Kosmonaut

Project Odysseus- A short story

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So I wrote this story a while back, sort of based on my pondering about what a slowboat interstellar mission in the next 40-ish years. It's decent writing, and I spent a long time on it, so I would appreciate you reading it. It's pretty long, so I'm gonna put the majority in a spoiler, but here's the title and 'cover' un-spoilered. It's bursting with references, from Doctor Who to Avatar (the good one with bending, not Pocahontas with blue people) to Steins;Gate to all the little things that I'm not remembering. It's mostly names, but I have no clue as to all the crap I put in there. Cheers!

Project Odysseus

Arcadia.jpg

Arcadia 2.jpg

 

Spoiler

The ship had been floating in darkness for 300 years, occasionally rotating to realign its solar panels. There were no signs of life. The planet loomed closer and closer, until a bright flash of light enveloped the ship as it hit the atmosphere. A shock cone developed around it and flames enveloped the heat shield as it decelerated from its interstellar speeds. This went on for five minutes. Then two days passed. Than it happened again. One day passed. Again. 2 hours. Again. Finally, it was done. The orbit was now at 400 kilometres above the surface. It would orbit every hour now. The star, Corbo, would rise and set 20 times a day. There were still no signs of life. Other than the gentle rotation of the ship’s rings and the slow movement of the surface of the planet called Arcadia below it, everything was still. The ship waited. Arcadia waited.

 

Boot System Active…………………

 

Stable Arcadia Orbit…………………Achieved

 

Checking Systems…………………

AICore…………………ReducedFunctionality…………………Diagnosing…………………MnFrm4Dmgd

Batteries…………………Nominal

Solar…………………Fail…………………Diagnosing…………………SlrPnl1Brkn SlrPnl2,3,4OK

Reactor…………………Nominal

Life Support…………………Nominal

LongRangeComms…………………Error…………………Diagnosing…………………Error

ShortRangeComms…………………Error…………………Diagnosing…………………Error

PersonalComms…………………Nominal

Propulsion…………………Error…………………Diagnosing…………………ComConChp7,5,9,2 Dmgd ComConChp1,3,4,6,8,10OK

Cryo…………………Error…………………Waking Crewmembers

Crewmember CmdrTenant GFe…………………Fail…………………HumanIsDead
Crewmember PlanEVASpecKurisu GFe…………………Success
Crewmember RsrvCmdrKerman GMa…………………Fail…………………HumanIsDead
Crewmember ExoBioKaufer GFe…………………Success

Crewmember OrbtEVASpecYakovlev GMa…………………Success

Crewmember MedSpecKorra GMa…………………Success

Crewmember PilotCouture GMa…………………Success

CreWmember EngineerMacar GMa…………………Success

 

Boot Successful…………………Boot Successful…………………Boot Successful

Transmitting Telemetry…………………Error…………………CommsDmgd

Boot Successful…………………Boot Successful…………………Boot Successful

Boot Successful…………………Boot Successful…………………Boot Successful

 

“She’s not going to wake up…”

“I’m going to try again”

“You tried at least five times before. It isn’t going to work”

“We need a Commander”

“Well try Kerman, he’s the backup Commander”

“But he looks dead from here. He’s all bloody. Tenant isn’t. I’m going to try again.”

“Fine. I’m just saying, it isn’t going to work”

 

The six remaining crewmembers gathered around the table.

“I say we wait it out”

“Why?”

“Within five years they’ll realize something happened. Then they’ll send a rescue mission.”

“The rescue mission will take years to get together, and another 300 years to get here. We’ll have to go into Hibernation again, and then we might just end up like Tenant and Kerman. Besides, we were never meant to go home in the first place, the mission would be successful even if we couldn’t. Do you really think they would send a rescue mission? The next mission would  be a replacement one, and they wouldn’t have the facilities to deal with us. Besides, we don’t even know what’s happened to Earth. They might not even be waiting for us anymore.”

“We fix the comms array, send a distress call and wait. We have it wake us up when we receive an answer, or in 10 years.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

“We go to the surface. That’s what we came for, right?”

“Yes”

“OK. Let’s get on it. We don’t have forever.”

