Fantasticoe 2010 Contents
There are seven minutes until we die.
Everyone always said that the day that the children collapsed was the darkest day in history. Everyone was wrong. It was certainly the most shocking —the most noticeable, bereavement and fear tangible through the air. You could see their eyes roll back in their heads as their knees gave out to the neoplague. Nurses teleported from house to house, examining comatose children and giving the same answer to every distraught parent: "There's nothing we can do but wait."
Still, this day was not the darkest and as if God was suddenly struck with an affinity for irony, that day has come in the most literal sense. The sun has just gone out. We had known that this day would come, prepared for it, but preparations are conceptual devices proven useful only in theory not practice. So, watching the sun blink steadily, a chill sets deep in our bones and we all, world-wide, decide to hold hands.
It begins as an absurd, strength in numbers mentality. The sun can't just go out on us. There are too many of us and dammit, our sheer sense of will should be enough to keep the galaxy's heartbeat thriving strong. But it isn't. So it's good that we're holding hands because soon it's all we can bear to do as the light fades from around us and the life blinks from the universe. Our hands are iron-cast shackles to our mothers, our lovers, our friends and there is not a thing in the universe that can rip us apart even if we have to freeze with our bluing fingers entwined together. We wish we could roll every child's sickbed into the street and hold them to our chests, but surely they would die in the open air and there would be no chance whatsoever. Let's face the facts. We don't know if our planet is ensured another day. And, in my mind... it isn't. There is no prophesy written in moonbeams on the horizon that gives us even one more moment of breath and this terrifies us. It is human nature, self preservation, that we as a species want to live.
I hold my breath, counting the seconds as they drip from my watch. The sun has been out for three minutes and it feels like I'm breathing ice into paper-bag lungs. I clutch my sister, Mary's hand for dear life. "I never blamed you," she says, dark eyes staring at me over our masks. Her eyes always reminded me of chocolate, like from the old days. From before it became a rarity, a delicacy so upheld officials would barter it like currency. She says, "I know you've made mistakes, the whole world has made mistakes. But I never blamed you. Not for my son nor my husband, not for this." Tears cascade down my cheeks because her forgiveness means the world to me, but I could never believe her. How can she forgive me? I can't even forgive myself. "I love you no matter what."
Images of the last few decades flash behind my eyes. All of our accomplishments. All of our failures. We had made it to Venus. We had successfully cloned a human female. We had developed gadgetry at its finest. But we were greedy. Our human urges initiated six World Wars: three over resources, two over money, and the last based purely in hatred. We had invented something called BombX. It was perfect. The substance did not have to be dropped in a bombshell, or shot from a gun, but simply sprayed through the air in a gaseous form. From there, the chemicals could be manipulated at will. It could control thoughts and emotions, prevent disease, lower the immune system, or it could kill. It was used to create the most capable super soldiers for "us," and the most lethal detriments for "them." Thus creating the gas-mask generation. You could never trust the air around you. You could never trust your own emotions, your own genes. Mary saw the effects second hand and I know there are tears behind her mask for the day her husband, Hazua lost his own. He stumbled through the fog, the gas slowly turning his thoughts against him. His mind only lasted a few hours before it got to be too much and his body was found face-down in the river, under a commuter bridge. Mary sat by her son's sickbed for weeks, watching his small chest heave up and down rhythmically in the indoor-air (government approved to be filtered for a comfortable at-home living experience). "He's such a beautiful boy," she kept saying. "He's such a beautiful boy and it looks like he's almost smiling." I looked the child up and down. Sweat slicked his dark skin and matted in his curls from the constant fever, but yes, the kid was beautiful. He used to love to play sports. Soccer was his favorite. I'd bought him a ball for his eighth birthday. She was wrong. There was no way he was smiling.
But sadly, outdoor-madness and the neoplague were just daily occurrences people learned to deal with. It was later that we realized the true harm we'd done our world.
You see, BombX was synthesized using Xepharon, Genesine, and Dopanine. Elements harvested from Venus. What we did not account for was the imbalance introducing them to Earth would soon create. Months passed, and we lived in fear of the gas, but one by one, the stars began to blink out, and we lived in fear of the universe.
As it so happens, we were draining the life from the cosmos, taking energy that was not meant for us and using it for purposes it was not meant to be used. And so died the stars, in the most beautiful, melancholic display of the weeping of infinity. It was clear that the sun had only so much time left.
