Ian raised his hand. The laughter and giggles died down.
“Do you know know what I miss more than anything?” he asked.
Kupar laughed. “A good ale? 15 year old whiskey?”
Ian smiled but shook his head. “Blue.”
“Blue?” Mike asked. “Haven’t you taken a look at Meaghan today?” Meaghan put a finger on the top of her head and slowly spun around. She was tired and dirty, having spent half of the day in the mechanical room getting the air scrubbers to work again, even if not as efficiently as they should have been.
“Yeah, she is stunning in her light blue coveralls,” Ian said. “But that’s not what I was thinking.”
All eyes were on Ian, with a few suppressed giggles about his sudden serious tone.
“When I was a kid my parents had a camp on the coast. We were back in on some rocky bay that was surrounded by mountains. Gorgeous. I used to get up before the dawn to watch the sun rise over the water. I can remember the glowing blue sky matched by the equally glowing blue water. The hills in the hazy distance faded from blue to purple. The golden sun light would slice through the clouds and I’d be transported to heaven. Even as a kid I’d watch the sky and say that it didn’t matter if I lived or died after seeing paradise like that. The days on the water were the best of my life. That’s why I wanted to be a voyager, a sailor of the stars.” Ian looked out as if seeing something beyond the gathered people, beyond the doomed ship.
The mirth evaporated from the room.
“I want to feel soil under my feet on last time, even the frozen tundra I visited as a child,” Petrov said.
The room went silent.
They had spent almost three years orbiting around the six planets of this far-flung system. The inner planets were far too hot to support any type of life, the inner most half the distance to its star as Mercury. There was a large void filled with asteroids of a failed planet before getting to the cold distant planets.
As they were preparing to head home, back to Earth, they were struck by a stray rock. This took out their Star Drive and most of the life support. It would be over 20 years before anyone heard their distress signals, but they would be dead in less than a month.
Anika, the commander, looked over at Chen, her second in command, and motioned for him to follow her. Everyone else, half lost in their reveries, only half paid attention until they felt the rockets come to life. The giant ship started to move.
Where could they be going? If they pointed to Earth and used all of the fuel they might have hope of reaching the home planet in about 40,000 years. Were Anika and Chen thinking they would want their final resting place to be back home? Would there even be humans there to greet the ship as it rushed through the Sol system at hundreds of kilometers per second?
Petrov was the first to move. He played with a terminal for a few seconds before turning to the others.
“We’re head to Four. It’s the closest planet and not far off what our trajectory was before this maneuver. We should be there in just under three weeks. Four.”
They had joked about Four, calling it the holiday planet of the system. It was very close to Earth sized, and had a hydrocarbon atmosphere and large methane oceans. It appeared that there were plate tectonics similar to earth at work, moving continents around, building mountains and other familiar terrain.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be the worst place to end up.
The landing craft was over crowded. The fuel they’d spent getting to the planet’s surface would mean that it would be impossible to make it back to the mother ship. Nobody was concerned. The ship was dead, the air all but poison.
The blind landing was hard. Even if there was enough fuel, it was doubtful that the lander would ever move again. The hull was breached and the little good air slowly leaked out.
Anika got everyone moving. The oxygen in their suites wouldn’t last very long, so they needed to rush.
It was an hour journey over rough terrain in the dark, but the activity kept their minds from the inevitable end.
They crossed a last ridge as the star finally made its way above the horizon. Ian made a small gasp and started to run, stopping at the edge of the bay of liquid methane.
As they stopped, the cold caught up. But nobody noticed. The sky glowed a beautiful blue and the bay appeared to return the glow. The hills on the other side of the bay were a pastel blue in the distance. The sun-like star came out from behind a hydrocarbon cloud and shot golden beams down onto their little beach.
Petrov laughed, a strangely happy sound on a dead planet.
Ian sunk to his knees. “Blue,” he whispered with his last breath.
— — —