Fragments of “Dead Planet”

I believe I originally wrote these “scenes” in early 2017. However, I don’t recall why I elected to script my thoughts about this particular idea in such a way. “Dead Planet” was definitely intended to have action and horror elements, although I never got around to recording any of those imaginings.

Characters

Rubicon Crew
Everett
Walls
Day
McCutchen
Benson
Vaughn
Zamora

Others
Newman – program director

***

NEWMAN
One StarChip made quite a discovery.

EVERETT
Which one?

NEWMAN
Number eight. Transmissions started arriving last month.

EVERETT
Kepler-22?

NEWMAN
That’s the one. And you thought we’d never find anything.
Biosignatures, metal-heavy signatures –

EVERETT
I had hoped we wouldn’t.

Beat.

And just 180 parsecs away. Incredible. This is beyond the most
optimistic projections.

NEWMAN
There’s more.

EVERETT
What?

Beat.

NEWMAN
First contact.

***

WALLS
I want you to seriously think about something for me.

DAY
What’s that?

WALLS
Is this our last mission?

DAY
That’s what we’ve all talked about.

WALLS
This is the last one for me – this has to be the last one. No more readjusting and relearning how to live. I don’t ever intend to leave Earth again once we get back.

DAY
I don’t think anyone will blame you or any of us for wanting a normal life.

WALLS
I want a life when I get back. And I want that life to be with you.

***

NEWMAN
Rubicon will reach the Kupier Belt in ten years. The mass drive will
be activated at that point. Within a few seconds, Rubicon will be
just outside the Kepler-22 system.

POLITICAL ADVISOR 1
How soon can we expect a transmission?

NEWMAN
There can be no transmission before Rubicon has returned to our
system. Ten years out. Six or seven years to approach the planet.
Another six or seven to return to the jump point.

POLITICAL ADVISOR 2
Twenty-five years?

NEWMAN
We should have them home in thirty-five, but, yes, twenty-five years before
we can expect transmissions.

POLITICAL ADVISOR 1
I may well be dead in twenty-five years.

NEWMAN
We all may be. But the crew won’t be. They’d age only a year or so.

***

EVERETT
Kepler-22c was selected for this program due to the belief the planet was
an Earth analog.

DAY
The similarities are amazing.

EVERETT
And the data from the visiting StarChip is even more unbelievable. The
biosignatures are the same you’d expect to see on Earth. Enhanced images
clearly demonstrate artificial patterns on the surface.

MCCUTCHEN
What level of development are we suspecting?

EVERETT
There is a strong suspicion we are essentially dealing with a
Bronze Age culture. Perhaps somewhat more advanced than that. Perhaps not.

WALLS
How did StarChip make contact?

Beat.

EVERETT
StarChip didn’t. Our parameters included no contact unless absolutely unavoidable. We were the proverbial good children in the room – perhaps seen but never heard.

MCCUTCHEN
How did a Bronze Age culture detect StarChip?

EVERETT
We don’t believe Starchip was detected, but there appear to be intentional fires on the
surface – very extensive fires burning in roughly geometric shapes. Some of the images suggest that these patterns were intended to be observed from above. Starchip just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

DAY
Forest fires?

EVERETT
Apparently. But we believe these were intentionally set to burn as a means to communicate.

BENSON
So, maybe like a survivor stranded on a deserted island? You build a fire in the hopes of catching the attention of a passing ship or airplane.

ZAMORA
That’s an interesting thought. But destroy your forests – an invaluable resource for such a civilization – to contact who? Who are you reaching out to?

WALLS
The natives didn’t build fires hoping Columbus would find land.

MCCUTCHEN
I think the natives may have burned everything to stop Columbus from
landing – had they known what was coming.

(to Everett)

Are you sure StarChip wasn’t detected?

EVERETT
Very unlikely.

WALLS
Could be a sign of conflict.

EVERETT
True.

WALLS
How does this look to everyone else?

DAY
A plea.

EVERETT
I agree – an appeal to the gods.

WALLS
Do we intervene?

Beat.

EVERETT
Would God?

Inspiration from New Horizons: “An Eon-old, Icy Tomb”

Having heard their desperate shouts on her transmitter, Yamamoto quickly donned a suit and, with a specialized ice axe in hand, rushed out to save her crew. The fog was impossibly thick, and she could not see the front of the nitrogen wave. Chunks of ice and snow fell to the ground slowly but in such density that little was visible to her.

