The two weeks went by slowly. Henry noticed that other members of his team looked as though they weren’t getting enough sleep either. The scientists nervously went through all the tests they were planning on doing once the ship landed. They would no longer be sent the results of tests performed by probes on the soil. They would actually be holding the soil. Touching the grass and bark from the trees. Not right away, but soon enough. Almost immediately they’d be able to look at these things through glass, to actually touch them with rubber gloves. It would be ecstasy. And maybe some of the questions would finally be answered.
No one was sleeping when the ship entered orbit around Raphael. Henry thought it must be horrible to sit strapped into a chair in a lab waiting for the ship to land. It wasn’t too bad if your station looked out one of the windows. Very few did. And half the crew had to lie in their beds. Henry sat on the bridge. His chair looked right out the main window. He had the best view in the entire ship.
Most of the time, during the long voyage from earth, he worried about the mission. While he waited for the computers to land his ship, he mostly kept thinking about how wonderful it would be to have gravity once again pulling him to the ground. It made him smile. Henry Mullen never wanted to go into space again.
Henry was thinking fondly of gravity when he felt the first bump. Everyone felt the first bump. You couldn’t miss it. It felt as though your insides got pulled and yanked upwards toward your throat. Or maybe they stayed where they were while the rest of you fell downward towards Raphael. Either way Henry’s mouth began to fill with stomach fluids. He could taste them. He was suddenly very glad he had been too nervous to eat breakfast. Then he heard retching sounds. Then more bumps and creaking as though the ship was going to be pulled apart then more retching.
He saw, what could only be described as a small vomit meteorite float by. It was amazingly spherical. And there was something almost beautiful in the way this glob floated slowly by. By the time the third perfectly round ball of vomit floated by, they had lost any sense of beauty at all. Henry really longed to fill the gravity now. Henry knew he had wished too soon, for just at that moment all the vomit that floated around the bridge began to splatter onto the ground. Henry then heard more retching right beside him and then he felt something wet splash against his left boot and pants leg.
“Sorry Henry,” said Tim Bowmen, second in command of the science ship, who was sitting right beside him.
“Shut up Tim,” said Henry, “I’m trying not to throw up.”
A drop fell on Henry’s arm. He looked up. There was vomit on the ceiling. It was dripping on his shoulder. He didn’t even care. He just wanted it to be over.
There was a sensation of slowly turning, almost like falling in slow motion. Forward for him, backwards or sideways for others. This feeling of slowly falling seemed to last a very long time. It was almost restful, but still tended to make you feel a bit seasick and it tended to be interrupted every ten seconds or so by very large bangs.
And then very suddenly there was a bump. It wasn’t a particularly hard bump, but there was some infinitesimally small difference, some thing about it, a sense of finality. Although every single part of Henry’s body told him the ship was still descending, still rattling and shaking, he knew that it was just his body’s reaction, that in fact they had landed. Henry looked out the window. They had indeed landed.
There was grass that went on for as far as he could see. He practically had to drag his eyes away to look at his crew. Rachel MacKenzie, the head of geology, looked as though she was trying with all her might to not throw up. She caught Henry’s eyes and then she knew and she too looked towards the window. One by one everyone on the bridge began to notice and strained to look out a window. Jason Fitzgerald didn’t have any view at all from his seat and began to unbuckle his restraints.
“Wait for the all clear,” said Henry.
Jason looked down at his hands then looked at Henry and nodded.
Tim Bowmen pressed a button and a computer screen came out from the seat.
“Pressure’s good, no major systems down, it’s analyzing the hull for fractures. I think we’re good,” said Tim Bowmen.
“Thank Christ,” said Rachel MacKenzie. Then she looked at Rolm and added, “or Vishnu or somebody.”
“As a scientist,” began Rolm Matir, “I’d prefer to thank the designers of the ship, though currently I’m not inclined to feel charitable towards them.” Rolm was holding a clear plastic bag which he had obviously vomited into.
Henry laughed, but then he felt another drip onto his shoulder.
“Tim does that thing say we can get up?”
“Almost Henry.” Just a few seconds later he added, “We’re clear.”
“You heard the man,” he said to the people on the bridge. “Announce it to the rest of the crew Tim.”
Once everyone was free of the restraints they went right to the window to stare. Henry let them all have a good long look.
Twenty minutes later Henry announced to his people on the bridge: “Kay everybody, we got water and last night dinner dripping all over our equipment. I don’t need to tell you, if something shorts out … well, spare parts are a long way away.”
“Right Henry,” said Rolm.
“Oh and by the way Rolm, it’s nice that you had the foresight to get yourself an air sick bag. Next time it might be better if you mentioned it. That way we can distribute them to everybody.”
“Sorry Henry, but from past experience I thought it would only be me who needed one.”
Henry and his crew spent the next several hours cleaning up human vomit. Before they had a chance to do a single one of the experiments they had spent the last three years meticulously planning, they were down on their hands and knees, and up on top of ladders and everywhere else you could imagine with rags and sponges cleaning up their own mess.
