by Tala Bar
Chapter 2: The Planet
part 2 of 2
The travelers, now refugees on a strange planet, found very soon, with the help of the ship’s sensors and the computer’s analysis, some of the strange features of the planet. It was suspended at the center of three suns that provided it with continuous daylight and strong gravity. The idea of getting out and away from that system seemed to be impossible for the time being or the near future.
There was no atmosphere around the planet, either benevolent or malevolent. There was no sign of water, or in fact any sort of organic matter at all. The ground the refugees could see from the ship’s viewing windows seemed very even. They could spot no raised level at all; on the other hand, it was nothing like any ground they had seen on Earth. It was made up of lumps that sparkled in variegated colors in the everlasting light of the suns.
They were unable, though, to determine whether it was hard or soft or malleable, and if there was anything they could use it for. One thing was clear enough: Nowhere could they see dust or dirt among the thorny lumps, as if the ground was too hard to crumble.
“Explore!” the computer had pointed, and this they would have to do, whether they felt an interest in their new habitation or not. Leshem, for one, and perhaps in contrast to some others of her family who would prefer to get away from this strange and alien place, was thinking that, for the time being, she would be happy to stay and explore that fascinating planet and its remarkable traits.
It was interesting to note that their schedule of life did not have to change, now that they were on solid ground rather than in space. There, the continuous darkness had forced the travelers to use the computer’s calculations in order to organize their days and nights for work, sleep and leisure; here it was the continuous light that forced them to do the same, and no change was needed for it.
“It’s really beautiful!” Mira expressed her amazement as she gazed out of the window. She had no wish to put herself in danger and go out, but she was unable to stop watching that luminous sight that glittered in the sunlight in a blaze of colors, forever changing.
For many hours after their landing, the passengers kept crowding at the viewing windows, absorbing as much as they could of the strange sight in front of them. They soon found out that they could not look at it for long without protecting their eyes from the glaring, blinding light.
Gradually, they left the windows to gather in the common room for consultation. Leshem, bringing before them the results of the computer’s initial investigation, said, “Any ideas on exploration? It is obvious that’s the thing we should do first, before we can decide on anything at all.”
It was Nan who answered, as a geologist and an expert on anything concerning Earth. “It’s not only different from anything I’ve been used to all my life on Earth, it’s also nothing like what I’ve ever imagined.”
“What do you think, Lyish?” Leshem turned to the elderly biologist. “Would you be interested in a place that has no organic material?”
“That sounds ominous!” Nogah remarked.
“You’re absolutely right!” Lyish agreed. “The first thing we must think of is that we’ll have to continue to use the ship’s recycling facilities for an untold time!”
“Well,” Lilit said, “we’ll just have to take even better care of the plants than before. But I have an idea that Leshem has other things in mind beside these obvious ones. What is it, Leshem?”
“Now, for that I’m afraid we have to consult the computer, and before we can do that, some initial exploration must be done first. You take the lead in going out, won’t you, Nan? Even with all the difference from Earth, you’re the one with the most experience, you and Ben, and we must all depend on the work you can do.”
The two experienced explorers nodded, before they all left to go to their various appointed tasks. Lyish entered the biological section of the laboratory and sat down heavily in front of the terminal monitor.
Words flashed before him on the screen, and he eyed them scantily. Then he straightened, and watched the script in amazement. It was short and to the point, saying, “You have to prepare, Lyish.”
Prepare? Are these Lilit’s words? Or is it a message from the computer, as they were told at the gathering? He shook his head, not knowing what to think. Lyish had been his own man for many years, dividing his time between treating patients and doing research. Now he was going to get instructions from a machine? He had used such machines as he needed, but regarding them as human was against all his principles!
Anyway, what did he need to prepare for? Again he shook his head, then turned to see what was in the lab to prepare for exploring the new planet, as it was obviously very necessary to do so.
* * *
Most of the people continued to fulfill the same functions as they had on board the Incentive, and indeed they continued to live on it as in space. It was very clear to them that, as before, they could not get out roaming their environment as they would on any normal planet.
There was, however, one great difference to the meaning of their life if not to its physical continuity. For the time being, all they could do here was to find ways of survival, while before they had a goal for which they wanted to survive.
This change of attitude caused the reduction of their previous fervor in doing their chores, which turned into plain routine that brought with it a growing sense of frustration and even hopelessness.
Lilit, foreseeing such an attitude, did not let it set but called for a general meeting as soon as she saw her mates were recovering from the crash. “Friends,” she said, looking around her with her deep, dark gaze, “Things have changed for us and we have to accept it. But we must not allow ourselves to sink into depression, we have to find out how to make our new life better in this new situation. We have to find a new direction to our life, based on what we can learn on this planet.”
“What direction are you talking about?” grunted Lyish, uncharacteristically. While bearing in mind the computer’s short message, he was continuing his old routine of taking care of the garden and its attached recycling facility.
Despair was against his naturally optimistic nature, and he was making almost heroic effort to fight against such feelings, but even in his clearest moments he was unable to visualize their existence on that barren planet for more than a few years. Sooner or later, the facilities would start to fail, and what were they going to do then?
