Wyld FLASH 9 Apr 2021
We called them messages in a bottle. A term someone dug up from the vid-library in the colony hub. Centuries ago, people on Earth had put hand-written notes inside glass bottles and set them adrift on the ocean, hoping someone would find and read their messages.
The messages we received on Proxima B arrived in small, ovoid spacecraft, like shiny metallic eggs. They came every two years, and we’d take the capsules into the colony hub, assemble everyone, and listen to recorded messages from Earth. Much of it was well wishes from the leaders of different nations, sometimes notes from relatives to specific colonists, but what we wanted to hear most was Dr. Dryden’s update on the state of our home planet. Dr. Dryden was the administrator of SpaceNow, and the driving force behind the program that sent a hundred scientists and dreamers out into the void. The doctor surreptitiously added his messages at the end of the others. No one else would be so truthful.
We’d been settled on Proxima B for four years when Dr. Dryden’s messages changed, became ominous, even fearful, still the first was nothing like what would come.
Food shortages continue to escalate, but the European Union and The United States have made progress on synthetic food stuffs that look hopeful. Still, millions starve every year. War between China and Russia continues, and the death toll is so high they don’t count it anymore. Here at home, the president began his fourth term, and the demonstrations after his inauguration—and more precisely, the response to these demonstrations—left eleven major cities in flames.
Sometimes I can block out the sirens and thunder of stun grenades in the square by looking at the stars and thinking how far away you are from all this. I hope my words find you well.
The conversation after that message had been quiet and grim. We all grieved for the people of Earth. I reminded everyone we served them best by making our small colony work and thrive. We were humanity’s hope, a miracle of science and cooperation that had escaped a beleaguered planet.
Life and work continued for the next two years. The colony grew into a small village. There were thirty-one births, and we lost only a single child. Our crops took root in the alien soil and thrived. Everyone had shelter, food, and community. We forgot about Earth until the next capsule came.
Again, we assembled in the hub, one hundred and fifty of us now. The message was similar to the first, though the conspicuous absence of certain world leaders—namely China and Russia—concerned me. There were fewer well wishes, and nothing from family or friends. There were questions, however, and the capsule came with a new bit of technology, a compact laser array that could send messages across the vast gulf of space, though it took considerable energy to do so. The president of the United States, the same one who had been in power when we left, wanted an update on our colony. That was strange; the government and the president had largely ignored us. In fact, many of us were seen as political agitators and the general sentiment from the ruling administration had been nothing short of “good riddance.” Then Dr. Dryden’s voice filled the hub.
My friends, conditions on Earth have become dire. Last year, twenty-seven million died from a strain of flu so virulent it seemed a plague sent from a vengeful god. China and Russia annihilated one another in nuclear fire, taking much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia with them. Here in the United States, the president closed the borders and declared martial law. He has been declared president for life, and all future elections are cancelled.
The SpaceNow program has not been defunded, however, and the government shows renewed interest in our project. I worry, my friends. I look to the stars, and I worry. If I am unable to send another message, know that you are humanity’s best and last hope.
The hub exploded in cries of fear and panic after the message ended. Many begged me not to send word back to Earth. Let them believe our colony had failed. Let them believe we died in the cold vacuum of space. I listened and part of me agreed, but I told them we represented hope to humanity, that peace and cooperation between all nations and peoples can achieve miracles. Earth needed our guidance.
I sent the message the next day. I recorded it myself, and filled it with our successes, our glorious harmony. I told them about a thriving collective of humanity committed to equality and fairness, to community and building each other up rather than seeking and exploiting our differences.
Another two years went by, our village became a small city, our numbers grew. The planet yielded to us her secrets—precious titanium ore in the mountains, strains of local fruit more nourishing than anything we’d brought from earth, seas rich with edible fauna.
Then the capsule arrived.
It was different from the others. Not the smooth shining egg Dr. Dryden had sent but a black jagged thing, a spike of dark metal hurled at us across the inestimable blackness of space. We took it into the hub, and the message played.
We heard nothing from world leaders, no hopeful or encouraging missives from the people of Earth, just his voice.
I want to congratulate you on your successes, on your tireless efforts to build a new home for your fellow patriots.
The people in the hub took in a collective breath of terror. But the worst was to come, a prophecy of doom spoken by a man who ruled a dying planet and looked to the stars to continue his reign.
Prepare for us, friends. We are coming.
Author bio: Aeryn Rudel’s short fiction has appeared in The Arcanist, On Spec, and Pseudopod, among others. He writes at www.rejectomancy.com
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