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.

I

He stood in the centre of his 37th floor apartment gazing out at the Japanese city. Surrounded by a small crowd of faceless bodies, he had no idea why or how he had gotten to be there.

What appeared to be a nuclear power plant in the distance was spewing purple lightning into the sky. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Something clearly was not right.

The building began to quiver as the light show intensified, slowly but steadily building to a violent shake. The tone and pitch of the buildings rumble suddenly changed, dramatic, like cutting into a harp with a chainsaw.

Floor to ceiling plate glass windows exploded outwards as the ceiling began to crumble. The tower collapsing in on itself, debris enveloping a final pulse of the distant light show. No pain was felt, just darkness.

He awoke in a cold sweat. 3:21am. Wednesday.

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.

XXXVI

Five years on from being unceremoniously ousted from the Wayne Enterprises board by a group loyal to his father’s original vision for the company, Detective Bruce Wayne now spends his daylight hours working at the GCPD cleaning up the loose ends that Batman can’t.

By night, Batman’s ongoing dance with Gotham’s colourful underworld has recently become intertwined with the pursuit of a mysterious new vigilante in town, Eko. Seemingly sharing a common enemy, Eko’s motives seem well intentioned, but their methods cross moral lines that have becoming increasingly difficult for Gotham’s heroic trinity to ignore.

As a chronostorm approaches, a deadly shift is about to ripple through the city, bringing with it new threats and allies, the fall of justice, and the rise of a dramatic redistribution of power that will result in the city’s long standing tribal lines of heroes vs villains being blurred, forever changing Gotham’s future … and it’s past.

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.

II

You think you know someone. We had left dinner early, not even lingering long enough to consider dessert. Eve seemed in a particular rush but wouldn’t say why. Maybe it was something she ate.

We were headed towards the station when her phone rang. Barely removing it from her inner jacket pocket she glanced at it and dismissed the call. I couldn’t see who it was, but I do the same with work calls all the time so I wasn’t concerned.

As the lights of our train came into view Eve casually turned, looking half at me, half through me – just as she had done a thousand times before – and smiled.

“None of this is what it seems. Jasper will explain.” she said softly with an oddly apologetic tone. The words had stunned me, was that her intention? Turning further to face me, she took two quick steps backwards, my outstretched hands clutched at the air.

She was gone.

XXII

EMBARGOED – DO NOT PUBLISH

For release 30 January, NOON

INFINITE HORIZONS MISSION PARAMETERS UPDATE

Command operations centre, Tx – A target system, LS25-8/6, containing viable destination planets has been confirmed. The system was initially detected 6 weeks ago during the systematic re-evaluation of existing data by the recently upgraded ‘Planetoid Identification Network’.

The news of the discovery has been transmitted to the crew, and will be received in time for the next routine system check on day 9,500.

In a change from the original mission plan, the full crew will remain in suspension until a yet to be determined time, and the minor course corrections will be left to Atkins while she undertakes the system checks.

We will not be fielding any additional questions at this time.

Ends.

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.

XXXVII

This is a story of discovery.

Growing up we were taught how more than 80% of the ocean remained completely unexplored by mankind, and that less than 10% of all marine life had been identified. Almost inconceivable just how little we knew about the world lurking beneath the surface.

But the curiosity of man, and humans being humans, we just couldn’t leave well enough alone. The next great “space race” playground for those with more money than morals. Billions of dollars spent traversing the deepest darkest crevasses seeking a groundbreaking oceanic discovery. And money, obviously.

Looking back it began with a specific sequence of minor, largely ignored, tremors in the southern Atlantic. Then in the mid Pacific a ring of undocumented, long dormant, submarine volcanoes roared to life for the first time in millennia, triggering massive ash fallout and widespread tsunamis along the eastern seaboard of the Americas and throughout most of south-east Asia.

Far from the seasonal environmental disruption resulting from the spiralling climate crisis that humanity had long become numb towards, this event would catch the attention of the entire globe. And with good reason.

This isn’t a story of what we found, it’s a story of what found us.

XXIII

There is no sound, almost pure nothingness, just a mild ringing in my ears. It has always been there, or at least I think it has, assuming it is there at all and not just a figment of my imagination.

Maybe what I believe is a ringing is actually what silence sounds like. Maybe I’m losing it. Entirely possible.

The lack of sound is one thing. However, wherever I am it’s extremely dark – can’t see the hand in front of my face, dark. The only exception being the dull red glow coming from a digital clock nearby.

It’s 10:47. Let’s assume pm based on the apparent lack of light…

VII

As the elevator ground to a halt the doors slid open behind them. It had been so dark when they entered they hadn’t noticed the alternate set of doors.

Stepping out into a barely lit corridor the doors swiftly shut behind them, about 20 metres ahead of them a corner that hid an occasional flicker.

The corridor was completely empty – at least leading up the corner – they set off in single file. Those with weapons had them drawn. Just in case.