The Europa Mystery: Part 6

(I know, we haven’t added on this in forever.  My bad.  Been busy with class and stuff)

Lucas and I were sitting outside the Command Deck.  We could hear people talking inside excitedly.  We weren’t in trouble.  They wanted to know who had discovered the coral formations, and why they found out it was us, we were told to report here.  My companion looked so giddy.  Both of us were.  We were told not to tell anybody else.  There would be an announcement made soon.  Of course, everyone in the Station was whispering about it.  As I sat there, I felt my hands shaking.  I wanted to get on the Net and send a message to Angie.  She would be the first to know.  Then my parents, of course.  Part of me was also stoked to talk to Mari about it.  I could go on about this for hours.  Extraterrestrial life!  It was the biggest discover in history.  Life in our solar system that existed outside of Earth.  The possibilities were endless.  I knew that Lucas and I would be talking about this until the cows came home too.  No worries.  I wanted to nerd with him about it too.
The door opens and an officer looks down at us and nods.  “Head on in, kids.”
I gave him a look.  I didn’t like being called “kid” by this douche.  He looked kind of pompous.  Oh well, whatever.  I could shrug it off.  Just made a huge discovery.  Gotta keep things in perspective.
We go in and the place is wonderland!  All the neon lights from the control consoles.  People sitting at the various displays.  In the center of the room was a massive display table that showed all of Atlantis.  It was so cool!  Peeking behind the curtain, the commanding officer walked over.  It was the guy from the transport!  He smiled as he saw us.
“So, I hear that it’s thanks to you two that we get to send the most important message back to Earth, am I right?”
Lucas was too awed to speak, so I nodded.  “Yes sir!  Lucas and I did, along with Mari and the scientist with us.”
The man stroked his chin, showing approval.  “I see.  Well, you two have done very well, and as such, you are going to get a special commendation, along with recognition of the discovery as yours.  I bet that your parents will be incredibly proud to know that their children are at the front of the discovery of extra-terrestrial life.”
Both of us were absolutely brimming with pride.  My heart was racing so fast that I thought I would die.  This discovery would have my name on it!  Angie would get to see that it was me who did this!  And Lucas too.  I couldn’t even imagine.  He came from a blue-collar family.  I could see him looking like he was about to cry, but holding it together.
“In fact, stick around.  I mean to make an announcement.”
The man went over to the central control table and hit a switch.  It showed a comm being opened across the station.
“My I have your attention please.  This is Commander Aronax.  As I’m sure some of you have heard, there has been a momentous discovery made today.  One that is going to change everything we believed about our solar system.  We have discovered life!  It was discovered by our two students.  The life is a form of coral.  It was found growing along a cave wall.  This expedition was launched to learn about the potential for life outside of Earth, and we have found it.  This is one of the greatest moments in scientific history, and you all should be proud.  Testing on the lifeforms will begin immediately, so everyone be ready.  All relevant data we gather will be open to whoever wants to see it, and anyone who wishes to transmit it home.  A special commendation will be given to the two who discovered the coral, and we are going to be breaking out some special provision tonight in celebration.  That is all.”
The people inside the room started clapping.  I put my arm around Lucas, as he did around me.  This was the best day of my entire life.  Never before had I ever felt so happy.  Tears were running down my face.  Lucas’ too.  Most people only dreamed of stuff like this.  Now I was part of it.  However, there was someone I needed to talk to first.

