The Apocalypse Triptych covers a lot of apocalyptic scenarios in three books. But Jake Kerr has the unusual distinction of A) writing about a really cool asteroid impact scenario B) hinging his storyline on a future scenario that we already know won't happen. Read Kerr's essay about being wrong, and then read the story right here.

Kerr's story, "Wedding Day," appears in The End Is Nigh, the first of three volumes in the Apocalypse Triptych. [Full disclosure: I have a three-part story that appears in all three volumes.] It takes place in the same world as his story "Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince." And you should also read his Nebula-nominated story "The Old Equations."

WEDDING DAY

Jake Kerr

I walk through the front door and pause to slide off my heels when Jocelyn yells from the living room, "It's already started!" I keep my shoes on and rush to join her. As I sit down and focus on the news conference she takes my hand. She strokes my engagement ring, but her eyes don't leave the TV.

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This is not equivalent to the impact that killed the dinosaurs, but we beg governments across the globe not to underestimate the scope of what we are outlining. This event will kill millions of people even if the impact is in the middle of the Pacific. My colleague Doctor Mariathasan will outline the atmospheric and climate effects, but let me repeat the words of Doctor Meyer: There is no scenario that we can envision where the entire globe is not subject to some level of devastation.

[Inaudible question over shouted voices]

It depends on the impact location.

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[More shouts]

If the asteroid lands in China, no one in China will survive.

[There are gasps and someone grabs the speaker and whispers in his ear. He shakes them off as more questions are shouted.]

No no no. Professor Meyer said later next year. 2023. But that is still very little time. We must act. It is called a Near Extinction Event for a reason. If the asteroid impacts Europe, everyone here will die and many across the globe will also die.

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[There are shouts as he turns and looks around to those on the dais]

All of us here beg those at the impact location to flee as soon as we isolate it and for everyone else to prepare for disaster. We must unite together.

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[A reporter shouts "Where is the impact location?"]

We don't know yet. It may take as long as six weeks to confirm the location due to all the variables.

The TV blinks out, and I look over at Lynn, who is holding the remote. "I guess the wedding is cancelled."

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"No," I say, as we pull each other into a hug. "Just rescheduled."

  • • • •

One morning, about a week before the announcement of the impact location, I receive a nice surprise: The moderate conservatives in the Texas legislature have pushed through the marriage equality law. It has always been our dream to get married in our home state, and now we can. There is a joyous rush of marriages, but Lynn and I decide to wait.

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"You sure?" I ask. It's Sunday, and we've had a solid thirty-six hours of relaxation, a rarity lately. She is flipping through a wedding magazine.

"Yes. We wanted it to be romantic and beautiful and meaningful, right?" I nod. "And running downtown for a marriage certificate and a photo doesn't seem like those things at all."

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"But what if the impact is in North America?"

"Then we'll get married in Venice or something." Lynn pats the couch. I'm pacing and don't even realize it. I sit down. "It's not Texas, but, come on, it's Venice."

"How about Paris?" I ask.

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She squeezes my leg. "That's the spirit. Maybe Ireland? You always loved Ireland."

"Mmm. That would be nice. What about the hills of Kilimanjaro?" Lynn's dad had traced their ancestry through the Eastern African slave trade to Tanzania, and the idea of visiting there has always been one of her dreams.

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She puts the magazine down and claps her hands. "I got it!" She turns and faces me. I'm excited by her excitement. "Las Vegas!"

I roll my eyes but laugh. I lay my head in her lap and we make plans for an international wedding. I do my best to be enthusiastic, but my excitement dies quickly. The plans remind me too much of what we did while waiting for marriage to be legalized in Texas. I'm tired of hope and dreams deferred.

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The conspiracy sites—the same ones that successfully predicted the asteroid's collision with Earth and had been dismissed as written by nutjobs—are all stating that the impact will be in North America, even though the official announcement is five days away.

The first website makes its announcement at 8:42 in the morning. By 9 a.m. the news is everywhere, and the suppressed terror and anxiety explode across the continent. I attempt to use every possible angle I know to get us both out of the country, but it is clear that only those with political connections or extreme wealth can leave.

I'm not surprised. Four hundred million people desperate to leave has overwhelmed the transportation infrastructure of Canada, Mexico, and the United States. As a result, only one thing has any value any more: A way out. Airline flights to Europe, Japan, Africa—anywhere other than North America—are impossible to find. Lynn comes home, and we brainstorm ideas on how to get away. She notes that her employer, Star News, has transportation and that the company could get us out. I'm not convinced but I keep quiet. Star News is a huge company with a lot of employees. I want to share in her optimism, but why would they save us?

