2 million people boarded the spaceship, the destination known only to be somewhere further than the stars. So why is it that only 1 999 998 disembarked when they came upon their new home?
Theodore sat in his small cabin, the other seventeen bunks abandoned, as he took the neat eighteenth. Moving forward he knocked his head against the low bar, regretting for the umpteenth time that hadn't taken the top bed. Pushed against the wall lay the other beds, piled three-high, all covered in the same grey blanket. At the edge of the bed sat three identical metal boxes, one of which contained his goods. Chucking on a jacket Theodore left the room, angling out into the narrow corridor. Room enough for only two people to pass at a time he walked quickly, hating the enclosed area.
It was as he reached the stairs that he heard the announcement. "Attention all boarders, due to a routine maintenance call corridor A10 will have limited access until further notice." Level A, reserved for the people who forked out every penny they owned and then stole from the poor granny down the street. Higher class luxury could not be found, every need catered for on this journey. They were envied amongst the other levels, words used easily to spread their supposed obnoxious behaviours.
Theodore belonged to the lowest class, the one that had to work to earn their keep. Whilst this made up many of the people on board, there was still always someone to cater for. Cleaning rooms came down to him, a task he hated further as he saw another person's swag sitting ready for him to scrub. On this ship there was no getting higher. Whatever level you went into, you stayed in. No hope, not until their reached their destination.
The destinations of destinations it was called. Yet no one knew it. No one down where Theodore was at least. The Captain did, some of the first hands, maybe even the seconds. But no one was willing to share the classified information. Anywhere though, was better than Earth.
Theodore recalled the last look he had gotten of earth, the grass green in the distance, the sky still bright. He wondered how it could have gone so bad when it still looked good. They had been told that the Earth was crumbling, the oxygen disintegrating. Soon everything would soon be dead. The only option of out was space. Of course, not everyone had been able to go, and those that had been left behind were probably dead by now. It was an odd thing to think for Theodore, that he had outlived the friends he had left behind. Yet he didn't feel sad. Until someone came up to him and told him directly that they were dead, he couldn't imagine them gone. It was odd thinking that only he would reach his twenty-seventh birthday. He didn't mind.
Reaching the tip of the stairs Theodore ascended into the second level. Whilst these people didn't have to work for their board, their conditions were only slightly better than below. Up here Theodore was able to take the Link to the highest floor. Able to go to most places easily, he hated the splitting sensation like his head was being parted from his body.
First-hand Mark eyed the scene before him, He had been called suddenly, and emergency they had said. Now, he could see why. A young woman lay on her bed, her face seemingly peaceful. A braid of long blonde hair ran out to the side, brown eyes shining out in a glaze. This however, was not noticed by him, as he stared at the long gash across her throat, the red that had seeped across the bedspread. Disgusted he looked away, unable to bear the ferocities he had never experienced. He turned to one of the second-hands.
"Have you scanned her?" He asked. On preparing to board the ship everyone had been inserted with a microchip, accessed by a scanning of the thumb.
"Adelaide Grace." He replied swiftly, his face micking the expression on Mark's.
"Parents Nora Grace and Rick Grace. No siblings."
"Have they been notified?"
"Someone is with them now."
Mark gave a nod, dismissing the hand, and turning back to face the Captain. With a small signal both men left, leaving the second-hands to round up the scene. Out in the hallway they dropped their formal facades.
"What do you think it was?" Asked Mark.
"Gosh, could be anything," Captain Scile replied. "Suicide most probably. Apparently she didn't interact much with other, preferred to keep to herself."
Mark recalled the one time he had dined with her family. She had barely spoken two words the whole night. "Pity, she was a pretty face."
"We'll have to do a lot of hushing up about this. Maybe it's good she had no friends."
They arrived at the Link, stepping into it and speaking the command of where to go.
"Could it of been something other than suicide?" Mark spoke hesitantly, unsure to voice it to air.
"Are you thinking murder Mark? That happens on Earth, not here." Captain Scile puffed himself up as he always did when establishing his authority.