“Hatch is open, I’m heading out”

 

Orbital EVA Specialist Yakovlev pulled himself out of the hatch. His backup, Planetary EVA Specialist Kurisu, waited just inside the hatch. He pushed off into nothing, the ship on one side and the green and pink expanse of Arcadia on the other. He noticed that the atmosphere was orange. That’s odd. It was green in the simulations. There are green clouds, but they aren’t too prominent. He was incredibly good at what he did. He had trained with the rest of the crew of the Von Braun for fifteen years before coming here but he still felt a pang of nervousness out in the vacuum of space. Triggering his maneuvering unit he spurted off on jets of nitrogen towards the damaged communications array. On close inspection it seemed as though the array was damaged from some sort of meteoroid strike. Little crystals of glass, silicone and titanium glittered around him. He whacked some of them away. He could see that there was a broken circuit, and decided to start with that. In his concentration, he didn’t notice his tether spacecraft was slightly frayed.

 

Planetary EVA Specialist Kurisu noticed the planet. Its intense beauty overwhelmed her, along with a sadness that she probably wouldn’t land on it. She had trained so hard and given up Earth for it, all for nothing. She pulled himself out of the hatch to get a better look. In her peripheral vision she could see Yakovlev soldering something. She turned her body to get a better look. He seemed to be struggling with something. All of the sudden, there was a flash of light. She could see Yakovlev tense up before slowly drifting away. Damn idiot didn’t tether himself. Electrical currents passed up and down his suit. She sighed. She slid down her visor computer in front of her face. She could see nothing. She smacked the her head. Static, but still nothing. “Yak, Kurisu, do you copy?”, “Von Braun, this is Kurisu, do you copy?”. No reply. “Von Braun, this is Kurisu, do you copy?”. Nothing. She figured Yakovlev had accidentally knocked out the electronics. “Von Braun, this is Kurisu, broadcasting in the dark. Yak is off the structure. My computers don’t work, but I’m going to try to recover him”. She was going to have to eyeball this, and she only got one shot. She didn’t have a maneuvering unit like him, so if she missed, she would be stuck drifting. She lined up, compensated for his motion, and pushed off.

 

James and Jasmine wandered down the street. It was raining, but they had forgotten their umbrellas at home. It rained lots now that the ice caps had melted and there was so much more water in the world. It was a chilly 25 degrees celsius out. It was only five minutes to their mother's house, though, so they were fine. “I heard that a long time ago, some people went to another star.”, said Jasmine. “Really?”, replied James. “Yeah, it’s just a rumor, some guy I know found some old files. He’s a computer-based archeologist. It’s probably not real though. It would be cool.”. James looked intrigued. “How long did it take to get there?”, he asked. “300 years. They would freeze themselves to keep alive that long, and spend three years on the planet. The star is almost five light-years away and- hey… they would be arriving home around now.”. James looked at her, completely serious. “I wonder how they’re doing.”

 

Once Kurisu got back to the ship, she was going to sleep. Somehow sleeping for 300 years seemed to make her more tired. She remembered being full of energy and excitement when she went under, but she just felt lethargic now. Oh well. She was almost there. She braced herself. Impacting him, she struggled to hold on to him. She floated there for a minute, catching her breath. Carefully, she reached down to her waist and unspooled some utility cord. She turned Yakovlev around so he was facing away from her. She unclipped him from his Maneuvering Unit, and snapped it into place over her own backpack. Then she strapped him to her chest with the cord. She pulled the joysticks of the Maneuvering Unit into place. Pressing forward with both sticks, she got ready for the jolt.

 

Nothing happened.

 

She tried again. Nothing. Son of a poodle! She thought. She looked at the ship. It must’ve been a good kilometer away now, and getting farther by the second. What DID Yak do? She had an idea. She reached for her backpack and found the emergency air purge dial. She turned it one quarter of the way for about a second and shut it off. The sudden burst of acceleration sent her tumbling towards the ship. She looked down and saw a tear in one of the cords tying Yakovlev to her. Reaching out, she grabbed him in case the other two ripped as well. The ship was looming closer. All the lights were off. Whatever Yak did, it must have sent off an EMP wave. That’s what wiped out all the electronics. It was only about 100 metres away, and she must have been going around 10 metres per second. With one hand she hugged Yakovlev closer to her, and with the other she covered her visor. If it broke, there would be no way she could survive. Closer. She slammed into the ship. Yakovlevs face smashed into his visor. Little spheres and globs of blood floated around in his helmet. She grabbed a handle. The lights in the ship came on, and she heard Coutures voice in her ear. “Kurisu, Von Braun, do you read?”. A smile lit up her face. “Von Braun, Kurisu. I read loud and clear. I have Yak with me. He seems seriously injured. I need you to prep the med-bay. I’m  heading in.”

