Most of the occupants of Earth Colony Ship 8 spent the final descent to the Gaian surface pressed up against the portholes, getting their first glimpse of a planet, any planet, up-close for the first time.
Declan Oliver spent it staring at a tomato plant.
The colony ship’s artificial gravity worked to balance out the rate of deceleration, the increasing pull of Gaia’s natural gravity, and the atmospheric friction, but there were fluctuations where the compensations ran slightly behind the data. Declan could feel his own body getting pulled towards the floor, or the slight floaty feeling when his bottom was only just in contact with the bench he was sitting on. The tomato plant's fronds reacted in kind, dropping towards the soil or reaching towards the ceiling, like it was doing a very slow ballet specially choreographed for members of the plant kingdom.
A dull roar that Declan felt more than heard announced that the retro rockets were fully engaged. He checked the watering can set on the floor between him and the garden pod. The water’s surface remained level, which most likely meant all the rockets had fired and that the ship would be able to land on its feet.
He made a mental note to empty and stow the watering can before the post-landing inspectors came around. All loose items were supposed to be secured, but he'd wanted to have some idea of what was going on while he observed his plants.
The downward force was building up. The tomato’s fronds were nearly parallel with its main stalk. Declan felt like he was rooted to the bench.
And then, just when it felt like something was wrong and it would never stop, it did. Completely. He let his ears ring in the new silence. He'd never realised how much he'd taken the growl of the great engines for granted. His skin felt strange, and he realised he'd been vibrating, however slightly, his whole life.
In a few days he'd have to add air, water, and soil analysis to his regular gardening tasks, figuring out how much work it would be to coax the vegetables into growing in Gaian soil. The initial scans from orbit had been promising — nothing a little compost and manure couldn't fix — but he and everyone else on his team wanted to check things out in person before starting any experiments. In the meantime, the solar panels on the ship's surface would be deployed, converting Gaian sunshine into something more closely adhering to conditions on Earth.
The conditions that used to be on Earth, anyhow.
The tomato plants had gone through many more generations on the ship than the humans had. A big concern in the agricultural team was that the plants had adapted a little too well to the ship's garden ecosystem, that they'd be reluctant to grow in open air again.
Declan eased himself off the bench and carefully observed the tomato plant from as many angles he could manage without touching it or the soil it stood in. He grimaced. Plants preferred to move themselves slowly, if they had to at all. The next few days would tell him and his team how resilient they were to the shock of the landing process.
“Whole new garden out there,” he said to the plant. He picked up the watering can and made his way to the sink.