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.
Australia to America in the year 2130
Rachel rests her head upon the powerful shoulder of her new love interest. She’s already classified him as such. It’s like she has him all to herself, being the only person on Earth he knows at all. She doesn’t particularly want to introduce him to any of her friends yet, so after only a couple of dances, she suggests a walk in the park. The rain has stopped, the night balmy and dark without any moonlight.
They’re hands brush occasionally as they walk, and Rachel notices the contact each time. She’s listening rather than talking now. He’s rambling about his life. She’s hearing the raspy depth in his voice and enjoying the animation.
Back in his apartment that night, Rachel snuggles up beneath a cotton blanket on the couch. The guy is in bed, has been for an hour or so. He seems to sleep quietly, she has noted. She gets up and sneaks past his open bedroom door to use the toilet. He’s facing the door, on his stomach with an arm bent up under his pillow. He needs a shave. His jaw has darkened throughout the day. His ruffled blond hair looks unnatural now.
Rachel sneaks back to the couch and pulls the blanket up around her ears. There’s glee bubbling over in her belly. They have a train to catch at nine in the morning though, and it’s past one already.
Rachel’s eyes close but spring open again with the time on the wall screen showing 7:15am. She checks on Adam to find him still sleeping. There is the makings of a couple of omelettes in the fridge. She prepares them and coffee, setting the table before going back to the bedroom door. “Morning!” she calls cheerily.
There is no immediate response.
“Adam! Are you awake?”
“Huh?” he swallows, his eyes opening sleepily.
“I have breakfast ready. Quickly while it’s still hot.”
Rachel returns to the table and starts eating. Adam appears from the hallway to his bedroom.
“Morning,” he offers with a smile. “I’m still here.”
“Oh good. Still Adam then?”
“Yeah. Still Adam.”
“Anything at all? Any new memories?”
“No, and I don’t want them anyway. I like it here.” Adam takes a mouthful of omelette. “This is good. Thank you, Rachel.”
“You’re welcome, Adam.”
Their eyes connect. Rachel looks away first.
“So, it’s a train to Brisbane. And that’s, what, only 3 hours?” Adam muses.
Rachel nods. “Then overnight to California… We’ll be there this time tomorrow.”
“Then a train across the states. Should be fun.”
“Definitely! I can’t believe my luck meeting you yesterday. I don’t know what I was going to do with my holidays.”
“And you’ve never been to America, Rachel?”
“No, but we’ll figure it out and find our way. It’s all on the grid.”
“Yep—on the grid. I like the grid,” Adam says, sipping coffee.
“Dad messaged… He’s contacted your boss and put you on sick leave.”
“Oh yeah. That’s good. I wouldn’t know how to find my work let alone actually do it… It’s a farm job, like you said?”
“Yes. In storage and handling apparently.”
Rachel waits for Adam to finish then takes their plates. She brings back the coffee and stands beside him to refill his cup. He looks up at her. She chews a lip.
“Thank you,” he says.
“I need a shower before we go, okay?”
“Sure. Of course…”
Rachel peers down at the guy. She wants to stroke hair over his ear. “You need a shave,” she tells him.
He nods. “Okay, I’ll go after you.” He takes a breath—holds her eyes. “You’re really beautiful,” he says.
Rachel doesn’t answer—just waits.
“It’s confusing, though… Seems so unreal.”
Rachel fiddles with his shirt, her hand upon his shoulder, her eyes having averted. “It seems unreal to me too. Plus I’m trying to get past something. Although, I haven’t been thinking about that at all. Which is good.”
“I know this isn’t a dream now.” Adam states simply. “Don’t know what the hell it is, but it’s definitely happening.”
Rachel meets the man’s eyes again. “I think I like you, Adam… Do you like me?”
“Yes. I’m trying not to grab you.”
“Hmm…” Rachel smiles, her blush rising. She sways closer. A hand slides up her outer thigh and closes over her hip, squeezing. Her shirt fiddling moves to the neckline of Adam’s tee and the back of his neck. She has averted her eyes again but glances and meets his questioning stare. “Maybe just slowly?” she says.
Adam’s smile broadens. “Slowly is good.”
Rachel nods and lifts the coffee pot. She bends and pecks a kiss to Adam’s lips then returns to the kitchen to tidy away breakfast.
Later that morning, Rachel and Adam are reclining in soft leather seats as their train flashes through the old city and up the east coast of Australia. The view through the tinted glass is panoramic. The environment within the train cabin is perfect room temperature and silent. The seats recline fully for sleeping. Room allowance is spacious, with a broad walkway through the centre of the vehicle to a dining car at the rear. The in-transit entertainment is individual screen access to the system with any music, book or film ever published, along with local and general television programming.
Rachel has the aisle seat and is relaxing with some music. Adam has his face glued to the window, watching the abandoned buildings, towns and cities flash by.
They reach the settlement at Tamworth within an hour, then the coastal community at Coffs Harbour and the airport at Brisbane by lunch time.
The flight from Brisbane has 12 passengers, the seating similar to that provided for train travel.
“This isn’t a very big plane,” Adam comments. He’s gripping his armrests as the jet surges along the runway.
