It was only logical to land on the light side because the light helps to
guide the landing. I mean, not that the pilot needed light. The computer
did most of the work, and with the instruments and sensors, the crew could
have landed blind. Still, it's general policy to always land on the light
side unless specifically instructed otherwise.
My job was life support, and my assignment had been to prep the spacesuits
for the pressure and climate of this planet and do a maintenance check on
the ship's scrubbers. Of course, that meant that it was night outside by
the time I had my prep done. That was fine with me, though, I would be the
first to see the alien starscape. I needed to do a test run on the suites
anyway, so why not use the chance to ogle at the spectacular night sky?
With that justification I headed down to comp in order to find someone to
take a walk with. It was policy that you never went out of the ship alone,
so I was going to grab the one other guy I knew who would be up at this hour.
"Hey, Chazz," I greeted the short, skinny guy at the computer console. He
smiled up at me from under his crop of straight, black hair. He was sitting
at the console doing about three people's work while his hands flew over the
screen/pads. My arrival didn't slow him noticeably.
"Where is everyone?" I asked.
"They're probably in bed, the lazy bums," Chazz answered.
"Easy for you to say. I have yet to see you sleep. I'm beginning to think
you're a vampire or something."
"Oh. Well want to go planetside with me? Get the bugs out of the suites?"
Chazz snorted, "If there are problems with the suites, I don't want to be IN
one when you find them."
"Oh, common, Chazz, don't you trust me?"
"Nope. But tell you what," he said punching a couple of spots on the screen
opening two operation portals, "If you take suits 13 and 22 I'll monitor
your vitals. Now all you have to do is find a buddy."
"Thanks allot. You just don't want me to pull you away from you computer
Chazz gave a nasally laugh and immediately turned stern.
"But Chazz," I whined, "who else am I going to get to go planetside with me
at this hour?"
"Well there's always Amy in engineering."
"Why are you always trying to get me hooked up?"
"Because I'm already married," he said mildly.
"Misery loves company," he gave me a grin, and then turned away, "It was
just a suggestion."
"Fine," I sighed, "I'll give it a try," and I headed out.
"There goes a brave fool," I heard him say through the closing door.
He was wrong, of course. At my age, the thought of asking an attractive
woman to go on a walk with me probably shouldn't make me want to curl up in a
fetal ball, but it does. I rehearsed my lines, took a deep breath, and
Amy was on night shift monitoring systems operations and sipping that awful
pre-made space coffee.
"Hi..." I began, and then blanked on her name.
"Hi," she responded without looking up. She was short and petite in build
with a slender, attractive face under straight, brown hair tied back in a
"I'm Jack, from systems and life support," I said, more like a question than
"Yes, you are." She wasn't making this any easier.
"Look, I just got finished modifying the suites, and there's hardly anybody
up this late, and I was wondering if you wanted to take a walk with me," I
said all in one breath. I replayed what I had just said in my mind, and
then mentally kicked myself. Amy, for her part, glanced at the digital time
display, muttered "Its late," to herself and went back to what she had been
I stood there for about a minute, expecting something else, and then decided
that that was a 'no.' Trudging back to the locker, I mentally debated
breaking protocol and going out alone. It was a tempting idea. I was
starting to suite up when Amy jogged in.
"Chazz called up from comp and said you needed someone to test the suites
with you," she explained. How had she missed that from my conversation with
her, I wondered? Then I noticed that she was standing there expectantly.
"Oh, um... you're suit 22," I said, noticing that the suites Chazz had chosen
to monitor were exactly the right sizes for the two of us.
We suited up and then I radioed Chazz to open the hatch. My facemask fogged
as the pressure differential equalized in the airlock and the ramp lowered
to the dusty planet surface.
"Have fun you two," Anthony gave us the go-ahead over the headset, and we
walked out onto an alien world.
I had experienced it several times before, but each world is different, and
the feeling of awe never wears off. At least for me.
