The sink sputtered as it attempted to release a stream of water from its spigot. A few drops trickled out, but the primary arriving passenger was an unwelcome mixture of dirt and garbage. Margaret sighed as she stared at the mess that had come to greet her. This was not a good sign, for they were almost out of fresh water. Frustrated, she turned away from the sink and sank into a chair at the kitchen table. Her eyes wandered to the pantry, where the door was cracked just enough so she could assess how much water they had left in storage. A few jugs sat on the linoleum floor under a shelving unit, causing Margaret’s stomach to plunge at the sight. The four of them would not last long on the meager supply.
Margaret drummed her fingers on the table in front of her impatiently, unsure of what her next step should be. She expected Danny to be home any minute, but she did not think she could wait any longer. Now pacing around the room, she held a phone in her hands, debating on whether or not she should call him. A bead of sweat trickled down her neck as she pondered the possibilities. Was she ready to hear what he had to report?
Margaret’s thoughts interrupted, she turned to find her nine year old daughter and five year old son standing in the doorway of the kitchen in their old, rundown house.
The little girl peered at her mother quizzically.
“Is everything okay?”
Margaret forced a smile upon her face.
“Oh, yes. Yes, children, I’m just waiting for your father to get home.”
Laura thought she had seen her mother’s smile falter, but before she could ask any more questions the door to the front of the house opened.
The children wheeled around to find their father standing in the doorway.
The little boy and girl ran to him, flinging themselves at the man in desperation for love and affection. Danny bent down and wrapped his arms around the little ones.
“Hello, Laura. Hello, Tommy. Have you two been good for your mother?”
Danny raised his eyes to meet Margaret’s. She shivered in apprehension.
“They…they’ve been very good. How have you been, Dan?”
Danny patted his children on their heads and stood to his full height. His clothes were worn, which resembled that of his families, save for a small rocket logo in the corner of his shirt with the letters “NASA” written across it. He had bags underneath his eyes and his hair was tousled, but despite this he still managed to maintain a warm, welcoming aura about him. Walking towards his wife, he answered her,
“Well, I’ve been as good as I can be, I suppose….”
He paused in front of Margaret and peered at her intensely.
” …But I am a Hell of a lot better now that I am home with my family.”
With that, he pulled his wife in to him closely and wrapped his arms around her tightly. A tear trickled down Margaret’s face.
“You have been missed, Danny….”
“And I have missed all of you. But…you know we have a lot to talk about, Margaret.”
Margaret gently and reluctantly pulled away from the embrace, wiping the tear off her cheek with the edge of her sleeve as she did so.
“Children, go play in your room for a little while. Your father and I have some things to discuss.”
“But Dad just got home-”
“Tommy, please. You will have plenty of time to spend with your father soon enough.”
Tommy and Laura trudged down the small, narrow hall towards their room and gently shut the door behind them. Laura immediately sat on the ground beside the door and pressed her ear firmly to the worn, wooden barrier, straining to hear what was being said out in the living room. Tommy sat on the bed and tossed a ball gently against the wall, playing the game of catch for one.
“Tommy, knock it off! You make it hard to hear when you bounce that ball against the wall!”
Tommy turned towards his sister with a puzzled look on his face.
“Huh, what? Sis, what are you doing?”
“Shh, Tommy! I’m trying to figure out what Mom and Dad are talking about.”
Curious, Tommy left the bed, tossed his ball aside, and proceeded to join his sister on the floor.
“What are they saying?”
“Tommy, shh! Just a minute. I think they’re talking about our plans….”
His interest piqued, Tommy placed his head underneath his sisters and pressed his ear to the door. The muffled voices of his parents played upon his eardrum.
“…so only one is left?”
“Yes…only one. It was all I could get my hands on. Most of them were taken by the first droves, and of course those who have possession of the few that are left aren’t willing to give them up. The chances are low…so I’m going to have to do some programming beforehand, just in case.”
