The capsule screamed through the atmosphere tearing a perfectly straight orange gash into the Proximian sky. When the capsule had slowed down sufficiently from the re-entry a series of parachutes ejected from it and each one slowed the capsule down progressively; until the last and biggest parachute opened which brought the capsule safely onto the surface of the infinite Proximian ocean. There it bobbed gently on a perfectly blue ocean and a perfectly yellow sky.
Inside the capsule the three passengers were exhausted with the excitement of the dramatic re-entry experience. The strange woman was the first to release herself from her harness and she sank to the baggage laden floor with a soft ‘wee’ sound. Harold and Alfred decided they had better get themselves free and instead of gently falling to the floor with a fluid motion the pair flopped down like jelly dropped on concrete. Groans of pain soon filled the cramped space inside the capsule. The woman was the first to get up and she immediately opened the hatch. Fresh, and surprisingly unsalty, sea air flooded the cabin.
“Home!” she wheezed joyfully with her head sticking out of the capsule.
She turned around to see the two men struggling to turn themselves over onto their sides.
“What’s wrong with you two?” she asked.
“We never felt gravity like this before,” groaned Harold.
“Yeah, the worst gravity I’ve ever felt was on the moon,” gasped Alfred.
The woman was astonished to hear this and explained that her name was Kimberley and that she was born on Proxima Minor but had been living in space for the past two and a half years on her own. She explained that she was a scientist studying the spatial rift that had flooded her home planet so thoroughly. Since Alfred and Harold clearly needed some rest time she distracted herself working with some equipment she had brought on board. Then she waited until they were more recovered from the effects of experiencing Earth like gravity for the first time in their lives before continuing the introductions.
“So what about you two? Who are you?”
“I’m Alfred, and this is Harold. We’re just a couple of farm boys who decided to set out for the new colonies in search of a better life.”
“Farm boys? Did you grow crops on the moon or something?”
“No, I was an oxygen farmer and Harold here was a hydrogen farmer. We grew up in the asteroid belt settlements.”
“Oxygen farmer? You grew oxygen? Like in a field?” puzzled Kimberley.
The two young men laughed, “no of course not, but in the asteroid belt everyone lives in these artificial habitats and we all have to buy oxygen to pressurised our homes. I worked on just one of hundreds of oxygen farms across the asteroid belt that sometimes took CO2 and converted to oxygen or we took ice found on asteroids and converted it into hydrogen and oxygen. That’s where Harold worked. They would take our hydrogen, but they would also extract it from rocks and turn it into rocket fuel. Just the daily essentials needed for living in an asteroid belt.”
“Wow, so were you two like born in space?”
“No, we were born on Mars, which is pretty common for people out that way, but I left when I was four and Harold when he was six. Funnily enough never been back to Mars in all that time but we stopped over at the Moon a few times over the years.”
Kimberley considered this for a few minutes, then returned to looking outside the capsule. Slowing Harold and Alfred managed to get the strength to stand up straight. They both took drugs daily to deal with the effects of low gravity on the body, which although not perfect, had compensated for much of the wastage that usually occurs from living a lifetime in space. However, they were not used to having to exert so much effort to move themselves. They watched with envy how much better Kimberley was coping with the gravity, she managed to climb out of the capsule and they heard her fumbling around with some tools out there. After ten minutes she crawled back into the cramped capsule.
“Computer!” she chimed, “can you detect the transmitter I installed outside?”
“Yes,” came the flat reply from the capsule computer system, “what is the purpose of this upgrade?”
“It is a replacement distress beacon that will only work on this planet. Could you please power it?”
“Certainly. Are you sure you would like to rescue these two cowards though?”
Harold groaned, while Kimberley laughed.
“You’ve got to admit the guy who programmed this computer had a funny sense of humour. Its a shame this capsule will just be scrapped, I wouldn’t mind taking the data module and playing around with it.”
With that she went over to a panel inside the capsule and started unscrewing it and thus exposing the components of the computer system. She studied them, and finding the module she wanted selected it and plugged a cable from her datapad into it so she could download all the information from it.
“Kimberley,” started Harold, “I thought everyone on this planet drowned when it flooded with water.”
“Drowned? What do you mean?”
“Well, the planet got flooded and didn’t all the colonists die?”
Kimberley looked at Harold as though he were saying something so obviously ridiculous she didn’t understand why he would be asking him. Alfred jumped in and explained about the information video they had watched while on the Icarus.
