Thursday, April 9, 2015


Delta Wawaru Ruedi 5k(726)+2p
By E.S. Wynn (on Zero Dusk)

Between-space yields to starry cosmos, and immediately you find yourself coasting into orbit around a massive, rocky world hanging at the extreme edge of a blue-white star's sketchy habitable zone. Sensors reach out, catalog the spikes of sharp, soaring mountain ranges broken by deep and craggy valleys. No lakes, no oceans– only a thick layer of roiling fog three kilometers deep clings to the lowest points on the planet's rocky face. The atmosphere reads as thin, mostly krypton and xenon with traces of oxygen and nitrogen. A gritty frost of dry ice rimes the highest points of the planet's peaks, smokes where the sun touches it.

Mineral particulates suspended in the fog throw off deeper readings, give strange, conflicting reports of the planet's deepest recesses. Curious, you drop a mote-probe, slide into the feed, chase the little eye down to the bottom of one of the canyons. Visibility drops to nothing almost the instant you're inside the fog, but inconsistent sensor readings still give enough data for you to make a safe descent. When the fog finally parts a few meters above the moist, sticky ground, you're struck at first by how humid it is. Cracks in the stone belch volcanic steam, and all around the vents are pulsating ridges, shapes like hard, fat worms, all stirring with strange life. Gingerly, you probe the dark valley beneath the fog with fingers of light and sense, careful not to disturb the fragile ecosystem clinging to the cracks. Within seconds, your ship's integrated intelligence has identified over a dozen distinct species, goes on to categorize them and catalog their relationships with one another. It's a marvel, all this life, and clustered in such a small, specific place. Extremophiles, perhaps the seeds of something that will spread, grow and evolve as the first seeds of life on Earth did. In another several hundred million years, who knows what wonders might crawl or slither upon the face of Delta Wawaru Ruedi 5p, distant descendents of these simple forms. Maybe, in time, this world might even yield a star-faring culture, might reach out to some distant shade of the human race and welcome us as brothers and sisters in the endless night above.

Only time will tell.

Curious, you settle the little mote-probe in a wet crag out of the way of evolution, leave it to gather data and pass the feed on to the network. It might last a thousand years under the fog, maybe more. It might be replaced with other, similar probes in time, but for now, it's your eye that watches history in the making, reports on endlessly while you seek out other worlds, other havens for life orbiting farther stars than those that shine on Delta Wawaru Ruedi 5p.

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E.S. Wynn is the author of over fifty books in print. Explore more alien worlds on Zero Dusk.

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