2015 AD: Earth
An avalanche of fluttering thuds announced
the arrival of the post. Linda Piper bent to pick up the letters
and assorted junk mail off the doormat, when something caught
her eye. A small business card nestled among the bills, pizza-delivery
leaflets, estate agent flyers and fabric conditioner samples.
What had caught her attention was its design. It represented
a bar of chocolate, foil peeled from the edge, temptingly
revealing the contents. She laughed out loud. Instead of the
name of a confectionery the letters carried an altogether,
apparently, unrelated message:
Anything repaired, as good as newif not better
Call today: 00042 6464 789 3
She carried it into the kitchen and
placed it on top of the breadmaker, which had gone wrong two
weeks previously just after the warranty had run outnaturally.
* * *
A few days later she remembered the
card and phoned the repairman.
'Hello, John Smith speaking. How may
I help you?'
'Ah, Mr. Smith, yes, I've got a breadmaker
that isn't working properly. The lights are on but the raw
ingredients aren't getting mixed and baked. I've got the details
of the make, model and serial number if'
'That won't be necessary, I'll be able
fix it for you,' he interrupted her with disarming confidence.
'Oh, really?' She was a little put
out at being stopped mid-flow. 'How much will it cost?'
'About ten euros.'
Is that all? she thought to
herself. 'That seems very reasonable.'
'And I will only accept payment when
it is working to your total satisfaction,' he added. 'Now
then, what's your address?'
An hour later, holding a feather duster
in her left hand, she opened the door to a remarkably healthy-looking
gentleman, whom she judged to be in his late-forties, dressed
in immaculately smart blue overalls and carrying a rectangular
aluminium flight case.
'Good afternoon, Mrs. Piper. My name
is John Smith, come to have a look at your breadmaker.'
'Oh, great, come through to the kitchen.'
She led him along the hallway and past the stripped wooden
door into the kitchen, gesturing to the machine with her duster
as they entered the room. 'There it is. I've cleaned the last
lot of ingredients out as best I can and I've dug out the
instruction manual that came with it. Do you need anything?'
'No, that looks fine, thank you,' he
replied, peering into the breadmaker's open lid, before examining
the back panel for access. 'Just one thing.'
'I like to be left alone while I'm
working, helps me to concentrate, I'm sure you understand.'
He smiled reassuringly.
'Oh, right, yes of course. I'll let
you get on with it,' she agreed, her eyes quickly darting
to the kitchen table to check that she'd remembered to put
her handbag and purse safely upstairs in the bedroom. 'Let
me know when you're done,' she said, closing the door behind
her and climbing the stairs to finish sorting out her summer
clothes and cleaning the spare bedroom.
Ten minutes later she heard the kitchen
door handle clunk and a voice called up the stairs, 'Mrs.
Piper, it's ready for a test run if you'd like to give it
She trotted back downstairs expectantly.
'That was quick,' she remarked.
'Yes, it was a fairly simple fault
and I carry a full range of spare parts.' Mr. Smith patted
the aluminium case and grinned.
'Well, let's have a go at making a
simple loaf, shall we?' Linda placed the pre-measured ingredients,
along with some water, in the bread pan and set it offa
packet of bread mix would do for the test. Everything seemed
to be working again. 'Would you like something to drink while
'That's very kind of you but I've got
a couple of other visits to make in the Hanover area this
afternoon. Tell you what, stick the kettle on when the baking
cycle is complete and I'll be back to see if everything's
'Shall I give you a call on your mobile?'
'No, that's okay, a basic loaf takes
two hours and twenty minutes.' He glanced at his wristwatch.
'I'll be back just as it's cooled enough to taste. See you
in a bit,' he said, picking up the flight case and heading
for the front door.
She watched him walk away down the
road and round the cornerno sign of a van or a carat
a brisk pace.