"Mix is good, air filters are working out the salvageable gasses, air
replenishing is working fine, pressure seems about right, temperature is
within acceptable range... bit cold..." Amy rattled off the checklist of
features as she stood watching the display inside of her helmet.
"Aw, man! Have you ever SEEN so many stars?" I enthused.
"Listen, Jack, I have a post to get back to."
"Right, sorry... hey, would you look at THAT!" I said, catching sight of a
mysterious object in the sky. It was a pulsing sphere that seemed to ripple
with colors. With no depth perception, I had trouble telling how far away
it was. It could have been a heavenly body or something in the atmosphere.
"Amy, look!" I pointed frantically trying to draw her attention away from
"What am I looking at?" she sighed, walking out from under the shadow of the
ship to gaze skyward.
"That... THING right there... hey, where did it go?" In the moment I had
looked away, the object had disappeared.
"It's probably a glitch in your digital display. Common, the suits check
out, lets get inside," and she walked up the ramp.
"What did you see?" Chazz asked over the headset.
"I don't know, it was weird, it was like... Okay, remember those old spook
stories about UFO's?"
"Oh, common, Jack,"
"Well it was the only example I could think of."
"Don't worry, Jack, if there is something out there, our survey teams will
The next week was a flurry of activity. The planetary studies team works
like that. Two ships land on a planet and then spend six days cramming
computer banks full of data, trying to squeeze as much information out of
the planet as it will easily yield. The first ship takes off at the end of
the sixth day with the bulk of the data stored thereon. The second ship
stays on for a seventh day making sure that the crews have not contaminated
the planet. Like creation, six days of activity, and on the seventh, rest.
These are preliminary studies. If a planet yields something vital it is
marked for further study. The barren rocks are largely left alone. It's a
big universe out there.
My title was 'systems and life support,' and in planetary studies speak that
translates into 'slave labor.' Since I had no studies specialty I was
assigned all the hard labor and grunt work: setting up equipment, and
transporting things. Working twelve-hour shifts like that under the large,
glaring sun with the dusty soil blowing about me in a heavy environmental
suit was tiring to say the least. I nearly forgot all about the thing I had
seen in the sky.
By the end of the six days I was exhausted and looking forward to the long
rest in space transit. I was on the first ship out, which happened to be
the ship I hadn't come in on. This meant a long, bumpy ride in an outboard
planet buggy to where the other ship had landed. The two ships land a
sizable distance apart to take in more terrain. Wearily I climbed aboard
the all terrain buggy and slouched back in my seat. The wheels started
moving with a jolt, and we took off. I idly looked to my side and drew back.
Amy was sitting in the seat next to me. I quickly composed myself and said
the first thing that came to my mind.
"So... what did you think of the planet?"
"Hunk of rock. Just another footnote in the record books."
I had to agree with her assessment. The planet seemed to have little to
"I'm exhausted," she added, and lay her head back on the seat, closing her
eyes with a sigh. I took this as a polite cue to shut up, and did so.
The ship's captain was driving the buggy and there were twelve of us in the
train. The other passengers all followed suit with Amy, laying back and
closing their eyes. The ride wasn't as rough as I thought it would be, and I
was almost tempted to join the other passengers in their repose. But I
decided that since this would be my last look at this planet, I might as well
take it all in while I could. There wasn't much to take in. The planet
rested under a perpetually twilight sky reddened by the dust the high winds
carried into the upper atmosphere. Rocks lay scattered about, eroded into
spheres by the perpetual sand blasting they received from the wind. Though
some of the rock formations were beautiful in a barren sort of way, I could
not see them easily through the dust the buggy's wheels were kicking up.
Suddenly something hit the front bumper of the vehicle and went bouncing off
out of sight. From the brief glimpse I caught of it, it looked to be a
sphere about the size of a large beach ball that sparkled translucently with
some light it generated internally. I looked up and saw another one
drifting down from the sky towards us.
"Stop the tractor!" I radioed the captain through my headset.