 

“I don’t know how to repair the Von Braun. Yak’s the only one, and he’s still in a coma. We have our electronics back but I still can't do anything. I mean, Macar could tell me about the systems from the inside, but I would still have to figure out how to fix them. He was guiding Yak too, and look what happened”

“We have to try.”

“I’ll screw something up. I’ll make our situation worse. Pass the salt please.”

“What else can we do?”

“Go down to the surface.”

“And leave Yak behind?”

“Korra can stay with him. He wouldn’t even be allowed to go on EVA anyways. He can map and survey the planet from up here. When Yak gets better, he can try again.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Let’s go to Arcadia.”

The four astronauts closed their visors over their faces as the Condor started rumbling, a sign that they had started to hit the atmosphere. A warning light flashed on, providing assurance that they were, indeed, hitting the atmosphere. The pumpkin-orange space suits inflated, now independent of the spaceplane for life support, just in case the cabin depressurized. Kurisu looked at the clock. Seeing the date as 2367 unsettled her. When she went to sleep it was 2042. The ship started rattling, the effects more obvious. A small panel between Coutures legs slid open, and a joystick popped out. He took it in both his hands, struggling against the forces pulling his body downwards. Looking at the digital map, he found a large flat area. He pulled the stick to the left and pushed it forwards, angling the plane towards his landing zone. He was around 15 kilometres from it now, so he deployed his air brakes to slow himself down. Flat panels rose from the wings, increasing the air resistance. 10 kilometres. He angled the plane downwards. He was going too fast. 5 kilometres. Too fast. He pulled the plane into a tight spiral. Macar lifted his visor, vomited, and snapped it back into place. They were at a good speed now. He pulled out of the spiral onto a flat trajectory, and pulled the stick back, angling the plane upwards. Deploying the landing gear, he slowly touched the plane down and hit the brakes, bringing it to a stop. Couture opened his visor. “I would make a speech, but given the circumstances…”. Macar laughed, vomited again, and wiped his mouth to clear it.

 

Couture punched some buttons on the computer in front of him.“Let’s log this in case they get comms up”. A keyboard slid out and he removed his gloves and his helmet. Kurisu took off her helmet. Kaufer was passed out cold. Couture started typing, dictating what he was saying. “Pilot Couture, Planetary EVA Specialist Kurisu, Exobiologist Kaufer and Engineer Macar all safely down. The time is in…1839 hours, on Tuesday, May 23, 20...2367. Four crew down safe and sound. Let’s hope this planet has something good for us. Best of luck to Yak and Korra who are still in orbit. Signing off for now, this is the ground crew of Project Odysseus.”

 

Kurisu opened the hatch. The sight in front of her took her breath away. Green and red grass covered the ground, and the occasional pale green bush or yellow conifer speckled the landscape, and in the distance she could see a desert of pink sand. She pulled a lever beside her and a ladder unfolded from the side of the ship. Looking up, she could see the yellow ring surrounding the planet. It’s shadow was about a kilometer away now. The magenta moon was setting to the North, and to the East and West she could see green strips of cloud. The whole environment seemed alien to her. She climbed down the ladder to the last step. She took a deep breath. She stepped off of the ladder. The dirt depressed a little bit under her boot, and she felt a squelch. Looking down, she gasped. Water... The gravity was a pleasant 75%, so she bounced along as she walked away from the ship. She bent down before being stopped by her suit. She straightened up and kneeled. Taking a sample of the grass, she put it in a sample box. Kaufer’ll love this. She put it in the airlock. “OK Couture, get ready to inflate Hab 1. I'm just opening the valve now.”. A voice crackled in her earpiece. “This is Couture, it’s inflating now.”. The wings folded upwards, and a panel slid open. She knew that the same thing was happening on the other side of the plane. Airtight Canvas spread out, creating a large dome. Connected to the dome on the other side, the Hab was now large enough to hold eight crewmembers, although cramped. It would be fine for the four that would be in it. She walked around the large dome, and opened another valve. “OK, open Hab 2 and extend the ladder for Hab 3.”. More canvas came out, this time in semi-cylinders, with clear plastic roofs. A ladder to the roof of the plane finished extending. She climbed it, and opened a final valve. Another dome on the roof inflated, with all of the science equipment in it. The completed Hab, although roomy for eight, was enormous for four. This is where they would conduct all of their research, and where they would be living, until they went back up to the Von Braun.

