Chapter 1: Landing on a Myth
Twenty years ago, when the news of finding the legendary planet of Earth first surfaced, Persevere Astro Lab’s probe tests surprised everyone by indicating that its atmosphere was once again compatible with the human respiratory system. With the disregarded gas mask in his hand, his eyes closed, and the Milky Way Galaxy sun warming his face at the ship’s doorway, Amper concentrated to keep his heart steady. I’m a drifternaut, not a twelve-year-old, he reminded himself with a steadying breath. His eyes opened to see the gleam of a sunny day in the world of a legend.
After living the excitement of hearing there would be an Earthbound team, then rigorously training for it and being accepted into it, his first actual breath in Earth’s world felt like an even bigger deal than his first breath of life as a baby. Amper looked to his side and caught Mygs’ steely distant gaze. Neither one noticed their synchronized sighs as the drifternauts stepped off of the base of P.S.S. Legendbound’s exit ramp, but they did look at each other in the historical moment, and Amper grinned widely while his cohort’s brows rose with a deep exhale. Quietly, with feet solid on ancient ground, the men gazed around them at the field that mimicked the images on which everyone had been raised back home. The fields and forests of Earth were legend, and some even believed they were only myth, but here Amper witnessed the green grasses and blooms in reality. Just like the pictures.
Again, Amper and his fellow drifter looked at each other.
Mygs spoke first. “Can you believe what we’re doing right now?”
“Mygs,” Amper shook his head, “You and I pretended this thirty years ago. In your parents’ greenroom.” He was awe-struck. “It was just a game, based on stories we thought weren’t really true.” He gestured toward the edge of the field where trees were lined to begin a forest, and the tips of mountains behind them. “But look! The sky IS blue! Everything IS green! No haze, no smell…” He shrugged. “It’s so –“ words were lost to him.
“Hopeful.” Mygs finished for him as he scanned the horizon. “But does that mean everything from the stories is real?” Amper and Mygs glanced at each other, and silently decided to not consider the whole gamut of the legend yet.
Amper nodded his chin at his partner who was looking down at his arm. “Your tracker going?” he asked.
Mygs nodded after checking his forearm’s dermiscreen. “Let’s take the first walk.” He indicated the 3x4 piece of glass in Amper’s hands: the vectyper that replaced the ancient video recorder after tens of thousands of years. “Start recording.”
Amper started filming as Mygs stood in-frame, gesturing and talking about this first moment on Earth including his health status and mood. He addressed the crisp colors and lack of legendary acrid smell of demise. Amper panned the camera to show the sharp image and glowing sunshine.
“That’s good, Amper,” Mygs stated when Amper stopped filming. “Was it received? Good. Let’s go.” That’s the first film that would be reviewed by Command and then displayed for those on Persevere to see. The trip was a success.
The hover-homebase followed them by remote and proximity, so the men could hike without worrying about where it was, or hauling it over hills and fallen limbs. They silently marveled at the smells of evergreen needles and fresh non-manufactured dirt. Hillside rocks and foothill streams were sampled and catalogued by latitude and longitude as taught through information from the oldest texts. Birds they’d never heard or seen before flitted in the distance, and they even caught sight of some woodland creature with antlers growing out of its head walking beyond nearby trees.
“It’s a… moose?” Amper guessed as they picked a spot to establish camp. He took out the beacon to mark where they were, so when they came back around they could make the circle complete.
“No, not big enough. We’re not far enough north either. Deer, probably,” Mygs suggested as he examined pictures taken during their trek so-far.
“Huh. You know better, I didn’t study ancient animals so much.” Amper maneuvered the homebase to begin unpacking on a flat surface under some trees. After touching Initiation, he turned back to Mygs. “So…” He paused, wondering how to approach his subject. “What did you learn about the Crostus? Was there real evidence that it lived?”
“Amp,” Mygs warned without looking up.
