Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Digital Dreams (A Short Story)

We called him Papa, although that wasn't his real name. I heard one of the old ones call him Sam once, but he never goes by that name. He insisted we call him Papa. We loved him.

He was the last of the old ones. They all steadily died until he was the only one to tell us the stories. He would shift laround, staring at us with his bright eyes and tell us tales of how it was before. I always thought he was making them up.

"Did you kids know there was a time, long ago, when we didn't have to travel without these vests." He was referring to the airtight, silicone vests we had to wear in order to shield us. "I used to travel around with my friends and feel the heat sink into my body. Those were the times."

That's how he always ended the stories. He would look out the window of our tower, his eyes growing cozy, and say "those were the times." Adults are funny that way, they always pine for the lost ages where things were simpler, the atmopshere was cleaner and nutrients cost less than a ride on the transit. Except there is no transit anymore, so obviously that made no sense. I suppose in his own way it made sense to Papa though.

Papa was old, maybe even upwards of 130 rotations. But he was amazingly well built. He wasn't one of those people who gradually broke down as they got older. Instead, he seemed to only get stronger with age.

There weren't many of us back then. In our tower, there were maybe fifty of us, and Papa figured we were the last. We frequently looked out across the fields, desperate for some sort of sign of others, but there was none. Most of us were barely in our adolescent rotations, our parents having been killed by bad air, or in the battles before that. I never knew them. Papa was all we had.

It was during one particularly bad day of atmosphere that he let me in on his little secret. Papa was waiting to die, and would have killed himself long ago had we not been arond. The last of the old ones made him promise to stay around and die naturally. He told me chances were that we were probably all just waiting around to die.

I wanted to know everything about him, everything about what happened to change our world. He looked haggard, and insisted it was too much for me. I told him if I was waiting to die in the tower, then nothing was too much for me. He finally told me.

Where we lived was just a tiny part of an entire community that had been eradicated. The enemy, using very powerful weapons, had managed to turn our atmosphere toxic. If we were ever outside, we would either die quickly or mutate into a horrible creature. The only problem was that the enemy had accidentally done it to itself also. Our entire world had been destroyed.

I asked him why the battle had been started, but he said it didn't matter. All that really counted was what it had ended up doing. He used to say "wars are always over petty stupid things, but the lives they take are never." I didn't quite know what he meant since there were no longer any wars. There wouldn't have been anyone to fight them anyways.

At that time, my greatest desire was to find a way to fix our world. I spent hours scanning the only node still running in our building. Hours were spent studying what the bad air was and what it meant for the environment, but I never quite found a way.

It was Papa who found the way. Something about telling me about thebad times changed him. He followed me around endlessly, sharing with me stories of the war. Apparently he'd been one of the soldiers on the frontline against the enemy, but he'd been injured early on and spent most of it in a med center. He regretted not dying in the war.

One day we were searching through old files together when he came across a top secret machine known as a "reset device." Apparently scientists had been working on it just in case of the eventuality that came forth. It was in testing phase when the disaster struck. According to the schematics, it would totally reset our environment and make our world liveable again. The only problem was that we would have to go to the main corridor to activate it. We weren't sure if anybody could make it.

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