Tomorrow's Greatest Mystery

Tomorrow's Greatest Mystery
Illustration by Sam Fontaine

The night was warm, and Tim could hear cicadas singing in the distance. “It’s time to wake up.” he thought.

Tim’s bed, mostly made from mycelium and wood fibers. It was comfy, and getting up in the morning was one of the hardest things he had to do every day. It was his privilege. The sun’s warm light finally went through Tim’s windows as he got up. “Here we go again” he whispered to himself, cracking a smile. Outside, the city looked like a colorful painting, of green, yellow, blue, and red. Thanksgiving was in a few days, and it was still more than 30 degrees outside. It was a particularly hot day, but Tim was used to it.

Sunburn Bun was a beautiful city, far different from the one that was pictured in very old and dusty history books: Paris. So he quickly went outside, to enjoy the ephemeral show of the city’s waking up. The sun was already above the horizon, shining warm bright yellow rays.

Like every morning, Tim went for his bike ride through the city. It helped him grasp a clear view of the city that used to be Paris Like most of the towns in 3070, Sunburn Bun was a beautiful city. Vines were part of the architecture, and buildings were made of wood, glass, colorful plants, and metal scraps. Outside the city, mother nature was omnipresent, taking over the vestiges of the ancient thermo-industrial civilization.

People nodded or saluted him. They mostly knew each other, since there were not that many people living in Sunburn.

Tim rode his bike to Sunburn’s library, an egg-shaped building three stories high made of glass, grass, and brass. Inside, various shelves filled with books about science, art, or ancient wisdom. Here, anybody could be found learning, playing, teaching each other, or discussing the city’s issues. It was the city’s new agora, bursting with thousands of ideas every second.

As he went into the library, Tim could smell the scent of wildflowers, covering the giant egg, inside and outside. He liked that smell, that reminded him that nature was everywhere, just waiting to be discovered.

He directed himself to the library center, where an enormous tree holds the egg together. “Such a mighty tree,” he thought to himself, never getting tired of the hustle and bustle he could find in this place of wisdom and knowledge.

There, her friend, Oxa, was waiting for him.

“We should get to work,” she said by way of greetings. “Uh, yeah we should,” Tim said, half asleep and still subjugated by the library’s beauty. The sun played through the colored glass, covering the duo with warm light. “Tim?” She startled him. “Sorry, I never get tired of this, it reminds me of the light in the Sagrada Familia” he answered “Hm, you seem pretty tired, and the Sagrada is long gone, abandoned to the Sandstorms wrath” Indeed, the climate crisis made most of the Iberic peninsula uninhabitable, ravaged by violent sandstorms every few months. Most of its architectural treasures were lost among the sands.

Tim and Oxa were both historians and archeologists of the ancient world. They’d spend most of their days exploring the ruins of cities now reclaimed by nature, trying to understand what happened during the XXI century. Cities such as Paris, especially the district of la Défense, which was home to the criminals that plunged the world into chaos, according to the stories of the Old World.

In the beginning, as Tim’s father told him, most people ignored the stark reality of the scientists’ findings, and went about their consumerist lives, buying and producing evermore, so that others could keep getting richer and richer until they had so much money they did not know what to do with it. So the richest people went into space, to Mars and beyond, and the world found peace.

Tim later found out that the story was quite different. Most rich people didn’t go to Mars, most of them exiled themselves in a bunker, as wars for water, food, and habitable land were raging around the world. Until old griefs were forgotten and forgiven and the world found a new peace.

“WE SHOULD GET TO WORK” shouted Oxa, startling Tim, caught up in his thoughts.

They both went outside the city and took the rail to the Alps. “We should be back before Thanksgiving,” Oxa told him. “Yeah we better” The travel lasted a few hours, during which Tim slept and Oxa drew. She was an artist, (like a lot of people in this new world) and charged to sketch whatever the two historians found.

It was a little bit colder in the mountains, but still pretty warm “at least for the 2020’s standards” thought Oxa. There was no snow left on the mountaintops. It looked more like skeletons of another time. Or fossils. They climbed to the top, enjoying the view before getting to work. “We’ll stay here for a couple of days,” said Tim to Oxa “This should be enough to uncover the secrets of the mountain”. She nodded. They dug and searched for hours, finding no more than plastic scraps, metallic pylons used to ski, and other strange artifacts from the Ancient World, all dating back a thousand years old.

Days passed, and they still did not find anything spectacular, until Oxa dug out a small plate of gold and copper, with inscriptions in French and English. “Interesting,” she thought. She called Tim who exclaimed with joy “Yes, this could be the masterpiece of our exhibition” “A conclusion of sorts if you will.”

They then went back to Sunburn Bun. On the day back, Oxa tried to capture the majesty of the mountains, and the divine beauty the night sky offered, far from any artificial light. The mighty fossils rose once again through the sunset, only witnesses of the Great Crisis.

