Photograph by Dan Sully, Story by Molly Flatt
AH’M A FECKIN’ CYBORG, MATE!’ Mal roared. He thumped his chest and raised his pint. Cobbie’s glass went flying. Everyone laughed except for Law, who gave Mal the eye, and a whole lot more, when she brought over the cloth. She was always talking about how she was going to turn The Skua into a gastro and ban the lot of them, except everyone knew she didn’t know her sous vide from her elbow. Mal refused to order another pint for Cobbie, saying he was too fat, but Cobbie didn’t take the bait. He was too busy scanning the barcode of ‘Mr Porky Pork Scratchings 18g’. Cobbie could tell you every calorie, carb and macronutrient he had eaten in the past five weeks. The database couldn’t find the Porkys, so Cobbie started tapping in the Nutritional Information, still ignoring Mal, who was trying to start an argument about why Insanity beat the crap out of P90X.
Cam scratched the side of his head and pretended to look at a graph on his phone showing the change over time in his basal metabolic rate. He had got a new haircut that morning, based on a picture Louise had seen on Instagram, and he wasn’t sure. It was Louise who bought him the new trainers, Louise who pored over the triathlon forums and wild swimming blogs while he chewed through the great piles of chicken she made him for his tea. She was proud of him, she said from the doorway each evening, as she stood watching him double-knot the Nimbus 19s for his run. His granda would be proud of him, she said. He was going to wipe the smirks of the faces of those Kinburgh bastards once and for all.
The race had started as a bit of a joke, and Cam had never thought it would really happen, so he’d been happy to talk the talk until it became clear it wasn’t a joke at all, and then it was too late. He wasn’t sure that he’d ever actually said yes, but he’d been the biggest lad in his class since he was thirteen, and working at the shop kept him in shape. So as soon as Mal had come up with the idea one evening, over one or four too many, it was assumed Big Cam would be one of the three Chopleigh boys. Before he knew it, they’d set up a meeting, agreed the rules, set up a Facebook page. The council had got involved, suggested it could become an annual event, good for tourism. The Express had even written an article, quoting old Mac Roll, who had been with the lifeboats thirty years, on currents and wind chill.
‘It’s the data will save us,’ Cobbie had said, in their first council of war (as Mal had called it) at The Skua. Cobbie, who worked in IT, had got the wearables half-price. He had installed the app on their phones, inputted their stats, helped them personalise their training plans. He’d shown them how to upload their progress to the cloud, compare it with others, crowdsource advice. He adjusted the settings so as they got alerts when they were falling behind, motivational messages when they were on track. He set them up a WhatsApp group and made them share daily reports. ‘We don’t need luck,’ he’d said, whenever someone stopped them to talk about it in the street. ‘We’ve got science.’ Mal loved it, bought all the gear and pissed around with graphs, although week after week he struggled to reach his goals. Cam’s body lapped it up, broadened, hardened, hit the milestones all too easily. ‘You’re made for this, mate,’ Cobbie would say, studying the data. ‘Made for it.’
Cam’s old friend Rhona, who knew him best, asked him what the hell he was playing at when she dropped by one Sunday, back up home for the weekend. It was nothing, he told her, just a bit of fun. ‘Fun?’ she’d said, trying to get him to look at her straight on. ‘Cam? Since when? I’m sure you can still say no.’ But he couldn’t, not now, not with Louise making t-shirts. So he’d pretended that he’d got a phone call and stayed on the patio until he knew she had to leave. She’d gripped him hard when they said goodbye, looking like she wanted to say something else, but Louise had been there. And even Rhona didn’t know.
Cam had been ten when he saw the angel. It had swum up to him when he was guddling for spoots among the rocks on Ballan Bay, late one school-night evening. It was made of articulated metal, shiny, dark brown. Its curly black hair reached to its shoulders, and its eyes were two glassy black balls sparkling with a billion points of light. At first its wings, fifty foot wide and blood red, were folded along its back, but when it reached Cam it stretched them out and used them to scull the water while it hovered above the froth. When it spoke, its voice was shingle and shriek. ‘Ες θάλατταν εισιέναι επικίνδυνον,’ it said. ‘αὐτὸς ἔφα.’ It approached him, with the smell of electricity and the roar of a hurricane, and Cam felt something touch his fingers, clenched tight as his balls. When he finally opened his eyes it was gone and when he opened his fist, he saw what it had left behind. He didn’t need to understand the words to know what it was he had been given. A warning. A reminder.
Cam felt an arm slam across his shoulders. ‘Feckin’ machines,’ Mal was telling some woman he’d never seen before, a skinny blonde in city clothes. ‘Just ye wait. Ye come and watch us tomorrow.’ At the bar, Louise turned from where she’d been talking to Law, frowned at the blonde and then smiled at Cam. ‘I tell ye, sweetheart,’ Mal declared, letting out a belch. ‘Come watch. Ye won’t believe yer feckin’ eyes.’
Molly Flatt is an author and journalist who writes about how technology changes the way we think, work and live. She is Associate Editor for FutureBook and Digital Editor for PHOENIX magazine and her debut novel, THE CHARMED LIFE OF ALEX MOORE - described as "Bridget Jones meets The Matrix" - is out now. She lives in Hackney with her husband and daughter but spends as much time as possible in the countryside, ignoring her phone and making stuff up. Follow her at @mollyflatt
Dan Sully is an award-winning British filmmaker and photographer based in London. He started his career as a music video director, directing videos for bands and artists such as Beach House, Elbow, Will Young, Miles Kane and The Maccabees. His short films have played the London Film Festival and Encounters as well as reaching over a million views on YouTube. His photography has featured in Creative Review and Huck Magazine. See more of his work at @dan_sully