March 4, 2044
The Day that Changed the World

Samantha on Planet Mercury

© Copyright by Fritz Reichert

She was quite excited when she exclaimed: “Tao, look, something is moving over there!”

Her voice trembled a bit. This girl felt a little anxious within this stony desert. Boulders everywhere. Here and there craters, some were small, others quite wide.

“Where do you see something moving, sir? I don’t notice anything in movement.”

“Well, over there!” She pointed towards the horizon. “Over there, at the foot of this slope!” Angrily she stamped on the ground. “You shouldn’t look to the horizon but closer, to that long stretching slope! Something is moving over there. Oh, now it disappeared. I can’t see it anymore. Oh, you idiot, you never notice anything!”

The girl was really angry with Tao for not having seen what she just experienced. Outraged she said, “Besides, I told you often enough, don’t call me ‘sir’! I am a girl! And I’m already twelve years old and my name is Samantha. I’m not a ‘sir’!” She tried to imitate Tao’s harsh voice when she said ‘sir’.

“And I’m an android. I can only say what I am programmed for, sir.”

She didn’t notice his words as she had seen this ‘something’ again. Samantha cried out: “Hey! Look, it’s jumping like a kangaroo!”

“Sir, there can’t exist a kangaroo on this planet Mercury. It couldn’t survive. Here’s no tree, no bush, no single blade of grass which it could nibble at.”

“Believe it or not, stupid! There is a kangaroo jumping in front of that mile-long hill, just behind that big rock. Oh, now it disappeared again.”

“I can’t see a kangaroo, sir. Though, I saw a bird high above the rock you pointed at.”

“Oh, you are so dumb. If a kangaroo cannot find anything to eat here, how should a bird survive? Hey? And further more; a bird needs air to fly. On this planet there’s no air. That’s why it is a kangaroo!”

After a while she added: “What you took for a bird, that’s my kangaroo jumping high above the ground.”

“That is quite possible, sir. The gravitational force of planet Mercury is only a third of Earth’s. Thus, you can jump three times as high.”

Triumphantly Samantha replied: “As I told you, stupid. It’s a kangaroo.”

“It doesn't matter if it is a bird or a kangaroo, it is approaching us, sir. We need to find a hiding place so this unknown animal doesn't harm us,” Tao said.

“O. K. let’s hide in this crater.”

Sliding down the slope of the crater Samantha’s courage decreased. The warmth of her doggie in her arms reminded her at the responsibility she had for Luke. She asked Tao: “Do you think it has seen us?”

“Well, it went in our direction, sir.”

“Maybe it will feed on us. What do you guess?”

“No reason to be afraid of, sir. I will protect you.”

“And also my sweet doggie?”

“Sure, your Luke as well.”

In this moment something stood on the rim of the crater looking towards Samantha and Tao who were crouching down there.

“Hail, you all! What are you doing there?”

Tao whispered: “The bird can speak.”

“That’s no bird!”

“But look at the shoes, sir. The slippers have wings.”

“Well, that’s still no bird, Tao. It looks rather like a human being.”

Suddenly Samantha started giggling. “Look, what a funny cap it wears!” She laughed out loud: “This cap also has wings as the slippers have. Hehehe!”

“What are you doing down there?” the thing asked again.

"Hiding from you. Who are you?" Samantha tried to sound confident without showing her fear as she didn't know if that thing heard that she was making fun of the slippers.

“I am the God Mercury of ancient Greece and Rome. I’m the owner of this planet. I’m the famous flying messenger of the great God Jupiter. I’m also the protector of travellers. You don't have to be afraid and hide. Come up to me!”

Tao whispered: “Be cautious, sir! Gods are always dangerous.”

But Samantha climbed up the hill. Luke was the first up there. Tao followed them after some hesitation. When she stood in front of Mercury she gained her confidence back and still being out of breath, she said: “Hi, Mr. Mercury. My name is Samantha. This is my doggie Luke and that’s my friend Tao. It’s an android."

"What's an android?" Mercury asked.

