The comfortable looking home sat on a large open lot with a majestic oak tree in the front yard. The siding was faded, but the paint on the trim looked new. The windows all had curtains, and there was smoke drifting from the chimney. The house was located about three miles outside the village limit. That was not uncommon anymore, people had been willing to move out from the safety of the towns for about the last twenty years.
Without warning, the front door flew open, and a young girl raced out of the house and into the morning air. The summer sun was only starting to rise, but the temperature was already in the mid-seventies. Several birds were searching the lawn for food and they took flight as the intruder disrupted their quest. The girl paused briefly to stare at the birds since they were still such an unusual sight. She looked to be about nine years old and wore faded jeans and a plain red tee shirt. Her long blond hair was braided and almost reached the top of her jeans. She wore a small backpack and a cell phone was clipped to the thin belt around her waist. With excitement in her step, she moved quickly to the side of the house and grabbed her bike. Jumping onto it, she tore off down the road. The bike was red, like her shirt, red being her favorite color. The paint on the bike was new, however, if you looked carefully, you could see that the bike had been welded together in several places, clearly the metamorphosis of several cannibalized bicycles. Michelle wasn’t bothered that her bike was not new. She’d never seen a new bicycle, and neither had any of her friends. It was generally assumed that there hadn’t been a new bike made in the last hundred years.
The road she traveled was compact dirt with hazardous patches of broken asphalt which stuck up frequently. Michelle loved to ride her bike into town. She would usually go a half hour out of her way to ride down Bell Street, the one street on her side of town that had recently been resurfaced, and the first one Michelle had ever seen made of new concrete. Her parents told her that in time all the streets would be like that. Michelle loved to ride on it because it was smooth, and she could go much faster. Her grandma had told her how all the roads had once been made of cement, but that had been before everyone died. Today though, she took the quick route to town and sacrificed the ride down Bell Street. Today was her grandmother's birthday, and she was determined to be the first one to tell her happy birthday. She could have called, but she wanted to do this in person. Even at her advanced age, Grandma Amy had made sure to come and see Michelle on all nine of her birthdays.
When she got to the house, Michelle raced up the stairs and without knocking raced inside. “Grandma, it's me!” she gleefully exclaimed.
Her grandmother was in her chair, reclined with her feet up listening to music coming from a small stereo. The music originated from one of the two radio stations that were broadcasting. “Michelle, come give Grandma a hug,” the elderly woman said, holding out her arms. In truth, the term ‘grandma’ was not wholly accurate. Michelle was Amy's great-granddaughter.
The young girl gently approached and said, “Happy Birthday, Grandma.”
“Thank you, sweetie. You're the best for remembering.”
“Was I the first?”
“The first what?”
“The first one to tell you happy birthday,” the girl stated with some sarcasm in her voice.
Laughing, Amy replied, “Yes you were.”
“Good. I wanted mom to help me make you a cake today, but she said we wouldn’t find one hundred and forty-five candles,” Michelle said.
“Even if you had, you wouldn't have had enough. I'm one hundred and forty-six now.”
“It sure is.” the old woman admitted.
“Is it true back when you were young, people didn't live that long?”
That's true. Typically, people only lived to be about eighty. That's how it was then, and how it'll be for you too. Other than the few of us that are left, there won't be anyone else living this long.”
“So I won't be able to be as old as you are? I only get about eighty years?”
“Why? Eighty isn't bad, I was just over eighty when I had my first baby, your mom.” Together they giggled at the crazy sounding fact.
Michelle rested her head on her grandma's shoulder. She missed the days where she could climb up into that same chair and sit together, but she had gotten too big for the frail old woman to hold. As they sat now, Michelle's eyes moved to the shelves with the photos on them. There were pictures of her mom and dad, and some of her great-grandfather and her grandma. Most of them were photos of Michelle and her brothers and sisters and their many cousins. As much as she loved her family, these weren’t the pictures that Michelle enjoyed when she visited. The ones she was interested in were the ones from long ago, the ones of her great-grandmother. She especially liked the one of her sitting in the pilot seat of the powerful military helicopter, dressed in her flight suit.
Michelle's favorite thing in the world was to sit with this woman and listen to Grandma's stories from another time. Even the pictures in books and on computers couldn’t compare with hearing her grandma describe how people had lived a hundred and thirty years ago.
Grandma was great at telling about the busy cities, dangerous freeways, amusement parks, and traveling to exotic locations. It seemed these ideas were as crazy as some of the outer space TV programs about aliens invading Earth.
Michelle's parents had taken her to Denver last year, but it wasn’t the same as her grandmother's descriptions of the city had been. Denver had a cold and empty feeling, the tall and once magnificent buildings seemed dead in this ghost town. There had been no life except for a handful of people, scavenging for useable items. The only other evidence of people she saw were the thousands of skeletons which seemed to be behind every door they opened.
The trip to Denver had been fascinating, and it certainly had made the global destruction seem more real. She was just glad to get home and hopefully would never visit a city ever again.
Chapter 1 – Day 1075
The ceiling must have been twenty feet high, and the square room had walls that were all about fifty feet in length. One wall was completely covered with computer equipment and medical monitors. On the opposite wall was a large steel door, which resembled a giant airlock. There were no windows in the room, but there were twelve video cameras suspended from the ceiling that together covered every inch of the room.
Through the dim glow of red auxiliary lights, one could just make out the shapes of the dozen coffin-sized capsules lined up in four neat rows. The capsules were black, their sides rounded and smooth. Topping each capsule were two transparent sections, surrounded by a black frame, a lid assembly that fit perfectly on top of the capsules. It was almost impossible to see where the sides ended, and the top began. Each capsule was numbered with a three-inch-high red adhesive label on the front. There were also several rows of indicator lights and LED displays at the end of each capsule.
