Europa Escape PT. 2 - SciFi Short Story

in #science9 months ago (edited)

This story is a continuation of Part 1 located at:
https://steemit.com/science/@stellarlibrarian/europa-escape-pt-1-scifi-short-story
Don't get half the story. This will be here when you finish.

Europa Escape - Continued


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Rocking back and forth, the pod bobs in the pool of the launch bay.

"Bay door opening, all systems go. Sinking."

Air hisses on, bringing fresh air into the cabin. Alex looks out the window to see the floor of the bay before it lifts out of view. Water encases the pod as it submerges. The white lights go out, getting replaced by the ship's general status screen. The red text lights up the interior while displaying O2 levels, component statuses, and personnel readings. Each of their suits are feeding their vitals into the ship's computer for processing and records. Alex looks down at her suit, running her fingers over the metallic rubberized surface. These multimillion dollar suits are a feat in and of themselves, she thinks. Now to just get these masks to work with my systems. She turns to the rear wall and opens the utility compartment above the survival hatch. Inside sits O2 tanks, extra suits, and utility belts containing different field tools. She grabs a mask above one of the extra suits and examines it. The facemask covers all of the wearer's face. It appears to be double paned, LCD embedded glass, which connects to the wearer's computer wirelessly. Alex nods approvingly.

"This will work." She looks out of the glass pod and gulps, staring at a silver orb suspended in the middle of the water. White stripes illuminate the interior to show everything which is contained within. As if on que, all the facility lights go out to plummet the facility into darkness. Massive spotlights remain shining down to the clamps embedded securely into the ground. A moment later, a ring of spotlights flick on around the equator of the facility; they shine out brightly to act as a beacon. This facility is one hell of a structure. Under one of the spotlights, Alex can make out the pair of doors that released them. They are slowly closing back into place. "Wow, this is so much better in person," she mumbles. "And I thought the plans were cool." Alex pulls her attention away to gaze upon the vast, navy blue sea, which fades out into blackness in both directions. The nose of the pod points downward, swimming lazily as it sinks deeper and deeper. Wurring behind the wall in the back, the motor spins vigorously to keep the pod moving forward and not down.

Jason clicks and clacks as he hits buttons and moves the pod's Y-steering wheel. Out the wide front window, Alex sees a stream of bubbles rising from a dark orange pit below. Pulling the steering column to the side, the pod swerves starboard to avoid the plume of bubbles.

Stones jutting from the sea floor spike towards the pod, threatening to cut if they get close. Alex shifts uncomfortably in her seat, finding herself a bit nervous. Maybe she hadn't thought things through enough when she was offered this mission in the first place. She can't help but sigh as she sits back in her seat.

"Alright, Testing Zone One is coming up. Prepare your suits for dive. Double check her suit, would ya, Martha?"

"Sir," she responds, glancing over to Alex. Martha winks and leans down to grab the small bag just under her seat. She pulls out a utility belt crammed with different gear including her mask and gloves.

Alex follows suit, slipping the mask over her face and activating the rebreather system. She then reaches into the cabinet and grabs her general water surveying belt, and adds one other pouch of personal tools before clipping it on. Finally, looking at her utility watch, it takes only a few taps to connect its computer system with the rest of the suit. Once connected a long second later, it makes a pleasant ding.

"Good morning, Alex. This is Sampson One," the formal computer AI says through the mask's speaker system. "I hope you are having a fine day today."

Alex looks over the screen as icons and information load up. "So far, so good, Sampson, and I hope it will stay that way," Alex says quickly.

"I am detecting a high heart rate, would some soothing music help relax the atmosphere? Maybe some Bach of Beethoven? No! I have the perfect thing..." The sound of a waterfall fills the mask's speakers.

Alex looks down to the icon displaying the track with the controls. She blinks emphatically, cutting off the track. "That is the worst thing you could play right now," Alex growls, mildly aggravated. Water is the last thing I want to reminded of. Martha glances back at Alex who is snarling at seemingly nothing. "Couldn't you find something more.., uh, happy? You know, musical?"

"My dearest apologies, my lady. I may have the perfect track for you." The stereotypical British enthusiasm rings through her head as an upbeat tune starts.

"In the town where I was born. Lived a man who sailed to sea."

Alex looks around the cabin to see Martha tapping her own mask, mouthing something. Rodeo? Oh, radio. Alex reaches up to her head and taps the radio button.

"Alex, checking in," She says hurriedly over the radio.

"Finally. It looked like you were arguing with your boyfriend or something," Martha says with a smirk.

Alex blanches. "Boyfriend?!" She feels heat rise to her cheeks. "I'll have you know I am not in love with an AI." The music cuts for a moment.

