Daily Flash Fiction Challenge 45: The Furthest Man

This is the 45th in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.

The Snow Angel, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 15th January 2012

Word count: 1,000

Theme: exploration, the first, technology, tribute, hope, drive, future, determination

The story:

“Charlie Whiskey Tango,” Captain Peters said into his microphone, “It’s oh nine thirty seven, I’m on final approach.” He settled into to the final manoeuvres that put him on course for entry into the planets atmosphere.

Captain Peters was five hundred light years from home, and on course to be the first man to set foot on an alien world outside the Sol system. Even with faster than light travel it had been a four year journey to reach this point.

The mission had started out as the brain child of Augustus Medley and John Bradley, two PhD students in Manchester, England who had devised the engine. Claire Cowley had joined later, being the person who had discovered the first supposedly habitable planet other than Earth, thus both the planet and the mission were named after her. The ship was named after its designers, the Augustus John. The planet Captain Philips was now fast approaching.

“Charlie Whiskey Foxtrot, now entering atmos, voice and telemetry blackout expected for thirty to forty minutes, see you on the other side. Captain Julian Peters signing off,” with the new subspace communication platform the final message before the dangerous entry would reach Earth in a little under twenty four hours. He hoped before giving the main thrusters their final push there would be a message from Earth, but either they miscalculated the timings, or somewhere along the subspace communication route there was interference.

He pushed the thrusters.

An hour later he was trying to line the large space craft up over his chosen landing sight.

“Charlie Whiskey Foxtrot,” he said through gritted teeth as he struggled to keep control against the buffeting of strong winds, “Encountering heavier than expected turbulence, also gravity is point two higher than expected. I’m using emergency thrusters to level out descent. Risk of damage from harder than expected landing.”

He was minutes from the ground, and holding his nerve, if he activated the thrusters too early, he’d run through the fuel allowance and risk having to bleed from the secondary tank which might be needed for relaunch in three months time.

He could see the landing site now, it wasn’t as smooth as it had appeared in orbit, but it was now or never.

“Final approach, altitude dropping fast, activating emergency thrusters,” he said and immediately flicked the switch. He’d pre-programmed the amount and duration of the thrusts, he now he to cling on, and make minor adjustments with the manoeuvring thrusters. The Augustus John, unlike a space shuttle, or a re-entry pod was not designed to be streamlined, the whole ship as launched from Earth orbit was landed, it was heavy and designed for the rigors of long range space travel, and had outer protection to take much higher temperatures for re-entry. It had deployable wings to aid control, but the lift was provided by primary atmospheric thrusters.

The emergency thrusters provided a short burst of additional thrust, which just managed to bleed off enough speed, the August John landed with a thud that could be felt through the layers of protection in the cockpit. Captain Peters gave a sigh of relief, and the whole vessel lurched, belatedly audio and visual alarms went off.

“Charlie Whiskey Foxtrot,” he said into his mic, “We have touchdown, but port side landing struts have caved. Will assess and repair over the next few days.”

The message light on the console was flashing, he pressed play.

“Mission Control to Charlie Whiskey Foxtrot, from everyone here on the ground. All boards are green,” the message played. Attached to the message were a series of photos of the crowded mission control, and shots of gathering places around Earth as people eagerly awaited.

“Charlie Whiskey Foxtrot,” the Captain said, “Message two niner thirty eight received. Thank you for the good wishes. Touch down successful, I have arrived on planet Cowley. T-minus two days, seven hours, eight minutes to disembarkation. Thank you people of Earth.” It wasn’t the big speech, he had the written down and ready for when he first put his feet on alien soil, in the tradition of Neil Armstrong on the moon, and Hugo Clove on Mars, that was the moment that mattered most.

Over the next two days, on the listing ship, Captain Peters underwent all of the post flight checks. Fortunately the only damage appeared to be the landing struts, which while not easy to replace, were replacable and he had the spares to do so.

The August John was a huge vessel, carrying the fuel it needed for the full round trip, with some limited excess for problems, all the life support equipment and supplies for a single man for nine years, along with food and water, (and recycling systems). The original plan had been for a team of four, but the size of the vessel would have been immense.

With all checks done, reports on the atmosphere outside, from it’s chemical content, the heat, humidity, and also its pathogen risks, he knew it was safe to go outside.

The main airlock opened with a wheeze, and the warm air from Cowley assaulted him. It wasn’t unpleasant though, more a Spanish breeze on a warm day.

The recording equipment was set up already.

“I do this for all of humanity, for the future of our children,” he said as stepped down the ladder. “For all the potential we have as a race, for our drive to conquer the unassailable, to risk it all on the grand adventure of life, I hereby put not my foot on an alien planet, but the collective foot of us all.” He made the final step on to the purple alien foliage, it was springy under his heavily protected boot.

“I hereby proclaim a new frontier in human exploration,” he said finally.

The first live broadcast from a world outside the Sol system then fell to descriptions of how things felt, smelt, and looked, trying to bring alive the sensations of a whole new world.

 

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