Today we got our final message from The Department. It came through right in the middle of our weekly U.S. History lesson. For once, class was actually interesting — Kennedy had just gotten shot in the head, and the communications system started beeping. Not the usual ringing that happens when we get an email or a movie, but beeping, like one of those practice alarms that happens sometimes when you’re watching cable. Usually, when we get a message, the ringing stops until one of us has time to go accept the message. But now, the beeping abruptly stopped, and when Mrs. S went to the computer to accept the message, there was nothing there.
Then, later, I was with Gwen and Jake and Zara, hiding in Jake’s hidden cave behind Mr. B’s office. Zara was playing The Sims on her laptop, and Gwen was trying to convince Jacob to drag the Keurig from Mrs. S’ office back here so we could make hot cocoa without Mrs. S bugging us about food rations.
“Yeah, because the last time you cooked it went so well,” Jake said.
“Will you get over that!” Gwen said. “It was months ago! And Gina did most of the cooking anyway!”
“Leave me out—” I was responding when the alarm went off again, shrieking out of the speakers. I hadn’t even known there were speakers in this secret room, but there must have been some kind of connection to the comms system that we hadn’t known about.
It was everywhere, like a fire drill from back when we were in regular school, except a thousand times louder, and it shook through the walls, making the floors vibrate and into my bones. We all looked at each other in complete shock — nothing like this had ever happened on the ship before.
Zara pulled her headphones out. “What are we supposed to do?”
But none of us knew. The ship didn’t have any kind of emergency evacuation procedures (if this was even that kind of emergency); the only way out was out, into space, into the nothingness.
“We should probably go find Mrs. S or Mr. B,” said Jake.
That sounded good, because even though I knew they would’ve mentioned if we were going to have some kind of drill today, the idea that they might have more knowledge about what was happening was comforting. I couldn’t stop seeing Mrs. S’ confused face from class earlier today, when the beeping started for the first time and then stopped.
We hurried to crawl through the tiny door to Mr. B’s office, but we hadn’t even made it to the hallway before the beeping subsided and a booming voice replaced it.
“THE ALLURE,” it said, even louder than the beeping had been. It sounded robotic, like Siri reading a text message, but also deep and male. Creepy. “WE HAVE READ YOUR MESSAGES. WE HAVE KEPT CORRESPONDENCE. IT HAS BEEN TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY DAYS SINCE YOU WOKE UP. THIS IS THE END.”
“The end?” Gwen whispered.
“THIS IS THE END,” the voice said again. “YOU WILL NOT HEAR FROM US AGAIN.”
And then the voice was gone, and the walls and floors weren’t rumbling anymore, and the four of us were alone in the silent, dark hallway, gripping each other with shaking hands.
“Was that The Department?” I asked.
“Let’s just find everyone else,” said Jake.
Zara gasped. “The food stores! They left us up here with no food stores. They knew!”
We found everyone else in one of the classrooms. Mr. B had his head in his hands. Callum Lang and Nico Soto and Tommy Filt were sitting underneath one of the tables. They didn’t look up when we walked in.
“What did they mean by ‘this is the end’?” Alexandra was asking.
Mrs. S took a deep breath. Her glasses were on the table in front of her; I’d never seen her without them, and her eyes looked smaller, her face rounder and younger.
“This was our mission,” she said. “They didn’t tell us until now, because…we’d never have taken it otherwise.”
“We didn’t take it,” Zara said. “We didn’t have a choice.”
Jake came around to Mrs. S and put a hand on her shoulder. It felt strangely formal, but he was probably scared that she’d yell at him if he attempted any other kind of touching.
“This was our mission,” she repeated. “To come up here and report back to them. To come up here and get left.”
So that’s it, I guess. That’s our destiny, our purpose. To keep floating until the ship runs out of fuel. To keep eating until we run out of food. To keep breathing until we run out of air. To keep writing back to The Department, to you, until we run out of life.
Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but this is going to be my last letter. Hopefully, whoever you are, you’ve read my messages for the last two hundred and fifty days, and gotten to know a little about us eight delinquents who had no choice but to be flung into space. Hopefully we’ve left our mark on you, at least, if we can never make a mark on anyone else again.