The melodic tune pulls Kasha from sleep. The warmth in the room and the softness of the alarm disorient her, and for a moment she forgets what it all means. She forgets that if she is being woken, it is because they have arrived at the outer rim. It means that her eyes are about to open for the first time in thirty-five years. Kasha is about to become the first human to ever look directly upon this quiet corner of the universe.
Despite the distance from Earth, the images from this part of the galaxy are familiar to almost every human being alive. For years, the human race has watched as the pictures and data have poured in from the Hannu Satellite. The human civilization that remains on Earth has explored and discovered all they can about this place while Kasha and her crew slept--preserved for this mission while time moved on relentlessly outside their vessel.
Kasha was only seven years old when the satellite launched, but she remembers the day clearer than any other day of her childhood. Her parents hushed her and her brothers so they could hear the broadcast. She stood watching over their shoulders, her eyes unable to make sense of what she was seeing. The satellite was unlike any other in human history, built from a crystalline material, cylindrical and hollow, divided into multiple sections, separated by ridges. It reflected light like glass and moved with beauty and grace.
The satellite was sent to investigate a distant moon. It was evident, even back then, that the salvation of the human race lay in the discovery of habitable planets and not in recovery or preservation of what was left of Earth. It was too late for that. Years of warnings from experts and climatologists, and still change had proven too difficult for humanity. After the launch was announced, the distant moon--previously known as ml9 J29w--was nicknamed Arcadia by the media. The name stuck. Arcadia, a small moon on the edge of our galaxy, more likely to support life than any other landscape investigated thus far.
Three days after the launch, Kasha asked about the satellite over dinner, wondering if it had arrived at Arcadia.
“You will be a grown woman when the satellite finally arrives.” Her father laughed before gulping down his last sip of water and tipping his ice cubes onto his dinner plate. He held the empty glass on its side demonstrating how the design of the Hannu Satellite was unlike any other. His tiny satellite whizzed through imaginary space while Kasha and her brothers giggled at his antics until their mother told him to put down her good crystal. The family moved on to other conversations, but Kasha remained transfixed--the crystal tumbler was no longer a cup peacefully reflecting light on the dining room table; it had become the Hannu satellite, thousands of miles away on the most important mission in all of human history.
35 years later, working at NASA, Kasha was one of the first to look upon the images that poured in once the satellite arrived at Arcadia.
“It’s amazing, Kasha. The mountains and oceans, forests and clean air. It is like a second Earth empty and undamaged.”
“It’s a second chance.” Smiling at her colleague, Kasha held back the tears as the words escaped her lips. “We need to go there.”
“Of course. NASA will eventually send a manned mission.”
“Not eventually, we need to go there now. If we leave today, it will be 35 years before we can send back word of what we find. How long do you think we have left before things start to really unravel? We need to be ready to colonize. We need to go soon.”
Kasha was the natural candidate to lead the mission. She never hesitated when the proposal was put before her, not when she realised it would be a one-way trip, or when her mother cried at her feet.
As the team leader, she is the first to be roused from cryo-sleep. She will wake her team once she has gotten her bearings and reviews any urgent messages from Earth. The cabin is warm and dimly lit, the monitors blink and hum peacefully from across the room. Kasha swims through the air, weightless now that she has been removed from the pressurized environment of the cryo chamber. She propels herself smoothly towards the only window in the cabin.
Arcadia shines with familiar luminescence. The water is blue and the clouds are white, but the land masses curve in new and unrecognized shapes.
Kasha withdraws from the window and awakens the monitor to retrieve the messages from Earth. There is one marked urgent, which does not surprise her. In thirty-five years, of course something urgent would occur.
Kasha waits for the message to load while stretching her muscles, and pulls a water packet from the pantry. Returning to the monitor, she sees that the images have loaded while the audio message continues to encode. She flips through the first few, confused by what she is seeing. The mounds seem at first to be nothing more than hills nestled in close to a cliff. As she flips through the pictures it becomes clear that the mounds are man made. She doesn’t understand why they have sent images of primitive villages. She flips through the images taken from far above, shots of rough roads and orderly linear fields and dams and simple irrigation canals. Kasha has the mind of a scientist; she is not quick to jump to conclusions without proper evidence. The pictures unfurl on the screen and the truth they reveal solidifies in her mind.
The words pass Kasha’s lips just as the audio message finishes encoding. Her voice is mirrored by the far distant voice recorded years ago on Earth.
“We are not alone.”
Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal