The Ascending Spacemen

Submitted into Contest #210 in response to: Make a mysterious message an important part of your story.... view prompt

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Speculative Science Fiction Adventure

The airlock of the space habitat swung open, revealing the two fully-suited spacemen. Their costumes were dull white, along with tinted blue helmets and golden reflective visors. The two spacemen stepped out onto the gray alien planet, retrieved their long probes, and prodded the surroundings around them. Their equipment beeped and notified them of the collection of data.

The mounds of grayish-blue sand camouflaged the space habitat along with the gray mountain ranges behind it. The spacemen's shoes crunched in the planet’s stillness. The crepuscular rays beaming from the dense clouds above them and the dazzling blue light filtering through the dark, dense clouds resembled a Renaissance painting of a divine figure coming down to earth.

For the past three months, an abhorrent storm has obscured the entire sky. The nightmarish winds had descended on the exoplanet habitat of planet Duern Q861. Its wrath reverberated upon the habitat like thunder, with large stones crashing upon it. Everything had become pitch black outside the planet’s habitat, and the connections to Earth were lost during this brief period. With the passing days, the Spacemen’s supplies depleted, and without communication, the mission was at risk of failure.

After three months, the storm's ferocity had diminished to nearly nothing. It took days before anything moved around the Space Habitat, Duern Q861A, while the structure remained in the heaps of grey dust settled upon it. After several weeks, there was some movement around the space habitat. The habitat airlocks opened, and three white drones flew out to scout the surroundings, gliding and sailing in three different directions before disappearing into the distance to collect samples. Following the drones, came out the spacemen with their equipment, analyzing the surroundings thoroughly and observing the readings until midday. The spaceman looked to his left; the dark clouds were thundering along the horizon, but their crackling was vibrating the ground beneath them. Then the spacemen opened the larger airlock, boarded the big carrier rover, and drove toward the small habitat located a mile away from the big habitat.

The dust rose behind the spacemen when the carrier rover drove through the barren, gray desert. Ahead of these minuscule spacemen, gray and white sands stretched until the mountain range extended into the horizon. The dull-white mountains looked like raging ocean tides at sea, captured and frozen in time. These gigantic mountains witnessed the spacemen, the habitat, and everything below as they stood arrogant and untouched by the ferocious storm. Within the valleys of these mountains, enormous caverns and craters existed, which sometimes resembled a dragon’s lair from fairy tales.

Despite the rover reaching the location of the small habitat, the enormous building was not visible. The two spacemen got down from their rover and began walking to the habitat. The building was oddly missing from their view, and they searched around, their eyes scanning the location. Soon they began noticing metals, glass, and many open electrical wires crackling. The entire small habitat was in ruins and under dunes of dust. They stood on the ruins of the habitat. It surprised them to see the broken pieces of the small habitat buried in the sand. They built these structures specifically to resist heavy storm winds and the impacts of earthquakes. But now standing on its destroyed remains is grave news.

The two spacemen stood there in dismay and shock. The winds wailed in the distance, and the dust from the dunes flew along with the passing breeze. In the deep silence, their pacing heartbeats were audible. Their visors were fogging because of their wheezing and warm breath. The spacewoman saw the spaceman’s face twist with shock and bewilderment.

After a moment, his face turned stern, and he spoke in his microphone, "The storm has destroyed the small habitat, Duern Q861B. And based on the settlement of dust remains, we cannot estimate when this happened. We hope to retrieve our data soon."

"Yeah. I agree, but we need to dig and find the system data. Maybe our samples might still be undamaged," replied the spacewoman over her microphone.

"We must terminate our mission if it is compromised," said the spaceman. The spacewoman kneeled on the soft gray dirt. But she widened her eyes and blinked hard, struggling not to cry. Crying is uncomfortable in a spacesuit.

The spaceman agreed and began looking through the crumbled remains of the habitat to detect the samples through the metal and glass. He also hoped the sample would be all right, but he felt his heart palpitating under the thick suit, and a panic attack missed him by inches. He stood tall and practiced a few breathing techniques before starting his excavation work. Soon they were walking among the ruins and moving the metal and glass with their shovels, looking for their samples. Their precious samples.

They spent over twenty minutes digging into the sand and shoving away the heavy metals. As they kept working, they found the shards of reinforced glass in the habitat. The Spaceman kept pushing the gray sand aside, and the planet was turning colder by the minute. Then, underneath one of the broken green glasses, he found the samples. They found several broken black boxes, and the Spaceman reached inside one of them and pulled some dried leaves out. It was a small leaf, almost as small and circular as the size of a bottle cap, and brownish-orange as an autumn leaf. It is the first plant cultivated on this distant, dusty planet. Out of the sixty different plant species sent with these spacemen, only this plant thrived on this terrain because of its ability to burst its pollens for extensive ranges, and they also have a longer life span.

