A Land of Shadow and Substance

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The lander contacted the planet with a solid thump. The foggy atmosphere was blown around by the lander’s jets but quickly returned obscuring its cameras. A ladder lowered on one side from a hatch to the ground. Inside the three astronauts puzzled over the atmospheric readings the lander’s computers were displaying.

“There can’t be breathable air out there!” the science officer, Alice Henson, insisted.

“I know logically there can’t be air out there but can all the sensors be wrong?” the captain, Greg Mason, asked.

“If they were malfunctioning, the readings would be all over the place, not consistent like these readings,” the engineer, Jamie Hertz, said.

“Even if we believe the sensors we can not exit the lander without environmental suits,” Alice said.

“Of course not. We’re on an alien planet with unknown biological elements,” the Captain said. “We’ll follow protocol.” An hour later the three had helped each other squeeze into and seal their environment suits. After double-checking their suits, they were ready to begin their survey of the surface.

Captain Greg was the first one down the ladder. He had no quippy sound bites for the moment he first set foot on the alien planet. Alice and Jamie followed soon after. Jamie removed a device from her belt and waved a wand connected by a rubber tube through the foggy air.

“I’m getting the same readings as the lander. There’s a slight spike of xenon in the atmosphere but otherwise it’s Earth normal,” she said.

“Huh,” the Captain grunted. “We’ll keep our helmets on just in case.”

Alice pointed another device at the sky and pressed a button. “This isn’t right. The light from the sun should be much further into the red spectrum,” she said.

“Could the atmosphere be filtering the sun’s light?” Jamie asked.

“Not to this extent.”

“We’re not going to figure this out standing around the lander,” Greg said. “Let’s hook up and head out.” Alice attached a tether from her suit to Greg’s suit. Jamie did the same to Alice’s suit and attached a wire reel from her belt to the lander. The team began hiking through the dense fog away from the lander.

Three hundred feet from the lander, they found a paved road running perpendicular to their course.

“What do you think?” Greg asked the other two.

“It’s not impossible for an alien culture to create familiar looking artifacts. A road is a road no matter what planet you’re on,” Jamie said.

“We’re likely to find more alien structures if we follow the road,” Alice said.

“Sounds good. For safety, we’ll walk beside it agreed?” The other two nodded in their helmets. Several minutes later they spotted a house with a white picket fence on the side of the road. A man, a human man, stepped off the porch and walked to the fence. He raised his hand in greeting.

“Howdy folks. Are you passing through are planning on staying longer?”

“Captain, this appears to be my great-grandfather,” Jamie said. “I think we’ve landed on an alien metaphysical representation of the afterlife.”

“Another one? Ok, people back to the lander.” The team turned around and began following the wire back to the lander.

“Sorry Gramps, we’re looking for actual alien planets to explore.”

“That’s too bad. I’ll tell Meemaw you stopped by,” the apparition of Jamie’s great-grandfather said. Jamie watched him wave until he and the house disappeared back into the fog behind them.

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