The sound coming from the radio is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. The chaotic screech, sounding like glass being pulverized by a blender, pierces my ears and awakens me from my slumber. I look at the display on the radio, checking the origin of the signal. Could this be the message from home I’ve been waiting for? Much to my dismay, the signal isn’t from home. It isn’t even from the right part of the galaxy.
The apparent source of the signal is a small planet named CF-129, or Seefee, as the brainiacs back home called it. Seefee is smaller than Earth, but also denser in such a way that, by sheer coincidence, it has gravity almost identical to Earth’s. It’s located firmly in the Goldilocks zone, an area existing in every solar system where planets receive the perfect amount of sunlight. Seefee orbits around a star extremely similar to the sun and has a metallic core that protects it from solar winds. Seefee’s atmosphere is primarily made of oxygen and nitrogen, while its surface is primarily covered in liquid water. On the few islands that dot the oceans of Seefee the soil is filled with a variety of nutrients important for plant growth. It even has a gas giant, CF-145a, that is similar in size to Jupiter and located 600 kilometers away that protects Seefee from asteroids.
The discovery of Seefee was groundbreaking. A planet, so similar to earth, only twenty-five light years away. A planet where we could very easily create a human colony. The plan was to, over the course of twenty years, send fifty ships containing the supplies necessary to colonize the planet. I was chosen to be the sole occupant of the first ship sent to Seefee.
There’s something else you need to know about Seefee. It’s supposed to be uninhabited. When I see that the garbled radio signal is coming from Seefee, my first thought is that the signal must be extraterrestrial in origin. After all, Seefee is almost identical to Earth in every way. The idea of life forming on its surface isn’t so farfetched.
I wipe the sweat from my brow. They told me, before I left, that there was a chance I may encounter aliens. Still, making first contact with an alien lifeform isn’t something I’m prepared for. I grab the microphone and turn on my end of the radio. “This is Captain Jacobson of the UNS Red Atum,” I shout. “Do you read me?”
The chaotic screech coming from the radio becomes quieter. Slowly, the signal clears up and becomes more refined. Then, after a few minutes of this, I clearly hear a word. “Saluton?” the voice on the other end of the radio says.
This is not the voice of an alien. The voice is very clearly human. Before I can think about this revelation, I hear another voice. “Kiu vi estas?” it asks.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying. Do you speak English?” I ask over the radio.
After a moment of silence, a new voice comes in over the radio. The voice of a young woman. “I speak a little English,” she says.
Her voice is strange. She has an odd accent, one that I can’t quite pin down. She speaks slowly, properly enunciating each word, trying to make sure she doesn’t mispronounce them. “It took us a few minutes to figure out how to communicate,” she says. “Your ship uses very old technology. Our early messages came out distorted, yes?”
“Yeah,” I say. “It sounded horrible.”
“We are sorry,” she says.
“It’s okay. Do you have a name?” I ask.
“I am Mortigi,” she says. “I am a scientist working for the Seefee government space agency. Who are you?”
“My name is Captain Michael Jacobson. I’m the sole occupant of the UNS Red Atum.”
“You are alone?”
I raise my eyebrows. “My radio tells me that your signal is coming from CF-129,” I say. “But, that planet is supposed to be uninhabited.”
“Uninhabited?” she says. “Seefee has been populated for hundreds of years.”
“What? That’s impossible!”
“No, what’s impossible is someone not knowing about the planet they’re trying to land on. Nobody notified us of a ship called the Red Atum. Who are you?”
“I told you, my name is Michael Jacobson. I’m a botanist from Earth who was chosen in 2068 to create the first human colony on CF-129.”
“2068? How are you still alive?”
“Because of the length of the journey, my ship came equipped with a cryogenic freezing pod. I’ve only been awake for a week. The pod was programmed to awaken me a week before landing so I could get in contact with NASA and figure out how to land this thing.”
Mortigi repeats my words to her friends and they discuss something in a language I don’t understand. “Let me get this correct,” Mortigi says, “You were asleep, for close five hundred years?”
“Yeah. The Atum can only go five percent lightspeed. No human could live long enough to survive the trip,” I say.
“That explains everything. We figured out how to travel faster than lightspeed in 2109 and colonized Seefee not long after.”
“You’ve been asleep for a very long time, Michael. The world is a very different place. We have made discoveries that you could not even comprehend.”
“Yeah, I know. Still, it feels weird. I left everything, my family, my friends, my home planet, so that I could help move humanity forward. Finding out that everything I’ve worked for was pointless…it’s hard to comprehend.”
“I can give you some time to think, if you want.”
“No, it’s good to hear another person’s voice. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?”
Mortigi stays silent for a few moments. “I am sorry, for everything that has happened to you,” she says. “And, for everything that’s going to happen.”
“Going to happen?” I ask.
“I wish I wasn’t the one that had to tell you this. The only reason I am talking to you is because I am the only one who speaks English.”
“Mortigi, what do you mean, everything that’s going to happen?”
“Your ship, it is dangerous.”
“Dangerous? The only thing on this ship is me, a cryo-pod, some food, and a bunch of seeds.”
“Are you sure that is all? Is it possible that your primitive ship may be housing a virus that we have long since eradicated?”
“Interplanetary ships undergo thorough cleaning to prevent illnesses from traveling between worlds. But, your ship was launched centuries ago. We have no way of knowing if your ship is clean.”
“Mortigi, I swear I’m not carrying any viruses.”
“I wish I could take your word as fact. But, I am obligated to my people. An archaic illness could kill thousands. We cannot risk that.”
Mortigi sighs. “I didn’t want to call you,” she says. “I wanted to blow your ship up in an instant, leaving you unaware of your demise. The others, they wanted to tell you why you were dying. They think this is more humane. I disagree.”
“Mortigi, please. You don’t have to do this.”
“I am sorry, Michael.”
The radio goes silent. I frantically try to call Mortigi back, to plead with her for my life. She doesn’t answer. A few minutes later, the explosions begin. Then, there is only blackness.