“We have to go now.” The words hurt to say. They represented a finality I didn’t want to accept and still struggled to believe. Saturday, I entertained the thought I might be dreaming but now, wishful thinking became hopelessness. We had a mere three hours to get to the deployment sphere or risk being left behind.
“I know.” Rebecca woke up crying at two in the morning and we’d just sat there, numb with disbelief. I held off until three before I gave in to emotion too but by seven, we were both too spent to weep. She hugged Elsa, one of our cats, too tightly. The feline struggled, totally oblivious to what was happening. I envied her in a way.
“I’ll open all the doors and windows.” The futile gesture meant nothing. Ten hours later, it would all be gone anyway. Elsa, Dimitri and Orin didn’t have a clue they’d be dead. Perhaps the hardest part of leaving meant knowing their confusion at being let outside and the ignorance of what happened when their lives ended.
“We don’t have to go,” Rebecca said. “They might be wrong.”
She referred to the event and what it meant for us as a species. Why were we being plunged into space? Who came up with the idea and how had it come to such a point where humanity had to evacuate Earth? None of the answers mattered anymore. The choices were simple: take a chance in a sphere or die.
I read about the dangers the day before, scare tactics by assholes who took sadistic joy in terrifying an already beleaguered people. They discussed the dangers of space, of what a small rock might do to the hull of an unprotected sphere. Some detailed the results of a vacuum on a human body and the horrors of suffocation.
Less than twenty-four hours before we all boarded such a craft, the worst of humanity made it sound worse than dying. No amount of reassurance or explanation from those in charge offset these fears. A vast set of the population decided to simply die, to know their fate, rather than expire in a far worse manner.
Rebecca echoed some of their thoughts but we’d already made up our minds.
“They’re not wrong.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “The stuff’s packed. I’ll be back.”
Leaving her alone hurt more than anything. Ever since we learned about the event, we spent every waking hour together. With the final days of life ebbing around us, work didn’t matter. Riots flared up but subdued quickly. We stocked up the bare necessities and waited to die.
I tried to reassure myself. We measured life by a series of events from birth to death and the last two weeks merely represented a truncated version. The only difference came from the sphere and the thin chance we might find ourselves somewhere else, refugees on a new world. Who harbored such illusions? Maybe the deniers were on to something.
Was it better to know your fate or risk a worse one on the slightest chance for survival?
Dimitri stared at me when I pushed the screen out of the window to allow him to escape. His green eyes made me cry again and I struggled to contain myself. If Rebecca saw me lose it again, she might be inconsolable. We had to find some strength if we were to make it to the sphere. Falling apart now, hell falling apart at all, did no one any good.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered, touching his face with a trembling hand. “I’ll miss you.”
I’d lost pets before but never all at once. They hurt worse than the TV, the couch, the computer, the house or the car. All those things represented hard work, yes but these creatures, these family members, cut me to the core. But the spheres had no room for pets and supplies were limited anyway. Animals themselves may not even survive the sleep process.
So they stayed…betrayed by their keepers to simply die. I couldn’t have hated myself more.
I returned to Rebecca who finally let Elsa go. The cat ran into the kitchen to eat, the familiar sound of kibble moving around the metal bowl. I closed my eyes and imagined six months earlier, before the event, before the spheres or talk of departure. Our lives, our very normal lives sounded like that.
Cats playing, the water fountain bubbling, people outside carrying on with yard work or fixing cars. When I opened my eyes, I saw our neighbor clinging to her dog as her husband tried to pull her away. She bawled, her sobs sounding like she sat in our bathroom through the open windows. Gut wrenching sorrow became the new neighborhood norm.
That and fear.
The next thirty minutes became a blur. A final goodbye to the cats, more tears, pain in my stomach, guilt and remorse, self-loathing and rage at fate for what we faced all assaulted me at the same time. Emotions overwhelmed me until I didn’t know how to respond or act. Silence seemed the best and only course of action.
When my senses returned, Rebecca and I stood in line to board what might well become our crypts. Others milled about around us, waiting for their number to be called. I rested my head against my wife’s shoulder, closing my eyes. “I’m finally scared.” Every other emotion came and went, now fear wanted a go.
“Me too.” Her voice quivered and I pulled her close.
I wanted to say this isn’t happening and the phrase burned a groove in my mind. Sadly, it sounded just as hollow and empty as the last six thousand times it crossed my lips. Instead, I took heart in the person beside me. We hadn’t lost everything. She remained real, a solid piece of my soul still present, still alive.
Until such time as we no longer drew breath, reality continued. Oblivion needed to work harder to separate us.
“Attention,” a voice from a loud speaker made us both look up. “Be it known the suspended animation chambers will be online immediately upon boarding the sphere. However, those of you with loved ones who would like to take one last week together may do so. Fresh supplies are available for this purpose. Let your handler know your decision.”
“What do you think?” Rebecca looked into my eyes. “Do…do you?”
I nodded as if the answer were obvious. “Any minute, any second longer with you I’d take. We can…wrap up our games…tell our stories one more time.”
“But leave them open ended for when we’re together again.”
“Agreed.” I couldn’t smile, not then, not yet but I wanted to. A week. Seven short days. One hundred sixty-eight hours. A person shouldn’t be able to measure out the rest of their lives down to hours and minutes, seconds or days…but we could and now, we had to make the absolute best of it. “Are you ready?”
Rebecca took my hand firmly. “As I’ll be.”
We headed up the ramp to offer our decision.