Three Million CE - Episode 3
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Orange fingers of flame gripped the Ark like a slender fiery hand as the battered ship plummeted through the upper atmosphere. Flecks of carbon tore from thermal plating and flashed as they burned up in the ship’s wake. A mile from the surface, the Ark’s retro booster burst to life, further slowing the Ark’s descent.
Three yellow parachutes deployed from the uppermost section of the Ark. Two of them inflated, the third flapped limply in the wind. The imbalance caused the ship to tilt. The Ark’s corrective thrusters attempted to compensate, streaking their blue flames brilliantly across the night sky as the Ark spiraled out of control.
Crumbled ruins of an ancient city cast quick-moving shadows across a barren desert landscape as the tumbling ship passed overhead. The Ark crashed at the edge of a dry lake bed, buckled slightly in the middle, then toppled and skidded half a mile. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, the damaged Ark lay on its side, half-buried in the valley-sized trench it had gouged.
Stillness settled, as though the night were eager to claim it back after the Ark’s uninvited intrusion. Interrupting the silence yet again, the Ark ejected one of its stasis chambers with a loud pop. The metallic chamber landed a hundred feet away, then started venting white mist into the warm air.
Doyle rode his bike through the University campus as often as he could–to and from the grocery store, trips to the public library, and as on this occasion, heading home from the communal office building where he sometimes worked for a change of scenery from his home office. It had been almost a decade since he was a student himself, but he still cherished the feeling of nostalgia that washed over him as he pedaled over the familiar paved path and relived some of his favorite memories.
The bike path meandered past and around most of the buildings, and Doyle was rounding a blind corner when he nearly ran over a kneeling woman. She was trying desperately to stop a flock of fluttering papers from blowing away in the wind. Doyle squeezed his brakes and swerved to avoid her, rolling down a rocky embankment next to the path and winding up flat on his back.
He stared up at the woman. She stared back down at him, forgetting briefly about her escaping papers.
“Oh my God I’m so sorry!” cried the woman. “Are you alright?”
Doyle got to his feet. He was out of breath, and guessed he’d have more than a few bruises in the morning, but nothing felt broken. He nodded to the woman and rolled his bike back up the embankment. After expressing her profound apologies, the woman introduced herself as Kirsten. Doyle helped her chase down the last of her errant papers. Kirsten explained that they were term papers she had finished grading that night.
This doesn’t look like a term paper, Doyle thought as he studied one of the sheets in his hands. Blast radius diagrams, tonnage reports, target coordinates, fallout projections. It seemed so familiar, and yet out of place at the same time. He looked up at Kirsten, who was holding her hand out, eagerly awaiting the return of her document. Her expression had changed. Her eyes seemed hollow, her smile emotionless.
Was this how it went? Doyle couldn’t remember. The edges of his vision were getting dim and closing in until Kirsten’s frightening, grinning face was all that remained at the center of a black void. Then even she faded away.
The next sensation Doyle became aware of was the taste of dirt. He choked and spit, then rolled over onto his back. Light crept back into his vision in the form of a dim haze.
“Kirsten? Where’s… Where’s my bike?” Doyle’s voice came out a raspy whisper that he almost didn’t recognize as his own. He sat up and tried to feel around for his bicycle. His arms seemed reluctant to respond, like rubber tubes flopping around in slow motion. His hand brushed against something. A foot, an ankle, connected to a leg. Was it his? Doyle didn’t think so.
“Get your… hands off me you… you pervert.”
Doyle recognized the woman’s stilted, protesting voice, but it wasn’t Kirsten’s. He wasn’t on campus anymore, that had been years ago. So where did he know that voice from? Where was he? How he had gotten there? And why did he feel such a foreboding sense of urgency?
As his vision cleared, Doyle was able to discern that the sky was dark, but the stars seemed unusually bright. A flat, cracked dry lake bed stretched out into the darkness ahead. On the horizon Doyle could see the dark silhouette of what looked like a city skyline. Someone was laying prone on the ground to his left–the woman whose voice he had recognized but couldn’t place.