But now the last of those plants was also dead. With the entire habitat sinking into the gray sand, the plant samples crumbled under its collapsing weight. Along with it, the spacemen’s remaining hope The spaceman picked up the dead plant and displayed it to the spacewoman. She was still digging the ground and halted when she saw it. She came close and examined it before putting it in one of her spacesuit compartments. They both took another black box and safeguarded it in the carrier rover’s portable cryogenic chamber.

The spaceman clicked the radio button on the side of his helmet as his hands felt sweaty under those thick gloves. His hands trembled, and he felt the nerve on his temples pump and feel pain. With a big, deep breath, the spaceman recorded into his AV radio that their mission was a failure. Although there was no voice from the other side, only static radio buzzing, he recorded the situation on his radio.

He noticed the spacewoman in his peripheral vision. She had fallen on her knees and began whispering prayers to her gods. He didn’t feel like summoning the gods because they already knew his plight and yet watched him without mercy. The spacemen had made detailed plans to save their dying planet and terraform Duern Q861. But they realized their plan had led to an imminent and predetermined defeat. It felt like a tragic destiny, a cruel ploy to humiliate them and give them hope only to crush it. The spacemen whispered his father’s words, "For they sculpted the fire, and it burned them."

The spaceman loosened his shoulder and looked up at the dark sky for some hope or some answers. He stared at all the million lights above, shining and flickering. Amongst those stars in the sky, the spaceman saw a small, distant blue dot. He stared at it for a while, squinting his eyes. Just for a moment, his mind traveled to that planet. The elated people, the green grass, the rainy days with the hot coffees, a cold bed on a summer night, and the warm smooch of the sun on the face The toxicity of breathing air, decomposed food, loss of peaceful sleep, and pain of crumbling starvation in the midriff He tried to forget the sound of the horrible war cries and the deafening roar of the bombs and gunfire. He tried to shake the memory of holding his family in his arms while hiding in the wardrobe, waiting for the screams to settle. It all ended with the high-pitched whistling of the rocket engine.

The spaceman coughed, and his knees trembled. Within moments, his legs gave up, and he fell to the ground on his knees as well, trying hard to breathe. He tried pulling his thoughts off of it, but it was futile. He saw the blood, the bodies, the wails, and the orphans. He kept fighting his thoughts, which spiraled painfully within his mind. With a deep breath, he summoned his inner voice to convince himself of the reality: "Gone is everything; gone before you knew, gone before you left. Gone before you hoped. Gone far, far away amidst the storm."

The loud alarm beeped, and his pocket vibrated, rescuing him from his thoughts. The spacewoman pulled out her electronic monitoring tablet and clicked some buttons. Then she hurried to the carrier rover and viewed the message through the built-in emergency systems. With panic and confusion sweating from her face, the spaceman heard her through the intercom: "The drones have found something in the eastern valley!"

"We’ll see what it is. Come", the spaceman said and ran over to the rover, but the spacewoman stood motionless and hesitant.

"What happened?" he asked, confused.

"What if it comes back?" asked the spacewoman, putting her device inside her suit’s compartment. The spaceman nodded, and she said, "The storm might swirl again. It’s better; we must go back to the habitat now."

"No… We need to see what the drones have found," the spaceman protested. "What if it is some help or supplies? Maybe someone else landed here. Maybe a rescue team! I think it is a rescue team," said the spaceman as the spacewoman shook her head in disagreement. "Maybe the war is over and they have come for us. We need to check this out."

"There is no help, Manuel!" snapped the Spacewoman as she pleaded into the microphone. "If they cared, they would contact us, but no! They have left us here to die on this planet! This is the reality. Get this in your head!"

The spaceman stared at her, his fury rising with his excitement. "I still hope otherwise; I feel it. Just think, what if?"

The spacewoman scoffed and yelled, "But what if there is no rescue? What if the storm returns and carries us away with it?"

"I don’t mind!" sneered the spaceman, swinging his arms around the rover and climbing over it. "We either die out here or rot in that damned habitat all alone. I don’t want to go back. It smells like death and blood in there. Wherever the drones are and whatever they have found, I’m going there. If it is death, so be it. All I’m asking you now is..." He paused, holding back his tears. "Are you coming with me?"

The spacewoman stared through her golden visor for a minute, gaited to the rover, and told it, "It will take at least 6 hours to reach there. Buckle up then," and so they buckled to the rover and drove the rover at its maximum speed, about 20km/hr. This rover was the fastest ever built to overcome obstacles and the uneven alien terrain with its large tires and fantastic suspension systems.

The journey took a long time since the eastern valley was several miles away. The tired spacemen knew the travel would be more tiring, but it didn’t matter to them. After hours upon hours of steering through the dusty mountain path, they arrived at the eastern valley and spotted the drone flying high above the location, which hovered just for the spacemen’s reference. While the other two were scanning the environment. It took another hour to drive through the steep grounds to the drone location. They stopped the carrier rover several feet before a large cavern opening.

