Today I offer you a science fiction story inspired by the latest IPCC reports. It’s not very optimistic. For me it is high time that we move our ass to act but I have the impression that most world leaders do not give a damn because it won’t affect their generation.
I promise I’ll try to be in another mood for the next story.
A single tear that will never fall clearly stands out on my right cheekbone. My name is Tear. At least, that’s what the inhabitants of the Burrow call me. I have long forgotten the first name chosen by my parents, perhaps I never even knew it.
— Tear! Tear! Bring your butt, we found something!
It’s Cio’s voice. I wonder what they could find this time.
I take off at a run. I descend the steep slope overlooking the Burrow. A mixture of sand and loose stones rolls under my feet, I will soon have to think about getting back on the road. Cio is waiting for me at the bottom of the drop and leads me towards the crowd. I jostle the pock-faced twins Rari and Tul. They let me pass without flinching.
— What is that ?
— We do not know. We thought you would know.
I lean over and look at the metal box pitted with rust, it almost crumbles to dust.
“How did you find that?”
— It’s little Marr, he fell to the bottom of a crevasse. We tried to fish him out, but it was too late, he was in bad shape, his legs where his arms were, if you know what I mean.
I nod in silence, I’ve seen too many bodies dislocated by the fatal falls that are repeated at each bivouac.
Rari continues by cutting Cio off:
— At the bottom, we discovered a kind of very hard piece. Half of it had collapsed, but we were still able to get in. There were plenty of empty boxes except one, and inside was this. Another box. I look again. They have just opened the small chest. Cio protests:
— I’m the one telling! It was me who found the box, so it’s me who tells… Do you understand?
Rari and Tul start laughing.
— Ok, chief, it is you who tell.
I really like both boys, they live by their own rules. They follow the Walkers, but rarely mix with the Pack except when rescuing one of our own. This time, unfortunately, the rescue came to nothing. Petit Marr went there, like many.
Cio is carefully taking out a rectangular object wrapped in a sort of dry, cracked skin, and opens it very slowly, as if he was afraid that the inanimate structure would suddenly come to life.
— Oooooh! marvels little Lota.
A book, a real book, as old Roy described it to us. This one is different: instead of the words we can’t decipher, there are color drawings.
Everyone tries to see over their neighbor’s shoulder, the jostling begins, and it’s still the twins’ turn to calm the little band gathered at the entrance to the North maze.
Cio places the book in my hands, a proud smile on his chapped lips. I open to the first page, a few words are drawn on the top of the document, I squint, we don’t know how to read this, nobody knows. I continue, the rest is easier, these are images. I know what it is. Old Roy, before he died, explained everything to me. That’s why others respect me, I’m the one who knows.
Our history is oral, we no longer write it. Each Pack has a Storyteller, guardian of memory. I am a Storyteller, I have the memory of the world.
I sit on the ground, in the dust, and look at the orange sky. Our lookouts have not sounded the alarm, we still have a little time before the rains arrive. I raise my arm and show the first image.
— It is a tree.
I hear “oh” and “ah” all around me. One after the other, the band settles on the ground.
— Is a tree what feeds the planet? asks little Lota, the smartest of the group in my opinion.
She has not reached the age of eight and I hope she will survive a few more years. I’ll teach him the history of the world like old Roy did before me.
— Yes, Lota, the trees fed the earth and the earth fed us.
— I would like to see one for real, exclaims Cio, the dreamer.
— We are the Walkers, one day our steps will take us where the trees still exist.
— Is it true that trees make clear rain?
I nod and turn the second page. Another tree.
— Plants create clear rain and offer it as a gift to men.
— Why aren’t we allowed gifts?
It’s Sven’s voice, I didn’t see it coming. I can’t take my eyes off his dirty face, his blue eyes shine fiercely, he is my rock, my stability, my reason to go on and on.
— The elders have decided otherwise,” Lota answers tit for tat.
Definitely, this little one surprises me from day to day. Sven sniffs and drops to one knee before whispering in my ear:
— Come on, I need to talk to you.
I get up and give the book back to Cio.
— Put it back in the box to protect it and bring it home, with the rest. Has anyone notified little Marr’s mother?
The twins nod and I smile sadly at them, then join Sven who is waiting for me a little further.
— What is it ?
— We have to leave.
— When ?
I never question Sven’s common sense. He is not mistaken. He knows the stone, he guesses the moment when it will no longer hold and will end up burying us all.
— Tomorrow, the day after tomorrow at the latest.
— The Trackers have found a location?
— Yes, but the walk will be difficult. We are going to lose people.
I sigh and lean my forehead against his chest. He says nothing, but uses me against him.
— We’ll take Lota. The twins and Cio will follow.
Sven rests his chin on the top of my head.
— As you want, but in case of rain, it will be every man for himself.
The law of the strongest, as always.
The watchmen’s horn sounds. A long hoot followed by a shorter one. This is the signal to warn of impending rain. Sven sits up and grabs my hand before running. I check in passing that the gang is no longer outside; they must have bolted at the first warning.
The northern maze is ours: Lota, Cio, Rari, Tul, Jay, who has found his place among the Trackers, Sven and me. This is the most dangerous part of the Burrow, we are used to it, we always choose the least easy, the least livable. Over time, we became strong and independent. Others fear and envy us.
— The lookouts have shit in their pants again, laughs Cio.
Lota interrupts him:
— Better too soon than too late.
— Well, it’s not as if we had ever narrowly failed to dissolve the mouth. We all have a scar to prove it.
His gaze passes over the tear that digs into my flesh and makes me look nostalgic. Forgotten memory of my childhood. I don’t know how it happened. My parents died a long time ago, I have always carried this symbol of sadness, this mark that nature engraved on my face.
