The Planet Trachoos
The next morning before breakfast, Nathaniel runs through the halls of the ship screaming, swinging Haticat by the tail. Haticat laughs. Both are very excited to go to the chemical store and the library. Nathaniel also wants to eat more tacos. Suddenly, Nathaniel stops and drops Haticat. He looks out the window and sees only starry blackness. “Hey, we left Earth; we’re in space again.”
“How long do you think it will take to go back?” Haticat asks, concerned.
“I don’t know,” Nathaniel responds.
“We’re going to the planet Trachoos. That’s why we left Earth,” the nearest Mama-polyp-head says.
“And stop running inside the house!” Daddy yells gruffly.
“Oh,” Nathaniel comments,” Why are we going to Trachoos?”
“You can run there,” Daddy says.
“Okay,” Nathaniel says.
It is several hours before the planet becomes visible and another hour after that before they land. Trachoos has no moon, but has a very wide ring of dust circling it. Its sun is orange. Nathaniel and Haticat both become very antsy with no outlet for their energy. They wait eagerly for the external door to open. “Trachoos is hot, windy, and sandy like a giant beach but there isn’t much water for you to get Haticat wet, so it’s okay,” Mama says.
“Remember to be careful not to get Haticat too sandy,” Daddy adds.
“If the sand is hot like on Earth, I should get my boots,” Nathaniel mentions.
“Okay, you can wear boots,” Daddy says. Nathaniel runs to get his boots. “Don’t run inside!” Some things are hard to remember.
“Can I have some boots too?” Haticat asks.
“You don’t need any,” Mama and Daddy say together.
Finally, the door opens. Nathaniel and Haticat run outside at top speed. This quickly turns into a gallop as they stumble in the low gravity and loose, shifty sands. Gravity on Trachoos is one-quarter that on Earth. Climbing up onto the first ridge of dunes, they are struck by a beautiful panorama. The orange sun is behind them, behind The Mama-And-Daddy. Above them, the dust ring of Trachoos can be clearly seen stretching across the hazy, yellow-brown sky. To the left are short, steep, packed-clay hills of mottled tan, brown, rich sepia, bittersweet, bright reds, and silvery-grey. To the right are giant, tan, sand dunes. Straight ahead is a flat plain, and all around them are humming Frisbee-like creatures. “What are these?” Nathaniel asks Haticat, hoping he will know.
“I don’t know,” Haticat says.
“I’ll call them quoidibookaloofs,” Nathaniel states firmly. The creatures come in all sizes and colors. Some buzz, some hum, and some whir. Some have one tail, some have two tails side-by-side, but most have zero tails. Spots of light follow them along the ground, revealing the creatures to have powerful, narrow spotlights. Nathaniel immediately attempts to grab one creature out of the air and succeeds on the fourth try. Turning over the curved shell, he sees a set of vibrating wings underneath, some attached to the edge of the shell facing in, and some attached to the animal’s core facing out. A set of holes and ducts shows where the air is pulled through the top and expelled out the bottom of the shell by the action of the wings. “This creature has…thirteen wings,” he says.
Haticat moves in for a closer look. They turn it over to look at the top. They see that the bright purple shell is segmented in an asymmetrical way, but containing elements of both radial and bilateral symmetry. Eight tiny, hard, black eyes are visible around the edge. “I think those are the eyes,” Haticat comments.
“It’s very lightweight,” Nathaniel comments.
“That probably helps it fly,” Haticat hypothesizes.
Nathaniel turns the creature back over and lets it go. It speeds away, blowing wind into their faces. He immediately goes about trying to capture another. So does Haticat. Nathaniel catches one first. This one is slightly larger and greenish-blue with black stripes and yellow spots. Turning it over they count sixteen wings arranged in a very different configuration from the first one. It also has five spotlights that it promptly shines onto Nathaniel, causing him to drop it. Landing on its back, it rises, turns over, and speeds away. “Those lights are hot,” Nathaniel complains.
Just watching for a bit, they see one quoidibookaloof swoop down and stun a smaller quoidibookaloof with its hot spotlights. Hovering over it, it extrudes complex mouthparts and proceeds to slowly tear apart its prey. “Wow,” Nathaniel comments.
“Awesome,” Haticat says, “Quoidibookaloofs are very interesting creatures.”
“I wonder what they taste like,” Nathaniel says.