"Well you could have been nicer about it," Sampson One says with an almost egotistical tone. Then the music resumes playing. "Till we found a sea of green - And we lived beneath the waves - In our yellow submarine..."

Alex chokes on air. "Submarine?! Sampson one, so help me I WILL SCRAP YOU IN ONE OF THESE LAVA PI—"

"Damn it, Alex! Stop arguing with your boyfriend and prepare for submersion!" Jason shouts over the radio.

Alex and the music stop abruptly. Martha comes over and makes sure that the gloves and helmet are sealed, double checking that there are no other components that might cause depressurization. Alex sticks her tongue out at Jason, who glares back a look of death into her soul. She stops.

"Depressurizing in 10, 9, 8..."
"Depressurization; what's the worst that could happen?" Alex mumbles.

"Instant death, drowning, implosion, hypothermia, being boiled alive, being frozen alive, explosion..." Alex slams her hand down on the mute button. Sampson shuts up. "If you insist, m'lady," he concludes

Alex smirks, feeling mildly empowered over the AI.

"2, 1..." Her feet start to soak as the cabin's floor fills with water. Alex looks up, confounded for a moment before putting all the pieces together. Suddenly powerless, she holds onto the seat as the cabin rapidly fills with seawater. 10 seconds later, the cabin is completely filled.

"Radio check," Jason calls out over the radio, crackling out when finished.

"Martha, checking in. All systems normal, ready for full water pressure."

Alex looks around the cabin to see Jason swimming out from behind the pilot's seat. Martha swims closer to the door where Alex is still clinging to the seat. Once they reach the door, they look over at Alex expectantly. She looks at them then hurries to check her systems. Glancing over at the icons on her dashboard, she reads — heart rate; above average, check— suit pressure; sealed, check— rebreather status; she takes a deep breath knowing how useless this icon is, but check; body temperature— normal, check— and finally, skin humidity— above average, but normal, check.

"Alex checking in," she says shakily over the radio. "All clear." She watches Jason press the release of the cabin door. Water pressure around her increases ten fold, but the suit appears to counter it easily. Her suit's pressure gadge sky rockets, but well within normal parameters. The unsealing hatch pushes Alex back, but by the end she finds herself feeling normal besides a mild burning in her chest. She quickly realizes she needs to breathe, then takes a large breath in. The crisp dry air rejuvenates her. Finally, she stands up. Once the open hatch door rises into place, each of the crew looks out into the massive ocean floor ahead.

"This test will set the stage for our upcoming month of research," Jason starts. "We need to collect samples of algae, any coral or plant like specimans, and animal lifeforms if there are any. We are hoping to learn about how they have grown and evolved on this very different world. Stay within 20 meters of each other and stay in constant communication." His stern tone turns into mild concern. "Stay vigilant."

Alex and Martha nod in agreement as Jason turns and pushes off of the pod. The vessel rotates with the momentum, but the engines rumble as it compensates back into place. Martha smiles and jumps off the cabin wall to throw herself into the open waters, leaving Alex remaining in the ship. She glances down at her utility watch, almost searching for a reason to not go. Reading again that all systems are fully operational, she sighs and looks out. Martha and Jason swim deeper down, heading to a small plume of bubbles that are jetting out of a layer of stones.

"The water is getting noticeably warmer as we get closer to these jets. I suspect it might be close to 200 degrees Fahrenheit when we are on top of it." Jason's voice rings through the radio.

Alex just sits there, focusing on her breathing in attempt to offset the growing fear. She shivers. Alright, Alex. You made it, and now we are on a mission. I'm doing this for humanity. She steps forward to look over the side of the pod. Down below, the black stones look menacing. It all feels like a scene from a nightmare with fog all around, standing at the edge of a dark cliff. "It's safe; my suit will... is protecting me."

"Madam Alex, is everything alright?" Sampson One asks.

Alex rolls her eyes, looking at the mute button that is illuminated on her utility watch. Another incapable mod from the civilian model, Alex thinks. She looks back outside. I'm doing this, so I can go back and experiment.

"Yes, Sampson, everything is in order. Prepare the suit."

"Indeed, my lady."

Alex holds up her fingers and wiggles them until thin, nylon rubber-threaded fins deploy from the knuckles to curl around the fingers. The feet of her suit web up in the same fashion. Just breath... One... She breathes in deeply as she rocks her arms back and forth in the water. Two! She shoves off, rushing free from the pod. The deep navy blue engulfs her vision, throwing her off for a moment. Keeping her eyes straight, she aims for the two figures circling around the pluming stream of bubbles. She stiffens her arms and legs, then starts worming like a bad 80s dancer, but it works; she efficiently starts accelerating. In the upper right-hand side of her mask is a small icon displaying a rear-view camera appears; it shows a small fin running down the length of her spine.

