The water was up to the fifth floor of the Burj Khalifa, which was still standing despite the devastation surrounding it. The tower, once polished like silver, was now dulled by brown dust and red rust; the result of multiple sandstorms, increasing humidity, and decades of neglect.

Nellie's raft edged closer to the building. As soon as it was close enough to one of the broken windows, Nellie tossed a rope inside and with little hesitation made a leap for it, backpack strapped tight to her body. She took the rope and tied it around the column closest to her, round reinforced concrete. One of many that will keep the building standing for many decades to come.

Nellie was tired, but her journey was far from over. She still had to make her way to the very top of the Burj, floor 160. Not an easy task now that none of the building's 57 elevators were operational. It wouldn't be in vain though, not according to her journalistic instincts. Only on the very top floor of the tallest building in the world would it be safe. The story of civilization's collapse needed to survive for generations to come, lest humanity makes the same mistakes all over again. With that in mind, climbing some 2900 steps didn't seem like a terrible price to pay.

This wasn't some knee jerk decision either. She had thought it through and done the math. It would take her five hours.

Five hours of going up stairs is nothing, she told herself. She grew up in Colorado hiking ridiculous fourteeners, unhindered by the craft beer she downed along the way. She could make it to the top of the Burj Khalifa easy. That's what, eight hundred meters above sea level? Child's play.

Nellie made her way through broken granite tiles, tipped over marble countertops, the remnants of broken chandeliers, and obsolete artifacts of decadence: discarded gold watches, broken bottles of perfume, neglected high heels, and all manner of things once considered the epitome of good living. Nellie bent down and held one of the stilletos in her hand, lifting it up to her eyes to examine its condition, which wasn't all that bad considering. Nellie remembered back when she would've killed to own such a pair. It all seemed so frivolous now, so pointless. No wonder the world collapsed.

Nellie was expecting the stairwell to be in poorer condition than the rest of the building, but in fact it was immaculate. Or as close to immaculate as possible given the state of things. It was clearly hardly ever used, which made sense given no one would've ever had use for stairs in a building like the Burj, not even the service staff.

It was only after four stories of climbing that it hit Nellie how claustrophobic the stairwell was. The effort may have been nothing compared to the fourteeners of Colorado, but at least out there you're surrounded by nothing but trees and rock and big blue sky. This stairwell--this very tight, dark, and moldy stairwell--this was a problem.

She wasn't supposed to be alone. Lara was supposed to be with her. They were supposed to climb the steps together, share stories and laughs and snacks and encouragement. That was the plan anyway, but plans don't always go your way. If the ocean is determined to swallow up your friend, then the ocean will very much swallow your friend and there ain't a goddamn thing you can do about it.

The stairwell began to swerve. Nellie stopped to catch her breath and sip water from her hydrapak. She decided not to let her cockiness be the end of her and instead acknowledge she might not actually make it after all. In which case, starting her recording now was her best bet. Even if she were to never make it to the top, there was always the possibility someone would find her body, and with it, her recorder.

She fished for the device, detached the magnetic earbuds, and placed them carefully in her ears. She resumed climbing and hit record.

*  *  *

It's difficult to say when exactly the end of the world began. Because the more you think about it, the further back you go. Any event you start at was obviously preceded by one that came before it, which in no small part is usually the cause of everything that comes after it. My thoughts always drag me back to the birth of civilization itself and everything that came with it. The construction of grand cities and the concentration of population in small patches of land. The carving of mountains for the petty construction of grand monuments. Animal husbandry and regimented agriculture and the creation of class hierarchies and money and weapons and war. And y'know what? None of that would've happened had it not been for the existence of man in the first place. So maybe this collapse, the doom of civilization and the inevitable extinction of our species is all for the better anyway.

Forgive my cynicism. I am going up the stairs of the tallest man-made structure on the planet which now serves no other purpose than as a monument of human idiocy. It's hard not to be cynical.

But y'know what, I take that back. It does serve a purpose. It will serve a purpose. The tides will continue to rise and most everything we've ever known will be gone. Up at the top of this building however, this recording stands a chance to survive and a chance to be found.

