She stretched out her hand to feel the tall grass slide through her little fingers.
“Do you think I’ll ever go to another planet?”
“I don’t know, dear. But, your daddy thinks we’ll have to try if people don’t start taking better care of this one.”
“But, do you think I’ll meet aliens from another planet?
“I don’t know Kali, but if they’re out there, I’m sure you’ll be the first to tell them hello.”
The grogginess of the stasis chamber slowly creeps out of her brain as Kali realizes she’s not a little girl anymore.
In fact, she hasn’t been a little girl for almost 25 years now. She finally remembers where she is and snaps her eyes wide open in panic, forcing herself not to sit straight up and hit her head on the bulkhead directly above her. The chamber cover has already slid open and she rolls out onto the cool rubber floor with a heavy thud.
“Stupid artificial gravity! Computer! State the nature of the emergency! And, computer, reset the A/G to Earth Standard!”
“UNKNOWN OBJECT IN FLIGHT PATH! MANUAL COURSE CORRECTION REQUIRED!”
“Are you freaking kidding me?! Computer, why didn’t the navigation system make the adjustment?”
She pulls open a drawer next to the chamber and pulls a jumpsuit on. No need to give mission command a peepshow…..if there’s anyone still watching.
“OBJECT IS TOO LARGE FOR NAVIGATION TO MANEUVER AROUND!”
She stumbles across the room in the semi-dark, feeling for the doorway to the hall.
“That’s impossible! We would have seen something that big! Computer, bring the ship to a full stop. Computer, turn on some lights in here.”
“BRINGING SHIP TO A STOP.”
“Computer, what are the object’s dimensions?”
“OBJECT IS APPROXIMATELY 17.5 KILOMETERS LONG, 4.375 KILOMETERS LONG AND 5 KILOMETERS TALL”
She pauses her walk down the hall to reflect briefly on the idea that something that big was not seen before she left. She continues down the hall, sliding her right hand against the wall to steady herself. After a few seconds of walking, she arrives at the control deck/cockpit and slides into the seat. She punches a few buttons and gets the ship’s user controlled systems online and starts checking the readouts to find out what could possibly be going on.
“Okay, this may be a naturally made object, but I’m not going to take any chances. Let’s see if we can establish communication with command. Computer, scan for radio and heat coming from the object”
“THERE ARE NO RADIO SIGNALS OR HEAT SIGNATURES COMING FROM THE OBJECT”
She types in a few commands on a screen to her left.
“Computer, can you tell what our distance is from the object?”
“OBEJCT IS APPROXIMATELY .35 AU FROM OUR LOCATION”
She stops and stares wide-eyed at the large center screen as a full color image of the object appears. The computer’s description of “object” is fairly accurate: it has no specific shape to speak of, but seems to be a square-ish cylinder. It shows a wide variety of colors across its surface, although it is mostly black, some places seem to be artificially lit and its monstrous size could not be fully conveyed with words!
“Computer, how long has this been here?”
“UNABLE TO DETERMINE”
“Let’s get that radio going, shall we?”
She types more on the screen to her left and adjusts a few settings.
“Mission command. This is the deep space vessel Argo. Please respond. Over.”
She makes another fine-tuning adjustment and leans back and waits. She hopes that the ship hasn’t been damaged while she was asleep. She thinks back to when she first laid eyes on the Argo. It was not the prettiest design: block-shapes dominated the outline and it was painted flat gunmetal.Which was partly because of the military’s involvement in the project. She thought it was pretty big at first, but half-way through training she realized how cramped it was going to be-even for just one person. Most of the sensors weare buried behind armor, but the communication arrays still needed to be exposed in order for them to work. And she was a little surprised to find out they weren’t installing any kind of weapons. Before being accepted to the program, she always imagined scientists as being Trekkie-types who wanted to build giant battle ships. But, she was surprised to learn that very few of the personnel working on the project had a desire to fight it out with the first alien fleet that we come in contact with.
“Mission command. This is the deep space vessel Argo. Please respond. Over.”
A few minutes go by.
“Mission command. This is the deep space vessel Argo. Please respond. Over.”
A few more minutes creep by.
“Computer, verify that the communications system is working.”
“VERIFYING…..COMMUNICATION SYSTEM FUNCTIONING PROPERLY”
“Well, why haven’t they replied yet?”
The speakers crackle a little and a familiar voice comes booming through, causing the automatic volume control to squeal a little while adjusting for the Colonel’s voice.
“This is mission command. We read you loud and clear with a seven minute delay one way. What is your status? Over.”
“Mission command, it’s good to hear a human voice. Please be advised, the computer woke me up early because an unusually large object has appeared in my flight path and required manual course adjustments. I am still out of scanner range, but onscreen, it does not appear to be naturally occurring. Requesting to know, where it came from and when and why we didn’t see it before I launched. Over.”
