FACT: We are in a sixth mass extinction, an entirely human-caused one, where 75% of species are projected by scientists to go extinct in the next five centuries. While this story may be fictional, this crisis and the call to action it brings is very real.
I have to know. For humanity’s sake.
Vincenzo Alba sat at his desk in the largest private climate research facility in Europe, his heart racing, his mouse hovering over a file in his computer.
It has all come to this.
His right elbow was bloodied from the glass door he had shattered, and his hands sported deep cuts from the barbed wire, but the pain meant nothing to him. What mattered was the contents of the file.
For the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
The file - the results of a computer analysis of data collected over several years - most likely contained proof that the world was facing a crisis the likes of which had only happened five times before in Earth's 4.5-billion-year history. It would be almost impossible to stop. Almost impossible to resist.
It is time.
Shaking from head to toe, Alba sucked in a breath of air, mustered his courage, and pressed his finger to click on the icon of the file.
And then a searing pain ripped into him.
Alba felt as if the fires of hell had shot through him, but he knew it was some kind of projectile...and whatever it was was still lodged somewhere in his back...
"Turn around.", a cold voice commanded him. "Step away. Or I shoot again."
Alba took a few moments to fully comprehend what was happening. Someone had shot him...and now they wanted him to step away from his computer...they wanted the file. But how? How could they know? Only he knew of the file. He and one other person. And it dawned on him. Robert...his colleague...had betrayed him. But why? Robert has been as fervent as he in uncovering the rate of extinction. He would not do this...
"I said, step away!"
A second bullet ripped into Alba, this time in the back of his head. He barely had more than a millisecond of conscious thought, but in that time, he felt a world of pain. He had failed. Earth was heading towards cataclysm...and they would never know. And then, Vincenzo Alba felt his memories swimming around him, until the world around him faded into black...
The killer was a seasoned one. He knew exactly what to do every time he finished a job. Take out his phone, dial his client, and let them know that he had finished his service. So, it was with almost robot-like second nature that he opened the phone app and scrolled to find the contact of his client, without a second glance at the bloody body on the floor.
The voice was gruff, with an accent that the killer could not place.
"He is dead." The killer was blunt; he got straight to the point. On the other end, he could hear something that sounded like a sigh of relief.
"Excellent. I will send you the second third of your payment now."
The killer had known that this was going to be a lucrative job from the moment he had been offered it. He remembered it clearly - he had received an advance of $500,000 with orders to kill a climate scientist named Vincenzo Alba. And it made sense that it was lucrative. Had the information been leaked, several powerful people would have stood to lose. It would have created an unheard of backlash against their businesses. Not only that - politicians would have faced rising pressures to advert the crisis. Most likely, they would have been voted out of office.
"What next?", the killer asked.
"Bring me the file, meet me outside the lab, and I will finish paying you."
The phone beeped as the client hung up.
The killer knew what he had to do. Transferring the file onto a USB, he stalked away from the desk, leaving the lab and stepping into the hallway of the research facility. As he left the facility, he could see a figure up ahead. A lamp was in the figure's hand, illuminating his face. He looked German, or perhaps Austrian, and had a strong, muscular frame and a chiseled face. The killer instantly recognized the man. He had seen him before, when he was scoping the facility. The man was a researcher in the lab - he worked with Alba. He was the client? It made little sense - he had nothing to lose from the discovery - but perhaps he wanted credit.
"Give me the file." The scientist's voice confirmed that he was indeed the client the killer had spoken to over the phone. But the killer was too experienced in his field to make the mistake of putting faith in his clients.
"First, the money."
Robert Strauss felt his heart quickening as he stood in front of the assassin. His night had been frantic and hectic, but now he was only focused on one thing. Getting the file. It would only be so long until his pursuer arrived - and he was armed.
"First, the file.", Robert copied, extending his arm and hoping desperately that the man would comply.
The assassin's hand twitched towards his gun for a second, but then, to Robert's immense relief, he seemed to decide to try the diplomatic way.
"Tell me, Robert.", the assassin drawled. "Why do you want the file?"
"It is too dangerous.", Robert said automatically. "It must be destroyed. It will send the world into panic otherwise."
"Then why did you not ask me to delete it?"
Robert knew his lie was caught. But it did not matter - the assassin had given him an opening. And he was a master at tae kwon do.
