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 It was like any normal school day. Cerein walked calmly through the school gates as she headed to the canteen. She heard someone calling out her name. She turned around and saw her friend, Deina running towards her.

 "Why the lateness, Cerevesta?" Cerein just smiled. She was quite popular with the nickname Cerevesta, since she was the one who invented the nickname up herself. She just turned away from  Deina and walked off, pretending to ignore her.

  Deina was not one to be ignored easily. She chased after Cerein all the way to the canteen. There, they saw most of their friends waiting for them. Kelly looked at Cerein suspiciously and asked, "Hmm, 12.40, Cere. Why the lateness?"

 "Why don't you ask our dear friend over there?" Cerein explained, pointing to another girl sitting on a bench. The girl smiled. She was Jannefer, the class monitor and Cerein's only ride to school.

 "I like to come to school late. Besides, what's the use of coming so early?" Jannefer explained. Their other friend, Ales asked, "Then why did you run all the way to the canteen?" All of them looked at Jannefer.

 "Hmm, this warrants further investigation,"  Deina said in her most intimidating voice. All of them laughed. Being intimidating was one of  Deina's strongest points. Finally, the bell rang. Ales looked at Kelly and Cerein, "Anyone wants to eat? I'm still hungry," Ales and Cerein sighed. Their friend was always hungry and it never bothered Ales at all. Deina took her bag and books and walked off. Cerein decided to take hers too and run after Deina.

 "You look very upset, Deina. May I ask what's the matter?" Cerein asked.  Deina looked up at the sky and then at Cerein.
 "You see the sky, Cerevesta? That's what I'm upset about. It has been so grey lately. Why won't the sky ever clear up? When will we ever see blue again?" Cerein rolled her eyes and asked, "Then again, will we ever see the sky?"

 "Exactly what I mean, Cerevesta. I think the world will be ending soon. We have heard people predict the end of the world. They all say that it will end by the end of the year,"  Deina sighed and looked at the ground. Cerein could only smile weakly.
 What Deina had said was true. In the year 1999, the world was fast wasting away into ruin. Out of a population of over 20 billion, almost 10 billion had either died or left for the other colonies. Recently, planet colonies had mushroomed, especially near Jupiter and around Saturn. Ever since the first colony on the moon, they had tried harder and discovered that certain planets like Jupiter, Saturn and its moons could be inhabited.

 Cerein remembered the first colony established. They had put androids up there to test man's resistance and the androids malfunctioned, indicating that Earth's moon was not suitable. When they reached one of Jupiter's moons, they found the surface with small puddles of water and tiny clouds. They decided to bring tons of huge oxygen tanks, water and soil to bring the moon to life. It had been a success and other moons followed suit. Soon, they wanted to make Jupiter and Saturn inhabitable.

 Scientists created a new type of gas, called 4L. The gas was compatible with all sorts of gases and was capable of turning poisonous gases into oxygen by directly interfering with the gas’s molecules. With4L, they filled Jupiter and Saturn’s atmosphere with oxygen. They brought trees to continue the oxygen cycle as more colonies were established.

 However, all that had come with a price. The world's resources was fast depleting and radioactive waste were everywhere. Hundred million tons of raw material like soil, water and plants were shipped to the colonies. The earth’s crust was getting thinner by the week, and radioactive waste was seeping into the core. She looked at Deina, who was fast getting depressed. Cerein thought no more of the past and asked Deina to smile.

 "That's no smile, Deina. Come on, can't you feel happier? At least you're still alive," Cerein joked. Deina turned back at Cerein and smiled. Cerein said, "At least that's a real smile!" They saw their friend Max in front of them, waiting near the school building. They waved to Max, but he never noticed them. They advanced closer and caught him by surprise.

 "In deep thought, Max?"  Deina asked. Max shook his head.

 "Bluff," Kelly said. She and Ales had just joined the trio. Max narrowed his eyes at them and said, "What makes you so sure I'm bluffing?" Ales pointed at him and said, "The bare facts, Max. The bare facts," Max looked at them suspiciously, as if he could not trust them. Ales and Cerein laughed at the expression.

 "Come, let's go back to class," Kelly urged. They five of them walked all the way up the stairs. When they reached class,  Deina, Kelly and Cerein went to class 2:A while Max and Ales went to class 2:B. In 2:A,  and Kelly were approached by someone.

 "Well, if it isn't the class misfit, Calven. Tell us, Calven, what brings you here?" Cerein asked. Calven ignored Cerein and continued talking, "After school, go to the mainframe. I don't know why, this is Dr. Jessi's orders," and then returned to his seat. Kelly and  stared at Calven while Cerein was angry at the short, bespectacled boy.

