I wrote this short story during the latest round of SPARK (a quarterly collaborative event pairing writers and artists), in response to a photograph by Rachel Brown. You can see the two together here.
Captain Yang was on watch when exoplanet ZX159c came within view. The sensors showed that gravity was high, but within tolerable levels. The planet had a breathable atmosphere, an ideal temperature range, and initial readings suggested it was teeming with life.
The captain woke up the others – Flight Officer Lin and Science Officer Tan – and all three prepared for the most dangerous part of the journey so far. Their descent through the atmosphere was even more hair-raising than expected, due to strong winds and heavy rain, and Flight Officer Lin had to make an emergency landing.
The spacecraft had come to rest on a rocky plateau near two massive boulders. A sheer cliff face rose above them on one side, and on the other side could be seen the distant glimmer of the ocean.
Despite the sensors’ reassurance that the atmosphere was breathable, the captain insisted that they suit up before they went outside. The rocky terrain was full of undulating ridges and was difficult to traverse.
After walking for about an hour, they came across an enormous conical structure about the same size as the ship, with vertical ridges and subtle bands of colour in green and sandy brown. Science Officer Tan identified it as a giant marine mollusc. When the others looked shocked, she explained that it was almost certainly a herbivore, so posed no danger. Nevertheless, they made sure to give the massive creature a wide berth.
Half an hour or so later, they came to the shore of a lake. Science Officer Tan collected a sample of the liquid from the lake and tested it.
‘It’s water, with fairly high concentrations of dissolved ions. Not drinkable as it is, but it could be made safe to drink through distillation.’
‘Very encouraging,’ beamed Captain Yang. ‘It looks like this planet might be the ideal place for a new colony.’
Flight Officer Lin looked at his watch. ‘Time to head back,’ he said.
After the storm, Mary took Barney for a walk along the beach. The little cocker spaniel ran ahead of her, splashing and snuffling in the rock pools.
When it was time to go back home, Mary called Barney to her. As she was putting on his lead, she noticed he had something in his mouth.
‘What have you got there, Barney?’
Mary reached gently into the dog’s mouth and pulled out a little model, about two inches long. This wasn’t the type of cheap plastic toy given away in cereal boxes; it was made out of metal and was beautifully detailed. A child must have left it behind when they were playing on the beach, thought Mary. Well, their prized possession wouldn’t go to waste. She’d give it to her five-year-old grandson, Noah. He had a big collection of toy vehicles, but as far as Mary knew, it didn’t yet include a spacecraft.
(C) Helen Lewis, 2018