Story: Ghost Planet

By: Ramprasath

spaceobservatory

In one of those cold snowy midnights, one of the many hundred computers in the Ohio-based space observatory picked up a narrow-band radio signal that was nothing less that the Wow signal that was gotten way back in 1977.

The scientist who intercepted this signal and decoded with the help of supercomputers didn’t just write a “Wow” by the side of the paper, rather wrote “Inviting you” with what appeared like a co-ordinate to a distant planet Felix2 in one of a neighboring galaxy Gargantia located 4 light years away.

A team of trained astronauts, just three in number, Scott , Mary and Louis were chosen and were sent in a spacecraft to the distant planet Felix2.

“Is it this planet that we got the signal from?” Scott asked.

“As per the co-ordinates we have, yes this is the one from where the signal that we received should had been sent 8 years back” Mary said as the spacecraft approached the planet Felix2 which was moving around a star twice the size of the Sun in the Milky Way galaxy.

“Plain rogue lifeless planet” Commander Louis said as he stared at the planet through the window. To tell about the appearance of the planet, it was definitely rocky and infrared showed no vegetation and water. The planet appeared to had been having valleys, oceans, lakes and mountains long back but now it only had the plain rock with no or less atmostphere. Through the space ship’s window, the surface was clearly visible which had lots of scars of meteor hits.

They three waited for any welcome signals from the planet but their radars never received one as long as they waited.

“I hope our physicists and mathematicians didn’t commit a flaw in interpreting the signals. Wasn’t it ‘Inviting you’?” Mary said as if seeking clarity.

“It definitely was” Louis said with his eyes still on the planet.

They waited for some more time hoping that what they received back in Ohio space observatory was a genuine invitation from aliens but nothing came in. After waiting for several hours,

“Let us send a probe” Scott suggested.

“Yes. We must. We don’t know the gravity level on this planet. It should be 10G at least. Planet’s gravity is too high. If we send a probe and test if we can safely land on this planet, that would help us in this expedition” Mary said.

Silence engulfed. They didn’t have any other choice. They didn’t want to wait anymore in mid space. There was no meaning left if they went back without making a landing on that planet and only that amount of fuel that could barely make it back to Earth was left in the ship.

“OK by me” announced Commander Louis after a long pause.

Moments later, a probe descended from the ship and approached the planet Felix2. Scott, Mary and Louis keenly observed on the data sent back from the descending probe.

*****************************************************

The probe landed on the surface and began to boot. After booting, it relayed some pictures of the planet’s surface until something like a thick fog appeared and the relay stopped.

“Oh My God” Mary shouted and Scott and Louis looked at the screen. It was blank.

“What happened?” Louis asked.

“The probe just died on the surface” she uttered with her eyes still affixed to the data feeds that was sent back from the probe till the moment of collision.

“How could that happen?” Scott asked.

“The Probe was in auto-pilot mode and there were no fluctuations. She should have made it but suddenly it went off-track” Mary said.

“Weren’t the cameras and master arms working?” Loius asked.

“No. They worked. No trouble with those. But as per the feeds, looks like something hit the probe. Probably wind or storm” Mary said.

“There could not be a storm anywhere on this clear planet. Could there be? The atmosphere on this planet is very thin” Scott joined.

“Check the telemetric” Louis suggested.

“I am checking but there are no fluctuations. The thrusters were fine. They did their job. The auto-pilot was also fine. It should be something else” Mary said.

Louis, Scott and Mary looked at the deployment site on the planet Felix2 in dismay through the telescope. There seen the remains of broken pieces of the probe.

*****************************************************************

“Could it be aliens?” Scott asked.

“I didn’t see any on the surface. It’s just the rocks and some fog” Mary said.

“Consistency!. That is the key. Let us wait and watch the area where the probe broke. If there were aliens we should be able to spot them” Louis said.

Louis, Scott and Mary carefully began to watch the spot where the probe collides on the surface. For a long time, they watched over the site, one after the other closely but in vain.