 

Her next task was to check the soundness of the plane. In theory they could survive indefinitely on the surface with their greenhouse but they wanted to be able to go home if they could. Checking through them, she found no damage. Walking underneath the plane, she opened up a small compartment. She took out three poles and walked out from the plane. Extending a long spike from the bottom of the first one, she planted it a good fifty metres from the plane. Unfolding it, she stood back and planted the next one, and then the third. Three flags stood in a neat little row: The crest of the U.N, the mission patch worn by all of the astronauts, and the different flags of all of the countries participating: The U.S.A, Canada, Japan, Russia, the U.K, Germany, and Turkey, in a circle around a graphic of Arcadia. She went and got some more equipment to collect surface samples.

 

TWO MONTHS LATER July 25, 2367

 

The four of them strapped extra oxygen tanks to their backpacks. “By the time we get back, the potatoes might be ready to harvest, and possibly the carrots too.”, said Kaufer. “I’m looking forwards to eating things other than this factory made slop”, replied Macar, and Kurisu grunted in agreement. It was going to be the first time they ventured farther than a kilometre away from the base. All four of them crowded into the airlock, and closed the door behind them. The airlock depressurized to about 0.5 atmospheres. Kurisu, being the first one, opened the hatch. Descending onto the surface, she pushed a button on the side on the cargo section. A small rover descended from the bottom of the spacecraft. She drove it over to the rest of the crew. Couture was out, but Kaufer was struggling with the big sample kit she was bringing. The grass and plants around the landing site excited her to no avail, but she was really looking forwards to getting samples from farther. If she could go the other direction, into the pink desert, she could see a whole different spectrum of plant life. But that trip was planned for five months from now. It would have to wait. Until then there was half a world of extra-terrestrial flora to be discovered in this direction. Kurisu came up and took the box from her almost effortlessly. Kaufer smiled. Everyone’s got their thing. She made her way out of the airlock with relative ease with the container gone. Turning around, she saw Macar behind her. He gave the plane a slap for good luck and jumped off of the ladder. He hadn’t been outside yet, so he misjudged his jump with the gravity. Waving his arms in the air to stabilize himself, he landed on his stomach, arms out to stop his visor from cracking. “OK… note to self… don’t go to planet with lower gravity.”. “Great idea…”, replied Couture. He sat down beside Kurisu in the front of the rover, with Macar and Kaufer sitting back-to-back on the sides. Behind them, a few weeks supply of food, water and air sat in the trailer. Kurisu thumbed the ignition switch and took the two levers, and drove the rover forwards.

 

 

THREE HOURS LATER

“Well crap…”

“There goes our expedition.”

“Frigging great”

“We can still go farther…”

“There’s a giant ledge.”

“We can rappel down. Set up a base camp here, and get those motorized lines to get us down. That way all four of us can go down at once. We can start tomorrow morning.”

“But we won’t be able to go far. We can’t bring the rover down.”

“But we can still go. I’m going to go to sleep, so I’ll turn off my comms, but I think that we could continue the expedition.”

“Ok…’night Kurisu.”

“Goodnight everyone! Looking forwards to this.”

“I wonder how Yak’s doing.”

“I hope he’s better.”

“Korra must be pretty lonely if Yak’s still in a coma…”

“I’m going to sleep too. Goodnight.”

 

Kurisu removed the white canvas from the top of her small inflatable cube, looking through the clear plastic roof. There wasn’t enough room to remove her spacesuit, but she took off her helmet and lay down on the soft floor. She used to go camping with her moms in the forests of Yakushima as a kid. This reminded her of it. Pulling out a snack bar she gazed at the stars and munched on it. The magenta moon called Aldrin was rising over the horizon. Bright orange patches speckled the surface. When she looked at it closer, it seemed to have a sub-moon. Looking the other direction, she could see the swirling surface of the red gas giant Arcadia was orbiting. She thought about what she was actually doing right now. I’m such a badass. She laughed. It would be a long day tomorrow. She had better get some sleep. The suit was pretty comfortable, and she had made sure to put the cube-tent on a soft patch of ground, so those combined with the padded canvas on the bottom and the warm air coming through the heater vent made her very comfortable so she was happy.

 

Couture sat against the side of his cube-tent. He didn’t feel like sleeping. This was all too exciting for him. As a kid in Quebec, he had always wanted to fly. As a pilot, he had always wanted to fly faster, fly further, fly higher. That’s what brought him to space. He was hugely disappointed that he didn’t get the Mars assignment, but he had definitely trumped those people. He wondered how Earth was doing. It might not even be there anymore. He had been able to locate the Sun with his naked eye, but the telescopes that they had weren’t good enough to see Earth. Ah well. He got what he wanted. He was on another habitable planet. He had touched alien life. It was plant life, but who knows what they might discover over that ledge? He lay down, and slid the visor up so he could breathe the fresh tent air, and closed his eyes.