Acid rain began hundreds of years ago. It all started with the disappearance of oil. The last stripe sucked from the bowels of the Earth left the world in total disarray. Other energies were put in place to fill the gap, but the demand was too great.
The wind turbines did not produce enough, the nuclear ended up being abandoned during the last accident which made Japan and Korea disappear unified. Tidal and solar power was used until the last moment, but the brown cloud definitely put a stop to any future attempts.
The earth is turning in slow motion. The sunlight hardly reaches us anymore, we die slowly, drowned in a muddy chiaroscuro.
Old Roy told me all that, and even more.
At first, American researchers had the brilliant idea of melting our waste to reproduce the lost fossil energy. For a few years, the world regained its former flamboyance. Planes flew in the sky, machines worked for the well-being of the population, trade had never been so flourishing. Then the Day of Tears came. The first acid rain took everyone by surprise, ravaging cities and countryside, killing animals, crops, people.
During the first decades, scientists were hopeful that everything would stop and that the water in the sky would become pure again. Unfortunately, the years passed and the land turned into a desert. The survivors became hermits, protecting themselves in the caves, the only ones capable of resisting the acidity of the sky. Water and food soon became a problem. There was no shortage of acts of barbarism, the strongest survived.
We are piss children, as Cio says. We learned to distill urine. I never drank anything else. Life expectancy has been halved. We don’t have many old people among us. Their urine is too ammoniated, they live together and die together, poisoned by their own fluids.
We feed on insects and anything we can find edible and smart enough to avoid the rains.
We have become nomads. The rock protects us, but wears out quickly and we need to find something stronger day after day.
The Trackers locate the habitable places, it is up to us to make them our home for a few weeks before the inevitable march which will not fail to arrive sooner or later.
Pregnant women are the most protected, if we don’t want the human species to die out, we must reproduce ourselves in sufficient quantity.
Sven is ready, he thinks we should try.
Everyone is free to choose their partner, but sometimes gangs of Reproducers arrive, they only target women of childbearing age, we have never found any of them.
Old Roy only divulged the history of the planet to his successor: me, in this case. He said it was no good taunting survivors, that if we understood what the planet had once been like, jealousy, anger and disappointment would destroy what little hope we had left.
I do not envy our ancestors. My limited imagination cannot envision the extraordinary.
We find Cio and the others in the northern maze. They have all heard the news of the imminent departure and are already packing up their meager possessions, except Lota, who remains motionless in the middle of the dark excavation.
— What is it ? Cio stole your rag again? – this piece of ageless fabric that she drags everywhere.
She shakes her head negatively.
— I do not want to leave.
— We must leave this cave or we will die, you know that very well.
— What if the rain stops?
— What if she didn’t stop?
Lota sighs, she has no choice, she has to walk. Sven pulls me into our corner, his gaze serious, his jaw tense.
— I spoke with Jay, the Stalkers who returned brought with them a Walker. A rumor is circulating. He stops and tests my face with his eyes so blue.
— A rumor ? You know rumors have killed more men than the rains.
— This time it’s different. The Walker comes from the West, he says the rains have almost stopped there. He has made it his mission to transmit information as far as the Russian republic.
Sven raises an eyebrow, he doesn’t know what the Russian republic is. The Walker is a Storyteller without a doubt. I explain in two words where the place is located and ask:
— What does Jay think?
— He says it’s the first time a sane traveler has come to us. He speaks coherently and can answer questions without rambling.
— What have the Stalkers decided?
— That we would go west.
— Do you really think the rains will ever stop?
— No, but we’ll go west all the same.
— What will we find there?” A toxic ocean that we can never cross. We know it, you and I have seen it with our own eyes. The world stops at the seas. Do you remember the swamps? How many died? Ten, thirty, a hundred?
Sven grabs my face between his two hands and follows my motionless tear with his fingertips. It has a strange delicacy that only I can see.
— Lota needs to believe it. Cio says nothing, but he’s scared. The twins told me that they had heard him cry in his sleep. And you…
I sigh. My eyes, accustomed to the darkness, spot a gray bat, with thick fur and fangs several centimeters long. She will not hesitate to attack. It too must survive. I push Sven to the side and throw the stick I keep in my belt. He twirls around and catches the animal’s wing, which falls heavily to the ground. Sven picks it up and snaps the back of his neck without flinching. We will have meat tonight.
He faces me now and resumes as if nothing had happened:
— And you ? Wouldn’t you like to feel safe? He raises the poor animal which hangs limply at the end of his arm and continues: wouldn’t you want to eat your fill every day?
— And if we fail?
Sven points to the cave with his hand.
— We’ve failed before, we just have to start over, doing better this time.
I nod slowly and meet his gaze. I read there the determination and the fear too.
Lota joins us, she drags behind her her travel bag ingeniously equipped with wheels, an idea of the twins. The little girl’s eyes are circled in black. Concern can be read on his young face.
— Everybody is ready.
We are the vanguard, we will lead the way and if we survive then the Pack will follow.
Sven ruffles her hair.
— Go find Jay and tell him we won’t be leaving until tomorrow, we’ll be walking at night when the rains are less frequent.
Lota walks away, her steps lightened by this respite of a few hours. My eyes betray my incomprehension.
— Why tomorrow ?
‘Because this will be our last trip.
My heart squeezes painfully in my chest. We will only travel west once. Our group is dying.
— We will create our own world, better and wiser. We will live in the open air and the trees will watch over us. You have told us so often. I want to see the earth as it is described in the books you jealously guard. I want to have children and I want to grow old, he explains to me with new seriousness.
I nod without being able to say a word, my throat tight. Hope is foolish, we shouldn’t get attached to it and yet…
Tonight we will sleep in each other’s arms and tomorrow, with bellies perhaps full of new life, we will walk.