"Two by Two" by Wesley Bishop

11/27/2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ground under the starship shook violently as Allison steadied herself against the frame of the door. The planet didn’t have much time left; the atmosphere had been deteriorated badly. 

 

Ultimately though, it would be the Earth’s core that would rip the world asunder. 

 

Looking through the open bay of the ship, over the grotesque dying landscape, she marveled at the transformation. Just a few decades before she had played barefoot in the stream that had snaked through that field. Now all that was left was a dry river bed that looked like a vein in a corpse. The skeleton trees, nothing more than dead wood stuck in the ground, waved gently in the air. The yellow grass, sick with radiation, stared back at Allison like a body in a morgue. Gazing for the last time at her home, she shook her head. 

 

As she turned to push the red button that would permanently close the ship’s door to Earth, she heard a noise. Cresting the hill was a large fossil fuel vehicle barreling towards the EXODUS. Belching exhaust fumes, Allison strained to see what the vehicle was doing. A few moments later the vehicle stopped in front of the starship and four people jumped out.

 

“Wait! Wait!” one of them, a middle-aged man, yelled. “Don’t leave yet! Take us with you!”

 

“Let us in!” Another shouted. She was a woman roughly the same age as the man. Although the door to the ship was still open, Allison had already retracted the steps. Towering twenty feet above she looked at the man, the woman, and two young boys who followed from the vehicle. Both boys shared the man’s light complexions, and the woman’s round, innocent looking face. Instinctively her hand went to the green button that would send the ramp clanking down so they could climb aboard. 

 

But just as she was about to she stopped and looked back down.

 

“Let us in!” The woman yelled. 

 

“Who are you?” Allison asked. She felt that she knew the man from somewhere, but couldn’t be sure.

 

Looking up the man answered, “My name is Bill Johnson, and this is my family. Please let us up, we can talk more once when we are on board!”

 

Allison didn’t recognize the name, but something about the man’s face seemed familiar. Craning her head to look behind her, Allison’s view was filled with rows and rows of cryo-chambers where the families of the EXODUS project slumbered peacefully.

 

There was no guarantee that the EXODUS would make it off the planet, and the project’s families had opted not to live through that horrifying possibility. Instead, they had gone to sleep, hoping that the engines and ship design would work as planned. Allison, who had been one of the leaders of the project since its earliest days was not so much chosen as assumed to be the one who would guide the ship to either its success or failure.

 

“This is profoundly unfair to you,” Dr. Randolph had said as he eased himself into his cryo-chamber. 

 

“This is the way it is,” Allison had said. She understood that even though those involved in the project were dedicated to seeking the truth, very few had the willingness to see if their vision of this ship, their new future, would make it.

 

As Dr. Randolph’s chambers cooled and he fell into hibernated sleep, Allison had turned toward the bay doors for one last view of her old home. As the ship’s pilot and astrophysicist, she was now charged with safely navigating the EXODUS out of orbit, away from the dying Earth, and fixing the course toward their new home. 

 

However, no one in the EXODUS project had planned that any other person would want to make the trip at the last moment… so strong were the convictions of the majority of the Followers…

 

“Why aren’t you at the Cathedral?” Allison suddenly asked as she looked down at the family. 

 

Even though she recognized the man from somewhere she knew it was not from any of the meetings the Project had held. 

 

Nor was it from any of the community building projects used to construct the ship.

 

“We left the Cathedral!” Mrs. Johnson shouted. “The whole Earth is dying and they were willing to continue to pray and deny what was happening. We left right before the Cathedral collapsed. No one survived!”
 

Allison allowed the news to sink in. All her life the Followers had been a hindrance to her people and her work. They had insisted that the planet was not dying, that mining the atmosphere was fine for the Earth, that the deep core weapons would not destroy anything except enemy nations. 

 

At every turn, they had blocked efforts to stop the madness, denying what was happening, labeling anyone who disagreed with them as “hysterical lunatics.”  

 

Now they were gone? 

 

It seemed so strange; they had been such a permanent problem. 

