Ryan drove back to his apartment and parked his Fiesta in the communal car park. He then let himself into the building which was now almost entirely empty, except for a few who had opted to sleep it out at home. He heard the usual snores coming from number Fifty-Two as he passed the door.
Until he entered his and Holly’s apartment he had been feeling quite euphoric, but then the sudden silence and emptiness of their home made him feel a twinge of sadness. He soon shrugged that feeling off however and headed to the kitchen.
There was a special portable generator, provided by the interim government, linked up to the mains. Ryan didn’t like to use it much though, partially because he wanted to conserve his petrol supplies, but mostly because it was very loud. Therefore he usually spent the evenings wrapped in a blanket and reading the sports pages of old newspapers and magazines by candle light until he fell asleep.
The evening was still quite a few hours away though, and in the meantime he had the official task assigned to him by the int-gov of patrolling the local streets looking for any ‘issues’, although the definition of ‘issue’ was quite broad. He drank a glass of water poured from one of the many bottles stored in the cupboards, changed into his running gear, and then headed back out into the empty urban sprawl around him.
He encountered no ‘issues’ as he jogged around the adjoining streets, and so decided to widen his search. Running and jogging was an activity that Ryan enjoyed, it helped him to work off stress, and so he quickly found himself travelling out of Havenmoor and towards the countryside.
On his way, he passed over a motorway bridge and found himself stopping to look out over the empty silent motorway beneath. He found something strangely beautiful, and also eerie about seeing a motorway stretching out for miles ahead with no cars on it whatsoever.
Just as Ryan was enjoying the silence, it was suddenly broken by an odd high-pitched humming sound. The sound seemed to be emanating from a farmer’s field nearby, and came in short bursts of around three seconds at a time, followed by a gap of two seconds. Ryan wandered into the fallow field, in an attempt to locate the source of the sound. Eventually he followed the humming to the centre of the field where he discovered a small white orb, about twice the size of a tennis ball, half buried in the soil. The sound was originating from the orb and became increasingly loud as he got closer.
Ryan’s first thought, having been trained in bomb disposal, was that it could be some sort of explosive. But as he leant over to take a closer look, he realised that it was like no explosive he’d ever seen before. In fact, the orb appeared to be completely sealed with no sign of any joins. Around the circumference, there were strange symbols which reminded Ryan of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
In a move which was either incredibly brave or stupid, Ryan gently pulled the orb from the soil and held it in his hand. As he did so the sound ceased. He carefully examined it from all angles. Other than the strange symbols, there were no other markings or indents on it at all. Ryan was relieved to find that the object was quite light, as if hollow, which eliminated the possibility of an explosive. Its surface was smooth like white plastic, but not flexible to the touch.
He hadn’t planned to contact any other awakers so soon into the Long Sleep, but he knew of someone relatively close by who might be able to identify the object, and whether or not is could be deemed as an ‘issue’. Ryan slipped the orb into his running bag, and then jogged his way to the cottage of Doctor Howard Rutherford.
Howard was taking things easy as he liked to do where possible. As he sat in the deck chair in the back garden of his cottage, peeling his afternoon banana, he was rather startled to suddenly hear a knocking sound emanating from the front of the cottage. He sighed and put down the banana.
‘Coming!’ he called.
He stomped to the door and opened it to find Ryan standing there. Suddenly, Howard’s mood changed significantly.
‘Ryan Johnson!’ exclaimed Howard in delight, ‘I didn’t expect to see you so soon. Come in, come in, I’ll get the fire going and make us a nice cup of tea.’
‘Thanks Doc,’ said Ryan walking through the cramped cottage entrance.
Howard had a solar panel array installed in the garden to provide him with power during the winter months, but when it came to tea he preferred to do things the old fashioned way by starting up a roaring fire in the small sitting room. Ryan filled the kettle with water from the well outside as he had done many times before, and then brought it back in so that Howard could hang it over the fire.
‘So,’ said Howard as he shoved a few lumps of coal into the kindling fire, ‘what brings you to my humble abode? Still having trouble with the PTSD?’
‘No, well, yes actually, but that’s not why I’m here,’ explained Ryan. ‘I found something strange, in a field near the motorway bridge a couple of miles from here.’
Ryan pulled the orb from his running bag and Howard slipped on his spectacles to examine it more closely.
‘Intriguing,’ he said, taking the orb into his hands, ‘some sort of children’s toy perhaps?’
‘It was making a very loud humming noise when I found it, but it’s so light, I don’t know what inside it could make that kind of noise,’ said Ryan. ‘And what about the markings around the edge, do you recognise those?’
‘Well, it’s definitely some kind of pictographic iconography,’ said Howard, ‘but it’s not like any hieroglyphics I’ve seen before.’
‘Should we report it to the int-gov?’ asked Ryan.
‘Oh no no no,’ scoffed Howard. ‘I wouldn’t bother telling them anything if I were you. They just spend the whole winter getting drunk in Downing Street anyway. No, let’s keep this between ourselves eh?’
‘OK whatever you say Doc,’ said Ryan.
‘In any case, it’s a very interesting object to be sure, especially as there don’t appear to be any joins,’ said Howard examining the orb again.
‘Yes, I thought that was strange,’ agreed Ryan.
‘Leave it with me for a bit and I’ll run a few tests,’ said Howard putting down the orb and stuffing two teabags into a couple of mugs he had ready by the fireplace.
Just as Howard began pouring the tea, they were both suddenly distracted by a mop of wild auburn hair drifting past the front window.
‘Oh shit, it’s Sophie,’ moaned Ryan.
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