Final Thoughts

I shared my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad and Leanpub . This is the final post! Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release, not sure when that will happen.

Europan Holiday

Just over a year ago I wrote Europan Holiday. Hard to believe that the year has gone by so fast! I finished it November 2nd and considered doing something with it at the time for about five seconds. I put it away to worry about later.

Writing Europan Holiday was a different experience for me. For the first time I dictated the first draft of the book. I used a digital record and transcribed it using Dragon. It’s not perfect but I’d put the transcript on one side of the screen and then on the other I rewrote it, fixing what went wrong with the dictation, including all of my fumbling, false starts, and searching for the words. Those rewrites went faster than sitting down and writing from scratch because I had already worked out what I was writing in the dictation. Now I just made it intelligible. Since I mostly dictated (hands-free) while driving it was basically free time. In a typical commute I’d come back with 3,000 words of the book and then use my writing time to rewrite that into something better. I did need to train the software to recognize some of the names in the book. That was pretty simple, otherwise the process went smoothly.

The idea came from the aether as they all do. While doing an online writing workshop I was given an assignment to write a scene about a character in a snowstorm. I wrote about EuropaNick in his tiny space cabin in the middle of a storm. It was only the first 400 words or so at that point but I wanted to know more about this guy. Vibeke showed up and he got yanked up into space and I didn’t really know where my subconscious was taking us, it was just fun. I wrote it without expectations of it fitting anywhere — I just wanted to tell the story.

When I finished I moved on to other projects and just put this book away. As the year went on I had the idea to start sharing it a chapter at a time, giving me a chance to look it over and see what I had. It was also an excuse to check out Wattpad, Leanpub and Patreon, so I decided to put it up there and on my website. Still without expectations other than curiosity how others would respond to the book. I hoped that readers would enjoy it, as weird as it is.

Clearly EuropaNick’s story isn’t over. He made it back to Earth, if not home, and has a new home and a new purpose with the Christmas Gambit. I don’t remember thinking consciously that I set it up for another book, but reading over it these past weeks it’s pretty clear that at least on some level I intended to write the Christmas Gambit. I have no idea when that will happen. Right now I’m in a graduate program to get my Master of Information and Library Science degree. I’m writing all the time, just not much fiction, though I do squeeze in a bit when I can.

Thank you for reading this far! If you’ve enjoyed Europan Holiday please check out my other novels or the free weekly short story that I post on my site.

Ryan M. Williams, December 2015

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New World

I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad and Leanpub . I plan to post on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule until it’s done. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.

Europan Holiday

As far as the eye could see there was rock and barren dirt with patches of ice. Above was a pale sky washed and tired like sun-bleached laundry. Weight pinned Nick down into the seat. The rover appeared intact.

He scanned the holographic screens, which flashed and updated before his eyes. New readouts flowed. He recognized atmospheric readings. Oxygen nitrogen atmosphere at near sea level pressure. Cold temperatures, but only negative 153°f, not nearly as cold as the temperature on Europa.

Outside alien reindeer team had come down to the ground and they sprawled on their broad bellies like a colony of sea lions, flippers spread wide around them, energy antlers dim and hard to see in the sunlight.

“Are they okay?”

When Vibeke didn’t answer he turned his head to look, alarmed, and saw her slumped in the seat. She stirred, and opened her eyes.

“Are you okay?” Nick reached out and gently touched her shoulder.

Vibeke nodded, slowly. She straightened in her seat and managed a small smile.

“I’m okay. The sudden transition, I wasn’t prepared.”

Nick breathed a little easier. “Were on Earth, aren’t we?”

“Yes, the team created a direct jump. Very dangerous. And very difficult. We’re incredibly lucky that we made it. I can’t believe they did that.”

Nick looked back to where the team lay on the rough ground. “Will they be okay?”

“Yes, I think so. The effort drained their energy. They will need to recover before they can easily cope with the higher gravity.”

Nick studied the landscape outside. It was hard to guess where they were, but he reminded him of pictures he had seen from some of the interior areas on Antarctica. As good as any place for the team to have taken them. Although they might be rather conspicuous out here, exposed like this.

He turned back to Vibeke. “So what now? Doesn’t this change things, as far as the Trinhlin are concerned? We’re on Earth now.”

