|A Home Far Away
Author: Mich625 PM
The interstellar spaceship Voyager arrives at the alien planet Eve to investigate why it suddenly stopped sending radio signals. Story told from the point of view of an exceptionally bright 13 year old girl named Rachel, who is the third generation to be born on the ship since it left Earth. What she eventually discovers proves near impossible to acceptRated: Fiction K+ - English - Sci-Fi - Chapters: 16 - Words: 72,774 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 02-05-13 - Published: 11-10-12 - id: 3073229
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Lieutenant Porter shocks me the next morning. I expect her to sound the alarm clock for everyone to get up. If not an alarm, I figure she would at least clang a couple of cooking pans together, maybe even grab me by the feet and pull my lazy butt out of the tent. Instead, she surprises me by letting me sleep in.
The mere fact I stayed sleeping shocks me even more. I expected to be roused by the closeness of the tents, the noise of everyone else getting up, not to mention the hard ground beneath me. Eve's strong gravity makes for an uncomfortable bed. I distinctly noticed it the moment I laid down. It pulled the body tight to the ground, snug against every little bump and undulation in the uneven surface under the tent. It took me a long time to fall asleep at night, and it therefore takes a long time for me to wake up in the morning.
And then I recall the storm. The little afternoon rain proved no more than a light shower compared to the deluge that later hit us. Just as I was drifting off into a dream, the wind picked up and then lights flashed across the sky. Thunder too, booming as if sounding distant explosions. And then the rain itself! It pattered against the fabric of the tent like the drumming of a thousand tiny hands. Not at all like the gentle sprinkles in the Garden on Voyager, but more like buckets being dumped from high up in the trees. I never realized it could rain so hard. At any moment I feared a great wall of water would flood across the forest floor and wash my little tent away.
After the rain, I heard still more sounds. I never before heard so many sounds in the night. There was a constant screech sounding from only a short distance into the trees, sounding like a hundred tiny violins playing all at once. And then the sound of burping! It sounded over and over again, all in a steady rhythm. It came from the direction of the latrine, from deeper in the forest. I assume it came from some kind of animal, but from what kind I had no idea. Sleeping on Eve proved a lot noisier than I expected. It was a minor miracle I got any sleep at all.
"Look who's up!" Lieutenant Porter, predictably, notices me first, just as I stick my head out the small opening of the tent. She speaks in a sarcastic tone. I hear her displeasure.
At least she isn't yelling at me, I think to myself as I pull the zipper down the rest of the way to crawl out. The only way out of the tent is to crawl. It sits low to the ground, designed for a single person, and intended strictly for sleeping. It barely has enough room inside for me and a small bag of clothes.
I expect to find water on the ground outside. If not water, then at least mud, but I instead plant my hands on a carpet of wet grass. Wet and slimy grass! It makes me think of a million tiny bugs, worms too, and all the tiny little germs crawling around in the drops of moisture. I quick rise to my feet to stay dry.
The rain has long since drained away. It flowed downhill, I realize, which makes me appreciate the wisdom of setting up camp on high ground. It finally dawns on me. I am thankful for the long walk from the shuttle.
"I didn't mean to sleep in on purpose," I put up a defense before the Lieutenant has a chance to criticize me any further. "You should have waked me." I redirect the blame back on her.
"I'm not your mother," She criticizes like an impatient parent. "We're all adults here. You're expected to wake up along with everyone else."
It takes but a short conversation to remind me of how much I dislike her. Not just the mother, but the daughter too. The two of them act so much alike. No wonder Caroline acts like such a jerk in school.
"I'll try to remember for tomorrow morning," It takes a real effort to resist making some sarcastic remark of my own, but then I don't want to antagonize her any further. No need to tempt her into giving me another mundane job. Crates still wait at the shuttle. I wonder if any of them got flooded, and then wonder if the latrine needs to be dug any deeper after the rain too.
