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Time Capsule Earth

By Andrew Tan


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This story was a winning entry in the following contest...   (This is NOT an active contest.)

In this contest we select a drawing and it is up to you to write about it.

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Photo is from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. American civil war battlefield.





Welcome to Earth.
Time capsule buried coordinates –42.23, 20.00
Crew of the SAVIOR was here: 20 Aug 2310


A four hundred kilogram meteor the size of a compact car hurtled toward the explorer-class research vessel, Savior.

An instant before the strike, Captain Renquist whipped around to face his crew. "Brace for impact!" His eyes widened.

An explosion engulfed the side of the space vessel, blossoming into a ball of hot orange gas, sending shards of burnt steel and severed wires into the interior of the ship. A cacophony of voices screamed in panic over the ship’s speakers—and suddenly went silent.

A second later a crackle over the speakers, "We’ve lost sections two and three—" the voice paused,"—and section four."

A secondary electrical line melted from the external heat with a burst of light. Corridors went dark as compressors wailed to restore the lost atmosphere. Fire extinguishers activated and hissed carbon dioxide. Burning pieces of debris suffocated into black carbon ash.

Warning lights awoke in a seizure of red strobe.

On the bridge, Renquist barked a series of orders to his crew. He looked up at the conduits lining the ceiling—the main power lines were intact. "Good," he said to no one in particular. Around him, sirens reverberated through everything; the floor, the chairs and computer consoles. He turned to his first mate, "Royal, turn off the alarms."

Royal typed on the command console in front of him and the strobes steadied into a red glow.

Renquist was confident that his ship could withstand a meteor strike, and hoped the damage was minor enough to repair. Sections two, three and four were laboratories filled with research equipment. He was relieved that vital ship systems remained intact, but he had to notify their guest.

"Dr. Foster, the labs are gone," he said.

"How many?" Foster was anxious. He fiddled with his seat restraint.

"All of them," Renquist said. "And stay in your seat."

Blood drained from Dr. Foster’s face as he slumped back. Gone. Two months of space particle collection. He’d commissioned the Savior with a project grant that took five years to obtain. "Damn." He regarded the Captain who looked worried. "Are we okay?"

Renquist did not answer. Instead he was looking outside the starboard window with dread. Wisps of white steam trailed toward a gaping hole in the ship. Too large. They would have to air lock the entire starboard side of the ship just to survive. He turned. "Royal—"

"—Confirmed Captain, we lost hull integrity," Royal said as he continued to monitor the crisis on his display. He read his Captain’s concern and had already initiated emergency procedures.

"Hang on." A loud series of beeps gave a signal to Royal. "Emergency seals closed."

Renquist beamed and wanted to pat Royal’s shoulder, but restrained and chose to smile instead. Royal’s discipline and leadership were unmatched. Thirty-three years his junior, Royal was the best pilot Renquist knew. Royal you’re going to make a fine captain one day. Renquist stood up and worked his way toward Royal.

"We need gravity for major repairs." Holding the guardrails, he pointed to the display monitor. "There."

Royal fixed his attention to his Captain. "Are you sure? This planet isn't safe." The monitor displayed a blue and white marble, rotating slowly upon a digital axis.

Renquist pondered for a moment and fingered his gray beard. Land, gravity and air. It’s all we need until rescue vessels arrive. "Turn on the beacon," he ordered.

"Sir." Royal punched in the code and a small dish extended outside the ship. The signal activated and sped toward Alpha-Seven—thirty-nine light years away. Warping space-time, the signal would reach rescue teams in less than a week. Until then the crippled Savior would have to land.

Renquist announced his decision to the crew. "We’re going to Earth."

A short time later, a rumbling of rocket engines shook the ship as Royal changed Savior’s course. They entered the Earth’s gravity well in less than twelve hours, and the ship began to accelerate through the upper ionosphere.

Savior's hull, buffeted by friction, began to heat; and within minutes, the vessel was a streaking ball of fire. Inside, the scared crew prayed and whispered to each other.

Renquist closed his eyes and started humming a merry tune from the Academy. He cracked a grin. At first confused, the crew soon found solace in their Captain’s confidence.

Three minutes to touch down, Royal fired the retro booster and a violent shudder rocked the ship. Then as the spacecraft decelerated from its suicidal drop, the inevitable happened.

Savior careened to port as air turbulence ripped at the gaping hole, pieces of burning metal ricocheting off the hull in loud clangs. Equipment tore from their mounts.

The flailing ship twisted again, and again. Until in what seemed like eternity, the ship lurched back to its normal plane of descent.

Whew! Dr. Foster almost said aloud.

Royal guided the craft over the northern hemisphere of the planet, and hovered toward an island that resembled a long sardine. He set down on a small open field. "Touchdown!" he yelled over the rumble of engines.

