A short story based on the image shown
from a prompt from Writers Unite! – September 2019
A Short Story by Lynn Miclea
BEEP BEEP BEEP! Nikki peered at the navigation panel and adjusted the controls. Then she reviewed the instrument readout — they were back on course. Every now and then, something altered their course. There were numerous and constant variables and possibilities, and a slight adjustment was periodically needed. She checked it often, and was glad the parameters were set to sound an audible alarm if anything needed attention.
“Everything okay?” Captain Rosita Esperanza Reyes sat behind her on the bridge. She was a good captain, strong, capable, knowledgeable, and always maintaining control. And she was also fair with everyone. Nikki both liked and respected her.
“Yes, just a minor adjustment needed. We’re on course.” Nikki glanced at the captain and then looked back at the controls. She checked the transmission data and nodded. Everything was good.
She tapped her foot as a wave of anxiety moved through her. It had been eight months since they had left Earth. She clearly remembered the launch, the strong vibration, the intense shaking, and the heavy pull on her body. She remembered closing her eyes and praying, as fear shook her body every bit as powerfully as the thrust engines.
They had left Earth out of desperation. It was their last chance. The violence on Earth had increased to an unsustainable level. Country against country, and person against person. Fighting about land, race, nationality, religion … and the greed of the wealthy that had plunged so many people below poverty levels. But the violence was the worst. It had kept escalating. She kept hoping for peace and trusted in the goodness of people, but lasting peace never came. And finally — the last devastating action. The nuclear war. The bombs. She shivered as the graphic memories hit her.
As life on Earth continued to become unlivable, a small group of people were chosen to relocate to another planet that had been discovered. A habitable planet, much like Earth, a short distance away through a wormhole. Breathable atmosphere, temperature within a tolerable range, and water. It was workable. And it was the only way mankind would survive. They needed to leave Earth and start again.
It had been planned for years, even before the recent wars. It had been a just-in-case, worst-case scenario. But it happened. They would have to completely start over. Life on a new planet.
If only this weren’t necessary. But it was. The horrific memories were burned into her brain, and she could never forget them. She shook her head, trying to rid herself from those horrible images of death, pain, and suffering.
After what happened on Earth, they had all decided and agreed to bring no weapons whatsoever. They knew the 3-D printer onboard would be able to create a weapon if needed against an unknown danger on this new planet, but it was unlikely that would be necessary. And after what had escalated on Earth, they wanted nothing to do with weapons.
Now she needed to look to the future. The top scientific minds were onboard, and they had the skills and ability to create a new home. A new life. She needed to stay positive. There was no other choice.
And Jonathan was onboard too. An expert in both aerospace and mechanical engineering, he had been one of the first few chosen for this endeavor. Nikki had met him three months ago as they were busy with preparations for this mission. Their connection was instant and strong, and she was glad he was here. She needed a friend, a partner, and a lover to help in this transition.
They were now almost at the new planet. This had to work. She checked the navigation display again. They would be there tomorrow morning.
Eva came by right on time and relieved her on the bridge. Nikki caught her up to date, stretched, and then left. It was good to get away for a little bit. The staff meeting in preparation for landing would be in two hours, and she was feeling antsy.
She went to the small gym at the back of the ship. It would be good to work off her nervous energy, and she knew it was important to stay in shape for whatever was coming. She stepped onto the treadmill, adjusted the speed and grade, and was soon lost in her thoughts as she jogged.
Two hours later, she sat at the conference table in the meeting room. Captain Reyes commanded the room, her powerful presence projecting strength and instilling confidence in all the staff. “Okay everyone, we will be landing tomorrow morning on schedule. Jamil,” she said, turning to the geologic and atmospheric expert. “How are conditions on our new planet?”
Jamil looked up from his notes. “Fine, Captain. From what we can tell, the air is breathable, a combination of oxygen and nitrogen, and temperature in a comfortable range. Humidity is low but reasonable. I’ll know more after we land and will check it again before we leave the ship. But it all looks good by my calculations.”
