War came. Not as you would expect, on a fiery red horse, but from the Earth beneath us. War grew in the hollows we dug, and festered in the absences we left, waiting for release.
The media showed us pundits yowling about resource consumption — it wasn’t a question of “whether”, but “when”—, and no one could agree on what to do. They pointed at the weather preservers and sipped precious water from blank studio mugs. They waved at distant biospheres and greedily slopped down expensive off-world greens when the cameras looked away.
But they didn’t talk about the mines.
It seemed like such a small thing then, when it started. Mines would close, dry as a bone, and new ones never opened. The jobless became the homeless, and, in time, the lifeless. A drain on government funding, some argued. Others were too busy dying in the streets to disagree. Favored sons and daughters rode the issue to office, where they lied about the silver.
Too soon they were raiding our hope chests — silver tableware, flatware, tea sets, jewelry, keepsakes, all gone to feed our collective need. It only delayed the inevitable, though. It wasn’t enough to keep catalytic converters in production, or water purifiers in working order.
That’s when we truly became cannibals. Not for flesh, but for resources. Anything and everything that could be scrapped to keep something else running was cannibalized to sate society, and whispers of war became national anthems when they decided someone else had more.
We gather at the county seat to hear the latest propaganda broadcasts on a radio cobbled together from leftovers and remnants; a Frankenstein’s monster of innovation. They speak equally of the bounty of our neighbors’ hoard, and the happiness of those who join the Reclamation to see it brought home.
The happiness of the walking dead.
Those proud few who join, never to see home again.
They say “such is the nature of war” from the comfort and security of their palatial bunkers. The rest of us mourn as we farm resources from fields of old technology, and sleep above-ground in fragile houses made of wood and ash.
When the bombs come, we will be the first to go. Then our Mary Shelley radios and Farnsworthian golems will sing to no one of the machinations of our leaders, or the bounty of our neighbors. They will stare at the leaden sky with reclaimed features fixed in place by warped fittings and ancient purpose.
And we will be gone, as if by design.
My great-grandmother thought we would kill the Earth with deforestation and global warming. In the end, though, it was never the planet we were killing; it was ourselves. The planet will limp along in our wake with more than enough microbial resources to start something new, but we will be forever gone.
I say none of this to my daughter as I tuck her into bed, though. For her, tomorrow is not set in stone.