The Future is a Distant Memory

2024 Young Or Golden Writer
Manuscript Type
Logline or Premise
When a genetic scientist is kidnapped through time to 1918, her mutated son is the only one who can rescue her before her captives use her science to change history.
First 10 Pages



London, 1926, Neue Unified Territories

Lydia leapt off the back step of a double-decker bus as it slowed where Old Bond Street met Piccadilly, not waiting for it to stop. Heels clacking over cobblestones, she bolted through the morning pedestrians, the knife pleats of her gabardine skirt slicing at her ankles.

As she swerved past a street sweeper, he tilted his haggard, grey face to her, and she tripped, flinging her arms out to stabilise herself. ‘Gerald?’

The lines around his mouth deepened, his face more gaunt than when he’d worked on level one only a few months before. He merely nodded and returned to sweeping dust and garbage from the gutter.

She clutched her throat. ‘Why?’ He was a brilliant physicist; how could he be reduced to this?

He stilled, studying the gutter. ‘Withheld a discovery. They found out.’

She swallowed. ‘I’m so sorry.’

He turned his back on her and, not knowing what else to say, what else she could possibly do for him, she hurried on, glancing at her watch. Fifteen minutes late. Under this clockwork regime, they would dock her pay. But that wasn’t the only reason to hurry. She’d been anxious to return to her lab since life pulled her from it last night, and then this morning delayed her even more.

Overtaking a pair of plain-suited men on the entrance steps to the Royal Institution on Albemarle Street, she opened the massive front door of the NUT house, as the British half of its employees secretly referred to it. The Germans had named it the Neue Unified Territories London Institute in 1917 when they took control of Europe.

Once inside, she rushed to the staircase. Her mind filled with the limitless possibilities—and dangers—of her work, and not paying attention, she collided with a guard.

‘Sorry,’ she muttered, annoyed at the number of obstacles between her and her work today.

He glowered. ‘Fräuline Lydia.’

Pausing on the third-floor landing to remove her cloche hat and jacket, she plucked one of her loose red hairs from her blouse and, composing herself, entered the door code. It clicked open, and she slipped into the laboratory.

Her supervisor, Professor Art Mort, a pre-eminent British N.U.T. scientist, leaned over a microscope examining a slide, a cigarette burning in his other hand.

‘Morning, Lydia. You’re late.’

The side of his mouth twitched, and she laughed. ‘Because of you, and you know that.’

‘Today the big day?’

So he knew. ‘Maybe.’ Was he annoyed she hadn’t told him last night that she was on the cusp of a breakthrough? She'd been on the verge of telling him several times, but with the mood he’d been in, she couldn't find the right moment. She’d cooked him breakfast this morning to perk him up, but then there was no time left, and he’d had to dash off for a before-work meeting, leaving her with the clean-up.

His eyes twinkled as he twirled his moustache. Not annoyed then. He stretched, his lab coat straining across the broad expanse of his chest, reminding her of last night. She mentally undressed him, delighting in his rippling muscles. He kept himself physically fit; she appreciated a man in good form.

She slipped on a lab coat, surveying the shattered glass beaker on the floor at his feet—a sign he’d either lost his temper, frustrated with himself, or he’d had one of his melancholic episodes and taken it out on the glassware. Obsessed with splicing the gene of a human with that of an animal, she had been assisting him for nine months now, ever since the Germans had ripped her from her physics tenure at Oxford and into their new genetics department to help him. Much to her annoyance, they thought her background in physics and medicine would be of use to him. Even more annoying was the fact that they were right, as she was about to prove. She could feel it.

She slid behind her desk without comment, and pushed a petri dish under her own microscope, adjusting the focus. Manipulating the intricate gene strands, she stared blankly for a moment at the one that was pale red like Winny’s hair. Winny was the smartest man she knew for someone who wasn’t a scientist. What would he think of what she was about to do? She could almost see the wonder in his eyes, the special sparkle he saved just for her. She blinked. What was she thinking, yet again letting her mind drift to him in the middle of her work? Fixing her mind on the task at hand, she ignored further intruding thoughts of Winnyhim.

After completing a taxingly complicated series of procedures, she examined the results. Her scalp tingled with excitement at the intricate creation; she’d successfully spliced a chimpanzee gene strand with that of the drosophila fruit fly—a chimeric fusion, as they called it. She swiped the back of her hand across her sweaty upper lip, drawing in a long breath to calm herself. She was so close to what Art and the Director wanted. She knew the sequence, the one further step, needed to splice human-animal genes. But she wasn’t about to go that far. Not yet, and hopefully never.

Elation slid off her like a whisper in the wind. She’d been too ambitious and careless when she’d had no idea why they wanted to perform a human gene splice with an animal. And this was a mere step away. She should have played incompetent and simply spliced the drosophila gene strand with that of another simple organism, claimed she was still learning the technique, perhaps even made a mistake. Drumming her fingers on the counter, her head ached with how this work could be perverted. She shivered at German soldiers with gorilla strength and snapping jackal jaws. They’d never get the Germans out of Britain if that happened.

