Planet by David Macfie

 The landscape looked strange. There was just so much water. From the hovering spacecraft, he couldn’t see any dry land at all. He’d come across the planet by accident. It wasn’t on his latest space chart and, as far as he knew, it was unknown to his scientists. He wasn’t sure how that was possible, but the view was proof that the planet existed. There was lots of floating vegetation that clearly wasn’t anchored. He watched it moving with the currents below. In between these living islands, the water’s dark blue-green color made it look deep. He couldn’t see any signs of wind and the sky was cloudless and a pale green hue that seemed sickly.

He took samples of the atmosphere and while his craft’s mini-lab analyzed them, he snapped many photo images and recorded voice observations. The analyses came back showing that the air had a similar composition to that of Earth so now he sent all these survey results with his first report to space HQ. He included the galactic coordinates of the planet and a request for more information and clarification. He knew that it would be a while before he got a response so he slowly started to explore the planet’s surface, using a grid pattern to make sure he covered all of it. He concentrated on being as competent as possible, in terms of the detail he looked for, and also in terms of trying to find sentient life.

He became so engrossed that he lost track of time and only realized how much had passed when the light started to fade. He returned his craft to hover and recorded the earth time of the onset of twilight. Soon it was fully dark and, because there was no cloud cover, the star-scape was brilliant. Again, he recorded many overlapping images of this alternative way of positioning the planet. Then he prepared for sleep. He set a wake-up for the start of dawn so that he could assess the lengths of day and night. Initially, his rest was broken and plagued with dreams of the hidden terrors that might inhabit this new world. Finally he dropped into a deeper sleep that lasted until his alarm sounded.

He started the new day by completing a series of measurements and observations from his new vantage point then he continued with his survey of the surface. For several hours, by his Earth calibrated watch, he worked methodically at his task. He became increasingly troubled at the apparent lack of any kind of advanced life forms and also by the absence of dry land. Was the whole surface covered in water? He diligently continued for several earth-days until, just as he completed his surface examinations, he received a message from space HQ.

“Space Explorer, Patrick Armstrong, there is no known evidence of the existence of this planet. In fact, in all previous surveys of that area of space, it did not exist. Take as many samples from the physical surface, as you can and revert.”

He looked up from the communication and watched, in consternation, as the planet disappeared from in front of his eyes. Simultaneously, a huge space craft appeared and his communicator crackled.

“Space Explorer Armstrong, we have been monitoring your activities and communications. Our grand illusion would not have stood up to physical sampling so we have discontinued it. We are going to bring you on board to meet with you personally. Be prepared.”

Armstrong experienced a moment of abject panic as his craft was gripped by an invisible force and drawn slowly to the unknown craft. He realized that he had no choice and, with a great effort, he calmed himself and observed as much as he could, recording as he went. After a slow, sure journey he saw great doors open and his vehicle was brought into a huge hanger like area and parked. It was surrounded by other vehicles that were of a completely different design to anything he was familiar with. Once the doors closed again, he quickly tested the atmosphere and found it acceptable for breathing.

He decided to meet his hosts head on and removed his space suit then climbed out onto the floor. He was reassured by the artificial gravity and waited patiently. Quickly a small wheeled vehicle approached him and stopped. A Gull-wing door opened and an artificial voice asked him to be seated within. He complied and was whisked through a corridor to an open area, where three figures waited. Their dress was reminiscent of the togas of ancient Greece and all wore white. The hoods and sleeves concealed faces and lower limb parts, so Armstrong had no idea what these creature looked like. The togas were so long that he couldn’t see feet either. The ‘car’ stopped and the gull-wing opened. He climbed out and approached the three. The tallest one moved forward and stopped about a meter away.

“Patrick Armstrong, we welcome you. I am mission leader Grak and my companions are medic Klar and communicator Ashen.”

Grak was the next tallest and Ashen the shortest, which led Armstrong to believe that figure might be female.

“Please follow us.”

The three turned and moved away. Armstrong followed. They reached a small enclosed area with one chair.

“Please be seated. We understand that is customary with your people.”

Armstrong sat and said nothing.

“Thank you,” said Grak. “Some words of explanation, first. We have been studying your world for some time and learned your languages so that, when we were ready, we could communicate. We have also been following your explorations and now that you are coming close to our home space, we have decided to make contact. I think we are the first of what you would call ‘extra-terrestrials’ to take this step.”

Armstrong stammered an affirmative, then collected himself.

“If we are to communicate, would it be possible for me to see you properly?” he asked.

“It is possible, but prepare yourself for a shock,” replied Grak.

Armstrong nodded and steeled himself. But he couldn’t stifle the gasp of shock and bewilderment that he felt as the robes dropped away.

Three bodiless heads floated before him, faces similar to his own.