by Madeline Paul
Approximately twenty years ago, a nuclear war broke out between North Korea and the United States. The result was total devastation: no more countries, no more homes, no more anything. The earth, home to over 7 billion people, was obliterated. There was no more ground; the only way people could look was up.
After several threats, before any atomic weapon was struck, the Spacecraft Home was introduced: a spacecraft that held the capacity to sustain 500,000 lives for 40 years. These 500,000 had 40 years to fix the earth or find a new planet to call home. Half a million out of 7 billion would survive. These 500,000 did not include the old, the ill, or any other person with physical/mental inhibilitants. These 500,000 did contain the extremely weathy — who could afford the insane ticket price, the government officials, the top scientists. All around: the elite, the top ten percent, and their children…
I have spent the past 20 years of my life here, on Home, and I have spent the past 20 years of my life trying to convince them to change the name. Home is where the grass is a beautiful shade of green, the sky’s blue brings me peace, and I’m happy.
“Aurora,” my mom calls, bringing me back to reality, “You’re wanted in the west wing. Room 178.”
I stop what I’m working on — improvements to the medicine my mom created. She has been working on this exilir for decades now. She really did enjoy bringing her workspace onto the ship, finally being able to work with like-minded people.
As her daughter, it was only fitting that I follow in her footsteps. I just wish she would tell me what it is I’m even working on.
“Okay,” I shrug as I happily walk out.
I make my way to the west wing, focusing on the sounds of my footsteps as a welcome distraction. It’s only a matter of minutes until I find myself outside of Room 178, knocking on the door, and hearing a familiar voice permitting my entrance.
“Ms. Bates?” Clark Andrews — president of the ship — eyes me, daring me to challenge his authority. He motions for me to take a seat.
Clark Andrews is young, my age. His sharp facial features demand authority and leadership. We were both eight when we arrived on the Home ship, and I remember being in the same class. Clark is the son of former Home leader Richard Andrews.
“Yes, sir,” I meakly reply as I sit. I’m so weak.
I already know what this is about. There has been talk on the ship for weeks. I have overheard the whispers. Did you hear that they’re thinking about impeaching Andrews? Rumor has it Andrews was caught sneaking into the medical department after curfew. Did you know that Andrews is apparently stealing extra rations of oxygen and food? Of course these were all lies, there is only two people on this ship that know what Andrews is up to. Clark Andrews himself and one other. Me.
Clark isn’t being impeached and he isn’t a theif. Clark Andrews does have a secret though; he wants to know what it is my mom is working on. His way in: Aurora Bates, daughter of Elizabeth Bates, the engineer behind the secret elixr.
“What do you have for me?” he asks.
I try a joke, this man could really lighten up. We used to tell knock knock jokes to each other in grade school to pass the time. “Well let’s see, for lunch on Monday she ate a turkey sandwich for lunch-”
“Aurora, please,” he sighs and takes a deep breath, “Aurora, I’m not forcing you to be here. If you don’t want to help then I’ll find another way.”
“Clark — President Andrews — as much as I love my mother, I have to know the truth. She has spent my entire life keeping secrets from me, and this experiment has taken over her life. It’s time to know the truth.”
He looks at me with a look of understanding. A look of alliance.
“Well then, let’s get to work.”
I wake up the next morning feeling slightly unnerved. Am I betraying my own mother for the greater good or for me? She has a past of working on unethical experiments, which has caused her to lose multiple jobs, could this be one of those experiments? Oh shoot, I hear a voice.
“No Kennith, you don’t understand,” my mom is pleading, “all I need is a little more time, a little more money.”
“Elizabeth, this hobby of yours has cost me thousands. It’s been 25 years, if you haven’t got it by now, you’re not going to, it’s that simple.”
“Science — real science — cannot be completed in a small time frame. It takes trials, improvements, and more trials. We are so close. Aurora is onto something.”
“You have Aurora in on this?”
“No of course not, I just have her tweaking the formula. I can’t risk her knowing what I’m working on, not this time.”
