We fucked up landing on Trappy. We had arrived in the system a few weeks before and our deceleration to the planet seemed tediously slow. But soon the Syrinx manoeuvred into a stable orbit, and we clambered aboard the lander like so many excited children.
‘Hey, behave.’ Ellesk said, never sounding more like a mum than she did at that exact moment. She’d pointed a finger at Paran and Gozi who were jostling each other in their haste to pick the best room in the lander.
It was stupid and they knew it was stupid; every crew cabin on the lander was exactly the same, even Ellesk didn’t get any special treatment despite being the commander.
‘Hey Mother,’ I whispered, knowing she would hear me, ‘Can you lock the cabin doors as they go from each one.’
She didn’t reply but I saw her light flash an amused green next to one of the cameras near me.
‘That kind of sneakiness could get you in trouble with your commander.’ Ellesk said without turning around.
‘It could…’ I agreed, ‘but will it?’
‘Not this time.’ She said and though I couldn’t see her smile, I could hear it.
‘Oh, come on! Why are they locked? Mother!’ We heard Paran yell from up ahead the curving corridor.
The lander was designed in concentric circles. Mother’s core in the middle, protected the most, then the labs, then the dining room, toilets, and cabins. Which apparently didn’t need a great deal of protection, as they only held us.
‘Alright. Enough you two.’ Ellesk said as we rounded the bend and found Gozi holding Paran head down, arm wrapped around his neck, rubbing his hair with her free hand.
‘Are you sure Commander? I can squeeze and we could all get some peace and quiet for at least a few minutes.’
Paran stopped struggling then as Ellesk fell silent, apparently considering the idea.
‘No, we best not. Can’t afford to deprive his brain of anymore oxygen, can we?’
‘Guess not.’ Gozi said and smiled. She let go of Paran and he stood up. Face red, hair a mess and an indignant expression on his face.
‘Well, I’ll have something to report to HR when we get back in…a hundred or so years.’ He said and fixed his hair as best he could.
‘Long time to hold on to it.’ I commented from behind Ellesk.
‘Yeah, I’ll probably just put a small hole in Gozi’s exo-suit instead.’
‘Hey! Don’t joke about that, idiot.’ Gozi punched him in the arm and received a smile in response.
‘Alright, kids. Mother, can you unlock the doors, please.’
‘Already have.’ She said and I could almost hear the smile in her voice.
Paran and Gozi glanced at each other and then both darted for the same door at once. After a brief scuffle, Paran snuck through and dived into the room.
He was such a child in some ways. For a genius engineer and, as he constantly reminded us, geologist, and meteorologist, he was basically a big kid with an outrageous amount of energy.
Most of the time it was cute and there were times when his attitude lifted us up out of whatever funk we were in. But at that moment I could tell it was rubbing everyone the wrong way. We wanted to get down to the planet.
It’d been one hundred years on the Syrinx! We were sick of it, even if ninety-six of those years were spent asleep, we were sick of it and we were sick of space.
We needed solid ground under out feet and Trappy was the answer.
I’m looking down at the nothingness ‘below’ me right now, floating in the void.
Fuck I could use some solid ground.
And more oxygen, water, food. A cuddle maybe.
I also want to clear something up. We didn’t go to Trappy blind. I feel like I’ve made it sound as though we just flew out into the abyss and landed on a planet not knowing anything about it.
Trappy was chosen for a reason and four…yeah, I think four probes- no wait. Five, five probes had been sent there before us.
What they found was the reason we were sent.
See, Trappy orbits a red dwarf. A volatile type of star that launches gouts of radiation out into space randomly and pretty consistently.
Trappy sits in the habitable zone of the system, it and two other planets, the remaining four sit outside the habitable zone. Anyway, the first probe landed on Trappy and when the results came back forty years later, people were stunned.
There was life on Trappy. And yes, I can confirm that we did find life there. It teemed with it, just not the type we were expecting.
Trappy had a stable atmosphere and environment.
