A Wholesome Life

 

"John."

 

Brushing against the soft embrace of sleep, a voice slowly brings him out of his slumber. After a brief moment of disorientation he opens his eyes and focuses on the smiling face that is removed only centimetres from his own. Smiling, he responds by kissing the alabaster skin of Catherine's cheek.

 

"Good morning, love." he responds fondly.

 

Stretching, he moves himself until he's sitting on the edge of the bed. As he reaches for his clothes, he asks:

 

"What would you like for breakfast today? How about some fresh orange juice to go with the toast? Maybe a few slices of bacon or such?"

 

Kissing his neck, she responds that she'll be fine whatever he makes for her.

 

"Just be sure to be back on time today for our weekend trip. It's going to be so much fun."

 

"I wouldn't miss it for the world." he responds, leaning in for another kiss.

 

* * * * *

 

Breakfast turned out to contain a lot of fresh fruit, juicy slices of bacon and spreads to go with the toast and fruit juice.

 

As they sit there, they can hear the sound of excited young children's voices coming in through the open kitchen window.

 

"Sounds like the neighbours are at it early today. I thought summer vacation had just started?" John asks.

 

'I think Diane mentioned something about them going to summer camp. That must be them preparing to leave." Catherine responds.

 

"I see. Going to be a quiet few weeks while they're gone. Hope they'll have heaps of fun while they're over there."

 

"I'm sure they will. Hopefully just as much as our children some day soon as well."

 

John stops halfway through biting into his blackberry jam toast, looking up at Catherine with big eyes.

 

"You mean that you'd want to..."

 

"With you? I want nothing more in this world." Catherine responds with a deep smile.

 

Holding her tea mug between her hands, she looks into John’s eyes as she says: “I think it would be wonderful to have young children’s voices in this house. The neighbours’ kids are also still young enough that they could play together with our children. While we as overly concerned parents watch their every move and fuss over every little scrape, of course.”

John laughs. Putting down the slide of toast on his plate, he gets up and walks over to hug his wife.

 

* * * * *

On his way to work, John can’t help but feel strangely happy at the idea that they’ll be starting their own family. Somehow it puts everything into a whole new perspective, even as he drives along the same roads and past the same sights with his old pick-up truck as he has for the past years.

Ever since he began to work for the corporation.

In a sense, that was also to contribute to the future, he guesses. Not just his own or that of Catherine, but also for everyone else, including the children who will soon be filling their home with laughter.

 

Still smiling to himself, John takes the turn towards the employee parking lot of the corporation’s technical maintenance building while fumbling for his ID card. After finding a spot to park the pick-up truck, he walks to the building’s entrance, while noticing what a gorgeous morning it is today. Sunny, yet not too hot and just the right humidity levels for optimal comfort.

Near the entrance, he notes that his colleague Rob has also arrived already and is in the process of checking in with security. Joining the queue, he greets Rob.

So what’s that overly happy smile on your face about today, John?” Rob says, teasingly.

Oh you know, the wife and I had a talk this morning, and it seems we may need to start redecorating a spare bedroom soon.” John answers, casually.

Going well, then. Good for you, buddy.” Rob responds, as he reaches out to receive back his ID card from the security agent.

 

John catches up with Rob moments later, inside the building.

“You’re not upset, I hope? Anything happen to you and… Carol is her name?”

“Yeah, she moved back in with her parents while we sort some things out. Didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”

“Sorry to hear it, hope the two of you can patch it up again soon.”

“Yeah, it was just me running that mouth of mine, you know how it goes.”

Giving Rob a comforting pat on the shoulder, the two of them make their way over to the transfer room. Opening the door using their ID cards, they walk inside the gun-metal grey, sterile looking room.

All that’s inside the room are a few free-standing terminals with various status messages displayed, along with a row of alcoves along one wall. Each of which is just large enough to fit a single person.

After punching in a few commands on one of the terminals, Rob steps inside one of the alcoves.

“Off to work, then. See ya at the other side.” He says, while John steps into one of the other alcoves.

“Right behind you, buddy.”

Both of them close their eyes as a soft buzzing noise slowly fills the room.

 

* * * * *

As John opens his eyes again, he’s standing inside a similar looking alcove as the one he stepped into earlier. Except this one looks a lot more worn, with scuff marks and other signs of wear and tear. Beyond the alcove, visible through a large window stretches a sky that looks more yellow than blue.

