Next Step

The planet was flat. Well, more disc shaped. That was easily seen during the days of our approach.

Our intent was to land as close to the center of the ‘topside’ as we could. We would explore, map, chart and document our findings for the conglomerates that had sent us, eight of us in all, to this quadrant.

We each had different goals and specialties. Mine was Contextual Life Spans. Others were interested in Raw Materials, types and amounts. Some were looking for specific genetic characteristics of living things. One was looking for energy sources that could be used or adapted by those that sent us.

We didn’t hit our targeted touch point. Not even close. Apparently, the disc had a bit of an uneven keel, or wobble, that had been unaccounted for. The ship came down very near the edge of the disc. The rotation at the edge was too great to compensate for and the ship tumbled on touchdown. For some time, we were slammed against the netting of our vector buckets.

When the ship finally lay still, we took inventory. Comms were gone. Internal instruments were damaged. External gathering and support systems were missing or destroyed. We took seven solar cycles (SCs) to recover valuable parts from the silenced crew and damaged equipment. We destroyed what was unusable, categorized the parts that were scavenged and began the process of maintaining existence on the surface.

On SC nine, the ship moved. With a loud screech and a shudder, the ship was dragged outward toward the rim. A look out the window (video was down) showed a new scar in the dirt of the surface. The ship had moved nearly one length.

We had no idea how close we were to the edge, but we could feel the pull toward one side of the ship. Just like a spinning wheel, the farther away from the axle, the stronger the pull. From what we could see out of the window, the surface was free from any debris. Even dust had been pulled toward the edge.

After the first ship movement, it began to vibrate. Two crew members went extra vehicular. Their intent was to get an idea of where we were in relation to the edge. They were also tasked to find a way to anchor the ship so that it wouldn’t get pulled any closer to the edge.

We received one message, very garbled, over our short-range suit comms. We were approximately three hundred lengths from the edge. We heard one more radio burst, then silence.

Three hundred lengths. That’s not much. The ship’s original length was one tenth length. The planed diameter had been measured at nearly thirty thousand lengths, including the open center. In one aspect this was a great place for me to start my research. On the other hand, I would rather make my own decision about how close I would get to the edge. Now I would be working in reverse. If I could travel at all.

We continued to patch the equipment we could and came up with stronger comms. We also were able to get long range visuals up, receiving images from ten thousand lengths. They were difficult to interpret, although the visuals were crystal clear. In studying them closely, we determined that we were seeing some sort of intelligent work, perhaps even buildings and travel paths.

A pattern emerged as the images were assembled for study. Though not entirely unexpected, it was still surprising to see it on-planet versus in theory. The land formations gradually became shorter as they moved away from the center. The ‘designed’ features followed the same pattern.

We panned the visual to each edge at sixty degrees each way from our position. We saw similar features and patterns in each view. The only surprise was the slight rise at the edge. The rise appeared uniform and continuous. We didn’t have an explanation, but this type of planet was new to our exploration efforts.

The second extra-vehicular effort was intended to attempt to move away from the edge against the pull. Two of us watched through the short-range comms and learned that a low profile was required. The readings on centrifugal force showed a small decrease in pull with even the slightest move toward the axle. They had renamed the center of the disc the axle. It seemed appropriate given the shape and rotation of the disc around the central open space.

We watched as the video feed slowly moved across the surface of the disc. The intense effort to move was obvious. For several minutes the exterior of the ship slowly panned across our view. The damage was extraordinary. Broken appendages that once held instruments and navigational motors were bent and folded across the body of the ship.

The view from the video began to move under the ship. It appeared that everything was moving away from the lens. The audio transmitted metallic screeches and heavy effort clearly before the view began tumbling. We watched the horizon roll past faster and faster, flashing the brightness of the surface and the blackness of space. A final flash of static and then nothing.

We played the video back several times. By enhancing it using several filters and slowing it down, we noticed what appeared to be a surface vehicle (SV) still clinging to the skin of the ship.

Turning to each other, we both had the same conclusion: we need that vehicle. We traced its location to an interior access panel that was damaged but repairable.

We gathered tools and equipment from storage and were able to open the panel. The SV interior was littered with materials torn loose from the landing. We cleared the debris and tested the systems. All seemed in order – except for the crushed exterior motor pod wrapped around a corner of the SV.

After gathering the data, we could by observation, we analyzed our position. We determined that we could pack the SV and one follower with equipment we would need to explore the planet. We had long since concluded that we would not leave this place with the damage to our craft. We were in doubt that we would be able to transmit any findings we had to the closest repeater star. Perhaps our data would remain with us when our own systems failed.

 But our task was looming before us. We had to gather data. And why not? We were still capable to do so, and fresh data awaited just outside our ship, calling to us like the sirens called the earliest of our Makers explorers.

