In a future where climate change has made the world uninhabitable, bioengineered microorganisms are released in the ecosystem with the hope to revert the damages. Humanity went to sleep underground in cryo-pods to wait out the process, but Alan awakens before his time…
Read below the flash fiction story “The sole survivor” by Athanasios Christopoulos, third place in the #FEMSmicroBlog Writing Competition on “How Microbiology will Change our Future”.
Read on this link: all shortlisted stories.
The sole survivor
Alan woke up feeling numb.
A flashing blur assaulted his eyes as he tried to get a grip. He took in a deep breath and tried to focus on the blur until he forced it into shape. He sat up and stared at the shape until it turned into the word “Alert” flashing over and over in front of him.
He looked at his body and found it just as he remembered, but the room he didn’t immediately recognize. A computerized voice greeted him.
“Hello Mr. Parsons, are you feeling alright?”
He tried to answer but found it unusually difficult and then, as he tried standing up, his legs gave in and he ended up on the floor.
“There is no need to be alarmed Mr. Parsons. All effects you might be experiencing are completely normal when one has been subjected to cryo-sleep for a prolonged time. Please remain seated until your bodily functions are fully restored. In the meantime, I have prepared a briefing to refresh your memory.”
Alan sat on the floor, feeling the cold floor against his bare body helped with regaining his senses.
“As you might begin to recall” the voice went on, “the Great Restoration Programme was initiated during your time. Humankind’s largest and most ambitious effort to revert climate change. As part of the plan the most prominent members of society were selected to be preserved in cryo-sleep conditions in an underground facility while bio-engineered bacteria, fungi and algae were released in key ecosystems of the world. The human population went dormant while these most precious microorganisms went to work multiplying and thriving according to our biotechnological plan. Heavy metals would be absorbed in the bodies of lichens, plastics would be degraded down to their building blocks by bacteria, photosynthetic activity would occur on a scale previously unseen and the composition of the atmosphere would be balanced out once again. Projections and simulations showed that within 20.000 years the impact of these microbes on the Earth’s climate should mostly revert any effect human society previously had and a new society may develop using novel, sustainable methods. I was specifically created and trained to monitor the progress and keep all necessary life support systems running. And this is where you come in, Mr. Parsons. Seeing as I cannot physically interact with the systems, you are the engineer who was chosen to repair any possible malfunctions. Do you have any questions?”
Alan had stood up and moved to the closet of the room he was in.
By now he remembered all too well. As he started putting on his uniform he asked “How long has it been?”
“1483 years, 7 months and 10 days” came back the answer.
As he finished tying his 1500-year-old shoelaces Alan asked “And what am I to fix?”
“My systems indicate that there has been a disruption in the air filtering system for the rest of the cryo-sleep chambers. Luckily, yours operates on its own circuit for occasions just as this one”.
Alan grabbed his toolbelt, prepared for him more than a millennium ago and he opened the door.
As he wandered through the corridors of the facility, he felt too numb to feel the gravity of his situation and he was thankful for that.
He finally spotted the “CRYO-FACILITY” sign and used his pass to enter. He turned on the light switch and immediately froze. He saw a disarray of pods.
Some were open with dried plant life coming out of them. Some were cracked with fungi growing through the cracks. Some were still shut with nothing but a shrivelled corpse inside. Not a single one, however, was functioning.
It seemed that the microorganisms that were intended to grow better than any other had made their way through the air vents and used their creators as energy sources to do what they were meant to.
Alan was too late.
The air carried such a high number of spores, pollen and bacteria that simply breathing it unfiltered was apparently lethal. He didn’t know how to feel. Perhaps the knowledge that all of your species is gone, along with everything you ever knew, is too heavy to be processed, and so… he felt nothing.
Alan walked to the nearest elevator, pressed the “surface” button and prepared himself to face Earth for one last time.
He took a deep breath, knowing it would likely lead to his own demise, and looked onto the blue sky and lush green horizon. The last thought ever thought by a human on this planet ended up being “at least we left it beautifully, the way it was meant to be”.
ⓒ FEMS/the author
About the author of this story
Athanasios Christopoulos studied Biology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens where he discovered his love for plant life. Now, as a future Master’s Programme student, he is looking to learn more about agricultural biotechnology. His hope is that biotechnology can help humanity with its food production and sustainability issues that loom on the not-too-far horizon.