When the first images from New Horizons became available a few years ago, I was immediately smitten with the bizarre features of Pluto and Charon. The geography of these distant worlds was both familiar and strange, and I think that added a layer of wonder that continues to fuel any author in the midst of a science fiction brainstorm. Continue reading “Inspiration from New Horizons: “An Eon-old, Icy Tomb””

“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Our Dinosauroid Overlords”

“We wish to die the way of our ancestors.”

When the dinosauroids returned to Earth after a sixty–six million year absence, most were pleased with how the planet had recovered from the devastation of Chicxulub Continue reading ““How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Our Dinosauroid Overlords””

“The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost”

Developing intelligence early in the Cretaceous, these dinosaurs had escaped the destruction of Chicxulub and departed the Earth for a distant world.

After their return, the creatures described their origin to mankind. Developing intelligence early in the Cretaceous, these dinosaurs had escaped the destruction of Chicxulub and departed the Earth for a distant world.  Continue reading ““The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost””

An Eon-old, Icy Tomb

This flash fiction piece was originally published by Pale Ghosts Magazine. I wanted to share this story again on the anniversary of Pluto’s discovery in 1930.

Colina slid across the surface of a frozen nitrogen lake, kicking up a haze of dust and ice. The gravity was not strong enough to pull him completely to the surface, but his momentum dragged him forward, scrapping his suit against several icy ridges. One sharp edge punctured his suit just below the right shoulder. The pressurized interior of the suit erupted through this opening, and Colina could see a gaseous jet of steam violently deflecting off the ice beneath him.

Hiller slowed his long strides just enough to bend down and wrap his arms around Colina. Regaining their footing, both men continued their retreat. In such low gravity, their movement resembled a long, awkward skip. Colina pressed a gloved hand over the puncture in his suit, hoping to stop the pressure and oxygen from escaping too fast.

Colina and Hiller were two of the three crewmembers of the Agnosta mission. The Agnosta had launched from Earth over a decade before, with each of the crewmembers kept in stasis for the journey to Pluto.

A century earlier, New Horizons successfully reached Pluto, sending tantalizing photographs and data about the dwarf planet back to Earth. These images and findings were eagerly released to the media, with one significant exception. New Horizons had photographed a mysterious object at the foot of the Wright Mons – a massive cryovolcano to the southwest of the Norgay Montes. The predominant theory was that this cryovolcano brought the mysterious object to the surface from within the pressurized interior of the dwarf planet. The object was believed to be a spacecraft of unknown origin.

Subsequent probes attempted to study the craft with mixed success. When a surface rover failed to negotiate the rugged terrain to the south of Sputnik Planum, plans were laid for the Agnosta mission.

After landing near the Wright Mons on a rocky outcropping between the Norgay Montes and Cthulhu Regio, the crew had spent two days preparing research equipment. On the third day, Hiller and Colina left the lander for their mysterious target. Yamamoto, the mission commander, stayed behind, monitoring the progress of her crew. The careful walk from the lander across the frozen nitrogen lake went as expected.

The first tremor created noticeable cracks on the icy lake surface not long after the pair had reached the foot of the cryovolcano.

Despite this ominous development, Hiller and Colina continued to their destination and spent several hours studying the craft. Chisels were used to remove icy masses from the bizarre fuselage. Measurements and photographs were taken. One occupant, frozen in place where one might expect to find a pilot, was oddly familiar in appearance. Cameras mounted on Hiller and Colina’s suits sent footage back to Yamamoto. The mission commander found the inscriptions on the outside of the craft to be fascinating. Although the language was alien, there was no doubt that a certain pattern on the craft seemed to show a solar system – a star encircled by eight planets. An accompanying design seemed to indicate that the craft had originated on the third planet and traveled beyond the eighth. Yamamoto, Hiller, and Colina were still processing this implication when the occasional tremors suddenly turned into an eruption.

Rushing down the slope as quickly as possible, Colina had repeatedly stumbled, finally falling and damaging his suit once reaching the lake. The Wright Mons released a fury of ice, rock, and nitrogen.

The nitrogen was the real concern.

On the surface of Pluto, nitrogen was volatile. The low pressure boiled some of the nitrogen into a gas, creating a hazy blue fog. The incredibly low temperatures froze some of the nitrogen, resurfacing the lake. Unfortunately, a considerable portion of the nitrogen stayed a liquid wave. This wave gained on the desperately skipping Agnosta crewmen.

The lake shook violently, opening a massive chasm in front of Colina. Unable to stop, Colina tumbled into this chasm ahead of a rush of liquid nitrogen. Hiller threw himself onto the surface of the lake and reached down into the chasm.

“Jump!” Hiller shouted. His voice came to Colina’s ears laced with static.

The blue fog blanketed the chasm. Hiller could no longer see Colina, but he could hear the man’s fading cries.

