On what would have been December 12th of the Earth year 2155, two blue suns simultaneously rose and set on a distant planet. The cool light moved in an invisible atmospheric breeze, blending twilight and dawn across the sky into a shifting fabric of color, greens and blues and purples and other colors that didn’t exist anywhere else but here, in this place. The unearthly beauty of this event was not lost on the planet’s sole inhabitant.
Tan looked out of the thick plexiglass window of his residential dome, drinking instant coffee out of a metal mug and barely tasting it. The closest thing he could compare to the view in front of him were the Northern Lights back home, but even those distant, angelic lights that had made him gasp in wonder like a child couldn’t hold a candle to this. This was….something else entirely. This was like being inside the Northern Lights themselves, swimming in them, dissolving to become a part of them. Tan was the first human being to ever see the suns on the planet he had decided to unofficially name Deep Sea. If all went to plan, however, he would not be the last.
Tan checked the clock on the wall that showed time on Earth. Because he was so far away from home - galaxies away - time here was different, and he had noted within his first hours on Deep Sea that the Earth minutes were passing more quickly - two per Deep Sea minute. Tan had noted this in his data. The last two planets had had time distortions as well, but they were less drastic, only a difference of ten or so seconds. Time on Earth moved fastest while he was on Deep Sea.
Tan had spent his first day on Deep Sea setting up his temporary housing dome set and organizing all of his equipment inside, spending a grueling 8 hours in the space suit. He had pissed into the self-contained waste collection system inside the suit twice, and had after poured the contents of the bag into his ship’s purification system so that it could be turned into fresh water. He tried not to think about the fact that he was now drinking his own fluid in the form of crappy instant coffee.
Setup now complete, Tan would be beginning his first of a twelve-day sample collection period. He had done this twice before, but this time felt different. The other planets had been desolate, rocky landscapes that stretched into the black of space for as far as the eye could see. Tan didn’t have the resources to test the samples he had collected on those previous excursions - that was a job for the scientists back on Earth upon his return - but he wouldn’t have been surprised if planets one and two had been made of the same kind of gray alien mineral. The mineral substrates he collected were valuable data, but the atmospheric data Tan recorded was more important. That was why the three planets for this mission had been selected - they were suspected to have atmospheres that could be made livable to humans.
Tan had been tasked with finding humanity a new home.
After the 15 minutes it took to assemble and don his space suit, Tan gingerly picked up the toaster-oven sized machine that read atmospheric conditions and stepped out of the dome airlock onto the planetary surface of Deep Sea. The ground beneath his booted feet was scorched and hardened from his descent, and the air swirled thickly, still struggling to settle after the ship had disturbed the ground yesterday. It was protocol to set up first, and explore second.
Tan booted up the machine and then stepped away, taking in his surroundings. After a minute, he crouched down to the machine to look at its screen, and then fell as he rocked back on his heels in surprise. Scrambling to right himself - Thank god for this gravity, he thought - Tan stared at the screen in shock. The machine’s readout screen showed that the atmosphere around him was 23 percent oxygen. Tan read the rest of the results on the screen, scanning the list of other atmospheric elements, his disbelief mounting.
This is breathable air.
One Deep Sea hour later, after logging his findings and returning to the dome to retrieve his sampling kit, Tan stepped out of the airlock once more. He was not wearing his space suit helmet.
The only human in existence within a 400,000 light year radius took his first breath of alien air. It filled his lungs, and Tan was struck with the crisp feeling of it. The extra two percent oxygen in the atmosphere made it feel more refreshing than Earth air. Tan felt buoyant, like a helium balloon. It was the singularly most exhilarating experience of his life.
Collection kit in hand, Tan made his way to the perimeter of his well-trod inhabited circle. He still couldn’t see far past the swirling blues and greens that stirred the dust and created a kaleidoscope of shifting hue before him, but he thought he could make out a shape or two in the distance. He took a step into the mist.
Two days later, Tan’s surroundings were completely unrecognizable. Whereas upon landing, he had found himself on scorched, barren land, he quickly discovered ten Deep Sea minutes after leaving the landing area that he was on a planet full of life. About twenty paces outside of the landing area, Tan had looked down and seen what looked like moss blanketing the ground. Upon examination, Tan had seen that the moss was made up of millions of small plantlike formations, little flexible structures that branched and budded like the tiniest of trees. The longer he looked, the more aware Tan became of the slow, slight swaying of the moss, as if it was indeed underwater. He had spent at least an hour and a half that first day on his belly just staring at and examining the organisms, taking samples as he did and stowing them in his kit. A planet with breathable air, a human-friendly level of pressure and gravity, and already existing life was a better result than he ever could have hoped for on this trip.