The two spacemen unbuckled themselves and trod towards the cavern’s opening. They saw an exposed cavern with a wide opening—a gigantic crater. The crater was as massive as a hundred football fields. The crater was so gigantic that these two spacemen were almost the size of bugs in front of it.

Both the spacemen were dumbfounded and confused by their very own sight. Their eyes didn’t blink, their bodies had stopped sweating, their jaws were wide open, and they drew their breaths in. The enormous crater was bleeding vivid red and orange. Out of the crater, many red and orange circular particles ascended. The floating particles were as small as bottle caps. The beautiful pollens sailed in the wind like dandelion seeds while the red leaves of the plant brushed one another.

The entire opening had become a garden spread out in the wild environment. Throughout the crater, for miles, the flowers had flourished, and the plants brushed against one another, rustling. The crater’s inclined plane curled down, and in the middle of the crater, they noticed something transparent reflecting the bluish-gray hue of the sky. The most fundamental source of life is liquid water.

The spacemen knew that the water could have come from the underground water source of this planet. Perhaps an asteroid struck this planet centuries ago, and this has brought the underground liquid water gushing to the bottom of this crater. The strong winds had brought the plant’s pollen from the ruins of the small habitat to this crater several miles away. The pollens could have settled down in this crater by the large lake glimmering in the semi-darkness. With water and the crater protecting the plants from the storm, plant life has thrived here.

"Look! An alien!" A man’s voice echoed from behind the two spacemen, pointing at the crater’s garden. The spaceman turned around and saw five other spacemen standing behind him. The joke had cracked them all up. The spaceman couldn’t see their faces clearly through their visors, but he remembered their faces and their codenames. There were Green, Zweig, Signature, Trident, and Clicky. All of them were in their spacesuits, with their actual names labeled on their chests. He looked at them in surprise, and his eyes couldn’t avert from them.

The five laughed, and the spaceman watching them heard their hysterical laughter through his intercom. On the paceman’s face, a smile developed, and he began snorting and chuckling. He looked at Clicky leaning on the rover and laughing at his terrible joke, and the spaceman predicted Zweig would smile under his visor, guessing by his rigid body language. The other three were giggling more at Clicky’s uncontrollable laughter than at his joke. Signature turned to the spaceman and shook his head in agreement. The orange and red pollen flew across them all, and the planet’s home star began rising in the west, behind the five other spacemen. The scene was exquisite yet quite disturbing.

The spaceman looked at them and reluctantly blinked, unwilling to let go of what he was witnessing. When he opened his eyes, as he had expected, the five spacemen had disappeared into the weak breeze. His eyes teared up as his visors fogged, and he heard his breath in the pressurizing silence. He closed his eyes once again, this time tightly shutting them so as not to let his tears out. Crying is uncomfortable in the spacesuit.

He knew the other spacemen were resting peacefully in the underground cryogenic chamber inside the big habitat. They were drifting in their dreams in a world far away, or maybe they were back on earth, reliving an alternate yet happier reality. If a rescue team comes to find them or accidentally stumbles upon this planet, they will find the well-preserved corpses of these spacemen.

He again reopened his eyes once more to revisit the figment. He saw the vast expanse of the dusty terrain. His throat narrowed, and his nose was cramping. But his palpitating heart had oddly calmed, and the trembling finger became still and numb. He couldn’t decide whether to be glad or glum while both blew his way.

The spaceman then turned to look beside him at the spacewoman. She, too, had vanished with the others without a trace. He sighed and gulped heavily as his eyes scanned the large valley of the vivid red and orange plant. He raised his hands and touched the floating seed. Although he couldn’t feel it through his spacesuit, he still felt the wind, and a tickling sensation ran down his arm. He smiled, and with a breath drawn in, he began chuckling and then laughing. The drones were still collecting samples and buzzing around like children in a park. The pleasantly delighted spaceman’s smile never left. He sighed with relief and closed his eyes, relishing in the present moment. They have accomplished the mission despite the absolute hurdles.

He gazed at the dancing alien plant field on this strange planet far from Earth. He thought of the divine play portrayed ahead of him and the absurdity of the entire ordeal. He laughed hysterically, as though he had found unintelligible humor in it, as his feet rose in the air and he ascended. With grace, his entire body floated up into the sky like an air balloon as the light brushed through his golden visor and into his face. Amongst the endless stars filling the sky above, a brilliant blue dot twinkled brighter than ever.

The spaceman, just like his other crew members, disappeared into the breeze without a trace. His laughter still echoed and haunted the wind until it faded. The red and orange fields rustled in the weak wind, glimmering in the light of the new dawn. The passing wind blew from the distance as it buried the footprints under the gray layers of sand. Duern Q861 became silent, its gray dust settled, and life began thriving again.

August 10, 2023 13:54

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1 comment

Marty B
23:10 Aug 16, 2023

He found peace at least, even if was not reality. I liked this line- 'Crying is uncomfortable in the spacesuit.'

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