The year is 2201 A.D. We are all dead.
This is trans-millenial literary communication. I am, none of your business. The gist of it is that I made a thing that does a thing that allows me to do this thing. I am not who you should be paying attention to in this text. So stop thinking about where this is coming from and pay attention to where it’s going.
It is surprising humans made it this far. After five failed attempts at mass-suicide I thought we would have gotten the hang of it far quicker. But we were always a lousy bunch. The second one with the gas chambers and hydrogen bombs still takes the cake though. The later ones were all boring, resource-induced pogroms; especially the last one over carrots. Carrots, yes, really. We killed each other over carrots. Want to know why? What a redundant question to ask. Here’s a fact for you. A hundred grams of carrots make up over three-hundred percent of your daily vitamin A needs. We fought over carrots because they were the last remaining rich source of vitamin A. We desperately needed that orange stick. People were dying from paper cuts in the dark. I must admit that war, like Presidential elections, is far more entertaining when you’re not a participant.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Humans blew up the planet. Not literally, but close enough. We finally mastered the art of harakiri en-masse.
Here’s what happened.
After spending centuries, millenniums rather, we made little to no headway in the space frontier. Voyager IV got pretty far but then it met the same fate as the three before and so many after it - blip blip blip blip no-blip. I like to believe that it was a superior alien race that abducted our dear satellites but like the Cat Theory that we’ve been using to explain fundamental physics for a couple of hundred years, it’s not falsifiable and so, no good. Cat theory is a follow-up hypothesis, very rigorous I give it that, to the age-old string theory. Strings weren’t cutting it, so the big brains at Starvard decided that all matter was made of cats. Sounds amusing but listen to this. Our beloved feline creature here refers to Schrödinger’s gedankenexperiment. Dead and alive? Remember? Yeah. Turns out old man Schrödinger had hit gold with his theory. Of course his idea provided only a rudimentary explanation. The furthest we got was that like his cat, the fundamental particles in the universe constantly switch between matter and anti-matter. So we decided to call them Cat particles. It made great revelations in its time I have to give it that. Here are a few noteworthy ones -
- Dark matter is a calculation error. (This led to a worldwide movement demanding better wages for interns and student assistants. Hilarious really.)
- Interstellar travel is impossible. There is no way we are ever getting away from Earth. (This led to mass hysteria and a record spike in conversion to Terrarism - a newfound religion that can be succinctly explained as Earth, one; God, zero.)
The Carrot War makes a lot more sense now, doesn’t it?
We called this The Unhappening.
The annihilation we caused left only a handful of survivors: some deep sea planktons, some cockroaches because they survive everything, and a dog. His name was Buzo.
No, that’s not what happened. It would’ve been hilarious if it were the case though. Anyway in reality, we all died. Nothing survived. Nothing. But that’s so boring. I like the dog’s story better. I am barred from taking creative liberties in this trans-millenial literary communication so let me describe what remained after the sixth and final world war.
A lot of water - unfit to sustain any life whatsoever and one miserable island, about the size of Central Park that sported some decaying plant life.
Coming back, a goofy unsuspecting Labrador named Buzo did actually survive. I wasn’t entirely kidding. Buzo was the incumbent service dog in the International Space Introspection Station (ISIS). Since exploration was rendered useless, we decided to use the space station as a philosophical tool. With Buzo, of course there was Billy, formally known as Colonel William Uzbeki, commander-in-chief of the ISIS' crew of one. Philosophy is a solitary effort.
Keeping in view of our idiotic sensibilities, we got so busy blowing each other up we literally forgot about Billy and Buzo. All communication channels to the ISIS had been either snapped to be utilized towards war effort, or lost, again in war effort. While walking in his deep philosophical thought Billy had hit his head on a low-ceiling and passed out for a couple of hours – that was all the time we needed to solve all of Earth’s problems.
“Well fuck”, said Billy when he finally aroused and realized what had happened.