“No sign of anything on the planet Scott. It’s just rocks and craters due to meteor collisions” Mary said.

Louis picked some materials from the electronic wastes bin that were deemed useless, fixed a transponder with a camera and a parachute and covered them with heat-shield so that the entire assembly act like a spy camera ready to deploy. He then used propulsion guns and shot it towards the same site where the first probe landed. It took some time for the object to pass through the thin atmosphere and landed gently on the surface. The assembly quickly began to send pictures of the surface of the Felix2. No material objects or organic bodies were seen around but only thick fog. Nothing happened to the assembly and the assembly continued to send pictures of the surface of Felix2 which the team in the ship eagerly received and viewed.

“Let us send another probe this time carefully” Louis said.

“Mary, this probe need not be on auto-pilot. You drive it to land on the surface” he added.

Mary took the control of a probe and released it. The probe detached from the ship and approached the planet. At first, she had complete control on the vehicle. She used thrusters to balance the gravity of the planet and landed the probe on the planet’s surface. Once landed the probe began its booting sequence. Upon successful completion, the probe commenced to send pictures of the planet. Unlike the previous one, this probe survived beyond the first’s one’s time and when Scott, Mary and Louis finally took a breath in, the probe died. The last picture it sent showed a mist like a thing at a corner of the pic.

“I lost it” she sighed in frustration.

“At first I had it in control but then I felt something should have shaken the probe and distracted it.” she added further.

“Did any of you guys saw anything that distracted the probe?” she finally asked.

Both Louis and Scott swung their heads on either side.

“That is what we have to check. Let us send another probe this time to a different site” Louis said and after searching for a while on the geometrics of the planet on his computer chose a spot 4000 miles away from where the first two probes landed.

This very act of choosing a different landing spot continued till he exhausted all the test probes that his massive ship carried for the expedition. All of it returned the same patterns of crash metrics as the first, third and fourth ones.

“Am now unsure of this behavior. What can we report to the people on Earth? ‘We lost all probes in a rogue planet for nothing!'” Scott shouted.

“This is unbelievable. So far we have sent 3 probes all of which didn’t find any issues in landing. They even took pictures which mean they were fully functional at the time of dying. The one thing that is common in the last of pictures that were taken in all of them was just fog. ” Mary said.

“How can we possibly explain this odd behavior. No aliens were seen?” Louis asked.

“There can only be one possibility Louis?”

“What is that Mary?”

“Felix2 is massive and gravity here is too high on this planet. If there were aliens on this planet, they could not have had legs. They could not have moved. They could not have done anything. Survival might have been very difficult Louis. “

“So you mean there were no aliens on this planet?”

“There should have been aliens in the planet as they were able to differentiate the type of the machinery that we deployed on the surface. They harmed all three of our probes but the assembly suffered no harm as it contained nothing but a camera. If that was not a brainless thing, how was it able to differentiate between a proper probe and some junk assembly of useless chips? Looking at what has happened to our probes, it looks like they can spot our probes and destroyed them”

“Who are ‘they’? What are ‘they’?” Louis intervened.

“But, Mary, Any organic compound should exhibit heat signatures. We didn’t see a damn thing on our radar. Not even on infrared.” Scott said.

“That is the point Loius. As humans, we could not have survived on a planet that has 10G gravity because we all have a skeleton and flesh that cannot function in such high gravity. So it is only this skeleton and flesh that makes us ineligible to inhabit Felix2. The outer body that we all have acted like an exoskeleton to our soul and ultimately we all are souls that comprehend to each other through the exoskeleton that we are born with. We have fleshy organs like eyes, ears, limbs, tongue to talk and exchange things through. Why do we have to exchange? Survival! To hunt our food, to secure our shelter. We have to learn a common language, meet people with differences, deduce ways to meet the differences to co-exist, fight our wars, find our peace, always thinking about usefulness of things, trying to fit everything under materialistic benefits and so on and much of our life’s precious moments are spent in this struggle. Often it is not worth for an entire living. It is this exoskeleton that we have to feed, keep it clean and protect it from bacteria and viruses. Food, shelter, medicines and money matters on earth only to maintain this exoskeleton. Food and sex are the two things that have given rise to all chaos on the face of the earth. Now imagine a race with no exoskeleton but only souls? Wouldn’t that make us all free from all chaos? Imagine what if, we, as superior species, have tools and techniques that help us void our exoskeletons? We would be free from food, shelter, money, sex, survival and all chaos. No Darwin. No Sartre. No quarrels, no worries, no wars, endless love. Perhaps, aliens, being advanced civilizations could have found the tools that might have enabled them to get rid of their exoskeletons and maybe that is the reason we don’t see them physically”

