The Third Planet

What’s the first thing you notice about a person when you meet them?

It’s such a strange question. In my psychiatric evaluation before this mission, the interviewer asked it. I made up some answer. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I’ve got all the time in the world now to think about it. Or, all the time in the universe.

The first thing I notice about them is their eyes. You can tell a lot about a person by their eyes. Window to the soul, or something like that. To me, the eyes can tell you whether a person is kind or cruel. Or thoughtful. Or pensive. Or depressed. Or deeply angry.

And right now, I don’t know what her eyes are telling me. Is she mad? Is she sad? She’s just staring, staring out the little window in the starship. She wouldn’t eat. I think she’s barely slept. Her bed is on her ship, but I really can’t say whether she’s even gone back to her ship since the last planet. We haven’t spoken a word to each other.

The life forms there were strange. I already wrote about that, but I have more to say. Life is strange anyway. Why were they collecting the crystals? Why did they attack us? Did they know they were attacking us, or was that some automatic response to a stimulus? Come to think of it, were they even life forms? They might have been robots. We were not able to really get any details on them. Everything was so blurry and hard to distinguish.

I finally got her to eat this morning when I pulled us into orbit around the third planet. I told her that I’d be willing to go down myself if she needed some time. She just scoffed at me and left. Got into her ship, and went down by herself. I had the computer send her coordinates for one of the landing sites we detected. I hope she’s alright. I wonder what she’s thinking about?

Well, I can’t say I’m too happy about this. I decided to head down alone. She didn’t want company, I assumed, so I picked a different landing site. Scanners on the planet showed a few points of interest, but the main point of interest for me is the breathable atmosphere and the liquid water. This planet definitely has life on it, but the planet is absolutely massive and the scanner couldn’t go over everything.

Gravity is punishing here. My stupid little wrist computer tells me that it’s about 150% of Earth’s gravity. I weigh a lot here, and my environmental suit is stupidly hard to walk in. In the end, I took it off. Like I said, the air is breathable. In fact, this is probably the most earth-like planet we’re going to find on this dumb expedition. But it’s exhausting to be out here for too long. I can sit and rest and breathe deeply, so that helps.

It’s warm here, a little hotter than back home, sitting comfortably around 40 celsius. I’m working up quite the sweat in this-

I forgot to mention my landing site. There’s this valley between some very tall mountains. A lot of trees. Or tree-like, I guess. These are plants, and they’re green, so they are photosynthesizing, but they don’t look like plants. Where leaves should be, they have this huge sphere-shaped things with little tentacles on them. Not disgusting at all! And they move constantly, reaching for the sun. They kind of glow a bit when in direct sunlight. The spheres that are in the shaded spots turn black until they wriggle their way back into the sunlight and immediately glow green again.

As I was looking at the plants, I started thinking about the mission. She left me to look at another site. She’s the scientist, not me. I’m just the pilot, but I’ve been trained, too. I got out my notebook and started sketching things. Couldn’t figure out the scientific equipment on my ship, so I made some guesswork at the trees around me. And all the while I was doing this, I didn’t even notice when I was approached from behind.

These things look like wolves from Earth, but they’re weird. So, so many eyes and limbs. Like a wolf centipede monster. But as far as I know, they’re incredibly docile. About four of them came up to me. Like a regular, standard Earth-wolf, these things started smelling me. They have a big nose at the end of their face, and I’m guessing that means they use their nose for a lot of things. I wonder how well their eyes work then. When I made movements (that is, trying to get away from these freaky things), they just sniffed and followed the smell until they found me again.

I don’t see any mouths on them, so I think I’m safe from being bitten. And there’s no way I can safely assume they’re friendly but I put caution to the wind and tried petting one on the back. It kind of groaned a little before setting down and falling asleep. I did that to the other three, too, and soon I was surrounded by sleeping scary centipede puppies.

I took pictures, made drawings, pointed things out, and sent the data back to the starship. The computer will start a transmission of it back to Earth later. I wonder what those suits are going to think about this weird shit.

She contacted me just as it started raining. She found something interesting but… Dammit. She broke her ship! How the hell did she do that? She wouldn’t tell me. I got her coordinates so I’m going to go find her. The centipede puppies woke up in the rain, groaned again, and ran off.

Water rain. It feels good on my face. And, thank god, I figured out how to do liquid tests. Good news! The water is not toxic and I’m not going to develop a weird rash.

Her ship is fixed. She had a rough landing after passing through a storm. Lightning hit the ship. Not your regular run-of-the-mill lightning like we have back on Earth. I guess this was something quite a bit stronger. Some of the paint on the side of the ship got fried off, and some of the instruments on board were messed up for a bit. It didn’t take me more than about thirty minutes to get it back in flying condition.

So, her location is actually on the top of one of these weird sphere trees. This one is a lot bigger than the trees in that valley. Centipede puppy valley. Heh. I like that one.

This tree is about two miles tall! And at the top, it’s arms (stems? trunk?) is pretty flat and unmoving. I guess when you’re a sphere tree of this height, you don’t really have to move a lot to get to the sun. But up here, the view is beautiful. We’re above the clouds in many parts, but we can see distant snow-capped mountains. The sun is setting in the horizon. I’m still incredibly tired from moving around in the gravity here, so it was nice to sit and rest and take in the sights.

She seems different now. She and I spoke for the first time. Like, really talked to one another. It started with an apology for leaving so abruptly when we came down to the planet. Because of the gravity, it’s going to increase the cost of fuel to get back to the starship, and she was very sorry for that. She’s been in a funk because she does not believe she is right for this mission. I asked her why, and she just said that she couldn’t be totally emotionless. In her training as the scientist of the expedition, she was to be emotionless towards me and everything we saw. Her mind could not be clouded by any attachments of any kind. To that end, she didn’t even accept the money we got paid for doing this. She left behind her entire family and gave them nothing as she did it. Not a dime of compensation. Not even a goodbye.

I think I started crying when she said that. Not for her. Not even for me. But for the hopelessness of this mission. We’re never going back to Earth. Our air is eventually going to run out. Or we’re going to run out of food. Or fuel. Whatever happens, we’re going to drift through space as skeletons forever.

I didn’t expect her to hold my hand, and I certainly didn’t expect her, this emotionless scientific machine of a woman, to cry with me. For me. For us. I don’t know.

The lightning storm that struck her ship came upon us after a few hours. Instruments on the ship said these were really high-powered bolts of lightning, and we had to evacuate. The lightning is really beautiful. Here, it’s red. Maybe because of our altitude? I don’t know.

We got back to the starship just fine. Like she suspected, we ended up burning a lot more fuel than we had planned. But it’s fine. We’re safe and sound, and we found a very nice planet. I briefly thought about just taking my ship down there, turning off the computer and transmitter, and just living down there until I died. It’s pretty there, but I guess that’s not right.

We ate together for the first time. At the table in the starship and everything! Rations are bland and boring, but it’ll do the job. Tonight’s meal is bagged spaghetti. One of the worst things you could put in a starship as space food. Dumbasses back on Earth probably thought they were being so smart, giving us options for cuisine. The best part of the meal was trying to clean up the globes of marinara sauce and escaping spaghetti noodles. She and I shared a laugh about it.

For the first time, I learned her name, and she learned mine. It never even occurred to us that our training had been so intense back in Earth orbit that we never even knew the other’s name. They trained us, but they mentally strained us in doing so.

I told her that I’m glad to have finally met her, and I look forward to working with her on this mission. A lie, obviously. I’m not looking forward to anything on this ship. I’m going to die in a tin can.