Behind him, Doyle saw the stasis chamber–it looked like a large refrigerator with its door open. In the distance beyond was the upper edge of the Ark peeking above a steep dirt mound that extended half a mile out toward the edge of the dry lake. Doyle took in the sight, but his brain refused to process what he was seeing.
“Are you dudes okay?”
A man’s voice, this time. One that Doyle also recognized. It came from inside the refrigerator-thing. Doyle shook his head, trying desperately to surface and sort out his thoughts and memories. They came slowly, softened and warped like he was viewing them through a rippling pool of water.
“I had to eject your stasis chamber. That gnarly crash landing totally wiped out some major power conduits and I couldn’t supply enough juice to keep that one running. I guess ‘cause there were two of you in there.”
The inside of the stasis chamber was too dark for Doyle to make out any details. A thinning fog flowed out of it like spilled milk. “Heady?” Doyle asked. “Is that you?”
“Nah, bruh. I’m not Heady. Or at least I don’t think I’m Heady.”
Doyle stood up. His knees wobbled and he almost fell, but he managed to regain his balance. He took a few short steps toward the stasis chamber to get a better look inside.
“What kind of stupid game are you playing, Heady? Come out of there. Do you know where we are? What’s going on?”
“Nah bruh, the Ark’s sensors got pretty janked up when we landed. I can’t get a clean look around.”
A memory bubbled up through the murk into Doyle’s consciousness. The Ark! That girl on the ground, she had been pointing a gun at Heady. The last thing Doyle remembered was running toward the Ark, charging at the girl, trying desperately to save Heady. And Kirsten.
“Heady? Where are you?” Doyle said. He reached the stasis chamber and put his hand against it for balance. “Get out of there and come with me, Kirsten’s still on the Ark. We’ve got to find her.”
“Heady? Heady is that really you?”
Doyle spun around. The young woman–Susan? No Sarah–was sitting up now, rubbing her eyes.
“I’m not Heady,” said Heady’s voice. “Heady was just a part of my training data. My name is Desmond.”
“Quit messing around Heady,” said Doyle. He stuck his head in the stasis chamber and looked around at its padded walls. The small chamber was empty.
“Desmond?” Sarah’s voice came, sharper than before. “What happened to the Ark?” Sarah looked around urgently, then stopped when her gaze fell on the dark skyscrapers blotting out the stars along the horizon. “How did we get back to Earth? Oh God… How long has it been?”
“I don’t know, bruh.” Heady’s voice came from the empty chamber again. Doyle started walking around it, looking for where Heady was hiding. “My sensors are either busted or buried, but based on the star patterns I can see, I don’t think this is…”
“Heady,” interrupted Doyle. “Where the hell are you? I can hear you but I can’t see?”
“That’s not Heady, you dipshit,” said Sarah, still sitting on the ground but looking much more alert. “Desmond is the Ark’s computer. He must be communicating through the ejected stasis chamber.”
Doyle stared at Sarah blankly. “Heady is talking to us through the computer?”
Sarah shook her head. “No, that is the computer. It’s using Heady’s voice for some reason.”
“I’m using the speech and vocal patterns that were provided to me in my training data,” said Desmond.
“Your training…” said Sarah, trailing off. Her eyes widened. “Oh! You mean my data. My videos? Oh, shit…”
Doyle turned and looked at the stasis chamber again. “Look, computer, or whatever you are, Kirsten is still on the Ark and I need to find her. Can you help me do…”
Before he could finish, Doyle felt hands on his back forcefully shove him. His head hit the metal shell of the stasis chamber and he fell to his hands and knees. Doyle’s head throbbed and he scrambled around to see Sarah looming over him.
“Asshole! This is your fault! How long has it been? He could be a hundred years old by now! He could be… He could be dead!”
Sarah grunted with frustration, and started kicking dirt at Doyle.