Seven minutes one way! She forgot just how far away she must be by now. She feels very alone all of a sudden. And hungry. She reaches for the earpiece and syncs it up with the ship’s communication computer. After getting up out of the pilot’s seat, she walks back down the hall to the room across from the stasis room to get something to eat.
“This conversation is gonna take a while, so I may as well do something constructive. Let’s see, nothing I asked for and only MRE’s. Great. Well, let’s see what the sloppy joe tastes like.”
She picks out the sloppy joe meal from a drawer full of random MRE’s and tears it open. Reading the directions, she decides to wait to use the MRE’s until she is outside the ship and shoves the open meal pack back into the drawer with the rest. She is reaching for the drawer beside it when the radio crackles again.
“Argo. This is mission command. Satellite imagery from the last five months confirms that the object was not there when you launched. We didn’t even see it there until a short time ago. Its original location has not been determined at this time and it does seem to have come to a complete stop. We do not recommend attempting to make contact if you suspect it to be artificially constructed. Altering course to navigate around it will add approximately five days to your journey. We recommend doing so immediately and resuming your mission. Over.”
Pulling the drawer open, she finds the power bars she was hoping for and grabs three. If the astronomers were right about her destination, rationing isn’t going to be necessary. She opens a cabinet door and pulls out a slightly cool bottle of water and turns to head out of the room.
As she makes her way back to the cockpit, she thinks about what everyone at command would be doing right now since she was awake. The team left to track her wasn’t very big, so she’s sure there were only a couple people watching when she woke up.
“Roger that mission command. How is everyone back home? Did I catch you off guard checking in this early? And who’s bright idea was it to turn up the gravity after putting me in stasis? I could have been hurt!Over.”
She knew that Colonel Reynolds was there, since he’s the one that answered. And it wasn’t much of a surprise, she knew he was quite fond of her. But, since she was about the same age as his own daughter, she hoped it was a fatherly feeling and made sure to keep a professional relationship with him. The rest of the command and training teams didn’t even start to be of any interest to her romantically and she made sure that anyone who tried to ask her out knew it immediately.
She took a rather large bite of the first power bar. If Reynolds is there, he probably has Tucker with him. The thought of them in the control room by themselves made her smile. Not because they didn’t work well together, they just had completely different ways of thinking. Reynolds with his very polished military mannerisms and Tucker being the high-functioning genius that came with being the best computer programmer&hacker in the world. They didn’t always agree about the design and function of the ship’s systems and it caused more than a few loud arguments.
She slid back down into the pilot’s seat and opened the second power bar. Looking at it, she wondered if she should take it slow since she had been in stasis for so long. She set it and the unopened bar on an empty place on the console and was taking a drink from the water bottle when the radio crackled again.
“Argo, we were kind of expecting you to be honest. We realized the object had stopped in your projected flight path a couple days ago and were discussing whether to wake you up from here or trust the computer to do its job. Mr. Tucker had talked me in to waiting till 08:00 for it to do its thing and then he was waking you up himself. So, everyone is already here ready to help with whatever we can. And based on the tell-tale chuckling coming from Mr. Tucker, he seems to know something about the gravity situation. Over.”
She had to chuckle too in spite of herself. At least the prank was done by someone who knew what they were doing. Tucker always considered his programming to be perfectly flawless. Unfortunately for his ego, it usually was. She took another drink of water and began programming a route to take the ship around the obstacle.
“Roger that command. Plotting a course around. Stand by. Over.”
She grabbed the open power bar while she waited for the thrusters to redirect the ship and begin the maneuver.
“Mission command, the course has been laid and thrusters are firing like they should,” she said with her mouth half full. She swallowed and continued, “I will keep my current distance from the object until I’ve moved around it. I will radio again when I’m ready to resume my original course. Over and out.”
“Roger that, Argo.Over and out.”
She sighed and tapped a button on the left screen. She leaned in toward center screen and eyed the object closely.
“Computer, how close would we need to get to scan part of the object?”
“WE WOULD NEED TO BE WITHIN 300 KILOMETERS.”
“There is no way I’m getting that close to this thing.”
She finished off the third power bar and watched the navigation screen to make sure the Argo moved around it like she programmed it to. Then, she pulled up the report on her destination. It’s not the closest planet to Earth, but astronomers thought it would be the most likely to have an atmosphere similar to our own. So an unmanned craft was directed that way and the pictures and readings it sent back were unbelievable! Roughly twice the size of Earth, it showed all the signs of being a literal paradise! Breathable atmosphere, water, plant life covering every inch of dry ground and heat signatures that indicated wildlife of some sort. The powers-that-be decided a preliminary mission to begin a settlement and to determine if we could begin colonizing was a must before we started shipping people to this new world.
Kali understood from the very beginning that even if everything was a complete success, she would probably never see her home again. But with both parents already gone and no other family to speak of, there wasn’t really much to keep her from applying for the mission. Even though she wasn’t the first choice, the first several people who were interviewed lacked most of the much-needed skills and the mission selection committee decided to give Kali a chance. At first, they weren’t sure what to think about her: military background, majored in astrophysics, minored in astrobiology, hobbies and special interests included: deep space astronomy, various martial arts & several extreme sports.
