Kun DJar: part three of Of a Note in a Cosmic Song
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A new planet.
A new life.
A one-way trip.
The colonists of DJar, all seeking a better future, each with their own past, and their own beliefs about right and wrong, try everything they can to create a new government and a new culture they can all be happy with.
‘Back to basics’ was the plan, but their new planet is none too keen on guests. Between storms, disease, and broken equipment, the colonists must rely on each other to survive. But everybody is fighting, all sure they have the solution, and Daili is desperately trying to keep the peace.
From: Of a Note in a Cosmic Song, Part Three: Kun DJar, Nonen Titi
Chapter One: A Giant Step
On Aryan’s command, SJilai released the first of its eight landers. As soon as he fired the small engine to gain the speed of lower orbit, the fledgling machine was under its own wing power; it felt beautiful.
Below, their perpetually-cloud-covered new home had four landmasses and an awful lot more water than DJar had. According to Daili, that was because Kun DJar was just a bit bigger.
After orbiting twice, Aryan fired the burn to direct the little lander to the surface. The scientific babble of the four kor of people in the kabin behind him ceased once they entered the atmosphere. Now at the mercy of the lander, absolutely nothing could be done. It became difficult to focus on the controls, but it didn’t feel that much different than on DJar. They had calculated six minutes.
Quiet returned as masses of clouds moved below them; normal-looking clouds. The panel in front of Aryan confirmed that they were made of water. Nitrogen and oxygen levels were within admissible range. The outside temperature was down; the heat shields had worked fine.
Aryan initiated slow-down the way he had a mas of times on DJar: The lander responded without fail. As the cloud cover disappeared from view there was water; one big, red mass of Kun DJar ocean with no land in sight. The astronomers had better have their coordinates right, because landing this baby in the middle of an ocean that size would be like asking a mouse to swim the Brilliant Sea; they’d get to the bottom long before reaching any shore.
It took eight more minutes before he saw land; Lisa’s directions were spot-on. Aryan employed the airbag to stop forward thrust. His heart rate was up and running, drops of perspiration dribbling from his forehead at the rate the Kun DJar water ran down the windshield. There were very few experiences in life that could excite him like this, and spaceflight came second only to Maike.
No larger than a birdwing, now having downward motion only, the little lander gently hovered above the ground. The land below them was as grey as the ocean was red, and featureless. Their first contact with Kun DJar was almost undetectable when the cushion puffed its air from the bag.
Gabi, next to him, grinned: They’d done it. As if a routine DJar space mission, they proceeded with the required checks before Aryan informed his passengers. “We’re on the surface of Kun DJar and she looks… eh… well, how shall we say it? Dead.”
Gabi repeated that message on the speaker to SJilai. It wasn’t so much the desolate land as the purple-pink haze of the sky that caused the eerie feeling; as if the land was burned dry.
The small opening to the kabin’s main room revealed Kalgar. “It was my impression that pilots are supposed to make a spirit-boosting announcement when first touching down on a new place.”
Aryan pointed out the window. “See for yourself.”
“Just as I expected it would be,” Kalgar said, undeterred. He was in charge now; breathing equipment had to be tested and samples of the outdoor atmosphere checked before Aryan was given the okay to depressurize the kabin. The difference became obvious right away. Aryan heaved, in an effort to breathe, as though there was a heavy weight resting on his chest. His first reaction was to reach for his oxygen mask, but the levels were within normal range. “It’s the pressure,” Kalim whispered. “Let your body adjust.”
Aryan wanted to ask if that was even possible, but the effort of talking was too much. It was strange to have this many people together without any of them speaking.
“We can reset the kabin pressure; let it slowly change to match the outside conditions,” Branag suggested.
The moment Aryan did so, relief was instantaneous; voices restarted and people began laughing. “I wish you’d thought of that before,” Aryan said.
“This quick change back was probably more dangerous than the first time,” Jenet said, with a glare at Aryan.
“You should have spoken up then.”
“It’s too late to worry about it now, we’ll see what happens,” Kalgar said.
After sixteen tense and silent minutes of waiting, nothing had happened.
“Well, that’s a relief. We could have all been dead by now,” Jenet said, and explained to his creator audience that this quick change in pressure could form air bubbles in a person’s body. A look from Kalgar told Aryan not to respond.
“Is this going to work, this slow adjustment?” he asked Branag.
“It may take a while, but yes.”
“So now what?” Aryan asked.
“Now we wait.”
“Great.” They had finally landed on their new home, only to have to sit and wait. Yet, really, it was the only thing he wanted to do.
Every half hour Aryan changed the atmospheric pressure inside the kabin, during which his passengers discussed survival.
“It looks totally arid, like Agjar. Even if our bodies manage, how can we live here?” Kunag asked. He was the youngest of the group, having come with his father to make some drawings for the bulletin, but it didn’t look like there was much worth the paper.