Looking around, camp appears to be in surprisingly good condition considering the storm we had during the night. I expect to see equipment knocked over, collapsed tents, or at least some tree branches on the ground. Instead, all looks as it should. Warm rays from the low hanging sun shine through the trees. It looks to be a pleasant day.
Looking further, I notice the Lieutenant stands alone in camp, which confuses me. Earlier I heard voices, or at least I thought I did. I was half asleep at the time, so I'm not sure, but I thought I heard voices around me. They initially roused me from sleep, but I ignored them just like I sometimes ignore the music of my alarm clock. Back home, it often takes a yell from mother in the next room to get me up.
"I guess that storm kept me up pretty late," I attempt to at least sound pleasant, as if I am thankful for another beautiful day. The others must already be at work, I figure, maybe back at the shuttle getting supplies. I wonder if some crewmembers might be sleeping in even later than me.
"That storm kept all of us up," Porter actually smiles for an instant, as if she finds my observation humorous, like she is an all-knowing tour guide in an unfamiliar land. The smile makes her look close to human. She wears a shirt instead of a uniform and has a towel wrapped around her head. I am not used to seeing her out of uniform. The towel looks strange. I wonder if this is the way she looks every morning.
"Some of you are a little more accustomed to it than others," I remind her it was my first storm. "Does it always rain like that? And the thunder?"
"Rain yes, thunder no," She first answers succinctly and then explains. "It rained every evening at the first landing site, but not the thunder. We were about 600 miles further south; a continent away. Every evening the rain would start at about 6 PM. You could almost set your watch by it."
She rummages through one of the crates as she talks – A crate I no doubt carried all the way in from the shuttle. A kettle comes out, and she sets it on a coiled heating element. She works in a type of primitive kitchen where empty storage crates form an uneven countertop. An enclosed jug of clean water sits up on stilts. Another tub of sudsy water serves as a sink.
The Lieutenant looks out of place as she works in the miniature kitchen. She has little choice but to kneel on the wet ground. The crates rise to no more than half the height of a normal countertop, and the heating element sits all the way down on bare ground. The kitchen resembles a toy kitchen, the type a little girl might play with in her room. I must be careful to pick up my feet and not trip over the numerous electrical cables that snake across the ground.
"Well, I never knew thunder could be so loud," I step up closer and attempt to make conversation as I watch her take a clear package of what I guess to be oatmeal and sets it in the water. "I didn't know it could rain so hard either. It's one thing to see it in a movie, but totally different to experience it for yourself."
"You'll get used to that too," She mostly ignores me. "It rains a lot here. Another storm is expected tonight."
I look up to a blue sky with only a few white clouds peaking through the trees. A cool breeze blows through camp, and a chill comes over my exposed arms and legs. I dress light, expecting a hot day, but the morning chill causes Goosebumps to form on my skin. In the distance, the sound of chirping birds once again comes from invisible visitors somewhere in the trees. The day doesn't look at all like rain, but then I have so little experience with weather. Twelve hours left to go until nightfall. I don't know how fast the rain can come.
"And then there was all that screeching," I complain. "I don't know what it was, but after the rain it got louder."
I try to describe it, but she doesn't know what I am talking about. She must have slept through it, but then I have a hard time believing anyone could sleep through such a racket.
"All I heard were the bullfrogs," She counters. "I'm told they are male bullfrogs sitting on the bank of the steam calling out for the females."
She must mean the burping! "That too," At least we heard something in common. I recall the noise came from the direction of the stream and where we earlier dug the latrine. I can think of no other explanation, so assume she must be correct.
"Why don't you let me help with that?" I recall my place and the job I am supposed to do. One of my many jobs is to help with the cooking and cleaning. The sight of the Lieutenant performing menial labor reminds me of my proper place.
"No thanks," She rejects, to my surprise. "Only after you get cleaned up. The latrine should be available by now, and the rest of the girls should be on the way back from their swim."
