The Return Home: A Short Story


Source: NASA

He looked out the canopy of his ship, into the vast expanse before him. A trained soldier, engineered to serve the greater good, he reflected upon his mission. He saw the twinkling of billions upon billions of stars before him, knowing one of them harbored a planet for his people.

“Our planet is dying.” he remembered her saying.

“Aren’t we all dying?” he responded.

She smiled and kissed his hand. She had a way of pulling him away from his gloomy visions.

“We’re all living. Help us continue to do so.” she finally said.

He thought back to the green sunrise he experienced earlier in the year. Their star rising above the horizon, illuminating the lush jungle canopy. In the distance the mountain smoked, threatening more and more to erupt. And then it did. The destruction it wrought was enough to bury the village and cover the distant city of Capeton with soot, providing further proof that the planet was slowly decaying.

In all their years of space exploration, they had harvested planets, never intending to colonize any of them. At first, their laws forbid colonization, as it would inherently impact the ecosystem of any planet they encountered. Then they allowed exploration and the commodification of entire planets. Colonization was forbidden not because it would destroy a planet, but because it would prevent its exploitation. Man’s appetite was insatiable. The sweet irony was that they now needed a habitable planet to escape theirs, and they could not find one.

He was selected along with twenty other soldiers to head out into the darkness of the beyond, to find a planet and return with hope. They endured training, genetic engineering, biological implants, and years away from loved ones. His mission was to head to sector 4591, send out probes, and hope for the best.

He pressed his display and saw a holovid of her pop up, smiling and blowing him a kiss. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes and a lump developed in his throat. He thought of how he missed her and how he might never see her. Six years he’d been on this mission, and in six years the probes had found nothing.

He quietly ate his meal, allowing the hum of the ship to be the only noise made. He had long given up trying to listen to music, as it meant nothing to him any more. He wondered what she endured, if she was afraid, if she cursed him for not being there to protect her. His thoughts began to consume him and forced him to become angry at his situation. He threw his plate at the wall, the leftovers splattering over the ground.

How could he have known his second mission? How could he have known the truth, a truth hidden from everyone? He walked his way to the airlock again, contemplating forcing himself out into space. The death would be painful, but it would be quick. The thought of her somehow knowing, of her looking on at his suicide prevented him from opening the airlock.

He walked past the cryo-tubes, the cold and bitter reminders of what once was. Hundreds of embryos in suspended animation, prepared to develop in artificial wombs and eventually birthed into a new world. Representatives of a society long forgotten. How he hated these tubes, these mockeries of his life. These reminders of just how alone he truly was.

He slipped into bed. He watched the video of his wife once again, crying as he attempted to touch her image, his hand moving through it. He then switched videos, to the last transmission he received 5 months ago. Continue reading

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