by Ed Jowett
C’mon Amy, ya gotta know there’s no life on this dustball.”
Amanda stopped and turned to look at her husband. “If it’s a dustball,” she replied, “where did the water come from?”
“I think ya mean ice,” replied Will. “Some small comet’s trajectory intersectin’ with the orbit of this dustball, taking it through the tail – it’s ain’t nothin’ to get in a bother over. Ice hits and here we are however many gazillion years later, pickin’ up the result, like we we’re kids collectin’ rocks.”
Looking back at her scanner, she continued. “You know as well as I do, dearest, that we have no idea what state it’s in using this equipment. It’s worth checking.” Amanda glanced at him through her cheap faceplate, which had fogged up as she spoke.
”I ain’t catchin’ a gleam of all that many lakes ‘round here,” his usually comically overdone gestures were restrained by his space suit on this small, airless planetoid, but he managed to convey his point. He always had been a bit of a clown – she’d known that when she married him. It didn’t stop him being a first-class geologist, which secured his employment with the Mining Conglomerate, and at least it kept her laughing on the incredibly long journeys within the system. She’d always been told that you should never work with family, especially spouses, but having spent all this time with Will, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Amanda looked back at her scanner and walked on a few more steps. She’d been an engineer for several years and possessed a doctorate in exobiology. This had made her the perfect co-pilot, as far as the Mining Conglomerate recruiters were concerned, able to maintain the ship and assess any vegetation they encountered during their voyage – though the latter had been slim pickings so far in this star system, relative to the verdancy of Taranis.
“Come on, we’re still under a kilometre from the scout ship… we can look further afield than this,” she said. “Can you imagine what this might mean? I know you don’t believe it’s possible, but liquid water being present on this planet could mean that there’s a primitive type of life that’s evolved here. HERE! On this tiny moonatoid.” She paused to let her husband finish laughing. “That’d be the first planet Humanity found with life since Taranis! Don’t you think it’s worth hoping?”
She paused, expecting a reply. When none came, she looked around again, realising her husband wasn’t a couple of steps behind her as she had expected. Spotting him a few metres behind her, despite her fogged helmet, after a moment she noticed he was looking off in an odd direction.
She shifted uncomfortably in her suit to look in the same direction, she saw a small rise, not even truly a hill. Standing a foot taller than her, he’d be able to see over it. Taking a couple of steps closer, she looked over the rise into a valley beyond it and gasped.
Ahead was an immense starship – kilometers long and towering high above the plain below; partially buried in the surface of the planet. The valley, and even the hill Amanda now stood on, had presumably been created when the ship had crashed, dragging the features of the landscape into a new pattern – a massive groove in the planet’s surface, which would be unsightly under any other circumstances, with a wide, flat base. Nestled against it and running along its length, but only in proximity to the hull, there were a large number of dome-shaped objects. Most remarkable of all, there were octopus-like figures moving around some scaffolding, apparently building a new dome. The figures, which Amanda took to be vacuum suits not dissimilar to what she and Will were in, were around the size of a Human but with multiple tentacle-type arms that stood on two longer tentacles. As Amanda watched, one of these vacuum suited figures lifted a huge girder, which must have been heavy even under this gravity, and set it in place while another appeared to weld a joint using an integrated device.
Her expression glazed for a moment as she tried to calculate what its weight must be given the ambient gravity. Unable to reach a solution she was happy with, she turned to ask Will, who was still standing completely still, captivated by the sight. Upon seeing the sheer wonder in his eyes, she forgot the question and turned back to watch – it wouldn’t provide information about the creatures themselves, anyway, as mechanical augmentation was common in the Consortium and these creatures appeared to have technology even more advanced than the best from the vaunted Open Technologies.
Will moved to stand closer to his wife. As a reflex,she put her hand in his; for comfort, for support, to confirm it wasn’t a dream… or for “all of the above”. Momentarily imagining she could feel the warmth of it even through the cheap and bulky vacuum suit, she smiled to herself.
“I reckon we should wander over an’ introduce uselves.”
Amanda turned and smiled at him as the alien star reflected off her visor. “Yes, Will, I think we should.”