When the World Ends...
When the World Ends... is the debut novel from exciting new author, J. J Marshall. Set 100 years in the future, the 21st century earth as we know it now is slowly being burned up by the sun and the story follows 17 year old Alec Corbett’s struggle to prosper in the new harsh environment of space. Not only that, but there are more sinister forces at work beneath the surface, who pose a threat to all of humanity. And somehow Alec gets right in the middle of trying to stop it!
Being drawn into this futuristic world is quite an experience. The twisty-turny plot will keep you captivated from beginning to end and Marshall will completely absorb you into this make believe world that he has created. Through detailed description, he leaves no stone unturned and it is a credit to the depth of his imagination that translates every aspect of this new version of earth on to the page.
The main protagonist, Alec is likeable and well explored. His character sees the biggest progression as the novel continues and he has been given a sufficient amount of emotional depth to allow the reader to care about what happens to him. His dialogues with other characters are well thought out and help to continuously move the plot forward in a gripping way. The introduction of a main character reasonably late in the novel was an unexpected and exciting occurrence and I look forward to seeing her develop further in the remaining two books of the trilogy.
This book is a well written, gripping, plot-driven adventure and Marshall’s easily readable style makes it effortless to read. Within its pages there is something for everyone – from action to romance and everything in between. The author skilfully keeps you enthralled with shock revelations and a fast pace that makes it addictively entertaining. I am definitely looking forward to see how the story continues so make sure you don’t miss out on this thrilling new summer read.
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Read the first two chapters for free here!
Chapter One | 2105 A.D.
Against the window he was nothing but a shadow; a silhouette of a man.
The darkened room behind him gave no reflection in the metre-thick glass before his eyes as he stared clearly out across the void of space at the slowly rotating Earth. It was early morning in England; the sun’s light moved slowly across the surface of the planet as it spun silently.
In a parallel room, the man’s son looked out across the same view. He moved his hands and by the light of the Earth he glimpsed the creased and crumpled photograph between his fingers. The same sunlight was captured there: crawling up the front of a redbrick house with a pretty white lattice framing the front door, decorated with crawling green leaves and blooming blossom buds. On the garden path besides a young, flowering magnolia tree stood a trio of people. His mother: A young woman with sprawling brown hair and a smile so broad it illuminated her face; bringing a sparkle into her vibrant green eyes. His father: a younger version with a tousled mop of blonde hair and lanky limbs that reached down to the young boy who stood between them – his four-year-old-self. He clung to either parent and was poised mid-swing towards the camera with his legs scrunched up beneath him.
It had been taken in the morning. It had been the only time when they could walk outside. As soon as the sun had peaked above the roofs of the houses it was already too late to avoid the UV. Together with his parents he would always watch the sunrise every morning and cherish the changing hues of the sky as another new day dawned.
Even when he had been moved to the Sphere with his father; eleven years ago now when he was fifteen, they had continued to watch the sunrise. They had made sure to be up especially early for as soon as it had risen the Sphere would darken; adopting a tint that protected them from UV rays and cast a dreary darkness over everything beneath it.
Almost reluctantly Alec Corbett forced himself to leave the darkness of his own bedroom and move to that of his father’s. He stood for a moment in the doorway, watching his father’s profile against the Earth. For Landon Corbett, watching the sunrise was no longer an age-long family tradition; Alec knew that the sight of the Earth from space gave his father an almost overwhelming sense of power. He could see it in the way his Father’s eyes glowed malevolently – possibly the only man to draw happiness and success from humanity’s greatest disaster.
‘Morning’ Alec bade him in no more than a whisper and the two of them watched the Earth in silence until England was completely encompassed by sunlight.
‘How did you sleep?’ Landon asked casually. There was no real curiosity in his voice. ‘Lights’ he added, calling out to the room. The lights on the ceiling faded on, imitating the gentle appearance of the morning sun.
‘Good day. Morning sequence commencing in twenty minutes’ the soft, female voice of the apartment’s central operating system (ACOS) reported.
‘Fine’ said Alec, responding with the same level of enthusiasm. He remained by the window, watching as the Big Black Blot appeared on the surface of the Earth. It was a huge dark, blackened blemish in the centre of Europe. He recalled watching it happen from the ISS: CERN’s Large Hadron Collider malfunctioning and the dramatic unison of matter and antimatter, resulting in the biggest explosion ever witnessed by man.
The clouds in the sky above Switzerland had parted as if divided by the hands of God Himself while the country was immersed by intense bright white light – brighter than the sun – that had not only completely vaporised all matter in the blast’s radius but also ignited huge fires in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Austria; charring the landscape. The fires raged uncontrollably for weeks until rains eventually caused them to end, leaving just a scar on the Earth’s surface where Switzerland had once been.
The sight sickened Alec. He felt immense guilt; guilt that his father allowed to roll off of his own shoulders as carefree as if he had destroyed an anthill. For it was his fault, Alec knew. His father had designed the antimatter cells that powered the spacecraft as well as the ISS and MoonBase1 – if it hadn’t been for Landon Corbett increasing demand for the Board of Officials then CERN would not have been producing such large quantities of unstable antimatter and it never would have exploded.
