This is how humanity dies


Isabella Eisenhauer '25, Writer

The time-lights brighten, and a cheerful voice wakes me.

Good morning. Please get ready for work.

I roll out of my bed, the waterproof sheets sliding off with me, and shake some sweat from my arms. I step into the shower for a quick rinse, then start dressing for work. As I layer, I hear my grandpa making breakfast for himself. He wishes he could sleep in, but after 35 years of work, he just can’t block out the morning alarm. He grumbles that sentiment to me every time I come home from work. Once I have all my clothes on, I shout goodbye to my grandpa, and then I’m on my way.

I go to the launch bay of our apartment and find my suit amongst the hundreds belonging to the other tenants. Several other people are suiting up as well, off to work in the mines as I do. I get in, grateful as ever for the mini-airlock that keeps the dust on the outside. As I step out into the world, I’m greeted by emerald light shining through layers and layers of green clouds. It’s a rather clear day, and I can almost see the faint circle of light that is the sun. I find my balance as I walk past building after building, joining the masses of miners on their way to their jobs. We walk until the square, gray skyscrapers and faded metal trees are far behind us, replaced with jagged, red-black rock, worn smooth by the wind hundreds of years ago. As I get past the rock fields, most of the people walking with me have dissipated to their various assignments. My workplace is at the very edge of town, and the entrance is right in front of the Wall. I stop in front of it for a second. It’s gigantic, and blacker than anything else I have ever seen. It towers into the sky, cutting through the dust like a knife. I can’t even see where it ends, or if it ends. If I stop breathing for a bit, I can hear the faint howling of wind, somewhere far, far away. I’ve seen it hundreds of thousands of times already, but it still astounds me. In a little slit, very far up, I can see a Guard Drone patrolling, making sure no monsters have breached the walls. My grandpa says that when my parents were still alive, a wildcat climbed over in the middle of the night. It was scarred and mutated almost beyond recognition, looking more reptilian than mammalian. It had hidden in the rock fields and killed several people before the Guards found it. He says that if I don’t behave, another one will break in and eat me. I don’t believe him, but I stay firmly on the road, just in case.

I take a left and follow a much smaller road into a canyon carved into the rock. It winds down into the earth, miles below the city. It takes me a good half hour to get to the mine, even as I walk on the automated sidewalk. I arrive in a large cavern lit by harsh white bulbs, then I pick up my sack and my Government-Mandated RR Drill. I walk down the long hall, passing a tunnel every few yards. I see a familiar pink scarf and hunched figure in a heavy, brown, old-fashioned protection suit.

Good morning Miss Merchia,” I say respectfully.

She waves hello to me; she hasn’t been able to talk since her faceplate came loose a couple of weeks ago. She’s only a few years away from retirement age, one of the only ones left in her age group—I really hope she makes it out, she’s very sweet.

I walk a bit more, then pass a guy with industrial boots and a suit tailored to accommodate an extra arm.

Hey, Mr. Shunla!” I wave to him.

He’s had his mutation since he was a child and his parents’ suit-cleaner malfunctioned. He lives on the same floor as me, and he sometimes comes over and tells us stories. He nods to me solemnly.

I pass Gerindo, in a mostly-clear protective suit, half of his hair fallen off and blisters crawling up the side of his neck. He got in a fight and someone ripped right through his shoulder while still in the mines, getting RR dust into his bloodstream and mutating more than half his body. Luckily for him, all the mutations were superficial, and they didn’t impact his ability to work. That was about a year ago now, and he seems to be doing better. I still don’t talk to him, though, because he can get kind of touchy. I’ve not been mutated yet, and he resents me for that.

I finally arrive at my assigned drilling cave, with all the other 17-year-olds in this sector. The Supervisor is checking in on us first today, so they’re all slaving away. I can barely see those on the far end of the cavern through the thick grey dust. I switch on my drill and start working just as the Supervisor walks in. I keep my eyes on the dull grey rock in front of me, searching carefully for any signs of green as they pace the room, inspecting every person, making sure everyone is working properly. After several minutes, they give a haughty sniff and exit the room to check in on the other age groups. I wait for a while to make sure they’re not coming back, then I cross the room and start drilling next to a friend of mine, Hanida. We talk, and the hours fly by. 


As the five-minute bell rings at the end of the day, we make sure everyone has enough RR to fill their quotas, then we walk out in an orderly, single-file line. We’re not supposed to share the little green pebbles we mine, but we make sure everyone has enough, so no one has to go hungry tomorrow. Our parents have shared horror stories about a person missing a single day of food, then being too weak to work the next day. My grandpa told me about this one guy who showed up every day, never making the quota, getting thinner and thinner, until he couldn’t even hold up his drill. He begged the Supervisor to give him another chance, but they just sent him back to work. He stopped showing up after that. Grandpa’s indifferent, but that story gives me shivers every time.

