As it approaches the target world, it watches and observes. Anything produced by nature would fail to see anything beyond the red glare of a star, but its eyes are delicate machines, refined over the millennia. It can perceive almost the entire electromagnetic spectrum, shifting through it to find the patterns it seeks. The haze of infrared and visible light from the star is filtered out, and the world can be seen clearly, down to major geographical features.
What it finds is disconcerting. The world has changed since the last visit; though it had always been arid, it was now covered in a global desert. Spectrographic analysis of the atmosphere revealed none of the usual pollutants, which appeared to rule out an ecological disaster. Whatever had caused the drastic change had to have been a natural phenomenon.
It soon detects something else.
Orbiting the world are two spacecraft, each one wildly different from the other. One is long and spindly, with the habitable section trailing behind the powerful engines via a strong cord. It is clearly a true starship, capable of traversing the vast distances between systems. The stargazers must be the builders of such an impressive vessel, for no others have reached even a fraction of the sophistication required for such a development.
The other, however, is an enigma. It is short and squat, with a massive metal plate at its base, and appears to be propelled by nuclear devices. Such a vessel would take centuries to even reach the nearest star, and the target world lacked the sufficient amounts of fissionable materials to fuel such a monstrous ship. It had to have been constructed within the system, but none of the other worlds are habitable. One appeared to have vegetation, but it was far too violent to ever produce a spacefaring civilization; it had been ruled out from the beginning.
Brushing aside the other vessel for the time being, it reviews what it knows of the stargazers. It received regular transmissions from a nearby starbridge, but even it could be too preoccupied at times. There were sixteen others it needed to consider within the local star cluster, after all, and some of them could necessitate contact within a matter of fifteen cycles. Now, it dives into the data, devouring every vital piece of information it has.
It is surprising to know how far they’ve travelled, despite the hardships they’ve faced. Their very world has changed; looking upon the images taken from their own data feeds, it is clear how different it looks from before.
And yet, it is not the first time there has been a drastic change within memory.
“A global warming event?” Teksha asked.
The commander’s crest flared. “Unfortunately, it is the truth. This planet is in the midst of a drastic change in climate.”
With a gesture, she activated a hologram of Tenokaskin. The image was familiar to Teksha; he’d spent many long evenings studying it, mesmerized by the swirling clouds and vast oceans. The ice caps were extended down halfway to the equator in some areas, and looked quite inviting. Tenokaskin would be warmer than Cefac, he knew, but it would still be rather comfortable.
At least, it should have been.
“We launched another small probe ahead of us,” the commander continued. “When the transmissions returned, this was what we saw.”
The hologram shifted, and Teksha let out a hiss at the sight. The icecaps had receded, shrunken; the vast glaciers had disappeared from all but the polar regions. Entire islands had been swallowed up by the hungry sea, and many of the continents were now divided by water. The entire world had changed, and not for the better.
“How could this have happened?” he inquired. “It was not too long ago.”
“Even changes this large can happen in a short time,” the commander replied, her wings drooped. “In this case, two hundred years.”
“How severe are the changes?” Teksha hated how desperate he sounded, but continued on. “It may still prove to be a viable colony…”
“Perhaps,” the commander admitted. “However, I must admit doubt on the matter. The other conditions were already difficult enough, and now the likelihood that we may only be able to survive in an incredibly small area makes the planet more and more unsuitable.”
Teksha thought for a moment. “We could start worldshaping it. If a seemingly small shift was enough to alter the world’s climate, then we should be able to revert it with a shift of our own.”
“There’s no telling if such an operation would be successful. It’s entirely possible we’d just make the world even less habitable than it currently is.”
“Then what is there to do?” Teksha let out a low growl of frustration. “Are we to just give up this world?”
The commander snarled at him, her wings extending. Teksha decided not to push her any further at the moment, not when he was still weak from hibernation. Thankfully, the commander seemed to calm down, and her wings folded once more.
“I am not one to make rash decisions, subcommander. You will lead an expedition planetside, and research into the habitability of the planet. I will review the data you give me, and then I shall decide whether to colonize this world, or move on to another. We will restock some of our supplies in this system’s asteroid belt while you are on the surface.”
Teksha drooped his crest. “Understood.”
“The rest of your group will be woken shortly. It will be some time yet before we arrive at Tenokaskin.”
The commander flew past him, and lazily glided down to the worldlet below. Teksha glanced her way, and had to fight the urge to chase after her and dig his claws into her neck.
As time went passed, Tenokaskin eventually came into view; first as a small pinprick of blue light, then as a full world, dominating the view out the portholes. It was astounding, just how large the world was; according to the first readings all those centuries ago, it was at least twice the mass of Cefac.
And it showed. The oceans were vast, unbelievably so; it boggled the mind to think of a world almost completely covered in seas. He remembered being surprised by the size of the Sun Lake near Rakaras, when he had visited the old capitol, but this was something different. When he looked down at the world at times, all he could see was a vast expanse of blue, an alien shade unlike any he’d seen before. Cursory scans had indicated that the waters could swallow all but the highest peaks at some areas, and he could easily believe it.
They were wrong to name it after the Hero of Storms. Such a title could never hope to do it justice. It was a blue world, a world of water, and it had depths they would never understand.
Eventually, the time had come to land. His group, numbering only ten after Terok had passed while in hibernation, collected their equipment and took their seats in the shuttle. Vark would pilot it down; all Teksha could do was sit beside him and wait. Through the window, he could see the curvature of Tenokaskin, a thin haze of air blanketing it.
“I heard a rumor that you and the commander almost had a duel on the spot, a while back,” Vark said, eyes not even on the console as he prepared the engines. “Is it true, or am I chewing my own tail here?”
“I’m surprised it hadn’t been brought up before,”Teksha replied. “She and I had a small argument regarding the climate shift and what to do next.”
“And that was enough to nearly rip out each other’s throats over,” the pilot deadpanned. “I am surprised we’ve managed to get this far.”
“Awfully pessimistic thing to say.”
“Doesn’t make the point invalid. I’ve always been interested in psychology, you know, and our own nature. I probably would’ve made a career out of it if it weren’t for a small breakdown-”
“-in school,” Teksha finished, already feeling irritable. “Yes, you’ve had this little speech before. We evolved from predators, prone to violence, and so on. If we were half as violent as you seem to think we are, we would’ve never left the planet.”
Vark twitched his wings. “You always seem to see the best in things. We’ve been able to get along so far just because we’re a small population. We’re more like fifty million nations of one, not one of fifty million.”
“Must you always speak so detachedly about your own people? By heroes past, you speak like you’re from another planet!”
“Very well; I’ll stay quiet for now,” Vark said. “Detaching from Urshnata.”
There was a brief lurch, then they were free, drifting away from their home of the last fifty years. The shuttle turned, and activated its engine, making a reentry burn.
Despite himself, Teksha couldn’t help but muse on the pilot’s words as they descended.