“I wouldn’t wanna do that on a regular basis,” Greg said as he cleared the airlock at Base 5.
“It once took seven months Captain,” reported the AI gate attendant. “Welcome to your new home.”
“Yeah, new home. Old home may not…” he choked back emotion at the thought.
Walking felt good, reassuring, as his wobbly legs adjusted to the Martian gravity. He stretched and looked skyward at the expansive black dome over colony five. In a corner of the reception area stood the ancient Curiosity rover. He smiled at the crude technology, and admired its durability. The probe became a village mascot early on, still responding to signals from Earth mostly intended to be humorous. The term “rover” suggested behaviors to the distant programmers. The vehicle would occasionally be found staring longingly with it’s camera eye at the barren red surface of the planet, like a dog waiting to be let outside, one leg lifted.
“Your team would like to meet with you before you get settled Captain,” prodded the attendant.
Greg shook himself to attention and nodded. A transport glided to a stop at his feet, waited for him to be seated, and then proceeded to the observatory.
The mood was grim in operations. New arrivals generally caused an excited stir among longtime residents, but the completion of Greg’s flight coincided with disastrous news from Earth. In fact, the fate of two inbound crews still in transit was in jeopardy. All eyes were on spectrographic imagery and a variety of monitors, all studying the sun.
“Hell of a day to arrive,” said an unfamiliar scientist who briefly glanced at Greg as he moved between stations.
“How bad?” asked Greg, keeping conversation to a minimum.
“For us…minimal” came the reply. “For them,” the voice trailed off, “The end. The end of the world.” The astronomer looked at Greg. There were tears in his eyes.
Greg was stunned. Scientists are data-driven, detached, unshakeable. He tried to make sense of the various displays. Magnetic imaging, a variety of spectral views of the sun’s photosphere. Colorful and agitated swirls of purple and orange. Each with a bulging arch that dwarfed a hundred Earths, malevolently hurtling a scimitar of radiation and heat toward the helpless planet.
Colonists were no longer the orphans and risk-takers of the early days. As the round trip shortened, crews became comprised of voyagers with families and a desire to eventually return home. But home was now in the direct path of an epic event that was about to cauterize the home world beyond recognition.
On Earth, a final sunrise displayed a fantastic assortment of reds and pinks. At about mid day in Europe, global communications were permanently disrupted. There was no news coverage of the event. No one needed to hear a play by play of his own extinction. As Earth rotated into the expanding coronal outburst, sunrise ignited the atmosphere and boiled ocean water within minutes, scouring the ground at 1000 miles per hour. The experience was mercifully short, but horrifyingly intense. Bunkers underground were permanently sealed shut by molten rock. Iron barrier doors liquefied and imploded into the furnace-like caverns where government officials attempted to escape.
The Lunar colonies, hidden behind Earth for almost twelve hours, were the last to communicate with the Martian bases. They were incinerated as Earth’s shadow exposed them from behind its protective eclipse.
Greg watched events unfold, fully aware that the magnified blue globe on screen was four minutes further into it’s demise than the delayed light speed signal they watched. The only sounds issued by a dying planet, so silent and tiny at this distance, were from the men and women around him, some collapsing in grief at the realization that everything, everyone they had ever known and loved was being systematically vaporized and removed from being, forever.
Welcome to your new home indeed, thought Greg with a shudder. December 21st, 2112. The Mayans had been off by a hundred years.