She finally stirred as her father sat beside her on the plush couch and stroked her hair while his wife was on the phone, weeping profusely while talking to her parents. Rose had sent him to check on their daughter, who was still slumbering from the sedative they had given her that evening. Iris had awoken a few hours ago, asking for Alice, confused and scared. She’d been so terrified and upset that they’d been forced to give her another sedative. Their poor baby was a confused and hysterical nine-year-old, but would be lucky enough to see a great many more years of precious life, albeit without her lifelong best friend.
The young family was gathered in a large, spacious, plush sitting room. There were couches, tables, and arm chairs scattered all around the carpeted area. Brightly lit and airy, it was large enough for a hundred and fifty people, which was the exact number of people sitting and wandering around. None of them knew exactly where they were and were murmuring to each other primarily in English, Spanish, and French about it. The large windows many of them were gesturing to only looked out over a huge, open dark field and all they knew was that they were far from home. A small group of wait staff served food and drinks, silently ghosting around the room to the many men, women, and children waiting anxiously to be saved from death as the minutes ticked by.
These individuals were the ones who would be saved from certain death. They were leaders, innovators, brilliant professionals. They were the people needed to make a new world and home. As such, they and their families would be saved. All across the world, groups just like theirs were waiting to board one of the several starships that would be launching just before midnight. And Nick was certain that they were just as anxious as his group was, all wondering exactly when they were going to be boarding their starship. It was already past eleven.
Iris slowly opened her eyes, blinking at the bright lights above her as she woke up to her father’s surprisingly soft touch. He wasn’t usually a gentle, loving, caring man, but Iris knew her father loved her.
“Daddy?” Iris whispered, her eyes nervously darting around at the new, unfamiliar sights.
“Yes, sweetie?” Nick asked, his voice gentle and calm as he rested one warm hand on her hair.
“Where are we?”
“We’re in a building waiting to board a starship.”
Iris looked up into his serious face, blinking in confusion and against the bright lights hanging from the ceiling. Slowly, she moved into a sitting position so she could look around, scooting closer to her father as she caught sight of people she had never seen before. Catching sight of her mother walking towards her, she held out her arms, casting furtive glances around at the others milling around, not all of them speaking in English.
“I’m here, honey,” Rose said soothingly as she sat beside her daughter and pulled her into her arms. “Are you okay?”
Iris nodded, rubbing her cheek against her mother’s cashmere sweater. “Daddy said we’re going to be getting on a starship. What does that mean? What’s a starship?”
“Daddy’s job is important enough that the three of us and all these other people here are going to be saved. We’re not going to die at midnight. We’re going to get on a ship and go into space.”
Iris sat up straight, pulling out of her mother’s arms, and looked around her, studying their surroundings and the large group of people waiting around with them for the first time. She saw a lot of adults, but also some kids. Most were either babies or teenagers, but she did see several who looked to be around her age. She couldn’t stop herself from looking in every little girl’s face to see if she could find Alice.
Rose knew what her daughter was doing and placed a tender hand on her daughter’s head, gently stroking her hair. “I’m sorry, honey. We tried to get them to agree to let us bring Alice, but they said no. We couldn’t save her.”
Iris’s lips began to quiver as tears filled her eyes. She turned and buried her head against her mother’s shoulder, her own shoulders shaking as she cried. She had thought she and Alice would be reunited in death. Now that dream was dashed. She would get to live while everyone else she had loved was going to die. It wasn’t fair.
“I want to go to Alice,” Iris wailed, her voice muffled against Rose’s chest.
Rose rocked her daughter back and forth, making soothing sounds while Nick sat by awkwardly, not doing anything, not knowing what to do. Iris’s cries drew a few looks, but most cast sympathetic glances their way, especially those with their own children. They understood what Iris was going through.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Rose whispered. “I’m so sorry. We can’t let you go. We don’t even know where we are.”
