The black spaces between the green digitized numbers stared hauntingly back at me, hanging on the edge of infinity, or nothingness.
I roll out of bed trying to avoid my reflection. One leg after the other, just the way my mother taught me to dress myself. Life seemed much simpler when she would lay my clothes out for me the night before, I would lie awake in the early hours of the morning anticipating the sun breaking through my window and signalling the start of my day. The small things seem to be the things I miss the most.
It’s late afternoon now and I yearn for this time of day when I can fade into the backdrop and become indistinguishable from the crowd. It is interesting how many of us try to cover up the truth. The ticking time bomb attached to all of our arms since the collapse, now covered with sweaters and scarves despite the unbearable heat in the station. We just walk along trying to pretend our time here isn’t limited to the numbers staring back at us.
I pass the time junkies in their usual spot, pan handling what they can to make trades with one another. I spent a lot of time there in year two. I thought that if I could offer up anything or everything it would be worth it just to spend one more day with her. One more day fighting through the changes, the new rules, this way of life, I was willing to sell my soul itself if it meant I didn’t have to feel so isolated anymore.
In year three her time ran up, we did everything we could. Or at least that is what she wanted me to believe…even now I lie awake at night tossing between hating her for refusing to take a time transfer from me and loving her for her fearlessness in the face of death. It’s now year 5, I am only one out of a couple hundred people who have survived the collapse and still has time left.
4 days. 96 hours. 5,760 minutes. When you boil it down to the very minutes you have left to live is when the desperation sets in. You never know what you are capable of until its your life is on the line. I did things I am not proud of to make it this far. I can’t help but to look around and wonder if people were like this before1` the collapse. I try to remember but that’s all it is now…remembering. My memories are simply a reconstruction of a time that is too far out of reach to be able to know anything for certain. This is my reality now and I have adapted, I have survived.
R421 is waiting for me as usual by the clock-in station, we try to keep our interactions brief. Friendship is a dangerous game, once your passcodes have been infiltrated time transfer can be accepted on your behalf without your consent or knowledge. R4 has proven to be an asset to my cause however, we both have time running out and have worked closely in establishing routes in the underground time trade unit to salvage hours or even minutes where we can. The rest of the few people in the station work for their added seconds or if you’ve managed to prove your worth around base…minutes.
The problem was the air quality. Or was it the climate change? I think it was a combination of it all. Things get mixed up for all of us. R4 and I often map out the pre-collapse, perhaps to fill our time…but something is indescribably important about creating some sort of history before the station, before the base…before the dome. We boiled it down to human greed mixed with sheer ignorance. They created an artificial sky here, which I always found interesting…anything to make humans adapt a bit better.
It’s amazing what has survived the fall of civilization. R4 and I have created a library of sorts from a world before this one. Sara admired this work…she started it actually. She believed that we needed to keep fragments of the past in order to assemble some sort of better future. We salvage what we can from the raids, people seem to not have had the same sentiment to the old world that Sara seemed to have and instilled within R4 and I. Mostly I agreed to help her on her project because she was my connection to my past, my only living relative, my sister and physical connection to a world that seemed so much better than this one. Without her I’ve found myself replacing that connection with the relics from the past.
With only 4 days left I decided to say my goodbyes to R4, the last 3 days of my life are for myself. We spend the day in my cabin sharing stories of the years past. It wasn’t all bad. The desire for human contact seems to have survived the collapse, especially now with the heightened paranoia and limited time available to us all, and when you meet someone you can trust you grab hold of that connection for dear life. Soon our light-hearted discussion turns to darkness as the blinding green light from our arms flashes to signal the end of another day. One more day we will never get back…unless we can find someone hopeless enough to transfer their time to us. R4 makes no such offer…and I hold no resentment towards him for this. His time is his own and he often speaks about his “big plans”. All of which include elaborate designs and intricate steps to breaking into the mainframe and rewiring the time distribution agency. Give himself “unlimited” time. I don’t try to break his spirit and visions of hope or tear them down with the face of reality. We stare in silence at one another. Both awaiting the other to initiate the final goodbye. R4 simply states that I lived a life longer than most and soon I will be able to see Sara again. Another ideology that has survived the collapse…an afterlife…always the need for more. I smile and agree, more for his benefit than my own. We embrace for the first time. Awkward and long…I was never good at goodbyes. R4 avoids making eye contact with me and wishes me a peaceful 3 days and that we will see one another again. He leaves quickly putting us both out of this misery. Loss has become natural for us, a way of life at the station. Just another one biting the dust.
I shut the door to the last human contact I will every ever have. I turn to my makeshift library. A collage of dull colours that were once so vibrant. I approach the section filled with Sara’s personal collection. I carefully unpack a copy of a screenplay from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, Sara’s favourite show from the time before. She highlighted several lines within it, but the one I return to continuously reads, Survival is insufficient. I find it slightly calming how art imitates life, not a life that may have been possible at that time, but the ways in which this show from hundreds of years ago has survived to today, in my hands now, and finds a relevancy within me simply astonishes me. Sara feels close to me now as if my thoughts of her are somehow floating outside of my body and reaching her in a different time and space. I hope she is at peace and that I really may join her at the end of all of this.
I pack up this screenplay along with Sara’s broken and worn out, late edition of Homer’s The Odyssey to bring along with me. I took these items not to represent the world from the past or because I think they are the only remnants of the past worth keeping, but because they were Sara’s favourites. It’s annotated and ripping at the edges, but in some unexplainable sense these things brings me closer to her. And I need to be close to her at all times for this. I say goodbye to my tiny cabin one last time. Government issued. Every one has the same space; equality for all. Leaving a space that never truly felt like yours is oddly comforting and freeing. I’ve used about two hours of day. 70 hours remain.
