“Next!” yelled the Conductor.
I walked forward as the person in front of me from one of the three adjoining lines departed. I rolled my sleeve up just enough to expose the silver bracelet and held my wrist under the blue light. My Integrated Syncing Chip (ISC) bubbled under my skin the numbers:3-3.The numbers mean nothing as far as I know other than they’re assigned at birth by Sense Pool, a robotic detector to predict your potential and assign a class based on your genotype and genetic makeup. The first number was the class. It’s how the government identified us.
The Conductor,I don’t know his real name,peered at his handheld and waited for the screen to beep.
“Move along,” he said. “Next!”
Business as usual.
Scanned, databased, and accounted for, I turned and walked away. As far as the government was concerned, I survived another day in the scorch.
The line for my class was small.Me. All the remaining inhabitants of precinct 11 were Sifters and Metallics. They were the ones running the junk yard raids looking for spare parts to sell or trade other precincts for ammo, fuel, and water—the well diggers in search of water beneath the stroke of the sun--the ones who trekked through the sand in search of life but only returned with more bad news.If they returned at all. The 1′s and 2′s were the heart and soul of any precinct. They kept the system running and mankind alive on the ground. They were also the reason why we were still down here while theotherswere up there. My eyes strayed to the nearest blue pyramid. As a Divine, I was unique. A rare breed of intelligence, wit, and resolve.At least that’s what the machine showed. I hope it was right.I was the last of my kind on the ground. The others were recruited at birth by the government to be educated in the pyramids. I was the exception. My parents shielded me as long as they could. Unwilling and incapable of parting with me, they refused my birthright. A decision that probably saved the whole world.
My father was a Metallic and my mother a Sifter. While my mother waddled through the desert sands in search of supplies, gear, and anything that could sustain our future, my father was hammering away in the fiery trays of the Smith’s Armory. He deconstructed, salvaged, invented, and reshaped all the materials that the Sifters brought into the precinct to be used. All Metallics were experts with their hands. The new age contractors, blacksmiths, and carpenters. My father also was a genius. No machine would ever be able to calculate the amount of heart someone would have. Half of the Market was thanks to him. Some might say they were selfish in hiding me from the government, that I was deprived of my future and of a better life.They have no idea what they’re talking about!Those twelve years were the best of my life. I’ll never forget them.
‘Promise me you will save the world,’ my father had said. ‘Never give up on your dreams. You can achieve anything you set your mind to.’
My father was an optimist. He was also the most selfless man I’ve ever known. I’ll cherish those last words for the rest of my life. When he could have succumbed, he held on through the pain until I got there. Thirty minutes he lay there in agony for his little girl. That’s the strength my father possessed. My father was a hero. And with his last breaths, he chose to bless me with his compassion and pride in me.
My mother possessed the same qualities. If anyone was more selfless, compassionate, and giving than my father, it was she. Her gentleness belied her circumstances. She was the bravest woman I’ve ever known. She had died saving my father, using her body to shield him from the blast. While she died instantly, my father bled out for thirty minutes. He should have passed much sooner, but he was holding out for me. He knew they were leaving me an orphan in a harsh world where danger was only seconds from happening, a future not guaranteed. My mother’s body was mashed beneath the collapsed building. Her head rested on my father’s chest, their fingers interlocked as if he refused to let her slip away. With one arm, he held his past and present, fading quickly, his first true love. In his other, his second:me.
With death pulling him in, he blessed me one last time,‘Don’t give in. No matter what happens. You must overcome.’
“But I can’t,”I had cried. “I can’t do this on my own.”
The tears in his eyes sparkled as his lips quivered with his final breath. His lungs were filling up with blood fast and soon they would completely collapse and he’d suffocate.
With blood spilling from his lips, he choked out his love,‘It is in your blood. We believe in you...’
“But I don’t know how,”I had said.
He graced me with one last smile and squeezed my hand.
‘I’m proud of you.’
He had died moments later in my arms. My anguish shook the cracked pavement as I screamed from the center of the blast radius. The land mine was leftover from the Seven Years War. Collateral from a war between nations that robbed the world of the second 1/3 of its populace. The nuclear and biological residue coupled with the solar flares would claim the next. And seventy-four years later, it still was taking the lives of the innocent. No one is invincible to the fallout of war. My parents had been out with a raiding group sweeping abandoned buildings for supplies and parts when the bomb had gone off. Ten had died, and many more were injured.