While they were working, Henry noticed absolutely everyone stealing peeks out the window. He felt that as commander he had to set a good example, so he refrained.
When all the cleaning up was finally done Henry took another nice long look. It was beautiful. They landed in a field of gray motionless grass. It looked almost like Kansas on the calmest day you could ever imagine. The hills were steeper than they were in Kansas but the grass seemed to go on forever – just like the prairies of North America. He touched the glass, wishing he could be out there right then. A white moth fluttered by. Henry smiled. It would be weeks before anyone would leave the ship. He could wait.
Looking out the window was the high point of Henry’s first day on Raphael. It went down hill from there.
The landing location was chosen for its proximity to a riverbed. The river was dry, but just under the surface you could see the contours of where an underground river must be. Digging in this riverbed would give them water and the science team desperately wanted water.
All life depends on water, on Raphael as well as on Earth. The temperature stayed a disturbingly constant 28 degrees Fahrenheit on the moon, day or night, yet water on Raphael did not freeze. The automated rovers that had been exploring the surface of the moon for more than a decade studied, boiled, separated, and examined the water on Raphael for all that time without discovering why it wasn’t frozen. Raphael should have been a gigantic iceberg. Earth plants had been planted by mechanical arms. Plants that should not have grown, grew on Raphael. Pineapples and bananas were happily growing away in 28 degree weather. They should have been frozen and dead.
It wasn’t voodoo. It wasn’t magic. It was science, science that they didn’t understand, science that they needed to understand.
All life depends on water and there was something in the water: a mineral, a compound, a protein. They called it X. No doubt X was in the air. No doubt X was in the soil and the plants. Maybe X changed when it went into the air and become Y. And when it was absorbed by the plants it became Z. The speculation was nearly endless.
It all boiled down to a simple question: Could people farm this moon? Were those beautiful pineapples and bananas certain death?
After cleaning up the ship, Henry and his team went to work. They spent the next eight hours in a futile effort to get themselves a liter of water. They also lost two of the sixteen rovers the science ship came with. One became hopeless entwined in the innocent looking brambles that boarded the riverbed. The other meandered behind one of the peaceful looking prairie hills at which point they lost radio contract. It had never occurred to them that they would have such difficulty sending a vehicle less then a hundred yards from the ship to dig in the dirt.
After losing the second rover, Henry ordered Rolm to have one of the more sophisticated rovers that had been crisscrossing Raphael for years to head to the science ship with a jar of water. The more sophisticated rovers had redundant navigation systems, self-maintenance and repair abilities, logic solving programs incase they lost contact and so forth. They also moved agonizingly slowly. It would be twenty-three Raphael days before they got their water.
By the time Henry’s day had ended he was not very happy at all. Not only did he feel like nothing had been accomplished that day, but his knees ached and the gravity he so longed for seemed to be fighting his every step. When he finally got to his room, he turned on the light and looked at his vertical bed, which went straight up the wall. He began to laugh. The alternative would have been to cry.
Over the next few weeks you could feel the excitement and energy drain away from the crew. One by one each team got their chance to have a rover get them whatever they needed for their work, a plant or some soil. And one by one they were disappointed by the results. The reports continued to end “needs more analysis.” It was no longer a joke.
Two weeks after landing, Henry Mullen sat up in his bed with a nightmare. It was his first since the ship had landed on Raphael. Henry now slept in one of the gyms. Henry sat on the edge of his cot for a moment and just breathed. He didn’t even want to try to sleep now. He got up and walked to the bridge. He passed people on the way. Everyone seemed very distracted. On the bridge four of the crew sat on the floor and were talking very animatedly. Henry smiled at the sight. It was wonderful to see that someone still showed some enthusiasm for something. Rolm Matir, Lisa Matir, Rachel MacKenzie and Jonathan Edmund were up to something. You could sense it in the air. Rachel MacKenzie was Lisa’s boss and Rolm was Jonathan Edmund’s.
“What’s up?” asked Henry.
“Hi Henry, we’ve been working on a slight problem. Sort of an opportunity,” said Rolm.
“An opportunity,” said Henry intrigued.
“We’re thinking of getting a water sample,” said Rachel MacKenzie.
“What are you thinking of?” asked Henry Mullen.
“Jonathan and I believe we can use a couple of the rovers as a kind’ve repeater. This will hopefully allow us to maneuver another rover into the dead zone.”
The dead zone being the areas between the hills where they had lost the rover.
“What type of time frame?” asked Henry.
Rolm, of course, meant two days. Days on Raphael were slightly more than twenty-seven hours long. They had only been on Raphael time for two weeks now. Even so, it wasn’t the sort of mistake Rolm Matir made. He was obviously stressed.
“Not too bad,” said Henry. “However I’ve also been working on this. I think I got a better solution.”
“Really,” said Rolm Matir trying without much success to keep the disbelief out of his voice. Very rarely did someone think up a better plan than he did.
“Really,” said Henry.
Everyone was looking at Henry with great expectation. He continued, “What I was thinking, was that Rachel and Lisa put on some space suites and walk over there with a shovel.”