Whoops and cries of congratulations erupted on the bridge.


Once things settled down, everyone gathered on the bridge. Twenty individuals stood around Renquist as he addressed them "—However, we lost two main thrusters and Savior is unable to return to orbit," he said in a serious tone. He paused for a moment and then concluded. "Good job, guys."

He turned to Royal beside him. "Royal, I want the crew to stay on board and continue repairing this ship. You and I are going outside to check out the perimeter." He realized the danger of the scouting mission and looked around him for another member for the team. He pointed to the burly crewmate still left on the bridge, "Private Tauran, you’re coming—"

"—Me too," Dr. Foster interrupted. He came all this way; this would be his chance to see old Earth. Three hundred years since the exodus and the planet was still a bucket of uranium. Few people came back to the human home planet. He wanted, no he needed to bring back something in exchange for losing all the data from the meteor strike.

"Okay," Renquist glared, "but we’re not babysitting." He strode out the door to the ready-room. The rest of the team followed him.

After donning their radiation suits, they exited through a portal hatch. Dr. Foster’s suit was too big to fit his meager frame, and it caught on the latch. "Careful," Royal yelled, "it’s hard to tear, but if it breaks, you’re dead." The headset crackled loud in Dr. Foster’s suit as he looked down at the dirt and shuddered, imagining the gamma rays tearing into his flesh.

"Captain, where to?" Tauran’s sonorous voice betrayed his curiosity. A twenty-two-caliber plasma rifle was strapped to his back.

"During the drop I spotted city buildings, ruins. We will see if we can gather more scrap to repair this hole." Renquist checked a hand-held topographical map. He hid his own interest in exploring the Old planet. Savior rose fifty-feet in height behind him, and glistened in the sharp sunlight. The gaping hole on the back was huge, and revealed the destroyed innards of the vessel. He raised his gloved hand to shield his eyes.

"Two klicks west. Move out."

It was almost three hours of hiking when they reached a large body of water separating them from the city ruins. Royal gestured to a long concrete structure. It had two stone towers attached to cables that swooped in two arches from one side to the other. It was a suspension bridge.

They walked in silence, admiring the ancient structure. They were careful to avoid large cracks in the roadbed that dangled thirty meters above the murky water below.

They finished the crossing and gazed at the ruins before them. Renquist was in awe. The sun was high in the sky and illuminated the decaying buildings of Old Earth. Enormous shadows enveloped the exploration team. The dilapidated skyscrapers were like sentinels of broken steel and glass.

"Amazing," Dr. Foster said.

"What’s so amazing," Royal said. "The entire city is gone. Annihilated by a bomb." He looked in disgust at the scorched black earth. "This is why we left. Bah."

Dr. Foster glanced at Royal. "You know, Savior’s fusion drives evolved from this technology."

Royal did not reply, his face rigid.

It was hot, and Tauran was trying to wipe the sweat from his eyes through the faceplate of his suit, an impossible feat. "Goddamnit."

"Enough—" Renquist continued as a deafening howl pierced the air.

They stopped, eyes darting in all directions. Tauran raised the plasma rifle to the ready-position high up on his cheek. "Tauran," Renquist said, "Take point. Whatever that was, it’s close."

They all grouped behind Tauran as they filed toward one of the more intact buildings. Another cry, this time it was closer and sounded different. Two creatures? And then a series of barks like a dog. Dr. Foster recognized the animals—wolves. He crept up to Renquist and whispered. "Captain, wolves. A pack of them."


"Hunting packs."

They hunt? Great. We only have one rifle. Renquist tapped Tauran on the shoulder and they moved toward a building. "Let’s get moving."

Out the corner of his eye Royal was the first to see them, beasts the size of an angry bull called wolves—gray shaggy fur, bottomless eyes and fangs like white ceramic daggers.

Dr. Foster’s eyes widened and predatory fangs gleamed back at him, dripping saliva. His inquisitive side wanted to know more, his instincts said he was nuts. He screamed.

When the wolves charged, Dr. Foster made a realization. "Mutated!" he yelled.

"Run," Renquist shouted into his headset. "There!"

Together they sprinted toward the building closest to them. A seared brass plaque read:

Manhattan, NY 10024
Founded MCMIV

Tauran fired three rounds at a door and kicked it down. It crashed to the floor and the boom echoed into the interior. With everyone inside, Tauran turned to face the giant abominations and fired a single round at the lead wolf. The plasma bolt ripped through the fifty-meter distance and the wolf squealed in horrific pain as the bolt hit squarely in its chest. The wolf’s body was thrown back into the rest of the pack, knocking the rest of them over. Purple blood poured from the wound and the rest of the pack turned their attention to the fresh carcass—easy food.

