What if Mother Nature thought we humans were out of control and decided to reset population growth? How would it be if you somehow woke up 100 years after the event and didn’t find anything like what you see in the movies? What if violence and mayhem hadn’t come to rule, and that what you found was all peaceful and nice?
The year is 2130.
World population: 1 million.
Current fertility rate: 98%
Loosely based on an actual virus outbreak in Australia in 1997. The “Menangle Virus” was transmitted from bats to pigs to people. It caused illness in people. It caused massive infertility in pigs. This “Paramyxo” virus was localised and didn’t spread very far, fortunately.
Pod to new city Ascot, the year 2130
After lunch and catching up for an hour, Rachel gives her mother a parting hug outside the Community Clinic. She never got to mention Kelvin—never even thought of him. Adam is waiting in the pod—checking it out. Rachel climbs in and sits beside him. It’s the same pod she rode in on the way down from the mountain.
“Nice seats,” Adam comments.
“Yeah. It’s hard to stay awake in them on this trip.”
The pod quietly moves off through the main street of the old village, which is the home of around 80 or so elderly residence. Rachel’s mother spends her working week there and has an apartment up in Ascot not far from her husband—their relationship being that of an independent couple and quite common for the times. They often vacation together and date or sleep over, but maintain separate residences.
“I kind of remember this area,” Adam says while gazing out at the old city suburb flashing by. “I had friends who lived out here.”
“And where did you live? We should go check it out.”
“Liverpool. It’s not far—about 20 kilometres in towards the city.”
“I know where that is,” Rachel says. “What did you do there? Are you married? Kids?”
“No, I just separated from a girlfriend but was hoping to get back with her. I actually worked right in the city, as a rent-a-cop.”
Adam smiles. “Door security. Fill up a uniform and stand there all day.”
“Oh… Well, a job’s a job.” Rachel yawns and stretches. “Wow, this trip puts me to sleep every time.”
“I’m sleepy too but this is all way interesting. It’s amazing how everything is still here but just overgrown.”
“Yeah, well it all ended kind of slowly. There was just no one to use the houses anymore, and everything closed down. Then there were quarantine restrictions around the new cities for the first 20 or so years—until the last trace of the Menangle Virus had gone. Then those people back there moved down to be closer to their families, and there was a service centre built for them.”
Adam turns from the window. “So Menangle Virus, as in the town called Menangle just south of here?”
“Yes. Exactly. That was ground zero in April 2030. It came from a bat colony on the Nepean River at Menangle. There was a piggery there and the virus mutated from bats to pigs to people. It had spread worldwide before the original outbreak and infection was traced back to Menangle. It spread so fast the old generation never knew what hit them until it was too late.”
“Wow… Awesome!” Adam muses. “It’s strange. It was all about climate change and the impact we were having on the planet. It’s like nature stepped in and hit reset.”
Rachel yawns and stretches back in her seat, tucking up her legs. “That’s precisely what nature did. She hit the reset button on us. Made us start over… It’s all in the system now—the population growth planning. It’s not going to be allowed to go anywhere near the 7 billion again.”
Rachel closes her eyes in the sun. She’s dozing off when Adam speaks again. “So, you’re a teacher, Rachel?”
“Yeah. Primary school. Six weeks’ vacation time until the New Year now.”
“And what’s that like—teaching kids?”
“It’s great. I love it.”
“And are you married? Kids of your own?” Adam goes on without looking.
Rachel’s face heats with a small blush. “Um, no. Same as you—just separated.” She had taken note of this guy’s nice physique and his smile and eyes at first glance. She looks at his face. “But then again, it’s only Adam who’s the love-life-loser like me. Who knows what the go is with Cooper? His wife might be waiting at home right now.”
“Shit. That’s true, I suppose. Do people still wear a ring when they’re married?” Adam shows his ring-free fingers.
“Usually,” Rachel explains. “Could be a pretty girlfriend, though.”
Adam shrugs. “There’s a couple of girls in my phone contacts.”
“But no one’s called you?” Rachel is still blushing a bit. This guy has a habit of drilling with his eyes, she has noticed. And she kind of likes it with him.
“No. I’ve only spoken to my parents—apparently my parents… Your mum spoke to them too. They’re on a cruise and can’t get back for a few weeks.”
“Can I see your contacts? I might know one of them by chance.”
Adam addresses his device.
“Do it on the screen there,” Rachel instructs. “Left thumb to the bottom left corner and say whatever you want the system to do.”
Adam presses his thumb. “Contacts list please.”
His contacts fill the screen. Rachel looks them over. “Nope. I’ve seen a few of those faces but don’t know any of them. It looks like you work at the community farms. Cool.”
“What do you mean?”
“There. AFP. Ascot Fresh Produce. That’s the control centre for farming. You probably work there would be my guess. You look kind of outdoorsy.”
Rachel nods, biting a lip. “Your hands.”
Adam inspects his hands. “Yeah, I guess…”
Rachel takes a breath and glances away as he looks at her. She fiddles with her blouse, tugging at it—her chest up and forward, her cheeks heating again as the guy’s eyes flash over her before he turns back to his contacts on the screen.
“I guess I could call some of these people, but I don’t know what to say.”
“You could check your call log to see if any of them call you often.”
“Oh yeah. Good idea… Do I just press the screen and say what I want?”
“You don’t need to touch the screen again now that you’re logged on. The system recognises your voice and the inflection when you’re talking to it.”
“Really? Um, call history please? Calls received.”
That information appears as a list on screen. Rachel scans it. The calls are infrequent.
“Doesn’t look like Cooper uses the phone much,” Adam suggests. “Calls made please?” he says to the system, and an even sparser list appears.