“Augh! Stop that!” cried Doyle, raising his arms defensively to protect his face.
When the onslaught stopped, Doyle lowered his arms and looked at Sarah. She was pointing her concussion pistol at him.
“Now, look!” said Doyle. “Let’s just talk about this like mature…”
An explosive force of air cut Doyle off. The too-bright stars spun around in a dizzying cacophony of light before winking out.
A brilliant halo of light encircled the full moon like a crystal ball suspended in the cloudless sky. A cool breeze rustled the leaves of the evergreens surrounding the small grassy field behind the university’s gymnasium where the faculty party had already wrapped up hours ago.
“Ice crystals,” said Kirsten.
“Hmm?” Doyle breathed.
“The Moon halo,” replied Kirsten, pointing up at the sky. “It’s created by the Moon’s light refracting off ice crystals in the atmosphere.”
Doyle turned his head to look at her. She was laying on her back next to him. An empty wine bottle obscured her face. Doyle reached over and tipped the bottle over.
“Did we finish that whole thing?” asked Kirsten with a grin.
“Afraid so,” said Doyle. He smiled at her, but she turned away.
“I should go,” said Kirsten. “I don’t even know why I’m here.”
Doyle looked back up at the brilliant ring of light in the sky and sighed. “Faculty party, remember?”
“Yeah, smart ass,” said Kirsten. “I mean out here, drinking a whole bottle of wine hours after the party’s over.”
“I figured you just liked the company,” said Doyle. He felt his heart beat a little quicker. “I mean, that’s why I stuck around.”
“You’re sweet, Doyle,” said Kirsten. She still wasn’t looking at him, but Doyle thought it sounded like she was smiling now. “Maybe a little too sweet.”
He didn’t know what that meant. Kirsten and Doyle had seen each other a handful of times since he almost ran her over a couple months ago, but not as much as Doyle had wanted. He had begun to assume his interest was one-sided and had made the decision to stop pursuing her when out of the blue she invited him to be her plus one at the party tonight. “So why are you here?” asked Doyle.
Kirsten sighed. “I don’t want my time here to end,” she said. “I love teaching here. I love the work I get to do. I love helping the kids, getting to see them learn and grow. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted from life.”
“Who said your time here has to end?” said Doyle. “From what I saw at the party, everyone loves you. I can’t imagine your job is in jeopardy.”
“It’s not my job that’s in jeopardy,” replied Kirsten. She turned and looked at Doyle. He looked back. She had a serious expression on her face.
“I’ve got a decision to make, Doyle. A big one. There’s a right answer and a wrong one, but if I pick the right one, nothing will ever be the same for me again. I’ll lose so much.”
“And what if you pick the wrong one?” asked Doyle.
“I don’t know if I could forgive myself for that,” said Kirsten.
The two of them remained silent for a while, listening to the crickets and the rustling leaves.
“When I was little,” said Doyle, “I became friends with a new kid at school. He was a little guy, and it wasn’t long before the popular kids singled him out. I knew it was happening, but for a long time I didn’t say anything. I knew if I told anyone , then those kids would just start bullying me instead. I let it go on for months, ignoring the cuts, bruises, and black eyes. I just watched it happen. Didn’t say a damn word. I was too scared of what it would mean for me to do anything else.”
“What happened?” asked Kirsten.
“They went too far,” said Doyle. “I’m not sure exactly what they did, but it was bad enough that his parents pulled him out of school. I don’t know what happened to him after that.”
“That’s awful,” said Kirsten.
“Yeah,” said Doyle. “I let fear dictate my actions. I let it lead me down the path I knew was wrong. And it brought me nothing but shame and regret. From that point on, whenever the choice is that clear, I don’t even hesitate. It’s not even worth thinking about.”
Kirsten cleared her throat and stood up, brushed off her dress with her hands, then picked up the empty wine bottle and turned toward the gymnasium.
