This is a continuation of my most recent short story, 2070 (part one can be read here). In the previous instalment, Michael had walked to a purpose-built escape unit with his family to escape an imminent volcanic eruption on their island. He and his beloved elderly dog, Murphy, are now in an escape pod, hurtling through a chute that will take them to a safe destination.
2070 (Part One)
The risk of crashing is negligible: he knows that. One of his teachers told him that the walls of the chute are fitted with a magnetic lining that automatically repels the pod, so it cannot crash into them, even as it twists and turns at a dizzying speed. He knows, logically, that he is not about to die, but the constant turning – the sharp angles, the loops – are making him nauseous. Murphy is now clawing at his chest, her eyes wild.
‘I k-kn-know, M-M-M-uuurph-ph-phy,’ he attempts to say, stroking her head. The vibrations of the pod are distorting his voice. “It-t-t-t’ll b-b-beee oo-oo-kaaayyy…’
Before long, he notices that the chute is starting to widen. The pod’s movements gradually become slower and slower, and the chute wider and wider, until they find themselves floating into a wide orb-shaped chamber, still being suspended and maneouvred into the correct position by the magnetic lining of the walls. They are now moving towards a broad shelf on one side of the chamber, with a small archway set into the adjoining wall. Julianne’s pod is already there. Julianne herself is standing beside it, pulling her bag out and rummaging through it, with a slight frown on face, to make sure that everything is in place. Michael glances backwards and sees another opening beside the one from which he has just emerged. So his grandmother’s chute would have led her here too…
His pod hovers over the shelf for a moment – Julianne spots him and waves, beaming – before landing on it with a gentle thump.
‘We’ve stopped,’ he whispers slowly – hardly daring to believe it – then laughs uproariously. ‘We’ve stopped, Murphy! Everything is okay!’ With a sense of immense relief, he presses a button next to him that will unlock the door. As it begins to rise, he scrambles to remove his seatbelts. ‘Come on, girl … let’s go.’
Murphy is hesitant to leave the pod – Michael can see that she is still somewhat dazed. She plonks her head over his chest, places her front paws on his shoulders and stares reproachfully at him, clearly wondering what calamity is about to befall her next.
‘Oh, Murphy,’ he says gently, and scoops her up into his arms once more. ‘It’s okay. I’ll carry you again.’
‘Ah, Michael,’ his grandmother announces crisply, appearing alongside him and offering a hand to help pull him out. ‘Are you okay? Good boy. Take it slowly, now – don’t rush. Just stand up and step out at your own pace … oh, and here comes Yvette.’
“Murphy plonks her head over his chest, places her front paws on his shoulders and stares reproachfully at him, clearly wondering what calamity is about to befall her next.”
Michael turns around and watches his sister’s pod slowly emerge from the opening that Julianne would have used. He is amused to see that Suzy has pressed herself right up against the window. She is barking madly and wagging her tail. They cannot hear her barks yet – the pod door prevents virtually all noise from entering and escaping the pod – but Michael has witnessed Suzy’s excitable behaviour often enough to know exactly how she must sound right now.
The second Yvette’s pod has landed and the door has opened, Suzy shoots out like a rocket, eager to explore her new surroundings.
Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!
Yvette sits up cautiously, wincing as she does so. She looks dishevelled, weary, and somewhat pale. Julianne bustles over to her.
Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!
‘Alright, Yvette, just give me your hand –’
Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!
‘– I’ll get you out –’
Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!
‘Suzy! Will you shut up?!’
As Yvette slowly disembarks, her little setter continues to bounce around, barking joyfully, despite Julianne’s scolding. Michael feels Murphy tense up in his arms. He senses her annoyance. The two dogs don’t get along particularly well, and he understands why: Murphy is old and tired and no longer has the exuberant, over-the-top energy that Suzy possesses.
‘That is the last time I get into a pod with that dog,’ Yvette says weakly. ‘It really is…’
‘Now where is your father?’ Julianne muses, squinting in the direction of the chutes. ‘Ah! Here he comes.’
Jonathan crawls out of the pod on his hands and knees, looking dizzy. ‘Oh God … I just … I need … I need a minute.’ He collapses to the ground, groaning and struggling for breath.
Julianne sighs and bends down to rub his shoulder. ‘Okay Jon … just breathe.’
As Julianne tends to the others, Michael walks to the archway with some trepidation, still holding on to Murphy. Once he has stepped through it, he gasps: he has found himself in a wide, airy room which has been equipped with a few kitchen appliances, a small seating area and a generous supply of food – and just like the base of his chute, its walls have been inlaid with deep blue tiles, each one boasting a surprisingly detailed picture of a marine animal. He lingers by one tile which shows a manatee gliding through water: its skin has been so realistically painted that he almost expects to feel a soft, leathery texture when he reaches out to touch it.
‘What do you think of this, Murphy?’ he whispers, planting a soft kiss on the dog’s head. ‘Hm?’
Murphy wriggles a little, indicating that she would like to be put down. He lowers her to the ground, which she immediately begins to sniff. She wanders contentedly through the room, her tail beginning to wag as she investigates every inch.
One wall of the room has been entirely taken up by an enormous window. They are within view of the volcano: a terrifying prospect, but Michael knows that they are far beyond its range. The volcano is located on the opposite side of the Island to the escape unit, across the bay, and all of the Islanders’ emergency rooms are positioned high above the Island itself.
Jonathan enters, followed by Yvette and Julianne – Julianne is holding onto Yvette, who still looks somewhat worse for wear.
‘Well!’ Jonathan declares happily. He walks to the seating area and throws himself into an armchair, gazing out the window. ‘Look at this place! We’ll be happy here, until the danger passes.’
“They crowd to the window, where – in the distance, across the bay – they see the volcano begin to erupt.”
‘Indeed,’ Julianne remarks wryly. ‘This is one good thing about our home being melted to the ground and the entire Island being uninhabitable for God knows how long…’
‘Ah, Maman, that’s not what I meant.’
‘I know, I know…’
‘It’s starting,’ Yvette whispers in a hushed tone.
They crowd to the window, where – in the distance, across the bay – they watch the volcano begin to erupt. There is not much to see, for the moment: a few sparks, a few minute trickles, of lava have begun to escape. The vast majority of material that the volcano has emitted so far is smoke and ash. But Michael knows that the lava will eventually accumulate and consume everything in its path as it travels towards the town. Everything.
Tears fill his eyes as he reaches out for Murphy and pulls her close to him.