The Europa Mystery

My second piece of fiction that I’ve done on this site, in addition to “Quinn.”  This was a project that took a lot longer, but was fun to do.  If you liked this story, I am grouping all the parts here, which you an check out by clicking on each one.  Share the story, and let’s see how big we can make it.  Enjoy.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12

Until next time, a quote,

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Phillip Pullman

Peace out,

Maverick

The Europa Mystery: Part 12

After the Commander left, Lucas and I were talking, for hours.  I was sure that he was going to get another award.  He deserved it.  After all the work he put in, I would be kind of pissed if he didn’t get some recognition.  He said that he would make sure that I wasn’t left out of this.  That made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  After a few more hours, both of us felt tired.  The long-defrost thing coming back.  We were out like lights pretty damn quick.  Another dream came to me that night.

It was some else’s eyes again.  Mars?  I think so.  This looked like Mari.  Her vehicle came to a stop in front of my parents house.  She got out and went rushing at the door.  Right as she got there, it opened.  There was Mom, heading out.
“Oh, Marlene!  Hello there.  What brings you around?  I haven’t seen you since…”  There was a bitter note.  Something told me that it was my funeral.  Mom had aged, a lot.  I couldn’t imagine how hard that would be, believing that your child had died.
Mars shook her head.  “You are never going to believe what’s happened!  Is David around?!”
Again, Mom got awkward.  “David…moved out, about a month ago.  Once the divorce got finalized.”  My heart sunk.  They got divorced!  What happened?!  But then I remembered – they believed that I was dead.  For what was probably a year.  Was I the only thing holding our family together?  No, that couldn’t be it.  It was probably just a lot of things.  After you lose a kid, how does a person deal with that without having it fuck with your mind?  I didn’t have an answer.
Mars seemed determined to maintain her good mood.  “Get him here!  Or set up a video link!”
Mom looked confused.  “Why?  What’s going on?”
“Ellie’s alive!  Mars Defensive Forces found a shuttle on an incoming trajectory.  It was broadcasting a message that it was coming into Mars orbit and looking to be picked up.  We grabbed the shuttle as soon as it got into orbit and cracked it open!  Get David on the line.  He’s got to hear this!”
“Come with me!”  There was a look of joy and urgency on Mom’s face.  My heart was singing.

 

Dad burst into the house.
“Ellie’s okay?! Where is she?!”
Mars looked up at him.  “She’s at Orbital Station 2 right now, along with Lucas.”
“Is she alright?!” Mom asked.
“Aside from some muscle degeneration and melanin depletion from the prolonged cryo-sleep, she’s the picture of health.  Kid’s apparently had one hell of a journey.  I brought the video that was taken of it for you.”
“We need to get a shuttle and see her!” Dad almost shouted.  “Now!”
Mars shook her head.  “No can do.  No civvies on an IDF Station.  But Ellie is coming back two days from now.  We’ve notified Lucas’ father as well.  He’s going to be one busy kid.  Him and Ellie both.  It seems that he figured out the story behind what happened with Atlantis Station.  Smart fucking kid.  I’ve listened to his explanation, and it still amazes me.  In the data he forwarded to Commander Aronax, he added an addendum where he credited Ellie with the discovery, stating that none of it would have been possible without her help.  Bet she’s feeling all kinds of good right now.”
Dad ran over and hugged Mom.  They looked so happy.
“When is that shuttle coming in?”
“Bright and early!  I bet you that Ellie is going to be eager to get back home.  I’ve left you a copy of the video and the data that Lucas got you.”  The tone got slightly more serious.  “Though I have to tell you that both the video and the data are strictly classified as IDF intel, for now.  So no sharing that, with anyone. Got it?”
Dad nodded.  “Sure, sounds good.”
Tears streaming down her face, Mom looked up.  “Marlene, thank you so much.  I can never repay you, for all you’ve done.”
“My pleasure!  When I heard, it was like I was reborn.”
“Why did it take so long for her to get back?” Dad asked, trying to keep himself from crying.
“Their shuttle got intercepted by some pirates.  They were apparently on their way to one of the outlaw asteroids, TJ.  An ugly place.  The IDF has tried to go after it for years, but it’s heavily defended.  Lucas was going to be put to work in the mines, while Ellie, she would have likely ended up…”  Her voice trailed off.  They got the picture.
“Oh god…” Mom added.
“Kid’s damn smart.  She hacked their central computer and used their ship to transmit a message to the IDF.  Got a fleet to their location.  A brutal fight. The two escaped in the chaos.  But they were deep inside the Belt.  Their shuttle was programmed to avoid problem areas.  To do that, they had to make a very long detour around pirate sectors.  The two were lucky that auto-pilot was able to navigate through the unfamiliar terrain.  We have less than 20% of the Belt charted.  Had their system not been able to hone in on Mars’ location, the two of them might have been drifting out there forever.  Or, at the very least, for several more years.  Damn lucky kids.”
Both of my parents were beaming.  Dad was holding Mom’s hand.  I knew that it was just happiness talking.  What got them to that divorce wasn’t going away.  Still, I couldn’t help but hope that the two of them would make it work.
“Be at the Spaceport at 0800, two days from now.  You have a daughter to see.”  The vision started to fade out.

 

I was in a room.  It was dark.  The walls were covered in what looked like graffiti and craziness.  What was this place?  There was a young woman laying on the bed.  She had blue hair.  Who was this person?  All along both of her arms, there were tattoos.  It was too dark to see them exactly, but they looked pretty cool.  Who was this person?  There was a beeping noise.  It was on her arm.  She reached over and hit the glowing center of her Band.
“Who is it and what do you want?”
“You aren’t going to believe this!”  That voice, was it Mom…

The next day passed without much event.  Lucas and I were just so happy to be back.  In truth, I wanted to do nothing, absolutely nothing, for the better course of a month.  Although, I couldn’t deny, I was thinking back to Europa.  I doubted that I would ever get a chance to see the world as I did when I was there.  Seeing the vast star ocean above, when Lucas and I were walking on the icy surface of the moon.  Swimming through that ocean.  I made sure that my Band recorded everything that I saw when I was having my adventure.  It was so worth it.  Didn’t tell Lucas or anyone else that I had recorded it.  Couldn’t wait to show it to Angie.  That had been the hardest part of being back home.  Angie’s necklace was back where it belonged.  I would never take it off, except to sleep.  Damn pointy end on the base.  Could kill a person with that.
It was later than evening when the door opened and I felt my heart leap out of my chest.
“Mars!”
Mari came running over to me, wrapping her arms around me.  “It’s really you!  You’re alive!”  Felt myself being crushed.  Pushed back.  “Sorry.  I just…when I thought you were dead, I felt part of myself die with you.  Now that you’re back, I feel like I’m whole.  I’m so sorry, Ellie.”
I shook my head.  “You have nothing to be sorry for.  You fought the good fight, to try and find me.  Aronax told me the whole story.”
She smiled at me.  “I bet.  He’s a good man, Aronax.  Wouldn’t have gotten off Atlantis if not for him.  Guy kept cool under pressure.”  We sat on my bed.  “So, tell me about your adventures!  I want to know everything!”
It was a long discussion.  One that I figured that I would get to have many times over.  There were some great laugh moments with Luc, where the two of us were able to finally giggle over what happened to us.  I didn’t tell her about the dreams, or the idea of myself as an Evo.  It was all too new to myself to truly process.  I’d tell Mom and Dad, of course.  And Angie.  The longer I sat in this room, the more I wished that I could get out and see her.  To be in her arms again.  I bet that she’d done some changing in over a year.  A year and a few months, as I came to find out.  An eternity, to some.
Neat thing I should mention – they asked if Lucas and I wanted to take out our ocular implants.  Both of us said no.  For a long time, I had always wondered why people wanted to get cybernetic augmentation.  Now I knew.  Because it made life so much easier.  I could do so much with this stuff!  I had already tried to get into the IDF’s system here on the Station.  They didn’t take too kindly to that.  Gave me a giggle.  The implants were here to stay, as far as we were concerned.  Once you go tech, you don’t go back.
After talking for hours, Mars told me to rest up.  The two of us were going home the next morning.  I felt so alive.  Mom, Dad, I’m coming home!  Angie, I love you.

There was no dream that night.  I guess that whatever had given me the dreams thought that I had had enough.  There were a few images that I remember.  Something about being on a ship and feeling really happy.  Still, the morning didn’t come fast enough.  Lucas and I woke up and got dressed as fast as we could.  We didn’t have any real luggage with us, since all our stuff was at the bottom of Europa by now.  Ooo, forgot to mention – there was a planned mission to return to Europa and find out what happened.  At least there was initially.  Following the evidence that Lucas gathered, and his analysis, I heard that that was being tabled, for now.
We got to the shuttle and I knew for a fact that Luc was feeling jitters.  Wish I knew how things were with his dad.  My own abilities were unpredictable.  He was sorry to hear that my folks got a divorce.  I could only imagine how his dad would be doing.  The two of us sat next to each other on the shuttle.  I rested my head on his shoulder.  Even now, all that we went through still stood.  We faced down oblivion together.  That is a memory that would always be with us.
Seeing the surface of Mars, heading down toward it, it still didn’t feel real.  Like all of this was one of my dreams.  And I would wake up in some awful situation, like last time.  Atmospheric entry, and it was starting to sink in.  The spaceport that I had left, so long ago. It was finally here.  I clutched Angie’s necklace even tighter.  We docked.  Lucas and I looked at each other.
“Ready to go face the music?” I asked.
“We’re gonna have to do it sometime.”
A small chuckle.  “Well, we could always hijack this shuttle and fly it back to Europa.  See what kind of trouble we could get into back there.”
He chuckled back.  “Live amongst the coral.  Yeah, I’ll pass.  But I won’t ever forget about this.”  Squeezing my hand.  “Let’s go see what happens now.”
Hand-in-hand, we got to the shuttle hatch, and exited.  I let go of his grip, and we started down the tarmac.  It was so early.  There was mist coming from our breath.  Kind of chilly, too.  I put on the sweater I was given from Mars.  It had the Europa mission’s logo on it.  Felt nice.  She was with us too.  I made sure that I would be a part of her life from here on in.  The Europa mission was where we met.  I would make sure that it would be part of a long friendship, one that would last the rest of my life.
All around, it was still early.  The sounds of vehicles on the runway.  A shuttle being prepped.  Where were Mom and Dad?  Did they get the wrong time?  Lucas was clearly nervous too.  We turned a corner around one of the cargo vehicles that was sitting on the tarmac, and there they were.  I saw Dad first.  He looked up, putting his hand over his mouth.  He motioned for Mom, who was talking to Lucas’ dad.  I had always heard that Luc’s dad was a stern man.  And yet, when he saw his son, he came running.  For my own part, I took the opposite approach, running to where my parents stood.  I nearly plowed into Dad, who met me on one knee.  He seemed somehow taller than before.  Did I shrink in that cryo-tube?  Oh well, it felt great.  Mom can over as well, hugging both of us.  Tears started running down my face.
“I missed you both.  Sorry to make you wait so long.”
“It’s okay, sweetie,” Dad nearly sobbed.  “You’re home now, and that’s what matters.”
After a few moments, I pulled back.  Looking around, I couldn’t see Angie anywhere!
“Where’s Angie?”
Mom looked confused.  “I got in touch with her two nights ago.  She should be here.”
My heart sunk.  Angie wasn’t here.  She didn’t want to be here with me?  It hurt.  A lot.  Indeed, the tears went from joy to pain just that fast.  Both of them stood up and put their arms around me.
“She might not have remembered.  Or has class.  We don’t know what the story is,” Mom said, trying to comfort me.  It didn’t work.  As we started to walk away, I looked up.  Behind one of the cargo containers, there was somebody standing there.  I couldn’t recognize them.  I did recognize the blue hair.  It was the girl in my dream!  She was wearing a black beanie with some insignia on it.  Her shirt was very punk, along with black pants, a black coat and black boots.  Indeed, this girl seemed pretty cool.  Who was it?  She was looking right at me, yet seemed awkward.  Had it not been for how sad I was, I would have waved hello.  As it stood, all I could do was keep walking.  My parents got a divorce, and now Angie didn’t want to be with me anymore.  It had been over a year.  That’s when it hit me – a lot could have happened.  Look at my parents!  Angie would have thought that I was dead too.  For over a year.  Did I want for her to be alone and not be happy?  What if she met somebody?  Maybe, after I died, she got totally miserable, and finally found someone who made her happy again.  Did I want to strip that away from her?  That seemed cruel.  If it had been me, would I have been able to face her, having moved on?  That would be so horrible.  Oh hi, Ellie!  Nice to see you again.  Meet my new girlfriend!  Isn’t she great?!  That would be awkward beyond belief.  My sadness was slightly abated.  I had done some growing up on my journey.  I would still try and see Angie.  If, for no other reason, than to tell her that I hoped she was happy.  It would hurt, and I know it’s saying goodbye, in a way, but it’s time for her to be happy too.

After we got back home, there came the dreaded discussion.  Mom and Dad sat down with me in the living room.
“Ellie, there’s something we need to talk about,” Mom said, giving me a can of green tea with mango.  How did she know what I wanted?  That woman’s psychic.
“I know, you and Dad got a divorce.”
Both of them looked stunned.
“How did you know?!” Dad asked.
“Did Mars tell you?”
I shook my head.  “No, I saw it, in a dream.  For a long time now, I’ve been having these strange dreams.  At first, I just thought it was really odd things, but then they started coming true.  One after the other.  I was seeing my future.  It seemed so strange.  I asked Lucas, and he had a theory.  He said that I was an Evolved Human, or an Evo.”
Dad looked confused.
“But how would that work?” Mom asked.  “You aren’t a Colonial.  The only Colony blood you have is…oh.”  A light turned on.  Her family were Colonials, going way back.
“Yeah, that’s what we thought.  So I saw that you got a divorce.”  I leaned back on the couch.  “What happened, after Mars told you that I was dead.”
Both of them got awkward.  It was Dad who finally spoke.  “Well, we had a funeral.  For you and Lucas.  Your whole class was there.  The teacher was sobbing.  Angela was there too, though she stayed in the back, out of sight.  I think that she was crying.  Left before the ceremony ended.”
“Her face was a mess…” Mom added.
“So, after that was done, things…well, they just weren’t the same.  Your mom and I tried to patch things up.  But things had gotten pretty bad.”
“We didn’t want to hurt each other.  No need for that,” Mom chimed in.  “So, we did some talking and some soul-searching and agreed to end the marriage.  It was the hardest thing I’ve had to do, after burying you.  Or, what we thought was you.”
That got my attention, since I was eager to change the subject.  “Was there a coffin?  Was anything in it?”
Mom cracked a bit of a smile.  “No, we didn’t go that far.  We bought the two of you tombstones, and got you a really nice plot, together.  People left flowers and mementos there.  It was really nice.  I programmed in some pictures that we took, since the gravestone had a holo-projector.”
Dad nodded quietly, rubbing his hands together.  The three of us sat there for a long time.
“Is my stuff still in my room?” I eventually asked.
“Yeah, we didn’t have the heart to pack anything up.”  Dad looked so hurt.  Why was such a happy day so down?  I guess that coming back from the dead has consequences.
“I think I’ll go there.  See if my kitty’s still around.”
Mom nodded.  “Oh, she’s around here, somewhere.”
I got up and headed upstairs.  Opening the door to my old room, it felt to me like walking into a shrine.  Closing the door just enough to let the kitty into my room, I collapsed against a wall, sliding down to the floor.  Then I started to cry.  After everything I’d been through, all I ended up getting was alone.  My parents were divorced, Angie was gone.  Lucas was going to be going off with some big high honors.  I was right back where I started.  Again, I missed Europa.  I decided to play the footage that my suit recorded from the surface.  Looking up at the stars, it was so beautiful.  I feel asleep watching it.  We were out there for over four hours.  That footage would stay with me forever.