By the time I got back to my quarters, Mari was waiting.  I ran to her and gave her a big hug.  I was in major-chatterbox mode as I went on about how great it felt.  As always, Mari just listened with a smile.  It felt so good.  For real, this woman will be a great mother, should she go that route.  If you have a gift for something, why waste it, right?  But she could tell that I was eager to get on the Net, so she gave me some privacy.
I established my connection and could already see messages in my Inbox.  First there was the announcement from Atlantis that went out.  Me and Lucas’ names were right there, with bios of each of us.  It was such a humbling moment.  There were classmates who were going on about how cool this was.  My teachers too.  That felt nice.  One told me that Lucas and I would have our pick of colleges after this, with full-rides to any we wanted.  Part of me liked that, not gonna lie.  Then there were two that I was most excited for.  The first was from mom and dad.  It was a video.  We were too far to do video chat, because of the delay, so it had to be messages.
They were sitting in the kitchen, both of them looking so ecstatic.
Dad waved.  “Hey there, sweetie!  We just saw the news, and I thought your mother was going to pass out.  She started yelling, ‘that’s my girl!  She did that!  Suck on it, PTA!'”
I openly laughed at that.
Mom looked pissed.  “Whatever.  Your father was a teary-eyed mess.  I thought he was going to break out into a melodramatic song.”
They gave each other looks.  I felt so happy.
“Well, we just wanted to let you know that we’re proud of you, sweetie.  When you get home in four months, we’re going to have the biggest celebration ever, for our little girl who discovered aliens!”
“Damn right we will!  You’re our little superstar.”
“Talk to you soon, sweetie!”
They waved goodbye and the message cut out.  I had never felt so warm and full of life.  It was like everything was perfect.  Then there was the second message.  It was from Angie.  This was also a video message.
It opened with her fiddling with the camera.  Finally, she got it where she wanted and smiled at me.
“Hey you.  I just saw the story.  Everyone in class went nuts.  You and Lucas are going to be so famous when you get home.  Like, you can’t even believe.  I’m so happy for you.  I love you, Ellie.”  She blew a kiss at the screen.  There are not words to describe how much I wanted her in my arms at that moment.
“I’ll see you when you get home.  See you then, baby.”
The video ended and I cut the screen off.

Mari came back in a few minutes later.  I noticed that she was not sending any messages.  In fact, I had hardly seen her send anything in the time we roomed together.
“Hey Mars, can I ask you something?”
She nodded, not looking up from screen.
“You got any family waiting for you, back home?”
That got her to stop.  She looked up at the ceiling, thinking.  A few minutes later, she looked over at me.
“Not particularly.  My parents were caught in the R-571 outbreak on Earth, so they aren’t around anymore.  I got a brother who is in the service, but him and I don’t talk much anymore.”
I felt pretty awkward.  “Oh.  Sorry.  I didn’t mean to…”
She shook her head.  “It’s alright.  Time that’s been and gone.  Nothing I can do now but try and move forward.”
We sat there quietly for a time, before she looked over at me.
“I’m proud of you, Ellie.”
I looked up in shock.  The look on her face, it was so genuine.  Like, when you’re speaking from the heart.
“You and Lucas did something pretty fucking cool, you know?”
I smiled at her.  “Thank you, Mari.”  That was just how I wanted it to end.

Being a rock star around Atlantis had its perks.  The night of the celebration, everyone wanted to shake me and Lucas’ hand.  We got compliments, names and people telling us how they could help us get anywhere we wanted to go with our future academics.  It felt so cool.  Then the day became another, and we were still on fire.  True to the Commander’s words, they began studying the coral in detail.  Samples were taken, though they were very careful to take as little as possible.  It felt wrong to just rip up this new life we had just found.  After all, what if this was it?  What if this was all there was?  The organic substance in the water was thicker in places, but finding growths of the coral was hard work.  Thus far, only the cave and a trench had been found with it.  The trench seemed to go into the ground, with hints that there was a larger system of underwater caves.  Maybe the coral grew all through it?  The possibilities were endless.
Each sample brought us new reasons to celebrate.  There were messages from Earth, Mars and all the other colonies congratulating us.  There was recognition from the Earth Sphere government of Lucas and I.  But the real amount of messages was coming from us.  Each new discovery was treated like a revelation, and it was all going out as fast as we could get it.  There were too many mysteries.  These coral were animals, like the kind on Earth.  What did they eat?  The organic cloud?  There seemed to be a connection between it and the growth, but it was all too vague.  Lucas was now at the center.  I was still gathering samples, but that was fine.  I did one major piece of work, and that was all I could ever want.  Let my chum have all the credit.
Weeks were passing off the calender as the rhythm came back to the place.  While everyone was still in hyper-excited mode, it got a lot smoother when we accepted that we had discovered new life and now we got to study it.  It became a science project, and that was fine.

