The Secret Keepers

We’re in limbo. What remains of the world is still functioning. In a weird, holding-its-breath-and-waiting-to-see-when-the final-piece-of-shit-hits-the-fan kind of way. And we still have some resources, albeit limited. But the planet is fighting back; we’re in the full throes of a last, great war; nature is resetting the balance.

Our exit strategy? There isn’t one. Not since the announcement from the missionaries up on Mars. News of that, and the Secret Keepers, filtered down rapidly and spread terminally not even a month ago.

While we managed to eradicate countless species over the centuries – at first unwittingly, then later, in full consciousness – it only relatively recently dawned on us that we were working towards our own demise the whole time. What the ‘tree hugging fucking hippies’ saw coming decades ago finally infiltrated the mass consciousness. Now we care alright.

And to rub salt in our self-inflicted wounds? Earth will repair itself, go on living, regenerate, even if our abuse leaves scars that forever change its makeup. But us? Humans, we have a problem. Our eviction notice has been served; our long-suffering landlord has finally had enough.

The waiting game is in full swing: we’ve perhaps five years left here, all going well, and the natural disasters haven’t gotten more violent. Entire cities have already been wiped off the map, washed away under raging seas, mudslides and boiling lakes of molten lava; suffocated under layers of plastic and a haze of smog and thick, toxic sludge. The relics of our ‘civilization’ rest in these wastelands, waiting to be excavated, rocks formed of rubbish this time, rather than sand.

Food and water are scarce. Everywhere. The last bumble bee buzzed off going on for two years now, taking with it crops of almonds, raspberries, oil, onions, apples and so much more. Damn, how I miss apples. Food prices skyrocketed and then disappeared, once the food became infrequent enough and you had to start growing your own. Renewable energy, waste reduction, accountability and the like were embraced, but it was halfheartedly; too little, way too late. And the plight of the refugees – once labeled a plague and discussed around the dinner table in the manner of ‘Well, what are the governments going to do about this inconvenience? When will they get them off our doorstep?’ – has become a personal plight affecting us all. We have all become refugees, trying to outrun the climate.

There was one at first. An exit strategy, I mean. Of course there was. When it was obvious our time here on Planet Earth was drawing to a finite close, we didn’t just down tools and abandon hope. That would go against our core nature. No, like now, we battled on. What else could we do?

The last great reality series, ‘The Space Race,’ blasted off. The U.S. versus Russia versus China versus India versus … dog eat dog. Even at the last, we couldn’t shake off the competition and work together. A total of three planets were discovered with Earth’s available technology, which offered potential for us to recolonize. Unfortunately for us (although highly fortunately for the other places it seems) two of the three planetary contenders were crossed off the list pretty quickly.

I forget their names, although it doesn’t really matter now. The resources found were not suitable for our breathing apparatus on the first, while the ‘life’ discovered on the second ended up not being the kind that was compatible with ours. The missionaries sent to that one never returned and what was broadcast back, according to rumor (the general population was not privy to that particular conversation) was horrific enough to deter further missions there.

But there was Mars. A last shining, red beacon of desperate hope. The Rovers had been successful, sending back enough positive data to merit shooting real people up there. And while an initial flurry of countries landing at similar times had kicked off a series of mini wars, like dogs pissing around the same tree, the dust settled and the U.S., India and, funnily enough, Finland, managed to set up space stations. Other countries either never made it, their technology failing at critical moments, or the problems on their doorsteps were too insurmountable to focus on getting out.

Back here, the first trial colony was prepped for shipment. The crème de la crème of the affluent and famous. Not so many useful specimens, per se, but money was still king then, believe it or not, even in the face of consumer starvation. No, we still didn’t get it, even at that point.

The first reports from the Mars missionaries (Government-censored versions, naturally) were encouraging. We cheered when, gathered around the radio, we heard the news that running water had been found and it appeared the top soil could be made fertile enough. The next tests, they said, would go deeper, to examine the soil quality 50 feet down, and further. Initial indicators were pointing to promising results, they said.