 

Yet, the planet also seemed permanent, and it was beginning to dissolve. 

 

As if on cue, the ground shook again. This time much more violently. Lurching forward Allison saw the Johnson family fall to the ground as she grabbed the top of the doorway. Swinging out over the open-air Allison swore loudly. For a moment, she feared she would come crashing down on top of their cowering bodies.

Just as her hands began to slip the ship shifted again and sent her swinging back into the EXODUS. After a few moments, the shaking subsided and Allison released her death grip on the frame.

 

That was close, too close. She thought. 

 

She needed to get the ship into orbit now, before the entire terrain became unstable. 

 

The various geologists aboard had tried to calculate exactly how long it would take for the inevitable to happen, but even the best estimates had merely been guesses. No one in the human race had ever experienced how long it would take for a planet to break apart; therefore no one knew exactly how quickly it could happen. She remembered vividly a debate one of the Followers had had with Dr. Sorenson, the EXODUS’ senior geologist. The Follower had claimed that since Dr. Sorenson couldn’t give an exact time for the Earth’s “supposed decline” it must be false. The Follower had smiled his smug little…

 

Suddenly everything snapped into place. Bill Johnson! The light blonde hair! The creased face, creases that showed the wrinkles of a man accustomed to smirking in superiority. She knew exactly where she had seen him before.

 

“Bill Johnson?” She said. “Reverend William Johnson?”

 

“Yes.” Rev. Johnson answered as he blinked in surprise looking. “Do we know each other?”

 

“No, not personally.” She answered. “But I know you through reputation.” 

 

Narrowing her eyes Allison asked, “What right do you have to ask to come aboard this ship?”

 

“Listen,” Rev. Johnson shouted, “I was wrong. We were all wrong. I truly believed what they told me about the destruction being a lie. We are victims too. I never would have put my family in such harm. Why would I do such a thing if I knew the truth?”

 

For one more moment Allison’s hand hovered over the button. It was in her grasp. She could save these people— 

 

Allison watched as one of the boy’s shirts, unbuttoned at the top, moved in just the right way sending the pendant around his neck tumbling out. Hanging around his head it caught the rays of the sun and shined brightly. There it was. There was that fucking symbol that the Followers prostrated in front of on a daily basis. 

 

Anger welled up inside of her, anger Allison was surprised she could even feel.

 

She could save these people, or she could finally rid the human race from the chains of their dogma. It was something she had dreamed about for years, albeit not under these circumstances.

 

“I’m sorry,” Allison said, not meaning a word of it. “I can’t do that.” Turning she pushed the red button and watched as the doors closed on the shouting Johnson family.

 

“You can’t do this!” Allison heard Rev. Johnson yell.

 

“PLEASE!” Mrs. Johnson screamed.

 

But the sound that stuck in Allison’s mind the most were the shouts of the two sons. Both of their voices, not quite adult, rose and then broke in adolescent awkwardness. 

 

“WE DON”T WANT TO DIE!” 

 

Halfway through the word WANT their voices cracked, matching the screeching of the noisy door with perfect pitch. Then the doors hissed shut and all she could hear was the pounding of fists against the metal hull.

 

Walking away from the door, she began to prepare the launch. Double checking sensors, readouts, and various tests the computer was running Allison tried her best to push away the thoughts of what she had just done. To distract herself, she double checked the life readouts of the passengers, and the animals in their cryo-chambers. The computer showed that all specimens and passengers had successfully entered hibernation. The seed deposit showed stable temperatures. The computer’s backup files of all the works of literature, music, and art were fine. 

 

They were ready to be transplanted.

 

With all systems ready to go, she readied herself to start the countdown. Just as she was about to enter the final code the computer flashed a warning on its screen.

 

{{UNKNOWN OBJECTS ON EXTERIOR OF HULL}}

{{UNKNOWN OBJECTS ON EXTERIOR OF HULL}}

{{UNKNOWN OBJECTS ON EXTERIOR OF HULL}}

 

“What in the world?” Allison asked as she began to check the ships sensors. “Display unknown objects.”

