by Laura L. Hill
©2009 Laura L. Hill

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Field Report: Aurellia, Farsus Minor, March, A.D. 3039

   Under a cloudless green sky the golden furred burial mounds cast umbræ and penumbræ in a disconcerting triplicate as the first of three suns prepare to dip below the horizon. Aurellia, the only habitable planet of the Farsus Minor System, is blanketed in a dense canopy of fine-leaved gold vegetation which ensures perpetual twilight. Uniform in species and color, the anthropologist assumes that the vegetation protects the scant moisture found on the planet, feeding on the minerals they will eventually decay back to in the manner of vegetation on most planets. The burial mounds are extraordinary.

Where is the wondrous
Metronome that mentors the
Cosmic carillon?

   The anthropologist is privileged to observe part of the Aurellians most unique funerary customs, if ‘funerary’ is actually the correct term to apply here. Situated a short distance from each small village, some burial grounds are larger in population than their allied village. The three-metre-tall simian-seeming inhabitants approach the mound in pairs only, (probably mated couples) and never in groups, as the suns began to set.
   One day, one of these couples approach the burial ground within view of the anthropologist’s well-concealed blind. They briefly pause to place their heads together and turn to stare in the direction of the resident anthropologist before they enter the unfenced burial ground together. Their elongated tri-plex shadows fan behind them as they walk through the burial ground. Following an apparently random course as they wend their way between the two-metre-high and one-metre-wide burial mounds, they look once more towards the blind. They then kneel in a three-way embrace until their golden fur and shadows appear to meld with those of the burial mound. The golden orb of the first sun slips below the horizon.
   In the shadow of the mound, it is impossible to see if the couple has somehow entered the structure, which is now indistinguishable from the surrounding mounds. The anthropologist is grateful to have maintained a camera focused on the correct burial mound. Inactivity leads to frustration, which leads to fidgeting, an unevolved human response. Diligently recording ‘No movement’ every 360 seconds zealously counted from a 19th Century Terran pocket watch in a dog-eared hand written notebook fills too little of the anthropologist’s time. The light outside the blind’s enclosing foliage dims as the third sun approached the low hills on the horizon.
   The green sky darkens to emerald as Aurellia begins another twilight night. The anthropologist’s mood also darkens as the simian couple are observed off-camera walking hand in hand from out of the burial ground. The slightly smaller ‘female’ rests ‘her’ other hand around ‘her’ lower belly. Prohibitions on interference temporarily thwart the anthropologist from further detailed medical testing.

Once termites built homes,
Mud engineered spectacles
Stand in arid plains.

   The anthropologist has observed no water on Aurellia; its undulating terrain clothed in gold hued vegetation baked by the daily passage of three suns is unrelieved by oceans, seas, lakes, rivers; not even brooks or ponds have been recorded by any previous satellite observation! The green sky is always clear of clouds and neither mist nor fog ever forms even during a twilight night. Due to the remarkably low eccentricity of Aurellia’s orbit, and its nonexistent axial tilt, the planet’s temperature remains consistent year round with only minor variation between daylight and twilight. There have been no observed earthquakes, blizzards, cyclones, hurricanes or tornadoes on Aurellia. The faintest of breezes caresses the transitions from daylight to twilight to daylight. Aurellia, Farsus Minor, is thus unique in the universe.

The heavens bombard Earth through
Holes rent at the poles.