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Lynn's parents aren't wealthy, and she's worried they'll give up and go into full-on "bucket list" mode. I examine every possibility for escape. My Uncle Don owns a yacht, and I ask my mom whether he would travel back and forth, transporting us to safety, but he had already left the country and hasn't returned.

Lynn works late again, as usual. She walks in, looking stressed and exhausted, which is unlike her. "It's really bad, Em," she says as she walks to the kitchen. "People have torn down the Mexican border fence."

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"So the fence that was put up to keep Mexicans out of America was keeping Americans out of Mexico?" I walk over and rub Lynn's shoulders as she pours herself a glass of wine. "That is what I call divine justice."

"People are dying, Em. It's not funny."

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"They haven't even announced where the asteroid is going to impact yet."

Lynn turns and gives me an are you serious look. "Everyone knows that the impact is going to be in North America whether it's been officially confirmed or not." She's right, of course.

"Then maybe that's a good idea, fleeing to South America."

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"I told you. It's bad. You don't see the stories I see. Panama is a death zone. People are being shot, and that's if they make it through the minefields or don't bleed to death on razor wire." She takes a long drink of her wine. "We're on our own."

The official announcement is made at nine o'clock in the morning three days later. It surprises no one. The only new information is a more precise impact location: South Dakota. It takes the president about ninety seconds to announce a series of new laws, the first of which means that I no longer have a job. Political consultants like me aren't necessary when the country is being run by martial law. Thousands of people are being deputized as part of a federal police and military force, and I briefly consider applying, but shooting looters doesn't feel like something I could do.

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While I spend the day pondering being out of work, Lynn is in her element. There is no bigger news in history than what is happening right now all around her. She is not only one of the key correspondents for Star News, she writes for local news organizations. She is everywhere.

"Slow down," I plead with Lynn as she walks in after a twelve hour day a week later. I have dinner ready for her, and a bottle of wine opened. There are gunshots outside, but those are now ever-present, and I ignore them.

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She takes the wine and falls into her spot on the couch. "You know why I need to do this."

We've been over it many times. It's not simply that she is driven to report the reality of life; she is doing whatever she can to earn points with Star News. Her new strategy is that they'll fly us out of North America in gratitude. Even after seeing her all over TV and the Net, I fear she is wrong, that she is wasting the last few precious moments we could have together.

"But drop something, even if it is some of the local stuff." I set the table as we talk. "We should spend time together, before—" I don't finish the sentence. It's hard to talk about the impact, now only six months away, when there is only a remote hope that we will escape.

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"Okay," Lynn replies, and I pause to stare at her. I expected her to push back. "Life is shit right now, but it's not total shit." She looks tired and stressed. The resignation in her voice worries me. It's just not her. "We should spend more time together."

"Thank you. I'm just worried is all." She doesn't reply, but instead stands up and walks over and takes the spoon from my hand to help with dinner.

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I step back and watch as she stirs, feeling powerless as the silence lingers. "You shouldn't worry," she whispers. When I don't reply, she turns and looks at me. I don't know what to say, but it doesn't matter. She is Lynn, and she knows what to say, even now.

She smiles, the stress and weariness is gone. "Fuck it, let's get married!"

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I talk to my mom and my dad, and Lynn talks to hers. My mom is excited about attending, no matter when we hold it, but my dad is noncommittal. Lynn's parents are somewhere on Route 66, following their dream of driving its entire length. They promise to make time for our wedding.

As we tell our friends, the wedding is a beacon of light amidst the gloom. We set a date a month away. That is still five months before the impact, and the hope is that Star News will fly us out shortly afterward. I organize the wedding while Lynn works non-stop.

I'm struggling to find a band for the reception when my phone rings. It's Lynn. "Hey, Love! How's your day going?" I ask.

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"This fucked-up world has somehow done something right." She is so excited that I can picture the phone shaking in her hand. "The UN is announcing that they are going to expatriate people from North America to other countries. It starts in two weeks. My editor just told me an announcement is coming later today."

I can't quite let myself believe what she is saying. "So we'll be able to leave for another country?"

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"Yes. I mean no. It's not that simple. There's going to be a lottery, an expatriation lottery. There simply isn't enough time or resources to move a half billion people from one side of the world to the other."

