"Is it time yet?" asked Daria. She looked at her father and mother, huddled in the crowd of drawn faces, pores filled with dust. The dust was everywhere, even inside the airlocks. There was not enough water to wash it away. Her mother listened carefully to the transmission from the approaching ship.
"It's just landing now," she replied quietly.
"We need to be ready to go as soon as the doors open," said her father. "Don't let go of my hand, okay?"
"I'm scared," said Daria.
"It'll be all right," said her mother. "We just need to keep together."
"What if there isn't space for us?"
"We'll have to push," said her father.
"I know, but it's just not right," said her mother, looking down.
"Why didn't they send enough ships?" asked Daria.
"They could only afford to build so many," said her mother.
"I don't understand," whispered Daria. "They had enough people, and materials, why did money matter? This is Earth."
"Money always matters," said her father. "Money always means more than the lives of people. That's the way it's always been. That's the way it'll always be."
"Don't say that," said her mother.
"It's true. I'm not going to let my daughter grow up with false ideas about the world."
"It's not true in all cases, that's all," said her mother. Suddenly she clutched her husbands shoulder, an put her finger to her ear. "Now," she mouthed.
Slowly, all three got up. Daria adjusted her backpack as nonchalantly as she could. Few of the dusty faces looked towards them. They picked their way through the crowd. They weren't far from the entrance to the tunnel, but they didn't want to chance it. They were about ten feet from the airlock when the official announcement sounded.
Please prepare to board evacuation flight 9604. Please prepare to board evacuation flight 9604...
It continued in a loop, as everyone in the tunnel rose. There was lot of excited talking, then pushing. The crowd condensed towards the airlock.
"Hold on," said Daria's father. Her mother and father held each of her arms as they were compressed against the other people.
The unlock light turned on above the airlock door. Daria wrenched an arm up to adjust her bandana around her mouth and pull down her goggles. She zipped up the collar of her coolvest, and turned it up to the highest setting.
The door hissed, and a cloud of dust surged inward. It was followed with a blast of heat. The door slowly creaked outward into the maelstrom. The crowd pushed on their backs with urgent hands and fingers. They were carried forward. As the opening widened, the hot storm blew inward, carrying dust and thick steaming moisture. The people at the front slipped out, running. Daria and her parents weren't far behind. The heat seared at their faces. They surged through the opening, and into an orange twilight.
The ship loomed like a dark mass, many yards ahead. Those in front of them were sprinting towards it, their clothes flapping in the strong wind. They were consumed by swirls of dust, only to reappear seconds later.
"Run!" screamed her father. They ran. The wind was constantly changing directions. It resisted them from the front, then assisted them from the back. Daria's mother lost her balance, but Daria was able to pull her up. It was enough of a pause that the bulk of the crowd caught up to them. They were buffeted by bodies as well as the wind.
Daria lost her grip on her mother. She pulled out of her father's grip to find her. She looked back into the sea of people, but they all looked the same.
"Mom! Mom! Where are you?" her words were lost on the wind.
"Daria?!" screamed her father from somewhere ahead.
"Keep running Daria! Run to the ship! Just run!"
"Dad!" cried Daria.
"RUN!" he screamed. She could not see him, but she ran forward. The dark mass became bigger, then she saw lights. The crowd bunched up--there was a staircase. People where crawling over each other to climb up the few stories to the body of the ship. Daria looked up into the opening as she joined the crowd. A blue light streamed down through the dust. Inside was the promise of life. Water. Food. Cleanness. A future. It encouraged her to push forward, pushing past strangers and old friends alike. She hungered for that future, to be lived up there somewhere. A life lived entirely in a journey she would never complete. A journey where she was a link between the past on the dying Earth, and future for humanity somewhere unknown. She pushed forward and further. Brief bursts of cool air caressed her face. She pushed through to the top of the staircase, just as it was lifting off the surface of the Earth for the last time. She was pulled inward by someone in blue uniform.
Daria looked back and saw people clinging to the staircase. They were falling off, hitting the ground in unmoving broken heaps. She caught the face of her father as he fell backward off the staircase, before she herself was thrown to the floor in a surge of people falling forward as the staircase angled upward.
"Keep moving!" someone in a uniform yelled at her. She stumbled forward. The deck was crowded with panting, sweating people. She saw no one she knew. She was pushed and herded towards a rope line. Someone hung a lanyard around her neck with a pink card and the number 433. She was pushed into another line, where people were being given new clothes. She accepted hers, then was forced to strip in view of everyone. Her old clothes and backpack with all her belongings were shoved down a chute to be incinerated. She rushed to don her new clothes, a flimsy white uniform. She was told where her quarters were, and given a thin piece of digital paper that mapped out how to get their with a blinking trail. She arrived to find a bunk room with twenty cots, in stacks of four. There was a window.
Daria shuffled to the window. They were beginning to ascend. Through the dust she saw the top of the underground housing complex where she had grown up--the solar panels and the water collection unit. She saw the remains of the crowd. Somewhere in there were her parents. Eventually they would find out that she made it on board. Tears streamed down her face in muddy little rivulets, as she touched the window with the tips of her fingers. Then the floor pushed up on her legs. She wobbled and fell, as the last ship sped from the Earth.