Look out for the next parts - I am planning on posting the third part at the end of the week.
This book is dedicated to those who are not afraid to go to the stars.
UNS-Explorer Logs, July 27th, 2035: 14:12 – Captain Jason Simmon's Official Report
"This is UNS-Explorer, checking in for status reports. All systems remain independent and show no anomalies in the computer." The captain's voice sounds throughout the ship, his confident, steady tone showing nothing but the desire to get the job done; and yet he too, like the rest of the crew, eagerly anticipates the next stage of the mission.
"Roger that, Captain," replies Chief Engineer Hidus currently stationed in Central Engine Control. "Engines are all set back here as well. Preparations for the first burn with the landing tanks have taken place and are on standby." Surrounded by his green flashing lights, he pulls his seatbelt around his hefty stomach and locks it in place.
"Life support, check, all systems go," calls off the central ship's life support engineer as he shuts down life support to the un-manned room.
"All cargo is secured," Lieutenant Fuller says into the intercom. He glances through the cramped towers of cargo one more time, watching the crates shift within their restraints.
"All solar sail systems have been retracted and are secured. Electrical generator sustaining," sounds the Engineer's assistant, looking out the windows to the solar sails which are rolled up tightly against the belly of the ship.
"Roger that, the bridge is secured. All personnel report to your safety zones for the first burn. The red planet should be in view starboard in 30 seconds." The Captain sits in the center of the main console, gazing at all of the flickering red, yellow, and green LEDs resembling the status of different components, machines, and stations across the ship. On the upper tier of the console are three LCD screens displaying sections of the ship. The one to the right of him displays the long cylindrical hull of the ship which in real time rotates to match the ship's gravity with Mars'. On the center screen are a bunch of numbers and arrows displaying the ships telemetry as the super computer calculates and recalculates different entry and exit scenarios that the ship may encounter. And finally, the left screen displays different times, the largest number counting down from 30 seconds. This is the amount of time until the first burn which will slow their approach to achieve final orbital vector.
Captain Jason Simmons of the spaceship UNS-Explorer cracks his knuckles as he reaches forward and grabs the console, readying himself for the first burn. "Nice and easy," he whispers once the countdown finally reaches zero. The buttons click under his fingers, the LEDs turning from green to red. He leans to the side as the ship's momentum slowly pushes against him. He looks up and out the main windows to see the vast red horizon of the red planet. A satisfied smirk widens over his face. After a moment the LED's turns back from red to green. With a sigh of relief, he sits back in his chair and smiles. Succe—
The ship lurches, throwing the Captain and the crew to the left of their seats. The intercom fills with a scream before abruptly cutting off. Jason catches his balance and looks around to the two crew members stationed around him.
"Status report!" A bunch of the buttons that were solid green have turned red, some flashing fast. The status screen shows the balk of the ship change from the neutral gray to bright red. He taps the screen and gestures his hands outward spinning his finger. The display shifts the view of the ship, zooming out and then around. The third fuel cell under Engines three and four have ruptured. He brings his fingers together, zooming the image in. According to it, multiple leaks have ignited.
"Engineering, what's your status?" Nothing but static responds from Engineering's intercom, aside from the occasional crackling. Jason curses. "All hands on deck. Seal off all major bay doors. Cargo, we need you to go out and fix the leaks. Engineering isn't responding. Suit up."
End Logs 14:12: Captain Jason Simmons' Official Report
MIT, July 27th, 2035: Experiment Journal of Professor Azure St. Pierre
"While eagerly awaiting the results of the Mars landing mission, we here have finally hit a breakthrough in our experiments. The transport project has successfully maintained a hole small enough to allow a rat to crawl from one location to another instantaneously. My students and I believe that we can multiply this effect to safely allow a full-grown human to pass through. In the last two weeks, we have built the Conveyance Portal's Retainer Unit that will allow for the hole to form. Our first test will be in one week, after our backup system has been established. Like any project similar to this, our number one issue was making a perfectly stable power source that won't flux out when the device is powered on. Luckily, our research grants and the completion of the Micro-Nuclear Technology Project have given us efficient, clean energy that should be constant enough to carry out this experiment. Today I will give you a quick tour."
"Sampson, initiate record drone Azure."
The visual unit flickers with the scene of an office space; gray metal walls decorated by old wrinkled papers filled to the edges with prototype schematics. An older gentleman with graying black hair and a snow-white goatee, complimented by sea-blue eyes looks up into the camera. A white cotton button-up shirt one size too big hangs loosely over his shoulders, down to his tan cargo pants and sandals.
"Very good." He grabs his worn Maplewood cane. Rocking forward, he uses it to get onto his feet. "Now follow me this way and I will show you what we have created."
He turns the handle on the large metal door until it clinks inward. Once loose, he pulls back until it creaks open heavily. Bright lights glare in from the hallway, burning away all of the heavy shadows in Azure's room. He hobbles out the door's threshold and walks into the large experiment chamber. The camera focuses on Azure, but once he stops and gestures his hand outward, the camera pans up and follows his hand. The room is filled to the brim with different colored wires, thick and thin running along rungs on the wall and ceiling which eventually lead to a large control panel. Standing behind it, a large 7-foot-tall metal plated ring stands upright. Two titanium alloy girders extend all the way up to the ceiling anchoring the ring to the metal hull.