"We both know that's not true. Earth wasn't overrun with murderers, there's as much chance of someone on this ship having the desire to kill than down there."
"We left Earth to get away from all that, we didn't bring it with us. You oversaw the checking of everyone who boarded, no one would have such intent. Everything here is scrutinised, people are checked every day. No one would have such a desire to kill."
Mark paused, wishing to contradict his friend, but knowing that he shouldn't. "Of course Captain."
The door opened and they stepped out onto the metal floor, where a small gathering of people waited for them.
Delicately fingering the fork Jane twisted her food the slightest amount, taking the smallest bite so as not to open her mouth to wide.
"To slow Jane, to slow."
A small slap came to the back of her head. "Well you don't have to hit me for it." Jane retaliated. She let the fork clatter to the plate.
"Gently Jane, you put your fork down gently. Don't just let it drop like a fool."
"Ma, I ain't ever gonna need to eat like this, all fancy-prancy."
"Mother, you will call me mother."
Jane sighed, hating what she was required to call her once-close Ma. "We're C-class Mother, we ain't getting higher, especially not pausing the required amount before taking the next bite." She put on the tone her mother always took when talking about how she should hold herself.
"You are wrong there dear Jane, wrong. If a nice gentleman catches your eye, your refinement, we could be up there eating caviar and champagne. Now try again."
Jane returned to her poised position, fork ever so gently elevated.
"Pause one two three, now eat."
As soon as Jane's Ma left the room, Jane slouched down in her chair. She didn't mind being in the third level, it was quite good compared to the ones below, and not so much worse than they had back on Earth. How many years had it been since then? With a start of reality she found it had been three. Three years since she had said goodbye to her friend's, her home and her Pa. She knew that if he were there, she wouldn't have to go through this. Leaving the metal plate on the table she left the room, switching on the automated controls. Her ma liked to smell lavender when she returned from dinner.
As Theodore walked swiftly across the metal floor he stopped by one of the windows. They weren't real windows of course, not even the Captain had that luxury, instead they projected views of old sights that people would pay thousands to go see. This one was of some beach with soothing waves. Well soothing they were meant to be. There was a conversation once he had had with a young girl. He remembered her striking face vividly, the stark brown hair, with the blonde plait that had twisted between her fingers. The window too, he could remember. The beach, some beach, somewhere. She had looked at him as he passed.
"Do you like the beach?"
Surprised at the contact, he stopped. Clearly by her dress she belonged to the higher classes, and it shocked him that he would talk to her in something other than an order. "I guess," he had answered eventually.
"I never did. Too much sand, not enough water, not enough of that big expanse. You guess?" It was as if she only just realised what he had said.
"Everyone liked the beach back home, why shouldn't I?"
"So how many times have you been to the beach here?"
He thought to the beach located somewhere on the ship, the location he couldn't exactly recall. "Never I guess."
"You're guessing again, can't you ever trust yourself?" She continued to twirl the braid through her hands.
"Okay, then I've never been to beach, and I don't like it either." Standing there with a triumphant gaze he realised why he felt so proud. He never made decisions on his own, it was what had gotten him on this ship in the first place. If it had been his choice, he wouldn't be here.
"I wish they'd let us go to the beach at night time. I don't mind it at night," the girl continued on. "You can barely tell where the lands ends and the sea begins. You could be right there on the water and not even realise."
Theodore had never thought that there wasn't anything Level A people could do. "Have you asked?"
She turned to look at him. Behind her head, the window changed to some mountains covered in snow. She turned back.
"There's many things we can't do. Just as many as you." She pointed at the window. "Yet they won't let any of us see what's really out there."
"Attention all boarders, Level A10 is now capable for use." Jane always wondered who it was that spoke those announcements. It wasn't the Captain, she had met him once, and knew it was not his voice. Anyway, she decided, it was far too automated to be a real voice. She turned the corner, and a surprised sight came to her eyes.
