David Tenenbaum Tenenbaum

David Tenenbaum is a novelist and screenwriter from Richmond, VA. He’s written six books including a cli-fi thriller The Lost Tide, which was shortlisted at the Eyelands Book Awards and its sequel The Lost Tide: Playing with Fire, which received the Kops-Fetherling Legacy Honorable Mention Prize.

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Five participants in a reality show filmed on a distant planet are mankind’s only hope when hostile aliens trace the program’s signal back to earth.
Survivor Andromeda
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Chapter 1

The year was 2047. Exploration within the Andromeda Galaxy had been going on for over two years. Mankind was looking for new digs to colonize now that the hole in the ozone layer had grown large enough to fit all of China through. The United States Federal Government had created a committee in charge of rehabitation—an organization responsible for scouting out the perfect extra-terrestrial locale for a new colony. A division of NASA known as the Rehab Program, or the RP, had been digging through interstellar nooks in search of a location that might aptly accommodate human life. Scientists had begun to explore the areas around Alpha Centauri. The promise of nearly habitable environments in this neck of the Milky Way led many to begin recognizing the need to go further. They’d located a handful of planets in the Goldilocks Zone. Space probes were soon dispatched to the most likely candidates. The unmanned missions quickly established, however, that even the ones containing water, or solutions close enough to H2O to be safe for human consumption, were still little more than balls of barren rock.

Nasir Deshpande, one of an elite group of rehab techs, scrolled through an electronic mission outline as he traveled along with his fellow RP team members on a warp drive ship. The spacecraft was bound for Caelestis, a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy named after the Roman goddess of the heavens, after probes had detected a number of promising ecological elements within its biosphere. He turned to Jim Orbach, the craft’s pilot and the team leader. “How long does this usually take?”

“About two weeks total,” Jim replied. A space voyager in his forties, Mr. Orbach spent a good deal of time at the gym when he wasn’t flying missions to solar systems light years away. He’d done some acting before. His solid head of hair afforded him a Hollywood-like quality even after he’d given up the silver screen. He’d almost received a five-pointed tribute on the Walk of Fame. His insignia was turned down in the final vote. It didn’t bother him. The stars now in his sights would never be muddied by tourist traffic.

“We’ll be passing through the wormhole in about 10 days,” Jim told Nasir continuing to explain their flight plan.

“Ever been out there?”

“Twice,” Jim responded. “It’s a long ride, but it’s nothing compared to what it would take without this little shortcut.”

“What would that be?” Nasir asked.

“About 10,000 years,” Jim explained.

At the thought of such a duration, Nasir’s chin dropped along with his eyes.

13 days later, the ship began its gradual descent towards Caelestis. As Jim cut the craft’s thrusters and eased them down to the planet’s surface, the crew found themselves floating in the middle of a mountainous lake. Initially the men and women aboard the ship were fooled by the dark green hue, a color created by the phosphorescent algae that coated the water, into believing that they were in fact landing on a bed of grass. The very fact that they found themselves floating in H2O, an entire body of it rather than the fits and starts of springs they’d researched on other planets, confirmed what the stats had indicated. Caelestis was different—very different, and this new world might very well offer what astronomers had been searching for since the beginning of the RP.

Jim and his colleagues spent a month conducting a series of tests. These diagnostics enabled them to chronicle in detail significant facets of the planet’s animal and vegetative species. They also performed a set of scans for any signatures indicating the possibility of hostile intelligent life.

Jim’s colleagues continued to survey the new environment while Mr. Orbach himself took a singleton transport back through the wormhole to the big blue ball. After the fortnight voyage, he finally glided down onto the tarmac of a Washington D.C. Air Force base. His legs were slightly stiff from the 20,000,000,000 parsec journey. Upon landing, he unstrapped himself and moved towards his economically-sized ship’s exit portal. As Jim’s suited form emerged from the narrow door of the craft, the large crowd waiting on the base’s runway erupted in applause. Two NASA personnel approached him. With one taking his left arm and the other his right, the pair of technicians began directing him towards a plane hangar. Moments later, a female reporter wearing a Kate Spade overcoat, her long, brown wind-blown hair shooting wildly in every direction, began walking alongside the astronaut.

“Mr. Orbach, what’s it like traveling through a wormhole in a warp drive ship?”

“Bumpy,” Jim responded, “but not quite vomit-comet level.”

“Given the similarities between this planet and earth, how long do you think it will be before colonization efforts begin?”

“Sorry, I just find ‘em. Shopping mall plans are above my pay grade.”

