Image from here

Image from here

The Sun was edging into the last third of its Main Sequence when things started going wrong. Its tireless nuclear work, converting hydrogen to helium, continued unabated. At first, nobody noticed the contraction of the solar cycle from eleven years, to ten and a quarter, to nine. More frequent solar storms, coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, and sun spots didn’t seem important, as Humankind battled twin catastrophes of climate change and global food shortages.

Eventually, though, in 2073, when the Solar Maximum was reached for the third time in a decade, the world had no choice but to listen to the astrophysicists and their concerns. The world listened, but, perhaps predictably, did nothing. Solar storm activity hit its peak in 2077, when gigantic geomagnetic storms spewed protons and electrons from the corona of the sun at over a million kilometres a second, disrupting the earth’s protective magnetosphere twice daily. Optimistically, satellites were shut down – temporarily – to protect their delicate components from the damaging solar wind. GPSs stopped working. On the worst days, entire electricity grids were knocked out for hours on end and radio transmissions were scrambled. The word plunged into darkness and silence.

In 2079, when the satellites could no longer function, radios were dead and electricity grids across the world were crippled, came the day the sun went mad. Three massive CMEs burst out of the sun and hurtled towards our planet at over two million kilometres an hour. Solar observatories gave warning, but there was little to be done. The human population on the day side of the planet hunkered down, closed their doors, lit their candles and waited. Again and again the magnetosphere was smashed with the solar wind, the protective magnetic field compressing on the day side of the planet to record levels. On the night side, the magnetic tail was enormous, trailing deep into space, before snapping back and releasing all the energy into the earth’s upper atmosphere. The aurorae could be seen from the equator, had anyone been looking.

At 3.07am GMT on Saturday February 25, 2079, the slender layer of ozone in the stratosphere could take no more. Under the cosmic onslaught, the solar wind pummelled the atmosphere unhindered.

Of course, nobody in 2079 said the sun had gone mad. The phrase came a few generations later, as the survivors came to grips with their new world.



© Michaela Croe 2015

The Glow – Part 2

Posted: January 26, 2013 in The Glow
Image from here

Image from here

If Global Food knew what Jim Bradford was doing, they’d kill him. Not in the euphemistic way either – in the dead and buried, turned into fertiliser way.

He stood before the door sensor and breathed out. He pushed the thought away. Everything dead became fertiliser. Every. Thing. It was OK. He’d been so careful. He faced straight ahead, his gaze resting on the smooth metal door, and squared his shoulders. He waved his access card across the sensor pad and the door unlocked with a familiar, depressing click.

The Compound wasn’t this Food Distribution Centre’s real name, but the nickname was apt. It comprised a massive, rough circle of massive of concrete- and metal-insulated buildings. They were identical, dull grey, featureless, windowless, soul-less. No signs were visible to indicate what The Compound was, who ran it, or what it was for. There were no billboards shouting “Global Food” to non-existent passers-by. They would have been redundant anyway, because everybody knew.

Everyone knew Global Food was the saviour of Humankind. Global Food ran The Compound – and hundreds of other sites like it all over the world – day and night, protected by concrete and metal from the solar flares and their coronal mass ejections. They could grow anything; from the simplest plant or microbial organism, to the biggest animal. And they grew everything – although as far as the public was concerned, they just grew food.

Dim solar lights valiantly tried to counter the underground dark as Jim walked down the gloomy concrete corridor. He hated being underground. He wondered whether his parents had felt the same way. Or his grandparents. In their time people could live above ground, day and night, without insulating their houses. And people came from different countries. He tried to remember what his mother had told him about his grandparents. Where were they from? Ireland? England? India? Australia? He couldn’t remember and it didn’t matter. Every country looked the same after a couple of generations of scorching. Now you come from the Region you live in. Race and nationality become irrelevant, once you’re starving, his father used to say. Jim worked and lived in Food Region 8, so was an Eighter. Eighters who worked for Global Foods did OK. Jim had a large food allocation for a single person. He tried not to think about people living in Regions 2 and 3, where the food allocations were much, much smaller. Nobody from those Regions worked for Global Foods, and they had no FDCs there.