That first observation of the tiny tree moss felt like a lifetime ago. Now, Tan was submerged in what appeared to be a lush tropical forest and was thwacking his way through the thick foliage on his way up a mountain. He hadn’t slept since he left his dome - there was too much to see. The landscape had changed further as Tan had walked on through the moss, more plant-like structures appearing through the blue mist around him. He had barely walked a mile the first day; he had been so overjoyed at the sight of each new organism that he couldn’t help but conduct a full scientific investigation of each and every one. His digital database was full of photos, sketches, notes, measurements - each organism was unlike anything he had ever seen. He had decided to start thinking of them as plants, since that’s what they looked like, but the botanists back at the lab would have been utterly stumped by these Deep Sea plants. There were fleshy purple tubes protruding from the ground, seemingly hollow from the way they could be squished at the center. There were leafy fronds that resembled ferns with intricate pinnules that seemed to multiply into tiny infinitum. There were ground-dwelling buds that opened into breathtaking pearly flowers when approached, low shrubs with glimmering leaves that dripped with strange golden fruit. Further into the unfamiliar landscape, there were gaspingly tall tree-like plants that were not made of wood, but of a pale yellow velvety-soft substance that Tan could push his gloved finger into. Upon discovering this, shimmering, viscous honey had begun to drip from the hole his finger had made. Alien wilderness rose around him.
Even though Tan was beside himself with excitement, he moved up the mountain with caution, pausing every few minutes to check his GPS and listen. He was beginning to come to the conclusion that life had not evolved in the direction of life as he knew it - he hadn’t come across anything that wasn’t rooted to the ground, not even so much as a mite, though he had no idea what microbiota could exist in the soil. Even still, he was careful - he may have suspected that Deep Sea was under a vegetative reign, but there was still fear of what else could live here. There was still so much he didn’t know.
That was why he had decided to climb the mountain. It had appeared through the still-swirling mist at the end of the first day, and Tan had sat on one of the huge, white stones that protruded from the ground to watch the changeover of those distant blue suns. He wanted to get to a high point and look out over this planet he now traversed, scope out where the water was (he assumed there must be a source nearby due to the thickening canopy of plants) and see through the persistent mist. He had been too excited to rest, and the suns never seemed to set over Deep Sea at the same time, so there was always daylight filtering through the mist.
By the end of the second day of exploration, Tan was starting to feel the effects of his extended work. His legs ached from the hike, and his pack of samples had grown heavy hours ago. However, he was not as tired as he would have been on Earth after just one day of rigorous work - he attributed that to the higher levels of oxygen in the atmosphere, bolstering him and keeping his head clear. Still, he began to worry about the trip back - he only had two meal bars left in his pack. Had he let himself get carried away?
Just as he was considering turning around and returning the next day with a fresh sample pack, Tan saw a clearing ahead. His heart soared, and he ran the rest of the way to the top of the mountain.
The view was something from the mind of an ancient artist. Tan was genuinely breathless, and not from the short sprint to the peak. The landscape stretched before him, looking like something from a gorgeous, psychedelic fever dream. He could see for miles, through the blue air and into the horizon, and saw other mountains like mounds all around him.
As if this planet couldn’t get any better, Tan thought. People love hiking.
As if to reward his fight to the top of the mountain, the dual-sun changeover began once again as Tan stood there at the summit. He sat on one of the huge white boulders to take it in. The sky and air around him brightened as one sun set and the other rose over Deep Sea. Tan could see in the momentary brightness that each of the surrounding mountains glinted with green life and white boulders. So many white boulders… Tan squinted from his vantage point at those white boulders, so many across the miles and miles of mountains, feeling something he couldn’t quite place. They stirred something within him. What was that feeling?
The feeling, Tan realized as it began to wash over him, was dread. He stood slowly, and turned to look down at the boulder on which he had been sitting. He took three careful steps back, taking in its shape. Like all the others, it was about three feet tall, partially buried, and long. This boulder was longer than Tan was tall, but he could no longer deny its familiar shape now that he had seen them from a distance, its undeniable color. It was clearly ancient, like all the others Tan had passed, and it was not, in fact, a boulder.
It was a massive bone.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
The decryptions here are amazing, they really put the reader in the story. It shows that you've thought through all the details.
I really like your world building skills! It made me feel like I was on another planet reading it. The ending was unexpected. I wonder whose bone that was:)
You really get the feeling of exploring an alien world! Tan's observations are described well and easy to visualize, and his excitement at each discovery is palpable. I was wondering what the "startling discovery" would be, as there were a number of them along the way - indeed, the planet seemed so well suited to humans I thought it might even be Earth, after some vast length of time or something, but of course the twin stars make that impossible. All his discoveries seemed positive though, so I'm glad you ended it on an ominous note. Gian...
Wonderful plot idea: Finding a new location for humans to live. I loved the detail and world you created on Deap Sea; how lucky would it be to discover breathable air! Your sentences are well formed and full of rich details. I really did find myself amazed by your creativity. If I had to offer one critique (and I really don't like to discuss plausibility because, well, we're fiction writers) but I'm wondering if another character would be necessary here? I relate to Tan in that I would totally want to go explore the unexplored, but I would ...
Hi Anne, thank you so much for this thoughtful comment. I initially had another character included but he was cut for word count purposes :( I'll bring him back in the longer version!
Dang wordcount! This story does deserve a longer version. Really well done!