Infinite blackness glittering with white-hot celestial pearls, born from nothing and expanding into infinity. Looking up at the densely-packed night sky is enough to make anyone feel small. But the night sky deceives us. To be in space is to know true insignificance. You're not a star in the sky, but a grain of sand in the ocean.
A ship. A captain. His crew.
Thirteen months, two weeks, and five days into the fourteen month voyage.
At first, Earth had looked breathtakingly massive. Within months it was nothing but a pinprick. Then, eternal darkness. Nature has a way of surprising, though. Captain Marco Auroye thought he would never see anything more beautiful than the sight of Earth from orbit, but now when he looked out his window he was greeted with a view of Mars that might possibly be even better.
It was somewhat of a relief to see. After spending so much time suspended in literal nothingness, it was almost too good to be true. That much space was surprisingly claustrophobic. It would feel good to finally set foot on land again.
Melinda floated into the East wing's gravitational chamber as the enormous steel door behind her slid shut and it began bolting into place to form an airtight seal.
A robotic voice crackled on through the chamber's speaker. “Please stand clear of doors. Gravitation reversal process engaged,” it said.
The gravity chambers were unanimously the most depressing places on the ship. When those doors locked shut, it was like someone turned off the sun. Melinda hung in the chamber as the stream of light pouring in slowly dribbled away and the sound of the mechanical voice became fainter and fainter. Clack. Then, darkness. Silence. Weightlessness. Melinda imagined this must be what dying felt like. It had been nearly fourteen months and she still wasn't used to the feeling. She waited, hearing only her own breathing and feeling nothing until the tips of her shoes met the floor. Weight was beginning to return to her.
The only thing worse than being locked in the gravity chamber was having gravity turned back on. Melinda's feet planted lightly on the ground as if she was being gently lowered. It was about to happen. The door in front of her cracked open and Melinda dropped as if she'd suddenly been turned to stone. She grabbed for the railing and began to pull herself up, a difficult task for someone who's muscles were no longer used to so much exercise. After some knee buckling, Melinda was able to put one foot slowly in front of the other and shuffle down the corridor with the help of the wall.
“Marco!” Melinda called. “Hey Marco, help me out here!”
Lately, Marco had kept to himself in the East wing. The novelty of weightlessness had worn off on him long ago, so he always had the gravity on. It didn't exactly make for the most exciting watch, but then again he didn't exactly care. He popped his head out of his room and could see Melinda stumbling down the hallway. He ran over and slung her arm over his shoulder as they walked to his room.
“You know Lin” he said, “if you float around in antigravity too long your muscles will turn to jelly.”
“Um, excuse me! I'm the doctor here!” Melinda protested.
Marco laughed. "I know it! It's just, I don't want to be married to a sack of jelly."
Melinda signed. "The crew is getting a little too comfortable with it. I've told them that exact same thing dozens of times and every time I leave this wing and that stupid robot tells me the gravity is about to be turned off, I lose a little more patience. You're the captain, you should put your foot down!" She plopped down on the bed. "You know they'll lose the ability to walk if they don't spend enough time with their feet on the ground."
Marco reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a small bottle of liquid. "Here," he said as he handed it to Melinda. It was one of her own creations; a fast-acting muscle stimulant designed to tense the muscles back into normal shape.
"Bleh! I was only out there for a couple of hours and I feel like a bag of rocks. If they had to come back and forth as much as I did they wouldn't be so eager to float around all day. Interacting with people is exhausting enough as it is, and now I've got these stupid achy muscles!"
Marco was staring out at the giant red orb that was fast approaching. "You see that?" he said, pointing to Mars. "That'll be our new home. I know this trip has been long, but once we get there, if everything goes according to plan, we'll probably never get to float like this again. So I say, if our crew enjoys it, why not let them have their fun?" He turned to Melinda, smiling. "Also, it makes for good TV, or whatever, right?"
Melinda stood back up and began to stretch. "Well, I for one am gonna be staying here for a while. Like, I know it was part of our training but the real thing is so much worse, right?"
Marco couldn't argue with that. He'd only done it a couple of times and that was enough to convince him to leave the gravity on and communicate through coms unless absolutely necessary. Being the doctor, however, Melinda didn't have that luxury.
Before Marco could answer, the monitor on his desk began to ring. He reached over and tapped on it, opening the audio communication channel. "Yes?"
"Bridge to captain," the voice said, "we've got mission control on the line. They say it's urgent."
What could be so urgent? Their status had been green for the entire duration of the trip. "Alright, I'll take it in here. Patch them through."
The screen flickered on and an older man came into focus. His brown suit and bald spot gave him away. Chief engineer Winslow Carver. He was usually a pretty cheerful man, but his current expression looked pained.
"What's up, Winslow?" asked Marco, generally curious.
"Well, you're not going to believe this. I don't even believe this myself. We were watching the stream from our probes, you know, monitoring the area where you'll live while the terraformers work to expand, and one of our probes cut out. Just dead signal out of the blue, you know? So we sent another one over to its last known location and, well, it was destroyed, Marco. Like, really destroyed. Look at this."
An image appeared on the screen of what clearly was a gnarled mass of cables and circuits half buried in the Martian soil. "Where's the rest of it?" Marco asked with a bit of hesitation, unsure of whether he wanted to know the answer.
"It's there. Look closer."
Sure enough, the other half of the probe was in the image, but barely visible. It was absolutely pulverized into dust, giving the red soil a silver tint.
"After analyzing it with another probe," Winslow chimed in, "we came to the conclusion that it couldn't possibly have been an accident. Nothing we know of on Mars could have done this. It's too deliberate, you know? So we recommend you abort the mission. It's hard considering all the money put into the launch but so long as the ship and crew are intact we can always try again, you know?"
It wasn't possible. Mars was a dead planet. Scientists had spent decades searching for life and had come up empty. Mars, until just recently, wasn't capable of supporting any life which is what ironically made it the perfect candidate to colonize. It was a fresh start. An empty husk of a planet they could mold into a new Earth. Logic dictated that this was nothing more than some sort of freak anomaly that no one could have accounted for. It had to have been some sort of accident with conditions unique to Mars. There was no chance of anything perilous going on here!
Marco was terrified.
"Ultimately, though," Winslow continued, "considering how far along you guys are, it's your call Captain Auroye."
Marco stared blankly at Winslow, then turned to Melinda who started blankly back. She shrugged. The fate of the whole colony was in his hands. He thought about all they'd been through. They were weeks away from history in the making! But... if his gut was right, they might all end up dead with him to blame. It was time for Marco to lead.
"The mission will go on as planned. We'll send down a backup probe."
Either way, their names would be immortalized in history books.
According to the Great and Powerful All-Knowing Google Doc, Sfero is up next! https://docs.google.com/document/d/189g3lKgZliTUGy2PLYveAWOWluxFXvYO2yZ_3vcULdo/edit?usp=sharing
Considering I completely missed when Dinosir posted his chapter, and ended up seeing it four days late, I recommend you send the person after you a PM as I will be doing.