Beyond Our World
Beyond Our World15 mins 630 15 mins 630
“Starboard 101, what is the condition of the station? Over. ”
“Everything is fine, Merricko. The asteroid went right past. Although no physical damage was done, I think the internal components in the wing area suffered some technical setback. It’ll take me about half an hour, I guess.”..... “Umm, hey man, you there? Hey, Lo-”
“You forgot to say OVER! Again. What is it with you and not following the protocols? WING AREA? I GUESS? AND YOU WERE ABOUT TO SAY MY NAME. Not acceptable at all, Starboard. Over.’’
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Can’t we talk normally? What’s the harm in that?”....... “OVER! OVER!”
“No, we can’t. But we have to, you know? The Fed is probably listening to this right now. I’m not fond of this either, but protocols have to be followed. We have no choice, as you very well know. Over.”
“Yeah.’’ Sigh “You’re right. Over and out.”
I looked at the Sun, emerging from behind our beautiful home, Earth. It produced an orange hue, which when seen together with the blue oceans and scattered green, made a breathtaking sight.
It has been about four months now, since Merricko and I first arrived here, up above our families and friends, leaving the world we almost always took for granted, which is ironic, because we don’t appreciate just how perfect it is, until we get away from it.
The past four months have been hectic and demanding, to say the least. The Federation, the space exploration entity that dominates all astronomy related activities in the world right now, found a plausible way to build a Dyson Sphere around the sun, which would, in theory, provide us with unlimited energy resources. Of course, The Federation is always coming up with such ideas, but they prefer to send humans without their consent, emphasis on ‘without their consent’, instead of exploring from earth first. But anyways, here we are, on our last day on the ISS, still trying our best, while following their ‘protocols’.
“Merricko, everything has been recovered. I am going to re-enter through the west side, as usual. Over.” I said.
“I’m proceeding there. Over and out.” He said.
“Ahh, finally. No protocols. So, did we get the exact time we’ll be leaving, from the Fed? They’ve been beating around the bush for quite long.” I asked while I entered the space ship.
“Yeah, it should be in a couple of hours. We’ll be leaving through the Pod. The other astronauts should be arriving in an hour or so, to take our place- You should take some rest now.” He said, seeing my huge yawn.
I glided into my room, while laughing. He was right, I did need some rest. Though I was still yawning, I wasn’t able to get any sleep. I had something in the back of my mind, something was going to happen. Why was I getting this feeling? While still unsure, and worried, I was finally able to drift off for a while....
“What? That’s not possible. No way I’m spending one more day on this ship. What did you say? I HAVE TO? What do you mean by that?”
I awoke to the screaming and cursing of Merricko. He was shouting at someone. I quickly went to see what had happened. He was talking to the telecom; the Fed was on the other side. I couldn’t hear their side of the conversation, but I was too afraid to interrupt and ask Merricko, because he looked furious. It took him ten minutes to finish talking, then another ten to calm down.
Finally I asked, “What’s the matter? Is it what we feared? Are they increasing our stay?”
“Yeah, they’re increasing our stay-” He replied. I felt there was a ‘but’ coming. “But not for the reason we thought of.”
“What? It’s not for this Dyson Sphere thing. What is it then? ” I asked, clueless of what he was talking about.
“They...They...They’ve found a wormhole, possibly leading to another world.” He replied, looking more astonished than me, as if he was unable to believe it too, even though he had himself said it.
There was a full minute of silence. All the whirring and humming inside the ship could be heard, which was a rare thing, considering the sounds were so subtle.
I finally broke the silence, “What does it mean? What do they want us to do about it? How will it even work?”
“They want us to...to...” He stuttered.
“Okay Merricko, look, we...we gotta stay calm, man. Tell me what they said. Every bit of it.” I said, trying to sound reassuring, but failing miserably.
He sighed, one of the longest ones I’d ever heard; and then he said, “The Federation lied to us. The research on the Dyson Sphere should have ended a week ago. We had already gathered all the information they needed, but they kept us giving tasks just to make us stay here.”
“What? But why us? There would surely be astronauts more capable than us when it comes to this? ’’ I asked.
“The Fed said that the wormhole is unstable. It will probably close in the next few days. So there wasn’t any time for the other astronauts to come, adjust to the conditions and then be able to act upon it. At least, that’s what they said” He replied.
“What do you mean?”
“Come on Starboard. Use your head. How many of the Federation’s predictions and experiments actually are possible? A really small percentage. And in this scenario, even if it is true, who would want to risk their lives to do it. We’ve been used as baits.”
“The HELL we are. Like I’m gonna let this happen.” I said furiously, while connecting the telecom to the Fed.”
“Starboard, wait, list-”
“Hello, Starboard 101. Hello, Merricko. To what do I owe the pleasure?” The voice asked. It was Chief. Nobody knew his name, he was known all around as Chief. He was the one who controlled everything in the Fed. He was the reason we were stuck on the ISS.
“Cut it out, Chief. What’s going on? Why would you do this?” I asked.
“Starboard, he is the...the Chi-” Merricko began, but was interrupted for the second time.