He was a philosopher but being a Colonel and all, his basic training had taught him to think rationally in a crisis situation. As he tried establishing contact with somebody, anybody, he remembered how in bootcamp he had asked the director what the protocol was in case he found himself where he was. To that, the director had simply responded with a smirk, “That’s trivial, Billy, I leave it upto you as exercise.”
Billy chuckled as he remembered this incident. He had never once been able to solve a “trivial” exercise in his university lectures. Billy was determined to not break his record, regardless of the circumstances.
Buzo all this time was busy in his futile effort to retrieve the ball that had escaped into the anti-gravity layer. This necessitates an explanation. When the ISS was being turned into the ISIS, it was stripped of any unnecessary tools and devices. During this the magnets used to create a one g gravitational field in the station were replaced with cheaper American ones, which worked, but only so much. They were effective only till about two-hundred centimeters above the floor surface. Billy was a hundred-eighty-three centimeters tall so it was all right. Hence, the existence of the anti-gravity layer. It was a minor inconvenience but an inconvenience nonetheless.
Billy took cognizance of the situation and created a three-step plan -
- Stay in the ISIS until all food resources are exhausted. (Two days. Billy suffered from binge eating when under stress.)
- Fly back to Earth. (The easy bit. He punched in the coordinates and the escape pod did the rest.)
- Wing it from there. (He once survived the Escape Room on his own back in university when his colleagues ditched him and went to get pizza instead. How hard could this be?)
He gazed at Earth as he put on his spacesuit for what was to be the final interstellar travel in the history of mankind. The pale blue dot now looked much prettier with the brown warts removed from it.
Billy and Buzo landed on the tiny piece of landmass in a couple of days. Billy slept through most of it. Buzo was hallucinating because of the change in air pressure. He thought the ISIS was a bone that grew progressively smaller. His only comfort was that the tiny blue ball was far bigger than he had initially imagined. So it was alright.
The air was surprisingly breathable. The water was terrible though. The island was fairly full of vegetation so there was a chance of finding some food.
He looked around trying to size the situation up. “Billy, Buzo and Beyond”, he remarked as he culminated his train of thought. The usual inside jokes.
Despite his philosophical background, it didn’t take long for him to realize two things. One that long-term survival was not an option he had the liberty to entertain. Two, he was in all probability the last man on Earth. According to Aristotelian logic, his state of being was that of a predicament. According to Billy, the situation was pretty fucked up.
Buzo was mostly unaffected. He was excited from being able to run around, a pleasure that he sorely missed during his time in space. He had even found a bunch of sticks and had already buried the best one under his favourite tree for safekeeping. But he could sense that something was not right. Like the time when he could tell the new vegan kibble was not the same as his usual one even though it looked and tasted exactly the same.
When there is no hope, there is no scope to lose any either. Billy knew that’s how he was going to live out his last days. He had dreamt of this many times before; in his fantasies though he always came out far tougher than he really was. After watching an action movie, fighting crime with his bare knuckles was a reasonable next step. It’s a human bias. Billy was human. Like billions before him, he came up with the perfect wisecrack after the situation was over. The general format for his dreamland adventures was the same: mankind is in duress, Billy is the only hope, he saves mankind.
He sighed as he realized that there was no mankind to save anymore.
They set out to explore the island, which as noted before was about the size of Central Park. It took them a couple of days to mark every nook and crevice since Buzo was no husky dog and Billy was no musketeer. There was little recognizable food. They ate some berries, some leaves, and drank boiled water. Yeah, Billy knew how to light a fire. His days as a pudgy, proud Cub Scout were of use after all. So good was he at gathering firewood, rubbing stones and lighting fires that he had to be honourably discharged from the scouts after delivering the third demonstration of his magnum opus, a pamphlet titled - “How to light a wood cabin in 3 easy steps”.
