the Secret of Life
the Spirit of LifeThis window
is only so
that as long as you
don't remind yourself there's a window in front of you,
you'd think you could
reach out and
flowers on the roadside.
-Leann "Lira Daeris" Parker
The sun was high up in the sky, beaming gently and brightly down on the cool and blue skies of the world. The handsome and charismatic young student Dash ran through the forest, each tree a blur in the corner of his sharply blue eyes. The clearing to the grassy hills was just ahead, he was almost out. He saw the capital of the planet just beyond the grassy hills; he could lose the automated law enforcement in all the bustling confusion.
The young man had been skipping class and going to the library in order to continue research his father never finished. This many truancies was unacceptable, usually bots weren’t sent after him. They chased close behind him on their single ball-shaped wheels, the terrain of the forest making it difficult to keep up so by the time Dash reached the clearing he had a head start. They were gaining on him, now going full speed. He ran through the grasses, over the top of the highest hill and down, then into the small but crowded capital city. He turned a sharp corner to an alley behind a big building and whacked the front bot with a garbage can, sending it to the ground. All the ones behind it toppled over it. They all began murmuring “error” as they toppled over one another, trying to get up. Dash continued down the alley and went in the back door to a pub he was meeting his friend at.
There was no age limit on drinking. The world was run through a barter system; elders would teach a mandatory class of ethics for years alongside whichever other class the student decided to take that would later decide his or her occupation. The culture’s long and intricate study of ethics and its importance brought the city and its outlying regions to infinite prosperity. Dash’s father was a Space Pioneer and the boy studied to follow in those adventurous footsteps. Many aspects of the culture were old and relatively primitive but the planet they called home, Arrowshard, was once a federal space port. It was abandoned and the natural resources that had been regulated during its operational days overgrew and engulfed the port into a green paradise. Lakes, forests, mountains, cliffs and fields had risen from billions of years of the ancient structure’s rot and nature’s engulfment.
Zero was at the counter drinking something light blue, almost luminescent. He was a year younger than Dash. His soft, light brown hair was tied back and he wore a white and gold physician’s robes which he’d been given from school. He was well-groomed, effeminate, had a likeable, bright face with sharp features and wore eyeliner. The pub was lit only by the colored, flashing lights that flickered to the beat of the music that rumbled the room. Dash set in the stool next to him, “you’re not going to believe this,” he started.
“They sent lawbots after me this time.”
“What, seriously?” Zero grinned.
“Yeah while I was in the library, it was ridiculous.”
“Well jeez whiz, how many times have they caught you now?”
“Seven, not counting last year. It erases truancies at the end of the year.”
“You’d better start just going to class, Dash. You don’t want to get dropped.”
“This class is so dull though, I can’t concentrate.”
“What is it again?”
“Intro to Cosmonautics. It’s all memorization and no actual, hands-on work. I get all the definitions already.”
“Well apparently not with your grade.” He smirked.
“Hey, you know I know what I’m doing.”
“This outside research you’re doing isn’t ending up anywhere.”
“I was so close today, I promise you. I just need one more day and I’ve got it.”
“This Ghost Planet your father was all into?”
“Its there for sure. Did you know that our satellites only pick up electrically charged planets? So they have to be inhabited by us or something so close to us we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference at the sensors’ proximity. I figure if we can charge the sensors with plasma the signal would have a natural tendency to spread, reaching out to neighboring stars and we could explore exponentially farther than we are now.”
“What does this have to do with the Ghost thing?”
“Our satellites pick up electric charges, but the planet is organic, 100%. I’ll take you to the observatory and I can even point it out to you, it has a significant air glow, it matches up exactly with my dad’s coordinates.”
“Then how come they didn’t believe him?”
“Because no one uses the observatory anymore, my dad was the last. The Space Pioneer Division is a joke, AEs don’t do anything.”
“So just take your professor up there and show him.” Zero said examining his sandwich.
“It’s locked up. It’s not like I can break in with him.”
“What’d they lock it up for?”