“You have been selected for an exploration. This is the first time that humanity has not only encountered a wormhole, but also acted upon it, and it is all due to The Federation’s geniuses. Who knows what will be on the other side. You should consider yourself lucky. Your names will be written in history books and many would be willing to take your place. Believe me, you were not our first choice. But given the current circumstances, it has to be you. ” The Chief said.
“And what if I refuse. I won’t explore that wormhole or whatever. I’m going back.” I spited in fury.
“Well, you can’t. The pods have been disabled. You can’t leave the ISS. The only option you have is to stay here and do as commanded. And should you choose to refuse; the oxygen supply will be cut off. From here on, your life lies in your own hands....”
Another minute of whirring and humming of the ISS followed that sentence. Even though I couldn’t see him, I could feel that Chief had a malicious grin on his face at that moment.
“Fine. Tell us what to do.” Merricko replied out of nowhere. It seemed that he had regained his confidence.
“Thank you for cooperating.’’ Chief replied. It seemed that he wasn’t surprised by us giving into it so easily, at all. “So, you might be wondering what a wormhole is. As you surely know, noth-”
“Yeah, we know it. We’re astronauts, damnit. We don’t need your birds and bees talk. Just head straight to the point.” I replied aggressively.
“Careful, Starboard 101, you’re already treading on thin ice.”
He gestured outside. Towards the wings. It must have been what Merricko said. The Fed must’ve heard me on the intercom while I was outside. Them and their protocols.
“Protocols must always be followed.” He continued “And protocols state that I must brief you, so here we are. So, as I was saying earlier, nothing can travel faster than light. So it is impossible for humanity to travel to faraway places in a short span of time. But a wormhole, also known as an Einstein-Rosen Bridge, is such a phenomenon, which bends space-time itself, and allows anyone who enters it, to cover great distances almost instantly. But humanity has never seen a wormhole till now, and it has remained a great mystery to us. But now, due to The Federation’s exceptionally talented people, we have been able to discover one. ”
“Where do we come in this?” Merricko asked.
“You both are going to have the privilege to go inside the wormhole and discover what lies ahead.” Chief answered.
Surprisingly, it did not come as a major shock to me. I guess that I had been mentally preparing myself for it, because deep inside, I knew it was coming. It seemed that Merricko had been preparing his mind for it too. He remained calm.
“How did you even discover a wormhole? I don’t think it’s possible to observe it from a far distance.” I asked.
“You’re correct, Starboard 101. It is not. I would have you to thank for it.” Said Chief.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Before he could reply, Merricko answered. “The asteroids. They were rigged, weren’t they? They deliberately made debris to pass near the ISS, so some fault would occur, which had you going out again and again. The space suits were installed with hidden cameras, so when you got out, they could observe the wormhole. I assume that the wormhole is somewhere near here, isn’t it? ”
Chief didn’t answer. There was no need. I could almost imagine his smirk. I wanted to curse him, but I knew I would only get Merricko and myself into trouble. I remained quiet.
“I see you two have no objections. Since we do not know the precise time the wormhole will close, we need to carry out the operation as soon as possible. So, you two will be taking a pod tomorrow and going into the wormhole. If you try to escape, it will not end well, you can just take my word for it. Chief out. ”
Neither of us said a word. I looked at Merricko, he seemed distant, engrossed in his thoughts. After a while, he went into his room without a word. Afterwards, I went in my room too.
It was quiet the next day. We both wore our space suits and waited for Chief to give instructions. Merricko was taking instructions on a private telecom, because I couldn’t stand to hear his voice.
Finally, it was time. Both of us climbed into the pod. Merricko was navigating it, while Chief was giving him the coordinates. After a surprisingly short period of time, Merricko abruptly stopped the pod.
“Where is it?” I asked. My voice was cracking.
He just pointed straight ahead. I looked there. There was nothing there. After a while of staring into an empty void of space, I said, “Where? I still can’t see it.”
Without another word, Merricko drove straight ahead and suddenly the whole world went black...
We continued travelling straight ahead, into the blindness. Nothing was visible, but Merricko just kept on going. Surprisingly, the watch I was wearing stopped, meaning that time had actually stopped for us. I guess it was because of time dilation.
About half an hour later, (it seemed half an hour to me, though time barely moved) the pod started to shake a little bit. The shaking started getting intense. Merricko kept on shouting “HOLD ON, WAIT”, I could hear Chief’s fanatic calls asking what was happening. At one point, the pod had started shaking so much that I was worried it would actually turn over.
And then, Merricko shouted, “We’re almost there” Just as I felt that the pod could not hold anymore longer, we emerged into a totally different world.
The pod kept on going; it was barely in Merricko’s control now. We were heading towards a small hill. I was certain we were going to crash. Somehow, at the last moment, Merricko managed to divert out of the hill’s direction. We crashed in the ground hard.
“Are you alright?” Merricko asked, while getting out of the pod.
“Yeah, I’m fine. What about you?” I said.
“Unhurt. The pod seems to have suffered though.” He said, looking worried.
