Our Dying Star
Every day at 10:00 they raise the radiation shields, flooding light and heat into our underground world, powering the paltry life we have here: a controlled and almost sterile environment. A decade ago we could go out for 10 minutes a day, but now no one dares. The temperatures increase almost daily, so they tell us. The earth is a desiccated wilderness with little life. Some desert plants and creatures survive, according to the agronomists, but that is all. Our blue green planet is now an ochre dust ball spinning to oblivion. The younger ones can’t remember what it was like to be outside in wind and rain and warmth; to paddle in the ocean, to walk through meadows, to crunch through crisp white snow. The archives tell them, but I don’t think they really believe such a world could exist – their imaginations stunted by technology and a barren environment of glass and steel. The technology has saved us so far, I admit that much, but for what?
I was too old to be selected for operation Lunar Domicile, although I’m not sure I would have wanted to leave anyway. Earth is my home, and my species -for all its faults, for all the pain and suffering it has caused – is still the only one I can claim a kinship to. I’m glad Adam and I didn’t have children in the end. We had an allocation of one child, but I never managed to conceive. We grieved for our loss back then. Now we are grateful. Or rather, I am grateful. Adam would have been grateful, seeing the way things have turned out.
Adam was an environmental etymologist, one of the first people to see the changes, to raise the alarm in the scientific community. The bees were dying more quickly than we’d imagined with the rising temperatures. The African bees, which we thought would be our salvation because they could cope with higher temperatures, died out within a decade. The GM crops and the pesticides we sent to save the people from famine accelerated their demise. None of the experiments to keep bees internally has worked. The colonies always look really healthy, but then they die, for no good reason -or no reason science can fathom- whole colonies at a time. The hydroponic flowers and vegetables provide nectar and pollen. The buildings are well ventilated, all the conditions seem to be right, but the bees fail to thrive. Adam thought that they missed their world of breeze and brightness, that without the sunlight they were lost: a fanciful notion for a scientist. He carried out experiments, wrote papers, but no one took much notice.
We mostly have synthetic food now. Measured portions of tasteless perfectly balanced ‘nutrition’. It sustains life. The spring water at the heart of the complex is the best thing we have. It’s a real life giving fountain, although no one knows how long it will last. Maggie grows a few potatoes and salad leaves in her pod. It’s an offence of course. Food is strictly controlled by the chemists. Growing your own food is not permitted. The rationale escapes me. I suppose they are afraid it could create anarchy of some sort.
Adam was branded an anarchist. For wanting to go outside, for walking and refusing to use sanctioned modes of transport, for believing that the world still had the answers, that nature was king, and that the universe would survive without us – heresy of the highest order. I would have gone with him, but he left without me, and I find that hard to forgive. At least he breathed his last in the real world of atmosphere: sky and sunlight and breeze. I envy him that. As the mega sun sets ablaze in fiery red and orange, the coronial mass ejections visible to the naked eye, I grieve for my dead husband, the dead oceans, the extinct animals and all that is lost; all that was, which most of my species will never know or experience.
I go to the experimental apiary which holds the last bees on the planet, as far as we know. The last brood raised to spend its brief life inside. My pass lets me enter unchallenged. I open the Flowhive. The bees are not used to being exposed and buzz angrily, some flying at me. I am ready. I catch a handful of bees in my jar and pocket it. I close the Flowhive and go back the way I came. No one pays me any attention. I am Beth, wife of Adam, shamed and humiliated, avoided and positively ostracised. The shields are still up. I break the emergency seal and exit into the upper terrarium. The IED shatters the thick panes much more easily than I’d anticipated. There’s commotion. The shutters are closing automatically, but I’m outside, already running, hot air burning my lungs, sun scorching my skin. I release the bees. They seem unfazed and head off towards our dying star. I wish I could join them. I sit in the burning earth and stare at this red giant, which has powered our planet for all these millennia, and I can feel only gratitude.