I woke up and it was dark.  The footage was still playing.  I had it set on a loop.  Had I really just slept the entire day?  My kitty was on the floor, next to me.  That got me to smile.  Gently scratching behind her ears, I felt better.  At least one person still loved me.  Just then, I got a beep on my Band.  My ocular implant cued up a message.
You home?
Text, now this is retro.  The contact name, it’s Angie!  Yeah. Just chilling
I’m at the door.
My heart sang.  Be right there!  It was hard not to charge down the stairs.  I saw that Dad’s car was gone.  Guess he went back to wherever he was living now.  Opening the door, I came face-to-face with…the girl from before!  She was taller than me, by several inches.  Blue hair, punk look.
“That was you, Angie?!” I exclaimed, shutting the door.  “Why didn’t you say anything to me this morning?!”
She shifted her feet.  “I…I couldn’t believe it.  Couldn’t believe it was you.  I watched you get off that shuttle, and I wanted to run to you and never let you go.  Ellie…I’m sorry.”
I shook my head.  “No, I’m sorry.  I was gone for a long time.  Just realizing how long today.  My folks got a divorce.  That’s fun.  What about you?  Any big changes?”  I moved my hand between our heads, showing off the height difference.  “You got tall!”
Blushing (or what I assume was blushing since it was dark), she played with her hair a bit.  “Yeah, well, it’s been a year.  You didn’t do much growing in cryo?”
“None at all.  It’s basically being in cold storage.  We didn’t age or anything.  Technically, I’m still 15.  Wow.  Life kind of left Lucas and I behind.”
We stood there for a while.  I finally noticed the extent of her punk look.
“Gotta say, I like the new you.  You look cool.  Like an old-school rock star.”
She smiled at me.  “A lot changed for me, after you died.  Or, well, after I thought you died.”
I looked around,  “Let’s go for a walk and you can tell me about it.”
“Deal!”

We got to an old grassy park that few ever used.  The place fell into disrepair.  I always loved it here.  It was like being an explorer.  You’d be amazed at some of the stuff that would blow in here during the wind storms.
I sat on an old jungle gym.  Part of the reason that this park was never used was because of the wind storms.  No joke, it could become like shrapnel.  This jungle gym was a testament to that.  There was a piece of metal lodged in here, that nobody could get out.  Imagine if that was your head!
“So,” Angie began.  “How’s it feel, being home?”
I let my legs hang over the side.  “Like I’ve been away forever.  It’s only been two years since I left Mars, but it’s already like an eternity.”
“I hear that.  Can’t imagine what it’s like, waking up and knowing that people thought that you were dead.”  She was sitting right next to me.  Her body heart seemed to radiate outward.  I wanted to hold her so much.
There was a long pause.  Finally, I had to ask.  “So, when I died…did you start seeing anyone?”  It hung in the air for a few minutes.
Angie let out a breath.  “Yes and no.  I’ve been…with somebody, but it isn’t love.  I just.  I needed to feel alive.  You were gone, and I felt like my heart went with you.  I got into a lot of shit.  Drugs, booze, cheap sex.  My grades in class went off a cliff, but I didn’t care.  Life didn’t feel like living, once you were gone.”
Now I felt like a complete piece of shit.  Nice work, Ellie.  “Oh god.  That where the tats came from?”
She chuckled.  “Yeah.  Girl I’ve been sleeping with does ink.  Cool stuff.  Some of these tattoos are cybernetic.  They can change, if I want them too.  It’s really neat!”
“I’m a cyborg too now!” I piped in, eager to talk about this.  Finally, some less awkward ground.
“Oh?  What did you get augmented?”
“Well, first was my eyes.  They connect directly to my Band, along with neural nodes in my brain, that can interface with systems.  It’s so cool!  I used it when Luc and I were captured by pirates to escape!”
“Badass Ellie!  Very cool!”
“Thanks!”  Some of the tension was deflated, but it was still there.  The elephant in the room, as it were.
“The day of your funeral, I felt my heart turn to ash, Elle.”
Very gently, I put my arm around her.  She stiffened, then relaxed.  “I know.  I’m so sorry, Angie.  I would have given anything to have been able to get home sooner.  If I hadn’t been so damn stubborn and needed to go on the distance mission with Luc, then I would have gotten out with the rest.  I’m so sorry.”
She rested her head on my shoulder, and then she noticed the outline of the necklace, underneath the sweater.  “You’re still wearing it!  My necklace!”
I looked over at her.  “I never took it off!  Except at night, and when I went into cryo.”
A confused look.  “You couldn’t wear the necklace in cryo?”
“No.  Mars told me that the metal would have burned through my skin.  Had to put it in a locker.”
“Yeah, that would have been bad.  Though it would have bonded us forever.  My necklace fuzed with you.”  Both of us cracked up.  Finally, the tension seemed to fizzle away.  We had reached an understanding.
“Angie, I love you.”
“I love you too, Elle.  But I….I need time.  Time to process all this.  Time to get my head on straight, you know?  It’s all just…”
“Too much.  Believe me, I get that.”  I looked at her, and she at me.  Gently, she pulled her lips to mine.  She had gotten stronger now.  Strong arms and strong lips.  A strong woman who was so beautiful.  I could have lived forever in that moment.
Pulling back, Angie smiled at me.  “It’s kinda weird.  We look so different now.  I feel like I’m a cradle robber.”
“Technically you are, since I’m still biologically 15.  Pedo bitch!”  Both of us got another laugh, and we laid back on the jungle gym.  We held each other, and for the first time, things finally felt right.  Whatever happened, We would be okay.  That’s all I wanted.

Epilogue:

The voice came on the com.
“Attention, the Cruise Vessel is coming in to Earth Orbital Ring dock now!  Anyone who wishes to dock here should grab their belongings and report to Customs.  Thank you, and enjoy your stay!”
Looking up from the game of chess that I had going with Lucas, I grinned.  “Well, that’s our cue!”
“Oh hell no!” he snarled.  “You aren’t getting out of this ass-kicking that easily!”
I gave him a wink.  “Hey, you heard the lady.  We can finish this up later, you sad and lonely bitch.”
“Pussy!”
“You know it!”  We started towards our rooms.  As I got to mine, I saw Mom and Dad talking to Angie.
“Scheming, are you?” I asked, opening the door to my cabin.
Angie chuckled.  “Oh yeah.  They keep talking about a family and shit  I don’t even know where they get this stuff!”
Playing along, I leaned on her.  “These people be nuts!”
“Females,” Dad groaned, walking off.  Everyone got a laugh out of that.  I walked into my room, gathering up my stuff.  The exterior camera showed me Earth.  It looked amazing!  The Orbital Ring was a sight to behold.  Unlimited solar energy, gathered in huge dishes.  It solved Earth’s power problem, forever.  No more need of fossil fuels.  The biggest project in human history, that united a planet for a common goal.  For a while, anyway.  The planet was now separated into three blocks of unified nations.  It keeps the peace.  For now.  Grabbing my bag, I headed out.  Angie was waiting for me.  She put an arm around me.  Now that she was a fair bit taller, it felt pretty nice to lean into her and let her hold me.  After months of not being held, it felt cool to be that person again.
We docked and got off.  Customs was loads of fun.  Gotta love bureaucracy, right?  Ugh.  Anyway, we got the paperwork done, and now it was off to go get an award.

I can’t begin to tell you how cool it was to take the Orbital Elevator train down to the surface.  You couldn’t see out into space.  The entire thing was in an interior location.  That was so they could board it like a normal train.  See, the artificial gravity inside the tube goes right down to the ground.  It’s very cool.  Getting off, I got to taste Earth’s air for the first time in my entire life.  Lucas and his dad were looking happy.  We were here to accept an award.  The Tyson Award.  It was the highest honor in the scientific community, named for the woman who discovered the means to create artificial gravity, Vivian Tyson.
When we docked, someone from the IDF was waiting for us – Mars!  She ran over and hugged me tight when I got there.  She had to leave before getting a chance to meet Angie.  That was a sweet little reunion.  Got Angie blushing when she told her how much I talked about her.  There was a private shuttle waiting to take us to where the ceremony was being held.  It was in the capital of the Asian Union, Tokyo.  Both Angie and I knew what that meant – we party down!
My look had changed a lot, from when I first got back to Mars.  I took on some of Angie’s style.  I wore a black shirt with a skull on it.  My red hair had a couple of blonde streaks in it.  Angie’s had a couple of red ones.  So many great plans, and it was just the beginning!  It was going to be an amazing two weeks here on Earth.  Best vacation ever!

The room where the ceremony was being held was huge.  Absolutely huge.  The greatest scientific minds were gathering.  It was like being at movie awards or something.  Mom was in a gorgeous dress.  Dad was in a tux.  Angie was in punk, because she didn’t give a fuck.  Lucas had on a really nice suit.  He cleans up so well.  As for me, I was also in a really nice suit.  Why?  Because I don’t give a fuck!  Comped drinks, so tasty.  Mom’s disapproving look when I order a daiquiri.  Her more-disapproving look when Angie orders a bigger one.  Giggles.  Lucas’ dad telling him that he’s at a nice place, it’s time for him to try scotch.  Lucas gagging.  More laughs.  I can’t tell you how great that night was.
Then, after some pomp and circumstance, an older man comes to the podium.
“We are gathered here tonight to honor the accomplishment of two very young scientists.  Indeed, these two people are the youngest to ever win this award.  Their dedication to the field and their bravery in the face of what could have been certain death is a tribute to the power that good science has in this world, and that the level of dedication that we commit to when we take up the mantle.  It is with great pleasure that I present the Tyson Award to Lucas Holden and Eleanor Monroe!”
Applause.  I felt like I was going to faint.  Stood up, a little difficult.  Lucas came up next to me and gave me a hug.
“This is the best day of my life!”
“Mine too, friend.  Mine too.”  I held him close, and for a time, I wished it never had to end.  That we never had to go up to that stage.  But we parted, and started the long walk.  So many amazing people, all clapping for us.
When we got to the podium, a medal was slipped over our heads.  The beautiful gold etching, showing Tyson and the stars behind her.  Tears started to run down my face.  Had to hastily clean them off.  We were each given a mic, but I looked to Lucas.
He reached into his suit and pulled out a paper.  “I was told by my companion that I was the one who had to give a speech tonight.  She had no desire to say something silly and make an idiot of herself in front of a bunch of Sol system-renowned scientists.”
Laughter around the room.
“The discovery made on that moon of Europa will change the face of science for the rest of time.  One of the humanity’s longest-running questions has been – are we alone?  It has been a driving force behind so much space exploration.  It was that very question that got us to Europa in the first place.  And thanks to Eleanor,” he turned and put his hand on my shoulder.  So much blushing!  “We were able to find the answer to that question!  Of course, it came at a cost.  We discovered a life-form that not only was intelligent, but also dangerous and able to defend itself against a perceived attacker.  It was such a shock to be in that empty Station and learn the truth – that Atlantis had been attacked by a creature whose base intelligence gave it the power to defend itself against a species vastly more capable.  It is both awe-inspiring and humbling.”
A brief pause.
“This discovery is just the beginning!  Now that we know that there is other life in the universe, we must work harder than ever to find it.  To go out into the vast cosmos and find out what new mysteries await us.  As scientists, these are the moments that we wait for!  The moments that we work tirelessly in laboratories and in the field for.  When we can see what great things we’ve done, and know that we’ve only just begun!  Both Eleanor and I are honored to help continue that journey.  We thank you all.”  With that, he took a bow.  And so did I.  The room filled with applause.  People stood as they did so.  I could hear Angie cheer.  More tears.  Lucas was starting to cry too.  What an unbelievable night.

As I was leaving, Lucas looked to me.
“So, what’s your next plan?”
Looking over at Angie, I smiled.  “Man, I haven’t even begun to think that far ahead.  I’ll let you know when I do.”

Fin

Until next time, a quote,

“And when this is all over, drinks are on me!”  -Garrus Vakarian, Mass Effect 3

Peace out,

Maverick

The Europa Mystery: Part 11

As I went in to cryo-sleep again, I had another dream.

The eyes I was seeing through weren’t mine.  I could tell as much.  They were the eyes of someone else.  Someone older.  Someone who had strength and confidence.  Well, most of the time.  With this person, they were dragging their feet.  Something stayed their motion.  Was it fear?  Sadness?  I couldn’t tell.  But for whatever reason, as they walked down the street, they didn’t carry themselves well.  It was Mars.  That much, I could tell.  In fact, the more I saw of this street, the more familiar it started to look.  I saw the house of one of my oldest friends!  Through whose eyes was I seeing this?  Better question, why were they here?  The person turned a corner, and I saw my house.  The fear that was slowing them got sharper.  I could feel it.  The person was desperately trying to hold back tears.  They looked down, and I saw that they were wearing a uniform!  Mars?!  Why was Mars here?
She finally arrived at the door, her hand visibly shaking as she went to the bell.  Finally, after some mental fortitude, she willed herself to press the button.  There was a brief pause, with her straightening her uniform.
Dad came to the door.
“Oh, hello.  How can I help you?”  He was looking Mars over, surmising that someone in a military uniform must have official business.
“Mr. Monroe?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Is your wife here as well?”
“She is.”  Dad’s face got more concerned.
“If I could step inside, I have something that I need to talk to you about.”
“Honey, who’s at the door…?”  It was Mom.  She came walking in.  “Oh, someone from the IDF.  How can we help you?”
“My name is Marlene Devareau.  I was part of the Europa mission.”
Both of them lightened up a bit after that.
“Ah, then you might know our daughter!” Dad said.  “She is on that mission.  Slated to be home in a couple of months.  Should have already launched.  Is the shuttle here?  Did they get home early?!”  That got the two of them excited.
Mars let out a long breath.  Both of my parents looked worried.
“Did something happen to Ellie…?” Mom asked, grabbing Dad’s hand.
“Something…went wrong.  We should go inside and talk.  This should be private.”  Things suddenly faded out.

 

They faded back in with me seeing Mom on the couch, trying to hold it together, while Dad was crying.  Mars was on the verge of tears herself, fiddling with her hands.
“Everything happened so fast.  There was the alarm, and Aronax telling the crew to abandon the Station.  I desperately tried to reach Ellie, but the long-range transmitter was down.  Hers wasn’t the only Distance crew we lost.  I was about to suit up and head out to find her, but the Commander stopped me.  Had to throw me onto the elevator.  I haven’t gotten my ass kicked by a CO like that in a long time.  He told me, ‘there’s nothing you can do.  Even if you found her, this place would be sunk by the time you got back.’  I hated him.  Wanted to shoot him and head back out.  That little girl, she wasn’t just my job.  She was…”  Tears flowed in earnest.
“Your friend?” Mom asked.  All Mars could do was nod.  Nobody talked for a while.
Finally, Dad looked up. “If she did find her way back to Atlantis, could she have survived?”
Trying to find the right words.  I knew this feeling well.  “The fact is that everything was falling apart at the time when we were ordered to abandon the Station.  We had minutes.  Water was rushing in from everywhere.  The Station was already starting to buckle.  The most nervous I was during all that was when the elevator started to buckle.  We would have had to climb up the shaft.  If that had started to flood, then we all would have died.  We had to shut off  the elevators after we got up.  So many crew didn’t even get a chance to evacuate.  Whole sections decompressed and water rushed in.  God, the people who must have drowned in there.  I don’t even want to think about it.  Ellie…”  More tears.  I felt like crying too.  All I wanted to do was hold Mars.  I guess my mother could channel my thoughts, because she went over to the woman and put her arms around her.
“You did all you could.”
“I should have gone after her!  So what if I died!  At least she wouldn’t have had to die alone!  She would have been with people who loved and cared for her!”
Dad looked up.  “No.  I know that Ellie wouldn’t have wanted that.  She would want you to live and be happy.  She wasn’t the kind of person to want anyone to suffer.”
It was true.  I would have been so angry at Mars if she had stayed in that Station and had died to find me, when she could have escaped.
“I had to be restrained once we got back to the surface.  They shoved me into that shuttle and we left.  Going into cryo for the journey was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  We just got back.  There hasn’t been an official announcement about what happened on Europa.  The PR people are trying to find the right way to word it.  We technical don’t even know.  Everything happened so fast that we couldn’t conduct any scans.  Aronax prioritized the safety of the crew.  He’s a good man.  I may have hated him then, but he is a good man.  Did everything he could to save as many people as possible.”
My parents nodded.
“I’m glad that he saved you,” Mom whispered.
“Why?”
“So you could tell us what happened.  So it wasn’t someone who didn’t love and care about our daughter coming in and telling us the truth.  That’s important.”