I suspected it.“Nothing that can’t be fixed. What are his instructions?’’ I looked at Merricko’ s telecom with disgust.
“The connection has broken. He said that if the connection breaks, we should continue searching on our own, until we find something. Guess we are on our own now. What is this place, anyway?”
I looked at our surroundings. The sky was deep red, deeper than a sunset sky. And then I noticed it, there were two suns. We were definitely nowhere close to our solar system. Possibly another universe altogether.
The ground was barren as far as I could see. The sand here was different; it seemed to slip away as we walked. And the gravity here was a lot less than what we were used to on earth.
“We should move ahead” Merricko said.
I nodded my head in approval. We started walking towards the direction of the suns. Merricko was studying the habitable conditions of the planet on some device.
“The temperature outside matches that of earth. And the atmosphere has all essential gases, though not in the right amount, but I’m sure the Fed could take care of that. All that is left is to see if we can find a water source.” He said, while looking at the device.
“Is it necessary to do that? We can just go back and tell them that we couldn’t find a water source.” I suggested.
“No, I’m sure that lying wouldn’t do us any good. As soon as we get back, they’ll put us through hundreds of question. All our responses will be monitored. Our lives will surely be taken, if they find out that we are lying.” He said. “The Fed won’t send anybody else here until they are a hundred percent convinced that they have a reason to. And we have been sent to find that reason.”
We started moving ahead again. After walking a little farther, Merricko suddenly stopped. I looked at him questioningly. He just pointed at a boulder ahead.
I looked at the boulder he was pointing to. And from behind it, appeared an alien....
It was a small creature, about half my height. It had big, bright eyes, a weird mouth and bluish skin. It seemed scared to see us. As soon as we started to approach it, it ran away.
I meant to run after it, but Merricko stopped me. He held me back until the alien had put a considerable difference between us. Then he said, “It would not be wise to scare it. We should rather observe while hidden. We still don’t know what it might be capable of.”
I agreed quietly. We both started walking towards where it had run off to. I still couldn’t believe it. We had come looking for a water source and found something we could never have imagined. What would the Fed do, when they find out about this? Will they still try to colonize it, or will they not? There was a storm of questions inside my head.
“Where did it go?” Merricko asked.
“It was somewhere about there.” I pointed towards the direction the creature had run off to. There was a tunnel there. We walked towards it, still trying to be as obscure as we could be.
We both looked at the tunnel it had run into. We entered the tunnel, still trying to not give away our presence. The tunnel ended quite suddenly, and on the other side I could see a cave.
I looked at Merricko; he nodded, and we both started walking in the direction of the cave. The cave had appeared small from the exterior, but from inside, it appeared to be quite large. There was still no sign of the alien, so we continued moving ahead.
After a while, the cave’s path turned into a bend. We hid behind the bend, and looked around. And on the other side was the creature, but it was not alone.
“There are 3 of them. But the other two look different. One of them has the same built, seems feminine. The other... it looks like their child” Merricko said.
I looked at them with awe. After years of space exploration, we had finally found life besides us. However their methods may be, but the Federation was truly remarkable.
I looked around more. “Is that a vegetable patch?” I asked Merricko, while still looking at it. He didn’t respond. I again asked, “Do you think they are farming?”
Again, no respond. I looked towards him, but he was nowhere to be seen. I noticed a small crevice in a wall near which he was standing. I passed through the crevice and looked around. I saw him standing on a cliff, which hung over a deep valley.
“Why did you go away without telling?” I asked him.
He didn’t say anything. While still looking down at the valley, with his back towards me, he jerked his head towards it. I moved forwards to stand beside him. I looked down and saw hundreds of those creatures moving about, hundreds of caves similar to the one we had been in. There was a huge piece of land which had those same vegetables as before. I saw some of them trying to communicate with hand gestures.
“Their civilization has just started. They are what humans were, millions of years ago. Life on this planet must have originated not a long time ago.” Merricko said.
We both kept on looking at them.
“The Fed won’t let them live.” Merricko said, after a while. I looked at him, the astronaut, who had endured every difficulty, succeeded in every mission, had tears in his eyes.
“I know” I said dejectedly.
“Humanity has had its chance at living, and we have destroyed our planet in the process. But does that mean we should end someone else’s chance to live, just so we get to live? ” Merricko continued.
“But what can we do about it? You’ve already said that lying would only lead us to our death.” I asked.
“I also mentioned that the Federation would not send anyone else unless they are convinced that they have to.”
“What do you mean?”
“If the Fed thinks that the other side of the wormhole, or the wormhole itself, is not suitable for humans and brings about their death, they would not be interested in it anymore.”
“You mean to say...”
“Yeah, we have to choose between our lives and theirs”
We both again looked at the creatures. There were many questions inside my head, as well as many emotions.
“Let’s go for it, Merricko.” I said, after a long time.
I looked towards him. He smiled at me. “You can call me Logan, my friend” He said, and jumped off the cliff. I followed him, hoping these aliens would evolve into a species that we could never have hoped to be...