Things weren’t going so well at this stage. Just as Stretch finished up the last stitch on the preordered new fingers and people started lining up for new ones, the word spread around the Ark, “Clank’s been nabbed by Fleetwood!” The merry grins that folks had been wearing after the Major and Bill had triumphed over the Super Mutants had only recently worn off as we realized that the rescued kids would need to be… well, dealt with. Cared for. Found homes. Or, if Cougar’s overall plan wasn’t wholly misguided, room would need to be found for them aboard the Ark. Which could only carry 48 people.
It had become clear that not everyone would be able to go. Maybe not even everyone who wanted to.
I had climbed aboard Marion to ask her about it.
-“I do not envy whoever makes this decision, young man.”
-“Can’t we… y’know, make more room?”
-“The Ark was designed to transport fifty persons to Mars. After extensive discussion with your parents and the Mechanics, we have made allowance for a crew and passenger complement of 48 in order that my Gen V SHITGO apparatus can be brought aboard for the trip. There are no optional structures, no non-necessary supplies. If I stay behind, two more people may go. But if I stay behind, life on Mars would be limited to the Ark itself and the small outbuilding structures which are currently disassembled and packed belowdecks.”
-“Can you really… transform the planet into… well, something like Earth?”
-“Not like Earth. But something much more habitable than is the current state of the fourth planet. If I am employed toward this goal, life on Mars could be arguably better than the current state of terrestrial life.”
-“And Earth’s only getting worse. I get it.”
-“If this mission is to succeed, careful planning and culling will have to take place.”
-"‘Culling’? What’s that?"
-“I should have said ‘crew selection.’ With only forty-eight slots available, you’ll need to have the people most likely…”
-“Hey, where’s everybody running off to?”
-“It seems the missing Mechanic has been found. Hurry, young man. Tell them not to leave!”
-“Why? Shouldn’t they go help him?”
-“It is vital that this construct remain well-guarded. Tell them not to leave!”
-“Three of 'em are already gone. What are you worried about?”
-“I calculate that there is an 87.22% probability that this message is a ruse, a trap designed to draw Drivers away from me. I am in danger of being captured. Tell your parents…”
And then the door slammed open, and a hideously familiar face entered.
-“Never tell 'em the odds, sweetheart. It’s not you who’s in danger right now. It’s him.”