Friday, 24 June 2016

Hibernation

I wrote this story for ASU's Climate Fiction Contest. After the downpours of this month, it becomes less and less fiction.
Picture by me, taken at our local Zoo.


As a child I used to think hibernation was a good thing. I envied the polar bears their months of uninterrupted sleep, until my mother told me only brown bears hibernate. Now there are no polar bears to envy anymore, except the ones living in the Winterland theme parks on the floating islands. I have no reason to envy any of these majestic animals, except maybe the fact that they do not have to hibernate.

My month of life is almost over. Never, as a teenager, did I imagine lifetime would be rationed. There seemed to be an endless stretch of life - you were born, grew old and then, in an abstract future, you died. That’s the problem with future, until you live it, it always seems unreal, abstract, hard to imagine. I guess that is the genuine reason why we never really saw it coming, despite the many warnings and predictions, this world we live in now.
‘Next stop, EuroIsland, end station of this tour. Please make sure to take all your belongings and upload your evaluation to our system before leaving Paradise. We will be disembarking within two hours.’

Some PR agency must have had a lot of fun, creating the names of the floating islands; Paradise, Utopia, Nirvana, Shangri-La and of course Walhalla for the Winterland park.
With hindsight I wonder how we could be so ignorant. We knew we were exhausting the planet of its supplies, we knew we were heating up the climate, but nobody believed it would happen in their lifetime, the disasters. We all shut our eyes to the facts, came with different explanations, invented fairy-tales to shush ourselves to sleep.

‘Noah, we have to hurry! We will be floating over Amsterdam within an hour! Now is not the time to be dreaming again.’
My beautiful wife Olivia grabs me by the arm and pulls me to my feet. At the age of 60 she still looks as good as when I met her years ago, one of the perks of our modern lifestyle. Being awake only a few weeks each year is definitely slowing down the aging process. Another perk? Waking up next to your wife after nine months of sleep makes it so much easier to live together in harmony. Nobody had predicted the divorce rate going down when hibernation became mandatory. People are so bad at overseeing consequences.

‘Noah! You’re doing it again. It almost makes me wonder if you’re still believe in our plan,’ Olivia hisses in my ear. ‘You already seem to be drifting into hibernation.’
‘Sorry, I was just thinking. Remembering life before…’
I see it in her eyes, she too remembers life before the big flood, before the storms and rising of the sea levels. It all happened so fast, whole countries swept of the world map within a few years, many people drowning and even more trying to move away, filling the resisting land with refugees. Soon we didn’t have continents anymore, only islands. Our lovely city of Amsterdam, already built beneath sea level, was one of the first to go. Due to the fact that Olivia and I were both doing research on subjects that seemed to matter, we got asylum in Switzerland. There I could continue my work on human engineering and Olivia her research on nanohacking. Soon overpopulation and hence starvation was becoming such a pressing issue that another world war was predicted. And this time it seemed inevitable.

At that time my childhood fascination with hibernation had grown into a real field of research, started as postponement treatment for incurable diseases. Then it was embraced by world leaders as a solution for overpopulation. Today every human being is granted a yearly month of real life on one of the floating islands, made out of the debris after the floods. After this month, you are induced into a state of low energy consuming hibernation. Your body is asleep and only a small part of your brain is conscious, enough for some essential mental work to be done. All physical labour is belongs to a bygone age, we have sunpowered robots now.

‘Noah, you’re hopeless. We have to move now! We are already floating over Wales, we are getting closer. Remember, we are on a tight schedule.’
‘But what if... what if the children…’
‘No, you’re not going to chicken out last minute, are you? The children can take care of themselves, they will follow. But we have to go first, you know that. We have been practicing for weeks now, it will work! You did an excellent job at it.’
Yes it did work, we have been swimming in the artificial lagoons of Paradise like all the other people, diving and admiring the underwater world. Every day we have been taking our little pills, manufactured by Olivia and myself. We had to be careful. Nobody can know we were not using our oxygen tanks, but adjusting our bodies to breathing under water. I wish we had more time for testing. I hand over a small bottle of pills to Olivia, to hide somewhere in her clothes, like I did this morning.

‘They should work long enough. But darling, I am still a bit worried about the side effects.’
Olivia looks at me, I know she is worried too. She doesn’t seem to have them, those side effects, but I appear to be drifting into the past more and more, my mind wandering.
‘You shouldn’t worry about that. What really worries me, to be honest…’
‘Shush,’ I whisper and kiss her lightly on the lips. ‘Darling, I will miss you when we go into hibernation again!’ I declare loudly, as one of the deck robots rolls by. They have excellent hearing. Then I whisper again, ‘to be honest, you worry that the hacking of our chips won’t work,’ I finish her sentence. ‘I know you do, I don’t, I trust you. You are the best.’
Clinging tightly together I feel a little stab in neck, Olivia just implemented her little nanobots that are going to hack my nanochip, programmed to become active the minute we drift over Amsterdam. I know she injected herself already. The bots will reprogram the chips, trick them into sending of a signal that pretends we come home to our little flat in Davos, Switzerland, exactly at the estimated time.

Tenderly Olivia strokes my hair and looks into my eyes. ‘You are wonderful, I am so happy to dive into this adventure with you.’ I listen to the warm and rich voice of my wife, maybe for the last time. Speaking under water is something I haven’t figured out yet. Outwardly very calm, we walk to the boulevard at the edge of Paradise and look down in the ocean. We are just passing London. I can see us floating over the Big Ben and the London Eye. We are getting closer, I hold Olivia’s hand tight. After all these years of research, planning, testing, our moment is almost there. We are sitting on the embankment, our feet dangling above the water, peering down. We both take our pills at the moment we are floating over the once so famous Dutch dykes. A bit later we silently slip into the water and dive, swimming down with all the force we have. There it is, Amsterdam just as I remember it, sunken under the water. I see our old street coming near as I keep swimming down. There’s our old house. I smile at Olivia as we swim through a gap that used to be a window. We are home!

As a child I used to think hibernation was a good thing. Now that I know what hibernation really is, I never want to go that way again. I’d rather die. I know the kids won’t be coming. Olivia knows too, the pills won’t work that long.