A team of archaeologists, 15,000 years in humanity's future, equipped with the latest tech and brightest minds, set out on a quest to prove the myth of their origin-- Earth.
The ship unfolded into normal space and came to a stop. It was a small ship, a research vessel that it's owner had named Howard Carter? Tut Tut. It had three decks, one for cargo, one for living quarters and a small but functional galley and a third deck which was the main command deck and research library.
"Where are we?" The Captain was a Vegan named Frontel Jenkins, who had degrees in Xenobiology and Interior Design from the University of Vega Minor. They weren't quite sure how they had ended up as Captain of this particular madcap quest, but there they were. Being all captain like and hoping their blue skin and gills made them appear suitable imposing, as Jenkins assumed all captains should be like.
"Three parsecs away from Proxima Centauri," Achebe replied. She and Nkrumah were the navigators and cartographers from New Deneb. Shelby Fewkes was from Altair. Chen-Lu was from Procyon. They were a small crew- only six of them, but they were well funded- at least for now, but their backer was getting impatient and was starting to demand results. Results that, so far, they had been unable to provide him.
"Have we been here before?" Jenkins asked.
"Negative," Shelby responded. "We're down in the western spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Haven't been in this part of the 'verse at all yet."
"All right," Jenkins said. "Let's start scanning and cross check historical records and get to know where we are."
"Aye, Captain" they all replied.
The team began to scan the area, checking to see what they could find. It had been six years since they had set out on their journey and now their backer- the Altairian Trillionaire, Quinqua Chesko was getting impatient. Their mission had been a simple one: to find, once and for all, the mythical planet of humanity's origins: Earth.
Of all the crew, maybe Shelby was the only true believer in the stories of old Earth. Jenkins wasn't quite sure what xenobiology was going to do to help them find their destination and was really onboard to coordinate the team and fill out their payroll every month. Achebe and Nkrumah knew enough about the historical records to be convinced that there had been a single point of origin for humanity, but had to find evidence enough that it was the legendary planet named Earth. Chen-Lu didn't say much- but that wasn't exactly new. In the six years since they had been on this journey, Chen-Lu had maybe said a dozen or so sentences.
"All right people, what are we getting?"
"Next system over is an m-type system, ten planets. Four inner planets, an asteroid belt and six outer planets," Nkrumah said. "I'm reading four gas giants, including one extremely large one with an extensive moon system."
"Anything from the historical record?"
"A little bit," Achebe admitted. "I'm reading a lot of material from the Third Imperium that used to rule this area of the galaxy. They always claimed to be the one true humans."
"Anything further back than that?"
"I found a reference to that fragment the Altairians claim is from an old Earth probe. Something called a 'naza'?" Shelby said.
"I'm seeing those as well," Achebe said.
"So is this worth investigating?" Jenkins asked them all.
"Yes." They all turned slightly in surprise, for it was Chen-Lu who had spoken.
"Chen-Lu, are you sure?"
"Yes," he said it again. "This is the place."
Jenkins gave him a long look before shrugging. "Well, I guess if Chen-Lu is onboard, then we go in. Shelby, set course for the center of the system."
They pushed the power to the engines and turned the ship toward the heart of the unknown system. A silence fell among them then, as their instruments began to pick up the faint signs of a long since vanished civilization of some kind. The closer they got to the center of the system, the more signs they saw. There were ruins, a gate of some kind in orbit of the largest gas giant. Achebe thought that it was one of the great engines designed to stellarize a gas giant to turn it into a star.
The asteroid belt was spookier still, with broken open, hollowed out asteroids clearly showing the remnants of human habitation. It felt like a graveyard and none of them were talking now. Shelby was just steering them deeper and deeper into the system. None of them wanted to embrace the possibility that this was the place. No one wanted to believe that their quest was over. No one wanted to believe, until they emerged out of the asteroid belt and passed the red planet.
Nkrumah gasped. "Those are cities."
"Any signs of habitation?"
"Negative," Shelby replied. "Scans show no signs of life."
"Mars," Chen-Lu intoned. "The red planet of legend."
"Keep going," Jenkins ordered. "Get us to the next planet."
They all felt the engines kick as Shelby increased the power. The excitement in the air was palpable now They all knew the legends. They all knew the myths. They all knew that if the red planet was the fourth planet of the system then it would stand to reason that the third planet should be blue. If the legends were true that is.
"Captain," Shelby said. "We're now entering orbit of the third planet."
"On screen," Jenkins said and the viewer clicked on. No one spoke. It was beautiful. Blue, green, flecked with white clouds. Chen-Lu spoke once more. "There it is. Earth."