The dark red sun slowly emerged from behind the shadowed, jagged peaks of the barren world. She idly remembered her younger days, where all was green and life was abroad. She rose higher and higher, looking upon old sights of majesty long forgotten. She passed wild trees, crawling uncontrollably upon one another, all striving for light. The sun moved onwards and passed an old, dried up river. She was used to these sights, so she merely glanced upon them and continued on. The sun went for a minute more, and then she saw the debris of a city, once great in splendor, now gray and cracked in ruin. The whole world was covered in ash and dust, and no wind stirred it, and no life inhabited it.
Though the sky was dark with ash, the sun saw through it all, and this day she saw something out of the ordinary. As she passed over, the sun received a clearer view of the sight, and was confused. It was a large, bright metal object, with a couple of dark, glass-covered windows here and there, and strange runes engraved upon the side. The sun, as curious as she was, simply passed it over and continued on her normal day routine.
Commander William Simpson slowly opened his eyes. He immediately noted a weight upon his back and a terrible headache. He wondered for a moment what had happened to make him end up on the floor, but soon the memories came rushing back to him. He recalled the attack, the losing of the power, and the spiraling of the craft into an unknown world as he lost consciousness.
The weight upon him suddenly twitched, and Simpson came back to reality. Carefully, he turned his head to look upon the mysterious thing on his back.
"Smith, get off me," he grunted, shifting a bit.
The weight, or Smith, groaned, realized whom he was laying upon, and hastily sat up. "Oh sorry, sir!" he said with a nervous tone. "Really sorry, sir," he said again. Brandon Smith was the youngest of the crew, and this was his first mission. Simpson didn't know him all that well, but he privately thought that Smith was some ignorant rich kid whose parents worked in the field of his profession. He wondered how high in the field they were, having the power to send off a beginner to such an important mission.
The tapping of nails upon a table soon broke his thoughts. Simpson sat up and looked over to the maker of the obnoxious noise. He saw the chief engineer, Polly Miller, at the control panel, thoughtlessly tapping her fingernails against the table. She did not turn to him as she started to speak.
"Looks like all the electricity went down, Commander. I have been trying at it for a while, but there seems to be no power," she stated, pressing a couple of buttons here and there.
Simpson slowly stood up, and looked around the interior of the spacecraft. John Stevenson and Eric Black, the co-pilots, were straightening things up in the interior. Sophie Wang, second deputy engineer, was also at the controls, analyzing the situation beside Miller. Rachel Johnson, the medical officer, was patching up a head wound on Michael Corbin. Smith was looking out the window, motionless.
"What is our situation?" Simpson asked, picking up an overturned chair.
"Almost all of the power is out, but Wang is trying to restore the communication lines," said Miller briskly.
"It was space terrorists," said Corbin. "From one of the planets of Barnard Star. Peoples from there have been causing us troubles of late, they have, Commander. President Sullivan will need to talk to their own leader, Xemoglen, if these attacks upon the ships don't stop."
"I shall tell the head of NASA about it," replied Simpson. "Do we have those communication lines up yet? And do we have any idea of where in the galaxy we are? Miller, Wang?"
"I'm working on it," Miller snapped. She wasn't one patient woman. "It takes a bit of time, Commander. I am trying to get the map up, and if we can get that up, then perhaps there is some hope for the generators."
"I don't even know if there is hope for the communication lines to be back online anytime soon," muttered Wang. "It will take awhile."
Simpson sighed, frustrated, then strolled over to Smith, who was still at the window. "What are you staring at, Smith?"
Smith was silent for a moment. When Simpson was about to ask again, the young man replied, "The air is filled with ash, but I see brown grass underneath it."
Simpson raised an eyebrow. "Grass, eh? Another planet that can support nature? Move over, lad, let me take a look." Smith silently nodded and stepped away from the window. Simpson looked out, and he saw an ashy sky, one hundred times worse than the skies of Los Angeles in 2219. Beneath it, he could make out a brown, brittle grass, and in the distance, he could just barely make out the shapes of mountains.