Her eyes glance off into the distance. I see them now, the three female members of the landing party walking back and giggling as a group. Lisa and Lori have towels on their heads just like the Lieutenant. Martha has wet hair, making her look like she just came out of the shower. She also has a towel wrapped around her body and seemingly nothing else.
"Swim?" I realize what she says.
"The stream," She points in the direction of the women. "It widens a bit upstream. The remains of some old alien structure forms an artificial dam. I already checked it out myself: Clean water, no fish, safe to swim. You'll hear the waterfall as soon as you get to the bottom of the hill."
The women amble back into camp acting giddy, awake, looking as if they come back from a party. Some even look like they came from a party with alcohol and had a little too much to drink.
"You dunked me!" Lisa and Lori kid each other.
"You dunked me first," They attempt to push each other off the path.
Martha comes close to getter her towel pulled off. They talk about wanting to swim in deeper water, maybe even swim out in the ocean. Their juvenile behavior takes me by surprise. These are soldiers and scientists, my elders, people I should look up to, yet they act like little schoolchildren. Clearly, they had a good time. It makes me wish I woke earlier to join them.
A stern look from the Lieutenant brings their behavior back to normal – in the same way a stern look from a mother can bring a mischievous child back in line.
"Let me take that," Lori realizes it first. She walks into the miniature kitchen to take over for the Lieutenant. The rest of them fall silent and head off to their tents. I don't see any sign of Nathan.
Mention of a swim fills me with anticipation. I've never been swimming before. I read about it, saw it in movies, but never actually did it myself. Voyager doesn't have a pool of water. The closest I came was in taking a shower. I always wanted to try swimming.
"Wish I could have gone," I say with disappointment. I follow in the shadow of the Lieutenant after she stands back up and allows Lori to take over. It appears everyone else already went for a swim, including the Lieutenant. It would explain the towel on top of her head.
She turns to smile back at me. "That's the risk of sleeping in late," She looks almost pleased to torment me. "So tomorrow morning, maybe you should think about getting up with everyone else."
"Yes mam," I hang my head in shame. She has made her point, and it works.
"But you can still go if you want," First she scolds, but then she gives in. "You'll have to go alone, but it's perfectly safe. The water is shallow. You would have to work at drowning."
"Unless you want to join the guys," Lori overhears and attempts to tease me.
I recall Nathan, and the fact he remains absent, as does Randy. Of course! I suddenly understand! They must be swimming. They are taking turns, first the women and then the men. I don't have a swimsuit, and neither does anyone else. It necessitates the need to take turns.
"I think it might be best if you wait until after they come back," The Lieutenant points a single finger back at Lori and tells her to behave. "And you better get ready if you expect to go," The finger next turns to me. "Those crates from the shuttle aren't going to unload themselves. You volunteered for this mission, and you've got work to do. I expect you to clean up after breakfast."
"Yes mam!" I happily accept. "Then I better get to the latrine," I make my escape and go. Hauling supplies and cleaning off breakfast plates doesn't sound like much of an adventure, but the opportunity for a swim excites me.
It feels scary to be so all alone. Camp sits a long way off; far up the hill. I no longer hear the rest of the crew, nor can they hear me. Even if I yelled as loud as I could, they might not be able to hear. I very well could be more alone than I have ever been in my life. Once again I regret not waking earlier and going with the others. They could have reassured me, also made it more fun. I could tell everyone had a good time when they returned. Especially the women, but I later saw it in the mannerisms of Nathan and John too. They returned refreshed and clean, as if returning from a relaxing sauna.
I, in contrast, must be content to go all alone. It feels scary, but it strangely invigorates me too. Lieutenant Porter repeatedly assured me I had nothing to worry about, and then the bridge crew watching over me said the same thing. No animal bigger than a rabbit or a squirrel was anywhere near. No Aliens to attack me either, not even any fish in the water. Besides, I'm not really alone. There's still the radio in my ear and an alert bracelet around my wrist. Like mnemonic devices to help me remember, they serve to remind me of the need to check in with Voyager.
