Today we will start our journey. I think about all I’m leaving behind, my friends, my family. I’ve said my goodbyes to mum, dad, sister Katie. Mothers face will stay with me the longest, that and the comforting smell of her. As a mother she wanted to say, ‘Don’t go’. But she knew she had to let me go, that it was my decision. She knew what it meant to me so she said nothing. My father, always a man of few words, hugged me and I could see the pride in his eyes, for achieving what I had. Katie said very little, unusual for her, just ‘Come back safe’ as she cried. I looked round their back garden, at the lawn we used to play on as kids, at the tree we climbed. I need to get the picture in my mind, for I may never see them again.
We have begun our journey. Our mission is twofold. For the next couple of weeks, we will be working through our solar system. We will be dropping off supplies and personnel at the various stations throughout the system before continuing to our main mission, investigating the planetary system of HD-8832.
Tomorrow we will arrive at station Jupiter-17. The planet now dominates our viewscreens, and still I cannot get enough of it. To be this close to something so huge, so awesome … But I will not remain here. I look back to where we have come from. I know home is out there somewhere, but I cannot see it with the naked eye. Maybe if I make it back, I can retire to somewhere like here. If I get back. In the meantime, there’s more of this solar system to see. After Jupiter-17, our next stop will be Saturn-9, and then Neptune-2. I look forward to Saturn-9, it will be awesome to see those rings before they’re all dismantled, but Neptune-2 and the Kuiper belt is a little too far out for my liking.
Hey, what am I talking about? Neptune-2 too far out? And how many light years will I be travelling after that?
Now the solar system and the Kuiper belt are behind us. We have disgorged our supplies and the extra personnel for these stations. Now there’s just a crew of seven. Six from the original crew, and Jerry Kingsman who was stationed at Neptune-2. He’s a biologist; his task for now will be to keep the troops fed, so to speak. Other crew members are Ned Anderson, captain, Roman Sokolov, engineer, Connie Abraham, medical officer, Tommy Spooner navigator, Stacy Myers geologist. Oh, and me, Josh Paxton, physicist.
It’s been over four earth months since we left our solar system behind. We do periodic jumps towards our destination which Tommy does with ease. We all take turns in assisting with this. If anything should happen to him, if he were to become sick, then we need to be able to take over to keep on track.
We all take turns in working with Roman as well, checking over that everything on board is running smoothly.
Most of my time at the moment when I’m not writing my reports, when I’m not listening in to see if there’s anything else out there, I spend with Jerry. He’s converted the hangars into crop tunnels and we now have a good supply of fresh food. We still use dried food, but at least one meal a day is something fresh. It gives us something to look forward to.
We all have our routines, whether it’s going about one’s designated tasks, exercise, or making use of the vast library of films and literary works. It’s important to have these routines so that the endless days have a meaning. When we reach our destination in another sixteen months or so, there will be plenty of new stuff to do. In the meantime, we need to keep sane and routine is the key.
We are approaching the outer edges of the HR-8832 solar system. The small orange-red star is still some distance. From hereon in we must navigate as we do in our own system. From this far out, we can see that there is an asteroid belt here too, though looser than our own Kuiper belt. Maybe they’ll call this one the Paxton belt.
In these past weeks, we have studied some of the asteroids to determine their character. For all those studied, like within our own solar system, there is a mixture of sizes and makeup. Some are rocky, some metallic; nickel, iron and such like. These few weeks have also given me time to study the rest of the solar system, at least as far as I can make it out from this distance.
We’re now inside the solar system and approaching the outermost planet. This is a gas giant and initial studies show that the outer atmosphere is made up mostly of hydrogen and helium, with traces of ammonia, methane and water vapour. We have up to now observed three satellites of this giant. Here we will leave several satellites of our own. It will be their task to collect data from this planet and these satellites and transmit the data back to our ship and back to earth. Calculations will need to be made so that our satellites do not in any way interfere with either the planet or it’s naturally occurring satellites. I could spend a lifetime researching this, but we need to go on.
Reluctant as I am to leave this place, we are now moving inwards. Our next objective is a large rocky planet, or possibly an ocean planet. It’s orbit around its sun is less than 100 Earth days. This is the one that scientists on Earth are most interested in. This may be where a colony could be based in the future.
