Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dirty Ice

The dirty ice crunched beneath his boots, at least that’s what it felt like. Since he was standing on what was laughably called the ‘atmosphere’ of this unnamed moon, the only sound was the gentle hum of the heater and air circulation unit. Ahead was home, at least for the next month, the remote landing capsule silhouetted against the curve of the sub-jovian (inventively named) Rani IVa that held the moon in orbit.

Behind him, at least according to the indicator light on his on the map, the rover followed slowly and silently, bringing his tools and core samples. Hard as it was to believe, the radiation of the jovian provided just enough energy for a very basic ecosystem to develop. It wasn’t particularly interesting life, just single celled organisms, but he’d managed to convince the science council to approve his grant for a 4 month fully-funded on-site research project to find... what? A new method of cryopreservation? A biofuel source for ammonia-based ice balls like this one? A cure for the common cold?

Really what he’d been looking for was his own planet. An orb he could circle, and encounter not one other person. Not that his suit would let him get anywhere near that far from the capsule, but it was the principle of the matter. Further out in the system the Tyson, his ride home was already on it’s way, but it was weeks out yet, and the silence and solitude felt as insulating as his suit.

“John, I just need space...” she’d said. Maybe leaving the solar system was a little extreme, but it had turned out he’d needed the space too, a whole lot of it. He came to a stop, the ice shifting under his weight, and slowly turned around. Even after months the crystal clarity of the view still seemed surreal, lit by the reflected light of Rani IV off the jovian. Tidally locked, the view never changed much. Only the storms of the planet above, and the glint of the other moons shifted in this eternal and stark landscape. As little as it changed, it never failed to take his breath away.

When the rover caught up to John, he turned back to the capsule and walked slowly home beside it. When they arrived, he plugged it back into the charger, retrieved his samples from the back, and carried them into the airlock. Going through the procedure he’d practiced dozens (hundreds?) of times before the trip, and almost a hundred since it started, the process was nearly mindless, like so much of everything he’d done since arriving, letting his mind wander beyond even this distant star.

Once the samples were locked away, John opened the kitchen unit and brewed what was labeled “tea” but tasted more like burnt toast. Strange as it seemed, he was going to miss it when he got back home.

The computer flashed a variety of notifications, and as usual, John flipped through them as he drank. Log the tests performed while he was out, approve the standard update on his health and the status of the capsule, and then to check his messages. Even out here it was mostly junk mail, but one was marked important, from the Tyson. He keyed the playback.

The crackle and pop of static blasted through the speakers, followed by a klaxon and then the voice of the captain “Mayday! Mayday! This is the explorer Tyson in the Rani IV system. We have encountered a-” more static “-not approach the Rani system! I repeat this is the exp-” The screen showed that as the end of the message. John set the shaking cup down, and keyed the message again.

And again.

Just a bit of flash that came to me this week... not sure what, if anything will come of it.

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