The car turned right at the traffic signal, leaving behind a repetitive loop of stores, restaurants and fuel stations. Chalky-white dust clouded the air as large trucks pulled on and off the roadway from gravel lots fronting large commercial buildings.
“Are you sure we have the right address?” Quaker asked.
“We’re almost there,” Samantha said, after glancing at the navigation screen.
A few minutes later, the car turned left on a single-lane road that ended in a T at a sky-gray wall soaring thirty feet tall and as long as a football field. Quaker told the car to stop. He forced a chuckle. “What is this? I don’t see a house,” he said.
“Drive around,” Samantha said.
“Continue,” Quaker said. The car turned right and traveled slowly alongside the wall. Another car appeared from around the far end of the wall. Quaker and Samantha’s car steered to the right to make room for the oncoming vehicle. Quaker gave a polite wave to the man and woman in the passing car. The man placed his index finger next to his temple and swirled it around to convey craziness.
“What was that?” Quaker said. “Stop,” he told the car.
“Keep going,” Samantha said. Quaker complied.
At the end of the wall, the car turned left. The wall became the long side of a windowless building. The car drove around to the other side where a small parking lot with five cars appeared. The car pulled into a space. Above a door to the building read a sign, “D.P. Homes. Customer entrance.”
“I don’t see any houses,” he said.
“Come on,” Samantha said, opening her door.
“What for? This is another scam,” Quaker said.
Before Quaker could object further, Samantha exited the car. He scrambled to follow her. “Where are you going?” he said, chasing after her. “This is another one of those bait-and-switch sales rackets.” She did not respond.
The couple entered the building to a small room. A young woman with bangs to her eyelashes and a bobbing ponytail stood in front of a lone desk. She smiled, and looked at Samantha and nodded.
“Are you Quaker and Samantha Birdsong?” the young woman asked.
“That’s us,” Samantha said.
“I’m Arianna, and I’ll be showing you the model home,” the woman said.
Quaker held up his hand. “Wait a minute,” he said. “We came to see a house, not a model home.”
Arianna glanced at Samantha.
“Let’s go look,” Samantha said. She ran a finger down the back of his upper arm.
Arianna opened a door and walked down a hallway. The couple followed. “Why are we doing this?” Quaker whispered in protest to Samantha. “There are no lots available anywhere, and we’re not moving a hundred miles away.” Her only reply was a squeeze of his hand.
At the end of the hallway was a door. Arianna stopped and faced the couple. “The actual entrance will be in the back and obviously won’t look like this. But everything on the inside is the exact layout. The home comes furnished. In the future, residents will have more choices.”
Quaker turned to Samantha and mouthed, “What?”
Arianna opened the door and announced, “This is the living room.” The room, furnished with couches, chairs, tables and a television, was twice the size of the couple’s entire apartment. One wall appeared to be all glass, darkened.
“OK,” Quaker said. “There’s no way we can afford this.” His eyes scanned the room.
“As a developmental horticulturist,” Arianna said, nodding at Samantha, “and a biological statistician,” nodding at Quaker, “you qualify.”
“Qualify?” he said.
“Let me show you the rest of the home,” Arianna said. The couple followed her to a den, a master bedroom, two smaller bedrooms “for your two children,” an office, a kitchen, two bathrooms, and a laundry room.
“This is great,” Samantha said.
“What are you talking about?” Quaker said. “Where is this house at? We don’t even know what it looks like on the outside.”
“Come and see a demonstration —,” Arianna said.
“No,” Quaker interrupted. “We need some basic answers first.”
“Let’s sit down, and I’ll answer all your questions,” Arianna said. She led the couple to faux leather sofa in the living room. The couple sat facing the darkened glass wall. Arianna sat on a loveseat and said loudly, “View.” The wall of glass displayed a night sky of stars.
Samantha put her hand on her husband’s. “Just listen before you jump to any conclusions,” she said.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“Sometimes you jump to conclusions. You need to have an open mind,” she said.
Quaker saw his wife and Arianna staring at him for his response.
“What are you talking about? I’m a very open-minded person,” he said. He glanced at Arianna. “Please continue.”
“Take a look,” she said, extending her arm toward the depiction of the night sky. The stars moved, giving the feeling that the room was moving. A planet appeared in the picture.
“Can we fast forward?” Quaker said. “And having the Earth in the picture doesn’t make this more convincing.”
“It does if you are on Destiny Planet One,” Arianna said.