A few moments later, Alex arrives to Martha and Jason. She eagerly swirls around the stream of water to slow down, suddenly feeling like she is in control. You know, this ain't so bad. A small icon on her display shows that the outer temperature in red which lists 205 degrees, and yet she doesn't feel her internal temperature changing at all. She turns her attention to the crack of boiling bubbles. A small laser beam following her view shines out to detect the temperature of the stream of water. Under her body thermostat, a temperate reads off at 230 degrees. That water is coming out boiling hot.

Taking a closer look at the stone, light from her flashlight glimmers off geometric faces of the black material. Alex swims in and grabs a nearby stone to hold herself still. In a gully between the stone is crushed black sand, presumably from the constantly shifting crust. The boulder she grabbed is very porous, tiny holes lining the entirety of the rock's face. As she looks down the formation, she notices another more solid mineral. It's very spiky, as opposed to the smooth, worn-down surface of the lava rock. It mirrors the light around its curving surface. These pieces stick out like claws. Carefully, she grabs the end of the stone and snaps off a piece. It crunches and crumbles off easily, dust flakes trickling down. Where she broke it off, little hexagons line up tightly together. Looking closer, on the outer face, tiny, shiny hexagonal spires meld together to make up its curving surface. Alex smiles in amazement, then carefully inserts it into one of the collection cylinders. She turns her attention ahead to a small pit of sand. Slowly, she swims over readying another cylinder. Right before she dips her hand in, the sand seems to shift optically as if it were being displayed through a bending mirror. She slows down to take a closer look. Her finger bumps up against a thin film of nearly transparent goo. She fingers it, and watches the teal-tinged substance jiggle around her finger. It appears to be some kind of algae; yet more signs of life. Slowly, she takes an empty water cylinder and scoops up sand and the algae.

A deep rumble vibrates her suit in the water around her, and the stone she is grabbing shifts suddenly. Alex lets go and pushes off to see the rock fall into a plume of boiling water. Bubbles rocket out from orange magma below, blinding her a bit. She breaks through into open water to see the dark stone continue to drop. The rock's descent slows as the bubbles push back against it.

"You alright?" Martha calls over the radio.

"Uh, yeah... Just mildly flustered," Alex responds, catching her breath. Other stones begin to shift in response to the new opening. The water rumbles with loud cracks and crunches. She swims back, half-panicked as she sees the new hole left by the displaced rock expand. Large and small stones alike shoot up before plummeting down around her. Alex shifts back to avoid getting hit. A giant boulder shifts down over the pits with a sudden thunk. A few moments later, it tips over to slam down over hole. Bubbles and rocks bounce away around swirling clouds of dust and dirt. Moments of silence pass, allowing Alex to reorient herself. Martha and Jason are behind her looking back in amazement. Dust clouds swirl out around her, making the already murkey depths harder to see in. Intent on leaving, Alex throws her arms forward to swim away.

"Get away from there," Jason says hurriedly.

"Way ahead of you." She says puffing out of the dust cloud.

Effortlessly, she reaches Martha and Jason, who had started swimming down into a large cave mouth. Their flashlights swing around the hole to illuminate lots of circular, shiny surfaces covering what look like dormant lava beds. Alex calls up a fault map to display pressure zones in between Europa's volcanic plates. With the moon being so active in its small core, they are constantly shifting and forming. On the display in front of her eyes, their location shines as a red dot surrounded by blue lines representing inactive plates. From the area she came from, a large red line is inching its away around the area. As Alex looks back to the cave's open maw, she feels a moment of doubt especially while watching the active fault grow. These plates never stop shifting, and the core never cools from the constant push and pull of Jupiter's gravity, is it a good idea to go under ground? Glancing back to Martha and Jason, they don't seem to be as concerned.

The cave drops down about 20 feet before curving out of view. Alex, Martha, and Jason stare into it before looking to each other.

"Do we want to go down there?" Jason asks.

Alex shrugs, and turns her attention back into the dark depths of the cave, but as she moves her head, sparkles from tiny particles in the stone glimmer back, making the cavern wall shimmer. Alex smirks and starts to swim down.

"Okay then," Jason mutters.

With Alex in front, she swims deeper into the depths of the rocky cave below. The deeper they got, the sharper and pointier the stones seem to become. The cave narrowed a bit, forcing the team to get one in front of the other to press forward. Onward they went as the cave narrowed and widened, straightened and curved until finally, after swimming and squeezing through the narrowest part, Alex found herself wiggling through a tight passage upward. Around the corner ahead, dim yellow light shimmers down from around the crystal-speckled walls.

