Gateways: “Beauty Mark” by Brendon Connelly read by Coco Kasperowicz



TRANSCRIPT: Brendon Connelly is a scriptwriter from Norwich in the UK. He was a film journalist and blogger for over 20 years, met Kermit the Frog three times – and only fainted one of those times, and graduated from the University of Oxford with a first in Creative Writing. 

Once upon a time, there was a great ship called The Zephyrus that travelled across the stars. Every man and woman onboard the ship was fast asleep and even the ship’s Autos were resting as much as they possibly could.

When The Zephyrus was one hundred years from home, and with a thousand years still to go, Cate woke up. She opened her eyes and saw that she was in her glass case on the edge of The Lucus.

Cate opened the door to her case and climbed out before looking around to see who else might be there. She called out, “Hello!” but there came no reply. Apparently, hers was the only glass case to be seen, and there was no one and nothing else in The Lucus but its rows and rows of shrubs and bushes and trees.

However, there was a small house at the edge of the planting ground, which Cate went inside to explore. The house had great golden columns and its walls were embossed with beautiful carvings of flowers and animals, both real and Automatic. Its vaulted ceiling was made of citrus wood and the floor was a dazzling mosaic of jewels and beautiful gems.

Inside the house, a voice spoke to Cate. “Eat and drink,” it said, “for you must be hungry after your one-hundred-year sleep.” There was a table covered in cake, bread and jugs of water and juice, and Cate sat there and ate until she felt better.

“Thank you,” she said, but the voice did not reply.

When she had finished eating, Cate looked further around the small house. Next to the dining room was a sitting room with a shiny silver screen and a grand piano. On top of the piano, Cate found a library slate containing every fable or story from history she could think of and countless more that she had never before imagined. Upstairs in the house, there was a bedroom where the bed was soft and warm and comfortable, and just the right size for Cate.

Cate continued to read stories on the library slate until her eyelids grew heavy and she rested her head on a pillow and slept. It was a deep but gentle sleep, and for the first time in a hundred years, Cate was able a dream. In her mind’s eye, she saw a bush of white roses, but as she tended them, she pricked her finger on a thorn, releasing a drop of blood that turned all the roses red.

Cate was awakened for dinner by the voice of the house. She followed the voice back to the dining room to find that the tables had been cleared and all the food replenished. “Eat and drink,” the voice said. “Enjoy your feast, for in the morning, you will start your work.”

“Won’t you join me for dinner?” she said to the voice, but it didn’t reply.

After a dinner of bread and beans and a cup of nut milk, Cate called out, “Thank you,” to the voice and went back to bed.

In the morning, Cate was awakened in her new bed by the warmth of a sun. The roof of the house was open, and the great sky-glass of The Zephyrus was glowing with starlight. She sat outside the dwelling eating her breakfast. Then, once Cate had returned her plate and glass to the dining room, the voice at last explained why she had been woken up.

“The Lucus is sick,” the voice explained, “and the crop is at risk. The Zephyrus has need of a careful gardener to take care of its plants. If you look in the sitting room, you will find everything you need to accomplish what I want you to do.”

“I was a security programmer, not a gardener,” said Cate who went on to explain that she knew nothing about plants or crops or their sicknesses.

“Unfortunately, there is no gardener aboard The Zephyrus,” the voice said, “but I believe you are more than capable of tending to the crops. Thank you. I hope you will prove to be a great resource for the mission.”

Cate looked in the sitting room where she found, on top of the piano, a sickle used for work in The Lucus, a timepiece on a chain, two torches as well as a small flat key, the shape and colour of a skimming stone. She took all these things and put them in a small satchel, then set off for the planting grounds.

When she arrived, Cate was not sure where to begin. “What should I do?” she asked, but the voice didn’t reply. But Cate was resourceful, so she took her torch and went for a walk among the plants to investigate for herself. She looked at every tree and shrub until she saw something she did not recognise.

“Torch,” she asked, “What’s this?” as she shone the torch’s beam onto a small shrub. The light caught the shrub’s profusion of purple blossoms, each of them as rich and lustrous as the gems in the house’s mosaic floor.

“Purpureus Crataegus,” replied the torch, “the fairest shrub on The Zephyrus. But it’s not growing well. This specimen is diseased.”

“What should I do?” asked Cate, but the torch understood that Cate was really speaking to herself and so it did not make a reply.

After some hours of exploring The Lucus, the timepiece informed Cate that it was time to return to the house for dinner. She went into the dining room and found that the table had been set again and that lute music was playing to welcome her back. “Eat and drink,” said the voice, “for you must be hungry after your day of work.”

“Please won’t you join me?” Cate asked. “I have so many questions about what I’ve seen today.”

“I might not be what you are expecting,” said the voice.

“Don’t worry,” said Cate, “I know that you are an Auto. I’ve never met one of your kind before, but I’m not scared. Please come and join me for dinner and we can talk about the plants.”

A door opened in the wall, its edge hidden among designs of embossed animals and plants. From out of this door came an Auto, stepping cautiously into the light. It was the height and width of a man, and it moved with the gait of a man too. Everything that could make the Auto seem familiar and reassuring had been included, and Cate saw immediately that it posed no threat.