Leaning back, she eyed Art as he stubbed out his cigarette and manipulated something under his microscope. She already kept the physics work that she did at home in her spare time (and a dangerous secret that was!) from him and the regime. Could she keep this achievement a secret? But their jobs were on the line, and life without a job under this regime was worse than miserable, as she’d witnessed that morning. As a failed scientist, she’d be set to street cleaning like poor Gerald, never to touch a piece of science equipment again. She shuddered with revulsion, unable to tolerate it.

She peered into the microscope. She needed enough time to splice the drosophila gene with a simple bacterial cell gene strand. Another day perhaps. Yes, that was the solution. Claim failure, but make it look like she’d made some progress.

A shadow fell over her as she sat back. Art stood beside her, laying a hand on her shoulder.

‘Move over and let me see.’

Her mind lurched as if she were falling off a cliff, her palms sweaty with panic.

‘Lydia, I said move over. What’s wrong with you?’

Mute, she slid her hand towards the plate under the microscope. She’d push it off the bench, break it.

He grabbed her hand and hauled her to her feet.

Now, there was no chance of keeping it from the Germans. Art would never agree. He enjoyed the limelight too much.

He sat on her chair and peered through the scope. ‘You’ve done it!’ He leaned back, beaming. ‘By God, Lydia, you’ve done it!’ He laughed, fixing his amber gaze on her like a hungry leopard, the thrill of which always set her heart thumping.

‘Well done, Lydia. I had complete faith in you. And praise Germany! We’d never have achieved this otherwise. The entire technique must be set out in ink and published.’

He was right about the technology. If Mexico and Japan had stayed out of the Great War, if the Americans hadn’t been caught on the hop, they would likely still be in the scientific dark ages. They’d barely have progressed since the Braggs and their 1915 x-ray discoveries. They probably wouldn’t have discovered the human genetic code for decades.

And he’d said, we. He claimed the victory jointly as her supervisor. Now would come a long period of testing before they attempted it on a human. Perhaps she could make a mistake when she wrote out the gene splicing steps, delay things for a while. But And to what purpose? They’d eventually have to splice the human gene strand with that of an animal.

Art plucked a gold watch from his vest pocket and, flipping open the lid, brightened. ‘Imagine. A major scientific advance by second breakfast—Zweites Frühstück. Let’s grab a coffee and ham brötchen in celebration. The Director will be there, and we can tell him our good news.’ He winked at her. ‘Though I’d rather a French 75.’

Something crumpled inside her. She’d face the Director, and he would congratulate Art for his accomplishment. Then they’d discuss all the implications, never once asking her opinion. She was simply there to figure out the mechanics.

She ran a hand down her throat. ‘I can’t see you tonight. This has completely drained me, I’m afraid. I need a long bath and a night alone.’

A veneer of concern in his eyes barely concealed his excitement. ‘Of course, you must be exhausted. Take the rest of the day off. I’ll deal with the Director.’

‘Thanks.’ Since he would claim the credit anyway, she grabbed her coat, hat and bag, hurrying down the stairs and out into the smoggy street.

Ducking into a laneway that stank of urine and rotting cabbage, she fumbled in her bag for a piece of paper and a pencil and hurriedly scribbled on it. Tilting her face to the cloud-puffed sky, she whistled.

A crow landed on a nearby dustbin, cawing and eying her.

She folded the paper into a small square. ‘Mawson, take this to Winny, please.’ The crow lifted its left wing, revealing a small pouch, and she slipped the note inside. The crow flew away, and she leaned against the rough brick wall, closing her eyes briefly. Winny. He’d bring brandy, and she’d tell him what she’d created. He wouldn’t understand the science, but he’d understand the implications.

Letting out a sigh of anticipation tinged with frustration, she hurried home.

Inside the entrance to her townhouse, she tossed her bag and hat on the hall stand and ran down the stairs into her lab in the basement. Benches lined the four rough brick walls, dotted with bunsen burners, microscopes, and most precious of all, the equipment she’d retrieved from the twenty-first century, the equipment that allowed her to perform the gene splices, the equipment no one else knew about.

She went to the long oak desk in the centre of the room, where she kept her notes. A sheet of paper on which she’d scribbled time displacement calculations lay beside her notes on splicing. She was sure she’d filed that away the last time she was down here. She must have been overly tired. Scowling with annoyance at herself, she tucked it into the manilla folder marked ‘Travel’.

A sharp wrap, characteristic of Winny, echoed down the stairs, and she jumped. He’d come unusually quickly in response to her message.

Clipping up the stairs, she locked the door behind her and strode to the front door, yanking it open to the relief she knew he would bring. Her muscles softened as his smile reached his piercing aquamarine eyes, fixed on hers with a familiar promise that set her heart to thumping.