The Board of Officials essentially controlled humanity, and Landon Corbett was one of them; responsible for allocating flight times and dictating how many people would be taken from Earth to the ISS and then on to MoonBase1 and at what price. He sat amongst the elite; those in charge of all operations aboard the ISS and was one of the highest ranking officials. This, along with the antimatter, only added to his unpopularity.
‘I woke lying on the floor’ Landon smiled amused by what he was saying. He poured a glass of water for himself and left Alec to get his own. The kitchen was a small space with a stainless steel counter in the middle of the floor which served as their dining table. Along the wall was another stainless steel counter with a sink, fridge, microwave, dishwasher and washing machine (although they were only allowed to be used on one day per week due to water restrictions). It would be cramped if there were more people, but Landon and Alec were the only two that occupied their apartment. ‘I think the gravity must have failed during the night’.
‘It did’ Alec responded in an automated fashion. He took a sachet from one of the cupboards and tipped the milk powder into his glass of water. ‘I was awake when it happened, though it only lasted for a few seconds’.
‘That solar flare must have dealt us a glancing blow’.
Alec nodded. ‘The electrics also glitched’.
In quiet Landon went about preparing breakfast; taking sachets from the cupboard, adding them to water and activating them in the microwave. This morning they were having porridge though it was a little runnier than normal.
‘You’d have thought after five years I’d be used to space food’ Landon said as he blew on a spoonful of porridge to cool it down. ‘But the truth is I miss the real thing too much’.
‘The food was scarcer on Earth’ Alec replied. ‘When we left the London Sphere they were starting to have trouble with crop production in the fields’.
‘Morning sequence commencing in two minutes’ ACOS informed them.
Landon quickly finished eating his porridge, wiped his mouth and stood up from his stool. ‘I’ll take the first shower; I have to get to work’. With that he left Alec alone at the dining table, with the spoon paused halfway to his mouth. He watched his father go and heard the shower start a few moments later. With a sigh that resonated through the empty kitchen he continued slowly eating.
Within ten minutes Landon was showered and dressed, ready to leave. He wore fitted navy blue jeans, tailored to his size, with a crisply ironed white shirt tucked neatly into the waistline. On his feet were heavy duty boots, designed to magentise and stick to the floor should the ISS experience glitches in the artificial gravity; a regular occurrence.
‘I’ll be home by seven o’clock’ Landon told Alec as he strapped his wristwatch onto his forearm. It was an elegant timepiece with a skeletal face on a pristine black leather strap. “Authentic leather” Landon was keen to point out to anyone that noticed.
‘Take this’ Landon said, passing Alec a roll of Euro notes. The Euro had been adopted as the common currency on the ISS whilst the Dollar was used on MoonBase1. ‘Pay the accommodation fee – wouldn’t want them sending us back to Earth!’ Landon chuckled ironically; as if that could happen. Alec pocketed the notes without a hint of emotion betraying his true feeling. For one he did not want to argue with his father and secondly he knew that his father would call him weak-minded.
‘There is no place for conscience now’ his father had once told him near the end of one of their heated rows. ‘Your conscience will only cause you to fall – a weak mind cannot survive here: we must harden our hearts if we are to get by’.
Alec couldn’t – and never would – suppress his sensitivity to the world in which he lived when the suffering was so apparent. He need only walk down two levels to find the poorest living in conditions that Landon had only ever had nightmares about. Yet the true horror lay right beneath their feet.
With no more to be said Landon turned from his Son and went to work.
‘Second morning sequence commencing in two minutes’ ACOS announced, making Alec jump and spill a spoonful of porridge onto the stainless steel table.
‘Yeah yeah’ Alec mumbled beneath his breath, dropping the half-full porridge bowl into the sink. He knew it should go in the dishwasher but leaving it in the sink all day was a sure-fine way of irritating his father.
He just about undressed – peeling off the cotton pajama trousers and unbuttoning the blue and white striped shirt – in time for the start of the shower, which began automatically.
The shower lasted for exactly five minutes before the water was deactivated and warm air blew from vents in the wall. Alec stood perfectly still with the water dripping from his body, thinking about the wad of money that his father had given him. Aboard the ISS life was extremely limited, especially for a seventeen year old. He had no job, school hadn’t worked out and so he now had a tutor during the week, though today was officially Saturday (as it was on Earth). Having not attended school in five years, along with his Father creating a great dislike for the surname ‘Corbett’, Alec struggled to combat the boredom that infringed on his every day routine. He frequently downloaded from the online library and could often read up to four books per week. Rarely did he venture beyond the level on which he lived with his father.
The upper level – Level 4 – was administrative and restricted access only. Levels 3, 2 and 1 were the living space of the human population who awaited transit to MoonBase1 although the poverty worsened as you went down. Alec lived on Level 3. Level 0 was the shuttle port, to and from which SpaceShuttles and SpaceCraft travelled and docked. If Alec so wished he was able to go and watch the Craft but in recent months there had been fewer and fewer vessels departing for MoonBase1 and even less travelling to Earth.
The truth of the matter was – and Alec only knew this because of his Father – that the stock of antimatter power cells was now depleting. They had a lifespan of up to seven years before requiring servicing or decommissioning though none had even been recomissioned after one lifetime. After seven years they were too unstable to be re-used.
