Yaalia 3

by M.Meikle, Scotland

Phil struggled with the controls but to no avail. The ship was going to crash—and it did. Phil managed to open the door of the crumpled craft and stepped out onto this alien land. Phil had no idea if the atmosphere was breathable or how much air was in the tanks but rather than pointlessly dying alone on this God-forsaken rock, Phil might as well have a look around and record something.

“This is flight commander Phil Brown and I have crash-landed on Yaalia 3, the planet I’m supposed to be surveying. It’s a rocky world with what look like caves. Very regular mounds with openings. The soil is dry and red, not rusty like iron-bearing rocks but more like crushed rubies. I’m heading towards the caves now.”

Phil realised that there was some atmosphere here, as walking was much harder than walking on the Moon had been. Head-torch on full beam, Phil approached the mouth of the nearest cave and peered inside; the recorder was still on.

“Hey, turn the lights out!” shouted a voice from within. Phil nearly shat herself—not a good idea in a space suit.

“Hello?” she said hesitantly. “I’m Phil, who are you? And how come you’re speaking English? And does your atmosphere contain roughly 20 per cent oxygen?” she then gabbled excitedly.

“Whoa, whoa, stop with all the questions!” said a creature Phil could best liken to an octopus—a dry octopus.

“Yes, I’m speaking English, because I am communicating directly with your mind. And yes, you can breathe in the atmosphere here.”

“Are you alone here?” Phil asked, loosening her helmet.

“Well, not now,” said the creature, stretching a tentacle towards Phil. Phil moved back slightly but let the creature taste her, or whatever it was doing. First contact and all that.

“Do you have a name?”

“You can call me Cosmos.”

Phil wondered if she was dreaming, or hallucinating, or even dead but decided to go along with this unworldly exchange.

“OK, Cosmos, is this your planet?”

“My planet? Planets can’t be owned. They just are. But if you mean is this where I have always been, then no. I have spent most of my life travelling away from my place of origin.”

A translucent membrane momentarily dulled Cosmos’ blood-blue eyes.

“Are you an explorer, like me?” Phil asked.

Cosmos made a gurgling sound that Phil found quite nauseating—turns out it was a snigger.

“I suppose you could call me an archivist rather than an explorer. Explorers only come from feisty young species.”

“Have you been to Earth, where I’m from?”

“No, but others have. I’ve absorbed—read—their reports. Seems life started off as it always does, slowly and steadily learning to capture energy and understand its surroundings. Earth Mission 4 found human beings like you, kinda like you, living a good life. They would debate and reason, study the stars and the rocks. But the mission was cut short as other humans came on the scene. It was too dangerous to study those ones. But we went back to that same place some 450 years later—it was after that fifth mission that we categorised Earth as dangerous.”

“Dangerous? Because of nuclear weapons?”

Cosmos flexed. “In part. Nuclear technologies don’t usually appear so early and they certainly aren’t used as weapons. They tend to be developed after the dominant intelligence has stopped savage behaviour like wars. Anyway, it’s not any of your tools that are the problem. It’s you, well some of you. Most of you… No, we categorised Earth as dangerous because that crew never returned, but I’d rather not think about that.”

Phil frowned, then shuddered, imagining what might have happened.

“Come, let me show you the rest of this place,” Cosmos said, ambling down a small passageway.

“Er, not sure I’ll fit down there,” Phil called out.

Cosmos reappeared. “Yes, silly me. Just look here,” Cosmos said, waving a tentacle in front of Phil’s face. “There, that should do it.” It looked to Phil as if the passage had become bigger, as had Cosmos.

“Have you shrunk me?” she enquired.

“Does it matter?”

Phil guessed not and followed the glow emanating from Cosmos’ bulbous body. Before long they reached a sparkling chamber of violet and turquoise like something from a Tolkien book. Phil gasped.

“Yes, it is quite something, isn’t it?” said Cosmos. “I thought you’d like it.”

“What is this place?”

“It’s what I’m detecting is your perfect place, in your favourite colours. Look, there’s an emerald green ocean on the horizon. And the soil is a mycorrhizal riot,” said Cosmos scooping up a suckerful of rich, dark matter from beneath a small tree, or possibly a large mushroom, and holding it before Phil’s nose. “Smell it.”

