Author : Ellen Ahlness
“We’re entering the closest point of the arc,” Yeltsin calls. “Fourty rels now!”
We all take our positions, Marko, Kovsky and I. Marta’s already been at her place since we got in range of the Planet.
Earth. It’s such a strange word, tingly and rough on my tongue. Yeltin’s always saying they’re like our cousins across the solar system—they just haven’t gotten around to visiting us. Koysky says they’re actually our descendants, that some bastard children got left here when we last visited millennia ago.
That’s ridiculous. Koysky’s the worst conspiracy theorist of the lot. The proof’s irrefutable that our first trip here was nothing but damage. All we did was kill all those lizards.
“Why can’t we just make contact?” Marko’s got the worst job of all: systems upkeep. Of course he’d want to be home sooner than later. He handles the cold of space worst of all.
“Don’t be stupid!” I poke. “We need to land to prove ourseves. If the humans have made anything clear, it’s their ability to explain away even the most explicit evidence.”
“Oh, you’re the mission genius now, are you Korzna?” Marko rolls his eyes over his tablet. I make a not-at-all nice comment about his father, and then we’re laughing, trying to blow off anxiety in one of the few ways we can. Our chuckles quickly fade, and soft pings take over the chilled space.
“This isn’t right…” Yetsin’s going over the charts, and I agree, even from here. The lights are changing position every few seconds, charting new courses. Each one lead further from…
“Earth! We’re approaching too fast!” Marta buzzes in on the intercom. “When we rebounded into their system we started accelerating. It didn’t seem like much, but it’s been increasing. If we keep at this speed…”
“We’ll burn,” Yeltsin finishes. Marta hums agreement.
“It’s likely they’d burn with us.”
Yeltsin purses his lips. He has less than twenty rels to decide. “Is there any way to slow down?” None of us have to answer. Marko’s not a specialist, but even he knows what happens if we approach Earth at this speed. “Then it’s decided. Pull out immediately!”
“Sir! We’ll still be close—”
“Do they have long-range analysis capability yet?”
Koysky checks his pad. “No, sir.”
“Then they’ll think we’re debris. Or an asteroid.” He pauses. “Act immediately. That’s an order.”
“Yes, sir,” I bark, fingers flying to the console keys. They do their job dutifully enough, but it still hurts. “Course changed.”
“Very good,” his tone suggests it’s anything but. “Will you let me know when…”
I nod and watch the data flowing in. “Closest point, sir, and…” the moment lingers. “We’re past Earth.”
A gloom settles over us. I rest my head against the console. The cold’s a comfort now, reminding me I’m here. Yeltsin is the first to speak. He’s always been uncomfortable with disappointment. “The miscalculation was to be expected. We hadn’t anticipated such drastic atmospheric changes. At past levels we’d have been able to make it in.”
There’s muttered agreements, hushed acceptance. We’ll be home soon enough, and our descendents will see the next departure leave for Earth. They’ll leave in a better ship—one that’s bigger than this, where they won’t be so high-strung. I push myself up from my slump, but when Yeltsin steps away, I send one more glance to the screen, to the green and blue sphere slowly shrinking. We’re going, yet they remain unaware of the life that desperately tries to reach them. Their night sky remains empty.
We leave. And their lonely planet keeps turning.
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