Sadly the day had been somewhat spoilt when terrorists had tried to assassinate the President during his after dinner speech. Thankfully he had only been glanced by the bullet. His death would have no doubt spoilt her birthdays for ever more.

While Andrea performed he looked at the titles on some of the other boxes. Environmental, security, student records, lessons, staff records, personal file, calendar, weekly lesson schedule...

This was going to take some time, he thought; something that he didn’t have a great deal of, he noticed, as he checked the time in the corner of the display area.

He picked up his coffee and took a large gulp before setting it down again.

“Environmental.”

The music box moved over to the left as the environmental box slid up the display area and filled the remaining space. Room temperature, outside temperature and lighting appeared on the box. Outside was showing eighteen degrees presently, it also showed the average for this time of the day at this point in the year was twenty-two degrees. The room was set to default at twenty degrees. The lighting was also set to default. Simon looked about the room considering the lighting and temperature.

“Decrease temperature by fifteen degrees,” he said boldly.

The temperature in the room plummeted to just five degrees in a matter of seconds.

“Jeez!” He said aloud as the cold hit him like a cricket bat in the face.

“Increase temperature and save the setting at seventeen degrees!” he blurted out rapidly.

The room warmed up and the temperature increased as quickly as it had decreased. That wasn’t something he would do again in a hurry. He drained the last of his coffee in an attempt to warm himself up.

“Set the office lighting to emulate midday summer levels and save the setting.” The room brightened up, but hardly enough to notice. Andrea’s track faded out, a few seconds later ‘Wine and Dine Me’ by Twisted and Pink blared out.

“Oh no!” Simon wailed. ‘Random setting’ had a lot to learn about subtly blending one track seamlessly into another. As much as he liked Twisted and Pink’s recent hit, it should never follow one of Andrea’s classics.

He opened up the weekly lesson box and viewed his first day’s work. Not too hectic, he thought, just two classes. He had a group of six year olds, SRK 6-1, due to arrive at 09.02.38 hours for a one hundred and forty five minute lesson, and then nothing until 13.32.02 hours when a group of nine year olds, SRK 9-13, would arrive for their one hundred and seventy minute lesson. He uploaded the details of both sets of students from the student record box to his dat-com strap, along with the relevant lessons from the lessons box. He studied the six year olds’ details. All were living in England, looking at the addresses, but were a mixture of different races: Three Japanese girls, a Japanese boy, one English girl, one English boy, an Indian boy, two Mexamericans; a boy and a girl, and a Polish boy.

Mary Hopkins’s ‘Those Were the Days’ faded up as he moved out from behind the desk and walked over to the solar windows. He stood close enough to be able to sense the subtle hum from the glass as it drew energy from the sun to power his office, the surplus going to provide energy to sections in the building with little or no solar glass.

He had an amazing view of Northampton. There was a sea of tall glass buildings around him as far as he could see, large expanses of green were dotted about here and there which were the city’s parks and wooded areas. He felt very fortunate to have an office so high up in the building.

In the distance he could see The Northampton Lift Tower, the oldest structure in the city at two hundred and sixty two years old. A lot of Northampton had been destroyed in the Third World War; there were few pre-war buildings left. The Tower wasn’t open for public viewing; it never had been.

The city was very fond of its tower; not a single building came close to its one hundred and twenty seven and a half metre height. Bizarrely most of its life it hadn’t been used for the purpose it was built.

Now it was a much loved old relic that people from all over the world would come and stand by - fascinated by its history, accepting of its unique ugliness.

Simon stood staring out over the city while another two tracks played. As Paul Michael’s recent hit finished he walked back towards the data-desk.

“Stop music,” he commanded before a sixth track could start. The office remained silent.

“Deactivate data-desk,” he added, as he walked towards the door. The faux wooden top of the data-desk materialised as the office door started to slide into the wall on his approach. As it opened he could hear the hubbub of his new colleagues in the central communal area. He stepped out into the vast space. His office door slid into view again as he turned back to double secure it via the small flush thumb pad on the wall next to the door.

He stood for a few moments and took in his surroundings. The area looked so alive now that there were people about; the place had been deserted when he had arrived thirty-two minutes ago. His office was one of at least fifty or sixty on this wing of the floor. All offices were situated around the perimeter of the communal area, his being one of those on the west side, fairly close to the grand south entrance which led out to the central hallway and then the offices in the other wing.

