I knew that the end of the world was coming. But from the moment I found out, I resolved to be thoroughly cheerful about it.
The only problem, I realized as I came down the stairs of my dad’s apartment, was that my older brother was the one with the spaceship. And as much as I didn’t want him to die, I didn’t really fancy the idea of spending the rest of my life zooming through outer space with him. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but he’s really better in small doses.
Still, I didn’t really have much choice, I thought as I opened the fridge. It’s not as if there was any other way off the planet. Even if there was, I didn’t really have much time to go looking for one. I only had a day.
And I might as well polish off the halvah, I thought. There sure won’t be any where I’m going.
Feeling uncomfortably full, I plopped down in the easy chair and called my brother in his dorm at UMO.
“Hey, Aaron!” he said.
“Hey, Seth. So I suppose you got the news?”
“Yep. Real bummer, isn’t it?”
My brother, by the way, says things like that. He has a tendency to make big things (like the apocalypse) little and little things (like the specific failings of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) big.
“Yeah, I guess. Anyway, being the only other human who knows about this whole thing, I thought that maybe I could snatch a ride.”
“Of course!” he said. “Yeah, I mean, everybody else will be relatively clueless when the end actually comes, so the traumatic stress of it won’t be as painful for them as it would be for you. So yeah, you can totally come!”
“Thanks. And how much can I bring?”
“I’d say a large suitcase-full. You won’t need food, toiletries, or anything like that – so long as nothing happens to the nuclear reactor, we can replicate as many human needs as we want. And don’t worry about entertainment, either – I’ve downloaded every song, movie, and TV show ever recorded into the ship’s computer. Just bring items of practical and/or sentimental value.”
(Yes, by the way. He actually talks like this.)
He continued, “But Aaron. . . there’s just one problem.”
“The oxygen recycling systems on the Andromeda will only support four humans at a time. We can only bring two additional people.”
“Oh, okay. How about I bring one and you bring one?”
“Aaron, the four people who come aboard the Andromeda tomorrow evening will represent the remainder of the human race. We will be the only four survivors of an extinct species – not to mention the only four beings left in the universe with any memories of the planet Earth. We must choose our traveling companions wisely.”
“So. . . I’ll bring one and you bring one?”
“That sounds like the best plan.”
I almost regretted letting Seth bring one of his friends, as I had no idea who any of his new friends at college were. If they were anything like Seth, they were . . . well, better in small doses. And now I’d be stuck exploring the galaxy with them for the rest of my life. But fair was fair. And it was his spaceship, after all.
But for that matter, who would I bring? I only had a few close friends at school, and the more I thought about it, the more reticent I was about only bringing one. My friends were the kind of people who really loved living in the world around them, which is why they’re my friends. They weren’t nearly as detached as I was, and the loss of the Earth would surely hit them much harder than me. Was it kinder to let them die in ignorant bliss? It was a painful thought.
But it was also a thought for a later time. Right now I just had to focus on the things to pack. I went upstairs and went into my dad’s closet, retrieving the rolling plaid suitcase I used on my trip to England. I rolled it into my room, parked myself cross-legged on the floor, and looked around. What to bring?
I reached over to my bookshelf and picked up my squeezy stress toy. Might as well. And it could come in handy.
After glancing around a bit, I realized that most of my stuff was really at my mom’s apartment. It had been a Mom-week for the past seven days, and the weekend was really a transition time for all of my crap. I stood up, grabbed my helmet off my hat rack, and went downstairs.
Ten minutes later, I biked into my mom’s driveway. I went around the driveway once, as is my custom, and parked my bike in front of the patio steps. As usual, the unpleasant smell of cigarettes floated from the other apartment upstairs. Yay.
Once I got inside, though, the smell went away. I took off my shoes in the front closet, went into the small living room, and plopped myself down on the yellow couch. I would sort of miss this place when the world blew up. It was cozy and warm and comfortable.
I reminisced for a few minutes and then went into the kitchen. I stole some stir fry from the fridge and ate it from the tupperware, and then got a Trader Joe’s paper bag from the cabinet and walked through the living room to my bedroom – although technically it was me and my brother’s room. He slept in the top bunk whenever he was here.
What to bring? I looked at the cube-shelf where all my stuffed animals were unceremoniously stuffed in. Which ones? I finally settled on Polly Esther, the parrot, and Tom the Cat. Polly Esther had certainly been a part of the family for the longest, and Tom the Cat was the only animal that I remember buying. It was in the second grade after a rather unpleasant hospital procedure in Boston. My mom got him for me at FAO Schwartz.
I was forced to drink nearly five cups of milk – and I think it was sour. Either that, or I was just so unaccustomed to the taste it made me want to puke. And I did puke several times that fateful night. And the only thing the ordeal told me was what I had known all along – that I was still allergic to dairy.