After the CERN disaster four years ago, everyone was increasingly timid about producing antimatter. It was a dangerously complex process and even afterwards, storing the cells was difficult. The antimatter needed to be suspended within a vacuum by an electromagnetic field. The failure of stored antimatter that had caused the destruction of MoonBase2 occurred because of power failure, disrupting the electromagnetic field and allowing the antimatter to come into contact with matter, resulting in the catastrophic explosion.
Despite the vast number of negatives they were extremely efficient – it had been his Father who’d learnt how to harness the power produced by the antimatter-matter reaction and it was now used as a source of energy for almost everything.
But it was running out. Production on Earth had stopped – there was no one left to oversee its manufacturing – while it only occurred remotely and on a small scale on the Moon. He had once overheard his Father late one night on the phone, discussing how much longer the current stock of antimatter would last for. The call had ended with an agreed figure of ten-to-fourteen years.
The hot air in the wash chamber switched off just as his body was dry.
‘Morning sequence complete’ ACOS reported, as if Alec hadn’t realised. He walked swiftly to his bedroom where he dressed in plain, black cotton trousers, a white t-shirt and a black jacket. He assessed his hair in the mirror as he pulled on a pair of boots; it was a natural blend of blonde and brown that looked straw-like and tussled in the wake of being blow dried. Alec finished lacing up his boots, preferring not to make use of the magnetizing footwear that was favoured by those that could afford it.
Pocketing his father’s money Alec also made sure that he had the keycard for the apartment before leaving. Outside, the sterile peace of the apartment was immediately shattered by the bustle of people moving hurriedly past. He was immediately swept into a stream of people, moving in the opposite direction to those on the other side of the corridor. It was only three metres wide – passage space on Level3 had been restricted to allow for larger habitations – which meant that there were vast amounts of jostling involved to get to and fro. Large, insulated pipes stretched along the ceiling and any tall person over five foot eleven or so would have trouble walking upright. The walls, which were painted pristine white with heavy scuff marks along the bottom, were dotted with doorways to other habitations. Both the doors and the walls were heavily insulated against noise to provide a quiet environment inside each habitation.
Alec remained with the flow of people until he reached the place where he wanted to be. Stepping out of the stream of human traffic, Alec entered a narrower one-way passage which led into a room. The entire wall on the far side was thick glass showing a view of the Earth below. A queue of people wound its way around the room mechanically in a snake-like fashion, all waiting to be served by one of three people behind a glass screen counter. Everyone was waiting to pay their fortnightly accommodation fee. It was going to take hours.
He contemplated the money in his pocket; he could feel its bulk bulging in his pocket against his thigh. Deciding against the queue, Alec headed out of the room through another one-way passage that would take him back to the main corridor which spanned the entire length of the ISS. The way took him past a flight of stairs, which he descended until he reached Level1.
It was only recently that he found himself coming down here to where the poorest lived. It was only so because the accommodation was the cheapest available; rooms as big as Alec’s bedroom, kitted for up to five people alongside washing, cooking and sanitation facilities. The very thought of so much crammed into very little space made Alec cringe, though he had never seen one of the rooms.
The first time that he had come to Level1 was when he had followed his tutor. She was a strange woman, quite young – no older than her mid-twenties – with a very bland way of dressing that didn’t match either her personality nor her status as a teacher of English, Math, Science and Earth history. Such a well-educated person ought to be on Level3 in Alec’s mind and it was only his curiosity regarding the clash of her appearance and actual self that led Alec to Level1.
From what he had observed it appeared that his tutor – Lorna Shepherd – lived with at least three other people; two male and one female, who appeared to be the same age as her. Alec had been unable to distinguish if they were her friends or some form of relative and he daren’t let on that he followed her home by asking her directly.
The scale of the rooms on Level1 meant that the corridor was slightly larger, allowing for people to stand around and talk to one another in clusters and groups dotted here and there. On Level1 there was nothing like the hustle that drove people on the upper levels and there was a serene ambience which Alec found himself enjoying. He liked watching the people go about their lives unrushed as he had seen back on Earth in the Sphere. It seemed more civilised and sociable compared to those that went about their business like drones on Level3 who barely noticed or regarded each other.
Without warning Alec’s trance was broken as a shoulder viciously barged him, sending him staggering to the middle of the corridor.
‘Hey’ he called out at the bulk of a man who wandered in the opposite direction. He stopped and looked back at Alec. He was black; only a few years older than Alec but built like a machine with biceps that tested the fabric of his clothing to the limit and a barreled chest that a gorilla would have been proud to pound on.
The man’s eyes scanned Alec over, taking in his drab appearance as well as the details of his face. The man’s eyes glinted with recognition.
‘Trying to blend in, are you?’ the man approached him now, stepping closer whilst holding Alec’s gaze the entire time. ‘You think because you wear plain clothes and bunk the clunky magnet shoes that no one will notice you’ he stopped no more than a metre away from Alec and spat his name: ‘Corbett’.
A silence fell over the muttering groups in the hallway as all turned to watch the drama that unfurled. Alec held the man’s gaze despite every instinct telling him to look down at the ground and get out.
‘I don’t choose to be where I am’ Alec replied, an inner voice overriding all self-conscious notions at work in his mind. ‘The same way that you didn’t have much choice in being here’.
