The Music of Basso
The beach was now an echo among the electric hums of Basso. The same tone again and again, coming from a pale blue planet flooding every corner of the ship. Hilda’s room too.
“Please, turn off that noise already,” said Hilda with squinted eyes.
“Nobody stops the music of Basso,” replied Pieter through the radio.
The music of Basso, Hilda thought. What a ridiculous idea. She stretched her legs and spun in her room. Ironically, it was the music of Basso that captivated her and made her abandon the beaches of Aegis Nova to venture into the gas giant’s orbital space. She checked the ship’s orbit and read the nightly logs. Two drones had increased the propellant reserves since she went to sleep.
Exploring outer space wasn’t the same as exploring Lauz. On the beach you could feel the sand, fish, sunbathe, feel the wind. There was nothing to feel in space, not even her own weight. There was nothing to do other than checking that all the numbers were in order. And that’s what she did. Like every morning, she inspected screens and reports, and sent confirmation messages, when deep inside she knew that a computer had already done all of that while she slept. Although the propellant station worked autonomously, and it had done so for a long time, people like Hilda had to remain there, in case it was necessary.
It’s a propellant station in the middle of nowhere, do you want to go there? Foolish, foolish Hilda. There wasn’t a day in which she didn’t blame herself for accepting that offer. But it had sounded so beautiful at that time, when her greatest dream was to go to space, when nothing in Lauz seemed to satisfy her. And what she most wanted now was to return home and promise her sister that she would accompany her to the beach every day, even if it was raining. She prepared her breakfast and sat down to read. Months of training only to end up reading boring novels. Using the ship’s speakers, Pieter kept adjusting the tuning frequency, in search of that one song that Basso had not yet sung. The planet’s notes were regular and chilling. Like the beats of a cold and lost heart. Sometimes the planet sounded like the depths of the sea, and other times like an endless chant. She learned that those sounds came from the lightning caused by storms and high speed winds, and due to the dynamics of the planet’s core, but she didn’t care, because the couldn’t descend to see it. She couldn’t get close to Basso. The drones only scooped hydrogen and helium from its atmosphere and carried it to the station.
“The planet sings, Hilda, the planet sings!”
The planet didn’t sing. It was just the planet’s electromagnetic emissions. She had explained to him several times that Basso’s noise wasn’t magical nor ethereal, but Pieter didn’t care. Everything was music for him. The thrusters were music each time the drones arrived to refill the tanks, the opening of the airlocks was music, the sound of keys and buttons were music. Hilda only had a few days living with him and his existence was already turning into a problem. The initial enthusiasm, the optimism of someone who doesn’t know what he’s facing was starting to tire her.
To stop her thoughts from overwhelming her, she spent a few minutes of her meaningless time to exercise. She ran, wishing to be in a different and better place, but after an hour, she was on the same ship around Basso, covered in sweat. How unfair! All of her friends bragged about their trips across the tropical belt, through the oceanic islands and polar cities. If they weren’t at sea, they were on the mountains. If they weren’t outside, they were indoors, creating, writing, designing, showing their work to millions of people. Hilda could only rot from envy because everything around her was turning grayer and grayer. Everything she did was meaningless.
With each propellant transfer to the cargo ships, Hilda wondered how many people had been trapped by Basso’s chants. It’s the most amazing and easy job, months in space, and al your work is automated.* It sounded excellent in theory, not so much in practice. Not for her. Being a space traveller didn’t excite her anymore, her spirit was betraying the young and naive Hilda that dreamed of the stars. A journey of months that culminated with the saddest sigh of them all.
Basso, beyond its music, was nothing more than an almost unlimited source of propellant. A place of reflection and excitement for people like Pieter, and a headache for people like Hilda. Even with the trips to the twin moons, where she could experiment a mediocre attempt at gravity while she ate and drank, Hilda felt trapped in the biggest planet of the system. And Basso kept singing: While she slept, while she worked, while she missed her home.
“How unfair! There’s people moving comets on Daxio, terraforming Dunhar, exploring Lauz. Daxio even built an ocean in space! With whales, corals and seaweed! And I’m just here, on a planet so boring that people barely stop to look. I can’t even feel the sun’s heat!”
“What are you complaining about, Hilda? You’re one of the few people that dare to spend months in the middle of nothing. This is a dream come true.”
“But what’s the point? What’s the point of exploring space if nobody can hear me, if I can’t step on the planet, if I can’t breathe its air?”
“But we’re in space! Zero gravity! Isn’t that enough for you?”
How was she going to argue with someone who hadn’t yet had enough time to reflect, with someone who still got thrilled and danced in the air, boasting about how the habitat spun to generate gravity? When she started working, she quickly understood why Basso was different. It wasn’t because of its cold atmosphere and lack of solid surface, neither due to its distance, because Daxio was thriving. It was something greater than that. It was a feeling of monotony and profound abandonment that surrounded everything, an indescribable isolation. Instead of exploring space, Hilda’s life consisted in following instructions that she still remembered from her training. She was so proud back then. You’re so brave Hilda. I’m honored to be your sister. Now she only wanted to leave, scared of the electrical hums of the planet. She monitored the pressure in the tanks, the integrity of the modules. She received supplies from the lunar farm, and interacted through her screen with the few people that lived around the planet. How was she exploring space if she couldn’t get out of her ship?
Her life was a piece that didn’t fit in the system’s history. Nobody was going to mention the ships and propellant stations that made possible the colonization and exploration. Nobody was going to mention that Hilda aged five years around Basso. She was so used to the rhythm of the instruments, to the air ducts’ hums, and to the music of Basso that she didn’t need a clock to plan her routine. Her physical appearance was deteriorating, and she was ashamed of herself because she wouldn’t do anything to change it. It didn’t matter, there was no one to impress after all. The days had turned into a solid, endless, painful block, because it didn’t matter to know what day it was. There was just one number that kept her alive. The number of days left before a ship took pity on her and decided to waste some of its fuel to bring her back home. Meanwhile she had to, one way or another, learn to coexist with the planet.
“Listen to this! I found the frequency!”
“I already told you I don’t want to hear anything!”
Pieter turned up the volume, and she instantly felt a tingling on her feet. The foam dissolving on the sand, the waves crashing against the rocks. It was the beach. Basso was the beach. The sound of the waves was so real, that there had to be a sea on the planet. There was no other explanation for Hilda. Listening to Basso’s emissions became magical again.
“How did you find it?! Does it really come from Basso?”
“I knew you would like it. Come here.”
Pieter was right. The planet sang. She only had to learn to listen to it. She went to Pieter’s cabin, a tangled mess of amplifiers, oscilloscopes, cables and electrical components. He was only able to make sense of all of that, wearing heavy headphones and turning knobs as if he knew what he was doing.
“Can I try?”
“Listen and see for yourself. Basso truly sings.”