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The year was 2091; the planet, Earth. A team of seven astronauts suited up in their standard blue uniforms, jittery, nervous for the coming trip. They'd all been in space before; NASA wouldn't send inexperienced brats to search for life on a recently-discovered Earthlike planet. They found it orbiting a fairly young star, slightly smaller than their own, but closer by a few miles. The elliptical orbit was much the same, the planet itself abundant in water. It was beautiful, and it was rather close. They would not risk the trip if it was far away. The reason it had not been found earlier was because early space probes had never been able to get close enough to photograph it, for some reason. The specialists at NASA were still working on that.
    Inez Quintana adjusted her wristwatch, mindful of the time of departure. Mission Control was to get in contact with them right before they shot off into space in a giant metal tin can. Inez chuckled out loud at the comparison, a tad nervously. They told her not to think those thoughts when she first became an astronaut. Now she was leading six others to a habitable planet, and so much could go wrong.
    Bradley Robinson was terrified, but he did not say so. A billion things could go wrong. He shook his head, thinking instead of his wife and teenage son, so proud that he was going to explore a new planet, new hope for the future. He focused on how he was going to pilot the shuttle once it departed and went off auto-pilot.
    Nick Papadopoulos double-checked the screens and microphones, boosting signals and click-clacking on a keyboard, adjusting various settings in the sleek rocket, built so sturdily. He smiled, because everything was going smoothly. Nothing would go wrong, if he could help it.
    Annie Wang checked the co-ordinates of the planet one last time, gazing at the digital image that the Julian telescope had captured. It looked slightly like Earth, but its lands were mostly brown with green specks here and there on its five continents, and it did not have as much water as Earth. Clepsydra, they called it. The Greek word for water-clock. She remembered their reason for naming it so, given at the meeting; the man who discovered the planet thought it signaled the beginning of a natural countdown. But what would happen once time ran out? She didn't think she wanted to know.
    Chandra Joshi was taking a second look at the health records of the astronauts; they all seemed perfectly healthy, strong. They passed all the physicals with flying colors, didn't have any allergies, heart conditions, genetic diseases, or anything to inhibit their mission to Clepsydra. She took a deep breath to calm herself, because there was a niggling feeling in the back of her mind telling her that they were all doomed to die of foreign diseases. She'd have to scope out the planet once they got there, looking at herbs and various medical things.
    Silas Patrick was looking over Annie's shoulder at the planet, taking note of the planet's structure and the fact that the land was mostly brown. His small black book, tucked neatly into the pocket of his pants, was blank and ready to receive notes on the planet once they got there. A pen was behind his left ear. He ran through a list of things he had to do once they got to the planet: give everyone a final checkup, make sure the first aid kit is intact, be careful with the syringes. Follow the instructions Inez gives, and nothing ought to go wrong.
    Hania Nagi sighed as she ran through all the things she needed to do in her mind. She was to pilot the shuttle with Brad, as his co-pilot. Running through the trajectories in her mind, her physics lessons came back to her, and Hania wondered how they were going to land on this planet, knowing nothing much about its gravity or atmosphere. She supposed NASA had figured out the atmosphere bit, judging by the fact that there was water on the planet. It wasn’t a lot of water, but it was enough. She smiled at her fellow astronauts, because there was no use at all in making enemies on a journey that would probably take a week or two, and would possibly extend to a stay for months.
    The maintainers had packed the shuttle accordingly. Loads of space food, water, some things to amuse the astronauts. They had been allowed to take one thing that was dear to them, in order to not overload the shuttle with weight. They did, after all, need to get off the ground. Everyone was all suited up, ready to go. They boarded the shuttle as their families looked up to the rocket from far below. They looked like ants from where the astronauts were standing. Inez, Brad, Nick, Annie, Chandra, Silas, and Hania all went in and strapped themselves down to the chairs, as Inez got the contact from Mission Control. The countdown began.
    And each human being from the “dream team” had one thought in common:
    If there is intelligent life on Clepsydra, what will stop them from taking us captive?



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May 2012

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