by Thomas Bennett of John Kyrle sixth form. This was one of two stories shortlisted from our schools’ competition, July 2020.
Commander Jeffrey Noble collapsed to the ground. He’d manually prised open the enormous weight of the shuttle door, designed to be moved by powerful—now broken—motors.
His hand instinctively came to hover over his eyes. So long had Noble stared into the emptiness of space that the explosion of colour and light that stretched before him was completely overwhelming. He staggered to his feet. Squinting through the gaps between his fingers, he caught a glimpse of a tall narrow structure, spreading out as it got higher. He’d only seen pictures of trees. And he was equally confident that the flying parade soaring high above the canopy in the distance was a flock of birds, although he was clueless as to the species.
Other than the aerobatics display, however, the landscape was eerily silent and still. The trees stood to attention row after row, tall and proud, defending whatever mysteries lay beyond their fortification.
His moment of tranquil reflection was disturbed.
‘It’s, it’s… beautiful.’
It was Officer Christopher Tate. He had stumbled out of the shuttle next, followed by Engineer Emma Taylor and Medical Officer Dr. Lucy Jackson. Noble and the other three coughed as their lungs got used to the high oxygen content .
‘Ahhhhhhhhhh.’ Jackson breathed a deep sigh of relief. ‘Clean air! Better than that recycled crap we’ve been inhaling for the past fortnight.’
Officer Taylor gave her a stare. ‘You don’t like my air, you don’t have to breathe it.’
Dr. Jackson’s turned to Commander Noble.
‘Sir, I need to take a look at your arm. It took the full brunt of the-‘.
Noble raised the arm casually to dismiss her concerns.
‘It’s nothing. Where are we?’
‘Well,’ Taylor answered, ‘the pod’s burned up badly. All the systems are fried. No communication, navigation, life support. From the glimpse I caught of the computer before we entered the atmosphere, we were headed for somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. God knows where we actually ended up, though. And until I can make repairs,’ she continued, ‘we won’t be able to send a message to the station.’
Tate pulled a small tablet device that he and Taylor had hastily assembled for basic data analysis out of his bag. The date ’01.05.2123’ flickered at the top of the screen as he scrolled across the screen to produce a map.
Tate showed the Commander the map, pointing towards a flashing red blip on the lower left hand-side of the screen.
From his own bag—a tired leather concoction—Noble pulled a relic of a journal, an inch thick. He handled it with an unusual delicacy, flicking through—he knew every page – until he reached roughly midway. He examined the double spread closely. His eyes flicked between the page and the scene in front of him. The description was a near perfect match to the reality.
‘It’s exactly how he described it.’
‘My grandfather. This is the Amazon Rainforest. My grandfather wrote about it. It’s exactly as he described.’
Noble handed Tate the journal, his eyes fixed on the rainforest’s hypnotising majesty.
Tate, with Taylor and Jackson peering over his shoulders, scanned the book. Their eyes moved between it and the rainforest, exactly as the Commander’s had. They too found it undeniable that what Noble’s grandfather had observed and scribbled down in impressively rich detail was indeed what they were now observing themselves.
Dr. Jackson shortly broke the stunned silence.
‘I thought they burned this place to a crisp.’
‘They?’ Noble replied. His crewmembers could almost sense the anger in his voice. ‘They. We. Us. It’s all the same. We’re all the same. We’re all human. The only thing that separates us is time. My grandfather’s generation and the generation before him had more time than they ever knew. And look what they did with it. This is the one bit left.’
Noble’s grew silent as he once again took a moment to admire the view. His disbelief for its beauty was matched by his disgust for what he was sure lay beyond it.
‘They turned it into a carcass, a graveyard for toxic waste and nuclear warheads. And those birds,’ he said, pointing at the sky, ‘are probably our only company. You’ll be lucky to find a bacterium. And those trees are now the sole lungs of the Earth. And they’ll tumble soon enough.’
Tate came to Noble’s side and gently placed his hand on his shoulder.
‘But we do have something,’ Tate reassured him, ‘we have that small patch of rainforest. We have a blueprint. We have a little bit of hope.’
Noble came close to a smile. Tate turned around and gently nodded at Taylor and Jackson, who nodded back.
‘We can do it, Sir.’
Heartened, the Commander cautiously took a first step forward.
A first step towards salvaging the Earth.
A first step towards rebuilding home.