 

The computer screen flashed and as the picture came into focus she watched dumbfounded.

 

Making their way up the nose of the ship was the Johnson family, Reverend Johnson in lead, followed by his wife and two sons. They had parked their vehicle at the nose of the ship, climbed up on the roof, were using the vehicle as a makeshift ladder. Within just a few moments they would be at the emergency hatch where they could enter.

 

“No, no, no,” Allison said as she ran towards the hatch. Arriving she breathed a sigh of relief. 

 

The seal was holding. Try as they might the Johnson family would not be able to enter through the top of the ship. 

 

Walking back to the console Allison began the launch procedure again. “Computer begin the countdown for final launch.”

 

“Unable to comply,” the computer responded. “Unidentified objects on the exterior of the hull.”

 

“Override,” Allison commanded as she punched instructions into the panel.

 

“Unable to comply,” the computer repeated. “Scanners show that there is a 99.9 percent probability that the objects are life forms. Initiating safety procedure 147.189. Shutting down launch sequence.”

 

“Computer, initiate Dr. Allison Baroque security access code 9876. Override safety procedure and continue with the launch sequence.”

 

The computer was silent for a moment before responding with the message, “Unable to comply Dr. Baroque, security access code invalid. To override please enter Dr. Randolph’s security code.”

 

 

“Shit!” Allison said as she slammed her hands on the control panel. She didn’t have Randolph’s security code. There had been no reason for it; no one had suspected that people would be crawling around on the outside of the ship before the launch.

 

Sitting back in her chair, she gripped the arms as the planet shook violently again. She waited for a moment hoping that the last tremor had dislodged the family. 

 

For a split second, she heard nothing.

 

Then, just as she was about to lean forward, the banging began again. This time louder and more urgent than before. Sighing she stood up. Allison knew exactly what she had to do.

 

+++

 

“Sit there and don’t touch anything!” Allison commanded as she showed the family back to the control room.

 

“I— I can’t believe you almost left us out there to die.” Mrs. Johnson sobbed. Her two sons clutched either of her sides, as Rev. Johnson sat them down. All four of them were heaving with relief and the after effects of fear.

 

“How could you have even considered doing that?” Rev. Johnson asked.

 

“Listen,” Allison said as she turned to look at them, “If you don’t do exactly as I say, and sit there without talking, I won’t be able to concentrate and I won’t be able to get us out of here. Do you understand?”

 

They nodded and sat down without another word.

 

“Computer,” Allison said as she turned back to the screen, “begin launch sequence.”

 

“Launch will commence in thirteen seconds.” The computer answered.

 

Allison sat back and waited. Beneath her she could hear the engines powering up. Slowly the ship began to lift off the dying planet. At a hundred feet, the EXODUS began to tilt vertically. The Johnson family gasped as they felt the weight of the ship shift.  Slowly, Allison found it more and more difficult to lean forward in her chair. Looking at the forward sensors, she saw nothing but sky. In the rearview sensors, she saw the Earth begin to lose its structural integrity. 

 

Five more seconds, Allison thought. At that moment, she needed to fire the booster engine that would take the ship out of the Earth’s field of gravity.

 

{{{ WARNING!}}}

{{{ WARNING!}}}

 {{{ WARNING!}}} 

 

“Computer what is it?” Allison asked as she looked at the screen.

 

“Unidentified flying object detected,” the computer responded. “Time of impact, six seconds.”

 

“Are we going to be okay?” One of the sons asked.

 

“Miss, what is going on?” Reverend Johnson demanded.

 

Ignoring both questions, Allison said, “Computer, lock on and magnify image of unidentified flying object.”

 

The computer took a second, then the screen flashed a new image. As it focused its lens the picture became clear.

 

“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” Allison said as she stared in disbelief at the picture. Sailing towards them was the Johnson’s family fossil fuel vehicle. Below the Earth’s crust had begun to rupture and as it did it had sent rocks and debris hurtling up in the air, like a giant sling shot. But none of the debris was on a crash course with the ship, save for the vehicle. Arching past them the Johnson family and Allison watched as the vehicle reached its highest point and then began to plummet back to the Earth.

