A Very Short Story
The single-seat, ducted-fan craft flew over the top of the last ridge and was looking down into a broad desert valley.
“Destination in visual range.” The pilot said into his helmet mic.
The craft dipped its nose and began it dive into the canyon.
“Roger, Recovery One, we copy.” a disembodied voice replied through the helmet radio. Meanwhile he was pulling back up and creating an air cushion below him. Sand, dust and pebbles flew out in all directions as he came within five meters of the surface. Then the craft buoyed and rose back up at a steady altitude of nine meters.
The pilot dipped the nose again and the craft began accelerating forward. In the distant a copse of squat buildings rose up, half-covered by the red sand. The craft came near them and circled the abandoned settlement before flaring and coming to rest on the surface throwing dust and sand every which way.
“Recovery One here, I have reached the destination.” He told them. He checked the life-support suit he was wearing before allowing the side of the cockpit bubble to iris open. He stepped out and climbed to the surface.
He strode towards the settlement and reached the outermost buildings in minutes. He used the light on his wrist to look inside of some of them. Sand and dust had breached them, each was clogged with dust.
Still, there was a mission. Some had stayed behind before the end, he needed to find and tag their remains.
After a while he checked into some of the taller buildings, two and three levels. On the top floor of the highest building he found what he had come for. The bodies were almost nothing but bones, a few till had skin stretched taught over skulls, but everything was coated in the clinging orange dust.
“I have located the stragglers.” He reported.
They thought they could survive when the barrier faltered. It was a normalcy bias, of a sort. People did not expect that they would be personally impacted by change or disaster. No doubt there had been a stream through the center of this wide canyon, as well as farms and gardens. It had been the idyllic small community at one point.
A handful had refused to leave. The atmosphere had been fixed, surely it would stay fixed. The barrier might falter but it was outdated anyway, everything would remain as it is without it. Humans had come here and Terra-formed. For a while everything just worked. Then suddenly everything began to revert as it had been before the humans came.
The cold came, the atmosphere began thinning, eventually the oxygen dissipated, the water evaporated and the world became dead again. Those who had refused to evacuate had died. Every augmentation meant to help them survive was not enough.
“Collect the implants, the data will be analyzed.” They said in his ear.
We can learn a lot from from failure. Humans always did. From failure we can try other things until something worked. We can build a new atmospheric generator, a new and improved barrier. We can even design human better suited to live here, using new augmentation.
Sure, someday humans would live, work and play here again. Just not now. Just collect the data storage chips from the bodies and leave.
“Recovery One here, on my way back.” He said, then he turned to leave.
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