Lockdown Fiction: The Thing with Feathers

Today’s story was prompted by Improbable Press.

The Thing with Feathers*

It’s a con job, this planetfall. We can see the planet through the viewports of course, all shrouded in cloud, and beneath, glimpses of mountains and valleys, and long green plains. Snow-capped poles and blue oceans that look like they’ll team with life. Safe, non-toxic, edible life to eat alongside the nutrient-rich grains we’ll grow alongside smaller gardens of plenty in that rich soil we can see down there.

Only the viewport is not a window, it’s a sensor relay. What we see is a collection of pixels, and nobody knows where the pixels come from.

This shiny ball of hope we see, this bauble promising we survivors a future, how can we even know it’s real? That spritz of interference here – is that just an error in the computer-generated render of a planet-shaped animation? That impossible blue, that breathtaking green, are they from a painter’s palette rather than real and true and actual nature?

The captain says we’re landing. I think we’re crashing. Into some rocky moon or an asteroid field, and this beautiful lie is how they’re making it easy for us.

I want to believe it, but the gravity is all wrong. A planet would be pulling us into its orbit differently. We’re not being pulled. We’re not landing, we’re not falling. We’re diving. We are aiming for the end to come, at last, at last. No more waiting for us.

We survivors.

We can’t survive everything.

The ship is shaking. My knuckles are white. Everything is coming to an end, and I am full of grief, and full of relief.

Hope is all we had and hope is hard, the hardest thing, sometimes.

And then.

And then.

And then the shaking stops and even with the stabilisers on, we can feel the thrust of engines in an upper atmosphere. I used to know that feeling well, when I worked on the moonbase, then on the Mars base, then on the ship that would take us far from the Sun, which fuelled our last big push into the unknown, before it went Nova.

The gravity, though, was wrong.

Or did I just forget the pull of it? The anchoring, blissful wonder of it?

The viewport crackles and clears on the curve of the blue-green planet. The rushing seas and the green plains. The clouds scudding below us, then beside us, then above us. Winged creatures, feathered, ludicrous, splendid, wheel away to the horizon. The captain records them and plays their calls and cries and songs on the wing as we land.

We land.

We land.

*Title from Emily Dickinson’s poem: “Hope” is the thing with feathers.