Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Daily Story 28: Malaria

There are no alarms from traffic control or the orbital defense net as we set down in Central Park. The only red light is the sensors indicating the atmosphere isn't safe, so we pull on our environmental suits before setting foot on Earth for the first time in two years.

Outside the city skyline is still recognizable, skyscrapers reaching three thousand feet into the air, but now the ads that used to scroll down them are gone. I've never seen the city dark before, never seen the actual surfaces under the lights. Beth is arguing with Liz about what the impurity in the air is, and Elliot taps me on the shoulder and gestures towards the buildings. I nod, and we head out.

There are vines everywhere, thick knotted green things wrapped around streetlights and reaching down into storm drains. I've seen them before, they were engineered for terraforming Mars. Elliot says that he saw them on our flyby, that they're everywhere. Someone planted them here for a reason, and that means whatever happened gave people enough time to try and prepare - so where are they? There should be vaults, arks, something. I had remained optimistic about the lack of transmissions as we re-entered the system, even when the Mars base appeared abandoned, the transports gone. But to see Earth this way; the cities dark, with no sign or beacon to say where anyone went...

Two miles into the city, and still the streets are empty except for vines and trash.

The sun is setting now, and Liz radios in to say they're going back into the ship for the night. I'm waiting in the street for Elliot, who is scavenging in a comic book store. The speaker in my helmet crackles and I hear him say there's something moving in the back, even if it's just a cat it would be wonderful. Then all I hear is screaming. When I get to the store I find Elliot's helmet, but no blood and no signs of a struggle.

The other three arrive within minutes, having hotwired a convertible. They look surreal, orange environmental suits on white leather seats. Liz takes a closer look at the Elliot's helmet and says the seal is damaged like it wasn't removed properly, but beyond that there are no clues.

Martin and Beth have their guns out, and they're checking the buildings around the comic store. Liz and I are just waiting, though we don't know for what. If the sensors are right, Elliot can't be alive without his helmet.

It's dark, darker than the city has ever been. The sun is hidden behind the forest of unlit buildings, and it feels like we're in a cave. Beth is radioing in. "I found Elliot, he's okay! He's just... oh god. Oh god, oh god, oh..." and the radio is quiet again, silent like the city. Liz starts the car without a word, and just as I'm getting in too I see Martin running towards us. He shoves past me, climbing into the car and screaming something at Liz. He's not transmitting so it's hard to hear, but we get the message.

On the drive back to our ship the only sound is the erratic thumping as we bounce over vines. Without lights from the city, the stars seem to burn brighter than ever before. I lean back and stare up at Mars, glittering a pale green above me.