Zay heard the alarms and smelled the sickening sweet odor of melting conduits when his sleeper aboard the carrier rig opened in an untimely manner and dumped his furry body onto the chamber floor. Although he tried to hold on to the compartment, his claws ripped across the plastic surface with a sickening sqeal as the mechanical door abruptly closed. The blaring signals alerted him to the very real possibility of disaster. Darkness lit by flashing red indicators forced his attention toward a control panel as he scrambled aft to check the propulsion systems.
They were still traveling at maximum speed, hurtling through the vastness that lay between the stars toward his father’s home. Terror gripped his heart as he scanned the other sleep chambers, their statistics displayed readily with the punch of a control switch. Relieved that his family still slept, Zay checked all six compartments for contamination and fire. Something had set off the primary alarms, and he could leave no stone unturned diagnosing the problem.
The control panels indicated a collision with a small object. Zay’s paws danced across the keys as he sought spectral analysis. While the bulk of the ship stayed intact, some bit of debris had not been consumed by the craft’s shields and damaged the segment of the vessel that Zay himself had called home for possibly a millennium.
Checking the star time and manually manipulating the infinitesimally small course corrections, he puzzled over his current situation. There he was gliding smoothly past what had been named by his people the Rallis system and nowhere near a support station. A sudden deep sense of loneliness invaded his thoughts as he considered his options. If Zay remained on board, he would succumb to the time differential and become dust long before the craft reached its intended destination. “His kind was not meant for the rigors of interstitial travel” he had heard the professors say back home. Now Zay had begun to think that maybe they had a point. It had all seemed so glamorous. The possibilities were limitless. So many of his friends had left to tour the vastness of forever that Zay had been certain he would be fine. Everyone was doing it.
All of that was behind him now.
A small bleating alarm sounded on a panel above his head and Zay scanned the computer for diagnostics. The sleeper chamber that was designed to house him in his smallest form was collapsing. Large red warnings indicated jettison was adamant. The meaning was all too clear. There would be life support on this vessel for five occupants…not six. If he delayed departure, his family would die.
Placing himself carefully back inside his capsule, he tapped the buttons to access the damage systems as the computer counted down his remaining seconds. The third planet in the Rallis system looked promising. Zay downloaded what little about the climate and inhabitants of the planet his people knew and then hurriedly began to write a message for the five remaining aboard. His claws raced to numerically describe his destination as the timer clicked through its last digits. 3—2—1–The only other thing he managed before the rockets fired was a single word—mew— that in his language meant deep love.
Freed from the restraints of the large craft, the capsule spun end over end toward its final destination. As he braced himself for the entry into the planet’s atmosphere, Zay hit the transform indicator in an attempt to take with him as much understanding of the world below him as possible.
An intense shade of blinding fire was replaced by blue and then by a bright green just before impact. Zay held his breath as he succumbed to the inevitable darkness.
Jane Withers saw the meteor just as the sun was about to slip from the eastern sky. It had trailed beautifully across the pink dawn and seemed close enough to touch. She wondered how many other people would be chasing the rock that must have landed not too far from her position. If she did not hurry to find the impact site, she might just find out.
Pushing through the leafy branches of the northern California red wood forest, Jane crossed onto the park trail. The thick quiet of the immensely tall trees always had amazed her and she wondered if she would indeed find the stone in the woods, or if it would be lost in the quiet forever.
As she scrambled down a steep slope, Jane realized that her cat, Sheldon, was not far behind. “Go home!” it made about as much sense to order a cat as it did to chase the meteor. As the cat drew up near her legs, he rubbed his fur affectionately against her ankles and let out a loud purr. “Fine then, but don’t get lost!” her laugh echoed down the hill in the direction that she believed held her treasure. Sheldon was never lost. There seemed to be more chance that Jane herself might leave the path and be missing than that her cat would ever stray.
Hauling her thin body over the next hill, the woman and the cat caught site of something that seemed unusual. Ahead in their path and just past the next trees an impact crater was visible. Several feet across it stood out starkly against the shaded green. “Bingo!”
Cyrus Walsted boosted himself up against the viewing panel. Tired eyes played across a replay of what he had just recorded and almost completely missed. He was unaccustomed to unusual activity in the morning sky. Tilting the observatory scanners in the direction of what he had presumed was a meteor fall over northern California, Cyrus retrieved what data had recorded and fed the information to the main computer. Nothing special really, he mused.
Glasses sliding lower on his face, the scientist tried to assess the spectral analysis. This was no ordinary Earth fall. Measured in the tiny rise and fall of the instrumental output, he saw strange anomalies that would make retrieving the meteor—if at all possible—a gold mine of information. Stumbling backward from the telescope area, he picked up the red phone that was marked for special celestial events. The line clicked and rang. Cyrus was uncertain whether this data was actually significant enough to wake his superiors, but as a scientist he was excited to share. The receiver buzzed to life in his hands, “Aeronautics, how may I direct your call?”