Lilit, aware of these feelings in her old mate, turned to Leshem first, saying, “You had the right idea from the start about existing on this planet. Can you tell us what you think we should do first?”
“What we must do immediately,” the physicist replied, “is go out of the ship and explore this planet. We know nothing about its nature and its potentials, and before we learn these we can do nothing. We have two excellent people for the purpose of actual exploration, but I do suggest each and every one of us should go out at least once, to understand what we are against.
“Don’t you think it can be very dangerous to go out there?” asked Lyish, skeptically. He was obviously afraid to hope in case he would be too disappointed.
“We have a few spacesuits on board, and we don’t all have to go out together. I would very much like to go, and I suggest Nan and Ben come with me. Will you?”
“Certainly!” Nan said, and Ben nodded in agreement. These two were the most resilient in physical terms, whatever was their mental attitude, but Leshem was certain that would also be recovered, as soon as they were doing again their old jobs on Earth.
Before they began making any concrete plans for exploration, Mira said quietly, “Don’t you think it’s time we stop calling it ‘The Planet’ or ‘This Place’ and give it a name, if it’s going to be our home for years to come?”
“You’re absolutely right, Mira!” Lilit beamed at her with a rare smile shining on her face. She felt it encouraging that the most vulnerable person among them was the one to have such a positive thought about something beyond her immediate personal problems. “Any suggestions?”
The surprising idea brought with it a lame beginning, but soon there were many suggestions of any kind. It seemed that from the start the inclination was to regard this barren planet as similar to Earth’s airless moon. Since that world had been lost to them, many of the passengers wanted to recall it to their minds in one way or another.
For many obvious reasons, though, they could not think of calling it simply Moon, a word which had been used for satellites of many kinds; but there were other appellations to Earth’s main one that could be suitable.
“I like the name Luna,” said Nogah.
“But that is just another word for Moon, and it won’t do,” protested Ofer.
“What about a derivative, then,” suggested Mira. “Lunari, for instance...”
“Lunari!” Nogah echoed; “that’s beautiful.”
“Lunari!” Everyone sounded the name, tasted it, sang it. It was accepted without opposition.
* * *
Three pressure suits in good condition were found on board, and each one of the travelers went out of the ship for the experience, before the three explorers began their actual work of investigating the planet.
Stepping on the thorny lumps and having their eyes filled with the garish sight, however, was a difficult experience, and Mira, Ofer and Lilit went out only once, hurrying back to the ship.
Mira had found again a source for her inspiration, though, and could be seen sitting at the terminal for hours, combining poetic words and artistic forms on the screen.
Nogah and Lyish faced the hardship twice before giving up the pleasure of being outside the ship; Lyish also brought back a few samples from that hard ground, having to use a hammer for that purpose.
Leshem persisted a few times for that purpose and collected a great deal of matter; she then joined forces with Lyish at the lab in trying to make sense of that new material, the like of which they had never seen before.
Happiest of all were Nan and Ben, who kept going out again and again, paying no heed to the harsh conditions of Lunari. Their purpose was not just gathering as many samples as they thought they needed, but also the actual exercise out in the open, which they missed more than anyone on board.
Only Ziv had announced that he could get all the information about the outside environment from the computer, saw no need for the experience and no reason to sample it in his body. Ziv had calmed down. The dark void had gone, and in the eternal sunlight of Lunari he could not miss the moon.
He actually preferred the certainty of hopelessness to the doubts he had suffered from during the trip, and he spent many hours at the terminal, trying, like Leshem and Lyish only in a different way, to make sense of their new conditions.
It was Ziv, more than any one else, who began relying more and more on the computer, first in answering his direct questions, particularly about the situation of the planet in space and its relation to the three suns blocking it on all sides.
Then he found that sometimes, in a way that as a mathematician he did not completely understand, the computer was taking more and more initiative in explaining things to him even before he had begun asking the questions.
One day he took it up with Lilit. He had known her all his life, and she guided him in his most difficult moments. His turning to her, now that they were both virtually unemployed, was not only necessary for him but also quite natural. They began working together at one of the terminals in the common room, and soon their three way conversation with the computer developed from fact-finding to an exchange of ideas and suggestions.
“You know,” Ziv said, hesitating, to Lilit one day, having read some very innovative ideas written on the monitor, “I have a strange feeling about our talks with the computer. As much as I like working with it, I do recall once in a while that it is a machine and we are supposed to be the human beings controlling it.”
The ancient, tiny woman gave the golden boy one of her long, searching looks; and he was aware that she was able, if and when she wanted, to read his very thoughts, even though she rarely did so.
“I hate quoting clichés,” she said, slowly, “but it’s really apt in our situation. They do say that desperate situations demand desperate means, and I doubt there could be a more desperate situation than ours here. I, for one, feel that if it takes a machine to give us good advice and direct us in the way we must take to save ourselves, then let it be a machine. After all, it has been built by humans and has stored in its innards all human experience possible, so why not let it direct us in any human way possible?”
None of them was aware at the time of the length to which such human ways might take that little colony on Lunari.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2009 by Tala Bar