Ticket to the Stars

“We needed more time.”

“What we needed was more money. Those fucks building the underground vaults wasted precious resources that would have had us launching our tenth ship by now.”

I realized Dr. Werner was right. The fucks with the vaults had poached necessary government funds from us. They’d also managed to poach two of our most brilliant contributors after they’d stolen our funding. As a result we had to work with half-finished self-sustaining water pool plans. We exited the relative quiet of the office into the blaring chaos of alarm klaxons and a small army of employees and passengers swarming through the halls like a New York intersection.

“How long until we get hit by the EMP burst of the first bomb?” I yelled above the screeching sirens. Dr. Werner mouthed what I figured must be “What? I can’t hear you.” It was too hard for us to have a conversation which couldn’t wait. There was too much din caused by everyone trying to speak over the alarms. Rather than pressing a fruitless matter, I just pointed forward. Dr. Werner and I pressed through the throngs, following the yellow arrows indicating the path to command.

I kept checking my watch as we slogged to our destination at an infuriating pace. We hadn’t expected an actual nuclear launch. I didn’t think anyone truly believed it would happen. For the past five years, all talk had pointed to another cold war scenario. Everyone cared too much about destroying the world to be the first country to launch a nuke, no matter what slight was perceived. Then someone went and did something stupid.

A nuke launched.

We launched another one in return. Now everything felt like the tense moments in the control room at the end of that movie, War Games. The only difference was that Matthew Broderick wouldn’t be able to diffuse the situation for us. Most of the population was already being ushered into underground vaults. They’d wait out the worst of the nuclear winter in them, then use their Eden Creation Kits to try to return the planet to its once verdant state. I thought about the rest of the world, wondering if they had similar plans or if they were more farsighted like our little agency.

We’d managed to build two Arks. They both housed enough resources and space to support a small metropolis worth of people. Not New York or Chicago-sized, but maybe St. Louis or Nashville. We’d have ten with five already launched if not for the cuts to our budget. We scored our own coup though. The ECK’s were designed specifically for use by the vault dwellers. We managed to nab two- one for each ark.

Dr. Werner and I arrived at command, interrupting my introspection. It was another three minutes before we could get access to the door panel and get inside the room. The rest of the team was already at their stations.

“How long until we potentially get hit by an EMP?” I asked again as the doors sealed behind us.

“Three hours. If we’re lucky” Werner responded.

“Damn. How long until we’re ready to launch?” I asked.

“Hour and a half. Maybe two,” she said.

“We’re cutting it close.”

“Story of our lives.”

We settled into our chairs behind the command consoles. We ran down the pre-launch checklists. Everything seemed to be in good order. That’s when Ark-2 radioed in.

“We’re missing our Ee See Kay.”

“What? Are you sure?” Werner said.

“Yes, ma’am,” came the respone.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a wheeled crate the size of a tourist family’s luggage sitting in the corner of the command room.

“What incompetent son of a bitch left the ECK in the command room.” I shouted as I dashed to grab it. “Let Ark-2 know that I’m bringing it now.”

“Looks like you just bought a one-way ticket to the stars.” Werner said. Sensing my pending argument, she continued, “There’s no time to argue. Once you get there you’re going to have to get on and they’re going to half to take off. There’s not time for you to get clear. Just go.”

I gave her a glance, hoping that it could convey my gratitude to her for having had the chance to work with her on the program all these years. She nodded and then turned back to doing the work she had been paid for. If she survived she’d be one of the nouveau riche. I exited back into the hallway, checking my watch. I had about a half hour to get to Ark-2 and get on board. To my surprise, the hallway had become deserted. Nobody was left to mill about and impede me. I began a mad dash to the Ark-2 launch tunnel. On a good day it would take forty-five minutes at a leisurely stroll. I happily reminded myself that there were no elevators I’d have to wait for.

A stitch began to ache in my side. I hadn’t planned on any physical exertion. I didn’t even have a cup of water this morning due to nerves.I desperately wanted to check my watch but couldn’t bring myself to divert my eyes from my path. I ended up making it to Ark-2’s launch bay with ten minutes to spare. They had the door open and waiting. The personnel there told me that Dr. Werner had passed along a message for me. Make it count.

Within five minutes I was secured in a launch chair. Within eight we were heaven bound. I didn’t get a chance to see the earth as we left its orbit. I didn’t bother to ask anyone who had that opportunity to describe what they saw. I saw on their faces that it wasn’t good. Instead I chose to pretend that it was just as Carl Sagan had said when he saw the photo from Voyager 1. A pale blue dot.


Apropos of: This Prompt

Sorry this update is late. Ended up spending Friday evening with friends and then got busy Saturday morning. Better late than never, though, right?

-Crouse

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