Phil did so, deeply inhaling a smell she remembered from childhood, from her grandparents’ farm. Her mind swirled with memories of birds and trees, love and laughter, her Gran’s apple cake and her Papa’s pipe smoke.

“Wow, that is not a smell I’d expected off-Earth. But if it’s not real—”

“All things are possible here, but time is limited. I’m guessing you don’t have much food with you. I’m photosynthetic, when I need to be. It’s a handy trait. We’ll need to fix up your transporter. You need to return. You have work to do.”

Phil was actually disappointed at the thought of returning to the grey Earth she was familiar with.

“Do I have to leave? We’ve screwed things up so badly. It’s why we’re scouting about for another place which could sustain us. But to be honest, I wouldn’t want us to colonise somewhere so beautiful,” Phil said dreamily.

“This is all in your mind. You can come back here any time, well any time I help you to. It takes a lot of training for a civ to mind-create.”

“A what?”

“A civ. It’s what we call intelligent beings who have rejected the riches of their ecosystems for what they think is a better way of living.”

“You mean there are more like us?”

That gurgling sound again. “Well, there’s nothing quite like homo sapiens—you’re a real dilemma. But there are many intelligent species out there. There are many intelligent species on your Earth but they are rarely seen as such. And the humans who do have wisdom are not going to break through to the civs in time.”

Phil frowned, then suppressed the thought “in time for what?” and just existed in the beauty of the place. Real or not, she didn’t care. Back home, anyone who could afford it spent their spare time in virtual reality. She now understood the attraction.

“Come on. Let’s go look at your transporter,” Cosmos said, pushing gently on Phil’s back to turn her round, to guide her back up to reality.


As they tramped and scuttled back to Phil’s space craft, she noticed it didn’t seem as badly damaged as she’d remembered. She looked at the ruby sand.

“What is this planet made of? Do you know?”

“It varies but here it’s mostly corundum—call it that, will you? Or aluminium oxide. From what I hear, if you say Yaalia 3 is made of rubies and sapphires, it will be mined into oblivion.”

“Well, yes, in the past maybe. But we really are more interested in producing food than gemstones these days.” Phil remembered something Cosmos had said. “Um, you said I had work to do. What work?”

“Your Earth, your ecosystems, are facing another extinction event only this time, it’s you who are causing it. I said you were a dilemma. Nowhere else that we’ve studied has a dominant species with the capacity for art and music, science and engineering, but with total disregard for all other species. You must learn how to live on your home planet before you’ll be allowed to colonise others.”

“So how come I’m here, on Yaalia 3?”

“A single craft does not colonise a planet, but it does raise an alarm. Before we detected you, I was several light years away. Anyway, you asked if there were others like you,” Cosmos continued as they reached Phil’s craft. “Here, let’s sit a while and I’ll tell you of Thera.”

Phil checked her recorder. This was mind-blowing stuff and she was glad to have been calmed down by the dreamland Cosmos had created for her back in the caves.

“On Thera, as on so many planets, intelligent life eventually evolved, some with those handy opposable thumbs, although I think fingers are overrated,” Cosmos said, admiring his own appendages.

“After some time the top predator developed a complex global society and ran the show for its own ends—it’s not so unusual. These beings had an economic system much like yours but, unlike you humans, Therans had never lost the understanding that everything comes from nature. Natural resources were priced in accordance to environmental impact and pollution only occurred by accident or ignorance—the penalty for deliberate pollution was death, if you were lucky. But, like you, they thought their planet was just too big to ever run out of the minerals they’d built their society on…However, when a group of leading scientists published a paper entitled, The Peak Production of Non-renewable Natural Resources, everything changed. Understanding that seemingly limitless natural resources were going to become harder and more costly to extract resulted in the ratification of a global treaty on resource use within ten years of the paper’s publication—ten years! Can you imagine? It was obvious that if the current systems of trade and travel relied on a resource which would not be available in 100 years’ time, then the sooner the change started, the cheaper it would be in the long term.”


