We had Denver. For a while anyway, we had Denver. Then a particularly bad stormfront passed over the Rockies dragging the Earth-bound poison with it, and after that the Denver radio station that we had looked to as the last hope for humanity went silent.
There were plenty of survivors at first, don’t get me wrong. Submarines at sea, for example. Stealthy death machines that were suddenly without purpose or much hope for long-term survival. Their mission to rain death upon an enemy was successful without their having to kill a single person directly. Mission accomplished. They were among the last to go. Those nuclear fueled, hermetically sealed pressure vessels were perfect for long-term survival, except for one thing. No way to re-supply without opening the hatches and suffocating with the rest of humanity.
A few of them teamed up. They linked their death machines together in hope of maintaining a life-sustaining atmosphere for long enough for the outside to be livable again, but that just meant they took longer to starve to death. In the end, you can’t live on fungus scraped from the damp walls of a submarine. Not even if you resort to cannibalism as a last-ditch effort. Not for long, anyway.
Before the last of them went silent, we lost the crew on the orbiting platform. The not-quite-ready for primetime gateway to space. The hopefully self-sustaining first effort at off-world colonization brought to a halt before it even had a chance to fail, the beam-jacks suffocating in their orbiting barracks after the air scrubbers failed. Those were particularly ugly deaths to witness.
Ugly deaths, compared to the vast majority of human beings on the planet surface. Most of them simply lost consciousness and suffocated in their sleep. How I envy them. They didn’t have to face the knowledge that humankind had committed willful suicide. As surely as the redneck who said “hold my beer” and “watch this” knew that he could do the impossible, humanity continued to poison the mother that gave birth to them, always thinking that they had one more year. One more month. One more day. To enjoy that latte. Hamburgers in discardable wrappers. Sweet, sweet sodas in plastic bottles. Disposable diapers.
How I envy the unknowing dead.
It happened suddenly, if suddenly means that glaciers moved at lightspeed. I mean, we knew it would happen eventually, we’d been told about it for decades. But it didn’t matter enough to the average person. It wasn’t going to happen tomorrow. It was going to be hard to change everyone’s habits. It was going to cost a lot of people their jobs, as if jobs were the most important thing about life on Earth.
So we ignored the warnings. We pretended that there was an all-powerful god who would make sure we didn’t destroy ourselves, as if the stories about him hadn’t included cautionary tales about him nearly destroying us all himself in a fit of pique. We ignored the truism “god helps them that helps themselves” and went on feeding poison into the systems that sustained us, pretending that the red warning lights and klaxons weren’t raising hell all around us. Hottest years on record. Raging wildfires that burned entire states to the ground. Storms of a size and speed that we had never seen before.
Miami had to be vacated, as did Houston. New Orleans was already a lake by then. Venice’s great experiment with sea walls had already failed, and the seas had reclaimed the areas of the netherlands that had so carefully been pulled from the sea in the first place. China’s attempts to build new islands in the South Pacific? Laughingly thwarted by the oceans that gobbled them right back up. The Indian ocean now covers a lot of low-land india and the Amazon rainforests were now several feet underwater. The vast oceans had gotten even more vast, but sadly no less acidic.
I wonder if the transplants from Miami handed bottles of disposable water to refresh themselves, refused to accept the water, insisted on drinking straight from a fountain? Did any of them make the connection between death and plastic? I don’t remember any stories like that, but then there were a lot of stories and not much time to see them all, there at the end. When that last coral reef died. When the krill ran out and the whales starved to death. When the great encircling ocean returned to its most primitive primordial inhabitants, and their waste by-products raised up out of the oceans and engulfed the land.
What was it like to be on the beach that day? I don’t have to wonder what it’s like today because I have that feed on 24/7 now. No birds, no animals of any kind visible today. But what was it like on the day, the day that being outside was a death sentence? Could you smell that rotten egg smell before the poison killed you? Did you notice the birds falling out of the sky, squirrels out of the trees, before you yourself lost consciousness?
I tend toward the maudlin. I used to wonder what the eyes in a severed head recorded as it flipped lazily through the air on its way to landing on solid ground. Decapitation humor. The truth is far less entertaining than the fiction. The truth is that the loss of fluidic pressure in the head causes consciousness to cease in the brain. There is no thought after the neck is severed. There is just blissful death. No more rigid procedure to follow. No more same-old, same-old protein packs to consume.
The video feed I watch most frequently has a bench in the foreground. In the early days there was a man’s head visible there, as if he was still watching the waves lapping the eerily familiar beach. His head blew out of screen a few weeks ago, either severed from the rest of his body, or the whole thing slumped over, it would be hard to tell without going out there to look, and we can’t go outside the habitat. Outside is death.