Return to Planet Alpha

The Cat's Eye Nebula Redux (click image for more info)

he flex of the glass always bothered him. It warped against the vacuum and threatened to collapse. He knew that, in reality, the screen was not a glass screen, and that he was safe behind it for several hundred years before there was any danger of fissures or implosion, but that didn’t rid him of the dreams that resurfaced before every tour. Dreams where the glass bubbles inwards until the front of the capsule brushes his body, and then a sudden force drags him out into the airlessness of space until…

Dexter snapped himself out of his daydream and pressed a gloved finger against the screen. It was solid enough. A mere three hundred light years ahead, so close that he almost felt like he could reach into the nearest planet’s core, was the Hadley System.

A static cough signaled a message from the Icarus.

“Dexter, what’s your status? Over.” It was Santos, the Icarus’ captain.

“I’m coming up close, Icarus. It’s a gorgeous thing,” Dexter replied. The nearest planet, observable only from the OC Capsule, shone a pink-hued blue. Codenamed Hadley Alpha, it showed greatest promise of life.

“Remember, Dexter, obs only, stay within 700 of the Icarus. Over.”

“Understood, over,” Dexter replied.

As the OC Capsule rolled steadily onward, Dexter saw a ring appear around Alpha. Not natural, not mineral, he decided. Distinctly artificial. He supposed that there must be some kind of life down there, if satellites and digital instruments were already circling the planet. But their slow orbit, like a destructive ballet, worried him.

Dexter guided the OC gently until it matched speed with several of the smaller satellites. One just up ahead was revolving slowly, counter to its planetary orbit, spinning aimlessly just feet away from where Dexter sat, buckled in place, trapped behind the warping glass. “Not good,” he muttered.

Between cloud cover, there was land below. It was rocky, mostly red, like the deserts in which he had trained back home. He ran the topography program and waited. Turning endlessly, over and over, the satellite up ahead spun. Dexter knew that it would continue, like Planet Alpha, spinning in the vacuum until it simply fell apart.

* * * * *

This post is part of our series of works inspired by the Smithsonian Institution’s photo archive, made publicly available on Flickr. If you would like to, choose an image from their collection and create something – be it prose, poetry, audio, or visual art – inspired by it, and send it to snakeoilcure [at] gmail [dot] com.

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