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    With a teeth-rattling rumble the ship landed. Looking out one of the clear viewing portals of the spacecraft a profound sense of awe overcame me as the enormity of the unimaginable discoveries existing across the expansive landscape of planet Kepler-22b stretched my imagination across a circumference measuring twice that of Mother Earth’s. A thick, whirling dust of glittery particles rose slowly up from the ground in peaceful protest.

    The air was like a thick, meaty stew, viscous from a long day simmering in a crock-pot. It was strange to behold such a sluggish alien breeze, stark in contrast to the brisk, swift familiarity of Mother Earth’s atmosphere. Compared to the creamy air Chowder that oxygenated Kepler, the volatile, speedy winds of Earth were more like a finely strained chicken broth, clear, light, and easily stirred into spicy tornados and hot-as-a-habanero hurricanes.

    Below me, the powerfully explosive rocket engines slowed, with a mechanistic sigh of relief, hot, tired, and ready to rest from the brutal 600 light years non-stop flight to Kepler-22b. At lift-off, the shuttle launched into space breaking the sound barrier with the strength and sonic quality of an angry family of asthmatic Dragons huffing and puffing cyclonic air streams that whipped giant stringy propellers of mucous like a rescue team of helicopters hovering over the smoldering winds of a murderous wild fire. Exhaling, the monstrous engines spit scorching streams of fiery dragon breath that raged like a disagreement over who gets to eat the last little cookie in the princess jar.

    After 600 light years of travel, however, the angry dragon fire that powered us across the galaxy began to burn low, the exhausted turbines powered down relaxing until the Mother Ship was still, her functions slowing to a minimal state that transformed her from a mythical fire-breathing man-eater into a giant laptop in hibernation mode.

    With the ship gone into a deep sleep the sound of excited human chatter took over my ears and sounded like restless anxiousness looked through twitchy tensed muscles and dilated pupils that washed likes grains of optic sand back into the vast sea of widened whites of frightened eyes from which they came. Next to the shore eyelids blinked like a broke down car desperately flashing its hazard lights, on a dark empty road. Nervous systems wound to the brink of overload, straining against the unusually high doses of adrenaline that had breached the body’s dam of homeostasis, roared with hormonal energy through systems that quickly flooded the main neuro-electrical power plant and tripped every circuit breaker in the body.

    Two minutes moving like two hours finally gave way and the familiar sound of Mother Ship’s door unlocked us from our sealed environment. Lumbering hydraulics slowly forced the entry hatch apart, opening before us a literal gateway to another world. The nervous chatter dropped to an awed silence as we each grappled with humility that is a consequence of looking into the wonder of the universe. The size of planetary space so large it is worlds beyond any degree of measure the human mind can possibly conceive. Overwhelming evidence stinging eyes until the truth of humanity’s microscopic insignificance burns the truth into our permanent memory, threatening to crumble the egocentric foundations of our fragile social systems built on imaginary powers, money, religion.

    The excitement broke under the weight of enlightenment. Minds humbled and hopeful at the birth of new understanding, conflicting with the ominous grief that was the dying mother of our faith, morals, beliefs, and purpose. So, the Kepler-22b expedition crew filed out of the hatch with the solemnity of a funeral procession. We filed in a single line out the hatch, down the ramp, and stepped uncertainly into a new world that would change the course of human evolution. Life would never be the same from here on out. As I watched my comrades in front of me stepping onto Kepler-22b’s surface, I imagined babies experiencing upright movement for the first time, clumsily, yet determinedly moving forward, with faces lit like colored mirrors reflecting through a kaleidoscope of facial expression and human emotion, mouths and eyes dancing like vivid geometric shapes of delight, amazement, curiosity, fear, and excitement.

    When I came to the threshold of the ramp and stepped onto the loose, purple soil that clumped like dirt and glowed like lightning bugs, my legs gave out. I stumbled trying to regain my footing on a spongy buoyant ground that felt like a thick lumpy mattress on top of a trampoline adrift at sea. Jump. The word hit me with a force that bypassed thought. I leapt into the air. Below me, a strangely familiar voice, shouted.

    “Child, how many times do I have to tell you no jumping on the bed? I mean it; you get down from there, right now! Girl, I swear, if you get hurt carrying on this foolishness, you are going to be in a world of pain, and it is going to hurt more than falling off the bed.”    

    The voice vanished as quickly as it came; I felt my body descending back toward the ground of elastic dirt. I remembered the image of dust swirling in slow motion as I looked at the new world for the first time. As my body adjusted to the sensory experience of the alien atmosphere, I began to compare what I was seeing with what my body was feeling. What if what my eyes had perceived as thickness in air, was actually a deficiency of gravity? I was hypnotized with fascination. My feet touched down again a third time, shifting my sense of wonder to worry. Something was wrong. My body sprung forcefully toward the sky. I had only jumped once, yet here I was landing again for the third time, the momentum of my body accelerating with a force that was beyond my will. Tossed up into the air, for a fourth time, I now reached a point that was over twice as high as my initial jump.

    I strained to understand the unearthly experience that seemed to be pushing me about like a spent helium balloon. Suddenly, I felt a hand grasp my arm, pulling me firmly out of the mysterious gravitational orbit that had taken control of my motion. As my body came to a stop and my feet settled back onto the spring loaded soil, my free spirited curiosity extinguished like a fire doused with a bucket of cold water that poured out of the reproachful stare of my reluctant rescuer.

    My face flushed red with heat and embarrassment. I felt foolish like the little girl who broke her arm after having ignored her mother’s warning to stop jumping on the bed: stubborn. What was wrong with me? My mind was in another world, I let my imagination confuse the unreal sensations evoked by Kepler with the very real danger that exists for human life no matter what planetary environment one is in. The reckless sense of abandon with which I pursued my curiosity was not fearlessness; it was a disregard for life and death.

    With a keen awareness, I felt the punishing eyes of condemnation that burned with a focused heat and anger that would have me self-combust; some were shaking their heads, I could almost hear the argument that would undoubtedly take place once we got back to Earth.

    “This is exactly the reason why only scientists should be allowed on interplanetary expeditions. Is gathering a few bits of film and photography to impress the public worth risking the success of a monumental mission and the lives of Earth’s greatest scientific minds? It is an outrage that valuable time and research was lost because we had to take turns babysitting an incompetent crew member!”

    As the scandal of my space debacle played out in my head and on the faces of my comrades, I felt a cool trickle of sweat fall from my forehead, landing on my lips. I licked it away self-consciously tasting the bitter saltiness of fear and anxiety that sharpened my tongue. I bit down on it trying to contain the sarcasm that threatened to lash out and cut the seriousness and superiority right out of what was beginning to feel like a silent trial.

    “Okay, people, if you got something to say, spit it out, but for God’s sake quit fucking gawking at me. I am not a damn monkey in one of your torturous experiments.”

    Damn my mouth, it never seemed to fail firing off like a trigger-happy police officer with a bad temper and authority complex. One of these days, I am going to learn how put thinking before speaking my mind. A voice rose above the icy stares of my jury.

    “Why don’t you down to Earth people stay down on Earth where you belong and leave the space exploration to us intelligent life forms?”

    I sighed defeated, feeling like an illegal alien who realizes there is no melting pot at the end of the rainbow. I should have known scientists would consider breaking the laws of gravity a criminal offense.


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