In fact, she seemed to have been born and raised for this particular mission. The only reason she wasn’t the first choice to begin with was her age. They didn’t think she had enough experience to make it a successful mission. But, through all the training and evaluations, she proved them wrong. She was the best choice for the mission and by the time the Argo was ready to be launched, the committee knew it.
About the time her training started, a colony pod was shot at the planet. No navigation, no real propulsion, just a lot of armor and packed full of supplies to build shelter and get set up for receiving potential colonists. Hopefully it made it to its target.
“What now?! Computer, state the nature of the emergency.”
“OBJECT HAS CHANGED POSITION AND IS BLOCKING OUR COURSE!”
“What?!?Computer, full stop.”
She taps the radio button and takes a deep breathe so she can steady her voice.
“Mission command, this is deep space vessel Argo. Be advised, object has moved and is blocking my path once again! I recommend moving closer to scan or to attempt radio contact. Please advise. Over.”
She sits back and sighs. This was not really something that any of her training or education had prepared her for. The possibility of intelligent life had been discussed, but no sign of anything resembling a civilization had ever been detected. No energy signatures, no heat, no ruins, no sign of fossil fuel use, no radiation, nothing. Definitely nothing that would indicate technology more advanced than our own. And now, this enormous “thing” is blocking her path and, at the very least, seems to be controlled in such a way as to attempt to stop her progress.
The radio crackles and the Colonel’s voice comes through once again. “Argo, this is mission command. Please hold your position. We are attempting to retrace its previous route and determine its origin. Over.”
“Roger that command. Over.” She taps the earpiece. “Computer, how long would it take for us to be within scanner range?”
“FROM THIS POSITION, WE CAN REACH MINIMAL SCANNER RANGE IN APPROXIMATELY FOUR HOURS.”
She sighed again and took a swig from her water bottle. She almost wished that she had let Reynolds talk her into taking up drinking. She taps the earpiece again and gets up from her chair. She moves back to the stasis room and opens a small closet. If they decide to let her move closer and anything bad happens as a result, she won’t have a lot of time to get into the spacesuit. Oh, that’s not what she’s supposed to call it, but none of the tech teams are here to correct her so, it’s a spacesuit.
Not very comfortable to wear but it’ll help to have it on if something goes wrong. She arrives back in the cockpit and sits back down. She leans over and puts the helmet on a special hook her and Reynolds both insisted should be installed. None of the engineers were happy about having to allow anyone to suggest alterations to the Argo. Like Tucker with his computers, they thought the design and layout was perfect. Unlike Tucker, they were wrong about a few things.
“Command, do you have a timeframe for how long this could take? Over.”
She begins to wonder about the life support on the Argo. In an effort to streamline everything about the mission and the ship, a few things were left out or calculated as closely as possible. She was provided with enough food, air and water to allow for about ten days before she would have no choice but to land or die.
“Argo, we’re not sure yet. We are keeping an eye on the clock and realize your onboard supplies are limited. Over.”
Well, at least they remembered what they didn’t pack. Still though, it would be nice to be doing something on this end while she waits for them.
“Roger that, mission. In the meantime, I would like to request permission to attempt to make radio contact. Over.”
Maybe, if she asks them nicely, they’ll move and let her pass. If they are intelligent and trying to keep her away from the planet, maybe they will at least let her resupply before she tries to go back to earth.
Contact. How exactly that was going to work out was not something anyone had thought about. Oh, she learned a few ancient languages like Greek and Latin, but no one would be able to predict what she would need to know if she made first contact. Hopefully, sign language really is universal.
“ATTENTION! RADIO SIGNAL DETECTED!”
“Well, that was easy. Maybe they’re psychic and read my mind. Computer, play it through the speakers.”
At first, she doesn’t think anything is coming through and is about to repeat the command to the computer. Then, realizes it must be above her hearing frequency. Tapping a few buttons on the screen to her right, she begins recording whatever it is she can’t hear. The screen shows plenty of wavy lines and, like she guessed, it’s outside her range of hearing. After a couple of minutes of recording, she realizes it is repeating itself. She stops and saves what she has and gets it ready to relay back to command to be analyzed.
“Mission command, the object has begun broadcasting a radio signal. I recorded a few minutes of it and I am sending it to you for analysis. Over.”
Hopefully, whoever or whatever is broadcast the signal is patient enough to wait a little bit. She puts the camera image back on the center screen and is still amazed at how big it looks. Did it get closer?
“Computer, has the object changed size or moved closer?”
She sighs. “This thing is really getting annoying. Computer, has the object moved closer?”
“Computer, has the object become larger in size?”
“Okay, so maybe they aren’t going to be patient with me. Mission command, I have a problem. The object is moving closer to my position. Anytime you want to pitch in with some advice would be fine. Over.”
