It was odd being back at the helm of a vessel in the intergalactic fleet after so long. There was no feeling in the world that paralleled this one, the feeling of sitting astride thousands of tons of machinery that bucked and churned and roared with flames to rival the old sun of Terra. She let a slow smile come to her lips, settling the interface helmet down over her short-cropped hair. Ship and Commander were once again one in mind and heart. Together, they would once more commune with the stars. But this time, they would not perform the deadly dance of laser grid defenses and high-grade ordinance. Those days were over, a shadow on the reverse thruster cameras and nothing more. This time, their cargo was the future and their destination was hope.
“Alright, this is experimental trial…One hundred thirty eight…B.”
Derek spoke to the camera, hands trembling as he moved to press the ‘on’ switch. The array lit up almost immediately and the whole thing started to hum.
“Phase one appears to be operating normally…” He picked up one of his instruments. “Phase two power generation appears to be as expected…” There was a long pause and suddenly the needle shot upwards. “Oh…oh no…Not again. Please, not this again.” He dove for the power button, but it didn’t matter. The machine was already smoking. He jumped for the camera instead and dove behind the protective paneling just before it blew. “Well, that was the same malfunction from trial…um…seventy three, I think. So…”
“Derek, are you alright in here?”
He looked up into the face of Professor McKenna and sighed.
“Yes, Professor…I just had a malfunction. I’m alright.”
“You nearly blew yourself up, Derek. Grab your notes, check the prototype for flames and come get some dinner. You need to take a break and redesign or you’re going to kill yourself with one of these `malfunctions.’”
Derek sat down in the cafeteria, spreading his designs out while he tried to simultaneously shove a chicken tender into his mouth.
“You’re still working on that? You know it’s never gonna work, right?”
He didn’t even need to look up to know that was Alexis. Little miss perfect Alexis with her grants and stipends and published papers and all that. She dropped into the seat opposite him and scoffed.
“I mean, seriously, you can’t just pull energy out of nowhere, Derek, that goes against all the laws of physics.”
“As we know them…” was his only response.
“Ugh…whatever. Continue to wallow in your failure while I’m putting an astronaut on Mars.”
She strode away, heels clicking on the tiled floor, and he returned his full attention to finding the flaw in his design.
Hours turned into days and days into weeks and Derek still didn’t have a new prototype. The flaw was there, he knew it was, he just had to find it. Weeks into months and the snow fell hard around the campus as Derek burst into the lab with a tiny box in his hands. He set up his camera, hands shaking and set the little cardboard box on the counter. It was only a few inches high, not the giant bulk of lights and switches and diodes he’d had before. No, this one was simple, sleek and elegant. And most importantly of all, just as Alexis walked in to demand to know what he was doing, the little chrome sphere started to glow and lifted into the air.
“Making it work.”
Silence. Just the dim blinking of the console. A single voice cutting through lightyears of space.
“We lost you on the monitors. Can you get a visual of any local pulsars so we can locate you?”
Nothingness. Darkness. Emptiness. There are stars, but none pulse in erratic patterns. And none flicker. It takes an atmosphere to flicker and sparkle.
A pause. Discomfort in the tone now. Uncertainty.
The terraforming drones had arrived on Kepler-438b long before humans first set foot on its rocky surface. The pictures transmitted back baffled and amazed, but it was, they decided, like the face on Mars: merely a matter of shadow and wishful thinking. There was no way there were towers reaching to the sky and spiraling edifices of stone carved and shaped by hands and minds that were, like theirs, capable of dreaming. Not on Kepler-438b. It was a trick of the light and nothing more.
That was what they said until the first colonists disembarked from the landing craft. The yawning bay doors opened in the back and the first landing team found themselves staring up at an immense wall bestrewn with an ivy-like crawler vine that wound around columns in made its way in through perfectly round windows. Standing sentinel beside the great archway in its center were two statues, crumbling depictions of something the screamed louder than words “We were here!”
The colonists searched and searched, but there were no signs of the builders, of any creatures native to this place. There were only the plants. Then one day, a child stood by one of the carved walls. The others had long since stopped looking for answers in the pictures, long since ignored the mystery implied in stone, and focused on their survival. But when they saw what he saw, they stopped. He held his small hand up, fingers splayed, and smiled. There on the wall, lined up with his own hand, was a palm and five splayed fingers. A hand reaching out through the ages, the very same as their own.
“Doctor, I’m…” The intern hesitated, looking down. “I’m not really sure what I’m looking at. The results in this sequence don’t make…sense.”
Adjusting her glasses, the doctor leaned in to look at the screen. A series of numbers met her eyes, dashed lines and spectra to show the results from the centrifuge and sequencer.
A single word was her only response. Then another intern, this one holding a datapad, stepped forward.
“Doctor, I have an idea that could explain this.”
The doctor nodded and gave that all too familiar twitch of two fingers. They all knew what that meant. Don’t dither, just speak.
“If you overlay the spectra on the known quasars, you get a map. I think it points to our home world.”
That made the whole room go quiet. For a long moment, the doctor just stared at the map projected from the data pad. Then she took a breath.
“This sample is pure, no genetic alterations or hybridization… I hate to say it, but I think you may have found the road back to Earth.”
Far-flung in space and time
holding on to nothing
holding back everyone
we know nothing of what we do
Flashes of light bursting in colors
explosions of nothing
watching the gates against the darkness
refusing to accept…
alone but surrounded
enemies on all fronts
yet all’s quiet on every front
only when they come will we know
but they are not…
spinning whirling never stopping
alone and hopeless
surrounded and helpless
the cosmic war shall never end
darting here, darting there
flying through the starry void
weapons cocked, ready to fire
upon our enemies
we’ve never seen them
but we know
we must kill them all
friends or foes
they come to us with arms out wide
to embrace their possible new allies
but we fire into the crowd
with our lasers, mow them down
they sent messages we couldn’t read
and greeted us with only friendship
but no more is there an alien race
for we have decimated them, one and all
they were different
and different is bad
so none are left by our hands
and again we float alone in space