Historical Fiction

Humans lived in a giant dome set on the surface of Earth. It was filled with a lush green forest intersected by paths and benches that provided oxygen, and standing among it was an intricate network of tall, straight buildings that connected to each other by bridges that crisscrossed over and under each other like a massive spiderweb.

However, outside the dome, all was a barren wasteland. There was nothing but one giant desert of gritty red sand and a red sky laced with thin gray clouds. The oceans were great red pools of oil and chemicals. But no one ever saw those now.

A few years back, the sand and poisonous air from outside had started to lead inside the dome. It was killing the trees and grass of the one forest left on Earth, which was now withering and yellow. The air, even inside the dome, had taken on a sour, acrid tang. Half a year back, the humans had been forbidden to go outside the network of buildings into the forest because the air had become too poisonous.

Today, it was a normal day for Isabella. 

The chiming of the wake-up bell rang in her ears. She yawned and sat up. Around her, her fellow classmates were doing the same. In the world of the dome, one slept in a dormitory with fifty other people of the same gender and within two months of the same age. These were also your classmates. Everyone had to follow the same arrangements, including the adults. The adults’ ‘classes’ were based on their profession. On weekdays, Isabella spent most of her time in school with her classmates. It was only on weekends that she could spend some real time with her family, but when it got to the evening she still had to come back and sleep with her classmates.

Isabella pulled a few pieces of clothing from the basket at the head of her bed and pulled them on. She rubbed her eyes to get the sleep out of them. Then she followed her classmates out of the room and into the corridor beyond. It was breakfast time now. She listened blearily to the patter of feet on the floor as they made their way to the lift at the end of the corridor. There was a lift at the end of every corridor on every story of the building. There were 150 stories in every building. Isabella slept in the 47th

They got into the lift and descended down onto the ground floor. The ground floor of every building was a food court. There were already swarms of people milling around the different stalls with different choices for breakfast, and more coming in through the two doors that lead in and out of the food court. These were all the people who slept in the same building; the people sleeping in other buildings would go to the food court at the bottom of that particular building for breakfast.

Isabella found her best friend, Anabel, who was also in the same class as her and slept in the same dormitory. They wandered for a bit through the different stalls set up in the food court, each with a different type of food. This was so you could eat different food every day and not be bored. However, no matter what you chose, you could only eat the one serving. It used to be two, but now that there was poisonous air inside the dome, it was getting harder and harder to grow enough food. Slowly but surely, the portions were becoming less and less. Isabella tried not to worry about that.

She and Anabel chose the stall with eggs and bacon. Around her, Isabella could see a few other options for breakfast, including toast and a few different types of cereal. She and Anabel grabbed their bowls of eggs and bacon and went to find a seat.

“Are you looking forward to today’s classes?” Isabella asked as they found an empty spot on a bench near the edge of the cafeteria. All around them was the babble of many voices and the clink of spoons and forks on bowls. Sitting at the table already was a group of four girls who were also in Isabella and Anabel’s class. They waved a greeting to each other. “Biology, maths, engineering, information technology.” Isabella ticked off the day’s subjects on her hand. “All technology subjects. I hate these subjects with a passion! I would so much rather English and Art and Textiles and Drama! Art subjects are the best!” 

“But the teachers say technology subjects will be more useful in the long run,” Anabel replied amiably. “Look at this dome we live in. If we hadn’t had a reasonable amount of knowledge in science and technology, we wouldn’t have known how to build it. And global warming would have killed us.” She shovelled a spoonful of soft golden yolk into her mouth and shrugged. “Just saying.”

“But if we never developed all that technology, climate change would never have happened in the first place!” Isabella looked down at her untouched bowl of food and sighed in frustration. She almost didn’t want to eat it. It was too precious. How long would their food last, with more poisonous air leaking into the dome every day? How long till they would start to starve? “I wish we could have just remained as simple farmers who spent our days tilling fields and writing poems. Instead of using this x y z sin cos tan and who knows what other trash to destroy our home planet!” 

Anabel continued to gobble up food, completely unfazed. She and Isabella went through this conversation daily. She didn’t mind; it was refreshing to have a friend who’s viewpoint completely different to that of the teachers. And pretty much everyone else in the dome, in fact. Anabel didn’t particularly agree with her, but she had to admit, Isabella had a point. “You’d better hurry up,” she said, changing the subject. Isabella was still staring glumly at her bowl. “School starts in 15 minutes.”