Kalgar explained that this was one of the south pole continents. They had known beforehand that it was barren, but since it was facing Kun it had daylight for the entire period they were on the surface. There was another continent that looked much the same. On the north pole was a third and much bigger piece of land, but that was steeped in darkness. The hopes of the colonists were on the equatorial continent, which was at least three times the size of this one and wetter. From SJilai’s scans they knew it had rivers, lakes, and vegetation. However, due to the fast rotation of the planet it currently had less than four hours of light per day, which wasn’t much to work in. They would explore that continent next if there were no problems here. “As you have noticed, we’ll have to be patient with our bodies. It’s one thing to know we can live here, but another to actually feel it.”
When Aryan adjusted the pressure for the last time, so it once again matched the outside environment, Kalgar opened the kabin door manually to go down the steps. One by one, the others followed him onto Kun DJar soil.
Aryan went last. He didn’t want to miss out on this first encounter, but he felt heavy, slow, and very tired. A few boulders were spread around not too far from the lander, and he just wanted to sit down… But what on DJar would have taken two fractions to reach seemed an eternity away. Fearing it might not hold his increased weight, Aryan leaned on the rock before turning to sit. In front of him the land was bare but for the struggling people.
Gabi, who had followed him, was moving her mouth, but Aryan couldn’t hear what she said. The landscape itself was formless, grey, and still, as if sound didn’t exist. Was that possible? The air had a strange light-pink colour. Even the people were shapes on a silent screen, their gestures in slow motion. Had it not been such an effort to breathe, Aryan would have laughed at their antics.
The high-pitched noise of Kalgar’s whistle also seemed to drag. Kalgar motioned for them to get back into the kabin. With strained effort, anticipating his new weight, Aryan pushed against the boulder… pushed too hard, lost his balance and tumbled face down into the soil. The hand he extended to catch his fall had moved too slow to get there in time.
Gabi’s hand helped him back up. She didn’t laugh at him, but then he had to grin himself; some sight that must have been. It took a year to get back to the lander.
“Are you okay?” Gabi asked when the sound was back to normal.
“As good as you are, no doubt.”
After a drink and a rest they wanted to try a short exploration walk, but Aryan stayed behind with Gabi and two technicians to check the lander, top to bottom, inside and out.
It was a little easier to leave the kabin this time, but the silence still struck Aryan. It seemed to come from beyond; nothing moved. A motionless, red cloud hung high in the sky over the lander site. “Blood red!” he exclaimed.
“It’s watching us,” one of the technicians said.
“How can a cloud be watching?”
“Maybe it’s not a cloud. Maybe it’s an animal or something,” Gabi suggested.
“An animal hanging still in the sky?”
“I don’t know, but it gives me the creeps.”
They could not very well stand there watching it, so they went on with the checks, aware of its presence, every movement slow and stopping every few minutes for air.
After an hour, they had found nothing obviously wrong with the lander. Exhausted, Aryan sat down on the ground to wait for the explorers, who were approaching slowly. He let his hand toy with the layer of dry sand, which was cold and thick. Gabi was questioning the power of the small engine to blast them back up through this atmosphere, her voice slightly out of tune. As he listened, Aryan picked up a third handful of sand – even that was heavy. It had just started slipping through his fingers when a black shape leaped out at him. He gasped, pulled back, and fell down. Eyes on the blob, he scrambled up, faster than he’d moved so far, but still way too slow. His heart raced and the hairs on his arms stood at attention.
“It’s alive,” Gabi said, crawling closer. “Look Aryan, it’s moving.”
Aryan couldn’t not look. A fraction later he noticed a similar black shape behind her. He wasn’t quite sure if his words came out the way he meant them, but she did get up when he pointed.
“Animals,” Gabi told Kalgar when the others came close. “They look like animals.”
Actually they looked like three-dimensional blotches of ink, each the size of a nut. Kalgar made it a point to caution everybody not to touch what they didn’t know. Aryan went to sit inside the safety of the lander and waited for his heart rate to slow down. The others followed not long after.
When each of them had a foodbar, Kalgar wanted initial reports. “First the lander: Aryan, are we going to be able to return or are we stranded?”
“Sorry, but this beauty won’t ever go up again. We’ll have to take a seakabin to the other continent.” Gabi started giggling and ruined his joke, so he gave up. “We’re fine as long as the power of the boost will lift us: The kabin’s structural integrity hasn’t suffered and the systems are intact. Of course, this was only a first check; we’ll need another day to go over all the details.”
Branag was equally confident about the equipment, but the reports of the others were less hopeful: The black blobs may be animals, or they may not be. They seemed to be all that moved, so far.
“The ground is rock-hard, too dry to dig in, and I can’t see any signs of recent or past movement or any evidence of regular moisture,” Daili said
“There’s no indication of life, not even microscopic,” the botanist said. “No soil, just sand.”
“I can’t tell you anything. No proof of any precipitation or of any weather. The climate indicates that it’s always this dry and even the wind I expected seems to be absent,” Kalim told them. He also mentioned the strange red cloud. All had seen it, but nobody could explain its colour or from where it had suddenly appeared without any wind.