"Oh, do you speak Greek?”

“Of course, I do,” Mercury replied a little embarrassed about this question. Though not being quite tall, this God seemingly tiptoeing to appear taller started to brag: “The ancient Greeks gave me even two names. When they saw me in the morning before sunrise they called me Apollon, when they spied me after sunset they named me Hermes. But I prefer the name Mercury, that's how the ancient Romans called me. But tell me, Samantha, why do you ask, if I can speak Greek?”

“To tell you what an android is, mister. The Greek word ‘andros’ means man or human being; and the word-ending ‘oid’ stands for similar. So, my friend Tao is similar to a human being.”

“I thought, beings similar to humans are apes, such as gorillas or chimpanzees?”, the God exclaimed.

“Oh, no,” Samantha laughed. “Tao isn’t made of flesh and blood. It’s made out of iron and silicon.”

“I see, I see”, Mercury murmured. “They want to buy iron or silicon from me,” he was sure. Loud he said: “The core of my planet consists of iron and nickel. This core is larger than your moon. I can make a real good price. How much iron do you want to buy?”

Samantha was quite astonished to be taken for a trader. But before she could say something, Mercury continued:

“You should know, Samantha, I’m also the protector of merchants. You shouldn’t fear that I will overcharg you. Tell me, how much iron do you need?”

“Be cautious, sir!” Tao whispered. “He is the fellow of all merchants, even those who are not trustworthy.”

Looking at this winged God Samantha couldn’t help to smile. She said: “No, Mr. Mercury, we don’t need any iron.”

“I see, I see,” Mercury insisted. “I’ll make a real good price for you.”

Firmly Samantha replied: “I already said, we don’t need any iron.”

“What about silicon?” Mercury asked. “I’ll give you an unbeatable good price.” He spoke with the kindest voice a God could use. “I mean for you, Samantha, especially for you I won’t make any money out of this deal.”

“No, thank you,” Samantha got annoyed as Mercury's voice got even more tender to seduce her to buy some of his resources.

“You can trust me, little Samantha!”

“As I said, we don’t need anything. And I’m not a trader. I’m just a girl!”

She spoke so convincingly that Mercury, quite disappointed, got angry. “Why then, why did you come to my planet if you don’t want to buy anything?”

“I came to learn more about it,” Samantha said with a winning smile.

“What?” Mercury shouted embittered from frustration. “You came to know this planet? What do I get?” His face puffed up: “How dare you to come to my planet without permission?” He hit on an idea: “You have to pay an entrance fee for looking around.”

Samantha was quite shocked. Low-spirited she said: “I have no money to pay any entrance fee.”

Mercury felt confident about his victory but he pretended to be furious. “What,” he shouted. “You got no money and you dare to come to my planet?” Turning his voice to be smooth, he continued: “I see you’ve got a nice little dog. For the entrance fee you have to give me that dog.”

Samantha was furious as never before in her life. “No,” she shouted. “No, never ever I’ll give away my doggie! Never!” Her face turned red with anger and disappointment.

“Tell him,” Tao whispered, “tell him that our spacecraft ‘Messenger’ will seek orbiting Mercury from 2008 on, and thereafter spacecraft BepoColombo will arrive here.”

“O. K.” Samantha responded to Tao and turned her head toward Mercury. “More spacecrafts will arrive here soon, Mr. Mercury. They will check what people on earth could use from here.”

“We cannot take something with us,” Tao supported Samantha. But this smart android new how to make Mercury stop arguing: “Maybe these spacecrafts carry gifts for you which would please you,” he said insidiously.

“We are just travellers, looking around. You should help us!” Samantha added when she saw that Mercury was evaluating his options.

“Well, I’ll show you around. But this dog has to stay her!”

“Why that?” Samantha asked. “She will die of fear without me, right doggie? Look, Mercury, how happy she is, wagging her tail. Oh, I love my sweet Luke!”

