The Eruption of the 106
Tristan Wolfe
All rights reserved by the author
           
            William Giese hated space flight. It always made him nervous and jumpy. No gravity, strapped down to an uncomfortable seat inside a small flight capsule with little room to move, only able to lift his arms up in order to press the correct buttons to initiate the docking sequence. As a young taxonomist, he became interested in the study of the planet Solaris, since no one has been able to classify what the ocean that envelopes it is. Three years ago, he began his study of Solaris on Terra, eventually becoming accepted into the Solaristics Program. Now, at age 30, Giese was relieved to finally have the chance to get some hands-on experience with the elusive ocean.
            As he neared Solaris Station, he activated the comm. “Solaris Station, this is Dr. William Giese. I’m prepared to dock. Transmitting my identification codes now.” He pressed a button.
            A voice crackled through the recieving end of the comm, “Dr. Giese, you are clear to dock. Just maneuver within range and we’ll take care of the rest.”
            Giese obeyed. Once he was within 50 meters of the Station, a grappling arm detached from the main docking bay and moved towards his capsule. With a shudder, the grappling arm attached to his ship, and started to pull it towards the station. When the capsule was safely docked, Giese unbuckled his safety straps, and stood up.
            William Giese opened the airlock and stepped through onto the cold metal floor of Solaris Station.  He looked about him, noticing the lack of a welcoming party.  Ah. Well... they’re probably busy with research, anyway, he thought.  He stepped aside to let a robotic carrier roll into his space capsule.  The carrier stopped, waiting patiently.  Giese stepped back into the capsule, grabbed his equipment and luggage, then loaded them onto the carrier. The machine  said in a computerized  voice, “Please follow.” It was obviously programed to do so since these sorts of mechanized “servants” were never given very advanced AI algorithms--and rolled out of the capsule and through a corridor on the far side of the docking bay.
            The carrier led Giese to his assigned room, which was small, yet comfortable. Giese set his luggage by the desk along the far wall of the room, and went to the lone window, which allowed for the room to be flooded with red light from one of Solaris’s suns. Giese gazed at the ocean which was barely visible through the fog below. The colloidal substance below swirled unpredictably, as if guided by some unknown force.  He stood there for several minutes before noticing a giant, pillar-like structure protruding from the ocean’s surface in the distance, only visible above the fog level.  A spike of anticipation coursed through his spine, making him shudder. Perhaps they’ve finally found something that will help humanity unlock the mysteries of this immense enigma, he thought. Giese yawned and walked back to his desk, grabbed his luggage, and pulled down his bed, which was folded into the wall. He unpacked his belongings, and tossed his clothes on his bed. When he started to fold them, he almost jumped. For an instant he thought he saw a body lying there on the shiny, stain-resistant sheets--simply because of the patterns his clothes had made on the bed when he threw them on it--that reflected the red light from the window, making the bed look like a pool of blood.  The fact that the clothes were his had made him imagine that it was he who was on the bed, drowning in this crimson pool.  Giese shook his head violently. I knew this would happen. Space flight always makes me jumpy.
            Giese continued to fold his clothes and put away his equipment, and when he finished, he laid down on the bed to take a rest.  As soon as he set his head on the thin pillow, the vid-phone on his desk beeped, begging to be answered.
            Giese frowned and walked over to the vid-phone, then pressed the button to receive the call.  On a small viewing screen, an obese bald man about 40 years of age appeared. He displayed a warm, welcoming smile on his face.
            “Dr. Giese! I’m glad to see that your long trip from Terra was a safe one,” the fat man said. “I’m Dr. Ron Phillips. I pretty much run the show here. How do you feel? Do you need anything?”
            “Just a little tired,” Giese replied. “I could use a rest.”
            “Very well, then. It is now 1800 standard hours. Can you be in my office, room 081, at 0700 tomorrow? I’ll tell you what research you’ll be most useful for then.”
            “That’s fine.” Giese showed an ingenuine smile.
            “All right, I’ll see you tomorrow then! Now get some rest.” His warm smile now vanished, and his eyes suddenly lost focus as he stared at a point beyond the vid-phone on his end. “You won’t be getting much of it here.”
            Giese was about to ask what Dr. Phillips meant when the screen went dark. Giese shrugged, and laid back down. After several minutes, he sank into a deep sleep.
