Unit Conversion by Pauline Barmby

Reddish light bathed the starship’s hull as it coasted into orbit, creaky after its 500-year journey. Engines were shut down, colonists awakened, shuttles prepped. 

Excited passengers rushed to the viewports. Voices rang out over the intercoms.

“We’re finally here!”

“Our new home!”

“The oceans … they’re gone.”

“Where’s the other rocky planet?”

“What happened to the atmosphere?”

“80% nitrogen, 15% argon, 5% carbon dioxide … that can’t be right.”

Panic began to spread.

“We’re in the wrong system.”

“How could this happen?”

In the astrocartography lab, two techs regarded each other with pale, sweating faces.

“Parsecs, not light-years.” 

“Oh shit.”

Pauline Barmby is a Canadian astrophysicist who believes that you can’t have too many favorite galaxies. When not reading or writing she runs, knits, and ponders the physics of curling. Find her on Twitter @PBarmby.

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