… continued from Deorbital
Anna released her seat restraints and leaned forward to survey the console, then sat back, dizzy with vertigo, breathing hard from exertion. Lifting her arm took as much effort as pulling up against resistance on the exercise machine back on Aniara, and she was pretty sure she’d have bruises later from being flung hard against the restraint straps. The cockpit spun around her, until she focused on the horizon outside.
“Laxmi, check on Jaci, please. And, be careful.”
“We are down, right? We’ve stopped?”
“Because it feels like we’re accelerating, pulling up hard. It’s safe to get up?”
“We’ve stopped. It’s the gravity. It’s about twenty percent more than Earth, but even Earth gravity would be difficult for us now. I’m just glad you insisted we do all those zero-g workouts the last three years, but still…”
Anna gave the world a moment to stop spinning, avoiding the console displays and keeping her eyes on the level horizon. Where turquoise sky met azure sea, a white hazy line divided the two, which Anna supposed was the fringing reef protecting the lagoon. A string of low green islets broke up the reef, atolls covered with vegetation, while in the center of the lagoon a thousand-meter-high mountain, sheer and verdant, reached up to touch the sky, all sharp ridges and fluted couloirs.
It must be nearly twilight, Anna thought, but… the shadows were all wrong. Even the colors were wrong. She checked the view dimmer, thinking it must be shading the brightness, but it had auto-adjusted to allow full light levels into the cockpit. The sun was high overhead, and the water sparkled in its light, yet the scene remained muted. The clear sky had more than a hint of pale green to it.
Of course, she remembered. Kepler 62 was a K-type orange dwarf, a smaller and dimmer star, and although 62f, the fifth planet out, orbited closer than Earth did to Sol, it received only a fraction as much light. Even at high noon, it would be darker. That didn’t explain the green hue, though.
Enough distractions. She had work to do.
“Ok, guys, I’ve got some good news for once. We’re not sinking, which is great, as I don’t think any of us are really up to moving fast yet in this gravity. The water density is probably different from home, so depth readings may be off, but regardless, it’s pretty shallow here, maybe three meters. I’m going to deploy the landing gear, which should help anchor us in place, keep us from drifting. How’s Jaci’s leg?”
“It’s a simple fracture, probably greenstick. He’ll recover, but he won’t be walking without help for a while. I’m splinting it now.”
“It hurts like a…”
“Yeah, well, it could be worse. Don’t be a crybaby.”
Anna smiled. At least spirits were good. She turned back to her console.
“Great. Right, so outside temperature is twenty-six C. Atmospheric pressure is eleven-hundred fifty-two millibars, so it may feel a bit heavy, but perfectly acceptable. I’m getting an air sample now for composition analysis.”
“Balmy! I’m ready to go lay on the beach now.”
“I see Jaci is feeling better.”
“That might be the painkillers I gave him,” Laxmi said. “Then again, maybe it’s just him.”
“Yeah, I think it’s just him. Ok, I’ve got results from the sample. It’s about what we expected from the spectrographic analysis we did from orbit, but the argon percent’s a lot higher. Lower on the nitrogen and oxygen percentages than Earth, a bit higher carbon dioxide. Laxmi, is this going to cause us a problem?”
“One sec, let me come up there and take a look.”
Laxmi shuffled her way into the cockpit, leaning heavily on hatch frame and seat backs before falling into the copilot chair.
“God, but I feel weak. This is going to take a while to get used to. Ok, let me see. Eighteen and a half percent oxygen, but with the higher atmospheric pressure, that’s… that’s almost exactly the same partial pressure as oxygen on Earth, so that’s absolutely fine. Lower nitrogen doesn’t matter to us, and looking around, it seems to be plenty for supporting the plant life. The CO2’s a little high, about double from Earth, but we’ll be ok. It’s not high enough to cause cognitive impairment. It’s probably causing some greenhouse effects, though.”
“Only reason this place isn’t frozen, most likely,” Anna said. “What about the argon? Almost ten percent. That’s really high.”
“Argon’s inert, like nitrogen. It’s not toxic. As long as we have enough partial pressure of oxygen, it shouldn’t cause a problem. It’s heavier than oxygen, so it’ll concentrate in low spots, but any wind should take care of that. Why didn’t we find this in the spectrograph?”
“You just said it. It’s heavier than oxygen and nitrogen, so it would concentrate in the troposphere. There probably isn’t much in the upper stratosphere, so we didn’t see it. I’d guess that’s what’s causing the green tint to the sky, too.”
“It might make our voices a little deeper. Sort of the opposite effect of helium. And it could be mildly narcotic.”
Anna laughed. “Jaci will like that.”
“Well, at ten percent, it’s probably not enough to notice. What about radiation?”
Anna pulled up another display on the console.
“Nominal. The planet has magnetic fields like Earth — it has to, or solar wind would strip away the atmosphere — and that shields it from most of the radiation. And the atmosphere’s a little thicker, providing more protection as well. Add in the dimmer star, and you’d have to work hard to get a sunburn here. You’d still get one, but it’ll be like wearing SPF 45 all the time. Well, I’d still get one. Classic Nordic heritage, I could burn under a 100-watt lightbulb.”
“So, we’re marooned here, so far away that we’ll be long dead before any message we could send gets to Earth, but we’ll die with good skin and clear complexions. How comforting.”
“Well, I always did want to lay on a beach without burning. Seems I’m finally getting that wish granted.”
“Speaking of beaches, how far are we from shore?”
“About a hundred-fifty meters from the nearest atoll, and about two kilometers from the main island.”
“I’d like to gather some samples of the plant life for testing, find out what’s edible. Plus I want to get more air samples, and soil as well, to test for bacterial and viral activity.”
“Do you think we could be at risk from germs?”
“We don’t know until I run tests.”
“Ok, but first we need to establish airlock procedures. I want to keep the interior clean. Let’s work out a decontamination routine before anyone goes outside.” Anna twisted around in her seat and looked through the hatch into the crew compartment. “Jaci! You ok back there? We need to talk next steps.”
A snore greeted her words. She turned to look at Laxmi, who shrugged.
“Good painkillers,” Laxmi said.
… to be continued.
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