If you’d like to listen to this story it was recorded for the Untold Podcast UPC Contest
Auto-Log of Copilot Tersav Aut, Karnik Exploratory Age, Voyage Number 77:
Yet again, we struggle to repair our ship after engaging in a battle we did not ask for. In such situations, there's no win. Death abounds on each side. Why can't our people find another sector of the cosmos to settle? Every cycle, we pray to live in peace so we might unravel the Mysteries of the Maker. When will we finally be able to follow our purpose? After over a thousand cycles, some are giving up. From a vector we hadn't intended to explore, we intercept a message and work on decrypting the strange code. The translation gives us much-needed hope. Approaching the vector's star system brings a unified cheer from the crew. This sol is a lovely gold. Compared to our dying red one, it appears healthy and vibrant. After the captain gives the order to map the system and send the findings home, we learn sentients inhabit only the third planet. The proof, a plethora of debris litters the in-orbit sectors beyond the atmosphere. Are they even able to lift off the ground past so many floating objects, or are they world bound? Everyone wonders if these sentients will be willing to share the system. Will they allow us a single planet of their choosing? Or will they be arrogant and belligerent like the other races we've encountered? Engineering reports a possible glitch in the navigation code matrix. Portal creation is risky. Another effect of the last skirmish. Our crew won't be able to make the repair before we jump into the system. A shiver runs through all six of my limbs, but we signed up for a do or die mission to save our race. Captain Runsko signals that we're go for portal creation. Among the crew, expressions of fear turn to determination. If the worst happens, we'll at least have found a candidate system for our people. Our deaths won't be meaningless. Emerging at the very edge of the third planet's atmosphere is not ideal by any means. A vessel this size wasn't meant for flight, like the colonization ships were. It can't maneuver on an infinitesimal point in space. Nor was it created to withstand planetary gravity. The hull creaks in eerie groans under the pressure. Our ship's engines can't keep us from hurtling toward the surface. All we can do is try to decelerate for planetfall, so we don't break up in the dense troposphere. Nothing could prepare us for the deafening cacophony. The captain trembles as he enters the distress signal. Then he copies the rest of the crew in covering his head with two of his other arms, as we try to drown out the acoustic onslaught. At least the planet is a beautiful sight. It's blues, greens, and browns indicate vast oceans and fertile land masses. A side glimpse my crewmates' expressions shows slack mouthed wonder as they take in the world below. Will the sentients of this world even understand our message? After only three orbits of the planet, the atmospheric drag is too strong. So, we calculate our course to attempt landing in a low population sector. But emergency landings offer no guarantees. Heating up fast, the viewers on the bottom of the hull melt as we plummet farther into the atmosphere. Only the ones above and behind us still function. Giant contrails forming behind us show on the aft view holo-projections. We fight to steer in winding curves to slow before impact. But our ship was not made to be aerodynamic. Efficient for space travel, in air, it's a flying rock with an engine that's too small for our needs at the moment. Fire engulfs the ship, causing fissures due to differences in the temperatures between the outer and inner hulls. Bursting into flame, chunks of the hull fly past our view. At last, we receive the report that this planet is compatible with our genetics for a temporary stay. Though, the harsh chemicals in some of the land and much of the air will diminish our life span to less than a century. Perhaps we'll be able to leave the planet while some of the crew remains. Despite rapid deceleration, the heat from our huge hull creates a change in air pressure below us. Lightning peels from the forming clouds behind us. A minute before crash landing, Captain Runsko orders us to activate our personal shields. This should save the delicate flesh of crew members from splattering throughout the ship. Turbulence from the air updrafts increases. Despite shields, the crew is jostled from their posts. When the countdown to impact appears on the holo viewers, we use magnetic brakes to secure our personal shields to the floor. In the collision many individual brakes fail, leaving numerous crew members to the mercy of momentum versus our shields. As my body flies through the bridge cabin, time slows. I get one last look at the rear projection. Behind the vessel, dirt and rocks fly in divided arcs. We're gouging out a wide swath of forest. Upon collision with the bulkhead, everything goes dark.
Last auto-log before planetside contact:
I'm in the remnants of the medical wing, but everyone here who isn't working watches the holo projections. Checking me over, the medical assistant assures me nothing is broken. Outside, vast crowds of the planet's sentients gather in flying and land-based vehicles. The majority greet us with flashing multi-colored lights on large red vehicles and smaller black and white ones. Alas, our translator provides no assistance to decode the flashing message. Pray for us to communicate well. We have nowhere else to go until we can rebuild. But we can bargain with our technology and knowledge. In the hope their broadcast out of system was a genuine offer, we re-play the intercepted message through the external speakers. 'We offer friendship across the stars. You are not alone.'
When the image for this contest arrived, I geeked out. I've always loved space. Watched almost every NASA shuttle and Mars probe launch. Working on a NASA project called Landsat-7 was my dream job before I became a stay-at-home mom. It was a real privilege to work with that team. (Check out Earth as Art if you'd like to see some of the gorgeous images and views that the aliens in the story might have seen.) For reference, NASA beamed the message 'We offer friendship across the stars. You are not alone.' into space on Voyager's 40th anniversary.
This story won 4th place in the Untold Podcast UPC Contest