To Save a Planet

An excerpt from
Mountain Building


The mountain had grown by twenty percent in height and diameter. The planet seemed to bulge out where a valley with a small rise had once sprawled. There were concentric fissures and cracks all around the base, as well as in several places along the rise. Little One and his people seemed to be busily scurrying around the lower edge of the mountain, although, they had no equipment of any sort. They were somehow monitoring the progress of the bulge. Esther had set up an observation post near the mountain and was taking seismic readings and preparing to drill for a core sample when they arrived.

Jacob landed behind them and placed the glider near the other three. Little One stood a few hundred meters off their encampment and somehow controlled his people’s actions with hand signals and some sort of mind connection, which Jacob and Juno sensed, but couldn’t understand. Wherever his people went and prodded the soil, fissures would develop on the mountain. Esther, without being too intrusive had set up her teams and equipment so that she could observe the mountain and Little One’s people simultaneously. They approached Esther and she barely acknowledged them as she continued with her work.

Jacob said, "Esther," and nodded.

Without looking up from her computers, she smiled and nodded.

"I assume this is interesting, Esther?" Juno said.

"Captain, reading about it is interesting, this is exhilarating. The power of nature right in front of us, Sir."

"Are we safe here, Esther?"

"For a while, Sir, I am sure this will go on for several weeks. We’re trying to determine a timetable as we speak, Sir."

"You’re not disturbing Little One, are you?"

"I don’t think he even knows we’re here, Captain."

"He has to, Esther; you’re right in his line of sight."

"I know, Juno, but he is busy, and his people continue to make those fissures. I assume all the way around the mountain. How he can see what they’re doing on the back side of it, I don’t know, but he hasn’t moved since we arrived!"

"Have you talked with him, Esther?"

"Tried to, Captain, but he’s more involved than I am. He hardly acknowledged me with a stern look and a smile without ever stopping his hand gestures."

"We’re just about ready to drill for a deep sample. I hope we get what I think we’re going to get. This is amazing, Captain. Remember what I said about a similar volcano erupting diametrically opposed to the other one? I think this is it, Sir," she said, excited as Juno nodded.

"It is almost on the opposite side of the planet from the other one and it is growing at an incredible rate. I think that is why Little One is creating those fissures along the sides of it. It’s like they want it to rise as high as possible. Each time they finish a line, the mountain seems to rise a few meters and they move down the slope and start again."

"You mean to tell me they know where to create these fissures, Esther?"

"Yes, Juno! Here, let me show you."

Esther took some clay from her kit and soaked it thoroughly, so that it was malleable and elastic, and set a thickness of it inside her model box. She began pumping a gelatinous liquid underneath the sample that now covered the base of her box and a bulge began forming at the center of it. After a few seconds the pressure underneath it exceeded the strength of the clay and the fluid oozed out of the center of the bulge, flowing down the mild slope the gelatinous liquid had formed.

As she cleaned the box and remixed the clay, she said, "That’s what should happen without help from anyone, but–" she again spread the mixture inside the model box and she continued, "watch this now."

As she began pumping more liquid under the clay mixture she took a trowel and began cutting concentric circles around the sample. Each circle she cut allowed it to rise higher while sealing itself along the fissures created by the rising clay, making a higher mountain before erupting out of the top portion.

As she demonstrated this process and the clay rose higher and higher in the model box, a reed flew in from behind them. It punctured the base of the mixture close to where the mound was rising higher and higher causing a huge explosion inside the model box and splattering the observers with the gelatinous fluid. The fluid had ripped the side of the clay mound along the rise. The side of the mound created by the fluid finished violently ripping the mound almost to the top, splaying most of the weak side open and allowing the pressure to be released from the side of the mound of clay.

Esther looked behind her and saw Little One still directing his people. A thought formed in her mind that she was sure was not hers. She thought for a second and said, "Excuse me, Captain."

She contacted her crew. "Stop the drilling operation! Break down the equipment and stop drilling. I’ve just ran a model that is disturbing. We can't drill that close to the mountain."

"You don’t think you were given a warning do you Esther?" Jacob asked.