I badly needed a friend – and Tom was nice to me. He made a comforting meowing sound when you squeezed the little box in his head, and his fur was a good hiding place from my fears. He was my guide through the big, scary city of Boston in the days that followed.
I stuffed the two stuffed animals into the Trader Joe’s bag and looked around. In the other cube shelf was a green folder, filled with various tidbits of my writing. That went in the bag for obvious reasons.
On my desk was a toy sonic screwdriver, a souvenir from the TV show Doctor Who. It’s a futuristic little silver wand with a blue light on the end. In the show it picks locks, shorts out circuitry, confuses the Doctor’s enemies – it does anything except maim or kill. Or wood. It doesn’t do wood, either.
“Who has a sonic screwdriver?”
“Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, ‘Ooh, this could be a little more sonic?’”
“What, you’ve never been bored? Never had a long night and a lot of cabinets to put up?”
The sonic screwdriver went in the bag – I supposed it’d be the last remnant of the joy that is Earth television.
On top of my bookshelf were my tap shoes. I picked them up and clicked them together, making that wonderful, all-too familiar sound.
I was alone in the theater. The summer afternoon sun warmed the room from the huge screen door stage right. There was nobody around – I was early again. I sat in my chair and laced my tap shoes – and with a CLIP! CLOP! CLIP! CLOP! I went onto the stage. I started practicing a move from the show that I was having trouble with. Heel toe brush heel heel toe brush heel heel toe brush heel – It was a little better, but I would have to do it three times as fast in the show.
I gave up and started walking around the stage, enjoying the sound of metal against wood. I started doing a shuffle walk, accelerating around the circle I was making. I went faster - and then I started trying to incorporate some moves from the show. I was tripping over myself like crazy – in no way do I fancy myself a good dancer. It was good that no one was watching. But as I started sweating in the afternoon sun I felt that certain joy that dancers must feel. It would probably have been stronger if I could actually dance, but it was there just the same.
The tap shoes went in the Trader Joe’s bag.
I bent down to my top bookshelf and, after scanning a bit, selected a book of poetry by Billy Collins, an anthology of poetry compiled by Billy Collins, and my Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I supposed there would be many long nights of boredom on the Andromeda, and these were the only three books I owned that weren’t any good unless you read them aloud.
The fool doth think he is wise. But the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
In the corner was my large orange bubble wand. I picked it up and held it in my hands for a few moments, pondering whether to take it. On one hand, it was dumb. On the other hand, I figured, why the hell not?
The light from the sunset glinted off the bubbles as they filled the air above the miniature parking lot behind my dad’s house. As I dipped the wand and waved it around, I felt like I was creating an ocean of stars – immersed in an endless galaxy of bubbles that I could lose myself in.
The bubble wand went in the bag.
On the shelf in the top of my closet sat the navy felt bag embroidered with Hebrew letters that contained my tallis, my prayer shawl. It was a strain for my five-foot-six frame, but I managed to get it down without causing an avalanche. I held it in one hand and rubbed my fingers on the soft cloth.
The first time I put it on was at my bar mitzvah. The rabbi said a blessing and wrapped the light blue and white cloth around my shoulders. . . and I felt different all of a sudden. I felt like one of those stereotypical young Jewish guys you see on TV, with their bright suits, yarmulkes, tallises, and smiles. I also felt like the old Hasidic guy you picture wandering the streets of Brooklyn in the early 1900s, nose buried in a prayer book, mumbling. I felt like Abraham, Isaac, The Baal Shem Tov, Shalom Aleichem, Danny Kaye, Mel Brooks. I also felt like Ben Stiller in Keeping the Faith, although I wasn’t too happy about that part.
I placed it carefully in the paper bag, making sure it didn’t get squashed, then looked around the tiny room and wondered if I really needed anything else. I’d always prided myself on the fact that I don’t need many material things to get by; I really felt content with the contents of the bag.
Taking a last glance around the room, I went through the living room and out the apartment door, not bothering to lock it this time. No one was going to get the chance to rob this place – and even if they did, they wouldn’t get very far.
I put the Trader Joe’s bag in my bike pannier, got on, circled the driveway once, and rode away. I’d miss the feeling of riding a bike – the swooping and swerving. And gravity. I’d miss that too.
On the way home, I got a little sidetracked. My digital camera was in my fanny pack, and I couldn’t resist taking it out and snapping a few photos of downtown Saco. It sure wasn’t the most beautiful place on the planet, but I really didn’t have the time to travel. I took pictures of my mom’s street, my dad’s street, Main Street, and the sun setting over Biddeford.
I suddenly felt a curious surge of emotion and found myself thinking of all the things I would miss about this planet. I would miss walking in the woods in the early evening, feeling the cold autumn wind on my face. I would miss theaters, and musicals, and the chance of ever going to college. I would miss the people at school, even the ones I didn’t know very well. The thought of which friend to bring with me sprung to the forefront of my mind again. How could I possibly do that to someone – save them from death, but at the cost of everything they’d ever known, every ordeal they’d been through, everybody they’d ever met besides me? What gave me the right to do that?
