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.
New city Ascot, the year 2130
Adam flops on the couch. “I know when I wake up in the morning I’m going to be back to normal. There’s no way I’m still going to be here.”
Rachel sits beside the guy, facing him. “So, you’re Cinderella now? You have until midnight, do you?”
He chuckles. “Yeah, sounds about right.” He kicks off his shoes. “Don’t know about these glass slippers, though. I’ve got to have a shower and find something normal to wear.”
Rachel nods. “Okay… Can I snoop around a bit?”
Adam looks side to side and shrugs. “Sure.”
Rachel has dispensed with the strange feeling of familiarity and flashes of knowledge about Patricia Holmes. She’ll tell her dad about it later. She stands back up with her new and interesting holiday project and follows him into the main bedroom. He finds clothing in a drawer and wardrobe and leaves her there alone. She looks around. One side of the bed is pulled back and ruffled, the other side untouched. She checks the wardrobe and finds no women’s clothing. She runs fingers along a dusty dressing table on the way out of the decidedly manly smelling room.
Rachel checks a spare room that’s completely empty. The laundry is in need of a mop. There’s a washing machine and dryer and an ironing board folded down with some clothes slung over it. There’s a cane basket with clothes to be washed. There’s fresh meat and vegetables in the fridge, along with some other basics and beer. The guy definitely lives alone and rarely entertains any women, if at all, Rachel decides. She picks up a 21st century Sydney travel book from one of the piles and sits at a small timber dining table browsing it while waiting.
Adam comes from the shower after only a few minutes. “That’s better.” He has on blue denim jeans and a white V-neck tee-shirt.
“I agree,” Rachel says, looking him over.
“Thank you.” He smiles and pats his stomach. “You’re right, I’m actually a bit chubby in real life.”
Rachel holds his eyes. “Same.”
His smile ends, his gaze remaining clear and sincere. “Well, I can see why I dreamed you just the way you are, Rachel.” His smile returns. “If you don’t mind me saying.”
Rachel glances down and back up the guy’s body. “I don’t mind,” she tells him. “Maybe I’m dreaming too.”
He takes that in with a slow nod. “Okay, so what now, dream girl?”
“It isn’t far to the hospital where my dad works. We could walk.”
The screen on the wall jingles with an incoming call. Rachel hasn’t logged off. It’s her father.
“Hello, love. Where are you? I’ve just been speaking with your mother.”
“We’re just stopped in at Adam’s apartment. We’ll be there in five minutes.”
Rachel logs off.
“That was your dad?” Adam asks, grinning.
“I know… Sorry.”
“He looks like a mad scientist or something.”
“He needs a haircut… And he is a mad scientist.”
“Right. Too perfect. He looks like that. We mention going to see him now and he calls… This has got to be a dream.”
Rachel offers a shrug this time. She leads the way and turns back from the corridor outside of the apartment. “You can’t lock it. There is no lock.”
“But what about Cooper’s stuff—privacy?”
“No one’s going to go inside uninvited. Who would do that?”
“I don’t know… A thief.”
Rachel rolls eyes. “Come on, it’s going to rain. Let’s hurry.”
It’s three blocks to the hospital. They arrive drenched. The man at reception hands over towels, which they keep. Rachel’s father has an office in the administration section of the building on the ground floor. She leads Adam along and knocks on the open door.
“Hello, love. Come in… And this must be Adam? Come and take a seat.”
“Hayes. Doctor Kepler Hayes. I have your diagnostics here… Darling, thank you. That will be fine.”
“What? Do I have to leave?” Rachel asks.
“I don’t mind if Rachel stays,” Adam says quickly.
The doctor frowns. “And what are you up to, darling? Don’t let my daughter push you around, Adam.”
“I’m not pushing him around. I know what’s happening and I want to help.”
“Alright. Sit… Now, Adam, any change? Any memory recall? Headaches?”
“No. We’ve just come from this Cooper guy’s apartment and nothing there is familiar. Except he has research about me.”
“He has links to all available information about Adam, Daddy. From his whole life.”
