Ben stood and turned to the window, his back to the man seated in front of his desk. “We won’t survive a disaster of that magnitude,” he said, staring out at the green fields of western Antarctica. “There must be something we can do.”
“We’ve tried every scenario we can think of.” The seated man fiddled with the U.S. representative’s nameplate on the desk. “We’ve reached the point of no return.”
“Mr. Burton and the European Union representatives have requested an emergency summit at Anturtle Bay.”
Ben dropped his chin to his chest and sighed before turning. “Thank you, Dr. Rosenberg. Any word from Hawking?”
“He was going on about having worked it out then ran back into his office, muttering something about testing.”
“We’ll know soon, then.” Ben nodded a dismissal.
Rosenberg stood, dipped his head, and scurried out.
The thick air in the summit room weighed on Ben. He loosened his tie, watching the chaos around him. The Honorable Mr. Burton, representing Canadian interests within the North American Union, shouted over the dissonance of the seventeen other men.
The clamor quieted gradually.
“You’ve all received word about the new … event?”
The men, clearly holding back, nodded and grumbled.
“It sounds dire,” Burton continued. “If the pressure under the Earth’s crust has built up that much, there are very few safe places left on this planet.”
“I was told central Canada will be the only habitable zone left, after the event,” the New Zealander said. His glare was pointed, as if to prompt an invitation.
“Then why are you four even here?” Fernandez, the Argentinian representative for the South American Union, asked. He looked at each representative from the North American Union: Burton, Ben, Lopez (Mexico), and Perez (Central America). “We’re the ones who need a plan.”
“There won’t be enough room for the whole North American Union,” Burton said. “It’s already overcrowded, and it would have to accommodate the First Nations and Inuit from the north. Plus, most of our population is in Eastern Canada and what’s left of New England.”
“And you think anything we come up with will save everyone?” Fernandez asked.
“My scientists tell me there’s nothing we can do,” Jones, the UK representative, said.
“Your scientists give up too easily,” Novikov, the Russian representative from the Russo-Asian Union, said. “If you had remained in the Union…”
“Shut up about your Unions already,” Jones stood for emphasis. “You can’t believe your untested toys will get us all back to Mars.”
“SpaceX EurAsia has nearly enough working craft for all of us, and our families,” Novikov leaned back in his chair. “Plus the engineers and builders, of course.”
“And you expect us all to live on spaceships until they rebuild the colony?” Jones glared.
“It beats dying here, doesn’t it?” Novikov asked.
“There is one other option,” Ben said.
Novikov laughed. “If our spaceships are hard to believe, your little time machine is a fairy tale!”
“I’d rather do what I can to fix the mess we’ve made than keep running away from the problem,” Ben said.
“Don’t let your guilt over your family’s contributions to all of this cloud your judgement,” Novikov said. “We need to save ourselves. We can start over on Mars.”
“And how long until we destroy that planet?” Ben asked.
The rowdiest of the men erupted, arguing and pointing fingers. Burton looked at Ben, scolding, and shouted for silence again.
“We all have different opinions on how we got here and how to handle it,” Burton said. “But those won’t help us now. What we need is an actionable plan. Until we have confirmation that Hawking’s machine works, the SpaceXodus is our best bet.”
Novikov sat up in his chair, chin elevated.
“However.” Burton glared at Novikov. “Any backup plan we can manage won’t be a horrible idea.” He looked around the room at the other men. “I say we recess for an hour. Try to think of something else. We’ll regroup and discuss when we’ve calmed down.”
Ben stood in the cool water of the Southern Ocean, staring north. He was much too young to know what the U.S. had been like before the Great Droughts. Some of the hardiest folks—most from what had been the southwestern states—still survived in the Northeastern Desert, but he had never been further south than the U.S. Capitol in Montpelier.
He imagined what it must have been like, before climate change had accelerated to a rate that humans just hadn’t been able to keep up with. He had heard of states such as California and Florida. Warm, sunny places where people would bask on sandy beaches. Long before he’d been born, they’d become parts of their respective oceans. Carolina Bay had been named for the state submerged below it. And every state had been inhabitable, to some degree.
Even so, the U.S. had gotten off easy. Migration had been quick and easy. Indonesia and Papua New Guinea shrank so suddenly, many were lost. He had heard stories of other islands in the Pacific Ocean, long since engulfed by the rising waters. Stories of Africa, which had once supported life, before those who had survived had fled to South America and Australia. Stories of a time before the Trans-Atlantic Mountains had existed.
“I admit.” Novikov’s voice carried from behind Ben. “It could be a good idea, if it had any chance of working.” Novikov joined him in the water. “You and Burton are wasting your time, though.”
“Hawking is close. He could pull this off, as long as this ‘event’ holds off a little longer.”
“Come with us. You know leaving is your best chance to survive.”
“You’re not the captain of this sinking ship.”
“Someone has to be.”
Novikov shrugged and turned back to shore. “Your choice. I guess that means there’s room for my in-laws.”
Before Novikov reached the shore, the ground shook. A distant avalanche rumbled. “What was that?” he asked.
“It’s starting.” Ben followed Novikov to shore. “We’re out of time.”