The next big thing that I was asked to do was when Lucas came to me and asked me if I would help him with something.  There was a potential coral nest that had been detected far from Atlantis.  Too far for short-range drones.  The idea was to get in the long-range sub and do some direct research.  This mission only required a couple of people.  Needless to say, Lucas and I volunteered.  It was a chance to do something exciting!  There was only one slight problem.
“No way, Ellie!”
I gave her a dirty look.  “Oh, come on, Mars!  I’ve been DYING to go and test out the sub in person!  I’m tired of the simulator!”
She gave me an equally-dirty look.  “We’ve been over this, and my answer is no!”
I smacked my fist into the wall.  “I’ve been in this place for four months!  I haven’t asked anyone for anything outside of occasional seconds, and the moment that I want to do something fun, you say no?!  There better be a damn good reason!”
“Because you could get hurt!  It’s my job to look after you!  Letting you go out in that sub with just the two of you is asking for trouble.  I don’t want to risk your getting hurt.”
I turned around, storming back to my bed.  After crashing on the bed, I heard a sigh.
“Try to understand, I’m doing this for your own good, Ellie!”
“Fuck you, Mars!  You aren’t my fucking mother and you know damn-well that I know what I’m doing with the sub.  I guess it’s easy to just sit back and be authoritarian when it doesn’t matter.  Don’t do me anymore favors, ‘kay?”
There was a long pause.
“Well then, if I’m not your mother, what do you care what I think?”  That was the last she said, before exiting the room.  She wasn’t back the rest of the night.  Part of me felt a little guilty, but the anger was still there.

I saw Lucas the next morning  He looked up and frowned at me.  “So, you get told too?”
I nodded.  “Yeah.  Mars went off on me.  We had a fight, then she just told me to get lost.”
He nodded too.  “I know.  She talked to me last night.  Cued me up and told me that if anything happens, she’s gonna kick my ass.”
The guilt came back.  “Fuck.  I’m sorry.  I just…I want to do something again, you know?  We finally get to discover something amazing, and we won’t be here much longer!  When will we get to do something like this again?!  We get to go home, go back to boring fucking homeroom and boring tests and Mrs. Anne’s boring lectures.  This is something real!  Like, something that matters.  I want to make the most of every second I can.”
It was then that I looked up and saw Mari standing there.  She smiled at me, and there was an understanding reached between us.  A silent understanding that we both accepted.  In that moment, I respected her so much more.

The sub bay was pretty laid back today.  The subs had only ever been used for repair work.  The guy who watched over the place and I were tight.  We arrived, eager to head out.  He smiled as he walked over.
“I should have figured that it would be you, problem-child.  You have been training in the sub for weeks.”
“Damn straight!” I replied, chipper.  “So, we got a sub ready to go?!”
He nodded, pointing toward one of them.  “Yup.  You’ve got enough fuel and supplies to last for about two weeks.  However, remember the mission brief?”
“Yup.  We’re out for five days, no longer.  Given the area, that will be most of a day journey out and same back, with three to gather samples and analyze, while bringing back more for further analysis.”
“That’s my girl!  Alright, you know the drill, so I won’t beat it into your head.  Just remember – you can’t stop in water like you can on land.  You have the on-board drone for close work, so you will be able to stall a fair room away from your target.”
“I know.”
He patted me on the head, which had my cap that had Atlantis’ logo on it.  “Alright then, problem child.  Get to it!”
“Yes sir!”
We ran over to the hatch and got inside, stowing our gear in the bins.  The controls for this vehicle were intuitive.  If need be, I could even have Lucas watch if I got tired.  Most of the journey would be auto-pilot, so we could take it a little easy.  The controls lit up as we got into the cockpit.  I strapped in to the pilot’s chair and then went through pre-launch prep.  We got our go from Control, and I looked at Lucas.
“Hold on tight.  This is gonna be a jolt!”
He grimaced, but smirked at me..  “Alright, do your worst!”
“This is Distance One, launching!”
Then I heard Mari on the line.  “If there is anything, anything at all, you get your little ass back here, you get me?!”
“Yes ma’am!”
“Good.  Break a leg out there!”
The sub suddenly dropped, and the vertigo was immense.  Lucas yelped a bit, and we got a laugh out of it.  Once they got out of the bay, I turned and started toward the objective.  After entering the coordinates in to the autopilot, I turned to my companion.  “So, know how to play poker?”

