Mr Alexander Frasier stepped through the shimmering blue
film and onto the deck of Observation Station 3. The feeling wasn’t quite so
much unpleasant, but rather just short of that. Slightly beyond unnerving, but
not quite displeasing. Mr Frasier shivered a little, as his body recovered from
the journey. It had been an incredibly long journey. Not in terms of time,
though. The overall duration of the journey amounted to roughly 0.89 seconds.
However, the distance Mr Frasier had travelled had been light years. Roughly 38
light years, to be precise.
“Transportation successful!” cried a voice.
A second voice erupted over the speaker system; “Connection established with Sol Station”.
Mr Frasier took a few steps away from the transportation gate, giving his suit a quick wipe. The transportation left no residue on his person; he simply brushed off imaginary dust from his clothes in a compulsive manner. It gave his hands something to do. He was a short, balding man with a stub nose and a chin hidden by grey hair, too thick to be referred to as stubble, but too short to be categorised as a beard as of yet. He wore a grey, pinstriped suit, a dark blue tie and luxurious loafers. In his right hand was a small travel suitcase, which held his portable computer, a change of clothes and some snacks. Mr Frasier travelled light. This was only a preliminary trip, after all. He, or perhaps some other member of the Scientific Commission, would return in a month’s time with a larger team, more equipment and a better idea of how to proceed.
“Mr Frasier?” came a voice, from off to his left.
Mr Frasier seemed to realise that his journey was complete around about now. With quick realisation, he studied his surroundings. There wasn’t much to see. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling in pipes and wiring, with a few platforms for busy engineers making repairs or alterations. Diagonally above and in front of him was a glass panel, revealing some kind of control room, presumably the Transportation Centre. There were a couple of officers in there, typing on computing devices and making calculations.
“Mr Frasier?” came the voice again, closer this time.
Mr Frasier turned to see a woman in a white lab coat walking over to him. Mr Frasier stepped aside from the transportation gate to make room for the increasing number of engineers scurrying around. Some of them disappeared through the gate. A hand came out of the rush and offered itself to Mr Frasier. Mr Frasier took it.
“Welcome to Arcturus 8N, Mr Frasier. We are very pleased to finally be connected with the rest of the galaxy. It has been awfully lonely out here.” Said the woman. She had long, fair hair that seemed to be trying to be both blonde and brown.
“Thank you. You are Professor Eileen Docherty, I presume?” asked Mr Frasier, regaining possession of his hand.
The woman nodded and motioned for Mr Frasier to follow.
“I’m glad the Commission finally set us up with a link, it’s
been a nightmare supplying this place. We go through fuel like...well, we go
through fuel very fast.” Eileen waved her hand to dismiss her failed metaphor.
They walked along a balcony overlooking a large room; it too filled with
engineers, wires and piping. Everyone appeared to be very busy.
Eileen was taller than Mr Frasier and she had much longer legs, so Mr Frasier had to scuttle along quickly in order to keep up. Mr Frasier estimated her age to be between thirty and thirty-five years of age. He marvelled at the fact she had come to lead an interstellar scientific mission at such a young age and reasoned that she must be brilliant in order to have come so far.
“Why?” he asked.
“Hmm?” Eileen replied, absent-mindedly.
“Why do you go through fuel so fast?” Mr Frasier elaborated.
“Well...actually, this will probably explain.” She stepped through an automatic door, outside.
Mr Frasier looked over the edge of the railing and shuddered
a little. He could see nothing for many hundreds of meters below, until the
expanse of nothing was abruptly severed by clouds.
“We are flying?” he asked, incredulously?
“Yes. Though, it’s not quite the same as flying in an atmosphere like Earth, or even Mars or Titan. The atmosphere here is very thick, a muddy concoction of many, many gases and organic compounds, such as methane, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen and a great deal more. It mixes in different quantities creating the various levels that we can observe. If you look down, you’ll see the cloudy layer below us. It is comprised of much larger compounds and in higher quantities, making it rather difficult to see and pass through unscathed. This layer is more manageable, as it is mostly nitrogen; however the particular mixture differs massively from Earth. We are protected by an electric film keeping our artificial atmosphere in, for if we were to breathe any of the atmosphere outside...well, we would surely die.”