                                                                   * * *
            Giese woke up from his nightmare, shaking with a bad headache. Beads of sweat rolled off his forehead and fell onto the sheets of the bed, where they pooled together but did not soak in. He didn’t fully understand what was in his dream, nor why it frightened him. He only remembered a terrible feeling of entrapment. Soft, gel-like walls closing in on him slowly, without any sound at all. He recalled seeing the only exit that would allow escape from the gel-dome, but something within him did not allow him to move. In his dream, he was compelled to remain, even though he could see his fate.
            He got up, walked to the room’s small bathroom, and splashed cold water from the sink onto his face. He swallowed a dose of painkillers to dampen the pain of his headache. He then went to his desk, and sat down in the arm chair. The clock on the wall projected the time; it was 0500. Giese snickered and thought, Two more hours... nothing to do yet.
            He walked back to the bathroom, undressed, and stepped into the high-pressure shower. He pressed the button on one of the walls of the shower, activating it. For three standard minutes, a lukewarm soap solution pelted his bare skin. He merely stood under the shower head, almost motionless except for the occasional swaying from the dizziness induced by his headache, which had actually gotten worse.
            When the shower automatically turned off, he dressed himself, and decided to go to the station’s library and read until he had to meet with Dr. Phillips.
            Giese knew exactly how to get to the library from where his room was located. He had memorized the station’s layout while spending a month training on an full-size replica back on Terra. Straight, first left, straight, second right, up two flights of stairs, left, first right, straight. The directions played back in his mind as he followed them, mentally checking off the steps he had completed.
            He arrived at the library. There, he found finding six other scientists studying massive volumes of notes and theories on solaris quietly, not bothering to notice him.  He quietly walked passed the scientists and browsed the bookshelf along the far wall. He spotted a thin folder wedged between two  novel-sized books, and pulled it off the shelf. He read the scribbled-on label: Notes Regarding the Ocean as a Form of Life. He didn’t bother to look for the authors’ names. What’s in a name? he thought. Its the existance of a substance that matters, not the creator of that substance.
            Giese found a chair and sat down.  He opened the folder, and skimmed through the first page to see if anything caught his eye. The notes explained the possibility of the ocean being an organism that was a result of something called hyper-evolution. In other words, rather than starting out as a single-celled organism or organisms and evolving into something multi cellular with nervous and cerebral systems, the ocean adapted to its environment almost instantaneously. Its ability to stabilize its planet’s orbit was explained, in the notes, as an evolutionary adaptation, but exactly how the ocean did this still remained a mystery.
            Giese had heard about this theory before, but although it intereseted him--since he is a taxonomist, and his main goal in travelling to Solaris was to figure out what the ocean is--he didn’t have much faith in it. He had yet to see anything that proved the ocean as a life form or convinced him to at least believe the theory. He flipped through the pages, and found something intriguing. One of the pages described a formation on the ocean’s surface that made enlarged replicas (from nearly exact to abstract) of whatever passed over the formation.  Interesting, he thought. This seemed to hint that the ocean had a definite awareness of its immediate surroundings. I must see these for myself. Giese closed the folder, got up, and rather than returning the book to its rightful place on the shelf, he decided to keep it for the time being and ask Dr. Phillips about these strange formations. Changing his mind about reading for another hour or so, he walked out of the library and decided to go to the cabin section of the station. He was hungry.
                                                                        * * *
            After eating, Giese met with Dr. Phillips in his office at 0700.  He made his way to room 081, and knocked on the door. Dr. Phillips answered with a cheerful voice, “Please, come in!”
            Giese opened the door, and Dr. Phillips asked him to take a seat. Giese sat down, and waited patiently. Phillips smiled and said, “Good morning, Dr. Giese. How do you feel?”
            Giese returned the smile and replied, “I’m fine. I have a few questions regarding a folder of notes I found in the library...”
            “That can wait. For now, we both need to get down to business. Have you noticed the large protrusion from the ocean that should be visible from your room’s window? I want you to see if you can discover anything about it that is useful to Solaristics. What it might be, although that may be just a classification based on your observations, how it formed, that sort of thing. I’ve had some workers prepare a small exploration craft for you already.  You can leave within the hour.”
            “No one has ever studied such a thing before?”
