Art by Linsey Powell
“What Remains” by Raviv Walker
The Exodus is necessary. The human race will be extinct within the next 30 years unless it evacuates Earth. It just isn’t available to everyone anymore. That’s why tomorrow I’m forced to leave behind everything and everyone I’ve ever known, leaving them to die and moving to a planet hundreds of light years away that I’m not even sure exists. There’s no way for us to know whether the past missions have succeeded. They haven’t arrived yet; they won’t for another few centuries. All we know is that the Earth has become too dangerous to sustain humanity anymore, and a select few of us have a chance to leave. We know in theory that our ships can reach a planet that is habitable, just not within our lifetimes. So, we’re going under. Centuries of sleep.
Tomorrow I will fall asleep and either wake up 300 years later as if no time has passed, or not wake up at all. I’m not sure which I’m dreading more.
I spent today with my friends. We explored what remains of our city’s mall, as we had done so many times before. We started going there as children, when the world was large and unexplored and wonderful. Now we just see the space our ancestors wasted, the money they spent on Build-A-Bears and scented candles and phone cases.
As we dangled our feet off the ledge overlooking the ground floor, Elodie told me that if I met any aliens I was required to fall in love with one for her. Maddie told me that I was to punch an alien for leaving earth to die. I told them hope it’s the same alien. I’m a sucker for good enemies-to-lovers stories. Carson said we can’t really blame the aliens. We did this to ourselves.
They’re right, of course. I’m just not sure why we have to bear the burden of choices made before we were born. Why I have to go and they will stay. They’re braver than me. They can face the end of the world head-on. They’ll live difficult but meaningful lives, working to preserve what they have and rebuild what they can. All they have is each other, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in my short 16 years, that’s all you really need to live.
My family is taking the coward’s way out. My grandfather was a technician on the Exodus for most of his life. He devoted over 50 years of hard work for me to be able to leave. What a gift. I don’t know how I’ll live with myself if I wake up, knowing that we were only able to save about 1% of our species, knowing that I’m in that 1%, for no reason other than who my parents are. I grew up being told my generation would inherit the earth. Turns out I’m one of the few who won’t. I’m not inheriting anything. I’m running away. I’m running away from anything I’ve ever had.
Maddie says she wants to go with me. I think she should go instead of me. She’s much more worthy of a grand pilgrimage. They all are. Elodie’s art, Maddie’s writing, Carson’s leadership–in a just universe, they would mean something. But they don’t. There’s nothing that makes me special. I don’t deserve this, but it’s happening whether I want it to or not.
“I know you’re dreading this.” Carson began cautiously as we walked through the remains of the food court. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t either. But isn’t there something exciting about it?”
“About what,” Maddie teased. “Finally getting away from Elodie?
“Well, yes,” Carson replied. “But Aaliyah is getting to start something new. Think about that- an entirely new society! We’ve spent our lives picking up the messes of our ancestors. She’s going to live a life with a clean slate. Not only that, but we might actually learn from our mistakes this time. Earth 2.0: new and improved.”
“Got any ideas?” Elodie hummed. “Because I’ve got quite a few notes for humanity so far.”
“Personally, I think gender was a bad idea,” Carson said.
“I’d give racism a 1/5. We can do better,” Maddie mused.
“High heels are the worst,” Elodie suggested.
As they continued critiquing the human experience, I quietly pulled out my journal and made notes. Earth 2.0. Everything from beauty standards to genocide; we have complaints with them all.
Maybe our world would have been different. Maybe this is why I’m going. The blueprints for a better world. Even if it’s not my choice, I’ll do everything I can to make their world possible.
Carson always wanted to fix the world. Growing up in the apocalypse can leave you with quite a few complaints. I don’t doubt they will someday. I’ve never had any grand ambitions like that. I just hoped to be able to live a life I’m happy with. I still do. I’m just not sure I can without my friends.
Elodie noticed my tears long before I did. She didn’t say anything. She just slipped her hand into mine. The three of them fell silent. Maddie put her arm around my shoulder. We found another corner to sit in. They let me cry. I don’t think I’d let myself cry- about this, anyway- in front of them. I’m just so scared. Plain and simple. Scared of losing them, scared of the unknown life ahead of me, scared of leaving behind a world that might have survived with me in it.
Elodie suddenly jumped to her feet. “Come on,” she said.
“Where?” I asked, wiping a tear stain away.
She took us towards one of the more broken-down exits, a sunset beaming through what used to be solid walls. We walked around the building to one of the few exterior walls left perfectly intact. A blank canvas. Elodie pulled four cans of spray paint out of her bag.
“We’re going to be okay,” she said. “All of us. Including you.”
She stared directly at me as she tossed a can into the air and caught it.
“You’re going to be one of the first pilgrims to start a society we couldn’t even dream of. One who knows how a civilization dies and how to stop it.”
She began to paint loopy blue letters that I couldn’t quite make out.
“And we’re not going anywhere,” she added. “We know what we’re doing too. Humanity won’t die unless we do, and I wish the universe good luck in killing us.” She tossed me a can of purple paint, Carson a can of green, and Maddie a can of red.
I could read the mural now, and I knew what to do. I painted a planet on the left side of the words. Carson painted another on the other side. Maddie painted arrows going between them. We stepped back to admire our work.
It doesn’t just mean a new earth. It means two.
My friends will save the world. So will I. I defy a universe that tells me I am my species’ only hope. I have three more hopes right here. And they have hope in me. Earth 2.0. Two earths, two chances, one species. I’ll be okay. And I have a feeling they will, too.
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