Opposite the entrance on the far north wall were the toilets; he hadn’t had the pleasure of visiting those yet. In the huge area in the middle, there were a large number of staff congregating in small groups. Some were stood chatting; others were seated in the various leatherette chairs and plush sofas. There must have been fifteen sofas alone, all set out differently. Some with hover tables between, others back-to-back, some side-by-side. The chairs were also dotted about in a random fashion. There were five free-standing drinks dispensers, and four food dispensers that he could see; all the same horrible red as the one in his office.

He strode confidently over to a group of three staff that were stood by the side of a drinks dispenser. They all seemed to be getting on well.

“Good morning!” He said happily as he joined the group.

The two men and the woman turned to face him. “I’m Simon, Simon Kingsley,” he added.

“Hi there,” said the taller of the two men. “I’m Fletcher Henderson, most people call me Fletch.”

“Great to meet you Fletch!” said Simon as they kissed cheeks. Fletch was wearing a full dark brown suit, cream shirt and blue tartan tie. He smelt of a mixture of coffee and a strong cologne that Simon couldn’t quite place. Perhaps he should have worn his jacket, he worried. He turned to face his next colleague.

“Good morning Simon, I’m June Jones… and I just love that tie of yours!”

“Why, thank you June,” Simon replied, a little taken aback by the unexpected compliment. “You’re looking more than a bit delightful yourself.” He took her long slender hand and kissed it gently.

June was wearing a knee-length black skirt that was tight-fitting enough to show off her amazing figure; without giving away too much detail. She wore a crisp white blouse, buttoned up most of the way, with a black structured fitted jacket that complemented the skirt. She didn’t seem fazed or surprised by his reply.

“So I’ve been told by a number of people already,” she quipped. “Just a little number I threw on at the last minute this morning,” she joked. They all laughed politely.

“And you are?” Simon asked the smaller man, who thankfully wasn’t wearing a jacket with his black trousers and lime green shirt.

“I’m Harry Bean,” he announced, checking his dat-com strap, “And I’ve spent the last nine and a half minutes trying to get a word in edgeways!”

They all laughed again.

“Ooh, the lies coming from that mouth of yours Harry Bean,” exclaimed June. “We’ve only been chatting five minutes at most!” She feigned a shocked expression of disbelief.

“Well, perhaps it just feels longer when you’re constantly trying to say something,” he replied in an instant.

“I shall bang your heads together,” chimed in Fletch; stepping forward as if to carry out the threat.

“Well, you all seemed to be getting on fine just now, when I stepped out my office over there,” Simon said pointing in the general direction of his office. He and Harry kissed cheeks. “In fact, looking around here, everyone I’ve seen seems to be fitting in quite well; considering it’s our first day in this new place.”

“You obviously haven’t met her yet then,” said June emphasising the ‘her’ with noticeable scorn in her voice.

“No not yet, but her reputation does precede her. Have you all had the pleasure already then?” asked Simon.

“No,” all three said in unison.

“Apparently she will be stopping by to see all of us at some point today,” said Fletch nervously, flicking his eyes around as if he expected her to appear out of nowhere.

“I met up with an old colleague of mine, Howard Gittings, by chance in the traversoll when I arrived this morning,” said Harry. “He’s already seen her; he had the pleasure of literally bumping into her in the toilets. He survived pretty much intact.”

“Very intimate,” Simon said. “How will she get round to see all of us today; there must be sixty or more of us under her on this wing?”

“Fifty-six to be precise,” answered June running her perfectly manicured fingers through her long shoulder-length brown hair. “She doesn’t spend much time with you; just long enough to rip you apart and leave you gasping for breath in a quivering heap on the floor.”

“Nice,” said Fletch, the colour draining from his face.

“Something to look forward to,” added Simon.

“Well,you’ve been warned, be prepared for the verbal or physical attack at any moment,” June retorted.

“Where are you from Simon?” asked Fletch, trying to shoehorn in a new subject rapidly.

“Born and bred in Bristol,” Simon replied. “I moved to Northampton and a new apartment about two weeks ago.”

“You moved from your home city to live near work!” exclaimed a surprised Fletch. June and Harry looked equally surprised at the revelation.

