At a quarter past one on the morning of Tuesday, October the 2nd, our sun began to die. Like the inside of a body being slowly weakened and devoured by a cancer, and unseen by anyone and anything watching, the star began to writhe and to react within itself producing lethal levels of energy and radiation which it spewed out into the space surrounding. All around the rest of the universe, nothing seemed to have changed - the brilliant yellow mass continued to burn brightly and to warm the planets in orbit around it where life continued unabated and oblivious to the star's inaudible dying screams.
Eventually, within fifty hours of the sun's first internal reaction, a change worked its way steadily through the vacuum which was noticed and which was, surprisingly, welcomed by the population of the earth - it began to get warmer. As the people on the planet's surface talked of mild winters and of Indian summers, the temperature of the air that they breathed rose steadily until, by Monday the 15th, most areas were a good five degrees warmer than their record books and experts said that they should be.
It was not the first time that such things had happened there and, for once, rather than complain, most people in England chose to relax and to make the most of their mini-heatwave. Steven Johnson. however, was far from impressed.
At only twenty-six years of age, he had done well to get to where he sat today. It had taken him eight years to work his way up through the ranks of the company which employed him from a mere clerk to the heady heights of an office manager. Now, as he sat alone and uncomfortable in the stilling heat of his oak-panelled office and rested in his expensive leather swivel chair, he wondered if it had been worth all the effort it had taken.
Steven looked out of the wide window next to his desk and down onto the busy high street below. With jealous eyes he watched people chatting, laughing, shopping and enjoying themselves and he cursed the concrete prison cell into which he locked himself for a minimum of seven hours every working day. Sometimes he wondered if he would have been better off without the burden of responsibility which had been hung on his shoulders at a relatively young age. Although not a lonely man by any stretch of the imagination, he would often listen to the laughter and jokes which drifted through the air from the main office and into his room, and curse the professional distance that his superiors insisted he maintain from the people who worked for him.
He also found it difficult to relax and to cast aside the stresses that his job involved, and the heat of the last two weeks had only made matters worse. As a single man, Steven went home each night to an empty house where the only listening ear belonged to the cat and, while the animal did its best and listened to his problems, it was useless when it came to offering support and encouragement. Although he never made any admissions to his friends or family, he was desperately in need of someone to share his time, his money, his problems and his life with.
Perhaps he was being naive, but he made no effort to go out and find such a person. He had been the victim of too many broken hearts and missed opportunities to spend his nights trudging around lonely bars and crowded clubs anymore. Brought up on a diet of other peoples sickly sweet love stories, Steven was sure that all he needed to do was wait patiently and then, one day, the girl of his dreams would come waltzing into his life.
Even with the large window open, the heat in the office was sticky and close. He loosened the tie around his neck and undid the top button on his formal, pressed white shirt. He glanced up at the clock on the wall in front of him and sighed heavily as its hands quickly worked their way around towards two o'clock. Two o'clock on the afternoon of Monday the 15th had been a time and a date that he had not been looking forward to. It had been decided by those in the higher echelons of power that one of the junior members of the office staff had not been performing to the fullest of his abilities and, unfortunately, this was the time and date when it had fallen to Steven to deliver the company's ultimatum to their struggling employee. As the second hand on the clock ticked mercilessly past the hour, he took a deep breath and picked up the phone.
With the receiver held tightly in his hand, Steven swallowed hard and dialled out to his secretary at her desk. If he was honest, he didn't believe that Ian Stanton (the member of staff that he was about to reprimand) had done anything to merit such action being taken but what troubled him more than being the hired mouthpiece of a man in a grey suit in an office on the other side of the country, was the fact that he was about to admonish one of the most popular members of staff. He felt sure that it would only serve to alienate him further from the rest of the people in the branch. Still, he thought, there was no avoiding it, it was what he was being paid to do.
The thought of money depressed Steven and, as the phone rang in the outside office without answer, he could not help but think and be saddened by how much he had become a willing slave to cash. He was about to do something that he did not believe in and the only reason that he did it was to keep those few extra pounds flowing into his pockets at the end of each month. To stop them soiling their own hands, his superiors paid him a little more than the staff beneath him and expected that to be sufficient.
The company that Steven worked for was part of the financial industry and he could see better than most just how the possession of money seemed to command more respect that it ever deserved. He would often spend the best part of a day running around on behalf of those people who either had cash or connections while the people who really needed his help had to wait in a poverty-stricken line at the bottom of a stinking heap. Even when he was able to assist such people, it was never without heavy cost to those least able to pay while the rich were never asked to put their hands in their pockets. It was a difficult fact to accept but it was an unavoidable part of his working life. It was also a huge bone of contention which lodged itself painfully in Steven's neck. He knew that he had to find a new career before this one drove him to insanity.
Someone finally picked up the telephone.
'Hello,' a chirpy, high-pitched voice answered. It was Carol, the office secretary.
'Would you ask Ian to come inside please?' Steven said abruptly.
'Will do,' Carol replied before quickly replacing the receiver.
Steven put his phone down and took several deep, calming breaths. In the moments before Ian entered, he tried desperately to remember the standard lines from countless courses and numerous memos that his bosses had force-fed him with to deal with a situation such as this. He hoped that he would be able to keep up the act and deliver their ultimatum with the minimum of effort and resistance.
The silhouette of a man appeared in the frosted glass of the window in the door to Steven's office. The shadow paused for a moment (Ian was obviously as nervous and unsure about the interview as his manager was) before knocking on the door and coming inside.