|Everyone had waited for this moment.
Okay, so the landing of humans on any planet was a pretty
big event, but as far as space missions to weird and
wonderful planets, the moment when the astronauts
actually stepped out for a stroll was perhaps the hugest,
most massively complex and impressive operation
imaginable. The TV producers had to line up sponsors,
they had to make sure all their broadcast equipment was
working to the fullest capacity, and make sure everybody
back on Earth within shouting distance of a television
knew what was about to happen.
Oh yeah, the astronaut people themselves had some preparation too. A stroll on the surface of Venus, with its 450-odd degree temperature, meant a tad more protection than sun-block. The NASA boffins would have preferred Ralph and Chuck to move about the planet in suits so thick and big they might as well have stayed in the rocket. But as usual the publicity people had won that battle, and something far more photogenic, and hopefully almost as protective, had been designed. But "rest assured", they'd said, "it has a really dynamic stripe design on it. It will really look great on camera."
"Oh good", the scientists had replied.
So, at about 8pm, just after a commercial break, Ralph and Chuck put on their suits, manoeuvred their way through some air-locky things, and stepped out onto the waiting planet to go for a walk.
As per usual, the world gasped, as caught on the helmetcam, the view of a new planet was beamed into their livingrooms. It was pretty plain, and pretty dull, but nobody cared: it was new, that was all that mattered.
Ralph and Chuck planted a flag, picked up a few bits of dirt, and began to walk around, as a second camera mounted on the side of the ship tracked their progress. Then Ralph tripped over something. "Shit", he exclaimed, his surprise echoed instantly back to the watching population of Earth, which included his far from amused mother. The telecast producer made a note to take a copy of the footage for the Funniest Videos show.
Ralph would have wanted to rub his knee, but the suit was so padded that he'd hardly felt a thing when he hit the ground. The human body took more impact getting into bed than it did tripping over in one of these suits. So instead he looked back at what he'd tripped over. He squinted through the dust. It was square. A square block, sticking out of the ground.
"That's odd", said Ralph, to nobody in particular. Eight billion nobodies in particular back on Earth looked at the helmetcam shot of the block, and agreed. "We're the first two to have landed here. Other, unmanned craft have come before, but didn't land anywhere near here. And this looks man made."
Chuck came to look. Being a little challenged in the intellectual capacity area, he didn't feel he could add much at this point, except perhaps the occasional nod of agreement. "Yeah", he said.
They decided to see if they could dig around the object to get a better look. After a few minutes of scrabbling around in the dirt, Ralph decided this was better left to the ship's cleaning robots. The cleaning robots were industrial strength, capable of working day and night in the most horrendous conditions - they'd been designed for cleaning student dorms. So a little Venusian dirt and dust wouldn't stress them one little bit.
Ralph and Chuck walked around for a bit while the two cleaning robots went about their work, generating a cloud of dust and throwing small rocks in all directions around them. When they were finished, Ralph and Chuck made their way back through the small piles of rubble to look.
It was a box. What appeared to be a metal box. The top was badly corroded, but the bottom half was intact, more or less. The top was no particular colour other than perhaps a shade known as "in severe need of a respray". But the bottom was undoubtedly, unmistakably, green..
- The Year 2031
Copyrightę1998 Daniel Bowen