My name is Nellie Morrow by the way. I'm an American Journalist and I... oh. Forgive me for being presumptuous, there's absolutely no reason why anyone listening to this might have the faintest idea what 'American' is. Probably little different to Babylonian or Aztec or make your pick of any fallen empire of your choice.

America was land of freedom and the epitome of democracy. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I'm betting there are a few Chinese documents out there that paint a different picture, but believe me: America was it. Sure, it might've been built on crime and genocide, slavery, exploitation, and warfare. Sure it's the only country on Earth to ever nuke fully inhabited cities, and sure it's military reach led to the subjugation of a good 70% of the world's population, but y'know what? It's still the best thing the human race has ever come up with. Which I guess tells you a little something about the human race.

I suppose you might say it was America's perception of itself that was the cause of its own downfall. In the very paper I wrote for, you would find articles that spoke of American ideals and American glory, side-by-side investigations into American war crimes and drug epidemics and corporate negligence. On the one hand there was an acknowledgement of our malady, but on the other it was always coupled with a complete refusal to admit the fallacy of our ways. It is precisely that contradiction in perception that lead to the breakout of the second American civil war. I mean, don't get me wrong, it was a long time brewing and everyone knew it. Of course it would be wrong to say the opposing ideals between the coasts and inland were the actual cause, but they definitely made the ground fertile enough for cause to take root. The cause being: energy.

Actually, that's not really true either. The cause was money. Old money that was being made from oil versus new money that was being made from Solar, made especially lucrative by the new technologies developed in China. Truth be told, none of this would've happened had their not been a lockdown on the oil industry. Controlled by 50 companies worldwide, there was virtually no way for any new startups to enter the market. If, as a young American you had any aspirations to become wealthy relatively quickly, a new business venture in the field of oil and gas was simply out of the question. You had to look elsewhere, and Solar was the new gold.

The battle between oil and solar was of course muddled in pretend rhetoric. Protecting jobs was oil's big excuse, along with wails and whines about the exorbitant costs involved in switching the economy to a completely different energy source. Solar on the other hand, leaned on 'progressive thinking' and saving the environment, when in fact it turned out that those solar farms wreaked more havoc on the environment in a single year than oil could ever hope for in a lifetime. Forget about the birds and butterflies and reptiles that were literally zapped to death. The heat those things generated, the heat. Astronomical. The polar caps couldn't melt fast enough.

Don't think I'm putting the blame entirely on the United States. No one was fast enough to adopt solar and implement it as widely as the Tahrir League Empire, which at its height stretched from Mauritania to the West all the way to Bangladesh in the East, save for a few stubborn pockets here and there. You can't really blame them, not with a vast arid desert at their disposal just asking for it. A desert the size of the entire continental United States. By phase 1 (out of 9) of the Grand Sahara Complex, they were already producing enough energy to power half the empire. The new batteries coming in from the African Protectorates of China couldn't have been more timely, making the storage of Solar so easy that gas and oil had effectively become obsolete. But that didn't keep a handful of Gulf city states from sticking to their old ways, partially because their sheikhs and princes lacked vision and had little drive, but also because of the American bases that sat on their soil.

But that was before the civil war broke out back home. Before hundreds of thousands of military personnel were left stranded overseas with no command, dwindling resources, and an eroded sense of purpose. Their only salvation? Mercenarism.

Britain shot itself in the foot with Brexit. NATO was already de facto dissolved by the United States for reasons nobody could wrap their head around, and with Brexit severing any ties between Europe and the exceedingly isolationist people of the English Isles, nobody came to the rescue when the biker gangs went full Bastille on crown and parliament.

That's not to say there wasn't some degree of foreign involvement. Shipments of freshly juiced bike batteries continued to flood the isles, making their way from Tahrir's empire through the liberated provinces of Spain and France. Territories that strategically hugged parts of the Mediterranean and the English Channel.

Nobody saw it coming, and no gammon could've ever imagined that all it took to end their beloved Royal family once and for all was not guns or bombs or even bows and arrows, no. All it took was a bunch of brown and black kids on electric mopeds that never ran out of fuel, armed with nothing but sticks and a whole lotta Punkgrime.