“We can’t avoid it, especially if it’s a real danger,” Amper reasoned. “Should we be afraid?” He steeled himself to face the subject.
Mygs kept thumbing through images. “It’s as much a myth as Earth was, Amper. And so was the story that Earth is hollow and survivors live inside. So who knows about the Crostus.” He looked up at his friend. “C’mon, Amper, we’re grown men. We don’t believe in monster stories.”
“Fine,” Amper stated defiantly. “What about clouds? And thunder and lightning? I haven’t seen any clouds. Am I too old to believe in those?”
Mygs looked up in brief thought. “Those things are highly plausible. The atmosphere seems to be similar to what it had been in the legends. Clouds would only exist when conditions are right, not all the time. We’ll see some before long.”
Amper looked back to see if the homebase was in establish-mode, and put his hand on a large tree nearby. His hand took-in the feel of rough bark, not like the smooth ones at home. He looked up at the branches, at the green arrow-shaped leaves wiggling in a breeze and processing the sun, then he took a deep breath as he thought of how trees created the air and made life possible. There were trees stationed throughout the streets of Persevere, but nothing like this huge one, and not in a natural environment like this one. Space is no normal place for Earth-heritage trees.
“I may put my hammock out here,” Amper stated.
“You know there are animals in the trees, Amp,” Mygs reminded him. “And if clouds come, maybe thunder and lightning.”
Amper looked up through the branches in thought. What would that be like? What a frightening legend that was. Thunder and lightning storms were always Amper’s favorite Earth legend.
Homebase finished unfolding and inflating, and Mygs and Amper secured it into the ground and tied it to trees. Once done, it resembled a small cabin and was just as sturdy because of the polysteel fabrics and rods from which it was constructed. It was tied to nearby trees because the tethers would be activated by touch, difference in temperature, or change in tautness. That night, the men could have used the kitchen inside, but opted to build a fire in the ground out front. Amper marveled that although he’d been camping before in Memory Park on Persevere, this was different because he knew the campground didn’t stop just over the next ridge. It was vast and uninterrupted, and the snapping twigs and various chirping and snuffing noises he could hear in the distance were completely new and unknown. Although the legend of the Crostus had yet to be disproven, Amper wasn’t afraid of it since the legend stated that it was only known in the depths of dreary, cloud-covered days on Earth. The drifternauts hadn’t seen one cloud yet, so there was no fear.
Although the friends were mostly quiet, they did chat idly about the next day’s plans and the list of specimens they’d gathered so far.
“That’s the one thing that isn’t foreign here,” Mygs gestured with his chin as he looked up into the night sky. Amper leaned back against a tree and looked up at the stars. Starry skies had always been the sight from anywhere on Persevere, day or night. Daylight houses made their tolerance for the sun manageable, but there was nothing foreign about the sky at night.
“Except this time we aren’t guessing which star might be Earth,” Amper smiled. He couldn’t shake his excitement about the silly stories of Earth actually coming true. He was sitting there, on the legendary, mythical planet from which everyone on Persevere had originated and then forgotten. Stoic Mygs actually smiled at Amper’s comment. They used to stare into the sky as kids and wonder which spark was their race’s ancient home. And here they were staring into the universe together from that very spark.
into the darkness.
The whispers were more numerous, and louder but still unintelligible. He saw a horizon of smoke-light appear in the distance: white, blue, green gathering. Twirling beams reached-out, approaching him as the whispering became louder.
“What?.. I can’t hear you.” His orange-colored smoke question jabbed outward. A blue tendril with an orange Dozens of generations had passed since the historical Leap of Faith on June 14th that carried hundreds of humans, and animal and plant DNA, into unknown space, chasing another legend about the perfect spot for a space town. The space station of Persevere had begun with the joining of five large shuttles in an astrologically theorized flow of life essence labeled the Biocurrent. It was the most likely place for life to continue despite the odds, and the space town grew as walkways and biospheres were constructed and perfected.
