Beyond the Starport Adventure Chapter Three

Chapter Three

2185AD – Inverness, Scotland

The TR7 always rattled, whether it was hammering along at one hundred miles per hour on a tarmac road, or streaking through the air at seven hundred miles per hour; the ancient sports coupe shuddered and shimmied – always. Even hurtling through space at eight tenths the speed of light, there were mysterious vibrations behind the glovebox. In two hundred and nine years, Celeste had grown accustomed to the mystery. The rattles and shimmies of the car’s original components were just as comforting as the drubbing of the rubber tires on the road. Driving the TR7 brought back memories of happier times.

The road to Inverness hadn’t changed. The same snow topped mountains lay ahead, lost in cotton candy clouds. Random sheep were dotted in the fields, and on the right a familiar wall of trees with buzzard, high above, gliding in leisurely pirouettes. The scene belonged to another time – apart from the distinctly hideous skyscrapers appearing through the morning fog, tarnishing an otherwise perfect scene.

The TR7 passed a classic Ferrari People Carrier; a monstrous bulb of a machine even uglier in its old age than it had been when it had first trundled off the production line in 2160. Children waved from the bulbous glass dome, faces smiling excitedly. Celeste flicked a wrist and forced a smile. She pushed her right foot to the floor. The TR7’s engine roared in response and the car vibrated its way to eighty miles per hour. The children cheered as she drove past. She stared at them blankly. The Ferrari disappeared in the rear-view mirror. Celeste slowed down a little, taking the TR7 below the road speed limit for the first time in over two hundred miles.

There was a lot more traffic on the outskirts of the city; cars, buses, and a few very odd-looking spacecraft creeping awkwardly along the ground towards the north where the Scottish “no-fly zone” officially ended and vehicles rose into the sky, distant black dots lined up like an organized parade of flying ants. Celeste turned the TR7 off the dual carriageway, headed down a quieter slip road towards the hospital.

Inverness Independence was a small hospital situated on the south east edge of the city. There wasn’t much of the place; four wards, a café serving day old sandwiches and plastic bottles of soda pop, and an automated whole-body scanning arena operated by a fifth generation RoboDoc.

Robotic nurses were pleasant enough; vaguely feminine in shape and programmed to administer care most patients reported to be adequate. The machines lacked the warmth and empathy their human counterparts could provide, but they’d been programmed to provide a simulation of compassion. A RoboNurse would ask a patient how he was feeling, offer a cup of tea if its sensors indicated dehydration. Some newer models even read stories to children and listened to the long meandering tales of the elderly. But RoboDocs were very different. Their programming focused purely on clinical diagnosis and patient health management. RoboDocs lacked any kind of refinement, sorely lacking any form of emulated compassion and sympathy, the attributes that had once made RoboNurses popular and now, as robots in the workplace fell into decline, made them at least tolerable. Despite representing the state of the art in semi-sentient artificial intelligence, RoboDocs were hugely unpopular and had become a rare sight in any kind of medical facility. Within a decade they would be campaigned out of existence altogether.

The hospital was located on the city’s quieter south, just under a mile from the slip road. The brief, undesired, crush of vehicles had thinned and the traffic was light. Some cars moved on rubber tires whilst others hovered a few inches above the road surface. Celeste drove the outdated sports coupe into the hospital car park, finding a parking space between a silver, sleek, Porsche Sonic and a boxy, grey, Skoda Success.

Celeste walked briskly across the car park, the aged leather handbag gripped tight in her right hand. Her ultra-white Nike Trance running shoes made practically no sound as she headed directly towards the main entrance. A pimple-faced doctor opened the door as she arrived. He held the door, giving her a warm invitational smile and looking her over with a quick but comprehensive glance. She ignored the young man’s attention and breezed past him.

She went through a second set of automatic doors. The wide corridor was bright and warm. At the end of the corridor lay the scanning area. The first door on the left led to the reception, waiting and café areas. The four wards were further ahead, their doors visible on either side of the scanning room’s large double doors. Celeste walked casually to the end of the corridor. She hesitated beside the first door – Ward One –then turned to find Ward Four. She reached for the door and it suddenly opened outwards. A middle-aged West Indian woman rushed through. Her doughy features crinkled and she regarded Celeste with an irritated glare. “You’re too early! Visiting isn’t for another five minutes!” The orderly closed the ward door behind her, locking it once more.

Celeste watched the middle-aged woman waddle away. She lingered at the ward door. At nine thirty-one, the orderly re-appeared. She stomped past Celeste leaving a trail of cheap cigarette smoke and unlocked the ward door with her pass key, not saying a word. Celeste shrugged inwardly at the woman’s rudeness and followed through the open door.