"This here is what we have so far. It is the larger version of our initial test..." He turns and points behind him to a small table riddled with wires which connect to a socket in the floor. Sitting on the edge of the table is a small tablet. Azure approaches and picks it up. The camera view lowers to Azure's height, hovering just behind him to look onto his screen. He taps around, inputting commands into the tablet. A few moments later a loud wurring follows as an LED display on the machine illuminates. The device itself has two tiers. Each tier has a free-standing ring plated with metal which is adorned with small metal spikes sticking into the center.
Azure sets the tablet down and presses the start button on the display. The wurring changes in pitch as the two rings spark to life. The center of each ring darkens to black, blocking any light from reflecting. Azure gestures for the camera to move around. As programmed, the view shifts to the other side of the ring. Instead of seeing straight through the first ring, it reveals a glimpse beyond the second ring.
"With the help of Dr. Reed's grant from the Harvard Science Program, we constructed a working prototype of this technology."
The camera shifts back to the front, showing the rings from the side. At this angle there is no interior to the rings, just a vast blackness. Azure puts his finger into the top ring, and instantly the tip pops out of the other one. He wiggles his finger a bit, making the disembodied fingertip wiggle around. A moment later, he pulls it back out and presses the 'off' button.
"All experimental technology should be treated with the utmost care. By the end of this, we should be able to place a temporary portal to another location specific to any designated coordinates." He lowers his hands onto his cane again to look up into the camera with a soft smile. A moment later he flinches, then raises his hand to his ear. "What was that?" he asks quietly, looking down to seemingly nowhere. He lifts his left hand and glances to a small device on his wrist. Leaning against the table, he shifts off of the cane and starts tapping the device's screen. Layers of glass lift off from the main screen to display holographic objects in three dimensions. "Oh goodness, that's not good at all."
"This just in, 13 minutes and 48 seconds ago the Mars colonization project took a turn for the worst. 42,842 miles from Mars' surface as the UNS-Explorer was making its first burn down to orbital speed, a fuel tank ignited and exploded. Whether there are any survivors or not is unknown, but we are waiting for Mars' satellites to get into range for more information." The camera backs off from Azure to capture movement from a metal sliding door opening beside the table. A young woman carrying a clipboard and looking down at her wrist phone walks through.
"Professor Azure, the General needs to see you right away."
Azure looks up to the woman and nods, then makes a cutting gesture near his throat.
End of Visual recording: 5.34 minutes: Experiment Journal of Professor Azure St. Pierre
UNS-Explorer Logs, July 27th, 2035: 14:52 – Captain Jason Simmons' Official Report
"Sir, the leak has caught flame in the fuel lines. It's only a matter of time before it reaches the main engines. I shut down the main fuel injector, but we need to react, fast," the nervous flight assistant says.
Captain Simmons looks over to her, Joan, a mid-40 year old woman with a successful career in NASA for 23 years before transferring into the United Nations Space Research Program. Three children and a husband are waiting for her back home, just like the rest of the crew.
"Damn it, Engineering! Respond!" The intercom crackles again, before cutting out. "Damn! Turn off all engine activity and prepare the maintenance pod to bring us down."
"But sir, the pods only fits five people. It was only meant for in-flight ship maintenance."
"S-sir, Engineering here." The speaker coughs. "Engineering Chief Roberts is down; he got caught in the blast. It's only me now."
"Cargo, to the bridge."
"Stephenson, hang in there. I will get you soon," blurts out the Captain as he unbuckles from his seat and stands up.
"No, save yourself, Captain. I will hold off the blast as long as I can."
"Captain, we have communications from Earth. They are telling us to evacuate into the cargo bay and wait for further information."
Simmons turns to the copilot and pauses. "Earth? What can they do for us out here?"
"I don't know sir, but it was a priority-one message. I think they're serious."
The Captain turns away and presses the radio on his watch. "Attention crew. An engine leak in the landing fuel cells has caused a massive explosion on the ship. We are evacuating immediately. Carefully get to the main cargo bay for further instructions. I repeat, get to main cargo bay." He cuts out and coms to the cargo bay. "Prepare the maintenance pod for departure; make as much room as you can for life sustaining equipment and crew."
"Sir," responds the cargo bay chief, "you better come see this."
"Get to the cargo bay, I'll finish up here." He tells the Copilot and flight attendant...
End Logs 14:52: Captain Jason Simmons' Official Report
Warning, Battery Critical
MIT, July 27th, 2035: Experiment Journal of Professor Azure St. Pierre
Owner's Comment: "General Sorcov of the United Nations spoke to me about my project and how it could be used to save the remaining crew members. Upon great objection, I was ordered to use my project anyway. It appeared that when the portal was initializing, it reactivated the drone's recording feature. Even after the drone stopped flying, it kept recording."
The experiment room is viewed in the camera with Azure working at the primary panel next to the Conveyance Portal. Behind him, looking over his shoulder, is a tall man in a navy blue military uniform. The portal ring's center sparks with electricity, jumping from one spike to the next. The camera shutters, then tilts; the view falls until it's sitting on the table. This leaves the table at the bottom of the screen with the sparking ring and the professor working at the panel on the top.
