Author : Fred D. White
After crossing the interstellar void for more than half a century Captain Carey, now fully awake, and his passengers, still in cryo, escapees from the toxic nightmare that Earth had become, entered orbit around Proxima Centauri-b. The human species would survive after all. Mothership’s DNA banks of half a million flora and fauna, along with her vast digital library, would ensure that survival.
Of course, Carey had to be certain that this new terra was as firma as the probe seemed to indicate before its telemetry ceased—apparently (according to Shuttle’s assessment, the result of unusual weather anomalies over highly irregular terrain. “Do you want me to suspend descent pending further analysis?” Shuttle asked.
“Err on the side of caution, you mean?”
“Makes sense, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Except that, if a cyclone or something knocked out the probe, that could happen anywhere, right? I mean, you can steer clear of any bad weather, correct?”
“Correct. I’ll take that as an implicit Go for descent.” And without further adieu, Shuttle ejected itself from its bay. “Initiating descent at your Go,” it said.
“Go for descent.” With Prox-b at 1.8 earthgrav, this was not going to be a joyride. Carey hoped his past two days’ post-cryo strenuous exercise would hold him together.
After several moments Shuttle announced: “Prepare for turbulence, also for internal temperature increase beyond my ability to compensate.”
“Just so long the shield can handle the inferno outside.”
‘The least of your worries,” replied Shuttle. “I’ve been monitoring the surface and don’t like what I think I’m seeing.”
“Tell me what you think you’re seeing!” Shuttle typically avoided speculation, so this had to be something truly unusual. But so far the screen displayed only rapidly swirling clouds.
Shuttle stayed silent for several minutes. Finally, it said, enigmatically, “Possible life form.”
More silence. Carey felt his teeth rattling from the heavy buffeting.
Several moments later, tendrils—dozens of them—no, hundreds, were wriggling through the clouds.
What the hell?
“Explain what I’m looking at, Shuttle.”
“Life form, per earlier speculation,” Shuttle replied. “I’m having a hard time locating the source of those tendrils.”
“Are they dangerous?”
“Give me a few more minutes.”
Carey felt both assured and unnerved by Shuttle’s stubborn adherence to protocol. He wanted to remind it that this was a watershed moment in the history of humanity. Would it care? Carey bit his lip as he punched the code to expose the ABORT button that would override Shuttle’s deliberations. Please, Lord of the Universe, not after a journey of twenty-six trillion miles.
Shuttle jolted violently. An alarm sounded.
“What’s happening?” Carey shouted unnecessarily; Shuttle had already displayed the problem on the screen: a hole, like a camera aperture, was now opening amid a gelatinous tendril-sprouting surface.
“I surmise,” said Shuttle, “that this planet is a single organism.”
Carey cursed, smacked ABORT.
“I’m sorry, Captain Carey, for not completing my analysis sooner,” Shuttle said as the screen displayed a mucous substance covering its hull. “Will you forgive me?”
Carey messaged Mothership: Break orbit! Go anywhere except back to Earth.
The screen picked up a spectacular fireball just seconds before Shuttle’s hull began to dissolve.