“Unless you’re overly keen on walking and were planning to walk to work daily, why would you move?” asked Harry.

“Are you suffering from teleportphobia?” June quipped sarcastically. “I thought no-one suffered from that nowadays.”

“No I’m not!” Simon answered indignantly. “I just wanted a change of scenery, a new life… I have no reason to stay in Bristol. As a single man I have no ties to the place; even my mum moved away last year to Marseille.” He shifted nervously from one foot to another and let out a deep breath. “I have good friends there still that I often see; only last week I met up with two of them for a night out and a meal in Cyprus.”

“Oh, I love Cyprus!”Fletch responded quickly, wishing he hadn’t brought up the subject now. “I’m from Stoke On Trent. I still live there with my wife and three kids; not that you can call them kids now at their ages… how about you June?”

“I’m from Dorset originally, I moved about two years ago to Gréasque, an adorable sleepy little oasis in the South of France, to be with the man of my dreams; at least I thought he was. He turned out to be a complete nightmare! We split up after eight months. I couldn’t bear to leave Gréasque though.”

“That’s not far from Marseille where my mum lives,” Simon said.

“Very close,” June agreed.

“I live in an apartment in Balham with my partner Alastair,” Harry announced. “We’re both from the London area, I’ve never had the urge to move on anywhere else; neither has Alastair thankfully.”

“Have you been together long?” asked June.

“Just under fourteen years.”

Two very smartly dressed women walked past at that point, engrossed in what seemed a very deep conversation, they didn’t look up as they sauntered past towards the grand glass doors and the central hall.

“I have my first group to meet shortly,” said Simon, glancing at his dat-com strap. “I should really head off to the port floor to greet them as they arrive.”

“Such an early start on our first day,” Harry said, shaking his head. “I’m not on for a while yet.”

“Nor me,” said Fletch.”

“I have forty minutes yet,” added June.

“I don’t mind,” Simon admitted. “I only have one more group today; and that’s not until this afternoon. My first are only six years old. I find young kids are always easier to work with.”

“Oh me to,” agreed Fletch.

“Well, it’s been good to get to know you all,” Simon said, as he stepped back. “I will no doubt see you all around.”

“See you later,” replied Harry.

Fletch smiled and nodded as Simon turned and walked away.

“Watch out for the evil one!” June warned, raising her voice to ensure Simon heard her. He turned back round with an exaggerated look of terror on his face. They all giggled.

As Simon reached the opening glass doors that towered above him he thought back to the part of the conversation he’d just had about moving to Northampton. Had he been too defensive? Would his past catch up with him? Had they noticed his discomfort? Probably not. He was just being paranoid… again. None of them would have picked up on it. Only he knew how he really felt. Reassured, he crossed into the central hall and turned left. His shoes made a rhythmic pattering sound on the black marble floor as he headed to the far wall and the traversolls. The sun streamed through the high solar windows that ran the length of both sides of the hall.

Back on the wing June stepped closer to the two men and lowered her voice. “Did you see how he overreacted when you brought up his moving from Bristol to Northampton, Fletch?”

“I did,” Fletch replied. “What was that about?”

“Do you think something happened in Bristol that made him move here?” asked Harry.

“Maybe,” Fletch replied. “It can’t be anything too serious though, or he wouldn’t have got this job here; I know people that would kill for a job like ours.”

They all chuckled.

“Perhaps that’s how he got the job,” joked June.

“Well perhaps you should watch what you say to him then,” said Harry. “Teleportphobia indeed.”

They all laughed again.

Simon approached the bank of six traversolls set into the marbled black wall that matched the floor. The chrome finished doors on three of them showed his reflection as he got within range. The motion sensor detected his presence.

“Traversoll number four will arrive in thirty-four seconds,” announced the same female voice as his data-desk.

Simon walked over to the set of doors with the gold number four etched into the marble floor in front of them. After exactly thirty-four seconds the two chrome doors slid apart, revealing the empty carriage. He stepped in and put his thumb on the pad to the left of the doors as they slid closed.

“Good morning Simon, please state your destination,” the female voice said.

“Port floor,” he answered.

The route for the journey to the port floor will be clear to commence in one hundred and six seconds, the journey time will be twenty-eight seconds,” the voice informed him.