After we confirm that we’ve met our quotas, we head home for the day. I join the masses of miners once more, our suits noticeably duller and dustier than they were this morning. I step into the airlock again, and I shiver at the sudden depressurization as all of the air is sucked out of the room around me. After several rounds of cleaning, my suit opens and lets me back out into the lobby. Instead of heading back up to my apartment, I go to the Cleaning room. Usually, I would head up, take a shower, then head to bed, but tonight I have a special mission. Several of the Supervisors have disappeared lately, so the Ones Above have been looking to promote new ones. I’ve always made my quota, so I’m a prime candidate. Ever since about a month ago, I have been presenting the weekly RR mining report instead of one of the current Supervisors. If I make the cut, then I won’t have to work anymore—I’ll just have to make sure everyone else is working. 

I have to get Cleansed, then put on a special suit and go to the Great Hall to meet with a council of Ones Above. Cleansing isn’t a fun process, but I’m used to it at this point. I step into the white nothingness of the Cleaning room and let the machines do their work scrubbing all of the grime and sweat off of me. By the end, my skin is red and raw, but there’s no trace of the filth I was covered in before.

I pull on my silvery-white suit and start the walk to the center of the city. It isn’t very long, only a few blocks from Grandpa’s apartment, and it seems even shorter because the suit is so lightweight. Unlike most suits, it’s completely airtight; not even oxygen can get in. It has a tank of oxygen strapped to the back, allowing me to breathe, and even with its weight, the suit feels lighter than air. I pull out of my thoughts as I reach the very center of the city. In front of me is a large circle of green things. No one knows what it’s supposed to be; speculations include security and an art display. The Ones Above titled it The Garden. It’s just a bunch of splintered brown poles with little green circles attached—it blends right into the gas fog. It’s not my place to question the Ones Above, but the Garden is perplexing. I find the path that leads to the Great Hall in the center, letting the round, green, metal circles brush over me as I walk through them. It doesn’t take long before I’m climbing the white marble steps. A Guard Drone stands watch outside the main entrance door; as I approach, it scans me, then lets me pass. I enter the hall, rehearsing the notes in my mind. 

Oh Great Ones Above,” I recite reverently. I kneel and look down at the floor, unable to look up until I have been acknowledged. Several tense seconds pass, then I hear a clear, melodic voice.

Rise. Present the report.” 

Even after five visits, the Ones Above’s voices are astounding to me. They ring out like music, unencumbered by the gravel present in every adult’s voice. They have the beautiful, ringing sound of children but more wisdom and gravitas than the eldest person I know.

I rise and look up at the Ones Above. They sit in a semicircle, high above me on spotless white thrones. The immense whiteness of the room makes it hard to judge exactly how high up they are; it could be anywhere from a few feet to a few stories. The five of them have intensely red skin unblemished by green and grey dust-stains. They almost glow, like the embers of a fire. Their eyes are pitch black, almost as black as the Wall. After I see them, the normal world looks pale and washed out for a while. Their hair, bright red and tumbling down their shoulders in perfect curls, provides even more contrast against the whiteness of the room and their robes. It is impossible not to look at them, highlighted as they are. Each looks indistinguishable from the other; if I had more time, I might be able to tell them apart, but I cannot look for too long—it’s disrespectful.

I meet eyes with each of them, then bow my head again and give my report, reciting numbers perfectly. I had practiced this for hours, as a single mistake could negate any chances I have of being a Supervisor. When I finish, I wait in silence to hear their verdict or be dismissed. The one left of the center speaks down at me.

This is unacceptable.” The words send a chill down my spine, even as the beautiful tone soothes me.

If we want to reach the planet Vidu-407 within the year, we must double the production.” 

My whole body tenses at that. Doubling production means doubling quotas, which means that a lot more people are going to go hungry in the next few weeks. Before I can think, two words escape my mouth. 

We can’t.

I feel the room go deathly still. I just refused the Ones Above—this is disrespect of the highest order. No one has ever done so and lived to tell the tale. 


Though it comes from a being draped in flaming red, the word is ice cold. If I mess this up, I’ll never see the outside of this room again. I find my voice.

Oh Great One Above, Highest of Beings, I meant no disrespect… I simply meant that the miners cannot handle a higher production quota. They will be worked to death, and production will drop long-term, Most Elevated,” I grind out against the terror.

I wait in shivery silence as they deliberate for several long moments. 