Walking across the plain in front of them, they try to count the different types. They quickly lose track. Then Nathaniel notices something almost as interesting. He sees the edge of the shadow of the one, lone cloud in the sky moving past him. He spontaneously decides to chase after it. It is fast, but he catches up. He leaps in celebration. Haticat joins him.
Deciding to explore the clay hills next, Nathaniel and Haticat discover small plants dotting the ground sparsely. Each consists of a short, dark green stalk terminating in a single, large, oval pod resembling an olive with a hole in the top. Inside are what appear to be bright purple, slimy intestines. They smell faintly of sulfur. Both agree that they smell disgusting. Soon, a medium-sized, red-orange quoidibookaloof flies by low to the ground, pulling a small whirlwind full of sand both under and over it. Passing over a cluster of plants, it sucks the pods clean off and eats them. The skins shoot up out the top into the upper whirlwind.
“Wow!” Nathaniel comments.
“How do you think they make those whirlwinds?” Haticat asks.
“I think that maybe the wings in the middle make it, while the wings on the edge make the animal fly – or maybe those hot lights make the air rise and make wind, sucking up the plants,” Nathaniel theorizes.
“Maybe it captures a whirlwind that already exists and moves it,” Haticat theorizes. They don’t know much about aerodynamics. Looking around, Haticat sees some white-colored plumes beyond a nearby hill and runs off to the top to see better. Nathaniel follows. There, they see a narrow brook cutting through the hard, striped clay of the hills. Quoidibookaloofs fly back and forth across it, sucking up the water in mini-waterspouts and expelling most of it out their tops. Tiny droplets of mist fall back down on Haticat and Nathaniel.
Nathaniel makes up his mind to capture one to examine its underside. He repeatedly slips on the steep, slick banks of the brook but does not fall in. The quoidibookaloofs remain out of reach. Finally, he says, “I have an idea. Let me throw you so you can catch one,” he suggests.
“Okay,” Haticat agrees. One minute later, Haticat catches one and pulls it down to the ground with him. Running over, Nathaniel examines it. They keep dodging its swinging spotlights. They hurt. This quoidibookaloof has a small, shell-compartment in the middle. The compartment has a tiny hole with a lot of suction. Inside, they can see the movement of tiny wings. The outer wings are arranged in such a way to oppose the resulting torque and prevent yaw. “I like these creatures,” Haticat declares.
“Me too,” Nathaniel says. They let go of the creature and it flies away. It takes a full minute for it to completely rebuild its waterspout. Climbing up and down the steep hills, Nathaniel and Haticat eventually start to get tired. They stop repeatedly to get better looks at the flying creatures. A few smaller quoidibookaloofs show some curiosity in them too, hovering near them, but most just zip around. The sun slowly sets. Finally, they step into a small hollow guarded by a single, nearly transparent quoidibookaloof. The red spots of its fourteen spotlights are clearly visible against the sides of the hollow. Nathaniel gingerly pokes his tail into the path of one of the beams to test its heat. It is very hot. He waves his tail back and forth to cool it off. Haticat copies him, testing the heat with his own tail. While there, a small, yellow-white quoidibookaloof swoops down into the hollow, passes through one of the beams, and is struck down, collapsing onto the ground. In less than a second, the larger, clear quoidibookaloof is upon it, rapidly tearing it to shreds and eating it. Returning to its post seconds later, it leaves only a few white crumbs behind. Nathaniel picks up a crumb and chews on it before spitting it out. “It’s too hard and has no flavor,” he reports, “I like cashews better.”
“How do you know if it’s not poison for dromaeosaurs?” Haticat asks.
“Hmmm. We should invent a machine that will test things and tell when something is a poison. It could be calibrated to different types of people. It could even tell you whether something is yucky or yummy,” Nathaniel says, “That way we don’t have to try everything to know.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea,” Haticat says.
“We should call it the food tester-teller!” Nathaniel exclaims.
“That’s a great invention!” Haticat lauds.
“Yeah,” Nathaniel says. They look around. There are scattered shell crumbs of all colors. Nathaniel sticks a few in his pockets to analyze later.
Next, the two friends walk around a large, red hill overlooking a field of sand. On the other side are numerous clusters of eggs. Some are in nests of what appear to be chewed plant fibers and saliva. Others sit directly on the rock, their sticky outsides keeping them from rolling away. There are eggs of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some are guarded by quoidibookaloofs and some are not. “I think that maybe those are eggs,” Haticat says, “I saw pictures of Earth eggs at the library, and those look close.”