 

Macar didn’t think about anything. He was tired, warm, and happy so he curled up into a ball and went to sleep. Within three minutes he was snoring happily, occasionally twitching or wriggling as some pleasant dream graced him with it’s company.

 

Kaufer looked out of her window at the grass. She smiled. This was amazing. On Earth, she had studied life in all sorts of hostile conditions, and searched fruitlessly for evidence on other planets through telescopes, but now she was in the midst of it all. This was an incredible experience. But she needed to be rested for the next morning. She took her helmet and gloves and lay on her stomach. Tomorrow was going to be a good day.

 

Wednesday, July 26, 2367 6:30 AM ANHCT (Arcadia Northern Hemisphere Coordinated Time)

 

There was a small fizzle of static. “Rise and Shine people! We don’t have all day!”. Macar groaned. Kurisu was yelling through the comms. How does this woman manage? It’s 4 hours before I’m supposed to wake up! Everyone else already had their cubes depressurized. He fumbled for his helmet. Packing up the food he brought with him, he depressurized the cube and crawled through the small hatch. Everyone was getting their rappelling lines ready. Nobody had been able to see over the edge before,as it was too dark, so he went over to see that. Peering over the edge, he expected to see a forest or something, but instead he saw nothing. There was a still, white mass covering everything on the ground. “Uuuuh… Guys?”, he asked before realizing he had his comms off. “Guys, come see this. There’s something interesting over the ledge.”, he said. The other three bounced over to him. Kurisu stepped back. “Is it liquid? Because a gas would be moving.”. Macar threw a rock over the ledge. The white mass swallowed it, but there was no splash or ripple. “Gas or vapour. We can go down”

 

“All lines secure, let's roll”. The four of them clipped the lines to their utility belts and started to rappel down the line. Macar’s line felt a little bit shaky. He stopped. “There’s something wrong with my-”

 

His line’s anchor came out of the ground.

 

Kurisu saw him tumble by before he was swallowed by the mist. His metal line trailed after him before being swallowed as well. “Macar, Kurisu. Respond.”. Nothing. “Macar, this is Kurisu, do you read?”. Still nothing. Couture’s arms slackened. “Damn…”. “Are we going to go back, Kurisu?” asked Kaufer. Everyone seemed to look up to her as an impromptu commander now. She didn’t know why. “No. We keep going, and we can recover his body. We can study him for effects of this mist on his skin, if his faceplate broke, and then give him a proper burial. We can continue with the expedition and bring him back when we leave”. “Shouldn't we just go back?” asked Couture. “No.”, replied Kurisu, “We keep going. We can go back to base camp and rest for the day, but we have to continue the expedition. Otherwise we just wasted days of air. Get some rest, but we’re back at it again tomorrow.”. She pressed a button on the screen of her wrist-computer, and the line started to pull her upwards. She bounced off of the cliff with her legs, rappelling in reverse, and pulled herself over the top. The others did likewise. She crawled into her tent, inflated it, and threw off her helmet. It was silent, other than Coutures gentle sobbing. She sighed, waited a few minutes, and turned off the comms.

 

Thursday, July 27, 2367. 10:30 AM ANHCT

 

“Allright. We slept in, but we have to get going. We only have enough air for two more days here before we have to go back to Base. We’ll check our entire lines for cracks before going down. Make sure your anchor is firmly in the ground. We can go maybe 5 kilometres in a day, and then walk back. It would be more if we had the rover, but we can’t bring it down.”. Kurisu went on. Couture half-listened. He liked Macar. Everyone was friends, but he had really liked him. He didn’t understand. All the equipment had been checked 20 times over. It was rated to last 500 years, far more than the crew would need it. Why did it break?

 

Kurisu looked at Couture. He looked sad. Kaufer gave him some chocolate bars. Kurisu bounced over to him. “Do you want stay back? We can go on without you and you can come along tomorrow, or we can all stay back for the rest of today.”. Couture swallowed. Kaufer bounced in front of him. “We have some tubing, and the large tent big enough for everyone, we can hook them up and spend the rest of the day together. I’m sure that-” Couture interrupted her. “No. I want to go on. What’s the point of coming here if we don’t spend our time exploring? We have to keep going.”. Kurisu walked back to the ledge. “OK.”

