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Week #52: Creative Writing Challenge – The Doomsday Vault

December 31, 2021

You wake up and find out that you’re the only living person left on the planet.

It had been ten years battling the virus, and it was easier to talk about how many people were left than how many people had died. The virus was zoonotic, and spread through the air, but scientists hadn’t been able to identify which animal it had jumped from. Its reproductive number was seventeen when it first emerged, on par with measles, but as it swept through big cities and mutated, the reproductive number had jumped to thirty one. Fatalities were one hundred percent. The virus had record breaking mutation rates, making vaccine manufacturing worthless. And even as densely populated areas shrunk, the virus managed to hide out long enough to infect others. They called it The Great Infection. In the fifth year of its sweeping through humanity, it was discovered that the production of oxytocin, a hormone related to social bonding and reproduction, increased viral loads in individuals, and officials recommended a temporary solitary existence.

Atlas wasn’t a virologist or a scientist or a survival specialist. They knew about radios and communications equipment, and didn’t like people. Attitudes toward nonbinary individuals hadn’t changed in the last hundred years and Atlas found those attitudes tiresome. Over the radio, people didn’t ask questions, or look at them funny, or murmur idiotic shit under their breaths. Over the radio, Atlas was just a person.

In year eight of The Great Infection, Atlas had made their way to Norway, mostly traveling by foot. Eight years and attention to the news had afforded Atlas ample opportunity to learn how to survive in a dangerous and abandoned world. They skirted towns, set traps for food, and kept a fire going to scare away wild animals. After two months of walking, Atlas arrived at the Doomsday Vault. The official name was the Svalbard Global Seed Bank, but Atlas thought Doomsday Vault was a more appropriate name considering the circumstances. Atlas knew enough from radio communications, that the Doomsday Vault was abandoned because of politics, but it could be hermetically sealed, had communications equipment, and ample ways to grow food.

Atlas had been living in the Doomsday Vault for two years. They spent their time growing food under artificial light. The smell of soil clung to their hands for the rest of the day, and reminded them of meadows bathed in sunshine and raindrops sliding down their face. Atlas experimented with the communications equipment, able to reach out to the rest of the world within months. It was a smaller world than before. No communications had been heard from Africa, Australia, and many parts of South America for months, while communications from the northern hemisphere were disjointed and sporadic. There were others who found places to shelter like Atlas had, but few of them were alone.

Atlas had wandered the Vault, brushed their fingers against drawers containing air-tight aluminum bags of seeds. There were food crops that Atlas had already pillaged, but there were also towering sequoias and endangered tropical orchids, and Atlas wondered if they were flourishing in the absence of humanity. They hoped something good was coming out of The Great Infection.

The crackle of the communications equipment had become less frequent over the months. Communications from the outside world were like a roll call for the living, with the class list getting shorter and shorter. Scientists urged people into “isolation with communication”, but they fell silent sooner than Atlas anticipated.

Atlas woke up in the silence one morning knowing they were alone. It took most of the morning to check all of the communications channels, to match fact with feeling. Atlas double checked frequencies, consulted the list of known contacts they’d made over the past two years, and crossed off each channel that greeted them with silence. When they’d made the last pencil mark, Atlas rose and headed to the gardens to run their fingers through the dirt, and imagine a flourishing world, a world without humanity.

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