Hargrove's heart drummed inside her as she looked out at the blackness. She was in a section of the galaxy, one no living being had ever been to before. They'd sent probes out to several sections using scaled down versions of their warp technology. This spot was the only one undamaged. They'd gathered their information, all the while Hargrove and her team had trained for this moment. They'd studied every scenario, ran every drill imaginable. Now she was witnessing the fruits of the years she'd given to the program.
"Any word from command?" she inquired.
Wilson shook his head. "Something might be wrong with the transmitter."
"Keep trying," she encouraged him. "Stavos, how's the old girl holding up?"
"Everything is green on my end."
"Flying pretty Ma'am."
"Perhaps we should return, in case we''re missing something?" Wilson inquired.
Hargrove Considered the proposal. "No, we finish our survey of the system. Reed?"
"I'm picking up some odd anomalies, but nothing worrisome."
"Alright, Brooks give us a tour."
Hargrove returned to her seat beside Brooks. The pilot ignited the thrusters, and the ship gradually began to drift through the emptiness around it.
Emotion swelled within Hargrove, she pressed it back in an attempt to retain composure. A massive star floated at the center of a large ring of rocks.
"My sensors are a bit muddied," Reed announced.
"We did it. We could set up an outpost? Maybe a colony?" Brooks asked unable to hide the excitement in their voice.
"It's possible," Hargrove said, noting the wonder in her own words. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves though, this is just a test drive."
It was beautiful. A scene she'd only imagined in her dreams. They were on the edge of a new frontier. Her mind raced at the possibilities the future held. They could start anew. None of the prior political misgivings found on Earth. None of the prejudices, or ingrained hatreds that people'd developed over their years on that blue planet. They could be better, they would be better. Future generations would have the benefit of thousands of years of history to base their civilization on.
An alarm jolted her from her dream.
"Status report!" she called out, returning to full captain mode. "Are we hit? Is something damaged?"
"No, it's a transmission from Earth. I'm picking up a message, but I'm having difficulty clearing it up."
"Has the core recharged?"
"Yes, but I haven't run all the diagnostics yet."
"Are we safe to return?" Hargrove urged her crew member to focus.
A moment of hesitation, then, "Yes, Ma'am."
"Then buckle up people!"
The sound of several belts locking into place was her only response. She heard the hum then counted to herself with deep, focusing breaths. She felt her insides knot, and like a punch to the gut they were back home, orbiting Earth.
Ice cold panic struck her silent. She'd expected to see their space station in the distance. She'd expected to see the yellow orb of their home planet, and that dull rock they called a moon. What she hadn't expected was the nightmarish apocalypse that greeted them.