Story – The Orange Marble (Part 2/6: The Catalyst)

Synopsis: Michael confronts the girl who knocked him unconscious and searches for answers as to why 2066 is in the state it's in.

A rat scurries across a dirty floor, its scampering echoing around the empty room. It dips in and out of the light beaming through the holes in the boarded up windows of the house, finally vanishing as it enters a crack in the wall. Beside the hole is Michael; he dangles from the wall by ropes attached to his wrists and ankles, dry dribble resting on his chin as he slowly awakes. He blinks a few times, his eyes adjusting to the small bit of light breaching the wooden window barricades; it was evening the last time his eyes were open. He shakes his head and looks around to comprehend where he is. He looks either side of him, learning of his predicament. He tugs at the ropes, trying to free himself from the restraints.
Girl: there's no point trying to escape.
He looks up, seeing the redheaded girl he came across yesterday standing there; her laser gun is pointed right at him.
Michael: aww come on, can't you just leave me alone?
She doesn't move. Michael looks at her, beginning to breath faster.
Michael: c-come on, please, I don't want any trouble.
The girl approaches him. She inspects him up and down, lowering to her dusty knees and pointing her gun at his crotch.
Michael: woah woah woah, wait, please, I'll do anything!
She puts her index finger on the trigger. There's silence for a few seconds.
Girl: you know, I was gonna blow your balls off…
She stands up, hovering at eye level with him.
Girl: … but I've come to realise… you obviously don't have any anyway.
Michael looks at her, confused.
Michael: I… I don't…
Girl: man look at you, you're a nervous, bumbling mess.
She fires her gun. He winces. The laser hits the rope holding Michael's right arm, freeing it in the process.
Michael: well, it's hard to be confident when there's some craz… some girl pointing a laser gun at you.
As Michael fiddles with the other ropes to free his legs and left arm, the girl puts the gun to his head.
Girl: why did you break into my house?
Michael: can you please stop pointing that gun at me?
She cocks the gun.
Michael: it was an accident, I promise. I just got here and some robot started shooting at me, so I…
Girl: just got here?
She pushes the gun towards his skull.
Girl: from which settlement?
Michael: settlement? No, I… look can I ask you a question?
Girl: you just did.
Michael, under his breath: that's such a 2010 thing to say…
The girl grabs him by the collar and pulls him up, slamming him against the wall.
Girl: what did you just say?
Michael: I… I was just… nevermind.
Girl: did… did you say… 2010?
Michael: Uh, well, um…
She lets go of him, repositioning the gun barrel to his forehead.
Girl: what's your name?
Michael: my name? Why does my n…
Girl: what's your fucking name, man? Fuck, I've spoke to mutes who speak more confidently than this.
Michael: Michael. But I don't see what…
Her eyes widen.
Girl: Michael… Drake?
Michael glares at her.
Michael: what did you just say?
Girl: is your name Michael Drake?
Michael checks the watch, confirming he's still in 2066.
Michael: I… well yeah, it is, but how do you…
Girl: oh my God.
She lowers her gun.
Girl: o-oh my God! He… he actually did it!
Michael looks at her, still confused. She unties the rest of the ropes.
Girl: so, let me get this straight; you're Michael Drake, from 2016, who got here because an old man from 2066 came back and met you?
Michael: yeah! Please, how do you know this?
Girl: well it was only ever rumours among the community, I thought it was bullshit, but… basically, there's been talk of an old man in one of the settlements beyond the city border who has been working on a time machine, to ultimately go back in time to meet a person by the name of “Michael Drake”. Word had it that no one really knew who this “Michael Drake” was, the old man apparently emphasised that name but records never showed any famous “Michael Drake”’s... But, it turns out it's true. He actually did it.
Michael: I'm never remembered for anything? Uh, I mean, why me?
Girl: no one really knows, the guy only ever said it would fix our world.
Michael: but didn't that seem kind of… ridiculous?
Girl: of course it did. But, it's the only chance of change, the only ray of hope, we've had in a long time.
There's a brief silence.
Girl: I've read all about your time. A time of complete freedom, where people lived together, without the fear of another faction taking you down. Is… is that true?
Michael: no, but it's nothing like this.
Michael looks down at the watch.
Michael: do you want me to show you?
The girl looks at the watch.
Girl: you can travel to 2016… right now?
Michael: yeah.
She pauses for a moment.
Girl: alright, I suppose I can check it out.
Michael: ok but you should probably lower your expectations a little.
Girl: it can't be as bad as this, can it?
Michael struggles to give an answer. He beckons the girl over, subsequently activating the watch and teleporting them into the past.

