The Return

Here is a second story by my brother Rod.

Forever, it seems, have our great ships plied the infinite depths of space. Forever since we fled our poisoned planet, we few who were chosen to bare the standard of survival for our species – for humanity. Across an ocean of stars we have traveled, our small fleet swelling with the passing centuries into a formidable armada, built from the plundered stocks of countless alien worlds; our population, too, swelling from a mere thousand until we counted into the tens of millions.

Then, we had embarked upon our journey confident that we should find somewhere a world friendly to our biology, but though we set foot on a thousand planets, none proved habitable for long and we were always forced to move on.

Gradually, with the advancing of the centuries, came the knowledge that we must return again to the world of our birth – to Earth. When the poisons in its atmosphere, the pollutants swirling in its murky oceans, had finally subsided, we must go back. Like the flickering flame of a candle, our hope seemed less real with the passage of time, but still we pressed on, propelled by the knowledge that in this universe there is no other place for man.

What, we wondered, would the Earth be like upon our arrival after so long an absence? Would it be a garden again, grass covered and tree enshrouded, the ruined towers of man’s once great cities crumbled and sheathed in vines? Or would it be a wasteland, its ecosystem unable to pull itself back from the precipice over which we had hurled it? We didn’t know.

Still more generations passed before we at last saw the fires of our ancient sun through the ships portals and then there rang out a cheer such as I had never heard before. Slowly we made our way back towards the Earth and I wept when I saw it, hanging there in space, a blue-green orb that shimmered with life. We had come home!

Things would be different this time, we told ourselves. No more would we heedlessly pump toxins into our oceans and atmosphere in the name of profit. No more to suck from the Earth its precious things, leaving in our wake only a dried husk. We would abandon our hated ships and live as nature had intended, at peace at last with the Earth, our mother.

We slowed into orbit around her and hand picked the finest of our scientists for the first descent to her shores. A formality really, but we had to be careful. Though she appeared draped in a lusty gown of vitality, yet there might linger still a fringe of poison. And so we waited while the advance team drifted away from the mother ship and settled gently down to Earth.

The hours gave way to days and still we heard nothing, and we grew anxious for their safety and our future. But at last someone spotted their tiny craft making its way back towards us, a white fleck of metal against the massive blue curve of Earth. A hush fell across the armada as the team unloaded and passed through the air lock. And then we saw them, and when we did our hearts fell.

What, we asked them, had they found? Was the Earth, after all, still covered in her eons old blanket of poisoned gases, all life extinguished, gone the way of man? Had we at last come all this way for nothing?

No, they assured us, just the opposite. In our absence the Earth had become a paradise again. Everywhere they saw only signs of a healthy, vigorous planet. Animals without number flourished in thick continent spanning forests, mighty groves of fruit baring trees growing fat on pure rich oxygen, and no where any trace of pollution.

And there was the rub. For in the millennia that had passed, we had changed. Fed by our endless supplies of sterilized oxygen and treated water, we had evolved. We had grown accustomed to the scent of oil and grease, the filtered odor of hydraulic fluid and human sweat. The taste of reconstituted food, the feel of plastic, the glare of artificial lights, and the everlasting roar of engines.

The Earth was too pure for us now, its purity poison to our evolved biology, and so we broke orbit and pushed off once more to wander in space and I know now that we shall never leave it.

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