"This place might have once supported animal life, or perhaps even a people more advanced, like the aliens near Barnard Star," Simpson muttered as he stared upon the desolate plain. "Wonder where we are-"
"Aha!" Miller cried in success. "We have the map up!" Simpson quickly turned about and ran over to the holographic map in the center of the room. It showed the Milky Way Galaxy, or all of what was known of it. Near the center was a star that glowed brighter than the rest. Miller analyzed it for a moment.
"It looks like we are on a planet near Kapteyn's Star," Miller declared. "We actually reached our destination."
"But I thought that none of the planets near Kapteyn's Star were inhabitable," argued Smith.
"Of course none are inhabitable," said Miller, slightly confused.
"But this planet is," Smith said. "There is grass out there, even though it is dead by all the ash and dust in the air."
Miller frowned, and ran past the map to the window. She looked out it, and shook her head in disbelief. "By God," she muttered. "Either the holographic map is screwed up, which I doubt, or… or we have discovered a new planet!" She looked away from the window, and her eyes shined at the idea. She quickly calmed down, and said, "But we mustn't assume. I suppose that while Wang and I try to get the ship running, you all will explore this world?"
Simpson nodded at the idea. "Yes, but Corbin will stay here with you two. I don't think it a good idea to go running about when one has a head wound like that. From the crash, I assume?" Corbin nodded. "I see. However, the atmosphere doesn't seem breathable. We will take the suits."
Wang nodded in agreement. "Commander, if I cannot get the communication lines up, may I use the android?"
Simpson thought for a moment. "Only at last resort," he answered. "Now, Smith, Stevenson, Black, Johnson, and I shall take the rover and look around. We will be back in one to two hours. If we aren't, wait for an hour more. If we still aren't back, one of you can take the other rover and look for us. We will be heading for the mountains." He waved his hand towards the southwest.
Corbin, Miller, and Wang nodded in reply, and the other five left the main deck.
Simpson looked at the land in disbelief as he drove the rover down the field towards the mountains. The sky was extremely dark with dust, almost as if it were night, but by the position of Kapteyn's Star from their blurred view, it was around noontime. The dark red star was larger than the size of the sun on Earth, but it could have very much been the size of Sol when it was younger.
There was only dried grass and dirt beneath them, looking as if it had not any rain for many a year. Scattered along the plain they could barely make out small homes and barns, though many were in ruin, as if for many years unattended. Ahead, they could make out the shape of a large mountain, with a chain of mountains trailing behind it. Behind them were many landscapes and they thought that they could make out towering wild trees, and maybe even more mountains, but they could not make much out with the air half-blinding their sight. There was no wind in the air, no dew upon the grass, and no snow upon the mountains.
They were all silent as the Commander drove on towards the towering peaks, staring in silent awe of the likeness of the place to Earth, were they to take away the choking air.
As they moved closer to the hills, Johnson broke the silence. "This planet looks like Earth after the meteor hit it, millions of years ago, which brought the dinosaurs to extinction." She shook her head in disbelief. "But it doesn't seem it happened too long ago; perhaps one hundred-fifty years, one hundred years… maybe even as close as fifty years ago."
Black nodded in agreement. "I was thinking the same thing. It is-"
"Look!" Smith interrupted, pointing at something. "There is a city!"
"Or what is left of it," Simpson replied grimly. The others stared at it in shock.
You could tell just by the ruins that it was once a city of great majesty. Through the dusty air, they could make out that it was a great height, over seven hundred feet tall, at the least. The stones that created the city were once white, but now were gray. It was at the base of a large mountain; in fact, it seemed to be carved into the mountain. Other than fallen towers, astray stones, dirty walls, and small, unaccounted items scattered about, the city seemed in good shape.
They stopped the rover in front of the stone city, and looked in awe at the towering heights. The five stepped out of the vehicle, and concentrated their thoughts on the sight ahead of them.
In front of them was the gateway to the old city. Underneath all the ash, they could make out the glint of untarnished silver, standing out in the dull world. On each side of the silver gate were fragments of bones, with rusting swords and spears by their sides. Johnson and Simpson approached the fragments upon the left, while Stevenson and Black looked at the ones on the right. Smith, almost timidly, approached the gate, laying a finger upon it.
"These were most certainly homo sapiens," Johnson muttered to them. "From their remains, it looks like they were almost identical in structure as to us. I am not sure on how they were killed; I have no equipment with me. I suspect that it was this ash in the air that killed them: choking their lungs, all of the oxygen being contaminated with it. I certainly did not expect human life upon another planet, however long ago it was."