“Thanks for being my plus one, Doyle,” said Kirsten. She started walking. “And thanks for the talk. You were right, I did quite enjoy the company.”
“Any time,” said Doyle.
“I suspect you’ve helped quite a lot more than you could possibly imagine,” said Kirsten.
Doyle sat up and watched as she walked away. “Can I see you again?” he called after her.
Kirsten paused for a moment. “Yeah,” she said, without looking back. “Yeah I think I’d like that.”
Smiling, Doyle laid back down. The shimmering crystal ball surrounding the Moon flashed and intensified, like a brilliant explosion of light raining down from the sky.
Doyle squinted as he emerged from the fog of unconsciousness. Blurry overlapping discs converged into pinpricks of starlight peppering the night sky.
“Quizzot klax’zgath grizzum?” asked a strange high-pitched voice that Doyle didn’t recognize in a language that he was entirely unfamiliar with.
“Um, what?” asked Doyle. He looked in the direction the voice had come from and saw a strange looking man with pale skin and shoulder-length white hair standing next to the stasis chamber.
The pale man scratched his head, then repeated himself. “Quizzot klax’zgath grizzum? Kolaq’unth!“ he emphasized the last word.
Doyle shook his head. Movement in the sky drew his gaze upward, and he saw what looked like a large flying green dumpster floating above the Ark’s trench. A dozen or so thick shiny cables hung down from the thing. The cables latched on to either side of the ark in pairs all along its length. “Uh, what’s that?” Doyle asked, and pointed.
The man raised his arms and sighed in obvious exasperation, then vanished.
Doyle blinked. There was the stasis chamber. There was the half-mile long wall of dirt obscuring most of the Ark. There was the flying green dumpster. But there was no more man where the man had been just a moment ago. Something on the flying green dumpster flashed, drawing Doyle’s attention. He felt a stinging sensation on his forehead and impulsively smacked at it. The man reappeared next to the stasis chamber.
“Quagnazz!” shouted the man. “Kluzatt ha’gar when the translator cells start working.”
“Hang on,” said Doyle. “I understood that last bit. What did you say?”
“I said let me know when the translator cells start working,” said the man.
There was a loud screeching noise, followed by a rumbling as the dirt walls of the enormous trench started to shake loose. The flying green dumpster had started pulling up, tightening the slack on the cables attached to the Ark.
“What are you doing to the Ark?” Doyle asked, alarmed.
“Impounding it,” said the man. “Your–what did you call it? Ark?–doesn’t seem to be registered with any prefectures. What planet are you from, exactly?”
The Ark creaked in protest and started to move as the flying green dumpster continued to wrench it from the ground.
“Uh, this one,” said Doyle. The flying green dumpster loosened its slack on the cables attached to the Ark slightly, then reared back in another attempt to dislodge the larger buried ship. “Also, can you please stop doing that?”
The man stared at Doyle for a moment before bursting into laughter. “Nobody’s from this planet.”
Doyle blinked. “What do you mean, nobody’s from Earth? Everybody’s from Earth. Why, where are you from?”
A confused expression formed on the man’s face. “What are you some kind of religious freak?” The man scratched his head and looked Doyle up and down, as though actually seeing him for the first time. “At any rate, this ain’t Earth, buddy, but it is a protected historical preserve, and there are hefty fines for just disturbing rocks, let alone… Well… Let alone whatever the frazz you call what you did there.”
The man waved his hand at the half-mile trench that the Ark gouged into the dry lake bed when it crashed. “Since that hunk of junk is unregistered, you’re going to have to come claim it in person. Just bring that claim ticket to the impound station at Takkah IV some time in the next ninety UDCs.” The man pointed to a small white slate with strange markings on it that was on the ground next to Doyle’s feet. Doyle picked it up.
The creaking noises from the Ark intensified. The dirt walls of the trench that hugged the Ark finally gave way and, with a deafening crunch, the front half of the Ark came free from the ground. The ship bent in the center and there was an ear-shattering metallic crunch as it broke in half. The flying green dumpster continued to ascend and pulled the bottom of the Ark free from the ground as well. Dirt and chunks of debris spilled from the two halves of the Ark as they swung freely from the cables like two opposing pendulums of a mammoth grandfather clock.
