Humanity of all stripes was gathered around the giant monitor. It was an autumn day and they were sheltered from the biting wind as it crumbled leaves against the building’s glass wall. It was the Institute for Colonial Communication: a building that had been mostly without a purpose for close to a hundred years. Every so often workers would come in and update the equipment as technology progressed, and some of those workers, now quite aged, were there to see it take effect.
The colony ship had been launched one hundred and twenty years ago. Things went well on the journey, as well as anyone could hope hurtling through space at varying incomprehensible speeds. Communication was constant if uneven. Everyone knew it would end when they landed on GM1.
GM1 was Green Marble One: a planet deemed appropriate for human life by our finest telescopes, probes, and Magellan droids. Even children who saw images of it guessed it would be great, because its green hue was due to a surface almost entirely coated in alien plant life. The forest there was fed by underground rivers almost as mighty as Earth’s oceans.
The problem was the red cloud. Its solar system was a great neighborhood, except for the anomalous red clouds. Those thugs, those scoundrels of energy and particulates, snagged even their strongest signals like fish caught in the net. One of them was going to hang out around GM1 for a hundred years, pretty much right after they landed. All the models had, for once, proven true. The cloud was dissipating now, and those on Earth were expecting a call from their family abroad. Any moment now…
One man from the colony now had thirty-seven descendants in attendance. In honor of him they all wore an outfit based on the last thing he wore before he left Earth. He was likely dead at this point, but surely he also had someone new to represent him on GM1. They were colonists after all and there were certain expectations when it came to family planning.
There was a group of young scientists there, on their first grant, ready to try out the strange white tripod camera they’d brought with them. It was a prototype, supposed to analyze the colonists’ faces and tell them exactly how healthy they were and who parented them across two to five generations.
The crowd had tons of children and young people, all eager to see the dawn of humanity’s first large-scale pen pal relationship. They held signs that took hours to make because they head learned how to mimic cursive handwriting, something that hadn’t existed for long before GM1 was even spied. They didn’t quite reach the level of words, but the spirals were beautiful nonetheless.
The screen flashed red and everyone held their breath. Red like the cloud. Was it still blocking the planet? No, just a very unfortunate color for the interference. A face appeared a moment later. Everyone cheered. The scientists fiddled with their camera, but its lens flashed red. For some reason, it didn’t want to do much with the face data presented.
“This is Communications Officer Hakim,” the face on the screen said. He was a very old man, but his beard was still black and immaculately trimmed. “I am happy to report, we have arrived safely on GM1 with no casualties. She’s beautiful.” The crowd laughed at the obvious joke. The ship had landed a hundred years ago, surely things were fine now. They wanted him to hurry and get to the details. How quickly had the robots been able to put up a skyscraper? How many skyscrapers were there? The layabout red cloud had blocked their visuals as well.
The scientists’ camera beeped loudly. It grated on its makers’ ears. No matter how much they fiddled with its setting and dials it wouldn’t accept Officer Hakim’s face. Another part of the crowd was confused, and only getting more confused by the minute. Every word out of Hakim’s mouth made them scowl and narrow their eyes. They were the ones in the matching outfits, waiting for some new distant sibling to wave hello.
“We’ve just set up the hydration units. We’ve released the pigs and sheep into the fields and they’re loving this new grass,” Hakim informed them. The laughter faded. It wasn’t funny anymore. They wanted a hundred years of history. Perhaps another colonist could step up and give it to them? This fellow seemed to be wearing a hand-me-down from one of the original colonists. It was their uniform! He still had a name tag!
“That’s him!” one of those in the matching group declared, pointing at the giant face on the monitor. “He’s… not dead!” Everyone quieted. “See?” the woman dug out a photograph from her bag, a leftover from crafting the signs. It had a few awkward scissor marks on the side, but the image was clear. It was Communications Officer Hakim. “He’s my great-grandfather. How is he… how are you still alive?” His other descendants were just as eager to hear his answer, but he looked just as confused as they did.
“I know I’m old, but let’s not be cruel,” the face said. “I’m only seventy-six. Two decades on the ship hasn’t hurt my looks that much I hope. Our medicine is just as good as yours, unless all of you down there are immortal now.”
“It’s been a hundred years since you’ve landed!” one of his descendants told him. Tears streamed down her face and she wiped them with the end of her scarf. They weren’t supposed to see this. It was just supposed to be an explosion of happiness: new friends running over the hill towards the dinner bell.
“I’ve been off the ship for barely five hours,” Hakim corrected them.
“But you disappeared into the red cloud when you landed!” one of the scientists informed. “It cut you off all this time!”
“Well we thought it would,” Hakim said. Others gathered just behind him. People back on Earth gasped as they recognized faces from very old photo albums. “The cloud cleared up shortly after we landed. Looks like those models and their hundred year predictions were a bit off.”
“They weren’t!” The crowd shouted back at him. Even across all that space he flinched.
“Our planet has lived a hundred years!” another member of the crowd yelled.
“So has yours!” Another voice added. A robot rolled up to Hakim and handed him a data sheet. The man scanned it, eyes widening as he went. He urged them all to wait a moment. He muted his microphone and spoke to everyone behind him. Mouths dropped open and swallowed gulps of GM1 air. He turned back, face grave, and switched his sound back on.
“Apparently, there is a new phenomenon we did not consider.” The crowd held their breath. “The robots observed us and kept us safe just as we landed… apparently we all froze. I don’t understand it really…” He scrolled through more data. “Nothing affected us. For… yes… a hundred years. For our bodies and minds no time has passed. Incredible.” The robot leaned in and whispered something in his ear, a very strange sight indeed.
“The robots have a theory,” he continued. “Apparently this is the first time humans have ever been out of communication with each other at this distance. They think it caused a mental rift. Our separation from you… set our bodies into some kind of stasis. They managed it all until the cloud cleared. Once we had the ability to talk to you again, we came out of it.”
“So… you couldn’t do anything because… you had no coverage?” one of his descendants asked.
“Apparently. We’re more a social species than we thought it seems. You are our family and we could do nothing without you. So… what’s new?”
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by luptinian during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!