The Earth became uninhabitable. You could no longer see the vibrant colors in the sky when the sun rose in the morning and set in the night. The temperatures skyrocketed above the average to the point where if you stepped outside, your skin would fry in a few minutes. Fires tore through forests and demolished farms. The roads were littered with animal carcasses, sometimes even humans.
Humanity was forced to leave, forced to live in space for hundreds of years. Billions were left behind to die on Earth. Only the lucky ones were able to escape into space, but really, nobody was lucky in the end. The survivors in the space station were never happy and were always waiting for the day when they would be allowed back on Earth.
That day finally came after four hundred years. A completely new generation of humans had been born, still longing to go to Earth. The government officials had gathered everyone together and announced they would be sending one trainee to Earth to check the conditions. Doubtful whispered passed through the crowd, some claiming it was a “suicide mission.”
The officials hushed the crowd till their voices became whispers. Then they spoke. “Daniel Farewall has been assigned the mission by the President.”
A cry rang out among the mass of people. All eyes turned to a woman standing in the back. Her eyes were glossy and her face was thin, framed by short black hair. It was Petunia Farewall, Daniel’s mother.
“He’s just a boy!” She cried out, clenching her fists.
“Daniel is the right one for the job, ma’am,” the official responded, his voice monotone.
Petunia shoved her way through the crowd, tears sliding down her cheeks, till she reached the front. “He’s all I have! Please, you can’t do this—”
“I’m afraid we can,” the officer said, a light mocking in his tone. He raised one gloved hand in the air and two officials joined Petunia at her side, grabbing her by each arm. They coaxed her from the room, ignoring her cries of desperation. The crowd was deathly silent.
“It has been settled. Daniel Farewall will go to Earth this coming full moon.”
The second week of October had passed and the moon was shining through the space station windows. Daniel was getting ready in the boarding deck after he had said his goodbyes to his friends and family. He felt quite honored to have been chosen for this position. Random people would pat his shoulder or give a slight nod in his direction as he passed by. He didn’t understand why everyone had been so emotional saying goodbye. He was coming back, wasn’t he?
As the general handed him his instructions for when he arrived on Earth, he adjusted Daniel’s helmet on his head. “Try to get as much information as you can,” the general said.
Daniel nodded, then said, “Should I bring back Earth samples? Maybe I could collect some dirt, or maybe a plant, if there are any.”
The general laughed bitterly, “‘Bring back?’ There’s no way back up from the Transport Pod, Farewall.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re staying down there.”
“For how long?”
“However long it takes for you to die. Days, hours, or seconds, who knows?”
Daniel’s eyes widened as he took a step back in surprise. “I don’t understand, sir. This wasn’t part of my training.”
The general gripped his shoulder and pulled him toward two metal doors that slid open when they got near. “Don’t forget to keep us updated. You have that intercom in your suit for a reason.”
Before Daniel could reply, he was pushed into the Transport Pod and the doors closed behind him. He stood, unmoving, for a moment, his thoughts running through his brain. He turned to the metal doors and pounded his fists on them.
“Please let me out! Anyone!” he cried, but got no response.
After a minute of silence, he let out a sigh and sat down in the fresh leather chair in the center of the pod. He ran his fingers across the dashboard, tapping buttons and flicking switches with blurry eyesight until the pod began to rumble. Daniel clenched the armrests and pressed himself into the back of his chair. The Transport Pod slowly detached from the space station. Blinking his watery eyes away, Daniel braced himself for what was about to come.
A sharp pain in Daniel’s head and the smell of smoke woke him. Ever so slightly, he regained his vision. His head was rested across the dashboard of the pod, his body barely hanging onto the edge of the chair. Wires had fallen from the roof, the front window was cracked and glass was scattered everywhere. Once he became aware of the situation, he wondered how he had survived. Daniel quickly realized that something was dripping down his uncovered forehead. He looked around the pod for his helmet and found it lying in the back, broken and splattered with thick red liquid.
He wiped his forehead and looked at his hand. He let out a little yelp of surprise, seeing that his hand was completely drenched in blood. Daniel quickly stood up and leaned against the wall. He pried open the door and squinted as the harsh sunlight hit his face.
Earth wasn’t how Daniel imagined it. The air was thick and cloudy. The sky was a deathly crimson color and the sun looked huge, bigger than it ever had from the space station. Daniel figured whatever was on the ground was once grass, but it didn’t look like the grass in the station’s greenhouse. It was shriveled and dry and the ground underneath it was cracked and dusty. He seemed to have landed in an open field, but he could see the outline of barren trees in the distance. Everything seemed so different then what Daniel had seen in pictures, but for some reason, he couldn’t help but smile.
He raised his finger to tap the intercom button on his suit, but then stopped. The government sent him here to die just so they could get some information about Earth. They knew Earth was still dangerous.
His smile disappeared quickly and he began to slowly walk away from the pod and towards the trees. He reached the top of a small hill and discovered a measly broken-down hut on the other side.
As the sun scorched his skin and head pounding, he descended the hill and made his way towards it.
When Daniel reached for the door handle, the door completely fell off its hinges and into the hut. Dust flew up from every corner of the one-room house, sending Daniel into a coughing fit and a sharp pain to his forehead. Inside the hut, there was a little cot in the corner and a desk beside it. Mold had taken over almost every part of the floor and parts of the walls.
Daniel stepped inside and sat down on the old cot. He pulled open a few drawers in the desk until he found something.
A small, rectangular object was placed in the very back of the bottom drawer. He gently picked it up and held it close to his face, blinking sweat and blood off his eyelashes. There was a piece of tape stuck to it, and written on the tape were the words “goodbye to a world.” He studied the six buttons on the object, recognizing the symbols. He pressed the button that had a triangle on it, assuming it was the “play” button. As soon as he pressed it, two little wheels started to turn inside and a voice came from the device.
“Thank you, I’ll say goodbye soon.” It was a woman. Her voice sounded shaky. “Though it's the end of the world, don’t blame yourself.”
The woman stopped speaking for a moment to take a strangled breath.
“And if it's true, I will surround you and give life to a world that’s our own.”
The recording ended too soon. Daniel hugged it to his chest and sighed. He wondered how long the device had been sitting in the hut. He wiped some blood off of his neck and pressed play again. This time, the women’s voice was slightly staticy.
He listened to the recording again.
Then a fourth time.
Daniel had lost count of how many times he replayed the woman’s voice. When he pressed the play button again, he could no longer make out her words, but he knew them. The voice no longer sounded like a woman. It was staticy and distorted, like a robot’s voice.
Daniel tried to press play, but nothing happened. He clenched the recorder in his hand and stood up abruptly, throwing it against the wall in a fit of anger. The recorder shattered into pieces, shards of plastic flying across the room.
He sighed, falling to his knees. Images of his family, friends, and their goodbyes flickered through his mind. He wanted to go back.
But he couldn’t.
He brought his hands up to his face and clutched his head. He heard the sound of his hair squish when he touched it. It was blood.
Daniel collapsed onto the floor. Overcome with exhaustion, he decided to rest. With the woman’s voice replaying in his head, his eyes closed as he muttered her words.