I’m not quite believing what I’m seeing. There is a lot of water on this planet, and there is a very thin atmosphere. But there are some areas of land. And here we have detected carbon. Carbon. And to us from Earth, that means one thing. Life.
After much discussion, it has been agreed that a landing party will be sent down. Stacy will go, obviously. She will want to look for rocks. Jerry will go as he’s the biologist. And I will go with some of my equipment to analyse the atmosphere. Tommy will also go, though he will just drop us off and then lift off. He will leave us for five minutes initially, and then if everything is okay, back off for two hours. The three of us are to collect our data, our samples, our images, and at the end of two hours, we are to return. If anything goes wrong, there will be no rescue. Ned would make that call, and I know he would do it if necessary. The mission as a whole is more important than our lives. So tomorrow we will do what no man has done before, step onto a world that is not part of our solar system.
Today the four of us got into our EVA suits. Uncomfortable and bulky after so long being on board ship. We had identified a suitable land mass and took off at 13:15 Earth time so that we would land there at what would be early morning for this planet. Nobody said anything much as we made our way down, each caught in the moment. When we landed, we first went out without any equipment. For five minutes we looked around, in awe at this new barren-looking place, while Tommy hovered above. We all held our breath, waiting for something to happen. After what seemed an age, we heard Tommy asking for an update. The noise in our earpieces made me jump, but there was nothing to report.
Tommy landed again and lowered the ramp. We re-entered the craft and as quickly as we could, took our equipment out onto the surface before Tommy lifted off. He hovered for a few minutes more, but we now knew we only had a limited amount of time to do what we had come here for, so were not aware that he had left.
All three of us got to work. Stacy quickly assessed rocks she found. She’d take a small sample, bag it, label it, pack it. A full analysis could be done back on ship. Jerry was at the edge of a body of water, searching for signs of that carbon trace. Even if it was now extinct, it would still be proof of life starting elsewhere in the universe. I set up my equipment, scanning for what the atmosphere contained. I would move onto the water later.
It was Stacy who found it. “Hey guys. Over here.” We both hurried to where she was. She’d found a pile of mixed rocks, and behind them was what looked like a plant of some kind. About two inches in height, it appeared to have greyish fleshy leaves and beige flowers. Jerry commented that it looked a bit like an eidelweiss in structure.
Ned was keen to know what was going on. Jerry said we’d found what looked like the origin of the carbon signature. He wanted to see if he could find more. If there was a decent population, he would try to get a sample. As Stacy continued collecting rocks, and as my equipment was collecting data by itself, I was tasked with helping Jerry find more samples. We discovered a small population, so it was judged to be okay to take a small one as a sample. The roots of the thing were not large, but they were tenacious nonetheless. Carefully Jerry dug round the roots, and we lifted it and the rock to which it was attached into a container for further study. As we did, Jerry noticed a creature, about three cm in length, a bit like a woodlouse, in the material we had dug out. It was dead, but Jerry put this into a container too. He was keen to get a live specimen, or at least a complete dead specimen as this one was not complete, but we could not find any in the time we had left. Soon, we had to gather our equipment and leave. Now that we had life, we would need to study this planet so much more carefully.
We will begin to analyse our findings tomorrow.
It’s definite. We have discovered life on another planet. The eidelweiss-type object is definitely a plant, the isopod, as Jerry calls the creature, an animal. At least by their cell structure and our understanding of the difference between plants and animals. Jerry has taken samples from both of them in his lab, studying them. The plant is on it’s rock under a glass dome while Jerry tries to work out how to keep it alive. The remains of the isopod in a container in the fridge; it’s going nowhere.
These past few weeks I’ve been busy with my own investigations as well as collating all the information I have and sending it back to earth. Today I went to see Jerry, just to see how he’s getting on. It’s been a while since I last saw him. I notice that he’s somehow moved the plant on it’s rock. It was originally quite central in the display. Now it has been moved a couple of inches to the left. I ask him why he’s done this, but he denies moving it at all. But last time I came in, I noted that the centre of the top of the creature was in line with one of the struts that supports the wall. At least that’s what I remember. I go for a closer look, and while Jerry’s back is turned, I take a photo both of where the plant is with relation to the rock, and in relation to the rest of the room. It wouldn’t do to let him see me taking photos; this is his baby after all.