            “Well, yes, they have,” replied Dr. Phillips, scratching his double-chin. “But not in any real depth. I’d like you to study this thing, and others like it, for weeks, perhaps months. The Government is getting impatient. Unless we provide answers, they’ll discontinue  funding our research here, and humanity will lose its chance to find the secrets of the most monumental discovery in history.”
            “I have no problem with getting right to work. In fact, I’m eager to begin studying it.” Giese smiled and thought, And I thought I was immune to temptation...
            “Good, good! Now, as a scientist myself, I need to ask you something in order to further my investigation in a particular subject. That subject is dreams.” Phillips again scratched his double-chin.
            Giese was curious. “Yes?”
            “Did you, by any chance, have a nightmare last night?”
            Giese at first thought that they might have put him under surveillance while he was sleeping, but decided to let it slide for the moment. “I did. How did you know?”
            Phillips was no longer smiling. “I didn’t. In recent months, everyone here has been experiencing nightmares every night. No one has experienced the same nightmare as  another, but individual nightmares seem to be reoccurring. We decided to hold weekly meetings to discuss the dreams, to see if we can find out what they might mean, if anything. None of us know why we are frightened by what we see in our dreams, but we are frightened in them, nonetheless.” He paused, staring off into space again.  It was here where Giese noticed that Dr. Phillips’s left eye was artificial; its color was a slightly deeper blue than the right eye, and held no life. “I won’t bother you by asking what you saw in your dream right now, since you need to get to work. Also, whether or not you want to share your dream with others is entirely up to you. But if you ever feel like you have something important to say about it, tell me, and I will discuss it with others at the next meeting regarding the subject.”
            Giese replied simply, “I’ll think about it.”
            “Now, you had something you wanted to ask me?”
            “Yes. I found this folder in the library. Some of the notes describe an oceanic formation that produces copies of objects that fly above it. I would like to see this in person.” He handed the folder to Dr. Phillips.
            Hmmmm. I’ve never seen things like that before, but I’ve heard about them. There might be some scientists--ones who have worked here longer than I--that have seen one. I’ll ask some of them about it, and see if they can find one and show you where it is.”
            “I would appreciate that. Thanks.” Giese stood up. “I should get to work. Is the exploration craft in the main dock?”
            “Yes. Be cautious out there. Anything can go wrong in an environment like this.”
            “I’ll be fine.” Giese walked out of the room, and made his way to Docking Bay Alpha.
* * *
            Giese’s craft had stopped about 100 meters from the massive formation.  It was when he was this close to the structure, which was now unobscured by fog, that he realized the adjective “pillar-like” was a grossly inaccurate statement. There were no words Giese could think of to describe what he saw, other than that the thing appeared to be symmetrical in its circumference. It must have been at least 1500 meters tall, and looked as if the ocean was trying to create a deformed twin. At the base of it, the ocean gradually rose upward, then further on, the slope of the thing increased dramatically, and later formed an enormous, somewhat flattened globe which seemed to be cracked at the top. This crack let out another protrusion, even more grotesque than the original. Numerous bulbous sections dotted the second, continuing ever upward to the top. He flew his craft up to the summit, where the formation cracked again. Instead of  new growth, there was a hole that allowed Giese to see the interior, which was terrifying yet beautiful in its complexity, and was almost hollow.
            Innumerable buttresses supported the exterior, connecting to a central crystalline shaft that was almost as tall as the entire structure. The buttresses circled this shaft, some clockwise, some counterclockwise. When he contrasted this with the movement of the interior walls, he became dizzy. He could not keep  his eyes on one part of the structure for more than a few seconds before becoming distracted by another and losing his previous fixation.
            After spending three hours being mesmerized by this wonder, which was unlike anything ever seen on Terra, Giese managed to recompose himself and get to work. He tried his best to become aware of every tiny detail about the object, taking notes about certain features, how it moved, whether or not there were any patterns. He circled the thing up and down in his craft, but did not dare to venture into the interior. After all, it was his first day. No need to take unnecessary steps. That, and he was not comfortable with the prospect of maneuvering in such a confined space.
