This short story accompanies the three channel video installation ‘Inertia’. Imagining this scene while producing the film functioned as a counterbalance to its rather bleak premise.
“Extraordinary!” the doctor exclaimed as the ship approached. The level of detail became sufficient to distinguish vague coastlines and a bit of elevation. The crew, exhausted by promises and disappointment, didn’t react at all. The doctor turned around to the high-level members, who sat slumped in their custom-made comfortable seats and watched some rerun of a comedy show or tried to find a way to boost their communication signal so they would get access to at least some sort of news feed from back home.
The doctor shifted his gaze to the big screen, which also served as a window that didn’t show much more than a vague contour of another spheroid that seemed barren and empty. “Look,” he said, “it appears to have an atmosphere!”
Two days later, he presented his report to the captain and the first level officers. ‘Officers’ was put a bit too strongly; the first level only consisted of notables and adventurers with enough money and sense of exoticism to have embarked on the mission. None of them ever had performed any duties on this journey. All they did was drink expensive drinks and feel extremely bored.
They complained: “It’ll probably turn out to be another mirage”, and, “We were promised exciting discoveries but all we have found so far are useless pieces of rock, or balls of gas.”
“This is different, there’s actually something here”, the doctor said. He started his carefully constructed presentation by showing images of landmasses, reflections of light on water-like surfaces and an admittedly quite distorted video recording of a probe flying over a desert-like surface.
The doctor talked about chemistry, geology, surface temperatures and estimated mass. He showed diagrams of gravity, explained how much time it would take this new world to rotate around its star, discussed the density of oxygen and of course, signs of life.
“Wait, what?” a first level ‘officer’ said, “There are signs of life down there?” He sat up straight.
“Finally,” the countess of Aaäa replied, while texting a hot message to a well-built crewmember working somewhere around the hyper-thrust engine. She had no idea what his occupation really was.
“It’s probably going to be something cellular again, or a virus or something”, the son of a billionaire entrepreneur said. He softly repeated the word “something” while looking miserably into his empty glass. Shortly after the mission departed, he started wondering what it was that had pissed his father off so much that he had been forced into exile. Was it the fact his mother was a fruitcake, hospitalized for reasons he never found out? Was it his girlfriend – or rather ex-girlfriend, given how long ago he had left. They never seemed to get along, although they both believed themselves to be very sociable and all that.
“No, no,” the doctor explained, “Life at this point seems only to exist on a primitive level, but…” His audience ostentatiously went back to their mobile screens, mumbling things like: “I knew it.” Someone said: “Well, better luck next time.”
“BUT”, the doctor continued, “there are indications of a civilization.”
Several of the officers lifted their heads. “What do you mean, civilization?”
The doctor pointed at some high-resolution stills of the video the probe made: “These structures are clearly man-made. They can’t just be the result of natural causes, wind nor water erosion can produce these types of shapes.” The doctor continued his description and elaborated on a much too advanced level for his listeners to understand. His discussion included an analysis of anomalies in electrical charges and geological versus constructed architectural structures, amongst other things. He also pointed out the extra-atmospheric debris the ship had identified on the radar, however small and insignificant.
“How exhilarating,” the countess of Aaäa said, without a trace of enthusiasm. “So, what does all this this mean?”
“Well,” said the doctor, as he prepared himself for an informative Big Bang. “We’ve found a place where life once thrived, where a technologically advanced civilization was established, which has now disappeared. We can only guess as to the reason why.” He uttered the last sentence with what he hoped to be some sense of suspense.
“So,” he went on, “shall we land?”
Alexandra Crouwers, augustus 2014
Thanks to Anne Pier Salverda