Despite trying to portray them as equals, the man’s expression showed that his words were not well received. His eyes widened so that the whites were largely visible while a bemused smile stretched across his lips.
‘You think because we’re poorer than you we get no choice?’ he asked, twisting Alec’s words into something more spiteful. Those watching around him were tensed and agitated at the nerve of the Corbett boy who had dared to wander into their midst.
‘Leave him alone, Trey’ a single, weary American voice called out clearly from somewhere in the hallway. ‘He may be that son-of-a-bitch’s son but he’s not done wrong by us yet’.
The crowd that had encompassed them parted at one side to allow someone to walk through. He was a sturdy man as big as Trey only through fat rather than muscle, with brown hair that was going grey and a round gentle face that oozed friendliness.
‘He does wrong just by coming down here’ Trey snarled aggressively, sparing the equally large man a glance before returning his gaze to Alec.
‘If you’re starting on him I’m going to have to think you’re starting on me’ the man went on, his voice resonating with his Louisianan accent. He placed himself firmly between Alec and Trey.
‘You want to defend this kid, Jay?’ Trey asked challengingly. ‘Go ahead and see how far it gets you. Maybe you’ll get to wipe Corbett Senior’s arse after he’s finished crapping on our planet’. With his last words spoken Trey turned his back to Alec and the man called Jay to continue his way along the hallway. With the excitement over at his departure the crowd quickly dispersed leaving Alec to stand alone with Jay.
‘Thank you’ Alec said, genuinely grateful. He feared to think how the encounter with Trey could have gone had Jay not intervened.
‘Jay Jones’ responded the man, offering Alec his hand.
Alec accepted and laughed humourlessly. ‘I don’t suppose you need to know my name’.
‘Alec Corbett’ Jay smiled, still warmly shaking Alec’s hand. ‘I’m sorry for calling your father a son of a bitch back there, it was disrespectful’.
‘I’m not offended’ Alec shook his head fervently to reiterate the point. ‘The only difference between me and you is that you can get away with it’.
Jay chuckled heartily and patted Alec heavily on the back, sending him walking forward in the direction that he wanted. Together they began strolling along the corridor in the opposite direction to Trey; whether or not this was to avoid another encounter, Alec wasn’t sure.
‘Why did you stop Trey back there?’ Alec wondered, never having met Jay before on his trips to Level1. There were very few people he encountered and fewer still who he spoke to. Although there had been one person, just once. A boy the same age as Alec. They’d spoken a few times but when Alec had returned to Level1 after a long period of absence, Alec had been unable to find him again. ‘You could have just let it happen, I probably deserve it’.
‘How did you come to that decision?’ Jay asked, appearing genuinely concerned by the irrational conclusion that Alec had drawn. A frown was etched across his brow and his soft blue eyes were narrowed and troubled. ‘Like you said yourself, you didn’t choose to be where you are’.
Alec shrugged. ‘I suppose…no, it’s nothing’.
‘Your father doesn’t care so you feel like you should take the blame for him?’ Jay guessed. Alec nodded fractionally and much to his surprise, Jay laughed. ‘You’re just a kid – you can’t take the weight of the world’s woes on your shoulders’ he clenched his hand around the tops of Alec’s arms to demonstrate how small his arms would be compared to a fully-grown man’s. ‘You’ll break your back just trying’.
‘Someone has to’ Alec shrugged again; both to be dismissive and shake lose Jay’s hands.
‘Ever heard of karma?’ Jay asked.
Alec shook his head.
‘A long time ago people believed that what goes around comes around’ Jay explained. ‘That’s karma. And, as they said then, karma is a bitch’.
They stopped outside of a door and Jay inserted his keycard into the slot to open in.
‘I would invite you in’ Jay said, using his bulk frame to block Alec from seeing inside. A pungent smell wafted out of the room and Alec was surprised that the air conditioning system hadn’t removed it. Then he realised that they might not have such a facility. ‘But frankly it’s a little embarrassing’ he smiled and tilted his shoulders as if to say -what can you do?
Alec glanced past him through the crack in the door and found a set of eyes staring back at him. Somehow, they were familiar; he felt it instantly. So too did the eye’s owners. The chocolate-brown eyes behind the door widened in surprise before vanishing. A second later the door was wide open and a boy, roughly the same age as Alec, stood staring at Alec with his mouth agape.
‘It’s you!’ he exclaimed.
Chapter Two | The Dead Man at the Table
Landon huffed noisily as another person travelling in the opposite direction struck his shoulder, causing him to stagger backward and the people behind to moan loudly. He pressed on with increasing vigour until he reached the elevator. It could only be accessed by specific personnel and would ascend to Level4. The elevator brought silence and calm, allowing Landon to breathe and relax a little for the first time since leaving the apartment.
In the reflection of the lift’s interior he readjusted his shirt so that it was once again neatly tucked into his jeans and then flicked a few strands of hair about until it was styled just right. He hadn’t shaved for a few days and his stubble was looking a bit awry. He wiped his hands down the sides of his face to try and get the short hairs to follow the same direction. Once satisfied he then took a step back and, pleased with his appearance, waited for the elevator to arrive.