“You don’t like flying?” Rachel asks. “I love it.”
“I prefer if it’s a huge airbus. This is way too small.”
“Oh, don’t worry. It’s perfectly safe…”
Once the jet reaches cruise altitude, Adam relaxes. It’s mid-afternoon. Rachel had a nap earlier. She’s feeling good—happy. She again has the aisle seat, and she tucks her legs up and faces Adam. He turns his head and looks at her. She’s smiling. He leans and meets her lips. She claims his hand and puts it in her lap, slipping hers within it.
“You really are beautiful, Rachel.”
Rachel feels slightly overweight but is confident she’s quite pretty. She leans across to get another kiss, tilting her head upward as Adam moves over her a little, his lips parting and their fresh new connection deepening this time.
Two children sitting across the aisle are watching with interest. Rachel rolls her eyes from them to meet Adam’s mock guilty frown and smile. “We have to behave,” she whispers under her breath.
“Hmm… Until, we’ll see…” Rachel retorts playfully, and she keeps Adam’s hand in her lap as the hour passes and dinner is served.
Night then comes on fast as the small jet rockets east across the Pacific. It comes on and ends within 5 hours, the travellers touching down at LAX at 7 in the morning local time.
The city of Los Angeles has a population of nearly 3000 and is one of the largest in the world. “Apparently the new city was going to be somewhere up in the mountains here too before they decided to reclaim Hollywood,” Rachel tells Adam. She’s reading a tourist brochure as the shuttle zooms through the abandoned, overgrown streets.
“So, they still make movies here?” Adam asks.
“Yes. Plus it’s a big holiday destination for Americans and people from overseas as well.” Rachel slips her hand into Adam’s and watches out his window. It seems he gets the window seats now.
Buildings and streets come to life as the ocean appears to the left of the shuttle. It slows and glides along a boulevard and stops at a platform. Rachel and Adam follow the other passengers alighting and wander into an open-air mall where eateries are starting up and people are strolling around in beachwear.
“How long have we got again?” Adam checks.
“The train is at 11:20. We’ll need to be back at the airport by then.”
Rachel puts down the menu. “I’m having the toasted ham and tomato.”
Adam nods. “I’m going the big breakfast. I’m starving.”
“And you’re still here. That’s two nights now.”
“Yep. Still here.” Adam looks around. “Is this Malibu Beach?”
“I think it’s Santa Monica… They still use Malibu, though. It’s not far from here, I think.”
“We should have brought swimmers. It’s nearly warm enough.”
“We could get some. There’s no shortage of shops here.”
Adam shrugs. “Should we?”
“Definitely! You can’t visit California without going for a swim.”
“And checking out Hollywood.”
“Yes. That too,” Rachel agrees, waving to a buxom woman waiting tables. “I say we eat then shop then swim then jump in a pod and say take us to Rodeo Drive.”
Adam laughs and squeezes Rachel’s hand that he’s holding on the table. They order their breakfasts and spend the morning walking on the beach in warm winter sun, wading a little but not going all the way in due to how cold the water is.
The pod whisks them through newly refurbished residential areas all the way to the heart of the new city. They stroll the streets there taking in the preserved history and find a tour of the film studios but don’t have time to take it.
“But we could come back,” Rachel gushes, feeling childish and silly, and thoroughly alive.
They’re waiting for the shuttle to the airport. Adam is leaning against the wall of a glass shelter holding both of Rachel’s hands. She rocks against him, keeping her head up and accepting his kiss. It’s about the hundredth kiss for the day and not enough. Rachel puts her arms around Adam’s neck and moans softly into his mouth. His arms close around her waist, their bodies pressing warmly together. Their kiss deepens, passion rising as Adam’s big hands begin to feel and massage Rachel’s sides. She’s on tiptoes and swooning into the taste and idea of a new man.
They have spectators again. There’s a small gathering awaiting the shuttle. Rachel pushes back and tugs at her dress, straightening it. She smooths her hair down and sheepishly peers around. Public displays of affection are different for her—not entirely uncomfortable, but new and kind of scary.
She leads the way holding Adam’s hand when the shuttle arrives. It’s a 15 minute run to the airport where they board their train headed east. The big comfy seat swallows Rachel—that and her tiredness from the eerily short night on the plane. She’s dozing off when Adam covers her with her cardigan and gives her a kiss on the forehead, and she claims his hand and snuggles up with it.
Adam’s eyes are heavy but the view of a defunct and crumbling America through the tinted glass window is too fascinating to miss. The train winds up into mountains and spears out into the desert. There’s a stop at a new city about 2 hours in where the signage on the old highway points to Las Vegas. The next settlement is at a snow-covered Salt Lake City. Another two hours through the frozen Rocky Mountains brings the travellers to their destination of Denver, Colorado.
Rachel and Adam hurry shivering from the train to a pod. “The Benson Hotel please,” Rachel says and clasps her woollen gloved hands together over her nose. “It’s so freezing here!”
The pod zooms off along a street and around a corner. It stops at The Benson and zooms away when Rachel and Adam alight. They hurry into the warmth of the building with their wheelie bags and are allocated their separate rooms.