At one end of each row was a console of complex computer equipment. The capsules had several small monitor screens, displaying what appeared to be an EKG readout. Anyone with medical knowledge would have been concerned by the extremely slow heart rate visible on the screens. Ten of the capsules had multiple rows of green lights, some flashing and others glowing continuously. On the capsule numbered ‘Ten’, two lights weren’t green. One was yellow, and the second glowed an ominous red. On capsule Three, there were no lights at all.
Through the transparent lid of each capsule, the form of a nude human was visible. The people were a mixture of males and females from several different races. They all looked to be in good physical condition and appeared to be between twenty and forty years old.
An unusual mask covered the mouth and nose of each person. It resembled a standard oxygen mask but was constructed of heavier material, off-white in color. The masks fastened behind the head and two tubes connected to them. The ends of the tubes connected to ports attached to the wall of each capsule. The masks, along with an odd mix of tubes and wires running in and out of different orifices, made the occupants of each capsule appear almost mechanical. In the available light, it wasn’t possible to tell if the people were dead or alive.
Without warning six banks of overhead fluorescent lights snapped on. Though the change in lighting was extreme, no apparent reaction came from the occupants of the capsules. Seconds later, a bright yellow strobe light began flashing above the long-sealed door, and the activity on several of the computer panels increased.
Following a brief pause, a barely audible hissing sound was heard, and the eleven-hundred-pound door slowly began to open. Four people in yellow biohazard suits walked into the spacious chamber. They’d been packed tightly into the tiny space the airlock afforded and almost struggled to get out. Their movements were slow, and they glanced from one side of the room to the other. From the way they moved it was evident there was a high level of uncertainty being experienced by them all. As soon as they’d walked into the room, the door behind them swung shut, and within thirty seconds, the yellow strobe stopped flashing.
The four new arrivals each moved to one of the rows of capsules and started assessing the terminals. Each team member glanced up briefly when the strobe light began flashing again, before returning to their assessments. Three similarly dressed people joined them, and these three went directly across the chamber to the wall of monitoring equipment, inputting commands into the futuristic-looking systems.
A curse erupted from the person who’d started examining the row of capsules to the far right. “Major system failure, Capsule Three,” an agitated female voice announced. There was a slightly mechanical tone to her voice, the result of the positive pressure breathing devices in the masks of each team member.
Another voice stated, “Capsule Three – that would've been Miller.”
“Any idea when it occurred?” a third voice asked. This voice sounded different, coming over the headsets, but without echo. Whoever was speaking was not wearing a facemask.
The female had moved to the third capsule in her row and was peering in through the top. The person inside’s skin had dried out, and the face was leathery and shrunken, although the mask was still in place. The long blond hair indicated it had been a woman.
“It looks like it was a long time ago, Sir.” A slight quiver was evident in the technician's voice.
Before anyone could comment another female voice, this one with a slight New England accent, called out. “Sir, we also have a minor system failure in Capsule Ten.”
“How minor?” The natural sounding voice rapidly asked.
From the area with wall-mounted systems, a male voice called out, “All vital signs, core temp, and EKG are within normal limits. It seems the primary cooling system failed, but backup systems are at one hundred percent efficiency.”
“Okay,” growled the voice from the headset, “give me a report on the rest of the capsules.”
“Group A, no additional failures.”
“Group B, no failures.”
“Group C, no failures.”
“Group D, no additional failures.”
“Okay, activate the data link so you can get out of there. Then start the bio-contamination scanners. I want a full report in an hour.”
Within ten minutes, the room was again empty. Two minutes later, the lights went out.
Chapter 2 – Day 1075
The large conference table in the center of the room was covered with papers and laptop computers, coffee cups and not just a few soda bottles. Fourteen people were seated around the table, discussing the events of the morning. At the front of the room, a door opened, and a tall man entered. He strode in with authority, dressed in a US Army dress uniform. On his shoulder boards were the silver eagles which denoted his rank as an Army Colonel.
The Colonel appeared to be in his late fifties and stood just over six feet tall. He was quite thin and his brown hair was well on its way to being gray. The nametag above his right breast pocket read ‘Fitch’.
Following behind him was a stocky man of medium height who was in his mid-forties; he wore a lab coat, the name ‘J. Cowan’ embroidered onto the breast pocket. Cowan walked with a mild limp and was slightly shorter than the Colonel.
No sooner had they entered the room than everyone seated at the table got to their feet. Half the room stood at attention, and the rest stood casually, revealing the civilian workers and their military counterparts. A faint nod of the Colonel's head was all they needed to sit down and return to work.
Fitch took out a pair of glasses, slipped them on, and quickly scanned the clipboard he held. “Okay, tell me what went wrong with those two systems,” he demanded. Again requesting the information he had asked for over the intercom when his team had been suited up in the chamber.
After a brief pause, a short-haired Asian man in a lab coat spoke up, a slight quiver in his voice when he spoke. “Sir, I've been reviewing the data from Capsule Ten. Sometime last year an unexpected hardware failure occurred in the primary cooling system. Three seconds after the failure, the backup system engaged. Since then it has been running without a problem. Just to remind everyone, there is also a third tier in this system, an auxiliary cooling system that comes online if the two other systems failed. This auxiliary system has never engaged and appears to be completely functional. It looks like the built-in fault tolerance worked exactly as we had hoped.”
“No, Lieutenant,” Cowan snapped, “that isn't how we had hoped it would work. That primary cooling system was supposed to be able to operate, unsupervised for twenty years. Now you're telling me that it only lasted four years into this five-year test.”
Colonel Fitch nodded in agreement.