The governments of the world, corrupt as they may be, understood finally the weight of our actions. They met and discussed for days the state of the sun and what actions must be taken to preserve the human race. When it was decided upon to build a generator of sorts, the world leaders employed the most intelligent alchemists from around the world. Many of us had worked on the BombX Project; all of us had something to apologize for. This, this generator, was our last plea for forgiveness.
Three minutes to go until the last of the sun's rays touch the earth. It's like an eternal sunset. All around me, people have huddled for warmth waiting, hoping, praying that this works.
I remember walking into the conference room which had become quite familiar to me in the past few years, hearing men and women representing the major countries (New America, Africaia, the Collected States of Asia, and United Britain) scream at each other like lions defending their pride. It was deafening. I am a rather tall but practical woman, causing my stature to be more on the side of timid than imposing. Thus, when it was Africaia's turn to speak, I rose shakily to my feet, walked down my row, and at the podium in the middle of the large, circular room, I offered my knowledge on the subject.
As I was a respectable chemist before BombX forced my retire at the age of 34, the conference heard me, but they did not wish to listen. I was among the three who catalyzed the system, who decided that this was safer and more effective than nuclear technologies. Who were we kidding. During those first few months, knowing we had given our land the upper hand in the world, we were gods. It was only after the effects set in, the neoplague, the madness, the fact that it did not matter where you lived, the gas would creep its way into your life, that people realized the truth. We were monsters.
I knew I missed my chance to set things right. To just stop for a second and say "this is wrong." So I focused on moving forward. I said that maybe we should purge our system of BombX. Everyone laughed, great guffaws at my shameful stupidity.
"Did it take you all year to think of that one, sweetheart?" a physicist from the CS of A.
"No wonder BombX seemed like a good idea in her mind," a congresswoman from Africaia. Huh... my own country was now joining in.
"What everyone means to say," the American President jumps in, "is that that would just send it into the atmosphere, causing its more rapid deterioration."
I close my eyes and try to shake their condescending laughter from my ears. They don't get it. I'm not dumb. I might have made mistakes but I'm still not stupid. So I rush through an explanation of a system I'd designed. Just use a spinpump to channel the gas into the pressure chamber of the generator we'd been spending weeks and billions of dollars creating. Once pressurized it could be recalibrated to a positive balance of Xepharon to the other two elements. Reverse the polarity and launch the generator, the synthetic sun could potentially last for a century.
All laughter stopped. All eyes were on me. I swallow thickly, taking in all the faces I had once worked with in a council just like this on the super soldier project. I stare into the faces of wealthy ladies and gentlemen, noble people of science and see the mask indentations on their faces. They've gotten fat off of their lies. Protected their own sanity with a mantra of "this is not my fault, this is not my fault," every morning over toast and jam. I'd like to think I'm nothing like them. I know I'd done my part in the end of the world and I've spent years hating myself every time I look into the "sleeping" face of my nephew. But let's be honest. Pleading ‘guilty' doesn't get you out of doing time.
I clear my throat and grip the tall, steel podium. Watching everyone adjust in their chairs, smoothing creases out of their nice suits, and straightening their badges of honour, I tell them that this is a long shot. If it doesn't work, I cannot be blamed. The president of New America asked, "Who would be around to blame you?" then adjourned the meeting to set my plan into action.
It shouldn't work.
Various people said various things. Priests decided that Judgement Day was upon us, and it was time to atone for our sins. We know that they were right. We scientists said that there would be seven minutes between the last of the sun's rays and a new ice age. We should be right. Politicians and peacekeepers said that the generators would work. In my mind, there is no way. Pollution, famine, flood. Global warming and then cooling. Six World Wars taking their toll on the planet. We have done enough. Our time has come to pass.
It is one minute in counting until the end of humanity and I see something launch into the sky. Every head in the world turns to follow it like a shooting star. It can't be. I can't believe it.
But strangely, as if god repeated to himself "Let there be light," there is a glow in the universe. A sickly, pale yellow cast along the horizon and across the masses crowding in the streets awaiting saint peter and his pearly gates. Like magic, like life has been breathed back into them, the children are waltzing out of their houses and into the streets, heart monitors still connected to tiny fingers, IV's plugged into frail arms.
It is the strangest feeling in the world to live on the time not given to you, not yours to take. Life is shaky and transparent. You can suddenly see the seams.