The doors were slow to open as always. They let him out into a quiet room that was little bigger than his bedroom on Level3. Two security personnel stood guarding a glass door which slid sideways once Landon had put his keycard into the identification slot. Once accepted, the small passageway beyond stretched the entire length of the space station. It was made up of compartments that were stacked end-to-end and they could be sealed off to prevent damage spreading should something happen. For the most part the compartments were left open and it was almost possible to see end-to-end. Lights were placed at intervals at floor-level to illuminate the way, casting their beams upward onto the parallel white walls to fully enlighten the corridor. It was adorned with an extravagant glass ceiling that looked up at nothing but the darkness of space and the billions of stars that winked and glimmered brightly.
Despite the amazing view and the surreal sensation of drifting in space that the glass ceiling enticed, it was Landon’s least favourite part of his journey to work. The rooms in which he worked were at the end of the ship farthest from the elevator that he used. He could have walked along the corridor on Level3 and taken a lift up to those very rooms but it would have taken much longer due to the volume of people below. At least this passageway was almost empty. The only people that Landon ever saw were those that came out of one room only to enter another as they went about their daily business.
‘Morning!’ Landon chimed fifteen minutes later as he strode boldly into his office, which was empty. The only thing there to greet him was the Office Central Operating System which didn’t even respond. ‘Damn solar flare’ Landon cursed, walking to the control panel and resetting OCOS’s system.
He went from his office into the adjoining main room that served as the Joint Centre for Space Flight Operations and Population Relocation; the department of which Landon was in charge. It was run by twenty-or-so employees, all working on different aspects of the job that contributed to the efficient running of the Space Flight Programme and the transportation of humans between Earth, the ISS and MoonBase1.
‘What’ve we got this morning?’ Landon asked as he strode into the busy room. People seemed to be constantly moving about and there was perpetual chatter like background noise as workers communicated with the Spheres on Earth.
‘We’ve got five Sphere requests for a population shift’ a man nearest to where Landon was standing announced. ‘They’re complaining that the system is growing stale, there hasn’t been movement for three weeks now’.
‘Decline their requests’.
‘Decline them’ Landon insisted. ‘Space is limited; the ISS is at full capacity and MoonBase1 is still working to accommodate more people’.
‘We can just have them transferred directly to MoonBase1’ the man replied, clearly appearing to do his best in the presence of the person who was still on the communication line to Earth.
‘The journey is too long and the conditions on the space craft are too cramped, you’re talking about having at least one hundred people die in transit’ Landon explained before his tone shifted to a more authoritative, conflictive pitch. ‘There is a reason as to why we use the ISS as a half-way stage; you’d do better by your job to remember that’.
‘Sir’ a woman came rushing over to his side having sensed that his conversation with the other man was over. ‘You have a meeting with the Board of Officials at nine o’clock’.
Landon glanced down at his wristwatch which showed it was eight forty five. ‘Prepare my office for the video conference’ he told her, adjusting the tightness of his watchstrap so that Aleka, his personal assistant, might notice.
‘Yes sir’ Aleka said, heading off towards his office without even so much as glancing at his watch.
‘SpaceSite UK have reported that they have a stock of fifty antimatter power cells’ a different person called out from across the room where they were sat at a desk. Irritated at having to move, Landon made his way across the office to the man who had spoken.
‘Tell them to have the stocks sent up’ Landon commanded. He was about to walk away when the man spoke again.
‘They have no Craft, sir’ he said. ‘All space transportation vessels are either here in the ISS Docking Bay or at MoonBase1’.
‘Send a Craft to pick up the stock then’ Landon replied impatiently.
‘SpaceSite UK employees will want to come too’ the man explained. ‘If we take the remaining stock then there will be no point in them remaining on Earth’.
‘Have them transferred to a Sphere’ Landon ordered.
‘But Sir, they’ve served their duty. They deserve to be retrieved from Earth’.
‘They deserve to wait in the Spheres like everyone else’ Landon told him sternly growing increasingly frustrated with the young man. ‘Send a Craft to pick up the remaining supplies’.
Before the man could protest further and anyone else could pester him, Landon quickly returned to his office and sat down behind his desk. Aleka had propped up his Tablet so that the touch screen faced him vertically. He spent a few minutes browsing the news from both MoonBase1 and the ISS before launching the visual network that would enable him to speak with the Boards of Officials.
As soon as the clock reached nine the screen was divided into two. The bottom half was filled with his own image while the top half took a few moments to appear. When it did, Landon was met by the sight of five men seated along a table. Each appeared relatively relaxed and had a name plaque in front of them, even though Landon knew who each person was.
‘Good morning, Mr Corbett’ the man at the centre of the table bade him. His name was Cadmar Davies and he was the President of MoonBase1. Seated to his right was the Premier of the ISS; Guy Lloyd, who was on an official visit to the facility on the Moon. The man next to Guy was his P.A, a young nerdy-looking man by the name of Leo Burn. The man on Cadmar’s left, Takeshi Sato, was responsible for overseeing the development of external-Earth facilities such as MoonBase1, the ISS and the collated space hotels. The last man at the end of the table was a stand in representative for those living on Earth; a thorn in the side of the Board’s member’s who went by the name of Langley Reid.