When my parents died, there was no one else. All I had were my thoughts and my mind. My father’s words played over and over in my head the next five years while I tried to find my purpose.How was I going to change the world? How could one person make a difference?How could he be so confident in my future when I wasn’t? It took me those five years to learn that the future is not set in stone. We forge our own destinies.
The Divine were the saviors of the world, the ones capable of change. Maybe my father was right; it’s in my blood. And it was time I started bearing my weight. My bond with the Sifters and Metallics grew the next six years as I struggled to solve the mystery of water. The Sifters and Metallics were the mules of society, but at least they hadn’t abandoned me like the others. Yeah, they may be simple-minded and destined for working the sand as diggers or raiders, or crafting equipment and supplies as blacksmiths and forgers from the scraps that were retrieved, all because some machine read their genotypes as babies and stamped them as society’s mules, they were anything but, they weremypeople nonetheless.My new family. And they were all I had to call home.
I made my way around the dried up fountain that once sent a symphony of streamers in the air to the sound of Mozart.If only he could see what we’d becomeI thought.
My workstation was in the fairgrounds, right behind the Ferris wheel and bumper cars. Not much was left of the festival machines. The raiders had worked up a good sweat prying off all the salvable metal, wire, cord, cushion and fabric they could get their hands on. Most of the Market was built with these same materials. My hand swatted the transparent tarp to the side and I stepped in. I had stacked several shopping carts together into a fortress and placed a clear plastic covering I had bargained for with two metal rods I had found from the gutters. The tent was a greenhouse. The only one on the ground as far as I knew that had any amount of success in replicating plant life in the heat. I say that with as much hesitation and humility as I do excitement. The two green bins weren’t much yet, but they were life.2,199 days, 19 hours, and 53 minutes.That’s how long it took. Just six years of my life.No biggie.
The greenhouse was nothing special. More like a trash bag draped over two posts in an abandoned campground, with lots of creepy swing sets and dolls as critics. Their stares never got easier.
I’m a self-taught microbiologist by profession, botanist by necessity. Quite possibly the only one for three thousand miles in fact,on the ground that is, which is rather alarming considering the state of things. I guess that makes me a commodity you might say.Wrong. No one cares about trees. They just want to forget everything and go back to the world before. I’ve read the reports. The world was just as bloody and hopeless then as it was now. The method may have changed, but the result was the same: money and power. The two deadly sins of man.Destroyer of worlds.
The fact that I may be the only one trying to save the world wasn’t what bothered me, it was the fact I was all alone in this helpless quest to bring life back into the soil. If you can reestablish the trees, you change everything. Restore the ozone, restore life. Maybe even bring back the blue in the sky. That’s my hypothesis at least.Take it or leave it.
I didn’t quite mind the solitude, but it would have been nice from time to time to hear another human’s voice that understood you. Actually could converse with sentences of five words or more that was about anything other than sand, dust, and heat. That would be a first. This would be the second miracle if my trees managed to survive past their first year in my makeshift greenhouse sanctuary and produce fruit.
Who was I kidding?No one from the 1′s and 2′s knew anything about botany or cell regeneration.Why would they?They were the simple folk. All they cared about was where their next meal came from, would they have a next meal for that matter, and sex. No matter how hopeless things got, man always seemed to find a way to satisfy his lustful desires. If alcohol were still in rotation, I’m sure that would be right up there along with hot meals, cold baths, clean sheets, and perfume. At least people would be happier. At least that’s the theory. I think it’d just put them all in comas and go blind starring directly into the sun thinking it was greeting them.Yeah, it’d be greeting them alright. All 1000mSv of it.They’d be so delirious they wouldn’t even know they were vomiting up their insides, and melting from the core out from the radiation levels they were absorbing. The scorch at its peak made Chernobyl look like a breeze in the park.
I unlatched my canteen from my waist and uncorked the top. I used the cap as a measuring dispenser and poured two caps full into each of the two plastic cups that held the future of the world in their Styrofoam. I took a quick sip myself before setting the canteen on my faithful assistant and confidant: Travis. The last of the Arabian horses from the Chateau de’Alvin.The carousel. I found him when I was going through the fairgrounds looking for spare parts myself. The Sifters had done a pretty thorough job at gutting the place, but I found Travis lying under some trash bins, his body completely dislocated from his mane down. I searched three days but could not find the rest of his body. His majestic face was all that was left; I brought him back with me. He was one of my three children.
