Hang in There Baby! 
Ethan Weldert & ChatGPT

It was that same cat poster that John woke up to every morning. This variation displayed an orange kitten holding on with both paws to a smooth, steel bar. The kitten’s face had been altered so it smirked and faced directly at the viewer with larger eyes. It had been decided by John’s interior design team that this was the perfect poster to display as he woke up every morning. It provided comfort, a similar image to the outside world he had grown up in, while still integrating with the nine floors of stainless steel around it. Now, it provided nothing but sustenance to the black mold that began to fester at the edges of the paper. John much preferred the CCTV screen that sat to his left, where through over 20,000 pixels he could see the shore of fleshy sludge and acidic ocean that battered the bare grey rocks of the Antarctic coastline above him.

John sat up in his sterile, metallic bed, his eyes adjusting to the artificial light of his underground refuge. The hum of the ventilation system and the distant echoes of machinery were the only sounds that broke the silence. He had designed this bunker as a last resort, a haven against the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed, the cold floor sending a shiver through his spine. John stood up and made his way to the control panel, his footsteps echoing in the empty corridor. The holographic interface flickered to life as he approached, casting an eerie glow across the room. The control panel displayed various data points - temperature readings, radiation levels, and the status of the air purification system. His eyes lingered on the global temperature indicator, a constant reminder of the world that once was.

Six degrees. It seemed like an insignificant number, but it had unleashed chaos upon the planet. The relentless rise in temperature had melted the ice caps, flooded coastal cities, and scorched the Earth's surface. The air outside was toxic, the oceans acidic, and the once vibrant ecosystems reduced to desolation. The soil, once fertile, was stripped from the rocks by the now continuous hurricanes and tsunamis. John had once been foolish enough to think moving to a customized bunker in antarctica would save him, but now he knew better.

John sighed and moved to the observation deck, a vast 10-inch-thick window that overlooked the barren landscape of Antarctica. The rocks stretched endlessly, seemingly devoid of life, and the toxic sea pounded against the cliffs below. The air outside was thick with pollutants, a deadly cocktail that made stepping outside without a protective suit and ventilator impossible, if there ever was a reason to.

He traced his fingers over the cold surface of the observation window, reminiscing about the world he had known. The lush greenery, the chirping of birds, and the gentle rustle of leaves in the wind – all distant memories now. The bunker had become his haven, but it was also a tomb, preserving a way of life that no longer existed.

John's thoughts were interrupted by the soft chime of the intercom. "Good morning, Mr. Anderson," a synthetic voice echoed through the speakers. "Please proceed to the briefing room for the daily update."

He nodded to himself and walked towards the briefing room, the sterile corridors giving way to a more spacious area filled with holographic displays. The hologram of an AI scientist materialized in front of him, presenting data on the latest climate conditions and the status of the bunker's systems.

"As you can see, Mr. Anderson, the situation remains grim," the hologram reported. "The temperature is steadily rising, and the Earth's surface is becoming increasingly uninhabitable. Our resources are limited, and the self-sustainability of the bunker is compromised."

John listened attentively, his face betraying a mix of concern and resignation. The realization hit him like a ton of bricks – the bunker was not a permanent solution. The Earth was dying, and with it, the last traces of humanity's once thriving civilization.

With a heavy heart, John made decisions that no one should ever have to make – rationing supplies, optimizing energy consumption, and preparing for the inevitable. The bunker was a refuge, but it was also a cage, trapping the remnants of humanity in a world that had succumbed to its own disregard.

As he left the briefing room, John couldn't escape the feeling that the walls of his underground sanctuary were closing in. The once soothing hum of machinery now sounded like a mournful dirge, accompanying the slow march towards an uncertain fate. The surface world was lost, and the bunker, despite its steel and technology, couldn't shield him from the looming extinction that hung in the air like a thick fog.

John descended the steel staircase to the third floor, his footsteps echoing through the desolate corridors. The door to the kitchen slid open with a mechanical hiss, revealing a room that was once filled with the aroma of freshly cooked meals and the warmth of shared laughter. Now, the kitchen was a cold and barren space. The shelves that once held neatly organized provisions were almost empty, a stark reflection of the dwindling resources within the bunker. John walked towards the storage units, running his fingers over the cold metal surfaces, as if hoping to find something that had miraculously materialized overnight.

A holographic display flickered to life, indicating the current inventory. The numbers were grim – a few packs of nutrient bars, some canned goods, and a dwindling supply of water. The hydroponic system, once a source of fresh vegetables, was struggling to provide even the most basic sustenance.

John's mind drifted back to a time when the kitchen was the heart of his home, where he and his wife would experiment with recipes, creating culinary delights that brought joy to their lives. A bittersweet smile touched his lips as he remembered the last meal they had shared before the world unraveled. His wife, Emma, had been a beacon of strength during the early days of the climate collapse. She was a scientist, passionate about environmental conservation, and had dedicated her life to finding solutions. But as the world outside deteriorated, so did Emma's health.