"Tony, get me a stable current," Azure calls out behind him.
"Uh, yes sir! It's taking a few minutes to fill the buffers."
"Time is of the essence, no pressure," the General says casually.
Compared to the mini-ring prototype, the noise in the room as the machine winds up is significantly worse than expected.
"General Sorcov, what are the exact coordinates of the ship in orbit? If we are off by the slightest, we will open a direct vacuum into space."
"I suppose that's why we are in a boat," the general remarks, pulling up his wrist phone. The screen pops out so he can click around. A moment later he looks up. "Transfer me to orbital intelligence," he starts before pausing for a long moment. "Give me the coordinates."
"If we are off one bit, this will be the end of us, if this even works," Azure says nerviously. "See, I was going to put a computer in this thing so it can be accurate down to the smallest quark, but we will just have to be as accurate as physically possible. Hell, have we officially made a coordinate system yet? All we have is the Sun to Space coordinate system which is as Earth centered as the lunar distance calculation, or the Gravity calculation. If we met an alien race, they would think that we are self-deluded enough to think that the universe revolves around us. And to think one day in our history we did."
"The coordinates are 84544.234x 54234.668y 74467.345z moving at a rate of 31,457 kilometers per hour," the general said, quickly reading from his screen.
Azure looks over his shoulder. "Slower. I'm not as young as I look." The general smirks and then reads it off one more time. "Now, these are the coordinates for the central cargo bay, right? That's the best place to put something like this, with hopefully enough margin for error."
The generally types in a few things then nods. "That's it, Professor." Azure nods and sighs.
"It's all or nothing," he remarks pushing a large lever. The shocking and humming of the machine increases 10-fold, to the point where Azure and the general use their free hands to cover their ears. The sparks shoot from spike to spike before becoming a coherent circle inside of the ring. A moment passes, and they see a glimmer of light from another room shine through. The inner ring suddenly blacks out, then vanishes to show the blank grey walls.
"Damn it! Damn it!" Azure moves to the side, turning off-screen. A giant red light is flashing on the control panel. The general smirks. "So help me general, if you laugh one more time I will shove you straight into shock box and feed you to the crew on barbeque night. Tony, where is my power?"
"Sir, it's not stabilizing. It blew out of balance at phase three of the wormhole compression phase."
The general watches off screen in amusement, seemingly ignoring what's at stake. Metal creaking and slamming vibrates through the room. "The damn magnetic coil is out of alignment. That would stop us from getting a consistent current!" More clanking before a thunk, followed by creaking and another clank. "Watch the gadgets, Tony. If anything looks funny, stop the machine!"
"Their coordinates are now 84544.286x 66887.256y 74469.521z at a speed of 35,859 kilometers per hour," the general calls out.
"Damn, they are accelerating much more rapidly than I had expected," Azure says, finishing the inputs. He takes a deep breath and then presses the lever forward. Once again the ring sparks to life, more rapid than before and with fewer sparks. "That's more like it, come on, baby, show me a good time."
Azure smirks and watches as giant cargo boxes appear through the vast blackness of the portal. Two men stand there looking in astonishment to the appearance of the experiment room. Behind them, other crew members slip in through an opening metal door. "On my count, come through two at a time," Azure calls out. An explosion rocks the ship, making the crew and cargo jerk suddenly. The portal remains still, but shifts on their end as the ship moves out of alignment. "Go!" Azure shouts.
Two by two, the crew members pile through the open portal. The entrance lifts higher and higher from the ground. At first the crew simply steps up for it, but now they need to jump and grab the bottom of the ring to pull themselves up.
"Where is the Captain?" Azure calls out, looking over at last crewmen to crawl in. A woman in her mid 40's stands up, shifting uncomfortably with the rocking vessel. "He was still on the bridge."
"Sir," Tony says, "the reserves from the ship's nuclear generator can't maintain this power output for much longer."
Azure swears under his breath and pulls down a small lever. The portal shrinks a bit, allowing the blackness to crawl in around the edges of the view.
Drone Battery Low.
"Cut off all nonessential equipment from the generator power flow. Shut down the engines and divert energy to the batteries and the portal. We can buy him a few more moments."
Two more crewmen walk in. One is severely injured with burn marks running down his face. He leans heavily on the old looking, ashy-faced Captain.
"Damn, it's too high. Compensate the coordinates; going on standby." Azure gestures with his finger to wait a moment, then pulls the smaller lever to collapses the connection all together. "The ship was thrown off course to Mars, so we need to compensate by adding a few meters. The coordinate system is measured in astronomical units so..." He revises a few numbers at the bottom end of the coordinates. He pushes the small lever up; the blackness of the portal suddenly vanishes to expose the cargo bay, but this time on only half of the portal. Dry food rations rain onto the floor from the other half of the portal. Standing in front of the portal, the captain and the injured crewman hobble forward.
"You're half in the cargo box," the Captain says stepping into the room.
"Sir, power is about to cut out!" Tony shouts.