The exodus of most of Europe's young, able workforce to the Empire of Tahrir left the European economy in shambles. There was no big war, no revolutionary moment. It just sort of... withered away. Aided heavily by the Arctic Freeze that overtook half the continent and lasted a good two decades. The same Arctic Freeze that ended Russia and Japan. All while the skeptics of Global Warming continued to lean on the freeze as evidence that the planet wasn't warming at all. They couldn’t understand that as arctic waters gradually warmed, it's temperatures edging closer to that of warmer climes, wind patterns were changing. The Arctic Freeze was the planet's last hurrah before the onslaught of what became known as the Scorch Age.

China's star continued to rise, its economy superbloomed thanks to its ties with the Tahrir League and Africa. But the Chinese were not dumb, and wouldn't make the same mistake the West made. They knew too well, based on their very own history, never to underestimate the potential of any other nation to rise from ruins to prominence. China herself was nothing but an impoverished postcolonial wannabe state only a handful of decades prior, and now she was officially the world's only superpower. She was also the only nation on Earth with colonies on both the moon and Mars. Not to mention the only nation that had active communication with a deep space civilization.

China benefited from the Tahrir League's rise, there's no doubt about it. As did the West from China's rise... to a point. The Chinese could see that point clearly, a point that grew increasingly acute with protests that proliferated throughout its African protectorates. Protests inspired directly by the Tahrir Empire's expedited rise and the feverish Afrofuturist art that was coming out of the continent. It had a power to it. So inspiring, honest, and visionary that it influenced cultural output across the Globe. It was evident in music, cinema, fashion, it was everywhere. Even in what you might've thought were the most unlikely places. Like China herself for instance. Something colonizers never realize is that culture is a two way street, whether you like it or not.

In any case, the Chinese knew that settling for quelling the protests in its African territories would not suffice, and best thing to do was to deal with the source of its troubles: The Tahrir League Empire. Tahrir may have had all the energy it needed, but war was not something they were adept at. Sure their armies may have had a long history of dealing with incompetent insurgencies and mowing down stone throwers, but war? Real nation-against-nation warfare? They hadn't had to deal with anything like that in eons. China knew it had the upper hand, and overtaking the Tahrir League and its vast energy fields was very much doable.

What they didn't account for was America’s stranded mercenaries, which the Tahrir League was quick to recruit. Them and the armies of Latin America. Latin American countries though were in a bit of conundrum. Here they had two great anti-Western empires on the rise going to war with one another. Who do you root for? Which one do you side with? Divisions were spawned, grievances deepened, and it wasn't long before Latin America was at war with itself. A conflict the Chinese made sure to perpetuate.

*  *  *

Nellie reached the top floor of the Burj Khalifa well out of breath. She dropped her bag and sprawled across the floor, bathing in the late afternoon glow. The 360 degree glass windows, thick and still intact, provided a panoramic view of the sky above the clouds, above rolling sandstorms.

When she caught herself dozing off, she quickly snapped upright and reached for her bag. From it, she produced a bulky Ethiopian laptop, a beast of a thing built to withstand the harshest of elements. She then proceeded to pull out a foldable solar panel which she unfolded and placed near one of the windows before connecting it to a battery which she then connected to the laptop.

She looked around and took in the view.

I can almost see it, she thought to herself, the waters rising to just a few floors below. Boats circling this new mecca, where inside sits the godhead of the future. A laptop loaded with humanity's history and a guide for the future. Whaddya know, she told herself, from journalist to messiah. But maybe that's all  messiahs ever were anyway. Journalists, exposers of truth before the advent of journalism as a profession in service of governments and corporations.

As soon as the laptop was activated, it automatically transferred Nellie’s recording to its hard drive which was paired to Nellie’s recording via Streaktooth.  A shortcut to the recording sat visibly on the desktop, the only file there. And then she started a new recording.

*  *  *

That's not the end of the story, not even close. Remember the bit about China establishing contact with a deep space civilization?

That shit wouldn’t be without consequences. They came for us, the Aliens. And that’s when things got really, really weird.

Authored January-February 2019
between Denver (CO) and Houston (TX)

Words & Pictures: Ganzeer
Editor: Dan Hill

Copyright © 2019 by Ganzeer, Inc.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License

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