Out there

I originally intended this to be a short story entry in a major competition, but ran out of time and missed the deadline. For those who are wondering, the date is not an error; read to the end and you’ll understand why.

January 2019.
‘Do you hear the news tonight? Some sort of virus is spreading and there’s panic we might all be locked up until they find a cure.’

‘Yeah right. It’s winter. How long have colds and flu been about? I can remember grandma having a runny nose but it didn’t stop her getting on with life. What was her remedy? Hot water, honey, lemon and a little tipple of something stronger. God Bless her. They survived the worlds’ wars so a few sniffles weren’t going to stop them. I’m going shopping. Anything you want from the store apart from the usual?’

‘I heard there’s been a rush on toilet rolls. Might be worth getting a few extra in. We’ve only a couple left.’

‘OK, see you later.’

February 2019.
‘Excuse me. Could you help me please?’

‘Yes, Madam, what can I do for you?’

‘I wanted some toilet rolls but all the shelves are empty. What’s going on? Have you moved them somewhere?’

‘We’ve actually run out. I’m sorry but there’s been such a demand we haven’t been able to keep up. There should be an emergency delivery tomorrow, but we will be restricting the amount available to each customer to give everyone a fair chance.’

‘That’s crazy. Okay, I guess I’ll have to come back tomorrow. Oh, one other thing. Where are the tinned goods now? You know the soups, baked beans and so on. I couldn’t find those either.’

‘Same thing. Our storage area at the back was piled high but we’ve put everything out and now it’s empty. We’ve been told the transporters are having difficulty getting fuel to reach us but we’re hoping to restock tomorrow. To be honest, I’ve never known anything like it, and I’ve been here for several years now.’

‘Thanks for the information. Anyone would think there’s another war on. You must get tired repeating the same thing over and over.’

‘Let’s just say it’s not been the easiest of weeks. Thanks for understanding. It’s frustrating for all of us but some residents seem to think we’re doing it deliberately. Apologies for the inconvenience.’

March 2019.
All personnel, please listen carefully to the following announcement. In view of the current situation, we have taken the decision to enforce a temporary lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. Places of entertainment will be obliged to close with immediate effect, and schools will need to set up remote teaching programmes by video communication.

Only essential industries such as food providers will be allowed to operate. Restaurants, clubs, cafes and similar businesses must close their doors immediately. Further information and guidance will be provided on the usual channel. With your cooperation and support we will be able to return to our normal lives very quickly. Meanwhile, you are asked to stay at home and not mix with anyone outside your immediate family until further notice.

April 2019.
‘Did you see the news tonight?’

‘Yes, it’s frightening, isn’t it? I thought at first they were over reacting, but with all these reports of people dying I’m actually relieved I don’t have to go out to work and mix with them. How are we off for food? Have we got enough to last us the week?’

‘Just about but we need to be careful. The last delivery from my order had loads of stuff missing as not available. It’s a bit of a catch 22. We’re not allowed out to find the things we need, and the shops haven’t got the stock to fulfil orders. Let’s hope it improves soon.’

Summer 2019.
Nine long months when things have gone from bad to worse. At first it was almost a holiday and a break from the unusual routine but humans are contrary, and however much they protested they enjoyed solitude, they needed the companionship of everyday life and a sense of purpose.

Autumn 2019.
‘It seems odd we’re not preparing for our annual travel trip. I hope we don’t have to delay it for too long. I’m getting fed up being stuck inside, and I came here to do a job, not sit around all day doing nothing.’

‘You’re not the only one. On the broadcast they mentioned several people who had breakdowns. That didn’t happen even in the early days of colonisation.’

‘I think there were one or two removed from duty and returned to their homes, but for the most part we were too busy adapting to a new life to have time to get bored. Let’s hope it’s not much longer.’

Christmas 2019.
It wasn’t the usual standard of celebrations, but people in the complex were allowed to meet up with friends and raise a toast to the spirit of the season. Restrictions had been substantially eased, and it looked as if the New Year would bring the virus under control and travel would be allowed again.

It had been nearly a year since the first three people had died, but with the antidote successfully distributed there had been no further fatalities. It was even suggested the initial deaths might have been due to other non-related illnesses. A rota was set up for holiday leave and the majority of the inhabitants signed a contract to return for a further year on the planet. The pay was good, the prospects excellent and the community spirit strong. They could also take pride in being the first colonists in what was expected to be a brave new world.

January 2020.
‘We will be landing on earth in five minutes, when you will be escorted into the reception area for the usual debrief. Enjoy your holiday and see you back here in two months’ time. Take care everyone.’

Earth. BBC News
The Virus which has been identified as Covid-19 has been confirmed as prevalent throughout the UK.

It is not clear where the virus originated but several deaths have been confirmed, and the government has announced a temporary lockdown. This is to stop further infection and allow for the distribution of the necessary masks and other protection for hospitals and health staff.

Non-essential travel restrictions will remain in force.

Lift-off station. March 2020.
‘Please hurry along. We will be leaving earth in five minutes to return to the colony.’

‘I did wonder if we would be allowed to leave with the virus spreading all over earth. Strange how none of us were affected.’

‘There was a fair bit of international government negotiations, but the people behind the colony project were able to convince them something like this made our work even more imperative. We are the trail blazers but eventually there will be colonies all over the universe.

As for the virus, perhaps the mild strand we had made us immune.’

‘Or we took it with us from space.’

‘Who knows? I wouldn’t bank on being able to return to earth next year. One thing is sure though, ColonyOne was developed just in time. We’ll soon be home.’

© Val Portelli March 2022

Hope you enjoyed this story with my usual quirky twist. See you next week.

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