Margaret emitted a small cry.
“Danny, I don’t understand. I thought you would have some kind of pull, with your rank and the work you’ve put into this-”
“Yes, I know. But there was a mix-up. And unfortunately that mistake has left us with only one pod.”
“So…so….there isn’t anything else we can do, except hope that the odds are in our favor? In their favor?”
There was a long pause. Laura furrowed her brow in confusion and Tommy scratched his head as they listened in on the silence.
And then Danny’s voice broke the spell.
“I’m afraid so.”
Margaret began to sob.
Tommy quickly pulled his ear away from the door and peered up at his sister with a frightened expression.
“Laura…Laura, why is Mommy crying?”
His lip started to tremble and tears began to well up in his eyes. Laura felt a pit in her stomach and her own sense of panic began to kick in, but seeing the face of her younger brother made her feel that she had to be strong.
“Oh, Tommy. It’s going to be okay. They know what’s best. I’m sure they have everything figured out.”
Laura quickly got up and grabbed a light blue teddy bear off the bed and then rejoined Tommy on the floor, handing him the stuffed animal which he eagerly took and held tightly to his chest. Laura stared at her little brother for a moment until he began to whimper. Gently, she pulled him in close and held him tightly.
“It’s going to be okay, Tommy. Everything will work out, as long as we have each other. I’m sure of it.”
The house bustled with life the next morning. Margaret darted across the house grabbing necessities here and there, while Danny typed away furiously at his computer. The children were in their room packing one small bag each, only picking out the things they felt they absolutely could not live without, as their parents had instructed them to do. Laura caught Tommy attempting to stuff his bag to the brim with toys, which she quickly scolded him for.
“But Laura, these are my life!” he protested.
“Tommy, Mom and Dad said we don’t have the room. We can only take a couple of things, which means only one or two of your favorite, smaller toys can come along. You need clothes more than toys.”
Tommy looked at his sister with frustration, but nodded and turned back to packing. He picked up his blue teddy bear and ball he had been playing with the night before and firmly tucked them into his bag.
Suddenly, Margaret burst into the room without warning, startling the children. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun, but several rebel strands of hair had made their way out of the neat, organized order on her head. Her breath was short and her eyes were bright and anxious.
“Laura, Tommy, are you finished packing? We need to get a move on, darlings.”
The children gathered up their belongings and followed their mother into the living room. Danny had just finished working on the computer, which he was now tucking into a traveling case.
“I got all of the programming done, just in time,” Danny said as he closed the clasps on the case, seemingly relieved.
Margaret nodded as she busily gathered the remaining items that would be going with her on the trip.
“Is everyone all packed? Ready to go? We really need to get going,” Danny said as he slung a backpack over his shoulder.
The children held up their bags in response, while Margaret finished zipping up the last pouches on her own pack before turning towards her husband.
“We’re ready, Danny. As ready as we’ll ever be….”
They all took one last look at their home, causing memories to flash through their minds like a sped-up movie. Each family member began to recall a precious moment while they slowly made their way out the front door to the beat-up van that sat in the driveway.
“Do you remember the time Tommy turned the faucet on in the bathtub when Mom wasn’t looking and caused a flood in the bathroom?”
“What about the time Dad fell asleep on the couch and Laura colored on his face with permanent marker?’
“Or how about the time when your mother surprised the two of you by making dessert for dinner?”
They were all standing outside the van now, peering up at the house they were leaving behind. Danny gestured to the now empty structure.
“Take a good look, children. Remember this moment. Remember this place. It was your home, and we did what we could to make it a good one.”
Tears began to trickle down Tommy and Laura’s faces.
“Do we really have to go?” the boy whimpered
Danny and Margaret looked at their kids with loving concern. The children’s father bent down to their level and placed his arms on each of their shoulders, giving them a reassuring squeeze.