Double the production,” says the one to the far right.

I jolt upright, and barely keep my traitorous mouth from spewing more disrespect. 

You are dismissed.

The Ones Above dissolve like dust in the wind, leaving no trace behind. I am left with a blank, white room. The doors creak open behind me, reminding me of where I need to go now.

Double the production.

I rise.

Drop long-term.

I walk out of the room on trembling legs.

Within the year.

The doors slam shut behind me.

You imbecile! The muffled words echo through the hall, venom-laced and furious. My legs give out and I collapse on the crystalline floor in shock.

I’m sorry—please, I’m sorry— A different voice loses its velvety sheen, becoming more… human.

You brainless lout, you told it about the— The first cuts off suddenly. On instinct, I scramble to the side and hide behind a golden-white pillar. I hear the door creak open, then shut again with a bang. The conversation continues, albeit quieter.

You let it know about the deadline. We can’t have the masses know that the planet’s dying! Now we’ll have to kill it. Look what you’ve done.

I take several shuddering breaths, trying to keep myself calm. I know what assassinations by the Ones Above look like. A Guard Drone tracks the person down and stabs them through the throat. They then leave with no fanfare. It’s swift and brutal and it comes out of nowhere, twelve hours exactly after they visited the Ones Above. I don’t have a lot of time. The rest of the conversation fades into background noise.

I walk out of the hall as nonchalantly as possible, grateful for the thick white suit that hides my trembling. I pass the security drone out front and start making my way back through the Garden. As soon as I know I’m out of sight of the drone, I turn and start walking off the path, through the strange green sculptures. I don’t know where I’m going; I only know that I can’t go back to my usual life. I am going to die in the next 12 hours, what does it matter if it comes a little earlier? 


I find myself back at the Great Hall, but facing a different side. I see a small side door, and after looking around to make sure I was alone, I open it. Inside is a sterile grey corridor, small and cramped compared to the pristine opulence of the approved entrance. I creep through the halls, passing a locked door every so often. As I continue, even the everpresent howling of the wind fades until I can hear nothing but the sounds of my footsteps.

Step. Step. Step. Step.

I fight the urge to call out, make sure I’m not alone, stuck in this void-like place of endless halls and endless echoes of the same

Step, Step, Step, Step,

I start running.

Step step step step stepstepstepstepstepstep

A door swings open into my face, and I crash into someone, knocking us both on to the floor. Papers fly everywhere, surrounding us in a cocoon of white for a brief moment. I recover quickly and roll off of them, then scramble to my feet to try to defend myself. I’m interrupted by a frantic, breathless voice that despite its trembling was as clear as pure glass.

A thousand apologies, Honored One—please, let me just—don’t kill me before I can return these!

I look to see whom I had disrupted, only to be met with someone without a protective suit. She has a mask on, most likely to filter the air, but the rest of her is completely exposed to the dust. The only thing close to a mutation that I can see is two small horns poking through her hair, and those are symmetrical! She’s kneeling on the ground, frantically gathering up papers. She continues talking through my confusion.

Gods, how could I have made such a mess and—” she gasps. “Your ID badge! Where did it go? Goodness, I must have knocked it off when I ran into you, I’m so sorry. And now it’s lost in all this mess!” She gestures to the piles of paper on the floor, then unclips a little square off of her shirt and holds it out to me. I take it, unsure what else to do. 

Please, have mine. It doesn’t have as many permissions as yours, but it’ll take me some time to find yours in this mess, and I really don’t want to hold you up, Honored One. I’ll return it as soon as I find it, I swear on the Ones Above.

I’ve had time to find my bearings by now, and I decide to play long. I give her a curt nod, turn, and stride off, cringing inside as I trample a few stray papers. 

Good luck,” she calls after me. The phrase strikes me as odd, but I dont react; maybe it’s a common saying around here.

I leave her behind as I keep making my way through the winding halls. I find a spot on my chest to clip the badge to, around the same area the lady had kept her badge before I ran into her. As I approach the few doors lining the hallway, most of them open automatically. All of the rooms seem to be empty office spaces, save for a few where more people dressed like the lady I bumped into are working feverishly at computers.

Eventually, I reach a dead end. I debate going back and taking a different turn, but the door at the very end seems different than the others. It’s large and blocky instead of sleek, and it has a little glowing number above a small button on the wall next to it. I walk towards it, but it doesn’t open like the others have. I tap it a few times, wondering what I’m doing wrong, then the door starts to slide open. I flatten myself to the wall behind the thick edge of the doorframe and watch as two people step out, neither of them wearing protective gear either. They don’t notice me, but I catch a snippet of their conversation.

and if it fails?

