This story, Mercury, is the first part of the [Working Title] story collection of settling our Solar System.
The spaceship descended upon the magma filled land, bubbling and sizzling and beaming into the thin atmosphere, sickening it.
Nonetheless, the ship made its way down. Its heat shield reflecting the lethal heat of the ground.
When the ship had landed, people ran out of its silver glowing ports; old ones, young ones, men and women, of all colors and of all sizes. Within seconds they filled the land decorated with magma seas around.
On the sky, the sun shone and casted intense shadows behind the folks, behind the ship. But the shadows faded, their cold faded in loss to the magma’s boiling heat.
”Get the flag!” yelled the captain who stepped out last of the ship, his ship. His hands rested against his sides and his head, looking up towards the sky as if that was what he had conquered, now, here, this very sun day.
Two men ran up behind him carrying the flag in their thick gloves covering their fragile hands. They ran forward while the captain followed them with slow paced steps, each slightly clumsy from space trying to suck him out.
”Set it down!” he yelled out. His voice could only be heard on the radio in everyone’s helmets, yet it felt as if his words echoed through the atmosphere, emptied, like a plug had been removed unleashing the sealed air.
The two men jumped two last steps on the orange and red and yellow ground and then finally, with their last jump high in the sky, slammed the flag with all their remaining power into the ground.
It did not sail. It did not sway in the wind that the captain, and the crew, had imagined for it. It merely quickened and then fell silent, with but pieces of magma smashing its side and lighting the soft, fragile fabric on fire for a brief moment before the air ran out and the flame flickered away. Over and over again it tried. Every time starting a short flame that then simply disappeared, followed by a silence. Then again. And again. And again.
The captain, with his face hiding faint drops of sublimating water, jumped over to the flag with the two men standing next to it, their arms flying up when the captain came closer, as if afraid he would blame them.
But, of course, the captain ignored them. He ignored the whole crew; everyone, the folks, the people, the men and women that stood in a chunked crowds outside the ship’s aluminium hull. He took hold of the flag’s pole and shook it. Rumbling his hand trying to move it, do anything to make it sway. But it would just fire a short burst of flame, not enough to light it whole, and then die into a silence.
”Set up camp!” he yelled over the radio with a sudden burst, his words yelling in everyone’s ears, hidden from the sunlight within their glass covered visirs. ”We rest through the warmest hours. And then when the surface has turned cold, we will explore, just like Scott told us before he got on the director shuttle.” He walked back towards the ship. ”Watch out for the magma, set up your tents on the solids in between! I’ll be in the ship if anyone needs me…”
Soon after he had said his final words of the day, the cargo depot, containing cans of raw protein and carbons descended through the burnt atmosphere. Through the poisonous clouds and the air filled with burning ashes it came, smashing down in a puddle of magma, sending the crew in a jump over the planets surface, away from the supplies, away from the glowing-hot ship. But then, they carefully approached the cargo like a leopard stalking its pray. They ran the last few meters, realizing the harmlessness of the cargo itself, and the non-food items they all needed.
Then, they pulled out the tents of their pocket-sized boxes and began to raise their homes, pole by pole, brick by brick.
The sun did not disappear until nine hours after that. The hours heading towards then, the sun sat in the sky with beams, like laughter, hitting the tents and the people in suits in the form of solar flares. And even through the suits, the heat could be felt, not boiling, but enough to make the folks sweat and attempt to flutter their glove covered hands against their glass covered faces.
Unable to get any rest, the folks got out of their metallic tents the second the world turned mildly cold, the bubbling and sizzling cooling quietly. And, like they had rested, the sun had rested, in the sky, in one place, the whole day, and just now finally gave up on its heated attempt to conquer and fell beyond the horizon, openly showing its defeat.
Men and women ran out of their tents and screamed through their helmets; ”The sun is gone, it is gone!” None of them had ever been this happy to see the sun disappear beyond the horizon, to see a warm summer night fade away. Their words were so loud that the tiny, tiny amount of oxygen in the dust covered atmosphere carried them beyond their helmets, through the hull of the ship, and to the captains ear.
He sat at his transparent screen in the office of the ship, and typed the log on a transparent keyboard. The sound halted him and, in a second, he was in his suit and out in the dusty atmosphere now barely visible in the darkness.
”Alright, folks!” he yelled, his words only shining in the helmets. ”Pack up our tents and let’s examine this hell-hole!”
A cheer ran through the crowd as geologist, biologists, and chemists got their equipment out of their tents and then packed the tents themselves up into the small, pocket-sized, cube they had come from.
Geologists hit, with their tiny hammers and big hammers, and then scanned with their technical machines each stone in every spectrum, reaching from its radiation to its color. It was almost as if it could scan its emotions, but not quite.
Meanwhile, the chemists got their most poisonous substances out, the ones able to tear down their or their friends’ visirs within milliseconds of touch. This, they poured on the geologists examined samples while the biologists attempted to save some of the rocks from this harsh fate, provide safety under their protection and foster them in search for a possibility of life. And during all this, all of the three groups, as well as the captain and his fearless crew, looked out over the horizon, keeping an eye out in the darkness of the night for a species beyond their own.
While the scientists did their thing and the captain’s crew guarded the ship from some thing, the captain walked to the flag that had stopped burning and now had merely frozen in time, in darkness of cold. He stretched his hand out towards the pole of the flag with a blue, as water, globe in the center surrounded by green, as the grass of spring. The suit around his arm squeaked as he touched it.
Suddenly, the flags cloth shot down into the floor of the hell-hole planet. The ground began to rumble. Cracks formed around the ground were the pole had struck down. Through them flowed magma, red-hot, with layers of ash resting on its top.
