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Fiction, © Copyright 2000, Jim Loy
On a dark night, you will have difficulty seeing the faint star Pi Pegasi. But it is there anyway. Now imagine that you can travel to Pi Pegasi, not all the way to Pi Pegasi; you do not want to travel all that way just to burn up within the nuclear fires of Pi Pegasi; now that would be a waste of an imaginary space journey. If you were smart, you would choose to land on a habitable planet instead of a star. There are two habitable planets orbiting Pi Pegasi. More precisely, there is one double planet orbiting Pi Pegasi; the two planets orbit each other. It may be difficult to choose between them, as they are nearly identical in size, shape, color, ingredients, and population. The two planets are inhabited by a species of beings who, it turns out, invented space travel, long before the human race had learned to crawl, about the time when the human race was flat on its back, waving its arms and making gurgling noises.
Roll a snowball, about yea big. Make a smaller snowball and stick it on top of the big one, for the head. Make even smaller snowballs for short arms. Make very tiny snowballs for fingers and various facial features. Now paint the whole works with blue syrup. Now melt the whole thing down, and you have a refreshing drink for the entire neighborhood. Before you foolishly melted it down, you got a brief glimpse of what these beings (the ones on the double planet out by Pi Pegasi) look like. They could be described as being as cute as all get out. Of course they are not stuck to the ground, like our blue snow man. They waddle around on short legs.
They have a name for their species which roughly translates to "human" or "people." I will call them "beings" so you will not confuse them with people here on earth. Their name for their home planet translates to "earth." I will call it the "planet," again to avoid confusion. And their name for their twin planet translates as "moon." I will call it the "moon," as I am about fed up to here with avoiding confusion.
The two planets are about a mile apart; the distance varies somewhat. They are locked in orbit so that the same point on the planet is always directly under the same point as the moon. The two planets are both distinctly elliptical in shape, with their long axes lined up in a straight line. They are so close together that when one of the beings stands directly under the moon, the moon fills the sky; he/she can see only a thin ring of outer space around the horizon.
In the beginning, the beings only lived on the planet, and not on the moon. They often looked up at the moon, and longed to travel there. They felt a pull toward the moon, the pull of gravity. The strong tides were pulling them toward the moon, but the tides were not strong enough to lift them off of the planet. They tried jumping to the moon, but they could not jump high enough. Some of the beings exercised, running laps around the planet, trying to get into shape for a jump to the moon. This is where the idea that astronauts should be physically fit originated, by the way. But they still could not jump high enough. They built a tower. But they ran out of bricks and the top of the tower was nowhere near the moon. Jumping from the top of the tower did not work either. Jumping from the tower onto a trampoline (yet another invention of these beings) was even less successful, but more fun. Some of them were able to trampoline back onto the top of the tower.
Then the catapult was invented. The first catapult was wheeled into position under the moon, and several beings pulled back its "arm" and latched it into the "armed" position. At the end of the arm was a chair, where the astronaught (he was not yet an astronaut) sat. He had a rope tied to his ankle, so that once he had landed on the moon, he could pull up a rope ladder, so that future astronauts could travel by ladder instead of catapult. Someone pulled the trigger, and nothing happened. The catapult was not strong enough. The astronaught stepped out of the chair, and the catapult went "sproing." That is where the tradition of failing on the first attempt originated.
The second catapult was too strong. The "sproing" was much louder and deeper. This astronaut bounced off the moon and then bounced off the planet and then landed on the moon, where he remained motionless, showing no sign of life. Mission control eventually lost patience, and reeled him back in using the rope. They found that he had broken several facial bones, but was still alive.
The third catapult was just right, as you may have guessed. The "sproing" was a medium "sproing." The astronaut suffered only minor injuries, and subsequent space travel was done by rope ladder. We humans have not yet advanced to that stage, by the way.
Soon the moon was covered with plant and animal life, and became self-sufficient. Of course the next step was interplanetary war. It started with insulting gestures and escalated into bricks and catapults. This was the origin of the concept of the catapult as a weapon. The war goes on to this very day.
As we stand near the beginning of our own space age, we can perhaps learn a serious lesson from the beings of the double planet near Pi Pegasi: when you hear a "sproing," duck.
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