Azure turns and hobbles fast to the portal to lean into it and grab the other half of the injured man. Wet, cracking, burnt skin wrinkles under the grab. He pulls anyway, taking half of the man's weight. Squishing past the edge of the cargo box, he tugs the hurt man through. The portal flickers suddenly, cutting a gash into the Captain's arm as hundreds of thousands of miles of space spark back to normal.
The portal claps with sparks, then turns clear as the power gets cut.
The crew of the UNS-Explorer struggle to their feet to stand around the Captain and the injured man.
"Get this man to the medical bay. Tony, resume engines and divert all energy from batteries to ship systems."
"Sorry to stain your suit, General, but how about you do your part and help?"
Without a word, General Sorcov steps past and picks up the limp man. Azure then turns to Captain Simmons, who is grasping a large cut on his arm. "You made it. You also best follow, Captain, for your sake."
Drone Battery Low.
End of Visual recording: 17.05 minutes: Experiment Journal of Professor Azure St. Pierre
Battery Depleted, Shutting down
The screen flickers and turns off as the battery dies.
"Damn battery, I should really replace it," Alex says to her wrist watch as all of her applications close out. The tri-screen glass display retracts into the device with a little white circle spiraling to represent the shutdown sequence. She turns around in her seat and grabs her backpack. Opening the brown faux leather satchel, she then reaches in to grab her mini tool kit. Looking inside the kit always brings a glimmer of hope when she sees the wide selection of interchangeable micro tools, along with the small inventory of replacement parts and components. She lifts open a small door to expose some micro replacement parts and then pulls out a mini super conductor battery. "They should last for 336 hours, not 168," she says as she pulls off the wrist watch and flips it over.
After pulling off the comfort brace, she can see the brand, serial number, and trademark which is owned by Alex Crowley of World Technology Company. She grabs a small screwdriver from the kit and pulls off the back of the metal casing to expose its microtechnology. Sitting in the center is the small 5-year-old superconductor battery. With a smile of personal satisfaction, she pulls the battery out and places the new battery into its slot. After sealing the back into place and powering up the utility watch, the glass pops back open and displays the desktop. Alex looks up from her wrist and remembers what she needs to be doing. "Oh right, the mission. I need to be there for 1200," she thinks as she looks back down to the watch screen. In large, bold white letters, it reads: October 13th, 2050; 1214. Alex sighs with relief as her mind wanders to the trepidation of going off world. 1214 she repeats in her head. She gets up with a start. "Ahh! I'm late!"
She closes her tool kit and runs out of her closet-sized bunkroom into the long, bland hallways of the research base's barracks. Racing past the fully armored guards wearing gray and navy blue camo, she quickly reaches a set of large double doors leading into the main transport tubes. Scrambling in her pockets, she grabs her RFID access card to scan. She glances down to her photo looking back at her. Her disheveled shoulder length brunette hair frames her light blue eyes and youthful rounded features... that was a terrible day. She swipes the card beside the door, then slips it back into her pocket. Quickly, she then places both hands onto the hand scanning device for further authentication.
"Please place your forehead against the console for an iris scan," the speaker around the door requests in its normal monotone feminine tone. If they think the disembodied feminine voice is somehow soothing in this bland, stuck-up place, they are sorely mistaken. She looks up to the eye scanning device eight inches out of her reach and sighs. It's at times like these that she wishes she was a guy with their sudden growth spurts of tallness. She looks around the hallways to shockingly see absolutely nothing of use. She gets on her tiptoes, rising another four inches, yet still not close enough. Alex sighs and pulls off her bags. "Please replace your hands on the scanning device and scan your iris."
"No matter how many times you say 'please,' it will not fix this height issue," Alex blurts out to the machine harshly. She pulls out the small metal tool kit for another inch of height, and then a journal giving her one more inch. After placing them on the ground in front of the door, she then grabs her thick calculus book, giving her the final two inches needed. Piling them up, replacing her hands on the metal bars, and then getting onto her tip toes, the quick flash of the laser blinds her eye. A ding follows before the doors anticlimactically glide open.
"Thank you for your compliance," The speakers say as she throws everything back into her bag and runs through the doors.
She looks up to the small pair of tubes waiting for her. They descend from the ceiling above, and go through the floor below. Sitting behind the closed door of the tube is a small pod. These were invented ten years ago due to their versatility and speed, but Alex still believes they were made for introverted scientists so they could avoid eye contact in the traditional elevators.
She reaches up for the call button, which opens the pod's doors right up. One step later, she grabs the metal hand rail, and presses, "Interstellar Research Main Floor."
The elevator jerks as the release clamps give, and then plummets as the pod drops. Alex feels her stomach rise as she free-falls down and down. Lights of different floors zoom by in waves of lights before abruptly cutting off by the ceiling. She tries to count, but loses track when the number of floors surpasses how quickly she can think. With a sudden jerk, her stomach drops back into her belly as the pod lurches to a stop.
Ding "Interstellar Research Main Floor," the elevator announces.
Alex stumbles out of the pod and nearly falls to the floor. People around the room watch her quietly before someone grabs her shoulder.
"Damn it, Alex, you're late."
