“What are these?” piped Simon on first confronting the couple of white-bleached skeletons awkwardly draped over and monopolising the best couchettes in the pod.
“Two dead crew members,” was all that Fred could come up with. The Forward Electronic Designator’s memory had been seriously impaired by the disaster four years ago.
“They’re a bit like me,” said the cute-looking kid, running his fingers across his unblemished forehead, and then his dead mother’s even smoother skull. Her bony fingers also vaguely matched his own. These were definitely the framework hidden within people, but this particular skeleton was shorter and much wider-hipped than the other. Simon couldn’t think why.
Neither could Fred explain this disparity, but he did suggest that this useless, sad clutter should be removed from its deathly pride of place and then dumped. Nevertheless, young Simon decided to keep the two skeletons.
Once he had pulled all the bones apart, they were great fun to play with. Sometimes he would construct a little building, using flat hipbones as foundations, stubby joints as bricks, and bits of arms and legs as girders; a true house of horror! The jumbled pile of assorted bones also provided another absorbing game of solitaire: a macabre ‘Pick-a-stick’ teaching skill and manual dexterity as Simon tried to surgically remove as many pieces as possible without disturbing the rest.
Then he might jam his tiny hand into a skull like a glove puppet, madly clacking the jaw whilst he acted out the brilliant young ventriloquist. This was at least a sort of substitute for company. The skulls could also double as resonant tom toms, walloped with a couple of femurs.
Fred voiced his reservations regarding these morbid activities, sensing a general lack of decorum towards the former crew. Maybe this wasn’t the best way to educate a child?
Nevertheless, Simon eventually grew bored with the dry bones, and took Fred’s advice. The little boy had quite a struggle manoeuvring the two rattling anatomy lessons into the nearest disposal chute to be scattered out into space. His act was totally devoid of emotion since he hadn’t the slightest notion who these former folk were. Thus, Simon’s past was further distanced from him. He would never know his origins. This was only one of many unsolved mysteries frequently clouding his fresh young face with a frown. There simply wasn’t anyone around to fill in these crucial gaps in his education.
However, Simon had inherited two tiny but important legacies from his dead parents.
John Forbes had often killed time at his PlayStation 125, and he was particularly fond of simulated fast jet car rallies. Meanwhile, Helen would escape to a quiet corner and perhaps dabble in some artwork with her computerised paint box. However, following the catastrophic asteroid damage, the PlayStation’s full range of programmes had been lost. All that remained at Simon’s disposal on this ageing piece of equipment was the very last game John had selected. This consisted of a brash challenge of zapping dead as many khaki-clad soldiers as possible before any of these heavily-armed opponents hiding around blind urban corners could do the same to you.
When he finally worked out how to operate this device, Simon logged onto the dated, macho war game for his first and only real view of the world, a very limited and sad summation of human conduct! Nevertheless, the little boy would avidly repeat these noisy battles around battered buildings and rubble until he knew practically every possible variation in the scenarios. Eventually, he became really fed up with the predictable twists and turns in the plots, the alternative endings, and indeed, the entire concept of these mindless duels to the death between aggressive men around war-torn streets. Young Simon finally concluded that he didn’t actually like constant conflict, and would much have preferred more gentle pursuits, perhaps with nicer, kinder people. Unfortunately, he had no access to any pleasanter alternatives on the half-witted PlayStation.
Something much more up his street had been bequeathed by his thoughtful mother. Whilst impatiently waiting for the birth of her designated son, artistic Helen had designed and manufactured two large jigsaw puzzles for him to attempt when he was old enough. So by the time Simon started toddling around, he soon discovered these puzzles hidden away in a drawer, the first of so many baffling challenges faced whilst growing up entirely on his own. Their fascinating pictures were two unique glimpses into the past; otherwise a world of totally unobtainable information back in the devastated library, cut like some baby’s umbilical from the moment the asteroid debris struck the mother ship.
Helen’s choice of subject for her child’s jigsaws had been completely arbitrary, yet when Simon eventually managed to put all the pieces together on the shiny flat, metallic floor of the pod, the two interesting scenes gave him much to think about.
One picture was a rustic, rural view of ‘Olde England’, a pretty thatched cottage set in a lovely summer garden, with a patchwork quilt of fields and green hills undulating in the background. However, there were no figures depicted in this idyll. Happily, such quaint old picturesque dwellings were still treasured and carefully preserved in the Twenty-Second Century. Simon also adored this tranquil image of a long lost world left far behind and receding at an astronomical speed as Genesis One rushed onwards into a dubious, uncertain future. The little thatched cottage was so solid and stable compared with the star ship’s headlong flight into oblivion. Its half-timbered, wattle-and-daub walls, bordered by hollyhocks and roses were much friendlier and far more homely than his sterile steel and titanium pod. How he ached to live in a cottage as cosy and welcoming! Most important of all, it had a small front door which you could open and go outside…
The other puzzle was a forest fantasy portraying the ‘little people’ of childhood imagination. Helen had conjured dozens of busy pixies, gnomes, hobgoblins and elves all scurrying around a dark woodland glade of sinuous vines, ivy, and spreading trees. She had great fun creating this whimsical scene with so many varied fairies, dwarfs and leprechauns to paint. This jigsaw was much more difficult to put together than the little cottage with its straw thatch and smoking stone chimney so clearly defined against the permanently blue, cloudless sky, and bright whitewashed walls bordered by colourful flowers.
