[My journal of alien contact]
I’ve already said I’m not supposed to talk about the Mars terraforming project. Zeke, however, was able to talk all he liked about the terraforming* project of Sarter’s neighboring planet, Avas. While Avas was still primarily a host for research, much as Antarctica had been for Earth centuries back, there were growing communities of homesteaders who settled around the equatorial lands of Avas. The planet hosted the usual wintering-over of tourists who inevitably returned to Sarter with inflated stories of derring-do and rumors of haunted ice-caves.
Round-trips were expensive, and there weren’t too many people on Sarter to disprove the tall-tales of the thrill-seeking planet-hoppers. However, Zeke had spent a year on Avas working in the mines, and said that the main entertainment besides racing snow-plows was mountain-sliding. However, mountain-sliding on Avas was incredibly dangerous. Sarter made mountain-sliding illegal after investors complained about the high mortality rates.
"Planet-hoppers inevitably stretch the truth about their mountain-sliding experiences," Zeke said last week. The conversation seemed to start from nowhere, as the TIC was slow that day. We were experiencing a lag-time in messages. So much for "instantaneous" communication.
"If they were completely honest," Zeke continued, "they wouldn’t have survived to tell their stories. Really, the most exciting part of the whole Avas internship was standing on the ground of a new planet and looking into the sky at a different configuration of stars. The work itself was rather monotonous. There were times when I would have welcomed a haunting from one of those alleged ice-cave monsters just to make my life a little more interesting. The most exciting part of the whole experience was the travel between planets. If I had my way, I would be traveling with the Sarter delegation to Alpha-Centauri A.”
So far, Sartereans were better suited to space-travel than Earthlings. Our celestronauts endured loss in bone-density, muscle-deterioration, and were highly susceptible to nose-bleeds. They spent many portions of their prolonged lives in hibernation. There was a narrow window of time in which a person could choose to train as a celestronaut. Space-travel was devastating to humans who hadn’t completed adolescence, yet training required many years before humans would even enter a space-ship for their initial launch. ISAP required early commitment with severe penalties for defecting from the program.
Nevertheless, many Earthlings wanted to be celestronauts. Celestronauts were our heroes, sacrificing all other goals for the glory of interstellar-exploration. The Alpha Centauri-A delegations knew that their chances of returning to their home planets were minute, but ISAP was confident we would discover faster-than-light travel in time for the delegations to return. Still, my grandmother urged me to avoid celestronaut training. “You cannot make that kind of decision about the rest of your life before you’ve even begun to live it,” she said. She was bitter. Grandmother had three daughters. Two of them married and had children. The youngest, my Aunt Io, was one of the celestronauts on her way to Alpha Centauri-A. I didn't know what made Grandmother angrier: the thought of never again seeing her youngest child or the knowledge that when ISAP started its celestronaut program, Grandmother was no longer a candidate for space-travel.
ISAP: International Space Administration Program, pronounced "Ee-sop."
Sartereans: The intelligent species from the planet Sarter in contact with Earthlings, pronounced "Sar-ter-ray-ans."
TIC: Transgalactic Instantaneous Communicator, pronounced "tick."