Don’t mind me… just warming up for NaNoWriMo.
“If anything goes wrong…” They said, “You all know just as good as anyone what to do. That’s why you were brought on, because you’re the best of the best.”
After the assured faces of mission control flickered off the screen, and the countdown reached its final tick, it was do or die, just as tentative as any other launch. We all knew the risks- if something happens at this stage, there is little to do to fix things. The purgatory zone between the Earth’s atmosphere and the outer reaches of space provide no guarantee.
When the rumbling finally died down, and the light reflecting off the surface of the Earth finally disappeared into our peripheral vision, we were allowed a chance to take a breath of the cold air of the shuttle cabin. A quick peak outside the rear window revealed the tiny speck that was our final set of thrusterss falling back into the vast expanse of the ocean below.
“In the case we lose contact…” Mission control chimed in once again, “we wish you all the best of luck.”
After a point, that was the only thing they could readily provide us… no amount of advice would guide our hands in dealing with problems, and warnings from our systems would have long since ruined our voyage by the time results would have reached them.
Day 20, during a quintuple check of our headings, the signal went dead. That first day in the silence, we were happy to be free of the drone of mission control. I wasn’t sure who was going to end up more dispirited, mission control sitting in a big room full of computer screens, or us, sitting in a tiny tube filled with them.
After two days of silence, we began our attempts to tune back in to the signal to communicate with Earth. The blue orb of our planet had long since faded to a tiny azure speck, only visible during one quarter spin of the ship turning on its axis. It turns out, despite our many attempts, even our best could not fix the problem alone. It was as if there was no longer a signal to be found, no fault in our system either.
We sat silently for weeks, the faint hum of radio static constantly in the background in hopes that a signal would reach us. I wouldn’t say that worry was on our mind, but more we wished to keep those on Earth updated. Reaching the planet would be no more than a rehashing of our times in the simulator, but missing out on the cheering people celebrating our touch down would seem like no more than a hollow victory.
Before we knew it, the red planet came into view. The radio was still no more than static. Saving our sanity, we finally turned it off. In our excess of time, we double checked, triple checked the lander and the supplies. The planet’s gravity grabbed a hold of us, and we finally decided to take the plunge. The pilot directed us to the surface with little more than a bump, which is what it must have felt like to everyone- not one giant leap like in the old days.
The supply drop that had been sent down for us preemptively sat just where we expected it, albeit more weathered than we would have though. Inside, we were hopeful of what we were to get our hands on- a standing satellite dish, to better pick up and transfer the signal, and hopefully contact Earth once again.
The familiar static returned as we honed in on something that sounded human. Finally, a voice called out to us.
“Who is this?”
We answered hastily- The Jonah. We replied that we had arrived safely, and ready to report on our travels.
“The Jonah…” The strange voice at mission control uttered breathlessly. “You all were lost almost a decade ago. How could you be contacting us, after all this time… after we thought you all were simply just gone… forever.”
The glances between us showed signs of apprehension, knowing very well that we had been on our ship only 8 months, and no longer. Drawers of pouches of food sat still ready to be eaten, the boxes on the calendar checked off religiously.
“I don’t know what happened but…” The man said, still in disbelief. “There are others there now. A settlement. Go, and meet them. If it really is you all… they will find your visit quite peculiar. I’ll let them know you’re on your way…”