“The manmade planet?” Quaker said, his arms coming alive. Samantha’s elbow bumped his side.
“Yes,” Arianna said.
Quaker turned to his wife. “Why aren’t you saying anything? Did you know about this?” he said. She half smiled a “yes.”
“Well, here’s the problem,” Quaker said to Arianna. “We need a place now, not in five years or whenever.”
“It is now,” she said. “There are two thousand scientists, many with their families, residing on the Destiny Beta Project. The core for Destiny Planet One launches next month. Unlike the Beta Project, it will not orbit Earth, only the Sun.”
“Is this for real?” Quaker said.
“This sphere has the capacity for 1.2 million homes delivered to the core in successive thousand-unit launches. The homes have been in production for two years in twenty-seven cities under the Destiny Initiative,” she said. “We expect Destiny Planet One to reach capacity before the core for Destiny Planet Two is put in orbit in three years.”
“I thought the colonization wasn’t happening for a few years. So the rumors are true. But how about all the space crazies we always hear about wanting to go? There must be enough of them to fill Destiny Planet One without trying.”
“Yes, we’ve had a surplus of interested applicants, including your wife,” Arianna said.
Quaker interrupted, and turned to his wife. “You’re a space crazy?”
Arianna continued speaking. “As we begin considering applicants, our first concern is acquiring people with the right skills to make the project a success.”
“Well, we have two kids,” Quaker said. “I don’t think they have any skills to offer.”
“We also need families, including children to grow up and attend school on Destiny Planet,” Arianna said.
Samantha coughed and cleared her throat. “I’m sorry. Could I get a drink of water?”
While Arianna was gone, Samantha pleaded with her husband to listen to Arianna’s presentation and ask only questions a normal homebuyer would ask. He reluctantly agreed.
The couple listened as Arianna described life on Destiny Planet. Images on the glass wall took the couple on a virtual tour of traveling to the manmade planet, and a walk-through of the inside world that included parks, recreational activities, workplaces, stores, transportation lines, and a spaceport where people could travel back and forth to Earth and other future manmade planets.
Quaker remained cordial for the remainder of the visit, at one point taking out his calculator and punching in numbers. He remained quiet when Arianna scheduled the couple to return the next day for “interviews,” and even signed a confidentiality agreement.
As the car drove the car away, Quaker spoke first. “How come you didn’t tell me about this?”
“Sorry. I was going to,” she said. “When I applied, a few years ago, it was on a whim. I didn’t think it was going to happen this soon. When they contacted me a few days ago, I was blindsided.”
“So, why didn’t you tell me?” he said.
“I applied before we had Ryan. I didn’t think we could go with the children. But the idea kept nagging me. My research at work along with other information I gathered convinced me we need to go. We have no choice if we want our kids to live out their lives,” she said. “I was planning a persuasive argument in my head when they called yesterday and said to show up today.”
“I think we should wait. Let them work out the kinks. You know there’s going to be a lot of problems in the first year or two,” Quaker said. “Plus I’m not so convinced we’re in such a dire situation.”
Samantha positioned her body toward Quaker. “Yes, we are. And this may be our only chance.”
Quaker shook his head.
“Come on,” she said. “We’re never going to find a house.”
“Maybe someone will move to space and we can buy their home,” he said.
“Look, our children are going to die prematurely if we stay here,” she said in a demanding voice.
“That’s not necessarily true.”
“Yes, it is. I did the research. I can show you.”
“How about our parents?” he said.
“They’re old,” Samantha said. “They’re set in their ways. They don’t want to live somewhere else. They’ll likely die before it becomes suffocating here.”
Quaker let out a deep breath.
“They can visit,” Samantha said softly, “and the kids can visit them.”
“Why don’t we wait until more people are living in space? Like I said, let them work out the kinks.”
“At some point, people are going to be stranded on Earth and they’re going to die. The population controls, the environmental control came too late. Millions, tens of millions, probably hundreds of millions will die,” she said. “We need to secure a safe place now.”
Quaker rubbed his forehead. “Well, that doesn’t sound fair.”
“It’s not.” Neither spoke for a minute. “But what are we going to do?” she added.
As dinner time approached, Samantha sent the couple’s 7-year-old son Ryan to a garden on the apartment building’s rooftop to pick lettuces for a salad. “Go with him,” Samantha told Quaker.
