Here’s a first chapter to a different story (not Nadisda, which is running nicely and will be completed!, once I’ve done with uploading everything etc). This is nearly a fanfic; I borrow the world from “Interstellar”, but as a biologist I’m not content with the ending. I can’t simply write Earth off.
The Left Behind
It started that year, when the dust-storms came.
Great clouds of sand and dust loomed like bad omens on the horizon – rather, they were bad omens, clear indicators that something had to give.
It hadn’t rained properly in seven years. Wheat had died a miserable death from the Blight – a fungus that was so highly adjusted it breathed both oxygen and nitrogen – and okra had been planted for the last time. All that was left was maize: Fields upon fields of maize, gene-modified so it couldn’t transplant itself any longer.
The great GMO companies who had wreaked this, had disappeared with the Great Famine that had wiped more than seven billion people off the face of Planet Earth. They didn’t produce any more seedcorn; their weedkillers and insecticides had failed.
We burnt every field that showed beginning signs of the Blight. It was the only defence we had against that scourge. But it was a losing battle, and we knew it: The winds, the dust clouds, brought new infestations of the Blight over our fields. It was barely possible to keep the stuff out.
Those storms blew up practically daily. Many of the younger children had developed severe lung problems, and it reminded us eerily of what had been profesied by such great people as Hopper Munchkins: “The last to starve will be the first to suffocate.”
And then came the day when the Great Murph launched her space station, a centrifugal tunnel that spun in order to simulate gravity. Rather, an endless set of tunnels. But no matter how endless it looked, it was certainly finite; all Earth’s industry wasn’t enough to construct something large enough to provide housing for all of us. And so there was a second cataclysmic moment, when The Murph and her chosen five thousand left Planet Earth to perpetuate humanity while going forth and seeking a new home for our species in space… leaving the rest of us behind to die on a dying planet.
And that, my friend, is where our story really begins.
Michelin crouched in the dust, drawing figures into it with a stick. Funny how even insects avoided the blighted field. He was on private property and trespassing; but he didn’t care, as the grumpy old man that was his neighbour had hardly any grump left in him to chase errant teenagers off his field, dying as he was of emphysema caused by the endless dust.
Michelin was sixteen today, and asthmatic, and the future stretched ahead in an endless stream of days filled with dust and blighted maize. Michelin was uncannily thin; he suspected it was because he hated having to eat. All the maize tasted of sand by now, and had that mouldy undertone. There were some connoisseurs who actually enjoyed the taste of the mould more than that of the maize. Michelin wasn’t one of them – he hated all of it.
He glanced up at today’s sand storm that was blowing up on the horizon. Something that puzzled him endlessly was the question of what was beyond that horizon. Only more desert? More fields of half-dead maize? More half-buried houses? Or was there something different, something intangible?
He got up and stretched, and returned his weary steps home. The breathing was difficult, as it had always been. There was nothing that could help it; he had to force himself to breathe the dry, mouldy air. As always it made his muscles weak, depleting him of energy.
Today, on his sixteenth birthday, the storm caught up with him. This had happened once before, and Michelin knew there was only one way to survive it; he collapsed to the ground in a tight curl, burying his head between his knees, cupping his hands over his mouth and nose and breathing very slowly, carefully, stoically enduring the stinging of the sandgrains that whipped against his back and his bare arms. Collectively they burned like hell and threatened to strip his skin off. But he could do nothing beyond lying curled up, looking at the ground and protecting his tiny breathing space as best he could.
He should fashion himself a mask, he thought as he wove in and out of dizziness. He pulled his t-shirt over his mouth and nose, trying to ignore the opening it created on his lower back where the sand flayed him even worse than before. It certainly improved the breathing.
And then something fell over him, blocking out the remaining light, and something crawled up tightly against him.
“C’mon, share my blanket!”
He grabbed the corner nearest to him and pulled it down to the ground, then tried to get another corner wedged under his knee. With a bit of effort he managed, and relaxed into a semi-comatose state, watching how the homeless kid, Trissy, tucked the rest of the blanket’s borders under herself, creating an effective tent for the two of them.
“You shouldn’t be out in this,” she observed.
