by Benjamin Locke
‘Come on Alex, Final Departure!’ Seth’s voice came jumbled through the thicket.
‘Be right there Seth,’ returned Alex, pulling down the visor of his helmet and slamming it shut, taking a last long look at the planet he called home. The moment he and Seth had trained years for was finally upon them. The first men to step on to another planet, the new frontier of human exploration, XR019. They would be heroes here and they would be aliens there. He took a long deep breath through the assisted airway of the helmet and stepped off the platform, the adrenaline of reality finally beginning to course his veins.
‘All systems checked, ready for departure captain.’ Seth relayed followed by the scheerk of the intercom.
Captain Alex Montgomery took his seat at the head of the cockpit and fastened himself in, ‘Ready for liftoff Lieutenant.’
The men paused a moment and looked at each other, raising a fist before their faces. A symbol of solidarity, something only they understood between them. It said this is it friend. We’re in this together, let’s bring it home!
A sound like the earth itself was imploded roared through them as the rocket engines burst in to life and everything around them shook like a chandelier riding the waves of the San Andreas fault. The men finally retracted their hands and clung on for their lives as their ship propelled them toward the unknown.
The journey took only a few hours but when finally the ship hit XR019’s atmosphere, it lit up the turquoise sky in a shower of brilliant yellow. Creatures never seen before far below, looked on in awe and fear as their sky seemed to be ripped apart.
The landing was rough and when the craft eventually ground to a halt, they looked at each other with a shared expression of concern but also joy. They had made it yes but would the ship be able to carry them home or would they be trapped here until rescue could finally arrive?
The captain clawed at his harness and ripped himself free. ‘Lieutenant, see if you can get that door open, I want a full eval and status report as quick as you can.’
Seth, already free of his seat nodded to his captain and headed for the cabin door. Alex tried to contact mission control but was met only by static and clicking. No use. He tried throwing switches here and there. Lights lit up and went out, the console danced a brilliant dance but gave him nothing more.
‘Sir,’ Seth called from behind, ‘We’ve taken some damage to the rear of the ship. The hull has not been breached but comms are down.’ He took a breath and continued, ‘engines seem stable as far as I can tell but I’ll know more when we get outside.’
Alex nodded, ‘Thank you Lieutenant, let’s see if we can’t get out there then shall we?’ The men smiled slowly at each other. The joy of discovery seeming to bubble up over the fear of being stranded millions of miles from home.
They raised their fists once more in silent communication and Alex added, ‘Let’s get this mission done old friend.’ The mission being a recon. Life on earth had turned sour and the human race was looking for its new home. Their job on XR019 was basically to be Guinea Pigs. Test the atmosphere, look for signs of intelligent life however small and report home.
The airlock door between them hissed and a cloud of vapour shot around the edges. The door lifted free and the first light of XR019 hit them. Alex took a breath making sure his helmet was sealed and lead a first nervous step through the opening, his heavy boot crunching underfoot on the dense forest floor.
Outside their suits the air was close and full of moisture. The sounds of giant crickets and other alien insects rang through their helmets and for a moment it seemed like any other country walk back on Earth. Except it wasn’t. The chirping was so loud and fierce, like nothing you could hear back home and the trees, the trees where a sight to behold. Each of them taller and wider than General Sherman, the largest tree on earth. The men simply stood a while, mouths agape with awe.
‘Lieutenant, what do we know about the atmosphere?’
Seth was tapping away at small keyboard mounted to his left wrist. ‘Air seems stable, Oxygen levels high. Simulation reports a 99.19% chance of human survival.’
No sooner had he finished, Alex reached under his helmet and pulled at the release mechanism.
‘Sir, what if…’ Seth began but Alex cut him off with a raised palm.
The face of his helmet lifted free and he breathed the rich air for the first time. It was satisfying and somehow sweet. The air in the suit was good but had a tendency to dry out the throat like an over air-conditioned gift store on international drive.
Adrenaline overcame him again as his rationale realised there was a 0.81% chance he had just breathed poison but as the air rushed in and out, the pounding in his temples gave way to euphoria.
‘Come Seth, shall we embark on the greatest adventure in human history?’ Alex said, holding his hand out toward the great unknown, leading the way beyond the trees.
Then, the chirping stopped and gave way to a voice, a voice so very…Human.
‘Boys! Dinner’s ready!’
The men, no longer men but boys looked at each other frowning. Alex took off his tinfoil and cola bottle helmet and discarded it inside their scrap-wood and cardboard space craft.
’Scheerk…Lieutenant come in. Adventure awaits…after Cheeseburgers!
The boys laughed and smiled and ran through the scrub land until they found the back gate of the Captain’s house. The greatest discoveries of human history would have to wait until after dinner.