Touchdown

Imagine it—you’ve been on the ship for ages, maybe cooped up in cryosleep, maybe just passing time while in FTL, but now you’re here, at the target planet. The ship is in orbit above you, and the shuttle is touching down… now.

The pilots shut everything down, and for a few moments, it’s dead quiet. No need for environmental suits—this planet was targeted because a probe detected an atmosphere like Earth’s. It’s a rare find, so being on this mission is a privilege. You weren’t picked to be the first to step foot on this world, but you will be among the first.

You exchange glances with the other members of the initial exploration party, then you all get to your feet and shuffle to the door. The team leader opens it with a hiss and daylight floods the compartment. A whine of electronics as the ramp lowers, followed by a brief clang as it locks in place, and the member chosen to go first steps out of the vehicle.

You try to appear patient, but inside you’re bursting. Just because you aren’t the first doesn’t mean you aren’t eager to step outside. For one, you’ve spent so much time inside this ship you’re ready for broader horizons. But more than that, there’s the idea of being among the first to step foot on a new world, one everyone hopes will be ripe for colonizing. Earth certainly needs the resources and to lighten its population load.

Finally, it’s your turn. You walk down the ramp, inhaling your first breath of alien air. It’s clean, not like the polluted air back home, and full of scents that are strange to someone used to fumes and little else.

And the sights! My God, it’s amazing. Not a building or car anywhere, and the only voices are those of your teammates. You step onto the ground—a big moment for you, even if the big moment for mankind has already happened—and it takes a few seconds, and a bump from the person behind you, to remember to move. The novelty isn’t lost on you.

This. Is. Another. World.

You step to the side so the others can experience their moment of discovery too, but you barely see them. You’re standing on this planet’s version of grass. It’s soft and springy, and it looks a lot like pictures of wild grass back home, with long leaves that are a pale green in the center edged around with a greenish yellow. It slowly springs back up when you lift your foot off it.

In the distance, trees tower into the sky. They’re shaped like oversized broccoli—no limbs at all until the top, and then it forms a dome-like shape that’s a good twenty or thirty meters above the ground. A breeze ruffles the leaves and brings with the sweet smells of flowers.

An entire world, and only ten people on it at the moment. Soon there’ll be more—they can’t bring colonists here until it’s reasonably sure this is a safe world—but for now it belongs only to you and your teammates.

It’s worth the trip. All those months cooped up in a spaceship, trying your best not to snap someone else’s head off at times, staring out what few portholes there were at the cold depths of space, all of it was worth this moment, this time in your life that nothing else will equal. It’s your first time on a planet that’s not Earth, not the planet of your birth. There’s work to be done, and no doubt you’ll grow accustomed to this place, but for now, this moment, you’re an explorer, one of the privileged first few to leave footprints, as it were, on this world. Even if your name never goes down in a history book, you’ll still cherish this forever.

The moment is over. Time to go to work. But you’ve got something now that very few others have, and it’ll keep you going for the rest of your life.

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