The Encounter

Bowman jogged at a steady pace, His breathing was even and controlled, as were his steps and arms. His body temperature was warm enough for his muscles to perform what most civilians might consider a strenuous exercise, yet his body was not perspiring.

It was only sunrise at this side of Eterna Prime.  In the past two weeks since his arrival on the planet, Bowman is still adjusting to the 27 hours cycle per day. People in Eterna had a longer daily cycle and tend to be more relaxed compared to other inhabitants. Most people Bowman saw on running track were simply strolling, enjoying the nice cool morning air. Some were running along their dog, while others were calmly relaxed in this new start of the day… all enjoying the serenity, except one lone figure who was running very fast.

In the short few seconds where Bowman noticed the sprinting runner, few factual details came into his attention: the runner was running at least twice the pace Bowman was using, and was drenched in sweat. Second, the runner’s apparel was definitely designed to accommodate short distant runners: cool, light-weighted and enhancing the fact that the runner was female.

“Excuse me,” she said in a silvery voice. Bowman stepped aside to hi left without losing his pace, and glanced to the voice.

That’s one lady who really knows the joy of running Bowman thought to himself as she noticed the lady’s smile as she swiftly passed by and ran further away, into a curve and out of Bowman’s sight.

Bowman kept jogging at this pace and eventually circled back to the position where he started. It was later evident that Bowman didn’t want to jog any further when he passed a large display screen right next to the Recruiter’s Office. Usually the screen would display still images of statistics and public serve announcement, yet somehow Eterna’s Media Department has added a new spin.

“Bowman James. Scout. Explorer. Discoverer! He left his homeplanet at the age of 23. Twelve years later he has discovered forty nine planets and have expanded our Kingdom’s boundaries.”

Discover? I just explained to that interviewer that I don’t discover. I verify! Bowman thought angrily.

Even though he and his crew never discovered any habitable ones, Bowman continues to hope to discover one and join the annals of Kingdom Explorers! Bowman James. God Bless him and his crew as they embark on their next exploration journey! Bowman James. Scout. Explorer. Discoverer! Join the Interstellar Exploration Corps and make a new discovery! Contact the nearest Recruiter’s Office,” the media narrator said.

Twelve years in the Corps and I never really thought that I’ve discovered anything.

Bowman stopped still and sighed. It has been twenty five minutes since he started his jog, and he guessed his body had enough. He looked at the screen with disgust and wished he never accepted that interview weeks ago. His shuttlecraft barely landed at Eterna’s Space Terminal when Bowman received immediate orders to meet up with a Lieutenant Kelly Andrea of the Kingdom Media Network. Miss Andrea was waiting for him and quickly instructed him to follow her.

At first Bowman thought it was for a quick photo op for the recruitment posters and social media posts, which would make sense since recruitment in the Exploration Corps has been at its lowest in the past two centuries. Instead, Bowman was quickly ambushed and instructed to answer as truthfully and as diplomatically as possible. Of course, Bowman answered straightforwardly, yet still whoever was charge of the contents in Media managed to repackage and reinterpret his carefully selected choice of words.

“Some recruitment tool,” a nearby silvery female voice said.

Bowman was so lost in his thoughts that it didn’t visually register in his mind that the female runner who passed him moments ago was near him, stretching her limbs.

“Yeah,” Bowman commented sarcastically. “That guy must be some tool,” Bowman gestured to the Bowman James on the screen.

“I was referring to that advertisement segment,” she said. “I like how they utilized him to endorse space exploration. Not that many people are willing to go out there,” she raised her bare right arm pointing to the sky. Bowman noticed how toned and muscular her arms were, indication that she engages in some serious form of strength training.

“Are you a media specialist?” he asked her.

“Nah,” she replied. “My training is in nutritioun and physical therapy, but I’ve always wanted to travel to space.” The woman looked at the screen again as it displayed several planets and various space phenomenon that were visually stunning.

Bowman’s face was puzzled, as he tried to connect the dots between the woman’s physical appearance (which is very fit), her chosen profession(s), and her interest in space travel. Quite uncommon for an inhabitant of Eterna Prime. She giggled and extended her hand.

