The Fourth Planet

Do we dream when we go into our hibernation sleep pod things? Honestly, I don’t even know. It feels so weird to go to sleep, to feel the blazing cold freeze your body, and to feel your mind go indeterminably numb. I swear, if I didn’t have to put on the science sleep mask 5000, I could literally watch a clock spin endlessly on the wall. Time feels like it slows down. I can count my breaths, my heartbeats. And suddenly, it gets warm, I stand up, I shake off the numbness, and look at that! Three months have gone by.

This can’t be healthy. Not for the mind, or the body. I have a tremor in my left hand today that I swear wasn’t there when we were on the top of the sphere tree. Nervous jitters, or something? I downed too much coffee to see if that would help. It did. Sort of.

She was awake a few days before me this time, and started working through our backlog of scientific data to transmit to Earth. The computer never sent any of it. She gave me some technical reason why, but it went over my head. I’m just the pilot. Anyway, she thinks she got it transmitted. Now Earth is going to know about the planets we explored.

What are they going to do with this information? How does it help them? I know what’s on the patch on my environmental suit. “For the future of mankind”. What the hell does that even mean, though? What are we doing for the future of mankind, apart from sending bodies far across space. Some alien civilization is going to find us and think, “Oh, golly, there must be humans off that way!” and come find Earth and blow it to smithereens. Or maybe Earth is going to send more idiots us to find these planets and colonize them. Maybe it’ll be like the movies where we find a new planet, drain it of its resources, and leave it behind us like the locusts that we are.

I had a nightmare about aliens once when I was a kid. How do I remember this nightmare all these years later? In it, I was running from strange creatures. Classic aliens. Grey bodies and oversized eyes. They scared the shit out of me. Biologically speaking, why are they grey and have huge eyes? The grey skin comes from a lack of pigmentation, and our skin pigmentation is what keeps us from absolutely burning to death when we get tanned in the sun. Maybe the little grey men don’t have a sun. Maybe they’re shut up in a metal spaceship for eternity. And their eyes get bigger because they don’t have a sun, so they need to see things better in low light situations.

I am well on my way to becoming a little gray man.

Not to change up our planetary routine or anything, but this planet is different. For some weird reason, the computer charted a course to this planet. I got us here just fine, but as soon as I did, I thought I messed it up. Everything here is all wrong. The planet isn’t one we can land on. This is a gas planet, and a real ugly one, too. The computer found one point of interest for us to land on and investigate, but I can’t find it anywhere! Every time I approach, it says the site is behind me. I turn around and fly us over that way, and the site isn’t there! I’m wasting a ton of fuel on this.

Yeah, I messed it up. Not the trajectory, but the exploration. I’m just a pilot after all. She helped me figure it out. The site isn’t on the planet. It’s on one of the larger bodies in the planet’s ring system. I just dismissed all of it as small fragments of rock that would break apart our starship, but she got it figured out. There’s a small asteroid here that the computer thinks is a good site to investigate.

For whoever is reading this, now is a good time to turn on the spooky music. The point of interest on this little asteroid is an old ruined spaceship. From the looks of it, it wrecked here ages ago. It’s not much bigger than one of our little lander ships. Most of it is smashed metal and broken materials. The gravity on the asteroid is very little, so she guessed this ship crashed into it and the impact flung most of the wreckage out into space and towards the gas planet. The reason she thinks the wreckage happened ages ago is because our computer calculates that this asteroid is in a stable orbit around the planet. As small as it is, the wreck definitely would have altered its course in space.

In other words, the ship ran into this asteroid and together they flew across space until they were captured by this planet’s gravity.

Not only have we found certain evidence of life on other planets, including intelligent life on other planets, but now we’ve found proof that we’re not the only space-faring species out here.

There are no bodies, no people, nothing that would indicate that anything biological used to live on the ship. It’s design is alien (no pun intended). We can’t find a bridge or consoles or controls or anything. Anything we found will be part of her report. But something she left out of her report is the feeling we both got while in the ship. You know how when something is creepy, it makes your hair stand up on end? You get the shivers? Yeah, that’s what I felt. She felt it too. It felt like… I don’t know. Maybe I’m paranoid. It felt like we were looking at our future. This is what’s going to happen to us.

In all honesty, I’m scared. I used to be brave, back when Dad was alive. He’d tell me that you gotta be brave and face your fears. But, Dad, there is so much to fear out here. I don’t know what lies between the stars. Who made the ship? Are they hostile? Are they even real? Will we ever meet them? What happens when we do? Or worse, will we just float endlessly for all time until some other people find our ship’s wreckage and nothing else?

I’m not going back into the sleep bed pod thing. She can’t make me. I don’t want to be cold and dead again. I want to look out to space and make sure nothing is coming after us. It’s definitely paranoia, at least according to the psychology function on the computer.

Let’s see… It’s going to be about five months until we get to our next destination. We have enough food to last a total of at least a year of being awake if we ration properly. A little more than that if she goes to sleep and I don’t. I can go easy on the food. But I can’t go to sleep again.