Amidst all of the hullabaloo over Caelestis’ discovery, Susan Milworth, an executive at the Clarke Broadcasting Company, a corporation based in Glendale, CA, remained locked inside the interstices of her narrow entertainment sector. A midwestern gal in her late forties, Susan’s beat was the reality television market. She’d worn long hair before entering this arena, but exotic insects settling down in her do when on location made extensive tresses a no-go. Her frequent sorties to the jungles of Costa Rica and Bora Bora required she trim her locks down to a pixie cut.

Susan sat in a large office right next to her fifty-something, grey-haired colleague Peter Hubbard. That day he sported his customary blue blazer with a handkerchief emerging out of the collar of his button-down. Next to him was the company’s CEO Jack Lewis. In his early fifties, Jack had a slightly receding hairline that he’d given up attempting to hide with Rogaine.

The three execs sat discussing the latest pilot that the station had recently featured on The Oxygen Channel.

While they spoke, Jack leafed through a treatment of the series’ opening episode. “Sue, we’ve looked at this from every angle. I’m sorry… the show’s passe’.”

Susan lowered her coffee to the conference table in front of her, but her hand stayed wrapped around the mug—her caffeine addiction was only adding to her recent frustrations regarding opportunities in her broadcasting specialty. “What about if we include the alligator wrestling?”

“Call of the Wild did that 15 years ago.”

“A live volcano angle?” Susan responded tilting her head.

“Jungle Survivor, twice,” Jack announced emphasizing the final word of his reply with an exaggerated drop of his bottom lip.

Susan looked down in disappointment. Another strikeout. She’d spent the last three weeks combing through pitch after pitch looking for anything dangerous, captivating, and most of all, new. Every idea she’d seen, no matter how “outside-the-box,” had, in one way or another, been tried before.

“Do you wanna’ contact the writers or should I?” Jack finally asked his colleague.

“I’ll do it,” Susan responded. She picked up her briefcase and headed out of the meeting, exuding dejection like the Cartier perfume she wore.

Peter followed her. They walked half the length of the hall together in a ponderous silence.

Midway through their trip down the corridor, Abigail Dwyer appeared from around the corner. Abigail was another exec at the firm. Her latest crime drama had just hit Hulu’s top ten. She never bragged about her achievement. She didn’t have to. Her body language, the way she shot her hips out when she walked, did her talking for her.

“Susan, so sorry to hear about your last project. After winning that award for Crawling Cuisine I was sure you were due for another hit any day.”

“Thanks Abigail,” Susan said.

“Just keep combing through those pitches. Someone’s gonna’ come up with another way to sell insect diets to our viewers.”

Susan acknowledged Abigail’s condescension with a closed-mouth smile.

“Ignore her, Sue,” Peter said after they’d made their way out of earshot. “And look at the bright side,” he continued, “the downturn has matched nicely with your retirement plans.”

“Thanks, Pete,” she said with two staccatic head bobs.

Peter could tell this wasn’t the cognitive dissonance she needed at that moment. His coworker had recently speculated about hanging up her show biz gloves. He knew, however, that this was largely prompted by a professional decision her husband had made just three weeks prior. An entrepreneur by trade, Susan’s partner Jeremy had decided to call it quits early and sold his pharmaceutical company at the age of 53. That, however, wasn’t Susan’s MO. Given her own choice, she’d probably keep foisting Netflix series onto the air as long as she could still read 12 pt. courier. Moving to Florida—or traveling the world without chronicling it for TV viewers—was just not the way she rolled.

As they continued to walk, Susan suddenly froze mid-stride. “What time is it?”

Peter looked at his watch. “12:30.”

Susan closed her eyes. “Oh my God… Bye, Pete!” she shouted back to her colleague as she began running down the hall to the lift. Arriving at the elevator, she hit the button—no pink glow illuminated.

“Light’s broken,” Bob Harris, an employee from her office she only knew by appearance, explained while standing just behind her.

She turned briefly to acknowledge his comment with a nod before spinning back to look up at the set of non-existent floor numbers above the lift. After 15 more seconds went by, she stepped forward and pressed the button again.

Bursting out of the car the moment the elevator reached the lobby, she ran towards the exit. Once she’d darted through the revolving doors and out onto the sidewalk, she hailed a cab that’d nearly passed her. She threw the driver two twenties for a $27 ride and sprinted inside the restaurant where she’d arranged to have lunch with her former coworker Brenda Adams. She looked around until she spotted her patient friend. Her colleague from a previous existence, looking dapper in a charcoal grey business suit, was seated at a two-person table amidst a set of other patrons. She didn’t exhibit the slightest sign of annoyance at her business chum’s MIA status as she scrolled through Twitter posts.

