We had retreated into the bowels of the same Earth whose landscape we had consumed, burnt and destroyed. The surface of the planet was no longer habitable, but we survived buried deep underground in concrete, neon-lit tunnels. These man-made tunnels stretched for miles with cold walls and a heavily guarded route back to the apocalyptic surface.
The same Governments that had taxed the surface’s destruction now protected us in these tunnels by the brutal enforcement of laws, strict and unwavering rules and constant paranoia. Governments would kill their people over scarce resources in the name of their people. Rebel gangs would mutiny and kill the Governments and rival gangs. Races would kill each other, neighbours would murder each other, and feuds would take whole tunnels in as the Government’s guards beat and executed people indiscriminately and then confiscate what little they had.
Violence and death permeated those cold, concrete tunnels deep in the Earth.
We knew the world was ending. We knew that the planet was fast approaching its shelf-life. The scientists had even worked out various estimates for when this would happen. But, in the meantime, we all barely survived the violence and oppression of life in those tunnels. There was little of beauty in our self-imposed prison.
And then came the announcement over the crackling intercom throughout the tunnels: “The world is ending at two-thirty today. This is in half an hour. Have a nice day. Thank you.”
After this announcement, the graffiti-covered tunnel I was standing in went absolutely silent. I stood, my heart beating in my chest. I could hear and feel every breath I was taking and the flickering neon light overhead suddenly seemed unbearable. Everyone was silent. Everyone was absorbing the news; gangster, Governments and common folk alike.
And then the world changed dramatically, for thirty minutes.
Police, soldiers, guards and enforcers put down their weapons. They put away their batons and shields. They took off their helmets. They apologised to the people in front of them, shook hands–some even hugged–and they went back along the winding tunnels to their wives, children, lovers, friends and family. The gangs and rebellions all stopped, enemies spoke and then went on their way while thieves walked passed unguarded unlocked ration stores. Straining lovers fell to the ground, tearing off their clothes in the throws of passionate intimacies, as complete strangers with no one left to love or talk to did the same.
In the moment that the world realised there was no future, all human construction of greed, hate, Governments, rules, laws, legacy, oppression, duty, responsibility and more, disappeared. We were just people. All of us were just people. Every single one of us was just a person spending their last thirty minutes of existence with other people that also had no future. In the end, people just want to be happy.
I began to walk. I stepped over tangled, naked lovers that lay where bloodied, beaten bodies had once fallen. I walked by tattooed gang leaders shaking hands with arch enemies that mere moments ago they were trying to murder. I passed Government facilities wide open, rations and medical supplies scattered everywhere and weapons cast aside. No one–absolutely no one–wants to work for someone else–especially an oppressive Government–in their last thirty minutes alive. I walked passed tears and laughter. I walked passed hugging and kissing, and talking and sharing. I walked passed love and, mostly, I walked passed the peace that we had never had while there had been a future to squabble over.
Almost like a dream that I had had before, I found my way through these tunnels bursting with beautiful scenes. At first, I did not know where I was going. I was stunned by the news and I was just mechanically moving. But then I realised where I was going and I began to pick up the pace.
I cut my way through the tunnelled, neon-lit living quarters. I zigzagged down the eerie, graffitied common areas. I then crossed over into what was previously heavily restricted–on penalty of death–Government tunnels. These tunnels were cleaner with no graffiti on the walls, but there was no one inside them. When all the people leave and go to their loved ones, there is no Government.
I did not need a map. I had come in this way, once. It was a long time ago, but I still knew my way back there. I passed weapon caches lying wide open. They were filled to the brim with death, but no one was interested in them. We would all be dead in about ten minutes or so. I passed a medical bay where all the doctors, nurses and patients had left. We were all terminal in this world now.
And then I entered the most heavily restricted area. Warning signs plastered the walls thicker than the graffiti in the common areas. Barbed wired hung heavy around here. Dust layered the floor and the air was dry and stuffy like a tomb.
No one had come this way for ages. Perhaps even years? Or decades?
I reached the iron cage that was the military lift to the ground. I lifted the cold, rusted gate and stepped inside. Before I pushed the button, I stopped and listened for a moment.
It was silent. Absolutely silent. There were no gunshots or shouting. No sirens or explosions. No warnings or propaganda over the intercom. No violence or hatred anywhere. Perhaps for the very first time in the history of mankind, we were all at peace with each other. There was no future to fight over anymore, so our entire species was now living in the present.
And then I pushed the button.
The military lift ground to life. The screeching of metal and lurching of badly-oiled gears lifted me slowly for miles towards the surface of the planet.
The surface was toxic and mere exposure to it would kill a man in hours. But I did not have hours and that did not matter anymore. I just wanted to see it. I wanted to see natural light. I wanted to see the sky. I wanted to see the Earth for the last time and breath real air in my lungs and feel real wind on my face.
The top of the military lift was a small square, open-air construction that offered me the ability to stand and look around. In a strange half-light–neither day nor night–the rolling, blackened Earth stretched out without character or life. Such was the destruction that we had collectively rained down on this innocent planet, that there was simply nothing left of it but ash and this ending.
Then I saw it. Slowly at first, like a sun rising–or, at least, what I think I remember a sunrise looked like. Except that it was white. The white light began on the far horizon. There was no centre to it. It did not rise in the sky, but grew in intensity and began to engulf the land as it grew brighter and brighter. I stood, breathing the poisoned, beautiful air and smiling. I was–perhaps the only living thing–witnessing the actual end of the world.
And, as the white light grew more and more blinding and then engulfed even me, I felt happy. I felt good. I felt at peace.