“Laura, Tommy, know that we love you, more than anything. And we would never purposely do anything to hurt you or make you sad. Unfortunately, we do have to leave. There is no choice. The world has turned and left us and we must rejoin it. This house is just a symbol for what our home was at one point; it is not the home itself. Our house may have to stay behind, but know that you never truly leave your home. It stays with you.”
The children nodded somberly.
Within minutes the van was fully packed, for the luggage was light. The family climbed into the car and settled in, when suddenly an unexpected wave of apprehension seized them, drenching the little family in the fear of the unknown. They all looked at each other, each person making eye contact for a brief moment in an effort to silently comfort one another. Danny sucked in a breath of air and put the key into the ignition, turning to the right. After struggling for several moments, the van sputtered to life. A few clinking and gurgling noises erupted from the vehicle, but the sounds quickly subsided when the wheels hit the roughly paved road as the van backed out of the driveway.
The houses they passed by that lined the roads in the neighborhood now resembled their own; empty, abandoned, run-down. Driving the van down the road now in silence, Danny began to wish he had forced his family to leave years ago, back when it was still relatively safe. His wife glimpsed his concerned face, and without hesitation grasped his free hand tightly in her own.
Garbage, a reminder of humanities lazy destruction, littered the scenery in every direction. A tumbleweed made of trash rolled across the road in front of the van. Numbed to the sight by familiarity, Tommy and Laura paid no mind. They stared out the back window of the car and attempted to burn everything into their memories for the last time in hopes of being able to revisit at a later date. Recognizing many houses as belonging to kids who had once been their friends, with each one they passed they imagined that their old pals were standing outside, waving goodbye. Tommy and Laura brought their own hands up and waved back weakly.
When they finally pulled into the parking lot at the NASA launch pad several hours later, Danny felt strange. He had spent so many days here, tirelessly working to bring families to safety, calculating the best times to send people out into the vast unknown so their chances of survival were at their highest. And now, after several years of endless work, this would be the last hour he spent here. He looked at his wife, and then his children, and quickly decided that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Well, here we are.”
After gathering their belongings, the family clambered out of the car. The launch pad loomed over them, sending a chilling reminder to the group of how small and finite they were. Without hesitation the children reached their hands out to their parents, which they eagerly received, and the whole family formed a chain as they walked towards their destination.
“Dad, is this where you work?” Tommy inquired.
“Why are we here?” Laura asked nervously.
Danny decided to be honest with his children. They had a right to know the reality of the situation.
“Well, Laura, as you and Tommy know, there isn’t much here left on Earth for us, and the garbage has piled up too high. So we have to leave. Unfortunately, space is a bit cluttered up too, so we have to be careful as we leave or we could get hurt.”
“Oh. How did it become so dangerous, Dad?”
“Because we were careless, honey. Just remember that everything in life has a cause and effect. And sometimes those repercussions can be deadly.”
Laura and Tommy shivered.
Danny and Margaret gave their children’s hands a reassuring squeeze, which the kids reciprocated.
Within minutes the family stopped before a moderately sized silver rocket. The children’s jaws dropped, and even Margaret had to take a step back.
“Is this a real, live rocket?!”
“Are we going to be riding in it?!”
Danny chuckled at his children’s surprise.
“Yes, little ones. You’re going to ride up in a real, live rocket. Soon we’ll be joining everyone else up at the space station.”
The experienced programmer typed a code into a nearby keypad, and a door on the rocket slid open.
“Alright, everyone, go ahead and climb on in.”
The family hesitated for a moment before proceeding into the silver contraption. Once inside, the children slowly made their way throughout the rocket, carefully making sure not to touch or disturb anything. The insides of the rocket looked strange, cold, and unfamiliar. The family, save for the father, was in awe of their new living quarters.
Danny made his way to what was essentially the cockpit, and proceeded to sit in the massive chair placed before a computer with a large panel of operational buttons. He began to set up a course for their journey, when Tommy appeared next to his father’s side.
“Daddy, this rocket is pretty big! Why did we have to leave so many things at home?’
