Friday, March 25, 2016

A Better & Brighter Tomorrow (Part Two)

Hello again! Below is the second part of my short story. Part one can be found here, but part three will have to wait until Tuesday since Monday I will be hosing interviews for the next SIAFBB event. Make sure to check back then to read about the hilarious April Fools pranks our authors have played or have had played on them! In the mean time, let's see what happened to that asteroid...

A Better & Brighter Tomorrow (part 2)

by Christina McMullen

   Communications connectivity was restored with a sudden burst of sound and light.
   The background chatter that I’d always taken for granted was a most welcome salvation from my personal darkness. Immediately, I got up, fumbled about for my own previously thought useless personal computer, and punched in my access code for the stream from SELIA. Surely the restoration of the internet could only mean one thing, right?
   It’s over.
   Oh please, please, please, tell me it’s over.
   Please SELIA, I silently begged, show me how you’ve honored your promise of a better and brighter tomorrow!
Instead of the usual stream of information, there was nothing on the screen except a button linking to the White House’s news stream and a scrolling headline that read:
   My heart all but leapt from my chest and my hand shook so hard that it was damned near impossible to tap the link on the screen. Obviously, the President would want to make the announcement instead of relying on the computer to do so. It wasn’t really fair to SELIA, but I wasn’t at all surprised. This was a momentous day. One that would likely ensure reelection despite the fact that anyone with half a brain would realize that the president’s involvement in defeating the asteroid probably just involved a bunch of nodding and saying “Make it so” as the real heroes went about securing our future.
   Finally, my flailing managed to hit the correct button and I switched over to the official government stream. I took a deep breath, jacked in my earbuds, and cranked the volume. The president stood motionless at a podium, flanked by several cabinet officials and several scientists that I recognized as those who worked closely with SELIA. Surely if the scientists were there, it had to be good news.
   I waited patiently, wondering when the address would begin. I marveled at the president’s ability to stand completely motionless for so long. It was an excruciating five minutes before my brain engaged and I realized that what I was looking at was a still image from a prerecorded message. Properly embarrassed, I tapped the “play” icon in the corner of the screen and waited for the video to buffer.
   “My fellow Americans,” the President began, “let me begin with an apology for what was likely a trying week of confusion. The communications blackout of the last few days was not ideal, but it was necessary. To ensure cooperation amongst all world powers in looking for a solution to the problem that looms over all of us, we had to suppress the spread of misinformation.
   “It is with great sadness and no small amount of regret that I report our findings. In working with the top minds of Tri-Con Tech, as well as the leading scientists from other world conglomerates, we have calculated every possible course of action. Using the array of supercomputers available to us through the SELIA program, we have gone to great lengths to prevent the asteroid that is currently on a collision course with Earth from doing just that. Unfortunately, after calculating every possible outcome, we can no longer in good conscience prolong the inevitable.
   “We have made every possible attempt to deflect the asteroid, but we have failed. In twenty-five days, Earth will be struck.”
   At that point, the president paused and several gasps were heard, including my own. I slammed my hand down on the pause button. There had to be a mistake. The edges of my vision began to darken as anxiety crowded out rational thought. Surely, they weren’t giving up! There was still time. Twenty-five days seemed short, but in the movies, it always came down to the last minute. SELIA wouldn’t let us down. It couldn’t! SELIA had a promise to keep.    
   No, I rationalized, as the initial panic ebbed away and my heart slowed to a more normal pace. This was not the end. It couldn’t be. The president was just being dramatic. That’s what politicians do, right? They want to look like heroes who saved the day. I was playing right into their hands by jumping to the worst possible conclusion.
   Yet, I was afraid to resume play on the video. Now this, I recognized, was the true act of burying my head in the sand. I swallowed down the bile that rose in my throat. Truth or not, I had to finish the video or I was going to spend the next month killing myself with massive anxiety regardless. I took a deep breath and held it, hoping to slow my racing heart, and hit play once more.
   “Bittersweet though it may be, there is a silver lining.”
   Ah ha! See? I knew it! I felt the giddy high as the unspent adrenaline flooded my body. I began to laugh. At the same time, I began to cry. I wanted to run, to sing, to shout from the rooftops. I was in such a state, that I nearly missed the rest of the president’s address.
    “Here in the twilight of our species, humanity has achieved global peace. All warring factions the world over have laid down their weapons and united in a joint effort to bring a serene and peaceful end for all of Earth’s children.”  
   I sat stunned, unable to move, unable to react, unable even to draw a breath as the air around me turned to a thick soup of futility. The president’s plan for a serene and peaceful end?
   Mass planetary suicide.
   They gave up.
   We are all going to die. Our only choice is how.
   Pharmaceutical companies worldwide had begun to mass produce a lethal drug cocktail that promised to allow the user a quiet and painless death in their sleep. The idea was that no one would have to suffer should they have the misfortune of not being one of the billions who will be vaporized in the first second of impact.
   This is not a solution.
   This is acceptance.  
   SELIA can’t save us if we don’t want to be saved. The world leaders have taken it upon themselves to decide that we as a species were better off killing ourselves rather than spend another moment trying to stop our extinction.
   Eventually, the initial shock wore off. But all that did was make room for a deeper, darker, far more oppressive sadness to settle into the cold pit of empty despair that had previously housed my soul. All of my hopes and aspirations were in vain. How much I would never get to do was thrown into stark relief. I will never go to college. I will never get married. I will never have a family of my own. I’m never going to experience the joys and pains of growing up and growing old. The world will end before I have a chance to live.
   It wasn’t fair.
   I began to cry. I couldn’t help it. I sat on my bed, hugged my pillow to my chest and bawled into it. At that moment, I was too stunned to know or care if anyone heard me. I clutched my pillow tighter, regretting that I let mom give away my childhood stuffed toys. I knew it was stupid, but I missed the comfort they offered when bad things would happen to a much younger me.
   I cried harder when I realized that my first thought of comfort was for an inanimate stuffed toy and not for my family. Mom and Dad had always been good and supportive parents, but the people out there now, chanting and wailing and talking about sin were not the same people who long ago gave hugs and kissed boo-boos to make them better.
   Through the steady thrum and fuzz of my own racing panic, I heard the muffled tones of the president’s awful decree and realized that someone was watching the announcement on the main television. My stomach sank further as I realized this would do nothing but strengthen my family’s fear-powered beliefs. Seconds later, my prediction came true as I heard my mother’s voice, no louder than a harsh, hoarse whisper after days of screaming about sin.
   “This is it! The president is a man of God. The rapture brings salvation. We shall not perish in the fiery pits of Hell. God has heard our prayers and through his servant, we shall be saved!”

   I’d have laughed if the situation wasn’t so dire. Only a few short weeks before, the president, in mother’s opinion, was an idiot whose policies she likened to the leaders of the dark ages. End of the world or no end of the world, I decided it would probably be in my best interest to stay invisible.

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