Death of a Planet

Submitted into Contest #160 in response to: Set your story during a drought.... view prompt

10 comments

Science Fiction Fiction

(Sequel to Aftermath of the Water Wars)

Waiting for water rations was always the start of my day. The machine dinged and filled the jug with noticeably less liquid than yesterday. I knew it wasn’t an oversight. The rations were slowly decreasing.

Still, we were privileged to get what we did. We moved to the inner ring of the city when my mate was chosen as captain of the cross-galaxy ship, The Aquanox, to retrieve water from the distant water-rich planet called Salvation. It was the largest vessel ever constructed in the fleet. I was also promoted to commander when the interstellar project began. My assignment: head of mission control. The best perk of my higher rank was extra food and water rations, but it was never enough.

I separated our water into individual bottles and set them aside for the kids. My youngest wandered out of her room early. She sat at the table and reached for her share.

I noticed, and quickly grabbed her arm. "Ah ah! You remember what I told you? Small sips to last all day. Morning to nighttime!"

"I know mommy. I want some now,” she said.

"Ok, small sip!" I let go of her arm and she lifted the bottle and gulped. I snatched it away from her and hissed, "I SAID SMALL SIPS!" I looked at the bottle. She went through nearly half her daily ration.

She flinched. I felt awful for yelling at her. A young reptile her age needed plenty of food and water to grow up strong. It wasn't her fault for wanting more. I wish I could give it to her. 

She scrunched her nostrils and looked up ashamed, "But I'm thirsty."

I knelt down beside her. "I know sweetie. I promise one day you'll be able to drink as much as you want."

"When daddy comes back?"

I paused, looking into her big yellow eyes, she was waiting for an answer. I swallowed. "Yes, when daddy comes back."

"Will he be back soon?" she asked. 

I truly didn't know. It had been thirteen days since the last transmission from the Aquanox. Mission control couldn't provide the answers to its status or whereabouts. The mounting tension building day after day was unbearable.

I looked at my daughter, and the hope radiating from her face. She was too young to know the inner details surrounding the mission. All I could say was, "Yes, soon."

I finished getting ready for work, leaving the children in the hands of their caretaker who would send them to school. I left our high-rise apartment and made my way through the winding tunnels passing the billboards that I used as waypoints. I turned left at the glowing public service announcement, Conserve Energy, Save Water. Another billboard in the distance indicated I was close to the transport station. It glowed with an impressive photograph of the massive Aquanox reading, Find Salvation! Join the Interstellar Core!

The inner-ring tubes were much cleaner and less crowded than the middle ring’s—where you couldn't take two steps onto a transport without someone stepping on your tail. I couldn't even imagine what the outer ring was like. I was fortunate to have never ventured that far. The tubes protected the inhabitants from the acid rains and choking air that filled the atmosphere, and I heard rumors there were constant leaks and breaches out there.

The air and water purification technology was lifesaving. The acid rains could be purified in the reservoirs, but it hadn’t rained in years. Not just here, but everywhere on Drova. So much for that impressive, expensive, investment. Luckily the tubes still constantly recycled and purified the air, preventing us from choking on the smog that blanketed the city. It was an ingenious system, but the water issue still plagued everyday lives.

As I sat in the high-speed transport, I let out a deep sigh and pulled out my tablet. No high-level messages about the mission, no missed calls. Every day that went by without contact from Aquanox just added to my stress.

When I arrived at the office, I received the daily report from the department heads. I scrolled through, nothing new. My meeting with the admiral about mission status was tomorrow! Coming up empty handed was not ideal. I sunk my head into my hands and closed my eyes. My thoughts went to the captain, my mate. Where could he be?

My despair was interrupted when I heard a knock at the door.

I looked up to see a young lieutenant I never paid much attention to. He was intelligent, as everyone in mission control was, but he was more reserved and soft-spoken than the others.

"What is it, Lieutenant?" I asked, waving him in.

He entered and cleared his throat. "Sorry to bother you, Commander, but I have information regarding the Aquanox."

