by Abby Gayle
The four teammates must find a way onto the planet that doesn't seem to have any gravity
|“Hey, Ranada, how old are you now?”
“Fourty-seven Horandian-years, which is equivalent to fourteen Earth-years,” the black-feathered Horandian girl answered, “Did you miss me?”
“Of course we did,” Natalie assured her.
“It wasn't the same without you,” the young man with floppy, dog-like ears agreed.
“Tell us about your trip!” Natalie said.
“Well, it was a week of partying,” the thin, winged girl explained, “Frosted sweet bread, gifts, and the customary storytelling. The elders told the traditional stories, but there was enough time for me to tell about my adventures with all of you. The young ones loved it! It was one amazing day! Dag, have you ever been to your father's home planet?”
“No, I can't say that I've ever visited Drogill or any Drogs. My human mother raised me away from that planet and I never had time after that to go. First school, then more school, then my job,” the droopy-eared half-Drog explained.
“Maybe you should go sometime. Get some culture in from your father's side of the family,” Ranada suggested.
“Nah, I look different enough from them without a tail. I wouldn't want them to think I'm silly, would I?”
“No, I suppose that would not be good,” Ranada agreed.
“Ryan, do you have any questions for Ranada about her trip?” Natalie asked, turning her attention toward the other human.
“No. Besides, I only got up to get a drink. I've got to get back to driving the ship to our destination now that Ranada is on board,” the pilot told the others as he slipped into the spaceship's cockpit.
“It's okay,” Ranada approved, “Let him be. You know how Ryan likes his solitude. So, what is our mission and destination?”
“It's that mysterious mission that we've tried before,” the half-Drog informed her, “Remember last year when we tried to send a robot to the Trankik Planet in the Savanid Solar System?”
“Yeah. The robot went hurtling toward the moon. Natalie did not make that robot, did she? She had only just joined the team!” Ranada said.
“Well, we're back to trying to figure out how to get something to stay on the planet long enough to find out what it is made out of and bring back some samples.”
“That will be difficult to do on a planet with no gravity,” Ranada told him.
“Yes, but the moon has gravity,” Dag said, “I can't understand it. However, it's once again our mission to find a way onto the planet.”
“It doesn't have gravity, but it has a moon?” Natalie interjected, “How is that possible? And why is it called the 'Trankik Planet'?”
“It shouldn't have a moon,” Dag explained, “That's one reason we are assigned to it. Trankik was the first name associated with it, meaning 'no gravity'. Do you think you could come up with a robot that would keep itself on the planet?”
“Hmm. I think I could,” Natalie mumbled, her brain switching to Inventor Mode.
Natalie pulled a small drawing pad from her jeans' pocket and a pencil from another and began sketching designs.
Natalie was supplied with all of the parts she needed to make the robot as soon as Ryan got the ship near the Trankik Planet. She built the machine quickly but well and finished programming it only two weeks after she began building it.
“Launch the robot container,” Natalie instructed.
They had gotten the robot into a big metal box with rocket boosters on the top to propel it to the surface of the planet.
Ryan did as Natalie said and controlled the box to be disconnected from the ship, engaging the boosters.
“Steady. Not too fast. Don't let it be pulled in by the moon,” Natalie ordered.
Ryan kept the thrust at a regular pace, lowering the box onto the planet. This time, however, they knew that if they stopped pushing down on the planet, it would be sucked toward the moon. A side of the box opened at Natalie's command and the robot walked out of it, starting up its own boosters.
At first, it worked. The robot took a couple steps and picked up a rock from the planet, but the machine soon became unsteady and halted, frozen in place. The robot slowly began to flatten, its metal crunching against the surface of the planet. The fuel containers smashed, sending the remaining fuel into the deep reaches of outer space. As did the camera on the robot, leaving the crew with only the box's camera to see what was going on down there.
With nothing left to power the boosters, the robot got pulled in by the gravity of the moon. The half-collapsed robot flew toward the natural satellite and crashed onto the surface.
At first, the observers were silent, their eyes wide with shock. Slowly, they were able to regain their focus and speak again.
“What happened?” Dag asked.
“The thrust was too much for for the weakness of the robot, thereby causing it to collapse,” Natalie explained quickly. Tears began forming in Natalie's eyes.