They chose who to take into the underground vaults during the collapse. Systematically based on age, ethnicity, health and skills that one could bring forward in re-building a “new” and more “improved” society. I was a chemical engineer, which I suppose they deemed worthy of saving by using my knowledge and scientific background to improve life on the station. Ironic now that the reason they enlisted me and deemed me worthy of life is the very thing that will end all of theirs.
Most of the essentials that I need I picked up every day slowly at the beginning of this year. As to not get flagged by security at check outs. Even R4 was left in the dark to my plan, a causality I was not willing to sacrifice for a long time, until I saw my days growing shorter and both of our numbers decreasing. I have to do something; I am the only person left in this station who could create a reaction large enough to wipe out every trace of human existence. I’m sure other stations exist; we hear rumours. But I will do my part to ensure this reality we have artificially created does not push forward. I remember in the time before reading a National Geographic article that stated that something along the lines of: humans are the only species—once removed, that allows the earth to flourish. Wipe out the insects and we face a collapse. But wipe out humans? The earth will become more beautiful than we could ever imagine. Maybe I’m bitter my time is up. Perhaps I am, or maybe it’s due to the fact that I am the only one who remembers enough of the past to clearly see the faults in the present.
I have hidden these items in an old bomb shelter on the outskirts of the dome. The job they have assigned to me requires that I am testing the atmosphere outside of the station, so I can freely pass through security at every checkout whenever I wish to do so. This final act has been years of planning and it astonishes me the entire walk out that everything I am doing is for the last time. Ignorance truly is bliss. I long desired to be just another face in the crowd who works an honest job for added time until I have reached the age of no return and let my rewards days pass on. I think they integrated our time slots to appear visually so that with fear and the constant reminder of such, they can control us. No one wants to be ‘timed out’, no one wants to be told they cannot live forever.
By the end of day 3 I have made it to my shelter. A long and trying walk. As I submerge myself in the ground I allow myself to free fall into the darkness, knowing that the ground beneath me will catch me. Only the green light from my arm shines the way through the darkness. Then the piercing beep from my arm slashes through the sound of silence. 48 hours remain.
The human biological need for sleep takes over me now. Even with the “purification” of our past to rebuild this society our primal and essential needs still remain. I decide that logically 8 hours of sleep will refocus me. It would be a shame to have come this far only to make an error out of sleep deprivation and blow myself up in the process. My work is too important. I close my eyes for the last time with the hope that they will open at least once more. My last thought being, Sleep, delicious and profound, the very counterfeit of death. I wonder how Homer would have felt about all of this…
40 hours left. I set an alarm to wake me. Interesting feature to have programmed into our ticking time bombs. I begin to steady myself and adjust my eyes to the dim lighting. The thought occurs to me that I could just stay in here and die peacefully. Not leaving any significant traces on the past world or this new one. I pull out my copy of The Odyssey having remembered the previous line before I welcomed sleep. Sara has inscribed in the margins of the opening pages, “Of all creatures that breathe and move upon the earth, nothing is bred that is weaker than man.” A quote from later in the epic poem. Then directly beneath she added the quote, “I am nobody.”
This seems to have re-lit the fire in my soul to pursue this work. I am nobody, I am not doing this for recognition or fame. I am doing it for quite the opposite reason. To give the earth a chance at life without humans. To give our species a chance at new life, or to perish beneath this dream forever. There is an absolute calmness that consumes me as I work. The science never changes. The rules of what is appropriate in society, the religions we follow, the genders we supress, they all change over time…but this science from the time before still remains the same in this one. These “fallen” people at the station are led to believe they have risen from the ashes. That they are the chosen few to represent the very best humans had to offer. When in reality they only live to survive out of fear of death and not for the love of life. Homer’s words from thousands of years ago about humans still ring very true, men are the weakest creatures, and some things just never change.
I have decided to make a total of 30 Tabun and VX chemical agent weapons to be set off on a timer and when combusted will release chemicals that will rapidly choke out any life at the station. I recognize this is not a ‘humane’ death—I had to make due with the chemicals that were still available through purchase or through several different household items to which I could extract enough chemicals from. My justification for this is that it is fitting the one thing we took for granted, our air, the oxygen which filled our lungs every day: the nature and world around us that with our greed and neglect caused the collapse of the world before will also be the reason we die. We should have died in the collapse. Life in these past 5 years has been insufficient, I am going to mend the loophole that we have created and allow this new world to flourish without the human presence continuing to drag it down.
I think of R4. I never wanted to grow so close to another after Sara. I begin to cry for the first time since she passed. I don’t want to be like them and decide who is worthy of life and who is not. I want to simply free these slaves to time and give them a chance at peace. Surviving is simply insufficient
I have finally collected myself. There comes a point when no more tears will fall from your eyes. I talked myself into this action the same way I have done all year; I am correcting the fault in the human species. The battle between living and surviving will no longer be man’s play thing. I have the power to choose a side, and I choose death, I choose hope.
Survival is Insufficient…
The timers I set and planted systematically at the core bases of the station begin to go off. I waited until my time was also running up. Fitting that we all die together. I hear the distant cries of panic from the station in the distance. The dust bowl around me that makes up the exterior of the base swarms in confusion.
I am void of feeling. Should be overjoyed? Cry with relief? or else languish in the pain of my deed? Instead, I am numb.
Silence comes next; the dust settles. I have corrected the mistakes of our past and set the world back on the track to re-growth.
Flashes of green rise from my arm and slowly begin to blind me.
I close my eyes and take in my final breath for the last time….3…….2……..1.