Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

The Last Planet

"Hey, Joe, have you seen the latest job spec?" Lee twisted round painfully to watch as Joseph Harmon came forward and eased himself in stages into the engineer's seat.

"Give me a break. I'm still stiff from cryo," said Joe. He wriggled slowly, testing his muscles before allowing his body to settle into the seat. "Okay, let's have a look at it."

"It's a strange one," said Lee. "Well, the job looks routine but they've added a bit that doesn't make much sense." He passed the transcript to Joe.

SETI-9 Sector A9016: Planet Rosco795. Standard Robot Investigation. Arrival 3052-12-06-2318. Report 48 hours. Authorization code 901B. Special instructions: This one is the last.

Joe frowned and read the final sentence again. "What the hell does that mean, 'This one's the last'?"

"I couldn't make it out either," said Lee. "Do they mean it's our last and we can go home afterwards? Or is it the last in the sector? Dunno why they have to be so cryptic."

Joe shook his head. "Can't see it being our last. We're way short of our quota. I'll just have to ask them."

"Great. That means we won't know until we've finished the job. Takes at least four days to get a reply out here."

"Yeah but can't be helped. Can you go check on the robot while I get a message out?" Joe turned to the keypad and flexed his fingers while he considered how to phrase his query. Get it right first time, he thought; any ambiguity and they'll misinterpret and it'll be weeks before we sort it out.

Outside the ship, the gray planet came ever closer and striations of blue coalesced around its equator. His routine maintenance of the robot completed, Lee studied the planet through a viewport. Rosco795, only the second Rosco they had been asked to look at. He thought of the millions of names assigned to these orbiting chunks of rock, of how mythological names had long ago run out and they had been forced to resort to numbers as well as names. If this was the 795th Rosco, the mind could not comprehend how many other planets there must be, hundreds of Omegas, Plutos, Junos, Harveys, thousands of names and hundreds of numbers. It was too much for the mind, numbers without meaning.

And still there was no sign of life, let alone the intelligent life they were looking for. This one, Rosco795, looked possible; that blue color might mean water and the striations must surely be clouds. Yet Lee had seen plenty of planets that seemed even better prospects, only to yield the same bare sterility he had come to accept as the norm. With a sigh, he hit the comms button and announced: "Robot's ready when you are, Joe. On my way back to the bridge."

Over the next two days they watched as the ship's computer processed the streams of data from the robot. How diligently the robot worked, sifting, sampling, sniffing, analyzing, always searching for that organic footprint, the first sign that life might be present in some form. Very early on they knew that there was no chance of carbon-based life on Rosco795; the chemical mix was all wrong. But they let the robot continue as it worked through the other possibilities.

When the job was done and the answer the usual blank, they ordered the robot back to the ship and did not hurry through the usual docking and cleansing procedures. No new instructions had come through and they still awaited an explanation of that strange final sentence on the job spec. Joe prepared the usual report and sent it on its way; Rosco795 - life: no evidence.

Normally they would have gone back into stasis at this time, allowing the ship to receive the next co-ordinates and to make the jump without their interference, but they wanted to know what was meant by "the last one". So they passed the long hours in quiet conversation or watching the gray planet roll by the viewports. The lack of new co-ordinates seemed to make it more likely that they had completed the tour for this sector and they allowed themselves a little hope that they might be going home early.

It was exactly 48 hours after they had completed the Rosco795 job that a message came through. They read it on screen as it appeared, character by character, as though exhausted by its journey through the endless distances of space.

SETI-9 Sector A9016: Re your query. Rosco795 was the last planet. There are no more. If no life found, get into stasis. You're coming home, boys!

Lee turned from the screen to look at Joe. His mouth opened to speak. At that moment the ship filled with blinding white light and the words remained forever unspoken in Lee's mouth. Instead it was Joe who said, "What the...?"

So bright was the light that they had to hold their hands before their eyes as they stumbled against edges and corners on the way to the viewports. They peered between their fingers at the brilliant brightness that now filled the emptiness of space.

"Jesus," breathed Joe.

"You're right," said Lee, his voice filled with excitement and joy. "We've done it, we've finally done it..."

Outside, the man, robed in light and shining as brightly as a thousand suns, beckoned to them.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Mt. 24:14 NIV

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Why is it that the thing you are looking for is in the last place you look? :p
Date Added: 18/01/2006

Gone Away
Because you stop looking for it once you've found it! :D
Date Added: 18/01/2006

Wow. This is a great story. I loved the naming of the planets- to think of how many planets they have found and named that they run out of names and finally end up with names like Rosco, not just once but 795 times. That is very cool and amusing in a way. But there's a point to it as well, very cool.

And I was totally surprised - just tugged along gently by the slow pace of the emptiness of space and nothing to do when suddenly you pull your surprise ending. The ending had great impact.

I am very impressed. Where do you get all these great ideas for stories?
Date Added: 18/01/2006

Gone Away
Thank you, Twelve. :) Rarely do I know where the idea for a story comes from. There is so much extraneous stuff floating around in my head that occasionally two things come together and an idea is born. I think this one came from pondering on what would happen if we ever proved that we are the only intelligent life in the universe. But why I should be thinking about that, I have no idea... ;)
Date Added: 19/01/2006

When two ideas in your head collide, is there an explosion? I have read this several times now and I keep seeing new things. Maybe it is my interpretations that I see and not what is meant, I don't know.
As for proving there is no intelligent life out there, can you prove a negative? I think people will go on searching no matter how long they go without finding anything. Personally, I think if there were intelligent life that could pick up our signals they would have already seen our television programming and passed right by.
Date Added: 19/01/2006

Gone Away
Oh, I claim everything you see in it, Twelve. ;) But I guess if they ever did get to the last planet without finding life, they would just start looking between the planets, in space itself. And I agree completely about the TV programming. :D
Date Added: 19/01/2006

And lo he said 'would thou like fries with that?' and there was much actvity as the high school drop outs threw fire blanketys on the taxed frying machines and the kfc lay down with the maccy D......urrr am i missin somthin ;)
Date Added: 21/01/2006

Gone Away
Always quote your sources, Keef - that would be Hieronymus 14:93, wouldn't it?
Date Added: 21/01/2006

I think it was duspillmybeer 13:12
Date Added: 21/01/2006

Beautiful writing Clive. Your work just flows. I don't know how else to describe your style but it fits like an old leather glove.
Date Added: 22/01/2006

Wonderful story Clive - love the ending! - "We've done it, we've finally done it..." - Said with excitement and joy yet. (great adjectives to use.) Mad is still too young to know that you should always look in the last place first but he will learn...
Date Added: 23/01/2006

Gone Away
Thanks very much, Trée. :)
Date Added: 24/01/2006

Gone Away
And thank you, Paul. But, knowing my luck, if I looked in the last place first, it'd be somewhere else! ;)
Date Added: 24/01/2006

Gary Charpentier
The Last Place is always last for a reason.
Date Added: 29/01/2006

Gone Away
Very true, Gary. Hence it's name. ;)
Date Added: 01/02/2006

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