SUPPOSE WE is the odd name for a spaceship built on a dying Earth 500 years from now. Mission: to find a detected Earth-like planet in the Kepler 20 system. After hyper-sleep and 1500 years, they crashland on Kepler-20h. Unfortunately, the natives are so in advance of Earth, they ignore the humans. In an effort to attract attention to get help to repair their ship, they explore the planet discovering amazing flora and fauna. Scientist, Gaston, realizes that the ecology is different from Earth in that there are no predators larger than insects. Like himself, the planet is vegan! The locals still ignore the humans even to the point of ‘walking’ through one of them when she stood her ground. Their AI knows of SUPPOSE WE’s secret mission package, revealing to its crew that it might be a key to communicating with the natives.
Targeted Age Group:: teen to adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My publisher, LL-Publications, commissioned me to bring back the exploratory passion in science fiction in a series of novellas: Suppose We, Falling Up and Kepler's Son. I was eager to fulfil this mission. As a scientist and vegan myself I felt it was time to explore the ecology of a vegan planet – how could it work – at least on an alien planet! Of course the bacteria are vicious and one of the trees tried to eat Gaston's arm!
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
There are four humans and two alien characters playing their part in Suppose We, plus the ship's Artificial Intelligence which as its own humour and part to play. Once crashlanded it creates a small flyer to do its own exploring calling itself CAN, because well, it can! The commander Penn became unhinged in the hypersleep and had hidden trauma over his brother's death investigating an alien artefact years before. Gaston, science officer, carries most of the point of view, French, bumbles along but very clever and makes friends with a butterfly, which he names Papillon. The butterfly is alien, and not really a butterfly but is helpful to the team. Hence the butterfly on the cover art and the use of Robert Graves' poem Flying Crooked (which I had to pay the copyright holders to use). Two women are in the human team, Navigator Em and engineer Delta. All have distinct voices and roles.
Less than a hundred metres to go. The Keps hadn’t slowed nor changed colour. The shimmering continued in a kind of random flow in their skin, apparel, whatever. Gaston recalled the floating one he saw, but you couldn’t see space between the ground and these three even though they appeared to glide. Their faces were a smudge, assuming the more bulbous top quarter was a head. Hard to see their eyes or any orifice. He offered a thought to the others.
“Perhaps they are gel robots?”
“Or not even the local intelligentsia, but pets,” Em said. “Or this region’s wildlife. It might be like Captain Cook in 1771 asking a kangaroo if it’s had a nice day.”
Delta replied, “Suppose it is us who are the kangaroos?”
At fifty metres the figures could be seen more clearly although clarity would be an exaggeration. The three were at least distinguishable by height, width and subtle hues, possibly facial protuberances and indentations changing as if talking to each other.
A purple creature, a squirrel-sized centipede scuttled across the intervening rocky ground. Up and over low boulders and straight through thorny bushes. It stopped halfway, appeared to look at the approaching figures then at the humans then accelerated away out of sight.
It added to the eldritch, surreal nature of the moment.
“I’m quite light-headed,” Gaston confessed, “Delta, you have the loudest voice. Call out a hello?”
“Gee, thanks, but okay.” Between Gaston and Em she took a step forward and held out her arms, hands outwards.
She first whispered, “This is going to sound so corny, but they won’t understand English anyway.
“Hi, how’re you doing? We’re from Earth and we come in peace.”
Gaston worked hard to suppress hilarity at the banality of such a speech even though his preferred bonjour and ça va was hardly any different. His suppressed laugh transformed to the smile they’d agreed in spite of interpretation issues. His fidgeting fingers attempted to be still while open to show lack of weaponry. A sop to its ancient provenance with Roman soldiers greeting strangers. His nervousness at this first contact was modified only a little by thinking how in history it would be Delta who’d be noted for her initial speech. Such bravery too. If they were hostile, she could have been killed on the spot. Had she considered that?
Just ten metres and they’d not slowed. They would now see the whites of his eyes even if he could not say the same of them. He was surprised they’d not stopped to greet or shoo off these invading Earthlings. His initial euphoria albeit infected with nerves now disintegrated into an element of fear. His knees threatened to give way again. Perhaps Penn was right to keep out of their way even if not completely hidden.
“I said, hi, folks. We’re friendly,” Delta said stepping back in line.
With a shaky voice Em gasped, “Do you think they’re blind? Seriously? Maybe they don’t see us at all. I hear clicking, so they must hear.” She took a couple of steps back.
Gaston’s stomach knotted with dismay that he’d not thought of that possibility. Blind and deaf, at least to human frequencies. Non, it didn’t make sense. There’s daylight and air, so unless they’re above the surface by accident or a rare visit, they would have sensory perception in this environment. They must be able to detect our presence just five metres from them.
Another metre. Perhaps he was wrong, it had happened before.
Gaston stepped back and to the left a little while calling out, “Bonjour!”
Em waved her arms, took a couple of sideways steps out of the Keps’ apparent path and called in her English accent, “Hello there, we’ve come an awfully long way to see you.”
The creatures didn’t slow and advanced at walking pace even though their bodies didn’t quite touch the ground. So close now that Gaston caught a mildly pungent zing of ozone, reminding him of electrical sparking at fairgrounds. He was afraid Penn would shoot, so said to all, “Let us step away in case they really cannot detect our presence.”
Now only Delta stood her ground.
One metre to go and Delta had closed her eyes. Penn took a step towards her to yank her sideways, but he was too late.
Delta’s scream shot through Gaston as the tallest creature walked into her. The Kep travelled straight through her as if she wasn’t there, or made of non-solid matter. No lacerations and no blood. Delta stood there screaming, but intact. The three Keps carried on as if nothing unusual had happened.
Gaston held Delta’s arm in case she fell but let go when Em hugged her and asked, “Are you hurt?”
After a pause when Delta looked down, wriggled her fingers and then closed her eyes for a moment she said, “No. Not at all. How weird was that? Its body went through my body as if I wasn’t there.”
Penn laughed. “As if—ah that’s it, they must have been holograms. Where are they now?”
They all looked behind them at the cliff. Gaston pointed up at the tunnel exit. “There. How did they get up so quickly? And, Penn, I don’t think they’re holograms. I could smell them. We could see its form intersecting, travelling through Delta. Did you feel anything?”
“I still feel odd. Like a mild electric shock from front to back. I thought I heard clicking noises though it could’ve been my teeth before I started to scream.”
Em hugged her tighter. “I heard dolphin-like clicks too. So, all we have to do is learn castanet-speak.”
Penn used the scope to examine the backs of the Keps as they drifted into the tunnel. “Could it be their molecules passed through hers through all that space between atoms? You know, like sitting on a chair that is really mostly empty space?”
Gaston shook his head. “Normally, two atoms can’t occupy the same space. Quantum Mechanics say that two electrons with the same spin state cannot occupy the quantum orbital state. However, who knows what trickery future science can do? Temporal bond displacement. Perhaps they’re mostly non-baryonic matter. No. Si’l vous plait a chance to ask them.”
A membrane appeared over the tunnel exit, but the humans looked away and towards the settlement.
Penn laughed. “If they can come through us, then we can walk through them.”
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