"No shit, Sherlock," she says, slowly regaining her balance.
Once she's more comfortable, she looks up into the men and women gathered in the foyer of the main research facility for off-world research. This floor is white everything: white ceiling, white floor, white walls, white tables, white lab coats—it's all almost blinding. The brown pleather of the satchel hanging over her shoulder is a relief for her eyes in this sea of white.
"Sherlock, get her over here! The other two have already boarded RF-Europa," a hefty voice calls from the crowd ahead.
RF-Europa, Alex thinks, my new home for the next month.
"Yes, sir," Sherlock replies.
Alex looked up into the man's dark brown eyes and squints. "Wait, that's your real...?"
"Yes, I am literally Sherlock, you know, the partner of Professor Azure while he was building the original Conveyance Portal. Now hurry before we lose connection with the research facility. You should be on time for these things. It's not like you're about to make history or anything."
He leads her past the crowd of people and up to a large circular ring, three times bigger than the one shown in Professor Azure's original lifesaving test. Standing where he was expected to be is the fully grayed, soft face of Professor Azure himself. He stands against the multi screened computer that controls the Portal Generation System.
"Welcome aboard," He says with his cracked voice. Alex can't help but smile at the revolutionary man. The portal hums quietly behind him, showing what looked like a ladder going straight ahead to a wall. "Do us all a favor and be safe, okay, young one? I am honored to be the foster father of the first 12-year-old to go to space." He smirks and holds out his hand, "you should be proud."
Alex grabs his hand and shakes hard, keeping a steady grip. "Yes, Azure, I am humbled by all of this. I know I wouldn't be here without you. Thank you so much for this opportunity," she says a little too eagerly.
"You deserve it. Now, go bring us all knowledge of another world," he says.
The larger man, the one recognized as General Sorcov, steps forward holding a green tote labeled 'Alex Forrest.' Hanging off of the tag is the face she has come to dread: her own. Getting self-conscious, she grabs the tote by the tag.
"Thank you," Alex says. The man merely nods when he lets go.
The tote drops to the ground like a brick. A chuckle passes through the crowd as Alex reddens. It's not like all of your tools and possessions are light, she thinks, dragging the bag to the portal.
After a moment, the General picks up the bag from Alex's hand and tosses it into the portal. The bag falls in, but instead of dropping down the ladder, it merely continues to fly forward before hitting the wall on the other side. She turns to the Professor as he steps beside her.
"Now, Alex, this portal leads to a downward ladder. You need to go in on your hands and feet ready to grab the ladder. Okay?"
Alex nods and turns around, getting onto her hands and knees.
She puts her first leg through; it seems to get pulled into the coldness on the other side. Alex pushes her leg against the wall and grasps a rung. She puts her other leg through, which also feels like it's getting pulled in. Slowly, she crawls backwards enough for the gravity of the moon to pull down on her. The coldness of the air envelops her. She takes in a breath of the air and shivers. She looks around, finding that her eyes need to adjust to the darkness. When she looks up she can clearly see the room she came from. Azure is waving at her with one hand, while he moves to press a red button with the other. In an instant, the portal goes black, then clears, exposing a dark wall on the other side.
One by one she steps down, nearly stumbling over her bag. Even if I wanted to back now, I don't think I could. Alex takes a moment to glace to the console beside her. The touch screen display illuminates with the status of this station's portal. Counting down from 25 seconds is a timer labeled "Remaining Connection time with Earth." She sighs nervously to look back up. Too bad we aren't advanced enough to transport through Europa. Maybe one day we won't need to care about the rotation. She taps the screen to switch to radio. Apart from the 32 minute wait between radio transmissions, we should be able to send a message when the satellites are in proper position. She finds Professor Azure Sampson's name and clicks it, then presses record.
"Hey Azure, I'm here, just as we both dreamed. I hope one day you will also get the chance to explore a foreign world like I will be doing." Alex glances back into the room behind her, feeling curiosity pull at her. "Welp, better hurry. Talk to you soon!"
Alex leans down to pick up her back, then pulls it into a brightly lit room behind her. Alex lets go of the bag and runs over to the window. Ahead of her, heavy duty glass windows shine with a deep, navy-blue tinge. Down, far below the watery ocean she can just make out dark, jagged stones sticking out from deep trenches. Spotting the ocean floor are large orange pockets of magma spewing up white bubbles of gas, which burst upwards in torrents of white spires. Globs of bubbles bounce and combine as they run over the outside of the facility, gliding up and around the windows. Her eyes widen in amazement as she takes in the sight. Somehow, she can't catch her breath. When she was told that she was coming to an underwater research facility, she was expecting bleak white walls deep within the crust of a tiny ocean.
"Alex Forrest?" a deep voice calls from behind her.
She spins around with a look of disappointment, but quickly wipes it away. A tall, well groomed man wearing this facilities' black wet suit uniform stands before her. Oh man! It's him! Excitement envelopes her. Per protocol, she slams her hands to her sides and straights her back to stand at attention.
"My name is Jason Simmons; it's a pleasure to meet you in person." I know exactly who you are! Eeeee! Jason motions for her to be at ease, then gives a reluctant smile. Alex relaxes and stepped forward offering her hand.