Stepping out of the alcove, John looks first for Rob. As it turns out, Rob was ahead of him, and has already begun the inspection round. Reaching for the utility belt that’s hanging next to the alcove he stepped out of, he puts it on and fetches a device out of it that looks like an oddly shaped smartphone.

The moment he flicks it on, it begins to display various status messages and other information. Moving over to the alcoves to his left, he first approaches the one closest to him. Glancing up at the person – older-looking woman, eyes closed, looking relaxed – inside the alcove and back at the device he’s holding, he concludes that everything looks fine.

Checking the handful of other alcoves that follow the first one, he continues until the corridor he’s in ends at a blind wall. Turning on his heels, he makes his way back to the alcove which he stepped out of earlier. Occasionally looking to his right at the people he walks past, and then again at the landscape visible through the windows on his left, his mind drifts back to a time, many years ago.

 

By the time he catches up to Rob, they start alternating alcoves and keeping an eye on each other’s work until they reach the end of the corridor. This time the corridor’s wall has a door set into it. John opens it and they enter into the control room behind it. It’s decorated much the same as the transfer room where they were earlier, except with a resting area on one end.

After checking up on the terminals and the status information displayed on them, they fetch wrapped protein bars and what looks like a protein shake from a machine that’s set into one of the walls before sitting down at the table in the resting area.

Looking at his protein bars, John notes the dull grey colour of their wrappings and the uppercase ‘CHOCOLATE’ text that is printed on it. Shrugging, he tears the first one open and starts eating it. As he reaches for his shake, he notes Rob munching listlessly on his first bar.

“Not feeling it today?” He asks.

At this, Rob seems to snap out of whatever thoughts he was caught up in.

“Ah, sorry. Yeah, guess I’m a bit preoccupied today. Stuff like that in a relationship can really make you think sometimes, I guess.”

“Just about Carol, or something more?”

At this question Rob looks directly at John. “Yeah, this whole thing. I mean, the people we walked past earlier. Ourselves. The people we see back there.”

John nods, while remembering some of the questions he found himself with so many years ago.

“You mean, whether Carol is out there somewhere?”

Rob laughs.

“Yeah, pretty much. It’s all so very confusing, you know?”

“No disagreement there.” John says, smiling, “It’s not an easy situation to be in, but on the bright side, we know that everyone is safe, and people like us are ensuring that things stay that way.”

“Still…” Rob says, with a longing note entering his voice. “Remember the time before all of… this?”

“I was still very young back then,” John replies, “But yes, I do remember. That’s why I’m grateful we have this option, I think. You think it makes our lives any less real, Rob?”

Rob doesn’t answer for a while, merely chewing his protein bar, with short breaks to take a sip from his shake.

 

I guess that deep inside me there’s a part that wants to believe that this -” Rob holds up his half-eaten protein bar and protein shake, “That these things that I’m eating right now are more real than what we eat back there. That the things we do every day are more real here than there.”

John feels conflicted at these words. On one hand he agrees with what he’s hearing, yet at the same time he also feels part of his psyche resisting the very notion.

“Do we have a choice?” John says, his voice trembling slightly.

Stuffing the rest of the protein bar into his mouth and chewing it down, Rob nearly chokes. Emptying the rest of his shake cup, to ease his coughing, he takes a few deep breaths until he’s feeling better.

Looking at John with tears rimming his eyes, he says: “I guess that’s also part of the real experience. I don’t remember choking on food like this back there, ever.”

With both of them chuckling at this, Rob continues.

“A choice? No, this is about survival. About giving humanity the best possible shot at a future. And look at what this has given us? An idyllic society, in which everyone is healthy and happy. Because we lack in nothing and have everything we could desire.”

Getting up, Rob walks over to the single window in the control room and pulls up the blinds that are covering it. Squinting against the glare from the rising sun outside, he looks back at where John is sitting.

“All of that, despite this being the world we left behind.” Rob says, bitterly.

John also gets up and joins Rob at the window, where both look outside at the landscape outside of the bunker.

I remember my old house. Out there somewhere. Maybe.” John sighs, “All the trees around our house, and the people…” John’s voice breaks.

Giving John’s shoulder a comforting squeeze, Rob says: “Most of them made it. They’re now living lives that are worth living. For them and for the future.”

Wiping away a few stray tears from his cheeks with the back of his hand, John nods at these words. He smiles faintly, while looking half at Rob and half at the barely visible horizon outside.

“You’re right. All of this is worth it. Despite everything.” John says, softly. “Happy lives, for a future worth looking forward to.”