Picture Prompt Exercise — 15 Minutes

“Like home, only in Technicolor,” Davis said at the ship settled into orbit around the small moon below. He was sort of right, after all the surface was mostly rock, brightly coloured ones at that, but the similarities, as they say, were only skin deep. Beneath the foreboding surface, this moon contained a colony that had tunnelled its way down after escaping from the destructing of the truly barren planet below them.

Seismic activity had claimed the world. Unstable shifting of tectonic plates, volcanic eruptions, the water sources disappearing under the ground to attempt to cool molten magma, only to erupt in gushers of steam. Like the ancient Earth stories of an apocalypse, only, this one had taken place on a planet millions of light years away.

Davis supposed the refugees must have started the distress call when they were first told to evacuate the planet. (Even sitting here on a ship so far from Earth, he couldn’t imagine the nightmare that would have been attempting to flee an entire planet trying to tear itself apart.) There were no answers to their hails, but the sensors were picking up life-forms, large enough to be the equivalent of humans, though there were some differences in their body chemistry that made a complete interpretation of the readings impossible.

The one thing they did know, there was no oxygen in the centre of the brightly coloured moon. Whoever these people were, they didn’t need it. Maybe hadn’t even needed it on the planet below. It was hard to tell now that the atmosphere was destroyed, and only rumble remained.

He listened as the hails went out again, telling whoever was out there that this was a reply to the distress call. Maybe no one was listening. They had no idea how long the message had been playing, after all. If it had started while the planet was in its death throes, well, there was more than enough time to forget about it entirely if there’d been enough time for the scene below to have calmed considerably. Actually, the planet now looked more like Earth’s moon than its satellite did. All grey rock, craters, dust.

On a whim, the helmsman tried something else, a simple, single ping. Something that just about anyone could respond to. Even children in old fashioned plastic-wood houses felt the need to pound on a wall if someone on the other side did it first. It was a last ditch effort; if there was on response to this, then the ship would head on its merry. There was no point in stopping to help people who didn’t want to be helped.

The entire drew seemed to be holding their breath as they waited. Then, in the silence that followed, disturbed only by the repeating message of the old distress beacon, there was a response: a single ping, only slightly lower in tone than theirs had been.

The crew cheered. They really didn’t know what they were facing, or who was living beneath the garish surface of the moon now, but at least they knew that someone was there, and intelligent enough to respond, to make the equipment send out that one, small and hopeful sound. First contact with the survivors of an extraordinary disaster. First contact with a race of people that didn’t need oxygen to breathe. First contact with almost unlimited possibilities. After all, however close the coloured moon looked to Earth’s, beneath its surface was a world entirely different and that was what they were here to find. They were here to learn, to explore, and if possible, to help. All Davis could do now was hope that they didn’t bugger it up. All these light years looking, reaching out, and that one lonely ping was the only response they’d received so far.

Prompt: NASA Image of the Day: May 8, 2007



by | May 8, 2007