As theorized, the community thrived while drifting in the Biocurrent and experiencing miracles like surviving the passing of a massive mobile meteor field, and collecting the remarkable, cultivatable light-source from a cloud-comet that engulfed and released the town. Chemically created materials were manufactured and formed for construction purposes after scientists accidentally found what happens to the molecular structure of some elements in the Biocurrent. People concentrated so hard on building a new life and trying to understand the challenges that space offered them, that the history of Earth was set aside for eons. History gave way to legend, and then the Mythads gained popularity and started spouting rumors that Earth never existed, and it was all conspiracy. Amper was more than happy to prove them wrong.
In the ensuing silence of the evening, Amper wiggled his back against the bark of the tree behind him. He leaned his head back against it with a sense of satisfaction. It was a tree nurtured by real Earth soil, growing because of the Milky Way Sun.
“What was that?” Amper sat up, turning to look at the tree.
“What happened?” Mygs looked up and down the tree for anything his friend might have experienced.
“It thumped,” Amper put his hand on the bark, and waited to see if it would happen again.
“Thumped?” Mygs didn’t seem alarmed. “Like maybe there’s an animal in it moving around?”
“Maybe,” Amper conceded dubiously. It hadn’t been a “moving around” type of thump. It just happened briefly, out of the blue. He leaned back onto the tree, gazing into the branches of the surrounding ones for signs of life. Apparently everything was quiet for the night.
The friends finished their meal, and Mygs brought out the celebratory flask of brandy they’d been saving since the beginning of the Earthbound Project. They downed it in mutual joy and with a sense of success, even though their adventure had only just begun.
That night, Amper had the first dream.
The whispering was quiet and unintelligible, and he couldn’t see anything. He didn’t know whether he was sitting or standing or lying down, and thought he might be in a sensory deprivation tank, but for the whispering.
He tried speaking, “Who’s there?” He didn’t hear himself, but could feel the question emit from him and saw something orange-brown that resembled both light and smoke reach out from him and glow at its edge reached toward him ahead of the wave of wispy lights ranging closer to him. Just as Amper noticed that the blue beam had the images of five-pointed leaves along its smoky arm, he heard the excited whisper in his ear: ‘W’ere the same!’ The blue smoke had turned burning white and grabbed him in a flash of light!
Amper bolted upright, still sitting next to the tree near the extinguished campfire. The shock of the dream buzzed around him like a swarm, but immediately Amper was distracted by the sky. Dawn was approaching and sunlight began beaming through the trees.
Amper turned and looked at the tree. He hadn’t even been leaning on it, but he heard it thump exactly like the night before. His gaze rose to the branches and its arrow leaves. That was not the noise of a scurrying animal.
“Good, you’re up,” Mygs called-out from the homebase, protein bar in hand. “I’ve initiated homebase’s pack-up. Get your stuff together.”
The partners began walking again, west as before, and Amper noticed that he was hearing smaller sounds. Having heard the quiet thump of the tree, he now focused on more distinct noises around him. He made a point of putting his hand on trees as he strode, concentrating more as he touched the older, bigger trunks. The dream of colored tendrils and whispers played in fragments between his automatic scientific observations. “We’re the same!” played repeatedly in his head. Amper did his best to tuck those thoughts away so that he could concentrate on the new world.
During the lunch break on an open, jutting cliff-side, Mygs commented on their progress.
“We’ve come twenty kilometers now. We can start the circumference of our landing-site.” He noted their position on his dermiscreen, and touched a command that would keep them within one-quarter kilometer of a twenty-kilometer radius from their shuttle as they surveyed and mapped the area. A virtual sensory wall would follow them like an invisible radar line, recording the geography between shuttle and walkers in third-dimension. They would return to the ship to send Command the map that was created, so the importance of the terrain that Mygs and Amper hadn’t actually seen would be explored virtually.
“It seems like no one has ever lived here,” Amper stated.