“Roger that Argo. Receiving data and beginning analysis of recording. Over.”
“Stupid time delay is gonna get me killed!”
She turns to the screen on her right and frantically taps away on the screen. Once she has the settings where she wants them she taps the record button and speaks into the microphone, “I come in peace. Erchomaistineirini.Revertar in pacem.Wo weihepingerlai.” She quickly runs the software and hopes that it comes through sounding similar to what they broadcast so they can understand it. She gets the file uploaded to the communication system.
“Computer, begin broadcasting sound file toward the object.”
“C’mon, c’mon. Figure it out. Don’t run over me. Computer, has object stopped?”
“Computer, what’s our current range?”
“WE ARE .28 AU FROM THE OBJECT!”
“Argo this is mission command. Do not attempt to communicate at this time. Advise performing evasive maneuvers with the purpose of getting to the other side of it and resuming your voyage. Over.”
“Oops. Too late for that. Mission command be advised, evasive maneuvers will not be possible. In case you missed what I said, it’s extremely bigger than me. And it’s moving way too fast for me to out-fly. Also, be advised that I have already broadcast a general greeting in four different languages at the same frequency the object was broadcasting. Over.”
She groans and rubs her hands over her face. This was not at all how she had expected the mission to go. Oh, sure, she thought making first contact with a peaceful underdeveloped race would have been completely acceptable. Or, better yet, a highly advanced race that understood the humans’ problem and wanted to help a little. But this was a more than she bargained for!
“Computer, what’s our current distance from the object?”
“WE ARE .213 AU FROM THE OBJECT!”
“Computer, does the object show any sign of slowing down?”
“Argo, this is mission command. The signal the object broadcast was just white noise. Do your best to avoid a collision. But at this point, there’s nothing more we can do to help you. Any decision towards your survival is going to have to be made by you. This is what you trained for and we have faith in your abilities. Mr. Tucker and I think you should engage the drive and do your best to outmaneuver it. Good luck. Over.”
“Roger that command. Preparing to engage drive system.Switching to manual control. Be advised, object is traveling at a speed of approximately 120,270,084 kilometers an hour! I hope the Argo is ready for some action! I’ll radio again if I survive this. Over and out.”
She pulls the safety harness on and buckles it in nice and tight. As soon as that’s done, she begins tapping buttons on the left and right screens. The armrests on the chair open automatically to reveal F-16 style flight controls. The center screen changes to wartime-mode with a false horizon using an imaginary plane between earth and the target planet.
“Okay, Argo. Let’s see if you’re put together as well as they said you were. Computer, prepare to engage drive on my mark. Computer, when drive is engaged, give me control of all thrusters for maneuvering purposes.”
“AFFIRMATIVE!DRIVE IS ONLINE AND THRUSTERS ARE READY FOR YOUR MARK!”
“Roger that Argo. Over and out.”
She pauses for a few seconds to whisper a quick prayer. She wouldn’t ever consider herself to be a religious person or anything close to one. But at a time like this, she really hopes that there is a God out here listening to her. And hopefully He’s not friends with whatever is in control of the object.
“Computer, three, two, one. Mark!”
There is a barely discernible pause as time seems to stand still and then everything happens at the same time. The instant she has movement and control, she begins veering to move under the object. As she picks up more speed, she wonders how well it will be able to maneuver.
“Computer, what is the object’s current sped?”
“THE OBJECT HAS SLOWED AND IS MATCHING OURS!”
“I guess that could be a good thing. As long as I can execute a more delicate dance, we should be able to get ahead and stay ahead.”
She continues to monitor the object’s relative proximity and makes small adjustments in her route as she move around the hulking mass. If the readings on the heads-up-display are right, she’s almost reached the maximum speed the drive is capable of.
“RADIO SIGNAL HAS BEEN DETECTED FROM THE OBJECT!”
Well, that’s a little different, she thinks. “Computer, play it through the speakers.”
She taps the screen to her right to get ready to record again. But, when she hears what’s being broadcast, she stops short in fear.
“YOUR LIFE IS MINE! YOUR LIFE IS MINE!”
“Computer, turn it off. If they don’t have anything nice to say, I’d rather not hear it! Computer, what is the status on the object’s movement?”
“OBJECT HAS SLOWED AND IS STILL MOVING THE SAME DIRECTION!”
“Well that’s a good sign, I think. I wonder if they have to come to a complete stop before turning.” She continues her attempt to fly under the object.
“Computer, designate object as ‘enemy vessel one’. Not much point in calling it an object when it has clearly stated hostile intentions.”
At this speed, she estimates she’ll be halfway to the other side of it before it can turn to face her. If that’s what it’s trying to do. It becomes increasingly more difficult to anticipate anything when the only communication from the enemy vessel was to threaten her life.
But, the next few hours were remarkably boring. She made few alterations to her course and the enemy vessel came to a stop and sat there. Whether they were watching to see what she was doing or they just needed her closer and didn’t want to waste their own fuel, was more than she could tell. But, so far they had done nothing more to stop her from passing.