* * *
Linda had just finished going through
her summer outfits when she heard the breadmaker beep five
times to announce its completion and a mouth-watering aroma
drifted through the house. She pressed the stop button, opened
the lid, slipped on a pair of oven gloves and carefully removed
the bread pan. She turned the pan upside down and held it
over a rack, gave it a tap, and a perfect loaf slid out. She
filled the pan with warm water and rummaged around in a cupboard
for the teapot.
Just as he'd promised, the repairman
rang her doorbell and joined her back in the kitchen to try
'It smells lovely,' she commented excitedly.
'I've tried a slice already, amazing for a packet mix, best
I've ever had, can't wait to try some of the other recipes,
must have a go at an apple and walnut cake, I think it can
do bagels as well, do you take sugar?'
'Yeah,' he laughed, 'sweet tooth, I'm
She marvelled at how someone who regularly
took five teaspoons of sugar with his tea could have such
perfectly gleaming teeth. Probably crowns, or maybe a denture,
she thought. 'Like anything on your bread?'
'Do you have any peanut butter?' he
'Yes, my son likes it on his toast
on a Saturday morning.'
As Linda rambled on about the various
recipes she was going to try out Mr. Smith worked his way
through an almost entire jar of peanut butter and four cups
of sugary tea, before taking his leave. She wondered how he
maintained his svelte figure if he made a habit of snacking
so enthusiastically at every job.
'Well, I trust that you're satisfied?'
'Oh, very much so,' she replied. 'Ten
euros was it?'
'Eight should cover it.'
'Well, I'm very grateful to you, I
must say. Here,' she said, handing him a ten-euro note, 'keep
'Thank you very much, Mrs. Piper, most
kind of you.'
As he ventured back outside and onto
the pavement, the repairman turned back. 'Please be sure to
recommend me to your friends,' he said and handed her a few
of his business cards.
'I will indeed, thanks again.'
* * *
Three weeks later Linda discovered
the crusty end of the test loaf in a plastic bag at the back
of the bread bin, behind a growing mound of rolls and buns.
She was going to put it out for the birds, but it still looked
rather tempting so she sniffed it experimentally. She nibbled
a corner. Still as fresh as the day it was baked!
Her husband Derek and their son Paul
had been treated to a parade of recipes, thanks to Linda's
renewed interest in the breadmaker; everything tasted so good,
and she couldn't go wrong. They'd had herb bread, sun-dried
tomato bread, apple and walnut cake, hot cross buns, bagels
and pizzas. The family's appetite grew at the same rate as
her collection of recipes and friends and neighbours had nothing
but compliments for her nourishing output. She felt revitalised,
at first putting it down to the happiness she felt from her
success at pleasing her family, but gradually she noticed
other changes. The aches and pains that came with middle-age
subsided, she could read without her glasses, her skin tone
resembled that of someone ten years her junior and she had
boundless energy. Derek's back had stopped giving him jip
for the first time in years and Paul hadn't had an asthma
attack for ten days.
* * *
The repairman lifted the aluminium
flight case onto the worktop next to the broken food processor.
Mrs. Tresgrave had left him to get on with it and he had the
kitchen to himself. Unknown to John Smith, he had an audience.
Mrs. Tresgrave's cat, Marmaduke, was hidden behind a large
shrub in the garden and the elevated border in which it was
planted gave him a clear view through the side window into
Mr. Smith clicked the catches and swung
the case's front panel forward. What was revealed made the
fur on Marmaduke's back bristle. A leisurely-revolving white
sphere twinkled as millions of particles processed and whirled
in its midst. John watched the globular cloud with a fond
smile on his lips, breathed in deeply, exhaled fully, and
leant forward. He inhaled until the entire contents of the
case had been drawn down into his lungs, then he turned to
the food processor. With a 'phut' sound, as if blowing out
a candle flame, he released a miniature smoke ring into the
appliance. Straightening up, he proceeded to move around the
room, delivering similar packages into the refrigerator, oven,
microwave and all of the food cupboards. Satisfied that he'd
completed his task, he returned to the case and fully exhaled
again. The sphere looked undiminished in size and he closed
the case. Opening the kitchen door he called out for Mrs.