Black turned away from the remains and looked upon the gates. He brushed away the dust, and was nearly blinded by the brightness of it.
"Surely, silver would have tarnished by now!" he commented, turning away from the gates.
"Yes," nodded Stevenson. "It should have in this type of weather. This is no ordinary silver. I wonder what it is?"
"It's mithril," whispered Smith, tentatively brushing his hand against it.
"What?" asked Black.
"Mithril," repeated Smith, taking a step back.
"Mithril? There is no such thing!" argued Stevenson.
Smith ignored him, staring in awe at the gates. Finally, he muttered, "I know this place."
All of them looked at the young man curiously. "What are you talking about?" demanded the Commander.
Smith took a while to get out of his shocked silence. When he did, he looked at the commander, and Simpson could see shining eyes beneath the helmet. "While I was in high school, we studied old authors. I did a report on John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, or J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings. That is a book from the mid-twentieth century, over two hundred and fifty years old. I was captivated by his works, so I did a bit more research on them in my high school and college years."
"What does that have to do with a planet near Kapteyn's Star?" asked Johnson.
"This city… these gates… these are all a part of Arda, or Middle-earth, the world The Lord of the Rings takes place within," said Smith, excitement in his voice. "This is the city of Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard, and these are the mithril doorways that are installed by the Dwarves at the beginning of the Fourth Age!"
"Dwarves? Mithril? Fourth Age? Arda? What sort of rubbish is this?" demanded Simpson.
"Do you not see, sir?" exclaimed Smith. "We are on Arda! This is Middle-earth!"
"Rubbish!" exclaimed Black. "The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy book! It's impossible!"
"But it is possible!" argued Smith. "Look at the gateway. You said yourself that silver would have tarnished by now! But mithril never tarnishes. And look!" He walked up to the gates again, and pointed to a strange language engraved above the gateway. "That is the Angerthas alphabet! It all fits in!"
"But… but… it's impossible…" muttered Simpson to himself, inspecting the gates. "The Lord of the Rings is just a book… just a book…"
"Clearly not," argued Smith. "It's all real… all real… but I wonder what happened to this place…"
"If we are truly in this Middle-earth place," started Johnson hesitantly. "We should check out this city… just to get clearer proof, and perhaps some evidence for everyone back home."
Smith nodded, and he ran to the rover before any could stop him. When he came back, he had a video camera in hand. "I'm ready," he stated. He turned the camera on, and started to film the White City, and the mithril gates.
"Well, while we are here, let's take a look of this place," said Simpson after a moment. "Everyone in the rover. It will take a while for us to get to the top."
They went through a large hole in the stone wall of the city, as they did not see any hope into pushing open the large silver gates. Simpson made his way to the main road, and started driving up on it. There were seven levels of the old city, and Simpson carefully steered up the wide path, avoiding as many fallen stones and debris as he could. The whole way was silent, Johnson, Black, and Stevenson staring in awe, Smith filming the whole time.
They reached the seventh level of the city, and Smith immediately jumped out, running as fast as he could in his suit to a lone dead tree near a dry, cracked fountain. He dusted off as much of the ash as he could, and the others could see that it was a white tree.
"And this is the White Tree of Gondor, long dead," he said out loud to the camera. "And there, behind the White Tree, is the White Tower, or the Tower of Ecthelion." He continued filming as the others looked around in amazement, many shaking their heads in disbelief.
Simpson went with Black to the White Tower, ignoring the long-dead guards aligning the old pathway. They went to the entrance and easily broke in through the rotted wooden doors. Once the others saw what the two were doing, they quickly came to their side, Smith still with the camera in hand.
The cleaner air within the hall was the first thing the five noticed as they stepped in, but it was still covered in ash and dust. Large obsidian pillars, engraved with many designs and runes, held up the hall, and above they could barely make out dull gold on the ceiling. Statues of kings, once white, now gray, aligned the hallway, still great in majesty, truly showing the strength of this old city and kingdom. At the end of the hall were two chairs: one, black, plain, and small, on level ground. The other, however, was set high above, only reachable by white stone steps. The throne was under a canopy of white marble that was shaped like a crowned helm, and behind it, set with many gems upon the wall, was an image of a lovely tree. On the sides of the hallway were many doors and passages leading into other parts of the building. The crew looked upon the hall in awe.