The scientists looked up from their laboratory stations. The biologists dropped their rescued stone samples and their tubes of dust, the chemists spilled their acids far too close to their feet, and the geologists hit their hammer on their thumb instead of the rocks.
The crack flowed out as if the magma flowed in rivers beneath it. And it reached out its crooked arms closer and closer, past the captain’s feet and towards the scientists and the guarding crew.
”RUUUN!” shrieked through the helmets’ radio, all at once.
”Where?!” a different, more fragile voice yelled.
The surface of the world had cracked. The thin crust that had been prepared for the arrivers had been broken and was now wide open, flowing with what had been put away to let the ship and its crew and all the scientists land. It flowed out and spit out, reaching for the stars above in a loosely gravitational flood of fire and bubbles. Its light shone out and glimmered on the artificial skulls of the astronauts, skulls that, with their plastics and glass and heatproof and cold proof substances, merely reflected the magma, let it fall upon them, and then slide of quietly onto the cracked flooring.
”People!” the captain yelled after he, himself, had calmed down from the shock that had struck him when imagining the lava reaching out and dragging them all into its hell-like abyss.
”Stay!” he yelled. ”We are safe, the helmets and the suits protect us against the heat of the magma!”
But people had already begun to fill the rocket. Some of the men and women from the crew was flipping switches for it to launch.
The captain’s voice drowned in the sorl of dozens and dozens of voices, all screaming and yelling in panic and fear together with all but a few dedicated scientists and documentaries who was still calm on the planet’s sizzling surface as if they were already in space.
The captain ran up to the rocket. But instead of climbing onboard it or storming through its gate, he stood by its window and knocked with his magma-covered glove on it.
On the other side of it sat one of his crew members, a young, fearless woman that looked as calm and cool now as the space above the bubbling and sizzling fiery-planet.
The captain put the radio away from the global channel and talked directly to the woman preparing the ship for launch.
”Susan!” he yelled, immediately snapping her from her focused routine. She paused and looked at him in surprise through the window, and then beyond his face. There, a ball of sailing magma passed by behind him. She stiffened and quickly went back to preparing the ship for launch.
”Do not launch the ship!” the captain yelled, even though she would have heard his mere whisper through the radio. ”I repeat. Do not launch the ship!”
Her fingers paused over the last few buttons, still with the port doors open and people filling the ship.
”The magma is not dangerous for the ship or us in our suits.” he continued, less loud. ”Abort the launch! I repeat; abort the launch!”
The young woman’s fingers relaxed after a few seconds of hovering over the last few buttons in the ceiling of the rocket. She reached for the roof, reached for the bright, red button reading ’OFF’. For a second she paused her hand in mid air, as if the world around had frozen despite the bubbling and sizzling heat outside the captain’s helmet and gave him, the captain, a cautious leer before she cut the entire engine and the ship fell back down on the ground with a splash of magma outwards.
The captain switched back to the global channel in that moment, hearing the yells of panic rise in choir, one strengthening the other until finally they reached their highest altitude when the ship hit the ground with a thud echoing.
The second after, the radio went quiet, as if every soul with a voice checked their selves to make sure they were still there, still breathing and able to talk and yell.
Before they had time enough to break the silence, the captain took his chance.
”The magma cannot hurt us!” he yelled through the radio. ”I repeat, the magma cannot do us harm! Step out of the ship and regard this view instead of cuddling up in there like puppies!” he said with a smile as warm as the sizzling outside behind his glaring helmet, now covered in drops of hot magma that turned silent at the touch of the cooled glass.
One soul at the time, the ship emptied, and soon all the life on the planet was the life that had, just a moment ago, gone running for their lives into a ship that was mere seconds from taking them away from this view. This gorgeous view.
And the view, the majestic view. Stretching up into the sky, sprouting like a flower up into the atmosphere. Along its fiery-red chalk, leaves spitting magma upon the weary scientists and crew. When the fountain, stretching for the sky, finally gave its life to the low gravity it fell down in a splash, back onto the flag in the middle, the origin of this fountain; the mechanism spewing it all out and then repeating it over and over again.
The dozens of people stood there for minutes upon minutes, watching the magma emit light glaring upon every single one of the glass helmets, protecting their precious heads. Then, soothingly, the fountain flow seized. One meter at the time, the fountain shrank lower until the flag stood in the middle of it all with magma bubbling beneath it like a throne. Its shape, the beam, the flag were all the same. But the colors. Oh, the colors, they had shifted. They had shifted like the day shifts into night, like life shifts into death.
No longer did the flag have its blue, as water, planet with a green, as spring grass, surrounding it. After the magma had spitted on it over and over again, it had turned it unique. It had made the flat globe in the center bright red, like the magma flowing, and the dusty atmosphere reaching for infinite void outside, a bright orange.
The people around stood stunned at the view. The captain, sneaking closer, one step at the time, closed in on the flag, put his hand upon its surface and through his glove he felt the heat from it shine. It was a heat like any other. It shone through like light glaring through a window. It dribbled through the outer layer of his glove, through its thick and heatproof cloths, and in the end, only small drips of the heat had snuck between it all and reached to shake his hand.
”We have found life,” he whispered silently. ”We are home…” he said silently to himself, the words merely bouncing around in his helmet. Then he prepared to raise his voice. He let his head fall backwards and rest in the low-gravity allowing it to float. He let his words echo out into his helmet, within the visirs cover — only small bits of it reaching beyond it — and then through the radio, and into all helmets on the hell-hole planet.
”Folks! We are home!”