Varun waited for Lan in the corridor beside the airlock. He watched pale teal shadows shift across the cloud tops of the planet’s atmosphere. The view would be better once they were outside, unconstricted by the frame of the window. But there was still work to do, and he wanted to get his gawking out of the way now.
The Pangea had performed flawlessly, slipping silently between the stars without a single crew-wake event. They’d traveled at an average velocity of over half a million miles an hour—factoring in deceleration and orbital insertion—but over such distances this was a snail’s pace: three-quarters of a one-thousandth of a percent of lightspeed. Now the Pangea and its 40,000 still-sleeping passengers had arrived at Sol’s nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri.
It had been a journey of 5,738 years.
The ship was in orbit around the system’s lone garden world, and the crew was awake, making preparations. The Pangea‘s bulk could never make planetfall. It would be separated into manageable sections for landing, with many parts staying behind, converted to communication and mapping satellites and a constellation of orbital mining and construction facilities. That had been the plan, anyway. The plan would have to change now.
The hatch opposite the airlock swung open and Lan stepped through. She wore a dark EV suit that matched Varun’s. “Don’t look at it,” she chided. “It won’t help.”
But Varun didn’t turn away. The thin haze of atmosphere around the planet looked just as Earth’s had before they’d departed. He hadn’t blinked for some time and his eyes burned. Along the nightside of the planet, the lights of a thousand cities dotted three major continents. “They had no idea we were coming, did they?”
The Pangea had been leapfrogged. There would be no prizes for their second-place finish.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Amir Fiala, used with permission.