Earth 3000

‘Okay, let’s see what we’re dealing with here.’ Chemali picked up the end of a computer tape scrutinizing it closely. ‘The northern seas are nothing but radioactive cesspools.’

‘Very much so,’ Starr agreed. ‘Several toxic waste dumps have overflowed. Metal containers have corroded and rusted through, leaking toxins into the earth.’

‘That’s not all,’ Chemali said. ‘Some coastal areas are covered with several feet of congealed crude oil, indicating some type of massive spills.’

Starr shuddered. ‘Just look at these forests, Chemali. Those huge trees are nothing more than fossils. Not a trace of green anywhere.’ Her botanist side was repulsed by such blantant destruction.

‘A terrible waste,’ he agreed.

‘Wait a minute.’ She adjusted a few knobs on one of her computers. ‘Cadmium. Slight traces in the soil and also underground water. Probably leaching from some ancient metal plating, or perhaps appliance batteries.’

He nodded. ‘Leading to bone disintegration. Leaving no skeletal remains of any life form it came in contact with.’ His hands were busy with the controls of a very complex piece of equipment. ‘Got it!’ he said triumphantly.

‘Got what?’

‘I’ve managed to retrieve some information from several antiquated data banks on Earth. How they survived is beyond me, unless they were sealed in some protective shelter.’

Starr could hear the pride in his voice. They didn’t call him a computer whiz for nothing. ‘How in holy space warp did you do that?’ she asked.

‘Xulu put it all together.’ He affectionately patted the computer that was now spewing forth reams of printed graphics. ‘She’s the best invention in any galaxy.’

‘But how...never mind.’ She grinned, shaking her head, and held up one hand. ‘Just tell me what you learned.’

‘Okay. A number of gasses, including carbon, fluorine, chlorine and bromine, almost depleted the ozone layer in Earth’s atmosphere.’

‘Well, no wonder. Bromine accelerates chlorine’s already voracious appetite for ozone molecules. That’s inviting disaster. What were they thinking?’

‘Exactly. With the ozone weakened, more heat from the planet’s sun reached the surface. As temperatures rose, water expanded and polar ice caps melted. Coastal cities and those in low-lying areas were flooded or swept away.’

Starr nodded slowly. ‘Agricultural areas, and possibly forests, would have been destroyed too.’

‘That’s right, and toxic chemicals would spread farther afield with the increased water flow, creating more risk for all life forms.’

‘Not to mention the health problems caused by unfiltered ultraviolet rays from the sun. What else?’

Chemali turned back to his treasured computer. ‘The continually rising temperatures, aided by electrical storms and fires, eventually caused nuclear plants to overheat and explode, as well as oil and gas deposits beneath the surface. Volcanoes were activated everywhere and earthquakes were numerous. I’d say Earth was mighty hot and rocking for a while.’

‘So the land was rocked by earthquakes and ravaged by fires; the air was filled with smoke and radiation; while volcanic ash and debris were falling all over the place.’ A note of dismay crept into her voice.

‘Total chaos and complete devastation,’ Chemali agreed. ‘Nothing could survive in those conditions.’

‘Just think of the horror, and the painful deaths. It makes me angry because it could have been prevented. Why must humanoids destroy their habitat through greed and pure selfishness, with total disregard for the future of their environment, and the species.’

‘Don’t forget, our own ancestors were very close to doing the same thing,’ he reminded her. ‘They were on the brink of destroying our home planet.’

‘That was a millennium ago. Thank the stars they realized their mistakes in time. Too bad we weren’t in time to give the humanoids of Earth the answers,’ she said sadly. ‘Even the vegetation would be better than nothing.’

‘Want to go down for a closer look? That is why we’re here,’ he said quietly, knowing how much she hated the destruction of plant life. Humans, she felt, brought about their own demise, but plant and animal life suffered because of outside intervention. To her, that was unforgivable.

Starr shrugged her slim shoulders. ‘I suppose so, although there doesn’t seem much reason to. Let’s get it over.’ She braced herself for the G-force of descent, something she doubted she would ever get used to. The landing itself was barely noticeable.

‘Better wear your filtering helmet,’ Chemali cautioned as they donned the heavy exploration suits. ‘Last thing we need is one of us contracting radiation sickness.’

When the debris disturbed by their landing had settled, they slowly emerged from their silver spaceship. Their feet sank almost six inches into loose, dead vegetation and other matter. Little puffs of black dust rose each time they moved a foot.

‘It sickens me to think that an otherwise intelligent race of beings could let such a catastrophe happen.’ Her voice was distorted through the helmet speaker but the anger and despair she felt was evident in the tone.

Chemali glanced at her, realizing for the first time that she wasn’t cut out for this type of work. Destruction and tragedy touched her too deeply. Starr was better suited to colonization, where she could recreate and nurture growing and living things.

‘My instruments aren’t picking up anything worth salvaging,’ he said finally. ‘Yours?’

‘Nothing.’ She straightened up and flexed her arms. ‘No air fit to breathe. No water to drink. It’s so depressing.’

‘The soil is too sterile to grow anything,’ he added.

‘I see no hope of recreating anything here,’ she said. They’d covered an area extending in a two-mile radius from their ship, as regulations required. ‘Maybe in a thousand years or so.’

‘My thoughts precisely. Shall we go?’

Neither of them spoke again until they had gone through the decontamination chamber and returned to their positions in the control room.

‘You realize we’ll be home early,’ Starr said.

‘Aren’t you pleased about that?’

She sighed. ‘Not really. My five years aren’t up and I’ll probably get sent out again, to find some other dead planet.’

‘If you are, I’ll go with you.’ Chemali looked at her, his emerald gaze meeting her leaf-green one. ‘And just for the record, I wasn’t sent out this time — I volunteered.’

Her eyes widened with surprise. ‘Are you nuts? Why? Or do you enjoy looking at death?’

‘No. I couldn’t pass up a chance to spend five years with you.’ He smiled warmly.

‘Yeah, right!’ She grinned at him. He wasn’t so hard to get along with after all, just a stickler for detail. It could have been much worse. Chemali was more tolerant that some of the other commanders she could have been partnered with.

‘So what next?’ he asked as they prepared for takeoff.

‘Home. What else?’ She punched the console buttons automatically. Sadness settled heavily on her slim shoulders. ‘Earth is a lost cause.’

‘The result of a careless, throwaway society,’ Chemali added quietly.

‘You mean plain stupidity!’ she exploded. One slim finger stabbed impatiently at a large green button. ‘Let’s get out of here! It’s a repulsive sight!’ She shivered.

The ship rose from the surface, the blast of air from its rockets leaving a dense cloud of toxic dust in its wake. Starr sighed and looked out a side window. She watched the cold, black, lifeless ball until they were out of range. She wished they could warn every race on every planet what their wasteful lifestyles would eventually lead to.

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© Fay Herridge

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