“I can’t, I’ve got work tonight”

Chapter 1: Beneath The Surface

Late again tonight. These long hours are grueling. I was only home for maybe five hours, and I couldn’t even sleep. I barely had time to scarf down a small snack before I was due back at the lab. As I rushed through the city streets carrying my giant bag of blueprints, data reports, and memory cores, I thought about all the people enjoying their night. Sharing drinks, eating dinners, and dancing together. All of them were so blissfully unaware of their impending doom.

Many of these people have never known a time before the war. It’s been such a constant presence in the background of their lives that they just learned to tune it out. A win here, a loss there. Battle after battle after battle… it just gets old. I can’t blame them for wanting to live their lives to the fullest and ignore all the chatter from the front lines. But the Battle of Urias wasn’t just any old loss. It was the loss.

And that’s why I spend night after night working. To save these people from what’s coming. If only they knew, just a few feet away from their lavish restaurants, decadent nightclubs, and seedy casinos, what’s actually going on behind the scenes to ensure their survival. Down by the docks, next to the shore decorated in sea crystals and under the moonlit sky, hidden in plain sight is this lab. The home of the Ark Protocol. And the last hope for the Shodai civilization.

Chapter 2: A Hidden Entrance

It’s getting crowded down here. Over the past few weeks, they’ve brought on dozens more engineers, mechanics, and physicists. The docks entrance has started to draw attention with the line of people waiting for their various biometric scans to gain access to the facility, so I’ve now started entering through the main lobby in the heart of the city. It adds a few minutes to my commute but who am I kidding, I’m always late regardless. It was always my intention as lead architect of the Arks to model them after high rises: this way we could hide in plain sight. Not to mention the gravitational and propulsion machinery itself is massive. Awe-inspiring, even. If they weren’t colossal reminders of well, the end of our home, I might even call them beautiful. The influx of people and parts is a bittersweet development, for more reasons than being a bit overcrowded. On the one hand, it means the Capital is listening to my pleas to expand the budget for the Ark Protocol. On the other hand, if they’re diverting funds from the front lines, it means that the Exoswarm threat is much worse than any of us thought. It means that while the Omniwar is raging on, in reality we’ve already lost. It’s time to retreat… and that’s where I come in.

People always ask me about the pressure. How it must be so daunting to know that I’m in charge of creating these huge space faring skyscrapers. How anxiety-inducing it would be if they were the ones responsible to keep the last remaining Shodai alive in cryostasis for who-knows-how-many years. How the weight of the world must be on my shoulders, as I calculate the autopilot to ensure it can navigate to some unknown edge of the universe that the Exoswarm haven’t already ravaged. To be honest, I don’t think about it much. I try not to. Thinking about the pressure means I’m not thinking about the various calculations and formulas needed to pull this off, and I can’t afford to worry about anything else other than the Arks. I was chosen to lead this project because nobody else in all of Shodai civilization can build something this colossal for this many people. I’ve given up many avenues in my life to pursue this project. There is no time to think of the what ifs nor the what could've been. So at the end of the day, all that matters is that I double and triple check every part of this design to ensure the survival of as many people as possible.

Chapter 3: Lies In Wait

We’re out of time. The Exoswarm has breached our planetary defenses. We’re calling for an emergency launch as soon as possible. The claxons are blaring throughout the city, and the planetary guards are already letting the people know that they are to head to the closest Ark immediately. It’s strange to know that after all of these years of people walking past this “building” day after day, it’s true design as the vessel of their salvation will be revealed…and my hard work will be known to the masses. I can’t help but feel some satisfaction with my accomplishment. Would Mom be proud of her little girl, of what I was able to achieve…? But this sense of honor is muddled with my despair knowing that… not everyone will have a seat.

It was just last week that I turned in my latest progress report. 85% completion. We were ahead of schedule. The countless nights of reading, researching, and examining the data. Accessing and adjusting wherever necessary. All the time away from my family and friends, failed relationships, long, lonely nights, and early mornings. No moment of respite really, all amounted for this very moment. I was actually ahead of schedule for once. And of course, it’s still too late. It makes me wonder if it was worth it. All of those dinners, parties, and even dates I missed out on. Always telling those closest to me “I can’t, I’ve got work tonight.” Yet in the end, all of my dedication and toiling and sleepless nights just wasn’t enough to save everyone.

No. I abandon the thought. Not only was it absolutely worth it, but it was necessary. I’ve no regrets about my life of sacrifice. In fact, I can think of no better ending to my story than one final sacrifice: giving up my seat on the Ark to give one more person a chance. My purpose in this life is fulfilled. Who knows? Perhaps the person who gets my spot will go on to create even greater, more monumental things than the Arks. Maybe they’ll even be the one who finds a new world, safe from the Exoswarm. Or perhaps, they go on to live a life however they wish to make it, full of happiness, love, joy, and sometimes anger, sadness, and well… anything really. Whatever they decide, I’m happy knowing that they have this opportunity. While I may not be able to save everyone, I can save some of them. That’s all that matters.

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