            An alarm went off inside the cockpit of his craft, startling him since he was deeply concentrating on the movement of a particular bulbous section of the second growth. He looked at the control panel, and noticed that his fuel reserves were getting dangerously low. Time to head back, he thought. He looked at his wrist watch: 2043. He had been studying this structure for nearly 13 standard hours! He hadn’t even noticed that the red sun had already set, and Solaris’s blue sun was well into the silver sky. He thanked the fact that his craft’s windows automatically tinted with the rise of the blue sun, since if they didn’t, he would be blinded from the intensity of the blue-white light by now. He took another look at the structure before he turned his craft around to head back to the station. The gelatinous exterior “skin” danced and swirled, as if playing with the blue light, creating beautiful iridescence. Amazing. The alarm reminded him once more that he had to turn back.
* * *
            Seven standard years later, Giese sat at the controls of his personal exploration craft, maneuvering it closer to the mimoid. Clouds passed overhead, and the mimoid reproduced them faithfully, although abstractly. The enormous copies moved opposite of the actual clouds, as they always do. This was perhaps one of the most interesting things about mimoids: Each one acted in very similar ways. Two “specimens” of any other formation normally had significant differences, on average. This is why Giese thought that mimoids might be the key to understanding the ocean. They were the only formation that was “repetitious,” meaning that their function was the same, even though they were physically unique in subtle ways.
            The disk-shaped surface of the mimoid reflected the light of the red sun unevenly, grotesque but beautiful at the same time. Giese had learned about the existence of this mimoid the day before, thankful to have done so since the previous mimoid he had been studying had dissolved into the rest of the ocean. Once he was close enough to make detailed observations, he merely stared at the copies produced by the mimoid, which slowly and majestically floated opposite the clouds above. This was his form of meditation; it helped him clear his mind, enabling him to focus on his research, as well as forget about the nightmares he experienced every time he slept.
            They never stopped. Each nightmare was the same situation with subtle differences. He always felt the gel-sphere closing in on him, leaving only one avenue for escape, but he was always unable to move. The color of each dream would be different from the last, sometimes with sound; usually deep, horrible groans. Other times the noise would be intolerable shrieks, and sometimes there would be utter silence. The concept of the dreams never frightened him; it was only the experiencing the dream that did.
            Giese sighed, and leaned back in his seat. He decided to take a small break to reflect on his history as a solarist.
             *  *  *
            In the past seven years, Giese gained some fame within the scientific community. Not that he really cared about the fame, since all he wanted was to be able to study the ocean and its formations. Over the years he had published monumental works regarding various recognizable formations of the ocean: Nine massive volumes, and countless other small articles regarding what he had named symmetriads, asymmetriads, extensors, fungoids, vertebrids, agilus, tree-mountains, and his personal favorite, mimoids.
            He had not thought much about the names. He actually thought they were clumsy; inadequately describing the beauty of the formations. But they seemed to work; people understood what the names referred to once they began to study the formations up close.
            Although people viewed him as a distinguished scientist, as someone who had actually accomplished something in his life, he still thought of himself the way he did  the day he arrived at Solaris; just a simple scientist looking for answers. In the past seven years, Giese had managed to do nothing more than classify. No matter how hard he tried, he could find no reasons as to why or how these structures were created. He found himself stuck underneath some sort of infinite glass ceiling. He did not see himself as a failure in his field of taxonomy, since he actually managed to classify his “subjects,” but as a scientist in general, he felt as though he hadn’t accomplished much in his seven years of Solaristics fieldwork.
            *  *  *
            Giese was about to start taking notes on the mimoid when something on the control panel beeped. Giese turned to look, and saw that Dr. Phillips had sent him a message.
            Hey Bill, the message played. William Giese knew that Phillips called him Bill just to bother him. A man just arrived from Terra. He said the National Board of Education of Russia wants you to give a lecture about Solaris in New Moscow. If you agree, you can leave tomorrow to return to Earth. He also said that if you decline, he would find someone else. It’s entirely up to you. Whatever you decide please keep in mind that we’ve discovered another symmetriad, the biggest yet. We’ve assembled a team of 115 scientists, professional pilots, and photographers to document the thing. It’s a damn monster! We’d like you to join us, and we know you’d love it. We’re going to try to do the most intensive interior study of the symmetriad to date. Come back to the station and let me know your decision. Our team leaves the day after tomorrow.
            Although something inside Giese begged him to return to Earth, he knew he’d have to go on the expedition to see the symmetriad. He was too excited to let his claustrophobia get in the way of seeing such a a discovery. The biggest yet!  Giese turned his craft in the direction of the station, and keyed the accelerator, leaving the mimoid behind.
