Dragon's Breath Magazine, April '92

He2 ICU, by JSK

     Jorge thought of the childhood stories about the fission era. More water than land, vast bodies called oceans. Ludicrous. Looking across the vast waste, it was hard to believe such a time could have been.
     It was the fusion, of course. One didn't have to read the bookfilms to know that. It was happening right now, though the wastage wasn't as bad as before. Hydrogen was extracted from water and fused, then the heat was used to condense what little moisture there was from the air. Sort of a giant refrigerator. Efficiency was better; a drop would get you a liter. But it was borrowed time. And time was coming to collect.
     Jorge looked along the horizontal slit that was his window to the left, toward the fusion plant that the small city surrounded. All around the slit Jorge saw his diffused reflection; the silvering that kept the heat out. The cooling tower rose into the air, the giant cool exchangers trying to suck moisture from the desiccated air. Somewhere, further away, on the opposite side, were the heat exchangers, the potential energy between them held at bay. Small tanks littered the landscape, the gigantic buried ones having been overfilled a century before. Alchemy! Jorge laughed.
     Jorge thought of his sister, and his parents. The things from yesterday. No one kept track of time anymore; it could have been years. There were no communication devices, as there were no plants to make replacement parts anymore. And very few ways to transport them. What little technology was left concentrated on the water and the greenhouses. Mankind on the edge.
     That was why he hadn't followed the rest of his family. He knew there was no hope. Maybe it had been better for them in a bigger city. But Jorge would not, could not see it that way. He felt humanity's loss of hope with terrible sharpness. He felt the responsibility, even though it was not his.
     He laughed again, more bitterly, at the helium tanks and turned away. He fetched a cool pad and put it on his tongue, the oily menthol refreshing his throat. As a child, they had been an embarrassment; an overt sign of poverty. Now everyone was poor. He had brought two liters when he'd moved in, but now each morning only one was in the recycler. A slow leak. It would cost his last liter to get it fixed.
     The posters outside stared back, untouched. Faded, yet preserved for years by the motionless dry air. Dreams to placate the masses. Yes! We had built dams. Yes! We had split the atom. Yes! We could put them back. Like a crazy crossword puzzle, it dared you to fill in the missing word, WATER. Political advertisements for the new-age alchemy, to turn the noble gas back to water.
     But now all the helium was gone, having slipped like sand through the hand of earth's feeble gravity.
     Pandora, Jorge thought. Not like sand. Like little mischievous demons. Silent, incredibly patient. Waiting for someone, anyone, to open the box. Creatures of air, invisible, laughing and running away.

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