It was supposed to stop global warming. A light gas molecule that would zap the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by binding with it. In the experiments it had been very successful–and most importantly, nontoxic to humans.
It was released at various high-altitude stations worldwide, where it would do the most good. The sea levels were rising steadily, and people were scared, so vested interests pumped up the quantity of the gas released into the atmosphere. Enough for quick results without displacing the nitrogen and oxygen we need to live.
And it went well. Our combined carbon footprint declined over the course of the first few years, the sea level rise petered off, and the experiment had proved a success.
Among the raucous cheering after the announcements were the children of the Earth, who had been sleeping less and less. The children whose lack of sleep was turning the skin beneath their eyes black and swollen, and whose eyes were marked by red capillaries splayed around the pupils like spider webs.
On the playgrounds they stared at each other, as if they were having secret conversations, and looked upon curious adults with the stare of a hungry dog. At lunchtime they poked their food with dirty fingers and wiped those fingers off on their tables, scrawling incomprehensible words with macaroni cheese sauce as if it was finger paint.
When the public turned their attention to the gas as the culprit for the children’s strange behavior, they clamored to have the dispersal stations shut off. And so they were.
The following day, the children’s cries were heard loudly. They beat at the doors of their bedrooms, scratched at their flesh and eyes, and started desperately painting the walls and floors and ceilings of their homes with words in a language unknown to any reasonable human being. By morning, every child younger than age ten was dead, and not all from loss of blood or self-evisceration. Most simply rolled their eyes into the backs of their heads and let out a single cry before promptly falling limp into their mothers’ arms: “We are awake.”