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I'm chatting with a woman in the canteen and in a lull in the conversation I pull out my mobile phone to show her a picture.
"Was this taken ... in space?" the woman asks.
It's a multi-layered image showing four women reflected in glass. Beyond the glass, it's possible to see white panelling and then another window, triangular, with a view onto a blackness that is speckled with silver-white pin-pricks.
I explain that one of the women in the reflection is a hologram. She has mousy blonde hair, unstyled, and is wearing a pink T-shirt and jeans. She's standing slightly apart from the others, as if she doesn't fit in. She's looking in the opposite direction to the other women.
"That's Jesus," I say. "I decided to make her a woman. We've had some good conversations."
"How have you taken this photo?" she asks.
"I go up once a week," I say, instinctively looking up at the ceiling, forgetting it's there. "It's part of a study to see how the brain reacts under certain conditions, but I have to say that there hasn't been much testing yet. It's all been a lot of fun."
We often leave the ship and perform dangerous missions, including mineral collecting and mining, which involve a lot of rock climbing and walking across mountainous moons in single file.
I remember one woman in particular. I recall how exhausted she became after climbing hundreds of feet up sheer faces of rocks that were stacked one on top of the other like Lego bricks, though each brick was moveable, separated from the others by thin layers of air. She climbed to the top of one tower before jumping off the other side. Gravity was low, but that kind of a fall still takes it out of you. And then there was another wall to climb. And another. And another after that.
She landed in a heap and didn't get up. She rested her face against the cool, black rock, while molten lava bubbled up through enormous cracks around us.
It wasn't long before two guys climbed back to her and one of them allowed her to ride his tandem bicycle. I remember the relief on her face when she saw that she wouldn't be stranded on this moon.
Being on the bike contraption seemed to renew her energy. The moment she climbed on, he jumped on the back and off they went, trailing away, meandering, the vanguard now. We marched on behind, our spirits lifted because we knew that nobody would be left behind. Not one of us.
The woman in the canteen hands the phone back to me. It's an amazing picture, with its various windows and reflections, including the holographic woman, who is a mirror of sorts.
I look out of the canteen window. I feel trepidation about going back out to space. I always do. There is no getting away from the fact that you are far away from home. Nothing tethers you. Not even people. Not really.
When you're up there, you sort of disappear. And when you get back, you realise nobody knows you were gone. And so you tell the woman in the canteen. She's impressed, you can see that. Even though it's clear that you wouldn't give up your place on the space craft for the world, you can see that she's glad she's not you.
The girls are sort of milling about outside the hut, waiting for something to happen, when Jane spots a zombie.
She turns to look at the other women, but they haven't seen it and so her brain isn't really sure if she's seeing what she thinks she's seeing. She looks back at what looks very much like a zombie climbing out of a window.
It is about six foot six, male, with broad shoulders. It's wearing a plaid shirt that is ripped and wet. It's face is ... it's face is sort of the wrong shape, more like Darth Siddius than a person, though she doesn't know that because she's never seen Star Wars. And she never will.
The zombie spots her, but it doesn't reflect her hesitation. It strides towards her, grabs her by the shoulders, and proceeds to attempt to bite off the top of her head. Brainsss!
She still doesn't scream. People are still sort of milling about, preparing for a zombie invasion that they don't really believe will come.
Her brain finally kicks in, telling her that this looks like a zombie, but she still doesn't scream, because to sceam would make it real. If she screams, she thinks, she's dead.
Fortunately, somebody sees the struggle and soon there are four people, armed, pulling the zombie from her and hitting it, stabbing it, killing it.
Among them is Lisa.
"Why didn't you call for help?" Lisa says, her face wet with sweat.
The woman is in shock.
Lisa shakes her head.
Vinnie, the head of the zombie hunt turns up.
"You finally got one," he says, looking at the corpse.
Lisa nods, satisfied with her handy work but dissatisfied generally.
"We could do with more women like you," Vinnie says.
"There are no women in the zombie patrols," Lisa says.
"So start your own," says Vinnie.
"Where would I patrol?" asks Lisa.
"You can have the whole of Scotland," Vinnie says. "I've got to move out."
By I, he means him and the majority of his troops.
He probably has orders from London, Lisa thinks.
"Get to it," he says with a smile before walking away. It's not an order. It's the only thing he says to her as a genuine friend.
It's funny in this world. People look at you in the eye and they really look at you, they really listen to what you have to say, because they know that you're probably going to be dead in the next 120 hours. Every exchange might be your last or their last, and yet people still say things like: "Go to work" and "Get to it" at the end. Nobody says "I love you" anymore. That's the kind of thing you say as you're bleeding out.
He walks away in his big military jacket and boots, carrying more dust in their creases than remains on the road.
She stands there in her red, cotton, sleeveless blouse and jeans; bare arms, bare hands, holding a bloody rake.
She looks at the dead zombie. She looks at the other women: strong, together, afraid. In that moment, it becomes real: this is the first all-woman zombie patrol.
It will be the first of many such units throughout the country, but she doesn't know that yet. And she won't be dead in the next 120 hours either. Nor will any of her women. Even Jane, who almost had a zombie bite into her skull because she couldn't scream, even Jane survives a few more weeks.
Lisa's been thinking of this moment for a long time. Now that it's here she doesn't know where to start.
"What now?" asks Sandy.
Lisa creates two teams to check the house, while a third team checks the perimeter. The others should either be doing a stock check of weapons, including potential weapons — see rake — or attending to Jane's mental state. The orders spill out of her mouth, as if by reflex.
The women get to it.
Dean's Dream Journal
As a dark fiction author, I like to take some inspiration from my dreams.
"How to Remember Your Dreams" will help you with:
Exchange your front row seat for a starring role.
Available on Amazon.