After breakfast, they went back to a lift and ascended up to a floor that had a bridge. As they crossed the bridge, surrounded by a crowd of jabbering classmates and other groups of people going on with their day, Isabella scrutinised the scenery outside. The bridge, as was every other bridge in the network, was see-through, so she could see all the other people in the other bridges and the dying forest outside. What was left of the forest was withered and brown. Swirls of acrid gas visible to the naked eye swirled around in the air just outside of the bridge. Isabella sighed and worry nagged at her heart. She glanced at Anabel, who was skipping along while whistling a happy tune, holding Isabella’s hand and unsuccessfully trying to drag her along. She wished she was more like Anabel. She wished she could live in the moment and be happy no matter what. But she couldn’t. All she could do was worry about the future and what would become of all of them.

They reached the end of the bridge and turned right onto the corridor of the new building. Their designated classroom was five rooms down. They reached the classroom and sat down in their seats. There were desks set in rows; five rows in total. Isabella and Anabel sat next to each other. Their teacher, Mrs Brown, came in a few minutes later. She was tall and thin and wore black, square-rimmed glasses. She hastily pulled out a few whiteboard markers to begin the lesson. Everyone quietened down to listen.

“In today’s biology class,” Mrs Brown began, “we will be learning about the virus that our medical and science team is in the process of creating. The purpose of this virus is to digest the poisonous air that has been infiltrating our dome.”

Isabella put her hand up. “Can’t we just patch up the dome so no bad air comes in anymore?”

“Of course, we are currently developing the suitable materials to do that,” Mrs Brown said. “This virus project is plan B, in case plan A doesn’t work in time. But that’s for your engineering class. Back to biology.” She turned back to the whiteboard and drew a rough outline of the dome and a few dots inside it to represent the virus. “The virus absorbs the poisonous air and turns it into carbon dioxide.” She drew one arrow into the dots, labelled poisonous air, and another one leading out, labelled carbon dioxide. “This carbon dioxide, combined with other nutrients, in turn feeds the vegetation that used to be our forest, and helps it come back to life again. The vegetation then produces oxygen for us to breathe. It’s a win win situation.” 

For the rest of the two hour class, Mrs Brown explained what the structure and behaviour of the virus would be while the students took notes. “We’re quite far along in the project,” she said as the lesson ended, her excitement barely contained. She was a part of the science team herself. “The virus can already absorb a variety of materials and gases and we are halfway done in enabling it to convert that absorbed matter to carbon dioxide.” 

The end-of-class bell rang. Isabella and Anabel gathered up their books and pencils and followed the rest of the class to their next class, Maths, which was another five classrooms down on the same story of the building. All Isabella did was copy Anabel’s answers (Anabel was very good at maths) and watch the seconds hand on the clock on the wall high above their maths teacher’s head, willing it to move faster. It was a relief when the end-of-class bell finally rang and they were released to lunch.

Isabella scooped up her stuff and blearily made her way down the corridor towards the lift. Her eyes hurt, her legs hurt, her brain hurt. In fact, her brain felt like a bowl of mushy porridge that had been furiously kneaded and spilt at the sides by an angry toddler. She hated maths so much.

They descended down to the ground floor in the lift and emerged out into the food court.

“What do you feel like eating today?” Isabella asked tiredly. She looked around at the various choices of lunch. There were hotdogs, a few different types of sandwiches and bowls of noodles. “I feel like eating noodles today.”

“Ok, I’ll have noodles too,” Anabel said from behind Isabella.

They each collected one bowl of noodles from the counter with noodles and went to find a place to sit. But they hadn’t taken many steps when an alarm started to shriek. High-pitched, ear-piercing wails sliced through the air. Blinding red sirens started to flash. In an instant, the whole cafeteria was a mess of panicked people rushing in all directions. Someone knocked Isabella’s bowl of noodles out of her hands. It shattered against the ground, warm liquid and puffy noodles splashing everywhere. She grabbed Anabel’s hand to keep from being separated. A loudspeaker boomed above the chaos and the sirens quietened down a little, though the lights continued to flash. 