Earth’s citizens waited with baited breath until they made contact again, finally, two weeks ago. It was the first time we’d heard from them in about three months – much longer than any of us had anticipated. Said they had some important news to relay, had made a number of discoveries that would affect us all. We were surprised their transmission got past the censorship, although we later heard the missionaries had agreed to bypass their superiors and speak directly to us. We all needed to hear the truth, they said.

Reception was bad and we had to strain to hear the words being communicated. We kept looking at each other, hoping we’d misheard, that the news wasn’t so dire. But it was. Even over the crackling, the meaning was not lost. The diggers had dug, they said, and what they had discovered meant curtains for all of us. Finito. Significant amounts of radiation had been found at depths of around 75 meters. Nothing of any benefit for us humans could be grown. Maybe the situation would change, but not in time for the next generations. And, despite thinking it would be viable to re-thicken the atmosphere artificially within the next three to five years, similar to how it had been at some point in its past, when it was like Earth’s, this was also unfeasible. Turns out it could take decades, or centuries, if it was at all possible. That meant not enough oxygen or water, or protection from the vicious solar storms.

And what caused this uninhabitable atmosphere? Why had it changed so dramatically over the course of its history? If we thought the first crumbs of information fed to us by the missionaries choked us, what came next was a tsunami; the real knockout. Divine retribution, some called it, others, fate. However you view it, we have all been left reeling, spending our last remaining hours, weeks, months, maybe years, examining who we are and why we couldn’t be different. It was like some kind of terrible cosmic joke; a final punishment for squandering our abilities, our consciousness.

While digging, life had been found on Mars. Human life. Or the remnants of what had been human life. It took a while to fully understand what the missionaries were saying, but we eventually got the gist. They had found irrefutable evidence that we had once occupied the red planet, way back when. And apparently we fucked that up spectacularly too. Earth had been our exit strategy, when we finally reached the point of no return.

How did they know? Material had been found in some sort of time capsule, from a meeting held shortly before the race went up in a puff of smoke. We all got to hear it. More a dystopian fairytale than history lesson, although in effect, that’s what it was.

A large group, known as the Secret Keepers, could be heard discussing the problem: The atmosphere was thinning; radiation was mushrooming; industry was choking the atmosphere and its inhabitants; the fish had died off as the seas had become poisoned and eventually dried up. The planet was fighting back and the humans needed an out. Explorations had yielded promising results; Earth was eventually identified as the ideal planet to colonize. It contained all the elements needed for survival and, while there were other species, observation had shown that they could live alongside them, albeit cautiously. Moreover, on one mission – their technological prowess had evolved significantly beyond ours today, it appears, although not enough to reverse their damage – they captured one of the life forms (what we later came to call Neanderthals) and concluded that humans’s genetic makeup was comparable.

The Secret Keepers kept their discoveries to themselves. So shameful was the race’s collective history – sound familiar?! – that they agreed to not inflict the remaining humans (Martians?) on Earth. Instead, they arranged to head down their chosen escape route together, without alerting the others, at the time when their continued existence became impossible.

There were perhaps 150 of them, all in. Their ages ranged wildly, some had babies or young children, some were scientists, others simply ‘normal’ citizens looking to do the right thing. All of them agreed to keep the secret, though. The secret that they would go to Earth, spread out across what we now call Europe and Asia, and integrate with the existing life there. They agreed to abandon their technology and all ways of life they knew. They agreed to adapt their communication systems. They agreed to avoid contact with one another, as much as was possible, although families would stay together. They agreed to sacrifice themselves for the good of the human race. They agreed to start again, wipe the slate clean, rub out the mistakes of the past. They agreed to all of this, and they agreed to take their secrets to the grave. So that the new generations would never know their wretched history or how they had cataclysmically, and oh so consciously, messed up. So that humans may have a fresh chance to evolve and develop.

It did not occur to a single one of them that history would repeat itself.

The Secret Keepers, it seems, succeeded in keeping their sordid secret. It never made it into any of our earthly history books anyhow. And now, here we are, the remaining earthlings, around two million of us at last count, sitting in limbo, going about our daily lives in an astonishingly calm manner. Here, where I am, at least. Our time will come though. Of that we are certain. And in the meantime, we are left to ponder what could have been.

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