‘Morning, gentlemen’ Landon replied, leaning back in his chair in an attempt to appear comfortable in their company. The truth was that the combined power of the men on the screen in front of him was overwhelming. Whilst they had all, with the exception of Leo, been born into lives that would ultimately lead to positions of power, Landon was first and foremost a physicist who had climbed into his current position on the Board.
‘We hear you’ve just declined another five requests for the transportation of Earth-Dwellers?’ President Davies began by saying. Despite having never been to his homeland of Ireland, he had a vague Irish accent. He ran a calm hand through his receding grey hair and leaned forward over the table so as to be closer to the camera. ‘I’m trusting you’ve good reason for such a decision?’
Sly devil, Landon thought. For the time that he had spent in his position, Landon had drawn inspiration from President Davies in the way that he acted and composed himself. Under the false demeanor that he was now displaying, Landon knew him to be cold and heartless. The façade was for the public to see, a ‘caring face’ that looked after them in these uncertain conditions.
‘You know as well as I do that the ISS is operating at full capacity’ Landon answered. ‘As I’m sure Premier Lloyd must have told you’.
Guy Lloyd nodded quietly.
‘I have also heard nothing yet of your intentions to broaden MB1’s provision of more living space?’ Landon posed challengingly. He was testing President Davies; inflecting the suggestive tone that he had used to imply that he was merely above all that happened rather than being the one who ultimately pulled all of the strings.
‘We’re still working on those plans’ Cadmar replied. ‘From what I’ve seen there are now new blueprints for further extensions of MoonBase1’.
‘This news will satisfy those on Earth’ Landon responded.
‘They’re growing impatient’ Langley interrupted. ‘In the past year we’ve seen the collapse and breakdown of a number of societies within the Spheres. They’re running out of food; their infrastructure and Governments are crumbling and all the while they’re wondering why we’re doing nothing to help them’.
‘They need to understand that resources on the Moon are becoming scarce’ President Davies said. ‘We no longer have the means at our disposal to continue extending MoonBase1 or other external-Earth facilities’.
‘Not to mention the fact we now look to Mars as our ultimate destination’ Takeshi reminded them. ‘The terraforming process is coming along better than expected; the atmosphere is seeded with stable elements and thickening every year. In fifteen-to-twenty years it should be stable enough to support the development of life’.
‘As such we need to start saving our fuel resources’ said Landon. ‘Our stocks will only last for another ten-to-fifteen years unless we recommence production – something which we are all against. Therefore it is vital that we begin to conserve our supplies now in preparation for transporting the 1.3million people who live in external-Earth facilities to Mars’.
‘Are you suggesting we stop retrieving people from Earth?’ Langley asked unable to keep the shock from his face. His jaw slackened and his eyes widened in disbelief. A silence descended over the Board; no one wanted to either confirm or deny Langley’s question.
‘Yes’ Landon mustered eventually. ‘We’re running out of space. We’re running out of resources to create space. We’re running out of fuel to transport people. We need use what we have now to secure a future on Mars’.
The silence continued and Langley continued to appear stunned.
‘I’m afraid I must agree’ President Davies spoke at last. ‘If we wish to continue our existence we must abandon the past and look to the future of our species’.
‘Abandon Earth and look to Mars’ Langley rephrased bitterly.
‘I’m afraid so’.
‘On Earth they’ll never stand for this’ Langley went on, already imagining the reaction of Earth-Dwellers when he returned with the news of their abandonment.
‘I understand’ President Davies replied, doing his best to look upset. ‘And for this reason, I am very sorry’. He took out a gun and swiftly executed Langley, delivering a shot to the head that blasted blood and brain matter onto the wall behind him. His body slumped forward and his head whacked loudly against the surface of the stainless steel table. ‘If this is the way we are to go forward then we must use discretion. We need to let those on Earth believe we are still working towards extracting them’.
‘We have no space for them’ Premier Lloyd spoke whilst glancing sideways, a little disturbed by the dead man at the end of the table.
‘We must make it look like we do’ Landon said quietly, speaking the thoughts as they came to his mind.
‘Go on’ President Davies said obligingly, whimsically waving his hand in an encouraging gesture.
‘We arrange for a shipment of 2000 people from the ISS to MoonBase1 and inform people on Level1 of their immediate transfer’ Landon formulated.
‘We have no space in MoonBase1 for an additional 2000 people’ Premier Lloyd reiterated.
‘The ship will never arrive’ Landon responded darkly.
‘Are you suggesting-’ the President began.
‘We destroy the ship in transit’ Landon continued. ‘By keeping this on a need-to-know basis we ensure that the only people who know about this transfer are those that are being transported and us. 2000 places will become available on the ISS, enabling us to satisfy those on Earth temporarily’.
‘You’re talking about killing 2000 people’ Premier Lloyd said. He masked the discontent in his voice for fear of being persecuted by the rest of the Board.
‘For the longevity of the human race’ President Davies stood in to defend Landon’s scheme. He paused in contemplative silence for a few moments before reaching a decision in his mind. ‘Draw up a plan showing every detail and have it sent to me by tonight’.
‘Yes, Mr. President’ Landon nodded feeling slightly pleased with himself. ‘I’ll get onto that right away’.