A lift door loomed out of the near-dark at the end of the corridor. He’d left his bicycle far behind him in the bicycle park, amongst hundreds of others. Thousands of people worked for Global Food in Region 8 alone. They were the world’s largest employer. His grandmother used to say that, before the sun went mad, there were millions of employers and you could choose which one you wanted to work for. There were farms and people could grow food themselves. It all sounded like a fanciful dream. Growing your own food got you made into fertiliser. Global Food issued food allocations and you collected them from authorised Food Distribution Centres like The Compound. There was no choice, no competition. Everyone was used to it – they’d known nothing else. Well, almost everyone. Jim tried not to think about the stolen fertiliser.

Jim pressed the call button and the lift doors opened, blinding him for a moment as bright light spilled out into the corridor. He stepped in and pushed the button for Level 4. The laboratories. Each building of The Compound had several floors, with a basement level for staff parking. Cars were a luxury reserved only for the wealthiest and valued Global Food employees. The cars were on Basement Level 1. Jim never got on or off at Level 1. Like most people, he walked or cycled, if on night shift, or caught one of the dedicated underground train shuttles during the day. The Compound’s buildings were linked by long, wide corridors, each bustling with solar-powered, driverless shuttles than ran on tracks.

The lift, like everything solar-powered, moved slowly. At Basement Level 1 the lift glided to a stop and the doors opened. Jim caught a glimpse through the open doors and quickly looked down. He shuffled to one side, not taking his eyes off the floor.

A tall, muscular woman in a dark uniform sauntered into the lift and pressed the button for Level 5. The Executive Floor. From beneath lowered eyelids Jim saw her take him in with one swift, dismissive glance. She leaned back against the mirrored wall, crossed her arms and closed her eyes.

Jim returned his gaze to the floor. He knew the Chief Security Officer and her staff well. It didn’t pay to be noticed by any them. He pushed his glasses back up his nose. “Please don’t notice me, please don’t notice me, please don’t notice me”, he silently chanted. He felt every moment of his 42 years as a line of sweat began to make its way down his spine in a slow, constant trickle.

The lift climbed so slowly. The lights crawled up the wall at a snail’s pace. Jim willed them not to stop. Don’t stop. Don’t stop. He closed his eyes and imagined them. One. Two. His mind began to spin. Three. Don’t think about fertiliser… don’t think about fertiliser… don’t stop… don’t think about fertiliser…

Jim felt an iron grip on his arm and his eyes flew open as he tried to flinch away. The Chief’s face was inches from his own, his arm caught in her grip. Jim stared straight into Diana’s blue eyes, a rabbit in headlights.

“What the fuck is your problem, friend?” she barked, “Why were you moaning?”

Had he moaned? Jim caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror on the wall. Sweat slid down his pale, gaunt face and settled in his beard.

“I… ugh…” he stammered. Oh god, she’d caught him. Somehow she’d heard his thoughts about the fertiliser and they were going to kill him. Chop him up and feed him to the – to the – what was that noise?

An urgent, petulant beeping broke Jim’s panic. The Chief Security Officer released his arm and reached inside her combat jacket.

The Chief pulled out her phone and read the text.

“Ah, well, looks like today is looking up after all, friend. I have one of your glowing pals to go catch!” Diana punched him in the upper arm and he cringed back.

The lift doors opened and Jim launched himself through them in a rushing, stumbling, shaking mess. He turned to see Diana pressing a lift button. As the lift doors closed, her eyes were bright, and her face held a small eager smile. It seemed she had already forgotten him.

Jim stood in front of the closed lift doors for a long time. He couldn’t breathe. What an idiot. A panic attack in front of the Chief of Security. This was the last straw. He couldn’t help the food resistance anymore.

The crazy security woman was off to catch a Glower. Good. The more they caught, the better. Glowers. He felt his calm return. This was his job, after all. Studying them. Researching them. Experimenting on them. And, when necessary, harvesting them.

© Michaela Croe 2015

The Glow – Part 1

Posted: January 6, 2013 in The Glow
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Image from here

Izzy yawned and peered out from beneath the earth. The sun was setting. She stretched and waggled her fingers and toes. Another night starting. It must have been hot today, she thought, as she peeled her strained t-shirt away from her skin. Stupid. Stupid thing to think. Every day was hot now, since the sun went crazy.

She waited in the silence. Not even birds chirped now. No dogs barked. The last fierce rays of the sun disappeared over the horizon. That’s right, she thought, go burn the fuck out of some other poor bastards. Izzy forced her grimy fingers through the holes in the slab and pushed upwards. The slab scraped, concrete against concrete, and she winced. Just enough room to squeeze out. With practiced ease she pulled herself up and onto the scorched concrete rectangle beside the grave, still hot to the touch from a day in the unforgiving, lunatic sun.