 "I'm part of the mainframe volunteers; how come he doesn't tell me too?" Cerein asked angrily. Deina calmed Cerein down, "I guess he thought you knew because you were the second-in-charge and the first one to know any up coming meetings,"

 "Besides, Dr. Jessi trusts you an awful lot. I guess it's normal for him to have a slight dislike towards you since although he's president for the volunteers, most of the important things go to you instead of him,"

 "Hey, everybody! Get back to your seats! Teacher's on her way!" Wendy shouted from the front door as everybody scurried to their seats. Lessons were starting.



 After school, Ales went home separately from Max, Kelly and Deina. Cerein had to do some chores, so she had to go earlier. Ales sighed. She wished she was part of the mainframe volunteers. She remembered a conversation between her and her little brother:

 "Sis, what are mainframe volunteers?"
 "Mainframe volunteers are those who have to take care of the computers in the Multimedia Super Corridor. You know, the one where controls all the happenings in the country?"
 "Oh, so why can't they employ workers? Are they being stingy?"
 "These volunteers are chosen, not going voluntarily. It won't be for some time till the mainframe is open for volunteering work. They have to wait and see if this plan is a success. If it is, then they will open it to all citizens,"
 "Any more info on the mainframe you can tell me about?"
 "Well, there's the really MAIN frame computer in Europe. It controls all the other computers that are used to manage a country. All important information is stored in the main computer about other countries' development. Any more you want to know?"
 "No, sis,"
 "Good,"



 Kelly put her bag at the usual place and went to change. She went to the locker room and opened her locker where she took out an extra change of clothes, neatly pressed and ready to wear. As she went to change, she knew she could have gone to her room in the other side of the tower and got proper rest. However, she was late and had to go straight to the mainframe. How lucky for Deina, she thought, no need to rush like her. After all, Deina's room was the closest to the mainframe, while hers was the second furthest. Slowly and lazily, she trudged to the meeting room. She saw Dr. Jessi, along with Max, Deina, Cerein, Calven and another friend who was from another school, Lelis. She sat down next to Calven and Dr. Jessi started the meeting.

 "There is a reason why I called all of you today. Unlike other days where you can start doing your duties immediately, I have received a message from the MainFrame in Europe. It seems that a virus had spread from a computer in Canada. Apparently this is the work of a hacker or someone who wants the computers in the world to malfunction," Dr. Jessi explained.

 "Then, Dr., isn't there a way to stop the virus?" Lelis asked. Dr. Jessi frowned as her eyes flashed darkly.

 "The real problem is that we have no way to stop the virus. The European governments are doing the best they can but it will take time, something we don’t have on our hands. This is a very experienced virus maker and the creator has mysteriously disappeared. That's why I called you over. If this virus spreads to the MainFrame, the world will be in utter chaos! Even climates will no longer be stable. They will change, resulting in a nuclear meltdown. When that happens, the world will be spread with radioactive waste."

             “With the ever thinning crust, the waste will seep into the core. The earth could… explode.” Gasps went around the room.

 "Does the virus continues its work even when all computers shut down?"  Deina asked.

 "No, that's the good news  when someone switched off the computers in England. However, switching it off means all means of transport and communication will be deeply affected,"

 "So we just switch off the automatic section and control the computer manually," Max suggested.

 "But that means that we may as well don't go to school at all!" Kelly protested. Cerein proposed, "But what if we have shifts? After all there're people who are guarding the computer in the mornings and afternoons, right?" Dr. Jessi bowed her head down.

 "Maybe that will work, but until that we have no choice but to evacuate everybody on Earth," For a while, all in the meeting was silent. They stared long and hard at each other and then at Dr. Jessi.

 "If that's so, then I suggest that evacuation be carried out," A voice from the back said. They turned around and were surprised at Calven's words.

 "You mean, no one must stay in Earth at all?" Lelis asked. Calven nodded.

 "Everyone must be out of Earth in about one months' time. That is the estimated time when the virus hits the MainFrame," Calven continued.

 "That will be hard, Calven. There will definitely be a number of people who will oppose the decision-"  Deina was cut off by Calven.

 "Kill all who oppose the plan. It's their fault that they cannot take reality. Besides, this is not time to talk about sentiment. This is a danger that can pose threat to world affairs,"

 Dr. Jessi decided to speak up after a long and uneasy silence, "If that's your choice, I shall try to inform the government to start the plan,"

 "There is no such thing as trying to get this plan into the governments' heads, Dr.! Tell them this is important, more important than anything else in the country!" Cerein shouted. Kelly, Deina, Max and Lelis agreed. Dr. Jessi finally decided, "So that's it. I'll tell the people involved while you start monitoring the computer," She left and the six of them were left in the meeting room.

 "Well, let's start our duty," Max said. All of them followed suit except Calven.

 "You go first. I'll be there soon," Calven said. The door was slammed shut. Calven got up from his seat and looked out the window. He saw a very disappointing sight. All over the city, there was smoke and shades of grey, black and white above and below the skyline. All that could be seen clearly was the Communication tower, standing out in its luminosity among the dirt and dust particles that clouded the sky.