“Thank you, Jamil.” She turned to Haruto Tominaga, renowned for his expertise in physics and also for being a top-notch musician. “Haruto, what is your analysis of our approach, landing, and anything you can foresee for the next few days?”
Haruto nodded. “Everything is good, Captain. I foresee no problems at this point. My calculations show that as we enter the atmosphere…” As he went into further detail, Nikki’s mind wandered to the last time she had heard him play the cello. He was magnificent when he played, and the music always deeply moved her. She hoped he had brought the cello onboard. She closed her eyes, hearing the melodies in her mind.
She suddenly opened her eyes and saw Jonathan watching her, a smirk on his face. She smiled at him and looked around at the rest of the crew. The level of expertise and experience in the room was astounding, and the diversity in background filled her with hope for a compassionate human experience in building a new world. These people were committed to making a good start for all of humanity. She focused again on the captain.
“…so you all know what to do when we land,” the captain was saying. “I want the first crew of twelve to scout out the area for thirty minutes only. Take measurements, be aware of your surroundings, and observe everything carefully. Then we meet at the entrance to the ship. If there are no problems, and everything looks good, the second crew of twelve will join the first crew, and we will explore farther out. I want feedback as to possible locations for housing and for planting. Look for a source of water. I want to know all impressions and everything that you observe, including any possible problems. Then we will systematically expand our search area from there.” She looked at each member. “And the first team, for the initial outing, do not go more than three hundred yards. I want our first excursion safe and close. Understood?”
At dinner, Nikki barely touched her food. “Eat something,” Jonathan told her, as he took another bite of chicken marsala. “You need to eat.” He gestured at her food with his fork. “You need your strength.”
Nikki stared at her food and pushed it around, and finally speared a potato with her fork. “I know. I’m just too nervous to eat. But you’re right.” She shoved the potato into her mouth. “Mmmm, this is actually really good. You’re right. I need to eat.”
“I’m so excited, and also a little nervous.” Jonathan reached over and squeezed her hand, his rich dark skin in contrast to her pale, freckled skin. “There will be so much to do here. And so many possibilities for this new world.” He took another bite of chicken.
“I know. This world holds so much promise. And we have really good people onboard.”
“Only the best,” he said as he chewed. “Including you,” he added, smiling.
They finished eating, listening to the excited chatter fill the small cafeteria as other crew members sat down with their meals. Nikki and Jonathan got up, cleaned their table, and placed the dirty dishes in the pile to be washed.
Jonathan pulled Nikki into his arms and kissed the top of her head. “We’re landing tomorrow,” he said softly. “It’s amazing we’re actually here.”
“I know. I can’t believe it’s here already. I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep tonight.” She buried her face in his chest, feeling his warmth. She treasured the few moments of peace and comfort with him before the commotion and tasks she knew would be coming the next day.
Once back in her quarters, Nikki read through all the information she had on this new planet for the hundredth time. She had read it through so many times that she had it almost memorized, but she needed to read it again anyway. This was going to be their new home.
As expected, she barely slept. She kept waking up throughout the night, checking the clock, and trying to go back to sleep. She finally slept a couple hours and then bolted awake at 6:00 a.m., covered in sweat.
After a quick shower, she nervously picked at and managed to eat a breakfast of oatmeal, blueberries, and a hard-boiled egg, washed it down with orange juice, and then hurried back to the bridge. It was almost time to land on New Earth.
“No problems,” Eva said and smiled when Nikki approached to relieve her. “We’re on course, and everything looks fine.” Eva yawned and quickly left the bridge, as Nikki thanked her.
Nikki sat at the navigation board and checked the time, course, coordinates, trajectory, speed, and other readouts. All looked good. They would touch down in one hour.
It was hard to sit still. They were finally reaching the end of this part of their journey and starting a whole new one, full of unknowns. A bright new beginning. This had to work, and she was sure it would. This was not going to be the end of humanity.
She stared at the planet as it came into view and grew larger on the monitor. Her heart fluttered. It was beautiful. Blues, greens, browns, and white clouds. It already looked like home. She licked her dry lips. They were almost there. Almost home.