I do the math in my head, and it doesn't add up. "Sure there is. There have to be enough ships and planes to get everyone out in half a year."

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"I told you; it's not that simple. Do you really think Saudi Arabia would take a few million Christian refugees? Some countries won't accept any Americans, and others are focused on their own disaster preparation. So we're basically on our own in terms of making it work."

"Then we may not make it."

"Jesus, Em. Can't you at least be thankful for a little bit of good news? At least we now have a better chance! Think of it this way: This takes pressure off Star News to save everyone on their staff. Our chances of them flying us out are much greater. Plus, we may even win the lottery." She pauses, and then adds, her voice tentative, "Should we change our wedding plans?"

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"Well, it sounds like there's still so much up in the air. Maybe we should just continue with business-as-usual?"

"Yes, of course, but we should be prepared to be flexible." I'm used to Lynn's hope and optimism, so her response is a pleasant surprise. Flexible? That I can embrace. Hell, moving from likely death to having to be flexible is about the best thing ever. Getting married in Austin and then emigrating to France? Fine. Emigrating to England and then getting married there? Also fine. Before I can reply, she adds, "Although it would be nice to get married in Venice."

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I can practically see her smile through the phone as she says it. She hasn't been this happy in a long time, and I realize I need her happiness. I don't want her to be flexible. "Or Kilimanjaro!" I reply. Lynn was right. I should be thankful, and I am. My enthusiasm is real. Lynn makes it real. We discuss kisses at sunset and sweetheart necklines, and I am so full of joy that I can barely breathe.

Lynn covers the impact of the Lottery on families as it starts—the winner, the losers, the joy, and the pain. I beg her to stop after a third man who was not chosen commits suicide in front of her and her cameraman. Despite the good intentions, the lottery is a near universal target of anger and suspicion. The details of the lottery cause riots, but they make sense to my political mind: all military and their families are automatically eligible for expatriation. This is deeply unpopular, but it makes the management of the lottery work. Corruption is minimized when the benefit of any bribe is far outweighed by the possible punishment of losing your family's spot on an outgoing boat or plane.

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However, people ignore the rational, and it scares me with Lynn in the middle of it all. It's made worse by the process. While the internet and the country's infrastructure still function at a basic level, the lottery is decidedly non-technical. Selection is done ahead of time at local offices and notification is done face-to-face at heavily guarded buildings in urban centers. You go. You find out your fate. You leave.

"What if one of them decides to take out others before taking his own life?" I say to her. I don't mention that I worry about her own psyche. How many deaths can you witness before it scars you forever? She came home in shock after the first one, but after the third she barely considered it worth mentioning.

To my surprise she agrees. "It's already an old story," she adds. The lottery has been in effect for a whole week, and the suicides are already an "old" story. It saddens me, although I'm glad Lynn doesn't seem to grasp the pathos illustrated by her words. She adds, "Plus, we have a wedding coming up!"

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The wedding is in two weeks. I never did book a band, but a friend agreed to act as DJ. We are to get married at the Four Seasons in Austin, which will be convenient for our family and friends, and has the benefit of a waterfront background for the ceremony itself. It's not what I had in mind, but it still makes me gasp when I think of it.

Both of our expatriation interview dates are a month out, so we don't think about the lottery very much. It's hope for an indeterminate future, and that's good enough for now.

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For once I find out something before Lynn. A friend of my mother's is in the Expatriation Office and mentioned something to her in passing. My mom immediately called me in a panic. Marriages have been suspended.

"Wait, why would they do that?" I can't quite believe the news. It makes no sense.

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"Because there are two components to the lottery. The first is that every individual in the country is eligible, and the second is that if you win, you get to emigrate with your entire immediate family. Do you understand?"

"No," I reply. Maybe I do understand but just don't want to. I just can't believe that something as basic as a life-saving lottery would have a loophole.

"People are getting married to increase their odds. And if you have a lot of kids your odds are even greater. Haven't you seen the news about the explosion of marriages?" I did, but I assumed it was due to the impending mass death and others in Lynn's and my position—wanting to finally get married before it was too late. That people would get married to game the system didn't even cross my mind.

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"So they are canceling marriages entirely because individuals with kids are getting married to other people with kids, and all they need is one from the entire group to win and then they all are saved?"

"Yes." The sadness in my mom's voice breaks my heart. Losing any moment of joy in the midst of such darkness is almost too much to consider.

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"So unmarried people are screwed."