‘Hello, Kitten.’ A similar height to her five foot seven, he leaned in to kiss her cheek, the citrus-chypre of Rocha’s Moustache enveloping her. ‘A little birdie tells me you're in need of some magic.’

She laughed, stepping aside to let him by. Passing the doorway to the loungeroom on the right, he made straight for the stairs that led up to her bedroom, his gait loping and slightly stooped in the way a slinking panther’s might be.

She bounded after him, knowing she’d float away under his skilled ministrations and allow herself to forget all the ways her work could be misused.



Present Day, British Research Station

Elephant Island, Antarctica

Hope tingles across my skin as the ship sails alongside the research station’s wooden jetty, chunks of sea ice knocking white against the red steel hull, announcing our arrival. A whipping west wind parts fog shrouding the island, stinging my cheeks with tiny, razor-sharp ice crystals and carrying the ammonia stench of penguin guano.

A handful of men wait on the jetty. None of them are my family, even after two years away, and my grip on the metal bow rail tightens with disappointment. Too busy with their Important Work. I’m annoyed I had expectations to begin with.

Disembarking, my hair whipping about my face in a briny fug of seaweed and salt air, my boots beat a loud tattoo along the boards, disturbing a bob of Weddell seals to my right. A familiar three-metre bull, dark grey with silver streaks, rears its head, trilling and buzzing weird chirping noises, protecting his harem.

‘Okay, R2D2, calm down.’

A dark form rises from a crouch as I crunch onto the icy pebbled shore. My brother grins, strings of brown seaweed—the same colour as his shoulder-length hair and clothing—dripping from his hands like a sea ghost.

‘Are you the welcoming committee?’

Flex drops the seaweed, his fingers flying as he signs, How’s end-of-the-world life?

I laugh. Whoever had called Ushuaia at the tip of South America the End of the World had obviously never been to Elephant Island. ‘Normal. I have a girlfriend, I get to buy food from a shop and go to the cinema. Why? Thinking of heading there now you’re eighteen?’

He lifts his brows—maybe surprised that I remembered his birthday—and shakes his head. Brazil. The Amazon. Shackleton will be happy to see you. He points further along the shore, where a giant Pacific octopus is busy ripping the leg off a king crab.

A swirl of missing washes through me, catching me off guard. I’m surprised my old friend has stuck around.

Flex tugs on his long hair. You’re joining the rebel ranks.

I run a hand over my beanie, catching hold of the ponytail sticking out. ‘Yeah. Still not speaking, hey?’ I can’t keep the rancour from my voice. It still pisses me off that Mum indulged him and made us learn sign language.

He makes a hashtag sign with his fingers and signs, # signing for the Amazon.

Mr Greta Thunberg. ‘You’ve turned your silence into a cause?’

He eyes me warily, and something unspoken hangs between us, something I can’t unravel.

I tip my chin at the seaweed he dropped. ‘Specimens or food?’ By now, he’s probably catalogued every land and sea plant around Elephant Island.

For baking laverbread. He squints and points.

A raft of orange-beaked gentoo penguins huddle on a narrow expanse of ice floe in the middle of the cove, shifting from foot to foot, spooked.

A leopard seal suns itself on a flat of ice nearby. It pokes its nose in the air as the mercurial wind shifts.

Unlucky for the penguins.

Sniffing prey, it slithers into the dark water. The penguins panic, jumping into the sea in rapid succession, heading for land where they’ll be safer.

As they reach the shore, waddling like gentlemen in suits and white bonnets, the seal bursts from the water and clamps its jaws around the last one. I grimace, repulsed as it flings its head side to side, spraying blood across the icy whiteness as the penguin flails in its mouth.

Memories shift through me, pushing against the inside of my skin, stretching, distorting, screams ringing in my ears.

The beast sinks beneath the water with its fatty snack.

Flex’s hand on my arm startles me, and I swallow my nightmares.

Releasing me, he hoiks a thumb over his shoulder at the glass dome of the accommodation building, one of four domes strung along the beach. Mum’s in the Fishbowl. He lowers his head, giving me a warning look from under his brows. And Ɓė. He bends to collect his seaweed.

My mouth is dry, and I have to unstick my tongue from the roof of it. ‘Thanks.’

A screech of kelp gulls circles overhead as I approach Shackleton, his rectangular pupils fixed on me, his orange arms turning thorny and brown.

‘What?’ I spread my arms against a slice of guilt spearing through me. ‘Are you annoyed at me for leaving you?’

As I crouch down, he squirts a shot of sepia ink at my face, and I fall onto my arse. ‘Wow! Steady on.’ I fumble with the zip on my parka, remove a glove when I can’t grasp it, and pull a tissue from the inside pocket to wipe the fishy slime from my chin.

Shackleton slithers into the water, halting a metre out, two arms around a length of driftwood. He taps the wood with another arm.

How damned smart. He remembers the tug-of-war game we used to play with the rare pieces of wood that floated this far south. ‘I’ll play. But you can’t be mad at me.’

He turns pink, his happy colour, as if he’s understood me.