Anna hadn’t slept in nearly three days. If the swollen bags under her eyes weren’t enough of an indication, her snappy attitude was sure to clue anybody in. Her assistant, Miles would probably be the one getting the worst of it; at least he was used to her sleepless irritability. She sat in her bedroom at the vanity in the corner, waiting for Elisha, her makeup artist, to arrive. She stared deeply into her own swollen, bloodshot eyes until they lost focus. Then she would snap out of it and start it all over again. Had she dreamt the past twenty-four hours? When her bedroom door finally opened, she didn’t even hear the notorious squeak of the hinges.
“Sorry I am so late, Anna. I’m sure you got the notification on your tablet, but the heat index is at 130 today and so I had to use the tubes. And you know how crowded those get on the weekend in LA, especially the weekend of the MOT Gala.”
“That’s fine El, let’s just make this quick. If we have to take the tubes to the Gala, it is going to take us even longer than I was thinking.” Anna said all of this without even looking away from her own reflection in the mirror. The tubes. It seemed that they had to be used more and more in the past few years. The temperature was always too extreme to step foot outside, so the city had developed insulated, air conditioned tubes - not unlike those you would use for a hamster or guinea pig. These tubes ran along the main freeways and streets in the city and now, more often than not, they were filled with people on electric scooters and bicycles and motorbikes. Everyone still had cars, of course. But they could barely ever be driven due to the fact that their tires would melt on the asphalt. It was the year 2077, and it seemed the thing that finally cut the cord of society’s dependence on fossil fuels was making the use of any machinery that relied on them practically impossible. Not exactly the closed loop economy that we had hoped for. As Elisha finished perfectly covering up the swollen bags under her eyes, Anna continued to stare deeply into the mirror and tried not to let the regret sink any further into her pores.
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“Happy New Year!” The sheer volume of the voices seemed to rock Brian like a wave, sending him tumbling through an ocean of joy and optimism that he wanted nothing to do with. When he finally came up gasping for air, the room had returned to its state of unsophisticated jazz and drunken voices falling and rising. 2055, Brian could barely believe he was still here to experience the new year - he could barely believe anybody was. His research on global warming and the devastating trajectory of the climate was hailed as “A Grim Warning” in The New York Times, “We Must Act Now” in the Wall Street Journal and “It May Already Be Too Late” in the Washington Post. But after a week or so of headlines and a feature on a few Sunday shows, it was largely ignored. People continued carrying on as if things were totally normal. Meanwhile, entire cities in India and Indonesia were being flooded and mass migration was already “normal” in everyday vernacular. New York City was being pushed further inland and airlines were having to halt flights due to many airports being flooded and the wheels of planes melting to the tarmac. In spite of all of this, life just seemed to carry on. The doom that hovered over everything was easy to ignore thanks to the new tubes that were being installed in wealthy cities across the world. A heat resistant, insulated plastic, known as HRPS, that would provide a safe place for people to travel within. This plastic was being used as building materials for new homes as well, and as large structures to insulate buildings that were already there. Huge factories were erected in record time just to develop and produce as much of the stuff as possible. Instead of solving the problem that was killing thousands of people a day and displacing thousands more - the human race had collectively decided it was better to simply sweep it under the rug, pass it off to the next generation - it’s what we've been doing for hundreds of years after all. Humans are nothing if not adaptable - if you can afford to live in a place that has the luxury of adapting that is. Brian was one of those fortunate souls. He lived in Los Angeles - one of the first Tube Cities - and it meant he could come to this swanky party in Beverly Hills and celebrate another year of destruction and chaos in the world just outside his door. He stared across the room at his lovely wife, his highschool sweetheart, and the only person who seemed to truly agree with him on a lot of his beliefs - but she was in a totally different world here. She was Anna Baldwin: actress, model, activist - in that order. And to Brian, it seemed that with every passing year, the first two categories overshadowed the third more and more.
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Anna and Brian had a child. Well, Anna had the child. As a climate scientist, Brain was vehimittley against bringing another human life into a collapsing planet, but Anna saw things differently.
“We need to raise a child to change the world, not simply participate in it.” She would say during their lengthy debates over dinner. “All of the right-wing climate deniers are having babies, who they’ll raise to do even more damage to the Earth. We need to have a say in future generations as well.” This never worked to persuade Brian, who had fallen into a deep and dark depression after the Maldives were engulfed in flooding in 2060. Climate disasters or not, mistakes were still going to be made and babies were still going to be born. So in October of 2062, Oliva Garrett Baldwin was brought into the world. After spending her first year in isolation and incubation due to the prevalence of new viruses that were circulating due to increased global temperatures, Anna and Brian brought her home. “Home” being a large plastic dome covering a climate controlled environment that pumped out a massive amount of greenhouse gas into Earth’s actual atmosphere. Anna had just been awarded an Oscar for her role in an adaptation of The Crucible. It was only a matter of weeks after these events that Brian simply opened the door to the outside world, almost uninhabitable at this point - and walked away. Anna was left in a world she had created for herself - left to raise her daughter alone inside of a manufactured security net.