“Yes,” Ranada agreed, “Then the moon's mag – I mean gravity pulled the robot toward it, and with no gravitational pull from the planet to pull on the robot it that direction, the robot sailed through space and collided with the moon.”
Ranada could tell by his face that Dag was confused.
“The boosters were too strong,” Natalie tried again. Ranada could tell she was trying hard not to sound sad.
“Ah. Well, what now?”
Natalie walked off, her head bent down. Ranada guessed Natalie was going to their shared room on the ship. Ranada silently flew after her friend, gently flapping her black wings.
“Natalie,” Ranada said, startling the young human woman that was sitting in their room, “What is it?”
Natalie wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She broke out into crying, although Ranada could tell she was trying not to.
“It's just,” Natalie said, trying to calm herself down, “We put so . . . much work . . . into this . . . and it failed . . . miserably! I'm not . . . a good . . . inventor.”
“No, no, Natalie,” Ranada comforted her friend, “You are a great inventor. You just need to keep on trying until you get it correct. Never give up! So the rockets were too strong? Maybe try it a bit weaker! Maybe the metal was not strong enough. – ”
“What I still can't understand,” Natalie told Ranada, “Is how the planet has a moon when it has no gravity. And what's even stranger is that the moon does have gravity. There's obviously something weird going on.”
“Well, what could keep them together? What other force?” Ranada prompted Natalie.
“Magnetism could be strong enough to hold it together,” Natalie suggested.
“Yes, it would, but you sent over a metal robot. It seems like all of that metal would be attracted to the planet,” Ranada said, remembering the magnetic fields she had seen around the moon and the planet.
“Hmm. Unless the moon is also magnetized! If the moon had a stronger pull then it would be pulling the metal toward it also, and the robot would be pulled toward it,” Natalie commented, standing up suddenly.
“That could be it!” Ranada encouraged her friend.
“No, because then the moon would be pulling the planet around itself instead of the other way around,” Natalie realized, sitting back down.
“Hmm, well we should find the answer soon enough,” Ranada said, “Maybe for now I should go check on the others. Make sure they are not destroying the ship. You keep thinking of ideas.”
Ranada flapped her wings and took off down the hall and into the main room of the ship. She found Dag and Ryan chatting, although Dag appeared to be doing most of the talking.
“. . . so what do you think we'll do next?” Ranada heard Dag finish as she flew in.
“I dunno,” Ryan shrugged.
“Oh, hi, Ranada,” Dag said when he noticed her hovering there, flapping her wings every now and then.
Ranada slowly lowered herself to the ground and walked over to the men.
“Hello. Natalie is coming up with other plans. What are you boys working on?”
“We're talking. Guy stuff,” Dag shrugged.
“I've got it! I've got it!” Natalie shouted as she ran into the room.
“What do you got?” Dag asked.
“The answer!” Natalie gushed, “We've only sent ferromagnetic things down there. The planet does have gravity, while the moon has a whole lot less. But we can't tell very well because the moon has an incredibly strong magnetic pull. The moon's magnetism stronger than the gravity of the planet, so the moon pulls all of the – ”
“One question,” Dag interrupted, “What does 'ferromagnetic' mean?”
“A metal that is attracted to a magnet,” Natalie explained, “So all we need to do is send something down there that is made entirely out of materials not attracted to magnets and it should work!”
“So we're going to try again?” Dag asked, his round, black dog-like nose twitching with intrigue.
“I think it will work,” Ranada predicted.
It only took another couple weeks for Natalie to create a new robot. They sent it down to the planet, programmed to bring back samples for the crew. They watched through another camera as the robot stepped out of its box. All four team members held their breaths. They stared at the machine as it bent down and grabbed a rock off the surface.
“Kalapsy, kalapsy, kalapsy,” Ranada mumbled in her native tongue a word which meant 'I hope' while Natalie crossed her fingers on both hands.
The robot opened up a suitcase it clutched in its claw hand and placed the rock inside, then walked a ways and found another. After it picked up enough, it returned to its box, which Ryan skillfully piloted back to their ship.
Natalie opened the robot's suitcase up and stacked the stones neatly in her inventing room. Then she shut off the robot and tested the rocks to see what they were made of.
“Just as I thought!” Natalie announced, “These rocks are mainly made out of materials that commonly form copper, which is found on Earth and many other planets. They are not attracted to magnets.”
“I knew you'd be able to figure it out!” Ranada chirped.