“Oh that’s really strange. Of course we didn’t drown, it took four years for the planet to flood, do you think people just sat and waited for the water level to raise enough to drown them in that time?”
Kimberley’s explanation seemed like such perfect common sense that Harold felt embarrassed now for asking such a silly question.
“But why would the government lie to us about the colony being drowned completely?”
Kimberley shrugged her shoulders and smiled cheekily, “I don’t know, I don’t know what governments do, we never had any. But it is a funny story to tell everyone back on Earth that we drowned.”
Harold blinked furiously, “What? You didn’t have any government?”
Kimberley looked thoughtful, “Well I supposed we kind of did, we had our guilds: the Kirons, the Ferrens, the Comptoni, the Vegani, and the Aerons. But they didn’t set rules as such, just guidelines and customs for how we should live our lives. You wouldn’t necessarily get into trouble if you didn’t follow them, but it was generally best just to follow the examples of the guild leadership.”
Harold was speechless at hearing such a confusing explanation for how these people supposedly lived and couldn’t think of anything else to say. Alfred spoke up next, “if the population didn’t drown, then where are all the colonists?”
“Well every guild looked to their own strengths so as to figure out the best strategy to adapt to the impending changes taking place on our world once we realised we couldn’t close the spatial rift. The Ferrens were good a mining so they dug deep underground and built cities and passages deep into the planet’s crust. The Comptoni focused on building water proof buildings and vehicles that could still function on the hard surface once it was flooded. The Vegani believed in the importance of growing food purely by sunlight so for them the idea of living underneath the water was unthinkable so they built floating houses and cities. The Aerons were aviators and explorers so they decided to take to the skies permanently by building hovering townships and flying houses. That’s how our population adapted to the changes coming to our world.”
Alfred realised she had missed out on one group, her own the Kirons, he asked her about them.
“The Kirons are my guild, the same guild who brought the calamity upon this world. We felt so ashamed of ourselves for causing this that our leadership felt we didn’t deserve to actually survive it. So instead we were advised to all do our best to help the other four guilds to survive by sharing with them all of our knowledge and technology for their benefit so that they could survive. Kirons live among all the other guilds, we don’t have a place of our own. If we did though, we would have build orbital stations and lived in space.”
“Is that what you were doing up there?”
Kimberley smiled, “No, I was up there working to fix this problem so as to redeem my guild and restore our honour. After two years of studying the spatial rift from orbit I have some vital information which should help us to seal this rift! That’s why I was so happy when I saw your spaceship crashing into the planet, I needed a re-entry capsule to get back down here, and after months of waiting you two just popped out of nowhere, so don’t listen to what that computer says, I think you’re both heroes!”
Harold chuckled and blushed, while Alfred rolled his eyes, “yeah, it’s pretty heroic being in the wrong place at the wrong time without planning to.”
Then the seriousness of the situation struck Harold, “hang on, a lot of people probably died up there when the Icarus crashed, that’s a pretty callous to make light of even if it was your for your own providence.”
Kimberley blinked a few times while speaking, “but the Icarus didn’t crash…”
There was an explosion of shock and questions from the two men. Kimberley explained that moments after their capsule had left the sub-light engines actually fired up on the Icarus and it powered into orbit safely. Harold questioned the capsule computer if this was true, the computer confirmed that indeed just 36 seconds after the capsule had ejected the Icarus had gained power and safely made orbit.
“Then we had better contact the ship and see if they can rescue us!”
Kimberley shook her head, “Nope, you can’t do that because I ripped out the radio transmitter from this capsule and replaced it with mine.”
“But how are we going to be rescued?”
“Rescued? You’ve made planet fall, the government won’t be spending any money on rescuing you now.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, they never once came down here to try to rescue anyone before. Why would they start now?”
“But we’re not the only ones, dozens of people evacuated needlessly with us!”
Kimberley looked thoughtful, “You know this kind of thing happens to us on this planet a lot more often than you might think. We’ve had a lot of people arrive on this planet the way you two just did.”
“But what are they going to tell our families?”
Kimberley paused thoughtfully and then smiled, “I know! They will tell them that you drowned!”
At just that moment before the conversation could continue the capsule lurched violently. Everyone grabbed onto the nearest hand rail to steady themselves on. There was the unmistakeable feeling now of the capsule beginning to rise from the surface of the ocean into the air.
“What’s happening now?”
Kimberley was smiling yet again and coolly said, “don’t worry, it’s just the Aerons, they’ve come to take us back to their capital!”
Harold groaned again.