Alarm bells clanged throughout the ship. “Please prepare for landing,” the automated voice announced. It was time.
Creases appeared on her forehead as she focused and concentrated, guiding the ship down to the planet’s surface. She reduced the speed and changed the angle. She felt the pressure on the ship change. Almost down. A loud whine filled the bridge, followed by a whooshing noise. The ship thumped and then bounced as it landed on the surface, thumped once more, and then came to a rest. Silence.
Nikki glanced at Captain Reyes and then looked out the main viewport. A small brownish dust cloud had been kicked up and it momentarily blocked her view. The dust cloud slowly dissipated, and as the view cleared, she looked out in wonder.
A panorama opened before her — brown dirt, a few small green plants, and a structure off to the left side. Brilliant sunlight flooded the entire vista. It looked sparse, but beautiful. The first view of their new home.
Captain Reyes leaned forward. “Nikki, call the first landing crew to meet in fifteen minutes in Landing Bay One.”
“Yes, Captain.” She transmitted the message to the crew and immediately received confirmation from each one. “They’re all ready, Captain.”
Fifteen minutes later, the twelve crew members stood in Landing Bay One. “Everyone ready?” Captain Reyes looked at each member. “Jamil, any update on atmospheric conditions? Are we good to go?”
“Yes, Captain,” Jamil answered. “Everything is as expected. I see no problems.”
“Good. When we descend onto the planet,” she continued, addressing the entire group, “be careful with everything, from walking to breathing. No matter how prepared we are, it will be somewhat different in real time. I will remain on the planet with you but at the entrance to the ship in case of any problems. And don’t forget — for our initial outing, go out no more than three hundred yards, and we meet back here in thirty minutes. Are we all clear?” Everyone nodded. “Good. Then let’s go.”
It was time. Jonathan punched the buttons and the door slowly opened with a soft whoosh. A breezy warmth with a light but foreign fragrance reached them as the first twelve slowly descended the six stairs and took their first steps on the new planet.
It was magnificent. Nikki took a deep breath. It was dusty, but sweet. Clean. Breathable. Warm.
Jonathan moved next to her and rubbed her back. “You doing okay?”
She nodded. “Our first steps on a new planet. This is beyond exciting.”
“I know. This will be our new home.”
Nikki pointed to the left. “Let’s check out that structure. I want to see what that is.”
She felt her excitement building. What wonders awaited them on this new world?
Nikki felt Jonathan’s warm hand clasp hers, and they walked together toward the structure. What was it? Was it a fort? A home? A shelter? Who or what had built this?
Reaching the structure, she realized it was larger than it had initially appeared. There were three smaller structures attached to the first, with large rooms inside. They hesitantly entered the first part of the building.
A tremble of fear coursed through Nikki, and goosebumps rose on her arms. She looked around in the first structure, exploring. There were three rooms and steps that led up to a second level. It had obviously been built by an intelligent species. How was that possible? This planet had no known life forms other than plants.
Something caught her eye. Something dark on the ground near one wall. What was that? She stepped closer.
Her hand started reaching toward it. Then she quickly pulled it back and gasped.
She held her breath. She couldn’t breathe. Her hand flew to her mouth, her eyes wide with shock.
Jonathan was at her side and she pointed. She heard him gasp.
A gun lay on the ground. A man-made handgun from Earth. A human weapon.
Humans had been here before and they had brought weapons with them. Where were they now? What happened to them? Had they killed each other on this planet? Was this going to be no different than how it was on Earth?
Excited but muffled shouts from other crew members sounded a short distance away.
Nikki looked into Jonathan’s eyes. “What happened here? What happened to these people? And how can we tell our crew? Humans have been here before.”
Jonathan swallowed hard. “We need to tell the captain. She needs to know this.”
Nikki nodded, feeling the lump in her throat. “Will we ever learn to live in peace?”
“I don’t know,” he whispered, as they turned and left the structure to rejoin their crew.
Copyright © 2019 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.
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