Even Smith was silent for a moment, the camera quietly rolling. He finally remembered his job, and he broke the silence. "This is the Great Hall of the White Tower, and there in front of us is the seat of the King and his Steward. Along the sides," he turned the camera to the right side of the hall, "are statues of the kings of old, and passages leading into other parts of the Tower."
"This is exactly like the book, isn't it?" whispered Simpson, slightly shaking his head in disbelief of the beauty of the place, even in ash.
"Yea," nodded Smith. "Exactly. Well, I've always been curious as to what the king's quarters look like, so, if you will excuse me, Commander, I shall film more of this place." With that, he went into one of the right passages. The others got out of their state of shock, and quickly followed him.
They explored many rooms, some more elegant than others, some littered with human remains. Finally, they got to the king's bedroom.
This room, to them, was probably the most difficult to describe to curious minds in the future. Arrayed in silks and other beautiful things, this was probably the most lavish of all the rooms that they had seen so far. Against the left wall was the bed, with a lovely canopy hanging over it, and by each side there was a nightstand. Detailed drawers and tables, walls and closets, and even a washroom just made the room amazing. There was gold and silver, mithril and gems, delicacies of all types in this bedroom. They all stood in silent admiration.
Soon, Smith spotted the loveliest item of all. Upon one of the tables, though covered in ash and dust, he could make out the White Crown. When clean, the crown was white, and the wings upon either side were wrought of silver and pearls. Seven gems were set in a circlet, and upon its summit was set a single jewel, which, even through the dimness, shined bright.
He pointed it out to the others, and they stared at it in dumbfound silence. Finally, Simpson walked over to it, and picked it up, dusting off as much of the ash as he could. Without the dirt, it was even lovelier, and they wondered how it would look in pure sunlight.
Simpson looked over to Smith, who was still filming the precious item in his hand. Holding up the crown to the camera, Simpson said, "We really are in Middle-earth."
The five left the Tower, and climbed up on the rover. They rode the vehicle down the city, stopping at every level to look around and to pick up a few artifacts. Pots and cooking utensils, cloth, jewelry, and other items filled the rover as they went lower and lower. Stevenson came back with a small doll at the fourth level, and Black found a barrel of ale on the second level (though it was too large to take). Everywhere, along with the ashy air, they saw debris of the city, human and animal bones mixed within.
They went back the way they came, and did not stop again at the gates. Instead, they made their way across the dead field (which Smith called 'Pelennor') to their ship.
Back there, they took off the suits, and rushed to the main deck to tell the others of their astonishing discovery. Here, the five found Miller with a microphone in hand, Wang and Corbin hovering nearby.
"-a planet near Kapteyn's Star, but it is- oh, Commander! You are back." Miller gave him the microphone as she spoke. "We just managed to get the communication lines up, without the android, and I told those back home about the attack. Haven't told him anything about this strange planet. Now you can tell him what you discovered."
He nodded. "You, Wang, and Corbin should check out the interesting artifacts we found, and look at what Smith caught on tape. You will be very surprised. Now go." They all nodded, and Smith was left alone in the room.
"Are you still there? Good. Yes, this is Commander William Simpson of the Challenger 31... Miller told you our situation? Good, good. Yes, we explored this planet… it once supported life, but now it is barren. Yes, we are near Kapteyn's Star… how do I know? Because there is dead grass and signs of an old civilization, that is how I know. Yes, I know that is impossible, but it is true. Yes, I thought that we had discovered a new planet, though I have not the foggiest of how NASA missed it. A name? Yes, I have a name. It's called Arda."
Sol is the name of our sun.
Barnard's Star is a real star, about 6 light years away from Earth. There are some assumptions of a solar system with this star, but for any of its planets of being able to support life is not yet proven, and is a fictional aspect in this story.
Kapteyn's Star is also a real star, about 13 light years away from Earth. There is no proof of a solar system, and most certainly no proof of life, whether related to Middle-earth or not.
If you have any comments or constructive criticism, please review!