The following article was written by John H. Reiher Jr.
Star System Data:
- Binary system:
- Primary: α Mainz: G0
- 7 planets: 5 terrestrial, 2 minor gas giants
- Secondary: β Mainz: K4
- 5 planets: 2 terrestrial, 3 minor gas giants
- Distance between α and β: ~4,800 AU
- Planets in habitable zone: 1, α Mainz d
- Name: α Mainz d, “Quicksilver”
- Orbital Distance: 1.17 AU
- Orbital Period: 444.48 Earth Days, 85.827 local days
- Rotation Period: 124.29 hours
- Orbital Inclination: 9° 34’ 32”
- Axial Tilt: 23°
- Radius: 6,023 km
- Mass: 1.0937 Earth Masses
- Density: 7.1695 g/cm3
- Gravity: 0.92 G, 8.9979 m/s2
- Magnetic Field: 2.19 Gauss
- Average Surface Temperature: 302K, 29° C
- Atmospheric Pressure, Sea Level: 1.01 atmospheres
- Hydrographic Percentage: 75% Water
- Atmospheric Composition: CO2 76%, O2 16%, CH4 7.4%, Hg 0.3%
- Plate Tectonics: Very active, many small platelets and a high level of volcanism.
- Moons: 1 (“Larunda”)
- Name: α Mainz e, “Larunda”
- Orbital Distance: 30,115 km
- Orbital Period: 12.19 hours
- Rotation Period: 12.19 hours, tidally locked.
- Orbital Inclination: 12° 2’ 14”
- Axial Tilt: 3°
- Radius: 3,600 km
- Mass: 0.22 Earth Masses
- Density: 6.7283 g/cm3
- Gravity: 0.69 G, 6.7482 m/s2
- Magnetic Field: 0.450 Gauss
- Average Surface Temperature: 301K, 28° C
- Atmospheric Pressure: 1.2 atmospheres
- Hydrographic Percentage: 43% Water
- Atmospheric Composition: CO2 81%, O2 12%, CH4 6.5%, Hg 0.4%
- Plate Tectonics: Active, large plates, average level of volcanism.
The binary star system Mainz (named after the German city) is a rarity. The primary, α Mainz, is a G0 star with strong manganese and mercury spectral lines. Until its discovery, only a few spectral class A and B stars were known to have strong manganese and mercury spectral lines. α Mainz also has a high metallicity, 40% higher than Sol’s. So it came as no surprise that there were planets around both stars in the binary system.
What came as a surprise was the double planet Quicksilver/Larunda. The two worlds were closely locked in an orbital dance, Larunda tidally locked with Quicksilver. The two orbit a common barycenter, with Larunda orbiting Quicksilver 10 times every day. Both are hot worlds, thanks to their CO2 blankets, but not unreasonably so. They are 16° C hotter than Earth’s average temperature, with a high of 68° C, to a low of 8° C.
Both planets are red in color. But not red from iron oxide, they are red from mercuric oxide. Both planets are rich in the element mercury, in all its forms, and many others not observed on other worlds.
But what is most unusual about both worlds is the fact that both also harbor life. Life that thrives on a mercury-rich world. Aerobic, oxygen breathing, carbon-based life.
When the first reports came in from the exploration ships, everyone thought it was a joke. Then the life form samples were examined: Plants, animals, and microbes. All full of mercury and seemingly immune to its toxicity.
Quicksilver life forms can sequester or expel mercury from their bodies in various ways. Many plant life forms can transport and expel mercury as an ionic vapor, others channel it in special lipid nodules that can be excreted or dropped. The expelled mercury vapor makes up a portion of atmospheric gases. Others use it to enhance photosynthesis by forming mirrors and bright surfaces to focus light on buds and nodes.
Plants take on many forms, some recognizable, others distinctly native only to Quicksilver, such as the reflectors. Plant color is predominately green, with normal variations in color.
Animals can excrete mercury-based compounds in their urine or fecal material. Complex mechanisms in their digestive systems allow them to separate mercuric compounds from other compounds in a self-chelating system.