"What?" came back his reply.
"Sir, requesting that you stop the buggy."
The whir of the wheels died as the buggy ground to a halt.
"This had better be good, Jack," the captain came back, annoyed.
"It is, sir," I said, vaulting out of my seat and running up to the front of
the buggy. The rest of the passengers seemed to remain unconscious. I
reached the captain's position, and signaled him to look where I was
"There, sir, about five o'clock high. See that thing?"
The captain squinted and strained his neck.
"Oh yeah," he said suddenly catching sight of the object, "What is that?"
"I don't know, sir, but I'd like to get a look at it."
"Oh come on, Jack, whatever it is, the science teams have probably already
recorded it. Anyway, we don't have time for this. I delay too much longer
and we'll miss our launch window. Now get on board."
"Sir, if the science teams had seen that thing, don't you think we would
have known about it? Its not like they keep any discoveries a secret around
here, everything gets around."
"That may be so, but..."
"Look, sir, I understand, you go ahead. I'll stay behind the extra day and
take off with the other ship. I want to find out what that is."
"Jack, this is against policy..."
"So? You're the captain. I'm asking your permission."
"I'm NOT driving you back to the other ship, Jack."
"I'll walk. We aren't that far out."
"You can't go alone."
"So? Assign someone to go with me," I said, and then quickly added,
"Captain, if this is something important, you'll never forgive yourself for
missing it," From the expression on his face, I could only guess at what he
was thinking. Finally, he sighed and radioed back to the train.
"Amy? You're assigned to walk back to the ship with Jack to check out
"WHAT!?!?" came back her unbelieving response.
"That's an order," the captain added and switched off the link. "Have fun,"
he told me sarcastically.
Thirty seconds later, the buggy rolled out of sight in a cloud of dust, and
I was left standing next to Amy in the middle of the barren plain. The
captain had called the other ship and told them we were coming, without
elaborating as to how or why. The tight lines in Amy's face told me she was
not exactly happy.
"This was YOUR stupid idea, wasn't it?" she cried.
"Look, I'm sorry, I didn't know th..."
"I don't want to hear it!" Amy shouted, clicking off the COM link and began
trudging in the direction of the ship.
"Thanks a lot, cap'n," I muttered, and headed out after her.
We found the sphere about fifty meters from where the buggy had stopped. It
hovered a few centimeters of the ground and glowed eerily. It was made up
of thirty-two smaller spheres that rippled with a light that went from
violet to dark blue in the course of a ripple. The smaller spheres were
held together by a skin, or force field, I couldn't tell which. It was so
light; it was hardly there. The skin looked like a soap bubble with a
slightly pink hue. If you looked hard enough, you could see the colors of
the rainbow whirling across the skin. Even Amy was overawed at the delicate
beauty and mystery of the sphere.
"Amy, this is the same thing I saw in the sky our first night here!
"Not really," she responded, "Is this what you wanted to check out?"
"Yes, absolutely! The science teams didn't spot anything like this, did
"Not that I know of. How do you intend to get this back to the ship for
"I don't know. It looks so frail that I'm afraid it will just fall apart if
I touch it."
Suddenly a gust of wind hit the sphere and carried it up into the sky. As I
followed it with my eyes, I saw something that took my breath away.
"Amy, LOOK!" I cried.
This time she didn't have to ask me what I was looking at, she saw it too.
The sky was filled with spheres drifting down upon us, and buffeted up by
"I think we just solved the problem of getting one to the base," Amy said in
a near whisper.
We arrived at the ship in record time for foot travel, and the spheres were
still descending o'er the land. The sun was just sinking in the south and I
had precious little time left before I would be required to confine my
activities to within the ship for the night. I was going to have to wait
until tomorrow to study those things. Amy disappeared to heaven only knows
where, when we got inside. I headed immediately down to comp and grabbed
"No questions. Just come up to observation with me. Quick."