“I don’t know. That’s a good point.”
“Sounds like they want the place hidden, and Dash, it’s probably for good reason. There’s a lot I think we need to figure out about ourselves before we should go out dissecting another kind of life form.”
“But comparison is the best way to learn, we need perspective.”
Zero sighed, thinking, “Take it up with the principal. He’s an honest guy, right? You get him to question the hushing up of that observatory and he’ll question Zeek, I bet you.”
“Zeek, the Mayor?”
“Yeah he’s locked himself up in that capital building for long enough. I’m thinking it’s time to force him out.”
“Yeah he is a pretty silent leader isn’t he?”
“Never an indication of good things.”
“Will you come with me to bring this up with the principal? You know him, huh?”
“Yeah sure thing.”
“Let’s go.” He said getting down from the stool.
“Now?” Zero replied with his mouth full, “what about the bots?”
“I don’t think they’re exactly, mobile.”
“Oh no,” he swallowed, “if they catch you damaged them you’re in such big trouble.”
“And if we catch this planet’s been hidden from explorers, so is Zeek.”
Zero followed Dash out. They walked through the field and the forest and back to the library Dash had been chased out of. It was an enormous building. One room 200 yards long and 100 wide that went up for 6 stories. All four walls that had been installed with book cases were converted in books and a ladder that went all the way to the ceiling was attached to each wall. Dash picked out the Space Exploration books that hinted at the proximity and existence of the Ghost Planet. He flipped to the respective pages and had Zero call the school on the public phone there.
“Hey, could I speak to Principal Wolff if he’s available?”
“Yes, just a moment.”
The phone rang and Zero heard him pick up.
“Dr. Wolff? This is Zero Mission; could you come down to the library? It’s sort of an emergency, in a way.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well I mean it’s not urgent so I guess it’s not technically an emergency but its important aaand it could lead to great things, so… it’d be nice, if you want to, sir.”
“I will be right over.” He said after a moment and hung up.
Zero gave Dash a thumbs-up, Dash glaring back, unimpressed with Zero’s almost nonexistent manipulative powers.
They bit their fingers as they waited for the man. After a few nervous minutes, he opened one of the grand double doors and stepped in; the school was just next door. The two hopped up from their seats and went to greet him.
“Dr. Wolff!” Zero started, shaking his hand, “thank you so much for taking the time to…”
“What is this about?”
Dash started confidently, “Carter Genus’ theory about the Ghost Planet.”
“How do you know about that?” Wolff’s demeanor changed as if he’d been struck by an old memory.
“Carter was my father. I’ve continued his work. I can prove the theory’s true. I can show you the clues from these books I’ve been looking over, they all match up. But if I could get access to the Observatory I could show you, for some reason it’s been locked up.”
“I know that it is true.” Wolff responded, trying to get the boy to shut up.
“You do?” Dash was wordless.
“I worked with your father, you have to be Dash.”
“Well this is weird.” Zero said scratching his head.
“I am. How far did you two get on your research?” Dash replied.
“To the end.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do not pursue this. Please.”
“What’s the matter? Why did Zeek end the project?”
“He did not, we did.”
“We needed to keep it from Zeek. There are wonders that planet holds that are beyond us.”
“Then what’s the Cosmonaut Program even here for?”
“To make it look like nothing is wrong. Dash, your father was a great man and we had every intention of exploring the planet, every inch of it. Sometimes, things are best left alone. I will take you to the observatory if you want to see it for yourself but you have to promise me not to go after this thing. Please, trust me.”
They took Dash’s car through a forest far west of the capital. Wolff unlocked the old gate and they made their way up the steps and into the observation room. Zeek booted up the telescope, quickly aimed and focused it at the planet and stepped aside for Dash to see. The young man looked through the telescope and there it was. A smooth, beautiful white glow.
“What’s there?” he asked in wonder.
“A species beyond our arrogance.”
“How do you know this?” Dash looked up at Wolff; Zero stepped up and took a look.