Susan didn’t want to look at the clock on the wall as she made her way over to Brenda’s table. Her friend did though, a gesture that immediately tightened Susan’s cheek muscles.

“I’m so sorry,” she said still wincing as she sat down. “We had a meeting that ran over.”

“No worries,” Brenda replied. “I took the liberty of ordering you a martini.”

“Since when do you know my taste in poison?” Susan asked.

“Oh, come on, we’ve been friends a long time.”

“Truue,” Susan replied holding out the mono-syllabic word. “But did you get me a single or a double?”


“Though maybe not as long as you think,” Susan said laughing and taking out a Nicorette.

A waiter approached them. He gave the drink to Susan but just placed a glass of water in front of Brenda.

“So, what was the meeting about?”

“We’re trying to find the next great survival reality show,” Susan answered.

“And how’s it going?” her friend inquired.

“Don’t ask,” she responded as she opened the menu.

“That bad, huh?”

Susan shook her head. “The market’s saturated. Jungle Survivor and Call of the Wild. They’re as old hat as The Waltons.”

“I see,” Brenda responded pursing her lips.

“So, what’s good here?” Susan continued in an attempt to change the subject.

“The kale salad. Only 250 calories.”

“No grass for me today. My angry reptilian brain is craving carbicide.”

“Okay, well the pasta primavera’s not bad.”

“Done!” Susan replied.

“And if that's not enough gluten for you, you could add the chocolate layered cake for dessert.”

Susan tilted her head. “Then again, maybe you know me even better than I know myself.”

Brenda laughed.

As Susan put down her menu, the opening theme song to Mornings with Evelyn, an a.m. talk show, sounded from the bar. Susan sometimes watched it when her daughter was younger and home sick from school. She used her child’s illness as an excuse to indulge her guilty pleasures—game shows and programs that paraded hunkish male celebs in front of ogling female fans. The show’s host was Evelyn Dazlind, a platinum blond, who’d begun to use hair dye now that grey streaks were peeking out amidst her golden mane. Looking at the effect of the coloring as Evelyn walked onto the stage, Susan was suddenly rendered aware of the impact the years had had on her own locks. Was it time for a parlor visit herself? she wondered.

“Hello, everyone,” Evelyn said dipping her head slightly to make sure her initial greeting went straight into her body mic. “Starting off today’s show we have a very special guest. We’re going to meet one of the members of the Andromeda Galaxy mission. Could everyone join me in giving a warm welcome to Jim Orbach.”

Jim walked onto the stage wearing a white shirt under a brown suede vest.

Evelyn crossed her legs as she sat down next to him. “So, tell us about the mission, starting with how the heck you got out there.”

“Well Evelyn, there are a number of things that made this kind of voyage possible… for starters, the super warp ships.”

“Since we have viewers at home who wouldn’t be familiar with this kind of ride, can you tell us exactly how fast these things travel?”

“Approximately the speed of light.”

Evelyn turned to the audience. “How’s that for a one evening round trip to Paris?”

“But even that kind of pace wouldn’t be enough to get us all the way to the Andromeda Galaxy. It’s the wormhole that’s really made this kind of interstellar exploration possible.”

“Right through the core of the apple,” Evelyn said whipping her head. “Now give us a few details about this rock up there.”

“Well, after running some basic tests on the planet's soil, we established that Caelestis had many of the same properties as earth—and our research team logged a number of species nearly identical to plants and animals here on the big blue ball.”

“What about the temperature? Are we talking summers like the Gobi?”

“The desert was pretty hot… with an occasional sandstorm, but the climates are extremely diverse. We found it all… deciduous forests and even Aruba-like jungles.”

“Forget colonization… how long until people start scheduling vacations out there?” Evelyn continued turning again to her fans.

“Well, I wouldn’t predict that any time soon. The first order of business is sustainability. Then people can start building Club Meds. What’s perhaps most exciting is that finding a planet like this tells us that worlds containing intelligent life could be right next door.”

“If only we had more of that here,” Evelyn said eliciting another round of laughs from her audience. “We’ll be right back. Jim Orbach everyone,” she finished raising her palm towards her guest in adulation.

Susan’s gaze remained transfixed on the television screen. As the show went to a commercial, she looked up at Brenda, whose head was still buried in the menu. “I have to go!” she announced.

“What is it?”

“I’ll tell you later. Get yourself something expensive and Venmo me the tab. I promise I’ll make this up to you.” She then stood up and hugged her friend.

Brenda looked at Susan in confusion as her lunchmate pulled out of their embrace, turned and rushed towards the restaurant door.