Robert struck out, his foot landing onto the assassin's gun holster and kicking his gun up into the air. He caught it, and shot the assassin. I told him to give me the file. His hand shaking, Robert took out the USB and put it in his pocket.
And then a bullet whizzed over his head.
Robert felt himself tense up with fear. He had arrived.
The man who was truly behind this all had arrived.
Robert felt anger pulsing through his veins as he looked at the man who stood in front of him - but he also felt guilt. Because, though his partner Vincenzo had believed that only they knew about the work they were doing - Robert had told someone else.
The man was his closest friend. Peter Proust, the owner of a Polish coal-mining company. Many had found it odd that a climate scientist and a coal magnate were friends. But Robert had always believed that Peter was one of the most empathetic people he knew. He had treated his workers kindly, he had sided with unions, he had worked to make his business more environmentally friendly. But yet, there he was. Pointing a gun at his closest friend in order to destroy a file that could save humanity.
Robert had gone to Peter's house that night, only to see his phone light up with a text from the assassin. Realizing what Peter was doing, Robert had confronted him. But Peter had only pulled out a gun. Somehow, Robert had escaped, taking Peter's phone with him. Upon reaching the lab, the assassin had called him, and he had learned that Alba was dead. But he had known that he had to fight the grief and play his part - the world was more important than him.
"Robert.", Peter Proust spoke. His voice seemed genuinely friendly and empathetic - like the friend that Robert had known. "Give me the file."
"I'd sooner die a thousand times."
"Robert. Please. Don't make me do this."
In a flash, Robert pointed his gun at Peter.
"No. Don't make me do this."
"You don't even know how to fire it, Robert. You've never touched a weapon in your life. You are so innocent, Robert. So kind. Unlike the rest of us. That is why I don't want to kill you."
"I thought you were kind. I thought you were innocent. Why would you do this?"
Peter's face looked pained. "Because I am gravely selfish, Robert. If the world learns that they are doomed, then they will call me he who had doomed them. They will come after me. They will come after my daughter. I want to protect her."
"Protect?", Robert asked incredulously. He was now much closer to Peter, he could reach out and touch him now. "How is this protection? This is destruction. Do you know what this data will prove? A sixth mass extinction. The projection of death of the majority of life on earth. Including us. And it is all because of us. Humans need to know this. So we can try to stop it. I can't let you do this, Peter."
Whipping his foot through the air, Robert kicked the gun out of Peter's hand. But Peter was quick as well. He tackled Robert to the ground. He could feel his weapon slipping out of his grip as they rolled on the grass. Peter was just as accomplished a martial artist as Robert - perhaps more of one. Peter felt himself being forced onto his back, and then the hand of Peter closing around his neck.
"I'm sorry, Robert.", Peter whispered.
Robert felt consciousness slipping away from him. He needed a way to loosen Peter's grip. Desperately, Peter choked.
"What you are doing isn't saving your daughter. It's killing her."
For only a moment, Peter's grip loosened, but it was enough. Robert struck him with his leg, rolling him over. Shooting into a standing position, he dived for his gun. He pointed it at Peter.
"I'm sorry, Peter."
Thinking of his once-good friend, Robert pulled the trigger.
The horrors of the night was now hours past, and dawn had now come. Robert sat back in his apartment, the USB in his hand. Police were now swarming the facility, taking evidence. They had already questioned Robert, and he had told them what had happened. His trial for murder - one the police had assured him that was just a formality, that he would certainly win - was next week, the day after Alba's funeral.
But there would be a time for mourning, and a time for the trial. Now was a time for the file. The results of the analysis had proved what Robert and Vincenzo had already known - the world was in a crisis. Animals were disappearing at an alarming rate - a thousand times the base extinction rate for mammals, forty-five thousand times for amphibians. And it was all due to humans. Simply put, expanding human population coupled with expanding human consumption was to much for the planet to bear. Overfishing, overhunting, the transfer of invasive species to different habitats, climate change, and more had overwhelmed nature's defenses. With the exception of the first living form to ever exist, humans had altered life on earth more than any other living thing.
But Robert differed with Vincenzo on one thing - he was an optimist. He believed that humans still had a chance. Though it had already started, the extinction could be halted before it got worse. If humans invested in green energy and stopped climate change. If they reduced consumption by lifestyle changes and population control. There was one thing that Robert believed above all else: one could not find light in the darkness.
They had to be the light.