Now Mars was choking back sobs.  “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.  I tried…”
Mom just hugged her tighter.  All the control that Mars had melted away, and she broke into Mom’s shoulder. Nobody talked, for a time.
“We’ll have to get started with funeral proceedings,” Dad said, his lip trembling.
“Yeah. I’ll make some calls.”
He shook his head.  “No, I’ll do it.  You stay with Marlene.”  The dream was fading out.  They believed I was dead.  How long would they believe that?  What would happen next?

The first thing that I remember is the sound of beeping.  A noise that seemed familiar, to me.  A heart-sensor!  My eyes opened, but my body felt unbelievably stiff.  Had something gone wrong?  I don’t remember coming out of cryo being this unpleasant before.  My body was a little weak.  Weaker than other times I’ve come out of cryo.  What happened?  The room I was in was white.  Very, very white.  A little cool, too.  Looking around, this place was nice.  Very nice.  It was the Station!  Of that, I was sure.  I looked to the other side, and saw Lucas there.  Thank God.  Moving got a little easier.  There was an IV in my arm.  As I was awake and looking around, my optical implants came online, along with my Band.  It told me about my surroundings.  Sure enough, I was back on one of the Orbital Stations.  My heart was singing.  We were home!  Now I could tell my parents that I’m not dead.
First, I had to check on Lucas.  My vitals were strong enough.  But I had to start moving.  Sitting up was not easy.  Why was my body so weak?  An analysis seemed to point to a cryo-sleep that was longer than normal. How long had I been out?  Not enough data.  Having finally sat up, now I had to try standing.  My feet didn’t touch the floor sitting up, so I was going to have to slide off.  That was going to be fun.  A little courage moment, then I did it.  My feet greeting floor was scary.  But my balance returned.  I wasn’t going to be running marathons, but I could move.  I walked over to where Lucas lay.  We were both in our underwear, from when we went under.  We couldn’t have been out of the cryo-pods for long.  My optics did a scan.  Lucas was alright.  Like me, he was suffering the effects of what most likely was a long cryo-sleep.
Time to get a doctor and to talk about this.  I shuffled back to my bed and moved it up so that I could lay in a seated position.  So tired, but didn’t want to sleep.  Done enough of that for two lifetimes.  My Band hooked in to the network here and let the desk know that I was alive and looking for assistance.  A young man came in, smiling at me.
“Well, hello there!  Glad to see that one of our sleeping beauties is awake.”  Flattering bastard.  I admit, I blushed a bit.  He’s a sweet guy, and, I admit, kinda cute.
“Yeah.  How long was I out?”
He frowned a bit.  “I’m not sure.  There is someone here that can help you with that, though.  He’s the head of the Medical Ward, here on this Station.  We’re with the IDF, so he should have all the answers.  I’ll ring him up.
“Thank you.”

About 15 minutes later, an older man, with a trimmed white beard and a jovial face came to my door.
“Well hello, young lady!  I see that you and your companion are awake.”
Indeed, Lucas had woken up.  Well, I woke him up.
“I had to get his lazy ass up, but yeah,” I sneered.
“Blow me, bitch,” Lucas replied.  We chuckled.
Taking out a tablet, the head of the Medical Ward sat down.  “Nice to see you two are up.  My name is Director Adrian Veer.  I’m the head of this facility.  Sounds like you two have had quite a ride.”
Lucas snorted.  “Understatement of the fucking year.”  I wasn’t about to argue.
“Well, I understand you were wanting to know about your cryo-sleep.”
I nodded.  “My optical implant told me that that was the most likely reason behind my muscle weakness and why I didn’t come out of sleep in the pod.”
“That’s true.  You two’s shuttle had to make a whole bunch of course corrections.  Avoiding more pirates, like the ones who captured you.  Smart defensive systems on those.  After you got away from the ship you were on, and a ton of corrections to keep you out of enemy hands, you headed back to Mars.  The whole journey took just over a year.”
“A year?!” I gasped.
“Yeah.  The Asteroid Belt is a pretty risky place.  Your shuttle was a little overly cautious, but it got the job done.  You weren’t captured again, after all.”
It was shocking, but I had to give him credit.  That shuttle had kept us out of danger.
Lucas decided to step in.  “So, then, it would have been about a year and a half, since we left Europa, then.  Wow.  Why didn’t we wake up in the pods?”
The Director looked at the chart.  “According to our information, given your age and the length of your cryo-sleep, they wanted to make sure that you hadn’t had any adverse effects.  When they pulled you out of the pods, they gave you some anesthetic, to keep you under, until we could verify your health.  That’s part of the reason for the weakness.  The drugs are wearing off.”
“And, was there anything wrong with us?” I asked..
“Aside from some mild melanin depletion, you’re fine.  Though the two of you are pale as corpses.  Kind of unnerving.”  He chuckled.  Lucas and I couldn’t help but do so as well.  It felt good.
“So, is IDF Command going to be debriefing us?” Lucas asked.
“Very astute.  When we got word that you were up and about, I sent word to them.  Commander Aronax is coming to debrief you, along with talk about other things.  If you’re hungry, I can arrange for some meals to be sent up.  It isn’t technically meal time, but I think that we can make an exception, for a couple celebrities.”
Both of us looked shocked.
“Oh, I know who you are.  Stay here.  I’ll have meals sent up.”
Both of us were starving.  I was eager to feel like I was alive again.

After getting some lunch, Lucas and I were totally different people.  It was just chicken strips and fries, but I felt so good.  There were all kinds of people poking their heads in.  The whole celebrity thing that the Director brought up.  Oh well.  It felt kinda cool, to be a rock star.  The two of us were giggling like schoolkids again as Commander Aronax came into the room.  Both of us looked up.
“Ah, I see our two stars have survived!”  He looked right at me.  “I can tell you now that Marlene was fighting with me the whole way when I had to drag her off Atlantis Station.  He was about to go to the sub bay and take one out looking for you two.”
A smile came to my face.  The dream was right.  That meant that my parents thought that I’m dead, too.
“Sir, have our parents been notified?”
Lucas piqued at that as well.
“I will personally be sending out notices after you are debriefed.  They won’t be able to come here, because this is a military installation, but in two days time, you will be heading home.”
Lucas grabbed my hand.  I clutched his back.
“But first, I have to know – how on Earth did you get off that Station?”

We told him the whole story.  From us getting back to the Station, to ending the Executive Lockdown, to getting to the surface and leaving on the shuttle, then when we got captured by Pirates, and how I used my tech to get us out.  It made for one hell of a story.  There were times where I wasn’t even sure that I believed it, and I was there!  After over an hour, the story was done.
Aronax stroked his chin.  “Wow.  You two certainly are a couple of amazing kids.  You are going to be all over the news!  Of that, I can guarantee.  Is there anything else I should know?”
Lucas suddenly looked excited.  “Sir, I think I figured out what happened to Atlantis.”
That got Aronax and a couple of people who were taking down notes’ attention.
“Oh?”
Clearing his throat.  “Yes sir.  When we were on the Command Deck, dealing with the Lockdown, I did some scans.  I also had the data that I got on the sub’s mission to check out the coral and did a little correlating.  I think I may have an explanation.”
I was confused.  “When did you do that?”
He smiled at me.  “Well, the first time that we went under, I waited a little while after you did.  I did some analysis of the research I had gotten and formulated a theory, based on the data that we gathered.  I have all the information, which I am happy to share with your scientists.”
Aronax leaned back  “I’ll be glad to have our people look at it.  What did you find?”
“Wish I had a holographic projector.”
“That can be easily remedied,” one of the note-takers said.  He took out a small device and set it on Lucas’ bed.
“Excellent!” There was a brief pause.  An image suddenly came up.  It was of the coral we scanned.  “When Ellie and I were on the mission, we found coral growing out of the caves that we found them in.  They were sending out some kind of organic mixture into the water.  It was warming the local area quite a bit.  At first, we thought that it was some kind of terraforming, but I believe that it goes much further than that!”
The image changed to the sea floor scans of Europa.
“We believed that the coral were limited to a few caves, but I think that those estimates were grossly inaccurate.  Sir, I believe that the coral was part of a massive network of caves that may have stretched through the entire sea floor.  It might have gone all over the planet.  No way to know without a detailed analysis, which is something I would very much caution against.”
Aronax looked confused.  “Why?”
“Because they would likely suffer the same fate as Atlantis.”
“You brought up knowing what happened with that.  Tell me.”
“Well, from what I’ve determined, eggs from the coral got into the Station from exterior venting ports.  The kind that were made for waste.  The filters would have caught them, but they didn’t go inside.  They started to grow along the vents.  The growth rate was exponential.  There’s a reason for that.”
The image changed to Atlantis, showing access ports and various passages.  “The coral consumes electricity.  It speeds up its growth.  In the day leading up to what happened, there were power drains being reported.  They didn’t seem significant enough to check out.  If you had, then things might have turned out a bit different for Atlantis.  Though I doubt it.  From what I scanned, the access ports were now totally overgrown with the coral.  They blocked the vents and backed everything up.  Once the filters busted, the coral wasted no time growing into the Station..  It was so fast that you wouldn’t have been able to stop it, even if you had seen it.  Though you might have been able to get everyone out quickly.  The major systems start being affected, and right as you are about to deal with it. the pipes that were overgrown with coral burst and the Station has a massive influx of water.  A very simple plan of attack.  Though elegant, for the coral lifeform.”
A quiet pause as people digested.  Aronax was still stroking his chin.  “I see.  But wait, did you say attack?  The coral were attacking us?”
“That’s my belief, yes.  The coral attacked Atlantis when we attacked it.”
“It?  You say that like it’s only one.  But that’s impossible.  We saw countless polyps.  Even different forms of them.”
Lucas shook his head.  “No, it’s all one life-form.  Singular.  This will take a bit of explaining.”
The projection of Atlantis changed again.  Now there were the electrical lines that we saw before.
“Oh a hunch, I had Ellie do a scan of electrical energy running through the base.  It showed me this.  There were TONS of signals being sent through the coral!  It was running all along the passages.  But that’s not all.”
The image zoomed back, to show the lines going out into the ocean surrounding Atlantis.  I felt so stoked.  I remembered when we first saw this, and how cool it was.  It was so cool, listening to Lucas be all super-genius and explaining it.  I might be a hacker, but this was some cool shit!
“The electrical signals were being sent out of the Atlantis, and flowing down, toward the seafloor!”
“But how would it travel through the water?” a note-taker asked.
“There was that organic material that I believed was for terraforming, but now I think that my assumption was wrong.  Now I think that is a kind of conduction chemical that carried signals back to the main body.  See, the coral isn’t different types.  All the types that we found, I am almost certain that they are simple different arms of the same body.  Like how various organs perform different functions.  My reference point for this was a tree colony back on Earth.  People believed that each tree was a different flora, but it turned out that their roots were all connected.  The entire forest was one massive super-organism.  It’s the same thing here.  The electrical signals were being carried through all the coral polyps.  If they were individual animals, then the transmission between them wouldn’t have been so seamless.  It is all one giant system, each with its own part.”
The image zoomed back in.
“The coral wasn’t doing what it did for any malicious reason.  It attacked Atlantis out of self-preservation.”
“But why would it view us as a threat?  We meant it no harm!”
Aronax nodded, but said nothing.
“Because we injured it.  We cut pieces off the body.  We thought that we were being smart about it, but this animal had never been injured by another life-form.  It took us cutting parts of it away as a sign that we were a threat.  So, it responded in the only way it could – by destroying our stuff.  Quite a fast evolutionary response, if you ask me.”
The room went quiet again.
“Incredible,” Aronax whispered.  “You have figured out a mystery that will put the coral creature in a class of its own.  A super-organism animal, which is extra-terrestrial.  Amazing!  I must say, son, if our people agree with your assessment, you are going to be given a place in scientific history!  Though I’d say that you have earned it!”
Lucas blushed a bit.
“Send the data to my people, and we’ll look it over.  I can’t wait to hear what they say.  I’ll make sure to keep you in the loop, seeing as how it’s your discovery.”
The Commander stood up, along with the note-takers.
“Get some rest, you two.  Two days from now, you’re going home.”  He was about to leave, then stopped.  “Oh, right.  Ellie, my people found something in one of the lockers, and a friend of your said that you would want it back.”  He was handed an envelope, which he then handed to me.  I opened it quickly, seeing Angie’s necklace.  My heart sang.  It was here!  Part of me was wondering if I would ever see it again.
“Now, get some rest.  You’ll be going home soon.”
There was a part of me that was so happy, yet so nervous about going home.  How long had Mom and Dad thought I was dead?  Did they bury me?  Wonder what was in the coffin.  Too creepy a thought.  I would be with them soon enough.  That’s all that mattered.  Angie’s necklace was back where it belong – hanging right over my heart.

Until next time, a quote,

“People like what science gives them, but not the questions science asks.”  – Mr. Rzykruski, Frankenweenie

Peace out,

Maverick

The Europa Mystery: Part 10

Several more hours had passed in silence.  I just sat there, being held by Lucas.  He couldn’t think of anything to console me.  I could think of anything that didn’t make me want to cry more.  Angie, sweet, beautiful Angie.  Her cute little smile, her quiet demeanor.  I wanted to lay my head in her lap and have this all be a dream.  But reality was rearing its ugly head each time I tried to dream.  Then the door opened and the man who had been patrolling came in with two metal trays.  There was a section at the bottom of the barred entrance that opened, with him shoving the trays in.  The bars shut, and the man left.
“I’m guessing that that is dinner.”  He got up and shuffled over.  My stomach made some noise.  Guess some food couldn’t hurt.
The trays had a plastic cover, which we pulled back.  Steam came out.  Why were the trays not hot?  That’s neat.  Maybe they only looked metal.  Neat.  The food was breaded chicken strips, with rice.  There were peas and carrots as well.  It was in decent portions, too.  I had no idea how long I had been under, but still, having not eaten for an undetermined amount of time, it felt good.
As the two of us ate, part of me wanted to talk about something, anything, to pass the time.  Then a thought came to me.
“Hey Luc.”
“Yeah?”
“I think there’s something wrong with me.”
He looked over, taking a bite.  “What do you mean?”
“I’ve been having these weird dreams lately.  They’re so vivid, like they are actually happening.  What’s more, the dreams have been coming true!  Exactly as I have seen them.  It’s like, I saw the moment when I was outside of the sub, watching the lights from the coral.  I even heard what you said.  And that wasn’t the first time.  It’s been happening for a couple years.  Granted, ever since I got on this mission, it’s been happening more.”
His face was thoughtful.  “See anything about what happens here?”
I thought for a moment.  “I saw something.  We’re on a ship.  It looked like this.  We’re running down a hall, in suits like the ones we had back on Europa.  There is an explosion in front of us.  It’s so big that we nearly get caught up in it.  All of the air gets sucked out, and us with it.”
Then it hit me.
“Wait, if these dreams are events that are going to happen, then we do get out of here!”
He put an arm around me.  “So it would seem.”
Then the nagging doubt came back.  “What do you think it means?”
There was a pause as he thought.  “I’m not exactly sure, but I’ve read stories that might give me some ideas.”
That got my attention.  “What kinds of stories?!”
He took another bite, then looked at the bars.  “There are people being found, who have talents that people can’t quite understand.  It first appeared on the Colonies orbiting Earth.  In fact, there has never been a confirmed case from anyone who has lived most of their lives planetside.  These people seem to have an understanding of certain things that transcends all boundaries.”
A tad confusing.  “What do you mean?”
“Well, there was one example of a ship Captain who could navigate the stars without using any instrumentation.  He just seemed to have an innate knowledge of where things in space were.  Amazed his crew.  Then another who could feel when there was a flaw in the ship he was on.  The guy was an engineer.  Every time he got a ‘feeling’ about a certain flaw in the ship, the crew knew to check it out.  He was always right.  Always.”
Now this was cool!  “What do they call these people?!”
“Well, there is debate as to whether or not these reports are even accurate.  But among those who have studied this phenomenon, they call them ‘Evolved Humans.’  Or just ‘Evos,’ for short.  Evos are viewed as freaks by people planetside.  Among Colonials, to have Evo qualities is considered an honor.”
This got me all kinds of pumped up.  “So, how are my dreams connected?”
“That part eludes me.  It could be in any number of ways.  However, there is your ability to know how to hack machines.  You’ve been doing it almost all your life.  The moment you were given a Band, you found ways to use it to interface and fuck with machines.  That must have some connection.  Of course, there are no tests, to date, which can detect Evos.  Hence why some people regard them as unreal.  For me, I believe that they are.”
Then a roadblock came to me.  “But wait, my parents have lived on Mars for almost my whole life.”
“None of your family were Colonials?”
I thought for a moment.  “Well, my mom came from a Colonial family.  Third generation.”
“Well, there ya go.  We may have our connection to you being an Evo.”
“Do you believe that Evos are real?”
He got thoughtful for a second.  “I do.  We’ve already got transhumans in the form of cyborgs.  Human evolution could be the next step.  Who knows.”
Again, I had more respect for him.  Eating became much easier after that.  There were so many questions.  If I was an Evo, what did that mean?  Something to research, assuming that I got out of here.

