Kasey could barely keep his eyes open but he was determined. The dark purple moon was setting and it was the first time he got the chance to see it. It had been a month since he arrived on R-718 and it had been a cloudy day and night. In fact, it felt like years since he had seen any sun or moon rising or setting. Earth had been so polluted for decades that no soul had glimpsed the heavenly bodies without leaving the atmosphere.
Kasey saw his assistant Neela out of the corner of his eye. He pointed at the giant purple ball in the night sky as he shoved the precious photo back into his pocket.
“Don’t you miss it?” he asked without turning away from the view.
“Well, sir, we’ve been on how many surveying missions now? About seven?”
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“More like twelve for me.” It was actually thirteen. And in a row, with no vacation, no break. “And no, I don’t get sick of it ‘cos the atmospheres of the places we’re sent to are usually horrible, else our terraforming expertise wouldn’t be required. One should cherish such scenes.”
Neela handed over a tablet. “Here’s today’s report. I’m turning in.”
“Thanks. Good night.” Kasey glanced the tablet as Neela shuffled away.
Kasey leapt down into the massive hole and climbed down the stepped shoring to the bottom. He sighed as he eyed the excavator and his portable sonar display.
Neela, back up at ground level, practically yelled through the comms. “C’mon George, dig faster.”
Kasey didn’t need Neela’s report to tell him that the planet was barren. The orbital scans indicated as much. However, the core samples his team had obtained suggested an interesting history: the desolation occurred several thousand years ago but it happened fast, within a few decades; and the sonar scans revealed what were probably ruins of civilization. Protocol demanded that survey teams investigate before continuing their terraforming duties.
He moved the dirt with his spade, then looked up. The clouds obscured the sun as the excavator bucket jerkily but effortlessly ripped up the soil.
Clunk. Kasey waved his hand and the bucket was then pulled aside. The exposed dark grey metallic surface was striated. He gently tapped it with the spade and the mild reverb indicated it was hollow underneath. He squatted to study the patterns on the surface when it silently fell under him.
“Sir, you alright?” someone shouted.
“I’m fine, something must’ve broken my fall,” he calmly replied at the hole that was barely ten feet above him.
Kasey waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness when the place conveniently lit up. He squinted in anticipation of the glare but the illumination was soft. It was a room with many smooth panels and he smirked that it looked like a padded cell, although without the actual padding.
“Are you sure you aren’t hurt?” Neela asked as she peeped through the opening.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Kasey realized then that the opening was a hatch, more specifically an iris which slid open. There was a hiss when a cubic bench rose from the floor beside him. On the top face was a circular display. It was violet but blank.
He put his palm on it. Nothing. So he leaned over and stared down. It flashed. The iris above him creaked momentarily but it jammed and stayed mostly open. Waves of light washed over the surfaces and blossomed into-
Kasey froze at the holographic formations which surrounded him. He was in an apartment, looking down at a similar cubic structure. A woman with short blond hair entered. He had never seen this lady before but she did look like her… similar age, similar figure.
She smiled at him. “Would you like a drink? You’ve been working for hours.”
It wasn’t her but her smile was.
Kasey was speechless but a voice replied. “Thanks, darling. So, what do you think? What kind of terrain and atmosphere would you like to see?”
She walked over to him and rested her hand on his shoulder. “And the rest of the planet? Don’t their opinions count?”
“You’re not the one destroying our home through unnecessary industry and war.”
Her eyes twinkled. “I would settle for fertile soil and clear skies, my love.”
Her lips curled just the slightest. “And maybe a bright lilac moon.”
Kasey was about to touch her face when the image flickered and she was no longer standing next to him. Instead, she was lying on the sofa with an oxygen mask and tubes and beeping monitors. A man stood over her as he adjusted the equipment.
He then walked over to where Kasey stood. “I’m sorry. When she wakes, we can move her to her bed and make her comfortable.”
Kasey nodded and glanced outside at the familiar murky skies. This wasn’t how he lost her, but maybe, just maybe it would have been easier if-
The image blinked and it was the room again, except cleaner. Another man was working on something behind one of the numerous panels which lined the walls.
He didn’t bother to look at Kasey but just spoke, “I’m almost finished. I could activate this which would transform and revive this dying planet within minutes but perhaps we don’t deserve to have it so easy. And I have no one to share this with anymore. There’re different ways to use this device so listen carefully…”
“Sir! Sir, you hear me?! Why’s that console flashing?”
Kasey raised his glazed eyes to Neela and a few others who were peeking through the hatch. “All of you evacuate immediately. There’s no time to explain. Just go.”
Neela’s eyes widened. “Sir?”
“You have less than three minutes to leave the atmosphere. I’ll be fine. Come back after.”
Kasey heard Neela gave instructions and, as their ships rumbled away, he tried to close the iris but felt a wave of relief when he couldn’t.