With a threatening voice Mercury exclaimed: “Do you know that I should put you in prison for illegally entering my planet? I could abandon you or put you in exile in any a crater of my numerous mile-long slopes. Even better, I could make you live miserable lives in one of the deep craters at my poles. The sun will never shine there. You will tremble with cold.”

“Oh, I don’t mind cold!” The longer Samantha looked at this God the more she felt amused about Mercury’s dress and his winged shoes and hat. This gave her security to say: “I heard water should be in these deep craters. Hey, Tao we could throw snowballs to each other and we could go ice-skating. That’s not so bad, Mr. Mercury.” Samantha pretended to be bored. “If you ban us in one of these craters we cannot tell the arriving spacecrafts to give presents to you. They will deliver the presents at some other planet and buy stuff over there.”

Tao whispered at Samantha. “You should take his threats seriously, sir. He is a God after all!”

“O. K. It's only for a short time that I'll leave Luke here.”

Samantha turned to Mercury. “I’ll leave my doggie here at this crater and you show us around so we can find out what’s so special on your planet. That's why I have come here.”

“Well, that’s fine with me,” Mercury replied after a while.

Samantha didn't see this demanding look he threw at Luke. She turned to her doggie caressing her: “You have to stay here until I’ll be back. Don’t run away! Promise?”

Luke wagged her tail which meant that she understood her mistress.

“Let’s go,” Mercury said. "You already saw these mile-long slopes. So we will hurry to …”

“Oh no,” Samantha interrupted the God. “Hold, not so fast! These slopes stretch miles and miles but they’re only about 6.000 ft. high. Nothing is higher on this planet. How did these slopes appear, Mr. God?”

“I don’t know that! It was certainly before my time. I’ve heard the surface had been liquid four billion years ago. Thereafter the planet cooled off. Like an apple getting old, the surface shrunk. That’s probably how these long slopes developed.”

“But look, the slopes have a steep and a rather flat side. A wrinkled apple looks on both sides the same,” Samantha argued. “Why that?”

Mercury got embarrassed. “I don’t know. I told you, this was before my time.”

“Mr. Mercury,” Samantha turned to the God. “I have the feeling you are unwilling to give us complete information about your planet. You said you are a God of ancient Romans. They spoke Latin and even nowadays we use the word 'rupes' instead of slopes. As a Roman God you should be able to speak Latin!”

“Shut up! I told you, I don’t know that.” Mercury got really mad.

“If you make him angry,” Tao whispered, “we will come to a bad end on our visit to sun’s closest planet, sir.”

Samantha turned to Mercury again. “I didn’t mean to offend you, mister. Will you lead us to some ‘mare’ now?

“Certainly. Over there is a ‘mare’. You know it from your moon,” Mercury said.

Disappointedly Samantha pointed at this ‘mare’: "Why does this mare look so bright?”

Mercury felt annoyed: “I don’t know. I’m the god of merchants and not of chemists or astrophysicists.”

“Tao, I think he really is quite dumb,” Samantha whispered turning to Tao.

“I read a theory about the Mercurian mare,” Tao said aloud. “Mares on the moon and on this planet came into being by impacts of large meteors. The craters they produced were filled with lava. The lava here on Mercury has less iron instead of silicon. So it looks brighter.”

Turning to Mercury Samantha said: “By the way, Mr. God, such a low plain on this planet isn’t called mare but ‘planitia’. You should know this word, it’s Latin.”

“Who cares!” Impatiently Mercury moved on. “Let’s go to some special low plain or mare or planitia as you call it. It’s the Caloris Planitia. I can tell you,” Mercury continued with a trait of having head and shoulders above them all, “that the impact of a meteor 60 miles in diameter made this planitia.”

“What’s so special with it? It’s large, indeed. There are ring-shaped elevations in it, so what?” Samantha asked.

“Most exciting is the region exactly opposite of this planitia. It is in a state of complete chaos. All is in confusion at this opposite side. Craters, slopes, and hills are in total disorder. I believe you would feel home if you would see it. In a certain way it looks like the room of a twelve year old chick. Aren’t you twelve years of age?”