Suddenly, Hiller felt Colina grab both of his hands.

“I’ve got you!” Hiller called.

Having heard their desperate shouts on her transmitter, Yamamoto quickly donned a suit and, with a specialized ice axe in hand, rushed out to save her crew. The fog was impossibly thick, and she could not see the front of the nitrogen wave. Chunks of ice and snow fell to the ground slowly, but in such density that little was visible to her.

“I’ve got him!” Hiller called over the transmitter. “We’re a hundred meters from the lander but I’m pulling him out.”

Hiller twisted his body to lift Colina from the chasm but was hardly able to move. The chasm was nearly filled with nitrogen, and Hiller knew that Colina was submerged in the liquid. Hiller pulled again to no avail.

Splashing through nitrogen, Yamamoto could see Hiller’s form on the surface of the lake. She called out to him.

“My arms!” Hiller shouted back. “I’m stuck!”

Hiller’s arms had frozen in the chasm.

Yamamoto rushed forward, swinging the axe down into the chasm with all the force she could muster. The nitrogen was too deep now, and she knew the chasm was nearly frozen solid. She wouldn’t be able to hack Hiller’s arms out of the ice in time.

“Pull on me!” Hiller cried.

Yamamoto grabbed Hiller around the chest and pulled back. Hiller strained with his back and legs. With a rush of movement, Yamamoto and Hiller tumbled backward. Hiller’s screams deafened the Agnosta commander.

Hiller had freed his arms, but the ice had ripped off his gloves. His hands and wrists were exposed to the freezing, near-vacuum of Pluto.

His hands immediately discolored and swelled. Yamamoto scrambled in the freezing slush to lift Hiller to his feet, but his suit completely depressurized in seconds. He gagged and choked as his blood began to boil in the thin atmosphere.

Hiller fell away from Yamamoto, collapsing down into the slush in agony. Yamamoto could only save herself now. She turned to begin striding toward the lander.

Her feet did not move. The slush from the eruption was now above her ankles, and she realized that she would join Colina, Hiller, and, most likely, the Agnosta lander in becoming a part of the frozen nitrogen lake. She briefly envisioned her crew and lander being regurgitated by the Wright Mons eons in the future, as the ice of the lake was forced down, partially melted, pressurized, and forced through the cryovolcano.

Surely, that’s what had happened with the mysterious spacecraft that the Agnosta had come to study. The mysterious spacecraft that had traveled from Earth millions of years ago to this same point, for purposes only to be imagined, and crewed by a race of previously unknown, but obviously very intelligent, theropods, only to be trapped on the surface of this same lake.

Yamamoto imagined space-faring dinosaurs escaping the Earth sixty-five million years earlier in order to avoid the Chicxulub asteroid.

As the nitrogen slush slowly consumed her, she wondered what, if anything, might one day come along next, only to inevitably join her in this icy tomb.

Joshua Scully, Chicxulub Redux

DODGING THE RAIN

Joshua Scully is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. He writes primarily speculative fiction. His work has appeared in several online and print magazines and can be found @jojascully. 

The Red Planet grumbled uneasily. This subterranean shuddering was no longer only mildly disconcerting. Rayar understood that no matter how surreal his entire situation appeared, the consequences of this mission would be both momentous and tangible.

Coolly manipulating controls within the operation cabin, Rayar disengaged the primary support struts of the first missile. Knowing that the launch window was approaching, he activated the piloting and propulsion systems. Lithium power cells hummed to life far below the launch platform. He exhaled deeply, hoping to keep his nerves in check. He didn’t want his stomach to turn at this critical point.

Each system required time to fully come online, so Rayar allowed himself a few moments of mental release. He imagined his home…

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An Eon-old, Icy Tomb

A Visit to the Idea Factory

A mysterious spacecraft is discovered partially buried on the surface of Pluto in “An Eon-old, Icy Tomb” – my most recent science fiction piece to be published. Inspiration for this particular story came from photographs taken by the New Horizons probe. Pluto offers some absolutely breathtaking landscapes, shaped by both slowly unfolding geological events and violent outburst that can occur quiet suddenly.

The real backbone of the story concerns the primary characters attempting to flee from an erupting cryovolcano – no easy task. Most of the action occurs near the Wright Mons, which is the geological feature that drives the action. The origin of the ancient spacecraft owes to an eon-old curiosity of my own.

Pale Ghosts Magazine published “An Eon-old, Icy Tomb” in November of 2016.

Click on the image below to be taken to “An Eon-old, Icy Tomb” somewhere among the chaos terrain and wastelands of Pluto.

pluto

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