 

Computer, evasive manu—” Allison began but was cut short as the Johnson vehicle crashed into the hull of the ship. Suddenly Allison was airborne, sailing past the Johnson family towards the back of the cabin. Crashing against the back wall she felt one of her ribs crack. 

 

“Damn it!” She screamed as she felt the sharp pain race up her side. Struggling, she pulled herself into a sitting position wincing as she did. After she had accomplished this, she realized someone was yelling at her over the ringing alarm of the ship’s computer.

 

“Miss! Miss!” Rev. Johnson shouted. “What do we do?”

 

Allison ignored him as she yelled at the computer. “Computer, engage booster engine!”

 

“Unable to comply. Booster engage control damaged. Voice command disabled. Please engage manually.”

 

Of course, Allison thought. 

 

Struggling again, she tried to push herself towards the computer control panel. As she moved she felt something crack again. Screaming, she fell back against the wall in pain.

 

“Miss, tell me what I need to do,” Rev. Johnson insisted.

 

Looking at him Allison realized she had no choice. “Enter 7654, and then hit the red button.”

 

“That’s it?”

 

“That’s it.”

 

Turning Rev. Johnson began to climb towards the control panel. Allison watched hoping that he would get there in time.

 

+++

 

The EXODUS glided smoothly across empty space towards its far distant goal. Behind it the Earth heaved and contracted like a dying animal, breaking apart with every passing moment. 

 

Allison walked calmly beside the Johnson family. The two boys were beaming with pride at their father who had saved the day. Mrs. Johnson had her arm wrapped affectionately around his waist, her head nestled against his side.

 

Turning down a corridor, Allison touched her side gently, it was still sore, but the fresh Med Pac from sick bay was already beginning to work.

 

“Here you are,” Allison said as she punched in the code that opened the door. “This will be your cryo-chambers for the remainder of the trip.”

 

“God bless you,” Mrs. Johnson said as she patted Allison on the side of the cheek and walked into the room. Obediently, the two boys followed.

 

“Listen,” Rev. Johnson said before following. “I know we have had our differences in the past, but I feel science and faith can co-exist. Especially out here, with our new future. For what is faith without reason, and what is reason without faith?”

 

Allison was quiet before she nodded her head in agreement.

 

“I feel like we are going to become the best of friends,” Mrs. Johnson said smiling at Allison.

 

Allison contemplated for a moment what it would be like to have a friend like Mrs. Johnson. 

 

Smiling back at the family she entered the code that shut and locked the door.

 

“Mom,” Allison heard one of the sons say, “Something is wrong. We studied cryo-chambers in school. They don’t look like this.”

 

“Computer,” Allison commanded, “launch escape pod 098.”

 

Allison watched as Rev. Johnson slammed his fist against the glass in horror. The entire family rushed towards her, but where stopped by the mere inches of glass and steel.

 

“You can’t do— ”

 

Allison never heard the rest of the sentence as the escape pod jettisoned into space. Allison had no doubt that the pod’s weak engines would eventually be overcome by the Earth’s gravitational pull. 

 

Turning away, she tried to push away the Johnson boys’ final adolescent cries. 

 

If they had been allowed to stay they would have begun proselytizing as soon as we landed. 

 

Allison told herself, as she walked to her cryo-chamber. 

 

Many of the crew, scared on a new planetary home, would have given in to their ideas. Soon two factions would have been at each other’s throats… once again. 

 

Calmly pushing the rising doubt away, she nestled her body into the chamber. She had done everyone a service. 

 

She had no doubt about that. No one would even need to know what had happened once they landed in their new home.

 

Quietly, the chemicals began to enter the chamber lowering her body temperature.

 

Still, 7,000 years was a long time to sleep, she thought. Hopefully, it would be dreamless.

 

It was the only way, she told herself before the cold embrace of cryo-crystals lulled her to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wesley Bishop was a finalist in Rag Queen Periodical's 2017 Fiction Contest. 

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