Chazz accepted this easily, and followed me. The sight from the observation
deck was truly astounding. The winds had died and the objects were just
settling to the ground. It reminded me of a scene from my childhood. We
had a tall house overlooking a valley. One morning I awoke to a wondrous
sight. Hundreds of brilliantly colored hot air balloons were floating low
and lazily over the valley. Already dozens had begun landing. A gave a
gleeful shout and ran to get my mother and father and show them. I wanted
to run down into the valley and talk with the balloonists. I wanted to climb
into one of the baskets and soar away. My parents had made me stay in the
house and leave the balloonists alone. When I looked out the window again,
the balloons had vanished as if they were never there.
Chazz gave a low whistle.
"What are those things?" he asked.
"You're guess is as good as mine," I replied, then added, "If you can get
out of cleaning and prep work tomorrow, you can help me study them."
"Little late for that, isn't it?"
"Well these things didn't show up until just now."
"Well don't worry, I already finished all my prep work for tomorrow."
I gave him an astonished look. Computer prep work is a nine-hour job.
Chazz grinned and held a finger to his lips.
"Don't tell anybody. If they new I was this good, they'd give me more work
I couldn't sleep that night, despite my fatigue from the week's work. I
kept running up to observation to make sure the things were still there.
Chazz had immediately dubbed them 'spoogies,' and by the end of the evening,
everyone was referring to them by that name. Where he had come up with it,
I don't know. When the things were logged in, they were officially titled
the Feuchay Spheres after my last name, since I had discovered them. Still,
I doubted anyone would call them that.
The morning wakeup announcements came none too soon.
"All units report to stations and get your cleanup and prep done as quickly
as possible. The sooner you get done, the sooner we have liftoff. There
are some things... some objects that have shown up on the sight since last
night. They seem to be indigenous to the planet, so try not to disturb
My heart sank upon hearing the announcement. No one seemed to care about
the spoogies. What was more, they were set upon leaving as quickly as
possible. Of course, I knew that it wasn't that they didn't care, so much
as that they didn't have TIME to care. Their primary concern was getting
the ship off the planet. Whatever the case, Chazz and I had to work fast.
Surprisingly, Amy decided to pitch in, too. She and I had no assigned tasks
since, technically, we weren't even suppose to BE there. Chazz, of course,
was finished his, so soon the three of us were walking out among the
spoogies, all hovering eerily over the ground.
"So where do we begin? I mean, what, exactly, are we trying to prove here?"
"I think we should find out whether these things are natural or artificial,"
"I'm interested in whether they are living or non-living," I offered.
"Well what do we have to go on? I'm not trained in the field of
experimentation when it comes to anomalous objects," Amy seemed flustered.
"We observe and record," Chazz answered cheerily, "First, the object hovers
over the ground. How? We don't know, so lets see what we can find out."
With that Chazz slid his hand along the ground under the spoogy. It bobbed
a bit. He lifted his hand slowly. The spoogy rolled away from his hand. I
stepped up and tried to touch it. My hand came within a few centimeters and
it floated away. I tried grabbing it on both sides, and it slipped away
before I could even touch it.
"Hmm..." said Amy; "It seems to have some sort of buffer zone around it.
It's naturally repelled from solids on the atomic or magnetic level."
"Well can we tell HOW it does that?" I asked.
"We don't have the equipment out here," Chazz answered mildly.
"Nor are we going to get it," Amy added, "Everything has been packed away,
or taken off by the other ship."
"Well it generates light, right? So it must convert energy somehow," I
"Hold your conclusions there, Sport," Chazz responded, "We have no way of
knowing whether the light it's giving off is generated or simply refracted."
"Yes we do," I said, "Last night I looked at them from the observation deck
and they were glowing. Plus, the one I saw the first night here was
glowing, if you'll remember."
"Well okay, but some naturally occurring minerals have been known to glow,
too," Amy said.
