Like a huge smokey white, blue marble, that’s how I last remember Gaia. Every now and then that haunting image flashes back, and I recall the loved ones lost for a future gained. Returning home was the only thought that’s kept me sane these past ten years, locked up in this bloated tin can.
There really weren’t any other viable options back then. The asteroid was just too large, and it’s discovery much too late. In an ironic twist of fate, the sun, provider of life and light hid behind it the bringer of darkness and death.
I was among the lucky ones. The Regent wanted to ensure the missions complete success. Billions of lives were to be lost, and they needed every reassurance that their efforts would not be in vain. I didn’t know how to react when my test results finally came through, my mind numb, my body shaking.
Having been”chosen,” most considered me fortunate though I never honestly felt that way in the moment. Handpicked, we were the few among the many, assigned with the task of returning one day to propagate and regenerate our species. The Genesis Mission was our only hope.
My family, while genuinely happy for me, did the utmost to hide their own desperation and fear. It’s hard to conceal your real emotions knowing that you are facing certain death.
How could I blame them for feeling so hopeless? It was rife throughout the general populace. Some chose to soldier on and face the inevitable, mustering as much courage as one could, given the painful enormity of the situation. Others still, took to suicide, grasping on to what little control they still held over their lives.
Ten miles in diameter. Ten miles of frozen rock and ice hurtling directly at us with incredible speed. Annihilation was on a collision course, and there was no place to hide, nowhere to run. Once the asteroid struck, it would only be a matter of time before all life on Gaia would cease to exist.
With little or no time left for a total planetary evacuation, a decision had to be made. Anyone interested in volunteering for the Genesis Mission could do so bearing in mind that extensive and rigorous training would be involved.
The testing was explicitly geared to finding the best candidates for the mission both mentally and physically. There were huge risks involved, and previous space exploration had made scientists acutely aware of this fact. One misstep and the whole mission would be jeopardized.
The plan sounded simple enough although admittedly I didn’t have a clue about the technical aspects involved. I knew the words but not the science behind them. Somehow, someway Genesis was to integrate General Relativity with Gravitation Time Dilation.
In effect, we would traverse from our planet through hyperspace directly toward the massive black hole located at the center of our galaxy. Once there, we’d set into orbit around the black hole just outside of its Event Horizon.
There was zero margin for error. Orbit too far out and the time dilation would not be significant enough for our return. Too close, and we might be drawn into the black hole itself, becoming spaghettified in the process.
There had been no time to make provisions or accommodations for additional generations to be born on board ship. The plan was to orbit for ten years and ten years only.
Given our velocity and close proximity to the black hole, every five seconds that passed aboard ship equated to one full year back on Gaia. In the ten years, we were to be on board, a staggering sixty-five million years were to pass back home. A period deemed by scientists to be long enough for our safe return.
Now that ten years had come and passed, and we were heading back. But back to what exactly, no one could say for sure.
Some believed that Gaia may still be molten due to the asteroid’s initial impact. A violent and inhospitable place incapable of sustaining life as we once knew it. After all, every school child knew that the planet was still molten several hundred million years after it’s earlier collision with Theia. Others, like myself, remained hopeful believing, as the old adage goes, that time does heal all wounds.
Regardless, our supplies and fuel cell were designed to last only long enough for the planned duration. Just as there had been no choice when we first left Gaia, so it was with our return.
I felt a guarded optimism and almost childlike giddiness when Gaia finally came back into view. The whole crew speculated with one another on just exactly what might be in store for us. We were to find out soon enough. As it turned out, it was the last and most unlikely scenario any one of us would have predicted.
As the shipped eased back out of hyperdrive, shouts of joy began to reverberate around the ship. We could see blue. The planet was blue. A sure sign that water had returned and with it the endless possibility of life, our lives.
Drawing nearer still, we could make out large land masses separating vast oceans. “Thank you.”, I whispered quietly, to no one there. I could feel a welling up of deep emotion within as tears filled my eyes.
It wasn’t just that we were finally home, it was the sudden remembrance that none of my family would be there to greet me. I suppose I never really took the time to mourn them, so focused was I on my everyday duties.
We slowly brought the ship into orbit around Gaia making preparations for our reentry. At first, we thought it was just the setting sun reflecting back off the sea, but as we transitioned from daylight into darkness, it became strikingly apparent.
Lights. We could see lights dotting the landscape. We had anticipated the possibility the microbial life reevolving, perhaps even advanced aquatic life, but not certainly not this. I looked on in stunned silence.
Had our ancestors, through some miracle or fluke of nature, actually survived the cataclysm? We dared not believe it, but there was no doubt that something or someone was down there on the planet surface.
This unanticipated revelation changed everything. We couldn’t just land unannounced and present ourselves to whomever, to whatever. That would be foolhardy at best and perilous at worst.
It was determined that the most prudent approach would be to descend toward the north pole. Our sensors had detected limited or no life there. The hope was that by using this trajectory, our arrival would be cloaked in secrecy.
From this point, we would move in a southerly direction far out over the vast open water so as to remain undetected. Once aligned with the coastal lights first seen, we would approach cautiously moving from east to west.
All went according to plan. Now hovering some distance off the coast, I could just make out a thin dark line bisecting the ocean and sky. I sat up erect in my chair, my heart pounding through my chest. Would they even remember us? How would we be received after all this time? Who would we present ourselves to?
After what seemed like forever, the order was given to begin our final approach. The coastal features loomed ever larger with each passing minute. My throat now constricted, my breathing labored.
There was no ship manual or procedural conduct for this situation. The developers of Genesis had merely failed to anticipate this type of scenario.
There was a premature sense of jubilation amongst the crew when at last a large inanimate anthropoid came into view. Perhaps we were still remembered, maybe even memorialized all these eons past. Those hopes quickly fell to the wayside as details of the tall metal structure came closer into focus.
Though similar to us, the face of the carved being was broader through the jawline. It’s nasal structure protruded much further out than our own, centering small narrow horizontal eyes one fifth our size. Thick strands of fur fell from the crown of a thin skull, draping over the creature’s shoulders. Its stature and height were proportionally twice our own. Whatever this thing represented, it clearly wasn’t us.
Circling above the object, we took note of the right arm, which rose high above its strangely spiked head. In its hand, an odd cylindrical object that appeared to be capped with flames. In the other hand, it clutched a large tablet inscribed with the following unrecognizable symbols, “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI.” There could little doubt now that some form of sentient life had evolved during our 65 million year absence.
By now, the gravity of our situation was beginning to sink in. Disheartened and disillusioned, we retreated back out over open water. As a result of some unforeseen cosmic irony, we were now strangers, aliens in a world we had once called home.
To better assess our situation, it was deemed necessary that we first locate and then transport several of these beings on board for study. Years on, we have learned much about, and from these beings, They have come to be known to us as “humans” and we to them, “the grays.”
And while we remain “off planet” for now, due to safety concerns, it is our sincere hope that one day we may together peacefully cohabitate the planet.
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