"This is Rachel," I press a tiny button on the earpiece to activate the radio in my ear. "I'm at the pond. I made it all right."
"We see you," Someone replies back, probably someone sitting on the bridge and watching me as a tiny red blip on the screen. Cameras fail to penetrate the thick cloud layer, but sensitive instruments still pick up the heat from my body. Someone on Voyager keeps a constant watch and serves as the reason I can venture out alone.
"Remember you're greatest danger is from drinking the water," Another voice sounds from over the radio. I recognize it as mother's. "Not that it's poisonous, but it has a lot of tiny microorganisms that might give you diarrhea."
She sounds more worried than me.
"Roger that," I make believe I don't recognize the voice as her's, and then I make a note to later call on a private frequency. She will be sure to have about a thousand questions – as any good mother should. She already tried to ask about the first one-hundred last night when I called. I practically had to cut her off after repeatedly reassuring her I was doing well.
Mother's worry makes me feel worried, and then I can't help but feel more worried when I start to undress. I decide to start at the waterfall. The Lieutenant was right about the sound from the waterfall. I only had to listen for it. Someone tied cloth ribbons around the tree trunks to mark the path to the pond, but they hardly matter. Water makes a surprising amount of noise when it falls. It also looks so beautiful, almost memorizing, just like the flames from last night's campfire. A steady stream spills over a low point in the crumbling wall. Not very high, the waterfall stands hardly higher than me, but then it comes crashing down onto the rocks below. It hits with a lot of violence too! Drops of it scatter around. I feel the mist when I approach.
Before undoing the buttons on my blouse, I take one last look around. First I take off my shoes and socks, and then I undo the blouse. The trees around me should provide ample cover. They grow thick. The ferns and grasses are more numerous too. I suppose it comes from the water. Plants naturally should grow thicker near a source of nourishment. Still, it feels strange to undress out in the open, not to mention the fact I am on an alien planet. What unknown beast might be lurking in the trees? What about snakes and salamanders jumping at me from the nearby ferns? I think of Nathan and Randy too, and the possibility of one of them trying to sneak around to get a look at me. Boys can be so nasty at times; men too! For this reason, I choose to stop at my blouse.
Placing my shoes up on the slope and hanging my blouse on a nearby tree limb, I gingerly step down into the fast moving stream. The water scarcely rises past my ankles, but I am surprised by the power it conveys. I can actually feel the force of it pulling at my legs. Rocks at the bottom of the stream prove to be a problem too. They peck at the unprotected soles of my feet like sharp edged knives. The rocks, I realize, were once cemented to the top of the wall. The force that I still feel eroded them away. The entire waterfall probably used to be higher too. So was the wall, but the inevitable effects of erosion whittled it all down over time. The evidence of this small sample of erosion makes me appreciate the larger effect over the last 800 years. No wonder so few buildings remain.
I decide to start with a shower, I suppose, because that's what I am familiar with. Standing at the foot of the falls, I bow as if in worship, bending low to get my head into the stream.
"Ouch!" I cry out to no one in particular. The force of the water hits me like a fist to the back of the head. The radio almost comes off. The cold surprises me too. Not at all like the gentle warm spray from a showerhead back on Voyager, but more like a rushing torrent. No wonder it makes so much noise! I see it splatter and spray all about!
I don't need to be told twice. I give up on the waterfall. The smooth water of the pond backed up behind the wall looks a lot more inviting. The only problem is my clothes. The water already sprays my shorts. I didn't bring along anything to change into.
Growing with confidence and feeling more relaxed, I decide to undress further. It still feels strange to undress out in the open. It would be like undressing in the middle of the Garden back on Voyager, but then only seven other people exist on the entire planet, and only two of those are men. I worry more about the possibility of being attacked by some large animal and not having time enough to get my clothes. Lucky thing I also bring along a towel. I decide I can always wrap it quick around like Martha.
