The Vacuum-Tight Suitcase
Excerpts from The Vacuum-Tight Suitcase by K. Joan Durrell
Even though it is just a commercial colony, with no special axes to grind or social experiments to try out, and no special interest in tourism, Aten is a good place for an off-world vacation. I expect they will develop an interest in tourism before long.
The place is a one-face world, and they make the most of this. Most buildings get some of their light and power from the constant sun, and clever architects have made the Atenic lightwell into a minor art form. Since their sun is furnace red, they supplement its light with blue and green lamps and street lighting, lots of them. The place glitters, almost like Las Vegas or Tycho City. Sapphire and emerald pinpoints in a soft sea of red. Scrumptious.
The population is a rich ethnic mix -- French, American Black, Melior, and Indian, with enough bits and pieces of other folk to keep you off balance. These people like to have style, but since their various home styles don't meld easily, they picked another one, based on the planet's name -- Egyptian. So the towns have names like Akhenaten and Memphis and Khartum, and pyramid themes crop up all through the architecture. Sphinxes, mummies, and hieroglyphs haunt the advertizing. If the French and Indians had been left to themselves, I suppose they'd have gotten deadly serious about this Egyptian motif (assuming they hadn't evolved an Indo-French style instead), but the Blacks and Meliors seasoned the pot and Atenics treat style as a game, a public sport.
They use their unchanging sky to good advantage in daily life, too. People work in three different shifts, with lots of exceptions for flextime scheduling and the like. They get a lot done without ever looking or feeling harassed and hustled. Just a steady patter of ceaseless activity, and the understanding that more than half the people at any given time are off-duty, relaxing.
The planetary sport is kite flying. I don't know if Aten copied this from Outback, or vice versa, or neither; it's a very natural pursuit in the steady winds of a one-face world. Common kites of many designs abound, but kites with lights or luminous sails come in a close second. There are giant kites, miniature kites, mini-kites flown in swarms, kites with tiny thrusters on them for steering (though purists consider this cheating), kites rigged out to fight each other, kites rigged out to set altitude records.
All of this gives great scope to the Atenic style-game, too, as you might expect. I've seen the whole Egyptian pantheon drifting in bronze light over a park full of laughing children. And every other motif climbs into the sky, too....
Second only to the kite flying comes hang-gliding. This works best over the desert, where there are everlasting thermals to catch. Many gliders combine sports and have their gliders launched as manned kites.
You can see lots of aliens in the streets, too, Aten being close to the edge of Terran space. If you are headed out into the KSA and have the time to stop for a while in Aten, this is a good place to get your feet wet. Stay at a xeno-hostel instead of a hotel and practice your KaiSenese. Get used to ordering your food in terms of organic chemistry and dining with unfamiliar zoological specimens.
The clocks and calendars all run on Greenwich time. There are no nights or days or seasons to mark the local cycles. All you can see is Horus and Ra, a red spark and an orange one, as they rise, move behind the sun, and set once every few weeks.
If you take an excursion to the twilight countries, you can see stars and planets again. And of course, it gets cooler. Akhenaten and the other big cities lie in a broad semi-tropical zone that covers more than half the daylight hemisphere. In this zone, the prevailing winds are from the noon pole -- out of the sun. This convection cell is driven by two others, the subsolar one at the noon pole and the twilight one at the terminator. Here, the prevailing winds blow the opposite way, and harder, hot air rising as it comes sunward, so that cooler air flows in from the darker regions.
Most of Aten is desert. There are two reasons for this. First, most of the land is gathered into a single mass. Second, the native grasses don't take the heat well and so are limited to the twilight country. In the semi-tropical zone humans prefer, only water reeds and the local water bamboo can grow. All other plants are cacti or herbaceous, with a few palm-like trees at the shores, among the grasses and reeds.
The plants, grass, cactus, and all, are purple. They are all inedible, too. So most Atenic food comes from greenhouse farms or from bio-tech food factories. But you could do worse than a cuisine based on French and Indian. Also, the animal life is edible. The flesh of lacefish and spice-meat beetles is a standard export; the locals also eat a lot of other native meat, mostly shellfish and arthropods.
The seas of Aten are dotted with vast mats of weed, like Earth's Sargasso Sea, only purple and more widespread. They are so common, Atenic boats are almost all skimmers of one sort or another, supported by outriggers, air-skirts, or anti-grav, and equipped with laminar hulls; otherwise, they'd spend too much time churning through the weed.
The shores often bear wood-reefs. These are submarine forests. The individual plants are thick and made of dense wood that does not float. These plants have elected to defy the waves and currents, instead of bend with them like the other vegetation in Aten's seas and Earth's. And they do a pretty good job of it. After all, Aten has no tides and very constant weather. Wave action is a lot gentler than on Earth, and the currents less variable.
The plants of the wood-reefs don't look very tree-like, though. They truly resemble corals more, though they sprout leaves all over. They grow and reproduce by runners, making each reef a Gordian knot of intertwined growth.
The famous lacefish, if you've never seen one alive, look like a long tube of loose weave, the threads being finger-thick and covered with white or beige velvet. The creature is a filter feeder, and a lot more like an Earthly salp than a fish. It isn't remotely vertebrate, and barely has a nervous system. They can reach four or five meters in length, but the commercially fished ones are usually half a meter long. I have been unable to discover why anyone first tried to eat a lacefish, but they *are* good in mint sauce.
The "scarabs" and "beetles" are really vertebrates and built more like turtles than beetles. It's the broad, neckless head that gives the bug-like look.
There are no real bugs on Aten, no arthropods. So vertebrates occupy the bug niches. They don't get much bigger than bugs, either, because they have a passive tracheal respiratory system. The football-sized meat scarabs are the very biggest known.
All the little vertebrates are four-limbed. Fliers are nano-pterodactyls or nano-bats. Many are the size of flies or mosquitoes, and have transparent wings and hair-thin legs, but they are still vertebrates. None of these mini-beasts are warm-blooded, because of their small size and because of Aten's constant temperatures, but many of them still have fur. Notable mini-vertebrates include:
The other major land "animals" are the spongiforms, usually just called "sponges." They are organized as simply as Terran sponges, but they live in dry air and move immensely faster -- about three times as fast as a starfish. So they aren't *quite* stationary to the human eye, but watching them is up there with watching paint dry.
Like plants or bacteria, they have an impressive array of chemical tricks, so that they could be real trouble despite their slowness. Especially since the largest weigh over a ton and cover over a dozen square meters. Fortunately, they are repelled by the UV lamps the settlers use around their homes and greenhouses.
The sponges come in a huge variety of colors and texture. They are all amorphous and don't have organs or shapes, just "habits" like minerals or amoebae. These are used to classify them. There are:
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.