Renquist activated a high-energy arc lamp attached to his shoulder that speared the darkness in a white stream of light. The building was in relatively good shape considering its age and tragic experiences. Magnificent stone columns graced the corners of the room and towered above them to the ceiling covered with engraved tiles. In the center of the marbled floor was a round wood desk covered with fine dust. A sign said: Information

A draft whistled its way into the cavernous room and dispersed a layer of the dust. Renquist looked at a broken statue lying near a doorway. "Move deeper."

Further they ventured, into smaller hallways, tiptoeing, and twitching at the slightest bit of sound. For a long time, no one spoke or touched anything.

When they turned a corner, Dr. Foster was the first to let out an exaggerated gasp. On either side of them were windows. Inside were statues, of people, of animals, and entire scenes that depicted Earth life a millennia ago. Dr. Foster read a raised inscription:

Early Ice Age 10,000 years ago.

He looked up and shined his lamp through the window. Inside a large creature called a woolly mammoth stood trapped in time. Two male figures dressed in brown animal fur surrounded the beast and threatened it with sharp stone-tipped spears. Dr. Foster knocked on the glass. "Captain, can I take these back to the ship?"

Tauran chortled.

But Renquist didn’t answer, he was busy looking for a place to rest, somewhere with a lockable door. His breath came heavy and the vapor fogged his face shield. A full day had passed and his sixty-two year old body couldn’t take it anymore.

Royal glanced down at a sensor device attached to his wrist, "There isn’t any radiation in here," Royal said quietly, "but the air could be full of harmful dust—asbestos, lead particles."

Renquist nodded. "Keep your helmets on."

As they walked through the hallowed halls, they all wondered about a time lost, long ago.
Each step took them further into their vast history, buried deep and safe in mortar, stone and steel.


They stumbled into a spectacle of brilliant colored lights, blazing from the intensity of their lamps. Shimmering jewels and precious stones tucked into glass-enclosed cases. As they walked into the ‘gem’ room, Dr. Foster tripped over a green stone slab that lay over a short staircase.

"Sexy," Tauran said. "Captain, can I take one?" He pointed with the rifle barrel at a crimson ruby, sparkling and dancing like red stars.

Renquist looked around and found three entrances to the ‘gem’ room. He wanted them to keep moving. "Yes. But only one small object." he ordered. "And that goes for the rest of you. Don’t get weighed down."

Before they left, Tauran broke the glass with the butt of his rifle and took the ruby. He placed it into his suit’s hip pocket and tapped the velcro shut. He smiled as they left and slung the rifle over his back again.

In what seemed like weeks, they finally passed through a long corridor that ended with a thick black metal door. Royal activated his headset and read the sign on the door. "Room 201B. Archives. Photographs and Prints Division."

Renquist pushed down on the metal bar and the door creaked open. The door had a lock, and once the team was inside the room, he turned the knob. The room wasn’t large; he could have walked across in six steps or less. Around him were shelves, drawers and rusted cabinets. A wooden chair lay on the floor splintered from rot. He groaned and lay down exhausted on the floor. "Royal, you’re in charge. Wake me for anything." He clicked off his mike and shut his weary gray eyes.

Royal nodded as he settled down on the floor against a wall. Tauran was already fast asleep, snoring.

Only Dr. Foster remained standing. He wandered around the room, examining the drawers, and trying to read faded labels. A legible one caught his attention. It read:

The Civil War

Photographs, pictures. He yanked the drawer and was surprised by the weight. The heavy box inside puzzled him. Lead? He wasn’t sure. A cover with a latch mechanism sealed the contents inside. He hefted the box up and down, and shook it twice. There were photographs inside—a lot of them. Pictures would be perfect to bring home. He hoped the Captain would let him take it.

They all slept with their lamps on, the batteries engineered to last ten thousand hours.

Dr. Foster slept with the heavy box cradled in his arms.


The explorers woke up seven hours later. A little dribble of drool tapped the inside of Dr. Foster’s helmet and activated his headset. Unintelligible muttering blasted through everyone’s ear pieces. Tauran awoke with a start. He groaned as his bulk lumbered over to Dr. Foster. He hauled him across the side of his helmet.

Renquist rose to his feet like sap in a tree. "Royal, check with Savior."

Royal checked in and confirmed their location with the crew. They were somewhere in the middle of the island. The hole in the ship was sealed and the perimeter was secured. He reported the news to the Captain.


"Repair crew doesn’t need anymore metal. The hole was repaired with ship wreckage."

Magnificent. He didn’t want to come back out here with those animals running lose outside. "Good. Field trip is over, we’re going back."

Dr. Foster tapped his treasure. "Captain, I found this."

"What is it?"

"A box of photographs."