Finally, she makes it to the other side of the enemy vessel and checks her instruments to see what it is doing.
“Computer, is enemy vessel one moving?”
She taps the screen to her left and opens a channel to mission command. “Command this is Argo. I have successfully made it to the other side of the enemy vessel and have resumed my mission. I’m sending a databurst of all the information I gathered for analysis. Please be advised, it seems to be hostile, as it informed me in English, “Your life is mine.” I should reach the new planet approximately 6 hours behind schedule. Over.”
She taps a few commands on the screens to her right and left to send the message and relinquish flight control back to the navigation computer. Then, she turns her attention back to the enemy vessel.
“Computer, has the enemy vessel made any attempts to move in any direction?”
“I’m not sure what bothers me the most right now: that this enormous vessel appeared to block my path after we launched or that it didn’t chase me down or follow me. And I hate that I probably won’t find out what this thing was doing.”
The enemy vessel is still just sitting there behind her not moving when the radio crackles to life.
“Roger that Argo. Data received. We were all about to pass out from holding our breath wondering what was happening out there. It’s unfortunate that whatever is in control of the enemy vessel seems to be hostile. We will advise the committee to reconsider equipping weapons on the next ships. In the meantime, we’re very happy that it hasn’t pursued you. Keep an eye on it and we’ll keep trying to backtrack to where it came from. Over and out.”
“Roger mission command. Over and out.”
She unbuckles the harness and gets up out the seat. Lifting the helmet off its hook she heads back to put away it and the spacesuit. When she gets back to the cockpit, a quick glance at the screens tells her the enemy vessel is still just sitting there and thankfully getting farther away.
So, now she starts trying to decide how to spend the rest of her trip. Because she had made first contact and it is definitely hostile, she can’t crawl back into the stasis chamber. She starts tapping through files, alternating between the left and right screens. She reviews her mission objectives first. Then, she modifies flight parameters to orbit the planet a couple extra times to scan for signs of civilization and to drop a small probe to double-check the atmosphere and make sure what the temperature ranges are.
Then, she begins reading through the data the first probe sent back to try to find the best place to drop her new one. She finally settles on a locationbetween the two rivers close to where she’ll be trying to land the Argo. She glances at the screen to check the enemy vessel, and sees it still behind her and almost out of range.
After dozing off a couple times, she realizes that she’s been out of the stasis chamber for over 18 hours. It seems strange that she would get tired so soon after sleeping for so long. She gets up out of the seat and moves back to the room with the stasis chamber. Pulling open a drawer to one side, she gets a light blanket and sits on the edge of the chamber. It isn’t really meant to be used as a bed, but she wasn’t supposed to wake up until she was orbiting the planet, so it’ll have to do for now.
Laying down fully clothed and pulling a blanket she found in the drawer over her, it doesn’t take very long to fall asleep. Thanks to the uncomfortableness of the chamber and her military training, she is awake again in less than six hours. As she sits up, her first thoughts are of the enemy vessel.
“Computer, has the enemy vessel made any attempts to follow us?”
She sighs in relief. Even with as fast as that thing moves, if it was going to come after her, it would have by now. She puts the blanket away and walks to the front of the ship. She slips into the pilot’s seat once again and taps the radio buttons to her left.
“Mission command this is Argo, radioing in my daily update: The enemy vessel has made no attempts to follow me. I slept for about six hours. And, I am still on course. Over and out.”
Getting up, she heads to the back to get some more power bars.
“This is going to get boring very quickly. Hopefully, Tucker left some kind of game or something hiding in the program files so I can entertain myself. If there’s anything Tucker likes as much as hacking into things he’s not supposed to, it’s playing games.”
“Roger that Argo. Over and out.”
She spends the next forty minutes scouring program files until her faith in Tucker finally rewards her with what she what looking for. It wasn’t much, but it would help her pass the time a little quicker.
The days passed without incident. She radioed daily reports and played Tucker’s game. By the time she could see the planet on her screen, she beat the game several times and could recite the mission reports from memory. She flips on the radio as the navigation systems begins moving into a high orbit.
“Mission command this is Argo. I have reached the planet and I am moving into orbit now I still have not seen any attempt by the enemy vessel to pursue me. I’m sending a probe down near my landing site and plan to orbit a few times in incrementally lower orbits to take readings before I attempt to land. Over.”
She slides a keyboard out from under the lip of the center console and pulls up a new control screen. The ship finishes its first complete orbit while continuing to slow down. As soon as it has made its second orbit, she types in a command and brings up a real time satellite image of the area she will attempt to land in. Selecting the location she picked from the mission report, she types in more commands to program the launch sequence for the probe.
“Roger that Argo. We’re all sitting on pins and needles waiting for your touchdown. Please keep us advised. Over.”
