"We're coming in too fast, Brodeur! I want you to release the main drive from full acceleration! Now, son. Do it!" Admiral Mequlyn, stood behind the young captain's console, gripping his chair. Sweat beaded his forward as he watched his protégée, an advanced officer in his own rights, try to steady the craft. His fingers, with much eloquence and grace, flew over the screens, manually typing in orders into the ship's hardware. Without the standard, extremely useful aid of multiple AI's, the captain was left to direct the ship manually.
Only a crew of seventeen other officers and technicians kept the overwhelming load of directives from disabling the captain. A man could only do so much before it became too much. Without the aid of AI's, it was even harder, impossible really. The captaining of a Cruiser was a task that only the best of the best were handed.
"I can't pull up! Manually it would take too long to turn the thrusters around, the main drive is on a dedicated course." Captain Brodeur typed in a few more orders into the ship's computer, before sitting back in his seat. Sweat drenched his uniform, while his body ached from the fifteen hours of non-stop flying. The fight to handle a ship, propelled by the planet's gravity, had been lost. Without the AI's, which had been violently lost eighteen weeks into the voyage, he could do nothing to stop the ship from crashing into the planet's surface. Cruisers were simply ill-equipped to be handled manually.
"A dedicated course? That's a one way trip, Brodeur." Admiral Mequlyn shook his head, the terrible realization dawning on him. He'd known the chances were slim for recovering the Cruiser, but he'd placed his hope in the crew's ability. Unfortunately his fears were realized, the ship was going to quickly collide with the planet.
"We all make it eventually, Admiral." Brodeur stared up at the officer, before turning his attention to the flickering consoles, screens and glass-portals set before him. Tapping on the mike, his deep voice filled the speakers when he gave his final order. "This is Captain Brodeur, all crew personnel are too report to Docking Bays 7C to 12D. Repeat: all crew personnel are too report to Docking Bays 7C to 12D. You know what to do when you get there," his voice lost its mechanical edge as it began to tremble.
Even Admiral Mequlyn was shaken by the emotional tone of Brodeur. This was no longer an order from a faraway captain to lowly soldiers-no, this was a goodbye from a man who'd given his life for the survival of his crew. Mequlyn hung his head, his face rigid as the words poured out of Broduer's mouth.
"This is a new world… one of Earth's final hopes. I got you here, now fulfill your duty. Those people down there, the civilians… protect them. Watch over them. Don't let my last words be wasted-do what we came here to do. It's a new beginning, make it a good one. May God be with us all." Brodeur turned off the mike, turning around in his chair.
Men and women on the deck nodded their heads, two of them voiced their agreement in soft, subdued voices. Slowly they got out of their seats, walking somberly towards the exiting hall, which would lead them to the Docking Bays. Only three stayed behind, working the few controls available to them, which would give the escaping officers additional time.
Admiral Mequlyn also stayed behind, standing resolutely in the centre of the deck. "Don't begin to tell me what and what not to do, Brodeur. Get yourself off this ship." The two officers stared at each other, neither of them saying a word before Brodeur sighed. "I mean it Brodeur. This new world is no place for an old, frail man to become a leader-it has to be your leadership that guides them."
"You're only a twenty years my senior, and an excellent leader and tactician." Brodeur retorted, but his voice was laced in defeat. Dropping his gaze to the floor, he slowly rose from his chair. "You're not going to relent though are you?"
Admiral Mequlyn shook his head, a grim smile cutting into his face. "We can argue for hours about who gets to sacrifice their lives, be a hero. But we both know time isn't of the essence. I'm staying here, you're going. I know how to fly a Cruiser, I've been captaining ships before you-"
He was cut short as a screaming alarm rang through the deck, while all of the interior lights snapped off. Darkness flooded the deck as the officers were thrown to the ground by a sudden impact to the ship's starboard side.
Mequlyn didn't have time to react as he was thrust once more to the ground, pain wracking his body. He could taste salty blood gushing into his mouth. "Captain!" They were his last words before an explosion engulfed the deck, incinerating the admiral and the rest of the officers in milliseconds.
Time elapsed since landing: 480 hours
This is Marcus Downes, one of the survivors that made it off the Cruiser before it entered the planets atmosphere… and plummeted to the surface. Those who were on the escape shuttle with me are: Melinda Waters, Mason Williams, Hillary Jordan and our AI unit, Saint. For twenty days we've been trying to survive on the hostile world… but without much luck.