"If you look at the model and the ground, you can see great similarities. I don’t know whether this is a warning specifically for us. But, whatever fluid does come flying out of a similar rift on this mountain won’t be as cool as what we use to simulate the process. I understood what Little One and his people were doing but if this happens on the planet, the results could be cataclysmic! I stopped pumping fluid as soon as it blew. Do you think the planet would know to do that?"

Abner approached Little One and said, "Did you send that reed flying into our model, Sir?"

Little One ignored him and continued giving hand signals to his people, but, he released a barely perceptible smile that Abner caught, as well the twinkle in his eyes.

Abner bowed deeply, almost striking his head on the ground. He smiled and said, "We understand, Master, we’ll leave you to your mountain building. Thank you, Master."

His smile grew as he turned his head in every direction and sent mental instructions to his crew of tiny creatures. Abner returned to Juno and Esther as Jacob returned to the glider bowing to Little One.

Abner smiled and said, "That was very perceptive of you, Esther. I don’t know that any other geologist would have reacted the same way."

"I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. I’d swear that, for an instant, there was a thought in my mind that wasn’t mine, yet … I obeyed its directive and stopped my crew as if it had been my thought."

"I would say, Stay Safe, but I think you’re being guarded very wisely. Be careful and come home when you’ve got enough information." Juno said, walking away from Esther.

As she passed Little One she stopped and kissed his forehead. He brushed her away as he continued issuing instructions to his people. But, in her mind, she sensed Little One proud to have made them understand with such a subtle hint.

Walking to her glider, she said, "I gave you my word, we will take only the water we need, and the knowledge nature will yield without us interfering in your work."

Abner held the hatch for her as she entered the glider and, before entering it, he bowed to Little One once again. Jacob circled the mountain several times before heading toward the polar cap. He went over the polar cap and down toward the volcano on the opposite side of the planet. As they arrived he circled it several times recording the features of the mountain, which had changed from the first visit but there were signs that it had been formed in exactly the same way as the one they’d just come from.

Puzzled, Abner asked, "How do they do that and how do they know when to release the flow of lava?"

"I don’t think they release it as much as they contain it until the pressure is so great that it flows on its own. I am sure Esther will record the process. She is too good a geologist not to do so."

"Is there anything you’d like to see before we return, Captain?" Jacob asked.

"No, Jacob, we need to get back. You and Abner have a shuttle to take back to fleet. Please make sure that you teach Abner everything he will need on his flight. I will make arrangements for his friends to join us while you travel."

"Captain, you don’t need to do all this. I’ll be perfectly all right."

"No one should be alone, Abner. I understand your commitment to Fleet, but there is something to save in every one of us. You continue making your plans and rest assured, we will help you in any way possible, all within the protocols, of course."

"Yes, Captain," he replied dutifully, though his heart leapt at the thought of being able to return and recover his family.

The return trip to the Argo was uneventful and they arrived in time for Jacob to take the last shuttle out into space.

He masterfully docked the shuttles together and linked all the engine controls as he showed Abner the correct procedures. The screen set-up that had been installed and modified to work in conjunction with the navigation computer was crudely mounted over the console but it served its purpose. Jacob linked the delta shuttle with the Argo rather than Fleet purposely.

When they cleared the system he turned the pilot’s seat over to Abner and stayed with him. He was impressed with the screen system and his improved vision made it much simpler to pilot the shuttle. He felt relaxed and confident on his flight. After three hours they released the pilot’s seat to the next trainee and Jacob sent Abner to take a rest period as he trained the next pilot on the finer points of high speed flight.

After nine hours on the pilot’s seat, Jacob took a mandatory rest and placed Abner back on the helm. Before turning in, he contacted Juno on the channel he’d arranged for her and Captain Marcus.

"Abner is doing real good on the pilot seat, Captain," he reported.

"I am glad, Jacob. You don’t know how much I appreciate your doing this for me. I’ve made arrangements for the four people that will be Abner’s crew on his voyage home. They will be ready after you deliver the water; they’ve all been transferred to the Seven."

