The Great Journey Chapter 6

A Whole New World (purchase your copy of the entire book here:

At last, the day came when one star began to grow in diameter in the forward view screen and I realised that this was the star toward which we were headed. This would be Trappist-1, which had seven planets orbiting around it. My destination was the sixth planet from the star, Trappist-1g or Gaia. The star had a red hue and as we approached, I saw three planets pass between me and the star. I knew from my reading of the information available in the ship’s library that each of the planets had very short annual circuits around the star. In fact, I knew that a year for each of these planets was between one day and eighteen days, so it made sense that I might see some of them moving past the star as we approached. I couldn’t tell how long we had been decelerating but now it was completely obvious that we were preparing to slide into orbit around Gaia. The planet had a green glow and was totally shrouded with clouds. Nowhere could I see through the clouds to what might lie below and the excitement of seeing a new planet quickly overcame any fear of the unknown.

The screen began to light up with commands and responses as we got close to the top of the clouds. I soon discovered that Buzz and the Mothership would stay in orbit around Gaia while my home-made spacecraft was headed for the surface. I began to wonder if that was such a good idea, Buzz had become a companion and helped explain a lot of things. How would I function without him? I asked Buzz what the purpose of this trip would be and Buzz assured me that I should just continue on and all would become clear. Buzz also reassured me that a radio link between the two ships would be established to keep them in continuous contact. As he spoke of this, I failed to see the small mechanical arm that detached itself from the back of my chair and quickly attached a dollar-coin-sized piece of metal to the rear angle of my right jawbone. A slight pinch led me to believe that it was indeed solidly attached to the bone within my jaw. I tugged at the metal, but it remained firmly planted. I gave a sharp cry of ouch, even though the pain had not been severe and asked just what the heck was going on.

Buzz apologised for the surprise but told me that NASA scientists assured him it was the best way to get one of these implants securely fixed onto a skittish human. This device would allow us to be in constant contact. The disk would pick up the sound waves generated by my voice and would also send sound waves to my ear that were the result of Buzz speaking to me. Buzz told me that it served as a tracker so that Buzz and the ship would always know where I was and would help with retrieval if I were injured (or dead – I thought). Buzz further explained that the disk would help with translation. I did not understand that comment but there was too much else going on just then to ask one more question. I went about getting used to hearing Buzz speaking directly into my right ear as I watched and responded to a variety of check lists that once again appeared on the screen. The separation of Mother and Saucer did not take long and soon I could see the large Mothership in my rear-view screen as it got progressively more distant and relatively higher as my ship made its descent. The green clouds began to stream past the ship and the view screens were soon completely opaque and getting darker before slowly getting brighter once more.

When we finally broke through the clouds, we were very close to the surface of the planet. The green-blue ocean was the first thing I saw, but as I looked to the horizon I could also see land with bushes, trees, sand, hills, and large volcanic-looking mountains. One or two even had smoke and steam rising out of their tops. Some of these pushed their tops out of view into the clouds and I realized that we must be flying at an altitude of about one-thousand metres above sea level. We continued to descend and more of the detail of things below came into view. The ocean looked very organic like it was teeming with small life forms. Bluish algae floated in tabletop sized islands and evidence of small krill or fish could be seen just below the surface. Occasionally a large wave would flow through the otherwise mostly calm sea. I could not tell what made the waves, but I knew that it must be at least as large as my little craft.

I began to wonder where we might land and wondered if the saucer was capable of a water landing. Buzz told me to prepare for landing and we headed toward a sandy beach that stretched for about two-hundred metres back toward a dense bush area. We set down very close to the jungle and I felt the unease of not knowing what might be lurking in the woods and bush. The sand and detritus of the beach swirled around me and quickly settled again. And there I sat in my craft on an alien beach on a planet in a totally other corner of our galaxy. The relief of being on solid ground on an earth-like planet was strangely exhilarating. I realised now that while I moved through barren space with nothing but my bubble of air and a thin barrier of metal between me and certain death, I had held my body very tight with psychological tension. Now, sitting on a habitable planet that did not appear to be trying to kill me was comforting, and for the first time on this journey I allowed myself to cry. For, although I was glad to be on solid ground, never had I felt so alone.