“Because,” Wolff started, “your father and I took one trip there. The ship we built got us there in a day. We stayed for a day, it was paradise. Even more so than this place. Then we realized, we would ruin them.”
Wolff nodded, “they say human nature is to gain as much knowledge and as much power as possible and to leave compassion and wisdom by the wayside. Now imagine a species, like us, whose brain functions adversely.”
“Compassion triumphs power lust.”
“Our sensitivity and our knowledge of the world have thankfully advanced at the same rate because the generations of elders guiding us have been very, very careful. But you are trying something that is beyond us. Sometimes it is healthy to know what you cannot do, what you should not do. Wisdom and modesty are on in the same. Morality and limitations are not set-backs, they are guides. And keeping this planet from the eyes of our world is a limitation necessary above all others. Colonization is unnecessary; we have more than enough to live well here.”
“What makes you think we can’t connect with them?”
“This world we have inhabited is a world of freedom and openness. The man in the seat of power, this man Zeek, is a seed of evil and he has managed to guard himself from the eyes of Arrowshard. He is militant. He will colonize this primitive planet with force if he gains knowledge of its existence, I can assure you that.”
“He can’t do that. Nothing like that’s ever been done in the history of Arrowshard.”
“Because goodness has triumphed. Never before has gluttony like this managed hide from the elders.”
“Then we need to talk to the elders and explain to them the situation.”
“No one has been to the planet core in centuries.”
“I don’t believe this. You’ve got an excuse for everything. This planet’s out there and I’m a training Pioneer. This is my job. If you’re not willing to help me I’ll go after it myself.”
“Dash, you cannot do this. Your father would have advised against it just as I.”
“I don’t believe you. Zero, come on.” He headed out.
“Thank you so much for your time, sir.” Zero managed as he was being dragged out with Dash.
The two drove back to the capital.
“What do we do now?” Zero asked.
“We have to talk to Zeek and tell him about it. And Wolff mentioned a shuttle they built to get there; we’ll have to dig it up from wherever they hid it.”
“What is Wolff was right?”
“I need a break, Zero, this is it. I can’t stand these classes anymore, I know I could be doing so much more and this is my chance to show it.”
“But he warned us about Zeek.”
“There are rules; the people will revolt if he tries anything that drastic. We’ve only colonized one planet. Pioneering has been going on for decades. It’s time to turn this into a real profession.”
They parked as close as they could to the capital building, then made their way up stairs, across bridges that connected from building to building. The city was a maze and a jungle. Finally, up at a couple hundred stories they found a glass elevator attached to the side of the capital building that gave a straight shot up to the top floor where Zeek would be. They started up, its gears turned with a screech. They passed a floor filled with modified, crawling lawbots. One of them caught Dash with its mechanical eye and a squad of them crashed through the window and grabbed onto the bottom of the elevator. Two of them crawled to the top, pulling the top elevator hinge off the building, bringing the elevator to a slant.
Dash and Zero were pressed against the glass, looking at a straight shot down to their deaths; they were so far up they could barely see the ground. The bots started punching at the glass with their metal fists. A crack started in the top corner of the glass, and one in the bottom corner. The cracks spread out, taking different directions, covering the entire window sheet. Eventually the cracks met and sections of the glass started falling off. Dash punched off the tiles on the ceiling of the elevator and grabbed onto the metal grid that held them in place. The window finally fell to pieces and Dash and Zero grabbed onto the grid, hanging on with all their might. The two kicked at the bots as the bots lunged their hands into the elevator, trying to grab at them.
The elevator stopped, the bell rang and the doors screeched open. Dash and Zero turned while still dangling to face the room and swung themselves into the room just as the elevator finally gave out and fell to the city streets with the bots still attached. Dash stood to face Zeek who was sitting at his desk with a few other men, staring straight back at him.
“That was not easy to do in these robes and now my hair is totally a mess.” Zero said as he stood, fixed his hair looked up at Zeek, “oh. This isn’t good.”
“Arrest them.” Zeek said sternly to the two guards at the door.
“Wait,” Dash started, “I can show you something that will bring unlimited potential to your city.”
