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alanestrada
02-08-2009, 04:21 PM
This is my entry for the 3rd Annual Short Story Challenge 2009, the goal was to create a short story (less than 2,500 words) following an assigned subject/genre. In this case I was assigned to Garbage Collection/Sci-Fi. It is the first time I attemp to write something. English is not my mother tongue so you may find some odd expressions (or grammar problems).

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MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Our planet was over populated; it was getting hard to live comfortably and the science department needed resources, so the government created the space academy. The space academy consisted in small colonies spread in several satellites that were used as moving stations, where it was obligatory to live for several years while studying if you were selected. After graduation everyone wanted a job. The ones that could not get one were sent on scouting missions and no one wanted to be on a scouting mission. Scouts faced unimaginable danger and rarely came back complete, with a leg or arm missing they had to go to the workshop for the bionic replacements and continue with the next mission. I’m not even mentioning how painful the attachment of those mechanical parts was. Most of those who had replacements on their bodies said that those who didn’t make it back to the station were the lucky ones. That’s why when finishing the academy training everyone tried to get a job; no matter how lousy it resulted it couldn’t be worse than scouting. Everyone had two weeks from graduation day to be enrolled working in a science or services department, and as you would imagine the best jobs were usually gone at the end of the first day, the rest of the first week you could always find something barely decent but even so those who weren’t able to find anything until the second week were happy enough to be out of the scouts crew .
The job I got was as a navigator, I had to set the coordinates of the station, for every mission and stay alert to avoid asteroid rings or cosmic debris that could harm our transport. As you would imagine there were long periods of calm and peace, but when we approached our target, stress incremented inversely proportional to the distance left to start the mission. Comrades that you always knew as calm and funny people started to behave in a more violent way. The bravest fellow would start to shake without control or even wet the floor. Scouts knew what they had in front of them, statistics were not bright, and the number of people who returned with no injuries was zero, no matter the mission.
Our mission this time was to explore a planet that was reported as dead, this seemed odd since one of the reasons we went on scouting missions was to catalog all living species and their environments. Scouts were happy to hear this since living organisms were the main reason of injuries. This time as we approached our objective confusion and relief, almost happiness could be felt all around the crew.
The squad this time was programmed to be formed by the captain, a communications expert and five scouts. Captain Roswell had lead a couple missions so far and he was much respected by the crew, he was a natural leader and even when he had been in the field several times his injuries were minimal, no missing extremities, good health and a perfect condition. He knew how to keep the moral up on his team and he was one of the few who were not as relaxed. In his experience no mission had been easy and it was not possible that all of the sudden a non-risk mission was given to us as a gift. Gary, the communications expert started as a scout but due to his multiple injuries translated in bionic extremities and his paranoid state of mind had no chance to survive as an explorer anymore, so his function was mainly as a communications node between the scouts and the ship. The crew was uncertain of his mental state. Five scouts were completing the team: Norman, Neil, Percy, Mr. Anders and Peggy, the only female who had became a scout voluntarily, were ready to start the mission. Their thoughts about this mission were mainly optimistic but there were some doubts: the brief they received from the commander stated that they needed to explore the surface, collect some materials from the surface and return to the ship to make DNA tests on them.
“c’mon, let’s get ready for this, I don’t want you to get too comfortable and careless, we could still face some danger” said captain Roswell and he continued “information has been blurry and limited, there could be more than we were told about, this is not normal in our organization and we need to be extremely careful, we haven’t got the terrain report so we will advance slower than usual”.
I had to stop the engines several hundreds of miles away from the planet, the gravity field was strong and getting pulled by the planet was not an option. The crew had to get there in our population one vessels, those little space pods that were able to hold a single passenger, although the vehicles had space to load tools and samples. The team was ready to leave and they were all inside of their P1 pods, as we knew them. The planet seemed to be dark and irregular but from space things look completely different than scouting level.
The heat from the engines could be felt inside of the bridge and we all knew it was matter of seconds before the ships started their trajectory. The first P1 to leave was Captain Roswell’s, followed by Gary, the always brave Peggy, Neil, Percy, Norman and Mr. Anders tailing the team. It didn’t pass too much time when we watched on the ship’s bridge screen Mr. Anders P1 being hit by cosmic debris, it exploded leaving no trace of the pod or Mr. Anders. “Roswell to station, we have one down. It seems Anders was hit by a big chunk of metal, in some manufactured form. I couldn’t see what it was. Crew: I detected more of this asteroids floating around, be careful”. That was the only communication we were able to hear at the station before they landed. We were all shaked by the loss of Mr. Anders but somehow we were used to lose friends and family on the missions.
