Mission Discovery

2374 was the year the rocket reached Kepler-452b. The crew was tired of floating and dayless nights.

Marcus Howell was the first to take a step onto ground again. He wanted to strip his suit off and feel what looked to be grass, dive into the seemingly safe lake shore they’d landed near.


Kristen’s voice cut in over the comm. “Get the samples and get in, you don’t have a full tank!”

Marcus winced. “Got it, sorry.” He bent and collected a few blades and soil and moved as quickly his suit would allow to get access to more oxygen. He would have to wait for test results, he reminded himself, before he could relax.

The tests were a bit out of his department as their pilot. Molly was their resident scientist. So Marcus had little to do but ship upkeep and getting used to gravity until they came back.

His internal clock had improved a good bit, and now that they were back on a Goldilocks planet he could cross reference, so when he said the tests took nearly a day he wasn’t exaggerating.

But when they did come back, results were clear: Kepler-452b was capable of supporting human life.

The crew had never heard better news. They began taking calculated risks, until a few weeks after the initial tests, they were wandering the home-away-from home without shoes on. The air was clear, the sun was shining, the water was drinkable. It was paradise.

They couldn’t reach home to communicate so far out, so Earth was still unaware of this discovery. But Marcus wasn’t. He was delighted by it.

One day, about a week before their scheduled departure to share their findings. Marcus was living the high life. After years in a stuffy ship, laying out on the grass was bliss. He was dozing in the sun, feeling like what he assumed the Roman Emperors felt, when he felt a jab at his side. Initially, he assumed it was Kris, waking him up to eat or something, but then he heard a noise that sounded like a chick.

He cracked an eye open to find a small bird, eyeing him suspiciously. A few feet away, a flock of other birds were standing in the shade, waiting to see what would happen.

Marcus smiled, trying to not make any sudden moves. The bird pecked him again, and he slowly shifted away. It peeped in surprise and looked up. Marcus stared back. It was an adorable little creature. Its feathers were a soft teal color, paired with cream tail feathers and a little red plume on the top of its head. It peeped again.

“Hello,” he whispered. The bird squawked and ran away, plume puffed up. He couldn’t contain a laugh. “I’m sorry!”

The birds didn’t approach again, so he stopped talking, laying down again. He even shut his eyes, to see if the illusion of sleeping would make them feel more secure.

The birds continued to study him throughout the day, even when he went back to the ship. The next day, they were there again, peeking out from the bushes. He didn’t interfere, simply smiling and squeaking when he saw them. He didn’t bother telling the others about them; they were his little secret. He knew that the existence of alien birds was perhaps important to know, but as the departure day came closer, Marcus was realizing that those little birds were perfect for domestication. The lake was perfect for vacation homes. The flowers perfect for cultivation.

Kepler-452b was perfect for Earth to ruin.

The day of their departure was chaotic. They prepped the ship, entered in their coordinates, strapped down their food and water for the voyage home.

Marcus said goodbye to his birds. They’d come to trust him, at least a bit. He could pet their backs, though their plumes and feet were a no go.

He didn’t want to hurt them.

So when he got in his seat and prepared to pilot them out of there, he made a decision. He told Molly to pull up the tests when they exited the atmosphere.

Once they were floating, he gave an order:

“Planet is uninhabitable. Make them say that.”

“What? Why?”

He looked down at Kepler-452b, the paradise uninjured by humans. “I think you know.”

He didn’t get a response. But he heard her typing. And that was an answer all on its own.

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