It took decades longer than anyone ever anticipated. And then, just as the world took a collective sigh of relief, it mutated.
Some called it forced evolution.
The survivors were a new type of human. Their irises turned into pale silver, their hair and skin varying shades of gray. Apparently this was due to some melanocyte mutation. It was protective, some scientists said, against the constant blue light exposure.
Some changed only partially. The ones who didn’t change at all, unfortunately, perished.
Luke and his wife Isabel were some of the last partial mutants left. Isabel, who was of light caramel skin and wavy raven hair, now had one silver eye and one coffee. She was still beautiful, of course, even more so, but Luke could never get used to that one silver eye. It was beautiful, yes, but eerie.
Isabel was in the kitchen that morning, making breakfast out of their last remaining box of eggs, stirring coffee with powdered milk. This meal would be one of the last from their most recent weekly shipment, and Luke wondered if there would be more. Isabel hummed as she worked, softly in her native Brazilian Portuguese, and Luke couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of foreboding.
Today was the day.
“Good morning, love.”
Isabel turned and smiled. Her full lips still a healthy pink color. “Hey. Hungry?”
He wasn’t. “Starving.”
“Are you nervous? About today?”
Luke considered the question as he sat down on the kitchen counter. “I’m not sure how I feel.”
“They broke the locks on the gates, I heard them this morning.” Isabel continued, placing a plate on the counter for him.
“There’s nowhere to go.”
“There’s always somewhere to go.” Isabel countered.
“Well, not here anyway.” Luke worried for his wife, whose only mutation was her one silver eye. Luke on the other hand was deemed almost a full mutant, only a few streaks of ash blonde left on his almost completely silver mane.
Isabel smiled and leaned across the counter to kiss him softly on the lips. “Meu amor. You worry too much.”
Luke couldn’t help it. They had to have a back up plan. Today they were finally letting the partial mutants leave their cordoned cities, where they have been living on weekly rations for ten months. Apparently it was now considered safe to attempt reintegration.
What that meant for them, Luke wasn’t entirely sure, but he wasn’t hopeful. Reintegration would mean they would have to stop the weekly shipments, the patrolled protections. There wouldn’t be enough food, and there couldn’t be enough jobs. Isabel was a teacher before the world changed, but what school would hire her now? She would stand out like a sore thumb with her jet black hair and complected skin. Any silver hair would get that job before her. And there weren’t enough of those positions to begin with. Luke might get hired, but one look at his ID and it would be some service industry job at best.
“At least we can maybe travel further out a bit. Remember when we used to do that?” Isabel mused, her eyes wide, innocent.
“Yes, that would be nice.”
“Luke! Stop doing that.”
“Humoring me.” For the first time that day Isabel’s demeanor flattened. “I know I’m being silly. We probably won’t be allowed to have plane tickets.” She chuckled mirthlessly. “Still, at least we wouldn’t be locked in like prisoners anymore.”
Luke nodded slowly. It was time to tell her. He looked Isabel in the eye. “I’ve been talking to Merv.”
Isabel’s hand paused in midair. “What on earth for?”
Luke hesitated. “He can get us on a ship. To that island.”
“Jesus Christ, Luke, the mythical island where all the Partials live happily ever after? Are you serious?” Isabel shook her head incredulously.
“Listen, it was too hard before, when the cordon was in place.” Luke explained. “But now, we can sneak out and nobody would be the wiser. There’s nothing for us here, Isabel, we wouldn’t survive reintegration.”
Isabel stayed quiet for what seemed like forever but was probably just a beat or two. “You mean, I wouldn’t survive it.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“But it’s what you mean.” Isabel sighed. “You realize what would happen if you’re wrong about this island, right? We could never come back. They would kill us first.”
“I know. But either we take this risk or we stay. It would be worse than living in the cordon. Isabel... you realize that, don’t you?”
Isabel exhaled slowly, her one silver eye practically glowing against her long dark lashes. “Do you really believe that?”
Isabel paused, silently considering her husband, and for a split second Luke thought she would refuse. Then she smiled, her eyes crinkling at the corners like they always did, and she reached across to wrap Luke in her long limbs. “Then, my love, let’s go.”
It’s funny when you have nothing left to lose, you find out the lengths you could actually go.
Luke thought they would never see land again. The ship had been sailing for three long months, with Merv’s cousin, a hardened man of the sea, at the captain’s helm. Daily he would bark harsh orders to whoever was earshot, often laden with unnecessary obscenities.
“That’s just his way.” Merv would explain to Luke with a careless shrug. “But he’s a good captain, he’ll get all of us there in one piece, I promise ya.”
Finally, just as Luke was beginning to believe he got on a ship with a bunch of unstable sailors, they saw land. At the sight, Luke thought he saw the hard captain cry.
The day they saw land, Luke remembered practically running down to the tiny cabin his wife was resting in. Isabel was sleeping a lot those days. Luke guessed that being exposed to too many people much further down the mutation line and living in such close quarters must be taking a toll on her fragile health.
“Isabel, my love, we’re almost there. Can you believe it? We’ll reach land in a day or two.” Luke cooed, as he touched his wife’s cheek gently. “Isabel?”
Isabel’s eyes could only open a sliver. “Meu amor.”
Luke fought the urge to weep. The seas had not been kind to Isabel. His wife looked so frail, her once rich caramel skin now so sallow, her midnight black hair without its previous luster.
“Did you hear me, Isabel?” Luke pleaded, his voice breaking. “We’re almost there. Just a day away. My love, just hold on another day.”
“I love you, Luke.” Isabel croaked in a barely audible whisper, and for a moment Luke saw a flicker of life in his wife’s eyes: one silver, one coffee. Then it was gone, and Luke would never see it again.
They called the island Last Haven. Aptly named as the last foothold of old humanity.
It was a sanctuary for the dying.
It was years before Luke finally accepted this, as he watched his friends die one by one around him. He was, he explained to his neighbors, the most changed out of the last remaining partial mutants, and this afforded him the longest survivability of them all.
The secret, of course, was that he colored streaks of his silver mane with yellow dye. He changed completely many years ago, just as the world was slowly realizing the new division in humankind. Before they started separating the pure silver mutants from the partial ones, leaving the rest who didn’t evolve at all to die.
When they started cordoning off cities to contain the Partials, apparently for their own protection, Luke knew he couldn’t leave his wife there. Isabel was the love of his life, the center of his universe. He had to get her out of there, had to get her to a place where she could live protected and loved, not shunned.
Isabel didn’t make it to Last Haven. She didn’t even make it out of the ship.
It left Luke a broken man. The day Isabel died, a part of him died with her.
For years he lived on the island, helping where he could, convincing himself that it had not all been in vain. Even though Isabel was gone, his love for her brought him there, and that would have to be enough.
Last Haven thrived, for a community full of dying people, a family forged from desolate pasts and deep losses. It wasn’t perfect, but it became home, and this new family kept Luke hanging on.
Then, one day, Luke noticed his body changing. They were tiny changes, barely noticeable at first, but he knew his world was changing again all the same.
At first he started seeing small flecks of hazel in his silver irises. Then he noticed his skin slowly starting to turn a healthy shade of pink. Finally, he found he didn’t need to dye his hair anymore.
After a few months Luke looked like the man he was before the nightmare started. Dazed, he walked into the town center of Last Haven and found his friends and neighbors gathered there. All appeared to have reverted completely back to their old selves. All looked at each other in hopeful confusion and bewilderment.
Luke felt a tear on his cheek as he began to smile for the first time in a very long while. Isabel would have loved it here.