Sulkily Samantha returned: “I’m not here to be told to straighten up my room. My parents are telling me too often about a mess in my room, though I cannot realize any confusion.”

“Don’t ask him why this opposite side is a chaos, sir. He wouldn’t know it and certainly he will get mad again,” Tao whispered.

“Who knows why this region is in disorder?” smart Samantha asked.

“I do, sir,” Tao continued on this cue. “The debris came into being by that impact. Material was pressed and a wave of pressure rushed through the planet until it arrived at the opposite side. It could not go any further. And thus it produced destruction similar to a disastrous earthquake.”

“Hey”, Mercury proposed insidiously. “Let’s go to the opposite side. You will not see too much as it is night over there right now.”

“So let’s wait until the sun gives light,” Samantha replied.

“This would take almost 44 days, kid. My planet needs 88 days for one rotation.”

“Oh, how boring this Mercury is,” Samantha said to Tao, who understood that she meant the God and not the slow rotation of the planet.

“By the way, how many earth-days is a year on this planet?” Samantha asked.

“I must say, it is a little difficult to answer this question, Samantha. I can tell you that 176 earth-days will pass until the sun rises again at the same place.”

“That’s a plain answer. Thank you, Mr. Mercury.”

“Sir, indeed it’s a bit more complicated,” Tao sighed.

“Well, you may keep on whispering to each other, while I hurry to get you some special rubble from the opposite side. Just stay here and keep talking to each other!”

“You are really helpful, Mr. Mercury, but we can do without this material.”

“No, dear Samantha. You just need to see these stones. It will not take long. I am the fastest among all planets. You stay here and converse as much as you desire and I’ll be back soon.”

“Oh no, we appreciate your help, Mr. Mercury, but I believe, wait, Mr. God, we believe you. There is a great chaos, hey!”

“Tao, look, doesn’t he jump like a kangaroo?”

“I rather think he moves like a bird, sir. Let me continue about the Mercurian year: There is a 3:2 spin-orbit resonance."

"Oh, you are so damn smart. But this spin-orbit resonance doesn't tell me anything. Better tell me in plain words what it means."

"This means, while the planet orbits the sun two times, it rotates three times around its axis. Two Mercurian years are as long as three Mercurian days.”

"I get this. Why have you been so difficult before?"

Tao didn't reply on this. Minutes passed until Samantha said: “Tao, tell me, why we should wait here until the God returns from the opposite side?”

“Maybe he isn’t picking up stones from the opposite side at all,” Tao hit on an idea.

“Where else should he go?”

“Among others, Mercury is also the patron of thieves, sir. A story says that shortly after his birth he stole cattle from his brother Apollon. Then he returnedinto his cradle to prove that this baby could not have done this misdeed. Thereafter his father, the God Jupiter, called his kid to account. Doing so, slim Mercury succeeded to steel the golden arrows of Apollon.”

“Do you want to tell me, he is going to steal something while we are waiting her? What else could he steal? He owns everything on this planet. And we don’t have anything precious. Except … Oh no! My doggie. Let’s hurry back to the crater where we left little Luke.”

“With this God nothing is impossible, sir,” Tao said.

When they arrived at the crater they had left before Luke couldn’t be seen. Samantha shouted loud for her. Suddenly she could made out her barking. She ran to rescue her doggie from some unknown evil. When Luke saw her she jumped into Samantha’s arms, enthusiastically licking Samanthas face.

Samantha heard a noise behind a boulder. She went to see what's up. She saw the God Mercury behind it.

“Hey, Mr. Mercury, how do you look?” she started giggling. “There are scratches on your face; your beautiful dress has a long rent over there.” Now Samantha laughed out aloud. “Oh, your funny cap with those wings, here it lies, torn to pieces and I assume, it's wet with pee.”

“Girl, don’t ask me who did this. Didn’t you know that this planet is off limits for dogs? By Jove, this dog has to leave this planet at once. I was just trying to hug it and it jumped into my face and tore my garment and even peed on my beautiful hat,” he said whiningly.

