Explorer Program: First Star

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Our first star system was four hundred and twenty-three light years away. Transit time for us was three weeks and about ten years for Earth. All of us gathered in the main control room of the ship. None of us needed to be there for the ship to exit transit-space but it was the end of our first long transit

The main control room had seats for all of the crew; two forward stations, the commander’s seat behind them, aux stations on either side of her, and five jump seats against the back wall. It can double as a last resort escape shuttle but lacks a space-warp drive. John, our primary pilot, sat at the right station reading the transit status to us.

“Coming out of transit-space in three … two … one …” The black void of transit-space remained. John looked back down at the panel. “Um … one.” This time the view outside lit up with the pinprick lights of stars. Some of the crew clapped. Mia let out a “Whoop!”

“Preparing to launch System Survey Probes,” our astronomer said. “Awaiting Commander’s order.”

The commander nodded, “Go ahead.” She turned to her right where Darren sat running Communications on the aux station. “Have we established contact with Earth?”

“Carrier wave is transmitting. Should be any–” A voice from the speakers interrupted them.

“Capcom Earth to Explorer ship, do you copy? Capcom Earth to Explorer ship, do you copy? Over.”

“I copy Capcom Earth. This is Explorer ship EX-014. Over,” Darren said.

“Good to hear from you EX14. What is your current status? Over.”

“All systems green. We just arrived at Kepler-186 and launched our probes. Over.”

“Sounds good EX14. Are you ready for network connection? Over.”

“Ready for network connection. Over.”

“Starting network connection. Over.”

“Network connection is good. Over.”

“We will maintain radio bridge until the upload is complete then disconnect from our side. Is there anything else to report? Over.” Darren glanced at the commander who gave a single shake of her head.

“Thank you Capcom. Nothing else to report. Over and out.

“Thank you EX14. Over and out.”

“Ok folks, everyone not on duty can return to standby,” the commander said. The five of us not at control panels stood up from the extra seats in the back of the control room and exited to the main living areas.

***

A few hours later my tablet chimed with a notification. A few hundred emails sat in my inbox. Ten years of messages, thankfully no spam. I opened the latest message.

Hey, it’s been a little while since I sent you anything so here’s a vid from the beach.

I clicked on the attached file. My tablet’s screen went white then the ocean faded into view. Waves broke and rolled on to the beach while people played in the surf. I turned the sound on. Gentle water sounds, soft white noise surf, punctuated by seagulls and people. The camera slowly panned across the water and sandy beach until it turned around to face my cousin. She looked different; not yet showing her age but noticeably different to my eyes. Changes in musculature and fat in her face since I had seen her years ago yet only a few weeks ago in my reference.

“It’s a lovely day here on Rockport Beach. Wish you were here,” she said smiling into the camera before the video stopped.

The previous message was a few months older and the one before that another few months older. As I scrolled further back, the time between messages shortened. How long could someone maintain a one-sided conversation? My cousin had lasted most of ten years. Was this right, I wondered. She spent years sending me messages and videos while I skipped to the end. Was it fair? Not to either of us; I knew.

I checked the probes’ data feeds and found one in orbit around a planet. Mostly brown with red splotches. I scrubbed through the image buffer until I found a prominent jagged line of blue running into an irregular blue shape. I adjusted the color contrast, cropped the image, and saved it.

I hit reply on the message:

We arrived at Kepler-186. I’m just getting started on catching up on the last ten years of messages. This will be released to the public later anyway but here’s a sneak peek at a river and lake on another planet. It’s the closest thing to a beach for 400 light-years.
Love Gabby

I attached the photo and sent the message. It would be several hours before we contacted Earth again and the message was actually sent. In the meantime, I resorted my inbox to “old to new” and started catching up on the last ten years.


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