Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Gregori Milankovitch relaxed in his folding camp chair, admiring the dull red sun as it skimmed along the cloudless horizon. “What a beautiful sunset,” he casually remarked.

“Why do you insist on calling it a sunset?” snapped Mrs. Milankovitch. “The sun never sets up here. It just races around the horizon every thirty-eight minutes. It makes me dizzy. I’m beginning to hate this planet. I vote we head back to base. There’s nothing up here but rocks.”

“That’s not true, dear. We found fish skeletons earlier today, and the nearest source of water is over 200 kilometers away. How do you purpose we explain that conundrum to Tom? This planet doesn’t have tectonic plates to raise a continent from the sea floor.”

“Maybe a tsunami,” she suggested. “This spinning top of a planet must have some quirky geology.”

“We’ve had seismographs on Alpha Adhemar for over a decade. The planet is dead. No earthquakes, no volcanoes, no nothing. It’s just a solid rock covered by a vast ocean.”

“Except for this content,” she countered, in an attempt to gain some advantage in the argument.

“Well, sure. But that’s because we’re at the geographic North Pole. If we were further south, we’d be a thousand meters beneath the twenty kilometer oceanic equatorial budge like all the other mountain tops.”

Returning to the fish debate, she offered, “How about a tsunami created by a comet or asteroid impact?”

“Oh, pleeeease. Did you forget about Beta Adhemar,” he replied, pointing toward the bright ‘star’ on the horizon opposite the sun.

“What about it?”

“It’s a super gas giant locked in orbital resonance with Alpha Adhemar. Every twenty-two years, its highly elliptical orbit brings it to perihelion such that it lines up with Alpha Adhemar’s aphelion. If there were any Apollo objects crossing Alpha?s orbit, Beta would have vacuumed them up eons ago. Give it up, Khristina. We need to stay here until we can figure out how these fish managed to walk hundreds of kilometers.”

“Maybe they are flying fis?” Khristina came to an abrupt stop when the sun dipped below the horizon. “What the hell just happened? Why did the sun set?”

“Oh my God,” exclaimed Gregori as his heart started pounding when he realized the implications, “the planet’s axis must be tipping over. Beta must have destabilized us. Quick, into the TRAM. We need to get back to the base before the sea reaches the assent vehicle.”

More than halfway to base, they received a garbled message that the rising tide was approaching fast, and they couldn’t wait another rotation. Tom started to say something else, but the transmission was lost. Twenty minutes later, Khristina and Gregori watched helplessly as a vertical contrail split the sky.

“There goes our ride,” remarked Gregori as he brought the TRAM to a stop. But along the horizon, he could see a column of dust being kicked up by a vehicle heading their way.

Ten minutes later, a second TRAM towing a trailer pulled alongside. Tony Salvataggio smiled, “Someone call for an ark?” he asked as he indicated the four person Ocean Explorer resting in the trailer’s cradle. “Space Search and Rescue said they’d have an Ocean Lander here in about six months. Well, don’t just sit there looking dumbfounded, climb aboard, we only have another hour before this rock becomes an undersea plateau.”


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