“Didn’t you intend to fetch some precious stones for us from the other side of this planet?” Samantha asked.

“Well, well, I, I thought you didn’t want to have them anyway,” Mercury stammered.

“And so you tried to steal my sweet doggie.” Samantha was excited realizing the danger in which her Luke had been. “Shame on you, Mr. God. Shame on you!”

“I told you already, this planet is strictly off limits for dogs, especially if they are named Luke.” Mercury was mad. “If you do not want to buy anything, so get lost with your dog. Go to planet Volcano or any other one, but get lost here from my planet.”

“What did you say? Planet Volcano? I don’t know a planet with this name,” Samantha said.

You do not know planet Volcano? But you believe in the doctrine of Isaac Newton, don’t you? According his findings all planets orbit the sun in ellipses.”

“And this is true, isn’t it?” Samantha asked.

“It applies to all other planets, but not to my planet." Again this God seemed tiptoeing to appear larger. "My planet orbits the sun in a kind of a rosette,” he exclaimed.

“Sir,” Tao whispered, “he wants to say, that the closest point in Mercury’s orbit around the sun changes its position a little bit. So it takes 225.000 years until it reaches the same point again.”

“You can speak loud, man of iron and silicon”, Mercury said. “I can hear you even when you are speaking softly. And when you are talking about the closest point to the sun you can use the proper word ‘peri-hel’. This brat that came with you pretends to know Greek. She will tell you that ‘peri’ means close and ‘hel’ stands for sun.”

“But what has this all to do with planet Volcano?” Samantha asked.

“Your smart physicist Newton guessed that a planet between my orbit and the sun must exist to let me orbit the sun in this unique way.”

“That’s true,” Tao said. “Years after Newton published his theory, his followers named this planet Volcano, but never it was seen. We know by now, that planet Volcano doesn’t exist.”

“And you, the God to help travellers, you send us to this not existing planet Volcano? Fie on you, Mr. God. Probably you love the word volcano, because there isn’t a single one on your planet!”

“It isn’t my fault,” Mercury interrupted her. “There are no plates on my planet swimming on liquid magma as on earth. Thus volcanoes cannot exist here.”

“And apparently you even haven’t heard anything about Albert Einstein,” Samantha said.

“That’s a good idea, sir, to name Einstein,” Tao added. “He easily explained with the theory of relativity why Mercury doesn’t orbit the sun in an elliptical orbit but in one that is a rosette.”

“Yeah, Mr. Mercury! You do not help travellers and you are dumb for not knowing anything about Albert Einstein,” Samantha shouted.

“By all the gods of ancient Greece and Rome! Hence, away! Go to planet Volcano, and your dog may bite Volcano and scratch his face. But leave my planet!”

“What do you say? Your planet? This planet is probably a moon of the beautiful planet Venus!” Samantha had heard about this hypothesis. She was too exited to leave it for herself. And Tao knew the details:

“Well, the moon of Venus was drawn away by you fellow, the god of the sun, Helios.”

“And what can be seen on this former moon of Venus? No nothing is here but stones, craters, rubble and boulders. No reason to be proud about this tiny planet, mister!”

“By Jove! Jupiter, father! Help me against this brat! At first she insists asking about mare she calls planitia, then she makes her dog attack me and scratch my face and ruin my precious garment, and now she pretends that this isn’t my planet but a moon of my sister Venus. And she even brags that someone named Einstein proved that Volcano doesn’t exist!”

“You have no reason to complain, Mr. Mercury. You’re talking about a planet Volcano which doesn’t exist. Haha, probably you watched some movies with the Volcanian Mr. Spock. That’s all fancy, mister, not reality.”

“Jupiter, father, I call all the gods from the Olympus mountain! Help me against this brat, against her companion made of iron and silicon and against this wooly dog Luke. Get them away from here.”

“Mr. Mercury, we are pleased to leave you, but not for Volcano but for beautiful Venus whose moon you stole.”