John sighed, a heavy weight settling on his shoulders. The memories flooded back – the day Emma first coughed blood, the countless trips to the medical bay, and the realization that there was no cure for the illness that had consumed her. The medical supplies within the bunker were limited, and the once thriving community had shrunk to a mere handful of survivors.

As he scoured the nearly empty shelves, John's fingers brushed against a framed photograph tucked away in a corner. It captured a moment of pure happiness – Emma's radiant smile, their arms wrapped around each other, standing in front of a lush landscape that now seemed like a distant dream.

He closed his eyes, clinging to the memories of their love amidst the cold, sterile reality of the kitchen. The pain of loss lingered, intensified by the silent emptiness that surrounded him. The reminder of his wife's absence cut deep, a wound that refused to heal.

John collected the meager supplies available. The holographic display blinked a warning about the depleting energy levels and the strain on the bunker's life support systems. Every decision he made felt like a step closer to an inevitable end, a stark contrast to the hope that the cat poster once symbolized.

With a heavy sigh, John descended to the fourth floor, the door to the communications room sliding open before him. The room was dimly lit, the glow of various screens illuminating the space. In the center of the room, an old laptop sat on a dusty table, a relic from a time when technology held promises of progress rather than the echoes of a world now lost.

John approached the laptop, its screen flickering to life as if reluctant to awaken from years of neglect. The familiar desktop background appeared, a picturesque scene from a vacation long ago. John's fingers hovered over the keyboard, a mixture of nostalgia and regret welling up within him.

As he navigated through the files, a video call application caught his eye. With a hesitant click, the screen split, revealing a recording of a conversation from the past. The image of a younger John, dressed in a suit, appeared on one side. On the other side, a woman with a warmth in her eyes that mirrored his own – Emma.

The flashback transported John to a time when he was an arms dealer, a life he had left behind in a desperate attempt to ensure his family's survival. He had built the bunker to protect them from the impending climate change catastrophe that he himself had contributed to. The guilt weighed heavily on him, a burden he had carried silently throughout the years.

As the recorded conversation played, snippets of his previous life unfolded. Deals made in shadowy corners, decisions driven by profit rather than ethics. The world outside the bunker had been spiraling into chaos, and John had been part of the problem.

he laptop, now a portal to his past, showed glimpses of a life that felt like a distant dream. A life where he had chosen to prioritize wealth and power over the well-being of the planet. The juxtaposition between the old reality and the desolation outside the bunker was a stark reminder of the consequences of his actions.

With a bitter taste in his mouth, John closed the laptop. The weight of his past choices hung in the air, a haunting reminder of the world that had led to the need for a bunker in the first place.

Resolute, John continued down the steel staircase, each step echoing his descent into the depths of his own reflections. The corridors became colder, the air more sterile, as he descended to the lower floors of the bunker.

As John descended to the fifth floor, the air grew muggy and thick. The door to the hydroponic garden room slid open, revealing a sight that sharply contrasted with the sterile atmosphere of the bunker. Thorny, fruitless vines covered every inch of the once-vibrant hydroponic garden. The room, once a source of sustenance, was now a twisted, infected jungle.

The holographic displays that once monitored the health of the plants now flickered with errors and warnings. The fruitless vines clung desperately to the hydroponic systems, their thorns protruding like accusing fingers. The room was a reflection of the decay both within and outside the bunker.

John moved cautiously through the overgrown mess, memories flooding back as he recalled the day when he discussed the design of the bunker with a team of specialists. The flashback enveloped him, transporting him to a time before the world crumbled.

In the holographic conference room, John sat with architects, engineers, and environmental scientists.

They debated the scale and purpose of the bunker, suggesting that it should be expanded to accommodate more people. The specialists spoke of creating a self-sustaining community within the depths of Antarctica, a haven for humanity.

"We can house more families, create communal spaces, and increase the chances of long-term survival," one specialist argued, projecting holographic images of an expanded bunker.

John, however, resisted the idea. He envisioned the bunker as a refuge for his family, a last resort to protect those closest to him. He declined the suggestions, opting for a smaller, more intimate design. The specialists left the meeting disappointed, their visions of a larger community left unrealized.

The memory faded, and John found himself standing amidst the decaying remnants of his carefully planned hydroponic garden. The vision of an expansive, flourishing refuge clashed with the reality of a desolate room overrun by thorny vines. His decision to keep the bunker small, to prioritize his own over the collective, now seemed like a haunting echo of a different time.

Regaining his focus, John pressed on, leaving the ailing hydroponic room behind. The vines seemed to recoil as the door closed, sealing the infected garden in darkness. The muffled hum of machinery accompanied him as he descended further, contemplating the consequences of his choices.

