They couldn’t see what I was seeing. Not from inside the vault they call home. That I called home, at least until half a minute ago. There’s no windows, no cameras to see the Outside. Why would there be? Everyone had been told the Outside would be destroyed by the war. And if not by the war, or the nuclear missiles, or the fallout, it would be destroyed by the hole we’d punch through the ozone layer. There’d be nothing to see but dirt and sand and collapsed skyscrapers on the horizon, the last remnants of humanity from before.
But the world’s not destroyed. It’s green and blue as far as the eyes can see. The sun doesn’t burn my eyes; the wind doesn’t tear the airtight suit I’m wearing; and the skyscrapers stand as tall as my father told me they used to, long before even he was born. Oxygen is optimal, or so say the sensors in my suit. No radioactivity.
How long has it been like this? How long has the world been fixed? I feel my heart pounding harder and faster in my chest. My fingers quiver in the thick gloves.
“Adam, you’ve got sixty seconds of oxygen left. Come back, now!” Chris, from mission control, speaks to me using a low-range radio signal that’s paired with the receiver in my suit. The suit doesn’t transmit back. Why would it? There was supposedly nothing out here to describe that couldn’t wait until getting back to the vault. How terribly wrong they were.
Was it ever destroyed or had we been living in the vault, wasting away for three whole generations, for nothing? Because someone somewhere made a mistake, jumped the gun, and led people into a vault to live their lives in fear of nothing, nothing at all.
No wonder every scout we sent out never came back. They weren’t dying… they were running away.
“Adam? Thirty seconds. Come on!”
I ponder going back, but who would believe me? Even if someone did believe me and went out to verify my claim, what guarantee would I have that they’d come back?
I unlatch and pull off my right glove first. The cold wind sends a chill from my fingers up to my shoulder and my suit hisses for a moment, as the sudden rush of air replenishes the diminishing oxygen inside. Then the other glove comes off.
“You can’t survive out there, Adam. Please. You need to return to the vault.”
“Why would I? You kept us all in the dark,” I reply as I search for the latch on the back of my helmet. “You lied to us. You told us it was unsafe.”
“No, Adam. We didn’t.”
I stop my search for the helmet latch when I realise that was an answer, an answer to a question they shouldn’t have heard.
“You can hear me.”
“Yes. The suit transmits back. We just… we never told anyone because…”
“Because what, huh?” I finally find the latch, grip, and pull. The helmet loosens at the neck and I pull it out of my head slowly. I take a deep breath, the fresh air—truly fresh, not that recycled crap we breathed down in the vault—filling my lungs and I cough it back out. My body’s not used to it. But it sure as hell feels good. “Tell me, mission control, tell me why you didn’t tell anyone? More lies!” I hold my helmet upside down, like I’m talking into a fish bowl.
“No. No lies. You’ve taken the helmet off, haven’t you?”
“Yes, and I’m getting the hell outta he—” The words get stuck in my throat. I cough again, harder this time, and a spatter of blood fills the inside of the helmet I’m holding in my hands.
“What the fuck?!”
“That’s why. The world isn’t safe, Adam. No-one ever lied to you about that.”
I run back to the metal door. “Let me back into the vault, goddammit!” I pound it with my fists but every pound is weaker than the one before it.
“I can’t let you in, Adam. You know the rules.”
I turn around slowly and slide down to the soft grass, my back against the door.
“I guess… I guess this is goodbye, huh?”
“I suppose it is, Adam. I tried, man, I told you to get back in here. I tried.”
I laugh and it burns my chest. Through the helmet, I hear someone punching metal. A control panel, maybe.
“So, what is it? Virus?”
“No-one knows for sure. Everyone who knew is dead, and they told no-one.”
“Doesn’t matter though, right?” I feel a smile creep on my face. For years I wondered what was out here. Now that I finally find out, I’m going to die before I can experience it. Each breath I take comes coupled with an increasing price of pain, and soon, I know, I won’t be able to pay for it. “Thanks for trying anyway, Chris. I wish you could see this, man. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”