Nature Future Conditional

Guest post by Iulia Georgescu: the story behind the story

This week Iulia Georgescu from Nature Physics — which, along with Nature, plays host to Futures stories — offers a dystopian view in her tale The last one. Having recovered from her (hopefully fictitious) midnight raid on the Science Museum, she explains what inspired her to write the story. WARNING: this post contains spoilers, so read the story first!

Writing The last one

Growing up in communist Romania in the 1980s meant that things many children take for granted were luxury items for me: Coke, chewing-gum, even bananas. So it will probably not come as a surprise to learn that as a kid I never actually saw a helium balloon, let alone owned one. In fact, I got my first one only quite recently — well, actually, my baby son did.

I was on a mums’ day out with a friend and our little ones got helium balloons for free at a restaurant. Despite the age gap, both my son and I were equally delighted. We tied the balloon securely to the pram. My friend’s son soon managed to untie his balloon and as we all watched it float up into the sky, my friend said: “Did you know that if they were to price these balloons in line with the helium reserves we have left, they would probably cost around $100?”

I didn’t know that — but I did know that we are running out of helium. We had an article on the issue in Nature Physics last July.

“Isn’t it a shame,” my friend said, “that we are wasting helium on balloons?”

With that in mind, I returned home carefully transporting the balloon on the Tube — the precious prize of the day. On my daily commute the next day, the story was readily forming in my head. It kind of wrote itself.

Many of us are now fortunate enough to live in an age of plenty, and we forget how wonderful and precious little things are. We fail to appreciate the true value of the objects around us. For me, the dystopian future in the story is not completely imaginary. I remember my country at the end of the 1980s: a nation where food was distributed in rations based on ID cards; a place of dark cities with huge empty shops. As children, we would save the aluminium foil from chocolate bars and any polystyrene we could get our hands on and use them to make toys.

This story is a memory of a future that no one should have to live.

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