Tim woke up earlier than usual. He wanted to know more about the golden plate he found. The sun would not rise above the horizon for another 4 hours. By night, Sunburn Bun was ethereal: the streets were not really asleep, and a deep purple halo surrounded the city. Produced by phospholuminescent fungi, it gave the city a certain atmosphere. In the distance, howls and other sounds of the dark could be heard from the outskirts of the city. Nighttime at Sunburn Bun was surrounded by mystery and esoteric forces.

Tim took his bike, and rode it across the city, past multicolored luminescent fungi until he arrived at the Library. Despite the early hour, the Library was open. It was indeed always open. He quickly went to the second floor and found the book he was looking for. A foretelling prophecy about the Great Crisis. He sat there, and under a sky full of stars, opened the book.

Oxa did not like Thanksgiving. In the early third millennium, it was a day of remembrance of all the people killed in the name of “progress” in the Ancient world. Tim, on the other hand, was fond of this day. It reminded him of the days when he was younger, and his father told him stories about the Ancient World, cultivating his passion for history and mysteries.

Dinner was fine, they talked about the Ancient world, and how some customs seemed now so strange and foreign. How some people, probably without a heart, amassed billions of “dollars” (they did not really know what it was, only that ancient text often mentioned it) while others were starving in their communities. How most people refused to question the world they lived in despite scientists chaining themselves to banks and institutions. How it did not matter much since you can’t change the past, and they anyway, lived in a world where tropical forests could be found to the north of the polar arctic circle. In the end, people came together and changed the world. Well, it was not everyone at once, but once a few countries decided to stand up and do acts of courage, others quickly followed. Courage calls courage. They stopped the irresistible march toward complete extinction.

At first, there were a few laws that made some common sense: ban cruelty towards animals, tax frequent flyers and ban private jets. Invest in green and local businesses, plant and protect vast areas of land and ocean. It wasn’t enough. The world plunged into chaos and they decided to stop using fossil fuels. It took decades as the world was burning. Still, it did not change much at first : wars were raging, and mass crop failure kept happening. They did listen to reason, but too late : the world would never be the same.

Then, awkward silence, and Tim started to talk. “I have great news my friends” “Oxa and I found the missing piece of our expedition, which we proudly showed. “The public will have to wait a bit to find out what it is.” asserted Tim’s father. “Yes, they will have to wait,” asserted Tim. “I’m sure the suspense is killing them.”

They were dressed in green from head to toe, with golden and azure ornaments. Tim, Oxa, and their families couldn’t wait for the Exhibition. It was their day!

It was about to open in the Dragon’s Egg Library. Indeed, the Library was also used as a museum, and underneath it was multiple galleries and tunnels where scientific research could be done. And of course, monthly exhibits, about the world, science, and new discoveries. It was colder underground, more hospitable.

Loyal to himself, Tim rode his bike to the Egg. People started to gather under an orange and pink sky. A few minutes later, the Exposition started with Tim’s opening speech.

“Dear friends. Thank you all for being here. Today, Oxa and I, as well as the museum’s staff, will take you on a journey through time. About our greatest mistake, and perhaps, our greatest achievement. You are well aware of the Great Crisis that happened a long time ago. Moreover, you probably know that the civilization that once stood around the world and caused its own destruction is now gone, with only a few vestiges here and there, taking with it millions of lives.

Apart from the tales we were told, and the wisdom of old survivors, we know not much about the Ancient World. Well, my friends. After years of research, I’ve found enough to present to you my new exhibition.

Today, you will travel back in time, exploring this Ancient World and the Great Crisis.”

Tim’s exhibit consisted of a traditional exposition, with a path to follow, pictures, music, shows of lights, and ancient artifacts with guides explaining where they were found, and why they mattered. Free conferences and shows were hosted as well about a wide range of topics: civil disobedience in the XX and XXI century, new genres of stories that emerged in the mid XXI century (such as Solarpunk or Climate realism).

The final piece of the show stood in a little room, a few meters underground, closing the hour-long circuit of discovery.

It was a small plate of brass and other metals, upon which was written in french a few words. It roughly translated to “Letter to the future. All of our ice caps are set to melt during the next 200 years. This plate acknowledges that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you will know if we did what must be done” Tim said.

“Well, as you’ve seen, they did it. Almost too late I must say. But it seemed that after all, they did not lose hope even on the brink of extinction. And even as wars, droughts, mass crop failures and starvation were raging; humanity, kindness, hope and courage remained. It changed the world. How they exactly did it will forever remain a mystery, though I suspect they mostly listened to reason and science, and followed their hearts”. The crowd nodded. « It’s yesterday’s greatest mystery » concluded Tim.