“Evacuate Earth! We have fucked up. Evacuate Earth! We have fucked up…” vibrated every molecule from the core to the froth.
Pan Am had been born in the molten publics ten miles below seal-evil and had worked his way up through the Swiss Ocean to one of the hands below Upafrica. On a tip, he spent a month hiking through SkyMollRestaurant to 521248t8884, arriving days after the bottom fell out and being forced to keep climbing through the magnetosfear. He emigrated up a cable with a few million others when the crane attached to a rivet on its way to the new Jupiter trane, and found work partway up the arm joining pritses in a balancing trace.
South Sea Company was from the high froth above Captured, a weeliweil with braids in her hair. How she had ended up in the arc-overs with a depressing view of Zeeland, barely 7% in debt at age 22, was an even more confusing and picaresque story involving an older man and a broken heart. About a year later, she rode a claw down the north wall of the crane, made her way across, and began digging herself back up with an almost full time job leafing tops in the neighborhood below Pan Am’s.
They made an unlikely couple, but it was an unlikely day.
By flashing the slosh tank the night before, Sears had managed to annihilate the business district. Part of the team from his shift had then cut away the remaining stays with hand explosives. As the nearby spires of Gibraltar painstakingly collapsed into the rising sea of flame, they — 29 crane ports, a winchfield and part of the vessel under construction — had become a free-floating lifeboat. They had no clippers or lift-sixes to get them to Mars, just a handful of strangers. It would be a perilous journey of several weeks, if the strangers worked at all. For some reason, everyone was still looking to Sears and his makeshift crew to decide what to do. He tried not to think about how many were dead, but he had a head for numbers: 64% of humanity already, with the chain reaction still burning its way upward into the froth. Every real ship had long since evacuated. Orbit was a snowstorm of shrapnel halfway out to the moons.
“Stress cracks are opening up everywhere,” Sears announced. “Be ready. Everyone who hasn’t, get as far inside as you can.” His plan was unlikely to succeed. Their strangers were the cheap kind used in construction. They had only been used once, and only been meant to be used once. Something exploded.
“Someone try to vent the puffers,” said Sears.
“I’m on it,” said Kalashnikov.
“Very funny, Temple of Athena.”
“Me,” said a young woman in the doorway, holding up her hand. It was South Sea Company. Her other hand held Pan Am’s.
“Not now,” said Sears, adding up their rate of tumble. “Flip the strangers,” said Sears. The acceleration stopped. “Wait until we’re facing away, then get ready to flip them again. We’ll do something about this offcenter spin when we’re clear of the arc-overs.”
“Do NOT call me that, South Sea Company.”
“That was me, actually,” said Kalashnikov. “One of the strangers just nuked Point Pleasant. Fourteen fatalities.”
“638,529 people left aboard then,” said Sears. “Left alive, rather.”
“Aboard is fine,” said Temple of Athena.
“We don’t have running lights,” said Tea Lagoon.
“What are you talking about, running lights?”
“There.” Tea Lagoon switched on a red light at one end of their bulk and a blue light at the other. “Now we’re legal.”
“Legal for what?”
“Captain Sears…” South Sea Company began again.
“Will you stop calling me that?”
“We want you to marry us,” said Pan Am.
South Sea Company smiled and nodded, squeezing his hand.
Sears turned to face them. “What is the matter with you? We’re drifting for dear life through a wreckage field-“
“With proper lights,” said Tea Lagoon.
“You should do it, captain,” said Temple of Athena, tapping her hands against her chin.
“I am not a captain! This is not a vessel!”
“Well what would you call it?” asked South Sea Company.
“Ooh, what should we call it?” said Kalashnikov.
“Just stop, everyone.”
“Somebody has to give her,” said Temple of Athena. “Hey hey, can I?”
“Does somebody have to give him too?” asked Tea Lagoon.
“Seems fair,” said Kalashnikov.
“I’ll do it then,” Tea Lagoon volunteered.
“Flip on my mark,” said Sears. “Flip!” A groan echoed through the walls as momentum began to build again.
“Shit! Cut that stranger off!” said Kalashnikov.
“Strangelets everywhere. Thing went inverse, just like that.”
“Watch for gammas. They won’t all spike before they invert, but it’s the best we’ll get.”
“Roger,” said Kalashnikov. Everyone watched tensely for the next several minutes as material fatigue made itself heard. “They’re ready to flip.”
“Don’t you need a witness, too?” asked Temple of Athena.
“I don’t remember,” said Pan Am.
“Stop. Just stop…”
“I’ll witness,” said Kalashnikov. “I was waiting for something to do.”
Standard Oil and his team returned. “We’ve got Mu Mu welded down.” He looked at Pan Am and South Sea Company. “What’s going on?”
“A wedding!” said Kalashnikov. “The captain’s doing a ceremony.”
“Oh. Explains the running lights, in a roundabout sort of way.” Standard Oil turned to Pan Am. “You the guy? Good show. I thought you two were fighting.”
“It seems kind of silly now,” said South Sea Company, twining her arm around Pan Am’s.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Standard Oil looked distant for a moment. “Crew! Get in here. We’ve got a wedding!”
“Like a real wedding?” Standard Oil’s people crowded in, shaking Pan Am’s hand and kissing South Sea Company’s hair.
“Excellent. Lets get started,” said Temple of Athena.
“I don’t…” Everyone watched Captain Sears expectantly. “I don’t even know the…”
“I found them,” said Kalashnikov, passing the words to him. He read through them, stalling for time in the light of the boiling Earth.
“Fine, fuck it. ‘Dearly beloved…'”