Author : Bob Newbell
“Shuttle now clear from mothership. Beginning de-orbit,” said Commander King as he studied the holographic display on his control panel. Captain Rex, seated next to him, looked up at what remained of the SS Stalwart. When she’d left Earth’s solar system almost ten years earlier, the Stalwart had been a massive asteroid fitted with an antimatter mass driver engine. Having used the bulk of the planetoid as reaction mass on the long voyage to the Alpha Centauri system, the once enormous vessel was now scarcely larger than a good-sized meteoroid. “Ten years,” said Rex. “Ten years,” echoed King.
The landing craft began to shudder as it entered the atmosphere of the second planet out from Alpha Centauri A. Commander King monitored the displacement of the shuttle’s ablative heat shield as the ship dropped toward the surface of Alcenatu, the informal name the Stalwart’s crew had given to Alpha Centauri A Two.
“It shouldn’t be us. Not just us, I mean,” said Rex as he watched a curtain of fire through the view ports, the shuttle’s ablative armor wearing away as the vehicle tore through Alcenatu’s atmosphere. King said nothing for over a minute. Finally, he looked up from his instruments, turned to Rex and said, “I believe…this is what they would have wanted.” Rex stared in silence, his face colored red by the wall of flame flashing across the shuttle’s small windows. “They destroyed themselves,” said King. “No matter how much they tampered with their genetic code over the centuries, they could never eliminate their own lust for violence.” “If it weren’t for their genetic tampering,” Rex replied, “we wouldn’t be here either.”
The shuttle’s braking thrusters kicked in and the firestorm engulfing the vehicle quickly dispersed. Through the forward view ports, a surreal landscape of rolling hills covered with yellow vegetation presented itself. King piloted the shuttle toward a clearing that looked like a suitable landing site.
“We were their best friends,” said King, never taking his eyes off the control panel. “Since they’re gone, it’s right that we’re doing this.” The words “Weight On Landing Gear” flashed across the holographic display as the ship’s engines shut down.
“I miss them,” said Rex. “We all do, Captain,” replied King.
Rex donned his spacesuit and entered the shuttle’s airlock. Shouldn’t he have some historic words to say at this moment? He couldn’t think of any. The outer airlock door opened and Rex walked down the steps and set foot on Alcenatu’s surface. He walked several meters from the ship until he came to a spot that seemed to meet with his approval. He dug a shallow hole in the dirt, the shuttle’s cameras capturing everything he did. At last, the words came to him. “For all Mankind,” he said into his space helmet’s microphone as he dropped the Ceremonial Bone of Colonization into the hole and quickly covered it with dirt.
It would take over four years for the audio and video of the historic moment to knife across the gulf of the interstellar void, leapfrogging across the 200 relay satellites the Stalwart had left in her wake as she had crossed over four light-years of space. When the transmission arrived, it would set tails wagging from the Mercury outpost to the Oort Cloud Archipelago. But Rex didn’t need to wait for howls of approval. He already knew he’d acted as a best friend should. He knew he was a good boy.
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