This is a story I started writing a little while ago but didn’t get very far. The working title is “The Last Chapter” and this first chapter is called “Beauty.”
“All hope has drained from the ship. We’ve been trapped in orbit around this planet for almost three years now. Why? Because in addition to the small challenge of finding somewhere in the planet suitable for a landing, we also need to ensure we land in a friendly place. Not every species in the universe likes the human race, and if we choose the wrong place we may not survive very long. The planet below is becoming more crowded the longer we wait. Maybe we’ll have to stay in orbit forever, just to ensure our survival.
“Survival. The word seems to have lost all meaning in spite of the fact that it’s the only thing that keeps us moving forward at the moment. I know there are a number of people on board who don’t see the point. Is there a point?
“The birth rate has dropped to near zero, and the suicide rate has rocketed. Perhaps even more concerning is the dramatic increase in unexplained deaths. We’re coming apart at the seams and I don’t know how to pull it back together, or even if I should try.
“I’ve heard that there’s a group planning to leave and head down to the planet, presumably because they’re fed up of waiting for an official plan of action. While I can’t be seen to approve of what they’re doing I think they’re right to be making their own plans. No official plan is ever likely to materialise such is the nature of mixing politics and fear. My son has talked about joining them and it tears me apart that we might be separated, but I can’t join them. It wouldn’t be fitting for the Captain to abandon ship, would it? Maybe standards like that simply don’t matter anymore. Maybe nothing matters anymore.
“We’re still scanning the planet for suitable landing sites, and gathering intel on the various species below, their political makeup and their feelings about the human race. We’ve suspended the covert recon programme; too many people didn’t return, and most of those who did had to be isolated to protect the rest of the population. Most of them eventually took their own lives as you’ll know if you’ve read my previous log entries. I decided that I can’t keep doing that to people even if they do volunteer for it, especially since we’re yet to get any useful information from them. The chances of successfully integrating with the chaos below seem to be slim to none and getting slimmer.
“I’m given pause to consider you, the reader. Who are you? What are you? In whose hands has my log found itself? Are you human? In the short term I suppose you’ll be one of my descendants. I plan to give this log book to my son, and I hope that if he goes on to have children of his own he’ll pass it on. So are you my grandson or granddaughter? How many generations have passed? How are we doing? Are we surviving? I hope so, I really do.”
Chris closed the logbook slowly and held it to her chest. She closed her eyes and leaned back, sinking into the luxurious Captain’s chair. Quietly she answered his questions, as she did every time she read this entry. “My name is Christina Kavanah, and I’m your great, great granddaughter. And yes, we are surviving.” She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
John sank back into his chair and stared at the ceiling with a sigh. He’d been out all night with his telescope and had a pile of notes to work through. The effects were definitely starting to accelerate, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before they started feeling them directly. Word had reached him several cycles ago that the catastrophic cosmic events were now visible during the day in some areas of the planet. This was not a good sign.
His reflection was interrupted by Gemma bursting in to the room. John jumped out of the chair and started rearranging the notes on his desk. He couldn’t let Gemma know what he knew because it would only increase her desire to find a way off this planet. She took the view that surviving for another few generations on a ship heading further in towards the centre of the universe was worth the effort. John was yet to be convinced.
“You’ve got to come outside!”
And with that she left. John quickly gathered the various notebooks that were scattered around the desk, dropped them into the hidden shelf behind it and followed her out.
It looked like everyone was outside staring at the sky, but John didn’t need to look up to know what they were looking at. The ground looked orange as it usually did during the night, and that could only mean one thing. He looked up, scanned around the sky and he froze. Gemma was talking at him but for a few seconds all he heard was silence.
“Pretty, isn’t it,” she was saying, barely masking her own panic. And she was right, it was.
The sky was filled with streaks of every possible shade of orange. The occasional flash of red illuminated the atmosphere like a firework. There was no sound, just a beautiful light show as if a painter was splashing watercolours across a vast canvas. It was quite a show. Her panic was also spot on.
Snapping back to reality John dashed back into his office and returned with his camera. He knew it was probably pointless to capture what was happening but he felt compelled to document the catastrophic events as they unfolded. Chances are nobody would ever see them, he knew that. A lifetime of scientific research gave him comfort zone in which he could hide to avoid accepting that these things were happening to him.
His world was ending all around him, and that will be swiftly followed by the entire universe. He had nowhere left to hide. Nobody did.