There are 12 billion people on Earth. But only 10 billion will get to leave, give or take a few thousand. There’s surprisingly little panic, at least this early. Everyone continues to work. Because as long as they work, they have a chance. 12 billion people. 10 billion slots. They leave 10 thousand at a time. They don’t know when the end will come, so as soon as a ship is built and stocked, they go. Little silver bullets, fired from a gun 8 thousand miles across.
The ships are going in basically random directions, turning the Earth into a blunderbuss with little aim. Each person on board hoping that they will arrive somewhere — anywhere.
None of them will. Inevitably, some travelers won’t even make it out of the atmosphere, they will die in their seats, all the universe opening up above them.
260 thousand people have already left. 10 thousand people are leaving now. When their names are called, they feel relief. But it is a hard sort of relief, because the threat is so far away, and the pain of leaving is so immediate. They say goodbye to their friends. They say goodbye to their parents. One woman, still stubborn enough to keep dating, but too stubborn to marry the first person she met, has to say goodbye to her boyfriend. Was he the one? She will never know. They will always wonder.
They see the ship as they are driven past it. It seems like such a small thing to be resting all of their hopes on. It will seem bigger later, when they are looking up at it, and see it towering higher than most buildings they have seen. There is one man in the group who was still living in a rural community. He had not seen anything larger than a barn until his name was called. He is used to living on a single mountain. Not in a single building.
On board there’s even less room than they thought. There are the guts of the ship, the engines, the power, the computers. There’s all the shielding, for impacts and radiation. And there needs to be room for life-support. Not just for a few days, or even a few hundred, but for centuries. They have to be sustainable. And that means plants.
The people have little room for personal space. Little room even to move at all. It is not the lifestyle any of them is accustomed to. There is little enough to be done that can not be done better by the computers. So they will have ample free time with which to sit.
In one small room of the ship, a 7 year-old girl is sitting on her father’s lap. The girl is crying. She misses her dog, Sadie, now living with their former neighbor. He’s 81 years old, and took himself out of the drawing. He’ll do his best to care for Sadie, but a dog is not a lamp.
The girl says to her father, “Dad? I want to go home, now.”
He says nothing.
They all want to go home, now.