   The anthropologist, recognizing the importance of the environment to the various cultures of the universe, keeps a daily weather log (with very little recorded each day) in addition to the observation log of Aurellia’s simian residents. It is while perched in a blind waiting for a golden haired simian couple to visit the burial ground adjacent to their village that the anthropologist decides to alleviate the boredom of waiting by determining what the soil and rock structure of the planet is like. In order to do that, it is necessary to dig a hole in the mat of vegetation that carpets the ground.
   Whilst so employed, the anthropologist makes two observations. Firstly, that there appears to be no demarcation between the higher brush-like gold foliage and the ground cover; the rough golden stems merge with no breakable connection with their evident leaves or the tangled mat of ground cover. Secondly, the vegetation that had been soft and pliable is now stiff, coarse, and unbreakable. It is absolutely impossible for the anthropologist to move the vegetation aside to examine the soil of Aurellia, so densely do the gold plants knit together. The anthropologist can never extend a claim to be a botanist—indeed, the anthropologist fully acknowledges an amateur level of expertise in his ostensible primary field—and therefore can only record the degree of perplexity which has been engendered by this remarkable vegetation.
   As a layman botanist, the anthropologist now attempts to collect samples for it is readily observable that this was the same vegetation that cloaked the burial mounds (and as such is allowable by the terms of his permit.) As with the attempt to dig a hole, however, no effort at pulling, tearing, twisting and even cutting with an antique pocket knife has any effect on the vegetation at all. Whilst engrossed in this futile exercise, the anthropologist fails to hear the approach of a sextet of simian males.
   That omission leads to the anthropologist cowering under the snarling visage of the lead ‘male’, acutely conscious of the full metre of difference in their respective heights. The simian’s eyes have irises as green as the sky with pupils narrowed to gold pin pricks; the simian face has great, wide nostrils flaring yellow above a large open mouth, with gums and teeth of a similar yellow hue fully exposed in a ferocious snarl. The only other fleeting observations that the anthropologist is able to make before fleeing from the blind is that golden hair covers every surface of the simian, even the palms of the great hands, which have no nails or claws and that the hair appears to be a finer version of the vegetation that cloaks the planet. These observations are all duly logged when the anthropologist, having attained the relative safety of the flyer shuttle, regains a normal heart rate and a steady hand.
   No close-up pictures do justice to the physical beauty of these extraordinary simians, muscular in perfect proportion to their planet. The jaundice of their gums and tongue indicates a physiology unlike any previously recorded. In fact, so distinct are these spectacular simians, that the anthropologist sends a message to Mars Terra Colony requesting the authorisation to get a physical sample. Licensed only to observe funerary customs and with the failed attempt to collect a vegetation sample very fresh in mind, the anthropologist speculates on what these great creatures eat.
   The anthropologist has spent many hours trekking the planet. Yet, never while traversing the trackless terrain between villages and around burial grounds and indeed before choosing the blind location, had any physical spoor of these great anthropoids been observed. No signs of foraging have been seen; nor any signs of eaten, bent, damaged or farmed vegetation; nor of scat, droppings or fur brushed off on vegetation. The scattered burial mounds and the villages are the only simian ‘sign’ on Aurellia. The anthropologist has previously not realised the potential significance of that observation, for surely the evidence has just been missed amongst the vegetation.
   Now the absolute uniqueness of this ecosystem begins to penetrate the anthropologist’s psyche. With one exception, soil and rock samples have been collected from all planets, providing valuable information on each planet’s specific, distinct features; with one exception, samples of flora and fauna have been collected from all planets capable of supporting life. The resulting mystery belongs to Aurellia, and Aurellia alone. The lack of information on Aurellia was the primary reason why the anthropologist’s self-funded amateur effort had been licensed. Now the simians have posted a distant guard on the flyer shuttle, and a the anthropologist must decide whether to leave with questions, or to risk getting answers. Although the simian’s great strength is obvious, no violence has been inflicted; accordingly, niggles of trepidation are ignored and a decision made to venture forth.

Spun topsy-turvy;
Earth’s layers in collision
Reverse the poles.

   After walking around the flyer shuttle and provoking no change in activity, the anthropologist elects to return to the blind to retrieve items that had been abandoned in the scramble to escape. Although the camera has not been on, valuable footage still remains encoded within it and it is thus worth a little risk to recover. By choosing daylight over twilight, and by taking the most direct route, the simians will perceive less threat in the anthropologist’s actions—or so it is hoped, at least. So it is that one mid-morning, several Aurellian days after the undignified rout, that the anthropologist leaves the sanctuary of the flyer shuttle for the walk to the blind.
   Although the anthropologist cannot say how, the posted simian guard has communicated with his fellow simians; they come out to line the edge of the distant village and adjacent burial ground. None make any effort to hinder the anthropologist from approaching the blind or retrieving the evidently untouched equipment. This evident lack of curiosity from a group of intelligent simians is astonishing.

Natural bulwark;
Sentient topiary hedge
From idea siege.

   Only when the camera pans over the watching simians do they respond by running towards the anthropologist. Another flight was the immediate and only choice. Burdened with equipment, it is surely a strange sight as the anthropologist, gold-camouflage-coated and loping with high kicks under a green sky over golden vegetation, is pursued by several irate golden-furred simians. Although they could undoubtedly have done so sooner, only at the door of the flyer shuttle do those simians seize the anthropologist, forcing the person with the madly palpitating heart face down in the planet’s vegetation.
   Expecting to join the annals of thanatically unsuccessful amateur anthropologists, it is only after several minutes of passive detention that other details began to penetrate the anthropologist’s consciousness. While evidently smaller in diameter, the fur on the ape hand clamped across the back of the anthropologists neck is, in fact, the same texture as the vegetation into which the anthropologist’s head is forcibly pressed. As the emotional tumult diminishes and a racing heartbeat begins to calm, the presence of another heartbeat becomes obvious.    The cadence of a four-part beat and pause is clearly not Homo sapiens in origin, nor can the anthropologist believe that the beat that surrounded their face pressed into the planet was made by the simian captors. Stunned beyond fear, the anthropologist now presses down to better hear the distinct beat. Though perhaps their simian hearts beat to the same rhythm as their host planet, the beat is clearly emanating from Aurellia. Caught up in wonder at a living planet, evidently nourished by its atmosphere under three suns and the symbiosis with the simians, it is a chastened and reluctant amateur scholar that was allowed to rise, collect scattered property, and enter the flyer shuttle for departure from Aurellia.
   It was hard to leave with a long list of unanswered questions. Why did taking pictures provoke the simian charge? Had they known that the anthropologist would hear the heart beat of Aurellia? What do the simians eat (for they have teeth but no claws)? Do the mounds serve a funerary function, or another purpose, or both? What exactly are the breeding customs of the simians? Where are the very juvenile simians? With these and other questions to ponder, the anthropologist also realises that some questions never will get answered, for such is the wonder and curse of being human.

Nature’s enigmas;
Succor to the soul in quest,
Joy to the eager.

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