Animals range in all sizes up to large land and sea herbivores, favoring a variation of placental and oviparous birth methods for offspring. Sea life favors a vertebrate form of arthropods, though invertebrate forms also exist. Land based animals are vertebrate forms of arthropods, with bilateral symmetry and hexapodal limb layout. There are avian forms, from small insect-like creatures up to large avian-like creatures that evolved a form of feathers from its chitinous shell.
They have separate orifices for eating, breathing, and excreting. The larger specimens have a flow-through lung design, where the atmosphere enters in one opening and leaves through another. When one set of lungs inhales, a different set exhales. When running, they can supercharge their multiple heart circulatory system with oxygen.
All higher animals use a distributed neural system, with no central cortex, but instead make use of multiple neural nodes distributed along the spine. They have optical sensors clustered near each neural node. Their temperament has the normal range from docile to violent. But their chitinous shells and distributed neural and circulatory system makes these animals hard to kill with a single shot.
Life on these worlds is not biocompatible with any other carbon-based life forms known. However, when fed nutrient that was rich in various common carbon-based compounds, the animal specimens survived, as did the plant specimens. It seems that other forms of carbon-based foods are compatible with life on Quicksilver.
The biggest mystery from the Quicksilver/Larunda double planet is that life on both worlds is nearly identical. The current theory is that asteroid impacts on both worlds has scattered bits of life from both worlds on to each other.
Despite being labeled as a biohazard zone, there are several research bases on both Quicksilver and Larunda. This is considered hazard pay level duty and only volunteers are accepted for duty on these worlds.
The research bases are extremely paranoid about keeping the toxic atmosphere out of the habitats. Excursion suits are permanently kept outside the habs and entry into the suit is from within the hab. The “suit locker” is also an airlock, and all personnel that enter it, do so wearing a hazmat suit. Only those going on the excursion use filter masks rated for mercury vapor and dust.
Research is primarily centered on the biology of both worlds, with geochemistry and mineral research also being carried out. Primary research is on how the local flora and fauna deal with the various mercury compounds that abound on this world.
Other research is centered on animal intelligence and learning capabilities. This research centers on how a distributed neural node system functions and whether or not it can support sapience and sentient thought processes.
Little Red… Somethings…
Researchers on one continent on Quicksilver have found animals that show a high propensity for collective action and even social interactions. Dubbed “Shell monkeys”, the animals are quite adept at solving problems and working together to reach goals.
Then one day, researchers out in the “forest” of reflectors, find signs of cognitive thought: designs made from pebbles and sand that have geometric forms. Then a researcher realizes that the forms are pictures of a hexapod animal doing things. Like hunting.
Later that week, a pair of scientists become overdue and don’t respond to calls over their communicators. However, their transponders are functioning, and moving. A group, armed with suitable weapons, goes out to find the missing researchers…
One of Our Shuttles is Missing
A routine resupply shuttle crash-lands on Quicksilver, far from any human settlement. The shuttle’s hull has been breached, but not fatally so. There are casualties, but the survivors face a problem: While the shuttle does have emergency excursion suits and filters, they are only rated for a few days of use. The nearest human settlement is several weeks on foot.
In addition, the settlement’s vehicles do not have sufficient range to reach the survivors. The survivors will have to walk two-thirds of the distance. To make matters worse, they only have two weeks worth of rations and potable water. They do have 2 osmotic filters that can purify the water, but they are only rated for 100 gallons each. They will need more than that for the trip in the hot portion of the day.
The days are 5 Earth days long, 60 hours of heat, up to 50° C, and 60 hours of coldness, down to 0° C. Their excursion suits aren’t equipped to handle this extreme in temperature, so they will have to find a way to survive and make it home on the most hostile planet they have ever faced…
This article was written by John H. Reiher Jr.
You can read John’s flash fiction story, on which this article was based, at 365tomorrows.com. You can also read John’s personal blog here.
Authors note: I found some errors in my calculations of Larunda’s orbital period. They’ve been fixed.