Another Earth. Entry to Philosophical Musings, March 2020. Winner.
Jim Fulbright was pontificating in the pub again, holding forth on his latest scientific theory to an amused and skeptical audience.
“Astronomers have known for several years that there is something odd about our solar system,” he declared. “The numbers don’t add up and seem to indicate that there must be an unknown planet in the system. The problem is in finding it. They have looked everywhere without result and recalculated their workings a hundred times but found no errors.”
Bill Withers took a swig of his beer before interrupting. “Only one place it can be, in that case.” He ignored the laughs and words of disbelief to continue, “It’s on the other side of the sun. It’s the only place we can’t see from here. And it must have the same orbit as the Earth’s and maintain the same pace. That way it would always have the sun between it and ourselves. It would be like a counterweight to the Earth, only slightly different in mass to cause the slight anomaly in calculations we experience.”
There was silence in the room as everyone considered this. The perpetrator of the heresy sat smugly, enjoying the attention his theory had gathered so suddenly. “Your round,” he said to Jim, “I’ll have the same again.”
Jim held up a hand to delay matters. “Hang on a mo. This planet of yours, how come we haven’t noticed it when we’ve sent out probes to other planets?”
“Looking in the wrong direction,” answered Bill. “Most of the time cameras are facing where you’re going, not on where you’ve been or back at the sun. And, if we have picked it up once or twice, it’s not noticed because they’re not looking for it. Even if they did notice it, they’d dismiss it as a fault in the lens or a bit of dirt.
“Anyway, if that’s not where the phantom planet is, where is it? They’ve not been able to find it, have they? And, when you’ve looked everywhere else, you have to look in the most unlikely place. Even the impossible place. I’m telling you, that’s where Earth version 2 is, on the other side of the sun.”
How Bill’s theory escaped from the pub to reach the hallowed halls of academia is not recorded but somehow it did. For a few years there was a war of insults between the converts to the theory and the deniers but the matter was settled in the end by a probe sent out to have a look at the suggested position of the new planet. And there it was, bright blue and swirling with clouds, a perfect imitation of our own Earth.
Later probes were able to inspect the planet in great detail and found that, not only did it have an atmosphere almost identical to our own with areas of land and sea, it was teeming with as much life as the Earth. Thoughts of relieving the environmental pressures on our home planet were dashed when it became clear that the new planet already had intelligent life with a developed civilisation. There would be no using it as a colony to absorb excess population.
An expedition was planned to make contact with this apparent alter ego of ours. The personnel selected to man the exploratory craft were not the usual sort chosen by NASA to man a spacecraft. Henry “Hal” Diepenhof was a professor of diplomacy and Angela Mancini a world renowned language expert. Piloting the craft was Eddy Hedman, a man much closer to the norm for space expeditions.
The chosen trajectory was obvious; the craft set out to retrace the earth’s orbit but in the opposite direction. In this way, the obstruction of the sun was avoided while the distance travelled was halved as the new planet raced towards the approaching astronauts. It was a mere three months before Hal and Angela were gazing down at Earth 2.0, as it was being called, while Eddy checked the figures to ensure that the computer had correctly entered their intended orbit. All was well and the landing module prepared for the great adventure.
So it was that the professor and translator landed on the planet for the first time. Both felt some hesitation before opening the hatch. It seemed insane to venture out without the protection of a spacesuit. But the tests had all indicated that the atmosphere and environment were perfectly safe. Angela spun the wheel to open the hatch.
As light and fresh air flooded into their cramped module, the sound that greeted their ears was most unexpected. It took a few moments before they recognised the sound of applause. Around the module, a ring of hundreds of onlookers, apparently human in form, rose from their seated positions. The intrepid travellers were being greeted by the locals, it seemed.
Angela had never worked as hard as she did from that moment onwards. Her task was to achieve a working knowledge of the language in the shortest time possible. Their hosts were extremely helpful in this, putting her with their own language experts who were making their own first stumbling steps in English. Within days, humans and humans 2.0 were able to converse at a basic level. By the end of the week, Angela and some of her new colleagues were fluent in each other’s language. And now Hal was able, through interpreters, to begin negotiations with his own opposite numbers. Things were progressing remarkably well.
Angela made several friends amongst the language experts of Earth 2.0 and was particularly close to Tiggy Borgulnam. In spite of the astronomical distances separating their birth places, both linguists felt drawn to each other from the beginning and spent much of their free time together. The language barrier between them had disappeared when Tiggy revealed perhaps the most surprising fact of the expedition. She mentioned how much she was missing her husband, Vogel.
“Where is he?” asked Angela.
“Oh, he’s the linguist on our expedition to your planet,” explained Tiggy.
Angela’s mouth fell open. “Your expedition?”
“Yes, two years ago we confirmed our theory that Earth must exist and have confirmed it with several probes since. Vogel is currently on our first manned investigation.”
Angela was still shocked at this revelation. “So you are contacting us at the same time we’re contacting you?”
Tiggy laughed. “Yes, of course. Why do you think we welcomed you so easily when you arrived? We understood immediately what was happening and treated you exactly as we hoped you’d treat our astronauts.”
“Do as you would be done by,” muttered Angela below her breath. Tiggy was continuing, however.
“With all you’ve taught me about your planet’s history, it’s clear that we’ve been through the same stages in development. In the past, we might have decided to colonise you as aggressively as we both did in our pasts. And there were some who wanted to do just that, to take some of your water. We don’t have as much as you, you know.”
“And we considered using Earth 2.0 as a spillover for our surplus population,” admitted Angela. “But we gave that up when we realised how many of you there are.”
“As we did on seeing how much pressure there is on your environment,” said Tiggy. It was clear that our civilisations are equal in development and there is nothing to be gained in competing with each other. Look around you. Doesn’t it all seem very familiar?”
Angela considered her surroundings, the well tended grounds of the university where she and Hal were quartered with the Earth 2.0 representatives, the students talking in groups, the trees and grass and flowers, the blue sky, all so much like Earth that it was only close inspection that revealed the minor differences.
“You’re right, Tiggy. If the signs were in English, I could be back home in my California college.”
“Exactly,” replied Tiggy. “And that’s what has shaped our response to you. If competition is unthinkable, then partnership is the only way forward. It’s what we call balance. Just as our planets balance each other on our separate paths around the sun, so each habitat balances the other and so we, the intelligent life of the planets, must also be in balance and complete the harmony.”
“Good grief," thought Angela, “it’s almost as gooey as an episode of Star Trek.”
Word Count: 1,401
Entry to Philosophical Musings, March 2020.