We we're supposed to be colonists. Now we are only trying to survive until rescue comes. We were part of a colonization program, composed of volunteers, that would expand humanity to new, habitable worlds. Our only hope is that those on Earth will send someone to find us, we're running low on supplies.
Right now the three survivors, an AI and I are trying to make it to the crash site, perhaps then we can salvage supplies or find a way to communicate with those on Earth.
Markus stepped outside his tent, peering out into the pitch-black sky above. The vista was unimaginably gorgeous with streaks of light, stars, planets and colorful gasses filling the sky. With the utterly black backdrop, he was stunned into silence as he stared up at the heavens.
"Gorgeous, isn't it?" Melinda came up beside Markus, her soft voice a stark contrast to the complete silence. He startled, but smiled as she gave him a teasing grin. "Scared of the dark?"
"Hardly. But you're right, it's gorgeous. Breathtaking."
"Just a bunch of dots in the sky," Mason joined the two, his thickly British voice laced with sarcasm. "The only thing I want to see right now is a spacecraft to take us off this damnable rock."
Neither Melinda or Markus responded to that-Markus knew that would only encourage the man to further complain. He'd already heard enough whining from Mason for one day. All he wanted to do, after a full day of walking, was to sit down and gaze at the stars. Perhaps even fall asleep under them.
Having Melinda curled up beside him wouldn't be too bad either.
"Okay, okay, fine. I'll just go back to my tent. You two can stargaze like children, while I try to find out where the heck we are. Saint's navigation has been off this entire time! Can you believe that? Trashy, no-good AI's." His grumbling voice continued as he walked off to his own tent, opened the flap and stepped inside.
Melina and Markus both glanced at each other, sharing a knowing smile between them. He slowly eased himself on the soft, wispy grass. His joints complained and he cringed in pain until he was seated on the ground.
"I'm too old for an adventure like this," said Markus with a sigh. "I have to agree with Mason for once, I'm quite ready to go home."
"So am I. It's been quite an experience." She sat down, only a few inches away from him. "And to think we were going to colonize this world, to call this place home. It's only been twenty days, but I miss Earth so much. Friends, family…"
He knew exactly what she meant-colonizing hadn't been what he thought it would be. When he'd heard about the opportunity to volunteer as a colonist, he'd jumped at the chance. For two years he'd waited, waited and waited to see if he'd qualify for a spot on one of the seven Cruisers leaving Earth. The United Nations had to go through thousands of applicants, find those with the best genetic, physical and emotional aptitude for space-travel, and then narrow down the list from there.
What all of the requirements were, he wasn't entirely sure. He just knew that he'd been one of those selected. The day he found out he was going to be on Cruiser Halcyon was one of the greatest of his life. He'd had trouble saying goodbye to friends and family, especially his girlfriend, who promised she'd wait five years until he returned.
"We all do." He put his arm around her shoulder, giving her a comforting squeeze. "But we'll get home soon, trust me. The United Nations can't lose a full Cruiser, they'll be searching for us. I promise."
"Do you?" Melinda stared at him with her cutting, blue gaze. Even in the near total darkness, he could still see her shining eyes. "You can't make that kind of promise, Markus. Besides, I'm not worried about being found, I know they'll come for us. I just don't want my friends and family to think we've perished in the crash. I wouldn't want them to think we're…" her voice broke off and she began to cry.
"It's alright Melinda, it's alright." He pulled her close and she rested her head on his shoulders. Her frail body was shaken slightly by her weeping and his heart broke for her. Poor girl, what if she was right? Undoubtedly the UN would soon find out that one of their Cruisers went missing. Would they presume they had all died in the crash?
He couldn't bear to think of what his family was going through.
Instead he stared back up at the sky, holding Melinda close and prayed that they'd be found. He wasn't sure when it happened, but that night he fell asleep. Still outside, beside Melinda, Markus had slept.
It wasn't until the morning that he realized this. Hillary's loud, commanding voice woke him. "Wake up you two," she said. He shook out of his sleep, realized he still had his arm around Melinda and let her go.
