The Water (Part 1 of 3)
by Carl Martin
The planet below is 49.3 light years from Harvard, but it no longer seems so far from home.
This haven changed me—made me feel young again. I suppose a scientist isn't supposed to become sentimental about places they have worked, but a part of me will always remain on this world.
We're about to go back home. While I'm looking forward to seeing Earth again, I no longer feel the unreasonable and urgent need I once had. Space had once remained an uncomfortable challenge, like clothes that did not fit or uneasy bowels on a long trip. I had suffered in silence.
TYPE: PERSONAL LOG
DATE: 2235:1017-06:32 UTC
Now I feel at home amongst these islands in the dark of space. These strange suns now seem like old friends.
I suppose you could say that the scientist in me was reborn. I had regained the fresh enthusiasm I once had had as a boy for exploring the unknown. I feel again the thrill of discovery that science had once held for me that somehow had become lost amongst all the learning, the rigor and the politics.
What happened here will be debated for decades. I have no doubt about that. The conclusions at which we arrived certainly will have their critics.
Back in '31, our unmanned probes had been scouting planetary systems for signs of a world like Earth—a habitable world on which humanity could live. To our amazement, a positive report came back from Psi-5 Aurigae after decades of being dismissed as one of the least likely prospects. Perhaps we should not have been surprised. The worlds in this planetary system lay in an orbital plane perpendicular to the line of sight from Earth. We never would have detected planets in this system until visiting it.
The planet had been named Lavoisier in honor of the eighteenth century French scientist who gave the names we use for both hydrogen and oxygen. You see, Lavoisier (the planet) is ninety-three percent ocean, and the waters run deep on this world—an average seventeen kilometers.
Ours was the first expedition to land on this planet's surface. It had been declared safe. Even so, when we get back to Earth in a few weeks, we will undergo several days in quarantine.
Very early in our visit did we realize that this was no ordinary expedition. Suspicions started when our xenobiologist declared that the life here looked like that on Earth. Here, nothing lived on land, but the seas teemed with abundance.
At first, we were amused that our resident expert on extraterrestrial life would make such a statement. We had found life on other worlds, but it had all been exotic stuff, marginalized by harsh conditions, found only in pockets of bare habitability and surrounded by deadly environments. We assumed, at first, that she meant merely that the life here was far less exotic.
Then one afternoon, our geologist pointed out to sea. Dancing in the glare of late-day sun, something appeared intermittently above the ocean surface. He passed around his binoculars so that we could all see for ourselves that dolphins were swimming in these alien seas. Emergency requisition of hovercraft minutes was approved in seconds and several of us went out to see more closely. Delphinus capensis, or an uncanny product of convergent evolution, swam below us, jumping, diving and playing.
No one wanted to ask the obvious question. The implications were too bizarre and none of us were comfortable opening that box, at least not yet.
In many ways, as I look out my window now at that alien ocean, this world looks so much like home. All of its similarities plus the stark differences thrill my intellect. I turn my attention to three pictures hanging above my desk—three men I have admired all my life: Galileo, Einstein and Hawking. They were not afraid to speculate, but they did so with superior reasoning ability.
I feel comforted by what those three accomplished.
And a part of me feels liberated, like the stodgy, middle-aged accountant who finds himself seduced by the young gypsy girl—finds himself wearing a flower behind his ear, coat and tie thrown to the wind, and himself walking barefoot in the grass. There is something dangerous and compelling about the ideas let loose in my mind.