The small ward had about eighteen beds, but most were unoccupied. Two old men stared at Celeste as she sailed by and another three men slept noisily. She reached the end of the corridor, where she always found the curtain and, behind it, Sean Archer. She didn’t pause at the heavy grey barrier of fabric and slipped through and into the semi-private corner of the little room.

Sean’s eyes were covered by a thin, green, healing bandage that looked painfully tight. He’d gained some weight, mostly around his waist, and his hair – once a darker shade of Matt’s rust-colored blonde – was mostly grey and white, with a vague hint of the fiery color it had once possessed. It was plastered to his forehead and stuck to the plump white cotton pillow his head was submerged in. She had to look closely to see any of his hair’s original color. Some of his hair was burned away, just above the line where the green bandage ended. He was lying on his back, partly covered by a stiff white sheet, the upper half of his body covered by silver-blue hospital pajamas.

Celeste reached for his face. If he hadn’t spoken, she would have touched his cheek. But he did speak, and the words immobilized her.

“Who’s there?” Sean rasped. “Matt? Is that you, son?”

“No, it’s not Matt,” she said. “My name’s Celeste.”

Sean licked his lips nervously, drawing a careful breath. “Is this about… Matt?”

“No,” she said.

“Are you from social services? They said Matt would be coming today. Is he with you?”

“I… don’t know,” Celeste said. His hand reached for her in a crooked, feeble stretch that probed empty air. She hesitated, then touched his bandaged hand very gently. He flinched, but did not withdraw his hand and his fingers moved uncertainly beneath her own. “I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said. “I’m sorry, Sean.”

“It’s alright.”

“You’re blind?”

“Yes. I’m not sure if it’s going to be permanent or not.” He shivered. “They won’t tell me yet, or they don’t know. I can’t decide which one it is.”

His blindness would be permanent. She knew this. The remaining four years of his life would be spent in darkness.

“What happened to you?”

“It was stupid,” he said. “I was in a car accident. The passenger window was cracked or broken by something. Then… well, then I woke up here.”

It wasn’t the truth. Celeste knew the truth. Matt had told her that his father had been trying to commit suicide. The Honda Accord had not been serviced for spaceflight, but Sean had taken it beyond Earth’s atmosphere on a mad joyride that had ended when a micro meteor had smashed the window, exposing him to the vacuum of space.

“I know why you’re here,” Sean said. “But you can tell that bitch she’s not getting anywhere near him.”

Sean’s anger surprised her. She took a half step backward. “I don’t understand.”

“Tell her she made her choice,” Sean growled. “Now just go.”

“I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Sean said. “I’ve lost my sight, but I still have ears. I know Matt’s mother has been in contact with the hospital. I always knew that bitch would be back. He’s twelve years old now, but I suppose she’s been counting the years.”

“Sean, I”—

“God damn that woman is a fucking vampire!” Sean raged. “She’s not getting near my son. You can tell her that. Tell her I’ll rip her fucking head off before I let her poison him with her bullshit, eyes or no fucking eyes.”

“Matt’s mother died when he was young, Sean. How could she be”—

Sean laughed the dry laugh of a man with an incurably parched throat. “Matt’s mother’s not dead. She might as well be dead.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Elizabeth never loved me,” Sean said. “She never wanted to raise a son either. She used me to conceive and planned to sell her unborn baby to a couple from the far east. As soon as she fell pregnant she left me. If I hadn’t discovered her plans who knows where Matt would be now. We fought it out in court and I lost. In the end I bought her out of Matt’s life.”

“You bought Matt’s mother out?”

“I bought her out. Thirty-eight thousand dollars and Elizabeth agreed to stay out of Matt’s life forever. That was the deal. I still have the documentation – and so does my attorney. That’s what Matthew is worth to his mother: thirty-eight thousand dollars.”

Celeste didn’t know what to say. She felt cold, then she felt like she might actually be physically sick. She wanted to cry, and to run out of the hospital. She swallowed quietly, trying to regain her composure.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Sean,” she said. “I promise you I don’t have anything to do with Matt’s mother. I didn’t even know she existed. Everything you told me is… despicable.”

“Isn’t it though,” Sean said. “Did you say your name was Celeste?”


Sean was silent for a few seconds, thinking deeply. “I remember that name,” he said. “I think I remember you. Weren’t you at Glasgow SciTech? That one time the café made it into space?”