That night, I had another dream.
The world was blurry.  I was sitting in a room, and it was clear that I was in pain.  The pain was everywhere.  I looked down and saw that I was in underwear.  There were red lights that were flickering on the wall behind me.  I was on a bed that was shaped like a heart.  Something, I felt older.  There was another girl.  She wasn’t moving.  I got off the bed, shuffling over to her.  She was in her 20’s.  The blur, I couldn’t make out much about her.  Just the blonde hair.  Blood was flowing out of her mouth.  My ocular interface came online, doing a scan.  There was no pulse.  I was in a room, in my underwear, with a dead person.  Why was my body so sore?  I looked down again.  There were bruises.  Lots of them.  What happened here?!
Part of me wanted to flee, but knew not to.  There was nowhere to go.  This was all there was.  Looking around again, there was a flickering light in the bathroom.  Was someone in there?  Again, it was so painful to drag myself over there.  Why couldn’t I remember what happened?  Something was very wrong.  Opening the door, I saw a man, face-down in the toilet.  The place was a mess.  The smell was rancid.  Everything about this place was wrong.  But what should I do?  Just then, the man looked up.  He started screaming.  Very quickly, I backed off.  Tripped over something, smacked my head on the floor.  Disorientation, screaming, fear.  Every part of me kept thinking that this was just a bad dream and that I was going to wake up from it.
That was when something came into focus.  It was a silver gun barrel.  For a second, time stopped.  The screaming became a droning sound.  The world was on hold.  Just staring down the barrel of that gun.  It was all I could do.  That was when it went off.  I was thrown backwards.  The last thing I saw was my hand, in front of me.  Did I land on my side?  My fingers were twitching, as the world went black.

In a flash, I sat back up, with my voice trying to scream but being unable.  My breath was coming out so fast.  Was that my future?  To die, beaten in some honeymoon suite?!  The fuck it was!  I wasn’t going to let that be how it ends.  I got back on the floor, in front of the camera.  To hell with being caught.  Entering the system again, I was able to retrace my steps.  The code wasn’t changing nearly as often.  The ship was moving again!  This was bad.  It means that they felt that the SDF was not a threat anymore.  Where were they?!  I had to reach them.
Once I was back in the communications grid, I reached out.  Another site-to-site message.  Told them to get their fucking asses in gear.  I was not going to die like that dream!  If what I saw was the future, then I was going to change it.  You bet your fucking ass I was!  To be some hooker with a bullet in her face.  Yeah, not going to happen.
It was done, and I unplugged.  Felt better.  So much better.  Walked over to the cot where Luc was sleeping.  He was against the wall.  Kinda cute.  Snuggled in behind him and put my arm around his waist.  There was a groan.
“Wha…what are you doing?”
“Getting some sleep.”
“But why are you-”
“Sh!  Sleep.”
He didn’t press the issue.  I guess that he could feel my tension.  My dreams were better that night.

The next day was uneventful.  The guy who patrolled this part of the world only came to give us our three-meals-a-day.  Super.  Gave Lucas and I some more time to talk.  I didn’t tell him about the dream.  It would just make him scared.  Not to mention, the memory was too cruel.  Time seemed to drone on endlessly in that place.  The longer the hours went, the more terrified I became.  Was this it?  I end up on TJ and die in a brothel.  A cyborg who meets her end in a whore-house.  The thought was too cruel.  For the first time in all the problems that I was facing, I actually hated that I had gotten involved in the mission to Europa.  Now, it seemed like I had wasted all my time.  What was going to happen?

Several more days passed.  My hope was gone.  Lucas tried to reassure me, but it didn’t help.  Nothing did.  Wished I had some booze.  What did I have to lose?  Or maybe I could get something to smoke.  My mind just checked out.  I was gone.  And that’s when it happened.  The alarms went off.
“All hands, battle stations!  Military forces closing!”
In an instant, my mind focused and I knew what had to be done.  Lucas and I looked at each other.  It was time to leave.  I hacked into the system.  All of their defense systems were focused on the fight.  As suspected, the locks were controlled by a console by the wall.  I hacked into a camera, jumping from one to the other, down the hall.  I got to the end and saw what I was looking for.  With bells on, I got into the system.  The doors opened.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here!”
Lucas looked at his Band.  “We’re gonna need survival suits.  If this is a battle, then there’s going to be a bunch of holes in the ship!”
In an instant, I was back in the system.  “Should be some in a locker connected to the cell block!  This way!”  We took off running.  Wherever our guard was, he wasn’t eager to hang with us.  The light, such as it was, suddenly went out.  The gravity also lessened.  I knew this!
“Mars told me that during combat, they turn off all non-vital systems, to siphon power to the critical ones!”
“We can drift then.  Use the walls for balance.”
Opening the door, the alarm was blaring.  People were drifting around.  They didn’t even notice us.  Guess that the potential to die got these people moving.  We got to the supply room.  These suits weren’t nearly as sleek as the ones that we had back on Europa.
“They’re older models.  Made for mining work.  Oh well, it’ll work!”  Luc was always on top of things.  Having to strip naked would have been awkward, since we had to be in the same room, but fuck it.  I was too eager to be rid of this place to care.  It was time to go home.  While getting suited up, I got back into the system.  They still had our shuttle!  Good.  That meant that I could still get to Angie’s necklace.  All wasn’t lost.  The helmets on these ones wasn’t as sexy as the last suits.  They were all slotted, with each slot having a camera.  It was cool, but not as cool as last time.  Still, our identity was now a total secret, which worked fine for me.  Now we could move quickly and not worry about being seen.  I charted us a route to the Docking Bay.  We were on our way!

About halfway there, it all went to hell.  We were running.  There was still partial gravity, in places.  It was a little awkward, but we had to work with it.  The two of us were heading towards the elevator when smoke and fire lit up in front of me.  As I said before, all that stuff about explosive decompression is bullshit.  Either you have time to get to oxygen tanks or outside the safety doors, or you’re killed in the blast.  Most of the time.  The chances of the kind of decompression in movies is so small that it might as well not exist.  I always was one for betting against the odds.
The two of us were sucked out into space.  It was amazing.  Guns on this ship were sending silent blasts of death towards a series of vessels in the distance.  This ship wasn’t alone.  Others had joined it.  There were fighters that were moving as well, but they were sleek and refined.  The navy’s.  These pirates were out of their depth, and I had a feeling that their captain knew it.  He wasn’t an idiot.
Still, there was now the problem of the two of us floating in space.
“Lucas, what the hell are we going to do now?!”
“Remember what it was like to float in water?  Same deal.  These suits come equipped with jets that use little bursts of air to propel us around.  Won’t take much, out here in vacuum.”  A brief pause as the two of us right ourselves.  This felt better.  “You know a way to get to the Docking Bay?”
I had copied the ship’s layout.  The Band went through a scan, feeding my ocular implants a route.  “Got it!  Follow me!”
The two of us were moving down the hull.  It was so surreal.  I looked to my right and saw a round hit!  Silently, it burst open.  You see vids where there is all the explosions and whatnot in space.  Nope.  Just silent death.  The two of us moved faster, eager to be quit of this potential to die.  The last stop before getting inside was an access port.  Lucas saw the emergency controls and hit the switch and pulled a lever.  The door popped open.  We got back inside, brief sealing and we were back in the ship.  Right outside the Docking Bay.  I hack the door and we are in.
Like a beacon in the night, I see our shuttle!  We take off running.  Some of the crew asked who we were, but we didn’t bother answering.  They were all too busy with stuff to care too much.  We got to the entrance and I had already input the access code.  Lucas had been busy too.  He was already keying up the activation sequence.  Before I left, I set up a link, through the shuttle, into the ship’s docking controls.  If you could have seen all the craziness that was being displayed on my ocular implants as I worked, you would have been in awe.  We got to the cockpit and took seats.
“Get that door open, Elle!  I want to be done with this place!”
“You and me both!”
It was an emergency override that I had to go to in order to get the Docking Bay entry open.  The crew knew what I was up to.  There was some small-arms fire, right before I made the door fly open and the lot of them were evacuating.
“Nice work!” Luc said.  “Now, get those docking clamps off and I’ll get us out!”
“You got it, boss-man!”
He gave me a look.  Another menu, and we could feel the ship being released.
“Punch it!”
Like he needed to be told twice.  In a flash, the shuttle was out!
“I’ve charted us a course that takes us around this mess.  We shouldn’t register on their screens as the pirates, so they won’t auto-target us.”
This got my attention.  “Shouldn’t we go to the military ships?  I mean, they’re on our side, right?”
Disengaging his helmet, he shook his head.  “No, Elle.  They’re busy with the pirates.  And I don’t know about you, but I’m just aching to get home.  No more delays.  We’re headed home!”
My heart swelled up.  Never would Lucas look more awesome than he did right now, in that grungy suit, at the controls of a shuttle, with us putting the battle behind us.  Just then, there was a message.
“So, you two found your way out, eh?”  It was the captain of the pirate ship.
“That’s right!” Luc snarled.  “Sorry to disappoint!”
The man grunted.  “Hardly!  If anything, I’m impressed!  You two did good.  See you on the other side.”  The line went dead.  The two of us just looked at each other.  We had the same thought – what was that about?  Oh well, what’s done was done.  It was time to get out of the suits.

Another long day, and the two of us were buck-naked in front of each other, stripping out of the suits.  This might have been awkward, had we not just been through hell together.  Getting back into some clean underwear, we headed toward the pods.  I took one last chance to hold Angie’s necklace, wishing I could sleep with it next to me.  Alas, that wasn’t safe.  Worst thing ever.
Standing next to the pods, we looked at each other.
“I’ll see you when we wake up,” Luc said, above a whisper.
“You too.”
I knew that a bond had been formed between us.  One that would go beyond anything else.  It was an amazing feeling.

Until next time, a quote,

“An imminent and painful death has a way of motivating people.”  -Garrus Vakarian, Mass Effect 3

Peace out,

Maverick

The Europa Mystery: Part 9

“Alright, kittens!  Get dressed!  You’re gonna be coming onboard my ship!”  The man with the icy-blue eyes growled.  As I got up, there were looks from some of the men surrounding us.  I felt very naked, in my underwear, with steam still rising from my body.  Lucas was scared to death.  We went over to the lockers.  One of them pinched my ass on the way over!  I was too scared to do anything.  As I got closer to Luc, he just gave me a look.  I could read it – be strong.  We got dressed.  Very carefully, I slipped Angie’s necklace into my pocket.  Having gotten our shoes on, we looked back over at the man with the icy-blue eyes.  This lot, they were very much the pirate look.  Dressed in black, with their attire being dirty.  They were all armed.  A big, imposing lot.  My ocular interface came online.  I was able to get a scan.  They had cybernetic augmentation, and lots of it.  But this wasn’t the kind we got.  This was very underground, messy.  This crew couldn’t have looked more like monsters if they tried.  The augments were all for a purpose.  I’m guessing for what they did as crew.

“Now, move!” the man snarled.  We did as bidden.  They didn’t restrain us.  I guess they figured that we are smart enough to know not to try anything with a bunch of armed cyborgs.  We were escorted out of the shuttle.  It was then we got our first look at the ship this lot belonged to.  It was big.  Not as big as some of the Service’s vessels that I had seen, but reasonably sized.  The shuttle was docked inside, along with several other craft.  While the crew might be rag-tag, their vessel was in good shape.  It wasn’t as squeaky-clean as the one to Atlantis, but it was still kept in working order.
Most of the group broke off from the ones escorting us.  I guess they had jobs to get back to.  We were taken to an elevator and thus began the long ride.  My hands were shaking.  Every second of sitting there was another moment in terror.  I could feel the eyes of a couple of them, peeling off my clothes.  Then there was the Captain of this ship, which I think was a fair guess as to who this fella was.  He wasn’t that way. In fact he actually managed to surprise me.
When the elevator got to the floor it was heading to, we got out.  Walking down the hall, one of the crew slapped my ass.
In a flash, the Captain was on him.  “That’ll be quite enough of that!  I mean to deliver these little birds to the mines on TJ.  I won’t be having you all fucking them up and making them useless.  Got it?!”
The man backed off.  “Yes sir!”
“That goes for the rest of your sorry fucks.  No touching the future prospectors here!  Consider that a standing order.”
So that’s what was going to happen to us.  We were going to be delivered to an asteroid mine.  My guts instantly started turning.  We would be left in the mine, to work until we died.  Again, we were totally and completely fucked.