“Have you had enough to eat?” Rachel asks at her door. “We could go find somewhere if you like.”
“I’m okay. That was a big dinner on the train.”
Rachel nods, peering up from where she’s clutching Adam’s coat in front. “I just want a nice hot bath and to go to sleep.”
“Sounds like a good idea. We have to find this university first thing.”
“Yeah… It won’t be far. The pod will find it.”
Adam takes a small kiss. “Your nose is cold.”
Rachel sniffs. “I know it is. It’s freezing.”
“Okay, go and get warm… See you at about 8?”
Rachel lifts for another kiss, her lips parting as Adam presses his to them. “Good night,” she says sweetly and backs away.
Adam spends a while under a hot shower then gets into bed to stare up at the ceiling, alone for the first time since the men from Oakdale found him waiting on the street back in Sydney the other day. He’s no closer to any kind of inkling of an idea of what’s going on than he was then. He closes his eyes and the exciting and powerfully alluring thought of Rachel fills his mind as he drifts off to sleep.
June 19, 2028
Nurse Patricia Holmes dabs at the sweaty brow of her new patient Adam O’Malley. She opens his shirt and wipes his chest then rinses her cloth in the bowl of warm water before cleaning under his arm and wiping down to his hand. Patricia is new to nursing and unsure how she’s going to cope with intensive care. Apparently this man’s operation was a success and he should recover quickly. She likes his face—sees it as plain, like her own. There had been a woman visiting the previous night who told the man’s mother and sister that this wasn’t her problem—that things had ended and it wasn’t her place to be sitting by his bed or anything.
Patricia replaces that arm and moves to the other, warming her cloth again and tending to her patient.
December 11, 2130
Adam opens his eyes to the odd-looking chrome lightshade he remembers from the previous night. He braves the cold and gets out of bed. The street outside the window is white. Pods are zooming around, people rugged up in their winter coats and scarfs are hurrying about.
There’s an urgent knock on the door. “Are you awake, Adam?” It’s Rachel. She peers in.
“Yes. What’s up?” Adam goes to her.
“I was just talking to Dad… There’s more now… More people like you, with this identity thing… There’s thousands of them.”
“Yes. They’re reporting in from everywhere… Exactly like you.”
“Shit!” Adam rubs his head. “So, what am I supposed to do now?”
“Nothing. They still want to see you at the university… There are others right here in Denver now, though. And back home in Ascot. Everywhere!”
“Wow. This is way freaky. This is getting super freaked out now.”
“I know. Are you okay?” Rachel cuddles up.
“I’m okay… This is actually good… It’s better to be one of many.”
“And you still feel fine? Not remembering anything about Cooper?”
“Nope. Nothing! Absolute zero.” Adam shrugs. “But I remember you.” He takes a kiss.
“Eww. Morning breath,” Rachel complains and pushes him along. “Go and get freshened up.”
Adam does as he’s told. An hour later he’s lying on an examination table with electrodes stuck to his forehead and temples. He’s made to lie there for the entire morning while his brainwave activity is monitored and recorded. Rachel is sitting with him, chatting and passing the time. He’s given a break for lunch, but in the afternoon the doctor administers a mild sedative, and Adam doesn’t wake again until late that night.
After a meal at the university cafeteria, Adam and Rachel meet with another of the doctors on the research team. She’s a young woman, about Rachel’s age, Adam guesses. She sits at her desk and takes a moment to examine something on her screen before looking up from that.
“Put simply, there is no sign or evidence of any conflict within the memory components of your brain, Adam. If there is another personality or any kind of identity in there, it is completely dormant.”
“So, Cooper James Davis is either unconscious or gone?”
The doctor acknowledges that with a tilt of her head and brow lift.
“And what about the others who have had this for a while? Are they the same?” Rachel enquires.
“Yes,” the doctor answers mildly.
“So, you’re none the wiser as to what’s going on?” Adam asks.
The doctor nods. “That’s correct. There are more cases being reported every hour. All with exactly the same symptoms as you have… My own husband believes he’s a man from Florida born in 1984. He last recalls being much older—in his late 50s.”
“And he doesn’t even recognise you?” Rachel asks kindly.
“I’m sorry,” Adam offers.
The doctor smiles, her eyes teary. “Thank you.”
“Okay, so what now?” Rachel asks practically. “What should we do?”
“We’re waiting for advice. It’s all quite chaotic, as you can imagine with so many people inflicted. We’re just asking for the families to try and keep people calm. There seems to be no physical symptoms at all, which is something at least.”
“Wow, this is crazy… And everyone’s from my time, like your husband?” Adam asks.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know that. From what I’ve seen so far, that does seem to be the common pattern.”
Rachel stands. “Okay, and we’re free to go?”
“Yes. Of course.”
Adam catches up and strides along with Rachel. They take a pod back to the hotel. The following morning they’re headed further east. Small cities near Lincoln, Des Moines, Chicago and Columbus are whistle stops for the bullet train. A flight out of Washington D.C. has Adam and Rachel into Geneva, Switzerland that night.