Solaris

Newcomer

At nineteen hundred hours ship’s time I climbed down the metal ladder past the bays on either side into the capsule. Inside, there was just enough room to raise my elbows. After I attached the end of the cables into the port jutting from the side of the capsule, my space suit filled with air and from that point on I couldn’t make the slightest movement. I stood, or rather hung suspended, in a bed of air, all of one piece with my metal shell.

Raising my eyes through the convex porthole I could see the walls of the bay and. higher up, leaning in, Moddard’s face. It quickly disappeared and everything went dark as the heavy protective cone was put in place from above. I heard the eight-times-repeated whirr of the electric motors tightening the screws. Then the hiss of air entering the shock absorbers. My eyes were getting using to the dark. I could already make out the pale green shape of the only gauge.

“Ready, Kelvin?” I heard in my headset.

“Ready, Moddard,” I replied.

“Don’t worry about a thing. The Station’ll bring you in,” he said. “Bon voyage!”

Before I could answer, there was a rasping sound overhead and the capsule shook. I tensed my muscles instinctively, but nothing else happened.

“When do I take off?” I asked, hearing a rustling noise like fine grains of sand falling on a diaphragm.

“You’re already in flight, Kelvin. Be well!” came Moddard’s voice in my ear. Before I believed it, a broad gap opened up in front of my face, through which I could see stars. I tried in vain to spot Alpha Aquarii, towards which the Prometheus was now headed. The sky in this part of the Galaxy meant nothing to me; I didn’t know a single constellation, and all I saw through the porthole was glittering dust. I waited for the stars to start smoking. I didn’t get to see it. They merely began to fade and disappear, dissolving against a reddening background. I realized I was in the upper strata of the atmosphere. Stiff in my cocoon of pneumatic cushions, all I could do was look straight ahead. There was still no horizon. I flew on, not feeling any movement, but slowly and insidiously my body grew hotter and hotter. Outside there arose a soft penetrating twitter like the sound of metal against wet glass. If it weren’t for the numbers flashing on the gauge I wouldn’t have been aware of the speed of my descent. The stars were gone. The porthole was filled with a ruddy-colored brightness. I could hear the heavy beat of my own pulse. My face burned; on my neck I felt cold blowing from the air conditioning. I regretted not having managed to see the Prometheus—it must have been out of sight by the time the porthole automatically opened.

The capsule shuddered once and twice, vibrated in a disagreeable way; the shaking passed through all the layers of insulation and cushions and entered deep into my body. The green face of the gauge grew hazy. I stared at it without being afraid. I hadn’t come all this way only to perish at my destination.

“Come in, Solaris Station,” I said. “Solaris Station. Solaris Station! You need to do something. I think I’m destabilizing. Solaris Station, this is newcomer. Over.”

And once again I’d missed the crucial moment when the planet came into view. It extended vast and flat; from the size of the streaks on its surface I could tell I was still a long way off. Or rather, a long way up, since I’d already passed that intangible boundary where