Chapter 10: THE PLANET OF FEAR
The long journey was coming to an end. Pluto was about three and a half billion miles from Earth, and the tenth planet was more than two billion miles farther than that—but coming closer. Its figure-eight orbit around the brown dwarf star Nemesis made it unique in the Solar System.
Now the Starventure was close enough that the tenth planet could be seen with the unaided eye. Everyone aboard was positioned at a window in the great cabin just behind the pilot’s console to view the bi-stellar wanderer.
For moments no one said anything. The planet had been thoroughly described to all of them, but no scientific description, no matter how accurate, could have prepared them for the actuality.
“It looks as if it is made out of charcoal,” whispered Joe finally.
“Or obsidian,” contributed Mark in a subdued voice.
Before long, Joe brought the ship into a low orbit around the tenth planet. Over 4,000 miles in diameter, it was everywhere foreboding, sapping the spirit out of whoever looked upon it. The Starmen themselves were depressed at the sight.
Only about 20% of the planet’s surface was anything near smooth, and the smooth parts were scattered into many different, small areas. More than half the terrain was comprised of jagged planes of crystallized material, heaped together as if at random. The planet was covered with sharp points and razor-thin ridges, scarred with tortuous narrow canyons, and marked with pits and shadows—darkness upon darkness.
“Surface temperature?” asked Zip.
“Minus 342 degrees, just as Dr. O said,” answered Mark. “As we expected, it has no atmosphere. Whatever atmosphere it has is frozen on the surface of the planet.”
A man behind them choked. The fear in the room was palpable. There was no logical reason for it, but the Starmen wouldn’t quibble with the crew members.
“I don’t want to go down there,” said another in a hushed tone.
Now that the great ship had attained orbit, the time had come for Zip to announce the name of the tenth planet. The name had been chosen months earlier by Dr. O who had discovered it, and therefore had the right to determine how it would be known throughout history.
Without any preamble, Zip retrieved the sealed envelope from the Starventure’s safe. As he did so, the men gathered around him. He turned and faced the crew. Glancing into their faces, he could almost feel their apprehension.
“It’s only a planet,” he said, trying to sound normal. “It’s just stone and ice such as we’ve seen in many other places of the Solar System.” He tore open the envelope, unfolded the paper that was inside it, and stared at what Dr. O had written.
“Well?” asked Joe.
“The planet’s name is Nyx. Dr. O named it after the Roman goddess of night.”
“And somewhere down there we expect to find Lurton Zimbardo,” declared Joe, more a statement than a question. He glanced almost casually out of the window again. Suddenly he stiffened.
“What’s that?” he exclaimed.
“What’s what?” cried out Mark. Everyone rushed to the windows once again.
“I saw a glint, down there, just beyond that high ridge! It’s gone now!”
“Check the video feed!” ordered Zip. Instantly the cabin was filled with excitement.
© 2011 by David Baumann, Jonathan Cooper, Mike Dodd. All rights reserved.