They collected all the food they could and stockpiled it inside a hollowed out tree trunk. It would last them about a month, two if they rationed. But rationing seemed useless in the face of inevitable death. The vegetarian, wild diet was not cutting it for them though and they craved meat. Buzo would sometimes bite his tail thinking and wanting it to be a meat sausage. Unluckily there were no land animals to hunt or birds to trap. There was the open ocean of course, and there were fish in it too, but they were all dead and smelled like…well, dead fish. Billy hated raw fish anyway. He preferred his sushi with ketchup.
In what was to be the final war of independence from mortality, we used weapons that should not have been used. Unsurprisingly. The Terrarist movement ensured that all weapons of mass destruction were dismantled and used as energy resources. The nuclear missiles provided enough fuel to power all of Kazakhstan for a whole two hours. The cyber warfare programs were directed towards scientific efforts. And the ISS was turned in to the ISIS.
This brings us back to carrots.
Humans need food for nutrients. Food needs water for nutrients. We were running out of water and thus out of food. This should explain the back-to-back occurrence of the water war and the carrot war. We could never learn the secrets behind controlled nuclear fusion but we did master cloud seeding. The trick was dry ice, or, frozen carbon dioxide, of which we had aplenty. Through some nifty scientific craft-work it became a feasible method of artificial rain production. Food had water, we had food. It was all fun and dandy.
If rain is here, can thunder be far behind? Total control over a region’s climate was a far lucrative weapon than anything else we had come up with before. It was subtle; a trait that’s desirability shot manifold after The Unhappening.
The gist of it is - in our war effort, we messed the climate up bad.
Which brings us to Billy, Buzo and the Blizzard.
Billy was woken up from his food-induced slumber by Buzo’s manic barks and howls. The surface temperature on the planet had risen by a couple of degrees after the war and was a comfortable twenty-four degrees Celsius according to Billy’s wristwatch. It was his grandfather’s. He gave it to Billy at the peak of his brief Cub Scout career. It had a round face with glow-in-the-dark hands, and a temperature sensor that PawPaw had designed himself. The display now showed 17 degrees. In the distance, Billy saw a natural phenomenon everything about which screamed unnatural. It looked like a hurricane but was far scarier than anything he had seen in the movies. It was a flying glacier that’s what it was. And it didn’t seem like it was going to shift course or stop for a cup of tea.
The temperature was dropping with each passing minute and the wind speed rising. Billy ran to the tree he had stored the food resources in; Buzo ran to the tree he had buried his favourite stick under. But it was too late. The trees were gone and so were the berries and the stick. Billy was terribly disappointed, slightly frustrated and very scared, Buzo more so.
Billy had to think and he had to think fast. His training in philosophy had never been a greater impediment before.
Survival instinct kicked in. He rushed to the escape pod with Buzo behind him. In the ISS-ISIS switch, the original escape pod had been retained. That conical triangle was built like a tank and could sustain heavy space debris. Their only hope.
In such moments, a shimmer of luck can mark the difference between life and death. Within seconds the pod was powered up and commenced emergency protocol. Using the air pressure ducts in the limbs, it stationed itself on the level ground like a tic on a dog.
Inside, the two survivors had little room so they did what they knew how to do best. They nervously nibbled at the emergency food and fell asleep.
The storm abated. The pod withstood. Almost.
Switching the top hatch to manual override, Billy flung it open with a feeble kick. Buzo sprung out and commenced his search for his cherished stick. Dusting his clothes, he chuckled, “That stick’s become his shtick”. Back with the puns.
Looking around it was easy to tell that survival was going to be harder than before. It reminded Billy of the time he learned how to swim. His dad called it the method of “sink or swim”. The vegetation had flattened out, everything was damp and seemed like the landmass had shrunk quite a bit as well.
They walked around the island and this time it took them only a couple of hours. Billy had become a better scout and Buzo had become a sombre companion.
“You know what I need? A cold beer”, said Billy. He had developed the habit of saying his thoughts out loud now that there was no one to tell him to shut up, and Buzo didn’t seem to mind either.
