Artwork for
Vincent Daemon's Vietnam short story
OF CADENCE AND WEATHERED STATUES
by Kara Koma and Shaun Lawton


Monday, September 19, 2011

SPACE IS A DEADLY SISTER: I

by Gil James Bavel


Mission Day 722: 14:55 hours
Ganymede Base mining station
Second Shift




I realized as I was freezing to death how beautiful Jupiter is from Ganymede's surface. Beautiful like a huge spider watching me with one powerful, raging mutant eye. Hanging there in its web, space. Coldly staring me down. Which only added to the growing chill I felt from my failing spacesuit. The fuel supply was nearly extinguished. I found myself doing the most ridiculous things in an attempt to stay warm. Rubbing my gloved hands together. Going for low-gravity jogs. Even if I could reach Ganymede's terminator in time, it didn’t provide enough ambient heat to be of any help. I was doomed.

Jupiter's natural beauty was as little a comfort as it was undeniable. When the Great Red Spot was facing Ganymede, it was all you could focus on. The bands of gravity-fed gas storms were stunning from my vantage point, and glowed brilliantly in their ever-churning incandescent rainbow of colors. What you see on the telescreens back home just doesn’t do it justice. Still, my suit's heads-up display read 12% on the power gauge, which meant I had maybe an hour or so before I would succumb to the stark cold of open space. It seemed ironic that the one thing that I had an enormous supply of was oxygen, and it was a highly combustible resource. Of course, I'd have to remove my breathing apparatus if I wanted to ignite it. I had already run over every possible scenario countless times in my mind, and I was stumped.

Io came into view from one side of massive Jupiter, a small speck brilliantly lit by the sun, 483,780,000 miles away. Why couldn't I be on one of Jupiter's other moons? I knew, of course, that we hadn't settled Io because Ganymede was so much bigger, because of its magnetosphere, relative stability and raw materials, but we did have mining stations over there. There was power there. Io had more internal heat than Ganymede, but that was because of the tidal flexing, which made Io more unstable.

I'd made the Ganymede-Io run a few times. Now there's an interesting feeling of vertigo, hanging between two tiny pebbles while racing past the gaping maw of the largest planetary body in the solar system. From here, it seemed even bigger than the sun could possibly be. From here, Jupiter looked like the biggest object in the universe. It was all you could see from such a low orbit.

It seemed like much longer than ten years since humanity had settled Ganymede. It had been discussed, budgeted, shelved, reopened, mothballed, reconsidered, shitcanned again, and finally implemented. Whoever figured out that terraforming Ganymede would be much cheaper and much faster than Venus or Mars was a genius. And by now quite rich, I should think. The Helium-3 on Ganymede was so much richer and easier to access than on Luna, and the advances in radiation protection in the last twenty-five years had allowed us to make semi-permanent habitation here a reality. To us, Jupiter was no longer the hot, spitting dragon she had been a century before. That, and the moon-huggers had a fit after we started mining on Luna. But it was okay with them if they couldn’t see it.

We were doing important work out here. Environmentalists never see the bigger picture. Without the Helium-3 from our installation, Earth would have to return to reliance on the dirty fossil fuels and radioactive fissile ones that had nearly destroyed the planet’s economy and biosphere in the early 21st century.

Too bad there still wasn't any atmosphere to lock in heat. Early on, they had proposed a low-orbit dusting of carbon to attract light and maintain some temperature. It wouldn't work because of radio and other early technological considerations; keeping the radio-link with Earth and Moonbase was the top priority, in case something like what did happen happened.

The accident wasn't the Company's fault, nor was there any mechanical malfunction or human error. It must have been a rogue comet. Jupiter vacuums up a hell of a lot more of them than previously thought. I’m surprised the Jovian Deep Space Array didn’t pick it up. When the tidal forces nearby Jupiter’s massive gravity-well changed, there was a massive moonquake that, by itself, we could have weathered.

There would have been some damage, but not the wholesale devastation to the installation that occurred when one of the fuel storage tanks ruptured in the shuttle bay. It lifted me off my feet and threw me on my ass, onto Ganymede’s surface, which shook with a rage like a giant teething child. I struggled like a tortoise on its back for a few minutes just to get back on my feet.

We stored raw hydrogen off-base for our fusion reactors, but some was used to refuel the shuttles. The shuttles’ main job, aside from replenishing our supplies, was ferrying the H-3 back to Earth for use planetwide. The chain reaction took out half of the lab—the main building—and explosive decompression took care of the rest. I was finishing up my fieldwork for the week, manually adjusting the antennae outside on the radio shack when it happened.