‘Premier Lloyd, you should return to the ISS and assist Mr. Corbett in his preparations’ President Davies commanded smoothly using the tone of his voice to transform his polite request into a demand. ‘Mr. Sato, if you could please select one of the oldest ships in the fleet for this task; there is no point in disposing of a perfectly good operational SpaceShuttle’.
‘Yes, Mr. President’ both men uttered simultaneously. President Davies gave the camera one final glance, as if he was looking right into Landon’s eyes, before the video conference was terminated and Landon was left staring at a blank screen.
Landon returned to the main office looking for Aleka. Usually she was hard to miss due to the strawberry blonde hair that seemed to explode in all directions out of her head. His eyes scanned the room until he spotted her across the far side talking to the man who had kicked up the fuss about the SpaceSite UK employees.
‘Aleka’ Landon said as soon as he was in earshot of the conversation she was having. ‘Keep tabs on Premier Lloyd’s whereabouts and let me know when he returns; it should be within the next few hours. I’ll need to be on Level0 to greet him’.
‘Yes, sir’ Aleka said making a quick note of his request. Landon had just turned to walk away when she called after him. ‘Sir!’
Landon paused and turned back.
‘Chris was just telling me…’ Aleka started gesturing to the man with whom she’d been speaking.
‘The Craft which I sent to Earth to retrieve the power cells from SpaceSite UK burnt up upon entry into the atmosphere’ he said remorsefully. ‘Both the pilot and co-pilot were killed’.
Landon sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. ‘Who trains them? Monkeys?!’ he growled resentfully. Then something began formulating in his mind. Thoughts whirred through his head until something clicked. ‘Give the story to the media; tell them that Langley Reid was on board returning to Earth’.
‘Langley Reid is on MoonBase1’ Aleka said, frowning and immediately turning to her Tablet to check the notes she had made. Landon was forever asking her to keep tabs on official members of the Board and she had a whole notes section dedicated to their whereabouts. ‘Yes, he arrived there two days ago’.
‘Langley Reid died last night’ Landon lied. ‘An airlock malfunctioned’ he said to which Aleka and Chris both winced. ‘I think dying on a return trip to Earth sounds slightly more heroic’.
‘I’m onto it’ Chris said, spinning back around on his chair to face his desk.
‘Oh’ Landon said mid-stride. ‘Access the funds for the pilot and co-pilot’s families and wipe them clean; that can go towards the cost of replacing the Craft. And arrange for another to be sent. We need those fuel cells’.
The book opens with a sequence of brief pages outlining key events and major global developments in the eighty five years before the start of the novel. Whet your appetite and read them now:
A U.S space probe carrying samples from Mars returns to Earth. Upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, a technical fault in the probe’s surface insulation causes it to burn up, scattering debris across the Pacific Ocean.
The U.S Coastguard and other Pacific Nations do their best to recover what they can, but all of the samples are lost and only fragments are collected.
The mission is designated as a failure.
Atmospheric scientists from India release findings of a new hole forming in the ozone layer over the West Coast of the USA. After assessing the research conducted by India’s scientists, American scientists are forced to concur and apply pressure on the Government to make drastic changes in order to reverse the process.
After implementing schemes aimed at reducing the presence of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere over all major cities along the West Coast of America, the situation continues to deteriorate. Much to the surprise of scientists in the field of atmospheric study, the ozone hole spreads further west across the Pacific Ocean.
Meteorologists share a belief that atmospheric winds could be responsible for spreading the CFC’s in a westerly direction.
Counter arguments suggest that the winds would not perpetuate the spread of the ozone hole: Instead they would help to dissipate the CFC’s throughout the atmosphere and reduce their impact on just one part of the ozone layer.
The debate continues.
Meanwhile in cities beneath the ozone hole, most noticeably in Los Angeles, numbers of victims suffering heatstroke, sunburn and skin cancer rise substantially from numbers experienced in the previous decade.
The Californian Government set about increasing awareness of the dangers associated with ozone depletion.
On the 23rd flight of a specially adapted U.S aircraft, samples were taken from the lower reaches of the stratosphere at the edge of the Pacific Ozone Hole.
Later analysis of the samples revealed a previously undiscovered organism existing in the upper atmosphere. It was unlike anything seen on Earth before, so unique that it established its own genus and was named Aermusca.
From experiments in a laboratory it was found that the organism fed upon O3 – ozone.
A full scientific investigation of Aermusca by an international team of scientists concluded in July. In their attempts to determine the origin of the species they compared it to an entire collection of the Earth’s genuses in an attempt to find a close match, but no such organism was found to inhibit the properties demonstrated by Aermusca.
It was a U.S scientist who made the link to the crashed space probe seventeen years ago.
Upon analysis of compounds found on and inside some of the debris of the probe, some were found to be of extra-terrestrial origin (from Mars). Of the compounds found, many could be accurately matched to compounds found inside Aermusca.
Thus is was concluded that Aermusca had come from Mars; thrived upon being released into Earth’s atmosphere and multiplied perpetually out of control for seventeen years.
Its relatively rapid consumption of ozone was duly noted, as was the fact that Mars potentially once had a strong atmosphere.
The Pacific Ozone Hole reaches the atmosphere above Japan, whilst it also spreads to the north, covering parts of Canada and nearly all of Alaska. It also spreads further south toward the equator to encompass the Hawaiian Islands.