A blue flash appears in an alleyway, the girl falling down and landing on her feet. Michael follows, landing on his back on a dumpster before splashing, face first, into a puddle beside the alleyway located bin. He lifts his face out of the puddle.
Michael: AARRGGHH.
As Michael gets to his feet, the girl exits the alley into a street. She gawks at what she sees; the buildings stand tall and clean, people roam the streets talking to one another, vehicles drift past, the sky is blue and the air is clear… a world in harmony. Sure there's homeless people being ignored, people arguing and other imperfections, but how can such a majestic realm like this exist? It's flawed, but it's a masterpiece. People walk past as she continues to stare in awe; they look her up and down, eyeing her ragged clothes and dirty face, but avoid eye contact and continue about their day. Michael dusts himself off and catches up to her.
Michael: hey so I…
He stops himself when he sees the trance she's in. He watches her with intrigue, seeing her take in every single detail of, what is to her, a living Heaven. He smiles. After a few minutes, he tries to talk to her.
Michael: so, uh, how about we get you some clothes and head back to my place so we can figure out how to sort the future out?
She turns to him.
Girl: hey, just because I think 2016 is amazing doesn't change anything. Don't try and act like we're friends, because we're not. If you weren't lucky enough to be who you are, there's a high chance half of your head would be splattered on my wall right now.
Michael gives a thumbs up. The duo walk down the street to the clothes shop, the girl admiring the world as they walk. They reach a clothes shop.
Michael: alright, just wait here while I get you some stuff.
Michael heads into the clothes shop. The girl stands outside and waits, looking around as she does. While she stands there, a woman walks up and hands her a £5 note.
Woman, smiling: get yourself a lunch, on me.
The girl looks down at the note, the woman walking off as she does. A minute later, Michael returns with some clothes.
Michael: alright, let's head back to my house.
They start walking.
Girl: some woman gave me money by the way. I don't know why though, she just said to buy lunch.
Michael chuckles.
Michael: she thinks you're homeless.
The girl stops as Michael keeps walking.
Girl: dude.

They walk through the neighbourhood, the girl continuing to look around in amazement. They reach Michael's house.
Michael: alright, here's my place.
The girl looks at his house.
Girl: woah, you live here?
Michael: yep.
Michael goes to open the door, however it's locked.
Michael: huh, my mum and nan must be out, probably shopping like usual.
Girl: wait, you live with your family?
Michael: well, yeah, most people our age do.
Michael reaches for the key in his pocket.
Michael: speaking of family, where…
He looks at the girl, stopping himself.
Michael: nevermind.
Michael unlocks the door and walks in. As he enters, he takes his shoes and socks off.
Michael: hey, uh, would it be OK if you took your shoes and socks off? It's my family's preference, not mine.
Girl: what are “socks”?
Michael: oh...
After the girl takes her mud-covered boots off, the two head upstairs. Michael walks into the bathroom, gesturing for the girl to do the same. The girl follows, entering and gazing at everything in it. As she takes it all in, Michael rests her new clothes on the side.
Michael: alright, your new clothes are by here. I'll leave you to take a shower, change your clothes, etc.
The girl approaches the shower. She stands there and stares at it.
Girl: this… this is a real shower?
Michael: yeah…
Girl: I've… I've read all about these, I thought these were just works of science fiction. So, this has an unlimited supply of clean water!?
Michael: well we have to pay a monthly bill for it, which is kind of illogical given we need water to live, heh, but… theoretically yeah.
The girl turns the handle on the shower. The water begins flowing out of the shower head, gushing over her face. The girl stands there and closes her eyes, letting it continue to pour on her. Michael stands there for a moment. The water trickles down her skin; the black grime begins fading from her colourless cheeks, her dirty, red hair making contact with water void of parasites for the first time in memory. The water splashes onto the rags covering her body, cleansing them and almost making them passable. Not wanting to interrupt her moment of euphoria, Michael quietly backs out of the bathroom and closes the door. With Michael gone, the girl continues the shower. She takes her clothes off item by item, dropping them to the floor outside the shower. As they hit the ground in an explosion of soot, the girl let's the rest of her body make first contact with clean water. Years of struggling, years of pain, years of anguish, of fear, of isolation, of an experience one could barely call “a life”, all begin seeping down her damaged but resilient shell, ultimately rolling off and fading away down the plug, through the pipes, and into the aquatic abyss. After some time, she dries herself and puts on the clothes he laid out. For the first time, she slides on a pair of socks. The girl walks over to the mirror, its reflection obscured by condensation. She wipes the mist away and stands back. She looks at herself in the mirror; no longer is there the reflection of a survivor scarred by her past experiences, but just a girl. A normal looking girl, just standing there with an actual life ahead of her. She knows, in this moment that, in fact, this isn't the case, however in this moment, for this one split second in time, she believes she does. She inspects herself up and down; her face is clean, her clothes are no longer covered with tears and holes and her mouth is no longer drooped in sorrow by default. Then, the reflection becomes blurry again, but not because of mist or condensation. 
A few minutes later she exits the bathroom. She walks into Michael's bedroom after putting the towel in the laundry basket and her previous rags in the bin (both per Michael's recommendation). Michael looks up from his phone as she enters.
Michael: w… woah, you… you look great!
Girl: sure.
Michael: no really, you don't think so?
Girl: look, just because you did all this shit for me doesn't mean we're friends. I still don't trust you.
Michael: Sigh. Come on, why are you so brash?
Girl: brash? Brash!? Who the hell do you think you are calling me brash!?
Michael: I… sorry I…
Girl: well you should be, you don't know me.
Michael, under his breath: that's such a 2010 thing to say…
Girl: huh!?
Michael: oh, nothing.
Girl: stop saying everything I say is something someone in 2010 would say.
Michael shrugs.
Michael: You're right though, I don't know you. I mean, I don't even know your name, can you at least tell me that?
The girl says something quickly.
Michael: huh?
Girl: Zoe. My name's Zoe.