“Speak for yourself,” wheezed Michelin. He had to focus on breathing – which was admittedly a lot easier in this make-shift wigwam.
“Yea, but I’m always out in it,” she said with a smile. “And you’re an asthmatic.”
He didn’t reply. Three out of every four of his generation were asthmatic. It was a miracle there were ordinary breathers left.
“The blight is getting worse,” she said. “Can’t be good for your lungs!”
“Look, Trissy, we knew we were going to die when The Murph left us behind,” said Michelin flatly.
“I don’t know that I’m going to die,” replied Trissy. “I plan on living at least a hundred years!”
Michelin smiled. It was a nice way of lying to oneself; there was merit in it, one learned to ignore all the bad stuff around one.
“When this is over,” said Trissy, “I want to show you something. Are you game?”
Michelin turned his head and studied the mousey-blonde girl with the surprising blue-green eyes. She was most probably the same age as himself, but she came across as wise and insane at the same time. A strange creature. In class – because she did attend school, oddly, even though she was homeless – she always had another angle on things, another perspective.
“Why do you come to school?” he asked, for once at close enough quarters with the homeless kid to still his curiosity.
“What?” She sounded surprised. “Why shouldn’t I go to school? Education is the key, they used to say!”
He watched her in amazement as she managed to sit up, cross-legged, wedging the blanket’s seams underneath her bum. It was a heavy, grey vagrant blanket that let barely any light in; but still enough to see her. It was immensely effective as a tent against the dust.
“You really feel we’re learning anything worthwhile in school?” he asked back.
“Haven’t given up hope yet,” she replied. “So far, not much luck – except for the basic skill of reading. There are so many great books in the library!”
“Really,” he said. “So when you grow up, what are you going to be – a professional reader?”
Trissy stared at him in a funny way, pulling a face.
“Really,” she retorted, “you’re being so complimentary. If I didn’t know that it would kill you, I’d take my blanket now and be on my way.”
“Oh. Sorry,” muttered Michelin. “Didn’t mean to step on your toes there.”
“Maybe you’re not the right one after all,” she said, lying down again, curling up on her side in foetal position, making sure that she was still wedging the blanket. “Thought you had spirit.”
The storm raged and howled around them. She closed her eyes, arm flung across her face.
Michelin spent some time watching her sleep and wondering whether this strategy was her survival: Finding a partner to keep under her blanket-tent during a sand-storm. Probably. He went on to wonder how worldly-wise this teenager was. Had she ever slept with guys? Probably, he concluded. Probably lots of times. Not that he could imagine himself trying… the thought put him off. She was such a dirty vagrant!
He must have nodded off, because when he woke up it was dark. There was silence out there. The blanket was warm, and the air inside it breathable. He had survived his asthmatic attack and the sand storm. And huddled tightly against him with angular elbows and knees was the homeless girl, sleeping soundly.
He prodded her.
“Thanks, Tris! We’ve got to get home now. It’s stopped blowing.”
She opened a sleepy eye. “Home?” she asked, confused. Then she laughed. “You don’t understand. You are inside my home. This is my home. The blanket is my home. Who needs more?”
“Well, my parents are worrying, they’re waiting for me…” For a moment he felt really bad about saying that, as a far-away look crept into Trissy’s eyes.
“Come along,” he invited. “Come and stay with us for a while, Tris.”
“Nah! I think I can do without sand in my corn. Thanks anyway.”
In another second Tris was up on her feet, having whisked away the blanket. She rolled it up in a flash, then she tied it up and slung it over her shoulder.
“Wanted to show you something,” she said. “But it’s dark now, it’s pointless. In any case I think you’re the wrong guy.”
“Why? What kind of guy are you looking for?” he couldn’t resist asking.
“Someone,” said Trissy, “who can look behind the horizon with me. Someone who can lift his head out of this dust and death and proclaim proudly: I shall survive! Someone who has a vision…”
“You’ll struggle to find anyone like that,” said Michelin. “We’re all pretty level-headed, you must really be the odd one in the whole generation. We all know we were only born to die.”
“Born to die!” snorted Trissy. “You see, I can’t use that. Bye-bye, Michelin, hope your asthma gets better.” And she turned and walked off, disappearing in the darkness of the maizefield.