She smiles to herself at the sound of Tucker’s voice. The smile quickly fades as she realizes she misses everyone more than she expected. Of course, Tucker and the Colonel she misses the most. She pauses and sighs before tapping the screens to her sides.
“Computer, have any life forms been detected within a five kilometer area around my landing site?”
“Good. I’d hate to squash anything before I have a chance to photograph it. Computer, locate the supply pod.”
“SUPPLY POD BEACON LOCATED!”
A small screen slides up out of the console above her left screen. A high-resolution image of the planet’s surface appears on the screen with a topographical overlay. Then, it zooms in on an area roughly eighteen kilometers to the south of her landing site and a red dot begins to blink, indicating where the supply pod landed.
“This just might work after all. I was starting to wonder there for a while if I would even get to see the planet.”
The ship has slowed to reentry speed and has made more than a few orbits around the planet by the time the probe she sent finally sends back enough readings. The temperature is 22 degrees Celsius, the atmosphere is .034 per cent richer in oxygen than Earth’s, no pollutants detected, no life forms in the immediate vicinity, humidity at 55 per cent and the nights don’t seem to get much cooler than the days. One day and night last right around 31 hours and the readings indicate a year on the planet will last 397 Earth-days.
‘Well, it’d be crazy for me to come all this way just to sit up here and look at computer screens with pictures of the planet. Computer, prepare ship for reentry and landing protocol.”
“Mission command, this is the Argo. I have finished detailed scans and sensor readings and I have determined the Planet is good to go. Preparing for reentry and landing. I will keep the channel open so you can monitor what’s happening easier. Over.”
She taps on the center screen to select her landing coordinates and uploads them to the navigation computer. Most of the Argo’s systems are fully automated, but landing is going to have to be done manually. It’s just easier for a real person to take care of the hard parts. The program finishes with its calculations and the center screen switches to a heads-up display specifically designed for landing. She taps buttons on the screens to each side of her so the manual controls are revealed and climbs out of the seat. She almost forgot to put the space suit back on! She hurries to the back to do so and then almost jumps back into the pilot’s seat. She straps the safety harness on just in time for the radio to crackle.
“Roger that Argo. Good luck. Over.”
She double checks all the screens and makes sure her helmet is secure.
“Computer, begin reentry.”
The HUD indicates a change in pitch as the Argo begins a more obvious descent toward the planet’s surface. The ship shakes and rattles a bit as it passes through the layers of atmosphere and then smooths out after several seconds. A flashing indicator on the HUD lets Kali know that it’s almost time for her to take control for the landing.
“Mission command. I have passed through the upper layers of atmosphere and am preparing to take control for manual landing on the planet’s surface. Over.”
The ship continues to slow down until it reaches the velocity she programed it to get to before she took control of the ship. A bright green indicator lets her know that control has been switch over to her and she chuckles a little at the screen. It was quite obvious from the feedback in the controls that she was in control of the ship!
She follows the predetermined course as closely as she can and feathers the throttle to slow down even more. She grits her teeth as she descends through 1000 meters. The computer begins to read off the altitude at 750 meters.
She slows down a little more.
She glances to each side to check her clearance and switches to vertical landing mode and slows down a little more.
She has a good descent speed and very little horizontal motion.
The ship starts to shake again as it strains against the planets gravity. Kali adjusts the throttle a little more.
Almost there! The screen to her left flashes a proximity warning and switches to an outside view showing what appears to be a large tree stump of some sort. She checks her clearance on the other side and shifts the ship that direction.
She’s going down a little faster than she wants and feathers the throttle up just a hair.
She throttles back a little to let the ship drop some more and checks clearance on each side again.
“20 METERS! 15 METERS! 10 METERS! 5 METERS!”
The Argo settles gently on the alien planet’s surface. The first Earth vessel to ever land under human control on another world! She energetically begins tapping screens and shutting down systems.
“Computer, shut down the engines!”
“SHUTTING DOWN ENGINES!”
“Mission command. This is the deep space vessel Argo. I have touchdown! Greetings from the first human colony on another planet! Over.”
She unbuckles while systems are still powering down and heads back to the stasis room. She scrambles out of the space suit and puts on combat fatigues instead of the flight suit she was wearing. When she’s dressed she presses her thumb to a small square next to a large cabinet on an interior wall of the room. It beeps and the door lock clicks so she can open it to reveal the small arsenal that the Colonel insisted they send with her. She arms herself with a pistol and straps on a helmet with a camera mounted on it, along with a basic recon pack.Sounds of several people cheering and celebrating come over her earpiece.
“Roger that Argo. Congratulations on a job well done. You know what to do next. Proceed with caution. Over.”
She half jogs back to the cockpit and retrieves the small screen with the map displayed that turns out to be a tablet.
“Computer, transfer life sign detections to handheld tablet.Mission control, preparing to begin exploring as I make my way to the colony pod.Over.”