It won’t, it could carry three times the population if we really needed it to—

But sir, what if there’s a manu

The two turn the corner and their conversation fades out of earshot. I slip into the room they came out of, and the door shuts behind me with a quiet hiss. 

I find myself in a little grey box, less than three paces in any direction. On the wall is a panel full of buttons. The lowermost one looks the most well-worn, so I press it. The room starts to shake gently, then I feel like I’m falling. The door slides open again, but I’m no longer in the same hallways.

Instead, i am faced with a single dark hall that stretches in either direction. There are a few people walking past, and none of them give me a second glance. The door starts to close again, and I hurry out. I start walking down the hall, striding with purpose though I don’t know where I’m going. I pass another pair, dressed in grey protective coverings. I hear one of them say:

lmost ready to launch, we just need a few more days of RR impor

I stop and look back at them, then start following. I stay far enough behind that they don’t notice me, but close enough that I can hear their conversation.

mber three is almost full, we can seal it soon. With the increased supply, number four will be done in three months!

Why do we need so much, anyway?

The first grabs the second by the arm and yanks them down a side hallway. They quickly walk into a room and close the door behind them, cutting me off from their words. I turn to leave, then my head passes a vent and I hear their voices echoing softly from inside the room. I listen.

compoop, idiot, hay-for-brains, why would you say that in front of an Honored One?!

An Honored One? Is that the person who was following us?

Yes, you numbskull! I know you haven’t been here long, but those suits are completely air-tight. They’re only given to those with highest honors from the Ones Above.

I’ve seen a Worker wearing one, though?

They do give them to the one presenting the RR report, since the Ones Above don’t want any chance of contamination, but a Worker couldn’t make it down here without permissions. It’s impossible. That’s besides the point, you’re trying to distract me! You questioned the plan in front of an Honored One! It’s like you’re trying to be killed.

I’m sorry, sir, it won’t happen again… I just wanted to know.

The older of the voices sighs heavily, then continues in a whisper.

We’re stockpiling RR because the Earth is dying. According to the Ones Above, the food supply will run out in a year or two. We can’t even grow more because RR waste has contaminated all land not stripped bare by the wind. The Ones Above are going to use the ship to find another planet to grow food on; if we’re lucky, they’ll send the ship back to pick us up before the food runs out.

Why don’t they just take us all on the first trip?

Well, speed is of the essence. We can’t risk not finding a new food source, or else the whole human race will go exinct. Plus, we’re needed here to keep the Workers from figuring out anything’s wrong.

We’re leaving the Workers behind?

Yes, we are. There’s no point in bringing them, most of them are mutated beyond repair and the rest will die before 50. Why should we waste the resources to feed them?

My heart stops. 

You ask too many questions, you need to cull that habi

The words fade as I stumble away from the grate.

They’re going to leave us behind. After all we do, all we sacrifice to meet their quotas, not only are they going to double them, they’re going to leave us behind to starve on a dying planet. 


It’s all a blur after that. I wander until I find a room behind an airlock, full of RR being ground into dust and poured into a giant metal container. I stand in the corner, out of sight, until I overhear someone discussing all the protocols to prevent a malfunction. It’s surprisingly easy to make it all go wrong; all I do is stick that poor lady’s ID card between two of the RR rocks being ground up. It goes through without a hitch, and the plastic dust mixes in with the RR dust. It’s hard to believe that it was that easy, that that was all it took to bring down the Ones Above. 

I walk, and walk, and walk, and walk through the halls, passing innumerous people, going as far away as my feet will take me. Then I take my suit off and scream.

As a guard drone appears from around the corner, blade aimed at my heart, I smile.


I’ve gotten my revenge.



Three months later, all production is halted for a day to celebrate the launch of the rocket and the start of life in space. All Workers are called to gather in the courtyard in front of the Great Hall to watch the lift-off.


A giant screen above the Garden, counting down.




A long, thin point coming from the Great Hall’s roof that just keeps going, and going, and going until a giant rocket looms over the crowds.




Cheering from the crowds.




Rumbling from the rocket, green light flaring from the bottom and casting everything into shades of emerald.




A moment of tense, silent anticipation.






The rocket slowly starts to move upwards, fighting against gravity. It gets higher and higher, slowly escaping the tethers of the Earth, and then—


A pop echoing across the town.


The rocket, listing to one side.


The crowd’s cheers dying off.


The green light turning yellow, then orange, then a harsh, bloody red.






The rocket falls back down to Earth, moving as if through syrup. It lands with a crash that shakes the ground for miles, then it explodes in a flash of green light bigger than the entire city.


And in that single instant,



– Fin –