Read by Bali Rai
A man gets off a bus, stumbles, looks over and sees a woman, smiling. It was the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen, yet he could only see her eyes.
She reached out her hand to help him up. Her touch felt so pure and her skin felt like warm silk, yet they were both wearing gloves.
As he stood he stumbled forward again. This time she caught him. He could feel her hair brush the side of his neck. He closed his eyes and breathed in through his nose. She smelt incredible, yet he was wearing a facemask.
It was now 2036 and sixteen years into the great pandemic of 2020, human imagination had already evolved. Outside of our own homes, our senses of smell and touch were just memories that our brains wouldn’t let go.
After the vaccine programme was abandoned in 2023, humans were told they would just have to live alongside the virus, and they did.
Facemasks outside the home became law all over the planet. People had learnt to read the full range of emotions just through micro-movements in each other’s eyes.
“You should tie that shoelace, mister” said the bus driver as he closed his doors and pulled away.
The bus had just dropped Ed outside of JPL, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. He’d travelled all the way from the UK, where he’d worked as part of a team combatting online conspiracy theories.
“You must be Ed?” said the woman, as she held her hand out once again, this time for a more formal greeting.
She could tell her was embarrassed because of the red tinge washing across his forehead and around his neck.
He knew her facemask hid her real joy of seeing his unfortunate stumble. The slight squint in the corner of both eyes gave her big smile away.
“Yes, thank you, sorry about that,” said Ed.
“You can call me Niki,” said Nicola. “It’s this way, they’re waiting for us,” she said.
Ed and Niki were both part of a UK-USA taskforce set up sixteen years ago. They spent their time debunking myths and conspiracies surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak. They knew of each other’s work, but they had never met.
“Any ides why this meeting is at JPL?” said Ed.
“They haven’t told us anything yet, it must be serious if we’re having a face-to-face,” said Niki.
They took their seats in a room full of G20 ambassadors. Ed looked across and could now see fear exposing itself through Niki’s eyes.
The head of JPL, Jen Elenin, addressed the group.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. In nine months’ time an asteroid the size of the Empire State Building will skim past the Earth’s surface. It will come closer than all of our satellites. People will spread stories of a doomsday event. It will be your job to put their minds at ease.”
Ed and Niki made eye contact again. He could tell she was now breathing heavily through her facemask.
“The asteroid will not, I repeat WILL NOT, hit our planet!” said Jen.
Ed and Niki could now both tell Jen was lying. They could see it in her eyes…