A short story written by Rinn Ever
I had been at my distant relatives’ house for only forty-eight hours when they announced the trials. I remember thinking that they must have had this plan getting dusty on the “In Case of Aliens” emergency shelf at Area 51 for years. They’ve just pulled it out and exchanged ‘aliens’ with ‘lunar event’. What would aliens want with Earth now anyways, if they ever did? The U.S. Government and the newly formed Committee for Occupational Ark Placement, or ‘COAP’ as the news outlets so called it, had reassured all U.S. citizens within the first twelve hours after the event that there would be a public address of evacuation, and there was no cause for panic. My initial curiosity had turned to skepticism those first few days and luckily my great-great-once-removed Aunt had a cellar full of homemade wine. I had made up my mind that I would welcome the end with open arms laying under a tree somewhere. If the world was going to end, I would have my solitude that I had spent years collecting to keep me company. My cousin and her girlfriend had kept the news on the television night and day, fully committed to trust COAP’s plan. I had tried real hard when they would talk about it to me to not roll my eyes. To me then, there was no plan that could make any difference. N.A.S.A had said early on in one of their streams that they estimated habitability on Earth would only last for another six weeks. The government had quickly redacted that stream and made N.A.S.A say that there was some uncertainty as to how long the storms and climate chaos would last. With most of the eastern and western seaboards under water and hundreds of thousands of people dead already, it didn’t seem at the time there was any cause for hope at all. I had understood that the government was just doing what they could to prevent panic and chaos, but I was still a skeptic. In every end-of-world movie, the crazy conspiracy theorists usually were somewhat right. From what I could tell from staying with my cousin, their tactics were working on most of the general population.
Once the plan was unveiled, it was hard not to get sucked into the hype and hope of it. The announcement came across the TV decked out in red, white and blue graphics. Starting one week from the time the announcement first aired, COAP and the U.S. Military would hold 11,000+ different trials spread all across the nation to test all civilians of their skills and qualifications for certain occupational positions that would need to be filled on the generational arks. Everyone had a place they said. The arks were expected to be launched four weeks after the trials. I remember all the info-graphics were the same. First Point: These trials would each have three test rounds that would test each contestant on their ability to do the occupation at hand. Second Point: Anyone regardless of training or history, could apply and try out for any trial they wanted to. Third Point: There was no limit on the amount of trials one citizen could attend, but after the two weeks of trial was over, there would be no more acceptance for placement on the Arks. The list of trials and their locations were continually streamed on every news site. The list of occupation trials ranged all the way from Aircraft Cargo Handling Specialist to Zoology Assistant. My cousin was a bank teller so it was immediately known in the house that she would try for one of the financial oriented trials. That was unfortunate for her and her girlfriend because that meant they would be heading to upstate New York. That was fortunate for me, because that meant I would have the house to myself soon. The Government never said what would happen to those people who did not pass any of the trials, but we all knew. I had a generic bachelor’s degree but had only held jobs in sales or some similar office position. At first, I was adamant that I wasn’t going to any trials. The thought of jumping through hoops for some statistically dismal position on these mega arks was too exhausting. If I was going to burn up, drown, or be crushed by the fallout of this event, so be it. At least I wouldn’t have to decide when to die. I had in recent years accepted that I was just a human like every other person on the planet. There is nothing setting me apart from the rest of the human race. I was not special.
The news sites were doing a good job of covering anything and everything about the arks all the time. The mega tents were being built in every city that was within driving distance of most rural areas. They even would show the work on the various engines that would launch the arks in some hidden hanger from time to time. It was clear after that first twenty-four hours, the trials were undeniably going to happen. In the early hours of the fourth day after the event, I stumbled out on the back porch to look up to the sky. Between the rain and the constant vigilance of my cousin, I rarely came out of my room or even the house for that matter. I didn’t want to explain that I was perfectly content with not being on those arks. There was this smell out there that I had never experienced. It was a fresh hard rain on asphalt, mixed with lumber and burning plastic. It was mostly quiet outside except for the constant low rumble in the distance. I realized the sounds of birds were absent. Without them, it felt clinical out there. It felt as if I was standing in a movie set that had been staged to look like it was outdoors; like just beyond me there was a wall painted to look like there were trees from that point on. Beneath the dull black sky, there was a bullish fog blanketing everything. I picked up a fallen branch as I walked across the balcony and started to break it in pieces in my hand. I let the brittle pieces of bark fall between my fingers and blow down into the backyard. The breeze was slight and barely there. I pitched a few of the pieces of sticks out towards the back fence. I was upset that all I could think about was those fucking trials. 11.6 million people was a lot of people. I may have thought I was of no value to humanity, but I could be better at something than those other eleven million people. I had stayed up until three in the morning watching the list. Many of the trials were for very simple skills that I could easily have. I could transcribe from voice recordings. I could peel potatoes. I could sort clothes or medical supplies. I could do something. I went back inside and to my room. I sat on the side of bed thinking about potatoes and how good some french fries would be. Eventually I passed out. The next morning I opened my eyes and something had changed. I got up, put on my bra, jeans and Converse. I went out to my car and started driving south. After a couple of hours, I pulled into the parking lot at a convention center and was directed by the soldiers where to park. As I was getting out of the car I saw other people standing around their work vans and trucks, pulling out belts with many tools in them, and rolling large crates with different supplies behind them on the way to the line. I started to doubt myself a little, but in my hungover determination I still followed the line into the convention center. Three hours later, I walked back out of the convention center and back to my car. As I drove back to my aunt’s house, I spaced out. I didn’t feel anything, I didn’t even think one thought. It was as if the whole two hour drive had been wiped from my memory. I just remember coming back to reality sitting in my car in the driveway. I wasn’t sad or upset, I was just numb. I had done adequate at each level of the trial; I wasn’t bad or had made any mistakes. I just wasn’t chosen. Only about half of those who finished each level through the third level were chosen. I immediately started to think about those damn potatoes. I would go through scenarios of me growing potatoes on some spaceship and being exceptional at it. I would remember the scenes of Matt Damon growing potatoes in The Martian. I really did a decent job at the trial. All of my adult life I had kept house plants. When I was little, my grandmother showed me how to plant tomatoes in the spring after the last frost so we would have tomatoes all summer long. I really thought I could be a gardener. I just kept trying to reason with myself that I was no different than I was the day before when I still had my mind made up that I wasn’t doing any of the trials. The disappointment still lingered. It felt as if I had played a round of blackjack with someone else’s money and lost it all. No better or worse, but still dejected. After sitting there in the car for a while in silence, I went in and opened another bottle of wine. In the giddiness of the initial buzz it gave me I thought maybe I would try another trial tomorrow. Surely there was still a chance I would get chosen. I would have been a good gardener, but maybe I would be much better at something else.
Part Three of Size Eleven coming soon.