Mr Frasier rubbed his eyes a little, feeling an imaginary sting. Or was it imaginary? He was fairly sure it was, as he seemed to be the only one affected.
“I understand, much of this was mentioned in the report, but I did not realise the Observation Station was aerial.”
“Quite. Well, we originally performed our studies from orbit, aboard the original vessel, The Elizabeth, but that proved to be rather cumbersome, so we constructed seven Observation Stations, which ride on thermal currents rising from the planet.”
“The thermal vents provide enough hot air to keep a whole settlement afloat? But surely this station is several thousand tons!”
“Of course they don’t. They definitely help, as does the thick atmosphere, but we still expend vast amounts of energy simply keeping the stations afloat. Hence our incredible fuel consumption. Having a transportation connection with the other colonies and Earth will prove very useful in resupplying. The Elizabeth can only manufacture so much fuel at once.”
Eileen walked off to the right, along the walkway. To her left, the metallic and plastic structure of the station rose several hundred meters, and probably descended for the same distance below the walkway. Mr Frasier estimated the station to be the size of a cruise liner. There were seven of these? He could hardly believe it. He wondered if this had been Eileen’s idea, and if it had, he internally praised her ingenuity. Mr Frasier followed the professor.
“What about fauna and flora?” he asked, “how far have your studies come on these matters?”
“Have you read the reports at all, Mr Frasier?” she inquired, though she seemed to know the answer.
“Well...I...Yes. A bit. Some of it. I may have skimmed it.” Stammered Mr Frasier. He had to admit, he had not really read through the reports. He had handed them off to his subordinates, not expecting that he would be the one chosen to perform the preliminary observation. Unfortunately, he had, and he was unable to prepare in time. He hoped Professor Docherty would be accommodating with his ignorance. He knew how some science-y types get.
“I would like to hear it from you.” He finished, hoping she would humour him.
She gave him a small smile and continued on her way. It wasn’t long before they reached a large deck, with several smaller ships being worked on by yet more engineers. The skyships looked like yachts, with a similar electric field surrounding their smaller decks. Workers were busy repairing damages and performing routine checks on the various instruments aboard. Each one looked like it could hold five to ten people. They were remarkable.
Eileen strolled past most of them and stopped beside a unique skyship. It was slightly larger and clearly more advanced. This must be her observation ship.
“Arcturus 8N doesn’t really have much in the way of traditional flora. There are pockets of floating plant life, which rise on the thermal vents in order to photosynthesize and then float slowly downwards until they require more. The majority of flora here are small plants which float everywhere, of varying species and geniis. The largest we have seen has been something the size of a bush, floating on bulbous sacs of air. Observe.” She explained. She brought up her portable computer screen and opened up some kind of telescopic application. It zoomed in on a speck in the distance, revealing it to be a spiral shaped fern of some kind. Around it, several smaller clumps of moss floated.
“Fascinating...” mouthed Mr Frasier.
“Isn’t it?” Eileen mused. She was climbing aboard her observation ship. Mr Frasier followed, clambering up the small ladder. He placed his travel suitcase down onto the small deck and continued over to where Eileen stood, near the control panel.
“Ed, do we have any activity in the vicinity?” she asked, aiming the question to no one in particular. Her communications application carried the message to the bridge of Observation Station 3. Ed slid over to a screen, his wheeled chair making a slight scratching noise along the floor.
“Uhhh, yeah, looks like we have several pockets of activity portside and down several hundred meters. Are you going out today, Professor Docherty?” came the voice of Ed.
“Yes, Ed. I’m taking the Commission’s preliminary advisor out for a quick look. What size are we talking here?”
Ed was silent for a few minutes.
“8 on the Mariana scale, Professor Docherty.”
Mr Frasier almost swallowed his tongue.
