by Tala Bar
Chapter 2: The Planet
part 1 of 2
Nine people — five women and four men — aboard the starship Incentive flee a catastrophe on Earth and head for the colony planet Astria. Swept off course, the Incentive lands on a hot, desolate planet, which the travelers name Lunari. They realize they must change radically in order to survive, and to do that they will need all their ingenuity as well as guidance from others...
Leshem opened her eyes to a strong, blinding light. She had no idea what had happened, how long she had been out, or what happened to the other travelers. Slowly, she rose to her feet, shaking herself and checking to see all her bones were in their right place. Then she looked around her. Light was everywhere, much stronger than the ship’s lights had ever been. She would have recognized sunlight, had she not known they were millions of miles away from any such source of light.
Trying to find out her location, she vaguely recalled being at the vicinity of the hydroponics garden. Looking around and finding herself in a corridor, Leshem thought she must have been thrown out of the enclosure by whatever force had hit her. She was now, presumably, in the corridor leading to it, but where was that light coming from? It burned her eyes and her headache increased, so she closed them.
Forcing herself to open them again and look around, she believed what she saw was incredible. The light seemed to be streaming into the hall from its end, but what was at that end was a viewing window... Impossible! Again she realized it must have been sunlight, but that would mean... The materialistic, always practical Leshem was forced to acknowledge that what was impossible was also the truth.
At that time, Leshem realized that another impossible thing had occurred. She could no longer sense the, admittedly very soft, purring of the ship’s engine and other machines. They were no longer moving, in space or otherwise, and that was even worse than having got too close to some unknown sun in space. What did it mean?
Moving with some difficulty, feeling her body stiff and painful, Leshem at last rose to her feet and touched her communicator. “Ziv?”
“Here!” His voice sounded hoarse, worrying.
“I’ve just got another message from the computer.”
“Ah! So you admit the first one now?” She gave out a short laugh but immediately continued. “So, what does it have to say?”
“I have no idea. It’s very curt in its messages, you know.”
“Mmm,” was her answer; then she asked, “Have you any idea about the others?”
“Lyish and Lilit are in the common room, stretched on the floor, I think. I’ll take a look.” There was a pause, then his voice came back. “They are coming to, now, and Lyish is helping Lilit up. They seem all right.”
“O.K., then, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Only when she abandoned the communicator did Leshem notice Mira, who was lying just inside the door to the garden. Her eyes were wide open, their pretty turquoise shade darkened.
“Are you all right?” Leshem asked, lending the young woman a hand to help her up.
“What happened?” Mira asked, blinking in the bright light.
“Come with me, we’ll soon find out.”
“I’ve had such an awful dream...”
“Yes, I know. Is it gone now?”
Mira looked into the garden, through its doors that were standing wide open. Nan and Ben were helping each other to get up, checking their bodies for injuries. Mira smiled crookedly. “I wanted to kill Ben...”
“Don’t you want to, anymore?”
“No, it’s gone... I’m sorry, Ben...”
The man nodded silently. Nan asked Leshem, “Is this light coming in from outside? Are we too close to some star?”
Leshem shrugged, not sure enough of herself to answer straight. “Let’s all go to the common room and find out.”
Mira followed Leshem, with Nan and Ben coming after them. Moving closer to the viewing window from where the bright light was streaming in, Mira asked, whispering, “Do you think Nan was right?”
“In what? What did Nan say?”
“She thought we were getting too close to a star...”
“No,” Leshem said after a pause. “They’ll find out soon enough. We’re not moving in space any more, we seem to have landed...”
“Landed? Where?” Mira asked, standing behind Leshem, as if hiding from the unknown.
Leshem shrugged. Whatever they were going to find out, she did not have very good feelings about it. And what’s more, there was that computer interference, which she did not yet quite understand. Leshem hated mysteries, and usually she worked very hard until she solved them.
* * *
Gradually, all passengers gathered in the common room, drawn to their habitual meeting place by an irresistible force, the urge to find out the source of the latest mysterious events that had been thrust on them.
In the attached control room, Leshem and Ziv were busy checking the gauges. The door was open and some of the others crowded at it, but those in charge of flying the ship were not answering any questions or demands for the time being, and they asked the others to stay inside the common room.