It took some planning and effort, but we finally got the SV loaded and dropped to the surface with the follower intact. We had completed our calculations and began our course over the surface toward the axle. We made progress, but it was slow at the beginning. We used the hooks and cables installed in the SV to anchor us and pull us forward.

However slow at first, progress was made and the pull on us diminished with each SC. The farther away we traveled from the edge, the greater the variation in the landscape. Small ripples in the surface turned into low changes in grades which turned into hills. We travelled in a valley with the surface rising on either side of us.

While I navigated, my cohort was busy with various instruments, measuring energy types and levels. The data was recorded and banked for analysis later. One observation was that a particular energy signal was registering strongest at the edge but was diminishing as we left it behind us. The signal did not fit any of the signatures we had on record. Again, this awaited further analysis.

The next SC, the first designed structure came into vies. I stopped our travel, exited the vehicle and headed toward the angles and edges of definite construction. There were no entrances or viewing ports, but I took readings and measurements and stored the video with the data I collected overland.

Two days later, we found the first structure that had openings. I learned about the inhabitants by the dimensions of the openings, the height and width of rooms and possible hallways. The intricacies and patterns of these first inhabited structures were more complex than I expected. Diagrams and some language were preserved in the innermost rooms. All received the appropriate recording, documentation and storage protocols.

We stopped to record every energy signal and anomaly as well as every non-naturally occurring formation or structure. Each Length closer to the axle became easier and consumed fewer resources to traverse.

At five Lengths to the edge of the axle, we began the task of decoding the data each of us had collected. We were unsure of the interference we would encounter directly from the axle and opted to consolidate and protect the data we had collected so far.

We concerned ourselves with our areas of specialization. I was able to decipher many of the idea transfer symbols discovered mainly on the interior walls of the structures we had encountered. A few that were found on some unique structures found on some unique structures closer to the axle ramained unknown, but they appeared to be central to several themes I had uncovered so far. The ideas conveyed with on of the symbols were: exterior boundary or containment, life taker/returner/transformer. But none of the data banks or synthesizers at my disposal could resolve the meaning or purpose of the symbols.

My cohort had completed the analysis of each energy signal. All had been identified and categorized as to type, energy purity and total amount. All, that is, but one.

When each review had been completed, we compared results and were able to deepen the knowledge base because of the crossover from energy to life. The two are related in many ways.

The symbols that I had not yet resolved were of the same type or at least similar to the energy symbols my cohort could not decipher or locate in the data banks or logic programs for that specialty.

Having shared our results, we returned to our own methods to attempt to make sense of the gathered data.

After several cycles, we compared our results. We began with what we knew and ended with our best hypothesis about the planet’s inhabitants and energy resources.

Our findings were:

The planet was ancient. It had been inhabited and abandoned several times. The last time sentient beings had been here was several thousand solar revolutions in the past. It was energy rich. The edge held an unknown type of energy that currently only held the disc planet from flying apart. There had been much more of the energy at one time, but two inhabitant societies ago, it had been identified as a resource and had been tapped and used for purposes off planet. The reduction of the energy material had reduced the practical living area to a small circle around the axle. The amount of rim energy original to the planet maintained an atmosphere and somehow kept the planet hidden. The axle did not register on any instrumentation; however, it had been the subject of several inscriptions. It carried two alternate names. What we called the axle was called both the First Step and the Next Step. We concluded our study of the planet over the next five SCs. No new energy types were found. New languages were identified, translated and cataloged. The last language I came across took several cycles to decipher. It provided a few data points we had not already entered. The greatest value from this language was the description of the axle. The Last Language was on a wide stone wall that circled the axle. It was at the end of a long line of languages that described individual inhabitant groups and their interactions with the planet. The descriptions found in it, however, completed the understanding of the axle.

The First Step referred to the transportation of partial populations to the planet. A selection process of some kind took place, and everyone was collected and went into stasis. The entire group came out of stasis at the same time, each held in place in the axle with their backs to the center. Each was asked in their language to take one step onto the surface of the planet. Those that took that step lived as best they could. Those that refused were sent to the edge in underground tubes. They became part of the energy that held the planet together. When the last individual of the group that remained on the surface expired, they were fed to the edge energy through the tubes. The last one remaining stepped into the axle and took the Next Step. A step that took them to an unknown place. A place that was hypothesized to be the planet of the creators of the planet. No firm data supported this hypothesis, however.

We spent one more SC looking for hidden data. Having found none, my cohort determined that the next logical step was to explore the tube all the way to the edge energy, log the data and return.

I waited the number of SCs we had determined this would take, but I remained alone. I waited the additional SCs for difficult travel or for massive data downloads. Still alone, I loaded all our data into a storage cell and placed it at the end of the Last Language.

Standing next to the axle, I took a final look around. Seeing nothing I had not already seen and recorded, I faced the center of the axle and took the Next Step.

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