 

The three astronauts rappelled down the cliff again. Couture stared at the empty space beside him. Kurisu noticed that the mist was lower than it was before. “There must be something creating this mist. I guess it’s got something down there. We’ll have to check it out.”

 

The astronauts got closer and closer to the mysterious white substance. All of the sudden, they disappeared into it. Other than the gentle shaking of their lines, everything was still again. Below the surface, the slowly sublimating water ice giving off the mist covering the canyon started to crack. An object crashed through the sky and shattered on the ground, a loud rumble preceding it and an even louder boom as it hit the ground.

 

Jasmine pulled out a key and unlocked the door to her mother's house. They had a meeting with the doctors soon. She opened the door, and saw that they were both already there. Dr. Scott, the best neurosurgeon in the country, and Dr. Haider, an expert in geriatric mental health. They were there for her mother. Within two months of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she had lost virtually all fine motor control. Weeks later, she lost the ability to move her legs and fingers. Then she lost her arms. She was losing her face now too. It would only be so long until she lost her heart and lungs. Doctors could not figure out what was going on, but it was clearly not just Alzheimer's. The doctors were there to figure out what was going on. She was totally sound mentally, but everything to do with movement just wasn’t working. Dr. Scott was here to organize an exploratory surgery, he just needed an opinion from Dr. Haider first. The problem was, every day it got worse. Every day made it more urgent, but every day it got harder to find out what it was that was doing this, as every day it got harder for Jasmine's mother to communicate. As Dr. Haider settled into his regular checkup, James asked Dr. Scott, “Hey, have you heard about the mission to another solar system? Jasmine told me about it. It sounds intriguing.”. Dr. Scott looked at him. “Yeah, Project Odysseus, right? The international mission. My friend from medical school had a relative on that mission, representing England. He was the doctor.”. Jasmine looked at him. “So you have proof that this actually happened?”, she asked. “Yes I do. I don’t really know what to do with the information, but I think that it’s quite cool.”. Jasmine rummaged around in her pocket and brought out her tablet. “I’ll send you my friends information, you can pass it along to your friend to contact him. If this gets out, that would be the coolest thing. Because then we could organize another mission to bring them home, and we could get so much science and-”. Dr. Haider interrupted. “Dr. Scott, you can talk to her now. I think that a surgery as soon as possible would be good, but you know I’ve been recommending that all along.”, “I’m doing the best I can, Dr. Haider, but you know that the surgeries are booked. I’ll call the head of the section, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to get it within a week like you asked. I’m trying my best.”

 

“What the hell was that?”, Kurisu yelled, struggling to regain her footing on the cliff face. A massive shock wave had just hit them, and Kurisu had been knocked off of it. “I don’t know. Maybe some sort of explosion.”, replied Couture. “But what could explode down here? There's nothing but grass, bushes, and some rocks here.”, Kaufer said, “I mean, some plants on Earth can contain methane pockets, but they are tiny and wouldn’t be enough to knock Kurisu off of the cliff face. I mean, under ideal conditions something might grow to much larger proportions, especially in the almost pure-oxygen atmosphere on this planet, but it’s highly unlikely that-”, Kurisu interrupted her. “What if it’s a supply probe from the Von Braun? Couture, if the landing system didn’t engage, could a probe explode with enough force to do what it did? Because maybe Korra and Yak tried to send some down to us, and it didn’t work.”. Couture stopped rappelling for a second. “If the second landing system didn’t start or the booster didn’t separate, it would have enough force to detonate all of the fuel in the second landing stage… and might actually just be one or two kilometres away from us right now. We might be able to salvage some stuff.”. Nobody replied. “Hey, guys, did you hear me? Kaufer? Kurisu? Anyone?”, he waited for a reply. Huh… He started waving his hands around, signalling that his comms were broken, but he turned around, saw what they saw and stopped.Orange trees with bright green leaves stretched up at least 50 metres from the ground, and more of the yellow conifers like the ones from the base clustered around small puddles of water. All of the sudden, the three of them started rappelling much faster, seeming to throw precaution out of the window in their excitement. A pair of boots hit the ground. Then another, and another after that. Kaufer checked the thermometer on her wrist computer. “Hey, the temperature rose about 75 degrees celsius from the top to the bottom. It went from -50 to 23. And there is a much higher nitrogen content, about 70% compared to five percent at the top. The heat could suggest higher geothermal activity and perhaps active volcanoes… but I have no idea about the nitrogen. I’m also getting much decreased ammonia levels, from data from base, I didn’t take anything at the top of the ridge. It almost seems like this canyon is fully complex-roganism habitable. Can I suggest we change next month's expedition to come back here instead of the desert? There’s so much I want to study.”. “Sure. Let’s get going though. We already used half an hour of air, we have only 9.5 left. Can’t do much exploring on that, even with a rover, and we don’t have one, and today is our only day before we have to leave. I want to get as much info as I can.”

