Saturday, 2 March 2013

Semi-Detached by Liam Hogan

Read by Keon Lee

Theirs was a semi-detached planet. She owned the Southern Hemisphere, and he, the North. Which suited him just fine, as he always did like to be on top.

They moved in at the same time, it being a new build, and relations were initially cordial. Better than cordial – they were warm, and rather than squabble over the single island in the single archipelago that the equator bisected, they decided to share it, and to once a year celebrate their co-ownership of this middle class commuter-belt planet by holding a combined party.

It was at one of these parties, attended by colleagues and friends and family, that relations momentarily peaked at a new high. A smile as he filled her champagne glass, a touch of a hand, a glance across the immaculate lawn under the softly setting sun... it is easy to see why, after they had waved their friends into the waiting teleporters, they lingered for a while as the stars slowly turned high above their heads, before calling in the drones to tidy away all evidence of their annual event – and of what had happened after it.

But whether it was because he neglected to phone her within the customary 12 hours, or for some more blatant transgression real or imagined, things quickly soured between them. And this was not a genie that could be put back in the bottle. There is no harsher insult than a cold shoulder from one you have been intimate with. Things.... escalated. 

When she took out his communications satellite with a tightly focused beam of microwaves, he was initially incredulous, then shocked, then furious, and it was in that latter state that he appeared in full 3D holo-splendour before her, her heart momentarily leaping at the sight, before she noticed his rigid posture and dark scowl.

“WHAT... “ he thundered “ .. is the meaning of this... this petty act of vandalism!”

She shrugged, masking the hurt she still felt. “It was over my airspace.”

He looked at her aghast. “Of course it was over your airspace! It’s a satellite. They circle the entire globe.”

“Mine doesn’t.” She replied, giving him a withering look.

He jerked back in surprise, and she watched his face light up as a monitor blinked its readout at him, showing the eccentric, high cost orbit her satellite was currently maintaining.

“And for that matter,” she continued “since you no longer have a working satellite, how is it exactly that we are having this conversation?”

He blushed briefly. “I, er, ...“

“Thought so.” she said, and snapped the hijacked channel closed.

When he returned to her screens once more, it was in a display that jumped and flickered, ghosts of his fractured image twitching in the wings.

“How...” she queried, after checking he hadn’t used her satellite once again.

He smiled bitterly. “I’m bouncing the signal of the ionised atmosphere.”

She shook her head. “The atmosphere isn’t sufficiently ...” and then she tailed off, as her sensors refreshed their data. “You exploded a nuke, just so you could ask me why I shot down your satellite!?”

“No.” he replied, the pained expression distorted into a death’s head mask. “I exploded a nuke to tell you where the next one is going to land.”

She shuddered. Surely he wouldn’t... it would be murder...

“Oops. Too late.” he said, as her earthquake sensors registered the total destruction of the equatorial paradise they had so recently, so intimately, shared.

“Damn you!” she screamed. “That was my island too!”

It was his turn to shrug. “I dropped it on my half. And anyway, I don’t THINK we’ll be using it again, do you?”

“I don’t care about that!” she spluttered, the barb of the lie tugging at her soul. “Think of the effect on the resale value!”

“Oh.” He paused, a look of disappointment flitting across his stony features. “Well when you put your half of the planet on the market, I’ll pay for the cleanup operation. Deal?”

“I’m not moving!”

“Then there’s no need to clean up, is there?”

“Two nukes in the atmosphere and he says there’s no need to clean up! What about the air that we breath, you idiot?”

“They were only small.” He said, her insult stinging him into one more deceit, an impromptu and unrehearsed falsehood with devastating results. “Though I suppose I really ought to mention that the jet-stream is carrying the fallout from the first one directly towards you.” And then the signal was gone, whether terminated, or merely lost as the ionisation slowly dissipated, she couldn’t be certain.

She sat there, the skin on her scalp prickling, her throat scratchy and dry. She was sure it was only her imagination, but... it was better to be safe than sorry.

How was she to know that the transporter beam would, just like the holo message, be distorted by the after effects of the stratospheric explosion? The safety override locking down the signal while a local teleport engineer was alerted to the easily rectified fault?

How was he to know, as he in turn beamed himself to work, that his beam would also be trapped and hopelessly entangled with hers, destined to eternally describe a lazy figure of eight above their shared planet?

That, of course, was many years ago, and I wish to reassure you that it was merely a freak accident caused by an early and obsolete teleport protocol. Such events could not happen nowadays, and teleportation is still the safest – the only – way to travel.

As mortgage providers with the right to repossession, we have had to wait the required 75 years before we were permitted to apply a random disruption to the carrier beam. That action was performed this morning.

I am legally obliged to inform you, that the dispersal operative swears, as the final signal of the previous occupants was scattered into the waiting skies, that he saw part of it linger for a moment, as if aware of what was happening, of what was about to happen, and thought that he heard the beat of two hearts and a murmured entreaty and response – “Farewell my love” - “Farewell!” - echoing through the static.

Pure nonsense, of course. Just the romantic notions of an engineer who watches far too much holovision.

And so we turn our attention once again to the matter of the day. You have by now all had a chance to stand upon the fine sands, to swim the warm seas, and to tour all that this delightful planet with its all original features out here in the increasingly fashionable Eastern quadrant has to offer.

Well then. Shall we begin? Who’ll start me off at 2 million credits?

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