The two of us ended up in some sort of brig.  The bars were electrified, and I wasn’t about to get electrocuted to death.  Once they left, all the strength inside me left.  I started to bawl.  Heaving sobs that came out, over and over again.  Lucas walked over next to me, putting his arms around me.  We leaned up against the cold steel wall, and I cried into him.  Things had gone from hopeful to now having an utter absence of it.  My heart ached in a way I couldn’t describe.  This was the worst day of my entire life.
“Don’t go losing your head yet, Elle.  We’re not out of this game!”
I looked up at him, angry.  “How?!  How are we not out?!  For real, I am just DYING to know how we are not totally fucked?!  They’re going to deliver us to the mines!  There, I have this strong suspicion that I’m going to be raped and murdered, while you are going to be worked to death.  Did I get that right?!”
His face got more serious.  “For the most part.  But we aren’t done yet!  There is still a chance!  If we give in to despair now, then we really are fucked.  Come on!  We just got out of certain death once.  All we have to do is be smart, and we can do it again!”  There was hope, the real kind, in his eyes.
My heart started to beat again.  I felt life returning to my veins. As I looked up at him, something inside me was pulling me.  I reached up and kissed him.  It was a slow and passionate kiss.  He wasn’t the boy I got on the shuttle with anymore.  He was someone new now.  He returned my embrace, but then stopped, pulling back.  his breathing was heavy.
“I can’t!”
“Why?!”
“You’re with someone, last I checked!  And I’m not about to fuck with that!  You’ve just had an emotional moment.  We’re caught up in things.  Remember whose necklace you have in your pocket.”
In that moment, I felt Angie’s necklace, and it hurt again.  What had I done?!  So many emotions, I couldn’t process it all.  Lucas got up, eager to break the moment.  His eyes were moving around.  I could tell that his interface was working.  Mine came on as well.  My subconscious was trying to tell me something – sort all this out later.  We got bigger problems now.  This place was not a fortress.  Indeed, scans shows that it looked a lot better than it was.  The lock on this door was remotely controlled from a console down the way.  That would have been a problem, for someone without my interface.  There were cameras all throughout the cell block.  All I had to do was hack in to one and then go through the network, to find a way to get a solid view of the console.  Then, we’re out of here!  But a thought occurred to me.
“Even if we escape from this cell, we’re still trapped on their ship!”
Lucas winked at me.  “I’ve got an idea about that.  We’re close to a military base in the asteroid field!  I saw the navigation screen before we were taken off the shuttle.  We hack in to their communications array and send a site-to-site transmission to the base, giving them this ship’s location and signature.  These pirates are using a damper to keep their signature from being detected.  We get them past that, then the military will come running!  After that, we just sit in our cell and wait it out!”
That made me feel loads better.  Lucas kept on things.  He didn’t let his fear get to him.  I could learn a lot from that.  Still, time to get to work.  Why wasn’t someone watching this place?  My answer came in the form of some crew member who looked bored, walking through the corridor.  It was clear that his job was to check in us once in a while.  Dude looked miserable.  Oh well, our victory.  I sat on the floor, my eyes on the camera.  It was time to get to work.
Something cool happened – I could see through the camera!  Cyborg power!  It was mounted on a moving pedestal, so I was able to make it turn to the other cameras.  Man was security lax, here.  I guess they only ever had preyed on weak vessels, never anyone who was able to fight back.  Kind of cowardly, if you think about it.  But then, pirates have never been the bravest lot.  Hence their job title.
From camera to camera I went, eventually getting to a vantage point here I could zoom in on the control console and get to work.  Their security was strange.  Really strange.  Maybe I had just gotten used to how things worked back on Atlantis, but here it was all codes and back-up codes.  The codes changed periodically, on the whims of the person in charge.  How did this work?!  If I was in the system, and he changed the codes, then alarms would go off and they would know.  Maybe I could make myself silent.  A fly on the wall.  This was going to take time.  Thankfully, time was in good supply.  I knew that the ship wasn’t moving.  They were probably worried about that signal we were broadcasting.  If anyone else picked it up, then they would come looking.  Couldn’t have that.  The Captain of this ship was a smart man.  A very, very smart man.

Half an hour passed.  Finally, I perfected it!  My greatest hacking device ever.  A little machine that would be able to slip in and out of the system.  Once I understood how it worked, I was able to make my helper just so.  Still, it was tricky.  I would have to chill each time a code change was done.  Each member of the crew had an implant that would let them know the code when it changed.  Anyone in the system who didn’t know it would be immediately flagged.  This was so risky!
Once I was inside the system, it was like navigating a maze.  Why was everything this complicated?!  Who set up this system?!  Each time the system changed, I saw it like a wall of red coming.  I had to stop all actions.  The deeper I got into the system, the harder it got.  My ocular interface showed it like navigating pipes.  Pipes with a ton of different corridors, with plenty going to dead ends.  Had this guy actually anticipated someone coming into the system?  That was interesting.  Each time the guard would pass by Lucas’ and I’s cell, he would tell me to close my eyes.  They were almost glowing.  I pretended to be sleeping against the wall.  Not too hard to believe.  My fetal position was convincing, and those cots were like granite.
Another hour passed.  Damn this system!  I guess the crew knew all the access places well enough to not have problems.  That’s when it hit me – this wasn’t for people inside.  It was for people outside.  If this ship ever got into a fight, this system was designed to eff with a cyber-warfare system.  He didn’t have all the advanced firewalls that the space forces did.  So he made due with keeping the system unbelievably complicated.  This Captain was clever, and now I was too deep in the system to pull back.
Finally, I was in!  Communications.  Now that my program was out of the maze, I didn’t have to worry about the changing codes.  You know, now that I thought about it, I bet he didn’t even change the codes.  I bet an automated system did, every 10 minutes to a few hours, depending on the situation.  Man, the future at work.  I found a subroutine that would let me send a message and go undetected.  A little finesse here, some delicate work there, and it was done!  Just then, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“People coming!  Get back to the real world!”
Inside the system, I just unplugged.  Being back in the real world was kinda strange.  A little off-putting.  According to Lucas, my eyes had been like red display screens, with text constantly moving.  Crazy, right?!
The two of us look up, and there’s the Captain.  He has an entourage but dismisses them.  Now it’s just him and us.
“So, you two must be pretty scared.”
Neither of us talks.  What’s the point?  We know what’s going to happen to us.  I get the feeling that this guy isn’t about to change his mind.  Why bother trying?
“Tell me a bit about yourselves.  What are two kids doing on a shuttle in the middle of nowhere?  You weren’t coming back from an asteroid.  Given your trajectory, you were long outside of the Belt.  So, where did you come from?”
Another long pause.
“Tell you what, we got a long ride together.  It’s gonna take a lot of convincing to keep these fellas off her.  Most of us haven’t seen a real woman in years.  I have, but then, I can afford the rates on TJ.  They keep going up.”
There was a kind of contained rage in his voice.  A dark, cold, confident power that scared me to death.
“We came from Europa,” Lucas said, finally.
The man gave us a look.  “Europa?  Why?  What’s down there?  It’s nothing but ice.”
“We were part of a science mission,” I said, barely able to make it more than a whisper.
“Well now, that’s interesting.  You lot must have been on that ship that was headed out.  Had itself an escort, for a while.  A little armed.  Enough for us to know not to go after it.  Not worth the effort.  Especially for a ship that clean.  What could have been worth it?”  He took out a cigar, lighting it.  “Now that I think about it, there were a fair amount of shuttles leaving that place too, not too long ago.  They got themselves an escort as well.  Those shuttles appeared to be leaving in a hurry.  Did something happen?”  His eyes never left me.
Lucas sat down next to me.  “You could say that.”
“I see.”  A slow drag, then a long let.  “So, you two some rich kids, with mommy and daddy buying your tickets?  Get to go on some exciting field trip to the other side of the Sol System?”
“Why do you want to know?!”  There was fear in Luc’s voice.
“Well, if you two are worth something, then maybe I won’t drop you off on a mining asteroid.  Maybe I’ll ransom you for a pretty penny.  If it can make me more money, I’m down.”
My mind worked fast.  It had to.  “Yeah, we’re worth a ‘pretty penny.’  My mom’s one of the biggest brokers on Mars.  His dad’s a CEO, worth half a billion.  There was a kind of insurance, for if anything happened to us.  I bet that kidnapping would be covered under ‘happened.'”
With the cigar in his mouth, he smiled.  “Well, then, that’s different!  That means that you might just get to live.  After all, I drop you two on TJ, your little lady-friend is going to get her ass pounded until she can’t sit right.”
A sob escaped me.
“What the fuck do you want from us?!” Lucas snarled.
“To know if there’s a way that I can save you from the mines and her from a bordello where she lives what’s left of her life.  And there might just be.  I’ll have to think on it.  After all, all this, it’s nothing personal.  I just want money.”  The man got up and started to walk away.
The moment the door shut, I broke out in sobs again.  What if the message didn’t reach its destination?!  What if they didn’t come?!  What if we got to this “TJ” place, and I ended up looking like one of those girls on the Colonies of Earth, beaten and bruised, found with a collar and an “owner?”  The thoughts were too terrible.  But what else could I do now?  If I opened the door, we had nowhere to go.  Nowhere at all.  We power up the shuttle, they just grab us again.  There was no way we could outrun this ship.  I couldn’t pilot, and I doubt that auto-pilot would know what to do.  Everything was so fucked.  After all the hope I had gotten when we got off Europa, now I was left thinking that what Mars had told my parents was true.  That I was most likely dead.  After all, if I ended up on “TJ,” would they ever know what happened to me?  I somehow doubted it.  Deep in my heart, a sense of terror was growing that let me understand how desperate my situation was.  All I could do was cry into Lucas.  Part of me wanted to kiss him.  Part of me wanted to kiss Angie.

Part of me wanted to blow my brains out and deny them the satisfaction of getting anything for me.  After all, if this Captain found out the truth – that we weren’t worth anything – then Lucas would have a long and miserable life in a mine, while I died like a common prostitute.  More specifically – as a common prostitute.

Until next time, a quote,

“They dislike me, they like me.  They hated me, and now they love me.”  -Nick Dunne, Gone Girl

Peace out,

Maverick

The Europa Mystery: Part 8

We stared at the coral for some time.  Then Lucas had a smart idea.  He brought the head section of his suit back up.
“Can’t be too careful.  We don’t know if this stuff is toxic or not.  And last I checked, there is no way around this mess.  So we’re going to have to pass through.  Carefully.”
I followed suit, nodding.  Something told me that touching this stuff was a bad idea.  Still, it was so close!  It was so beautiful.  You couldn’t appreciate the color from a drone or even the samples we got.  For some reason, they always looked black.  But this coral wasn’t like that.  It was a vivid and beautiful shade of blue.  The closer I looked, there more I could see veins running through the solid structure.  So pretty.  It made me want to get closer and closer.  That was when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“I really don’t think that touching that stuff is a good idea, Elle.”
Shaking my head, I came back to my senses.  “Yeah,, thanks.  Alright.  Let’s go.”
We continued our ascent.  The coral was growing out of a pipe.  Was that pipe the ventilation system?  How did it get in there?  And better question – why didn’t any pick that up?  There were a thousand and one questions I had, but in the back of my mind, I knew – this coral and whatever happened here were connected.

The Command Center was locked, like everywhere else.  The hallways were so eerie, darkened and silent.  There was the occasional dripping sound.  Something told me that the safety measures weren’t as perfect as people thought.  Either that, or whatever happened was so bad that it was just buying time.  Either way, it was unsettling.  Moreso, given that we were very much trapped in here, for now.
My hacking program got through the door’s security.  We had to pull it open, which wasn’t a fun task.  The two of us collapsed the helmets again, because the visor didn’t have enough range.  Plus, it just felt better.  The first thing we noticed was that almost the entire room was black, except for one place – the central table.  The holographic interface was up, showing all of Atlantis.  The blue areas, I assumed, were flooding.  It was worse than I thought.  Reading a report on a screen was one thing.  Seeing over half the station in blue was another.
“Alright, end the Executive Lockdown, so we can get an idea what happened here.”
I gave him a mock-salute.  “Yes sir!”
He rolled his eyes.  “Smartass.”
“You know it!  Alright, hacking in now.”  This was going to take some time.  There was one part of me that was excited to learn what had happened.  Another part was kind of scared.  But it couldn’t be avoided.
Lucas kept staring at the hologram of Atlantis.  Gears were working in his head.  But, like me, there was pieces missing.  This puzzle had a flaw.  Something that neither of us had our head around.
Finally, the system opened!  “Ah-hah!  Who’s the best?!”  Couldn’t hide the smug from my face.  Lights came on, but only more running lights.  There was a problem in the power distribution center.  Still, it was slightly less creepy.  The holographic image also became more detailed.  The system was running scans.
He winked at me.  “You are, Elle.”  He keyed up the keyboard.  “Let’s get a fix on what the situation is.”  The image changed, showing us the various systems.  “Well, this isn’t so good.”
I gave him a concerned look.  “Why?”
“Main power is gone.  Secondary power systems are being drained, fast.”
An idea hit me.  “Why not turn off the power where we don’t need it?  Like the flooded sections.  So long as the doors are sealed tight, what does the rest of the station need it for?”
“Nice thinking.”  There were more changes.  Whole parts of the station went dark.  “That’s bought us time.”
“How much time?”
“A few days.  Maybe a week at most.”
“Any idea what happened here?”
“Looking into that.”
There was a long pause.  The screen changed, showing various scans.  There were data files being opened and closed.  There were parts of this I got.  Reports on malfunctions in the days leading up to the blow-out.  Communications, water filtration, several systems were reporting issues.  None of them were flagged as serious.  Not until it was too late.
“Alright, I’ve been able to piece together some of this.  There were malfunctions all over the station.  Minor ones.  They were going to be looked at after some repair work on some hull damage.  But then everything fell apart.  It was almost instantaneous.  Areas all over the station reported leaks.  Had the maintenance people running mad.  However, by the time they located the problem areas, it was too late.  The moment they tried to open the can of worms up to look, that set off a chain reaction of flooding.  The Commander acted fast, hitting the emergency evacuation switch and getting everyone out.  A comprehensive report was not made.”
“So…what do we know?”
“Not much.  The areas where the leaks were coming from where places like water filtration, hydro-power substations, places like that.”
We both looked at each other.
“The coral!” I whispered.
He thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers.  “Running another scan.”  The image changed.  All of the details of Atlantis went dark.  Now there were blue lights.  They were very uniform, moving as if they were part of a system  “This is the last scan of power running through the Station.  Look at it now.”  The image changed, and now the blue was everywhere!  It was running all over the Station!  But this wasn’t like the previous image.  The blue here was like a massive network of capillaries and veins.  Then there were the larger parts that it met up with, which made me think of arteries.
“Like a body, right?”
He could read my mind.
“I wonder…”  The image changed again.  It zoomed out.  The blue lights, they were going outside the Station!  They traveled down veins that were not as together as they are on Atlantis.  These ones were like sinews.  Capillaries that were shifting, changing.  Partly rising!  A light went off in my head.
“Weren’t those lights from the ocean outside…?”
“Yes!  They were rising, toward Atlantis!  These electrical readings, they must be signals!  Signals from the coral!”
My mind was beyond blow.  “Like they’re communicating?!”
“Exactly!  It’s like neurons in the brain.  These electrical signals are passing through the coral, and through the water.”
A thought came to me.  “But wait, why weren’t we affected?  I mean, we were right in the thick of it.”
Lucas pointed to the suit.  “These suits can take all sorts of punishment.  Out in the water, the electrical signals weren’t strong enough to do any damage to the suit.  In here, if we actually touched the coral, I bet it would have been different.
This was too cool.  Too amazing.  We were learning so much!  I’m not a scientist, but even I can recognize when a monumental discovery fell into our laps.
“But this is also a problem.  The power loss is connected to the coral.  We cut off power to other parts of the Station, but this stuff is growing fast.  I think it was being fed by the power from the Station.  What must have started as a small growth became massive too quickly, due to being fed by the Station’s power.”
More confusion.  “But wait, why would the coral even be here?”
He frowned.  “That, I don’t know.  It must be tied into the data about the coral.  I’m going to download that to a mobile drive.  We have to get out of here!”
That got me nervous.  “How?  And better question, why?  I mean, won’t somebody be back down here to check on this place?  Couldn’t we just hunker down and wait for the cavalry to arrive?”
“No..  By the time they got here, the power is dead and life support with it.  Not to mention, with the power out, the magnetic locks are disengaged.  There is still some minor leaking all around the Station.  Once the doors aren’t held shut anymore, this place is going to fill up and fall apart like a blasted submarine.”
“Oh fuck!” I groaned.  “So how do we get out of here?!  The elevator?”
The frown came back.  “No.  It’s been damaged from the flooding off the Station.  The place is starting to buckle.  All this water retention, the buoyancy devices are falling apart.  The elevator is becoming damaged by the strain.  If we try and escape through there, the car might stop halfway up.  Then we’re trapped, with limited air and no way out.”
Part of me desperately wanted Mars here right now.  Hope was leaving me.  “We are so fucked!”
Lucas leaned against the table.  “Yeah, kinda.  We need to get out of here, but I don’t have the foggiest idea where to go.
My mind was working again.  “The obvious choice would be the surface, but it’s nothing but massively-thick ice up there!  How would we get out?!”
There was no noise as we sat there, neither of us having any ideas.  Then, in a flash of desperate brilliance, it hit me!
“The sub!  We can take it to the surface!”
My compatriot wasn’t as convinced.  “How would we get above the ice.  That’s got to be almost a kilometer thick!”
I winked at him.  “Have faith, mon ami!”  Now I cued up the keyboard.  The image changed, to the Station’s inventory.  “When they started this place, they had plans for establishing a mining outpost here, if the search for life was a bust.  They brought with them some Havoc-class mines to blow open anything we felt needed to be.  Any one of those mines should blow a hole right through that ice!  It won’t be open for long, but we just gotta rush up and blast through!  The sub’ll be wrecked, but we’ll be out of here.”
For a second, I thought that he believed I was crazy.  But then his look of disbelief changed to awe.  “That is the craziest fucking idea I have ever heard.  I love it!  Would the sub be able to carry that kind of payload?”
I nodded, finding what I was looking for.  “Yup.  Only one.  I’ll put it in a drilling torpedo for delivery.  The automated systems can have the weapon assembled and loaded to the sub by the time we get back down there!”
In a flash, he was hugging me tight.  “You’re amazing!  When I write a paper on this, you are SO my co-author.”
A smile came to my face, as I leaned into him.  “Thanks, Luc.”  After a time, we parted.  “Now, let’s get the fuck out of here!”
“You know it!”