The taste of Chinese food. The stars at night. Glancing at the strange-looking people in the hallways of my school.
I knew what awaited me in the wild black yonder of outer space. I knew there were alien civilizations that spanned galaxies, sights and sensations beyond my wildest dreams. But I found myself longing for the simple things.
Back at my dad’s house, I fell asleep thinking about who to bring with me.
A good night’s sleep. That’s another thing I would miss.
It was a day later, about the same time. I stood in my dad’s driveway, looking up at a slender white spaceship descending from above.
The Andromeda was a graceful vessel, above all else – she resembled a pure white, futuristic remote control with no buttons. She was about five hundred feet long, and her engines glowed a brilliant blue as she hovered above the driveway.
A hatch opened on the bottom, and a round blue funnel of energy shot down to the ground with a WHHHHRRRRing sound. I rolled my suitcase over into it, and it began to float peacefully upwards. I waited a few seconds, and then stepped into the cylinder of light.
It was a curious sensation – as if gravity simply no longer had any effect on me. I felt the ground leave my feet, and I saw the houses on Gray Avenue getting smaller. I felt the way you do at that particular moment on an amusement park ride when you’re briefly weightless – but this was constant and serene. It was nice.
I rose through the hatch, and it closed beneath me. The gravity funnel switched itself off, and I plummeted the three feet to the floor.
“Aaron! How’s it going?”
My brother came in, wearing his usual long sleeve shirt and cargo pants. He seemed in an unusually chipper mood.
“Pretty good.” I looked around the cabin. It pretty much matched the outside in its simple and elegant design. The one thing I didn’t like was that everything was so clean and white it looked like an Apple store. I like a spaceship with a little personality, maybe a few carpets.
“If you want,” said Seth, “I’ll take the suitcase to the cargo hold and you can make yourself at home.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said.
“And please sit in the co-pilot’s chair. Nobody sits in the pilot seat but me.”
The two seats at the front of the ship were made of something that looked like white leather – but it was softer than leather. Whatever it was, it was heaven to sit on. The two chairs faced a curved dashboard with a sleek, oblong touch screen through which you could access all the functions of the ship. In front of the dashboard was a magnificent viewscreen that spanned the whole front of the cabin. Right now it was on a screensaver – a field of stars zooming past us like in Star Trek. It looked pretty awesome on the super-ultra-mega-high-definition screen.
The artificial gravity on the Andromeda didn’t feel quite right. It wasn’t as solid and concrete as Earth gravity was, as if it could simply be turned off at the touch of a button (which of course it could). I felt slightly fluffy sitting there in the fluffy chair in the fluffy gravity.
Seth came back in and sat down in his seat. “Where’s your passenger?” I asked him.
“Sitting in front of my laptop in the dorm, making sure the flight goes according to plan. This is merely a test flight, you know. After we’re done here we’ll make a quick flight back to the campus and exit the atmosphere from there. Where’s your passenger?”
Okay, here it was. The big moment. “I haven’t decided yet.”
Seth nodded, sensing my discomfort. “It certainly is a tough decision.”
“How did you decide?”
Seth looked at me contemplatively, but didn’t answer my question. He touched the dashboard, and the stars on the viewscreen disappeared to reveal a live feed from the front of the ship – the familiar buildings of my hometown. “I can give you ten minutes,” he said. “We can do a quick flight around Saco and then you’ll have to decide.” He touched a few buttons, and we started moving. It was strange because it didn’t feel like we were moving at all – I could only tell because of the feed from the viewscreen. According to what I saw, we were making a wide swoop above the Saco River, banking to the left. But there was no sensation of movement.
I mentioned this aloud.
“That’s the inertial dampers,” Seth said, “They ensure that the external movement of the vehicle doesn’t affect the vehicle’s internal environment.”
“It feels kind of weird, though. Like we’re not in an actual spaceship.”
He smirked. “If it weren’t for the inertial dampers, you’d be a smear against the back wall by the time we hit Mach One. You want me to turn them off?”
You had to admire him – he knew how to make a case. “No, that’s fine.”
We fell silent after that, not really knowing what to say. The viewscreen showed a wonderful moving landscape of Saco and the cities that surrounded it. There was a sunset – the last sunset that the Earth would ever see.
I thought about the inertial dampers, and about how this whole apocalypse thing seemed not to be hitting me very hard. I wondered if I was cruising through my life with the inertial dampers turned on high, enjoying the view but never feeling the sensations. How could I possibly make a decision when I couldn’t feel anything? How could I choose one survivor when I didn’t even feel alive myself?
Seth seemed to sense the significance of what I was thinking. He looked at me. “Are you ready?”
I swallowed and looked out at the viewscreen. “Yes,” I said.
But I wasn’t ready. Not at all.
Aaron Lockman, 16