Calvin quickly put on the hazmat suit, doing his best not to breath in any more air than he absolutely had to. He had heard about how bad these situations could get, in the past, hundreds of people had died in situations like this. Every housing complex bragged about how well they would do in a containment leak, and it was a bulk of what the HOA fees went towards, but nobody ever really knew how much of that was marketing fluff vs. reality.
Descending the stairs, Calvin and his Dad could see the faint yellow air creeping in under the front door. This was clearly bad, very bad. Containment leaks had varying levels of severity. The outside air on earth was incredibly toxic so even a small leak could wreak havoc, being able to actually see the air meant this was a lot more than a small leak. While the hazmat suits were a good first line of defense, their oxygen tanks wouldn't last more than four or five hours which meant evacuation timing was critical.
The challenge was, going from one neighborhood to another wasn't a simple task. The suits themselves carried toxic air with them and risked contaminating more neighborhoods, setting off a domino effect that could lead to an even more widespread disaster.
Calvin remembered learning about the "Great containment leak of 89" and couldn't help but run through that scenario in his head. Back in 2389 a major containment leak impacted a dozen neighborhoods. In an attempt to save as many people as possible the NPA (Neighborhood Protection Agency) had decided to allow people to freely pass from one neighborhood to another. The result was the contamination of dozens of other neighborhoods which set off a chain reaction of evacuations to over one hundred neighborhoods as each one toxified the air of the other.
After that disaster, the NPA had put strict restrictions in place dictating when and how people could go from one neighborhood to another during a containment leak.
"Okay bud, stick with me," Calvin's Dad's voice was barley audible through the suit but he could tell by the look on his face he was genuinely scared. Opening the front door they could see other neighbors leaving their homes, some were attempting to carry large suitcases in one hand while balancing a small child in the other. Outside the air was thick, reducing visibility to only about twenty to thirty feet in front of them.
A voice boomed over the ENNS (Emergency Neighborhood Notification System) - "Citizens of Neighborhood 188, please make your way to Shelter Delta Gamma Five and await further instructions."
Flashing red arrows along the roads illuminated the path, Calvin and his Dad got in line as the procession of neighbors made their way to the shelter. About three minutes into the walk, the door to a house burst open, a man, likely in his mid-30's came running towards them, he wasn't wearing a suit! As he got closer his breathing became strained, his eyes started to water and close, "help me!" he yelled as he fell to the ground.
Calvin looked back at his Dad already knowing what he was going to say. "We can't do anything Calvin, just keep walking."
The man began to crawl towards them, at this point his eyes were fused shut with viscous puss, his breathing had slowed as he gasped for air. Once he was around ten feet away he gave up and began to curl into a ball gasping for air. And then the breathing stopped, he was dead.
Calvin couldn't believe what he just saw and it definitely reinforced the severity of the situation. The emergency shelter was still about ten minutes away and the procession of neighbors was starting to feel like a death march. It was probably better that the hazmat suits mostly obscured people's faces because every time Calvin was able to glimpse a neighbors face he saw the same thing - a look of sheer panic and desperation.
It became clear pretty quickly that the air was getting thicker, which meant the containment leak was still going strong and the air quality was getting increasingly toxic by the minute. While containment leaks were incredibly rare, they were often patched quickly, Calvin knew what was happening today was unusual.
"Dad, uh - is it just me or is the air getting thicker?" he was stating the obvious, and he knew it, but a little validation never hurt.
"Yeah bud, it is, but not to worry, we're what - eight minutes from the shelter? Once we're in there everything will be fine," his voice cracked when he said the word "fine."
Calvin wanted to go a step further, talk about how unusual this particular leak was and dive into what that meant for them, but he stopped himself, that would only make things worse. The line had grown longer, a lot longer, it now easily spanned four blocks. To distract himself from the situation, Calvin was coaching himself inside his head, "just one foot in front of the other - left, right, left, right," he felt a bit like he was going crazy, maybe he was, but it did seem to be helping, a little.
