Returning to Earth

Written: 01/23/2016
Revised: 10/07/2019
Prompt: After the fall of their interstellar empire, humans became space nomads. After 2000 years of searching, you and your crew have finally rediscovered the legendary home world, Earth.

I often wondered of the emotions that ran through the minds and hearts of those first explorers to venture off of their home planet. What a rush it must have been, escaping the bonds of your mother world and losing yourself in the vast cosmos, vaulting deep into the unknown skies where asteroids flit between sleeping stars. The dreams and aspirations of an entire species looking ever-upwards, contained in just a few individuals. The weight of responsibility – the fear of failure – must have been unimaginable.

So I thought as I gazed out of the porthole towards a distant blue dot: Earth.

A faint gust of air brushed against my cheek, followed by a gentle hiss and a distinct sense of ozone. The oxygen scrubbers were on the fritz again. I’d have to daydream another time.

I propelled myself out of bed and guided myself through the living quarters, launching between the hand holds and suspension beams lining the ship’s halls. I passed by the ship’s old science labs, long-since re-purposed as a hydroponics lab and living quarters. A shuddering cough came from one of the bunks.

I continued on through the central hub to the mess hall, where I found most of the ship’s passengers eating in somber silence. The downcast eyes gazed tired and haggard while bony hands fumbled at the airtight seals of the meager rations that remained. These poor, emaciated creatures, surrounded by cold steel and artificial food in a vast empty void, sat in small close circles as our ancient ancestors once sat in groups around a fire. They were still human, and they still held hope in their hearts. A smile tugged at my lips.

I floated towards a group of people who were once very familiar to me, but were now so thin that I could hardly recognize them.

“Do you know where my father is?” I asked. Several of the heads shook, but one looked up at me.

“He’s in the bridge,” the wretch replied. I bowed my head, then kicked off towards the heart of the ship.

The bridge soon spread out before me, a wall of lights, switches, consoles, buttons, monitors, joysticks, levers, and dials, each of which seemed to flash and buzz a distinct tone, light, or rhythm. A pair of seats stood in the center facing the front of the ship, and two pairs of arms extended from behind them. The beeps and clicks of the controls broke the monotony of the ship’s ambient hum.

“Father?” I asked, cautiously drifting towards the seats. One of the arms froze in mid-air, then continued after a brief pause.

“Yes Aria?” Came a voice heavy with determination and exhaustion.

“How far?” I asked.

“Not far.” He said.

“Tomorrow?”

He paused. “Tomorrow,” came the reply. I ducked out of the room, content for the day. I floated back out of the bridge, but paused just out of sight.

“You shouldn’t lie to her,” came another voice, that of the co-captain. Father chuckled.

This was our nightly ritual. Every night, I asked him when we would arrive back on Earth, and every night he told me ‘tomorrow.’ It was how we stayed optimistic, how we stayed motivated, how we smiled through the food shortages and life support failures and months of drinking recycled water, breathing recycled air, and eating recycled food. No matter how grim today seemed, tomorrow always promised new blessings, new opportunities, and new adventures. We always remained hopeful that tomorrow would be the day of our salvation, the day that we finally set foot back on our homeworld. The day that we returned to Earth.

I had just enough strength to drift into bed. Before succumbing to sleep, I turned to look out the viewport once again. The pale blue dot seemed so close, so utterly and tantalizingly close. Although it was still many millions of miles away, each day brought us closer yet. Soon – tomorrow – we would be home.