* * *
            The visitor from Terra was disappointed yet understanding when Giese refused to give the lecture. Someone else volunteered, and left the next day. The day after, Giese met with Dr. Phillips shortly before their departure for the symmetriad.
            “Hello, Ron,” said Giese
            “Hey Bill,” replied Dr. Phillips, scratching his double-chin. “Are you ready to go?”
            Giese scowled. “Yeah, pretty much... I just need to get my video camera. I don’t trust the photographers to do the symmetriad any justice.”
            “No photograph or video does them any justice.”
            “That’s true, but having one does help the observer pick up some details that he missed initially.” Giese trotted off to find his camera, then once he did, he went to Docking Bay Alpha for departure.
            Docking Bay Alpha was full of life. 115 other people prepped their craft and loaded supplies. After Giese finished preparing his own craft, the large group was ready to leave.
            One by one, the 70 craft--mostly small expeditionary craft like Giese’s--set out, headed towards the south pole of Solaris, where the enormous symmetriad was located. Every person on this research force was awestruck by what they saw.
            The symmetriad was incredible! Easily 1800 meters high, with a startlingly complex exterior for a symmetriad. The thing branched off in hundreds of places, producing stubby, finger like protrusions from its exterior.
            Giese was more eager to see this up-close than any of the other scientists. He pushed his craft to top speed, pulling ahead of everyone else.
            In his larger research-craft, Dr.  Phillips smiled as he saw Giese’s ship speed up. He’s like a child who’s found a new toy. He scratched his double-chin, and told the pilots to go faster. They obeyed.
            Others were intimidated by the enormous structure and actually slowed down, not in any hurry to get much closer.  This mix of eagerness and fear among the scientists, pilots, and photographers caused the group to split up, with the majority pulling ahead of the few who wanted to keep their distance.
            In his craft, Giese’s mind screamed in protest, urging him to keep his distance. There was no chance of obedience. He needed to be close. Very close.
            When Giese was within 30 meters distance from the symmetriad, its branches suddenly retracted inward. Giese stopped his craft, confused. He had never seen this sort of behavior before. The towering formation started to shudder, its interior becoming unstable.  A spike of fear hit Giese, but he could not move. The symmetriad started to collapse inward, then burst. The middle section of the gelatinous structure moved outward with blinding speed, and the top completely liquidized and came down like an enormous, circular tidal wave. Giese’s view was cut off by utter darkness when the tidal wave had completely surrounded him. The reflection of his terrified face on his craft’s cockpit windshield was the last thing he saw.
* * *
            When the news regarding the catastrophic eruption reached Terra, much of the public—especially the families of the 106 killed in the symmetriad eruption on Solaris—was shocked and outraged. The scientific community was stunned with the loss of some of their best scientists, including Giese and Dr. Phillips. The 10 “lucky” people that survived were institutionalized, always haunted by the horrific site they had witnessed.
            The public petitioned for retaliation. Officials of the UN governments also pushed for such action. Since a very large percentage of Earth’s population (including many of the government officials) had not been informed of many issues dealing with the Solaris Ocean, and had no hands-on experience with Solaristics, they saw no problem with some of their more laughable suggestions, such as the annexation of Solaris into part of Earth’s small empire (was there really anything to annex, after all?). But such ignorance can spawn more serious matters. Some governments formulated a plan to bombard the Solaris ocean with atomics.
            The scientific community was appalled. Angry protests against such an abominable act were made, and some governments that were against such opposition imprisoned some scientists for voicing their opinions. The scientists argued that one should not even think of destroying something that they don’t understand, and that only fools would do such a thing. Furthermore, the scientists tried to justify that the explosion was unpredictable, but a natural and apparently random (who really knew, though?) occurrence on the surface of the ocean. In other countries, however, their thoughts were taken into consideration, since the arguments actually had scientific and speculative foundations. To the public’s dismay, the more powerful countries such as Russia and the former United States abandoned the bombardment proposition, and continued to fund the study of Solaris. After this, however, the popularity of Solaristics dropped significantly. Those who were sent to the Solaris Station often found the place untidy, nearly deserted. Eventually, only the most passionate and devoted Solarists stayed on the station, determined to find answers to the riddles presented by the elusive ocean.

 

 

©2005 by the author