"Very well, Captain, we should be arriving at our destination in approximately six hours."

"The ship is handling well, then?" she asked.

"Yes, Captain. The navigational screen has helped tremendously. All these people need is a little time to get used to it, but it is much simpler than looking out a porthole. I am running three hour shifts simply to give everyone a chance at high speed flight. With the weight we’re carrying, we’re running at plus four without much trouble. I don’t want to stress the hulls too much and we’ll have to begin deceleration much sooner than if we were transporting something not so flexible. Water doesn’t obey inertial dampeners as easily as solids would."

"I understand, Jacob, but transporting water does make for able pilots. If they can transport water without incident, they should be able to pilot shuttles very efficiently."

"Aye, Captain, I’m surprised you understand the finer points as well as you do; a tribute to your father, no doubt."

"You’d better get some rest before you catch up to the Fleet. I am about ready to let Joshua and Jordan head to the polar cap."

"Send a glider behind them, Juno, I don’t trust them."

"I have Jared ahead of them, Jacob. People seem to react differently when you follow them. My brother knows exactly how to steer clear of trouble and keep out of sight."

"I should have known; I am sorry, Captain. I will let you get back to running your ship. I will report from the helm before we start back to the Argo, Captain. Argo One out."

"Stay safe, Commander, Argo out."

Esther sat out of the way and let her team take readings and measurements as Little One directed his people. The mountain grew slowly and evenly as they watched, and once in a while, when he had time, Little One would turn and watch her for a few moments and smile.

Several times she could sense admiration from Little One, although, it was just a feeling she got. She was truly impressed and awed at the way they controlled the rising mountain, and at the simplicity with which they cut the land at just the right moment. She estimated that in a few weeks that mountain would reach three thousand meters in height and she wanted desperately to drill some core samples to understand what was happening beneath them.

Suddenly, Little One stopped his hand gestures and it seemed that the mental instructions stopped as well. But it wasn’t until he stopped that she realized that, subtly, she had heard everything Little One had said. She missed his rhythmic instructions in her mind and she asked her team if they’d heard him as well.

Everyone replied that they too had just realized they had been in the same mental link with Little One.

Smiling, he said, "Well of course you have been included in the instructions. I have nothing to hide and you already know nature’s secrets."

"I don’t understand, Master," Esther said. "What secrets have been revealed here Sir?"

"None that you did not know, my lady, except, perhaps, your foolish thought to drill a hole in the middle of our work."

"Are you stopping now, Little One?" she asked.

"Yes," he smiled, "We must give the planet time to adjust. We shall begin again in two planet cycles; we have relieved enough of the pressure for now. You may go if you’d like.”

"Go?" she said, "Go where, we have samples to acquire."

"You cannot be drilling into the planet child; it is too tender at the moment."

"No, Master," she interrupted, "but, as I sat here watching this spectacle, it occurred to me that as the mountain rises, it is yielding the samples I need at each of the fissures you’ve created on its face. All we need to do is take samples from those fissures without disturbing your work."

"Clever!" Little One said, smiling, "remember, no punching holes into my hill."

"Wouldn’t think of it, Master, I have a vivid picture of the consequences already. How long do you think it will take to get this mountain where you want it?"

"Until it is finished, Esther," he replied, smiling, "she will know when to proceed. We simply help until that time."

"But, do you have any idea the length of time this will take?"

"Yes," he repeated, "until it is finished. You cannot rush nature or try to wrench things out of her before she is ready to yield her bounty."

"May we return then, Master? I’d love to see this spectacle again."

"Pressure should begin building again in two planet cycles, you may return then. We have other things to do until then."

"You don’t rest, Master?"

"Yes," he replied, puzzled. "When we are finished, Esther."

"You’re–" she said, and before continuing she thought better of asking a question that would have yielded the same reply as before. Little One was proving to be quite enigmatic for her, as well.

"Very well then, Master, we will take our samples and will return in two planet cycles. Thank you for sharing this with us."

"Farewell, Esther, I am needed elsewhere." He raised a stone in the air, whispered an unintelligible word and disappeared.

"Farewell …." she said, smiling.