Short Story – Winter
I’ve missed a couple of weeks so if you are one of the people who actually looks for a story every Wednesday (I know there are a few of you), I’m sorry about that!
This week, I really just started with the idea of a snowstorm on an alien planet. I’m also doing a live reading of a story next week so I needed something that ran about 3-5 minutes, so the story needed to be shorter than usual.
I hope you read and enjoy. As always, comments, thoughts, criticisms, and shares are welcome!
I’ve always felt if a sky was going to be red, the planet ought to be unbearably hot.
After visiting nearly twelve dozen planets, I’ve found that the color of the sky has no noticeable relationship to the temperature on the planet and yet, I still want the ones with red skies to be hot.
Triffid Seven was not going to be the planet to live up to my Earth centric biases. The seventh planet from Triffid was about as far away from the star as one could find a planet still considered inside the habitable zone. This planet was going to be cold.
“What’s the weather like down there, Ray?”
“I can confirm there’s water. Because it’s snowing.”
“Did you bring some skis?”
Safely located in the pilot seat of the insertion vessel miles above me, Lina could make all the jokes she wanted. She didn’t have to wade through twelve inches of fresh fallen snow to determine if there was any life on the planet. She didn’t have to test for breathable air. She didn’t have to set up a shelter and evaluate prevailing weather patterns.
She didn’t have to do a lot of things. Except make snarky comments about skis.
I try to console myself with the thought that her job is a whole lot more boring than mine.
I’m still in my full suit because I don’t yet know if my lungs can handle the gases that make up Triffid Seven’s atmosphere. Preliminary readings are good but I have to wait for confirmation from Lina’s computer.
Redundancy is important. I wouldn’t be the first planetary explorer to die of asphyxiation because he trusted the preliminary results of an atmospheric screen. We’ve gotten a lot better at this process over the years.
“Ray – the atmospheric screen is positive. You can take your helmet off.”
“I’m not sure I want to. It’s probably cold as hell out here.”
“The temp reading on your suit says it’s about 10 degrees Celsius down there.”
She was right. That was what my gauge said. But it was snowing hard. And nothing was melting. No way it was that warm.
Taking off the helmet is like ripping off a band aid. You just have to do it before your mind gets the best of you.
I pulled the helmet off and took a long deep breath. Once you take that first breath, it doesn’t really matter. That atmosphere is either going to to kill you or sustain you. Holding your breath isn’t going change those outcomes. It will only delay them.
The air was cool but not cold. Ten degrees celsius was probably right.
“You still with me Ray?”
“I’m still with you. It really is about ten degrees.”
“You sound surprised.”
“I am. Water is frozen but the weather is too warm for that to happen. The snow should melt as soon as it makes contact with my face but it doesn’t. It just bounces off.”
“Are you sure it’s snow?”
“I thought it was.”
I pulled off a glove and put my hand into the powder on the ground. It was cold. Colder than the air temperature. But not as cold as snow should be. I brought a handful up to my face and took a closer look at the individual flakes.
They looked just like flakes of snow – elaborate crystal structures glinting in the light of the a setting star, tinted red by a clear sky that should not have been clear. It was still snowing, so why was the sky clear?
Against every regulation designed to keep us safe, I brought the snow up to my lips and licked a little off my hands.
“It’s snow all right. Not as cold as Earth snow. Must have a higher freezing point.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Doesn’t make any sense that it’s snowing even though there isn’t a cloud in the sky, either.”
I was used to planets that didn’t make sense. You only have to visit one or two to realize that Earth is, by and large, unique. There are plenty of other planets that can support life.
But none of them are quite like Earth.
Our job is just to find the ones that are close enough.
“Million dollar question for you Ray”
“Can we colonize it?”
“You got it. Can we colonize it?”
It wasn’t a million dollar question. It was a billion dollar question. Possibly a trillion dollar question.
Find one inhabitable planet within fifty light years of earth and you will never have to work again. Just one.
“I don’t know. It might make a good winter sports resort. I’m pretty close to the equator. I find it hard to believe there would be any farmable land.”
“There’s water, though.”
“Yes. A lot of it.”
“Any signs of life?”
“You’d think there would be prints in the snow if there’s as much as you say.”
Yes. That was true. But the snow was blowing around an awful lot. How long would prints last?
Something about the snow was reminding me of Earth. The way it blew around even though I couldn’t feel any wind looked very familiar.
And then I realized it wasn’t blowing. It was flocking.
And the way the individual flakes were blinking in the starlight wasn’t random.
“Lana, I’m going back to the lander to get the translator.”
“Did you find something.”
“Oh, I did. But with a little negotiation, we might be able to make this work.”