We were sent, as all exoplanet explorers are sent, with the directive to not interact with the local ecosystem. Complete isolation. Everything we bring out of the lander is sterilised and everything we bring in is kept separate from the main ship in a sterile lab.
Hell, due to the fact it blasted through the atmosphere even the outer shell of the lander is sterile. And if there was anything on the outside of the ship that survived, well, you know what, it deserves to infest a new planet after going through that.
They let me go first. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that yet.
The crew all agreed at some point without me and decided to let me go first.
It was one of the moments where I really felt a part of it.
The crew, I mean. I came late. I was an addendum to a hastily re-written article.
It’s funny, the only person I’ve ever told that is Mother…but I guess I can say anything now. I felt out of place most of the time with the crew. I know, it’s stupid, it probably seems like we were one happy little family but there was always something in the back of my mind, a worm of doubt gnawing its way into my brain.
Most of the time I felt like I didn’t belong.
But not in that moment.
Not with them standing in the airlock, arrayed in front of me, smiles on their faces.
‘What’s going on? Am I getting tossed out?’ I said, nodding at my helmet that Paran held underneath one arm.
‘Well, we did think of that…but we decided not yet.’ He said and tossed me my helmet.
I clipped it on and looked at Ellesk.
‘You’re going out first. First steps on a new planet.’ Ellesk said.
My heart skipped a beat. The world seemed to draw in on itself. I don’t know who or whatever is listening this has been on many other planets before, but humans had stepped on under twenty at that point and shit, it was still a big thing.
I nodded at Ellesk, unable to speak, and my crewmates separated and let me walk through. I paused at the airlock door and waited for it to open.
‘Not yet, Karla, Mother needs to check your nanites and make sure you’re all good before you go out.’ Ellesk said from behind me.
I turned and grinned sheepishly at her.
I looked left at the panel on the side of the airlock and reached over for it. I knew what to do, Mother checked us out every time we woke up from slumber.
I extended my left arm and pulled the glove off my exo-suit. I exposed the top of my forearm and pressed it against the smooth panel embedded into the side of the wall.
Congratulations, Karla. I’m proud of you.
I felt myself smile at Mother’s voice as it filled my head.
Thanks, Mother. How do I look?
Perfectly adequate. Your nanites are mostly functional and the ones that aren’t are being consumed and utilised by your body as they should be.
Ahh, adequate. Just how I’ve always thought of myself.
I could see that self-deprecating joke coming from a mile away, Karla, even without being in your head. In the future do you want me to stop such things?
It was then that I should have known. I should have picked up on what Mother was capable of doing. It should have clicked. But it didn’t and as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
What should have happened is this:
What the fuck, Mother? What are you talking about? You can’t do that. Can you? Holy shit, you can read out thoughts? You can change our thoughts? What the fuck?
Instead, this happened:
Of course not, it’s my main source of humour.
There was no fear generated in response to her offer of help. No alarm bells that rang when they definitely should have. Nope, there was nothing.
And looking back I have to wonder if there was a response. If I did react suspiciously only for her to swiftly alter the signals travelling through my brain in such a way that left me docile.
Did she switch off my fear before it could hit me? My adrenal glands didn’t excrete anything, there was no uptick in cortisol. My body was the same as it was a few moments before and I was none the wiser.
Had she already started to play with our minds?
I don’t know. I guess I’ll never know. This was before her accident, the one that changed her but fuck, she could have been doing this all along. Part of her directive, a sick, twisted way of thinking that it was for our own good.
I was at the whim of this AI and I didn’t even know it.
Fuck. Sorry for shouting. I hope that wasn’t too loud.
Ugh. Fuck this. Fuck me.
Get on with it, Karla.
Mother left my body (I’m even starting to doubt that she did that) and I stepped out onto the surface of Trappy for the first time.
Let me tell you, there’s nothing like it.
It’s not like stepping out of a ship on Earth, or even Mars. This was completely different.
This time I was the first.
The first human to ever set foot on this planet.
I can’t even…it’s like…
There’s nothing it’s like. There’s no one on that planet when you put your foot down. No one. Even in the most remote place on Earth you know you’re not alone, not really. But there, on Trappy for the first time. We were alone. Truly alone.
I was the first to set foot on it.
And I was the last, and only one, to leave.
I’m getting ahead again. One day…or rather, sometime in the next hour and a bit I’ll learn not to do that. Well, I won’t learn, I’ll die instead.
Paran all but pushed past me.
‘Hey! What the hell?’ I said, his brazenness shattering my moment of serenity like a rock through a window.
‘You were just standing there. It’s been five minutes.’ He turned and smiled after he spoke and whatever rage had flared up within me died down. His face was that of a child’s. Excitement etched in every line. I turned around and looked at Ellesk and Gozi. They were the same. Though Ellesk was trying to hide it, it was clear that she couldn’t.
They bounded past me, lighter on their feet than they would be on Earth but not bounding metres in the air like on Luna. Trappy only had a 0.7 difference in gravity to Earth and all but one of us had of been born on Earth. As it were, only Gozi was native to Earth, the rest of us were born on Luna.
Sure, we’ve all experienced Earth gravity before and humanity hasn’t split far enough for our bodies to be insanely different, but let me tell you, after an hour of setting up instruments and making sure the immediate landing zone was clear, I was feeling it.
And though Ellesk never would admit it, she was as well. Paran, on the other hand, threw in the towel early and went back on board the lander to the water tank we have on board to relieve the pressure on his joints. His family was one of the first on Luna and I guess that left its mark.
Gozi powered through and did most of the work under Ellesk’s supervision. My job was to observe for now, record everything, and take notes about whatever life we find.
And we found some. Immediately.
It wasn’t the biggest shock, we’ve known about life for decades now, and the probes sent to Trappy before us all showed that something was alive here and as we were landing we saw what it was.
Well, I’m calling them plants. Surrounding us in every direction for, as far as we can tell, miles upon miles were plants.
All different shapes and sizes, some resembled ferns, others huge, towering trees, and vines that seemed to wrap around every branch so dense you can barely see underneath them.
And that’s another thing, these plants were black.
Under the red light of dwarf star in the sky the leaves shimmered like iridescent ink.
It was jaw dropping and I had to clench my fists to stop myself from running over to them and grabbing a sample.
There’s no breaking of procedure (unless, like I don’t know, your lander is about to land in the wrong spot), and the first week was designated as only observation and data collection.
This was to make sure that just by being here we hadn’t set off an obvious chain reaction in the environment. Sure, it might take years for that to manifest, but a week was deemed enough to get a baseline of normal activity that we could use to compare back to in the future if we think something is wrong with the ecosystem.
All that means is that I sat and watched while my crewmates set up their equipment and tried to ignore the burning jealousy needling inside of me.
I was being petulant. Even then I knew that it was childish. I was going to spend years on Trappy examining its life and all the forms it takes. What was a day of delay?
Turns out it was enough to ruin my mood and turn me into a bitch.
Ha. You know, it’s hard for me to talk about this. No one will find this recording, and if someone is listening, if you are listening, then what are the odds you’ll care about who I was or what I did?
Pretty slim. You’re probably skimming through it right now. You can skip to the end if you want, I won’t blame you.
Though that might not help, I don’t know what I’ll say at the end, but based off everything I’ve said so far, it probably won’t be informative.