“We didn’t get as far as the ocean, but on land we found no evidence of past or present marine life,” Jenet confirmed.
“So is that it?” Gabi asked. “Does that mean we can’t live here?”
But it didn’t, not quite. Kalgar repeated that they’d known this continent had little to offer; he suspected it had to do with the very long winters during which it was immersed in darkness. This initial mission was intended to test the equipment, the ability for people to move, and the landers. The black blobs were more than he’d dared hope for. They were here to observe themselves and each other for any potential medical problems. Over the next two days they would do some more exploration walks and test what they could in the ground and the atmosphere. If all went well, they’d return on the third day; if not, they’d return as soon as possible. “So, Aryan, you need to ready her,” he said, indicating the lander.
“No problem.” Aryan had no intention of taking a holiday on a piece of desert that made it impossible to move his legs.
For the eight hours assigned to resting in the lander, Aryan slept deeply, after which he felt invigorated, though every move was still tiresome due to the sheer weight he had to carry around. When the others went for their walk, he contacted SJilai to keep them informed and wished he was back there. The lander came through the detailed check-up without a hitch.
The land itself was not as desolate and still as it first appeared.
“The sea is directly behind those rocks,” Kunag said, pointing at the rocky slope to the north.
“You went all the way up there?” Aryan asked.
“It wasn’t easy, but I couldn’t believe the sea could be as close as Jari’s map showed, so I had to keep on walking until I found it.”
“It’s there, but it’s strange, Aryan, like that cloud.”
Kunag recalled his struggle up the slope. He’d had to cover his face for there were masses of little things up there, so thick he could hardly see. “Not sand or insects, yet when I walked into it they scattered in all directions, not flying, but hovering low above the ground.” He had reached the top of the hill and looked out over the ocean, amazed at its closeness. Only then had he remembered that the seaside at home had the smell of salt announcing its proximity, but here he had smelled nothing, which explained why it felt out of place. “And it’s red, the sea is; too much red. It doesn’t make sense if Kun doesn’t set.”
Aryan suddenly knew why the land felt so empty to him. There were no smells at all: Everything was bland. “So did you draw any of it?”
That was what Kunag had come back to do, but he’d only just started when Kalgar returned and gave the boy a mouthful for going off on his own.
Once again, the specialists reported their finds of the day: Nothing better had been discovered.
“We’ll have to go into the sea to look for life. I’m sure we’ll find something recognizable, since there is oxygen,” Jenet said, more hopeful than sure.
“There won’t be,” Kunag replied, before turning red when everybody looked at him.
“And why would that be?”
“Maybe because Kunag has learned to use his senses where you only ever use your head,” Aryan replied, and encouraged the boy to explain what he’d found.
“If there’s no salt in the sea, how could there be life like on DJar?” Kunag asked.
A discussion followed, but Aryan put his hand on Kunag’s shoulder and quietly told him not to be intimidated. “This is not DJar. They don’t know any more than we do.”
A day later, nobody was sorry to prepare for their return to SJilai.
“This one will be up to you again, Aryan. If you can get us back to the kabin safely, we’ll know we have a fair chance.”
“You call that fair? No life, no water, and a body that can’t lift its own weight?”
“Minor problems. The other continent will be better and the gravity needs a longer adjustment period.”
“You’re an optimist, Kalgar.”
“I thought you were too. Now are you going to fly us home or not?”
Aryan did. The lander, now riser, responded exactly as it should. Ascent was quicker and a little less worrying than descent had been. Lower orbit was soon established. Then came the fun: It was up to Aryan to manoeuvre them into SJilai’s orbit and into dock; manual control to its precision. Every action, every moment was his own. His passengers applauded when he announced they’d returned to their nest; the little kabin had flown well. Tomorrow he’d check it over once more.
After another adjustment period, the mandatory sterilization at the halfway dock, followed by a few hours of medical checks in the infirmary, his mat that night was a luxury.
On inspection they found the lander was undamaged. The fuel tanks were okay and could last another three trips. Wolt came for an interview, which was fair enough, so Aryan told him all he wanted to know before spending the night with Maike. Kalgar had warned them not to go mentioning the seemingly hopeless landscape, but Aryan told her anyway.
“So Kun’s wife is just a pretty face then,” she concluded, referring to the myth that told of Kun DJar’s inner beauty.
A new period of waiting started, while the data was analyzed followed by more calculations and discussions to determine the timing and location of the second mission.
“Will you go again?” Gabi asked.
“No, you’ll go with Ulli. You can do the flying and she can learn; one at the time.” Aryan was content to do his shuttling on SJilai for now. “Can you handle that?” he asked when she didn’t answer.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Well, get practising until you know so.”
An official switch to the Kun DJar calendar was announced within a moon of their return.
“Isn’t that a bit early?” Aryan asked.
But Wolt’s article in the bulletin left no doubt that this was permanent: “It is our new home they set first foot on and though our giant step went unnoticed in Bijari history, we will never forget it.”