The Fifth Planet

She woke up about two months into the journey. I guess maybe she didn’t trust me to be alone and awake on the ship. Or she didn’t trust whatever aliens are out there in the darkness. Anyway, we’re good. She said that she wasn’t really keen on being asleep either, so she said she set her wake time to now. I gotta say, she looks good after her rest. I checked myself out in a mirror after my last sleep and I looked terrible. Some people just do hibernation better than others.

I’ve been meticulous about checking the systems on the starship and looking at our fuel reserves. We’ve got plenty of oxygen, plenty of water, and plenty of fuel still. For humanity, we can keep looking at different stars and planets. I thought I would go crazy, daily staring out into the blackness of space. Instead, I find it oddly calming. In all this emptiness, there exists life and love out there. I turned on some music a few times, but the rhythm broke up my soothing monotony, so I shut it back down. First thing she did when she woke up was start some old rock music. Kind of ruined my mood.

It’s fine, though. Since we talked and cried back on the last planet, she’s been more expressive of her emotions. Maybe I have, too. We got to talking about our psych evaluations before starting this mission. The probing questions. Do you admit to your mistakes? Where do you feel safe? Who do you look up to? At the time, I gave some very canned responses because I didn’t see the relevance to the questions. I was signing up to pilot a starship across the universe, never to return, and catalog what I see. What does it matter about my mistakes? Who cares where I feel safe? And who do I look up to when I’m going to be alone with a stranger for the rest of my life?

Neither of us admit our mistakes, apparently. She said she liked to fix things and move on. Same for me, honestly. Admitting a mistake is like admitting defeat to her. I can get behind that logic. Where do we feel safe? Nowhere. There is no place I feel safe. That’s not true. As much as I hate it, I feel safe when I’m asleep in that stupid hibernation pod. That bed turns my brain off, and there I’m safe. If aliens come in to kill me, or if she decides to unplug me and turn off my oxygen, I’m already asleep and I’ll just drift away into nothingness. It’s the safest thing. And who do I look up to? Maybe that used to be my father. Maybe.

To my surprise, she said she looks up to me. She sees me as strong, even though I’m emotionally a wreck. I’m feeling it. The weight of weightlessness. The nothing of nothingness. The space of spaciness. That’s not a word. But really? Me? She looks up to me? I politely thanked her before staring out that window into nothingness again.

Three months went by like this, with a few conversations between the two of us on the psych evaluation. Nothing more. We soon approached the planet, our next destination. This one is a real weirdo planet. It’s not shaped like a sphere. It’s more oblong, super craggy, and its super close to its star so everything is a little hot. Our environmental suits can’t take the heat, so we’re going to do our work from inside the ships this time.

This planet sucks. I am going to call it Hell Away From Home. Hell, for short. It looks like those classic depictions of hell where everything is awful. The external temperature is actually too hot for my ship. We landed, and it started to fry the instruments on the outside of the ship. We ran some cooling mechanics, but they couldn’t keep up. So instead, we started back towards the starship. On the way, she noticed something. It looked like a cave of some kind.

There’s no way a cave on Hell planet is a bad idea, right?

As it turns out, this has been one of the most interesting places we’ve discovered!

The cave, on the opposite side of the planet, is quite cool. The air still isn’t breathable, but we can walk around in our enviro suits without melting like the wicked witch. Everything is dark in here. I mean, obviously we turned on our lights, but it didn’t really seem to help much. There was a vapor in the air that made it hard to see out very far. She suggested we turn on tracking devices on our suits to keep up with each other, and our computers started logging where we went. You know, just in case we got lost in the fog, we could just follow our trail and end up back at the ship.

As it turns out, that was super necessary. I got lost and I was only about thirty feet away from her. I literally could not even see that far! At one point, she said, “Just follow my voice,” and we both broke down in laughter.

We had almost decided to give up looking through this cave. Hell planet was looking like a total wash until she tripped and fell down a hole. Her screams were… awful. She’s okay, though. No broken bones, no broken enviro suit, no broken visors. She said the only wound she had was her pride. After making a rude commentary on my apparent panic at her falling, we started looking around. The fog down here was clearing up, but it was still immensely dark.

Damp, also. That was surprising. There were traces of water droplets in the air. Actual water! On Hell planet! We wanted to find the source, but got instantly distracted by what looked like little houses carved into the rock of the cave. There were dozens of them all around us. Our tracking systems could get us back to where we needed to go, but we were both afraid. Civilization. Proof of civilization. But like the wrecked ship on that asteroid months ago, these were abandoned. Devoid of life.

The houses were strange. We investigated a few of them. Each was a single room. No furniture was to be found, though purposefully carved out spaces were made in the walls. She suggested they were storage, but I think they look more like sleeping areas for whatever used to live here. There were roads between the houses, too. We didn’t see any form of electricity or sources of light, so she assumes they did not have eyes. We tried making sounds by clapping rocks together, but the sound just echoed in the deep.

The water droplets in the air were the most puzzling thing, so we took a short break back at the ship before coming down with some climbing gear. Again, thank god the specialists decided to program tracking devices into our computers. Retracing our steps was remarkably easy. Even I’m in a good mood now.

We’ve gone down as far as we can safely go in the Hell cave. The houses have streets between them, right? Well, after lunch, it didn’t take us long to find the main street going through the little city. It led down, further into the depths of this planet. We were cautious and careful, but we were both starting to get very tense and, dare I say it, scared. Where were the people that lived in these houses? How many of them were there? What’s at the end of this street?

And now, I write to tell you that we will never, ever know the answer to these questions. Because at the end of this street, we found water. There’s just a pool here, and the street goes down into it. There’s nothing else here. The water is just as murky as the air around us. There’s nothing to see here. No markings on the walls, no people in the houses, no remains of society, nothing.

I’m not mad about it. I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t find anything else though. I mean, this was going to be really neat. But what did we expect? Everything was empty already. Whoever lived here is long-

I can’t believe I panicked so much when she first fell. I thought I lost her, the only other human being for light years and light years around.

But I guess she panicked when the plants in the water tried to eat me. So I guess it’s okay to be scared, especially when I know I’m not the only one.

I had seen that the water level was rising while we were taking a break. We had only been sitting for a few minutes, but one of my glow sticks was suddenly in the water. We tested a few times with other things. Rocks, pebbles, or other glow sticks. Sure enough, the water level was slowly rising. She quickly ran off to some of the houses to see if they had signs of water on them. Was the water level rising and falling like a tide system, or was something else going on?

We never found out. There were vines in the water. Or roots. Or something, I don’t know. They were twisted and white, jagged little things at first, but they engorged when they started trying to pull us in. They silently wrapped up my foot and dragged me under water. I could hear her screaming through the radio. She was freaking out. I tried to stay calm. My heart monitor looked like I was about to explode. I pulled out a utility knife and hacked at the roots. As I cut, I saw more in the water, growing bigger as they got towards me.

Those science geeks back on Earth that designed our environmental suits deserve some praise after all. There was one function I distinctly remember – mostly because I made fun of it. It would release air from my oxygen tanks into two stupid looking floaties on my arms, effectively getting me out of the water. I’m glad I laughed so hard at how dumb the arm floaties looked because they might have just saved my life. At the top of the water, I swam as best as I could back to the shore. She pulled me up just as the roots came after us again. We ran, letting our computers tell us where to go.

We got back aboard my ship and I got us out of there as fast as I could. We docked with the starship and I immediately set us a course away from that planet. We’re in a stable orbit now.

It’s awful out here. How dumb am I, signing up for this mission?

I found us our next destination. This time, I think I’m going to go to sleep. I don’t want to be awake right now.