"You can't do that?"
"Why not?" I asked, my back still turned to him.
"Because...there are things!" he sputtered. "In there! You don't know what they could be!"
I pulled off my jumpsuit and threw it against the descent ramp, next to my discarded boots.
"There could be things, sure," I conceded. I whipped my t-shirt over my head and turned around to face him. "But that's the fun of it." I winked at him. He flailed his arms and let his hands rest over his face. "Come join me."
"NO!" he said, removing his hands from his face overly-dramatically. "I'm not, repeat not, going for a skinny dip in an unknown ocean, with THINGS in it, on an alien planet!!"
"Suit yourself." I walked down to the edge of the lapping ocean. The sand was made up of highly reflective crystals that sparked in the light of dual moons. When the water washed away the crystals aligned and became a perfect mirror for a moment until the surface tension of the remaining water broke. I wondered if the crystals were alive, and if I was crushing them, but they radiated a gentle warmth and I felt welcome. There was a gentle breeze that carried a fragrance similar to strawberries with a hint of lemon and vanilla. The ocean stretched out, flat in the distance, dark, and unobstructed by anything organic or technologic. It was an unspoiled nature and I vowed to keep it a secret.
Another wave lapped up and licked my feet. More warmth. The edge of the wave didn't foam like ocean water back on Earth; it was just like a thin glucose syrup. Glassy. I walked slowly in, feeling for my footing, even though I could see my feet just fine in the moonlight. I could see my reflection both on the surface of the water and under it. The water receded and both reflections shattered into a buzz of light. I waded in further, to my knees, to my waist, to my chest. John was yelling at me, from back at the ship.
The water was highly saline, like the dead sea. I floated easily on my back. I sipped in a bit of the water to taste it. John screamed at me. I'm sure his face was red, but I ignored him. I pressed my head back and water filled my ears, and I entered a sort of silence. I could only hear the waves lapping. The moons shone above me, big and bright, filling a full quarter of the sky. One of the moons had blue oceans, and the other was dead. I stared at the ocean in the sky and wondered what life lived there. Was it related to the life that lived here, or were they of completely separate origin? If our civilization had grown up on either this planet or its fertile moon, seeing the details of either by telescope and seeing that it was similar, would we have made it to the stars more quickly than we did? Would we have skipped over the skygods, the myths, the astrology, the wars and territorial infighting? We would have had our answer sooner about what was out there, waiting for us.
Was that what happened to the civilization that had left its mark on this planet? I hoped that they were so eager to leave that they all left, but I knew that probably wasn't the truth.
"Come on!" shouted John, as I lifted my head from the water. I had floated out a bit, and he was now a tenth of his usual size, pacing the shore. I waved back to him, the poor man. Smart, but a little dim, in a way. I rolled over in the water, and poked my head down. I could clearly see the sandy bottom. It was dotted with tree-like growths that looked dead but probably weren't. They were only a few feet under. I dove with force, and clutched a thick branch of the nearest tree. I kicked my legs frantically for several seconds, then pulled myself further down to the base of the tree. I curled my body around it gently as my lungs started to burn. The base of the tree pulsed with warmth. Ectothermic. I looked up at the fertile moon through the shifting water. It was like a mirage. Its image merged with that of the dead moon, finger slices of light fusing then pulling apart.
There was dull thrashing near me. A dark shadow loomed above and blocked the moons. A face and hand reached down. I let go and let myself bob up.
John grabbed me under my shoulders. He was breathing heavily, but not yelling.
"I'm all right," I said.
"What?" he sputtered.
"You can let go," I said.
"No!" he said, pulling me onto shore. He stumbled to the ramp, dragging me, and flopped down on it, making sure not to touch any of the alien sand. I stood and started to dress, as John held his chest.
"Don't do that again," he said, panting.
"I'm the captain," I said.
"We never agreed on that," he said.
"Sure we did. When we were back in the bar and you were drunk and I paid for the ship."
"It was my money. You just counted it out and handed it over."
"I piloted it here."
"I paid for the fuel."
"No, that we stole."
"Oh, yeah," said John, sitting up and draping his arms over his knees. "But you're distracting from the point!"
"Which point? There are lots of points."
"Wha...that it's not prudent to go into a strange ocean! You got pulled in by something! You proved my point!"
I laughed, and sat down next to him to put my boots back on.
"You...you did that on purpose? You faked it?" I smiled. "Why? Why would you do that?"
"To get you in the water; to prove my point."
"That not everything in this universe is out to destroy us. In fact, I would argue that the universe is very unconcerned with us."
John rubbed his face vigorously.
"Does everything have to be philosophy with you?" he said.
"Sometimes. Not always. Often." I smiled and put my arm around his shoulder. "But the point is, my point, is that it gives us a very interesting sort of freedom. Especially with this old heap to roam around in."
John shook his head.
"Don't call it a heap," he said quietly.
"Let's go there now!" I said, pointing up at the fertile moon, grinning. "Because we can."
John looked at me with raised eyebrows. Then a smile built slowly, and progressed. We took each other's hand at the same time, got up, and ran up the ramp.