Sails unfurled against the night sky, billowing sheets of finest cloth glimmering in the starlight. Masts and spars ran out in precise lines and crosses, stretching sailcloth and rigging across the sky. An eagle reached out, talons forward and wings flared. Behind the figurehead, the lines of a streamlined hull. Large and bulky, yet somehow elegant rather than ponderous. A design shaped by the brightest of shipwrights, with the finest materials and built by some of the most talented shipyard workers the world had ever seen. The ship's cabins and large stores of supplies spoke of a mission of discovery. Gun decks filled with terrible pieces of artillery underlined that the voyage could, and perhaps would, be dangerous. Even now, the captain looked to the horizon with a weather eye, judging tides and storms.
You could almost forget for a moment that the ship hung in high Earth orbit, and that its navigator had plotted a course to a distant star.
"Orbital facilities... destroyed." Deirdre Winters reported softly. "Lunar positions... destroyed. All known Allied, Soviet, Imperial, and Chinese spacecraft... destroyed. Estimate seventy percent of Earth's landmass was directly targeted. Indirect fallout has scoured ninety-nine percent of the remainder. Human casualties estimated above ninety-five percent."
"Our best guess," Masoko Okamura concurred with a whisper, "Is that our technology is too primitive for our attackers to recognize. Technology more advanced than steam boilers seems to have attracted their attention."
Albin Canavan frowned. "Orbital recon would have revealed our bases, and our station here. A simple telescope should have seen us."
"They are arrogant." Lady Maria demurred. "Trusting in their technology, they missed what was under their noses."
The Ark continued to hang above the murdered Earth. The solar sails were not yet fully spread. This was not the voyage to the stars the Chinese had envisioned, sheathed in shields fueled by atomic power. This was not a Soviet vessel, filled with brawn and raw power and bravery. This was not an elegant Allied torchship, a swan among the stars. The Ark was a monster of silver and steel, fueled by conventional nuclear fission that in turn ran water-cooled turbines. The limited cryogenics aboard the ship were limited to storage. Decks the size of an oceanic aircraft carrier were given over to farms enriched by amplified solar rays. Though the Ark held a crew of more than a thousand, it was only a fraction of the ship's designed capacity. Enough supplies to maintain what had once been called the First World for decades were arranged in the cargo bays, and there was equipment to gather and process more resources, too. A self-contained, self-sufficient vessel for the pathetic remnants of humanity.
Once a pipe dream of an enigmatic religious order, the Ark now held what was left of the human race, and the distant hope that one day humanity would find a new Earth. Armageddon had come and gone, and the Order of the Talon had been found wanting. Now came the ordeal. Even at full sail, it would take centuries for the Ark to reach another star, and the small hope that that star might have a habitable world free from the unknown enemy that had slain the Earth. Yet the Ark was a world in and of itself, a generation ship designed to be humanity's world for however long it took to find a new home.
"You think they'll remember Earth when they reach a new world?" Arianna Martella wondered. "Or do you think they'll just call Earth a myth, rather like Eden?"
Saint Veritan laughed. "I don't like the thought that we have become Cain, but it is possible. We have done the best we can for humanity's future, and the rest is in the hands of the Lord God."
"All departments report ready." Okamura noted, looking up from her difference engine's readouts. "All supplies and personnel are on board and ready. We can sever mooring lines at your command."
The Triumvirate nodded as one.
"Cut us loose. There is nothing left for us here."
The mooring lines fell away, and the Ark caught the solar winds. Slowly, hesitantly at first, humanity crept forward, slipping the cradle of its birth. By all rights humanity should have died with the Earth, but the human race is a notoriously resilient one, clinging to hope even after any rational being would have decided their existence was a lost cause. Many had died, but others survived. So long as one human survived, so did the spark of mankind. Whatever its faults, the Order of the Talon had given humanity's remnants a fighting chance against the long dark of extinction.
A fighting chance was all humanity had ever asked for. It was all humanity had ever needed.