“Trees,” she said. “Look at that magnificent grove of trees.”
“There are no trees on this planet,” he said. “The computer says it’s 200 degrees out there, and the atmosphere is poisonous.”
“I haven’t seen a tree in ages,” she said.
“It’s an illusion,” he said. “We have to leave here, there’s something wrong. As soon as the computer repairs the acceleration system we’ll be gone.”
“How many years have we searched for a planet like this?” she said.
“Too many, but that’s not the point.”
“It looks like Earth. The way Earth used to look, with trees. Before it died.”
“We have a mission,” he said. “We could be the last humans in the universe. We have to start a new civilization soon. We can’t take a chance on this planet.”
“Look, one of them has fruit on it. When’s the last time we ate anything except Nutro Shakes? I want to go out there.”
“No! It’s a trick. You’ll die.”
“Those trees. How can anything be wrong with them?”
“You are not going anywhere, and that’s an order.”
* * *He woke up on the floor with a splitting headache, and slowly realized she’d hit him with a wrench. He could see on the monitor she was already in the airlock, ready to go outside. She must have overridden the computer somehow. “No,” he yelled hoarsely, pulling himself up on unsteady legs. “Stop. Don’t go out there.” He ran down the narrow passageway that snaked around the ship, till he got to the airlock.
He could see on the monitor she was still inside the compartment, so he pulled on a pressure suit quickly, hoping to stop her before she went through the final door. He put on his helmet and switched on the computer link, ignoring the computer’s warnings about the temperature and atmosphere outside, because he was too worried she would get away before he could stop her.
He pushed the button in the wall and a panel slid aside, and he stepped inside. “Yvette, please,” he said, but the heavy outer doors were open and she was already down the steps and outside.
He watched as she took a few more steps, then opened her arms wide, turned, and said on the helmet link: “See, nothing’s wrong. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
The landscape looked the same as it did from the ship. There was the grove of trees on a little hill 80 yards away, swaying gently in the breeze, under a deep blue cloudless sky.
The computer readout at the bottom of his face mask showed a surface temperature of more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and the presence of methane and hydrogen, with no oxygen at all.
Now she was dancing, skipping along the path toward the trees, looking like a silver caterpillar in her pressure suit.
“Wait,” he said, and started after her. With every step, the screen in front of his eyes was setting off warning lights and alarms.
Now she stopped by one of the trees and clapped her hands. Look at it, she said. Isn’t it magnificent?
She started to take her helmet off.
“No,” he shouted. “Don’t do that!”
But it was too late. She had it off in seconds. She took a big gulp of air and let it out, grinning with joy.
“It’s fine,” she said. “No problem.” She reached up and grabbed a piece of fruit off a low branch. It was red, and he remembered that it was called an apple. She took a bite, and her face was contorted in ecstasy at the taste. “It’s delicious,” she said. “Delicious! Here, have one.” She grabbed another apple off the tree and held it out to him.
He couldn’t figure out what was going on. “The computer. . .” he said.
“Damn the computer!” she shouted. “It’s a paradise out here. What are you waiting for?”
“Okay,” he said. He unlatched his helmet.
He took it off.
Already he could feel his face starting to burn from the heat. His throat tightened, and he gasped for air, his eyes wide.
And then he saw her twisted body on the ground, her face purple and bloated, the eyes bulging in horror with the shock of seeing what paradise truly looked like.
John McDonnell Copyright 2010