Back in the supply room, she slides open a small keypad and types in a code. A green light comes on and there is a beep followed by the sound of a pressurized seal being broken. The door suddenly slides out and hinges down to form a ramp to walk out of the ship on. She peeks out cautiously and checks the blips on her tablet. Nothing appears to be in her general area and none of the life signs shown seem to care too much about moving toward her. She sniffs the air and then breathes deeply. It’s been so long since Earth’s air was this clean , that most old-timers can’t remember what it smells like.
She finally takes three very firm steps off the ramp and away from the ship. Still no life signs on her screen close enough to worry about.So, she turns and decides which way the colony pod is and begins to pick her way through the forest in that general direction.
She hadn’t made it more than 40 yards, when a warm glow began to slowly fill the air around her. Hoping she hadn’t disturbed something’s nest or den, she stops and freezes. After several seconds, the glow begins to focus on existing in one specific place in front of her and becomes more solid. After several more seconds, the glowing spot begins to take a slightly humanoid shape. Then, it speaks to her in English!
“Kali, do you know where this place is?”
Completely taken by surprise, she stutters for a while before she can finally shake off the shock and answer.
“Um, who are you and how do you know my name?”
“Kali, we have known you since before you were. This place is not for you.”
“How can you have known me that long when I just arrived? And is there a way we can negotiate for some of the land. My people are great in number and need room to spread out. If you are willing to share a small part of this planet.
“Kali, only the chosen may enter here. You have been allowed because you sought us long ago. But, you cannot stay.”
“I’m sorry if I have offended you somehow by landing. We saw no signs of life when we sent the first satellite to check the conditions here. Wait, how did I seek you? Why do you act like you know me?”
“We have known you since before you were. This is our garden. We brought the first children here to live, but the disobeyed and we had to send them out. We understand why you came here. But, now you must leave.”
“Wait. I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. Known me? First children? Who are you? What are you?”
“You have known us since your childhood. But you do not seek us anymore. If you wish to dwell here, you must seek after us and follow our ways. Go now. We will make everything ready for you.”
The glowing being disappears without a trace and when Kali turns around, she is only three steps from the edge of the ramp. She hurries back into the ship and punches in the code that closes the door. She leans back against the wall and slides down onto the floor.
“Mission command this is Argo. Planet is not good for colonizing. I repeat planet is not good for colonizing. A local life form appeared and spoke to me and said I cannot stay and that no one else can try to land. I have replenished my supply of breathable air and I’m preparing to evacuate the planet. I should be ready to return to stasis within a few hours. Over.”
She begins putting away her gear in a daze. Did she land in the original garden of Eden and meet and angel or something? As ridiculous as it seemed to just think about, the more sure she was that that’s what actually happened. Or did it? Maybe there’s some kind of hallucinogenic in the atmosphere that none of the sensors detected. That made a lot more sense.
“Argo. Did you say you made contact with a local life form and now you have to leave? That’s not why we sent you out there. Your request to return to Earth will be denied by the committee. Go back out there and try harder. You don’t have a choice. You were give an order.Over.”
But, she was already strapped back into the pilot’s seat, running through the preflight checklist. Maybe when they see the video footage, they’ll understand why she couldn’t stay. The ships systems and engines that had just been shut down a few minutes ago were starting to come back to life.
“Computer, initialize launch protocol.”
Hopefully command doesn’t have any fail-safes in place to keep her from being able to leave. That would be just like the committee. No thought to a person’s safety or well-being. Just complete the mission at all costs.
“Argo. That was a direct order! Do not attempt to return. I repeat, do not attempt to return. Please copy. Over.”
She forgot that she had left the channel open and they could hear everything she was saying!
“Negative, command. I have no choice but to return. The entity that spoke to me and about me, I think it was either an angel or God. We’re just going to have to look for a different planet to colonize. I think this is where the garden of Eden is at. I know, I probably sound like a lunatic. But, the way it spoke to me…there’s no way it was lying. It knew me! Over. Computer, begin launch sequence.”
“BEGINNING LAUNCH SEQUENCE!”
The ship shook as it strained against the planet’s gravity and slowly rose up into the air. Then, after tapping a few times on the right screen, the ship began moving forward, picking up speed quickly as it went. She would launch the reverse of how she landed: gradually higher orbits until she cleared the atmosphere.
“Argo this is mission command. We regret to inform you that the committee has already ordered that, in the event you fail or refuse to perform your duties, we have no other choice but to terminate the mission immediately. I will be replaced and Mr. Tucker will be forced to upload a command to overload the drive and destroy the ship. Do you understand these consequences? Over.”
She could hardly believe what she was hearing! They would destroy her with the Argo just because she couldn’t stay on the planet. Maybe she misjudged herself. Maybe she became more attached to everyone than she thought and imagined the entity to use as an excuse to go home.Maybe she was just hallucinating.
“Roger that mission command. Making one pass around the planet and returning to landing sight. Over.”
A strange feeling comes over her as she begins to slow the ship in preparation for landing again.
“Kali.We said you cannot stay here. This place is not for you. You have to trust that we will protect you from harm in whatever way we can.”