"It's morning already?" He wasn't used to the difference between night and day on the planet. Instead of twelve hours for each day and night like it was on Earth, the days here were about five hours, while the night went on for eight.
"Oh gosh, have a little decency not to go about it outside." Mason remarked with a teasing grin. "And in front of Saint? I expected better of you, Markus."
Saint, the AI that had escaped the Cruiser with them, came up behind Mason. "Yes? Did someone call for me?" The tiny, dome shaped AI flew over Mason's shoulders, waiting expectantly for his reply.
"Ah you bugger!" Mason flinched, swatting at the AI who came close to him. "What did I say about flying near me like that? You're going to give me a heart attack if you keep that up."
"My apologies, I assumed you had called for me." The tiny, fist-sized AI hovered away from Mason, its featureless exterior not showing any expression. Except for its deep, baritone voice, the tiny AI had no way of letting the others know how it felt. Most AI's were designed after natural objects or humans themselves-this one simply took the shape of a metal, dome canister.
"Well I didn't." Mason raised an eyebrow at the AI, taking another step away from it. "Anyways, I was working on the navigations unit last night and I've spotted the Cruiser's beacon. It's only forty miles 'west' of our location." He pointed down the valley, to where the land grew hilly and was fed by a long, winding stream. "Past those hills I believe. We should see it in a few days or so of traveling."
"Forty miles? You said yesterday we were only fifteen away." Hillary scowled. Her short, blonde hair and angular face only accentuated her no-nonsense demeanor.
"Yes, but that's because Saint's navigations were completely off. Tiny bugger would've had us halfway to hell if we'd followed his directions."
"Again, my apologies."
"Shut up." Mason folded his arms over his chest, meeting Hillary's glare with one of his own. "What is it now?"
"Nothing," she replied, her lips drawn into a tight frown. For a few moments she stared at the ground, then glanced up at Markus. "We'd better get going then, I want to be at the crash site in no less then three days. No talking, no noises. The less distractions, the better."
No one bothered to question that order, even Mason kept quiet as they took down their campsite. In twenty minutes they were back to traveling, walking in uncomfortable, tense silence. Hillary led the way, her pace quick and mechanical. On her back she carried more then her share of the supplies, but had refused any help. She was their leader, she'd stated, which to her meant she was to take the majority of the burden.
Behind her, Saint silently hovered above the ground, occasionally making a whirling or beeping noise. Markus wasn't quite sure if those noises were unintentional, or Saint was having a hard time adjusting to the silence. Perhaps it was like someone whistling or humming, only to a machine it was the occasional mechanical noise.
Markus and Melinda traveled side by side, staying quiet throughout the journey. Only sometimes would Melinda lean close to Markus, whispering a worry or doubt in his ear. He'd respond with a nod or shake of his head, only once did he talk back to her. Hillary's stern order of quietness had them all under an oppressive, blanketing silence.
Mason too kept quiet, trudging along at that back of the group.
For hours while the 'sun', which was a bluish, white star, stayed high in the sky, they walked through the valley. On either side of them stood impressive, snow capped mountains. Clouds littered the sky, much like the one's on Earth, except much larger and puffier. These clouds were also tinted pink and red by the gasses in the atmosphere.
Coating the valley's ground were long strands of grass-like plants. They rose three feet in the air, swaying gently in the breeze. Their slender bodies were coated with tiny, pieces of 'hair' that were similar to that of a peach's skin. Saint, before being told to quiet down, had been quite enthralled by the alien grass and spent hours explaining it to Markus.
Eventually a cooler breeze swept over the valley, as the 'sun' began to dip below the mountains. Shadows wreathed the land and light became minimal. "Total darkness in eighty five minutes." Saint announced suddenly, his hovering form coming to a stop. "Also… oh my." He stopped, while Hillary momentary looked at Saint.
"I believe… ah yes, there is a sudden drop in barometric pressure. Hold on."
Markus and the others stopped, while Hillary approached Saint. "Falling?"
"Yes, my measurements are correct-I believe we are at the forefront of a developing storm. A severe one, if I'm right. Wind speeds at… oh my, let me… yes, I'm afraid this sudden impact with the high and low pressure systems in this valley will be… substantial. Very much so." Saint came closer to Hillary, its tiny form giving a little jitter.