Tresgrave to come and test her ameliorated appliance.
* * *
13 Million BC (Earth time): Gahzbrid
The machairod eagerly tore into the
hide of a freshly-killed ruminot, which it had just dispatched
with its razor-sharp, serrated canines, having leapt down
onto it from a craggy hidey-hole as the deer-like creature
grazed on a tussock of green-orange vegetation. The gaping
wound steamed in the early morning air as the fearsome hunter
rasped the flesh away with the pointed papillae on its lapping
tongue, then ripped and tore away a hunk of ruminot meat with
a shake of its powerful head. A group of Pullulaties had made
the ruminot their home for the past two years and the death
of their host had signalled a rapid relocation response. The
microscopic creatures poured into the region on which the
machairod was feasting. No doubt they would encounter others
of their kind in the carnivore's body, but they would be met
with a warm welcome and be embraced into a new fold, an extended
family, drawn together in convivial affinity, poised to move
on again if events dictated.
The brief struggle had flung the animals
onto a weatherworn overhang and their combined weight was
trying the flaws. A sound like a whipcrack made the machairod
lift its head in time to see the splintering support of its
vertiginous dining table give way. Its back legs propelled
it upwards with an agility that belied the creature's size
and bulk, it scrambled back onto the cliff top and swung round
to watch its prize tumble away. It snorted derisively, sending
a shower of crimson droplets after its meal (from the ruminot's
blood, which matted the thick fur around the machairod's snout).
Another set of louder cracking noises made it retreat from
the edge, as shale trickled and bounced into the narrow chasm,
soon to be followed by a landslide of boulders, burying the
carcass of the ruminot under a clattering torrent. An immense
slab of dense rock sheared from the cliff face and slid down
to form an impenetrable cap, sealing the contents of the avalanche.
Five Pullulaties hadn't made the transfer
to the machairod in time and had been entombed along with
the ruminot. They took all of the energy that they could from
the dead animal's rapidly deteriorating glyconutrients and
set off for the surface. It took them a month to trace a path
between the compacted rubble, and then they reached the slab
of rock. The Pullulaties were able to manipulate matter to
suit their purposes, but the density of the material made
their task desperately demanding and three had lost their
lives in the process.
* * *
The 160-kilometre diameter M-type asteroid
was travelling at 50,000 kilometres-per-second when it struck
Gahzbrid: the atmosphere ignited instantly and shockwaves
could be felt throughout the system. Protected from the furnace
that consumed every form of life on the planet and an impact
that ruptured Gahzbrid's heart, the explosion jettisoned fragments
of rockin one of which the last pair of surviving Pullulaties
were encasedout into space with phenomenal velocity.
Their cosmic lifeboat travelled for 2.2 megalight-years, as
the Pullulaties lay dormant, sheltering from the endless winter
of their hibernation, until, finallyand with extraordinary
good fortunethe shard of Gahzbrid avoided skipping off
the Earth's atmosphere and plummeted to the surface. The peak
shock layer temperatures were largely dissipated by the unique
crystal configuration of the fragment, but rapidly warmed
the shard's core, reversing the cryopreservation of the Pullulaties,
waking them from a deep and ancient sleep in their geomorphed
cocoon. The micro-impact drove the shard deep into the crust
and it would be a further year before the Pullulaties had
worked their way up from the bedrock that broke their fall,
through clay and subsoil, and up into the topsoil of a new
The Pullulaties (one male and one female)
encountered sweet, delicious vegetables and indulged themselves
accordingly, replenishing glyconutrients and storing amino
acids from the proteins in a magnificent crop of broccoli.
They'd come to the surface at night and feasted until daybreak.