Once in land the captain’s orders were for Peggy and Neil to comb the surface on the P1s and for Norman and Percy to follow him. Gary stayed near the P1s with all his equipment. The planet looked dark even at land level and the surface was sticky. Norman introduced a mechanical gadget that looked like a metal stick into the ground, the stick started to crawl deeper and deeper and soon they didn’t see it anymore, it was in fact an environmental reader, it was sending information about the composition of the ground into Norman’s helmet display. What the analysis told them was that the ground was made of rotten materials; it was not the planet’s natural surface but a compressed compost of garbage and waste. “It seems that the commander’s report was wrong, we do have high volume of bacteria living underground and in the atmosphere, the readings say that the planet’s odor is unbearable and toxic. The real surface of this planet is miles deeper into the ground” said Norman, Percy replied “I wonder if there was at any time a civilization living in this planet or if this was just used as someone’s huge garbage can”. Captain Roswell kept walking in silence, wondering if the commander’s real mission was to reach a conclusion that answered Percy’s question, after a couple minutes of walk, with no changes on the landscape the Captain requested a full terrain analysis. Norman and Percy started to unpack a little spider like robot, when it was completely installed they programmed a complete surface analysis. The spider started to walk around and collect data, every time it found an interesting object to carry to the station it fired an organic spider web like material and as it was a crane lifted with its two rear legs that didn’t use previously. Norman and Percy started to dig the ground to search for any trace of life, while waiting for the spider to return.
Meanwhile the captain was receiving live video feedback from Peggy’s and Neil’s P1s. The landscape in the feed showed a similar profile all the time, until they hit some holes in the ground. The captain requested recognition on those caves so they stopped the P1s near the entrance of one of them, Peggy always thought of Neil as a big coward and Neil knew this, that’s why he wanted to impress her by getting there first and showing how brave he was, he was the youngest in the team, had just graduated from the academy and was still very susceptible to other people’s thoughts. Neil got out of his P1 and got off running to the nearest cave, he turned around and saw that Peggy was just getting off her P1 and didn’t notice that she was making him the stop sign with her arms, she was screaming too, but some magnetic field near the cave was blocking the communicators inside the helmet. Neil was happy to be the first on the cave and walked inside a couple steps. The reason Peggy was trying to stop him was because there are important safety measures to follow before entering ground and wall openings, many accidents had occurred because the ground seemed solid but was thinner than a sheet of paper, also because organisms living inside didn’t like any visits. In this case Neil didn’t have problems with the ground breaking apart or hunters tailing him, his problem was that he didn’t notice the air inside was composed of acid vapors and capable of melting his scouting suit almost immediately. Neil died in less than 10 seconds, his body disintegrated completely. Peggy was not able to do a thing and witnessed with anger how Neil’s body sublimated and combined with the cave’s atmosphere. “Captain, we got another one down, high acid atmosphere was detected at the caves, no way to go further” communicated Peggy to Captain Roswell, he replied “I think we better go back now, this team can’t get smaller, get back to Gary’s location, we have enough information to start, I need to get the mission’s scope clearer”.
Peggy started her return while Norman and Percy started to collect all the samples that the spider brought. Norman called back the robot he had introduced into the ground and headed to Gary’s location so they could send the information to the mainframe at the station. They were also meant to carry samples but it was a regular process to send information to the ship before taking off just in case an accident could happen in the way back.
When the captain, Norman and Percy got back to where Gary installed his equipment Peggy was standing with a distance and watching Gary with curiosity, he was on his knees and but the rest of the team had to come closer to see what he was doing. “What is he doing” asked Norman, “beats me” said Peggy, Percy kneeled down to see if Gary had a reaction to his presence but he didn’t. “Gary, are you alright?”, no answer, he asked again and got the same awkward silence. Gary invested his time building with garbage small figures, similar to our bodies as if we were lying down on the ground, with our faces against the floor. He stopped building his last figure and laid down embracing it. Captain Roswell tried to get him up, the rest of the crew tried to help. “We lost him; I don’t think we can do anything”. The crew silently got his equipment in the pods and started his way back to the station, all of them thinking what was the commander’s intent for this mission and trying to understand what had happened to Gary, was that a part of his altered state of mind or had had it something happened to him while everyone was gone scouting?.
At the station, the data had started to be processed, it was a planet with a long history and the scientists were especially interested in the data obtained, I think I’ve never seen them in such a hurry to get things done and with such enthusiasm. Time went by and the crew finally arrived at the station, they took the samples to the laboratory and went to get some rest. They left a communication device for Gary and he still had his P1 in case he recovered his mind and wanted to get back.
Three days passed by, there was no sign of Gary and the crew wanted to go back and see if he was alright. Captain Roswell insisted that it was too dangerous and they needed to get the commander’s approval. Commander Lynch was very secretive; it was a rule of his to never communicate with anyone from the crew but the captains. This time Captain Roswell was wondering why he hadn’t heard back from him after letting him know that the data had been broadcasted to the station, before leaving the planet. Commander Lynch never cleared Roswell’s questions about the mission scope.
Two more days went by and the report from the scientists was posted on the public database. The planet we had visited was part of a once called solar system; it had the third orbital position, having two other planets closer to the sun. Something completely shocking for all of us was to learn that our origin happened there. Several DNA streams were captured and ours was almost identical to one of them, the variations the Scientifics explained were due our adaptation for survival. Life in that planet was menaced by all the waste created by its inhabitants, somehow they didn’t care about it or at least not enough information was gathered to understand why they didn’t control it, and when time was critical and life was starting to see and end some of the inhabitants were able to escape to survive.
Shocking news indeed, but what shocked us the most, specially the scouting crew, was to find out that the figures that Gary modeled in the ground looked exactly as our predecessors from that planet, according to data gathered they were called cockroaches. No other species from that planet survived.