Barren Archipelago II
by Christopher W Gamsby
X and I spent the rest of the night circling the planet in low orbit watching the skylines for other volcanic activity, but we didn't see any more signs of an immediate eruption. We decided the Barren Archipelago was stable enough to explore and that the danger was strictly transient. The next morning we landed the ship in the middle of a miniature round island. The island was only large enough to park about 12 ships on the whole landmass. X's fear of water imprisoned him in the planet jumper's hull. I spent all morning coaxing him to leave, and he finally capitulated around the late afternoon. We walked to the beach adjacent to the vast ocean and planted ourselves in the sand.
The beach's moist, grainy sand stuck to our hands and legs in small clusters. We brushed off the clumps and sand sprinkled back into the beach's mass. At the time, I wondered why X was so afraid of water interfering with his electronic components but he seemed completely oblivious to any problems posed by sand finding its way into his electronic shell. I didn't want to ask since it took all day to even get him out of the ship. X stayed on the beach molding sand into buildings and landscapes, and I snuck away to the ocean.
I slid my foot into the ocean, and the water swelled around my ankle. According to my exo-suit, the ocean remained at a crisp 7 degrees Celsius, but thanks to my suit's insulation, it felt slightly cool to the touch. I walked in until the water came past my chest. A few steps later I bobbed in the ocean, kicking my legs to keep my head above water. I fatigued at the immense effort and simultaneously exhilarated by the strange floating sensation. I gave up staying at the surface and submerged completely. I floated without effort 2 meters below the water's surface.
Sunlight shot through the water's surface and diffused into the ocean, creating a blurred picture of the nearby landscape. My visor adjusted to the scattered image and soon I saw the ocean floor as clearly as I saw the world's surface from an island. Pale white spheres drifted toward the water's surface, fixed in place by a trail of lime green seaweed that stopped the buoys from floating away. Iron-rich rocks ringed with glistening green mineral deposits and brown rings of compressed rocks knifed out of the ocean floor and rose to different lengths. Rounded boulders occasionally joined the jagged rocks.
I swam to a rocky outcrop in between jagged rock pillars and through stone rings with hollowed out centers. I swam between and around the kelp and buoys. I submerged as long as possible, but occasionally life support systems forced me to rise to the surface to allow my aquatic membrane to recharge.
A realization struck as I ascended to the surface; no fish swam in the ocean. I surveyed the sky and nearby islands while above the water. Birds didn't fly through the air and creatures didn't graze on the short grass fields. I splashed back under the water to explore for more life and force the creeping emptiness from my mind.
I checked every crevice and cave on the ocean floor and couldn't find any signs of life. The name Barren Archipelago fit the planet perfectly. I lost track of time in my adventures and the sun set over the horizon as I explored the watery depths. The sky-blue water morphed into the volcanic red we fled from yesterday. Passing by clouds blocked the sun in scattered areas, creating smoke waves throughout the water's surface. I laid on the water's floor staring at the moving picture on the water's surface. I daydreamed about flying through the sky during the birth of life on a far away planet. I sat mesmerized until my aquatic membrane needed to be recharged and night's darkness destroyed my day dream.
The off-white buoys glowed in night's encroaching darkness, and the water's depths became a starry night. Bioluminescent plants lit marvelous undersea paths looping and swaying along with weak oceanic currents. I wanted to stay in that fantasy world, but I knew I needed to find X and make sure he was alright. I surfaced nearly 15 minutes away from my ship and the small island. I awkwardly swam the distance, with much effort, and arrived at the beach. X wasn't on the ground building sand villages anymore. Krovax need constant stimulation, and the appeal of a new substance didn't hold sway for very long.
I returned to the ship and found X scanning radio frequencies for nearby explorers and structures. X lowered a glass cube from his face-place, and three blue diodes displayed his emotion. I went to apologize for stranding him all day, but he interrupted before I even started my utterance.
“I have something you will want to see.”