Hearing the voice of the glowing entity over her earpiece startles her.
“How did you do that? Never mind. What am I supposed to do? You won’t let me stay and my superiors won’t let me leave.”
“Kali. You know who we are. Just trust us.”
Just when she reaches the point where she has to land or abort, she aborts and resumes accelerating to reach escape velocity. She says a quick prayer for protection in the hope that it really was God that appeared on the planet in front of her. She is approaches the outer layers of the atmosphere and the radio comes to life again.
“Argo this is mission command. Let us know when you have touched down on the planet and resumed your mission. Over.”
She blinks hard and sighs with indecision. She knows she’ll have to tell them at some point what she’s doing. Instead of landing or leaving, she programs the navigation to continue orbiting the planet so she can have a few minutes to think about the problem she has. In about fifteen minutes, command will get back the signals that show she’s not on the planet. She wonders why the committee has this standing order already in place.
“Mission command this is Argo. I have a problem. You won’t let me leave to come back to Earth and the entity that lives on this planet refuses to negotiate. I believe it to be the one controlling the enemy vessel. I need a third option. I remember a few of the scientists mentioning another planet that we could have gone to instead. What is the status on that planet’s viability? Over.”
She started reading up on the ships specifications to determine how much of the supplies from the colony pod she might be able to leave the planet’s surface with. If the planet was close enough, maybe there could be a compromise. It seemed like hours before command answered back.
“Argo, am I understanding that you are suggesting we throw together a back-up plan in order to spare the mission, your life and an alien’s life? Without the months of preparation like we put into this one? Without time to get the approval of the committee?Without time to gather the resources?Without time to ensure your safety?”
There’s a couple seconds of silence before the Colonel finishes.
“We’re on it. Stand by for databurst containing all the necessary information to navigate to the new alternate site. And, good thinking Argo. Over.”
She sighs and starts tapping the screens so she can land again. Hopefully the angel or whoever lives here understands the need for the supplies in the colony pod. Suddenly, the entity’s voice comes over the earpiece again.
“Yes, Kali. We realize you will need some of the items in the pod. We have already moved it closer to where you will land so you may load it quickly. And you’re welcome.”
A refreshing peace and calm washes over her and she finishes taking control to land the ship. The databurst from Earth arrives while she is landing and as soon as she lands she radios back.
“Mission command, the entity is allowing me to retrieve some of the supplies from the colony pod. I will update you on my status as soon as I finish loading the Argo. If you have suggestions based on what we know about the alternate site as to what I should take, please let me know. Over.”
She disembarks the ship once again, but this time without all the extra gear. The entity wasn’t kidding when it said closer. She only had to walk a dozen or so steps to get to it! After surveying what the pod was packed with, she started with the tents and then moved to the cookware. Receiving advice from command, she then focused on taking as much food as she could fit. Apparently, the alternate planet didn’t show very many heat signatures.
It took about three hours before she was back in the cockpit with everything as secure as she could get it.She started powering up the Argo and preparing for take-off. Thankfully, the engineers didn’t get skimpy with the main thrusters and the Argo had very little problems escaping the planet’s gravity.
“Mission command I have left the planet’s outer atmosphere and am programming a course to the alternate colony site. As soon as the navigation takes over and the drive is running smoothly, I will radio once more and then reengage the stasis chamber for the duration of the trip. Please continue to send updates with information on the alternate planet. Over.”
She gets up and heads to the stasis room and starts getting it ready. Working around the piles of supplies is difficult and she knocks containers over several times. She finally has it ready about the same time command answers back.
“Roger that Argo. Satellites have been repositioned and a nearby deep space probe has been redirected. By the time you wake up, we should have as much information about the alternate planet as we did for the primary. Over.”
She slides down into the pilot’s seat. Thinking back to everything that had happened since she woke up, she realizes that it could have gone better. It also could have gone a lot worse. Hopefully nothing else goes wrong.
Mission command this is Argo. I have the navigation fully programmed and controlling the ship. The new stasis settings are programmed to wake me up two days before I should arrive. The drive is operating at one hundred per cent. Breathable atmosphere is projected to last for an extra six days after I am scheduled to arrive. I am also sending a databurst with all the scans and sensor readings I took from the primary planet so you at least have a souvenir. I’ll be safely tucked into the stasis chamber by the time you get this, so goodnight command. Over and out.”
She climbs out of the seat and heads back toward the stasis room. When she gets there, she sheds the flight suit she’d been wearing and puts it back in the drawer. Sitting down on the edge of the chamber, she begins attaching the many sensors and IVs required to keep her asleep and alive.
“Computer, turn off all the lights except for the safety lighting in this room.”
She lays down on the hard padding and squirms a little trying to get comfortable.
“Computer, activate the stasis chamber.”
As she drifts into unconsciousness, she hears the Colonels voice over the speakers.
“Roger that Argo. Sleep tight, we’ll keep an eye on you. Over and out.”