“Eight?!” he exclaimed, incredulously, “These things must be monstrous!”
“Monstrous? Heavens, no. They are quite harmless so long as we keep our distance. They’re rather like...gigantic cows, I would imagine. Herbivores. Actually, I suppose they’re more like whales. They consume the tiny plants I mentioned.”
“But at a level 8 on the Mariana scale? Why, that must be the biggest animal ever seen! The biggest ever thought of!” Mr Frasier could feel himself getting excited. This he must see.
“Welcome to Arcturus 8N, Mr Frasier.” Eileen smiled.
The creature dipped and weaved slowly through the clouds.
Like Ed had suggested, the thing was massive on a scale he could barely
comprehend. It was a worm of some kind, though not in the sense that we knew
it. There were no eyes, teeth, appendages or extrusions visible on the beast’s
humongous body. It was segmented all along its body, which was a brown-yellow
colour, almost matching the hue of the clouds it dived in and out of. A gaping
maw opened and closed at what Mr Frasier assumed to be its head. Within this
mouth, there appeared to be a membrane of some sort. Mr Frasier reasoned that
this film was much like the baleen of whales, used to filter the small plants
that floated in the atmosphere.
“It’s unreal. A behemoth.” Mr Frasier asked, in wonderment.
“We call them Mobies. Their scientific name is actually Balaenacaelum Lumbricina, which means Worm-Whale of the Sky. Most life on this planet seems to have a common ancestor in some kind of worm-like creature. There are other offshoots, mostly in the forms of fish, but most complex life here appears in this form. Believe it or not, they’re actually quite fragile. One of our Observation ships came too close to one once, as it made a change in direction. As a result, the ship ripped right through the Mobie’s skin. The team were unharmed, but the creature perished as a result.”
“How does it stay afloat?” asked Mr Frasier.
“Ah, this we learned from the carcass off that Mobie. It took a lot of effort to transport it up to the Elizabeth, I tell you, but there was no way we could fit it on one of our Observation Stations. It didn’t even fit in the Elizabeth, mind you, but we managed to construct a space-deck to house the body. It’s still there. Ah but you asked how it stayed afloat, considering its mass. This might come as a surprise, but the creature is in fact, very light. It is mostly air, or this planet’s equivalent of air. Like I said before, the skin is incredibly fragile. These creatures may never see a solid surface in their life. They simply float in the atmosphere, consuming the plant life, which we have come to refer as planton...a kind of play on plankton, I’m sure you understand. The air passes through their mouth and out of a hole at the other end, which isn’t quite so much an anus but a vent to expel the excess air. It retains some air to give it buoyancy, while blasting the excess from its behind for propulsion.”
Mr Frasier watched the majestic leviathan in awe.
“How marvellous...” he whispered.
“Why don’t you simply build the Observation Stations on the
ground? Surely it would preserve energy?” asked Mr Frasier, as he stepped off
the Observation ship and back onto the deck of Observation Station 3.
“Why, Mr Frasier, there is no ground. There is only this gaseous outer planet for many hundreds of kilometres, until you reach a primordial ocean. Even the tallest mountains on this world are entirely submerged by water. We have discovered no dry land at all.” Eileen explained, with a wry smile.
“Well what about floating stations? Surely that would be more energy efficient.” He reasoned. After all, it was his job to think about the costs of these missions as well as their successful implementation.
Eileen’s cheery nature seemed to falter for a second.
“Mr Frasier, with all due respect, do you truly believe we haven’t considered this option?”
“Well...I suppose you must have. Why was it not considered a viable course of action?”
“Because, Mr Frasier, we are afraid of being eaten.”
Mr Frasier hurried to catch up with Professor Docherty. She
had managed to get inside the Observation Station and up half a flight of
stairs before Mr Frasier was at her side once again.
“Eaten?” he repeated, panting slightly.
“Mr Frasier, you have just witnessed a creature the size of a small town float through the sky, correct?”
Mr Frasier nodded.