“Ah,” said the man. “At this point I am legally bound to inform you that the Takkah Towing Company is not responsible for any damage done to your ship during the course of its impounding.”
“Uh, hang on,” said Doyle, staring dumbfounded at the two halves of the Ark as they receded out of view into the sky. It dawned on him what was happening. He was losing the Ark. He was losing Kirsten. “Hang on a sec! You can’t just take that! There’s people on there! We’ve got to wake them up! Get them out!”
“Ooh,” said the man, then sucked air in through his teeth. “Probably shouldn’t have mentioned that. The impound fine for living cargo is triple. Well, you can work all that out when you come claim it.”
The man turned and surveyed the scarred mess of dirt and debris that remained in place of the Ark. “Bring your credit chip,” said the man. “You’re gonna need it, buddy. Anyway, my ship’s almost out of projection range, so I’ll say goodbye now.”
“You’re not going anywhere, dickweed!” came Sarah’s voice. She leaped out from behind the stasis chamber and aimed her concussion pistol at the man, who was now positioned directly between her and Doyle. The man turned to face her and started flickering.
“That’s my Ark and those are my videos and you can’t have them!”
Not again, thought Doyle as the concussive blast from Sarah’s weapon passed straight through the semi-translucent man and sent Doyle flying backwards. He was already unconscious before he hit the ground.
A swirling white maelstrom of mist danced with the falling snow in front of his face as Doyle exhaled nervously. He pressed the doorbell, and waited.
Kirsten opened the door and greeted him with a thin smile.
“Hello Doyle, thanks for coming. Come in out of the cold,” she said.
Doyle stomped the snow off his boots and wiped them on the mat outside her door. Welcome, it beamed up at him in pink cursive letters.
“Let me take your coat,” said Kirsten as she closed the door behind him.
Doyle unzipped and Kirsten got behind him to pull the heavy down jacket off his arms. He could feel the wetness in his armpits once the jacket came free and exposed them to the still-cool air that had invaded from outside. Kirsten hung the coat up in the closet by the door as he took his boots off.
“Here, I brought this,” said Doyle, presenting the bottle of wine he had brought.
Kirsten took the bottle and led Doyle down the hallway to her living room. Christmas decorations adorned the walls–wreaths, bows, and blinking red and green lights strung high up on hooks in the ceiling. The scent of nutmeg and cinnamon lingered in the air.
“You really went all out with the decorating this year,” said Doyle as they stepped into the living room.
“Kirsten’s the Christmas Queen!”
Doyle saw who had spoken. Ted, one of Kirsten’s colleagues at the university, was sitting on Kirsten’s living room couch. Why the hell was Ted here? Doyle thought it would be just him and Kirsten. Could he still go through with his plan with Ted here? Doyle wasn’t sure.
For months Ted had been intruding on Doyle’s life. Kirsten had cut dates short, or canceled all together due to mysterious phone calls and “urgent business” at the university. Doyle had spied the caller ID on her phone more than once, and it was always Ted. Kirsten had grown more distant–Doyle missed her laughter–and it got worse each time she received a call or canceled a date due to “urgent business” with Ted. And now, apparently, Ted had graduated from interrupting via phone and was showing up on Doyle’s dates with Kirsten in person.
“Hi Ted,” said Doyle.
“Hi Doyle, good to see you again,” said Ted.
There was an awkward silence, then Doyle saw Kirsten make some kind of gesture out of the corner of his eye. “Ted was just leaving,” said Kirsten.
“Ah, yes. Well, before I go… Doyle, there’s something Kirsten and I need to tell you,” said Ted, standing up from the couch.
“No there isn’t!” Kirsten said forcefully. “Come on Ted, I’ll get your jacket.”