It wasn’t the first-time humans had stumbled into life, hell, we found it on Mars in the 1970s. We were just too far up our own asses to realise it.
Sorry, little bit of astrobiologist pride and bitterness got the better of me then.
What was incredible about Trappy was that the planet shouldn’t have been able to maintain life underneath the storm of radiation that the star threw at it. We had no idea how it did this and successive probes didn’t answer it. It had to be the magnetic field of the planet but the readings of we got from the probes were erratic and made no sense.
So, they sent us.
What a great choice.
Ugh, who am I kidding. They gave me the choice. I chose and here I am.
The point is we as a group wanted to be there. We chose to leave our families or whatever we had, and we chose to explore. To discover. To reach further than humans had before.
To maybe not come back.
It was our choice and I think we probably didn’t consider it enough before we left.
Right now, for instance, as I drift here in space. Suspended by nothingness, in nothingness, I’m not sure I would say yes again.
But I didn’t care about the potential risks when I boarded the lander. Neither did anyone else. We were all too keen, way too eager to explore. We did what humans have always done and rushed headlong into something we knew scant little about.
In our eagerness, we made mistakes.
Mistakes like Gozi not being able to find the landing site.
‘What do you mean it’s not there?’ Ellesk asked with a calm voice betrayed by the white-knuckle grip she had on the chairs arm rests.
‘I mean the designated landing zone isn’t there! There’s nothing but ocean. Don’t look at me like that, Paran. I didn’t fuck up. It’s not there.’ Gozi threw Paran a look and I saw barely restrained rage behind her eyes that sent a chill up my spine.
‘Okay. Doesn’t matter. Paran, find us another site. Gozi, keep us in the air as long as you can. Mother, how long do we have before we crash?’
‘We have twenty-nine minutes of flight time left at our current rate of fuel consumption and three hundred- and fifty-kilometres range in all directions.’ Mother responded. In that moment, more than most others, I heard her for the AI she was. There was something missing in her voice, there was no undercurrent of tension or panic rushing below it. It was calm, inhumanly so.
‘Paran, anything yet?’ Ellesk ask, her voice controlled but the strain crept through.
‘Yeah. I got us something, clearing in what looks to be a forest. I guess it’s a forest, it’s hard to tell. The satellite in orbit has clearly had something fried otherwise it wouldn’t have cleared us to land in a fucking ocean.’
‘Take us there. Gozi, you’re up. Mother, monitor the lander.’ The way Ellesk gave out orders without feeling the need to ask and consult other people still awes me, even thinking back on it. I know I will never be that type of person.
The lander shuddered and kicked to one side as the thrusters engaged. The belt dug into my shoulders and midriff. I groaned at the g-forces that tried to rip me out of the seat.
Then as soon as it started it was over.
‘Okay, course set. A few more manoeuvrers to keep us up in the air and to get us down. That was the worst one though.’
‘Mother, can we make it?’
‘Yes, we can. We should arrive with over fifteen minutes of flight time to spare.’
There was a collective sigh of relief. Not from me, though. I was useless in those situations. I didn’t understand the lander or the ship. I know, you’re probably thinking that everyone should have had at least a rudimentary understanding of the very thing that keeps you alive in space and on an exoplanet, but we didn’t need it. We had Mother. If anything went wrong with anyone of the crew or the ship, Mother was there to fill in. Really does make me question why they even sent humans in the first place actually.
Anyway, I’m here, floating in space. So, I guess it’s obvious that we landed safely. Crashing would have been a better death, just quietly. I think now I would have preferred if we all died in a flaming ball of fury, injuring that fucked up planet in the meantime.
But we didn’t. We touched down softly, another exoplanet about to be explored by humans. Not the first, I doubt it will be the last. Humanity didn’t show any sign of slowing down before we left for Trappy. We rarely slow down once we are capable of doing something. I wonder how many planets we affected, how many ecosystems we destroyed in our early, fumbling attempts at exploration. Countless, probably.