 

As soon as they went into the forest, the temperature dropped by six degrees, with Corbo’s light being blocked by the dense foliage. They walked on, Kurisu watching everyone's suit data, Kaufer stopping every so often to pick up a surface sample or pluck a leaf from a branch before running to catch up. Couture led the group, navigating by the GPS in his wrist-computer and the maps he had projected on the HUD in his helmet. Their boots squelched in mud and soft dirt, and every once and awhile one of them would stumble on a root. The forest reminded Couture of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. He had taken a trip there with his friends when they had graduated from high school. The mist reduced their visibility to about twelve meters, but they could still work with it. All of the sudden Kurisu stopped. “We never found Macar’s body. It was flat terrain so it couldn’t have rolled, and human bodies are great at absorbing kinetic energy so he couldn’t have bounced. He was only there for maybe a day at most, so he wouldn’t have rotted… there are no chemicals in the air to dissolve him, so-”. A falling tree crashed into Kaufer, pinning her legs and chest under it. Kurisu and Couture had dived away, and they slowly got up and ran over to her. She was unconscious, or dead. They couldn’t tell. Kurisu got there first and slid beside her on her knees. Kaufers wrist computer was flashing, and the message on it said that there was too much ammonia in her air supply to live longer than fifteen minutes. Couture was beside her, staring. He snapped out of it and lifted the log off of Kaufer. A one-time olympic athlete on Earth, his strength was greatly increased in the low gravity of the planet. He lifted the log off of her and carried it away, shaking with the effort. Kurisu flipped Kaufer over and looked at her backpack. The nitrogen tank was cracked. That’s why her ammonia levels were so high. Kurisu looked at her own computer, switching the screen to crewmember information. Kaufer’s had all flatlined. She was dead. Couture came back, and looked down at Kaufer. Nothing registered on his face, but he sagged and leaned against a tree. Something clicked in his radio, and he looked up. There was a hiss and a pop, and then a rush of static. A familiar voice, tinged with a heavy russian accent came over their radios. “This is Yakovlev of Von Braun. Does anyone read? Macar? Kurisu? Couture? Kaufer? I’m broadcasting on all frequencies, does anyone read?”. Couture looked over at Kurisu. “I… I read loud and clear. Um. We’re going to need to fill you in on a bunch of stuff.”. Yakovlev put on his headset and floated over to the centrifuge, sliding down the C ladder and jumping into his bed. He turned it on. A robotic voice came over his radio. “Hello Crewmember Yakovlev. How are you today?”, it asked. “Good thanks, Noah. Could you link me up to the bridge comms please?”, he replied. “Of course, Crewmember Yakovlev. Will that be all? I was beating Crewmember Korra in a game of Go. If you would allow it I would like to return to that.”. Yakovlev looked up. “Yeah, go ahead. Good luck.”. The computer screen switched to the comms control, and Noah diverted his attention to Korra, leaving one last message for Yakovlev “I will not need it.”. Yakovlev sighed. “I wish Christina was the AI on the day shifts. She’s actually funny.”. He positioned the microphone on his cheek. “Ok, go ahead Ground Crew. I’m ready.”. On the ground, Kurisu chuckled ruefully. “No, you’re not.”

 

 

 

TWO HOURS LATER

 

