“I found something out there,” he told me. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. He pointed to the horizon, and I looked, but all I could see was a vast emptiness. The landscape stretched out to the horizon, a blue shimmering rock. Nothing grew on its surface. Everyone knew that. We came to this planet because we found water below the surface, so we all expected some familiar carbon-based life forms. But there were no plants, no trees, no animals when we arrived. Either the scientists were mistaken, or they hid the truth from us, and I didn’t know why.
We lived underground, where the water was. In the caves and tunnels, foliage bloomed thickly on the bright, blue bio-luminescent rock walls that provided enough light that we didn’t need to generate it ourselves. Strange animals lurked in the underground rain forests, the expansive ecosystem fueled by whatever was in the mysterious rock. We didn’t have daylight down here, but we still had mostly everything we needed to survive. The thing was that only about half of us survived. The other half died before we discovered the caverns.
My father and I had come to the surface so he could show me what he had found. He wasn’t content believing the scientists that sent us here did so without good reason. There had to be more than just these caverns. There was something special about the rock, or so my father believed. I was concerned for his mental health, that he would go mad in pursuit of something that didn’t exist.
I struggled with my shallow breathing. The air had less oxygen on the surface, and underground the plants balanced out the air so it was nearly the same as Earth, as if the caves were a system of lungs for the planet. We used masks for oxygen when we first arrived, but as we monitored the air, it seemed that the air actually changed. What made it more odd was that it changed to match the specifications of the air we needed to survive without our masks, as if the planet was accommodating us. My father was out of the caves often enough that the oxygen restriction no longer bothered him. The only thing that bothered him was his mission.
“Come with me,” my father beckoned. He tugged my hand gently. Mother had died before we found the caverns, and everyone else kept their distance from him. “I think I found the reason why we’re here.”
“This was all just a big mistake. There is no reason. There’s nothing out there.” I crossed my arms over my chest. I’d heard this from him many times before, and I wasn’t in the mood for another round.
My father turned to me and cupped my face in his hands. “Dearest daughter, you have to believe me.” He smiled, a playful laughter in his eyes. “You look just like your mother. She would have believed me, you know.”
“That’s a mean trick. You can’t guilt me into believing you.”
“Just come and see for yourself. Please.”
I hesitated, giving him a dubious look. “What exactly am I supposed to be seeing?”
“It’s the rock, Jess. It’s alive. This whole planet is alive. And we can communicate with it.”
“You’re really starting to concern me. What did you find?”
His eyes lit up, face youthfully animated as if he wanted to show me his new toy. He lowered his voice to a quick, excited whisper. “They looked to me like plants at first, sticking straight out of the ground like a field of wheat. But I think they’re receptors of some sort. It’s like a neural network. There are bio-luminescent bubbles that float from receptor to receptor.”
“I still don’t understand. What are you getting at?”
“It’s a brain, Jess. It’s a sentient brain. And we didn’t come here by accident. It invited us.”