The Final Space Odyssey
from the Journal of Under Officer, Ezekial B. Rogers, USSF
“‘By the rockets’ red glare,’ we raced through thinning air
And soon had left the atmosphere of Earth.
It is nothing new to me—the endless blackness there
And how soon our world looks tiny in its girth.
But the shudder that shook the ship when we
Cut rocket power and went to ion drive,
Even though we’d been prepared, was new to me.
And the greater test is coming—to survive
The first use of our warp drive and the bubble
We will ride to find if Trappist(dash)1e
Is viable and will be worth our trouble
To find a place where human life can thrive.
Of course, such Exodus is all assumption.
The plan is for us to—in time—return,
For many of us [not all] to seed resumption
Of life, so that Hope’s dimming light might burn
On, since the Earth we’ve left is dying fast,
Days darkened by weather’s whims, by nuclear blast,
By swollen seas, lost coastlines, waking volcanoes,
Enormous earthquakes…clearly the dying throes
Of a planet that has doomed itself—though warned!
Yes, warned by many…but their truths were scorned.”
“I remember well the little bedtime verse
That my grandmother would every night rehearse:
‘Now I lay me down to sleep,’ she’d cite,
‘And pray the Lord my soul to keep.’ The fright
Would come—‘If I should die before I wake,’
Not helped by ‘I pray the Lord my soul to take.’
And now I ‘lay me down’ for half a year,
And now it’s back—the selfsame taste of Fear.
‘Suspended Animation’ has been tested,
But not on me! It seems like Life arrested,
But soon I’ll go into that long, long sleep
We must do to survive the cosmos deep.
At least the warp drive seems to work OK.
I’ll trust the techs who say I’ll wake one day.
And, if I don’t, I pray this journal finds
Its way to some surviving human minds.”
“‘I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day…’
A couple centuries past and far away
Some fellow wrote. I feel that same way now.
The ship is dark. I’m first awake somehow.
And looking out, a different firmament
A twinkling mystery is full in view:
A myriad stars! A nebula!—all new!
Dim, multi-colored lights of instruments
Are all that glow within that orients
My sluggish senses. Then a sight presents—
What wonder! A planet—blue AND green!
Through the observation window can be seen.
* * *
My fellow crew have now begun to wake,
Cabin lights flare, as if instant daybreak
Has come. In awe, we cheer—our half-quest done—
Viewing the red star known as Trappist 1.
But more exciting, much more grand by far:
The Earth-like fifth planet rounding that red star.
Of course, there are tests to run, the descent planned,
But it looks like Christmas will be our day to land!”
“Our tests all showed a vibrant, living globe.
Great seas (thought water) cover a third of it…
Four great land masses…atmospheric probe
Showed oxygen aplenty! We commit
To go today. I’m in the first landing crew!
We’ll touch down when all three moons are in view!
Only ten of our twenty voyagers will descend
To land on its bright half, tidally locked,
It’s like our moon with one side sunward facing.
We’ll stay at least a year! But I should append
That’s only about six Earth days, for it goes racing
Around its sun—quite close. And I was shocked
To learn that close red dwarf star will appear
Four times as large as Sol in that new sky!
We’re set! We’ve loaded up. I’ve checked my gear.
We’re heading down, this world to demystify!”
* * *
“What wonders! Though the atmosphere is chill—
Like the briskness of a late October day
On Earth—less gravity provides a thrill.
We all note that we actually “weigh”
Only about nine tenths of back at home.
The red sun looms so huge in this new sky!
We unfold Odyssey Base before we roam
Out from our landing craft to gratify
Our intense wonder at what lies behind
That nearby hill, covered in vegetation,
That beckons. Who knows what we’ll find?
What things have sprung from different Creation?”
* * *
“The hill is covered in ferns with purplish fronds.
Cresting it, we see broad lands below.
Strange brownish “grasslands” and blue glittering ponds—
And Yes! They test as water! And small streams flow
To a river on the blue horizon’s rim.”
* * *
“Fauna! Among those ferns and even stranger trees!
Small things that skitter about, winged things that skim
The tree tops.