The trip back down was nowhere near as nervous.  The lack of light wasn’t even creepy anymore.  We couldn’t move fast enough.  We got to the coral and were careful.  It was still so beautiful.  If only I knew the story of how it got here, and why?  Did it sense the power from Atlantis?
“Hey Luc?”
“Yeah?”
“Why is all the coral samples we have all dark, while this stuff is all blue and vibrant?”
He chuckled.  “I’ve been pondering that myself.  My best guess is – because the samples we have are dead tissue.  The electrical signals, they must act as life to this stuff.  Hence why it helps it grow as fast as it does.  Somewhere inside this moon, there must be a massive electrical storm, fueling the coral’s growth.  Granted, this is only conjecture.  I have no proof.  I’ll have to analyze the data I have.  Then I can make a better theory about what happened here.  That’s going to be fun!”
More and more, I was impressed.  “Make sure to send me a copy of that paper you write!  I wanna read it!”
“Count on it, my dear.”

Another hour and we were back at the dock where we left the sub.  The vessel was raised above on gantries, with the torpedo being loaded into the bottom.
“Just in time!” I giggled, running over.
“Indeed.  Impeccable.  So, you know how to handle the firing controls and everything?”
I looked at him like he was stupid.
“Just asking!”
Once the torpedo was loaded, the gantry lowered the sub back to the water.
“Alright!  Let’s get this show on the road!”
We ran inside and closed the hatch.  I plopped into the pilot’s seat, while Lucas got into the crewman’s seat behind me.  Once we had all the pre-flight sequencing done, I hit the switch and we dived.  The two of us took one last look back at Atlantis as we headed out.  This would be the last time.  If what Lucas said was right, by the time we got back to Mars, it might be at the bottom of the ocean.  I couldn’t wait to be done with this place.
I did a quick scan of the ice.  It was stronger and weaker in places.  Much like the continents back on Earth, the ice sheets were moving.  There were gaps, rifts and weaker sections.  It was kinda cool, truth be told.  I found what I was looking for.
“Alright, I’m heading into position.  Bringing up the firing controls on the torpedo.”  Part of the display showed the weapon, with the hatch on the bottom opening and the weapon lowering.
“I’m transferring firing controls to your console.  When I give the word, hit the sensor that will be glowing red.  You won’t miss it.”
“You got it!”
Nervousness seeped into the sub as the two of us got closer.  We had one shot at this.  If we failed, the truth was that we would probably die.  Between the shockwave and the ice that would be moving above, I had no idea if this was going to work.  Every bad idea, right?
Finally, we got within range.  It wasn’t like in movies, where light is coming in from the ice.  This far from the Sun, it was just as black as the rest of this underwater wonderland.  Unlike some of the more jagged parts of the ice, this was smooth as silk.  The on-board computer factored a safe distance from the blast.  It was like being in a western.  I had twitchy fingers on the control.
“Alright, you ready?” I asked.
“Just give the word.”
A brief pause, a deep breath.  “Do it!”
A beep, and the torpedo was away!  The bubbles blasted into the blackness.  There was a brief pause, then it happened!  A huge light under the water!
“Hang on to something!” I shouted.
“Like you had to tell me!”
Just then, the shockwave hit the sub.  It jolted both of us.  However, I couldn’t let that stop me.  In a flash, I hit the console and the sub was moving fast!  Unlike a speeding car or a starship, there are no g-forces that we could tell in the water.  The only clue about how fast we were moving was the groaning of the hull.  The area around the explosion was a mess of bubbles and floating chunks of ice.  A couple smacked into the hull, but I was committed.  We were getting out of this ocean!  Another smack, some warning lights coming on.  Like I cared.  This sub was never going to be used again.  A little closer.  The surface was near!  The ice was moving!  This was gonna be close.

In a burst, we rose out of the water.  I was traveling at an angle.  The plan was to vault out and land smack on our belly.  It worked!  The impact was more than a little jarring.  I was thrown out of my seat.  So was Lucas.  The bottom of the craft was absolutely wrecked.  It was beyond repair.  Part of me wanted to kiss the sub.  This vehicle had been a loyal companion.
“Since we’re not both dead, I’m assuming that it worked?”
I looked up.  The screens were twitching.  The power was fluctuating.  “Looks that way.  So, we’re gonna have to do a little walking.  The shuttle bay is a few kilometers away.  Can these suits handle that?”
He gave me a look like I was stupid.  “These suits are designed to function in deep space.  Yeah, they can handle it.  Just don’t open the helmet!”
I rolled my eyes.  “Yeah, because vacuum exposure was high on my list of priorities today.”
“Just letting you know.”
The two of us got to the entrance and had to manually bust it open.  The air rushed out of the sub, but that didn’t matter now.  The surface, it was so gorgeous!  The ice sheen was so beautiful.  It was like white marble!  Streaks of orange dust were strewn about.  Space weather, very cool.  But the real point of interest – the stars!  You haven’t seen them until you got to see them without an atmosphere.  It was like nothing else.
In the distance, the running lights of surface Station.  They were like a beacon in the night.
“This is amazing!” I whispered.
“For sure.  But let’s get moving.”
“Alright.”  Thus began the long walk.

Over three hours passed before we reached our destination.  It was a very quiet journey.  If there was an atmosphere on Europa, I would have imagined the sound of wind whipping by, across the icy dunes.  There was massive peaks of ice, but we avoided those.  We got lucky.  Our journey was relatively flat.  A few hills of ice here and there, but overall, it was pretty simple.
I could almost tell that Lucas was working.  For real, I could hear the science gears in his head working.  For myself, all I could think about was Mars.  I desperately hoped she was alright.  I hadn’t asked Luc if the area where the two of us worked got flooded.  She was an early-riser, so maybe she wasn’t in the crew quarters, which I knew were flooded.  Part of me felt terrible for her.  I bet that she fought tooth and claw to not have to go.  She had to leave.  I got that.  For real, no part of me blamed her for leaving Lucas and I high and dry.  Everything was going to hell, fast.  The Commander had to look to the lives of the people he could save.  If communications had been up, I’m sure that they would have got word to us.  But that’s just not how it worked.
Then I thought about my parents, and Angie.  Did they know what happened?  If they did, did they think I was dead?  That would be the obvious assumption.  The Station was flooding, the sub was unable to be reached.  It wouldn’t take a genius to put two and two together.  What Lucas had said, about how we would have died in there.  I bet that that thought was killing Mars.  This made me feel even worse for her.  The poor woman.  I could only imagine what was going through Luc’s mind.  His father, thinking his son was dead, it would kill him.  So many dark thoughts.  The long walk gave me nothing but time to think.

We got inside the Station and once the cabin pressurized and the door opened, both of us immediately felt worlds better.
“Alright, before we go, we better do a little domestic stuff,” Lucas said.
“Like what?”
“Eat, for one thing.  We haven’t had anything to eat or drink in almost a day.  We’re going into cold sleep.  Best to do hydrated.”
“Good idea!”  There was a mess station up here, like a cafe.  They would still be carrying food.  True enough, they had plenty.  There were these pizzas that were able to be hydrated and good as new.  MREs for the Space Exploration Age.  We also found some seltzer drinks in the fridge.  Don’t worry, we drank some water too.  I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was until I saw drinks.
The two of us stripped out of the suits.  We didn’t need them in here.  Given that we were going into cryo soon, they wouldn’t have been much use.  There was clothes in another outlet.  While the super-soldier effect was gone, I felt better, not being butt-ass naked inside that suit.  It got…awkward, in certain places.
We sat down to eat and both of us could feel life coming back to our systems.  For the first time that day, we were hopeful.  We get on that shuttle, ride our way back to Mars, become celebrities, then live out our days on the royalties from the holo-vids.

Once we had eaten, we made our way to the docks. There were three shuttles left.  The rest had up and gone, fast.  I couldn’t quit the smile from my face.  Angie’s necklace was in my hand, and I was certain that we were going to be alright.
I hacked my way inside, going to the cockpit.  Now here was a new experience.  Thank god for the ocular interface.  It told me what I needed to get this thing’s auto-pilot going.  Lucas and I took our seats in there for take-off.  It wasn’t very bumpy.  In fact, it was almost anticlimactically smooth.  Once we got out of Europa’s gravity, we took another look back.  The best months of my life were there.  Despite how scary it all got, I was still going to miss it.
Then came the fun part – cryo-sleep.  We went out back and powered up the system.  I programmed the auto-pilot with our destination.  We also recorded an automated message, to play as we went, Mars would know that we were coming and not shoot us down.  The plan was to dock at one of the orbital platforms.  Then we wake up and it’s off to being heroes.  This day got so much better, towards the end.  We got to the back and stripped down.  Like Mars said, we could get into these things with just our skivvies and it would be alright.  A little cold, but nothing, compared to that suit I was just in.  I had to again part with Angie’s necklace, but it was in the locker, safely with the rest of my clothing.
As the pods opened, I looked at Lucas.
“Hey Luc…”
“Yeah?”
There was a feeling inside that couldn’t be easily put into words.  “I don’t know if I would have gotten out of that place without you.  Thank you.”
“Same here.  You’re one of a kind, Elle.”
We shared a long glance, before I got in and the pod closed.  Now, all I had to do was wait.  Next time I was woken up, I would be home!

There was something Mars had said, when we first met.  She told me about how she had had to wake up with her compatriots, to a blaring alarm.  They had seconds to get their wits about them and move.  Part of me couldn’t imagine how unpleasant that would be.
The first thing I remember feeling was myself being thrown to the floor.  I opened my eyes and felt my limbs being numb.  There were dark voices all around us.  The first thing I could clearly understand was when the barrel of a rifle was being shoved under my chin.  My sense became incredibly focused, then.  I was looking to a very unpleasant set of eyes.
“Well-well-well, what have we here?!”  Dark laughter.  “A pair of lost kittens, who are about to have a very bad day.”
As I stared into his icy-blue eyes, I knew something – I was totally and completely fucked!

Until next time, a quote,

“And as I sat there, looking out into the darkness, I thought back on all the things I’d built and left unfinished. I realized something – I wasn’t sad that it was gone. I had had fun making all that stuff. I would have done it anyway. And then, somehow, I knew that when I woke up, all my work really would be destroyed.” -King, The Unfinished Swan

Peace out,

Maverick

The Europa Mystery: Part 7

The first thing I knew as I looked at Atlantis Station, was that something was wrong.  The running lights were almost all out.  There were no craft outside of the Station.  Even when all was well, they would have drones doing continual scans.  The safety procedures here was rigid and inflexible.  I remember when I would send drones out, one had to be careful about hitting other craft.  Learning to pilot also had its safety exercises.  Then there were the bubbles.  Lots of bubbles, rising toward the surface.  I looked at Lucas, and both of us had the same thought – something happened.  Something bad.  I tried to raise them on the comm, but there was nothing.  Given the lack of running lights, there was a large chance that primary power was gone.
“We have to get inside,” Lucas said, finally.
I gave him a quizzical look.  “How?  I mean, if the place is flooded, where would we enter at?”
He thought for a moment.  “I highly doubt the entire facility is flooded.  They had extensive countermeasures in place for when something happened.  Whole sections could be sealed off, down to the smallest access point.  How could something have happened?”
“We won’t learn floating out here.  You’re right.  We have to get onboard.  But the big question is – how?  We can’t dock in an underwater bay.  But if you’re right, one of the bays must be open.”
“How do we figure out which?”
The ball was in my court.  “By going outside.  We got any diving gear?”
He nodded, motioning for me to follow him back to the lab.  We got there and he opened a large storage compartment.  Inside, I saw two suits.  They were gorgeous.  Black, with a shimmery effect on the surface armor.
“Survival suits, Mark V.  These things can survive in deep space or at the bottom of the sea.  Nanotech at its finest!”
A frown came on my face.  “They look pretty big.”
Lucas chuckled.  “Don’t sweat it.  The suits adjust to the size of the wearer.  It truly is one size fits all.  These things could have a person who stands at 7′ in them and be just fine. The gear can grow or shrink, based on the nanotech armor.  Top of the line stuff.  Not even the regular military has it.”
Color me impressed.  “Cool.  Alright, so, how do I get it on?”
He got a little awkward.  “Well, you’re gonna have to strip down to get in the suit.  Not just to your skivvies.  This thing seals directly to you.  It helps monitor your vitals, along with control for other…purposes.  Once you get ready to get in, your visual sync should guide you the rest of the way.  I’ll…wait in the cockpit, until you’re in.”
As he described it, I felt myself go beet red.  I had to get totally naked and slip into what looked to be that cold suit.  Oh, this was not going to be fun.  And what did he mean, ‘other purposes?’  Like is it going to shove a tube up in – never mind!  Didn’t even want to think about that.  All I could do was nod, as he made to leave.  Then he stopped.
“Oh, and your necklace.  Sorry to say, it won’t fit in there.  There are storage containers on the suit, so you can keep it with you.”  He held out his hand.  I slipped the necklace off and handed it to him.  I knew that he wouldn’t do anything damaging to it.  Funny as it sounds, but at that moment, I realized just how much I could trust Lucas.  There was a bond that had formed between us on this mission.  Something deep and real.  We had slept in the lab on the first night.  Told each other stories for hours on end.  You never truly know how amazing your friends are until you see them at their core.  I had seen his, and he had seen mine.  He left the lab and shut the door behind him.
I took a deep breath, stripping down.  Once I was naked, I was freezing.  I typically wore a hoodie that was given to me at the start of the project.  It was warm and fuzzy.  Guess I never thought about how cold it was in this place until now.  I shivered, activating the neural interface.  Instantly, it ID’d the suit and saw that I was trying to do.  Right as the interface started guiding me, the suit opened!  Man, I keep forgetting how cool these neural links are.  I could interface with stuff without having to touch a thing.  The body opened up, allowing me to slip in.  I put in my legs first.  Dear god was it cold!
“Oh, fuck me!”
“Everything alright in there?!” Lucas called.
“Yeah.  Just…little cold.”
I could hear laughing.  Asshole.  Though part of me couldn’t help but laugh too.  As soon as my legs were in, my body went in.  I cannot begin to describe how freezing it was on certain places.  Then my arms slid inside.  It was done.  Right as I got my whole body inside, the suit began to change!  The size constricted.  It was so cool!  Like watching a snake’s scales moving.  Oh yeah, forgot to mention that – the exterior of this thing resembled snake scales, in places.  The suit tightened around me.  All around me.  Everywhere.  Never have I felt more constricted and more feminine than I did with this suit.  Reminding me of my female-ness, one frozen part at a time.  Just then, it all changed. The cold was instantly replaced, with warmth.  It was heaven!  Like I had slipped into a warm blanket.  The mechanisms of the suit were coming online.  As soon as everything was locked in place, I was ready.
“Lucas, come see this!”
Like he needed bidding.  In a flash, he was in the lab.
“How do I look?”
His smile got so big. “Amazing! You’re like one of those super-soldiers, in a holo-vid!”  He held up his Band, snapping a picture.  “So people believe me when I tell them!”
I smiled too.  “Wait, the head part isn’t on.  It’s apparently collapse-able.  Let’s get this in all its glory!”  The interface told the suit to initialize the head segment.  I saw the pieces come up around me.  It was so cool.  Given what Lucas had said, I felt like a badass soldier.  When the segments finished, the visor came online.  My interface acted as a HUD, and I could see the world in a way I never had before.  This was so cool!
“Alright, take a picture!  I want to see!”
He held up his Band again, and it was done.  He sent it to me.  Man, I felt like such a boss!  The head segment was sleek.  Much like the sub, it had no exterior.  A glowing red camera was all there was, right in the center.  That way, there was no structural weakness.  Still, this thing looked awesome.  Black, sleek, with that red eye in the center.  I couldn’t have looked more like a super-soldier if I tried.  I squeed a bit.  He laughed, then we both did.  Then, the seriousness of the situation came back.
I looked through the various systems on the suit.  Indeed, this thing was rated for all kinds of survival conditions.  Apparently, it was tested on the surface of Venus! Now that’s nuts!  I was made to work in deep space, but was fitted for underwater work.  There were several jet boosters that would propel me through the water.  That was how I would get inside.
“So, how do I get outside?”
He pointed to another door, at the back of the lab.  “Go through there.  You’ll see an access port.  It’s made for emergencies, so it should work to get you outside.  I’ll activate the decompression sequence from in here.”
“You’re not coming with me?!”  There was a little fear in that thought.
“No.  One of us should stay with the sub, in case something happens. Not to mention, we might need it.  You know your way around the access points.  I don’t.  But I’ll be with you every step of the way.”  He put his hand on mine.  I gripped his as tight as I dared, for fear of injuring him.
“Okay.”
“Oh, your necklace!” He reached into his pocket and took it out.
I opened a port on the side of the suit, slipping it inside.  Now I had Angie with me as well.
“So, once I get the dock open for the sub, how will you get it in? You don’t know how to pilot.”
“If the dock isn’t damaged or flooded, shouldn’t auto-pilot be able to get me in?”
I thought for a moment, nodding.  “Yeah. That should work.”  I took a deep breath.  “Okay.  Wish me luck!”
Putting a hand on my face, he stroked the chin of my helmet.  “Be careful out there.  Whatever happened, I would hate to lose you too.”
Once-again, I put my hand over his. “Don’t worry.  We’ll get this all sorted out in no time.”
We didn’t break apart for some time, but we inevitably had to. I started the walk toward the back.  Part of me expected moving in this thing to be cumbersome.  But like a suit for a super-soldier, it was like a second skin to me. I moved like normal.  This was so awesome.