“Well, you have met the resident herbivores. There are carnivores too. They tend to live below, in the sea, only venturing into the sky above to hunt. They preserve their energy by swimming rather than flying. However, if they happen to find a meal floating on the water surface, they would have no problem with piling that into their mouth either. An observation station would be nothing more than a morsel for these things.”
“These things are larger than the Mobies?” Mr Frasier asked, in shock.
“Most are 13 or 14 on the Mariana scale.” She stated, as if it were the most common thing in the world.
Mr Frasier’s jaw visibly dropped.
“But...but...the Mariana scale only goes to ten!” he gibbered.
“We had to extend it when we reached this planet. To twenty.” She shrugged.
“To...twenty! Is there anything that large?”
Eileen shot him a grave look.
“Only one. Get some sleep, Mr Frasier. I will show you tomorrow.”
“Wake up, Mr Frasier.” Came a voice.
Mr Frasier shifted in his bed slightly before rising. He checked the time. It was 6am, relative to Earth time. He was unsure what time it would be on this planet.
“Mr Frasier, meet me by the Observation ship as soon as you are able” came the voice again. He recognised it as Professor Docherty. Standing up from the bed, Alexander Frasier dressed himself. His cabin was tiny, as expected, but it was surprisingly luxurious. It had genuine wooden panels on the wall, a small en-suite bathroom and shower, as well as a small cooking area. His portable computer could connect with almost every surface, allowing the screen to materialise wherever he pleased, and the on-site internet was satisfactory for a short visit. Already it was being updated as the on-site internet connected with the greater internet through the transportation gate connection that had been established only last night. Soon, this place would be bustling with activity. More so than it was already, that is.
Mr Frasier arrived at the Observation Ship and was surprised
to see that the rest of the crew that were accompanying him were all wearing
helmets of some kind. Mr Frasier shot Professor Docherty a quizzical glance, to
which she replied;
“Dangerous pressures and dangerous atmosphere. Simply precautions should the outer shield fail. We are going all the way down to the sea. You may experience some discomfort” she stated, absently.
He certainly did. His ears felt as if they were going to burst as they descended quickly through the clouds. He felt that irritating itch in his eyes again, but was unable to rub them through the helmet, much to his dismay. No one else seemed to notice. Were they used to it?
“Observe.” Eileen motioned with her hand for Mr Frasier to come have a look over the edge. He did so, but he found it increasingly difficult to hide his discomfort. Some of the crewmen assured him it would pass, but he wondered if this was really true. Reaching the edge of the skyship, he peered over the railing and gasped.
They were falling through clouds of the most brilliant colours, ranging from deep reds and intense oranges to vibrant purples and flashing pinks. It was like falling through coloured sand, the wisps of each layer being dragged through each other by the falling vehicle. It was a truly marvellous sight to behold and Mr Frasier often looked back on it as being one of the most enjoyable times in his life. Though it was not the most memorable. That came slightly later.
The small ship burst through the clouds into something
completely different. The air, though clear, seemed thicker than the clouds and
shimmered with haze and heat. Mr Frasier, still leaning over the edge, cast a
look at Professor Docherty.
“Professor, I thought you said there was no land?” he asked, bemused.
Below them was a clear landmass, a dark brown in colour, but unmistakable in its appearance. It had rolling hills, pools of water and even some of the sparse plant life growing in some areas.
Eileen smiled slightly.
“This looks like a perfect place to perform deeper research into the creatures of this planet. You have access to the sea over there, as well as the ability to build a sky-lift up to an observation station. It could work easily.” Mr Frasier noted.
It wasn’t only the professor who was smiling now. The whole crew were looking at Mr Frasier, eyebrows raised.
“What? What is it?” he blustered.
“Mr Frasier, watch.” Spoke Eileen, softly. So he did. He cast his gaze back out over the edge, at the rolling landscape. He watched for a long time. Ten minutes past. Twenty. Every time he lifted his head to eye Eileen in confusion, she held up a hand and motioned for him to keep watching. Eventually, all was revealed.