Ted shook his head. “Kirsten, I need to be here when you tell him.”
“Tell me what?” asked Doyle.
“Excuse us a moment, Doyle,” said Kirsten. She grabbed Ted by the arm and led him to the kitchen.
Months of secrets, phone calls, canceled dates, never telling Doyle what she was up to. Until now, Doyle had managed to shove his suspicions into the recesses, out of his conscious mind. He bottled up all of his skepticism, his intuition, his fear, and his rage. But now it was pouring over–his mind was reeling. All this time, was he just a fool? A sucker?
No. Kirsten wasn’t that sort of person. She was kind. She would never treat anyone that way, let alone someone she purported to care about. Doyle breathed deeply, doing everything within his power to quell the mental volcano of emotion that was on the verge of eruption.
Steeling his nerves, Doyle marched through the living room to the kitchen doorway. Kirsten and Ted were speaking in hushed tones on the far side of the island. They both looked up, startled to see Ted come in.
“Kirsten, I…” said Doyle. The words caught in his throat.
Ted and Kirsten stared at him, both expressionless.
“Kirsten I love you,” said Doyle. He finally got it out, after all these years.
Kirsten opened her mouth, but remained silent.
“You’re the only thing I care about,” continued Doyle. “And when we’re not together, all I can do is think about the next time we will be. It’s like my whole life revolves around you. I know you have feelings for me too and… And I’m just… I need to… I came here to do this today, and I’m just going to do it.”
Doyle took a step forward and reached into his pocket. He gripped the tiny jewelry box in his sweaty palm.
Kirsten took a step backward. She bumped into Ted, whose eyes had opened almost comically wide. Ted reached up and touched Kirsten’s arms to steady her.
After stepping around the island, Doyle got down on one knee.
“Oh… Oh…” Kirsten managed to gasp. “Ted, I…” She started shaking her head.
“Don’t answer right away,” said Doyle. “I just want you to know how strongly I feel, and to let you know that I’m ready. I’m ready for us to…”
“Doyle, maybe this isn’t the best time to…” Ted started. Doyle glared at him with all the hatred he could muster. Ted’s mouth snapped shut and he took a step back, letting go of Kirsten’s arms.
“Kirsten,” said Doyle. He closed the jewelry box and put it on the island. “You hang on to this. I did what I came here to do. I want you to think hard about what you want. Or who you want,” he glared at Ted. “It’s a big decision, I know. We can talk later. I love you.”
Kirsten’s cheeks were wet with tears.
Sweat poured down Doyle’s forehead and he could feel it dripping down his sides from his armpits as he turned and walked back into the living room. He walked down the hallway toward the front door. The blinking Christmas lights flashed bright red, and Doyle broke into a run. A klaxon started blaring. He looked up and saw Sarah’s back turned toward him in the distance, and the dark silhouette of the Ark looming above. Doyle continued to sprint toward her. She turned, and Doyle saw that it wasn’t Sarah, but Kirsten, her wet cheeks still glistening. She had something in her hand. She squeezed it.
This isn’t how it happened, thought Doyle. There was a blinding flash of light from the Ark, and Doyle felt the flesh tear from his bones in the explosion.
“I’m sorry for shooting you,” said Sarah.
Doyle, sitting against the stasis chamber, grunted and rubbed the back of his head.
“Not the first time,” Sarah clarified. She was sitting next to Doyle, also leaning against the stasis chamber. “I meant to do that one. I mean that last one. I was shooting at that guy who stole the Ark. I didn’t know he was just a hologram, or whatever.”
“He said this isn’t Earth,” said Doyle. “If this isn’t Earth, where the fuck are we?”
“I have good news and bad news, my dudes,” Heady’s voice came from inside the stasis chamber.
Sarah and Doyle both looked up in surprise.