Was there really the need for so much information he thought, as he stood there waiting to set off. He looked round the carriage at the four chromed walls while he waited. His thoughts returned to the three colleagues he had already met. If every one of the people that worked here were as nice as they were, then this was going to be a great place to work and make new friends.

His thoughts were interrupted as the traversoll came to life with a low whirr that increased in pitch to become a steady hum. He felt the carriage suddenly shoot up. It stopped after a few seconds and then darted to the left for a few more seconds before lurching forward. It came to a stop after the full twenty-eight seconds had elapsed. The doors slid aside and he stepped out as the voice reminded him that he was on the Port floor.

The entire floor was filled with teleporters, row after row after row of them from wall to wall. He was still taken aback at how many there were; and this was his second visit here now this morning.

The port floor, being at the very top of the building, had a high glass roof that not only flooded the room with sunlight but also provided the solar power for all the teleporters. This one floor surely must take more power than any other floor in the building; undoubtedly this was why it was at the very top under a solar glass roof, like most other buildings of this size.

He recalled from his study of the group notes that the six year olds were due to arrive in teleporters in row H, numbers thirty-six through to forty-five. He confirmed the details were correct on his dat-com strap as he ambled over to the row.

There were numerous people milling about everywhere; too many to stop and greet for pleasantries so he didn’t bother. He just gave the odd smile or nod as he went. The floor was a hive of activity, staff and visitors alike arriving and departing continuously. He arrived at row H and wandered down the wide aisle until he got to teleporters thirty six to forty five. He checked the time on one of the teleporters, 8.59.46 hours. He still had a couple of minutes yet. He stepped back to the middle of the aisle to get out of the way of a member of staff who had just arrived and had alighted from teleport forty two.

The stylishly dressed woman didn’t even acknowledge him as she scurried off. Snooty cow, he thought as he checked out her long tanned bare legs.

With the building being brand new he noticed that the teleporters were the latest in design. They were around two and a half metres high and, as with all teleporters that were built for every day human usage over the years, were ‘pillar-box’ red.

This tradition went back hundreds of years. Back then items on the street in this country were this same red. The phone-box, for example, that you would have to go into if you wanted to talk to someone via a telephone hand set, or the post-box that you would put actual hand written correspondence into if you wanted it delivered personally by an operative some days later.

The shape of the teleporter hadn’t changed much over the years. It was still basically the same shape it had always been, like a large thick metal jam-jar with a domed apex that had a bobble on its peak like a woollen winter hat. This latest model seemed fractionally shorter in height. To the right of the door, which was a small step up from the floor, was the panel that displayed the exact time when they were not in use, and the port information for incoming and outgoing ports when being used. He checked the time again, thirty-seven seconds until his first group arrived.

The teleporter’s insides had changed a little over the years as technology had improved the service, but were still basically a one person size cylindrical box. All you had to know really to successfully operate one was the location number of the transporter you were in, and the number of the destination one. Thankfully these could always be obtained from your dat-com strap should you forget.

Age restrictions and rules had been brought in on porting very early on; following a few mishaps with children ending up on the other side of the planet not knowing how to get home. Teleporters nowadays wouldn’t accept the sole thumb signature of any child under ten years of age. A designated adult or parent had to authorise the port with their own thumb signature alongside the child’s, reserve the port time slot on the database, as well as carry out all the destination voice commands.

The only people that could override any reserved port time slot and destination were the emergency services. He could only ever recall this happening to him twice. Simon’s rambling thoughts were interrupted. The panels on the teleporters the children were due to arrive in stopped showing the time and switched to display the coordinates of the teleporters they were coming from and a countdown from eleven seconds.

Simon stepped forward again so as to be ready to greet them. Three seconds after the displays had reached zero all the doors opened simultaneously, popping forward with a hydraulic hiss before sliding round to the left.

The ten children jumped, sprang or stepped down out of the teleporters, all looking quite excited. Within a few seconds they were chattering enthusiastically with each other.

“Children!” Simon said loudly to be heard over the garbled noise of the many languages. “Children!” he repeated louder still. The excited noise of their chatter died out as they turned round to face him, noticing him for the first time. They gathered together as a group in front of him as the open doors on the teleporters slowly closed.

“Hello children, my name is Mr Kingsley and I will be taking you for your Wednesday morning lessons here over the next year.” He straightened up and looked over the group. “Welcome to The Northampton Museum of Humanity.”

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