“That’s okay. Probably more of a doer than a talker,” Rachel suggests. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Log off please,” Adam tells the system. “Is that it?” he checks with Rachel.
“Yes. You’re logged off now.”
“And you can do that with any screen?”
Rachel nods. “Yes. Any community device. They’re supplied everywhere. Or you can use your little wrist one you have there, but the display’s a bit small. I carry a pocket one in my purse.”
“And the system? What’s the system?”
“Um, good question… I’m not much of a tech-head. It’s like all the data we each have stored plus all the interaction from the government and everything on the internet. It’s just everything, and you access it through your profile when you log on.”
“And it’s secure?” Adam goes on with a thoughtful frown.
“I don’t know… I don’t know what that means… It just works. Everyone uses the system for everything. We teach it from age 6 at school.”
Adam is nodding. “Hmm… Interesting… I still think I’m going to wake up from all this in the morning, but it’s way interesting.”
Rachel gives the guy a mock glare. “So you don’t think I’m real, huh?”
Adam chuckles. His face colours slightly. “Nice dream, though.”
Rachel holds his eyes and smile. “Hmm… I think we should check out your place before we go find my dad. Let’s see who Cooper James Davis is?”
“Shit yeah. Can we do that?”
“New destination,” Rachel tells the control screen. “Address of Cooper James Davis, please?” The address comes up on screen and the distance and estimated time of arrival adjusts to the new destination. “Apartment 4B. Don’t forget.”
“Got it. 4B,” Adam says. “This is nice here.”
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? I love the forest.”
“And we’re climbing. I can feel it in my ears.”
“I know. We’re going to the top of the mountains. It’s not far, though.”
Adam nods, patting his seat. “Pods are cool. I like pods.”
“Only way to travel,” Rachel agrees with another yawn. “Sorry, I have to close my eyes for a minute… Wake me when you see a city, okay?”
“Okay. Have a sleep. I’ll be quiet.”
Rachel dozes then drifts into a deep sleep. It’s half an hour later when her travel companion taps her shoe.
“This looks like a city.”
They are already in the community apartments sector. The pod zooms around a corner and stops at a long, glassy, three-level building named Greystanes.
“Yep, this is you,” Rachel says and can’t help another yawn as she stretches. “Nice spot, Cooper, whoever you are.”
They enter the building and find on the plan that apartment 4B is on the second level. They take the stairs.
“What about a key? I don’t have one,” Adam says.
Rachel considers that, thinking of the old pre-virus movies she watches all the time. “There are no keys these days, Adam.” They are at the apartment door. Rachel backs through and holds it open for Adam to enter. She looks around a cluttered living room with the guy. There are old books and stacks of newspapers. “Wow. This is cool. You must be some sort of explorer or something. This is all from down there in the old city.”
Adam is in the kitchen facing the fridge. Rachel approaches beside him. There’s a picture of a man pinned with a Harley Davidson magnet. “That’s me,” Adam says blankly.
Rachel takes the photo. “This? This is you?”
“Yep. That’s me. Adam O’Malley.”
“Adam O’Malley,” Rachel echoes, reading the hand written name on the back of the photograph. “So you were chubby too.”
Adam frowns in protest. He shrugs with both hands turned up. “What am I doing on this guy’s fridge?”
“Looks like you’ve been researched. Which makes sense.”
“Researched?” Adam looks around. “Will that screen on the wall there work? Is it just a TV?”
“It would be set to your voice. You don’t need to thumb it. Just talk to it.”
Adam walks into the living room and faces the wall screen. “Stored or previously researched information about Adam O’Malley please?” The screen flicks on and displays a series of links and a notepad icon. Adam taps the notepad. It expands to show a list of dates and events. “This is all from government records or schools and workplaces,” Adam says. “There’s my driver’s licence. My passport.”
“These links would be to those records,” Rachel suggests. She’s examining the links. “What about this one?” She taps the screen and a news article about a car accident pops up.
“Yeah, there’s a death certificate at the end of the notes,” Adam says. “April 17, 2032. Four years from now, in my real time.”
A flood of trepidation and sorrow fills Rachel. She waits. The man beside her stands staring at the screen for a moment. He’s wringing his hands, his jaw set, his brow furrowed.
“Okay, so I’m going to die soon. In a car accident at Camden. With whoever that is.”
There’s a picture of a woman in the article. It’s small. Rachel looks closely, her heart quickening. She taps the image and it expands to a grainy picture half filling the screen. “Oh wow! Who is that?”
Adam shakes his head. “I don’t know. I’ve never met her as far as I know.”
Rachel closes the pic and checks the name in the article. “Patricia Holmes.”
“She was a nurse,” Rachel utters—the thought flashing to mind.
Adam looks at her. She glances at him them turns back to the screen, thumbing it. “New window… Image of Nurse Patricia Holmes of Sydney 2030.” An image of the woman’s nursing registration card appears on screen: Born 2 Feb, 2001.
“How did you know that?” Adam asks. “How did you know she was a nurse?”
“I don’t know… Her face—her name… It just came to me. Clear as day.” Rachel’s gut tightens, her heart suddenly heavy. “She wanted a baby but couldn’t.”
“So, you’re remembering her?” Adam takes Rachel’s hands to face her.
“I don’t know… It’s weird… I don’t know anything else… I’m sure all women wanted to have babies back then.”
Adam huffs. “This is freaky.”
“Tell me about it.”
“No, that’s freaky on top of freaky. Everything was already freaky walking around in some other dude’s body a hundred years in the future… It’s like you’re turning into a part of my dream story now… I used to write sci-fi when I was a kid. This is pretty good.”
“But I’m not a dream or some silly sci-fi character. This is real.”