A man, sitting with his head cowered in his hands. A badge on his shoulder showed him to be a first-hand. As she looked, Mark moved his head up. Quickly he stood, straightening his jacket.
"Uh." What could he say.
"Is everything okay?" She ventured, unsure of whether she should just turn and leave.
"Uh, yes, yes, everything's fine. Just a little trip, I think this floor is a bit too smooth, I can see my face."
She looked down. She was thankful she couldn't see hers. His eyes were red, his face covered in thing streaks.
"Are you sure, do you need to see the hospital?" Instinctively she reached out a hand, pulling it back furtively.
"No no, that will be unnecessary. I'm fine. Thank you for your concern." His voice took on the rough manner of an official.
"If you're sure…"
"Yes. I'm sure."
She shuffled past him, rounding the corner to leave him in the corridor. But she was never one to leave people.
Mark felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to see the girl before.
"It's okay to be upset. I'm upset all the time."
Her smiling face, covered in the compassion she held, caused him to slump against the wall again.
"A girl died today."
Janes sat down beside him, struggling with the shock in her mind. "She died?"
"It wasn't natural. Suicide, could've been murder. Just not natural."
Jane couldn't fight the desire to ask. "Who was she?"
"Adelaide Grace, a pretty girl."
Jane recalled how had once had dinner with Adelaide. Her ma had spent most of the time yabbering at how prestige her darling Jane was. Adelaide had remained silent.
"It's a pity." Jane had come prepared to console, but she felt her own emotions rising up inside her.
"Could it really be murder?"
"Perhaps. But why would someone want to murder her? We would've heard if there was any intent, found it on someone."
Absentmindedly Jane had been stroking her thumb, where it was scanned once a day. "Suicide then."
"Perhaps." Somehow, both found it comforting to talk more about the details, instead of installing soothing words in the other.
"Why wouldn't anyone want to kill themselves?"
"We didn't escape that you know. When we got on this ship, we didn't leave suicide or murder behind. We still have pain."
"But if people don't know that, then does it matter?"
"It mattered to someone."
Theodore had enjoyed talking to Adelaide whenever he met her. She was easy to find, always positioned at the same window. It surprised him though, how this window was on level D, and it was the one she choose. There were many times he saw her there, and many times they shared easily in conversation. There was one conversation though, that he knew would always remain with him.
"What do you think it's like playing God?"
He thought on it. "Pretty cool perhaps. Choosing everything."
"Would you like to play God?"
"Never. Too much responsibility."
"I think you would make a good God."
"You'd know the proper way to keep a secret."
There had been many a day that Captain Scile had dined with the Grace's. Each time the pretty young Adelaide had accompanied them, as proper, and each time she had barely spoken. There had been a time though, where she had broken habit and directed a question at himself.
"When will we arrive at our destination Captain?"
The question was typical, asked by many towards him. "Unfortunately because of circumstances that may become unforeseen and are entirely in our confidence I cannot disclose that information. But rest assured miss that you will live to see the day."
"There is no chance of death?" Another question by her. She was looking at him, fork in hand, though nothing on its tips.
"We have ensured the highest defence against natural causes, there'll be no chance of death for you."
"But Captain, what about unnatural causes?"
"I don't know what you are thinking of, but we do not have those things on board this ship."
"Adelaide you really mustn't talk about these matters at dinner."
"Sorry Mother. Captain, if we could resume this conversation at a later date, I find it very intriguing."
There would be no resuming the conversation now. She had been a quite girl, though curious when it came to it. Too curious perhaps.
Theodore had enjoyed talking to Adelaide whenever he met her. She was easy to find, always positioned at the same window. It surprised him though, how this window was on level D, and it was the one she choose. There were many times he saw her there, and many times they shared easily in conversation. It was the last time though, that he knew he would recall forever.
"What do you think it's like, back on Earth?"
He answered what he had been told on the pamphlet. "It'll all be dead by now."
"Do you really think so? I can't imagine it like that."
Neither could he. "That's what they said."