I was skeptical. Ever since the Aquanox went silent, dozens of officers stepped forward trying to offer their explanations. Communication errors, subspace interference, time distortions, all were possibilities. The team was filled with ambitious officers clawing desperately for a promotion, but none offered any substantial evidence.

I never knew the man standing before me to be the ambitious type, so this was a first. "Report it then," I said flatly.

The officer straightened up and pulled out a tablet. "Before the ship went down, it reported satellites orbiting the planet just before we lost contact. I wasn’t able to detect the ship transmissions, but I did connect to those satellite frequencies! I’ve learned a lot about the local inhabitants and what happened to Aquanox."

I shot the lieutenant a glance. "Why haven’t you reported this before?" I asked.

"I didn’t have anything of value regarding the mission until this morning. I think there’s a delay in the transmission. It just came through. But, well, anyway, they have these televised programs. When Aquanox arrived, it was all over their networks. They recorded the whole thing!"

He handed the tablet over and I played the video clips the lieutenant put together. I watched as the hugely impressive Aquanox descended from orbit. It touched down on a massive lake before it was shot by tiny jets that spewed projectiles which resulted in fiery explosions. The shields offered no protection, and the ship went down, splashing into the lake.

My heart dropped. No more questioning it, this was concrete proof. I continued to watch. The ship was in bad condition, torn apart and sinking into a massive body of clear water. Although I was witnessing the horror of the Aquanox's defeat on Salvation, I had to admire the size and beauty of that lake. I had never seen so much water in my life. What I would give to just dive in.

I looked up at the lieutenant. He appeared to be shaking. He wasn’t one to confront superiors, and he knew that he carried horrible news with him. He would have to get used to it. He held the most important data this organization had collected since Aquanox went silent.

I continued watching and located where the bridge was on the ship. It was burning. My dearest mate was gone.

I pushed my feelings deep down and straightened up to address the lieutenant. "Well now we know, I suppose. I’ll need to report this to the admiral. Aquanox is lost. Defeated by the inhabitants of Salvation."

"Earth," the lieutenant corrected.

"What?" I looked up confused.

"That’s what the planet is actually called. The Humans of Earth, that's what they call it anyway."

"I don't think its name is our highest priority right now, Lieutenant. Aquanox is down. The water isn’t coming."

The man nodded and remained silent.

I looked back down at the tablet. Once this news came to light, the world would lose hope. More and more people will suffer. 

The tablet that played the destruction of the planet’s last hope felt immensely heavy, but it was my duty not to leave the world in the dark. Maybe another solution could be reached. There were plenty of intelligent minds on the planet. Someone would figure out something.

"Alright Lieutenant, let's go," I ordered.

"Where are we going, Ma'am?"

"To report this to the admiral. It appears you are now the world’s foremost expert on Salvation, or Earth, as you call it."

The lieutenant froze and held his breath before slowly nodding and followed out of the office.

We passed other officers on the walk to the upper offices. I saw the exhaustion in their eyes. The dehydration, the hunger. Even though interstellar officers received special treatment and extra rations, the stress of our jobs took as much of a toll as malnourishment.

When we arrived at the admiral's office, the secretary recognized me and let us in right away.

The admiral hunched over a console surrounded by several monitors that took up an entire corner of the office. He looked up at us when we walked in. "Commander, always a pleasure, but I believe our meeting is scheduled for tomorrow."

"Sir, we have news regarding Aquanox," I announced.

"Oh, in that case come in!"

I handed over the tablet with the video feed of Aquanox's destruction. As he watched, his expression was still as stone. I looked over to the lieutenant who was shaking again.

The admiral looked up from the tablet. "How many people know about this?" He asked.

I looked over at the lieutenant and gestured to him to answer.

"Umm. Only the three of us... Sir!"

"Good, I wouldn't want the media to let word out before we have a statement."

The admiral let out a deep exhale and pressed his hands over his temple. "Lieutenant, you are excused. I'd like to speak to the commander alone."

The man left and I stood silent in the office.

The admiral strode across the room to his desk and sat in his seat with the tablet in hand. He silently studied it again as I stood and watched.