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Anna arrived at the MOT Gala with Miles at her side - it used to be Brian until he abandoned her. For a man who always claimed to be so selfless, he had treated her in the most unfair and selfish way possible. He left her with a newborn baby and so many unanswerable questions. After he had been missing for a month, the local police closed the case and assumed he was dead, but she never believed it, after all, they had never found a body. She emerged from the VIP tube and out into the Gala’s domed off courtyard, to a stampede of reporters and cameras. Directly behind them were the protesters, but at this point in her career, Anna could easily tune them out. The MOT Gala was entertainment’s most glamorous night. Celebrities and politicians collided all wearing breathtaking outfits from the top fashion designers in the world. It always seemed appropriate for some more outspoken celebrities to use the event to use their platform to draw attention to injustice in the world. This year, Anna had the words “SAVE OUR CITIES” embroidered into the back of her gown. This was a cause she knew was hopeless, but she had to do something.
Anna had been telling herself not to cry, she couldn’t let the cameras catch her looking anything but radiant. When she had slapped Olivia yesterday, she had crumbled to the floor, hysterical - as if she were the one who had just been betrayed by their mother. Olivia had stood there, without saying a word, and after a few moments, she too walked away from the insulated life that Anna had so perfectly tailored for her. Anna had spent every second working to provide a safe and comfortable life for her only child, but all Olivia could see was the rest of the world. All she could see was the people struggling and dying and more than that, she blamed Anna for it.
“Save our cities? You have to be fucking joking, Mom”. Olivia had stomped upstairs when she saw the dress. “What about saving other people’s cities? What about the millions of people who have already not been saved? The ones who have nothing left to save?”
“Olivia, I can only do so much. Millions of people are going to see this dress, it is going to inspire change. It is going to mean something to somebody. That is my role here.” Anna couldn’t help but feel resentful toward Brian in these moments, although out of their lives, his legacy was not lost on his daughter.
“The only people watching you are the ones who still have electricity. Who still have water and food. The people who need actual help don’t need to be inspired, they need to be saved. What makes you think some ugly fucking dress is going to change anything other than your social status?”
By the time Anna had felt Olivia’s soft, warm skin underneath her hand, it was already too late. The crack of skin on skin and then a piercing silence, a stinging in her palm, and an unbearable pain in her heart. Regret overwhelmed Anna, but she could do nothing but crumble and cry. She knew there was no fixing this, not this time. Olivia walked out of the room, and out of the house. For all Anna knew, she had walked out of her life.
“Anna?” Miles had been talking to her. “We have to get going, security is telling us to move into the building.”
“The protestors are getting a bit unruly and they are just taking precautions.”
Anna looked over at the crowd of protestors as Miles placed his hand on her back to lead her away. Just before she turned her head, she could have sworn she saw him. Brian was there - his beard was longer and grayer, but it was him alright. He had been watching her too, with a knowing look. Was he smiling at her? As Anna entered the doorway to the large theater she suddenly felt a wave of heat behind her. An intense and all-consuming heat that took her breath away. Her first thought was an explosion, but she hadn’t heard a thing. It was then she began to hear the screams. She swung back around, desperately trying to get another look at the crowd of protesters, but the scene had turned to absolute and all encompassing chaos. And then she felt rain. Only the rain was hot. She glanced down at her arm and saw a small drop of what appeared to be candle wax. No, that wasn’t it. Melted plastic. It was only then that she began to feel her skin burning.
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It was late, how late, Olivia had no way of knowing - living underground had done that to her. Time came in segments: late, early, afternoon; everything was an estimate. She had read about the world’s reliance on HRPS and how there had been little to do with studies into the long term viability of the product before wealthy nations started reshaping their entire infrastructures around it. The night of the 2077 MOT Gala was only the beginning. She had planned on retreating to one of the underground cities she had seen online as soon as she turned eighteen, but knew her mother would never approve. The slap Anna had given Olivia that night was all the reason she needed to pack up and go. She wasn’t planning on staying gone forever, only long enough to teach her mom a lesson. That didn’t work out as planned. After the HRPS began failing, many governments scrambled to set up safe havens and shelters underground for any survivors, but with the above ground world being almost entirely uninhabitable, Olivia had no way of knowing how many people were still out there. Radio signals allowed for communication between nearby bunkers, but even that was unreliable. Ten years later and she could still smell the fumes, even hundreds of feet below the surface of the Earth. She sat at the edge of a bench re-reading the letter that her father had sent just a week before she left home. She had it memorized at this point but still found comfort in his words, your world doesn’t have to be as big as you think.
“New arrivals coming in, Olly. I need your help debriefing them upstairs.” Randall had become the father figure that Olivia was always missing, but in his old age, he was needing her help more and more often. They had a good thing going down here. How sustainable it was was anybody’s guess, but how sustainable was anything? She followed him up the footpath and into a vast open area. Much like a rabbits’ warren, this was the main meeting point of all the smaller tunnels.
“Alright everybody.” Randall started “Line up here so we can get your names and birthdays and then we can assign you to a sleeping quarter. All valuables, hand to Olivia here.” One by one the new arrivals approached. It was common law here that any valuables be submitted for use by the greater community. Watches, necklaces, tablets - anything that could be useful was requested. A young woman, maybe only five or so years younger than Olivia walked up and handed her a ring.
“This was my mother’s.” She said, “I know I have to give it to you, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
As she wriggled the ring off of her finger, Olivia caught sight of a faded, shoddily done tattoo on the girls’ forearm. “SAVE OUR CITIES”. Olivia stared at the girl for a moment. She thought of her own mother’s final words to her, It is going to mean something to somebody.
“Go ahead and keep it.” A single tear had fallen from her eye onto the table below her. “Go ahead and keep it.”