“This is an emergency. Everyone please make their way to the underground bunkers as quickly as possible, in a safe and orderly fashion.”

Every building had an underground bunker underneath the food court. It was only used for emergencies. The entrance was a hatch in the floor of the food court. They had drilled for this, but Isabella had never had to use one in her life. Her knees trembled and her heart raced wildly.

As the adults ushered the children towards the hatch, the loudspeaker continued to speak. “The virus created by the science and medical team has broken out of the chambers where it was originally grown, studied and confined. Its ability to absorb matter became too strong; it has become powerful enough to digest the walls of the chamber itself. It is now rapidly making its way through all the buildings around the laboratory building and will quickly spread inside the whole dome. The science and medical team is working right now to stop it.”

The loudspeaker turned off. 

Isabella remained frozen. “Come on, Izzy!” Anabel tugged her in the direction of the flow of people heading to the side of the food court where the hatch was. Isabella shook herself and allowed Anabel to lead her. They reached the hatch. It had been opened and there were already people filing down the stairs, their way lighted by fluorescent light bulbs. Isabella and Anabel followed.

At the bottom of the stairs was a big underground chamber, around the size of a football field. It held rows and rows of chairs which could hold the same amount of people that the building on top could hold at any one time. On the roof, more light bulbs spaced at measured intervals gave off harsh white light. The chamber had a cold, unfriendly look. Isabella shivered.

Soon, everyone was inside the chamber. A few of the teachers who had been walking near the back sealed up the hatch and then another door at the bottom of the stairs. There were two more exits that led out of the chamber in different directions, in case there was need for an escape out another way, which were already sealed.

The people in front of Isabella and Anabel began to sit down. But before Isabella and Anabel could follow suit, an eerie nibbling noise came from the just-sealed doorway. The people nearest it jumped in shock and hastily came further into the chamber, away from the door. All sounds in the chamber faded as everyone listened to the nibbling noise.

Isabella’s heart pounded even harder. She clutched at Anabel’s hand with both hands. “What’s that noise?” She whispered frantically, close to panicking.

Anabel was trembling too. She whispered back, “I pray to God that I’m wrong… but I think that’s the virus.”

Isabella was on the verge of crying. “You mean the virus’s eating through the door? What if it gets in… and eats us?”

Anabel face was white as a sheet and she trembled like a leaf, but she was more calm than Isabella. “Hush, Izzy,” she said. Two tears rolled down her cheeks. She stroked Isabella’s hands as they stood pressed together, too scared to move, the nibbling noise getting louder and louder. Everyone else around them was also frozen. 

Rivers of tears gushed down Isabella’s cheeks. “The last time I saw my parents and brother was on the weekend. I even got angry at my brother because he laughed at me for losing our game of chess. And I forgot to hug Dad goodnight because I had to do my homework. I’ll never make it up to them… I’ll never even see them again…” Isabella buried her head in Anabel’s shoulder, trying to hide from the terrifying realities of the world around them, as a hole opened up in the door and little specks in the air, like dust, came rushing into the room. They latched onto the people nearest the door and started to eat them. Teachers had opened up the doors on the two other exits on the chamber and were frantically ushering people out that way in an attempt to escape, but Anabel knew instinctively that it was no use. And sure enough, another couple of seconds later, more swarms of little specks came flying in from the two other exits.

Fumes of carbon dioxide billowed into the air as the virus reduced the humans to skeletons and burped out the CO 2. Screams and smoke filled the chamber. Isabella started to cough. Her eyes streamed. The virus reached her and stuck onto her face, her arms, her hair, her clothes. She fell into a panic, trying to shake them off, claw them off her body. But it didn’t work. They grabbed Anabel too. And then the pain came. It was like one thousand needles jabbing deeper and deeper into her flesh, her bone. She looked down at herself and saw clumps of flesh disappearing as the virus devoured her. Pools of blood gathered around her but were quickly absorbed by the virus also. What a way to die, she thought. Being eaten alive.

Anabel spoke. “I think you were right, Izzy,” she said, shivering with pain. “About the technology.”

Isabella could feel the virus inside her, chomping away at her insides. But she could still speak. “Oh, I wish I wasn’t.”

Then their legs gave way in unison and they collapsed onto the floor.

June 06, 2020 03:09

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