Wearing nothing more than panties, I pull myself up the wall and kneel on top. The water appears calm and clear. I can see the bottom, and it doesn't look very deep. No fish either, nothing swimming in the water at all. The only life appears to be from bugs and flies. They appear more numerous around the pond. Like the plants, I suppose they use the water for nourishment too. I see them fly just over the surface as if looking for a place to land. Some I even hear, I think, in the form of high pitched buzzing. I just hope none decides to sting me on so much unprotected flesh.
Briefly, I look around. The shape of the pond tells me it can't possibly be natural. The wall forms too perfect a circle, and the entire wall is nearly all the same height around. I figure it must be the remnant of some ancient structure, maybe an old building, maybe a pond for fish or a small swimming pool, or even some kind of decorative fountain at the entrance of the airport. Whatever it used to be, the last remnant of masonry now blocks the stream and creates the artificial bath.
Worried about the flies and anxious to give the water a try, I slowly let myself in. My feet turn cold when I submerge them beneath the surface. Not as cold as the waterfall, but not as warm as a shower back on Voyager either. I want to come back later, during the hottest part of the day. I wonder if the Lieutenant might let us come back to cool off.
The legs go in easy, but the water starts to feel a lot colder when it hits my stomach. I let myself in slow, and then bob up and down a few times to get used to the cold. It feels strange to be surrounded by so much water. I never experienced anything quite like it before. It also feels refreshing. Bugs and flies take increased interest in me after I go in. I feel like an unwelcomed stranger invading their territory.
The bottom of the pond comes up faster than expected. My toes touch, and then the rest of my foot settles onto a soft surface. For a brief moment, I fear sinking in. If the soil is soaked by water, then why don't I sink in? I've read about quicksand before, seen it in old movies from Earth, but this clearly isn't quicksand. Perhaps sand, I wonder. I figure it must be the last remnants of rock from further upstream.
In the end, the water fails to reach my chest. No wonder they let me come alone. It really would take an effort to drown in such a shallow pond. To submerge deeper, I must bend my knees. I squat down low to submerge down to the neck. The bugs and flies bother me a lot less when I am mostly submerge. My entire body, I notice, feels lighter when in the water: Similar to Voyager, but different too. It is a strange sensation. I never quite felt such a way before. It also feels good, like I have just stepped onto a world with a lesser gravity, a world more closely resembling Voyager. It feels relaxing. I can imagine myself spending a lot of time swimming while on Eve.
Letting go of the wall, I allow myself to drift backwards. A slight current attempts to pull me in the direction of the waterfall. I use my feet to keep myself rooted firmly in place. The pond isn't big, perhaps only 20 meters in diameter. Only a few steps further and I find myself in the center of the circular enclosure.
Pausing, I listen to the sounds around me. Mostly I hear the water crashing over the wall. Also, I hear birds. The ever-constant songs of birds sing in the trees. Some high pitched, others sound more like a wobble. I wonder if they might be angry at me for taking their swimming hole. Noticeably missing is the absence of any human voices. No voices at all, which makes me feel uneasy, but I also like it. It somehow seems more natural, like the way I was meant to be.
The ground beneath my feet feels solid. My toes sink in, but only a centimeter. Something more solid appears underneath. I do a miniature evacuation with my toes and dig in, search below, digging a trench underwater. Only a few centimeters down I notice tiny blue squares. It looks like some type of tile, probably ceramic, I figure. Ceramic would survive 800 years of decay. Unlike plastics and wood, it can't burn. Unlike iron and steel, it can't rust. The bottom of the pond probably appears much as it did when Aliens last gazed upon it.
Then I notice another object in the sediment. A round object, like a stone, but clearly no stone. Too perfectly round to be a stone. Flat on top too. It looks to be an old coin. We don't use coins on Voyager, but I still know what it is.