The doctor nods. “Yes, there has been other cases of this recently. You are the eighth reported in the past fortnight, Adam.”
“And all the others think they’re someone from history too?” Rachel asks.
“Yes. All have experienced some kind of identity transference with people from the early 21st century… It’s quite a phenomenon, but so far no one has experienced any physical health issue… We’re hopeful whatever is happening will prove to be temporary.”
“Physically, I feel fine. Never better,” Adam says with a shrug. “My mind is clear too. If this is a dream it’s amazingly lucid.”
“No, you’re not dreaming,” the doctor assures. “I’m sure it’s very confusing for you.”
“So, what is it, Dad? Even you aren’t going to suggest time travel, I hope.”
“Feels exactly like time travel to me,” Adam claims. “Apparently right now I’m supposed to be in a hospital after being in a bus crash. Or at least given the normal passing of time, that’s where I’d be.”
The doctor rubs his silver-bearded chin. “Yes. And most probably unconscious in or after surgery.” He checks a screen mounted on his desk and addresses it, “Note Adam O’Malley was most likely unconscious at the time his identity manifested within the mind of Cooper James Davis.”
“What, so Adam’s mind leaves his unconscious body and zooms a hundred years into the future?” Rachel scoffs.
Her father glares.
“Well, what’s going on, Dad? Where are these other people?”
“From all over: Iran, Kenya, two from Europe, one from Russia, China and America… There’s a team getting organized. They’d like you to report to a clinic in Denver, Colorado, Adam. Would you be willing to do that?”
Adam’s eyes have widened. “As in the US? America?”
“Yes. It’s about a days’ travel by train and air. We can send an escort with you. You’ll be well taken care of.”
A rush of excitement fills Rachel. “I can take him.”
Her father frowns at her.
“Well, I could… Why not? Don’t you guys have enough to do here?”
“Would you be willing to make this trip, Adam?”
“Yes, I suppose… I’d prefer to travel with Rachel rather than have to meet a stranger. This is all strange enough.”
“I don’t have school. I’ve got no commitments, Dad.”
“Yes, well, it would save us a nurse, I suppose.”
“Exactly. Nurses have important work here. No point having them sitting around on trains and planes for a week when these identity jumpers are otherwise perfectly healthy and just need a guide.”
Adam chuckles. “This is seriously freaky. I know I’m going to wake up in my own body tomorrow.”
“Unless you’re still unconscious. That’s interesting,” the doctor says, rubbing his chin again.
“What, so you are thinking some sort of leap through time?” Adam asks.
“I don’t know… I’m willing to learn something new, and this is the strangest thing I’ve ever come across.”
“Huh. Tell me about it.” Adam rests back with his hands behind his head. “I’m supposed to die in 4 years. Even if it were possible for your mind to leap through time—which is ridiculous—why wouldn’t that be at the point of death rather than just being unconscious? And why haven’t other unconscious people woken up and told about such an experience?”
“I don’t know, Adam. But this is the first time in recorded history anything like this has been reported to have happened,” the doctor offers supportively.
Adam looks from Rachel to her father. “And what became of Cooper? He just vanished—winked out of existence?”
“The research team will come up with something, son… This is beyond the expertise of anyone here, but they’ll figure it out.”
“And until then I’m right here for you,” Rachel says softly. “You’re not alone here.”
Adam meets her eyes steadily. “Thanks, Rachel… Thank you so much.”
Rachel’s blush rises. She glances away and looks to her dad. She smiles. “So, all expenses paid?”
“Hmm… Within reason.”
“Can we come back the long way? It wouldn’t cost much more doing it privately.”
“I’m not sure. I’ll attach authority to your profile, darling. I’ll need to clear it and there’ll be a budget.”
“Okay, Daddy. Can we go now? I’ll probably stay at Adam’s place tonight… Is that okay, Adam?”
Adam nods. “Yeah sure. Of course.” His cheeks have reddened.
Rachel motions to the door. “Come on, I’ll show you our city then we’ll go book our trip… This is so exciting.”
