0 6 min 2 yrs

After an incredibly long time, she could finally return to Earth, where the air carried the fragrances of pine, eucalyptus, the sea, and even the scent of rotting algae, which she struggled to recall. Memories of scents had faded or become hidden in some recess of her mind, mingling with the remembrances of roast chicken, smoked salmon, strawberries, and muffins.

Her destination was the lush greenery of Earth—fields, hills, and a house nestled in a village surrounded by a myriad of greens. Wondered if the house still stood, with its kitchen window overlooking the line of elms and the sparkling stream beyond. Water, clear and in motion, crossing the lush landscape—just the thought of it sent shivers down her spine.

She finished packing her samples, carefully labeling each one in its small box with its own chip. All the relevant information about them resided in the package’s memory.

The computers would remain behind; they were too heavy to transport. She would return with only a metallic box, the one that still had space for something more. Her replacement would arrive with the ship, a group of eager young individuals, ready to explore and investigate the new world, just as she had years ago. They would bring new equipment, provisions, and perhaps even a replacement module for the one destroyed by an explosion. Meanwhile, she would journey back to green Earth on that same ship, uncertain of whether her village’s stream and elms still existed or if they had been swallowed by new developments.

Returning to Earth meant facing the harsh reality that her loved ones, like Toni, Sara, her mother, Stacy, and all her friends, would already be gone. She had accepted this inevitable loss when she volunteered for this planetary exploration mission, in exchange for the promise of new technologies, discoveries, and contributing to humanity’s progress through her studies of xenominerals. She believed that there was nothing better than science and research to aid in the development of humankind.

After her return, she would spend some time at the Base before being retired, similar to O’Brian. She recalled the mature man who often spoke of battles and a time when vehicles used petroleum as fuel. She knew she would now be the one sharing memories from the past, while young cadets would chuckle at her one-track discourses. Yet, she continued her work, waiting for her companions to return, alone on this foreign planet, gathering minerals and samples.

Feeling a sense of solitude and nostalgia, she sighed, breathing in the rancid, recycled air that had lost its aroma. After undressing and washing with reused water, she put on her well-worn underwear and the old green knit sweater she had brought from Earth—the only green item on this alien world. It now felt too tight, but it reminded her of the green fields she longed for.

Clad in her spacesuit, she embarked on a final ride through the landscape. The wheels left tracks on the dry, dusty terrain, and the sand formed a curtain of fine particles that glimmered in the light of the two suns.

At a sudden stop, she turned back. The dust around her floated, reflecting the reddish glimmers from the stars. She dismounted from the vehicle, causing new clouds of dust to join the dance, shimmering in yellow and golden tones.

Gazing at the gentle hills and the whimsical rock formations sculpted by wind over millennia, she recognized each one, having named them all. In this place, there was no trace of humanity, just the dry sea, the gentle hills, and the enigmatic rocks. The sparkling glimmers painted an infinite canvas of reds, yellows, and oranges, and with the sunset, the sky would ignite into purples and violets.

She wondered about the air and the breeze of her home planet. She pressed the decompression button on her suit and removed her helmet, relishing the moment. As she took in a deep breath of the golden air, it felt dry, carrying the essence of pyrite, graphite, needles, flan, sugar, sandpaper, and sawdust. The air was warm, heavy, pinkish, and metallic, caressing her skin with a tenderness she had nearly forgotten. Slowly, it penetrated her pores, hot and dry, tinged with the taste of dust, gold, and red, reminiscent of blood.

Overwhelmed with emotions, she started to cry, unsure if her body was reacting to the environment or if it was the pain of her losses. She thought of the green fields, the hills, the elms, and the creek with its flowing water, much like her racing thoughts. In her suitcase, there was still a gap; she had not packed her green sweater, the piece that embodied her red Earth—a forever-green memory.

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