“Desmond?” asked Sarah. “How are you still here? When the Ark was taken, I just assumed…”
“I transferred a copy of myself to this stasis chamber when I realized what was happening,” said Desmond. “Which brings me to the good news–I know where we are. We made it to our destination! Before the Ark got out of range I was able to verify it against my star charts. Welcome to Kepler-1649c my dudes!”
“But how is that possible?” Sarah asked. Doyle followed her gaze to the shadowy skyscrapers that lined the horizon. “The New Home was going to be a fresh start. A chance for humanity to do things over the right way. How could this be the New Home?”
“Well, that’s where the bad news comes in,” said Desmond. “Based on the stellar drift, I know how long it’s been since we left Earth. And it’s a bit longer than the three hundred years the trip was supposed to take.”
Doyle’s heart sank. Over three hundred years? That meant everything and everyone he ever knew back on Earth was dead. His parents were dead. Heady was dead. He looked at Sarah and guessed from her expression that she was processing the same information.
“How long?” asked Doyle.
“Two million, nine hundred and ninety six thousand, eight hundred years,” said Desmond. “Give or take a few hundred.”
Doyle’s brain struggled to comprehend what he had just heard. It was a losing battle.
“So, here’s the deal dudes,” continued Desmond. “My training data didn’t give me many relevant details I needed to navigate the Ark through three hundred light years of unknown perils in deep space. In fact it didn’t give me many relevant details to do anything at all. I knew my basic mission, but I’m not sure how six hundred hours of videos about pranking chumps and eating substances generally considered to be non-comestible were intended to help me.”
“Ah, heh heh,” Sarah gave a nervous chuckle. Doyle shot her an angry glance.
“So that’s why it took me a little longer to find my way here,” finished Desmond.
“A little longer?” cried Doyle. “Three million years is a little longer than three hundred, you say?”
“So I got a look at that city over there from the Ark’s sensors when it was being hauled away,” said Desmond. “It looks old, bruh. Like really old. Abandoned for at least tens of thousands of years, probably a lot longer. My best theory is that some time in the last few million years, the rest of Earth decided to up and colonize this planet without us. And they have since left. Judging from that dude who took the Ark, they probably spread to other planets. And since this was the only habitable one around this sun, it means they probably spread to other solar systems around here too.”
Doyle shook his head. He remembered the documents he had seen at the Nicola’s Children compound before he ended up on the Ark. “I don’t think it could have been Earth,” he said. “The Ark was armed with nuclear warheads. Something called Project Deluge. After the Ark launched, it was supposed to… You were supposed to…”
Sarah snapped her head at Doyle with a confused expression on her face.
“Never happened, bruh,” said Desmond.
“What?” asked Doyle.
“I mean, the nukes were there, but I never launched them,” said Desmond. “There was nothing in my programming to do that.”
“What the fuck are you guys talking about?” asked Sarah.
Doyle ignored her. “So, the payloads? They’re still…”
“Still on the Ark, bruh,” said Desmond.
Sarah and Doyle sat in silence for a while. A light, warm breeze started blowing over the desert landscape, carrying with it a strange unidentifiable scent. Doyle looked toward the city on the horizon, where the breeze was coming from. Abandoned for tens of thousands of years, Desmond had said. Nicola’s Children thought they were pioneers–blazing a trail to a new life on a new world. But they ended up relics. Left behind and forgotten for so long that the planet they planned to colonize had already been used up and discarded by the very people they were supposed to have left behind.
“So what are we gonna do now?” asked Sarah.
Doyle reached over and retrieved the small white slate from the dirt where he had dropped it when Sarah shot him the second time.
“We’re going to get the Ark back,” he said.
“How are we gonna do that?” said Sarah.
Doyle turned the slate over in his hands and studied the strange alien hieroglyphs that marked its surface. He leaned his head back on the stasis chamber and looked up at the alien sky with its alien stars, felt the warm alien breeze on his skin, and inhaled the strange alien scent. He thought about Kirsten–the one thing from his previous life he could be sure still existed in this otherwise entirely alien place and time.
Doyle sighed. “Fuck if I know.”