Adam follows Rachel from the doctor’s office and catches up. “I want to see the city.”
“I know… There’s a shuttle from here that does a loop through the shopping and social sector. You saw the houses and apartments on the way in and the other side is all boring old factories and warehouses.”
“So, what sort of social stuff is there? Restaurants and clubs?”
“Yep. There’s a huge virtual reality centre for the kids and men who never grow up. Would you like that kind of thing?”
“What sort of virtual reality?”
“Flight simulation with jets and space ships or car or boat racing and that, and sky-diving and zero-gravity things. Or weird adventure games where you become a character and walk through all sorts of animated scenery and fight things or whatever. I don’t know. It all just gives me motion sickness. You can try it all if you like. I can go window shopping.”
“Well, what else is there? What do you like to do?”
“For fun, I like dancing.”
“Dancing? Like, nightclub—pumping music?”
“Sometimes… Or my girlfriends and I usually go to the Friday night ball. We get to wear nice gowns, and the men wear fine cut suits and smell really good. And they take hold of you and sweep you into the music.”
“Oh… I’m not much of a dancer.”
Rachel tosses a smile back over her shoulder as she walks aboard a shuttle. “Too bad, history guy.”
“I mean, it’s probably all changed now. I used to know how to do a couple of basic dances.”
“I don’t think they ever change. It’s really old fashioned.”
The shuttle has 12 seats, 3 of them occupied by normal looking people. Adam doesn’t know what he expects people to look like, but so far there hasn’t been any weird fashion or anything—nothing that would have surprised in the 2020s.
The seats are in doubles either side of an aisle. Rachel sits by the window and he looking across her as the shuttle glides off along a single rail. The movement is smooth and silent, rain spattering the tinted glass, the air clean and warm as it blows from above.
Adam’s shirt is almost dry, as is Rachel’s blouse by the look of it. She looks younger than Adam at 34. He figures she’s probably mid-twenties. The body Adam is in could be late twenties or early thirties, he estimates. He’s stealing glances at Rachel’s womanly curves as the shuttle moves through a city park and enters a street of shops and restaurants. It stops, and the three other passengers disembark while others board and take seats.
“The cinema is in there,” Rachel says, pointing out a broad glassed building with a couple of groups of teenagers sitting on the steps. “I like movies on the big screen—especially the old ones.”
“It would all be 3D now?” Adam asks. He’s looking along the street ahead where there are alfresco cafés and people everywhere.
“Most of the old movies are still in original format,” Rachel tells him. “Do you like movies?”
“Yeah sure. I like any true stories. Don’t mind an action flick on the big screen.”
“Cool.” Rachel glances with a smile but quickly averts her gaze.
“What’s that?” Adam asks about a huge dome shaped building they’re passing as the shuttle does an arc around it.
“Sports centre… Swimming, squash, gymnasiums… There are playing fields over there for all the kids’ sports.”
The shuttle has dropped off and picked up other passengers and is heading back towards the big city park, along another street with lots of people strolling and shops and eateries lining both sides. It reaches the park and stops in front of a large stone building with tall pillars shrouding the entry.
“This is us,” Rachel says and pushes Adam to get up. She slips past and leads him from the shuttle. “Are you hungry again yet?”
“Yeah, I could eat.”
“Do you like Asian?”
“Sure. Satay anything is good. Or a curry.”
Rachel leads past the stone building that appears to be a Town Hall. Across the street is alfresco dining under cover from the rain. “That was where we have our Friday night ball but it’s not for a few hours yet.”
“At the Town Hall?”
“Yep. Do you want to go later? There’s lots of slow dancing music as well as the ballroom stuff.”
“Yes, I want to go. There was a nice dark suit back in the wardrobe.”
“I know… I saw,” Rachel tosses over her shoulder with a smile.
Adam’s chest is warm with tingles of euphoria. The idea of seeing this woman in any kind of ball gown has his imagination sparking. Right now she looks good in business day slacks and sensible shoes. She has their table. He sits opposite. Her brows rise. “Does Cooper have any credit? I’m so broke this week.”