"I wouldn't say—"

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Anger bubbles over. "But what about Lynn and me? We weren't trying to game the system! We spent years waiting for marriage to be legal, and now just days away from our wedding it is illegal again." The unfairness is overwhelming. I need to talk to Lynn.

"I know, dear. If there's anything—"

"I have to go." I hang up, dial Lynn, and explain what's happening. Lynn is quiet on the other end of the line. I cling to the absurd hope that she will somehow make things better.

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"I'll be right home," she says. I wait, trying to not dwell on the worst.

She arrives minutes later and tosses her bag on the floor. She gives me a cursory hug and starts pacing while I sit down. Her nervousness while I recline on the couch is a stark reversal of our normal roles. Still, she is all business, and I find it comforting. If there is a solution here, she will find it.

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She stops and faces me. "Okay, one." She holds up a finger. "We still could both win the lottery." I nod. "Two." She holds up another finger. "We could still be flown out by Star News." I nod again. "And three." She holds up the finger and then drops it into a fist as she continues, "We will still be able to get married when the lottery is over, right?"

I had not thought of that. Once the lottery is over, there is no need to protect the system, and marriages could resume. "I guess . . ."

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There are too many unknowns for me to think anything other than we are still fucked, but before I can say it Lynn replies, "This really doesn't change anything!"

Lynn is driving us to the Expatriation Office, and the streets are a mess. The military is keeping order, but cars are pushed to the side of the road and abandoned where they broke down. Traffic accidents lead to gunplay. The roads to downtown Austin are a war zone.

There's a delay when a pair of bucketlisters have their friends block off Interstate 35 for a drag race. We wait for the military police to arrive or for the race to finish, whichever comes first. I sympathize with the increasing number of bucketlisters sprouting up across the country. They are at least being proactive about their impending doom, but this pair is now threatening Lynn's appointment, and my sympathy is in short supply. "Fuckers," I mutter. We gave ourselves two hours for a drive that three months earlier would have taken thirty minutes, and now we'll need every second.

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Lynn looks over and squeezes my leg. "We have plenty of time." I nod but cheer quietly when a military truck from behind us splits the air with its loud siren. The bucketlisters scatter, and the road clears.

The Expatriation Office is in a heavily fortified compound. There are concrete barriers on the sidewalk. Thick walls and razor wire. Soldiers are everywhere with machine guns. We park in a large, mostly empty, lot outside the walls. "I love you," I whisper.

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Lynn smiles and wipes my tears with her thumbs, her hands cupping my face. "I know." She kisses me. "I love you, too."

Only Lynn is allowed in, so she heads to the gate while I walk to a nearby building where friends and family are allowed to wait. It's a sterile storefront with lots of plate glass and uncomfortable plastic chairs. It looks like the waiting room at the DMV. The room is about half full, but no one talks to anybody else. I take a seat and stare at the walls.

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Individuals make the long walk from the walled compound to the waiting area, and the near constant flow of hopelessness is overwhelming. One person after another approaches, shakes his or her head, and then breaks down, soon joined by others' screams, wails, and tears. No one commits suicide while I watch, but the dead eyes are almost as bad.

A few people walk in with good news, but they are subdued, their happiness tempered out of respect for the walking dead around them. Still, the hushed cries and tears are of happiness, and it is oddly uplifting. As a young man walks in and nods his head, a woman rushes over and throws herself in his arms. I am genuinely happy for them and wonder where they will settle. London? Tokyo? Madrid? Moscow? It doesn't matter. They walk out with a future.

And there is Lynn. I cannot read her face. Did she win? Is she safe? She sees me through the window, and gives a half wave from her waist. I run out to her, and we meet on the sidewalk. I look in her eyes, and she nods her head.

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She hugs me, and I cry.

A couple in another car pull in as we walk across the parking lot, Lynn's hand in mine. I catch a glimpse of their faces but turn away. Lynn is waiting for me, and I close my door on the pain and uncertainty outside.

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I don't remember the trip home. I don't remember much at all. I just hold Lynn in my arms, afraid to let her go, afraid that maybe it isn't real.

I am filled with more happiness than I knew was possible as the love of my life will be safe and this wonderful amazing woman who has filled my life with such joy will not have her light go out due to the cruelty of the heavens or fate or whatever has decreed that life is now nothing more than a lottery she will live she will live she will live.

