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Open Features: Neo - Table Tennis

Derek McQueen tells a future tale of a sporting business trip to Australia which goes disasterously wrong.

I’ve been really stressed for the last month. I should be recording in the log that on two hours sleep I’m dysfunctional but I can’t make myself do it. It would cause too much distress to the team. Claudina has moved to the next cubicle to get some rest herself. The wall images are driving her crazy, she says. The sonic loop has been minimised but the system still penetrates her eyes when they’re closed. There’s no more I can do - the wall pictures are the only things keeping me sane. She has no idea why I feel so bad. I haven’t had the courage to tell her what Virgo Inc is asking of me on the Australia trip. ”It’s only a frigging table tennis match for Cretins sake. Pull yourself together man. That’s if you are still a man - I’m beginning to wonder to be honest. Just because it’s in Cairns – what difference does that make? You still change ends every other frigging game, don’t you?” That last was funny I suppose, but I wasn’t smiling. I just stood there black-eyed, taking the abuse. “It was a brilliant idea to bring back some of the games they played two hundred years ago.” She was still droning on. Perhaps we can try and get back to men two metres tall instead of the frigging fat midgets we call men now. Too much staring at cretinous wall images and screens for my liking - it must have been good to be a woman back then. Women were eating out of men’s hands in 2000 – they had muscles where muscles ought to be – and other things. Wish I was going to frigging Queensland.” Claudina’s bad language was a sign she was angry – really angry. I grabbed a handful of food tablets from the titanium glass tube and deactivated the vacuum door. “Virgo have asked me to go in this afternoon,” I said. “Macue has called a live meeting. Says it’s too important to do the usual screen conference. He’s chairing it himself.” I didn’t add that I was dreading it.


“Perhaps they want you to research another old game. Rowing – that looked exciting – you could get dressed up in a stupid blazer and straw hat. That was very popular before the earthquake emptied the River Thames.” Now she was being patronising – ‘just a bit too clever’, I thought, A step too far - but not for much longer. “Leave all the recorders on until I get back,” I said. “I should be back in three hours.” I walked to the blister vehicle and pulled the power umbilical in the travel unit. If the overhead were clear, I would be in the executive suite in ten minutes. ~ Flight-suits for the Australia trip were on the huge glass table resting on its stainless dome in Macue’s conference module. Wall images played at the far end, as I entered. Three of the team of four, plus Macue, were already there. The suits were impressive – with a brilliant aluminium coating, they gleamed under the system lights. My mood brightened a little as Macue indicated he was ready. Four helmets, one at the side of each suit, had red initials above the huge visors. The nearest one read ‘B. F. - Commander’. That was mine – Brad Ferdynand. Ferdynand – Polish for ‘journey prepared’. I felt anything but. Bloody Fool more like. “That’s it then comrades,” Macue said, handing out the portfolios. “Virgo have kept their secret intacta- if you’ll forgive the expression. Despite all the pressure from our competitors and the media, we make the first rocket journey to Australia in six days. A truly remarkable first. Cambridge North U.K. to Sydney in two hours fifteen minutes. Wonderful comrades, just wonderful - thank you. The Virgo logo will be seen by millions.”

“Waldemar has prepared the passenger list,” he went on – “in strictest secrecy of course. No last minute slips at this final stage, I think. There are ten thousand names on his list and we can only take five hundred, as you know. I think we are all very happy to leave that side of the business to him.” Macue beamed as wine capsules and five titanium goblets appeared. It was the first time I had ever seen him smile. He raised the goblet - “To Virgo” “To Virgo.” Macue got up from his chair, bringing the session to a close. “Right – that’s it for now comrades. My grateful thanks to you once more. We have our final briefing at Cambridge North in four days. Exact timings, locations and interaction points are as set out in our sealed portfolios. The encryption codes are Serial 8A and 8B, changed every other day, as you know.” At last it was over and I could get out into fresh air.. ~ Despite all the planning and training I had this intuitive feeling that something wasn’t right. Over the next three days, I read and re-read the contents of the portfolio and ran training images over and over again - but nothing. Maybe my imagination was getting the better of me. Claudina wasn’t exactly being helpful either. Her mind seemed to be in some other place. We were hardly speaking.

~ ‘VIRGO, FIRST PASSENGER ROCKET FLIGHT TO AUSTRALIA, STRANDED IN SPACE’ shrieked the media headlines. ‘Satellite wall images taken in space show rocket vehicle slewing disastrously off course. Five hundred passengers and the Great Britain Neo - Table Tennis team are on board the stricken craft.’

Predictably, Macue and Janusac appeared on the news bulletin wall images. “We have every confidence that our vehicle will be recovered,” Macue announced. “Brad Ferdynand is our most experienced pilot. If any one can get our passengers safely back, Brad can. He has the best backhand top-spin smash in the game he added, forcing a smile.” ‘Did we get back? Well, I’m telling the story aren’t I? – even though it is in a time capsule.’

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