"Look, lets get one of these things into the ship, we can look at it there,"
On the ship we were getting no further than we had outside. We sat in our
suits in an airtight room with the same atmosphere and pressure as the
outside. We didn't want the spoogy to be outside its regular environment,
even in the lab.
"Well, okay, lets define some parameters here," Chazz began, "There is no way
of knowing whether it was built by something with intelligence, or is a
naturally occurring phenomenon. It has a pattern, symmetry, and it performs
some complex functions. All this would indicate intelligent design, unless
it was a life form. We know that life-forms convert energy, perform complex
functions, display symmetry, and all the things we would see from intelligent
design, only they are naturally occurring. There is one easily detectable
thing that separates life-forms from artificial constructs, though,"
"The ability to reproduce," Amy finished.
"You got it," Chazz replied with a wink.
"So how do we find out in the..." I checked my watch, "three hours we have
left whether or not this thing can reproduce."
"We probably don't," Chazz answered, "But for the sake of science, Jack, go
out and get another spoogy, would you?"
I sighed, went out, and herded another spoogy into the ship. It was no easy
process, you just generally pushed it and it rolled away, so you tried to
corral it as best you could to the destination. It was especially difficult
on the ramp, where it wanted to keep on slipping down to the planet surface.
I was eventually helped by a gust of wind, which pushed it halfway into the
ship for me. Other people where walking in and out as well, and several
gave me strange looks.
Soon we had the two spoogies together in the ship.
"Now then," Chazz began, "Lets see you two reproduce."
He pushed one towards the other experimentally, to see if their fields would
repel one another or not. They did, and the two bounced energetically away
from each another.
"Well that shoots down that theory, huh?" I asked.
"It was a long shot anyway," Chazz admitted.
"Well guys, I'm giving it up and heading to decontamination," Amy said, "I
suggest you get those things off the ship, decontaminate yourselves and the
area, and get ready for launch."
As she headed out, Chazz and I leaned back. The whole thing seemed hopeless.
"You think they'll come back to the planet to study the spoogies later on?"
"Not much chance of that, I'm afraid," Chazz answered, "These things won't
even go on official report for the planet. They weren't discovered during
the initial six-day period."
"Ah, shoot," I sighed.
"Hey, cheer up, Jack. Let's try pushing them together again."
We got on either side and prepared to shove.
"Come on little guys, lets see some mating," Chazz said, and we pushed.
"What th..." I cried and fell back. My spoogy was planted firm as a rock in
place. Chazz's floated towards it, and was suddenly thrown back with a
burst of light. My spoogy began to turn slowly in place. With each
rotation it spun faster until it became a blur. Its glowing got brighter
and it began to pulse. Both Chazz and I retreated to the furthest corner of
the lab and looked at one another.
"I... um... think we discovered something," I said.
"Yeah, but what?"
A loud rattling started somewhere within the vicinity of the sliding door to
my right. I looked over to see the cause. The slats in the track that the
door slid along were shaking violently and suddenly burst out of the track,
flying into a corner. Then, slowly, the ball bearings underneath the slats
began to slide together into a pile and levitate into the air. Chazz and I
watched in disbelief as thirty-two ball bearings floated together into a
perfectly spherical shape and began rotating slowly.
"Um... I'm only guessing at this next part, but you may want to tint your
visor," Chazz suggested. We both hastily turned our faceplates a nearly
pitch-black and not a moment too soon. There was a flash of light that
would have put most suns to shame, and then it was over. The spoogy stopped
spinning, and slowly sank down to a resting position. Where the ball
bearings had hovered just moments ago was a brand new, freshly spawned
"Spontaneous sympathetic energy reproduction! I saw it myself! Chazz and I
both saw it!"
The more excited I became, the more uncomfortable the planetary board
"Listen Mr. Feuchay, the planet was thoroughly surveyed according to
regulation procedure and declared unfit for further study. Your
observations were not recorded, and not documented except for a logged
clause that you discovered an anomalous object. We don't have the time or
the funds to go back to the planet on a poorly supported hunch."
