Chapter six: 2032, Paris, France
He sat in the small cafe on the corner of Rue de Babylone and Rue Vaneu. It was called the costume cafe, on the glass front of the cafe it advertised the enticing word “Dejeuner” in emboldened white font. It appeared backwards to him, from inside the cafe. The glass was frosted over. The snow fell in flakes so small it dissolved on the ground. More of a mist than a snowfall. It created a white haze in the already smoggy paris air. The glass was condensation proof and thus the heating inside did not fog up the windows. Condensation proof glass was probably as smart investment for a cafe which main selling point was being able to view the paris life go by. He sipped on an espresso and pretended to read something on his phone. He was people-watching. He had found this to be one of the most useful things to do for writing a book, the actions of real people inspired characters and stories and plotlines.
He was an accomplished author and he already knew his next book would be the greatest of them all. Every book was greater than the last and this one would be great, he knew it would. He had however come across a troubling problem, if you knew him well you would know he only came to this cafe when facing a particularly bad writer’s block. The life around him never failed to inspire him, until now. He had come from dusk til dawn for a few days in a row now. Not even a stray spark of inspiration wandered into his painfully empty imagination. He had begun to feel numb to the world at large. He had revisited his older ideas only to find them as blank and boring as they were when he had abandoned them, cast them into the dark pit where he hid away the worst of his ideas. An active imagination produced ideas of the best and worst kind.
He had stayed up all night with his macintosh laptop, his fingers resting gently on the keys, never daring to start the story, never daring to type the first word, because the first word changed everything. The entire story would revolve around it and he didn’t believe in redoing the first word of any story, it was the start and it was sacred. If you feel regret after only the first word of a story then you are sure to feel regret throughout the rest of it. Any project like that wasn’t even worth pursuing. His writing was sacred to him, he wasn’t vain but he was proud and he aspired to be the best. Somebody had to be the best and he knew it was destined to be him. Whenever he asked himself if he could do it, something deep inside of him had answered back “You’re the one, the one who’ll do it”. He has stopped bothering to question his ability for no matter how bad or good he was at writing,questioning himself would do nothing to improve himself, and if it did nothing to improve him or anyone else then it was a waste of his precious time.
He remembered back to being a seventeen year old boy in high school, doing as well as he could with his courses but never quite doing great. Back then he was full of doubt, in everything he did, every other action he took was doubtful. He wasted his time deliberating about stupid things when what he should’ve done was to work on it. If he had had any self confidence then, he would’ve been an even better writer than he was now. He didn’t find the courage to actually follow his intuition until he was twenty five years old. He had been sacked from a crappy magazine editing job and was essentially at rock bottom. He had thought about how little had to lose and started writing a story. Now he was a bestselling author well on his way to being one of the best out there. He was well into his self pitying day at the costume cafe when he noticed a small notification ping up on his smartphone. From his BBC app, it announced breakthroughs and general news on the go with little notifications, he liked to stay informed about the general world. He contemplated ignoring it, he really did. But in the end curiosity and boredom drove him on. He clicked the little button on the top left of his screen and was greeted with a pleasing pop noise and a news article. He skimmed it quickly to catch the gist of it. An Anti-ageing pill had been given the green light by WHO. He had to do a re-read the entire thing afterwards to make sure he had read it right to begin with.
The article failed spectacularly to mention how it worked at all, probably an industry secret of some kind. It was said to prolong ageing and extend lifespan by up to 60%. He wasn’t much for chemistry or biology but he knew well enough that the very concept of living longer than he should seemed to be morally wrong in itself. Surely death was something that the world should share in, it being the only thing in life everyone has to experience. Surely nobody has the right to live longer on purpose than another human being. Death was the catalyst for change in the world and it brought about new ideas and new people. If death were to be slowed now it would increase the population dramatically.
The very concept that this pill was passed by the WHO seemed laughable to him. He was now inspired, his newest book, his next year of work, would be to warn of the dangers of this pill. He would write of an overcrowded world of unhappy old people and unhappy young people. Yes, this would work. He packed up and trudged to his nearby home through the sleety snow. He sat down at his desk, after a few minutes he typed the first word, Age. The story had begun, and he could tell already it would be his best one yet.
