Chapter 1: The End
That’s the one word that I can use to describe... everything. I’m getting old now – not so old that I’ve become infirm. But old enough to have taken a broad overview of the society that bred me, that taught me its unfair, illogical ways.
It’s both ironic and disturbing that this should be happening; as a youth, I was trained to believe that my species had entered a golden age – an age of wonder, technology, and enlightenment. We focused on making our lives easier, more productive, as if this was somehow the key to unlocking our next stage of existence.
But it was all a lie.
Though it’s true we were advancing rapidly, hardly anybody noticed that these advances were costing us, and costing dearly. We built thunderous machines that broke free of the atmosphere, that travelled to other worlds. We heaped accolades upon ourselves for doing so, and yet, our achievements were of little consequence; a smokescreen to mask the fact that we had become overburdened by our own cleverness.
Birthrates increased rapidly – exponentially. Our species gained insight and knowledge that should have made our lives better, but our base natures corrupted the core of our fundamental beliefs, until the only possible outcome was decline.
Greed became a societal imperative. Instead of improving our collective lot, and using our insight to broaden the possibilities for longer, happier lives, we embraced the concept of competition, and trained ourselves to believe that we should be winners, no matter the cost.
For each winner, however, there must be, by definition, a loser. As we advanced, the scales tipped further and further out of balance. The gap between winners and losers became a fissure, then a chasm, and finally a canyon. Cracks began to appear, and instead of taking stock of the situation and hauling back on the reins, methods were developed – by the winners – to cover the cracks.
As resources began to dry up, it became clear that our lives were not ever going to equal what had been promised. The lie became so huge and ungainly that it disappeared entirely. The canyon had swallowed our hopes and dreams, our aspirations, until we had become something unexpected, something corrupt and ultimately pointless.
It’s hard to say exactly where the infection took hold – where the rot began to set in – but it was certainly well on the way by the time the industrial revolution began. Sometime before that someone, somewhere had manipulated the social system to gain an advantage, and had acted upon that advantage to accumulate leverage.
Subterfuge became a subtle way of life, the world over. Media outlets became narrower in their scope, and their owners thinned until the voices that were heard around the globe melded into a monotone that heralded a single message; Don’t think.
Conflicts between neighbouring races had taken place throughout history. Wars were invariably blamed on a wide range of political or religious differences, but the truth inevitably spiralled towards the control of resources. With the onset of technology – the same technology that was to have improved our lives dramatically – there came instead an infinitely sharper edge on the other side of the blade.
Weapons were improved to the point that they could destroy the entire planet in a single afternoon of global insanity. The only wedge holding this particular monster in place was the knowledge of Mutually Assured Destruction. A thin wedge indeed.
The wedge held for a very long time, comparatively. One whole lifetime, as judged by that old book, but overall, it was just a short, intense period of anxiety that finished too quickly. One day, not very long ago, the fuse burned to its base and the powder-keg exploded.
I had been watching it happen since I was young. The undercurrents of fear were always present, until in the last fifteen years they had become a river of paranoia, and finally the tsunami had come upon us.
There’s no way to tell what’s going on up there – to tell how many have survived, if any at all – but the atmosphere has been slowly improving, according to my gauges. I can’t be sure if they’re accurate, of course. One day soon, I’m going up there to have a look.
Resources, you see. A shelter like mine, though equipped as thoroughly as possible, soon becomes devoid of certain items. Unfortunately, my storeroom was damaged by the deluge that occurred, and my supply of water is dwindling.
Can’t have that.
I have a geiger counter. I had the good sense to arm myself to the teeth before the deluge. I have a radiation suit of sorts. And I have some idea where to look.
Two of the five of our species who originally shared this shelter are dead. The other two are already gone, out to look for supplies. They haven’t returned, and it has been so long that I fear they never will.
Society has declined into non-existence, and I have never in my life felt so much like giving up. But I cannot. While there’s life inside me, I might as well use it to see if there’s anything that can be done... anything at all.
If my species is to survive, I must make every effort.