He looked up from the tablet and gestured for me to sit. The room remained silent until he spoke, "I'm sorry for your loss, Riva."

The grief hit me like a high-speed transport at maximum range. I knew my mate was gone, but I didn't internalize it until now.

"Thank you," I choked.

He glanced to the window overlooking the airfield covered in a layer of smog. "This really was our last chance." He shook his head as he reached down to the lower drawer in his desk. He pulled out a bottle of 7th era Ruby Spirit. "I was saving this for Aquanox's return. A shame for it to go to waste," he said.

I was surprised. Alcohol was highly illegal due to its dehydrating effects. The admiral poured two glasses, and I accepted politely. I didn't want to seem rude, but I also needed something to numb the pain swelling inside me.

He lifted his cup, "To Captain Azoz and the crew of the Aquanox." We both sucked down the red liquor and I felt the sweet burn run down my throat. The admiral poured another glass, but I refused a second round.

We sat in silence, swimming in our own thoughts. I had known the admiral almost as long as my mate. We met at the academy, all of us gifted cadets turning into even more ambitious officers. "What now?" I asked my old friend.

He broke from his trance and took another sip. "I don’t know. I tell the ambassador? The planet has been enjoying a ceasefire for the past 5 years. I'd hate to be the cause of the re-fire."

I glared at him.

"Sorry, not funny. I know" he said. He was growing intoxicated. I couldn’t blame him.

"Or what? We all die from dehydration? You know my daughter went through half her ration this morning with just one big gulp." I said.

"Ah the little one. She's a growing girl. Not like your oldest hmm? He's close to maturity, isn't he? And when he is, he will be eligible for enlistment"

He was playing dirty but was right. If the wars started again. My son would be forced to fight, just like I was. I was lucky to get into the space program. It saved me from dying horribly in the field. I shuddered at the thought of losing my son just moments after I lost my mate.

"The world came together once; it can do it again." I said.

"I hope you're right, because at the conference tomorrow, I want you to join me."

"Me? You saw the same video as I did. You can explain it."

The admiral reached over and cupped my hand. "I want you there, Riva. Please. For me."

I stared into his eyes. All I wanted was just to hug my friend and be told that everything would be ok. But I suppose I could settle for going to a meeting.

"Fine. I'll be there." I said.

"Great! Please go home and get some rest, and feel free to bring your new favorite lieutenant along tomorrow."

I nodded and left his office to head home. I spent the transport ride imagining how I would tell the kids the news of their father. At the apartment, they were ecstatic to see that I was there when they arrived from school and they leapt in my arms. I looked into their eyes, I couldn’t do it. Not only would they lose their dad, but the hope the planet relied on. I decided to wait until tomorrow, after the conference, when a new plan is formed. 

 With a heavy heart, I sent them to bed. Now, I was truly alone in my room. No need to act the part of emotionless commander here. I collapsed and dug my face into the bed. The heat of pain rose from my chest and flooded to my face resulting in a salty tear. I fought as hard as I could to not make more.

 How miserable. I couldn’t even grieve without worrying about wasting water.

I stayed awake, curled up in my bed until my morning alarm rang.

----

The next day I shuffled into the conference. The ambassadors and world leaders from across the globe gathered in the auditorium. I noticed the president and his security. The ambassador sat next to him. I was seated to the right of the admiral and the lieutenant sat next to me.

"You ok?" I asked the lieutenant.

"Absolutely not," he replied.

I smiled politely and looked forward. The meeting began with pleasantries before the attention started mounting towards the status of the Aquanox.

One official spoke. "Admiral, we are all desperate for news. Last we heard; the ship was approaching Salvation. Is it on its return journey?"

The admiral swallowed before speaking, "We have received confirmation, Aquanox has been destroyed."

Gasps echoed around the room. Some faces remained expressionless. I figured there would be more fanfare considering Aquanox was the most viable hope for the world.

"How is this possible?" one councilman spoke up.

"The inhabitants were able to shoot down the ship," the admiral said. I was surprised he reported so matter-of-factly.

"I thought they were just mammals?" another councilman asked.