A rumble emerged, its volume so loud that it seemed that the planet itself was cracking. Mr Frasier’s mouth gaped open as he saw the landmass shift. An earthquake? No...
“Behold, Ymir.” Declared Eileen, gesturing her hands in a
grand unveiling. The landmass below shifted and ambled forward, like a wave. Mr
Frasier couldn’t contain his surprise.
“This is a living thing?!” he exclaimed.
“It measures at twenty on the Mariana scale” Eileen stated, “You can imagine our excitement when we first discovered the magnificent beast.”
“How is such a thing even possible...” mouthed Mr Frasier, not taking his eyes off the creature.
“We have no idea. It doesn’t seem possible. This will be one of our main areas of study. How does it escape the laws of gravity? It doesn’t seem to be like the Mobies, which are mostly air. This thing seems to have incredible mass. Where does it get the energy to move from? These are all questions that we have been unable to answer as of yet. I suspect it is the report of this creature that granted this planet a connection with the galaxy hub.”
It made sense to Mr Frasier. That was why he had been sent. To assess the situation and decide if it was worthwhile continuing the research and building a link between Arcturus 8N and the rest of the colonies. Mr Frasier was suddenly glad that he had not read the reports, as they would have only diminished the wonder he was experiencing right now.
“Bank us starboard a little, McLeod” ordered Eileen. The ship moved as she said.
Mr Frasier snapped out of his awe for a second and looked at Eileen worriedly.
“Are we in danger?” he asked.
“From Ymir? We are always in danger of Ymir. It’s the size of a small country. We are far enough away that when it finishes its movement, we won’t be dragged in, but we must be wary. If it changes direction, we must too. And quickly.”
Mr Frasier nodded. He returned his eyes to the shifting behemoth below. Ymir. The ancestor of the Jötnar, of Norse legend. The Earth was made from his flesh. It was a fitting name. Surely the first scholar to witness this being would have thought exactly as he had – that it had been land, not beast. As it rose from the water, it became obvious that it, like the Mobies, was a gigantic worm of sorts. There were differences though. The skin on this worm was not smooth like the others, nor was it as fragile. It had the texture and appearance of cracked rock, with sediment deposits building on top and in between cracks. Some residue even conglomerated into areas he had mistaken for hills.
“I assume it feeds on Mobies?” Mr Frasier mused, though he phrased it like a question, he was fairly sure he knew the answer.
“Well, yes. It consumes pretty much anything. It’s an apex predator. So big that nothing else can threaten it. It simply eats what it finds when it can.” Replied Eileen.
“How many of these things are there?”
“Oh there are other carnivorous creatures who feed upon the Mobies and other fauna, all of which share a similar form, but nothing quite this size. As far as we can tell there is only one Ymir. We haven’t noticed any other readings of this magnitude across the whole planet.”
“There’s just one? How does it reproduce?”
“I don’t think it does. It simply exists. We don’t know where it came from, nor where it is going. Our most tangible theory is that it was a creature quite like a Mobie once, perhaps born with some kind of growth defect. We have taken samples of its skin and the sediment suggests that the outermost layer is at least several million years old. That suggests that Ymir is at least that age. As far as we can guess, one day a mutant was born and it simply kept growing and growing.”
Mr Frasier nodded. It was a poor theory, but he understood that without further study, it was the best they could come up with and he did not blame them. He watched as the creature reared up, slowly. It made a quick movement, almost like a pounce. It stretched out of the water and into the sky, where it parted the clouds with its immense girth. It had swallowed several Mobies whole in this movement. The small Observation Ship sped off to avoid the inevitable tidal wave which would occur when the leviathan fell once again into the sea. The crewmen, Eileen and Mr Frasier were silent while the ship flew away, slowly rising into the clouds to return to the Observation Station.
“What do you propose?” Mr Frasier asked, finally.
Eileen rattled off some numbers. Funding. Employees. Equipment. Mr Frasier didn’t even listen.
“Approved” he spoke, quietly, not taking his eyes from the colossal worm, stretching off into the sky.