The next eight minutes felt like eight days but finally through the thick yellow haze Calvin spotted the giant glowing sign:
- SHELTER DELTA GAMMA FIVE -
One by one they filed into the huge, drab, concrete monolith that was Shelter Delta Gamma Five. With no reason to make the shelters anything but functional, the government had really gone the extra distance to make it particularly cold and dreary. A concrete overhang loomed above the entryway, Calvin had heard stories about the design - essentially, in case of any kind of attack, the overhang was designed to fall over the door, blocking the entrance from intruders.
Making their way to the front after a few more minutes Calvin could see military personnel, wearing dark green hazmat suits, scanners in hand. They scanned a small tag at the front of Calvin's suit and motioned towards the entrance. Inside they proceeded down a long hallway, all concrete, red lights hanging from the walls making the situation all the more intense.
The hallway opened up into a large room, like a sports arena from thousands of years ago. Two guards sat at a table, and yes, it was a concrete table - what was it with the concrete? They had AR glasses on and were checking people in, family by family.
"Calvin and William, correct?" the guard asked.
"Uh, I usually go by Will," his Dad said sheepishly.
Exhaling, a stolid expression painted across his face the guard said, "you'll be over there in Sector 7," he motioned to the back left corner of the room where other families had started to gather. The room had been divided into sectors illuminated by glowing lines on the floor. Inside each sector were a collection of makeshift beds and chairs, all looking equally uncomfortable.
Once they reached Sector 7 Calvin spotted one of their neighbors, walking towards them he waved awkwardly. Hank, Marcy, and their two twin girls all sat on one of the beds, er cots, together. Will started the conversation.
"Hey Hank," he said deflated but clearly trying to sound hopeful.
"Hey Will, Calvin" Hank gave a small wave to both of them.
"Any idea what happened?" Will said with genuine curiosity.
Hank motioned for them to come closer indicating that what he was about to say wasn't something he wanted to broadcast beyond the two of them.
"It's not actually a containment leak, that's just what they want us to think," he paused, gulped, and continued, "it's intentional, they're flooding these neighborhoods toxic air,"
Calvin's mind went into an instant state of panic. Intentional? Why would they do that? He could think of all kinds of dystopian reasons, but those only belonged in books, this was real life. Looking up at his Dad he could see the gears turning, likely mirroring the thoughts Calvin had running through his head.
Hank continued, "There's a war breaking out, they've done their best to hide it from us. It's Mars. The cities started rioting one by one up there maybe six months ago,"
Will jumped in, "wait? Mars? riots? That doesn't make any sense, I haven't heard any mention of discontent up there, ever."
"Oh there's been plenty of discontent up there, but there was good reason to cover it up," a look of solemn confidence spread across Hank's face. Either he was telling the truth, or he was very convinced that he was. "As the cities grew bigger and bigger on Mars they just couldn't keep up, food rationing became harder and harder, soon most families were living off half rations, that's when the rioting started,"
Pausing again, Hank looked up at his wife as if looking for approval to continue. A pit was forming in Calvin's stomach, the story was clearly about to get worse.
"The riots were started by a rogue faction that formed and got bigger, fast - they call themselves the Talc Ciar. Their leader is this complete nut job named Robert Daneel, and he was able to convince people, a lot of people, that their only hope was to come back to Earth and attempt to overthrow the government here."
"How long ago did this start?" Will said anxiously.
"They made their first attempt three months ago, but the military was able to fight them back...but they returned three days ago and, well, they're here now," looking back at his wife again he took a short breath and continued no practically whispering, "they've managed to capture a few smaller cities but not surprisingly their real target is DC and uh, that's where it looks like we're all going to come in."
If Calvin's mind was racing before, it was going supersonic now. "That's where we're all going to come in?!?!?" the words echoed through his head over and over.
"Our military isn't big enough to handle an attack of this size, so they're recruiting ordinary citizens to fight. Since this is coming as a surprise to, well, everyone, they decided the best way to do it would be to flood neighborhoods with air under the guise of a containment leak. That way there was no chance of anyone saying no and trying to escape."
Silence overtook the group. It was so much to take in. Calvin thought about where he was just a couple of hours ago, sitting in school lamenting the spitballs bouncing off his head, now he would give anything for that to be his biggest problem. His entire world had just changed and he knew from this moment on nothing was going to be the same.