 He saw today's newspaper on the table. He picked it up and read the headline. Somehow, the headline, 'HUMAN MUTANTS' DEATHS MULTIPLY' hardly moved him. He knew ever since human mutation and gene rearrangement started, it would be unsuccessful. The genetic scientists had started to play God by bringing the dead back to life. With radioactive waste strewn all over, scientists decided to put the waste to good use by mixing it with human genes and therefore resulting in human mutations.

 As soon as they realised it was an astounding success, they encouraged more radioactive waste to be produced so that more mutations could be made. However, they did not realise the side-effects of the mutation. The few who did realise this mistake were ignored and were labelled as people who were in the way of progress. The new human race's lifespan was not long, perhaps only for a few years. When they died, their bodies rotted and were just buried, unaware of the fact that the radioactive material that they were made from seeped slowly into the earth and heating up the Earth's core.

 From there disaster after disaster happened. The year 1998 heralded the worst El Nino ever, destroying economy and weather. From there, haze enveloped the world, never to see a blue sky again. Try as much as environmentalists did to save the world, they couldn't. Drought, extinction of rare and endangered species went on for some time till the drought ended, bringing the death toll to millions of dead people and animals.

 It just so happened that colonies were becoming safer and better at that time so many people migrated to the colonies. They were scared of the never-ending new viruses that constantly popped up from nowhere. First there was DATUM , a disease which struck young and old, turning them into mindless beings that wasted away. It was like leprosy, only worse. The disease was incurable.

 Then came RAM Disease, a disease that killed animals, therefore resulting in many people converting into vegetarians. Fortunately for the people in colonies, they were spared the horrible calamity that struck everywhere. That was when more people died.

 Calven threw the newspaper back on the table and just looked outside. He sighed a little and bit his lip to keep the tears from falling. Somehow, he couldn't go in there with them yet. Not for the time being.



 Inside the room where the others were working, Kelly noticed something. She turned around in her chair to face the others, who were diligently working. She looked around and noticed one of them were missing. She turned to Lelis who was sitting next to her.

 "Lelis, notice that someone's missing?" Kelly whispered. Lelis replied, "No, I assumed everyone was in here since just now?" Cerein looked up from her book.

 "Well, Calven's still outside; probably waiting for Jessi," Cerein said.  Deina said, "Maybe, but I don't think she'll be back so soon?"

 "Let him stay outside. Maybe he's in no mood to do his duty. After all, we stay here and we have the whole night long," Max said. Lelis heard what Max had said and secretly agreed. Like Cerein, Deina, Kelly, Max, Calven and her, their families had moved to the colonies and they had to stay behind because of the volunteering program. She remembered the conflict she and her parents had when she was chosen:

 "Lelis, I don't care, you are not taking part in this program! Besides, it's too dangerous!" He father had scolded her. Her mother agreed with his words.

 "It's not dangerous, father! Besides, it's just monitoring computers, not testing out nuclear reactors!" She argued.

 "Lelis, you must think about this. We are going to migrate in just a few months! How are you going to survive here? Besides, with all these viruses running around, you might just catch one of them," Her mother reasoned.

 "I don't care! I have been waiting for so long to be accepted and I have finally have the chance! Now you are saying I can't go?"

 "That was before we know the program was starting so late! If it had started earlier, maybe a few years ago, we would've allowed it any time! Now is simply not the time!"

 "Then why can't you go first? I'll visit regularly and we'll all be satisfied!"
 "You are our only daughter, what happens if something happens to you?"

 "Mother, I know how to take care of myself! Why won't you let me live a little? I can't just inherit your money, I have to learn how to manage it! Besides, I'm not a five-year-old anymore!" Before she knew what happened, her father had rose from his chair and slapped her. Lelis stumbled and fell to the floor.

 "You are not going anywhere, Lelis. You are coming with us. We will migrate two months from now. You are to obey, understand?" Her father's voice was calm, but stern. Lelis recognised that voice. It was the voice her father used when his wanted his orders to be obeyed. She bowed her head down and whispered, "Yes, father,"

 She just wished she could cry, but she couldn't. She had never cried in her life. Ever since she was small, she could never shed a tear, and she always wished she could. Every time she saw something sad, everyone around her would cry, but never her. They always thought of her as hard-hearted, never being emotional. Biologically, her tear ducts could not produce tears. They had no way to correct it and she refused to take the risk of blinding herself.

 Then there was her father. Her father was a manager and had an empire of his own. She was his only daughter and he insisted that she be groomed to take over. However, she refused. She preferred to choose her own path instead of following her parents' every wish. However, that was not meant to be.

 
 Hop on to Apocalypse - Part Two!
Comments? Critisism? New ideas? Don't keep us in suspense!
DJ Lesser (jndoris@tm.net.my)
Jewelle
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