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A few days later, Lynn comes home at lunchtime, which surprises me because she is still on the Star News beat. I don't know which story she is covering, but I assume it's something amusing; the stories of riots, murders, rapes, and suicides are unpopular, and Europe appears addicted to stories of bucketlisters doing crazy things, so Lynn has been covering every bucket list item imaginable and enjoying every minute of it.

"Hey, what's up? Slow news day?" I smile. There is no longer such a thing as a slow news day.

"I quit."

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I put my book down and stand up. "What? Why?"

"The government has commandeered all of Star News' North American transportation to maximize expatriation efforts."

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I collapse back on the couch. "Oh." There goes any hope of the company getting us out.

"They fucking lied to me, Em. They knew this was going to happen for weeks. My boss knew! They just were negotiating how late they would have to wait before handing over the keys to the government." She slams her fist into the wall. "They knew. They fucking knew!"

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"Then why didn't they fly us out earlier?"

"I don't know. Because they're evil bastards. Because I was doing my job too well. Does it matter?" She sits down next to me. "We're fucked."

I put my arms around her and rest my head on her shoulder. "No we're not. You're safe. That's something. And my appointment is in a few days." I had hoped my appointment wouldn't matter, but now it would be the single most important moment of my life. Lynn—who has been my rock for the past eight years—looks like she's going to fall apart. I didn't realize she had invested so much in Star News getting us out of the country. "Hey." I lift my head, touch her chin, and turn her face to mine. "You know me. I'm the luckiest person in the world." She isn't crying, and that somehow makes her pain seem worse. "After all, I have you."

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She is crying now. I hold my palm against her cheek. We kiss, and there isn't anything else to say.

When we arrive for my appointment, I leave Lynn behind, and it his her turn to wait amongst the desperation. During my walk to the gate I think about the unfairness of it all. This entire trip would be unnecessary if Lynn and I were married. She'd won, and thus I would have won, too.

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I go through a metal detector, a magnetic resonance scanner, and a chemical detector of some sort. Signs everywhere warn people that if they are carrying any banned substances at all they will lose their place in the lottery. A few people are going through the process with me, and they look nervous and drawn, almost haunted. I wonder if I look the same way. The soldiers are business-like and intimidating but nice enough.

I walk up to a guard at a booth on the other side of the security room and hand him my ID. He looks at it and then at my face. He nods and swipes the license through a magnetic stripe reader. "Room 5A." He points to his left. "Down the hall and make a right." He hands my ID back and waves to the person behind me.

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I enter room 5A. Lynn had already walked me through the whole process, so I'm prepared. Still, the utter ordinariness of the office is striking. I am about to face life or death, and I'm sitting in a metal folding chair facing a metal desk with a computer and a phone. The name on the desk says "Samuel Esposito." Mister Esposito, who looks to be in his thirties, is sitting behind the desk wearing a drab suit.

"Ms. Hollister. Nice to meet you. I'm Sam." He stands to greet me and sits down only after I say hello and seat myself.

He proceeds to recite a script about the background of the Meyer Asteroid, the difficulty in dealing with the scope of such a catastrophe, and how if the government could relocate everybody then, my goodness, of course they would.

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But they can't, he notes, and he continues to go on about the origin of the Expatriation Lottery, why it's not perfect but that it's the best anyone could come up with.

He says all this with a natural cadence and a pleasant voice. He's friendly, and I'm rather fond of how sympathetic he sounds as he outlines something that will kill hundreds of millions of people. But before he can continue with his well-worn script, I stop him.

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"Now Sam, is it really the best the government could come up with?" I ask the question with my most pleasant politically-honed voice.

"Well, um, yes it is. We are a democratic country, and we wanted to give everyone an equal chance."

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"But you get to emigrate even if you don't win the lottery when your other family members win. Is that fair?"

"Well, you see, Ms. Hollister, it would be a real tragedy to break apart families. Certainly you can understand that."

I stop myself. There is nothing to gain here. I could get into an argument over how I was not able to marry my beloved partner of nearly a decade, how the ignorance of a bunch of zealots has me sitting in this very chair praying for my life, how even when marriage was made legal a bunch of selfish pricks looking to game the system destroyed our last chance.

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Instead, I reply, "Oh, I understand the tragedy of breaking families apart all too well."

Thrown a bit by my answer, Sam's script comes out awkwardly at first, but he quickly recovers and proceeds to tell me that he is required to outline what happens both if you win or lose the lottery. He starts with grief counseling, which is optional but highly recommended. It will be available immediately after this meeting in a convenient room down the hall if I decide I need it. A new law put into place allows euthanasia, but you must first discuss that option with a grief counselor.