I rush out of bed and get ready, finding my mom alone in the unused kitchen when I exit.
“Hello sweetie, are you excited to get to work today? I think we’re onto something big.”
I hide my eye roll as I make my way to the table and slide out a chair. The last place I want to be is work. The last thing I want to do is forward her secret experiments. I’m not so sure anyone besides her(and Kennith?) actually know what this big secret is.
“Actually I’m feeling a little under the weather, I think I should go to the infirmary. Make sure everything is okay?”
“Of course,” she smiles, “would you like me to escort you?”
“I’m fine, thank you… Mom, who’s Kennith?”
Her face contorts as she looks for a response.
“Oh nobody, he’s just a financial guy, boring stuff really. He funds my experiments.”
“What’s he funding?”
“Aurora, that’s enough questions for one day,” she cheaply smiles, “Besides, shouldn’t you be getting to the infirmary?”
I ran out of the door to find Andrews. After an hour of searching I finally find him, even then he was in a meeting, which caused me to have to wait another thirty minutes. I replay the events of the morning in my head on a loop so that I don’t forget a single deatail.
When he exited the meeting room to find me sitting on the hallway floor, he turned back around and returned to the room, I followed. His face was full of concern, and I spilled out the events that occured that morning.
When I finished all he said was, “You have to go back to the lab.”
“What!?” I say in protest.
“Think about it, that’s where the answers are. We aren’t going to find them outside of there.”
“Okay, okay. But how? My mom is gonna notice if anything is missing. And I don’t even have a clearance pass to get in by myself.”
“You don’t. However, I do. The President is the only passenger who has access to all the rooms.”
After several minutes of bickering, it’s decided that I will be the one going to the lab… alone. Hours after curfew, I will sneak out to execute the plan. A little confidence would be greatly beneficial at the moment.
I leave the cabin careful not to wake my mother, Clark’s all access pass in hand, and make my way to the lab. This place is entirely different after hours, the gray is now black, the hallways are dull and empty. It’s almost eery.
I come to the lab door and scan the card. The door immediately opens. I flip the lights to begin my search and what I see sends my heart to my stomach.
19 years later…
That night started with me sneaking out and ended with my mom betraying me. The trial ended with me behind bars, my mom free, and Clark hasn’t come to see me once.
Security noticed that the President of the ship was going to the lab at 23:00 which immediately raised red flags. They came to the lab where my mom was going finally explaining to me what it was that she was working on — what I had created. It was that moment when she threw me under the bus, everything was pinned on me. Not necassarily the idea of the experiment, but it was my equations, my formula, that made it possible. Although I had no clue what it was that I was working on, I did know that I was doing it all voluntarily. It of course didn’t help that I used the President’s pass to get in, and Clark wasn’t willing to testify that he gave it to me.
My sentence: until the forty years are up. Then I will spend another five years on probation.
I look at my cell wall. I am counting the tiles on the ceiling again. I get to 27 when my name is called. I look over and the warrden is standing outside my cell.
“Bates,” he says again, “You’re wanted. West Wing. Room 178.” Bates, my new name. I have only been reffered to as Bates for the past 18 years.
I jump down from my bunk and put on my uniform boots. The cell door opens, and I’m handcuffed almost immediately. Two guards escort me across the ship to the West Wing, where I stand outside room 178. One guard knocks while the other holds me in place. I hear a familiar, unsettling voice permitting my entrance.
“Ms. Bates?” Clark Andrews — President of Home — calls my name. The door turns red. The guards turn red. Everything is red.
I begin fighting the guards, attempting to free myself. However, I’m 156 pounds and can’t fight off two security guards as easily as I hoped. I’m quickly subdued. The door opens, I’m thrown in, and the door shuts.
“Aurora. Listen. I-”
“Aurora,” he trys again, “Please. I had to. Do you know what that would’ve done to my career. I had to stay low in order to get that experiment.”
“Why did you want me?”
I don’t want to talk about that night.
“We have a problem. It’s been 39 years, and we are nowhere. Nowhere close to Home.”
Jeffersonville High School, 2019