Explaining done, the two remaining astronauts continued on into the forest. Kurisu had the few undamaged sample containers from Kaufer strapped to his waist-belt. Kurisu pointed. Ahead, sunlight glinted off of something. They ran over, expecting a supply container. They didn’t need it, but they looked forward to having desserts again. They got into the clearing and stopped. What was in front of them wasn’t a supply probe from the Von Braun. It was different. Whereas probes from the Von Braun were more boxy and straight, this one was spherical. It was painted a sickening shade of yellow, and had unfamiliar writing. Kurisu checked her oxygen. They had three hours before they had to go back. She brought out her sample pack. Chipping bits off of the surface, she looked at Couture. He looked excited. “Yak, are you seeing my helmet cam feed?”, she asked. After they got contact, Yakovlev had used the newly repaired rockets to boost into a geostationary orbit so that he and Korra could maintain radio contact with them the entire time. Korra was getting some psych tests ready for them, because they had witnessed the deaths of two best friends, and at the same time doing autopsies of Commander Tenant and Backup Commander Kerman. Yakovlev was acting as a mission controller since all of his EVA tasks were finished. He checked the image. The writing didn’t match any language on Earth, up to the point when Earth stopped transmitting to them one hundred years after the launch. It didn’t even fall under any language categories that he could source. “Ok, Yak, we were thinking of leaving some x-ray scanners and cameras to watch it behind and moving on. If we found this, what else will we find?”, Kurisu asked. Yakovlev startled. They hadn’t asked him anything in an hour, and he was exhausted from his spacewalks to fix the comms array. He had fallen asleep. “Um… roger that, I’ll get Korra to watch the other ones while he works.”

 

Kurisu and Couture had walked for an hour now. They were getting close to their turnaround point, and Couture was thinking of calling it now. Walking around in his EVA suit was not easy. Kurisu looked at her wrist computer. Thirty minutes left. Yak floated out of his chair. He was in the bridge now, because microgravity was more comfortable for him. He pushed off of the ceiling and landed back into his chair. Korra was sitting beside him, monitoring the camera feed from the mysterious object and watching the red sun start to dip over the horizon. One problem with the Geostationary orbit is he only got one sunrise and one sunset per day, instead of the twenty he got before. He missed orbital dawn and dusk. Yakovlev looked down and double-took. Three tall spires rose out from the forest, and many more ruined ones farther on. Kurisu and Couture started running. The immense, broken grey mass in front of them stayed silent and unmoving. Kurisu gaped. Couture fell to his knees.

 

“Oh my god…”

2042

 

The Reporter stood in front of a huge crowd of people, microphone in hand. A towering Block II SLS rocket was behind him. At the very top, a gantry was attached. Eight figures in pumpkin-orange space suits walked across towards the rocket. They were carrying briefcase sized air-conditioners attached through a hose to the back of their suits in one hand and waving with the other. The crowd was cheering. “As you can see now, the international crew is walking towards their spacecraft, Jerry, can you zoom in on them please, and the crowd of people coming to watch is immense. This rocket will carry them into a high Earth orbit where their ship, named after rocket science pioneer Wernher von Braun is waiting. After that, it’s a three hundred year long wait to get to their destination, called Arcadia. They will study this planet for signs of life, and as a colonization candidate. Oh look, they’re closing the hatch now…”

 

2672

 

James rubbed his eyes. He was tired. With his mother’s funeral, his sisters goodbye party, and this mission to this new planet that he had helped to rediscover, and that he was flight director for, he hadn’t gotten more than two hours of sleep total in the past five days. On top of that he had to worry about his sister, who was commander of Athena 1, the mission, and he had taken over as head flight controller for the mission, working an extra four hours a day so he didn’t have to worry as much. It had been a long week. Voices came through his headset. “15… 14… 13… 12… 11…”. A frantic voice came through his headset. “Flight, I’m tracking an unknown object, coming in towards Earth at… uh… well, very fast, flight. It’s going to hit the atmosphere in six minutes. It’s just beyond the Moon at this point”. James paused. He put the Debris Monitor’s station up on the main screen. “That fast?! Athena, abort burn! Capcom, tell them to abort burn!”. He looked at the object’s radar signature. It looked almost human made, but really old. “Flight, Comms…” The control room was in a state of chaos. “Go Comms.”, he replied. “We’ve got a transmission from the craft, it was in six hundred year old encrypted code, but I managed to untangle it.”. James looked up quickly. “Project Odysseus? Holy…”. He looked at the comms controller. “Comms, read it out and transmit this all to Athena 1, I bet they’re wondering what it happening.”. He typed in a personal message to Jasmine, who was probably still confused right now. I think we’ve found Project Odysseus. “Flight, the message just says ‘Mission Complete.’”. “Roger that, Comms. Media, release this in ten hours with a statement, and someone get me in a shuttle to that spacecraft.”

 

The shuttle manoeuvred as close as it could to the hatch. It could not dock with it, though, as the technologies were 600 years apart. The four occupants of the craft were in pressure suits. Jasmine had insisted on coming along. Athena 1 had been delayed to the next week. Two JTF2 soldiers were with them as well, just in case. They opened the hatch, and stepped into the void.

 

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