Author: John Chadwick

Jeisen rolled out of his bunk and stumbled to the viewscreen where the rest of his crew was gathered.

From orbit, it looked like a white marble with some blue swirled in it. They tracked the fabled energy source to its origin on a small city-planet, almost completely colonized and developed except for a few large bodies of water, an ecumenopolis.

For almost six Earth-years, they bounced from station to station, colony to colony – sifting through rumors from scavengers, listening to tales from drunken smugglers – piecing together clues of its whereabouts. Now, here it was before them, in a previously unexplored sector, seemingly abandoned in silent space.

“They say that once the beings of this planet developed the reactor, they all sealed themselves into cryostasis and uploaded their consciousness into a simulation to spend the rest of their lives. That true, Jei?”

“That’s what they say.”, Jeisen replied, hyper-focused on the screen displaying the planetary scan.

“The energy signature is coming from there.” He pointed at the blinking marker in the western hemisphere.

“Doesn’t look like there’s any defense systems. Scans are picking up life forms but no organic activity – like they’re dormant. Air is breathable. Let’s find an LZ close to there and check it out.”

On foot, the waypoint was nearly an hour trek from the landing zone. On their way, they passed through massive ornate gardens and courtyards made of a smooth marble-esque material that seemed to be what the entire cityscape and its structures were composed of. It appeared to be slightly eroded, presumably by the planet’s weather systems and the passing of time.

Populating the vast courtyards were many rows of large capsule-shaped vessels made of the same marbleous material. They weren’t much taller than a human and had no descriptive markings or details except for a clouded, blue porthole in which Jeisen could vaguely make out the form of the denizen within. A sort of sarcophagus-monument, where each inhabitant of this world lived their unwoken “life”. Jeisen assumed there were hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, all over the planet.

Their destination was visible from the moment they started approaching it – a looming tower structure that seemed more vertical than the others spanning the surface. There was no door or gate. They entered without greeting and unopposed.

The spiraling light emanating from the reactor’s core could be seen in the central chamber as they stepped into the large hallway leading to it. To their astonishment, the walls were adorned with beautiful animated murals of the planet’s inhabitants thriving amongst each other in vast flower meadows, colorful beaches, and spanning forests. Like recorded memories, Jeisen watched as they attended ceremonies and gatherings, cradled their children, and fell in love. For the first time since landing, he finally felt that he was meeting their hidden hosts.

“Could this be where they are now?”

Jeisen’s thought was interrupted by the echoing sound of Grek dropping his tool pack to the floor.

“Looks self-contained, which means I can remove it. Gimme a few and we can be outta here.”

“Wait…”, Jeisen said, holding his hand up, still staring at the mural. “What will happen to them?”

“Who knows? Maybe they’ll wake up, maybe they won’t.”, Grek shrugged.

Jeisen shook his head. “Pack up, we’re leaving.”

“You can’t be serious! Do you understand the impact this energy source will make on humankind? Not to mention, the payday will set us up for life!”, Grek exclaimed, throwing his arms out. “C’mon Jei, the life they’re living isn’t even real!”

“Maybe it’s not, but it’s real to them.”