Peter M Howard ::

Untitled Dispatch

22Sep2022 [writing]

In which a message is received, from a distant planet

Time passes. And space.

I awake in a familiar home, on an unfamiliar planet. My eyes adjust to the light, the lenses applying a new white-balance, making the contrasts easier to see beneath the pink-tinged sky.

I take a deep breath, hold it while my lungs re-calibrate. A lot more gases in the air here, but enough oxygen to work with if my filters hold up.

With feeling returning to my limbs, I pull myself up and to the edge of the bed. Not sure if it’s the 1.2 gravity or an after-effect of however much time I’ve spent travelling, but the exertion is a lot.

Fortunately the hab has been productive during our travel. Mushrooms and leafy greens and grassy grains keep my nutrition covered. It’s also recycled the materials from our last posting, and will have more of the base established in another few hours. Time enough to get a walk in and orient myself.

I walk in a loop, a concentric spiral expanding outwards. At first just a hundred metres from the hab, then 200, and on. When I’m 500 metres out I turn back. It’s been a couple of hours, and the hab has expanded, with new compartments for keeping clean, growing more food, and—core to this mission—alchemy.

I start in the cleaning station, scrubbing off a layer of grime from travel, dust from this new planet, and skin from the last. I’m paler here, my dermal implants already figuring out I should absorb more light through the pale red atmosphere. I dry carefully — my new skin is prone to break out if I leave it wet, and it’s humid enough here anyway.

Feeling fresh, it’s time to plan my next few weeks’ work. I’d spotted a few mining opportunities in my local loop, and the alchemy lab will have an idea of our priority targets.

Time passes. Space is the same though, I think? I know I have a tendency to lose myself in my work but this feels different. I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been here. Or even been away.


What’s the last thing I remember? I look back at my journal — the last entry is from when I first woke here. The memory sounds familiar, but there’s nothing since then. Any earlier is fuzzy too. I’m sure there were missions before this, and I remember my training placement on Luna.

My body’s changed so much that it’s no longer a measure of time. Changes to my eyes to handle the light, to my skin to absorb more or less radiation. I open a mirror and close it again, unwilling to look too long at the stranger who is also me, like this hab on a foreign planet is also home, always has been.

The alchemy lab has sent me further than ever today. Six k’s in one direction is a great canyon, and I’m supposed to descend into it. We’ve picked up a fresh vein on the scanner another k deep. I’ve got the ropes and pulleys I need for the descent, but I need to spread it out, find some spaces to rest and adjust to the atmosphere and the changing pressure.

The sun is blocked before I’m halfway down; it feels like night come early. My body adjusts to handle the cold, but it costs me in time, and I’m wishing I’d brought some warm clothes.

Eventually I reach the vein. It’s still dark down here, but if I squint I can see light returning to the sky way above — a shift from purple to pink. I look back to the vein and my ears nearly pop.

It’s such a bright glowing colour I can HEAR it, pulsing. The lab only needs a sample but I want to take it all. Hang on. Is this how the prospectors of Old Earth felt? I catch myself, say a prayer to the planet, the pulsing eases. I scoop out a little of the vein. It has a consistency like lava, but it breaks like crystal. That’s unexpected. I pinch off a little between my fingers, and it disappears like fine salt — whether fallen or absorbed I can’t quite tell.

Time moves slow.

I’m halfway back up the canyon.

I’m at the top.

I can see the hab. It’s only 100 metres away.

I’m walking up to the lab. Opening the door. Pulling out the alchemy gear for analysis.

The sample is smaller than I remember.

What time is it? There’s no light out. I don’t remember a time with no light here.

The lab! I’m supposed to be bringing the sample back.

I’m halfway back up the canyon.

I’m at the top.

I can see the hab. It’s only 100 metres away. I’m walking up to the lab, opening the door, pulling out— No. The alchemy gear is already setup for analysis. It shows a result.

It can’t be, that’s impossible.

I pull the sample out of my bag to run it again. Huh, less of it than I remember. I load it up for analysis.

Time passes.

I’m in a familiar home, on an unfamiliar planet. My body is having no problems adjusting to it though, so I must have been here before. The pink-tinged sky is familiar, maybe?

The walls, though— something different. A teal-ish mineral vein, pulsing between the seams. I haven’t seen this before. The hab is supposed to be good at self-preservation; it’s the most consistently grey in all my travels. I reach for it, pinch some between my fingers, it dissolves there.

I head to the lab.

The alchemy computers have gone to sleep, but they whir back into action after a few prods. There’s a test result waiting on the screen. It’s what we’ve been looking for! The «Philosopher’s Stone» is a living salt-based organism, not an empty rock. But I can understand why the ancients couldn’t really describe this substance. Small amounts of it must have crashed with meteorites on Old Earth, but here it was embedded. Even small doses messed with our sense of time — my own and the hab’s computers. This planet was like a black hole in time — pulling in and extending and spaghetti-fying our sense of change. Here we could truly live forever.

Time passes.

** Message Received — data incomplete, waiting for completion — … — … — signal received — … — ends? **

** Recommendation: cease protocol. Abort Project Ganymede. — **

“You have to see this!”


“New signal. Twenty light years out. But it’s tagged for Project Ganymede”

“The project we started last year?”

“The very one.”

They brought the dispatch up on screen. It took me a while to figure out what we were looking at—

“We haven’t even found this planet yet?!”

“We haven’t found this planet yet.”

“And they’re sending images too. This can’t be real, right?”

The images looked like an archaeological dig — a guardian statue in front of an ancient temple. But weirdly other-worldly, a pink sky, and glowing blue veins in the walls of the temple.

“But get this. That ‘statue’ has an ID-sig signed by Ganymede.”

I stared into its face. Its eyes and skin were an unusual colour, but something about it was oddly familiar. My own reflection overlaid on the screen a little too closely.

I’d been thinking about a transfer to the Ganymede project…

Time passes.

Reset ➰

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