“Oh,” Nathaniel responds. Except for the color and size, these eggs did indeed look like the chicken eggs he had seen on the planet Candy. Just then, a gurgling sound emanates from the ground in front of them. A blob of sparkling aqua seeps up between the sand grains. Nathaniel and Haticat step back. The blob grows in size until it is much bigger than the Mama-And-Daddy couch-unit. Throwing giant pseudopodia around, it slowly climbs the hill towards the nests. Reaching the first cluster of eggs, it absorbs them into its sparkling bulk. “It’s eating them!” Nathaniel declares.
“This is a different animal,” Haticat says.
“I’ll name them aqua monsters,” Nathaniel says.
“Okay,” Haticat acknowledges. The surrounding quoidibookaloofs go into a frenzy. They hit the blob with their heat lamps, causing it to flinch and swat them away with its pseudopodia, but it presses on, undeterred. Those quoidibookaloofs with nests pick up the whole nest and carry it away, using thin, jointed arms. Nathaniel notes that their two arms split partway down, ending in four hands. When not in use, they fold up close to the body under the shell. Those quoidibookaloofs without nests pick up one egg at a time in their mouthparts, sticking them to a nearby hill and flying back for the next. Despite their great speed, more than half the eggs are lost. As more quoidibookaloofs return to the nesting hill, their combined spotlights become too much for the aqua monster and it finally makes a hasty retreat back under the sand.
Moving on, Nathaniel stops in the next field of sand they see and begins digging. Haticat joins him. “I don’t see any animals in the ground, here,” he says, seemingly disappointed. They keep digging, making large piles around them.
“There’s no water under this sand like at the beach,” Haticat says, “That’s good.”
It is at this moment Nathaniel hears something in the distance. It sounds like The Mama-And-Daddy yelling. He and Haticat climb to the top of a hill to see. The couch-unit speeds toward them. “The sun is setting! You should be coming inside!” Daddy says.
“It’s not all the way set yet,” Nathaniel says. This seems to enrage Daddy like Nathaniel has never seen. He and Haticat are instantly teleported inside the large room closest to the airlock where Mama and Daddy take turns yelling at Nathaniel and hitting him with lightning bolts. His body stings and aches all the way through. It hurts so much to breathe afterwards that Nathaniel holds his breath as long as he can.
“It’s the rules to come inside for mealtime,” Daddy says, “You can’t eat now because it’s past mealtime.”
“It’s the rules to come inside at sunset,” Mama says, “Don’t be outside when it’s dark.”
“It’s the rules to sleep when it’s sleeptime,” Daddy says.
“It’s the rules not to dig in the sand unless on a beach,” Mama says.
“Go to your room,” Mama and Daddy say together. Nathaniel and Haticat are teleported to their room.
“I don’t want to sleep now; I’m not tired,” Nathaniel whines.
“Why does The Mama-And-Daddy have so many rules? Why won’t it let us have fun?” Haticat asks.
“It’s stupid!” Nathaniel exclaims loudly.
Nathaniel and Haticat go to sleep, but they don’t sleep long. Nathaniel’s belly wakes him up. “I’m hungry,” he says. Haticat says nothing. Finding him in the pile, Nathaniel wakes him up, infusing him with thoughts of fun. “Come on, I’m hungry now.” Haticat follows Nathaniel down to the kitchen. Nathaniel pours himself some water and protein jelly and grabs a spoon. Before he can eat, however, Haticat catches his attention.
“Look at all that,” Haticat says. Outside it is black. The brighter stars are visible through the haze, the parts of the dust ring still in sunlight reflect onto the planet below, and the landscape is dominated by thousands of glowing, flying disks. Nathaniel gobbles down his jelly. Still leaving some behind and not recycling the bowl, he runs to the external door with Haticat.
“Help me open it,” Nathaniel begs. Nathaniel and Haticat push on it, but nothing happens.
“Try this,” Haticat suggests, finding a lever. He pushes it up and it clicks into place. The door opens.
“How did you think of that?” Nathaniel asks.
“I noticed that every time the door opens, the lever goes up first. I thought maybe the lever makes it open,” Haticat answers.
“Oh,” Nathaniel says, “You’re smart.”
“I am smart,” Haticat agrees.