"It's a pleasure to meet the man of Mars. I've always been glad that you were able to make it," Alex replies, remembering when she was 10, the news spreading through the city like a plague that humans finally made a colony on Mars. Heading the mission was Jason Simmons himself. Once the initial settling was finished, he wanted to move on to new discoveries; which brings him here.
"It has been fun so far, and I find it... interesting that you get to join us." There is a tone of mild irritation in there, like a big brother being told he had to babysit for the weekend.
"Well there's no need to worry about me, I can handle myself," Alex says, hiding her own irritation at the implication with a cheery, uplifting tone. "If you require anything from me before the first exploration mission, please do not hesitate to ask," Alex continues, smiling the best she can.
Jason nods and turns away, walking up to a set of airlock doors. They unlock and slide open with ease.
"Very good," he says. "Our first mission is tomorrow at 0600 hours." He pauses and looks back. "Please do try to not be late."
Alex rolls her eyes and turns away, grabbing her bag and making her way through the other airlock to the crew quarters.
'Something about being 341 miles under the frozen surface of Europa is somehow... unsettling,' Alex types into her utility watch. 'I have taken a tour around this facility and found that it is fully stocked with everything a team needs for about a year, and then some. It's a wonder how they got everything down here. So as you know I have met Jason, and he was a total tool, but I'm told there is one other crew member who should be somewhere on board. I'm about to head to the science lab, so let's check it out.' She clicks the sleep button and puts the watch back around her wrist.
Eagerly, she jumps off of the small bunk bed and walks up to the airlock doors. They slide open to let her through. Four other doors line the circular wall to the left and to the right, but ahead is another large curved window, showing only the blackness of the ocean under a night sky. Approaching the windows and looking down, the orange spots bubbling in and out of view appear and vanish near the rocky ground below. Only this window is stopping the ocean from coming in here, she thinks, psyching herself out a bit. She looks lower to the floor which has ventilation slits around the circumference of the inner wall. Before the glass and after the vents is a metal plate that sits evenly with the floor. It's good to see there is some kind of containment protocol, God- or whatever entity controls fate- forbid something did happen here.
After a few more moments she turns around and walks out of the room. The common area is next; a small slice of the facility dedicated to off-hour recreation. The whole right-hand wall has more glass windows, which curve around until they run off beyond the back wall. This facility is spherical then. She turns and glances over what the room has to offer. In the far back side is a workout center (required for use at least an hour a day due to the lighter gravity of the moon), couches in the center of the room, then a small gaming and computer area for entertainment purposes. With how advanced these utility watches have gotten, the existence of this part of the room seems unnecessary. With one last glare to the work out center, she turns away from the recreation room and walks to the door opposite the windows.
The two large double doors are reinforced with silver steel alloy. Seemingly appropriate to this facility, small bubble-like windows spot across each door. With a metallic whoosh, the door easily glides apart just long enough for her to walk through. They close behind her with a click. Entering the central chamber, she gawks at a large multi-level hole in the floor. Looking out, she can see the rest of the circular walkway that she is standing on across the room. Stepping forward, she can view the upper and lower levels. Thin matel railings stop her from crossing over the edge. Four smaller holes are evenly distributed around the rotunda. They rise up and down to the other two floors above and below her. She approaches the edge and places her hand on the thin railings, testing them for strength. They wobble back and forth in their sockets. Great job, guys. She thinks stepping back. On either end, large glass domes cap top and bottom of the facility. Alex finds herself staring downward into the blackness of the water below.
Reluctantly, she backs off, turning to the nearest ladder to climb down a floor. The walls in this area are sterial white. This is the science floor. Looking to the left she can see the white fogged glass of an sterile biological testing area. Alex approaches a pair of foggy glass doors and presses her finger to a tiny scanner beside it. A dull ding is heard on the other side. Behind the glass, a shadow darkens behind the fog; slowly it forms into a person-shape. The figure just stands there for a solid minute before reaching out to the glass and press a button. The foggy glass suddenly fades transparent, offering a view to the person inside. The woman, tall and thin with long, curly hair tucked behind her shoulders looks down upon Alex.
"What do you want, kid?" she demands, her voice blaring through the speakers in the ceiling.
"Nice to meet you too," Alex responds with a pleasant smile.
The woman's lips twitch with a smirk, but she is quick to cover it with her judgmental stare. She presses the button to open the door. Silently, it slides open to allow Alex entry into the small airlock.
"What do you want?" she asks again, watching Alex step into the nose tingling sterial air. Alex averts her eyes away from the woman's scrutanious gaze. What's up with her? A moment later, the outer doors finally click shut. Alex looks back to see that the woman's gaze has not waverd.
"I wanted to meet you, and to see the biology room," Alex responds curtly. A loud hissing fills the room as air blows in from the vents to create negative pressure.
"It's a lab, and I doubt there is much you will be doing here. You know you're just here for experimental purposes, right?"
Alex stays quiet, but maintains eye contact with the critical woman.
"You know, so we can observe how a child's body will behave under different environmental settings. Specifically, under thirteen percent of Earth's gravity and in a highly treacherous underwater environment."
Alex nods as if she didn't know.