The closer she gets, the more vibrant the glittering stone becomes. Alex starts to slow down as she comes around the corner above. Slowly, she lifts herself easily around the bend. Little specks of tiny glowing yellow bits float about. The one that catches her attention slowly floats across Alex's mask. Her mask's magnification function zooms in. A camera display overlaying the bottom left hand side of her mask expands. The speck appears to be organic. Her heart flutters in excitement seeing the nearly transparent body of light. It appears to be using some kind of bioluminescence. She looks around to see another slowly floating around a spire of crystalized stone. Alex carefully pulls herself around after it, following it though a tighter part of the tunnel. Her body rubs tightly against the cave walls to get through.

"Alex, stop. We can't fit through there," Jason calls over the radio.

Alex doesn't look back as she squeezes out into what first seems like an open cave. Looking upwards, the deep navy blue ocean opens up endlessly above her. Damn, I wonder how long we have been moving up for. Glancing left and right, it appears that she is deep within a large valley of sorts. She looks up from the large crevasse seeing large arches of stone curving over from the tall boulder-like walls. The ocean above her blackens as she curiously flicks off her flashlight. The yellow lit research facility floats just within view beyond the spires while the tiny yellow organisms dance in circules around the bottom of this pit. As far as she can tell, there are only two. I wonder if there are more. She smiles in appreciation before glancing back down the crevasse from which she came. White LED flashlights swing about in her direction.

"You can go around; this area reaches the surface," Alex radios back.

"Get back here, Alex. We are in this as a team," Jason hollers sternly.

"It's too tight; I'm afraid to try again," Alex says after a moment of trying to find an excuse. She turns away and begins to stare off to the floating specks of light.

"Jason, we should get moving; I would hate for the plates to shift while we are in here," Martha says quickly. I hope she's alright.

"Damn," Jason grunts.

"Go to the water above and stay where you are," Martha says with a bit more static than before. "We may lose radio contact for a few minutes."

"Yes ma'am. I'll be waiting," Alex responds, briefly pulling away from the glowing speck to look to the open water. Contrary to the orders, she doesn't feel like there is any reason to go up. She pulls out her sample canister in order catch the little light source, but by the time she is ready it has floated farther out into the canyon. She swims forward to get closer. The mini map on her display expands slightly in attempt to get her attention. With a cursory glance, she notices that a new fault is starting to form nearby. Alex looks around and then up but doesn't feel anything. The speck has moved farther now. I need to go get that for analysis, Alex thinks as she swims forward again. Another floating light speck floats by from behind. That's odd, where did that... She slowly stops moving to glance back, but she quickly realizes that she isn't slowing down. A water current is pulling her toward the other end of the canyon. Cracks begin to crumble wider into the ground beyond.

She turns around as quickly as she can to start swimming, but the water current only starts to get stronger.

"Alex, do you copy? We are getting hea—" Static cuts Martha out for a moment. "—eismic activity ove- -et out of the gr—" She cuts off with a beep.

"We have lost radio connection, Miss Forrest."

"Thanks, Sampson. I didn't notice," Alex grunts through her teeth grabbing onto a nearby rock. As her fingers grip it, specks of stone break off and fall down her mask. "Damn it, no! Please hold."

"Stay wh—are Alex. – r way—" The radio breaks up again before cutting off completely.

More specks of stone break off; filling Alex with dread as the current pulls at her harder. She feels her free limbs dangling back and fourth by the sudden torrents of water. Glancing back, she can see the cracks spreading apart the valley floor. No, no, no! I need to get out of this canyon. She hurriedly looks around, trying to find another nearby hand hold to move to. Painfully, she reaches out against the current to grasp another stone with her off hand.

The map on her screen displays the red line getting closer and closer to her position. Sand slips down into the opening fissures near her handhold. A moment later the fracture runs straight up the rock. She grunts as she attempts to pull herself up for another nearby stone. Her muscles burn with the exertion as her suit is seemingly working against her.

The top of the stone breaks off.

She cries out.

The chunk of stone gets shoved back in the current with her, slamming into her helmet. A crack snaps from impact. A spiderweb of micro fractures burst throughout the mask. Her neck relaxes, throwing her head back with the current. Her now free hand falls back, causing more drag to pull on her.

Alex's fingers double their efforts but slip enough for her to feel herself jolt. No, please no... She makes and attempt to pull her other hand around... The stone shifts backwards; her fingers slip. She plunges downwards, her ankle catching on a stone. Alex's entire body flips with the current as she tumbles. She screams... then slams into a wall... Blacking out.

End of Part 2

Two more parts to go! Want to see what happens next? Leave a comment

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