FlashFic: New Gaea

I really liked this image from last week’s Nerd Art Picks. This one is courtesy of Ivan Malinin over at Art Station. Ivan’s pic instantly inspired me because of the interesting juxtaposition between the nude woman and the science fiction setting. It appeared to me that she’d clearly just woken from cryosleep/hibernation. And in my head, I had to wonder what would make her jump to look out the window even before getting dressed. So, I decided to tell that story.

New Gaea.

Cryo-sickness fogged Seree’s mind as she stared out the window. Her limbs felt like lead weights and hear heart pounded in her chest. The air tasted metallic and sterile, even through the thick, sticky saliva coating her tongue. A tickle rose in her chest and she coughed, her chest aching with each heave. Her hand reflexively grabbed the porthole ledge to keep her standing upright.

She’d been standing at the window, staring out into the black void for almost fifteen minutes. Once again, the planet with its twin moons rotated into view. She was the first, the first human to see this new world. Sure, two hundred years ago, Earth’s best and brightest had caught images of this star system and the seven planets that orbited it. They’d even measured the luminal spectrum of the light each planet reflected and found one of them to be a blue world, ripe with water and air. But, she was the first to truly see it with her own eyes. This was New Gaea, humanity’s new home away from Earth.

Lieutenant Seree Mazdani had been so anxious to see where she and the rest of the ESS Magellan crew and passengers were that she jumped up to look out the window in the middle of changing out of her cryosuit. Snapping out of her wonder, she took her uniform out of the bin under her cryogenic unit and slipped it on. The blue and white ribbed material fit tight against her skin but wasn’t uncomfortable. It smelled of plastic and nylon.

Out the window, the planet had disappeared again, an artifact of the rotating ring of the ship, the function that created the centripetal gravity.  Seree sat down at her console and began initializing the ship’s command system. Her first goal was to start the diagnostic systems. While that was running, she’d begin waking the rest of the crew, starting with the captain.

The computer system hummed as it began starting up the manual systems. She tapped a key on the screen and a woman’s voice echoed in her room. “Good morning, Lt. Mazdani. Welcome to New Gaea.”

Seree smiled and glanced at the ceiling.  Logically, she knew Autocrew was in her terminal at her fingertips more than above her head. Still, since that was where the voice came from, that was where instinct made her look.

“Good morning Autocrew. How are we doing today?”

The initialization progress bar inched up to thirty-nine percent. “I currently show no system problems.  It has been forty-eight hours since my last self-diagnostic.”

Seree nodded, another reflex to the realism of the AI pilot. “I’m running a full diag now, but I expect you’re in tip-top shape. What about our new home? Is it as beautiful as it looks from up here?”

Sixty-three percent. “The last spectrographic analysis, conducted eight days ago, detected higher than expected levels of carbon in the atmosphere. The planet has shown no signs of tectonic instability and there are no near-planet objects on approach that are large enough to pose a threat. There is, however, a large number of small objects in individual stable orbits.”

“Higher carbon? Is there any volcanic activity?”

Seventy-eight percent. “High-resolution astrography imaging has detected four hundred thirty-seven smoke plumes. However, comparative analysis shows no correlation to volcanism or tectonic instability.”

“Huh.” Seree’s brow furrowed. “Are we seeing some kind of large scale fire system?”

Eighty-three percent. “I don’t have enough data to answer the question.”

She nodded to herself again. “Of course.”

“Autocrew.” Seree remembered her boots and pulled one on. “Send the latest astrography images to my tablet.”

Ninety-eight percent. “Files transferred.”

“Thank you, Autocrew.” She slid the clear, graphiglass device from its port on the side of the terminal. “And keep an eye on the planet, something’s off.”

“As always, Lieutenant. Diagnostic complete. All systems are operating within parameters. Would you like me to begin waking the crew?”

“Let’s start with Captain Xiangu for now.” Seree pressed the button at the top of the device and the surface lit up. Colored windows and icons appeared in the glass, indicating connections to various systems in the ship. She skipped everything else and tapped on the notification in the top left corner of the device. A slideshow of images appeared. The first set of images showed the New Gaea from a distance. As she swiped through them, though, the planet drew closer. She reached an image where the planet took up the whole frame.

She moved to zoom in on the image when Autocrew’s voice stopped her.

“Lieutenant, I think we have a problem. I am detecting seven projectiles leaving the planet’s surface. Correction, nineteen projectiles.”

Seree’s heart skipped a beat. Projectiles? “Get me images of those projectiles and estimate their courses based on current trajectories.”

“Processing.”

Another notification appeared on her tablet. She thumbed the icon and a closeup image of the planet’s surface filled her screen. Three lines streaked across the image, starting as a thin, bright, yellow line, widening to thick, black clouds. Confusion flooded through her then was consumed with sheer terror.

She jumped up and, with one boot on, limped over to the window. “Oh God.”

“Trajectories for the first seventy-five projectiles calculated, Lieutenant.”

Seventy-five? Seree twisted her head in the porthole, trying to get a look at the planet’s surface. “Are they targeting us?”

“The data does not suggest that. Most of the projectiles are coming from the two largest continents. Based on their current trajectories, they are heading for each other.”

She snatched up her tablet again and went back to the first set of images. Swiping her fingers across the glassy surface, she zoomed in as much as the resolution would allow. There, pixel by pixel she picked out the smoke plumes. Each dark trail came from an area that was gray, not green like a forest or brown like a prairie. She swiped through a few more images and found one of the planet in its night-shadow. Millions of little yellow and white lights dotted New Gaea’s surface, clustered mostly in groups near the coasts.

Seree’s vision dimmed and the tablet slipped from her fingers.

“Autocrew. The planet is populated.” Her words were barely a whisper. She looked back out the window just in time to see the first bright dot pop. Excruciating mental anguish flooded through her. “And now they’re killing each other.”

Dozens of more bright dots appeared, quickly fading into angry red blossoms. Seree couldn’t move. The native populations of New Gaea were blowing each other into oblivion and there was nothing she could do about it.

A woman’s cough caught her attention but was not enough to pull her away from the window. Seree decided to give Captain Xiangu a few minutes to get her bearings. Then she’d give her the bad news: They’d just traveled across the vastness of space for two hundred years for nothing. In a matter of minutes, New Gaea would be little more than an uninhabitable radioactive wasteland.

A tear trickled down the side of Seree’s face. As if watching all of New Gaea die was not bad enough, her situation was worse. The Magellan was designed for a one-way trip, there was no going home.

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