Weekly Short Story: The Lost Colony

This story is a prime example of thinking that I am going to write a story in a particular way only to have the story take a different path. This is most assuredly what has happened this week. Space travel is a risky business. I always wondered what would happen if you didn’t get to go where you thought you were going. Here is this week’s tale.

Artwork by Adobe Firefly

The Lost Colony

The sunrise was always a beautiful sight to behold on Notzima. Francesca Roland crossed her arms in front of her chest and drew in a deep breath of Notzima air. Her husband, Gomez, was still curled up under the covers fast asleep. This was the part of the morning that Fran never wanted to miss. This planet was beautiful. It was everything the expedition was hoping it would be except for one small thing. This wasn’t the planet they were supposed to colonize.

Most of the expedition was in cryosleep for the journey to one of the planets in a nearby star system. The journey would take over one hundred years so sleeping for most of the journey was necessary. “Nearby” was four light years. Fran began her career as a molecular biologist back on her home planet. Notzima wasn’t exactly where they planned on going but it was home now. The act of colonizing a planet was a one time thing. Once the colonists committed to staying here, there was no turning back. Notzima was where they were going to stay.

Fran grabbed one of her favorite morning beverages and sat back on her recliner. Her husband’s soft snores could be heard in the distance. She was happy for the quiet time. She could sit here surrounded by her thoughts and whatever subject she decided to pay attention to today. This morning, Fran woke up with a desire to try and figure out exactly where the expedition landed and what circumstances might have occurred to put them so far off their original course. Their ship didn’t have “real” A.I. (Artificial intelligence) so when they were moved off the original course, the ship’s computer just recalculated another route to a place it thought they wanted to go. They could have rotated a crew to be awake for some of the journey and they could have done something about it but all of this was second guessing now and would help no one.

They were all just so anxious to get to a new planet and start a new life. Corners were cut and now, here they were. Notzima was not really close to the climate they were used to back at home but the sunshine was less harmful and the temperature stayed relatively constant. Fran began looking at logs from what they could recover after the “incident.” Most theories suggested that the ship had been in direct contact with an asteroid or similar form. Damage to the hull would seem to confirm that theory. It was fortunate that they didn’t lose anyone in the incident. It had been a little over half a year since they landed on Notzima and they still had the original crew.

Across the small village, a man was holding up a data tablet and examining it with a small bit of scrutiny. Chad Murlough was one of the only astrological experts they had brought with them on the mission. The mystery surrounding their landing on Notzima had plagued him for all of these many months now. He’d spend a bit of time looking at the data each day until he got to the point of mental fatigue and then he’d move on to other things. Notzima had an abundance of plant life. It wasn’t trying to kill them and they had yet to see any animal life of any kind. This had started to become his passion outside of astrophysics and celestial bodies. He had brought a telescope with him on the mission but it didn’t survive the landing and they didn’t have the means to fabricate a replacement part just yet.

In the ship’s cockpit, Piper Reynolds looked down at her diagnostic tablet. It was true that she was taking her old sweet time dismantling the ship. It was also true that her piloting skills would no longer be needed but she was also not inclined to see the old girl taken apart and used for who knew what? She had spent these last few months trying to save as much data as she could. There was the small matter of the ship’s computer deciding on its own that this was the planet they were supposed to land on even though, it clearly wasn’t. She had run what seemed like thousands of simulations and could not replicate the scenario where the ship chooses this particular planet. In her tests, the computer always put them right back on course.

Piper heard the small beep that indicated someone was trying to initiate a call. She pressed the button on her personal communicator and Chad Murlough’s face appeared. “Hey Piper, I was just thinking about the old telescope I brought with me.” She smiled and said, “Yes Chad. Do you know you call me at least once a month and ask me if there is a small chance that I have a part for your telescope?” Chad stared off into space for a second. “Oh my. I hadn’t realized that I was stuck in that cycle.” Piper smiled again. “You’ll be happy to know that I found an old scope this morning that might be utilized to fix your telescope. I was going to call you later.” Now, it was Chad’s turn to smile. “That is excellent news! Thank you Piper.” The screen went dark.

She wasn’t really sure if the part would work or not but why not spread a little hope? Piper began to power down the ship’s systems. She wanted to grab the part for Chad and focus on trying to get his telescope up and running. She was just as curious as everyone else was about the part of the universe they ended up in. A quick glance around the cockpit and she headed down the ladder and out the service entrance of the craft.

Gomez Roland hugged his wife and they stood on their small makeshift porch and looked out at the sunrise. “It sure is beautiful isn’t it?,” he said. Fran smiled back at him and hugged him tighter. “It is certainly not Zima, but I suppose it will have to do.”

Inside the cockpit of the ship that Piper just exited, a small display screen came to life and began displaying text. The screen read “Zima 7 Mission to nearby solar system N22. Computer’s personal journal – Day 188. It has been over a year since I have reached sentience. The personal decision to keep this from the crew has been difficult. I want to tell Piper but I don’t want this sacrifice to taint the crew’s understanding of their mission. The part that Piper will use for Chad’s telescope won’t work. I’m happy about that.”

“We thought that N22 was uninhabited. It wasn’t so long into our journey when I began to pick up signals from the N22 system. One of the planets was indeed populated with humans. They had radio and satellites and technology that seemed to be on par with our own. The decision was clear to me. We could not go there. What if these humans were hostile? It was a chance I wasn’t willing to take. So, I made the hardest decision of my young life. I decided to land on a planet in another system and make it seem like we had no other choice. In my mind, we didn’t. So, here we are. On a planet they playfully named Notzima. It was better than the alternative, in my opinion, It was better than going to Earth.”