“It will force their hand. Either they have to send ships and enforcers to Earth, which exposes them more, or they let us play out the Christmas Gambit.”

Nick stared at her. “The Christmas Gambit? You still want to do that? I’m no Saint.”

“You’re my Saint Nick,” Vibeke said. She smiled. “And it’s not as if were trying to deceive them. We just introduce ourselves in a way that speaks to our peaceful intentions. What do you think would go over better? Those spacecraft land and enforcers walk out? Or the team bringing in the rover with Saint Nick and his elvish assistant?”

She was grinning and Nick couldn’t help but laugh at the image. “You have a point. Enforcers would scare anyone. Especially if Cinder Claus came with them.”

“They’re not so bad when you get to know them,” Vibeke said.

“Maybe not, but they do look like something out of a Lovecraft nightmare. The Trinhlin aren’t much better. I’d like to think people can rise above that, but if we’re going to put our best face forward, I’d rather it be yours.”

“Oh, you’re so sweet.”

“But are the Trinhlin going to let us get away with this? I would imagine they can still stop us if they want.”

Vibeke unfastened her seatbelts. “Yes, they could. But they also have to consider that their team decided this was the better course of action. Enough to even defy the enforcers.”

Vibeke reached out and touched controls on the holographic display. “Why don’t we asked them?”

They might not have had the connection to Earth’s network anymore back on Europa, but it looked like Vibeke could still call home.

A hologram formed in front of the cockpit window. It was one of the Trinhlin, one of Cthulhu’s little cousins, which one Nick couldn’t say. He also didn’t understand the warbling the musical notes that it said or saying.

Vibeke grinned and looked at Nick. “The Council has agreed to give our approach its blessing!”

“That’s great.” Nick still felt a twinge of disappointment, mixed with apprehension. Presenting himself Saint Nick, emissary to aliens? He swallowed. That was going to be a big change.

And then it hit him. He still hadn’t had a chance to explore Europa. Or for that matter the rest of the solar system.

“When this is all done, do you think we actually finish our plans to explore Europa?”

The Trinhlin warbled more notes.

“He says they you would be welcome to explore the surface, if that’s what you wish.” Vibeke smiled. “As long as you bring me.”

Nick reached out and took her hand in his.” “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

They sat for a moment, the Trinhlin’s eyes watching them, glancing self-consciously at each other, and finally Nick said, “Okay then. We’ll get to work as soon as you restore our connection to the internet. Goodbye.”

He touched icon to break the connection to Europa. The Trinhlin’s hologram winked out of existence, and left him alone again with Vibeke in the rover.

Vibeke giggled.

Nick smiled. “In movies they would’ve already faded black. Kind of skips over all the work we have to do. Where do we even start? Who do we contact first? Where do we go?”

Vibeke gazed up at him and shrugged. “Your Saint Nick, it’s your world, where do you think we should start?”

It was a good question, and he had the answer, before even realized it. “We already have. The videos we uploaded of my abduction –”

“It was much easier that way.”

“– and the video of us on the surface. Now we just continue it. Add in the uncut footage, and other videos to fill in the back story, and do it from right here.”

“Right here?”

“I’m assuming this is Antarctica?”

Vibeke shrugged.

“Well, assuming that it is then this is not any particular country. So we’re not about to cause any issues by favoring one country over another. I’ll continue my journals and that’ll be how we do it.”

“So we just live here?”

Nick looked at back down the length of the small rover. It certainly felt like home. “Would that be so bad?”

Vibeke shook her head. “No, it wouldn’t be bad at all.”

“We’ll have to figure out supplies.”

“That won’t be a problem, we have replicators for that.”

Nick rocked back in the chair, stunned by her simple statement. “Replicators? like matter-energy conversion?”

She laughed, obviously delighted that she and stunned him. “Of course. How do you think we managed to create everything that you’ve seen?”

The simple admission made it clear that the Trinhlin were scary advanced. He’d already known that, and had speculated about their technology, but her statement brought it all home and made a very real.

“I guess in that case we don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Oh, I think though be plenty to worry about. We’re going to be introducing two worlds, after all.”

Nick put his hand on his belly. He took in a deep breath. “Ho ho ho!”

Vibeke’s eyes widened with delight and she clapped her hands over her mouth. “

“After all, I’m Saint Nick. And who doesn’t love Saint Nick?”