“Mary, in that case, how were our probes destroyed?”

“The same way we have heard ghosts and spirits do scary things back in our earth Louis. I have heard some saints and monks in India can even levitate themselves, migrate between bodies and so on. Haven’t you seen videos of spirits move objects?” Mary said.

“I thought they were just cooked up by someone” Scott replied promptly.

“Not all of them” Mary said.

“In that case, why should they send out a signal to us? It’s almost an orphan planet with nothing on it” Scott asked.

“That is the point. The planet has no life here. No plants. No flora. No oceans. They must have exhausted their planet’s natural resources 8 years ago. By the time they exhausted it, they must have engineered ways to free themselves from their exoskeletons and managed to send us an invitation with the last gadgets they got. They must have lost those gadgets in the time the signals took to reach us and we come in pursuit of them. Probably they need a life full planet and because they can’t travel through empty space, they must have sent us signals so that we come to visit them and they can use our ship to return to Earth. They must have set us up” Mary said.

“But what I do not understand is why they messed up our probes? Considering that our spaceship is the only way they can reach out to a lifefull planet, I am wondering why they messed up with our probes because probes are the only way we can ensure we can safely land our ship in the planet. Once landed, they could have taken control of our ship. Couldn’t they?” she added.

“They must have thought we would not land our ships on the planet because of the gravity. We would need more fuel to balance with the gravity in order to ensure a safe landing on the planet and even if we land, we would need a lot of fuel to escape the gravity of this planet to return to home” as Louis was explaining this, the ship jerked a bit with a loud noise.

Louis and Scott looked at the monitors and learned that one of three probes returned to the ship.

“How did that happen?” Scott shouted as Mary and Louis froze looking at the probe now attached to the ship. Scott and Mary realized that they forgot to delete the Mainframe configuration settings for the probe once they were lost in the orphan planet.

“I think it must be the aliens that have returned to our ship using the probes” Louis guessed.

“I should have deleted their profiles from the mainframe” Mary shouted in frustration.

“But how could that happen? Hadn’t we lost the probes on the surface? The probes are not supposed to return to the ship. Right? They always are filled with fuel for only one way. Aren’t they?” she called for explanations.

“Not Exactly. Each one of them must have had additional fuel to drive the thrusters to balance the gravity for a safe landing on the planet. Looks like the probes were not messed up by the aliens rather the aliens must have put down our probes to save the fuel from being burnt and must have secured this additional fuel from the other three probes and used it to return to the ship” Louis said.

For some time from then on, no one spoke. Louis, Scott and Mary listened carefully to hear any sounds from the other side of the ship where the returned-probe was attached but there was absolute silence which only frightened them.

“Mary, Let us detach that probe and evacuate before they could get onto our ship” Scott shouted.

Mary quickly jumped into her seat and pressed the button that would release the probe but the probe didn’t detach.

‘MalFunction!! Hardware Error. Gate Jammed” was all they heard from the central server repeatedly.

“No one is returning home” Louis still stared at the door while saying this.

“They should have broken the door and entered into our spaceship already. There is no way now, to get rid of them from our ship. If we go back to Earth, we will have to take them our guests. Should we not do it, we are not returning home” he added as he continued to stare at the door.

“We are no one to stop them, Louis. Perhaps we are going to be them once they migrate into our bodies and that way we would go back to our original skin which is, no skin” Scott said while Mary stared in fear hearing.

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