There was no food. That was it. If it were a video game the food resources meter would have a big, daunting zero in front of it.
There was just enough firewood to keep them warm for one night. Looking at the drenched island made Billy realize that he hadn’t seen the sun since they’d made the descent from the ISIS. The sky was auburn red since the hurricane passed. The ozone layer had taken a huge hit in the war and the stratosphere was filled with charged ions that created a permanent aurora. Although the sky was rendered almost futile for possibly millennia to come, it was awfully picturesque.
“That’s the most beautiful sight I have seen in my life, yet”, remarked Billy as he stared at the sky with Buzo sitting next to him busy licking his paws.
Billy looked at Buzo and smiled. Buzo looked up from his paws and looked at him almost as though he was about to talk. Billy dug his pockets and found a soggy peanut. Buzo was fine with that. A treat is a treat.
Billy hugged Buzo as they came to terms with inevitable death. He thought about happy memories. He began to hum the tune to his favourite jazz song.
“When I fall in love…"
He caressed Buzo’s soft coat with his hands and rubbed his face against his muzzle. Buzo responded with a lick on his cheek.
”… it will be forever”
He remembered the time when he was seven. He drank ten straight glasses of water at a friend’s birthday party and won the prize. His stomach hurt for days afterwards and he was certain he could hear the water in his belly but he cherished the pack of coloured pencils for years.
“Or I’ll never fall in love”
He thought about his girlfriend, Lisa. She had left him for a mathematician because she thought he was too abstract in his conversation. He laughed at her naivete for mathematics is a philosophical abstraction itself.
“When I give my heart…"
He looked at the sky wondering if he could see the ISIS, what had been his home, his office, his refuge, for the last few years. It felt like he was looking into a paint-can that someone had dropped glitter in.
”… it will be completely"
Buzo fell asleep in his arms. He was just a pup when they flew to the ISIS. And after all these years he still looked the same - long snout, tiny whiskers, thin flappy ears, and a certain placidity on his countenance that brought Billy calm each time.
“Or I’ll never give my heart”
Billy drew his pocket blade and stabbed Buzo in the heart. He let out only a stifled whimper but fell quiet as quickly. Tears rolled down Billy’s cheeks. The permanent tranquillity on Buzo’s face countered Billy’s sadness in some measure. He had done it for his good. He dug his face in Buzo’s thick coat and cried. He wailed. He gave a vent to all the emotion pent up inside of him. “Catharsis”, he thought.
Wiping his tears on his sleeve, he said to himself, “That’s enough meat for at least a week if I ration smartly.”
He collected all the remaining dry wood and lit up a fire. He waited for it to grow. Grow big enough to light a wood cabin. While fixing the wood he callously burned his finger. Thoughts formed as he stared at the fresh wound, equal parts of thick red and black.
“Trop cuit n’est pas bien joué”, he murmurred. It was a rudimentary translation he had made one night while cooking steak in his apartment. It was a pun on “well-done” and “well done”. Billy really loved his puns. The only problem he had with them was that he couldn’t turn them into coherent, presentable jokes. They were in his head but he couldn’t dispel the fog that engulfed them. “It’s in the hinter parts, I can’t bring it to the frontal lobe”, he would say. Another one that only he understood. The fire grew. It was strong enough to cause a forest fire. Luckily there was no forest.
Billy brought Buzo’s lifeless body to the fire and watched his white hair glow brilliantly golden in the amber light.
“This is the last time a human man is hugging a dog for at least a couple of thousand years. Evolution, thou art a bitch aren’t thou.”
Billy looked into the fire.
“Trop cuit est bien joué, en effet, c’est bien joué”, he sighed as he walked into the fire with Buzo in his arms; the blazing heat charring their bodies with blatant disregard to the Geneva Convention.
“Well fuck”, thought Becky. “I am going to have to exclude this data point.”
She pressed F5 and the system rebooted.
The year is 2201 A.D. We are all dead.