I also notice that he has a rash on his left hand. I ask if he used gloves when handling the plant. He said yes, but the way he said it makes me question if he’s telling the truth. I mean, there are plants on earth that can burn you if you touch them, aren’t there, so why would he take risks with something so out of our experience? I suggest he go to see Connie. He says to stop interfering, he’s already been, that he’s got some cream for it. I leave, but why do I think he’s lying?
Thought I’d better drop round to see Jerry today, apologise for interfering the other day. Besides, I was curious to see if the plant had moved or not. I glance at his hand; it’s horribly red and swollen, but he hides it and I don’t get a good look at it.
I pretend I haven’t seen and ask how his investigations into the isopod are going. He goes to the fridge and gets out the container. He shows me the remains of the creature. One end is collapsed, a result, so he says of the thing being desiccated, as if it had been dried out, like a fly that’s been sucked dry by a spider.
I leave him to it after that so as not to raise his suspicions. I did notice though that the plant has moved on the rock again. And it’s bigger.
This morning I decided to take my concerns to Ned and Connie. I explain about the hand, and how the plant seemed larger than before. Ned said we should go together to see him. He could ignore me, but he could not ignore Ned.
We were not prepared for what we found. The cover was off the plant enclosure, and it seemed that Jerry had his hand next to the plant. Except when he turned, it was clear that the plant was resting on his hand.
Ned demanded to know what was going on. Jerry, defensive as ever, said it was all in the interests of science. Connie stepped in, told Jerry how fascinating it looked, could he explain what was happening, perhaps they could work out the best way to continue while looking after his hand. While she was calming Jerry, Ned turned to me and asked that I go fetch Roman and Tommy. They might be needed if we wanted to get this under control.
Once out of earshot of Jerry’s lab, I made a call to Roman and Tommy, explained the situation. By the time they arrived, the plant had crept off Jerry’s hand and was back under the glass dome. Jerry saw that the game was up, but it didn’t stop him fighting us. We eventually got him to sick bay where Connie sedated him.
Ned and I went back to the lab and looked at the plant. I swear that it turned and looked at us. Today has not been a good day.
Apparently, Jerry’s still sedated but he’s been talking to Ned. The plant had asked that he feed it. It sang to him, he said. After breakfast, Ned and I went back to the lab. The plant was up against the front of the glass as if waiting for its own breakfast. And then I heard it. I heard its song. Faint, high pitched, but certainly there. And quite bewitching.
Ned pulled me back to the present; he’d heard it too but was made of sterner stuff. We needed to plan what to do with this plant and until then we needed to keep it safe. Who knew what it was capable of?
After making sure the plant was more secure, we all met to discuss what should be done. It was decided that we could not take this thing with us. It would need to be destroyed. We would record what we could and decide on the homeward journey what we would tell the world. If earth decided they wanted this planet, if they wanted anything within this solar system, there would be no stopping them. Profit overrode everything. But that was for the future. Today it was enough that we get rid of the plant.
Connie went back to her sick bay, Stacey to her rocks, and the rest of us went to the lab. The plant was taken, complete with case, and placed in the airlock. Then without ceremony, it was ejected into space.
Sadly, whatever the plant had done to Jerry could not be undone. Each day he became more and more delirious. There was always someone there with Connie – it was not safe to leave her alone.
Sadly, at just after 10 this morning Earth time, Jerry died. There was a question as to what to do with his body. As we weren’t sure what lurked on inside, it was decided that he would have full honours here. At six pm Earth time Ned spoke some comforting words that did little to comfort us as we sent Jerry’s body out of the same hatch we had sent his beloved plant a couple of weeks ago.
There’s still work to do here in this solar system, but the initial enthusiasm for the task has gone.
I was analysing data from one of the satellites of the first planet we visited when Stacey came to see me. She had continued to analyse the rock samples she’d brought back. She showed me her hand where there was a tiny sore patch. Then the other arm where there was another. I think, she said, I think we brought back some seeds.