Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The World of Many Faces

A great many worlds in the galaxy are habitable. In the millennia that came and went many of them were inhabited by man and his descendants. Unutulmush was typical of them. It was a small and dry world in a tide locked orbit around a dim red feisty star.

It had known humans once or near enough. We landed outside ancient granite ruins that reached to the stars like broken fingers in the temperate belt stretching pole to pole. The cold thin air was like a refreshing libation after months of living on our packet. We had heard of an abandoned orbital station and came seeking salvage.

But we found its orbit had long since decayed. So we grounded and spent a night out under the stars looking at one horizon frozen just before the dawn and the other caught up in endless twilight. We built a fire with fuel pellets. We were too experienced to burn native foliage. Not after making camp on Zehir and loosing half our crew.

Sitting by our safe, synthetic fire roasting tube meat and puff tots we got to talking about the Homeworld. All humans had some myths about it and at these times we liked to share out old stories. This was mainly because we could never agree on what the World was like.

Elisapie called from the perimeter of light the fire threw. She liked the cold thin wind. It reminded her of home. "The World was cold with frozen seas for most of the year. It had long nights and long days at different times. Mountains were high and locked in glaciers and ice. Great beasts roamed the land and seas." She nodded her head sharply once.

Qalid inspected a tube meat on a fork and returned it to the fire. His dark eyes blazed as he spoke and he shook his head annoyedly. "The World was desert. Much like this one, it was sandy and rocky and life sprung from small water holes. Days were hot. Nights were cold. Maybe not cold enough for you Eli. But cold. People traveled on beasts that thrived in the sand and drank seldom at all."

Shug looked up from his puff tot and shrugged. "The world was ... city as long as people could remember. Streets full of lights blotted out the starlight and only those on the tallest building could see the horizons and they were full of more buildings. People lived stacked on top of people until the Exodus and many seeing stars went mad with delight or fear."

"No," I said firmly. "The World was nearly dead when men came into it. It nearly expired before we reached beyond it to bring ice from frozen moons to revive the air and feed the dry ocean beds. Worse than your desert Qalid or your frozen lands Elispie."

"The World was named Ocean and humans knew little of dry lands till they went to the Planets and the Near Stars. My people knew nothing of it of course. We cultivated fish for foods and harvested metal nodes for industry until the waters turned black and we had to leave ..."

"It was a cavern inside an asteroid ..."

"100100011!"

"It was a fiction ..."

"This is an amalgam of legends of several early colonies among the stars. Humans reached them or were taken there by others. Never mind how. No planet had that many biomes, that variety of climes and weather, that many peoples. There wasn't enough room for all those tales on a dozen worlds, let alone one." That last pronouncement came from Thoth, the ship's AI. Its motile floated daring us to challenge his data.

"This is a nice planet. I wonder where the people went ... why they left?" I asked looking at Thoth. The motile wobbled a little. Thoth hated being asked a question and coming up ignorant. I threw another fuel pellet on the fire and looked at the ruins. Finally I shrugged. There were no easy answers in this Universe just more and more questions. I was suddenly very homesick for the small dead planet and the particular dome I called home. I wanted to breathe the air my people had breathed for centuries and walk the decks their feet had worn smooth.

After all, there's no place like home.