John pressed on, leaving the hydroponic room behind, the heavy door sealing the infected garden in darkness. The air grew colder as he descended past the sixth floor. The memories of the past choices, the faces of people he could have saved, haunted him like ghosts in the sterile corridors of the bunker.

He bypassed the seventh floor, where the hospital wing had become a macabre reminder of the price paid for survival. The memories of losing his wife, Emma, and their son were too much to bear. The silence that filled the floors echoed with the weight of grief.

As he descended further, the guilt from that conference room meeting intensified. The specialists' faces, full of optimism and hope, haunted him. The holographic images of an expanded bunker, capable of sheltering more lives, felt like missed opportunities that now lingered in the shadows.

Without warning, darkness enveloped him. All lights of the bunker shut off, leaving him stumbling to complete the last set of stair that brought him to the eighth floor. The hum of machinery seemed distant, replaced by an unsettling silence. John hesitated, the air thick with an indescribable tension. The lack of illumination made it difficult to discern the layout of the floor, and the maze of hallways felt disorienting.

His footsteps echoed in the obscurity as he navigated through the labyrinth of the eighth floor. The shadows seemed to play tricks on his senses, distorting the walls and creating an oppressive atmosphere. The memories of the past decisions clawed at him, each step deeper into the darkness amplifying the weight of regret.

A sense of foreboding settled over John as he stumbled through the disconcerting passages. The guilt of choosing a smaller, more exclusive refuge echoed in his mind. Faces of people who might have found solace in the expanded bunker materialized in the shadows, accusing him silently.

Suddenly, the floor beneath him gave way, and John plummeted into darkness. The icy coldness surrounded him as he crashed through the floor below, over 20 feet. The impact rattled his bones, and pain shot through his body.

He groaned, disoriented, attempting to make sense of his surroundings.

He had landed in a cold storage unit. Ice covered the walls and door, which was sealed from the outside. A pale LED display illuminated the room, providing minimal light to John. Surprisingly, the absence of any visible exit did not heighten the panic that crept over him. This was because, through the dim electric glow, he saw something much more terrible.

Behind a thick sheet of ice, he thought he saw that damned cat poster. “No... no, it can’t be. What fuckface furnished this room?” he screamed. The eyes still beamed with hideous delight. It’s false grin displayed all the empty entertainment of a murderer. Behind it’s case, John swore he saw it look at him, then behind him, then back at him. But it was just a poster? It couldn’t possibly move? There was certainly nothing behind him besides more ice…

But as John turned and deciphered the forms that stood behind him, his heart sank. There, devoid of frost, was two objects: a rope and a stool. The rope hung from the ceiling, with a neck-sized loop tied neatly at the end. The stool stood below.

Hang in There, Baby!

He understood. With a broken leg and arm, he limped slowly to the rope. Struggling up the stool, slipping his neck through the perfect knot, he understood. God, it seemed, had abandoned him with the rest of humanity.

Money had not saved him, God had not saved him. Only the light bringer had provided an escape from torture. And so he obeyed. He let the stool fall under him, and his neck broke instantly.

There he hung, In the ninth layer of his protective prison. Cold, broken, and delirious, his pathetic life flashed before his eyes. He saw the gluttony, the greed, the violence he had played all too close a role in. Most importantly, he saw the faces he could have saved with all the time and money he had. All the lives, Human Lives, he turned his back on in the effort to protect himself. He recounted the sad decades he had spent down here, delaying the inevitable. His mind did many things, but it did not die. It continued, in a frozen body hanging from the ninth level of a buried bunker.

If John had looked through the little pixelated screen at his bedside just a little while longer, he would have been able to witness something truly miraculous happening on the surface of the earth. Along the shores of Antarctica, from the putrid sludge of trillions of decaying bodies dissolved by decades of marinating in salty, acidic seawater, sprang one of earth’s oldest and tiniest defenders. Frozen in permafrost since the Permian extinction (but by far more ancient), this was not the first time this mossy bloom had been greeted from slumber by a world on fire, and so it greeted the extreme heat and radioactive solar rays that warmed its tiny leaf with pleasure. It, and many other of its fungal, insectoid, and algal brethren had been freed to feast, and feast they would, until the poles began to freeze back up again.

Of course, some might move to warmer climates. Evolve into something smarter, faster, and undoubtably larger. Some could evolve legs, bones, a brain maybe, and learn how to extract the strange black sludge from the earth that used to be us. Hopefully, they’ll learn to be more careful than we were.

Prompts and Collaboration with ChatGPT

First, I outlined what I wanted to happen in the story. I wrote the start and end to the story and fed it to ChatGPT to allow it to copy my writing style and tone. I then asked it to continue the story, under conditions like “the character moves to room X and does Y”.

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