Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Ground base - part 3

The mission of the Exo was to establish a ground post on this huge terrestrial Keplerite. It was to be the beginning of it's colonisation. Earlier probe telemetry had shown satisfactory amounts of oxygen and a gas composition similar to Earth's. Ozone layer naturally formed under the radiation of Ultra Violet light from the system's blue sun and, what was to be considered, an alarming amount of spores and seeds in the air.

Commander Ashley was panting under the weight of the bag; a lump of metal in cloth.
"One and a half G," Brick was gasping drearily. He was the least trained from the group for field dirty work.'On top of that smell!'
As soon as the drop ship's door had opened they had started dumping the bags close by, under the open sky.
Zyana came out dragging a small cylinder with a dome on top. Stepping heavily she put the device next to pile of bags.
'How long we have, Mnemo?'
'It's one minute and thirty eight seconds, Chief,' Mnemo registered as Brick was manipulating the small control on the dome.'We're receiving optimum load within the energy limit.'
'Ok, let's scramble back,' he said as a quiet hum and a gentle ripple of a vibration was felt all around them.
Trotting through the unpleasant mushy ground they crawled back in the safety of the ship as the humming was grew into a disturbing sonority.
The purpose of the Anti Ioniser was to create a corridor in the magnetosphere of the planet and disturb the cloud's movement as much as possible directly above them. It was their part of ground work in assisting the Exo to deliver it's load as safely as possible. The Exo itself was suspended in orbit and was travelling at thousands of miles per hour. On top of that it was still spinning to maintain gravitational field on board. With the systems off they could not divert it from it's wild movement. Even though there was a short window during which the reconstitutor could be fired and a pulse propelled downwards. To synchronise the cold calculations Mnemo needed to distance himself from his emotional side. An analogy in human beings would be those rare cases of heavy pathological lack of interest in the surroundings. Such beings were incapable of being humans. A switch from emotional intelligence to that of an existence in the form of a specialised tool.
From the open freight gate the team saw a beams of light, illuminating the surroundings. In a fraction of a second they pillar of white luminescence flashed blindingly and disappeared just as quickly, leaving behind a cloud of dispersing evanescent sparkles. Five cubes from were there now, seemingly thrown in all directions randomly. The useless metal was now reconfigured to be whatever expeditionary equipment they could scrape form the Exo. In two standard hours it would hover above again. Hopefully close by.
When the short spectacle was over Ashley stepped outside and put on the light from her circlet. During the speedy landing they hadn't looked around at this new world.
Her foot found a soft bed of fluffy, pale purple moss, tumbled together in small hops, like balls of wool. It was everywhere.
'Let's see what we have for breakfast,' she murmured.'Mnemo what did you bring down?'
'A crate of food, bio-exploration sensors, first aid and a tent.'
Looking around, Ashley's light illumined short tree-like growths with thin trunks and an oversized thick crown. Lean spiky leaves pointing directly upwards the colour of light magenta. On the mushy ground there were odd aquamarine spheres supported by thin stems, above the moss. Tallest of all was a reminiscent of acacia. The only thing taller than humans so far. Their leaves were in the same spiky fashion like their shorter cousins. And it was quiet. A magical moment.
An abrupt crumpling put her out of her contemplation as Zyana was coming out of the ship. She had unpacked a power bar ration, so needed by her demanding body. The swarm skittering around her.
Brick was wheezing slightly and had put on a respiratory mask from his carapace's kit. His steps were visibly heavier as he walked towards the cubes.
'I will take on bio.' He said to Mnemo.'That OK, Chief?'
'Yes, start unloading and let us see what we can scoop from around here. Champ, go and help EV over there,' Ashley said with a thin smile. 'Einstein, you will teach me how to put that lump back together, alright?' she turned to Mnemo, gesturing at the Zorgathron.
EV stood for Extra-Vehicular and was the designated, slightly mocking nickname for Brick.
'Is Brick your real name, anyway?' Ashley mud-walked to the cubes. Wasn't the first time she'd asked him.
'Chief, it goes back with the marines. And it stuck, unfortunately, throughout Academy after a while. Colonel was an old dog, that man!' Brick's voice came muffled from the mask.
'Feeling better?'
'Yes, Chief, thank you.' He raised his head from the cube.'But look at yourselves, springing around like it's the Tube.' The Tube was a weightlessness hangar for astronauts at the Academy.
'My arms feel much heavier,' Zyana joined in. 'And check out the lawn,' she was looking down as she was sloshing through the tumble moss. There was water underneath the vegetation. It felt like walking on a very soft damp carpet. Despite being the middle of the local night it was warm. Sticky in fact. The slight breeze was not helping at all and there was a sweet odour in the air. It felt like being in a quagmire. Ashley felt small droplets of sweat on her forehead.
'You're right, it's a fair amount of work just being here. I don't suppose it will be Maryland hiking adventure.'
'I am already quite interested to see what the bio-exploration will come up with,' happy smiley.'Chief, have you ever had an experience with ZrX456?' Mnemo's metallic voice was betraying curiosity.
'That goes there,' Ashley grabbed an upper arm joint and hanged it against the shoulder.'So far so good, right?'
'Yes, brilliant.' Happy smiley.'Now I will just grab that -'
'Chief doesn't know what she's doing.' Zyana said; grinning. Brick snickered.'You make sure to put that thing back in order. It's the only one we've got.'
Mnemo looked at Ashley, who shrugged expectantly.
'Let's get on it, Einstein.'