Mygs looked around, gazing over the treetops at the forest below them. “You didn’t expect overgrown ruins or gravesites, right?”
Amper shrugged casually. “Not really. Just – something. Atmospheric carbon, geographical anomalies, anything. Some sense of there having been humans here.”
“Or maybe some still existing here?” Mygs offered, not joking. “I sort of wondered. I hoped we’d find more of us. How could we have been on this planet for so long, and not leave survivors or some sort of mark?”
“In school, they taught us that nature is powerful,” Amper recalled. “That even in only a century so many things would be buried or eaten-away. It’s been much more than a century, Mygs. Nature took it all. So it’s all under this somewhere!”
Both men scanned the horizon and trees. Amper heard clearly in his head, “We’re the same.”
They walked the rest of the day in circumference. The area had been chosen for a landing site because of the ease with which they would be able to make the trek twenty kilometers around the shuttle. There had been discussion about having a drone make the trip, but science always insisted that human observation was as important as any virtually-gleaned information. The drifternauts recorded anything they observed in their personal logs, and at the end of the day compared notes. With some excitement, Amper was the first to notice what appeared to be clouds in the sky, and they were both invigorated by a natural breeze in the evening. That night, having again descended into the forest, Amper slept in the homebase cabin, not wanting to be unsettled by any more thumps out in the trees.
But he couldn’t escape the dream.
Darkness again, and the distant horizon of smoky beams was laid-out before him. He could barely discern his own orange glow reaching-out in wonder when he saw the blue tendril glide up to him and touch him, five-pointed leaves wiggling in some sort of current.
“I know you, but you’re so foreign,” the gentle voice said without talking.
“I hear you,” Amper’s lighted smoke had a blue edge to it, now.
“Hear me? No, that’s like when a squirrel scampers or the thunder rumbles.” The blue smoke gained an edge of orange. The colors seemed to indicate moods or intentions, Amper noted. And thunder really exists! “Yes. Thunder happens. The colors are about asking and relaying. Is this not your way?” The unspoken voice’s light gained brightness and a hint of orange.
The blue smoke knew what he was observing even though he didn’t intend it. “I have never – done this before.” Amper gave-up thinking this was only a regular dream. It had to be an effect singular to living on Earth. This conversation wasn’t from within his subconscious. It was happening to him.
“Who are you?” he asked.
A sound happened in Amper’s mind that might have been ‘Shhaaahhh,’ but it wasn’t really a sound. It was a feeling of inspiration and curiosity, scientific thinking and empathy. It was almost more like a feeling that usually accompanies a sigh. The blue-lighted smoky tendril recoiled slightly and tinged purple.
It comprehended, “You don’t understand.”
“I’m not from here. I communicate differently.”
“But we are communicating this way. That’s how I know we’re the same. Animals have dreams, too, but we can’t communicate with them. You’re the first non-nemectis, non-animal we’ve ever experienced. You’re from our beginning! You’re human!”
From their beginning! Amper wondered where these communicators were and how they were getting into his dreams. Are they really descendants of humans?
“... But humans manifest their thoughts through voice or physical expression,” he explained. “I don’t know how to do this…” His light turned grayish as he felt frustrated, stymied. He was taking-in too many strange experiences and started feeling overloaded.
“Okay, Amper,” Shhah turned more purple, with a green edge for comfort. It calmed Amper, and yet he felt even more overloaded with the new input of green meaning comfort. Plus, he sensed his name for the first time in this strange feeling-language! “I’ll let you go now. We will meet again.”
“Where are you?” he pleaded as the light-beam retreated to the horizon.
He woke in the darkness of night, sitting up with a gasp.
The trees. He steadied his breathing and lifted the flap of the nearest window. Had Shhah said she was from the trees? He could only see and hear moving shadows of branches in the breeze. He noticed that he thought Shhah was a female. And he noticed that she hadn’t actually said anything. He felt that she was from the trees. But it might as well have been a spoken explanation, for as well as he understood.