“Hello,” it said.

Cate asked the Auto its name, but it explained that while Autos do not have names, as such, they do have Function Assignations. This one, for example, could be identified as RPC-19, the R-registered Auto in the 19th Plantation Corps.

This was the first night that Cate and RPC-19 met over dinner, but it was certainly not the last. Every evening they would meet, and as Cate would eat, the Auto would sit at the opposite end of the table, playing music and answering her questions. Cate was very glad of the company.

As the weeks went on, Cate worked in The Lucus each day, bringing her torch along to analyse the crops and record the growing signs of disease. When she found a plant that was dying from its sickness, she would take her sickle and cut it down.

Then, in the evenings, Cate would have dinner with RPC-19. She told the Auto all about the work she had done that day and would sometimes ask questions about the Auto’s day and what it had been doing while she was in the garden. She learned that RPC-19 spent its days in the laboratory or studying the sick plants that Cate had cut down. She learned that the Auto was lonely, inasmuch as an Auto could be, and that it also enjoyed the companionship which came from their shared dinners.

One night, soon after returning from a day’s work in The Lucus, Cate went into the sitting room ahead of dinner. She saw immediately that while the piano was still there, the silver screen had gone. She made sure to ask RPC-19 all about this during dinner.

“I needed to remove it for safety’s sake,” the Auto said. “I shall return it once everything has been repaired.”

One week later, Cate noticed that the cameras in the house had been turned off. When she went to wash her face in the bathroom, she no longer had a screen to see herself in, so she asked the Auto about this too. “I needed to turn the cameras off for safety’s sake,” it said, “but I shall turn them on again, once everything has been repaired.”

The next day, Cate was walking through The Lucus. Noticing the torch in her hand, she had an idea. She aimed the torch at her own face and asked, “Torch, what’s this?”

“One-Eight-Four-Seven Cate Earnshaw,” said the Torch, “the only waking soul on The Zephyrus. But she is not growing well. She appears to have been diseased.”

“How do you know this?” she asked the torch.

“There is a purple blemish on her face,” it replied, “a tell-tale mark of poisoning.”

At dinner that night, Cate didn’t tell RPC-19 about her conversation with the torch. Instead, she worded her questions carefully and tried to learn as much as she might without raising the Auto’s suspicions.

“Is there something on my face?” she asked. “I thought I could feel something on my cheek last night when it was pressed against the pillow.”

“There is,” the Auto admitted, “but it’s only very minor.”

Cate was careful to drop some of the food from her plate into her lap. She gathered samples in just this way over the next few nights, wrapping them in a napkin and hiding them in her pocket. On the third night, she had enough, so after dinner she retired to the bedroom where she shone the torch on the samples of food and asked, “Torch, what is this?”

“Bread and beans,” the torch replied, “and concentrated pear juice.”

“Has this specimen been poisoned?” Cate asked.

“I can’t read this specimen accurately,” said the torch. “You can get accurate results by running a tox test in the Blue Lab.”

Cate connected her key to the library slate in order to check which locks it would open. To her disappointment, there was only one door on The Zephyrus for which her key would not work, and that was the door to the Blue Lab.

But Cate knew her way around keys as a security programmer, so she was able, with clever use of the library slate, to make sure her key would work for the Blue Lab too.

And so it was after dinner the next night, while RPC-19 was tidying the dining room, that Cate slipped out of the house and across The Lucus, taking the shortest route to the Blue Lab. The key worked and the door opened, and she stepped inside.

Much to Cate’s surprise, she found five glass cases lined up inside the Blue Lab. Each case glowed with a gentle red light and contained a woman sleeping within. Cate saw that each had a mark upon her face that grew outwards from her cheek like a purple spider’s web.

“Torch,” she asked, “who is this?” as she shone it on the first case.

“One-nine-three-eight Rebecca Winters,” replied the torch. “Her life systems have been suspended. She appears to have been very seriously diseased.”

Approaching the next case, the torch informed Cate that they were looking at “One-nine-six-six Bertha Cosway” and explained that her life systems had also been suspended. “She appears to have been very seriously diseased,” the torch said.

Upon hearing a noise at the door to the Blue Lab, Cate knew that RPC-19 was coming in. She quickly hid behind the furthest glass case, holding her breath as she waited.

The Auto entered the lab and went straight to the first case where Rebecca Winters lay sleeping. It opened the case and, without waking the woman inside, took a fine needle and drew some of her blood.

As Cate watched from her hiding place, the Auto took the blood to a machine at the side of the lab. It inserted the needle and spoke to the machine.

“Please synthesise capsules for human consumption,” said RPC-19. The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then with a rattling noise, a small handful of yellow pills tumbled from the machine and into a waiting cup.

When she was sure the Auto had left the lab, Cate rushed to Winters’ glass case and opened it. The woman seemed to be sleeping peacefully surrounded by a red glow. Cate put her hand on Winters’ face, feeling the purple mark before touching her own face. She noticed that both had the same softness and were puffy to the touch.

Cate did not realise that there was blood on her finger, from where the needle had pricked Winters skin.