A dinging noise was suddenly heard and all the noise in the room ceased, even Iris’s cries quieted. Every head turned around and around, wondering what was going on. The young children and babies seemed to sense something in the air was different. While they didn’t become completely silent, they did quiet down for a few seconds before their parents had to shush them. The wait staff stopped where they were, but none of them looked surprised or curious. After a second, a soft murmur pulsed through the crowd, but was almost immediately silenced by a voice coming over an intercom.
“Welcome, passengers,” a strong, male voice said. “This is your captain, Randall Price. I and the rest of the crew would like to welcome you to Starship number 512, also known as Hermes.”
The announcement startled everyone. All around the room, a buzzing of murmurs began and grew as it made its way around, becoming louder and louder as people, mostly the adults and a few of the older adolescents, began to mill around each other. Agitation permeated the room through voices and gestures as voices rose and fell in different languages. In the middle of it, Nick stood up as he and his wife exchanged looks. They didn’t join in with the movement, but they were just as agitated and confused as everyone else. Iris curled up against her mother, wrapping her arms around her mother’s waist and huddling close.
“What is the meaning of this?” Nick demanded to no one in particular. “How can we already be on the starship?”
A young woman standing near the family turned slightly and saluted him with her glass of champagne. “I’d like to know that myself,” she said with a melodic French accent. “I hope the good captain explains a few things to us. I don’t like surprises.”
“I’m sure you’re all a little surprised,” the captain continued.
“A little!” a voice from the other side of the room yelled out, bringing a few weak chuckles and many more agreements.
“You were brought here from all over North and South America to this undisclosed location. You all entered what looked like a massive warehouse and walked through a tunnel upon entrance. My good passengers, the warehouse was a façade and, in actuality, you have boarded the starship and have been sitting in the main lounge since your arrival.
“At this moment, I would like to invite you to your rooms where you may freshen up and prepare for a formal evening dance in the ballroom as we prepare for takeoff. The wait staff is on hand to help direct you and answer all of your questions. Takeoff will commence in fifteen minutes. Thank you.”
If Iris knew the word “pandemonium,” she would have used it to describe what happened next in the lounge. Instead, she thought of it as a loud, irritating mess of people who were yelling and swarming the poor men and women in black and white uniforms. To their credit, though, the wait staff was taking everything in stride, as though they had known this was what was going to happen.
Slowly, but surely, individuals and families began to stream out of the lounge and towards their rooms. The promise of an elegant party was just too much of an enticement for many of them and they wanted to be dressed and ready in the ballroom to watch the ship leave Earth just before the explosions began.
Nick turned to his wife and daughter and moved his head to indicate they should join the crowd and find their rooms, their new home. Rose nodded and helped Iris off of the couch first before standing and taking her daughter’s hand firmly so she wouldn’t be lost in the press of people. With every one of them stumbling around the unknown ship, they didn’t want to become separated. After holding up a finger to his wife and daughter for them to wait a minute, Nick snagged the attention of one of the wait staff members to ask where they might find their rooms.
“Third level,” Nick said as he turned back to his family and let the young woman continue on her way through the crowd. He took his wife’s hand and pulled his family through the crush and towards one of the elevators in the lounge, joining the crowds already waiting. “Turn left and go down three doors. She said that since we have a family of three, we have two bedrooms, a living space, and a kitchen, though we could always go to the ship’s fully stocked and staffed dining hall. She also said the sixth level has stores and restaurants, but we should be careful with what we purchase since we can’t actually manufacture any more goods on this ship.”
“Just lead on,” Rose said tiredly, the long day finally catching up to her. She knew she would be able to sleep that night since she would be fortunate to have a tomorrow. A pang of guilt shot through her at that thought, but she also knew it would probably be a mostly empty life that she was going to end up leading now that she didn’t have any family and friends other than Nick and Iris. Her days were likely to be filled with her daughter as her husband would be busy with the leaders and professionals on the ship to help craft a new world and coordinate with the other starships. “Midnight is going to come quickly, so we’d better be in the ballroom within the half hour.”
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