Dana checked the seal on Greg’s helmet.
“The first step is yours,” said Greg.
Dana released the airlock door and sat in the first conveyer seat, which took her smoothly to the planet surface, a landscape of blues and oranges covering a creamy beige that defied her eyes to make sense of it.
She stepped onto the spongy ground and couldn’t help bouncing lightly without lifting her feet. The first thing she noticed as she kicked at one of them is that most of the bluish formations they thought to be rocks were actually rubbery flaps that grew from the ground and folded in upon themselves. They didn’t move on their own, so she had no idea if it was life-form or mineral phenomenon.
Greg stepped next to her. “This one’s different,” he said. “The planet’s perfectly still. I don’t know what’s dead and what’s alive.”
Dana separated the all-terrain sample cart from the ramp and, knife in hand, grabbed a container. She cut one of the blue flaps out of the ground, the beige surface breaking like brittle, uncooked pasta, then stuffed it inside the box, sealing it automatically and placing it back in the cart. No internal fluid oozed out, even at the ‘root’ where she cut the flap.
They walked toward the brilliant orange formations that looked like coral. They were almost as tall as the visitors from earth. The knife went through the thing easily, but again no fluid, sap or blood.
“I’m betting none of this is alive,” said Greg.
“I’ll take that bet,” said Dana. “It’s too interesting for something not to be alive here.”
They reached the limit of their perimeter and started around, spreading apart and negotiating dips in the surface. Covering a lot of ground were narrow seashell-like structures about the size of a banana, orange streaked with blue. It was the first sample where the colors mixed. Dana picked up a couple and saw a flit of green withdraw under another. Her heart beat faster.
“Greg,” she called him over. “There’s something moving here.” She was going to say ‘alive,’ but she’d been fooled before. “Help me.” She pointed at the area under which it disappeared.
Both of them scooped up a bunch of the shells and threw them aside, uncovering a number of blue and green circles spiraling around and darting under more shells.
“Hah,” said Greg. “I think you won.”
The creatures were disk-shaped, blue in the center and green around the outside, a bunch of smaller blue-green disks sticking out all the way around its edge that seemed to provide locomotion.
“Some of them are joining together,” said Greg.
“I know, I see a bunch of clusters now.”
They chased them for a few minutes, trying to collect one in a specimen container, but several dozen darted out of the shells and surrounded Dana’s boot, climbing onto her suit. She backed up and tripped.
“Greg, I may need some help here.”
She pulled the creatures off and threw them on the ground, but they kept coming, now swarming up her side.
“Oh, shit,” said Greg. “Don’t panic. It doesn’t look like they’re getting into your suit.” They both continuously pulled them off, but they came too fast.
“Why aren’t they touching you?” asked Dana.
“They’re like me—they prefer girls.” Dana pulled at them furiously, but they interlocked their tiny outer circles forming a contiguous layer over her suit.
“This isn’t working,” said Greg. “Let’s get you on the ramp. We’ll elevate it so the ones we pull off can’t crawl back up.”
“Okay,” said Dana. “Hurry. They’ve covered most of my helmet.”
They ran toward the ship. The creatures didn’t hinder Dana’s movement at all, so they reached it quickly, but by the time Greg had the ramp elevated, Dana was completely covered. Couldn’t see a thing.
“Shit,” he said. “I’m going to lift you up.” But before he grabbed her, all of the creatures fell away and scrambled over the ground several yards away.
“Huh,” said Dana. “I guess they gave up. Just when I thought I’d get a good freak out.”
“Hard luck,” he said. “Look at ‘em though. They’re doing something.”
They watched a few minutes as the creatures climbed on top of each other, interlocking and expanding into a pillar which soon split into two joined at the top. Before long Dana gasped and Greg’s jaw dropped.
“Whoa,” he said. “They’re forming into a human.”
“They’re forming into me,” said Dana. “Look at the size and shape.”
“You’re right,” he said. “Wait until the others see the vid on this thing.”
Once it was fully formed, a blue and green shell that vaguely resembled a human being, it began to walk toward them, stopping occasionally to make motions like it was cutting samples.
“It’s remembering the way you moved,” said Greg.
“More than that,” said Dana in a thin, breathy voice. “They’re mimicking my movement before they ever touched me.”
“Holy cow, you’re right,” he said. “That means…”
“Yeah,” she said. “They’re deliberately showing us they’re intelligent.”
“Well, it sure beats blinking lights and hand signals,” Greg said.
Dana scoffed. “Why does everyone still think that’s funny?”