“Credit?” Adam chuckles. “How can I find out?”
“Ask your device.”
Adam addresses the device on his wrist. “Do I have any credit?” The number 3,756 appears.
Rachel is rubber-necking to have a look. “Yes! Can we spend some?”
“I don’t know. Is that a lot?”
“We only get 200 a week. 3000 would pay for our whole America trip easily.”
“What do you mean, we get 200? All of us?”
Rachel nods. “Yep. That’s the basic wage for us adults. Kids get less.”
“What, for all adults?”
“Yes. It’s standard. If you do more than your 20 hours or have a business or some sort of sports or artistic talent you can make more. Or if you just work overtime or have a second job… But I don’t. So, I’m always broke. Plus I’m wasting credit on this stupid apartment, but that’s a long story.”
“Okay. So, that’s all way interesting,” Adam responds curiously.
“Really? No…” Rachel turns around a menu. “That’s a good curry… Your shout, right?”
Adam chuckles. “Cooper’s shout.”
Rachel’s smile lights up and she waves over a young waiter. “We’ll have the curry times two, a white wine and..?”
“Beer?” Adam asks.
“A beer,” Rachel tells the waiter. “And some more bread rolls, please? These won’t do.” She hands one of the two bread rolls to Adam. “Try that.”
“Well, what did you mean by kids getting less, at least? Do kids get paid?”
Rachel swallows her bite of bread roll. “Pocket money credit starts at age 10 and goes up each year until 21. Commitment is 20 hours of school or work until age 60, and optional after that. If you run a business or are a talented sportsperson or actor or something you can do that instead…” She ends with a shrug. “It’s pretty simple. If you don’t like it you can go live off the grid in one of the old cities or whatever. People do, but usually not for long.”
Adam is nodding, taking in the information and imagining it. “Okay… That makes sense… The grid? Everything’s connected?”
“Yep. Government is in Switzerland. We could probably stop there on our way back. It’s a nice trip through Europe and across to China. I’ve only ever been once when I was really young.”
“Government? Like the government? One government?”
Rachel takes a big breath and huffs. “Ask Dad. He’ll talk your head off about all that boring stuff.”
Adam chuckles. “Yeah, but I won’t even be here when I wake up tomorrow, don’t forget.”
“Hmm. Good point.” Rachel grabs Adam’s wrist and turns it to show his device. “Say record message to self.”
“Now repeat after me… Hi. I’m Adam O’Malley living in this body.”
Adam complies again. “Hi. I’m Adam O’Malley living in this body.”
“And this is my cool new friend, Rachel.” Rachel leans forward to look at the screen and smiles.
Adam chuckles. “And this is my cool new friend, Rachel.”
She goes on, “And in case I remember none of this tomorrow, believe everything she says.”
Adam’s laughing now. He controls that. “And in case I remember none of this tomorrow, don’t believe a word she says.”
“Hey you!” She addresses the screen again. “Believe everything, because I’m honest…” She smiles. “See? I’m a teacher. You can trust me.”
They both have a laugh, eyes connecting. Adam’s feeling intense attraction now. He senses it in Rachel too. “Are you sure you don’t know Cooper?”
“There’s just something familiar about you. It feels like I know you.”
Rachel bites a lip, her cheeks flushing slightly, her eyes holding Adam’s. He glances at her lips. They’re sitting a metre apart across the small table. Adam takes a breath.
Rachel looks away, peering about at other people seated and walking by. Conversation then resumes and remains light through a meal and a few drinks. Rachel directs their pod to her sister’s house in the family residential sector of the city. Adam is entertained by a happy yet sick young couple with a new baby while Rachel packs her bag for their trip to America.
Later that night with an orchestra playing slow dance music at the Town Hall, Adam takes Rachel’s hand. It’s the first time he has initiated any kind of even remotely intimate contact and the thrill of it is coursing through his veins.
She sways against him. He holds her close. She’s soft and submissive, her back bare. “Is this okay?” he breathes into her pretty hair.