The following morning, Zoe wakes up needing the toilet. She looks around, thinking. Michael, who is sleeping on the floor, slowly stirs and looks up to her.
Michael: you alright?
Zoe: where do you shit?
Michael: colourful wording… in the toilet, next to the shower.
Zoe gets up and heads into the bathroom. She surveys the room.
Zoe: argh, which one is the toilet…
She reads about them all the time, but can't remember which object matches the description. She approaches the toilet and examines the seat. She lifts it up. It slips from her fingertips and slams down. Zoe rolls backwards and pulls her laser gun out. She waits a few seconds, seeing the toilet seat is harmless.
Zoe: hmm…
As she walks back towards it, she glances at the sink. She analyses its shape and curvature. A few minutes later, Wendy heads upstairs carrying a basket of laundry. She sees Michael exiting his room.
Wendy: hey, how are you today?
Michael: hey nan, I'm good. What are you up to?
She glances in the bathroom to the left of her.
Wendy: I was just AAHH!!
She drops the laundry basket. In the bathroom Zoe is on her knees, washing her hands in the toilet. In the sink, there's a steaming pile of shit. 

Some time later, Michael and Zoe head outside.
Michael: alright, we'll get some snacks from Sanjid’s and then figure out how we're gonna, well, figure out, what we need to stop. We also need to buy a new sink.
Zoe: I will snap your neck.
A voice emanates from behind them.
Voice: hey, Drake.
Michael turns, seeing Gary, Anderson and Parker approaching him.
Michael: aww, no…
Zoe continues walking, unaware of the bullies’ presence.
Gary: I gotta bruise on my hand from the other day… Andy, how'd that happen?
Anderson glances at Michael.
Anderson: I don't know, how did it happen? Let's ask Drake, huh, maybe he knows?
Zoe looks either side of her, realising Michael isn't there. She looks behind her, seeing Michael talking to the bullies. Gary grabs Michael by the collar.
Gary: so, Drake, how did this happen?
He gestures to the red mark on his hand. Michael glares, struggling to muster a response.
Gary: maybe I can do something to remind you…
He goes to swing his unharmed fist at Michael.
Zoe: hey!
Gary stops mid swing, looking over at Zoe.
Zoe: look I don't know who the fuck you guys are, but we're busy right now and you guys need to fuck off.
Gary glances at her, both surprised and confused.
Gary: Stay outta this, you cheeky bitch.
He turns his attention back to Michael. He swings his fist again. It's caught by Zoe. She twists his fingers to break his grip on Michael. He goes to punch her with his other hand, but she catches it and uses the momentum to throw him over her back. Anderson and Parker approach her. She pulls her laser gun out and points it at them. They stop approaching her. Gary staggers to his feet while clinging his spine.
Gary: this ain't worth it. Come on, boys.
The trio back away and disappear around a corner. Zoe puts her laser gun away and approaches Michael, looking him up and down.
Zoe: what the hell was that about?
Michael: oh, they're just bullies. Don't worry about it.
Zoe: bullies… bullies… hey yeah, I read about those in the library, aren't those people who pick on others for fun, money or to gain social status to hide their low self esteem?
Michael: wuh, well I don't know about the reason but… look, just forget about it.
Zoe: fucking hell, why do you let those cunts push you around like that? I sleep on concrete and bathe in parasites, yet you can't stand up to or tell on a guy who calls you names?
Michael: there's more to it than that. Yeah you deal with a lot of messed up stuff, the likes of which I'll probably never understand… but my world has serious problems too.
Zoe: pfft, fucking ridiculous. You need some damn self confidence.
Michael: it's all a matter of perspective, Zoe.
Zoe: hey and don't call me Zoe, like I said we're not friends. I don't know why I even told you my name…
Michael has a revelation.
Michael: w-wait a minute, you said you read about 2016 in the library… there's a library in 2066?
Zoe: well, yeah. There's a computer still working there. It has a database on every tidbit known to man, It's how I learned half the things I know.
Michael: if… if we go back to 2066, we can use that computer to look over history between 2016 and 2066. From that, we can trace the catalyst of society's downfall!
After grabbing some food from Sanjid’s shop, the duo head into the alley behind the store.
Michael: alright, here goes.
He fiddles with the watch, navigating to the 2066 date.
Michael: so, you learned half the stuff you know just from fiddling around with that computer?
Zoe: yeah, I never had an official education so I had to teach myself through the library computer and books. I wouldn't even know what a relationship is if not for the Internet.
Michael: heh, same.
Michael activates the watch moments later, transporting the two back to the future. 

