Quiet. So quiet.
The sound of her rasping breath filled the night as empty buildings loomed above on both sides, and a silent street stretched ahead. The only other noise was the thudding echo of her pounding feet on hard pavement as she ran as hard as she could.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
The sole sounds in a deserted city.
Her lungs burned. Her legs ached. She blinked watering eyes.
But she had to keep running.
Darkness surrounded her, making it hard to see ahead.
But she had to continue. She dared not stop.
Behind her the moon swelled, growing larger and larger in the night sky.
She didn’t want to turn around to look.
She couldn’t afford to turn around for even a brief glimpse.
For years, the moon had grown larger and larger in the overhead sky, causing ever increasing violent tidal swings. Now, the ground grumbled and shook under its tug every second of every minute, causing low-level cities to be evacuated as tidal surges wiped out people and places. Then higher altitudes were threatened. And higher. In other drier areas, the ground opened up, swallowing entire towns with one gulp.
Humanity peered upwards toward the stars for salvation. It would not be found here on this devastated Earth.
Sixty ships built, and fifty-nine already launched—the last now ready to leave the planet behind. Any minute now.
So, too, she would be left behind if she didn’t hurry.
In the distance, she saw the glow of light silhouetting the last ship and heard the faint roar of frantic voices.
Run. Run. Faster. Faster.
Mother had died in her arms, and she’d been glad to be there at her passing, but it may have been a fatal mistake to stay for her last goodbye. Nevertheless, she would never have forgiven herself if she hadn’t.
The com in her pocket vibrated. She pulled it out and took precious time to answer. “What!”
She couldn’t stop a second or even slow.
She could see the dark bulk of the ship ahead of her. So close.
“Where are you?”
“Twenty minutes,” she panted. “Twenty minutes.”
“There’s a mob at the front hatch. You’ll have to go around the back to the emergency entrance and move the gantry over three feet to the left. I told the Captain you were a computer wizard, and he would need your skills. Don’t make me a liar. Hurry.”
The voice continued, but she turned it off. She didn’t need the distraction.
She couldn’t afford it.
Blood pulsed in her ears. Her legs ached. Her mouth felt parched from inhaling the smoky night air and puffing it out in hard short bursts.
Huff. Huff. Huff.
She arrived at the edge of the screaming mob, whose fists pounded vainly against impervious metal. Her feet did not slow a step. But, her heart hurt from hearing the desperation in their voices. Quickly, she circled to the back, stumbling in the effort.
She wanted to lie down. To collapse on the ground and never rise again.
But she couldn’t let Jazz down. Her best friend had saved her a seat.
Tugging the gantry to the left, she eyed the endless rungs above her.
Then she began to climb.
Her hands grew raw from the rough metal, and her arms ached as they reached for yet the next rung. Suddenly, she felt the engines stir beneath her hands and the ship began to shake. A hiss of steam vented below her.
The monster within awakened.
Heat licked her heels as engines ignited, and she hammered at the blurred words stenciled in front of her. Emergency Exit. She screamed, hoping to be heard above the increasing volume of noise. Suddenly, the hatch opened and a hand reached out to yank her in, then slammed shut.
Lying on the hard metal floor, she stared up into the frantic face of her friend as the ship rumbled and began to slowly lift. Tears from above splashed onto her cheeks and her lips. “You cut it awfully close.”
She nodded slightly. It was all she could manage. Lifted awkwardly into a chair, buckles snapped around her. The ship gathered velocity and leaped into the night sky with a roar.
She closed her eyes as the heavy hand of gravity slammed down on her.
The moon expanded in the night sky outside, dooming all those left behind, but the stars twinkled a promise as they beckoned the ship forward.