Mark

A dystopian future with a bit of steampunk and some genuine science.

Photons emit light for just a twinkle in time, it was all it took for him to vanish, not that he meant to.

One

‘Mark, love,’ Mandy’s shoulders slumped. ‘I’ve told you all I know. Your father went to play,’ she made quote marks with her fingers. ‘In his secret lair, and that was the last anyone saw of him.’ She dusted the flour from her hands onto her apron as she walked over to her son. ‘Now listen to me, my little cappuccino. When me and your father made you on this very table, we promised to always be truthful to each other no matter how painful it might be.’ Placing her hands on his shoulders, she laughed. ‘You hear that song?’

Don’t stop me now by Queen was playing on the wifi speaker. ‘Yup,’ Mark wiped the flour from his favourite Muppet t-shirt.

‘You were made to this song,’ Mandy ruffled his dark hair. ‘I think you’re thinning,’ she made a play of weaving his hair over a non-existent patch.

‘Are you going to ruin every song I like or just those by Queen?’ Mark said rising from his seat to hug his mum. The feeling of his mother’s head against his chest was a welcome comfort. Her small frame held more strength than he could ever fathom. ‘You any idea what he was doing down there?’

‘I don’t think your father had any idea what he was doing down there,’ his mum chuckled. ‘Much like our wedding night. But he was a fast learner.’

‘Thanks for that. I’m glad we had this conversation. I know less now than when we started,’ Mark kissed the top of his mum’s head. ‘You smell of lavender. Isn’t that an old lady smell, to cover urine?’

‘I love you, son, you make me feel so… special.’ Mandy released her son and returned to making dinner. 

Mark picked up his chipped mug of coffee and headed out of the kitchen and down to the lair. Pictures of his mother and father hung on walls down the stairs. There was one of his father receiving an award from the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) for his flat matter theory. ‘Mad but Plausible’ was the title of beneath the picture, with dad almost dropping his award claiming that gravity made him do it.

He reached the bottom of the stairs where he paused to read the notices on the door. 

Safety Guidelines.

1. Enter and be amazed at the wonders of science.
2. Don’t touch! Mark, this means you.
3. Lab coats must be worn at all times; anything else is optional
4. Keep your nerd kit, including triple-thick condoms in your top pocket at all times.
5. Always have a thermos flask and a towel to hand.
6. You must sign the NDA (No Dicks Allowed) agreement before you enter.
7. If the resident scientist is not visible, it does not mean you can interfere with the equipment. Again, Mark, this means you.

Signed. Eric Collinge. 

Mark smiled, ‘Such a knob.’ He knocked four times on the door and twisted the brass handle. 

The laboratory was utterly unremarkable. There was an assembly of retort stands, distillation bottles and test tubes, all coated with a generous layer of dust. A bank of screens displayed images of atoms at various stages of development: quarks were shown as Lego bricks going through the treacle of the Higgs Boson gaining mass. Others were electrons and neutrons bonded by gluons all wrapped in the arms of an old Stretch Armstrong toy. Some screens were running short loops of old music videos; the same segment was playing over and over ad-infinitum. One table was covered in books all haphazardly piled around a small silver laptop computer.  On the next table sat a small grey box with two breast-shaped dials, one with a blinking red light for a nipple. 

Mark stared at the grey box. The two breasts were well used, covered in fingerprints. Around the base of each breast was a long equation wrapped in brackets. None of it was familiar. On the floor in front of the box were the clothes his father was wearing when disappeared, three days ago, they could so easily have been his own. He wanted to pick them up, but his mum was sure they were there for a reason.

He wandered over to the laptop and touched the fingerprint scanner. The screen blinked into life. Mark read the screen, the same pair of equations as the breasts on the box. A thin red line was drawn vertically through one and a yellow line through the other. ‘Just what shit were you up to?’ He unplugged the laptop from its docking station and took it over to the other table. Placing it down next to the box he began to read through the math. The corner of his mouth lifted into a smile. ‘Oh. I get it. I actually get it!’ Pinching the flashing nipple in his fingers, he gave it a tiny tweak to the right.

There was a flash of light, almost imperceptible; almost.