In 2066, a blue light flashes in an alley and Michael falls from a few feet in the air. He lands perfectly on his feet.
Michael: Whew, finally!
Zoe appears a second later. She crushes Michael. Michael's face slams into the ground, splashing and submerging into a deep puddle. Zoe gets up and begins walking away, Michael gasping for breath.
Michael: I'm so done.
The two head to the library, situated a couple blocks from Zoe’s home. The library is rundown and boarded up like every other building in 2066, its outside walls covered in overgrown moss and its interiors dim and cold. They head behind the building, Zoe highlighting a broken window there that allows access to the inside.
Zoe: watch the glass.
The two clamber in, Michael observing the area as Zoe approaches the computer. Her every footstep is heard, each stomp echoing around the empty structure and their every breath audible from the other end of the building. After checking he didn't cut himself, Michael catches up with Zoe and the duo reach the computer in a downstairs region. Zoe turns it on, gesturing for Michael to use it. The search commences, Michael beginning to check and cross reference all major events of the past 50 years in hopes of finding the event that started it all.
Michael: alright, let's see…
He scrolls through a few links, analysing leading news stories of each era.
2014 - "The World's Too Sensitive Nowadays", Says Man Offended by Rainbow Flags.
Michael: hmm, nothing yet…
2017 - Woman Complains About New Fifty Shades of Grey Film Sexualising Women, Protests by Masturbating to Her Poster of Jamie Dornan Posing Topless.
Michael: still nothing… woah wait, what's this?
2023 - World War Three Declared; US Respond by Rebooting Call of Duty Franchise.
Michael: there was a third world war in 2023!?
Zoe: wow, I didn't know it dated back that far.
Michael: huh?
Zoe: I knew World War Three ended in 2037 but…
Michael: the world war lasted 14 years!? What could have happened to mess the world up THAT badly?
Michael scrolls through related links, clicking on article after article, backtracking through time to find the source of society's destruction.
2021 - Inbreeding Declared Legal.
Michael: hmm, no… wait…
His eyes widen as he reads the heading of a 2016 article.
2016 - Winner of the 2016 Presidential Elections Announced - the Racist Beats the Criminal. Brexit Supporters Ecstatic, Obama Pissed.
Michael: HE won the 2016 US elections!? Didn't the US learn from our mistake with Brexit!?
Michael does a search on all things related to his presidency; his beginnings as President-elect where he pissed off Chinese officials in one phone call, his 2020 re-election where he defeated six other senile men and Kanye West, his numerous run ins with other state officials… after thorough double checking, Michael and Zoe have finally found their answer: the 2016 President is the reason for the world's demise. The two sit there for a moment, comprehending what they've found. Although research indicates Brexit was the catalyst for the UK’s demise, it's the US presidency that pushed things over the edge and threw the world into catastrophe.
Michael: s-so… what do we do now?
Zoe glares at the screen.
Zoe: well it's impossible to stop Brexit, so there's really only one thing we can do.
Michael: and what would that be?
Their eyes meet.
Zoe: assassinate the president.

End of episode two.

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