The other two were green and growing rapidly.
“I’m so sorry, my darlings. I know you’re thirsty but I promise I’ll find more soon. The Wellers are getting close. They swear they’ll hit water in a few days. Then, we’ll all be drinking more water than we know what to do with!” I said.
I spoke to the plants every day. I hear it’s good for them. They never talked back. I don’t know why I talked to them. Maybe I thought it would help them grow. Perhaps I did it for me in a last attempt to keep my sanity.
Who knows?Chaos is chaos no matter how you look at it. One man’s control is another’s slavery. And we were on the short side of the seesaw waiting for our friend to come on down and kick off the ground with his heels and shoot us to the sky.
I repositioned the panels acting as the roof and sun filters to account for the angle of the sun in its ascent. I’d return later this evening to do the same for its descent. The plants would die if they received any direct sunlight from 1337 to 1608 when the angle of the sun’s rays filtered unimpeded through the rift in the ozone layer. The other was sometime around 0100. Give or take ten minutes. You wouldn’t think that radiation from the sun could come in the middle of the dark, but you’d be wrong. The radiation levels were actually twice as deadly at night than they were in day.
Only sections of the ozone had split. The rest remained intact. Due to the Earth’s angle as it rotated on its axis and made its spin around the sun, 1/3 of the world was still inhabitable. Burned, dry, and dusty, but technically suitable for life. Mankind was resilient to a fault. Some might say we weren’t living, but merely walking corpses; we just didn’t know it yet. Maybe they were right.
I’m not sure I’d ever get used to the heat and the red sand. My hair used to be blonde at one time, but now it’s reddish brown.Thank you pollution!No one ventured outside during the peaks lest they had a death wish. You certainly didn’t want to get stranded anywhere without a means of shelter to block the poisonous rays. During that three hour window the radiation was so high that you’d die within minutes, having completely cooked your insides. Outside of those hours, it was safe to walk around.Just hot. Unbearably, suffocating hot.
I readjusted the fallen bumper cart that held the tarp in place. The tarp had no hope of shielding the sun’s rays, but where it lacked in fortitude, it made up with convenience. It blocked out most of the sand during the day and night preventing the tiny trees from suffocating. The metal pans I used as sun panels acted as my makeshift ozone layer. They prevented the bad rays from filtering in, but allowed the safe ones entry when the sun was at a different angle: in the morning and in the evening. This allowed for the trees to sustain enough light, but not fry in the process.
I plucked the glass test tube looking apparatuses from the soil and checked to make sure the Magnetized Osmosis Microbial’s(MOMs)were working properly. The purple oils were bubbling which meant they were working, which was a good sign. The MOMs were my life’s work. In a world void of excess water, any amount was valuable. Each MOM extracted any remnants of moisture from the air and condensed it into liquid. The idea was if plants could gain moisture through osmosis, perhaps I could replicate that in a synthesized form to create water. Each one had a tiny antennae the size of a strand of hair that magnetized the microscopic particles of evaporated hydrogen and oxygen molecules in the air, then multiplied them through cell regeneration. This increased the volume by 300%. Six years of work rested in the palm of my hand no bigger than a thumb nail. A simple pinch would be enough to shatter them, obliterating the last six years of my life in an instant. Such fragility brought a kind of euphoric peace over me. Life was fragile. And somehow, despite how easily it is for death to strike, life had survived and continued to thrive.
The MOMs weren’t much, but they were sufficient for the trees, for now. Soon, they would reach a growth proportion that imputed more energy than what the MOMs could output. Basically, the trees would gradually suffocate the bigger they got as their need for water increased. I still hadn’t figured out that dilemma yet.
I placed the MOMs back into the soil of each of the cups.
“I’ll be back tonight,” I said, then exited the tent. I walked past the clown hanging over the ledge of one of the Ferris wheel passenger cars and through the maze of broken booths. I latched the lock to the fairgrounds and walked back to town.
My thoughts shifted as I neared the Market. Let’s see what the Sifters brought in today from their junkyard raids. I was hoping Roxx could help me with my hole problem. If another storm blew through I’d be in trouble. Maybe I’d even find something useful for the baby trees I was growing. You never knew what treasures you’d find in the shop. It all depended on what the Sifters managed to salvage from the wreckage, the abandoned buildings, and trash during that week’s run.
Today was lucky. Just how lucky, I wouldn’t know until I felt the air leave my lungs that evening.