Thank you again, sir, she thought to herself. She nodded to the desiccated occupant of the grave. She hadn’t bothered to read his name. The graveyard was blessedly silent and deserted – of the living anyway – in the cooling evening. Izzy gently slid the slab back into its place, breathed in, and ran.

Dried branches and leaves long-dead crunched and snapped under her bare, calloused feet. She forced air into her lungs, calm into her brain. I must. Stay. Calm. Must. Stay. Calm. The mantra ran through her brain as her feet ran through the orange dust. Not being calm could kill you. A wave of anxiety washed over her and she caught sight of her hand, a pale, ghostly blob, barely visible, pushing dead branches out of her way. Nothing was showing. Yet. Thank god.

On and on she ran, until she finally reached the edge of the thicket of blackened trees heralding the end of the graveyard. Only a hundred metres away stood The Village. Izzy didn’t know its name. She didn’t want to know, just like she didn’t want to know the name of the person whose grave she borrowed nightly. She didn’t want to get used to being here. She didn’t want to become attached to the small cluster of brick and concrete huddled on the edges of the sun-bleached, cracked excuse for a road. Becoming attached to things, to places (to people, whispered her brain) just makes it harder to leave. And sooner or later, she’d have to leave.

This village was like all the others. Small, seemingly lifeless. Blistered concrete and metal rooves crouched over stout, wide houses. Nobody built multi-storey anymore. Not energy-efficient. Too hard to keep anything but ground level cool. Izzy had never seen a house with more than one storey. Some said people hid underground, or built their houses out of mud. All the houses had heavily shuttered windows, covered with thick wood inlaid with lead.

Izzy slowed her pace to an awkward gallop and wiped her greasy red hair from her face. What she’d give for a shower. She peered through the gloom to make sure she was alone, and then moved more slowly, out of the thicket towards the low red brick wall surrounding The Village. She crouched down and pressed her back to the crumbling mortar. She slid along, her back creating mini avalanches of dust and eroded brick, until she reached a break in the wall. Here The Village’s sad, dustry version of a main road cut through the wall. She held her breath, craned around the side of the wall and watched.

In the dim evening light, a handful of villagers were waking up. Izzy could hear the quiet murmur of sleepy voices and human movement from behind closed doors. Heavy blinds were removed from windows where they protected sleeping residents from the worst effects of the x-rays and ultraviolet radiation spewed daily from the giant red planet above them. Weak light spilled from windows, out onto the still-hot ground. Ironic, Izzy thought. The whole world avoids the light when the Earth is facing the Sun, but minute it gets dark, they light candles.

Light. Light seemed to be the cause of everyone’s problems.

An elderly man, in a frayed grey-checked dressing gown, tussle-haired and still groggy with sleep, struggled to loosen the shutter on his window. Izzy looked on without emotion, feeling no urge to help as he puffed and panted and strained with the heavy wood and metal. Finally he wrenched it free and it fell with a nauseating clang and thud, onto the old man’s foot. He swore and Izzy stifled an involuntary snort of derision. The old man’s head snapped up. Izzy whipped her head back behind the wall and held her breath.

“Hello?” the old man called.

She didn’t reply. She breathed in slowly. She could hear the old man limping up the road towards her, his slippers scraping on the dirt.

Scrape… hop… scrape… hop.

Surely he hadn’t seen her, in the dark? She’d hardly made a sound.

The sound of slippers on dust stopped. Izzy didn’t dare move. She held her breath again and time stretched interminably.

“Hello? Who’s there?”

Izzy heard the scrape-hop again and this time it was much, much closer. How could he have found her? It was dark enough to keep her hidden by now.

Then Izzy noticed the light. No no no! Her brain screamed. Not now! A soft green light slowly spread around her, spilled onto the ground, spread up above her head. It’s not possible! I’ve been under control! She looked down, knowing already what she’d find. There it was. From a spot on her chest, half-way down her breastbone, radiated a soft green light.

The old man was two metres from the wall when a bedraggled young woman with red hair exploded from behind the wall and disappeared into the thicket of dead trees, leaving a faint trail of iridescent green behind her as she fled.

His injured toe forgotten, the old man turned around and shuffled as fast as he could back towards his house.

“A Glower!” he shouted, “We’ve got ourselves a Glower!”

© Michaela Croe 2015