I decided to leave his office before I became too enraged. Chazz greeted me
"Don't tell me, I know it's a no go. I told you they wouldn't go for it."
"But Chazz, that thing was important! It could have been intelligent life,
for all we know!"
"Or, it could have been some chemical phenomenon that occurred when our
ships upset the delicate balance of the atmosphere, or an illusion created
in our minds by some hallucinogenic spore we picked up, or that planet's
version of hailstones, or machines sent by a race elsewhere to survey the
planet. Heck, Jack, it could have been anything."
"I know, I know... but I still think it needs further study."
"Well," Chazz smiled, "If the current regulations don't suite you, I suppose
we could write new ones."
The jettison pod was cramped, even in zero G's, and we still had three days
before the ship would launch us.
"So," I questioned Chazz for the 13th time, "We're stowaways then?"
"Not really," Chazz replied, "The captain and crew know we're here. They
got orders to launch us to the spoogy's planet as we pass from Central. Its
"Except that you re-programmed Central to insert these orders."
"Hey, if you have the access codes, it's legal to reprogram."
"And just how did you get those codes?" I asked.
"That's easy," Chazz's grin grew, "I did most of the core programming for
"That's impossible!" I said in disbelief, "Central was created decades ago!
You would have been, what? Thirteen at most!"
"I was thirteen. My academy-programming instructor was suppose to be the
best in the system, but I was better, and he knew it. He actually had me do
most of HIS work as 'extra credit.'"
I shook my head in wonder.
"Chazz, you're amazing."
"I know, shut up about it."
"So what's the plan when we get there?" I asked.
"Well the ship will launch us at such a trajectory that we shouldn't have to
expend much fuel in navigation. We have enough for landing and takeoff with
the help of the antigrav units, and enough energy to give us three days on
the planet before we have to take off again to meet our ride home."
"Three days, that's it?" I said in incredulity.
"Look, Jack, I got you here, didn't I? Three days is all I could manage."
"I know Chazz, and I can't thank you enough. Its just, we didn't see them
until the seventh day we were there. Three really isn't enough."
"Well either we'll see them or we won't. If we do, we can bring it back for
more study. If we don't you've lost nothing."
"I may have lost more than you think," I said more to myself than to Chazz.
I lay back and went to sleep.
The three days came and went without so much as an illusion of a spoogy. I
got more discouraged as the days wore on, but Chazz was indefatigable. We
had an hour to go before launch when Chazz and I made our last, dejected
round. Well, I was dejected. He was humming to himself and smiling.
"Could they have been just illusions, Chazz? I mean, it's not as if we got
any images of them on file or anything."
"Anything is possible, Jack. It's a big universe out there. That may have
been the first and last encounter a human will ever have with a spoogy."
"What if we somehow wiped them out accidentally with our presence?" I asked
"Just as likely as us accidentally creating them with our presence. And if
we did, we didn't do it intentionally. You know how the saying goes, it's
the thought that counts," he smiled, "Well say farewell to this rock, we
have to go."
I took one last, searching look and then turned and left.
Chazz and I were both re-assigned to separate missions when we got back home.
We decided to get together for dinner at his place before we left, because
we didn't know when we would see each other next.
"So whatever happened to that Amy girl," Monica, Chazz's wife, asked.
"Chazz told you about her?" I blushed, "Well she obviously had no interest,"
Chazz and Monica exchanged a look, and Monica burst out in laughter. I
didn't know what that meant and I didn't ask. I had once asked them how
they could stand being married when they were apart all the time, to which
Monica replied, "That's exactly how we stand it."
We didn't mention the spoogies once.
After we had finished, and I was heading out, Chazz stopped me at the door.
"I have something for you," he said, holding up a bag.
"Thanks, Chazz, what is it?"
"Well, I neglected to mention it when we were on the planet that last time,
but I found something you might find... interesting. I want you to have
I took the bag with curiosity and opened it. Inside lay thirty-two shining