The two of them run out into the dark. Light from the ship behind them causes them to cast long shadows across the desert. It is much cooler than during the day. Nathaniel likes it. Climbing across the sand dunes, they are enthralled by the sight around them. Every once in a while, one of the glowing quoidibookaloofs swoops down close to the sand as if grabbing something only it can see. Finally, they do one time see a fat, worm-like creature caught in the spotlight of a quoidibookalooof just before it gets eaten. “Whoo-Hoo!!” Nathaniel cheers.
They run back and forth up and down the dunes. Often, they let themselves stumble and slide down, riding a wave of sand. Every time they do, they expose buried food-animals, and the quoidibookaloofs swarm wildly behind them. The friends compete, seeing who can trigger the largest swarm, and experiment different ways of cutting a swath through the sand.
Then, underneath all the sounds of whirring, humming, and buzzing, Nathaniel hears a much lower sound. It takes him a moment to recognize it. It is The Mama-And-Daddy’s antigravity engines. The ship is taking off. Nathaniel and Haticat watch as complex, higher-dimensional currents of spacetime roil around the outside of the ship, forming distinct convection cells and throwing sand grains around. Within seconds, The Mama-And-Daddy rises, accelerates into the sky, and disappears.
“Where are they going?” Nathaniel asks.
“I don’t know,” Haticat answers.
“Now we have to find another spaceship,” Nathaniel declares.
“Yup,” Haticat agrees.
“We should get a blue one,” Nathaniel says.
“Yeah, I like blue,” Haticat responds.
“Let’s go and look this way,” Nathaniel says, pointing into the distance.
“Okay,” Haticat says.
Haticat and Nathaniel walk and walk, but see nothing but sand and quoidibookaloofs. They must walk for at least ten minutes, seeing no spacecraft at all. Just then, something bright streaks across the sky. They look up and suddenly find themselves teleported to the entrance room of The Mama-And-Daddy.
“Why did you go outside when we didn’t tell you to?” Daddy asks. Still recovering from surprise of being teleported, Nathaniel does not respond immediately. He is hit with a lightning bolt.
“Why did you go outside?” Daddy asks again. Before Nathaniel could respond even if he wasn’t surprised and recovering from the punishment, he is hit with another lightning bolt. This question-and-punish sequence repeats itself several times without Nathaniel ever being given the chance to respond. How many times exactly, he is not sure. Mama and Daddy’s eyes glow purple. They had never done that before.
“Why don’t you ever go outside during the daytime?” Daddy finally asks. This is an odd question. Nathaniel was just outside in daylight a few hours ago. “You always run inside even after we tell you not to.”
“I do go outside,” Nathaniel says.
“Don’t talk back to us!” Mama screams.
“Going outside without our permission is against the rules,” Mama and Daddy speak simultaneously, “Go to your room.”
Nathaniel and Haticat are now in their room. “They never let us have any fun!” Nathaniel says, slumping into his pillow pile and crying himself to sleep.
Nate stops. The woman is smiling. “What is it?” he asks.
“My hunch seems to be panning out,” she says.
“What do you mean?” Nate asks.
“I interviewed several of your family members before talking to you. I know your childhood stories quite well,” she explains, “When you were four, your parents took you on a trip in their RV to a park, where you played in the sand. Around dusk, you somehow slipped out without them noticing. They discovered you missing when they stopped for gas. When they went back to look for you, they found you trying to catch fireflies.”
“Is that supposed to be the basis for my memory of planet Trachoos?” Nate asks.
“I believe so,” the woman answers.
Nate scrunches his brow. “It could be coincidence.”
“The name of the park was Trachoosi State Park; it’s an Indian name,” the woman responds.
“Oh,” Nate says, “I guess I must have made it all up after all.”
“You’re very creative. You see things around you and your mind builds all these stories about them, but for some reason your brain stores these fantasies as memories, perhaps to compensate for your apparent inability to form normal memories,” the woman explains. Nate says nothing and looks back at the cobweb in the corner. “And to make sense of the difference between your memories and reality, your mind created the delusion that history changed,” the woman says.
“Must be,” Nate finally responds. There is a long pause.
“Tell me what happened after you left Trachoos,” the woman prods.
“We went to the planet Lectipas,” Nate says.
“And?” the woman prods again, writing furiously in her red notepad.
“We went to the planet Lectipas…” Nate says.