"And you just figured this out know? Didn't think to tell us?" Hillary put her hands on her hips, while she noticed thick, dark clouds coming over the sky. The air grew a bit colder and the wind became blustery.
"What do you mean?" Mason stared up at the sky, his eyes widening as he saw a plume of dark, roiling clouds. Markus saw them as well, gaping as the clouds moved at an astonishing rate. "God Almighty…" he stared at Saint, pointing at the clouds. "What is that?"
"A storm. I'm sorry not to have noticed it earlier… weather patterns on this planet are particularly hard to predict."
Spreading across the sky, the horrifyingly dark clouds began to light up with flashes of lightning. Another cool breeze swept down the valley, bristling the hairs on Markus' arms and flattening the 'grass' around him.
For the first time he noticed that there were no trees in the area, or any other high-standing structures. They were, in fact, the tallest objects in the valley. Again, a cool breeze rushed towards them, this time much more powerful.
Mason swore as he was moved back by the strong gust. "Saint! How severe is this storm going to be?" Drops of rain splattered on his arm while the dark, moving clouds grew immensely larger. Tufts of low-hanging clouds began to swirl under the base of several thunderheads; more lightning came, this time striking the ground in loud, cacophonic bursts.
"Very." Saint's usually monotone voice sounded unsure, even a little fearful.
In minutes the storm would be fully upon them. Markus grabbed Melinda's hand, "We have to stay low." His eyes grew wide as he saw a few strands of her hair begin to rise off her head. "Now!" He yanked her to the ground, just as another burst of wind rocketed down the valley.
"Son of a--" Mason let out a scream as the violent gust of wind bowled him over, then scooped him up into the air. His body was whipped ten or so feet in the air and dropped unceremoniously while the wind left as quickly as it came. He let out a moan and Hillary ran over to him, unaffected by the wind since she'd dropped to the ground before it struck.
"Mason!" She only got two feet towards the man, before her hair rose straight up into the air. There was a short pause, in which Saint let out screaming alarm, before an almighty crack split the air. Lightning shot down from the sky, pummeled Hillary to the ground and was gone the next instant.
Markus saw her collapse to the ground, his heart frozen in terror. Chills swept down his spine as heavy, fist-sized droplets of rain fell from the clouds. Each drop of rain felt like a punch, while the storm let loose its fury. He lay over Melinda, covering her body with his own as the rain intensified.
"I've got you." He shouted desperately, his body aching from the heavy rain. However he soon found that the pain was the least of his worries. The deluge of rain was drowning him. Each time he tried to breathe, all he got was a lungful of rainwater. Cupping his hands over his mouth, he gasped for pockets of air in between the raindrops.
His lungs felt like they were on fire, he could hardly breathe.
More gusts of wind came over him, but he held tightly to the ground. He lay as flat as he could over Melinda, his fingers burrowing into the dirt. He whimpered as more rain fell, bruising his arms, legs and back. For what felt like hours he protected Melinda's body, tried to breathe and not be swept up by the wind.
The only thing he was thankful for was how absorbent the ground was. Instead of the flashflood he feared would come, the ground drank the rainwater greedily. Only a few inches of rainwater were left on the land by the time the storm finally came to an end.
Saint, soaking wet and shaking, hovered towards the human. Using a beam of light from his body, he illuminated the man, then switched it off. "Markus. You're vital signs are still good, why aren't you answering me? Markus." Saint hovered above him, scanning his body for any problems. So far, the man was in perfect health, except for the bruises that littered his body.
"Saint?" Markus couldn't see a thing, for night had fully come to the planet. There wasn't a touch of light anywhere, even the sky was pitch-black. The darkness felt suffocating and he tried to fight of the panic building inside him. "What happened?"
"The storm has passed, five hours remain until daylight." Saint's voice had lost its normal, monotone cadence. Instead it sounded withdrawn, as if it were lost in thought.
Markus rolled off Melina, found she still had a pulse and breathed a prayer of thanks. "How are the others?" He stared up at where he presumed Saint was hovering.
"Markus is unconscious, I've tended to him best I could, but he has a sprained ankle and is most likely suffering from a concussion. Hillary's dead." Saint's final sentence came out stilted and Markus stared at the AI in shock.