I got to the back and saw the access port he was telling me about.  Slipping inside, I saw the door shut and seal.
The comm unit on the suit came online.  “Alright, I’m your host, L. Night, here to play you the smooth sounds of the 20th century!”
“Fuck you!”  I couldn’t help but giggle, hearing him doing so on the other end.
“Anyway, beginning decompression.”
There was a loud hiss, then quiet.
“Get ready, I’m flooding the entry.  Then we’ll open it and you’re on your way!  Ready?”
“Let’s do it!”
Very quickly, I noticed the water coming in.  The suit reacted instantly, adjusting to the new environment.  Various readings came online.  I saw that I had several days worth of oxygen, thanks to the recycling system.  Very cool.  Though, if this took several days, then something went wrong.  Once the chamber was full of water, the exterior hatch opened.  I activated the boosters, and began my exit.
“Alright, I’m out of the sub.”
“Closing exterior hatch.  Draining and repressurizing exit.  And…done.  How’s it feel?”
I chuckled a little.  “Like being weightless.”
“Say, what’s the water temperature like?  Just out of curiosity.”
“Still the scientist, eh?”  I rolled my eyes a bit.
“No reason to abandon it, even if we are in a survival situation.”
Again, I chuckled.  The suit did a quick scan.
“I got 16 degrees Celsius.”
“Interesting.  The water is getting warmer.”
“What does that mean?”
“Unsure.  Anyway, back to the mission.  Get used to the jets before trying anything serious.”
Good advice.  I boosted around.  It was cumbersome at first, but once I learned to use the jets on my arms and lets to steer, it got easier.  There was so much light outside.  Suddenly, a memory came back into my head.  The dream!
“Hey Lucas, kill the lights on the sub.”
“Why?”
“Just trust me!”
“Okay.  Killing exterior lights…”  It went dark.  I cut off the lights on the suit as well.  That was when I saw them!  There were lights coming up, from the depths.  They were rising toward Atlantis!  It was beautiful.  The buoyancy system held me in place, letting me observe the lights rise.  So amazing.  Why were they all headed toward Atlantis?  There was a mystery here, that I didn’t know how to solve.  I used the suit’s camera to capture as much of it as I could.
“Ellie!  Ellie, are you okay?!  You went dark.”
That brought me back to reality.  “Yeah.  I’m sending you some stuff.  Something I recorded.”
There was a pause.  “Beautiful!  These lights, they are some kind of bio-luminescence.”
“It’s natural?”
“No other explanation.  They seem to be coming from below.  Deep below.”
A light in my head went off.  “Like where the coral is?!”
“That’s my thought.  I don’t know enough, but the outline of a picture is forming in my head.  All those lights are heading toward Atlantis.  Something is drawing them there.  Oh well, that’ll have to wait.  We got a job to do, and the more I learn about the situation, the less I want to be sitting out here.”
“With you there.  Alright, heading toward Atlantis.”
I hit the jets, drifting steadily over.  Through the lights I went, though they seemed to disappear as the running lights of the Station got closer.  Strange.  Now, how to get in?  The answer came pretty fast – one of the flooded docks.  It seemed fitting.  Turns out, I didn’t have to look far.  I jetted along the hull of the Station.  You really never appreciate how big it is until you see it from the outside.
“I’ve made my way to a flooded dock.  Entering Atlantis Station.”
“Copy that!  Be careful in there.  Who knows what’s happened.”
“Copy that too.”

I drifted inside, looking around.  Subs that were still in place.  Whatever happened in here, it happened fast.  I looked and saw that the door had been ripped open from the other side!  What happened in here?!  Where were all the people?  The last question didn’t take long.  I moved toward the wall, moving a piece of wreckage out of my way.  It was then that I came upon some young woman who was floating.  A look of terror was on her face.  I screamed, loudly.
“Ellie?!  What’s wrong?!  Are you okay?!”
After a few seconds, I was able to speak again.  Tears were running down my face.
“There’s a person in here.  A dead person.  Some girl from Mechanical.  Jesus…fuck.  Luc, what if Mars is like this?!  What if she’s floating dead somewhere?!”
“Don’t go assuming the worst yet, Elle.  This place’s security measures were top-notch.  Even if there was flooding, they would have had ways to seal access points.  This person might just be one of the ones who didn’t get lucky.  Let’s not break down before we know for sure, alright?”
I wished I could have wiped my eyes, but I nodded.
“Right.  Okay, heading in.  I’ll have to reach one of the main access terminals.  Everything in here is waterlogged.  It looks like water came in fast.  Lots of busted shit all over the place.”
“Okay.  I’ve loaded the schematics and am tracking your location.  The nearest access terminal just down the hall from your location.  Updating your navigation system.”
Right as he said it, a waypoint came on.  The cool factor was back.  The HUD also displayed an interactive map, displaying my location, in relation to the waypoint.  Yeah, this stuff was awesome.
“Making my way to the terminal.”  The jets took me into a hallway.  The jets wouldn’t be much use in the halls.  I activated the magnetic system in the boots, feeling the solid floor beneath me.  Slowly but surely, I walked to where Lucas had marked.  The terminal was still online.  How it worked with all the water in here was beyond me, but no point questioning providence.
I used my interface to get in, bringing up the systems.
“I’m in!”
“Do a check of the station.  Where-all is flooded?”
I hit some sensors, bringing up schematics.  Hope suddenly leapt back into me.  Lucas was right!  The safety measures in this place were impressive.  Over 1/2 the station was either severely damaged or flooded, but not all of it.
“We’re in luck!  Not all the station is flooded.  I’ve got a dock that you can get into.”
“Excellent! Send me the data and we’ll get the auto-pilot to get us in there.”
I queued it up, but then was hit with a problem.
“I can’t open it!  There’s an Executive Lockdown on all systems!”
“Executive Lockdown?  Like from the Commander?”
“Looks that way.  The Lockdown was issued right as everything went to shit, along with an emergency evacuation order.  Whatever happened here, it didn’t last long.  Everything went to shit in a big way and they had minutes to spare.  Whole sections were cornered off, but other sections were damaged beyond repair.”
A pause.  “What damaged them?”
“Unknown.  There wasn’t a full diagnostic done.  They didn’t have time.  The evacuation was ordered and everyone jumped ship.”
“So, how are we going to get the sub in.  I know you’ve been hacking their stuff.  Got anything that can help?”
I thought for a moment.  “I might be able to open up one of the docks, but I’m going to have go in and do it there.”
“Sounds good.  We can meet up.  You make your way to the dock, while I get my own suit.  If the placed is locked down, then we’ll need to end the Lockdown.  Only way we can do that is from the Command Center.”
“Yeah.  That makes sense.  Alright, see you soon!”
“You know it!”

I knew that if the shutters were sealed, than I wasn’t getting out of these flooded compartments.  I had to go in directly.  Once outside, I used the jets to move along the hull again.  There was something so freeing about this.  Now that I was used to them, I felt like a seal in the water, gliding effortlessly through it.  Lucas had to yell at me when I got off-task.  Whatever.  I knew that he wishes he could seal too.
There was an external access port, like the one on the sub.  It was also for emergencies.  I had to hack in to the controls, but it got the job done.  Once the cabin pressurized, I was back in the dry.  The suit did a scan.  The air was breathable.  I disengaged the helmet and ran over to where the controls were.  My interface loaded one of my hacking programs from my Band.  The firewalls weren’t especially active right now.  A lot of the ship’s systems were down.  Primary power had been lost not too long ago.  It was kind of creepy in the place.  I ended the lockdown on the room, and Lucas brought in the sub.
When it was docked, he came out.  Like me, he looked pretty damn cool in the suit.  I snapped a picture of him too.
“Hey, now we can both be badass soldiers!”
He smiled at me, collapsing the helmet.  “You know it!  Now, let’s get to the Command Center and end the lockdown.  Then we gotta get to the surface.”
“Think there’ll be a shuttle there?”
He nodded.  “Most definitely.  They made sure to plan for all contingencies.  They have several more shuttles than fully required, in case of an orbital emergency, where something gets damaged.”  Then a dark look came on his face.
“What?”
“It’s just odd.  With all the safety measures, what happened to the Station?”
That got to me too, but what could we do?
“Let’s get to the Command Center.  Maybe we can get some answers there.”
“Lay on, McDuff!”

We made our way through the halls.  Our interfaces guided us.  So cool, how these things worked even without the helmet.  I didn’t plan on getting rid of this tech, once I got out of here.  I knew it was the same for Lucas.  We were making good time.  The lifts were dead, so we had to go through the emergency tubes.  Each time we opened one, we checked to see that it wasn’t flooded.  The last thing we wanted was to get caught with our pants down.  That already happened to Atlantis.
As I opened one of the tubes, the two of us stopped dead.  The lights!  They were all along the walls!  Indeed, I wouldn’t have believed it if I wasn’t seeing it.  The coral, it was growing inside the Station!
I looked to Lucas.  “What does this mean?!”
He stared at it, thinking.  “I wish I knew, Elle.  I really wish I knew…”
Something inside of me knew that we had just come on to a major clue.  If only I knew how to process it.  What happened here?!

Until next time, a quote,

“Why are people so afraid of the dark?”  -Shinji Ikari, Neon Genesis Evangelion

Peace out,

Maverick

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

The Europa Mystery: Part 5

The elevator started going down and I was immediately enraptured.  It could see outside and I saw lights below.  They were distorted and I knew – we were underwater!  Under the waters of Europa, at last!  This was the coolest day of my entire life.  I clung tightly to Angie’s necklace, wishing I could somehow send to her my feelings about this moment.  She would be one of the first people I wrote that night, once I got a Net link.  Then, something caught my eye – a submersible!  I could see it moving around the elevator, as if trying to shock us.  It worked.  A ton of people freaked out, thinking it was about to hit us.  But it didn’t.  This thing was able to move with the same deftness as a fish.  It was amazing to watch.  It looked so sleek, but appeared big enough to hold several people.  Something to do on-site experiments with?
The closer we got to Atlantis, the better I could see it, and holy shit was this place big!  None of the schematics or video did it justice!  There were bubbles coming from vents, with a vast spectrum of lights mingling with them.  It was like a rising river of stars.  It was circular, with a tower in the center that the elevator was connected to.  I could tell that there was another part that descended far down below.  As we got closer, I noticed something – no windows.  Part of that made sense.  I mean, what was there to look at anyway?  Not to mention, in an underwater facility, windows sounded like one hell of a structural weakness.  Too many things could go wrong.  I had a feeling that this place would feel very compressed without windows.  Would make for a stressful environment.  I wonder how they got around that?  I would find out soon enough.

The elevator docked at the bottom of the shaft.  After a decompression sequence for a few seconds, a virtual interface came on and welcomed us to Atlantis.  I stepped out and it was amazing!  While there were no actual windows, there appeared to be.  What’s more, they were showing images of a sunny day, in a field without the slightest tint of red.  Earth?  Amazing.
This place was everything I was hoping it would be and more.  So many people, all with different color uniforms for the various departments.  I could hear conversation buzzing about the work to come, the excitement from everybody who could see a bright future.  I couldn’t wait myself.  Part of me desperately wanted to go down to where my Band told me my station was and get down to business, but according to the integrated clock, I was not on for another 12 hours.  Best to get some rest.  I did feel a little tired.  Funny, considering that I had been in a freezer for over a month.  Still, part of me was utterly exhausted.  Mari and I got to our room and I got to link into the Net.  It was already up and running!  I sent a message to the folks, telling them that I had arrived.  Sent one to Angie as well, telling her how much I was missing her and wishing she was with me, because this place is so cool.  Then it was to the mess hall, to meet up with Lucas.
Walking around the joint, I couldn’t believe just how integrated everything was.  My Band was updated, and I would be getting my neural implant as soon as tomorrow.  Becoming augmented like the people on Earth.  I was so stoked.  Kind of wanted to go to work now, but I got why they were waiting to have us get down to it.  After all, we would have to get our implants and learn how to sync with the new tech.  It’s like being taught a new skill as a kid, or so I’m told, like tying one’s shoes.  It becomes simple, but it seems crazy-difficult.  So many new things, it was all a little overwhelming.
This mess hall was so crazy.  I felt a wind on my face, and could see a simulated open-air environment around me, like this was some kind of park that I was eating at.  Could hear birds chirping and the background noise and everything.  It was so weird!  This place felt so alien, yet so familiar too.  It was weird.  Dinner tonight was a very balanced diet, with the main dish being chicken Parmesan.  It’s so strange, how this place felt so realistic, yet was all just an illusion.  New technology that amazed me, yet also got me to thinking – is this because they’d rather be at home?  I mean, if you are going to make this place look like somewhere on Earth, then doesn’t that mean you’d rather be there?  Maybe I was being pessimistic.  After all, what else was there to look at?  It all just felt like wasted potential.  Like it could be so much more.  I mean, let me have a crack at it and I would get the walls looking like some underwater playground on some foreign world.  That would eff with people’s expectations.  In fact, I wondered if I could do that.
I turned on my Band, looking for where the interface was.  All rooms had one.  Had to, really.  Otherwise, nobody would be able to sync into the base’s operations.  I got connected into the network and started to slip in to the maintenance systems.  Hacking is a delicate art.  Rather than force my way into a system, which would set off all kinds of bells and whistles, my programs were made to quietly go around a system’s defenses.  This place was not as strong as I anticipated.  That caught me off-guard.  But still, I was in.  After mulling through the various systems, I found what I was looking for.  Another firewall to pass, and it wasn’t hard.  Of course, if I didn’t want to set off any alarms, I had to be careful what I injected into the projection.  After thinking it over for a few minutes, I finally had it.  Several people in the mess hall looked up as they saw a pink elephant doing ballet through the trees.  Lucas also noticed, suddenly looking over at me.  I gave him a wink.  We shared a quiet laugh.