The boy’s father entered a few more commands into the computer before answering his son. He sat for a moment, alone with his thoughts, when he finally turned to the boy. His eyes were glossy, brimming with a mixture of hope and concern.
“Tommy, when we get to the space station we’re not going to have much room because there are so many other people already living there. Do you understand? We have to share our space.”
“Oh, okay Daddy, that makes sense. I hope I get to see all my old friends again!”
The boy wandered off to continue his examination of the rocket, and Danny sighed as he watched his young son disappear around a corner. Margaret suddenly appeared behind him, and leaned over the chair to hug him.
“I wish you didn’t have to live pilot the trip. It would be nice to spend time with you, especially after all of the programming you’ve already been doing.”
Danny placed a hand over his wife’s and stared ahead.
“You know what I was programming for. I just hope we don’t have to use it. I’m live monitoring this flight so I can adjust the course if any unforeseen obstacles get in the way. I want this to work, Margaret, I love you all too much. It’s my duty to protect you. I only wish I had made you and the children leave several years ago….”
Margaret quickly found herself in front of her husband and softly grabbed his head between her hands.
“Danny, don’t ever say that. It was my choice as well. Tommy and Laura were so very young then, and they needed to know their father. You have done everything you could, and I know you will continue to do so. Have no regrets.”
The woman leaned forward and planted a kiss on her husband’s forehead as a tear fell from his eye.
“Alright children, get strapped in. We’re going to be taking off now.”
Tommy and Laura quickly rushed to meet their parents near the cockpit. Danny was already seated in his chair, while Margaret assisted Tommy and Laura with their own arrangements. Margaret took a seat next to her husband and nodded.
Within moments the rocket rumbled to life. A deafening roar could be heard throughout the cabin, and the lively fire that burned out of the rocket propelled the family towards the stars. The group stared in awe out of the window before them as everything Earthly quickly fell away. Blasting through the familiar blue sky, they found themselves traveling through a darkness littered with bright, twinkling lights. Space had found the family, and the vast unknown greeted them with arms wide-open. They had never seen, or felt, anything so beautiful.
“Isn’t this amazing?” Danny asked in a hushed whisper.
The others could only nod their heads in agreement, for they could not seem to find their voices.
They all sat in silence for a long time as they took the sights in.
A button on the control panel lit up, reminding Danny of his duties, and he reluctantly turned his attention back to piloting the rocket while his family continued to enjoy the trip. Everything was smooth sailing for quite some time until a stream of objects slowly came into view. Sweat began to build upon the space navigator’s brow and his breathing became more rapid as he realized what they were approaching.
Margaret noticed the sharp change in her husband and hesitantly shifted her eyes to gaze upon his face.
“Is that…is that what I think it is?”
Without turning to look at his wife, Danny slowly nodded.
The objects became clearer as the space between the rocket and the first line of orbit grew shorter. Dead satellites, large metal pieces of broken ships, and other ruined, technological pieces of junk and scraps soared across their field of vision. Two satellites passing by narrowly missed hitting each other by a mere inch.
Danny’s eyes were glued to the window. He was afraid to blink, for any moment that did not have his full attention could be a fatal one. The tip of the rocket began to pass through the first orbit, causing Danny’s heart to leap up into his throat. The pieces of junk were extremely close to the space vehicle, but they kept enough distance and no impact was felt. Everything seemed to be going well.
The devoted family man nervously smiled and focused on his breathing. They may have a chance after all. Soon the whole body of the ship found itself immersed in the stream, and the finer details of the objects that threatened their lives were easily visible as they floated past the window.
“That’s a lot of junk!” Tommy cried out, startling the family after such a long period of silence.
Danny chuckled anxiously.
“Yeah, you’re right, kiddo. Too much junk, if you ask me….”
The rocket continued on for quite a while relatively unscathed, until a slight bump was felt against the right side of the metal beast.