“And what’s that?”
“Did you ever hear about the Ghost Planet Project led by Genus and Wolff?”
“That was a total failure.”
“It was, not anymore. I know exactly where it is and how to get there. I can even show it to you. Take me to the observatory.”
“If this is some sort of a joke.”
“It’s not. Genus was my father.”
“Very well, let’s go.” He said like it was a chore and rose from his desk.
Zeek’s guards melted the lock on the gate and Dash showed Zeek the planet through the telescope as Wolff had to Dash.
“How do we get there?” Zeek asked him.
“A shuttle Wolff and my dad built. I’m not completely sure of its location but I know my dad shared an aeronautics construction site with Wolff and I know where that is; in the lower levels. I can take you there too. Of course we’ll need a team to get it to the launch site and then I’ll need a team of your best cosmonauts to make the voyage with me.”
“You’re asking for a lot, kid.”
“And what you’ll get in return is infinitely better.”
“Let’s go to the construction site.”
Dash, with Zero, led Zeek and his guards down into the rotting levels of the old space station. They got out of their vehicles at a point and walked down a flimsy metal catwalk that went on forever in the dark of the enclosed station. They could barely see their surroundings. Finally they reached the end and the door fell down when Dash tried to open it. The giant room was well-lit, white floors and white walls. It was empty for the most part besides boxes of tools and the strong, aerodynamic black shuttle set in the center.
“I want a crew down here in 15 minutes to get this thing running and fly it up to the launch station.” Zeek yelled to his guards who were still making their way along the catwalk, clearing it for hostiles. He looked Dash straight in the eyes, “this is big.”
Dash and Zero waited for Zeek and the shuttle outside of the launch station.
“Dash, Wolff warned us about Zeek. You shouldn’t be cutting deals with him like that. It’s not safe.”
“What do you mean?”
“You said he’ll get something infinitely better in return for this exploration.”
“You have to say that stuff.”
“You can’t just lie to him.”
“We need to do this.”
“I’m not sure I want to anymore. This is, a little much for me. There are too many dangerous variables tied to it now. Wolff is right about this man, I can feel it and I’m sure you can too.”
“I’ll talk to him.”
“And this voyage will be purely explorative.”
“Yes. I’m sorry, Zero. This has all just made me so frustrated. I thought this was what my dad wanted.”
Wolff showed up from the city crowd along the sidewalk, “this is a perilous position you are putting yourself in. And your father would not have wanted you to die for him, I can tell you that. He would want you to live for whatever or whomever you decide to live for.”
“I live for exploration. Where did you come from?”
“I still have surveillance on the construction site.”
Zero chimed in, “Dr. Wolff, we’re going to insist to Zeek that this voyage be purely explorative. We back you all the way.”
“I appreciate that but there is no treading lightly from here. If you, Dash are assigned for the mission, which I dearly hope you are, you will have the lives of thousands of the most loving, compassionate life forms I have ever encountered or known of on your hands.”
“Why do you hope I’ll get it? If Zeek agrees to the parameters of the voyage then the life there will be untouched.”
“Because Zeek is a dishonest man. And I see much of your father in you.” Dash was silent, “and Zero, go with him.”
“What? I’m a studying houseman, not a cosmonaut.”
“So if the team gets injured out there you will be there to assist. And you will keep Dash inline, will you not?”
“Yes, sir, of course.”
“Well, I better flee the scene before they spot me. Good luck to both of you, I have faith.” Wolff vanished back into the crowd.
The shuttle was flown into the launch bay and the people of the city stood dumbfounded. Zeek reported to a news station what was going on; that the Ghost Planet had been found and this shuttle would take a cosmonaut team there the next day. The launch would be broadcast.
Dash and Zero were permitted to go, Dash would lead the team. For Second in Command, Sven Jolson was assigned. He was an older student of 22 that specialized in the engineering of space shuttles. Finally, Emily Joiner; a genius student that had just transferred to Dash’s school that year.
Dash went with Zero to the bar that night and their names were already all over the news.
