“What's the total?”
Short sigh “A hundred and twelve.”
“A hundred and twelve small frozen ponds, all circular, randomly spaced on a dwarf planet. The planet has no atmosphere, is nine hundred and seventy kilometres in diameter. Ponds are all eight to nine hundred metres across and contain the only water detectable. Planets like this usually have a thick crust of ice.”
Taiya sighed again “Random … at least no pattern we can see. Greatest distance between ponds is a hundred and ninety kilometres, shortest distance is a hundred and twenty two. No evidence they're impact craters … maybe sinkholes? We'll have to land, get a closer look to be sure.”
“And the caves?”
Taiya smiled grimly, her round face, framed by black hair hanging past her shoulders, took on a confused look.
“Over half a million entrances, no more than three kilometres apart. Can't even guess anything else.”, she turned toward Elam with a big excited grin, “We've got to land. We've got to get a closer look at this thing.”
“I agree, but, let's use the remotes. And before you object, you gotta admit, this doesn't look natural. And if it's constructed, there could be booby traps, automated defenses, and lots of stuff we haven't thought of.”
Taiya pushed her bangs back over her forehead, and through clenched teeth “I hate it when you're so logical, and right. But let's use the rock hopper. We might need to pull them out of there fast.”
“Yeah. Alright, let's get everything ready.”
A few hours later …
“You should beeee … court-martialed? Is that the word?”
“Why?” Taiya giggled.
“Sneaking on board the rock hopper. Do you realize the danger you might be in?”
“Six hundred metres altitude, ten metres per second, vector is vertical.”, Taiya read the readout, “I was overcome by curiosity … temporary insanity, that's my defense.”
“It's nothing to joke about.”
“You just jealous cause you're stuck on the ship.”
“I don't mind the safety … you strapped in?”
Taiya looked at the belts dangling loosely in the weightlessness,
“I don't believe you. Give me a video feed.”
“Have you ever heard of the word please?”
They were interrupted by the rock hopper computer “Prepare for acceleration in 3 … 2 … 1.”
Taiya felt the push into her seat as the small ship fired its engines.
“Altitude twenty metres … fifteen … ten ...”
“Taiya something's happening.”
“ … five metres …”
“What do you mean?”
Taiya felt the ship shaking as soon as it hit the ground.
“Taiya get out of there!”
“Just a little instability.”
“I'm punching it.”
The rock hoppers engines roared to life, the full thrust pushed Taiya hard into her seat.
“YOU SHOULD HAVE WAITED!”
“For what!? Your ship to shake apart?”, Elam sighed, “Come back and dock with Ceydr. I've got a crazy idea.”
After docking …
Struggling out of her environment suit, Taiya grabbed a handrail and swung her feet out. Elam braced his feet on the same handrail and pulled on her boots as Taiya took off her helmet and pulled the chest flap back.
“Ok. So what's your crazy idea.”
Elam stored the suit in its locker, “Let's go back to command.”
Using handrails, Elam and Taiya pulled themselves along the corridors. Inside the command centre Elam pulled up several displays and videos.
“See here? The shaking wasn't triggered by your contact with the ground. It started before you landed, as soon as the heat from your engines hit.”
“Sure we didn't just melt some subsurface ice.”
“Look at the spectrometer readings. There's no ice. You kicked up a thin layer of dust and landed on bedrock.”
Taiya sighed, “So what's your crazy idea?”
“The Planet? The planet is alive? You've got some pretty slim evidence.”
“Its not just your landing. Look at how the heat radiates. From this spot for an hour, then here for half an hour, then here, then here. Like its thinking, using different parts of it brain.”
“Or it's just different mineral deposits radiating at different rates. You're looking for the complex explanation.”
“Its too defined, too localized … let's try an experiment.”
“Yeah. Ceydr can tune her pathfinder laser to heat a small section of the surface. Let's see what happens.”
After a few orbits and a dozen experiments …
Taiya winced, furrowed her brow, puckered her lips “Heat dissipation looks strange, but ... we need a closer look at the mineral composition. Can you do that from here?”
“Yeah, and we can try dropping some spider bots to collect samples."
“Hmmm, I just had a thought. If its alive, what if it thinks we're attacking it … trying to kill it?”
Elam stayed silent, his eyes widened, he clicked his teeth together a few times., “Ceydra, break orbit. Put some distance between us and the planet.”
“How much distance?”
“About a million kilometres.”
Ceydra's engines came to life and the cruiser started moving away.
“So what next?” Taiya asked.
Elam sighed "Observe and collect data."
"I have found records of several similar example of planets or asteroids like this." Ceydra reported.
"Let's see." Elam said.
Several reports appeared in Elam's field of vision. The photos and videos showed the same view as they saw on the planet below.
Taiya sighed "Asteroids, or dwarf planets, all with frozen ponds and cave labyrinths ... in thirteen systems. If the pattern holds we should find more like it here. No evidence of life, only conjecture and speculation about how they were formed."
Elam nodded "Hmmm ... well, let's drop the spider bots, see what we can learn."
About the Creator
Currently living in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada with my son Mark and cat Sprite. Grew up in historic, picturesque Newfoundland with many, interesting, friendly people, inspiring adventures, songs, stories, and wonderous beauty of nature.