The family held their breath. Nothing happened for several minutes. They let the air out of their lungs, feeling slightly relieved.
And then suddenly another bump was felt, more intensely this time.
And then another.
And then another.
The hits became more frequent and intense, until there was no lapse in time between the impacts. The rocket was being rained upon from all sides, and it would not be long before the family was in trouble. The window revealed that the orbiting objects had become more clustered together the deeper they had traveled in, giving the rocket little space to navigate through.
Margaret and Danny looked towards one another, their faces filled with utter terror. A look of quiet understanding was exchanged between them, and they leaned in for a swift, gentle kiss. Quickly, they got out of their chairs as the rocket began to boom, shake, and quiver, and rushed over to help their children out of their seats. The effects resembled that of an earthquake, making it difficult to move around. Danny carried Laura while Margaret held on to Tommy as they rushed through the rocket to find the escape pod.
Within minutes they arrived in front of two sliding doors, which Danny quickly unarmed. The doors opened to reveal a tiny space that was around the size of a closet. He hurriedly set his daughter down as his wife did the same for their son. Danny then rapidly took out a small disk and pushed it inside a port located in the closet space, which the pod quickly devoured.
“Is that the programming?” Margaret yelled over the loud banging.
“Tommy, Laura, this escape pod is going to take you to the space station. It’s set for autopilot based on some code I have written, so it knows how to get there. When you arrive, find your Aunt and Uncle okay? They’ll take care of you.”
Laura looked at her father questioningly.
“What do you mean, our Aunt and Uncle will take care of us? Aren’t you coming?”
Her parents looked at one another, and then back at her.
“There is no room for us, sweetheart. Only you and your brother can go. We told you we would do everything within our power to protect you, and this rocket is just too big. There are too many things out there in space that can hurt us in here and you will have a better chance of navigating between the objects in this smaller, faster pod.”
The children stood silently for a moment, unsure of what they had heard. As they began to process the meaning of the words that had been said, Laura and Tommy suddenly became frantic and hysterical.
“What are you saying?!”
The children began to sob, and their parents quickly grabbed and held them.
“We love you, little ones. We will always be with you. Remember? A house is not a home. A family is what makes a home. And your home, your family, will always be with you.”
Laura pulled away from her parents, tears streaming down her face.
“Why aren’t there two?? Why aren’t there two escape pods?!”
“This is all we could get, Laura. Don’t worry, everything is going to be okay. We love you. You and Tommy will be safe.”
“But what about you?” Laura wailed, and began to pound her small fists against her fathers chest.
“Your mother and I will be alright. We’ll take care of each other, just as you and Tommy will.”
The roaring sound throughout the rocket grew louder as the impacts intensified. The interior walls began to show dents from the outside forces, giving the family a final warning that they had little time left. Danny and Margaret quickly made sure the children had their original belongings, and then tossed in their own bags that they had packed.
“There is food and water in there, children. It should be more than enough to last you the trip,” Danny said as he hurriedly searched his pockets for something.
Luckily, he found what he was looking for, and proceeded to pull out a small, framed family picture, which he then handed to his children.
“Your mother and I wanted to be sure you had this so you will always remember that we were a family.”
Margaret and Danny bent down one last time before their children and held them tightly.
“We love you two, more than anything. Please take care of each other, and enjoy your lives to the fullest. Be good.”
Laura’s lip began to tremble and Tommy’s breathing became increasingly rapid.
“I love you, Mommy. I love you, Daddy,” Tommy and Laura barely managed to say as they attempted to wipe their endless stream of tears away.
The children’s parents stood up and took a step back from the escape pod. Margaret grabbed Danny’s hand as they stared at their children lovingly for the last time, and the sliding doors slowly closed shut. The pod immediately detached itself and began to drift away from the rocket, while Laura and Tommy clambered to the small side window and watched as they slipped away from the two people that they loved the most. The two children held each other as they watched the space junk pummel the bright, silver rocket.