I saw Biggs and Williams tumble past, dead before they hit Ganymede's rocky, icy surface. I discovered that Lisa had lived for long enough that I regretted it; she'd recorded a few words into her suit’s com system before dying, "I love you Will." Hearing that when I got to her body was especially heartbreaking, because she really did. And I had loved her.

At first, when we started serving together, I thought she was into women. Maybe that was just a front she put up, serving with so many men. Over time, we had fallen for each other hard. Her face was so serene in death, her beautiful, long white neck looked so strange with her comparatively Day-Glo orange blood frozen to it. Her nose and ears had leaked blood onto the visor of her helmet, which I removed. She would have been proud that her short, spiky blonde hair still had unbelievable hold. Tears streamed down my face inside my suit, and I moved on.

I found my commanding officer, Devon, still alive behind the glass of the multipurpose building we used as radio shack, supply storage, and occasional hideaway when we needed privacy. Devon and I had conversations with my helmet up against the glass about the proximity of ships in the area, how we could restore the radio transmitter, if there were any way to get part of my oxygen supply to him, things like that. It didn't seem fair that I was out here and had plenty of air, but eventually Devon opened the airlock and choked on nothing at all instead of his own waste Co2 so that I could get in.

It wasn't the first time I'd had to put the glass of my helmet up to the bay window of the building to talk with whoever might be in there; the radio in the building was the original one they'd brought to Ganymede, now a secondary transmitter since they'd had the new one in the lab. Actually, there was a backup in the lab that was better, but we were only supposed to turn it on during a radio emergency. The multipurpose building's old radio had been screwed up for months, and we'd put in for another last Wednesday. I know, because I'm the one that requested it.

The Company said it was just a luxury though, and denied the request. I think it must have gotten back to them that off-duty I used to walk the underground tunnel into the building, close the airlock and communicate with radio operators back home. Because of our proximity to Jupiter, I only had a 2-hour window to send and receive one-way messages, and since it takes 44 minutes for messages to go each way, carrying on one conversation often took days. I'd periodically come in and check the computer to see if anything had come in during the week-long Ganymedean day. Of course, I don't really think the Company cared a whole lot. They never mentioned it to me.

I'd gone into the lab, and tried to leave a message on the computer for whoever might find us. The Company would be sure to investigate on next Friday's Run when they didn't hear from us. Today was Sunday. The power was out in the lab, and Devon finally came out into the underground hallway, his oxygen spent. His death was as instantaneous as it was grisly. Without an atmosphere, open liquid is not possible; where there is no air pressure, all materials sublimate immediately.

An unprotected human body, being comprised of mostly water and other liquids, shrivels up like a tin can in a vacuum. I went in to the radio shack to see about leaving some kind of message, but if you've ever tried to use a keyboard from inside a spacesuit, it's pretty goddamn difficult. Communications were offline. I eventually opened up a long-obsolete paint program and drew letters with a gloved finger on the hands-on pad.

"Installation compromised massive moonquake," I'd scribbled, "Technician William Jensen only survivor of initial damage, and I haven’t got long." It felt funny leaving a message for someone to read after you'd died. "Mortician:" I'd almost added as an afterthought, "allergic to formaldehyde." When I was done, I saved it and shut the computer down to save energy in case I could figure out how to jury-rig a link to my spacesuit's system in the next several minutes. It came down to tools. If I'd had the right tools, I think I could have tapped power from the multipurpose building's generator for long enough to survive until the Friday Run showed up. Of course, by that time, my suit would have been full to the knees with my own organic waste product (I'd always hated that Company euphemism). It wouldn't have been very comfortable, but I could've made it. The tools I required, if they hadn't been melted or disintegrated in the lab blast, were probably halfway to the other side of Ganymede by now. If I had long enough, I'm sure they'd have floated past. They'll find them someday and know that they're proof of previous life on Jupiter's moons. "Spanners of the Gods;" I could see the headline now.

As it was, I had fifty or so minutes, and I had run out of options.

I wondered if I should stay close to the installation, so it would be easier for them to find my body, or maybe go for a walk. The temptation to go on a final, last visionquest was irresistible. During the two and a half years I'd been here, I'd only ever seen Ganymede from the installation, the Io shuttle, or the Friday Run ships. We're not supposed to take walks. On Ganymede, we were exposed to about 8 rem of radiation a day from Jupiter without protection. 75 rems over a period of a few days is enough to cause radiation poisoning, and about 500 rems over a few days is fatal. My suit couldn’t protect me for more than a few hours—but I didn’t have that long. Nothing to stop me now. Walkabout. I might even find one of those alien spanners.

Click Here

for Part II

2 comments:

  1. very cool!I'd like to make the Ganymede run myself:-)

    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Chris! The limited edition SisDS T-shirt is available from the Freezine, email Shaun for details!

    ReplyDelete

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