There, in that evernoon’s chill breeze,
One stopped and looked at me with tilted head,
A wolf-sized thing, mammalian seeming, but with red,
Reptilian eyes. But then it turned away
And hurried back into the forest’s gloom.
We searched and catalogued a full Earth Day,
We headed back to Odyssey. We’ll resume
Our searches in twelve Earth hours. But we set
Defensive force fields all about our base.
We don’t have any clear cut notion yet
What dangers might be near. So, just in case,
We also set a watch. I had first turn.
Two hours in, the wolf-thing came in view!
Pacing outside the barrier, then it lay
Down on its belly, and the glowing burn
Of those red eyes, transfixed me, seemed to say:
‘You are an alien thing, something quite new.’
Of course, I felt the same. It was the first
Time I’d seen how small our band of ten
Is to be braving this now not-distant world.
Shift over, I fell exhausted into my bed,
But my dreams saw watching eyes—of fiery red.”
“Day two of exploration. And we’ve found
That, thus far, no huge animals have appeared.
The samples from the purple ferns all around,
Should, chemically, as foodstuff, not be feared.
We met the same wolf-thing in a forest glade,
Again, more curious than it was afraid.
I had a Spec One and Tech Sergeant cover me
As I approached the beast that I’d named “Blue”
(although its “fur” was blue of a greenish hue)
With open hand to see if it might be
Not quite as feral as was likely true.
After all, wasn’t this—millennia ago—
How mankind met the wolf, made “dog” a friend?
And, without trying, just how could I know
If our two worlds could somehow start to blend?
It shied away at first—at least no attack.
Then I threw a small lizard-thing that I’d found dead
Out toward the creature. It came slinking back.
It seemed the reptilian was quite a snack.
I told the other men that they could go.
But I knew that I had to take it slow.
I said, ‘I’ve decided your name’s Blue.’
It looked at me as if, somehow, it knew.
I planned to make more progress the next day,
Could I befriend it? Only time would say.”
Several entries skipped over here. The day-to-day search and discovery work went on. All doubts about the habitability of the new world were set aside. But…
“Today received: a message from the ship
We now know there’s no hope of a return trip.
They found the warp drive damaged beyond repair,
Old Earth—a dream. No going back to where
Our Odyssey began. And we also knew
There might be no Old Earth to return to.
The other shuttle’s bringing the other ten,
And now we know we must begin again
While this our new home, perhaps, no Eden is
We must commence. Earth Two—come strife or bliss—
Is ours to build. Ten women and ten men.
This was always a hoped-against Plan B,
But now we’re faced with stark reality.
We must make this world our home and multiply,
So that Earth’s human species will not die.
* * *
Ah! Here’s the other shuttle. There’ll be another trip,
To gather and bring supplies down from the ship.”
NOTE: Skipping over many entries—mostly on the discoveries, hardships, successes, and one fatality. But the colony perseveres.
entry: 7.18.2074 ESC [Earth Standard Calendar]—
Journal of Ezekial-Adam, First Gen
“We’re going out to hunt for food and skins
A herd of Red-Ox is only a klick away.
The doc says Sandra-Eve will be having twins,
And other Second Gens are on the way.
I must succeed for my “first cycle” bride.
And for The Colony we must provide.
How many generations now long gone
Have brought us here? But we few must move on.
We cannot rest. Our task—one poet read—
In a hologram that stuck into my head:
‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’
* * *
<audio clip for journal>
Ah! here are the Red-Ox, strewn across the field.
Our hunt will be true. We will not be denied.
Our prey awaits—and Blue is by my side.
Frank Coffman is a retired professor of English, Creative Writing, and Journalism. He has published speculative poetry and fiction in a variety of journals, magazines, anthologies, and collections. He has published three collections of his verse: The Coven’s Hornbook& Other Poems, Black Flames & Gleaming Shadows, and Eclipse of the Moon. His fiction collection, Three Against the Dark: Collected Dr. Venn Occult Detective Mysteries was recently published. He selected and edited Robert E. Howard: Selected Poems. A member of the HWA and the SFPA, he moderates the Weird Poets Society Facebook group. He is a formalist poet; a specialized sonneteer.
Author’s Backstory and Comments: TBA
Editor’s Notes and Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRAPPIST-1e NASA/JPL-Caltech artist impression 2018