Three

The TV in the corner played the news in its full holographic glory. Protesters marched across the end of the living room waving their placards just as they had done for the last ten years. What was apparent to everyone else was unclear to them: they would not get the transport gods to increase the fuel allowance and allow more petrol cars on the road. The news reporter droned on about the unlikelihood of a resolution to the issue as other alternative fuels were already in the public domain. Who wanted petrol when you fly your  Gravdrive in perfect silence?

‘How do you feel, sweetheart?’ Mandy wriggled her petite frame between her son and husband.

‘Good, In fact, I’d go as far as to say, better,’ Eric kissed Mandy on her temple. ‘I feel as though I’ve been put back together without all the bugs.’

‘How do you mean?’ Mandy asked reaching for the TV remote.

‘He’s no longer got lice, worms or crabs, lol,’ Mark quipped.

‘O, be nice to your father Mark, he’s been where no man has gone before,’ Mandy stroked Eric’s thinning hair. ‘Could’ve fixed up the rug though.’

‘Feeling the love right now,’ Eric made a play of folding his arms across his chest. Mandy reached out and flicked his protruding bottom lip.

‘If you stick that out any further I’ll put a bloody window box on it.’

‘If I stick something else out will you put ‘your’ box on that too,’ Eric squealed as Mandy squeezed his groin a little too hard.

‘Get a room, PLEASE!’ Mark grimaced.

The news came to an end with an announcement of the new Mag Rail service starting in London the next morning. It was to run from London Euston to Manchester, a non-stop express service which would take only twenty minutes to complete the journey. The first Mag Rail was due to depart Euston at 10:00, tickets for the inaugural run had supposedly been allocated on a lottery basis, the lucky few were all celebrities, big-wigs and political sycophants.

‘Did you apply for tickets mum?’ Mark pointed at the image of the capsule train.

‘I was told that all available lottery allocations had been taken. I was a minute too late.’

‘When was that?’ Mark switched over to the only other channel. 

‘Two minutes before it opened. So unfortunate,’ Mandy leaned against Mark’s shoulder. ‘But at least I have my man. Until they clone him and recycle his parts into jam,’ she chuckled to herself.

‘Will it be seedless?’ Mark suppressed his laughter. ‘The jam.’

‘Oh, I see, because we’ve had our allocation of sprouts and farted you out,’ it was Eric’s turn to laugh now. ‘You think I’m firing blanks.’

‘And you’d be right,’ Mandy quipped. ‘Your father is a Jaffa, and I’ve had my tubes tied, God the bless the Government and all who sail in her,’ she saluted.

‘Nice, more information than I’ll ever need. Anytime you want to gross me out with the comings and goings of my parental anatomy, keep it to yourselves.’ Mark drained the last of the drink from his mug; the coffee table rocked a little as he set the cup down on it.

‘You started it,’ his father said tossing a chocolate peanut into the air. The peanut bounced off his teeth with a soft chink. ‘I’ll get that one day.’ Eric picked up the nut from the floor. ‘Damn you nut. Today you have the power over me, but tomorrow I shall poop you from the earth.’ He tossed the nut into his mouth chewing slowly. ‘Mwahaha,’ he laughed on the half-chewed nut coughing it across the room. ‘Damn you nut! Alas, my hunger shall go unabated.’

‘Well, it would appear that you have been fully reassembled with all of your child-like faculties in check,’ Mandy wiped a pretend tear from her eye. ‘There’s just no justice.’

‘So, what exactly were you trying to do when you atomised yourself?’ Mark reached under his backside retrieving the TV remote. ‘Want this?’ He offered the warm device to his mother.

‘I’ll pass, thanks.’ She replied screwing up her face as though she had been offered something far more offensive.

‘To answer your question, I was trying to zap the flask of water on the table,’ Eric mused. ‘But something was wrong with the depth of the magnetic field, or something or other.’

‘I think you had your wires crossed. What I saw in the equation was the containment field had not been structured correctly. So, as soon as you set the dials, it zapped you as you were the only thing in contact with the controls.’ Mark said inspecting the finger he had just pulled from his nose.

‘Makes sense,’ Eric said. ‘I need to build in a safeguard to protect myself from the device. Perhaps a field dampener?’

‘Would that not throw the equation out of balance? You could end up shattering atoms instead of flattening them.’

‘I’m getting a drink, all this science is numbing my brain,’ Mandy got up from the seat with a helping hand from Eric. ‘Mind where that goes!’ She shot him a withering look. Eric licked his lips, mouthing the words, ‘any time.’ And blew her a kiss.