“Yes, cheaper—it was an economic decision. Therans might not have lost touch with nature but they loved their money. The global treaty defined a 100-year timeline for the switch away from all non-renewable natural resources. By the time the 100 years was up, they had used a fraction of the fossilised fuels they knew about to provide the energy required to completely change how they lived. The rest were left in the ground—or never discovered at all.”

Phil wondered if such a place really existed. “Is it a coincidence that Thera is an anagram of Earth?”

Cosmos’ skin flushed green and captured some energy from the nearest star.

“See what I mean? You are smart, in some respects. Yes, Thera exists. Thera is Earth but on a different plane of the space-time continuum. The Therans saw the error of their ways in what would have been your ’19th century’—as if all that went before didn’t matter,” Cosmos scoffed.

“They’d built their industries on coal, and a bit of oil and gas—the stuff which popped out of the ground of its own accord. The low-hanging fruit, you might say. They hadn’t split the atom, or trapped their people in a debt-fuelled ‘consumer society’ which couldn’t function without ‘perpetual growth.’ Such strange concepts,” Cosmos mused, “when all life consumes something and nothing is perpetual.”

“And their global population was considerably lower if they lived within ecological boundaries to some extent?” Phil assumed.

“Yes, there were fewer than two billion Therans. But it’s not the absolute number of people that matters, more how much they consume, and whether they work with their environment or against it. Earth only had about two billion people before you started your unquenchable energy binge. Therans have a saying: It’s not that we live, but how we live.”

“OK, nice story but what’s that got to do with me?” Phil asked. “What’s this work you have in mind? To speak to the UN?”

This time the gurgle left Cosmos flushing red.

“No, no. Oh Phil. What you have to do is to build on the few good things that are taking place on Earth, like rewilding the land and the sea. You have to build a network of land workers and teachers who will create rafts of life, connect them and teach people how to live in and from them.”

Cosmos went silent, held a tentacle up. “Sorry, I nearly choked that time. The UN—”

“So, if you’ve not had a report back from Earth for hundreds of years, how do you know about the UN?”

“I’m reading your mind, remember. And I have read other human minds too. There are those among you who, although they have no idea, link with me when they sleep. Trouble is, I can’t communicate back. It needed a physical meeting off Earth—too much noise there. But now I can guide you. I know your mind and as you head back to Earth, I’ll keep the link.”

Phil looked at her ship, looked at Cosmos looking at the ship, then looked back to see it had been repaired.


“Honestly, don’t ask. You have enough to think about. I can’t tell you which of Earth’s species to preserve but choose wisely. Sadly, your pandas are screwed, or not, as the case may be. Without intervention, it will be the generalists that will survive—those who can eat many foods and tolerate many conditions. But those who have a limited diet and stricter habitat requirements—the specialists—it’s those species that weave the intricate web of life. The interplay of specialists gives richness to life. The caterpillar feeding on fresh new leaves just before the young birds hatch. The well-fed salmon coursing up river to spawn and die, bringing precious marine nutrients to the land. The beaver building dams and re-creating wetlands with their multitude of insects. But most important is the microscopic scale of life. The base of the food chain. The builders of soil. The digesters of waste.”

“This all sounds quite rural. Most people live in towns and cities. What about them?” Phil asked.

Cosmos shimmered pearlescent blue, and took a while to answer. “Look, you won’t be able to do everything. That’s why I said you will have to choose wisely and that means deciding what not to do. But in the short term urban areas need to be seen as ecosystems in their own right rather than being separate and distinct from the geology, soils, water and natural habitats they are built upon.”

“Short term?”

“Phil, you’ll work it out as long as you start cooperating with nature and stop trying to control it, stop fighting against it. But no more research! You have all the information you need, and way more besides. Look, just get back to Earth and we’ll communicate again, OK?”

Phil did not want to leave Yaalia 3, not because she didn’t want to return to Earth—Cosmos had rekindled her love for her home planet—but because she didn’t want to leave Cosmos. Cosmos touched her cheek gently.

“Go. You’ll do fine, Phil. Trust me.”

Phil climbed into the craft and could see Cosmos heading back to the caves. She was sad, bemused but also hungry and ate most of her rations while pondering what had just happened. She set the controls for home but before she climbed into the stasis unit, Phil checked the recorder. Nothing but static.

“Aw, shit!”

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