"Affirmative. But you must rest now, I will attend to Markus… but do sleep. In the morning we will continue on our way." Saint let out a whirring noise that grew quieter as it flew away.
Melinda was still sleeping, so he didn't tell her about Hillary. Instead he lay on the wet, sopping ground as exhaustion overtook him. In seconds he was fast asleep.
During the next few days, the three survivors, along with Saint, resumed their journey to the crash site. All were quiet, especially Mason, who took the blame for Hillary's death. She'd run up to save him and in doing so, had lost her life. Melinda had done her best to disagree with him, but he wouldn't hear of it.
All he did was stare at the ground, ambling behind them with a dark expression on his face. At night he'd set up his tent and say not a word to his three companions. The only times he spoke was to indicate how far they had to go until they reached the Cruiser.
The weather remained clear for the rest of the journey, there wasn't a cloud in sight. Saint happily let them know that the next storm like that to occur, would probably happen in sixty or so days. Of course he added that it was hard to predict the weather patterns, but he'd keep an eye out for any more storms. When he realized that no one seemed to take this as good news, he hovered low to the ground and jittered.
No one paid him any attention.
Only on the final day of traveling, when they saw the crash site with their own eyes, did talking resume. Markus let out a relieved sigh, smiling gently at Melinda. She returned the smile, but it was much sadder then his, "We made it."
Standing on an elevated, steep hill that overlooked a depression in the valley, the three survivors surveyed the Cruiser. Only the skeletal remains of the Cruiser indicated that a space vessel had once been there.
"It's just a bunch of smoldering, burning wreckage!" Mason spat. "A graveyard." The bitterness in his voice could be tangibly felt by Markus. He glanced at the man, seeing disgust, rage and disappointment in his eyes. "We're not going to find a damnable thing down there." He sat on the ground, his eyes misting over.
"Perhaps we can salvage something," Melinda countered, her countenance grim.
"Salvage what? You think there's a banquet of goodies down there? I was hoping for some semblance of recognition, but no. That Cruiser is decimated and you can be sure whatever salvageable items were inside are in the same state. Just metal and ashes."
"Well I'm going to check anyways."
"Go for it, save me a beer if you find one though." He let out a stream of profanity, hung his head and wept.
The next morning Melinda, Markus and Saint went down to the crash site. Mason had refused, choosing to stay at the campsite, sulking in his tent. After a short argument, Markus left him alone and went down the slope toward the wreckage.
Charred ground, debris and portions of the ship lay scattered in a two mile radius. Saint kept his scanners open for any signs of working tech, or bodily heat signatures. Methodically they worked their way towards the site of impact. No one said anything as they drew near to the hulk of the Cruiser, still impressive in size despite the massive damage.
Saint hovered low to the ground, stopping a few times to get a more detailed, richer scan. Eventually it approached the actual Cruiser. Markus and Melinda remained where they were, for the destroyed Cruiser was impassable on foot.
"What is he looking for?" Melinda asked, her voice quiet.
"For anything, I suppose. Anything but this burnt, charred debris." A morbid thought crossed his mind, what if the ash covering the ground was from human remains? Of the twenty hundred souls onboard, only seventy lifeboats had been launched. All but three of which had made it safely to the planet's surface. However, when they'd found the unharmed lifeboats there wasn't any signs of human presence. Saint had suggested that the lifeboats had ejected accidentally, before any humans were able to board them.
"So much death," Melinda muttered. "We could've been any one of them…" She met Markus' gaze, then dropped it.
"But we aren't." Markus took her hand in his, holding it tightly. Their fingers interwove as they stared at each other, a tear forming at the corner of his eye. "We're still here, we will make it back to Earth." He let go of her hand, embracing her instead.
Her frail form was shaken by sobs while they embraced amongst the burnt, decaying ruins. Moments passed before he let her go, turning his attention to the sound of a mechanical whirring. "Saint."
The AI floated towards them, until it was but a few inches from the pair of humans. Slowly, or perhaps hesitantly, it began to speak. "A monument was found in the centre of the wreckage… all valuable items, tech and supplies were taken. I have made a copy of the recorded, verbal monument: "Here lies the Cruiser Halcyon, one of the seven Cruisers sent to colonize distant, habitable worlds. Along with the remains, lies the ashes of twenty three hundred, brave, noble and courageous heroes. To commemorate their passing, this planet will lay uninhabited for two hundred years…"" Saint didn't finish the recording, there was no need to.