The mood of the group was always uplifting. Morale principal of Commander Ashley. She wouldn't like the company of obedient dogs, but rather independent individuals. Much more reliable. The phenomenon at the ship was still an puzzling occurrence and the extreme reaction of Ashley was truly unexpected, even to herself. The veteran had regained her usual dignity and slightly condescending friendliness as they had busied themselves deploying expedition gear and assembling back the hulk of the giant robot. It was, however, the display of human fragility that was keeping Brick and Zyana loyal to the protocol more than ever.
Mnemo, on the other hand,  seemed naturally adept at morality. In some aspects he was still like a child. It had been close to a standard year since he had went on line. His AI module was integrated in an exploration drone, inhibiting a human-like, featureless body. His banks of scientific data were always with him, but emotions and curiosity were running rampant and, paradoxically, he needed to focus before assessing something from purely inhuman intellectual side.

Brick had assembled one of the sensor bio probes and it was doing the first scientific inspection of this Neo Earth. The bot was hovering next to one of the 'trees', scanning and investigating the constituents of the body. It was slow but deliberate. Brick's life as a space walker; the drills and training in weightlessness hadn't make him weak exactly. But he was not a soldier like Ashley or Zyana. Less lively - more assertive. Careful steps and less danger.
Zyana had unfolded the tend and was sorting the food supplies. Dehydrated menagerie of nutrition packed dry goods in need of water only. Some of it even had taste. The purifier on board the small drop ship would come in handy. Ashley and Mnemo had the hulk of the robot laid outside. It was taking more than usual not only because Ashley had little experience, but because of gravity as well. At first it seemed almost normal, but it was an ever present exertion and it would take time getting used to. In the quiet serenity of the night they spend the two hours it took the Exo to make a full orbit quickly. Mnemo filed in, informing that it will not pass overhead. Telemetry also showed that it's power was low regardless. An hour under the rays of the star was not sufficient to power up emergency alone. They could use the drop ship to change positions, but Ashley chose to preserve fuel. It felt right to focus on constructing some sort of a dwelling out here. No matter how basic it was. The slow work was calming.
Day was approaching on the horizon.