Chapter seven: 2034, Kota Tinggi, Malaysia
The haze hadn’t lifted for five months. It lay thick over the large town of Kota Tinggi, obscuring even the closest houses. Kempal could only partially see his neighbor's home which was cut off halfway, the other half no longer visible through the thick grey air. The air itself seemed to be imbued with the smog. It acted like a filter on the world itself, everything was somewhat darkened.
He wore a thick cloth face wrap to protect himself from the toxic smog that was carried on the wind from Indonesia. Everyone in this town wore them, and the next town, and the next. Almost everyone had already contracted an acute breathing disorder of some kind, the smog had gotten so unbearable in recent months. Kempal was a nurse at the local hospital where he was now headed. He knew full well of the extent of the damage the smog was causing to people, and yet governments could do nothing but complain and take useless action to make themselves feel more useful. The whole situation was worsening, the peatlands were being burned to make way for palm oil crops. When those crops had outlived their usefulness they would be burned as well, leaving peatland to smoulder for weeks, spitting out methane and other toxic smoke into the air. All in the name of profit. Despite the almost global effort to boycott all palm oil products the disaster continued. Schools in this region of malaysia had been shut down since the haze had descended. Almost everyone stayed at home for as much as they could, leaving only for work. It had transformed Kota Tinggi into a ghost town, through the haze you would occasionally catch a fleeting glimpse of another person, shrouded in facial protective gear, which was a fancy way to describe a cloth mask. It had removed all sense of community from this once neighborly little place. Everyone was so busy and in such a hurry to get out of the mist, covered faces, brief exchanged glances, this was not human interaction as it should be.
It had been returning every year in the dry season, when peat fires became more common. It would often last a few months before it even began to dissipate. Even in monsoon season the smog never really left. You could still taste it in the air and on the food. A kind of ashen taste. It was a curse, over the past year two infants had died of complications relating to pneumonia, which was thought to be caused by the toxic methane in the air. A few people had also been diagnosed with lung cancer but that connection was still up in the air. Kempal was already halfway to the hospital, he recognised the route, even in this half light cast by the haze. He had walked this route a thousand times, he could take a motorbike but he saw no reason to contribute further to any kind of fumes in the air. He could take a bicycle but he had never learned to ride one, and at 32 he was far too embarrassed to go about asking to be taught.
The hospital was all but empty, one small boy with a painful cough was sitting with his concerned parents. They were tourists, french maybe. They had perhaps yet to realise that everyone here had the same acute cough. Everyone who spent more than a week here started to show symptoms of the cough. It was rarely dangerous, but scary nonetheless.
The window of the lower reception of the hospital may as well have been bricked up, because all you could see through it was a monotonous grey colour. The day at the hospital was uneventful.
Chapter eight: 2039, Outer Melbourne, Australia
The hot summer air filled his head, flowing in through his every orifice. He was hot on the inside, boiling in fact. The air conditioning unit kept him cool on the outside but he felt feverish inside. He lay on his mattress in his upper floor room. His sweat was cold and congealed on his body, there would no doubt be a stain on the bed sheets. He closed his eyes, blinking out the ceiling light that was so bright above him. He hated sleeping in the dark, he was twelve and he knew everyone would laugh at him if they ever found out how much he hated the dark. But he really did hate the dark. It was because you never knew what was in the dark. He wasn’t stupid. He knew nothing was really there, but it was the possibility of something that scared him. It was never knowing with full certainty what was there. So he slept under the neon white glow. It was a strip bulb, curled into a circle. His parents had been planning to switch to those newer eco friendly bulbs but had never found the time or energy to do so.
It was three in the morning, he could tell by the three beeps his alarm clock had just emitted, still no sleep came, knowing it was that late did nothing but make him feel worse. He felt so much worse than a fever. He really wanted to get a drink of water but he was too exhausted, his every limb felt heavy almost as if he was tucked into his bed by tight sheets. Even the thought of sheets made him cringe in apprehension of incoming smothering heat. Finally sleep came to him it came slowly, his eyes drooped slowly and there was a point at which he could no longer bear to keep them open, they stung and burned so badly that he let them close,he would never open his eyes again.
