- We are able to confirm that the planet is uninhabited. No settlement has been found nor any signs of intelligent life. No wildlife poses a considerable threat to human colonization. Pockets of water have been detected on the poles and in small pockets around the equator. The atmosphere is breathable but the atmospheric pressure takes a big toll on our bodies. I’ll report again at the end of the week. Chief of mission Okilo, off.
Carmen stepped away from the communications device and stared at the data. She pressed some buttons and sent the message home, hopefully having an answer by tomorrow morning. She then walked through the corridors of the ship towards her room, where she removed her uniform and laid in bed in her underwear. She was tired but that was normal after so many hours working in the surface of the planet. Carmen had begun feeling sleepy until she suddenly opened her eyes. She then sat on the bed and opened her bedside table drawer. She took out a picture and stared at it.
In the photo, there was a small girl with her parents. They were at Disneyworld, judging for the castle in the back and the character that had joined them for the picture. She caressed the paper and remembered her parents, who had been dead for a long time. Carmen had lost them in an airplane crash just the year after entering the space program. She had suffered alone for a long time but eventually came to be at peace with it by herself. She wasn’t the kind to crumble in front of difficulties. That’s why she had been chosen for leading this mission.
Carmen put the picture back in the drawer and tried to sleep but that was a waste of time, especially because the speakers in her room carried the voice of her scientist officer to her room.
- - Carmen. There’s… I need you in the observatory. It’s urgent.
She detected the worry in his voice and decided to dress with some shorts and a shirt and go to the observatory fast. She was there ten minutes later, yawning and realizing her blouse was stained with chocolate. Norman was there, looking through a machine down to the planet. He hadn’t heard her coming and he almost jumped when she touched him in the back.
Norman was a short and thin man. He had always looked sick but now he seemed worse, as if he had been informed of the worst news. Without saying a word, he invited Carmen to look through the lens he had been looking on. She leaned forward and realized it was pointed at the planet, somewhere near the Equator.
- - It’s the region we call Morgana. Desert. Many rocks, no water. Let me put some coordinates here.
He pushed some buttons and the telescope aligned. Now, Carmen was looking at a small patch of something black. Or maybe, dark blue. It looked as if the lens was dirty or something but it wasn’t… It couldn’t’ be, out there, in the vacuum of space. Besides, the dark patch seemed to be… to be growing, yes. The edges of the stain seemed to move, like ants when moving in large groups.
- - What is it? – She asked.
- - No idea. It appeared only a few hours ago. I thought at first it was a telescope malfunction but it clearly isn’t.
- - Is it life?
- - Maybe.
- -But we did a planetary scan… There was nothing big, not like that.
She pulled away from the viewer and went closer to Norman. He appeared to tremble, which was not uncommon in space. It was very cold there and Carmen had just realized she had not put any shoes on. She had to take a decision about the dark stain that seemed to grow. Should they go and investigate or only report the event and wait for instructions on how to engage it? She told Norman to go to bed and that they would discuss it in a meeting with the others. She also decided to send another message to Earth before going to bed, stating the latest events.
The following day, she met her team. With her, there were seven humans in the ship: two scientific officers, two technical officers, a chief of mission, a navigator and a mechanic. They were all experienced and had been travelling through space for many years. They all trusted each other and knew the risks of the job. But this event was all about what they didn’t know, which visibly scared them. The stain had grown even larger as they slept. Carmen told them of the message she had sent and that she wouldn’t hear anything about an answer for, at least, a whole day. So they needed to make a decision: do or not do.
Carmen and the two science officers voted for taking their shuttle and landing on the planet to investigate. The technical officers and the mechanic were against it, thinking risking the shuttle was a very dangerous move because they might need it latter in their mission. The decisive vote was the one of the navigator, a young woman that was the least experienced of them all. She loved the stars and planets and was very fond of making calculations and measures but this decision was bigger than her. She finally stated that she had entered the job because she had always been curious about the universe and that this might be a chance to reveal one of its mysteries.
So later that day, the mechanic made sure the shuttle was just right for a flight over the planet. Carmen had decided she would go with Norman and one technical officer called Sarkar. The three boarded the shuttle in silence and got the instruments ready. Shortly after they had begun their short travel towards the surface. Norman monitored the stain at all moments, being able to do more accurate calculations as he drew closer to it. Sarkar took the ship over the Morgana region and flew over the edge of the stain. It was not a surprise when they all gasped, covering their mouths or just started sweating even more than usual.
Down there, the dark stain moved. It did. Like soda spilled over a table. But this wasn’t a liquid. Or at least not at first sight. They were thousands, maybe millions of living things down there. Sarkar made the shuttle be still and that way they realized that the creatures were actually gigantic. They weren’t human in form, but rather like insects. They moved tightly, away from a center. Carmen, calm as she could make herself to be, told Sarkar to get the ship over the stain. The creatures seemed to be coming out of somewhere.
Sarkar started moving the aircraft as Norman took pictures and measures of the creatures. They all knew they had made a big discovery but they still did not understand what it was all about. The planet had been deemed void of any large creatures and, now, there they were, looking down on gigantic insectoid creatures, roaming the desert dunes. After a fifteen minute flyby, they arrived at a point in the desert were mountains had been able to grow. And there, on a small group of peaks, there seemed to be a volcano. Sarkar had to make the ship go up, in order to take a better look.
Somehow, the volcano was active. There was some smoke and Norman could detect small tremors on the surface. But the volcano wasn’t spilling lava or rocks. It was spilling living creatures, dark as the emptiness of space. And it was then that Carmen covered her mouth. She realized that the creatures emerging from the crater were not all the same. They were smaller ones among the titans. And not all looked like insects. Some even had… had some kind of human form. Not exactly our same biology but so similar. And like their volcano brothers, they were also dark as night.
Norman took several pictures, Sarkar tried to maintain the shuttle in a good vantage point and Carmen just looked everywhere, amazed. The creatures had not realized or did not care about them. They just came out of the planet and walked, away from it. Then, like coming out of a trance, Carmen ordered Sarkar to flyby again towards any edge of the stain. They did so, faster than the time before and realized the group below had grown by the millions as they watch over them. The creatures kept walking, like under hypnosis.
Carmen decided it was enough and ordered Norman to release a probe and Sarkar to get them back to the ship. They both complied and got to there home minutes later. All the team reunited in the observatory and watched as the planet slowly became invaded by the dark blue stain. The probe sent back images, of every type of creature down there, just walking. Finally, hours later, the whole planet had been covered by the volcano creatures. The probe showed how they all suddenly stopped moving.
Then, something happened, something that cannot be explained. The planet turned bright, as if it was a sun. It grew brighter and brighter and engulfed everything with its light, even the ship. They all screamed as their heads felt heavy and hurt them. They couldn’t open their eyes. And suddenly it was done. They help themselves up and realized, scared, that the stain had disappeared. The planet was as it had been before. When checking on the volcano, the crater was found to be non-existent.
Carmen ordered her team to have an early dinner as she reported back to Earth. This event was of a terrific importance. She knew it. Or better yet, she felt it so.