The main console brought me out of my solo thoughts as it announced that I should prepare for cabin pressure equalisation. I heard a small hiss, my ears plugged and popped, and the cabin was flooded with the aromas of the sea, beach, woods, must, and something else. Up until then, I had not noticed how stale the air in my spacecraft had become. It smelled a bit like old food, sweat, and bathroom smells. Now the contrast of fresh air was overwhelming, and my hand began to reach for the door handle to experience the planet in its fullness. I appreciated that the last time I had reached for the door handle had been about a month ago when I should have exited the spaceship rather than sit down in the captain’s chair and hitting the “Go” button. Now I wondered if I shouldn’t be sitting back in the chair and finding a way to get back off this world and get heading toward earth again. But just like the pull of the hole in the hedge, just like the pull of the “Go” button, my hand reached for the door, and it flew open on its hydraulic struts. Even more fresh air engulfed the cabin and saturated my brain. I bounded out the door and stood on the sandy beach in the same shoes I had put on the morning of my departure from earth.

I had expected a silence like that of the moon, but this was anything but silent. There was a buzz of insects in the woods. Was it cicadas or crickets? Ah yes, the buzz of cicadas and not the chirp of crickets. There was a quiet lap of the water at the shore, a gentle wind that rustled the leaves, fronds, and twigs of the jungle. From time to time there was a woosh through the air above my head that was lost in the clouds. The cloud cover was absolute. I could not see the sun, or more accurately, the Trappist-1 star. I could see no moon although I was sure I had seen two small bodies orbiting this planet as I had approached. The clouds still had that green glow, and they bathed the entire landscape with muted light. The greens of the forest were stunningly brilliant; they were almost a shade of neon. The sand was smooth and soft to walk on and a rather dark shade of brown. It looked incredibly rich in organics. The line between sand and water was surprisingly clean. I was used to Florida beaches with their foam and weeds, coupled with a certain amount of small trash and microplastics. This beach had none of that. The temperature was indeed quite warm, and I estimated it to be around thirty degrees C with a lot of humidity. As my reading had suggested, despite this planet being the sixth planet from the star and originally considered to be in the coolest part of the habitable range of the star system, the permanent cloud cover allowed for an overall heating of the planet.

But just as I began to think about this, I noticed a slight dip in the temperature, and a slight dimming of the light. Over the next hour or so this trend continued, until I realised we were headed toward twilight and sunset. So the speculations about these planets being tidally locked such that the same face always turned toward the star were wrong. I wondered if the astronomers and physicists had considered the influence of moons around the planets and if this was what caused a gentle rotation of this planet about its axis. There was little time to speculate as the sky and land became darker. I felt a strong urge to be inside the spacecraft as night fell. Something ancient in my human biology told me that darkness in the open night was something to be avoided and a sense of danger came over me. I climbed back into my saucer and shut the door tight.

I had a quick meal in the galley and climbed into my bunk. I awoke to the calm green glow of sunrise. I could not see the sun, but I had an impression of where it might be. The sea shore was closer to my saucer than it had been last night, and the waves were rolling in at about three feet high with a crash on the beach. Okay, we have tides, and we have weather. Things change and go through regular cycles much like earth. Suddenly this place didn’t seem so alien – just terribly lonely. Buzz had been quiet for some time, and I had not thought to engage him with any of my own thoughts, but now I decided I should check in and I asked him for an update on this world around me. He informed me that we were at high tide, the temperature was twenty-three degrees C, humidity sixty-five percent, and a gentle ten km/hr wind was coming off the sea, which meant out of the west. It was hard to get a sense of the compass points without being able to see distinctives in the sky, but Buzz assured me that the direction of the ocean was indeed west and that the beach ran in a mostly north to south direction and that the bush before me was located in the easterly direction. Buzz seemed to be in a mode in which he only spoke when spoken to and was not volunteering a lot of information. Was he hiding something? Oh well, he did not seem to be plotting my death like Hal and there were no “pod bay doors to be opened.” I put his silence out of my mind and carried on with the routines of breakfast and wash up.