"How did you get in here again? You don't act like the child genius that your record says you are."
Alex smirks at this, feeling a tinge of pride.
For the first time, the woman smirks. "There she is."
The large double doors opposite to where she came in slides open with a quiet depressurizing hiss. The woman turns around and walks into the large laboratory. "I'm Martha, just in case you didn't know."
As Alex walks in, she glances at all of the equipment and machinery around the room. There's everything from basic microscopes, Bunsen burners and test tubes, to molecular scanners, growth chambers and incubators, sonicators, homogenizers, etc. Sitting in the center of the room is a server-like box connected to the floor and ceiling. Alex recognizes this as the Sampson One, the main computer of the facility, and most others nowadays. Like the utility watch, it was developed by Doctor Sam Crowly and the World Technology Corporation around 2031 directly after Dynamic Industry's AI disaster in 2026.
"Earth to Alex, you want to take a look?" Alex blinks and then approaches Martha, who is sitting in front of a microscope. "Look at the water sample from this ocean."
Carefully, Alex hops up onto one of the stools beside the microscope. Taking much care not to bump anything, she leans over to the lens and glances in. "I got three samples. One at 100 feet..." The microscope turns, on shining a bright light into Alex's eye and illuminating the sample. There are a lot of little specks floating around, black in color, porous up close. "There is nothing but igneous fragments floating around. Because Europa often catches debris from Io, this is expected at this level. Based on what we can see down below, we also know that Europa's core is constantly in flux due to Jupiter's gravity tugging on Europa as it rotates. I suppose you could compare this moon to a ball of clay. Gravity holds it together, but Jupiter's pull makes it shift to cause friction within the core. In turn, molten rock is formed." Alex pulls back and nods, turning to Martha who smiles. "Right, you already know this. Anyway, go down to 100 miles below ice level..." Alex turns back to the microscope to find that the light goes dark. A moment later, the microscope clicks as the slide shifts into place. A moment after, the light turns on. The microscope focuses and quickly sharpens automatically. Alex sees these little specks of stone, but also spots some little microbes squirming around, moving by flailing themselves about.
"You see, there is life here. Plankton and other microorganisms flourishing in this freezing water. But then we get down to our level where the water is warmer."
Clunk, click. Light; Alex can see a new slide. This one has many more stone particles floating around with little flailing organisms. There is another squirming creature about 10 times larger than the plankton. It has tiny tentacle arms that reach out to grab the plankton within reach. Alex smiles at the sight, realizing the implications. "Complex life beyond Earth, proven now. But this isn't too unexpected."
"Exactly," Martha responds with a wide grin, "I think when we go out there tomorrow, we will see what this moon really has in store for us." Alex sits back and smirks. "But wait, before you relax, look at this." Alex scoots back in to take a look. Martha reaches forward and turns the light off. At first, the slide is still black, but as her eye adjusts she can see a shallow glow radiating from the mini squid-like creature. That glow intensifies into a bright green light, squirming down to the end of each of the tentacles. "This was a lucky catch, I think; the other 163 slides I got were devoid of any organisms this intricate."
Alex looks out and up to Martha, who is smiling back to her. "What?" Alex asks, feeling mocked by the smile.
"Oh... nothing." Her smile breaks as she looks away. "We got a long day ahead of us tomorrow, you should get some sleep, alright?"
Alex nods and jumps off the stool. "Goodnight, Martha." she says. They smile at each other for a moment before Alex helps herself out. As she makes her way back to the bunk room, she can't help but feel a touch saddened by the lack of Azure. It's only been an hour, how am I already home sick? She remembers back four years ago when she first saw the old man. He came hobbling into the Middle Home to inspect her like one would in a pet store. She was in the middle of disassembling a toaster, if she remembers correctly. I really wanted to find out what magic transformed the bread into toast. She remembers pretending to ignore her caretaker's story about her real parents. According to the care taker, her parents couldn't afford to keep her while taking care of her mom's disease. One thing led to another, and when she went to the first day of middle school, she got picked up by a Child Services Agent. The next thing she knew, she was in foster care along with people she had never met before.
Alex is still uncertain to this day why Azure chose her. She thinks he was looking to adopt in order to find companionship and an apprentice. He never went out into the world to find a partner, so she figured he wanted to look to the future by fostering a child. When he walked in and saw Alex in the center of that disassembled toaster, something clicked. The next thing Alex knew, she was living in a laboratory learning the ins and outs of programming, machinery, and micro engineering. As she lies down on the memory foam mattress, her mind races with mixed feelings about the past, present, and future. I can't sleep like this...
"Alex, it's 0602; you're late! We are waiting for you in the lower launch bay!"
Alex springs up from her bed, throwing all of the tools and gadgets off of her. Last night she stayed up working on an idea that she was pondering for this mission - a glove attachment that connects to the utility watch-hand. Unlike Earth, everything on the blankets jump up and away in every direction before falling, so the mess ends up everywhere and not just around the bed. She jumps off the bed managing to catch her foot in the blanket. She loses her balance and begins to fall forward. Damn it... She manages to think right before gracelessly falling flat on her face.
