Catch up on the space adventure:
Second test 8% neon remaining. Storm cleared. Orange sky.
Survey planet’s surface.
October 17, 3021
Well, I certainly wouldn’t recommend that anyone settle here. I mean, 8% neon? With such a low concentration of oxygen, that’s quite high. And that’s the strongest filter in existence, to my knowledge! The filter in my helmet is barely as good, making me hesitant to go survey. When I told Fergus that I might not make it back (I was mostly joking), he insisted on coming with me! I tried to refuse, but, since I do have an extra suit, he said I didn’t have any argument that he considers legitimate. I wanted to say he could die, but he just would have given me a long-suffering look. So, apparently, we’re both going. My extra suit fits him terribly, but he’s short enough that he can just barely fasten the important spots. His own suit wore through in several spots more than a year ago, but, thankfully, his boots still work. Mostly. My helmet, of course, has a five years’ newer temperature regulator and filtering system, so…
What my helmets don’t have is a radio. What’s the point when you have no crew and home base is too far away for radio? As it turns out, the lack of that particular feature is quite irritating when one is scouting an unknown planet with an only-slightly-less-unknown man. Yeah, that occurred to me on our hours’ long hike. I barely know Fergus. And, until a few days ago, I didn’t even know he existed. But I think knowing a person’s story is a big part of knowing him. When you’ve heard someone’s deepest pain and biggest regret, you’ve caught a glimpse of their soul. So, despite not knowing Fergus long, I feel deeply connected to him.
We set out at sunrise and stayed out about half an hour after dark. What a long five hours. I took soil samples, dug holes to see if there’s any water deeper down (there’s not), and did some mapping. My feet ache now. And Fergus hurts, too. I could tell by the little wince that kept crossing his face. He’s in surprisingly good shape, though. I don’t know exactly what he did on Vortega, but he’s pretty fit. Skinny, but fit.
When we got back to the ship, he startled me by echoing my own thoughts.
He said, “I never realized before how lonely you can be walking beside someone. I was lonely on Vortega, but it’s much worse being near another human being and unable to communicate with them.”
He said it was enough to drive you crazy. He would know, I suppose. How do you spend five years alone on an empty planet with nearly nothing and not go crazy? The four month journey from Earth to Vortega nearly did me in some days. After launch, I had audio contact with one of the lunar bases for all of a week. Then it was just me. I brought a lot of music and, thankfully, recordings of people talking. I learned Russian, for goodness’ sake! Otherwise I would have gone plum insane.
But, though Fergus has his oddities – his sleep pattern, his lack of communication, his tendency to startle easily, his little tics – he’s not crazy. His mind still spins normally, so to speak. So, I asked him how he kept from going insane. Apparently, he nearly did that first month or so, especially after his watch stopped working. Then, according to him, God gave him a routine. He explored every inch of the planet, moving his camp so that he was never in the cold too long. That routine is the reason his sleep cycle’s strange. For the first four hours (I’m still not entirely sure how he kept time), he worked out, ate, and did mind exercises. Then he would sleep, and when he woke up an hour and a half later, he’d explore and talk to God. Then he’d sleep and repeat.
The one thing he said that stuck out the most was one sentence near the end of our conversation. He looked me in the eyes and said, “I would have gone stark raving mad but for the purpose God gave me.” And that was basically the end of it. Soon afterward, he went to bed, and I haven’t seen him in three hours. I, meanwhile, have been nursing a brandy and staring out at the shadowy, pockmarked surface of Laos. The very idea of him attributing his survival to God’s provision makes me a little bit angry. That’s how people always talked at the little church where I spent elementary school. And I was a model churchgoing child until the summer before eighth grade, when the pastor’s son broke my heart and I realized that God wasn’t actually helping me. When we moved to Virginia the following spring, I went to our new church for two weeks and then never went back. So, no, I don’t have a habit of attributing things to God.
The problem, of course, is that Fergus’ state of mind matches his story. I honestly don’t know how he would stay sane for five years. Unless he’s right… I’m not sure I want to think about that right now. I’m not sure I want to think about anything.