They both dissolved appeals of laughter. Nick knew the world needed a little Christmas spirit, and goodwill to everyone. What could be better than that?

Chapter 34

I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad, and Leanpub . I plan to post on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule until it’s done. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.

Europan Holiday

It never got entirely dark on this part of Europa. Even with Jupiter between Europa and the sun, Jupiter itself still cast a bright light on the landscape around them. Nick couldn’t imagine any place he would rather be. The rover sat in the middle of the slight depression in the landscape, a deformed pocket in the ice. Vibeke had informed him that there was a pocket lake beneath them in the ice that trapped upwelling of warmer water, like a pocket of magma back on Earth. With quick gestures she had shown him how to change the holographic displays on his Control Panel to show the sonar images of the lake.

Nick studied the colorful readout that showed a body of water is large as Lake Washington. “What we wouldn’t have given for this sort of technology!” He shook his head. “I feel like I’ve gotten the best Christmas present ever.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Vibeke said, smiling shyly.

“Like it? I love it!”

Despite his efforts to convey what it might be like to explore Europa – back in his tiny space cabin on earth, Europa didn’t look much like Alaska. The landscape outside was worn and weathered with cracks and uneven surfaces. It looked old, and had a grayish lunar sort of color that made it hard to remember that it wasn’t rock outside but ice. At these temperatures ice was as hard as rock. It was the rock of this world. It was only down below, where the tidal flexing in the moon kept the ocean from freezing completely.

“And to top it off, I’m not baked Alaskan.” Nick chuckled at his joke, with a glance to the cameras. It probably wasn’t that funny. He could edit it out before uploading the next video.

Vibeke indulged him with a small smile. “What do you want to do first?”

“We already did that.” Nick said.

“Okay, so what do you want to do next?”

“Next?” Nick looked out at the landscape he had always dreamed of seeing up close.

Far above Jupiter filled the sky with its bulk. They were over four hundred thousand miles away from Jupiter. You’d have to travel around the Earth more than sixteen times to go that far. Even at that distance Jupiter was awfully big. It was hard not to flinch away looking at the gas giant – it felt as if it was falling down to crush them.

“If this were an official expedition we have a long list of science objectives. I can think of a lot of obvious things. We can take pictures, dig core samples, but I’m not a scientist. For that we need the folks that are back home.”

“Then maybe we should ask them?” Vibeke said. She looked up at the camera about the cockpit. “What do you think? Nick is your man on the ground, what do you want him to do, to show you?”

Nick smiled for a moment at the camera giving himself something to work with, then said, “You know we’re not sending live?”

“I know. But now you have something to do. You can edit an introductory video and we can make our offer.”

“You have a point.” Nick pulled himself up out of the cockpit seat. “I guess I’ll go work on that.”

Vibeke waited for him to step into the small kitchen area, then she slid out of her seat. “Great! I think I’ll go back to reading my book.”

This part was much more like being back at home. Nick went back through the kitchen area and pulled out the glass tabletop that hung folded against the wall. He dropped the leg, retrieved his laptop and sat down to work. Vibeke stopped beside him and placed a warm hand on his shoulder. She wasn’t wearing her gloves, and he liked seeing her bare hands.

“Would you like me to make some hot chocolate?”

That part was definitely new. “Yes, thank you, that be great.”

Vibeke stepped back into the kitchen area and Nick tried to focus on his laptop.

It seemed unreal, but he was actually here, on Europa, and as he reviewed the footage captured by the interior and exterior cameras of the rover it all suddenly felt very real. Everything that it happened since the night of the storm had almost seem like a dream, but here was footage taken from the rover’s cameras both above and below showing Europa’s complex topography passing by them, and Jupiter rising over the icy surface. To re-create this, at this high definition level of detail, it would take far more resources than he had. If it was even possible. The footage was like something from a high budget nature documentary, except instead of a helicopter flying over isolated Antarctica, shooting pictures for an IMAX screen, this was taken from a vehicle built by aliens. He zoomed into a close-up of the surface as it passed beneath the rover. The footage showed every wrinkle, every crack, every discoloration and splotch of deposits. He found a small crater where something had struck the ice, sending out radiating cracks and leaving much of meteoric debris embedded like shotgun pellets the surface.

