A single spark of light floats from the darkness of space – down, down toward the murky surface of a red-brown planet. It orbits just above the surface, once, twice, before sinking into the frozen wastes of the south pole. There it seems to dim, shuddering and flickering as though on the verge of snuffing out. Then, a miracle. The spark slowly separates in half, taking an age as one peels away from the other, until there are two sparks. The process happens again, faster this time. There are four. Then eight. Then sixteen… Until, on an invisible command, they stop. Thousands shift under the surface, a beautiful, luminous wave of light moving from one end to the other, back and forth…
As one, they begin sending out a signal, invisible to any ear or eye.
Four short blips. Three longer blips. Two longer blips. One short blip. They repeat this over and over. Two years later, a small metal tube moves into orbit.
This small metal tube, made more for speed than for research, contains two women. Their uniforms are fresh and clean; their faces less so. The bags beneath their eyes could carry the weight of every planet they’d passed. One sits in the command chair, the other stands at the panel next to her, monitoring the alert the signallers are emitting. They drift through space towards the planet.
On sight of the signallers, that pulsating wave of light, both sigh in relief. The captain of the vessel slips her hand into the other’s, and squeezes.
Their comms crackles. ‘Alpha One report your position.’
The captain speaks, her voice rough with disuse. ‘Ares. We’ve found the signallers, at last. From what we could see on the way, they’ve done their job well.’
‘Good.’ There’s a clear hesitation on the other end.
The other woman breaks her silence. ‘You should start bringing everyone else now. The signal is clear and strong, and from our readings there’s enough carbon dioxide and water in the ice sheets that we could make this work.’
The voice is quiet. And then: ‘What about…?’
‘The predictions were clear. The nuclear fallout will mean that Earth is still unlivable,’ The captain said firmly. ‘And we all know we can’t live outside the Kuiper Belt for much longer, especially not the children. Stella is right, Henry. Bring everyone in. We’ll begin work now.’
Henry sighed. ‘Alright Lena. Signing off. Good luck out there.’
The shuttle sinks onto the surface with a sigh, and at their moment of landing the sparks wink out.
They don spacesuits and exit cautiously, carrying their supplies with them. The door hisses shut. The rocks are hard under their feet, the ground uneven. Ankle-turning, if you didn’t watch your step. Red dust quickly coats their feet and legs, and when the breeze whips it up, it muddies the blinding white of their upper bodies too. Lena’s spacesuit supplies her with a deep breath of oxygen.
She exhales it slowly, examining the rocky, dusty, wasted terrain, the long expanse of ice ahead, where the signallers once put on their light show.
“Well,” she muttered to herself. “On the bright side it’s not irradiated to hell and back.”
She hears Stella laugh. She hadn’t realised her communicator was on.
“Shall we set up this first greenhouse then?” Lena asks her with a smile, setting the pieces down.
“You know, when I said I wanted a place to grow more plants, I didn’t mean we should move to Mars.” Stella jokes.
“Its a good thing we got out though. You were always complaining about the lack of space.” Lena spreads her hands, raising her eyebrows dramatically.
Stella snorts. “Shut up and help me build this damned thing.”
The ‘greenhouse’ was more of a sealed bubble-like structure – the first of many to be built in a circle around the eventual, much larger ‘city’ bubble. The theory was that the plants and humans would eventually exchange CO2 and oxygen so that both could thrive. And the plants would also provide sustenance, of course.
But that was far in the future. Right now, they were hauling compost, made of all the waste they had produced on their journey, and dumping it in a thick layer on the floor.
The next day they woke early and dragged the drill to the ice. It took them almost the entire morning to drill a hole big enough for the CO2 converter. Sweat poured down their faces and every muscle ached as they dragged it back to the shuttle, only to have to start carrying the much heavier converter. They collapsed into their beds that night and woke up the next day just as early so that they could begin to connect up the tubing to the greenhouse.
Then, finally, when everything was ready, they began to plant the seeds they had brought.
They tended to them every day like they were their children. They were the hope of a bright future. They watered them, checked the solar powered lights, and the tubing for the CO2 converter.
And then, on the seventh day of the fifth week of growing, they were rewarded. Stella spotted the first green shoot within minutes of entering. Then Lena the next. Slowly, they counted thirty, Lena clutching Stella’s hand all the while.
They walked back to the shuttle in silence.
The moment they were free of their spacesuits, Lena melted into Stella’s arms.
Charlotte Carlile is currently a Masters student, studying Publishing and Creative Writing. She likes to read and write horror, fantasy and uncanny fiction, especially involving queer characters. She hopes to publish a novel sometime before the inevitable heat death of the universe.