Using a small pair of scissors, Ryan snipped off leaves from a half-dozen varieties and put them in a large plastic bowl. He placed the bowl on the ground, and walked to his father. The boy held out a leaf.
“Eat this,” he said.
“Thank you,” Quaker said. He put the small leaf in his mouth. “Yuck,” he said, and spit it out.
The boy laughed.
“What was that?”
“It’s the future,” the boy said.
“The future?” Quaker said.
“Yes. It’s the concentration of a naturally occurring chemical in the plant. A little is fine, but too much will make you sick. Plants don’t grow the same anymore because of the atmospheric and contaminant conditions.”
“How do you know that?”
“Mommy told me. That’s how I know which leaves to pick.”
The boy walked to a plant, cut off a leaf, examined it closely, returned to his father and held out the leaf. “Eat this one,” the boy said, laughing.
“It’s the same,” Quaker said.
“No, it’s not. Eat it,” the boy said.
Quaker nibbled on the edge before putting the full leaf in his mouth.
“Mom figured out how to make it right again,” the boy said, “but she might not be able to in the future.”
“Did Mommy tell you to tell me this?”
“Sort of,” the boy said. “But I’m not telling you anything. I’m showing you.”
When they returned downstairs, Quaker said to Samantha, “OK, show me all the information you have about the acceleration of the Earth’s demise.” Quaker spent the remainder of the evening until bedtime reviewing the data, and at times punching numbers in his calculator, causing Samantha to quip, “It’s not a math exam.”
The next day, the couple returned to the Project Destiny offices. Samantha convinced Quaker not raise any personality issues that might disqualify them. “It’s out now. Everyone knows about the status of Destiny Planet One. It’s going to get ugly,” she said.
The visit began with a review of the couple’s financial standing followed by interviews about their family relationship, and job qualifications. Next, the couple, along with a roomful of others, listened to a presentation about life on Destiny Planet One and how the numbers of people living in space will grow exponentially each year. Quaker took out his calculator and punched in numbers during the presentation.
Before leaving, Quaker and Samantha separated to take personality and social compatibility tests. Finally, each met with a counselor before being reunited and asked to wait in a small office. Quaker took out his calculator and punched numbers.
“What are you doing?” she said in a harsh tone.
Before he could answer, the door opened and a young man entered.
“OK, Mr. and Mrs. Birdsong,” he said cheerfully. “Everything looks in order, but at this time, we are putting you on a waiting list.”
“A waiting list?” Samantha said. “We had the impression that if we passed all the criteria, we were accepted.”
“Well, yes. You have preliminary acceptance. We have a very, very large list of applicants, and we can take only a small number.”
“So we’re on the waiting list if someone drops out?” Samantha said.
“No. You’re on the waiting list for Project Destiny Two,” the man said.
“We’re on a waiting list or a list for consideration?” Quaker asked.
“A waiting list.”
“So where are we on the waiting list? What number?” Quaker said.
“Well, it doesn’t quite work that way,” the man said. “A computer algorithm adjusts the waiting list as the demand for certain demographics changes. As time passes, people will learn new skills in hopes of increasing their chances to move up on the waiting list. I encourage you to do the same.”
“It’s going to get more and more competitive, isn’t it?” Samantha asked.
“Yes,” the young man said, “but the pool for available seats will grow greatly as well. You should have received that information earlier.”
Walking in the parking lot to the car, Quaker retrieved his calculator and punched in numbers.
“Enough with the calculator,” Samantha said. “We may never provide a safe home for our kids.”
“It’s funny,” Quaker said. “I went from complete opposition to total enthusiasm, only to be let down.”
“What’s funny about that?”
“All of it is. I suppose it just contributes to the illusion we often have that things happen for a reason. Perhaps it’s just a way to cope. But sometimes it feels so real, even if we know as scientists, it’s not real.”
“Well, I’m not there yet. I’m still on disappointed. You should be too.”
“Here’s the thing,” Quaker said, still working his calculator. “Based on the small improvements made to Earth in recent years, the population controls in place, the fact that Destiny Planet residents must be under forty-five, unless they’re super-rich, and the older people
on Earth won’t be having any more kids, the colonization rate in space from countries around the world, the—“
“Can you just tell me?” Samantha shouted.
“The lifespan of the Earth for human habitation should be extended for a few more generations,” he said. “So many people are jumping ship that the ship isn’t going to sink. Mankind is essentially saving the Earth by abandoning it as a lost cause. Funny, isn’t it?”