Around mid-morning the warm, probing fingers of an alien lifeform
began harvesting and tending the crops. The Pullulaties swiftly
penetrated its skin and ingratiated themselves with the creature's
immune system, revelling in the perfect conditions provided
by their new host, familiarising themselves with its physiology
and metabolic processes. They wasted little time in breeding
and proliferated at a phenomenal rate. The growing community
of Pullulaties soon noticed that some of the host's cells
were behaving in a deranged fashion, mutated proto-oncogenes
conducting a symphony of invasion. They quickly put a stop
to that, and to the aging processes, both of which threatened
the longevity of their host and the heaven-sent relationship
that was evolving. As their numbers reached potential saturation
point, they turned their attention to the host's thought processes;
learning the biomechanics of pattern matching, intellect and
reasoning; running subtle experiments on pathways and learned
experience; steadily building a method of cognitive direction
and, eventually, of direct communication.
John Smith's allotment had been the
Pullulaties' 'Eden' and his body the vehicle of salvation
for an entire race, who, in turn, recompensed him by banishing
the cancer that would have soon taken his life: a consummate
The doctors had given him about a year
to live, so John had packed in work as a kitchen appliance
salesman and decided to spend the rest of his days doing what
he loved most. He was close to retirement anyway and the small
pension was enough for his needs, and his source of enjoyment
also provided him with plenty of fresh foodmusing over
his life experiences as he tended the crops on the allotment.
Then the miracle happened.
Although his condition was terminal
he was encouraged to attend the cancer unit for monthly reviews
and it was following one of these that he received the most
wonderful news. Not only had it stopped spreading, but the
tests, scans and x-rays showed that the disease was going
into remission. Within a week it was as if it had never even
existed. His grey hair grew through at the roots with the
brown colour of his youth; his skin tightened and gleamed
with health, old aches and pains were replaced with an intoxicating
vitality and every sense was heightened.
He decided to go into the repair business,
set up on his own and try his luck. That was around the time
that he started hearing voices. They were more like impulsive
whims to begin with, and then whispers, not malevolent, quite
the opposite. It was as if he was privy to an audience with
an ocean of souls. They told him tales of how their race had
nearly been wiped out, how they'd travelled across the deep
and empty reaches of space, how they'd come to be on Earth,
and how they had found him. As the whispers grew into voices,
so he learnt how to communicate with them through thought,
and together they formed a plan that would both accommodate
the burgeoning populace of his body and benefit the entire
* * *
In a guesthouse, at the bottom of Lower
Rock Gardens in Brighton, the repairman reclined on his bed
with the door to the flight case open, surrounded by a dense
cloud, as the Pullulaties flowed in and out of his body, absorbing
the energy from his massive sugar intake and the protein building
blocks from his huge meals and regular complimentary snacks,
swelling their numbers and affecting repairs to his body and
outfit. A subtle hum accompanied the scene, somewhere between
the sound of a distant waterfall and the high-frequency clicks
and pulses of a termite mound. As he breathed in and out,
mist-like plumes were expelled from his mouth and nose, the
steamy exhalations of a winter's morning flowing back to the
assembly, as would the temporarily freed waxy globules of
a lava lamp. Slicks and subsets broiled in gaseous union,
extended families relishing their very existence in an endlessly
A thousand swirling patterns.
A million efflorescent blooms.
A billion scintillations.
A trillion tiny beating wings.
Together they had seeded all of the
major cities in Britain. Travel and tourism was already spreading
the Pullulaties across Europe and, to a lesser extent, around
the world. John Smith had sold his house and the interest
on the capital was funding his travels and his living expenses,
with the payments for his repair work being a happy bonus.
In a few days he would be travelling to America, with just
a square aluminium flight case for hand luggage, and over
the next twenty years he would travel the world.
It was the beginning of a benign invasion.
The Pullulaties were John's guardian
angels and would soon be micro-faeries to the fortunes of
mankind. They would spread exponentially throughout the Earth's
living organisms, learning each species' weaknesses and strengths,
knitting broken bones and hearts alike. The preservation and
wellbeing of their hosts would be of paramount importance.
Eventually they would bring about a fundamental change in
the human condition. It would be a major step in the evolution
of humanity accompanied by a long-overdue cerebral maturation.
For now they were content to simply
exist as the modern descendants of an antediluvian race.