Almost Like Home
“Commander? Permission to enter the bridge?”
Cool, odourless wafts pulsed through the doorway like sighs from the console-filled room, along with ponderous, mechanical, hum.
“Yes, Doctor, do come in - it seems we’ve entered orbit just in time.”
He smiled down at her.
“Are you well? Has the morning sickness worn off yet?”
“Yes, thank you, Sir. I’m … fine.” she nodded, following him to the huge viewscreen.
The circular room resonated beneath their feet as the Commander spread his long, gloved arms at the vast disc of blue and brown that filled the glowing wall before them.
“It’s distinctly less green than I recall," he frowned, "but still, it’s …
“So like home," they both whispered.
The Commander exhaled long and hard.
“Air quality, plant life, oceanic profile, all so similar. We may yet be saved.”
A mechanical voice filled the room.
‘Warning - Cryostasis power cells low. Imminent refuelling imperative… Warning - Cryostasis power cells low. Imminent refuelling imperative… -”
“Acknowledged!” the Commander barked, straightening his uniform and turning to the Doctor.
“So … either we settle here, or we …” He drew a sudden breath. “NO. No, I’ve not brought over a million terrified refugees this far, only to fail now…”
“I agree, Sir, though I’m not sure which is worse, the territorial extremists of home, or this massive gamble. Much may have changed since we lost contact with our probes. It was an idyllic-looking, uninhabited planet then, but … well, let’s hope this won’t be a fate worse than the one we had under the Western Dominion and the Eastern Stronghold.”
The Commander shook his head. His frown stretched the deep scars on his face to a degree that made his colleague wince.
“The divide between rich & poor was only set to increase, Doctor. And martial law just fuelled it. At best, they’d have exiled us. At worse, we’d simply be dead. We’re better off out here!” He pursed his lips. “Now, in the absence of our defrosting colleagues, we must scan those darker regions ourselves.”
“Scanning … I’m seeing rudimentary life-forms, Sir. Primitive settlements, even.”
The Commander pointed.
“Close in on that one please, Doctor.”
“Aye, Sir … A territorial dispute. Some of the creatures have been fatally injured.”
“Not unusual in some animal species, Doctor… But just as alarming is that group - top left - close in, please? …They have a huge hoard of food in what looks like a constructed perimeter, but are deliberately excluding others.”
“That’s primitive life-forms for you. But they’re all small and weak-looking. They may not present us with too great a problem.”
More pings rang out.
“Update, Commander - cryo-stasis generator nearing critical.”
“How long do we have?”
The Doctor stroked her stomach and sighed. “Not long enough, Sir.”
“Well, we should debate the sharing of the planet’s resources with these … creatures, and whether they could be tamed … domesticated and cared for, perhaps.
“We could, Sir… but we literally don’t have the time…”
“Quite… So, pragmatically - if not ethically - we need a decision – now!”
The Commander looked from viewscreen to window, where the ship’s habitat modules stretched away, crate after frozen crate, row upon tightly packed row.
“Over a million lives… Could they survive here? The environment is hospitable, but can the same be said for this indigenous species?”
“Another sample, Sir? That herd may not be typical.”
The Commander nodded and tapped the console. The viewscreen zoomed in so rapidly that the Doctor felt light-headed. An icy plain showed a peppering of shelters and hundreds of creatures milling about.
“More territory skirmishes?”
“I believe so. The pelts of the excluded ones look far too thin for such a climate, though. They’ll perish without adequate shelter. To have evolved this fast, they must have very short lifespans, yet they spend that brief time in amassing more resources than they need and battling over territorial boundaries that exclude the needy…”
“Sound familiar?” The Commander looked solemn.
“Almost Like Home.” The Doctor nodded.
“You didn’t just invite me up here to admire the view, did you, Sir?”
“Astute, as ever, Doctor.”
Crossing to the window, the doctor stared out and shook her head.
“Obviously, given my sworn duty and profession, I’m deeply conflicted.”
“Exactly. They’re unlikely to share their resources without a fight that we haven’t the time left for. So, who deserves to survive more? Should we ask the insects whether they mind if we spread our picnic on their patch of ground? Could we even communicate with them? And … who should be in charge?” The Commander rested his head against the glass. “Sometimes … all of our options are bad ones.”
The Doctor’s eyes misted as the life within her squirmed.
“Plan B? …” she whispered.
“I don’t like it any more than you do, Doctor… But… forgive me, yes. Plan B.”
“Understood, Sir.” Her voice was hoarse and shaky.
“Our departure trajectory … and pre-flight checks … they’ll just take a few moments. But the cryo-stasis power cells may fail before we even launch. It has to be now.”
“I’m sorry, my friend ... If there was any other way…”
The Doctor tried to slow her breathing as she worked, then strapped herself back into her cryo-pod. Outside the window, the little blue-brown planet shrank slowly from view as the numbness slowly crept up her body. As the sensation rose over her bump, the baby squirmed, and the Doctor gave a sleepy, tearful murmur.
“Hush, little one… sleep now, it’s ok – you won’t feel a thing …”
The Doctor removed one glove and reached down into the moist warmth of her maturation pouch, feeling her baby’s tiny tentacles slowly entwining around her own as the spaceship powered slowly out of orbit.
Below, the little blue-brown planet flared into a dozen, dazzling shades of orange, then faded just as quickly to a dark, ashen grey. As the Doctor’s consciousness ebbed away, the mechanical voice seemed to slow and echo.
“Full planetary purge complete… Dynamic energy successfully harvested-ed-ed… Cryo-stasis power cells now fully recharged… Setting course for next viable planet.”
-- END --
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