Author : Willis Weatherford

The piercing rays of a fiery star filtered through thickly opaque clouds to light Gerder’s face with a rosy hue: his first dawn on NovaTerra. As he peered through the narrow hatch of Probe Alpha 7, allowing his eyes to adjust to the relative brightness, a few motes of dust floated in and landed on the clear face-piece of his helmet. Dust. For the past two weeks, the filtration system of the Probe had eliminated all of it, and seeing it now made him strangely glad. “I’m alive”, he thought.

He pulled himself fully out of the probe, boots landing heavily on some gritty yellow stuff. It stretched away in static, parallel ridges, staccato interruptions between Gerder and the behemoth dominating the horizon: a jagged tooth of what looked like grey metal soaring towards the swirling canopy of cloud.

The urge to explore suddenly overwhelmed him. Gerder knew he was supposed to begin by taking samples and processing them in the probe’s lab, but just now he felt more like Ernest Shackleton than Louis Pasteur. He was the first man on a new planet, the first habitable planet man had ever visited; mission guidelines be damned, he was going to climb a mountain!

Cautiously, he cracked the seal on his helmet. A tendril of warm air made its way into his mouth and he hesitantly pulled it into his lungs. It tasted good, and the slightly higher oxygen content immediately made itself evident. He felt alive! Taking off the rest of the suit, Gerder stood naked in the light of dawn and laughed.

Gerder found the yellow grit felt like a soft, fine sand on his feet. A steady wind, strong but not violent, tousled his hair. Running a few steps, the past fourteen days of electrotherapy inside the probe and the lower gravity of NovaTerra allowed him to feel as fit as ever. The old competitive spirit of 5K races back on earth rose up as he took off towards the mountain.

A few minutes of fleet footfalls later, he placed a trembling palm on the grey flank of the mountain, and looked up. Cracks split the towering face. His toes found purchase on the gritty rock, fingers locked into a crack, and he pulled himself up onto the rock. Casting a glance over his shoulder, he saw the probe sitting where he had left it, and its presence reassured him. He could always go back down. “I’m alive, and I can do this!” Days of confinement within in the probe lent resolve to his limbs, and he began to climb.

As he moved higher up the side of the alpine objective, thoughts marched in line through his head, clamoring for his notice. “This is impossible”. “ No one has ever climbed this.” “No one else has even seen this.” The militant thoughts made him feel lonely and small, but hardened his resolve to reach the top. Hand, hand, foot, crimp the crack, jam a knee into the wide spot and push up. Finally, elbows and fingers oozing red life onto the blank rock, Gerder found there was no higher place to go: he was on the summit.

Once again, he laughed. The rushing wind blew over him, and Gerder felt himself a Titan. “That’s what I’ll name you, mountain!” he hollered, victory and gladness rising in his chest, “Titan! And I climbed you first!”. TerraNova stretched out below, awaiting his exploration, and Gerder was alive.

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