There was a moment of surprised silence, than Rolm replied, “I guess that would work too.”
Sooner or later, a person from Earth was going to walk on the surface of Raphael. It was naturally assumed, by everyone, that it would be Henry Mullen when the time came. The time had just come.
“Rachel, while you getting dressed, you might want to think of something … I don’t know, significant to say.” Henry walked off.
Rachel MacKenzie was going to be the first earth person to walk on the surface of Raphael.
“Might be a good idea,” added Rolm. He smiled at his wife. It was just decided she was going to be the second person to walk on the surface of Raphael.
Henry Mullen returned to the bridge ten minutes later. Rachel MacKenzie and Lisa Matir were just finishing dressing for their walk. They were about to step into the inner airlock. The bridge was now crowded. Henry was always amazed at the speed at which information got disseminated on his ship. He sat in his chair on the bridge.
“You guys ready?” he spoke into a microphone.
“Yes,” replied both women together.
Henry smiled. “Rachel, I’m going to put you on the ship-wide intercom. Is there anything you want to say?”
There was a slight pause then she began: “I’ve been thinking of our mission -- of all the worries that I think I share with everyone here. I remembered something I heard. In this case I think it’s almost a prayer. Above all, do no harm. Lisa and I will take this first step together to symbolize us all working together.”
They then stepped onto the surface of the moon. Once on the moon Rachel repeated, “Above all do no harm.”
Henry replied, “Amen.” He wasn’t a particularly religious person. It just seemed appropriate. When Henry thought about the famines and the poison lakes where he grew up, he saw it not as a mindless act of God or nature but as the natural consequences of short sightedness and greed. He simply saw cause and effect. Rachel MacKenzie’s words seemed perfect for the occasion. The first two humans had now walked on the surface of Raphael. Henry Mullen knew he had chosen wisely.
Rachel and Lisa walked on together. Rachel stooped and with her gloved hand touched the soil of Raphael. She smiled up at Lisa, who promptly bent down and did the same.
Henry Mullen watched from the bridge. The grass was waist-high, so much of what they did couldn’t be seen. It could easily be imagined though. Henry looked over at Rolm Matir, staring out the window at his wife. He had the most beautiful smile Henry thought he had ever seen on a human being. It reminded Henry of a new mother looking at her baby. Henry was glad Rolm didn’t notice him watching. He didn’t want to disturb the moment.
Rachel and Lisa were once again walking toward the dry bed. They were once again kneeling. When they stood up, Rachel had a shovel. She began to dig.
“The soil is very loose. It’s very easy to dig. It’s almost like sand,” said Rachel.
Lisa was holding an empty jar. She bent over again.
“We have water,” said Rachel.
Everyone from the ship was waiting. No one had said a word. There was suddenly a very big applause.
“Great news,” said Henry.
They filled four jars with water. They brought them to a rover that sat just outside the dead zone. The rover started off. It would bring the jars of water to the ship. Mechanical arms would bring them into one of the secure laboratories.
The water, the purpose for the walk, was now temporarily forgotten. Everyone wanted to congratulate the first two people to walk on the surface of Raphael. Before a single test was done on the water, everyone joined in the celebration. It lasted for several hours. Henry’s team really needed something to celebrate. He was even more glad once the first preliminary test came back: pure water no detectible minerals, bacteria or other trace elements. Just water; water that somehow stayed liquid at twenty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. “Need’s more analysis.” Henry was really glad they had taken the time to celebrate first.
Two days later, Henry sent the water to the most secure lab in the entire ship. There was only one door that led to this section of the ship, and once you went through that door, you needed to go through two more doors to get to the lab itself. Before you exited this area of the ship, more than a dozen sensors made sure you were absolutely alone. Not even in the case of fire were these doors opened without the most thorough check the scientist could make. There was no horrible plague or killing virus in this lab. It contained animals from earth, animals that were under no circumstances ever to be released on Raphael.
The test Henry had in mind would be absolute. A group of black rats would drink the water. If they survived a group of pigs would drink the water. If they survived the Howlers would drink the water. If they survived Henry Mullen would drink the water. All the animals survived. Henry looked at the test results: pure distilled water. He tasted the water, than he tested the water again. For ten days Henry tested and tasted and tested again. And after each glass the medical team checked him out. He seemed fine. Henry was not happy though. Something had gone wrong. Anyone looking at Henry could tell. He didn’t say what it was. They went on to the next test.
The next test was even more crude. The rats would be exposed to the air, the atmosphere of Raphael. It would be heated and pumped into their enclosures. Then the pigs; then the Howlers. Rats, pigs and monkeys were perfectly fine.
Three weeks later Henry Mullen left through the airlock. He was carrying a tent, a knife, a radio, some drinking water and food. He was wearing nice winter clothing. Henry’s plan was to live in his tent for three weeks. If he could survive for three weeks with nothing but the wall of his tent between him and the inhospitable Raphael climate then he could be sure that humans really would be able to survive on this moon.