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Chapter XVI

            It was March, 2013. Twelve years to the Day of Doom.
            Arthur Considine was puzzled. "Dad, oh Dad, come here a minute, won't you?" he called.
            "What do you want, son?" His father stepped out of the kitchen door. He was a young-looking man---young to be the father of a sixteen-year-old boy, but he had married young and he was only thirty-five. He had a rather athletic look about him; his close-cropped hair heightened that effect. He had dark bushy eyebrows that were constantly on the move. These darted up askance: "Well, what did you want?"
            "Dad," Art said, "this rosebush, the one I planted when I was just a little kid---it isn't blooming."
            Again the expressive eyebrows did a dance. "What?" He bent to look, poking delicately at the dried twigs, truly puzzled. "Why, so it is. That's funny," he admitted. "It's usually the first thing that blooms as soon as it gets warm." He shook his head and wiped his hands on the plain apron that he wore around his waist. Art's mother had died a few years ago; Alex Considine had been a father AND a mother to the boy. It wasn't hard, however; Art was naturally neat and cooperative. He stayed most of the time at school, eating in the cafeteria, coming home at five with his Dad, who got out of his bookkeeping job at the same time. Alex, the father, would cook a quick, but tasty, supper; and the rest of the day would be spent in games, studies and gardening. They both had a green thumb and the Indiana earth that they had in their backyard was perfectly adapted for almost any kind of flower or shrub. It WAS queer why that flower didn't have blooms on it.
            A few days later their lawn started to turn brown. Continuous watering seemed to do it no good. They fertilized it, to no avail. All the other lawns that had started growing for the spring were growing brown prematurely; the trees didn't put forth even one bud. It was a topic of backyard discussion, this unproductivity; no one knew what caused it. They were to find out.
            The gardening columns in the newspapers ceased to run; they were perplexed, too. Soil specialists were sent for; the possibility of contamination by something was considered. The experts came up with their solution. This was not the first neighborhood to be stricken by the strange blight. On examining the soil they found the same strange substance that they had discovered in all the other areas that they had studied prior to that date. The presence of some oily, dirty substance was found everywhere, spread over all the earth from two inches to many feet in depth. Plant experts were baffled even though they thought the presence of an overabundance of carbon dioxide in the soil was spoiling it; perhaps uniting with some minerals in the fertile soil to make it barren, sterile. It was only a hypothesis---most probably the correct answer, however.
            The Considines were saddened by the discovery; they had loved their tiny garden as much as they loved the other things that made them happy. It was terrible, they thought, to sit by a window and look out into a yard that had become stiff, brown, crisp, dead. The grass got browner and finally was as straw beneath their feet. The roses broke off at the roots; the wind blew them around the yard until they were picked up.
            All over the world similar scenes were taking place. The trees that had not been taken down in the first place from the equatorial rain forests of Africa and South American were dried slowly and then, not used to the mineral-less soil, fell over, taking their neighbors with them to the ground. Seaweed in the sea itself died; sore-like openings appeared at the sides and base of the giant weeds and they were uprooted to die in their natural habitat. Vegetable gardens withered, died. The fruits that were taken from the dying tress were found to be poisonous with some as-yet-unnamed poison. Later it was simply labeled "Concentrated Carbon Dioxide." Palm trees lining the luxurious Hawaiian and Californian vistas tumbled to the ground, their root systems dead from the sterile soil. Potted plants that were growing in herbariums and private homes drooped, expired in their pots. Chinchona trees wilted and toppled; the world's supply of quinine was irreparably lost. Latex trees died; rubber was no longer imported from the jungles; there were no longer any jungles. The chlorophyll was the first structure that was damaged. The plant simply ceased to be green; it turned dirty brown and very soon died. Orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, cherry, apple, peach, pear, avocado, fig trees died. The fruit supply of the world was cut off.
            Not only the fruit supply of the world suffered, all the habitations of man suffered. The Moon was waterless; thus, nothing could be grown. Mars was alternately freezing and roasting; no plant could survive those extremes of temperature. Venus was desolate.
            Desperate merchants financed expensive expeditions to the morning star again. After the staggering amounts of money were spent to reconstruct the special type of rocket that could navigate in the cloud layer of Venus, the ships took off. Torturous weeks passed; the ships limped back to port with negative replies. The shells had all been broken to pieces by the quakes that, it seemed, periodically shook the planet. A few green twigs were found but, as soon as the men endeavored to transport them back to Earth, they wilted and died. The long confinement in the airtight holds were too much for the delicate remains.
            The Earth was no longer green; it was brown, withered, sere. Carbon dioxide piled up in the atmosphere---oxygen was no longer given off by the plants.
            The scientists hastily revised their figures. They had planned that the plants that they had would stay in existence. When the plants died, a flaw developed in their scheme. The Earth would be free of oxygen by 2024. It was May---without the flowers---, 2013, eleven years to the Day of Doom. It was desperate.