The hours passed, the dim monotonous hum of the bulb filled the silence of the room. Then faster than you could blink it stopped. The silence that was once held at bay now flooded the room. A silence so loud that it muffled noise itself. The lights were off and the air conditioner had too ceased its electrical humming. The room slowly began to heat, without the air conditioner on full blast there was nothing to prevent it from being any cooler than the outside heat. As the sun rose over the peaks of the distant melbourne skyline silhouetting it black against the pale yellow sky. It shone into his window, through the semi drawn blinds shining slivers of yellow light onto his corpse. He looked all but alive, half cooked in his bedroom by the record shattering heat. That night he had succumbed to the a deadly combination of his already strong fever and the unbearable heat that filled the void where an air conditioner should’ve been. For the first time in human existence an air conditioner was a necessity to staying alive.
Chapter nine: 2040, Beijing, China
She coughed, it was a dry spluttering cough that sent little flecks of spit hurtling through the air. The cough drew up little white vapour clouds around her mouth and caused her chest to give out an audible creak. She wore a fluffy on the inside fleece with her hood pulled up over her head. She was supposed to wear an antiviral mask but she had little time nor bother to pull it up over her face. She suspected it would do little good anyway. She continued on her way, giving a respectful nod to a nearby lady, who was walking with two younger children. In the harsh Beijing winter where frost nipped the tips of your fingers and toes most people chose to stay inside. Even in the summer this was a quiet suburb on the east side. She knew this lady, they both dwelled in the same housing compound.
It was not a cheap compound and she could only afford to live here on the merit of her parents. She had lived with them until she was 23, but at that point emotion had been brewing high and things had reached a critical point. They had bought her her own place on the east suburbs. Money was no problem, the family was sitting pretty on a fair pile of wealth that they had accrued and accumulated since they had started their own company. It was a beauty company that sold skin whiteners and all sorts of lotions. There was recent controversy about the palm oil they used, and they had experienced multiple attempts at boycotting their products since they had become a multinational success. It never worked, there was so much demand for palm oil and no cheaper alternative that was yet available to them.
She continued her solitary walk home, there was a very thin layer of sleety snow coating the ground, it was mostly grey and not really the shiny white it had been last night. As she neared the entrance to the compound she noticed it had started to snow again. Little white flecks stuck themselves to the red pillars that formed the gate. There were ornate carvings of dragons wrapped around either pillar, it was designed to look exotic and tempt expats into buying a home inside. This particular area was popular with foreigners due to it being a lot less polluted and generally a bit more traditional. They were a good way clear of the big city and close enough that it wasn’t a hassle.
She herself had just returned from a potential shopping spree only to find the shops had closed temporarily at the central mall. Something about an illness spreading, she had been too lazy to read the fine print. Filled with spoilt disappointment she had skulked back to her driver and promptly began the journey home. She coughed once more before she arrived at the little fence that signaled home.
She opened the knee height wooden gate which was locked by a little metal clasp. She probably could have stepped over it, but she liked to keep things the way they were supposed to be. She walked up to the glass sliding door, half expecting it to open for her. She reached into her handbag and fumbled around for the key, finally grasping onto what was most certainly her house key she pulled it out triumphantly. Raising it high, a small victory was a victory nonetheless. As she started to unlock the glass sliding door, she let out another cough, this one was followed up by a nasty bout of smaller coughs. Some spit was spattered on the glass of the door and a little dribbled down her lip. She slotted the key into the lock after some necessary wiggling to slot it in.
Before she stepped foot into her carpeted living room, she took the time to wipe the spittle from the glass. She didn’t want it freezing up and being a nuisance to remove. As she stepped into the mid size living room, it was illuminated a glorious natural looking light. It illuminated the white carpet and and made the red sofia glow radiantly. It wouldn’t be dark for another few hours, she settled down on the sofa and caught a brief glimpse of the snow fall outside. These past few winters had less snow than ever but the cold had had much more of an edge to it. It was a creeping cold that snuck through every crack and crevice of the structure. As well insulated as it was she could still feel it at the edges of the room, trapped in the walls and beyond.