“You see the way that girl’s looking at me? Well I must say I guess this terrifying journey is going to be worth it when we get back to all these women all over us, huh, Dash? Hell, I’m going to make a move now. I’ll be back.” He said with humorous confidence as he walked over fixing his hair.
Dash had a few to drink too and stumbled over with him. The girl Zero was looking at had a few friends.
“Hello ladies,” Zero started, every word slurred, “As I’m sure you’ve all heard, me and my friend here,” he slapped his hands on the back of Dash’s shoulders, “are part of the brave party that will be plunging into the hazardous dark tomorrow, risking our lives to find a glorious land shrouded in mystery and wonder. Although tragically, I live alone and I have no one to say goodbye to upon my leave.”
“We’ll say goodbye to you!” “You’re so brave!” the girls started shouting.
“Aw really? You’re so nice. So nice.” He sat down in between two and wrapped his arms around them.
One girl was left looking left out. Dash caught her staring at him and sat down next to her and looked into her eyes. She looked back and slowly they drew nearer. They started kissing. Dash, Zero and the girls got a hotel near the launch station and continued what they’d started. After awhile, when that same girl was cuddling with Dash in their room, he asked “what’s your name?”
“I’m Dash but I guess you already know that.”
“I sure do. You’re so handsome. I’ve never been with a guy this cute before.”
“Well, thanks. You’re beautiful.”
“Thank you so much! You’re so brave for doing this.”
“Following my father’s footsteps.”
“That’s so hot.”
He chuckled, “is it?”
“Yes! It’s hard to find a guy with that sort of dedication.”
They were silent for a moment and then she asked, “When you come back, will you come back for me? I mean, you’re not one of those guys that just gets with a girl for a night, right?”
“Not at all, of course I’ll come back for you.”
“Promise?” she held her hand out for him to grasp.
“Promise.” They clasped fingers and fell asleep together.
The next day came and the four suited up. They stood on a catwalk that hung next to the shuttle in the long launch bay room. The space suits were easy to move in, but bulky and armored for the unknown environment. The four got in; a team of engineers were led by Sven to make last checks on the shuttle. Dash walked across a catwalk connecting to the control box on the other side where Zeek was. He stepped in, “hey I need to make something clear.”
“What’s that?” Zeek stood from his chair to face the young man.
“There’s no reason to force these beings from their home, right? I mean this is straight observation and analysis, we’re not hostiles to them.”
“What did your father tell you about this place?” he said in a demeaning way.
“That he thinks they’re peaceful. Like us, but even more.”
“So we’ll befriend them.”
“And if they want to be left alone?”
Zeek paused a moment, “why are you being so cautious about this?”
“I don’t want to be the reason an entire race is slaughtered.”
“And why do you think that?”
“You operate behind the curtains. Why, what are you after?”
“I’m here to build my city for my people. It’s time we put Ryftia in check.”
“Ryftia, what do you want with them?”
“An understanding of our power.”
“And you think the Ghost Planet’s a strategic asset?”
“To protect the people, yes.”
“Ryftia’s shown no hostility.”
“And if they do, we’ll be ready.”
“We leave the species alone.”
“You’re not the one calling the shots here. We made a deal, did we not?”
“The find of this planet will bring you riches enough. That’s what I was referring to.”
“Oh was that what you were referring to? As I remember it the planet was mine to pillage so long as you got to make the voyage and complete your father’s work.”
“You’ll do no such thing.”
“We’ll see what all exactly calls home to the planet but until then this mission is set. Get back to your station.”
Dash turned without a word and returned to the shuttle, Sven just behind him. The countdown commenced. A man over the speaker started: “Lift-off in 5, 4, 3, 2…”
Nothing but the rockets’ roar of fire could be heard, the crew saw the room pass by and before they knew it they were looking up into the skies. Dash was at the captain’s seat maneuvering it. It made a straight shot up into the scattered, white clouds and out of the atmosphere, into open space.
“If we die I’m gonna kill you.” Zero said to him.