Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hermit of Iapetus, Part III

Still babbling along. Read Part II here, with a link to Part I once you get there.

I miss the marigolds. My wife didn’t like them, said they smelled bad. But I grew up in a house where the marigolds spilled out of the flower beds and grew in the grass and grew in the gravel. I used to scoot the gravel aside with my hands and make roads for my tiny cars through the marigold forest, with that smell of marigold constantly in my nostrils.

Iapetus smells like almonds, when I get a whiff of dust entering a safe house. Space is not empty, I tell some of the people who call me. It’s full of poison. The universe is intensely hostile towards life, pelting planets with meteors, filling the interstellar void with cyanide, killing satellites and mitochondria with cosmic rays. I do not doubt life exists on other planets, I say. Life is not an aberration. But the universe, I say, is not as densely packed as is Manhattan, as is Singapore, as is Tokyo, as is Mexico City. Look at Earth. Life exists there in a million varieties, yet there are places on Earth no living thing can survive for long. Admunsen discovered that as he trekked towards the South Pole. I am reminded of it daily as I walk the wastelands of Iapetus.

In my cargo, I brought three hatchets. Three hatchets. I expected to find trees, I suppose. But I used them. Wore two out digging my first safe house on the sunny side of Engelier Crater. Later I improvised lasers to melt the underground caverns I’ve scattered about the surface. I’ve got ten or twelve of them now that I maintain and use occasionally, maybe another eight I built but abandoned. With a scarcity of convenience stores on this lonely rock, a man has to have a few places he can go to hide when he need to be hidden. And replenished. I power my scooters and safe houses with the hydrogen extracted from the cyanide, extract oxygen from the rocks and ice and generally live fairly well for a man whose nearest neighbors are on Titan, millions of miles further into Saturn’s gravity hole.

Yes, I’ve been involved in mapping this tiny moon. Not that the International Astronomical Union has been pleased with most of my activity. Oh, they didn’t mind my naming craters for Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, Stanley Kubrick, and others eminent in the arts and sciences. But Hoagland’s Ridge, they didn’t much appreciate, especially when I told them, jokingly, that one of the reasons I came to Iapetus in the first place was to find Hoagland’s massive buckminsterfullerene and probe the deep secrets within. I’m not sure about his science, but that he’s intensely interested in Iapetus, there is no doubt.

Where do I get my supplies, they ask. They always ask that. What do I eat, and where do I poop? I eat what I can. Some things, like the cans of refried beans, I have gravity-dropped from the federal spacers going to and from Titan. Orbits and trajectories, of course, make these drops infrequent and the captains – and in some case only the cargo stewards – do it for me out of charity, because aside from the IAU, no official agency really wants to acknowledge my existence. Officially, Iapetus is uninhabited, and is part of the Saturnian Wilderness, consisting of the tiniest and outermost moons where, technically, the footprints of man aren’t supposed to appear. At best they call me a squatter. I once got a nastygram from Greypeace, upset that my digging and walking were scarring the surface of this otherwise virgin world. But no one comes to get me. As if I’d leave if they did.

I’m sorry that I ramble. You have to understand that hermits aren’t hermits because they hate talking. I’ve known some rather talkative people in my lifetime, and though they lived in populated areas, they all talked like hermits. We never meet. Successful, friendly hermits get together to shun each other.

1 comment:

Mister Fweem said...

With a radius of 730 kilometers, Iapetus has a surface area of 6,693,224 square kilometers. In comparison, the land and lake surface area of Canada is 9,984,670 square kilometers.