The hours passed as we got to our target point.  I felt so cool, manning the controls and sitting at the chair, watching the lights on the rocks far below.  There wasn’t much to look at out of the main screens,  No actual windows on these things.  They’re a structural weakness.  There are cameras that feed the viewscreens.  They can be changed to fit any style of piloting.  It’s very handy.  Once we got there, Lucas couldn’t get in back and start up the sub’s mobile lab.  It had all the toys.  He was like a kid in a candy shop.  I hung out with him, listening to him go on about this thing and that.  It was kind of nice.  Made me feel all official.  I may be a pilot, sure, but still.
We took readings, and it was a HUGE growth of the coral.  It was coming out of a crevasse that went deep into the rock.  There was something different about these coral.  For one thing – they were easily-visible!  We shine a light on them and saw that they were towering spires that went high up into the ocean.  There was another thing about them – they were generating heat!  Lots and lots of it.  We had the drone go in and take some samples.  Got to put my mad skills to work again.  Felt cool.  There was a ton of stuff that we ended up doing.  On the first day out, there was a steady stream of messages that we got from Atlantis, but by the second day, it was pretty quiet.  That was a little odd, but we were busy.
The third day, we found a ton of cool stuff out about this coral.  It was some kind of production plant.  It was making the organic stuff we were finding in the water.  For what purpose?  Who knows.  Lucas theorized that it was some kind of terraforming, to make the entire ocean habitable for them.  That sounded cool.  He stated that we might just have made another major discovery.  I liked that!  We could end up being uber-famous when we got back home, which pleased me like a kitten.  There was only a single message that day, where we heard something about some technical problems.  I was a little concerned, but if they already had it in hand, then why worry?  Besides, I was getting into this too.
Our last day out, we made sure to get more samples to bring back.  It was then that Lucas noticed something – it was already repairing the areas we snipped at!  The regeneration rate was amazing!  We had observed some faster rates on the coral in the cave, but had never gotten to see it the way we did here.  We recorded some video where it was happening in real time!  This kind of growth healing factor, never before had we seen anything like it.  It was amazing.
However, there wasn’t a single message from Atlantis.  That worried me a bit, but they said there were technical problems.  Lucas and I talked for hours on the way back.  The possibilities were limitless, and we would get to come back home as rock stars again.  This was great.

When we arrived at Atlantis, I immediately knew that something wasn’t right.  The external lights – there were so few of them.  What’s more, there was air leaking out of a lot of places.  Bubbles rising to the surface.  To me, that said one thing – Atlantis was taking on water.  A lot of it.  There were no drones, no signals, no nothing.  I looked to Lucas and we both had the same thought – something was really wrong, and either there was nobody around, or everyone was dead.

For the first time, in my whole life, I was really scared.

Until next time, a quote,

“My mother married a hyena.  Sure, at first he was all laughs.”  -Garfield

Peace out,

Maverick

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One thought on “The Europa Mystery: Part 6

  1. Pingback: The Europa Mystery | Lucien Maverick's Blog

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