"But what if they lied, what if what they said was wrong?"
"Well we can't ever know."
"There was something I saw the other day, in this window." She never stopped looking at the square picture, some meadow this time.
"What was that?"
"A shadow. I saw a shadow. Yet it wasn't on this side, it was on that side."
"I know what I saw. It was a shadow on that side, the shadow of a person."
"There's no person."
"I see it all the time now, if you look hard, really hard, it's there. And it's not just one person anymore, it's people, it's things, everything."
"There's nothing but space on that side."
"Do you really think so?"
"Adelaide." He took her hand for the first time. "We're in the middle of the galaxy right now, there's nothing on the other side, no people, no things."
She had fallen silent, her hand still in his. "There was a reason why God didn't let us build the Tower of Babel."
"Oh yeah, what was that?"
"He didn't want us to discover his secrets."
Down in his room, Theodore paced past the confined beds. A turn at the handle stood him into shock. His eyes looked up as a girl rushed in. She noticed him as he noticed her.
"Oh gosh I'm sorry." She was in tears. "I got lost." She turned to go, then saw the rounded rope lying on the bed. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing." His reply was too quick.
"Give me that." She dashed forward, reaching the bed before him, grabbing the nestled rope in her hand. She felt its callous edge, it's tough expanse. "If it held you it would hold me wouldn't it." She didn't mean it to be heard.
"Now what are you doing?" She felt the rope slip from her grasp.
What was she doing? What was he doing?
It was her that spoke first. "I'm doing what I should've done three years ago. Three years of nothing but annoyance. Do this do that, all the time. All fancy, all prancy, and for absolutely nothing."
"It'll get better."
"Not it won't. I just wish I could've been like that girl, have someone do it for me."
"Do what?" He kept the rope firmly in his hands.
She sighed. "A girl was killed the other day, well she may have done it herself."
"Adelaide." His voice cam soft, yet still she heard.
"I knew her."
"So do you know…"
He was reluctant to tell what he knew to this stranger, but common thoughts brought his speech to her. "She was killed."
"Murdered, oh gosh how horrible." Her expression changed, and another tear leaked down her cheek.
"It wasn't murder. She was killed, not murdered."
"Killing someone else is murder, it's not killing. Murder."
"She wasn't murdered!" As soon as it was said he took his voice back, but nothing could change the anger that was there.
Jane went to silence, unsure of how to react. "You killed her, didn't you."
Theodore slumped onto a bed, the rope dropping from his grasp. "She had found out the truth, she didn't want anyone to know. She asked me to play God."
She moved beside him. "A secret so deadly it would cause havoc here?"
"Yes. But now I know it. I can't live with it. It's too much."
"So you're going to kill yourself?"
He nodded, hoping she was looking at him.
"Don't do it, please don't."
"Because there's only one rope."
They both looked to the rope that lay on the floor, twisting round in the perfect implement.
"I won't let you kill yourself," he said.
"And nor will I let you. Please, please let me."
He turned to her, saw the desperation in her eyes. The desperation he had once seen in another. "If you hear the secret, then I'll leave." It was reluctant, and he waited for his mind to change. But yet it had not come.
Eyes on eyes, hands on hands, he told her.
"We never left Earth. Somewhere, we're just sitting there, with all the world going on around us. Normal life. Not for long though. They're going to kill everyone on earth, kill them then let us start a new life. That's why no one knows where we're going, cause we're not going anywhere."
The secret hung between the air, stretching out to land unknowing on the corners.
"You- I-" Jane stopped, seeing the gaze on Theodore's face. "Thank you."
Slowly he rose, walking the short passage to the door. He turned, one last look. "God ain't a folly man." The door closed behind him.
So now, seventy years later, crashing through light-years of space, the spaceship came upon its new home. The new Earth, that had moved through time and space, to present a barren landscape as they stepped upon their new home. Whilst 2 million people boarded, 199 998 disembarked. Among them, an old woman, jagged in her movements, words on her lips. "God had to die one day too."