THE COLD TRUTH • by R. L. Copple

Neil gazed at the blue planet’s horizon displayed on the viewer. Many years ago, another Neil had placed the first human foot on earth’s moon. Now history would record another first by a Neil: entering the atmosphere of the ice-giant Neptune. The ironies of history.

“Neil, are you listening, buddy?”

Neil’s dreams vanished. “Uh, what?”

“I said, have we matched the wind speed yet? Focus, man.”

Neil glanced at the ship’s speed. “Uh, yes, we’ve slowed to match Neptune’s wind speeds. We’re ready to enter.”

“Firing thrusters to descend — ” Simon pushed a button. “Now.”

Neil felt the push of inertia as the ship moved out of orbit. The upper clouds of helium and hydrogen tinted with methane grew in the viewer. A jolt, almost knocking Neil from his seat, reminded him to buckle up. The fastest winds in the solar system bounced the ship around; they reminded Neil of the rapids back home. The ship sank into the current. Soon, the heat of entry gave way to ice crystals. The viewer blurred.

“Neil, you haven’t turned on the external heaters yet. You want us to drop out of the sky like a lead ball?” Simon frowned with narrow eyes.

“Sorry, I don’t know what’s come over me.” Neil pushed a series of buttons. “External heaters, on. Stabilizing wings, extended.”

“Glad I haven’t eaten recently,” Simon said. He smiled, head bobbing with the ship. He leaned back in his chair but then leaned forward again, and stared wide-eyed at the viewer as the ice-crystals melted.

Neil’s attention froze on the viewer. The ship had broken into clear sky. The blue and white clouds rose as a ceiling over them. Clear air dropped for several kilometers to a swirling and raging ocean of liquid. A luminous blue radiated through the ocean and into the atmosphere as if a little star existed at the planet’s core. Perhaps it did.

Neil glanced at Simon. “None of the readings said this was here.”

Simon hit a button. “Neptune 2, come in. Can you read us?” Crackling static answered their hail.

“Now we know why the probes never responded once they entered Neptune’s atmosphere,” Neil said. “The gas-cloud covering the planet blocks radio signals.”

“And radar, and all other wavelengths as well, at least the ones we know of.” Simon peered over the horizon. “Might as well get busy with the test. Daylight’s a burnin’, as they used to say.”

“Daylight? This is planet-light, eternal day.” Neil turned on the cameras and initiated the first scan.

Neil read his display again. No, it couldn’t be. Not here of all places. “Uh, Simon, take a look at these readings.”

Simon stretched his body to see Neil’s display. His eyes widened, “That can’t be right. Must be something wrong with the instruments.”

“What, pray tell, cannot be right?” said a voice from behind them. “That life exists on this planet?”

Neil spun around at the sound of the strange voice. Before them stood a blue creature. He appeared male, but not quite human either. “Who are you and how did you get aboard our ship?”

“Interesting, you invade my planet and you request me to explain my presence?” A smirky smile creased his thin lips. “Rather, I should demand a like explanation from you.”

“Hold on,” Simon said, “if you’re from this planet, how come you can speak English? This has to be someone’s idea of a practical joke. I’ll bet Peter’s behind this.”

Laughter erupted from the blue being. “Truth is, I lived upon Earth, long ago. Then in 1846, the Saint Petersburg Academy of Science landed upon the name of Neptune for this planet. Naturally, the appellation commanded my attention, so I traveled here and discovered all seas and no land, which was greatly to my liking. No competition.”

“What do you mean, ‘naturally’ it commanded your attention?” Neil feared the answer.

“Is it not apparent? I am Neptune, god of the sea.”

“Yeah, and I’m Zeus,” Simon said.

The blue being scrunched his brow. “My, you have changed since our last meeting.”

“Ah, Neptune,” Neil cleared his throat. “If you really are from here, are my readings correct? Is there life on this planet?”

He laughed. “Am I not alive?”

“No, I mean other life, indigenous to this planet. I’m reading the ocean is full of it.”

“Oh yes, and much of it intelligent. But, avoid telling them I said that. I have taught a few English, but alas, few know it. Little use for it here.”

“But how can life exist here?” Simon said. “There’s no oxygen here to breathe, no land to live on, horrible winds and storms, and the pressure under that ocean must be thousands of times greater than Earth’s. What kind of life could exist here?”

Neptune shook his head. “Humans always have been prone to a restricted view. You believe life is only as you experience it. Life is much more persistent.” Neptune stared out the viewer at the sea and pointed to a school of what appeared to be fish, breaking the surface and diving back under. “You have much to learn. It should prove entertaining to watch you make the attempt.”

He then faded into nothingness within seconds.

They stared at each other in stunned silence for a few seconds and then back to the viewer. A creature broke the surface of the ocean and waved an appendage at them.

Neil turned to Simon and pointed at the viewer. “Did that creature just wave at us?”

“This has to be space sickness. Yep, has to be.” Simon wiped his forehead.

Neil gazed out the viewer at the glowing ocean. “Or, it’s another giant leap for mankind.”

R. L. Copple is a father to three children, a husband since 1982 to his wife, Lenita, and  a resident of  the Texas Hill Country. He has written for religious purposes but currently is editing two sci-fi novels. He has been published at A Thousand Faces, The Sword Review, Ray Gun Revival, Haruah, Fear and Trembling, and Dragons, Knights, and Angels. Additionally, his four chapter fantasy novelette Infinite Realities is for sale at and is being serialized at The Sword Review September through December 2007.

Rate this story:
 average 3 stars • 3 reader(s) rated this

Joseph Kaufman