She squeezed his hand gently, not letting go. “You’re right, Sean. I was there. I remember it, too. I wasn’t meant to be there. I didn’t even know why I was there, but it was just so great to see you both. I’m not sure I should even be here now. I’ve waited such a long time. It was just wonderful to see him again. He’s so very special. You were right all along about that.”

He licked his lips.

“See him again?” Sean whispered. “Do you mean Matt?”


Celeste’s mind was jumbled. She had been certain she was to come to this place. That morning, she’d awoken with a vivid and clear premonition of the TR7 driving along the old coast road, right down to the children waving from the Ferrari’s bulbous cockpit. Meeting Sean here was something that was supposed to happen, something she’d made happen.

“You should leave here,” Sean said. “Whoever you are, please just get out.”

There were new footsteps in the ward. Brisk, purposeful high heeled footsteps. The memories and visions began to surface again, this time in brilliant clarity. Matt’s father wasn’t the reason behind the trip or not the main reason. The purpose behind her being here was coming towards her now, moving rapidly across the polished stone floor with an almost impossibly rhythmic tapping of its heeled shoes.

A RoboNurse stepped into Sean’s bed space, a tall humanoid figure with milky-white synthetic skin and a cartoonish ballerina’s frame and the blue-eyed, red-cheeked, face of a Victorian doll. The robot’s faintly illuminated eyes did not blink and its long-fingered hands were limp by its side. The oval head turned towards Celeste.

“You are making too much noise.” The RoboNurse said, its voice carrying no inflection. “Please be quiet or I will have to ask you to leave.”

“I’m sorry,” Celeste said.

“Please comply, that’s all.”

“I will.”

The RoboNurse was still looking her way. Celeste touched the side of the machine’s head. The RoboNurse’s voice box gave an almost inaudible squeak, then was silent.

“Thank you,” Celeste said. “I’ll see you outside.”

“Affirmative.” The RoboNurse turned on its right leg and marched off, disappearing between the curtain, its feet rat-tap-tapping out of the ward.

Celeste and Sean were alone again. There was a long silence. She listened to him breathing, remembering when Matt had been here. In a hospital bed like this one, dying and afraid.

“They’ll be bringing Matt to see me soon. Please, you must leave.”

Celeste nodded to herself, still thinking about the RoboNurse. It was time to get up, time to leave. She started to move, but something stopped her.

“Matt loves you very much,” she said. “Nothing ever changes that.”

His hand moved, reaching above his head for the hospital call button. She could stop him, sometimes she did stop him. This time, she let him press it. The orderly would not arrive in time to cause her any problems. She started to her feet. He grabbed her wrist.

“Who are you?”

“Goodbye, Sean.” She slipped his grip easily enough. “I don’t think we ever see each other again. I’m so sorry.”


The RoboNurse was waiting in the TR7. Celeste didn’t say a word to the machine and drove away, leaving the hospital without looking back. She tried not to think about Matt’s father again and took the car along the coastline towards a little fishing village called Arderseir just a few miles away, enjoying a very welcome calm in her mind. She reached Arderseir much sooner than she hoped and pulled the TR7 over to the side of the road, gently bumping the left tire onto patchy grass just before the first of several oversized log cabins. These eyesores had replaced the 20th century two and three-bedroom bungalows that had been secluded behind a thin veil of evergreen trees. The trees and the older houses she remembered were long gone, sacrificed for a crowded row of bright burgundy holiday apartments looking out onto the Moray Firth. The farmland opposite was unchanged, a handful of sheep with their white lambs enjoying the rich green grass.

Celeste wound down the car window and lit a rare cigarette, using the Zippo lighter her husband had carried in the latter years of his life. She stared at the shining, silver metal device for a while before placing it back inside her handbag. She leaned back in the car’s bucket seat, closing her eyes and enjoying the feeling of her hair drifting around her face in the late morning chill. Matt had always loved her flame-colored hair.

She stayed in the seat and smoked her way through the cigarette. When it was done she stubbed it out and lit a second. She smoked that, too, sitting in silence and staring vacantly at the sheep. The second cigarette began to burn her fingers and she tossed it away, closing her eyes.

The wind in her hair felt good, a gentle massage reminding her of the times when Matt would toy with her hair. The sun was shining through the left side of the car, warming that side of her body. She was breathing more deeply, relaxing. A blackbird was singing loudly, a pleasant and persistent sound. There was a rush and a rumble as a heavy vehicle rolled by – perhaps a tractor – but Celeste didn’t want to open her eyes to see what it was.

Beyond the Starport Adventure Prologue

Beyond the Starport Adventure Chapter One

Beyond the Starport Adventure Chapter Two

Beyond the Starport Adventure Chapter Three