“Captain, today’s D-Day,” said the lieutenant.
“Yes… it is. How many generations have gone by? Three? Four? I've lost track,” said the captain. He buckled the buttons on his jacket and lumbered towards the main deck.
“From what I recall, it’s been 98 years, 5 months and 12 days since Phase 3 of Project R.E.” the lieutenant said excitedly as she followed him. She held out a holographic device that would project digital files holding records of everything going on in the ark: vegetation production, population growth rates, news and activities.
"Later," said the captain placidly, and turned toward the lieutenant as he entered the deck. Inside were 100 crew members engrossed in their work of keeping the ark intact. The captain spared the usual morning greetings as he gave a curt nod of approval. This was no ordinary start to a 24-hour work day. It was THE day that would deviate from the usual rituals. After checking the attendance, he moved into the broadcasting center. The crew had set everything up for him to make the announcement. The captain finally spoke on the internal speaker that would carry his voice to all areas on the ship including the toilets.
“Citizens of the 2nd Ark. I’m pleased to announce that, after almost a century, we are finally ready. I know that most of you have lived in this ark for all of your lives and that this may be the only home you have known. I am not an exception. I may look like someone who has lived for quite a long time, but I too have never stepped outside this ark,” his voice began to waver as his emotions grew. The captain then paused to recollect himself. When he spoke again, he noticed that in his excitement, his words began to spill out faster than he had intended. He had never believed that he would live to deliver this proclamation. “Our elders frequently told us about how it would be like down there; that one day, we would see it with our own eyes, the massive mountains and the deep blue seas, the brilliant sky and the thick green forests - all that we have seen only in pictures and holograms. The computer device planted there just informed us last night. The the planet has been purified and brand new. Citizens, we are going back to Earth.”
The thunderous cheers permeated and could be felt even through the thick walls. Some of the crew members broke to tears and patted each other on the back. The captain wished he could join them and share the exhilarating moment of liberation and relief. He could have danced if he could. But he had work to do.
Back at the main deck, the captain was back in his usual self, calm and no-nonsense. “Let’s contact the rest of the arks; 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th. Get ready to warp in,” said the captain. The crews moved busily to initiate a space warp.
“I never knew we had a portal at Earth,” said the lieutenant.
“We don’t. They destroyed it after warping out. Instead, there’s one in the moon. I just hope that old machine works,” he said with a chuckle.
“Captain, we have confirmation from the other arks that they are ready to warp in,” said one of the crew.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” he said. The huge screen in front of them popped up, showing the ship’s status. “Initiate the warp.”
“Initiating warp, in five. Four. Three. Two,” said a crew. The ark started to shake a little bit and they could hear the engine roaring. “One.”
The captain saw it for the first time. A planet that actually looked like it was living; not livable, but living. The irregular shape of the white clouds looked magical, covering the green of the land here and there. The great blue sea was a marvel. Even from thousands of miles away, the ocean he looked through holograms looked realer than ever. He felt his heart beating fast with excitement and emotions beyond words. He quickly gathered himself to focus, but he was growing impatient. He wished he could zip through the Earth atmosphere, land anywhere possible, and breathe the fresh air and smell the scent of ocean and grass and tree. He grabbed the chair he was sitting by the arm so tight his hands started to numb.
“Right, take her close. We’ll rendezvous with the other arks when we land. There’s a rally point anyway. So let’s be the first one to set foot,” said the captain calming himself. Still, he was continuously leaning his body towards the large window up front, so close his hands were touching it. “And, have the scouting team armed and ready.”
The 2nd Ark traveled closer and the planet looked more fantastic as they did. Being enthralled by excitement, he captain, and the lieutenant was standing up with their mouths opened. The crews, who most should be working with their screens, were all watching out of the window as they moved closer.
When the ark was closer enough, the captain allowed for the scouting team of 12 people enter the atmosphere first. Just after the ark received information from Earth’s device, they started a ‘lottery’. Nine from the citizens, three from the soldiers. And they were going to be the first to set foot on Earth (of course along with other 12 people from other arks) – it was a great honor.
“Air status is normal. We can take off our masks,” said a soldier holding a detecting device. Everyone took off their masks and walked out of the aircraft that landed just in the middle of a forest. Everyone ran out and looked around in awe.
“Oh my god!” said a middle-aged woman. Everyone else did not need to say a word. They were too busy filling their eyes with pleasure. It wasn’t just the thick forest and the lush grass beneath their feet, but also the sound of birds and insects close by and flying above that brought their mouths to open and smile; their eyes so wide and their nose so fresh.
“What’s your status scout team?” buzzed a soldier’s microphone.
“Um… this is… wow, I don’t know how to explain this,” said the soldier looking around. The rest of the soldiers and civilians were all over the place already, each admiring the environment. “I mean… I really wish there’s a word for it. This is… this is Earth, captain.”
“Hey look at this,” said a man who was checking out the texture of a very tall tree. The tree had some mark, more of a scratch. It was fairly large and it carved in the tree quite deep. “Some kind of animal? I never have seen such a thing.”
Everyone gathered to the mysterious tree. They asked and looked at each other for answer, and at the same time, walked around it, admiring it.
“Scout team, do you have confirmation on people from other arks yet?” asked the captain. He was eager to shout at the god-forsaken soldier, to answer him quickly. This soldier took too long to speak; the captain thought he was on the verge of having a a heart attack. After a few moments, the microphone buzzed back.
“Not yet captain,” said the soldier back. Then suddenly, there was a violent rustling noise from the speaker. “Whoa, what’s that?”
“What do you see soldier?” demanded the captain. All eyes were on the main screen, where the soldier’s voice came back. The captain, regretfully, cursed himself for not installing a camera with the soldier’s uniform. “Answer me.”
“I see this… um… animal? Wait, it’s coming close…” the soldier stopped abruptly. Then there were about five rounds of gunfire.
“What was that, scout team?” asked the captain.
“Scout team?” asked the captain, a little puzzled from no reaction.
“Scout team, respond. You know I have the authority to arrest you for not following orders. Respond,” said the captain. Of course it was pretty much nonsense, but the captain was now feeling desperate.
“grrr…” the microphone finally responded. The sound was not normal. It was too deep and hoarse compared to the tone of the soldier. The roar, which it seemed, stopped, replaced by a very heavy noise of someone, or something breathing.
The breathing stopped. Then, there was a slight sound of grass being stepped on, bushing on whatever that walked on it. Everyone on the main deck lost their words and had their ears opened.
A deadly explosion was heard. The microphone died instantly. The captain dropped to his chair without a word.