The only way for me to reach it with my fingers is to dive my head underwater. I've never submerged myself in water before, never had to hold my breath underwater, but the task seems simple enough. Lori told me it was fun. They all had the wet hair to prove it. She also told me not to worry about the headset. It will survive just fine under the water.
I take a deep breath and give it a try. I crotch down and reach, and in the process temporarily leave the breathable atmosphere. I do it like I've seen in movies, careful to follow the Doctor's advice and not drink the water. I'm not sure if I am supposed to open my eyes while underwater, fear the bacteria may attack through my tear ducts – or something like that – but then I realize I have little choice if I want to find the coin.
The sight gives me a surprise. Everything looks wavy and magnified. My hand turns a different color. I have a hard time seeing. I have to adjust. I waste little time and grab for what I came after.
It's definitely a coin of some sort! I take a closer look when I come back up and see it in the normal air. No one talked about recovering any coins yet. It might be the first. It might even be significant. I rub it between my fingers and then clean it in the water in an attempt to make out what might show on the surface. It is heavily corroded, difficult to see, and so small too, but an outline of a figure appears on one side. What looks to be a building shows on the other.
There also appears to be lettering, a word of some sort. An "E" in one place; what looks like a "U" in another. They look like an E and a U, but of course they must mean something else. They are the symbols of an alien language. I'll have to show the experts to figure out what it says. Maybe they might even be able to translate based on the translations of the old radio signals from Eve.
Where one coin lies, perhaps others could be present. I dig some more with my feet and then dive back under to pick up additional sediment. The smaller pieces of gravel and sand I let flow through my fingers. I capture the larger rocks in my palm.
Eventually, I gather two more coins. It doesn't take long. A lot of coins appear to have once littered the bottom of the pond. Perhaps I stand in what was once some kind of "wishing well." I read about such wells, which are not really wells at all. I recall once reading about ignorant people who thought they could bring themselves luck by making a wish and then throwing a coin into a pool of water. Perhaps some of the aliens were ignorant too.
As I look, I attempt to clean the coins. I rub them with my fingers. I take advantage of the pond to wash off the accumulated grime. The lettering appears clearer, and then it turns more confusing. Not only letters, but small numbers too. I am almost able to read them, but then realize how impossible it would be if I could suddenly read an alien language.
A chill forms in the air when I eventually climb back out of the pond. I would prefer to stay in the water. It proves to be a lot of fun. I splash it around, dive under the surface a few more times. The diving feels especially thrilling. I find myself able to stay under a surprisingly long time. I would like to stay and play longer, but also figure on getting back to camp before anyone has a chance to call me on the headset. Already I started the morning on the bad side of Lieutenant Porter. I don't need to give her an excuse to think any less of me.
I can feel it will be another hot and humid day. Not too hot yet, not in the early morning hours, but definitely humid. The towel I brought along feels damp before I get to it. It removes the surface water from my body, but a thin film remains. My hair stays wet too, as does my panty. It looks like it will be impossible to dry off completely.
Rather than getting my clothes wet too, I elect to use the towel to cover myself as much as possible and then wait for the air to dry me off a little more. It seems safe enough. Still no call from Camp to ask what is taking me so long. No one stands anywhere near enough to see me. Plus, I really haven't been gone that long. It took a long time for the men to return. I was able to go to the latrine, come back to eat breakfast, and even managed to start helping with the dishes before the two of them casually came back.
While waiting to dry, I work some more on the coins too. I dry them off with the towel, come up with the idea of using sand as an abrasive. More of the accumulated corrosion comes off, and then I wash and dry them once more. Two of the coins are obviously identical, probably representing the same value. On one side they show the engraving of a building; on the other, the head of some sort of winged bird. I'm proud at myself for finding them. I might have made an important discovery. Alien writing will come in useful. It might even allow us to discover what country we landed in, and then how to translate other writings we might find. The letters and numbers continue to look familiar, but they form nonsense words I've never seen before. Two of the three coins look to be of the same value, so I attempt to combine the writings to translate. Suddenly, I see it!