XXXVIII

EXT. Tropical resort – Day

Music cue: Barbie Girl by Aqua

The camera works its way through the crowded poolside to reveal Deadpool riding a giant inflatable unicorn, wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, drinking a colourful (gin) cocktail complete with tiny umbrella and curly straw.

Deadpool (to the audience)

Oh hi there, this is awkward, it’s not what it looks like…

Ok, that’s a lie, it’s actually exactly what it looks like, but life hasn’t been all unicorns and pleasuring myself. I promise we’ve been busy, it’s just that it turns out this whole “threequel” thing is hard—I mean just ask the makers of Blade: Trinity.

With the backing of my new sugar daddy, I took up gaming (mostly to sling insults at 12-year-olds), watched all of Netflix, even went to Wales for some gin-fuelled impulse shopping with a friend. Ewch ddreigiau!

Now I’m back, and just slightly in debt, no more distractions or interruptions, so this is the plan…

Deadpool gestures to the audience with his finger to ‘hold that thought’ and turns away to take another sip of his cocktail. As he raises his hand it disintegrates and the cocktail drops.

Deadpool (turning back to the audience)

What the fu—

Smash cut to titles.

Off.A short story in 12 small parts.

XXI

Before them stood a wall of screens with a single command console located off to the left hand side of the room. They appeared to be displaying surveillance feeds. The video quality was grainy and monochrome, this room had been here for years. A hundred windows into a hundred different worlds.

“254,” Miles bluntly observed, “It’s a grid, A1 through P16. 256 screens, but C7 and G13 seem to be off.”

From the entry the source of the feeds wasn’t immediately clear, nor was it obvious who was being monitored. Were these commercial security feeds? Finance? Government?

Moving closer to see that each had a counter increasing rapidly in the top right hand corner. But counting up from what? It wasn’t counting seconds, maybe milliseconds? With no other dates or times visible, the group initially assumed the feeds were live.

That assumption was wrong, well, half wrong. To this point David hadn’t said anything to anyone aside from the brief – forced – introductions when they’d entered the tunnels a few hours earlier.

From towards the back of the group David finally spoke up, slowly gesturing to the screens in the upper right hand corner.

“That… I. I think that’s me…”

XVI

Day 86.

It’s been a little over 12 weeks since we undocked and were flung into the vast blackness of space, we’ve got 2 weeks left until we enter the suspended state that will allow us to carry out the mission.

What’s the mission? Good question. When we left they hadn’t exactly worked that out. They’ve pointed us at a distant star, but it will be years, or decades, until we’re told what we’re looking for. Hence the suspended state.

Once in suspension they’ll wake one of us every 500 days or so for routine systems checks. Sam’s up first, so that should be fun for her, running diagnostics solo while everyone else ’sleeps’.

Until then we’re preparing everything for the journey, most importantly the bio-rings which will become our primary food source – but don’t worry we’ve also got a stack of pre-packed meals just in case something goes wrong.

And failing that we’ll just have to start sacrificing crew members to satisfy our protein needs. Kidding. Or am I.

XIII

Day 4000.

I’m the only one up, everyone else is still tucked away in ‘bed’. It’s my turn to run the system checks. We only have to do this every 500 days, unless word comes through that they’ve found it — if that happens we all get up.

Because all our communications are pre-recorded we don’t really have to worry about any lengthy lag, the messages are just there ready for us when we get up. The sunlight though, it has diminished entirely. ‘Our’ Sun is now just a star like all others, including the one we are headed for.

Ok, technically, we aren’t headed for a star, but a planet. The catch being that they haven’t actually discovered the planet yet, the technology required for that wasn’t around when we launched, and apparently — 4000 days later — it still isn’t around.

All systems are functional. Back to ‘bed’. Onward to wherever we are headed.

XXXI

I’m back to the table that I had awoken on an hour ago, it’s right next to the immovable filing cabinet. My eyes seem to be slowly coming to grips with the light levels, I can’t make out any defined shapes, just patches of dark and patches of not-quite-as-dark.

Using the table to pull myself up, I slowly examine the length of it. There is nothing else on the table. Maybe cleared off before I was put there? Still doesn’t explain why.

Absolute nothing helpful in the room. 12:01. I’m clearly trapped in here, but oddly calm – or at least calmer than one would expect in such a situation. Maybe it’s the idea that I can’t find a way out, so there mustn’t be a way in for anyone or anything else.

XVIII

“The green cylinder. On the other side of the room.”

There was significant static on the intercom, however, the instruction was crystal clear.

“Break it open.”

That didn’t seem like the most brilliant idea, especially given the past events at this particular facility.

However, this was no mere suggestion, it was a demand.

V

Upon arrival they sat, impatiently, in the van as the gates to the compound slowly opened. The journey had been slow, in the same way a long afternoon at work is slow, although in reality it had only taken a little over an hour.

There was still an uncomfortable feeling lingering within the group, unsure if they had been successful. Sure, they heard – and felt – the blast, but the haste with which they had left meant that the charge hadn’t been set in the location that had originally been planned.

It would likely be a couple of days before they knew for certain if it had worked.

III

A sunlit afternoon, my younger self chasing a familiar yet distant face through the tall grass overlooking the sea. This feels like a memory, but I know that it’s not. I dream so rarely that it’s usually easy to tell when my mind has escaped reality.

Right now in this moment I’m about 12. I haven’t actually been 12 for decades. And possibly I haven’t felt this free for just as long.

Nothing seems to matter, no consequences, no expectations, no judgement. There are other people around, they don’t see us or simply don’t care, it doesn’t matter which. Relaxed, free, comfortable, all the things missing from everyday life.

XIX

“I know what you said, but this is not over. We need you back at the bunker. Now.”

Upon entering, Oliver immediately sees an imposing – unknown – figure standing at the centre console.

“Where is she?!”, bow drawn, and aimed.

“Felicity is fine, she doesn’t even know you’re here. Nor do the others.“

“How d–“

“I am not your enemy Mr Queen,” raising his hand, but still facing away, “believe it or not, we’re a lot alike, you and I.”

“Enough with the riddles! Who are you!”, Oliver lets fly an arrow, striking the screen to the man’s left.

“They said you had trust issues,” the man replies, casually reaching down, plucking the arrow from the screen to examine it. “They also said you don’t miss… You make these yourself?”

“I don’t miss. WHO ARE YOU!“

The figure slowly turning to face Oliver,

“My name is Bruce, and I need your help.”

XXXIV

Brief dreams of other places, other faces. The where and when I’d rather be. The things I’d be doing and how I’d be doing them. Routine, constants, the avoidance of change that I see no personal benefit in. The chasing of happiness and the fear of failure that prevents me. I’m asleep, but conscious that I’m letting my brain deep dive into complete nonsense. I force myself to wake up.

Awake again, the darkness, and the previously discovered calm returns. It returns just long enough that when I feel something grab my shoulder I spin around, reeling back in the process. Extremities tingling. The darkness drains away, and muffled sounds trickle in. I stare blankly at the face that’s suddenly appeared behind me.

“The bus route ends here. You need to get off.”

XV

We both know that you know where they are.

Tell me.

Where can I find Zenith?