By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: The crew find and explore an abandoned spaceship. They soon realize why it was abandoned.
No one at NASA could figure out how they’d miscalculated the spaceship’s re-entry so spectacularly. Everyone in the command center that day sat with shoulders hunched and averted their gazes from one another as they reran formulas and computations. None of it made any sense.
They got the trajectory wrong. They got the landing location wrong. They got the day wrong.
It didn’t help that Houston had lost transmission with the spaceship for two weeks before it came back. One minute one of the astronauts was chatting with Xavier. The next minute radio silence. Literally.
Xavier’s heart had begun to pound, but he didn’t lose his cool. Not then, anyway. By the time the night ended and he stumbled into the parking lot with the feathering light of day making his steps cloudy against the asphalt, his chest felt like a freight train was running through it.
They’d lost contact with the astronauts; no one knew why.
Still, everything seemed okay. NASA was able to track the craft itself, and it seemed to be on course. This mission had progressed smoothly thus far, and it was the first one sending people back into the void beyond the ISS. A few hitches were to be expected.
Then they lost the craft on the radar. After that, no one left the command center. By the time it showed back up, minutes before re-entry, the entire room had begun to smell like the locker room after a particularly tense game.
The number of takeout containers and wrappers didn’t help either. The cleaning staff did what they could, but a person could only scrub out a space with no windows for so long. It was kind of a losing battle.
When the spacecraft showed up on the radar, Xavier had just enough time to suck in a breath before it hit the ground. Not the water off the coast of Florida as it was supposed to. The ground.
The entire center stayed quiet for approximately 3.7 seconds before sounds exploded. Phones began ringing. The head of the team sent out repeated calls to the spaceship, his voice rising in pitch with every unsuccessful attempt. Other team members ran back and forth between various stations with reams of data and new calculations.
Xavier dropped his head in his hands. What had gone wrong? Who had made the mistake?
What would happen now?
At least, everyone said in the beginning, that the craft came back. Okay, so they lost sight and sound of it, but it came back. Minutes after landing, diplomatic calls were made between heads of countries—a courteous, concerned president speaking to a polite, interested prime minister—and it was agreed that Americans would be dispatched right away to receive the astronauts.
Or what’s left of them, Xavier thought in a miserable state.
There was no way the spacecraft could have survived a ground landing. No way. It just wasn’t built for one.
Satellite images, though, defied all logic by sending back photos of a craft that looked a little dinged up but was otherwise fine. Maybe, everyone reasoned, the astronauts would be okay. Team members tried contacting them again, but there was no response. Maybe the astronauts were all…asleep?
Because it would take the Americans nearly four days to travel from Houston, there being no flights from Houston—or anywhere in the States—to Greenland, the president made a gentle request for Greenland scientists to check out the spacecraft first. Two scientists and two doctors, along with a camera person, comprised the team that arrived in the lonely field where the spaceship lay, smoke puffing in weak streams from its side.
Xavier watched on the sat feed as the scientists and doctors entered the spacecraft. The cameraman stayed outside to take a few shots of the surrounding area and to reassure the engineers in Houston and in Greenland’s parliament that everything was fine. After an hour, the cameraman followed everyone else inside. The minute he crossed the entryway, the screen went black.
The nightmare of the loss of contact started again.
Another Greenland team followed. The Greenlanders were worried about their scientists and doctors; they didn’t have nearly as many to spare as the Americans. The Americans, fighting hard to restore diplomatic relationships all across the world, were wringing their hands about what it all might mean.
Xavier’s chest became a solid block of ice; he’d lost all ability to feel anything other than a dull sense of dread.
The second Greenland team followed the way of the first, and by that time the Americans arrived. They, too, got “lost” inside the spaceship. Scientists and mathematicians in Houston began new calculations. Talk started of possibly drilling into the hard-packed earth under the ship. No one wanted to voice the one question they were all thinking.
Where was everyone going?
At first, Houston considered the mission incomplete and was determined to pursue all avenues, but the Greenland government began to lose patience. NASA, too, elected to start redirecting resources to a new mission. They offered training to Greenland astronauts, which appeased the prime minister and caused a little less hand-wringing inside the White House.
A year later, no one was talking about the Greenland spaceship anymore, as they’d all begun calling it. They were focused on the new mission they were putting together. It was an unfortunate cost, no doubt about it, but the astronauts and everyone else involved knew that the possibility of paying one existed.
Xavier allowed himself to get pulled into other projects, but in his spare time he still ran calculations. He still worked through various scenarios. After almost two years, he came to a single conclusion.
If he wanted to know what happened to the astronauts—and everyone else—in the Greenland spaceship, he’d have to go there himself.
To be continued…