"Two hundred years... they've already been here! But what about us?" Markus' went cold as he realized what exactly the monument meant: they'd been left behind. How they'd gone unnoticed was beyond him, but they had nevertheless. Now those on Earth believed they'd perished in the crash.
"One hypothesis is that those from Earth arrived during the storm, which would effectively shield you from their scanners." Saint answered. "And they worked quickly, for not even I was able to detect their presence."
"Will they be back?"
"In two hundred years they will be."
Melinda stared up at Saint, her eyes clouding over. Slowly, she turned away from the AI and Markus. Without saying a word, she walked off, her long strawberry blonde hair draping over her shoulders. Markus watched her go, his eyes watering.
"I'm truly sorry, Markus." Saint hovered beside him, settling down near his shoulder.
"So am I." Markus glanced at the AI, then followed Melinda away from the crash site. When he made it back, depressed and tired, he saw that Mason was talking with Melinda. The two were sitting in the long, moving grass as night descended on them.
"Two hundred years," was all that Mason said with a shake of his head before adding, "Saint's going to get awful lonely when we die. Poor, miserable bugger." His voice had lost all emotion, he almost sounded like Saint.
Markus nodded his head, taking a seat near the two. Melinda stared up at him, her eyes swollen and red. "It looks like we'll have a colony after all," she paused, then began to weep once more.
Markus bit his lower lip, staring up at the darkening sky. A trickle of blood running down his chin reminded him that he was biting too hard. More tears came to his eyes, though he was completely numb. That night he stared up at the stars, thinking long and hard about nothing at all. Only when the sun rose up behind him, over the peaks of the mountain, did he stir.
But by then it was too late.
Time elapsed since landing: Twenty eight years, six months and seventeen days
I sometimes go back to the crash site, walking around the broken, decaying metal. Sometimes I go to the place where we buried Hillary, kneeling by her grave and remembering the stubborn, but brave, courageous woman. And sometimes I go to Mason's grave, wishing that he'd stayed longer. Perhaps if he'd chosen to live, he would've seen the goodness in this new world.
In Eden, as Miranda suggested we call it.
At first the idea of staying on the planet was depressing, horrible and lonesome. Those first few weeks after Mason took his life were the darkest of my life. There were times when Miranda and I wondered if Mason had had the right idea.
Now, however, I see the foolishness of it. I was so taken by old memories, thoughts and desires that I was blinded from what lay ahead. Of the hope I'd been missing all along.
Twenty eight years have passed since our arrival in Eden; twenty eight years since I've seen my family; twenty eight years since I've seen Earth. Do I wish to go back? Sometimes I do. Just as sometimes I go to the crash site or to the graves of those fallen.
Yet I do not wish for long, nor do I desperately long for that which has passed.
Instead I raised my two children, Kristen and Julian. I played with them, taught them all I knew and showed them how to live in this new world. I found two other families who escaped the Cruiser on lifeboats and they have joined us.
With the help of Saint, we have discovered animals living in Eden, most of which we have survived on. We've already built a town, seen children and grandchildren grow. In a couple more years we will expand even more. And more, as we begin anew.
Markus stepped outside his tent, holding the journal he'd been writing on in his hands. Melinda, his beautiful wife, was already sitting outside, watching the gorgeous night sky. Beside her was their son, Julian and his wife Danielle with their one child. Danielle was staring up at a certain nebula, talking with Kristen, who was sitting with her fiancé Chris.
He stared at them all, a broad smile on his face. Then he sat beside his wife, taking her hand in his. "Beautiful isn't it?"
"Breathtaking." She grinned at him, kissing him lightly on his cheek. "Even for a bunch of dots."
Markus nodded his head, a sad smile playing on his lips. "Yes, even for just a bunch of dots." He wrapped his arm around her, returning the kiss. She curled up beside him, while they watched the night sky with awe, curiosity, but not with longing.
Earth wasn't their home anymore, they were colonists. Humans paving the way for a brand new world. Perhaps one day his great grandchildren would see Earth, but Markus knew he wouldn't.
Eden was his home now.
And he would gladly spend the rest of his days on it.