She took her samples of food to the machine at the side of the lab and inserted them, and then she asked the machine, “Please scan for poison.” The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then it said, “No poison in these samples.”

Cate could not sleep that night. She was haunted by the women she had seen, bathed in the red lights of their glass cases in the Blue Lab, and was puzzled by the results of her test on the samples of food. She knew she must have been poisoned, and so assumed that it had come from her food.

The next day in The Lucus, as she waited for dinner, Cate waited for the next opportunity to visit the Blue Lab again. As soon as her timepiece told her it was time to return home, she complied and, for once, found RPC-19 was already there and waiting.

“Show me your key,” the Auto demanded.

“Why?” asked Cate.

“Because somebody has been in the Blue Lab and I want to know that it was not you.”

“I don’t know where it is,” said Cate, though she knew perfectly well that it was in her satchel – as did RPC-19, which promptly took it from her and looked inside.

“Here it is,” the Auto said. That was when it saw the bloody fingerprint on the key and knew, for sure, that Cate had betrayed it.

“I can explain,” said Cate. “but only if you explain what is happening to me too.”

The two of them sat down at the dinner table. The Auto demanded that Cate tell her story first.

“I discovered this blemish on my face and became fearful that you were poisoning my food,” she said. “I didn’t want to confront you because I was frightened that it might be true.”

“Autos cannot lie or kill,” said RPC-19, to which Cate nodded because she knew it was true. The Auto then went on to say, “I have not been poisoning your food. Indeed, I have been taking great pains to give you the best, most nutritious food available on The Zephyrus.”

“I went to the Blue Lab to test samples of the food, which I now know weren’t poisoned. But I don’t know why you have five other women in there. And I don’t know why their glass cases are red, indicating that they’re sick. And I certainly don’t know why you took blood from one of the women and created pills of the type you have been giving to me.”

Cate waited for the Auto to answer. But no answer came. She waited all through dinner and asked it again and again to respond to her questions, but it still did not say a word. Cate knew the reason why is because an Auto cannot lie.

Eventually, Cate’s patience wore thin. She got up from the table and ran. She ran out of the house and through The Lucus as fast as she could, and she ran all the way to the Blue Lab where she used her key to open the door and rush inside.

There, Cate took her sickle and cut her palm before pressing her bloody hand against the machine.

“Please scan for poison,” she said.

The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then it said, “Poisonous sample. Botanical origin. Traces of Purpureus Crataegus found.”

The door opened and RPC-19 came in, walking slowly and sadly.

“I think I understand now,” said Cate, “but you’ve misunderstood.”

So Cate and the Auto discussed what the plan had been and why there were five women, all poisoned, sleeping in their glass cases in the Blue Lab.

“All of the plants in the Lucus were diseased,” said RPC-19, “because they would surely all be totally inedible before The Zephyrus reached Our Promised Home, I needed to do something so that your future generations would not starve. I have been looking for an antidote to the poison.”

Cate interrupted, “So all of these women were woken up to work in The Lucus just as I was? And they all got sick like I did?”

The Auto wanted to reassure her, so it went on, “They have all been sent back to sleep, which means they are not getting any sicker now. Once the antidote is in hand, they can all be cured before I wake them again.”

“But what if you don’t find the antidote?” asked Cate, “Does it mean that they got sick for nothing?”

“I must find the antidote or a cure,” said RPC-19. “Your future generations depend upon the fruits of The Lucus, and those depend upon my success.”

The pair talked back and forth about the theories that the Auto had developed and its plan to use the blood of the sick women to formulate a cure. Cate listened and thought, as did the Auto.

But there was something different about Cate that gave her an idea of her own, an idea that RPC-19 could never have had.

“I’m getting sick,” she said, “and soon you will want me to return to sleep in my glass case. But I’m not going to. The one thing you have never tried is letting the poison take hold for longer. You know I might not survive, but you just can’t do it. You can’t kill us, can you, RPC-19?”

“No,” said the Auto. “I can neither lie nor kill. Both of those things are true.”

“Then it’s your time to sleep so I can continue the experiment. I believe that I need blood from later in the disease cycle if I’m going to synthesise a cure.”

The Auto said nothing. It didn’t move an inch.

Cate took her timepiece and connected it to the library slate. She set its program for one hundred years and then, with the interface point on the library slate, jabbed the Auto’s finger. Immediately, the Auto shut down.

From that minute on, Cate was truly alone on The Zephyrus.

She sat there quietly contemplating the weeks ahead. It was going to be a long, hard journey into the darkest night, but she was right. By making this sacrifice, Cate had a chance to save the future of every other human on The Zephyrus.

That night, as Cate lay in bed, she reached up and touched the blemish on her cheek. It felt soft and tender, like hope. “My beauty mark,” she said, and then she closed her eyes to dream.

Coco Kasperowicz is a multidisciplinary nerd performer; the brains behind #chaotichighfemme  her social media and YouTube persona, she is also known as THE BODY POSITIVE NERD PRINCESS of Chicago; Lottie a la West. she graduated with a degree in musical theatre from Columbia College Chicago, and has performed in professional theatres across the Chicagoland area


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