"Its heavy. Take them out." Renquist said as he looked at the box’s latch.

"No, I don’t think I can without destroying the photographs, " Dr. Foster replied, "The radiation."

"Well if we have to run away from those things," referring to the giant wolves, "you’re dropping it."

Dr. Foster sighed, "Alright."

As they walked through the door back the way they had come, Royal asked. "What’s in there that is so important?"

"Pictures of our past," Dr. Foster said in a reverent tone.

"Of what?"

"The Civil War— "

"War?" Royal said as his face became rigid again. "I thought you were a physicist, or something. Why the interest in war?"

Dr. Foster thought for a moment as they walked through the gem room. He thought about the anguish, and the pain the human heart was capable of, and his only reply was, "It’s our history."

Royal was quiet. Dr. Foster couldn’t tell whether his answer made any sense to the young officer.

When they arrived in the last room, Royal recognized an exhibit. A dusty glass case held three swords nestled on a lacquered wooden stand. The swords curved gracefully in black sheaths clothed in red and gold serpentine vignettes. Beautiful swirls of sinuous creatures wrapped around the length of the blade holder. He read the brass exhibit label:

Samurai Swords
Japan 13th Century

Being careful to avoid the edges of the case, Royal picked up a sword with both his hands—the sword was weightless, as if an invisible spirit buoyed it.

"Isn’t that a weapon of war?" Dr. Foster said.

Royal nodded. "My culture," he paused. "This is my history." As he ran his hand over the black sheath, smooth under his glove, he turned to Dr. Foster and his face softened.

Dr. Foster let out a hard chuckle, but his headset wasn’t on and Royal just saw a head bounce up and down behind a faceplate. Tauran noticed the bouncing professor. Doc you’re nuts.

Before they left the building, Tauran asked. "Captain, aren't you going to take something?"

Renquist shrugged, looked around and gestured.

"Good choice, Captain," Tauran said, and with the butt of the rifle, he bashed the glass casement and grabbed a golden goblet embedded with jewels. He swooped his arm to toss it to his Captain.

Renquist thanked Tauran with a grin and admired the goblet in his hands. Perfect for my blueberry tea and brandy. Then he tossed it back to Tauran. "Carry it for me will you."

Once back outside, the weather had gotten a little worse. It was early in the morning but the sky was overcast. Royal scanned low pressure and mentioned rain. By the time they reached the city side of the suspension bridge, a drizzle had already started pitter-pattering against their suits.


Dr. Foster glanced behind him for a last look at the city ruins when he saw the giant wolves. The pack was stalking a hundred meters away, darting between concrete embankments and fleeting through shadows. "They’re BAAaaack."

Renquist twisted to look. "Hustle," he ordered as he started running, "Doc, drop the box."

Dr. Foster ran and shook his head. The weight of the box was slowing him down.

"You stupid scientist. Leave it!" Tauran bellowed as he turned to the wolf pack and fired several more plasma rounds, the bolts thundered along the asphalt toward the animals. All of his shots missed. Tauran’s roar startled Dr. Foster and he opened the box and grabbed a handful of pictures. He stuffed the pictures in his pocket and ran. He knew the photographs would be destroyed by the radiation, but the next growl from behind him dashed that concern.

They all crossed the bridge, avoiding the cracks, when Tauran turned and yelled over the headset, "Keep going. I got this."

He faced the abominations, and his brown eyes glowered like two iron daggers. He clicked a switch on the plasma rifle and a digital timer started to count down. He hurled the rifle onto the bridge and sprinted toward the rest of the group.

A few seconds later the rifle detonated in an ear splitting crack of blue fire and lightning. The entire width of the roadbed fractured and collapsed to the water below, splashing white foam.

They were safe.


Once aboard the Savior, Renquist returned to the bridge to check on the conditions of the crew and ship. Dr. Foster hurried to his cabin and shuffled his pictures. One by one, he flipped through them. His hopes were bludgeoned by radiation and rainwater. The pictures were faded in a sick yellow and white.

He flipped to the last picture, a glory to behold. The photograph was covered in dust—Lead particles. The top of the photo was discolored, and little driblets of water had exposed and etched white spots on the paper. Dr. Foster studied the image under a desk lens. It was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen; the brilliance of the ‘gem’ room could not compare.

The black and white photo embodied a vital aspect of the human condition, yet portrayed only an infinitesimal portion of human history.


Two weeks later, when the crew of the Savior was aboard a rescue craft, Dr. Foster looked out a window, down at the blue globe below; and knew he’d never return.


On board the abandoned Savior, Dr. Foster left a note to future explorers. He used nitric acid to etch the cockpit window:

Welcome to Earth.
Time capsule buried coordinates –42.23, 20.00
Crew of the SAVIOR was here: 20 Aug 2310



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