As words did not help, Leshem began pushing them gently back. Then she said to Ziv, “Let me try something.”
She hit the keys, and the young man opened his eyes in wonder at the words coming on the monitor: “You seem to know what is going on. Can you tell us?” Then she punched a sequence that sent the words to an address Ziv knew was used to give the computer programming commands.
“You’re really trying to talk to it?” he asked.
“What else can we do? It seems to know more than we do.”
Words started appearing on the screen, this time in good order rather than the flashing colors Leshem had seen before. “Join the others at the common room terminal and I’ll talk to all of you together.”
“Well! Well! And what do you say to that?” Leshem asked Ziv as she rose to go and motioned to him to come with her.
“I would never have believed it,” he replied in all his usual sincerity.
At the common room, Leshem came up to Lilit, took her to one side away from the others and in short words told her about the computer’s taking an active part in their lives.
“I’ve also had a message, of warning no less, but I didn’t know what I was warned against. Do you think this is all the computer’s doing?”
“No,” the scientist said, “I don’t think it was caused by the computer, but I do think it was aware of something wrong and was trying to help us.”
“Well, we’ll have to talk to the others about it, but I’m not sure how they’re going to take it,” their leader said as she led the way toward the rest of the travelers.
Lyish, as their medical man, had been looking over the passengers, finding no one was seriously hurt except with some scratches or bruises.
Ofer asked a few questions to find out if anyone was shocked and needed spiritual help, finding out they were as much confused as he was.
Then Lilit came up to them and in a few words calmed down some of the agitation, asking them all to sit down and Nogah and Nan, the most stable of them all, to bring hot and cold drinks and something to nibble in order to sooth their nerves.
At last silence fell, and Lilit said, “For the moment, we are not sure what has happened, but we seem to get help from an unexpected direction. Please, Leshem, tell them what you’ve told me.”
“Lately, Ziv, Lilit and I have been getting messages directly from the computer. As a matter of fact, now that I remember the last minute before the crash, there was also a message for Nan, which she did not notice at the time.”
Lyish looked at his old mate with an emotional disturbance. “What kinds of messages did you get, Leshem? I’ve never heard of a computer working on its own.”
“Neither have I, up till now, Lyish, but you must take my word for it. These messages were mainly warnings, but now it is ready to share its knowledge with all of us, so we’d better see what it has to say.”
“Can we also ask it questions?” asked Nogah.
“Yes, certainly. I’m sure we’ll get to the point when each one of us will be able to have a personal conversation with the computer. Now, all of you, look at the monitor and see what it has to say to us.”
Words started appearing on the screen, as if the machine was listening to what was going on and knew when to begin. “Hallo all!” the words said, and some of its audience giggled, as to a good joke.
Then they fell silent, as the script went on in fairly large and clear letters. “Do not be afraid. There has not been a malfunction of anything on board ship, but we seem to have hit a particle storm and have been swept into a worm hole, which has brought us here.”
Many voices were heard now, from people who were unable to hold their anxiety in check: “What is here?” Where are we?” “How do we get out of here?” and the like.
Leshem held up her hand. “I’m not sure all these questions can be answered right away. I think we should give both ourselves and the computer a chance to find out all the details before anyone can do anything practical. Now, I’m going to punch one question to the computer and we’ll see what the answer is.”
She then hit the keys with the words, “What do you suggest we do next?”
“You should explore,” came the reply, then the screen went blank.
“That’s it, then,” Leshem told the family members. “We must explore, as the computer cannot answer all the questions about where we are, if and how we can get out of here, and what we can do if we can’t. Lilit?”
“We have our scientific team with us, to tell us what should be done,” the ancient woman said. “Do you think we can get out of the ship, now, Leshem?”
“No!” Ziv and Leshem cried out together.
“No?” asked Lyish in astonishment.
“No!” Leshem replied, forcefully.
“But why not?” asked Ofer, more in curiosity than anxiety.
“Because we don’t know what’s out there, that’s why.”
“You think it may be dangerous? What do you think is out there?” asked Lilit.
“We can’t be sure it isn’t dangerous, can we? And we can’t risk acting on a rash impulse. Secondly, from the ship’s sensors we do know what isn’t there...”
“There is no air, that’s what is not there...”
Copyright © 2009 by Tala Bar