Author : Angie Gibson

An old man noted Grain’s uniform, tugging his elbow. Grain turned to the whittled, pockmarked, and radiation burned face, nose like a pointed finger. “Get me on.”

“I can’t.”

A woman, starved, ragged, children like clinging tumors to her body. “Please, get me on.”

“I can’t.”

A tug to his sleeve. “Please, please get me on.” A man, not holding a baby or pushing forward a sickly wife, just a single, healthy, thirty five year old man. But it was the fear that gave Grain pause, so raw in this man’s eyes. He, above all these broken, dying people, understood death. It was like looking into a mirror.

“I-I’m sorry.” Grain gripped Thomas’s hand harder.

The ships at the end of the dock were blocked from the surging crowd by a gate reinforced by soldiers. Every few minutes a ship would blast into the sky and the chaos would slack as all the heads lifted to watch it go. Then, like a blink, the pushing and shouting would recommence.

Grain saw friends among these tired solders. He would join them soon, but first he had to put his son on that next ship.

Stepping to the gate, a young soldier with a bleached white left eyeball (tale-tell signs of the I-bac infection, this one got lucky) rushed towards him, but when he saw Grain’s uniform, several ranks above his, he snapped into a salute. Grain saluted distractedly back, hugging his son even closer with the other arm.

“Sergeant Major Frances M. Grain, my son is getting on that ship.” Grain didn’t look at the soldiers as he spoke, he pointed to the purring vessel.

“Do—I’m sorry, sir—but, do you have a ticket?”

“My son is getting on that ship.” Grain looked at the solder this time, and the solder quaked, wringing his rifle like a teddy bear.

“Yes, sir!” He pulled open the gate. Grain shouldered past him, getting ahead of the long line of ticket-wielders, moving in-between the two guards in charge of verifying tickets. They saluted Grain. Grain knelt in front of Thomas, ignoring the angry curses from the line.

“You must go.”

“I-I can’t leave you.”

“You will go.”

“But mama and Gracie.”

Tears like gritted sand filled his voice as he said, “You have to go.”

Thomas turned to the ship. He turned to the crowd. He turned back to his father. His son looked like Grain’s father, dark and deep, olden by wisdom, just a mini version of a man.

“They will die, all these people, will die.” There was matter-of-fact in Thomas’s voice.

“But you will live.”

Thomas nodded. He didn’t hug his father. He squeezed his hand. “Goodbye.”

“DON’T SAY GOODBYE!” The sudden anger filling his father frightened young Thomas. Grain shook him roughly. “Don’t say goodbye. Say…goodnight.”

Thomas didn’t understand, but the boy’s inherent wisdom took the wheel. “Goodnight.”

Grain nodded, hugged the boy. The child turned. Grain watched as he entered the ship. He watched as the solders sealed the door. He stood back and watched as the ship shot into the sky. His rank informed him that the vessel will move into outer orbit before blowing apart. But until that moment, Thomas, and every other passenger aboard, will enjoy chemical bliss. In their altered minds they will land on the Green Paradise. Time will be manipulated; his son will grow old in his mind. He will raise children. They will have children. They will be there when Thomas dies happy in his bed. He will never know he has only an hour to live.

“Goodnight,” Grain whispered.

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