Cities near the origins of the hole are suffering from rapid urban decay as the population swiftly moves to safer areas of the USA which are not affected. Los Angeles is virtually uninhabitable due to intense rates of UV radiation making it dangerous to land-based organisms and human life.
The mass movement of people triggers panic and speculation across the globe. Population centres along the east coast of Japan begin to decline as people take it upon themselves to evacuate to regions out of reach of the spreading Pacific Ozone Hole.
Indonesia’s rate of immigration becomes uncontrollable and there are noticeable patterns of migration, from areas at risk of the spreading ozone hole to those regions which are farthest away.
The world’s governments agree that they’re facing a growing humanitarian crisis on a scale the likes of which have never before been seen.
Resolutions are explored, including the extermination of Aermusca, though in lab tests it has so far been proven to be resilient to all attempted methods of destruction, drawing comparison to the resilience of cockroaches.
In secret, the Governments of the world begin to make plans to ensure the continuity of the human race. This includes the development of a base on the Moon, the construction of which was started in 2040 but for the purpose of scientific research. It is now to be expanded exponentially to accommodate large numbers of people who would be able to lead lives as close to their normal patterns of behaviour which they experienced on Earth. This includes the provision of employment, education and healthcare.
The International Space Station also receives plans for extension activity while numerous space hotels are to be collated alongside the ISS to serve as a half-way stage to the base on the Moon.
With the Pacific Ozone Hole now covering the entire Pacific as well as East Asia, Oceania and much of the United States, the world’s population comes to be concentrated in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Western Asia. With the belt tightening around them year by year, immense pressure accumulates.
Ongoing wars continued, with countries refusing to allow access to refugees from affected regions whilst countries with power force their way into parts of Africa and the Middle East to much resistance.
The United Nations announces the “One Child Policy” to prevent the population from growing rapidly until a rational solution could be provided.
The plans for MoonBase1 and the ISS were announced to the general public, as well as their capacity, sparking controversy and speculation as to who would be evacuated from Earth and saved.
The first human beings are transported to the newly composited ISS, greatly expanded to accommodate up to 200,000 people. Space hotels were also tethered nearby to the ISS, providing space for a further 50,000 people.
The first three phases of MoonBase1 were completed in June with the capacity for 450,000 people. Extension programmes go on to provide increased space for Earth’s population, which now slightly exceeds eleven billion, even with the many casualties as a result of the global ozone depletion. There is also increasing awareness that not everyone will be taken to either the ISS or MoonBase1.
Over the past eight years, the Governments have been compiling a list of the global population’s most prosperous human beings that can reproduce the human population once a suitable home has been found (since 2043, five attempts to terraform Mars have been unsuccessful with a sixth attempt at making the planet habitable planned for 2072).
The list composes 125,000 people. The remaining places are allocated to a balance of men, women and children with no one over the age of 50 (with the exception of listed persons) accepted. With countries harbouring such diverse mixes of foreign nationals, a specific number of each global nationality is selected on a first-come-first serve basis.
SpaceShuttles, driven by on-board antimatter power cells, can carry up to 2,000 people at a time while smaller vessels (Space Craft) are used in the transportation of resources, such as food and water.
With MoonBase1 completed and harbouring 1,000,000 people, construction work on MoonBase2 – approximately one hundred kilometres from MB1 – begins.
The perpetually expanding ISS and affiliated space hotels now accommodate 450,000 while the rest of the human population remain on Earth.
The ozone hole now covers the majority of the planet; the only place spared being the Middle East and parts of East Africa. On the surface in former Global Power states such as the USA, the UK, Russia, much of Europe and China, “Spheres” – huge domes, tinted to protect against UV rays – have been created to allow for humans to live on the surface.
In total, 40 Spheres now exist across the globe. The Spheres each roughly cover 500km2; housing up to 1,000,000 humans and built over cities or in regions previously untainted by human activity so as to allow from the growth of food produce.
The rest of the population are unaccounted for: either sheltering from the UV radiation until more Spheres are established or dead.
Completion of MoonBase2 is severely halted after an explosion of stored antimatter power cells obliterates 45% of the existing structure and renders the remainder of the base uninhabitable.
Resources on the moon grow scarcer while the production of antimatter power cells on the moon is stopped.
There no longer remains a person on Earth capable of creating the antimatter power source after the CERN facility in Switzerland suffered a catastrophic failure, killing all 300 employees as well as destroying Switzerland’s entire land mass and the remaining Sphered population of Geneva. The explosion created the largest crater on Earth; an area of over 46,000 kilometres squared.
The Earth itself completely lacks an ozone layer and all humans not contained within Spheres, the ISS or MoonBase1 are declared officially dead.
The human population is now officially 81,725,000.
Regions of Mars are reported as having been successfully terraformed, allowing for a small settlement of 100 humans. These humans will be responsible for the construction of Spheres on Mars to provide habitation for larger numbers until the terraforming process is complete.
For the first time in 51 years, there looks to be hope for humanity.
Chapter titles can tell you as much or as little as you want - it all depends on the scale of your own imagination!
So read on and see what you make of the chapter titles from When the World Ends...
Use the map to explore the places Alec and co. find themselves in "When the World Ends..."