She was pulling out her phone when she felt the beginnings of another cough start to well up inside her chest. This was going to be a painful cough, she could tell already. After she was done spluttering she could finally inhale once more, and was greeted by the raw and ragged feel of air rushing down her now sore throat. She pulled out her phone roll and at the touch of a button it unraveled into a flat little rectangle and solidified. The flexLED screen lit up, It took a second to boot up and then she scanned her fingerprint in the centre of the screen. It unlocked with a satisfying little tingly noise and then she proceeded to check her messages. Nothing new from her parents, no surprise there. She began to browse her newsfeed and was quickly lost in the endless scrolling. She fell asleep right there on the sofa only an hour later.
Chapter ten: 2041, London, England
Frigid and static cold air was biting into him. The occasional stray drift of wind would swoop down from the clouds and run itself through the concrete alleyways of london. He wore a grey hoodie and some blue jeans, scuffed at the ankle. Underneath he wore some vintage 2030 converse that he had found by absolute luck at a little flea market. They were blue high tops. He narrowly avoided stepping on a piece of chewing gum that some inconsiderate arse had probably spat out onto the pavement. He lived only five blocks away from the Honda showroom which now he was en route to. He had been looking forward to seeing the new model, finally a completely solar powered car. It had some lithium-carbon nanotube batteries that allowed it to store massive amounts of power for a long time. Despite the terrible london weather they would supposedly still be able to run for an average of seven hours a day. A newspaper blew up to his foot and tangled itself around his leg. He kicked it off after stealing a quick glimpse at the emboldened title “Bird Flu Kills Hundreds In Beijing Outbreak”. He remembered seeing this on the news some months ago, the newspaper was probably old. He picked up his already brisk pace when another gust of wind blew into face, chilling him further. He tucked his cold hands into his hoodie’s pockets and as he was doing so narrowly avoided colliding with an oncoming walker, he let out a “pardon” as he sidestepped them, they did likewise.
He was out of the majority of the crowds so he could further pick up his pace, almost jogging now. He wanted to be out of the cold and be seeing that amazing new car. He had had a fascination with cars since he was in his mid twenties, so about a decade ago. The snow had cleared up a few weeks ago and yet it felt colder than ever. He stared up at the grey sky above, it was grey beyond belief, even for a london winter. You would never guess there was a blue sky shrouded behind layer upon layer of the stuff. It was a monotonous shade of grey, continuous and solid and unbreakable. There were no distinguishing features on the grey that blanketed london and probably most of britain. He pulled his eyes from above and set them forwards, back on track. His converse clacked on the pavement and he let the beat become a rhythm, and he let himself get lost in the rhythm.
Before he knew it he was outside the glass paneled window of the honda showroom. He could see his reflection in the window, and through it he could see the car. It wasn’t a sportscar but it was fuel cost free, a tad slower than the other electrics on the market but it was beautiful. Shiny and matte paint were both present, to create a kind of buffed look. He noticed that he looked completely enamoured and quickly calmed himself down, regained his composure.
He strode up to the automatic door and checked himself in the reflection, he brushed some fluff off of his shoulder and made his best effort to step in confidently. He received some strange looks from all around as he stepped into the shining showroom. The door whooshed shut behind him, but not before a cold blast of london air found its way into the room. He stopped trying to look confident after someone in a suit gave him a cold grimace. He let his shoulders slump and let his gut fall out, his false confidence shattered. He wandered up to the car, it was a marvel of engineering, the hyper efficient batteries and solar cells combined to make something great. It was a pretty price but he could afford it, just about. It would pay itself back in time with the saved fuel costs.
Especially now, when they were suffering the effects of peak oil. Prices had gone up incredibly high and the minority who still used petrol cars were almost forced over to electric. He had read on the news that at this point the damage had been done, they said that even by 2025 the damage had been done. All they could’ve done from that point on was to prevent total catastrophe, which he supposed they had done. It was bulky in width and height but still managed to look sleek and aerodynamic. It was a beauty indeed. He felt like hopping over the little red and cold chain link posts, into the little circle. He longed to drive that car and in time he would. He knew he would. It was his dream.