"Ughhhhh," she groans, reaching out for the utility watch that failed to wake her up. It appears to have shut down. Shut down? Computers never sleep.
"Get down here in five or you are being left behind."
Scrambling for her navy wet-tech suit uniform, she throws it on and then grabs her utility watch and gloves. After tapping the screen five times, the utility watch powers up to full functionality eight seconds later, which is a number she prides herself to have helped improve. Carefully she slides the modified glove on and attaches a wire hanging off of the wrist into a custom port on the watch. With a moment of satisfaction, she gazes upon her invention, then runs into the airlock doors, which didn't open quite fast enough.
"Damn!" she shouts at the doors. "Alex to Jason, I'm on my way," she calls out to the computer. In response, there is a beep to confirm delivery of the sound com. She scrambles down the ladders that connect each floor to the other. Reaching the bottom of the facility, she can't help but gaze down through the transparent floor to see the deep navy water below. Like a star lit night, she can see just enough to make out the rocky surface, along with glowing holes which spot in between. From this angle, she can spot three major metal loops holding the facility down with massive heavy chains. Light from the structure shines down to illuminate the gigantic anchors, which appear to be the child of a stuffed animal claw and a spear. They jut out from the surface after having chomped down either on or into giant rocks.
"We are leaving!" an annoyed captain shouts through the intercom.
Alex groans and then turns to run into the darker, older looking mechanical doors which lead to the launch bay. They are heavier here and connect to another airlock room that pressurizes upon sealing. Another agonizing minute passes before finally they open up to reveal three launch bays circling around the perimeter of the exterior. She goes to the largest and closest launch bay to find Martha and Jason standing outside of the open pod. Alex stops as she enters, gazing upon the vessel suspended just above the water in admiration. The pod itself is just a little taller than them. It's colored blue and violet, with a transparent domed front containing the central chamber. Three small fins swerve side to side on the top, left, and right sides of the pod as the startup sequence runs. Alex slowly approaches, mildly embarrassed for being late again.
"Nice of you to show up," Martha remarks with a friendly smile.
"Do you have everything?" Jason asks, looking at Alex's utility watch and gloves over her wet-tech uniform. Both Martha and Jason are wearing the same navy uniform, except with their integrated computer as opposed to Alex's utility watch computer and gloves, which were modified differently. "Is that suit up to code?" he asks, squinting. "I will not have you making unsafe modifications to your suits, especially since we are going diving."
Alex makes an exaggerated groan and waves him off. "Don't worry, I got the latest tech. I would bet my life that my tech would out-perform your military gear any day."
Jason shrugs and then climbs into the pod.
"Sampson, start recording," Jason calls out to seemingly nothing.
Alex runs up to Martha, who is climbing in after him.
"Today is October 14th, 2050 and we are starting our mission now at 0616," Jason says. "The water temperature around the sphere is coming in at 69.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and is expected to be warmer closer to the solid surface. All systems are fully operational with the pod sealing now." Jason presses a button once as he takes a seat in the main seat in the pod.
Alex sits down next to the door, which lowers itself into sealing position. The inside of the pod is full of wires strung around the ceiling and floor. They line the interior behind thin mesh grates which lead to small water tight electrical boxes embedded around the walls or tucking away into the floor plates. Each light in the ceiling appears to be a sealed LED screen. Near Alex's eye level, a long window curves around the walls up to the front glass dome. In the rear of the pod is a wall that takes up about 1/3 of the total pod size. On the rear wall are multiple compartments and a computer console. Everything that is electronic and exposed has a film of industrial grade ecoplastic, which protects the computers from the elements. On the bottom right side of the wall, under the seat, is a panel marked with a radiation symbol, and next to it a panel labeled 'survival supplies.'
"Pod sealed, disconnecting from primary facility," Jason says. There is a clunk from the front of the pod, along with a sudden jolt downward. Alex grabs a handle on the ceiling and leans in to look out the front window. Massive umbilical wires detach from the pod's exterior to dangle forward. A deep wurring vibrates the pod from the outside as they begin to lower into an opening pool full of rising water. "Independent. Final checks."
Alex scooches close to Martha, who is watching Jason click and clack the buttons. The main panel wraps around the pilot's rotating chair. Connected to each panel are LED screens which show different status displays of different sections of the pod. A small progress bar slowly counts to 100%, while different buttons for different components turn green. Alex can't help but squirm in suspense, then count over to make sure she has everything.
"Gloves, check. Watch, check. Breather mask..." Alex gags, making Jason and Martha turn back with a look of near horror.
"You alright?" Martha asks, looking genuinely concerned.
"I forgot my breather mask!" Alex exclaims, standing up. "Open up, I need to get it."
"Oh no you don't! You'll just have to make do with our standard issue rebreather masks," Jason says mockingly. "Final check came in with no faults. Clamps releasing in 3... 2..."
Alex groans dramatically and then throws herself back into her seat, but as she is going down, the pod shifts. The clamps holding the shuttle in the air let go, dropping the pod into the water. Alex free falls for an instant, then slams down in her seat lighter than expected. She grunts anyway.
Part Two: https://steemit.com/science/@stellarlibrarian/europa-escape-pt-2-scifi-short-story