Ulysses in Space

By L.A. Hilton

The idea of space was firmly outside. He pressed the release switch andLuke1 the latch on the metal door eased open. There were two buttons, both red, and he pressed the one linked to the monocognition machine. He heard it whirring into action underneath his feet, in the hull of the craft. The idea of space lay firmly outside. There were no windows from which to take a view. The designers had opted to leave windows out of the final craft due to what clinical researchers at the Institute of Astro-Psychology had termed ‘Space Insanity: Vacuoso 1’. The premise being that on long voyages, blank glaring from windows could induce a type of crazy that would leave the astronaut unable to comprehend life with shapes and surface. They had said that in many cases viewing absolutely nothing save the monochromatic interior of the craft could induce the same unnerving condition. Brian was, so far, unphased by this. He turned off the monocognition machine and lay in the reclining chair.

The craft was a good size for a one man mission. There was a main room, containing mission-control mechanics and other dashboard functionality, a kitchenette complete with food sachets set to last up to one hundred years, a selection of entertainment items including a reader and a Veriphone Double X. The main room also contained a large reclining chair which is where Brian spent up to fourteen hours of his day. There were separate sleeping quarters. Designers had included two bunks on the one-man-mission-craft for reasons that were never properly explained. Brian had left Earth one year ago yesterday and had recently been suspecting that this extra bunk may have been for any visitors that he happened upon. The thought worried him, but not enough that clinical researchers at the Institute of Astro-Psychology might have said he was developing any variant of the Space Insanity condition. None of the men and women who were sent on these missions had been informed of the Space Insanity condition, for fear that merely possessing the knowledge of its existence could drive one into maniacal reverie. It had been decided that it was a very volatile condition. Brian had been reading Ulysses by James Joyce at the rate of one page per day. He decided that it was as far removed from the exterior of his craft as possible. He would read his page and ruminate on its contents for the remainder of the day, only pausing to carry out routine work or make food. He was unaware of the directional course of the craft, as it was predetermined by the polycartograph machine under the dashboard. He had become very fond of Leopold Bloom. He was not sure why there was no contact with mission control, and hadn’t been for many weeks. Continue reading

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Help Wanted

By L.A. Hilton

When I was twenty-two I had just finished university and was in an extremely difficult situation with regards to money and, indeed, any sense of where my life might be he2014-09-10 20.07.24 (1)ading. I took various jobs that were all low-paid and either consisted of not enough hours or of too many. The provincial northern town, which I called home, offered few opportunities for employment. It dawned on me that for the time-being I was limited to shops or factories; although many of my friends had moved to London this was something in which I desperately did not want to follow suit. The factories all seemed to pay well enough for me to continue paying the meagre rent I’d offered my parents and were all a short drive from their house. The work would be mind-numbingly dull but I was somebody who had discovered a quiet pleasure in being bored. I found that boredom was the polar opposite of stress, both feelings could manifest themselves as quiet desperation but boredom, more often than not, left me sleepy. Stress, on the other hand was something I dealt with terribly. My first job that summer was working in a very busy, high-street branch of Costa Coffee and, while the work was simple, it wasn’t always easy. The machines would routinely break down or work slower than the lunch-hour rush would require; people would shout and scream at me and I would have to ignore their complaints due to understaffing. I would be berated personally for the slow service. At this time I regularly considered the ways in which I had been a difficult customer in past retail situations and vowed to change my ways. I am confident that anybody who has ever worked in a shop will tell you that customers are terrible people who consider retail staff to be lesser humans; common sense and decency leaves them when they are on the verge of a purchase and you, the member of staff, are the only thing that stands between them and their goods. They presume that you want to screw them at every opportunity and this attitude of theirs, over time, leaves you feeling exactly that way. My father was a former miner and came from a family all of whom worked in the mines. He laughed heartily when I told him how difficult the work was and, when I tried to explain that the work itself wasn’t difficult – that I could make hundreds of coffees a day, but the customers were starting to give me a stomach ulcer – his explanation for the laughter was that I would have never lasted in the pits. He told me that I had no idea what hard graft really was and that shop work was probably the perfect job for somebody like me. I lasted only three months in the job – my nerves were so damaged that my hands were burnt from unsteadily holding hot beverages. My friend Louise, who had been back from London over summer, had just gone back to continue her work as an artist which meant that I had nobody (except for my laughing dad) to talk to about the problems. But this, by far, was not the worst working experience I had that year. Continue reading