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Herculaneum: Part III

Mindy Perot has been charged with leading the evacuation of a doomed Mars colony in the aftermath of a devastating volcanic eruption. She has saved some residents from a messy end, but can she possibly get them all to the transport craft before it’s too late?

Mindy Perot surged into the rear bay of the evacuation shuttle, a child in her arms. The family followed close behind. She deposited the child on the ground, climbed hand-over-hand into the control bay and stared down the captain. 

“How long until the thrusters are ready for preload?” She had been at it for hours, running from residence to residence and breaking in doors. She had been met with screams, cries, and drawn guns. All she intended to do was help, and the people she intended to help had no grasp of the gravity of the situation.

“It will take five minutes to preload the liquid fuel,”
 the pilot said. “One minute to ignite, and two to accelerate the thrust vectoring to workable pressures. Seven minutes from takeoff to exit velocity, and another ten until we fully clear the atmosphere.”

“That’s not enough,” Mindy said. The evacuation of Bakerstown had been bedlam. Mindy and her team of officers had kicked in doors, activated fire alarms, and sent signals streaming across the colony, alerting the residents worthy enough of saving. The spacecraft could only support two thousand colonists. Eighty thousand lived in Herculaneum. When the colony had been built, its planners had an imperative to situate the most productive and valuable citizens in a space most accessible to the spaceport and emergency evacuation craft. The space was to the north of the city, and the place they housed the valuable (Class One) citizens was known as Bakerstown.

Bakerstown had an erudite, educated demographic, and housed the only self-sustaining commercial center in the colony. The computer center housed the dozens of programmers who created applications, most of which managed the hydroponic irrigation systems which watered the underground farms of Herculaneum. The applications sent back from Mars served as the free trade conduit between Herculaneum and the customers on Earth, and the implementation of the applications had resulted in a surplus of 8.3 percent in the United States alone with regard to agricultural output.

“Get the thrusters ready,” Mindy told the pilot. “We don’t have much time. Are you at capacity? This vessel cannot fly empty seats.”

 “We can escape with seats short,” the pilot said. “We can’t escape with time short.”

“How much time do we have to escape?”

“Seven minutes,” the pilot replied, “and then we’re in the air.”

Mindy rushed through the hallways of the abandoned coding center. There were no souls to be seen – she had rushed most of the harried programmers through the hatches and into the ventral entryways of the escape craft earlier in the afternoon. With seven minutes to go, she had no direction. Outside, she could see the ranks of thousands, pressing on the walls to enter Bakerstown. They would not be saved, she knew, and nothing she could do would save them. They had no transport craft. They had no rescue or escape. The planners of Herculaneum had known this. They had left no contingencies for second-class citizens.

None of this made sense. It was so paradoxical. Those of Herculaneum had been promised that they would be treated as equals, perceived as equals. But being saved as equals? That was too much to ask. The planners of the Titanic didn’t bring enough lifeboats, and this felt as futile as rearranging deck chairs on the doomed ocean liner. 

Four minutes.

There’s no one else, a voice said in her head. Go. There’s nothing left. You’ve done enough. Save yourself.

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