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He then outlines what to expect if I win. Transportation will be via either boat or plane, and the destination will be a country determined by a second lottery. Immediate family members emigrate together but distant family are not guaranteed that they will be able to settle in the same country.

"Are you ready?" The question comes so suddenly that I am unprepared to reply. "Do you need more time?" Sam asks, sympathy in his voice.

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"No. It's okay. I'm ready."

I wait for him to open an envelope or to check his screen or something, but he just folds his hands on his desk and speaks. "I'm sorry, Ms. Hollister. You have not been chosen to emigrate."

I skip the grief counseling. I walk down the hall feeling calm. I'm not sad for myself; I'm sad for Lynn. The moment Sam spoke the words, I knew that my new goal in life was to convince Lynn to leave me behind. She deserves a long life. The world needs her strength, her passion, her optimism, her beauty. Me? I won't die alone. There are tens of millions of us, and that knowledge is oddly comforting.

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As I walk through the compound, the enormity of what I'm facing starts to intrude on my facade of strength. I don't want to lose Lynn, but I don't want Lynn to die.

I approach the building with the waiting area doing my best to conceal my emotions. The door opens and she runs up to me. Her face and eyes are red. "How did it go?" she whispers.

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"I love you," I say.

"No. No. No. Goddammit, no!"

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"Lynn . . ." I touch her arm, but she pulls away.

"No! You are not going to die."

"Lynn . . ." I reach out, and she falls into my arms. She is sobbing into my shoulder, and I am calm. I am her rock. I will save her.

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She pulls away. "You can go in my place." She stares in my eyes—the intensity I know and love is back—but there is nothing to be done. I just shake my head. She knows it's not allowed. It's impossible. She shoves me away and turns toward the car. "I'm not going. I'll stay with you." She pulls the keys from her pocket and starts walking.

It's what I fear the most, her sacrificing her life for no reason. "That's not going to happen," I say. "I won't let you."

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She ignores me and keeps walking to the car. I catch up to her as she gets in. I slide into the passenger seat and put my hand on her hand holding the steering wheel.

"Lynn, please. It makes no sense."

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She turns to me, and all her anger, all her fear, all her desperation is just gone. Her face is glowing. "You know, I've been stupid. The asteroid. The lottery. The fucking Star News. All this shit." She waves her arm. "It's distracted me from the one thing—the one single thing—that I've wanted my whole life. Nothing else matters."

"What are you talking about?" She doesn't sound crazy, but her clarity is frightening because I don't understand it.

"You said it yourself, Em. You said, 'I love you.' You were just told that your life was over. Goodbye citizen, in six months you will be dead. And the only thing that mattered to you was telling me that you loved me." She takes my hand. "Don't you get it? I love you, too. With all my heart. With all mylife. All I want is for us to be together. Fuck this asteroid. Fuck the lottery. Let's just get married and be happy for whatever time we have left."

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There are tears in her eyes and I know they are tears of joy. How can they be tears of joy?

"It doesn't matter how long my life is," she says. "I just want to end it with you as my wife."

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She looks directly into my eyes. And I understand.

It took us a long time to get to the Davis Mountains in West Texas, but we made it. It is cold, but the sky is clear. My mom is there. Lynn's parents won the lottery, and we are happy for them even if they have to miss our wedding. Dad's girlfriend won the lottery, too, and after a quickie wedding before it was made illegal, dad stopped returning my calls. It's for the best. Lynn's friend Max is officiating. He's a Baptist minister, and I rather think that a lesbian wedding is on his bucket list, but I'm not crass enough to ask him.

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Lynn is resplendent in her dress. My mom cries as she walks me up an aisle of wild grass and stone. She hugs Lynn very tight and then kisses me. Lynn and I say our vows; we exchange rings; and Max declares us married. We kiss, and I can't help but cry.

"I'm so sorry," I whisper, and Lynn shakes her head.

"No, no no. Don't be. I wanted to live the rest of my life with you as my wife." She touches my cheek with her hand. "Now I will, and I'm so incredibly grateful."

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I pull my wife close. Our cheeks touch, and I am grateful, too.

There is only one other guest at the wedding. The sky is dominated by a streaking ball of fire that looks nothing like the ugly rock I saw on TV. Today it looks glorious, a celestial benediction that couldn't be more beautiful.