Microfiction — Journey Back.

Ship’s log: Captain Julia Stanton of Drake X236. Day 380; 2042; deep space. The team have woken from three months of supported sleep. The crew are healthy, excited, having woken to see an unknown planet on our horizon. It’s similar in size to earth, has no orbiting moons, only a small belt of asteroids. Its appearance is white, likely frozen. We sent minor probe DX21 to the surface ahead of a planned landing. Our mission as always: to discover life. Over.

The craft touches down, struts extend from its base, push clouds of ice in opposite directions. Three astronauts disembark, each holding digital readers, scanning the atmosphere. The sky is a thick mist of blue and grey. Julia touches the side of her helmet, facemask retracting. She inhales through her nose, lets air find its way in, then opens her mouth.

She smiles. ‘It’s good. Cold, though okay.’

The others followed suit.

‘Unbelievable,’ says Troy taking huge gasps.

‘Wow,’ says Fred. ‘Where are we?’

‘Unknown. Samples taken by the probe suggest the surface is glacial ice,’ replies Julia.

‘Supporting life then,’ Fred adds.

‘Let’s not get our hopes up. Preserve your air, breath from the atmos. Keep your readers close, reinstate helmet protocols with any change. Perimeter sweep to 500 clicks; Troy, south-west; Fred, northeast; I’ll take the south-east quadrant.’

Julia feels ice crunch underfoot. It’s a vast barren space. She reactivates her mask, uses the digital view to zoom in. There’s a shape up ahead, something constructed she thinks; a sort of circular steel column with three boxes on top. It seems familiar. Has someone beaten them here?

She’d seen this somewhere. Tom Cruise appears in her head. She’d been a fan before he’d disappeared. He must be at least 80 now. Her stomach flips. No. He’d been sitting atop the Burj Khalifa eating some lunch between filming. At the time, it had been the worlds’ tallest building. Now she’s standing on top of it; pleased she hadn’t eaten.

Her comm beeps. It’s the ship.

‘Captain?’

‘Yes, Gina.’

‘I found a file in an archived comms folder. Must’ve come through while we slept.’

‘Go on.’

‘It’s from Homebase.’

‘What does it say?’

‘It’s a distressed message, Captain.’

‘Then why is it archived?’

‘That’s the thing … the date — it’s 10,000 years old.’

She looked up, aghast. Something was running towards her.

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Scott Butler

I’m a writer of blogs, original short stories, and novels. Here is a clutch of short stories written on Fridays. Visit me for more at scottbutler.co.nz