The next morning, I was down to it.  The first stop was the Medical Bay.  If I thought that the Mess Hall was cool, this place was state-of-the-art!  For real, they had holographic interfaces, these trippy pods where a person can have almost any kind of surgery done, in the event of an emergency and no physician.  The room was all-white, with the staff in these trippy white outfits.  Needless to say, I felt safe with them.  But, of course, my muscle was there to watch my back.  It was kind of funny to watch her reaction.  She got her neural implant at the same time.
When the connections to the implant came online, it was a whole other world!  I’m telling you, I was in awe!  Immediately, everything became sharper and clearer.  Scanning protocols came online and I could get a reading on just about anything.  Even the people.  Their bios would pop up if I wanted them too.  There were SO many ways to use this technology, and I couldn’t wait to fiddle with it.  Indeed, that was something I made a point to myself to do a lot of.  It was like being in a virtual reality game.  This was so cool.  I looked at myself in the mirror and saw my own information being displayed.  I could scan anything I wanted to.  I analyzed my entire body, to see what I could find.  I was wearing Angie’s necklace, and did an analysis on it.  It seemed so ordinary, what came back.  It told me what the metal was made of, that there were a couple of jewels imbedded in the spherical part.  It told me that the necklace was not especially strong, not made for violent impacts.  Such a basic analysis, yet it meant the world to me.  Each word was committed to memory, and I would never forget them.
Next up was my work station.  Again, this place was as state-of-the-art as one could ask for.  The drone bay was a place of hectic action!  Each person got their own station.  My interface pointed me to mine.  A lot of these controls were familiar to me.  I was in charge of a short-range drone, with the job of taking samples and analyzing them.  Yeah, it sounds about as exciting as it was, but you have to understand – we were on the cusp of something!  The water samples that I got on my first day were teeming with the chemical processes that we had come to anticipate.  This water was primordial soup.  There were chemical bonds that indicated the growth of life.  It may not be be actual celled organisms yet, but there was so much potential!  Everybody was excited.  The work may have seemed monotonous, to some, but we each wanted to be the person who made the big discovery.  This place hadn’t been working for long, so it could happen at any time.  Any one employee could be that one.  Of course, most of the drone workers were with the repair teams.  I could hear constant buzzing of comm traffic between teams out in the deep and those assisting with drones.  Constant maintenance was a must with this place.  Every time something was reported as a potential issue, they took it seriously.  Granted, nothing major had been malfunctioning yet, but better safe than stupid.
At the end of my shift, I went to the Mess Hall and met up with Lucas.  Turns out, his day had been more eventful.  He got to be front-and-center with the scientists who were studying the samples we got them.  I could hear at an adjacent table argument about what some of the samples could mean.  I felt so lucky.  It was such an honor, to be among these great minds and be a part of it.  I may pilot a drone, but so what?  I was here.

That night, I sent another message to my parents.  I got their reply not long afterwards, with them being totally stoked.  Dad kept saying how he was sure that I was going to be the one who found the first life forms.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that if anybody found life, it was more likely to be Lucas.  After all, all we did was collect samples.  It was their job to analyze it.
After talking to the parents, I linked in with Angie.  I sent her the data I compiled about the necklace she gave me, telling her how much this means to me.  She didn’t quite follow, but said it was sweet.  I wished she was here.  Mari could tell that I was having some issues, but could tell that it was best if she left it alone.  That woman has a gift at knowing when to butt in, and when not to.  Her work station was right next to mine.  I was such a little girl around her, constantly telling her about the minutia of my day like it was the most exciting thing in the history of space travel.  I swear, this woman will make a great mom someday, in how she would just listen and pretend that she got why I was so stoked.

Days passed in the station.  I was trained on how to operate the longer range drones, to go out further.  One day, I was given given a pass to go to the vehicle bay and actually learn how to operate a submersible!  Can you believe it?!  Yeah, felt like pretty hot shit at that point.  Of course, I wasn’t about to say that in front of the instructor.  This guy did NOT play.  He was a hard-nosed man who took safety and all that very seriously.  I get that.  It’s important to not play with equipment that you have to depend on for your life.  But the little kid inside of me was having too much fun!
After about a month, there had been lots of mapping of the nearby sea bed and ice formations.  There was as much study of the ice above as the rocks below.  The mapping system was almost complete.  Granted, it wasn’t easy.  The sea bed of Europa was a mess of deep trenches and sandy dunes.  There were more signs of life, but it was still eluding us.  The scientists took this as a challenge.  They knew that something was down here with us, but it was too shy to come out and play.  They were not dissuaded.  If lie was going to be found, it would be found by them.
The real break in all this came about a week later.  You won’t believe by who.  Lucas was down at my work station, guiding me through an exploratory mission into a cave we had found.  They wanted somebody on-site during the exploration.  Lucas wasn’t the only one.  There was a scientist that he was paired with.  A young woman, who Lucas clearly had a crush on.  Thankfully, she didn’t mess with him the way some women would.  She kept it professional, but didn’t treat him like a whipping boy.  It was courteous and pleasant.
We came into a passage and I shined the light on the rock formations.  Something was odd about them.
“Bring the camera in closer, would you?” Lucas asked.  Both him and the scientist leaned in closer.  They weren’t the only ones.  Everybody who wasn’t busy was now moving over.  If the break was about to come, they wanted to be there.  I panned closer.  It was something!  But what?!
“Run through the imaging spectrums, would you?” the other scientist asked.  The room got quiet.  I cued up the system, going through the various imaging systems.  Suddenly, we had it!  Infrared!  There was heat!  Not just heat, but a network of heat!  You could hear a pin drop.  I had a hunch, switching to x-ray filter.  That’s when I saw it.  It was coral!  The entire cave wall was covered in the stuff!  I panned back, switching back to infrared.  The coral growth filled the entire space.  There was more!  I took water samples. A kind of algae was in here!  The cave had heat coming from the back.  This was likely some kind of volcanic vent.  The coral was feeding on the algae!
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have life!” I announced.  The room went absolutely nuts.  For real, you have NEVER seen a group of people get so stoked.  Lucas hugged me tight, knowing that this was our discovery.  Mari smiled at me and the female scientist hugged the two of us.  I felt like a million fucking bucks.  We had done it!  We had found life outside of our planet!  Alien fucking life!  This was the best day of my life.

Until next time, a quote,

“The real story of the ocean begins where you left off!”  -Captain Nemo, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Peace out,

Maverick

The Europa Mystery: Part 4

Of the very few things I perceived when I was in cryogenic hibernation, one of them was a dream.
I was running.  Running for all I was worth.  Lucas wasn’t far behind.  There were explosions and shouting all around us.  I was wearing the same kind of suit that I was wearing in the dream I had of being underwater.  The world around me was perceived through a visor that I saw through, and it was showing a very scary place.  The hallways were dark, with a kind of amber glow filling them.  Fire was around us, with people in the same kinds of suits that the two of them were wearing (albeit grimier and with different visors) desperately trying to put them out.  What had happened here?  There were so many thoughts going through my mind as I tried to make sense of why I was running down the corridor, holding tight to Lucas’ hand as we went.  We had made a promise.  Somehow, I remembered that.  That we would stick together, no matter what.
We turned a corner just as a bulkhead seemed to erupt in front of them.  The air was sucked out of the room, and us along with it.  We were in space.  Dark, cold, empty space.  I looked down and saw the grimy-looking vessel in battle with another, more sleek and professional-looking vessel.  There were other ships as well, on both sides.  This fight was brutal!  It was clear that the grimy-looking ships were brave, but outmatched.  I had a feeling that they were pirate ships, and the other vessels were with the IDF.  Lucas grabbed my shoulder, pointing to something in the distance.  It was a shuttle!  Something about it looked familiar.  It was floating in space, apparently abandoned.  I knew that that was where they had to go.  But how had we ended up here?  Too many questions, not enough answers.  Then, the dream started to fade.  The world was going to black.

The first thing I saw when I woke up was the light.  There was very little of it.  It reminded me of having a nightlight in my room back on Mars.  That’s what the lighting was like.  There was steam coming off my body, which was scary at first, before the chill kicked in and I was freezing.  I wasn’t the only one.  Others were waking up.  More lights were coming on.  It wasn’t blinding, but it was disorienting.  The top of the pod I was in had lifted and the air was absolutely bone-chilling.  My teeth started to chatter as I sat up.  Mari was next to me, also sitting up.  We looked at each other and both knew what the other was thinking – how can we get out of these suits?  The suits we had wore into the pods were now coated in condensation.  It was like having an ice-pack stuck to you.  Mari motioned for me to follow her and we headed for the changing rooms.  We grabbed our former clothes from their lockers.  I also quickly grabbed the necklace Angie gave me.  Holding it again, it made my heart flutter and feel good.  Mari noticed how I was holding it and putting it on fast, but didn’t make a big deal out of it.
There were towels outside of the changing rooms, with attendants asking the various members how they felt.  The responses they got were generally the same – grogginess, some nausea and being cold as hell.  We got to the changing rooms first, eager to be in something warmer.  We had changing rooms right next to one-another.
“So, Ellie, how did you sleep?”
I shrugged as she finished removing the suit and started drying herself off.  “Okay.  Had a weird dream.”
“Oh?  What was it about?”  There was something about this woman’s tone of voice and how she spoke to mr that felt so motherly.
“I don’t know.  It was like, Lucas and I were on some kind of spacecraft.  We were running, and everything was all fire and screaming and running.  It looked like a battle.  A hole suddenly blows open in front of us and the place decompresses.  We are sucked out into space, and I see that it’s a fight between two different kinds of ships.”
There was a long pause.  “Huh, that is a weird dream.”
“Yeah.  I can’t really figure it out.  So, what about you?  How did you sleep?”
“Very well.  Very well indeed.  Though it has been a while since I’ve done that.”
“You’ve gone into cryo before?”
“Oh yes!” the woman said, sounding pleased with herself.  “Granted, in those days, we didn’t have fancy suits to monitor our vitals.  We would just strip down to our skivvies and get in.  You can do that, you know.  Those suits are just so they can say that everybody was safe.  But there is no real danger.  People get all worked up over those movies where the crew is sucked into the void of space and dies without ever knowing anything.  Fear-mongering is what that is.”
I was intrigued.  “So you’re saying that all that explosive decompression stuff isn’t true?”
“Something those videos don’t tell you is that for the crew of a ship to be vented into space suddenly, you have to have a serious hull rupture.  I’m talking about the kind where you’re probably already dead from the explosion.  Not to mention – there is a fail-safe programmed into the machines that if an emergency is declared, all crew is woken.  I tell you what, you think this wake-up call was hard?  Try waking up to an alarm, knowing that you have to run, get your gear and suit up fast.  We learned not to care about gender too much when you’re in the service.  In an emergency, we have to strip down and suit up in a couple minutes.  That means everybody being in front of their lockers’, butt-ass naked and not caring what anyone else thinks.  That is real fear.”
A chill ran up my spine as Mari told me this, and we finished getting dressed.  A small part of me wondered if I would ever have to live through that.

Once we got dressed, the attendants told us to head to the cargo bay, where the CO of the ship would address the crew.  I caught sight of Lucas and went running over.  Mari was shouting after me, but I didn’t care.  He was with some people from his department, but caught sight of me and ran as well.  He gave us a hug when I got there. I ruffled his hair.
“You look like shit, dude.  Just putting that out there.”
He gave her a rude hand gesture.  “You don’t look like a princess yourself.  So, how did you sleep?”
“Okay.  You?”
“Okay.”
We kept talking as they found a seat.  As usual, Mari was close by, true to her post.  The commanding officer walked up to the podium.
“Good morning, everybody.  As I’m sure you guessed, we’re at our target destination.  Now, this ship is going to be docking at a facility on the surface.  We will be disembarking there.  This vessel is the one that we have arrived on, and it will be the one that we leave on as well.  As per your contract, you are here for six months, starting at the point where you are on your first shift.  We will not be leaving before the end of that time period, unless there is an emergency.  In the event of a station-wide emergency, your directive is to return to this ship and await instructions.”
There were murmurs around the room.  Some people sounded psyched.  Other sounded nervous.  Lucas and I, it was a bit of both.  It was then that a display cued up behind the podium.  It showed a massive facility.  Two, in fact.  The first was a rather flat and sprawled looking on that seemed to exist so that it could connect to another, more massive one.
“I present to you, Europa Station Atlantis.  I’m assuming that most of you have seen this or something like this before.  The station is very large, but don’t go getting yourself worried.  Each of you is going to be fitted with a cybernetic optical implant and a couple of neural nodes.  They will allowed you to access the station’s database and get real-time information or directions.  The implants will also be used in your assigned tasks, but you’ll learn more about that later.  For now, I am assuming that most, if not all of you have Bands.  Those will be updated with the Station’s layout, so you will use those for now.  We will be docking in 10 minutes.  Have your duffel bags and be ready to head toward the elevators.”

Before we docked, I got to actually look out the window.  It was every bit as amazing as I had hoped it would be.  Jupiter looked gorgeous!  I could see the cloud formations moving.  The Great Red Spot, one of the hallmarks of the planet, was visible from where I was.  It was a swirling mess of a color similar to that of blood!  I was in awe.  Lucas came up beside me, taking some pictures with his Band.
“This is the coolest thing ever!” he whispered.
“For real!  It was all worth it just for this.”
The two also looked down at the facility they were landing at.  The ice of Europa was off-color, like sand.  It was strange.  The lights of the expansive landing zone greeted them.  Shuttles were already here, as was another large ship like their own.  The shuttles were for emergency evacuation.  I knew that.  It was so alien, these lights on this icy moon, in front of a massive world.  So strange.
The ship docked and we started getting out.  The moment we left the ship I was in awe!  This place was amazing!  The inside of the Station was like a resort.  A massive, scientific resort.  Or rather, the starport of such a resort.

Lucas and I were kids in a candy shop. So much stuff! There was a kind of cafe for starship crews and officers. Confirming my suspicion that this Station was meant to be a kind of way-station for future starships. They were expanding to Jupiter. This was it. Much like the Orbital Station on Mars, there were shops for many things. Of course, this place was infinitely cleaner than that. We were motioned toward a series of elevators. Each one went to a different part of the Station below. Lucas was headed on a different one than me.
We hugged again.
“Don’t worry,” he said with a smile, “I’ll come see you first off-hours I get!”
“Damn right you will!”
We laughed and hugged again. I knew he wouldn’t be far.

Until next time, a quote,

“I laugh in the face of danger!” -Simba, The Lion King

Peace out,

Maverick