“Cassandra Mulian. Health Sciences,” she introduced herself, indicating her Service branch.

“Davidic James,” Bowman warmly replied, taking her hand. Her grip was firm and tight. “Just visiting, he added.”

“Nice to meet you, Captain James. How long will you be planetbound?”

“Prorbably another week ro two. My ship is being retrofitted and the rest of my crew are on shore leave. But I myself am so…”

“Anxious to get back out there?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t quite use the word anxious, but you’re pretty.” Cassandra smiled as Bowman paused and quickly continued,” Pretty right, I mean. I mean you’re right about me being anxious.”

Bowman felt strangely nervous around her… which was unusual for him. Cassandra knelt down to pick up her water bottle and towelette. She turned to him and said, “Captain, it’s been a real pleasure meeting you. I do have to get ready for work as my shift’s about to start. You can find me at the Medical Wing of the Space Complex.” She looked sincerely apologetic as if she very much enjoyed chatting with Bowman.

“No problem…, hmm… ma’am.” Bowman replied.\

“My friends call me Cassie,” she smiled as she quickly walked toward the door.

“Mine usually call me Bowman!” he almost shouted as Cassandra acknowledged him. “See you around, Captain Bowman.”

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Interview with a Bowman James, space explorer

“I’ve been to nine planets in twelve years and it’s starting to show,” the man said in an even voice with a hint of weariness.

“How many of those planets you discovered?” the interviewer asked.

Davidic Bowman James stared at the interviewer confusingly. “Discovered?”

“Yeah, discovered,” the man holding a recording device said. His assistant, a female in a simple business jumper holding a video recorder quietly whispered to the interviewer’s ear. The man looked at James, and nodded a few times. He looked at James apologetically and said, “I apologize for my last question. Let me rephrase it another way. ‘How many planets did you visited and verified yourself?”

Planetary verification is the probably the most tedious job in Kingdom space. Planetary telescopes and interstellar probes can be deployed and record telemetry from distant stellar systems. The telemetry was gathered and then interpreted by a series of calculations. These calculations would later determine whether there are planets or not in those starts many light years away. While it’s possible to send an unmanned space probe to record and verify planetary data on distant starts, nothing beats the excitement and pride of sending a manned spacecraft to confirm the planets’ existence. A good set of eyes beat any computerized interpretation any day, the old saying goes.

Throughout his career in the Interstellar Exploration Corps, James has visually confirmed over forty planets and stepped foot on four distinctive ones throughout his ten-years career. He never saw a lush life-supporting planet though, not unlike the Paradise where he’s currently on. His mind wandered at this experience as he focused back on the interviewer’s last question.

“I’ve visited forty-nine planets and set foot on four of them. All of them were visually verified by me and my fellow crew,” James answered. “The first planet my ship visited twelve years ago was a dwarf planet at the edge of the Herculean system. The dwarf planet had a very erratic orbit, which creates a jump line once every two solar years.”

The interviewer feigned interest and asked a different question, “What about those planets you set foot on. Did any of them supported life?”

“No. None of them did, although all four of them were terrestrial and located within the Goldilocks zone.” James described in detail about the prerequisites of life-supporting planets: the star’s radiation has to be at a certain amount, the planet’s atmosphere must be able to filter cosmic rays, and the planet’s atmosphere have to have series of precise conditions to allow life to not only survive, but thrive. Centuries ago his ancestors were obsessed in finding planets that contain water. James encountered many planets with water, but again, the conditions were not right enough for the planets to support life. Either the atmospheric proportion weren’t right, or the planet’s gravity was too strong. Eventually, James resigned to his fate that finding a habitable planet is like winning the impossible lottery. It takes a lot of luck to get one. Which was probably why the Kingdom only have three planets that support life, one which is Etena Prime… the Kingdom’s Gem on the edge of the known frontier.

The interviewer from Eterna Media Network asked a few more questions about James’ experience in space, what his spacecraft was like and how his crew came together. After fifteen minutes which felt like fifteen hours, James was more than happy to leave the interview room.

 

Copyrighted 2016 Arvin N. Chandra