When Simon first tackled this challenging second puzzle, he took great delight in unveiling all these tiny creatures of dusk, some lurking impishly beneath red-and-white polka-dotted toadstools, others playing around cowslips and bluebells, and epicene fairies flitting amongst the canopy of trees like little misty, delicate, glistening lacewings.
By a strange quirk of fate, this absurd figment of Helen’s rampant imagination was the only representation of ‘life’ at Simon’s fingertips.
Having such a limited choice of toys, the little boy played with these two puzzles for months and months until the flimsy cardboard fragments became more and more tatty.
How he regretted dumping those marvellously hard-wearing bones! He had had such wicked fun with them! Anyway, few of the puzzle pieces now fitted together properly.
Partly because of this, and in an early burst of his own creativity, Simon started to experiment by mixing up all the bits of both puzzles and then trying to assemble a completely new, much larger picture of things, combining the mismatched elements from the two originals. Of course, this usually didn’t work out too well, and most of his artistic efforts were a hopeless hotchpotch.
A disgruntled dwarf might end up perched upon the thatched cottage’s smoking chimney, no doubt burning his bottom! Odd little hobbledehoys could be suddenly metamorphosed into giants by being elevated totally out of perspective, plonked upon the distant, rolling hills. Sometimes, Simon would prong a faded fairy on the very top of one of the fir trees behind the cottage. Now stripped of gossamer wings, this flightless sprite looked very tetchy at being stranded up there way beyond Christmas.
Another of his reconstruction projects was to complete the thatched cottage jigsaw first, and then inject some life into it by carving out holes within its walls and inserting little members of his ill-assorted collection of gremlins. Several goblins could be concealed just behind the front door, perhaps an old gnarled gnome suddenly scaring them off from the shadowy interior. Amongst these ominous trolls, two naughty leprechauns might be jammed together in another dappled corner of the cottage where there was once only a mullioned window. By now, the jigsaw pieces had become much distorted, and Simon could only mate some bits together by forcing them against each other in completely the wrong way.
Sadly, none of this unnatural juxtaposition ever made much sense, and Fred wasn‘t able to throw any light on this whirling phantasmagoria.
As Simon grew a little older, his questions became more and more awkward for poor long-suffering Fred.
“Where did I come from?” he would plead. “Oh, I know I was a smaller version of myself once…to have fitted inside my incubator, but how small was I before that…the size of a little pixie perhaps? And even earlier still? Like those tiny spiders spinning webs under mushrooms on the forest floor? Where was my starting point? Where did I come from?”
Fred’s inability to find a satisfactory reply was echoed by a familiar background humming and ha-ing…
Each of three star ships had housed six crew members, three couples of different racial descent, one Caucasian, another, Asian and the third, Afro-Caribbean, the idea being that all should have children during the interminable trip, their offspring surviving to complete the epic journey which no one generation could possibly survive. These boys and girls would then be required to pair off dutifully within their ranks, whatever their true feelings for each other, and similarly reproduce to continue the line of humankind and colonise their distant, targeted planet. For those who couldn’t face intimacy with any of the limited choice of mates on board, a test tube solution might have to suffice! It was hoped that this extremely varied gene pool would offset any potential dangers of interbreeding. The initial crew members were all very young at the outset, just out of their teens, but committed to delay having their precious babies until late middle age, not unusual at this time
Simon was the first baby to be born; only beating Chan and Suzy by arriving prematurely.
Safely protected in his undamaged incubator, the tiny mite had miraculously survived the disaster, still breathing air in his pressurised cradle. Severely crippled Fred, with most of his memory suddenly wiped out, struggled to make sense of the new situation on board, but continued feeding and looking after his only remaining living human companion.
Fred quickly realised that Genesis One was now isolated. His buzzing contacts had disappeared along with all that twisted metal and burst bodies flung out into infinity. It was up to him alone to try and restore the forward pod into a semblance of order. This he could do although it would take him some considerable time, one commodity he had in abundance.
First, he began to seal as many of the holes as possible peppering this suddenly reassigned, though disrespectfully speeding funeral hearse. Molten bonding started oozing from countless mouths and nozzles within the walls and seeping slowly across the voids. If his ward were to survive to adulthood, there was much to be done before the little boy could venture from his cosseted module.
Once the forward living pod was sound, Fred re-established its atmosphere and correct air-pressure. Though still a considerable mess, the cabin would now be available for Simon to use when he grew old enough to crawl forth. There was nothing that Fred could do about the hideous monstrosities splattered over their padded couches. At least the infant Simon was totally unaware of his poor parents’ untimely massacre, or even who they were. Only years later when their flesh had melted away, did their bones remain to completely mystify him.
Despite many attempts, Fred was unable to repair the rest of the star ship. Communication with the other pods had been completely severed, as well as access to all the roomy recreational areas. Simon would remain trapped in the small forward pod. Unfortunately, his parents’ spacesuits, once hanging on a wall, had been sucked away by the sudden vacuum when cabin pressure was lost. Even when grown big enough to fit in one, Simon would be denied this means of escape. Crucially, the library located amidships was far too badly holed to make good again. The cold vacuum of space precluded any delving into this important repository of human knowledge stored within its electronic database. Neither could brain-damaged Fred plug into this source of information to reboot his missing long-term memory. At least he could ably control the damaged ship, still hurtling towards their goal.