The early sunrise greeted them with a sparse breeze. At first the thin orange light on the horizon bathed the high clouds in orange. As the star was climbing more it revealed a majestic plain all around them. They could not see any mountains; hills at best - casting their long shadows over great stretches of flat land. Bathed in pale yellow they saw distant lakes and ponds. A few trees visible from afar, their coronas azure against the shadow of their unlit side. They put on protective visors to witness the rising sapphire that was the sun. The breeze was blowing stronger as the star was climbing higher. Slowly the blue yellow was transformed into blue as the sun hanged just above the horizon then white that was the day shine. The wind was shuffling the plants and whistling around them. It was a pleasant change to that of the quiet murky night and a refreshing one as well. On the horizon there appeared a chromatic fusion of various colours. The distant ground was growing blue and then a cloud of colours was seen rising and creating a dance of spiralling dyes in the air, dispersing as it was picked up by the wind. The sensory probes hadn't come up with any insight of the world yet.
'I think you should put on respiratory masks.' Mnemo concluded.'This looks quite thick.'
As the sun was ascending the bright blue tumbles on the ground opened up to reveal a gentle and wide array of leaves, thin as silk. The flowers opened with grace, surprisingly quickly as if greeting the star. The plain around had suddenly become turquoise and the gentle leaves were dancing in the wind as if they were waves in the say. The chromatic cloud was steadily advancing and they witnessed small buds branching out hastily from the plants; opening up to release spores and seeds, thistles and fluff; floss of all colours, picked up by the wind. Every plant had it's distinctive spectrum, but together they made a dazzling mix. For a minute they were engulfed in a haze of dancing splashes of rainbow and everything they could see was the faint form of each other and the ship. The wind cleared the cloud and it passed away as the day had finally emerged in it's fullest. They found everything covered in a thin colourful film. Their carapaces, the ship, the giant hulk of the Zorgathron, the bio probe bots. Strange fluff was adhering to every possible surface, still moving with the wind. The bleached purple of the plants was now smogged by the pollen.
Wiping her visor Zyana was the first to speak.
'Earth to base, anyone?'
'Equally impressed here, Champ.' Ashley seconded.
The wind blowing was making the blue flowers on the ground move almost vehemently and the dust was shacking off the leaves freely.
'I suspect that is a way to spread the species here,' Mnemo extrapolated.'I find this deeply fascinating. I just notice how omnipresent life is on this world.'
Looking around they saw the cloud of pollen moving away, new plants releasing their dust in the air as the the day light was racing through the land.
'I have to note that the temperature of the day is already perceivingly higher. It must be the reason behind the constant wind. Have you noticed it has been blowing in one direction only?' Mnemo continued.
'I admire it. But I think I'm alive because of this.' Brick knocked on his mask.
'I wouldn't want to breathe any of these, either.' Zyana continued.
'Brick, check the bots and see if see if they agree with that dust. Zyana clear off the cubes, Mnemo check the ship and food.'
This display of nature was bothering Ashley.

The inside of the ship was a mess. There weren't any conventional wipes to be used, but Mnemo improvised with a bag from the scrap metal. It still looked chalky and colourful. Happy smiley. The skittering swarm never fully got rid of the dust either. Moving around was a colourful carpet of bots. The food supply and the equipment was designed to survive exploration and even though no one expected invasive spores and seeds it was preserved. The exploration bots and massive hulk of the robot were good. The finer equipment from the cube was useless now.
The whole of the land had been transformed so rapidly as if somebody had tossed paint wildly on a canvas. Mnemo noted that the ground tumbles of moss were returning their colour.
'They are actually breaking down the pollen,' he was observing the ground.'It's a biological warfare in the form of a colourful display. I need to study this more.'
He was so fascinated that he asked permission to divert one of the sensory probes and observe the magnified spectacle.
Ashley had sloshed away from the camp and was crouching next to a greenish murky pond close by. She dug her hand in the shallow water and took out a fistful of brown and green mud that was seeping like a jelly between her fingers. The smell was terrible.
'Is everything here trying to grow on top of something else?' She turned to Mnemo.
'You summarise it pretty well, Chief. It would seem every plant here had tried pollinating and spreading itself as much as possible. But it might be that the entire world is covered with vegetation and the only way to grow is to use the body of other plants. It is survival of the strongest in a simple sense.'

Towards midday massive dark clouds started forming. The humidity and sticky warmness of the air had only been alleviated by the constant wind. The sea of blue flowers and bright purple plants was reflecting so much of the intense light that it felt they were walking in a dessert. Visors, breathing filter masks and protective glasses had come to the rescue. Equipment designed for hostile worlds with no breathable or very toxic air. The water purifier was marking the water content as hazardous. What looked so native to Earth was so hostile. The clouds quickly blanketed the sky and the temperature increased considerably, before a wild torrent of water started pouring down. The heavy gravity and sheer amount of water was giving the sensation of being pushed against the ground. The torrent passed quickly, leaving behind soaked and drenched stretches of land. The moss tumbles were swimming in murky liquid. Everything had become like a pond, from which trees and plants were dotting the landscape. It got dense again as the sun shined from behind the clearing clouds, which were swept away by the wind. Some of the gentle blue flowers, who looked trampled now, miraculously returned to their shape as the sun bathed them in light and stood anew. Other just stay - smashed.They saw rainbow in the wake of the passing nebulous sky. Whatever small comfort that was they relished it.