"They had more advanced weapons than we anticipated,” the Admiral responded.

Murmurs arose.

The Ambassador of our country stood and the murmurs quieted. "How long will this new development delay us?" She directed the question not only to the admiral, but to experts and high-ranking interstellar officers I didn’t recognize.

What was she talking about? Delay for what?

I glanced over to the admiral who shot me a quick guilty expression before turning back to the crowd to respond. "The Aquanox's defeat means we cannot delay. We must expedite the relocation plan. The loss was not in vain. We now have more data about Salvation and its mammal inhabitants. We will be more prepared for the next arrival."

I tried my best to hide my shocked expression. I had no idea there was another mission planned. For relocation? Are they mad? The locals of Salvation just wiped out the largest ship in our fleet, and we want to move there?

The ambassador turned her attention to the environmental specialists. "How long do we have?"

I recognized the scientist; I was able to see her data once. I knew the reservoirs were low.

She looked at her notes. "Six months. With stricter rationing."

The room went silent.

A different ambassador pitched his idea. "The drought isn’t ending. What about re-visiting desalinating ocean water to buy us some time?"

Groans echoed around the room. Desalination may have been a viable option 50 years ago, but the largest desalination facility was destroyed in bombings 10 years ago. It was already a useless operation. The oceans were too salty and polluted to get more than a drop of detoxified freshwater out of a gallon. It cost too much time and resources, and the facility's output was never worth the effort.

The room erupted in fractured debates and arguments until the president stood and finally spoke, "Enough! There’s no more time to debate and there’s no time to build more ships. We begin the relocation to Salvation immediately with the ships we have. All in favor?"

He raised his clawed hand. The other ambassadors slowly raised their own hands one by one.

I glared at the admiral. When our eyes met, he quickly broke away in shame. The current galactic fleet would only be able to hold maybe 1/16th of Drova’s population. Everyone else would be left here to rot on the dead planet.

The vote was cast and the president spoke. "Agreed then. Admiral, begin preparing the fleet for our voyage to Salvation."

August 26, 2022 02:04

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10 comments

Daniel R. Hayes
06:00 Sep 01, 2022

Hi Kendra, this was so awesome! Thanks for letting me know about it. I read the first story and this is a great follow up. I found myself emersed in your wonderful prose and the vivid imagery tickled my senses. I think you have a great series on your hands!! I loved this. 10 stars all the way!!! ⭐

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Kendra Lindholm
20:46 Sep 01, 2022

Thanks again for reading Daniel! Its funny, when I first started doing creative writing, I didn't think I'd write an alien POV/invasion story, but its really growing on me and I'll keep the storyline going.

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Daniel R. Hayes
21:56 Sep 01, 2022

That's fantastic! There are no limits when it comes to writing :)

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J.J Park
01:39 Sep 01, 2022

Not having read the first part, I started grinning wider and wider when realizing this was like the birth of the reptile people conspiracy theory, and that it's much more weighted and complex than anything a conspiracy theorist could come up with. Awaiting more!

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Kendra Lindholm
02:00 Sep 01, 2022

Glad you enjoyed it especially without part 1. I hoped to get the idea across without relying too heavily on the previous story. And conspiracy theory is a great way of explaining it! Our protagonist is a high-level official who still remains in the dark about the plan. I'm excited to keep the story going.

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Ariana Hagen
13:35 Aug 27, 2022

Oh man! What a great story! I love seeing the other side of what would be an alien invasion on Earth. I hope you continue this storyline with more stories

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Kendra Lindholm
12:49 Aug 29, 2022

Thanks for reading Ariana! Yeah it is pretty fun writing from alien's POVs!

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05:46 Aug 27, 2022

I love sci-fi! You did excellent work Kendra! I wish i could write like you. The world building in this story is excellent. Can’t wait to read the sequel!!! <3

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Kendra Lindholm
12:52 Aug 29, 2022

Hi Marceline! Currently brainstorming part 3 hopefully to post this week or next week. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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Kendra Lindholm
02:05 Aug 26, 2022

Come read part 1: Aftermath of the Water Wars! link here: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/3uuywy/

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