Today would be a day to explore. The question was, which direction to explore? I stepped out into the morning and was greeted by the sounds of birds. I could see a few gull-like creatures off in the distance, but they were not adding to much of the noise. Most of the bird noise came from the woods. It sounded like finches and budgies, with the occasional punctuation of a parrot. I decided that I would venture off in that direction and follow the sounds of the birds, but first I wanted to go and touch the ocean and feel the temperature of the water. I was dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals that someone had left for me in drawers in the residence area of the saucer, so I walked right into the waves and felt the surprisingly warm water. It felt a lot like the water at Miami Beach and I began to enjoy the waves lapping at my body.

I got out deep enough to swim and was enjoying myself thoroughly. I wished I had brought my snorkel gear so that I could see underwater better. Instead, I just opened my eyes underwater and let the saltiness sting my eyes and nose. It seemed to be about as salty as oceans on earth and I began to marvel at how similar the two worlds were. I took a large gulp of air and dove down as far as I could. The bottom was only about two metres from the surface. As I turned my head back up toward the surface, something swam between me and the surface and I shuddered. What if there were dangerous creatures out here in the water? I looked just in time to see two large eyes looking back at me. A very large octopus was slowly swimming away. It was certainly the largest octopus I had ever seen. It must have been three metres long and half a metre across. As I was about to turn and get away from it as quickly as I could, I heard Buzz in my earpiece say, “Oh hello” and I wondered why he would suddenly say that and then nothing more. I couldn’t talk while underwater and quickly made my way to the surface and out onto the beach. That was enough danger for one day.

The warmth of the air, humidity, and what seemed like excessive air pressure was stifling and I felt instantly hot and tired. I lay down in the sand and let my clothes dry for a while. I felt sleepy and dazed, although I didn’t quite fall asleep, and soon got up to explore the other direction. I walked north along the barrier between sand and jungle looking for a good spot to enter the underbrush and came upon a path. I figured it must have been made by some local animals and deer came to mind. I hoped there weren’t tigers or lions in these woods. The path seemed too narrow and indistinct to be any very big animal. The path was small and low, and I kept having to push branches out of the way because it was too short for my one and a half metre height. The path went quite straight in an easterly direction and there was a slight uphill grade to the overall elevation. I was slowly rising higher and occasionally I got a glimpse of the seashore below me. I began to break into a sweat and wondered if I shouldn’t turn back because the route did not seem to be going anywhere in particular. Just then, the trail opened into a clearing about ten metres above the seashore and maybe one kilometre inland. The clearing was about twenty metres across and was ringed by what looked like whorls of grass made into a dozen or so nests. Some of the nests had one or two grassy lumps in the middle, and they didn’t look like something that naturally occurred. I wondered what had made them.

I was staring at one of the nests and had just begun to make my way over to it when the hillock of grass in the middle suddenly transformed into a two-metre-long octopus. I jumped back and wondered how an octopus could end up here this far from the ocean when I heard the words, “Hello, my name is Armand. What is your name?” The sound was definitely in my earpiece, but I also sensed a low rumbling sound coming from the base of the octopus where the eight legs came together. I could also see a mouth, or more like a beak, that moved as I heard the sounds. The same sounds and same movements happened again as I heard, “Hello, my name is Armand. What is your name?” I stepped backwards, tripped on some tangled grass, and fell on my butt. The octopus made a movement toward me and clearly said, “Are you all right?”

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