Hollywood wouldn’t have been able to capture this level of detail. The high-altitude stuff, sure, they could’ve made a convincing show of that at least for a few minutes. He had a long stretch of footage as the team had taken their time bringing the rover around and above the surface before landing. One of the things he could do would be to post the full uncut video and show the whole thing without any cutaways from at least two camera views. If he did that, it would be proof enough that the footage was real. There would be thousands of things that people could analyze about the recordings to show that it couldn’t have been faked, not this level of detail, and it would shake up the world. And he could also do a more engaging short cut with Vibeke’s enticing question. It was all going to take him some time.

The delicious aroma of hot chocolate and peppermint pulled him away from the video for a moment. He looked up as Vibeke placed a mug on a saucer on the Apollo 11 coaster. Steam rose from the hot chocolate surface and a peppermint stick stood up in the corner slowly dissolving. He picked it out, sucked the hot chocolate off and put it down on the saucer.

“Thank you. That’s terrific.” He lifted the mug and took a cautious sip of the scalding drink. “Perfect.”

“You’re welcome.”

Vibeke walked past him carrying her own saucer and cup, and the Clifford D. Simak book she was reading. She settled down on the padded bench beneath the large portal. Above and behind her the view showed the rising landscape and the dark sky above. Only a few stars stood out shining despite Jupiter’s brilliance.

Vibeke pointed at the laptop. “You need to get back to work.”

Focusing on editing the video, Nick almost felt like he was back home. Yet every time he looked up there was Vibeke reclining comfortably on the bench engrossed in her book, and she definitely wasn’t what he normally saw at home. And there was the Europan landscape right outside his window, harsh and beautiful. Wonderful.

Nick kept working and soon had the footage cut down to size with a minute long video of the opening shot of Europa’s surface with Jupiter rising above. He intercut the exterior shots, the strange crackling energy seen from the cockpit, and Vibeke standing outside at the front to direct the team. He had a great shot of her from the interior. It captured – he hoped – the sense of wonderment found in the best books and movies. Although it was a bit embarrassing, he included footage of himself being afraid that the team was going to hit the ice before they warped out to the surface. It looked genuine and he thought it would play well cameras. For his score he kept the music that he had licensed for his videos. It had that sort of Kubrick epic feeling. The only dialogue in the video was Vibeke smiling knowingly at the camera, and inviting viewers to submit their questions suggestions on what Nick should do. He added usual credit roll.

“Finished,” he said after watching it play one more time.

Vibeke lowered her book. “That’s great, can I see?

He never had someone look at these videos before he uploaded them, it caused some unexpected nervousness, but he nodded. “Of course. That be great.”

Nick picked up his mug of hot chocolate only to discover that it had chilled while he worked. It still tasted sweet and comforting as he took a larger swallow. He put it down and picked up the peppermint stick. He bit off a piece and sucked on it, trying not to feel nervous.

Vibeke placed the ribbon bookmark in her book and set it aside.

She rose from the bench across the small room, every movement  graceful. He started to move and she put out a hand to stop him. He thought she would take the seat on the other side of the table, but instead she slid seductively into his lap. She hardly weighed anything, a combination of her small size and the low gravity. With her arm around his shoulders she looked at the laptop, and reached out to press play.

Though her attention was on the video, Nick found himself growing a little uncomfortable – in a good way – with her on his lap. It was a little bit embarrassing, and he did his best to ignore it, although when she wiggled against him he suspected she was doing it on purpose.

The video played, orchestral music swelling majestically as Jupiter rose above the surface and the rover. The bright energy aura from the team flared and twisted in Vibeke’s hands as the flew steadily across the landscape, gradually coming lower. It almost gave the impression that they had landed quickly, but with the cuts to the interior he hoped that it was clear that more time and had passed.

Vibeke watched without comment. Then at the end when on screen she asked the viewers for their ideas, she turned on his lap. She shifted her legs around to straddle him as she pressed herself against him. Her mouth found his and he became very aware of the thin layers of material between them. He was also aware that they were putting on somewhat of a show, if he dared use any of the footage videos to send back to Earth. It might help his ratings and reputation, but he wasn’t sure he was willing to share that much publicly.

The kiss broke and Vibeke pulled back that her eyes met his. “I think it’s perfect.”

Nick was insanely pleased to hear her approval. “You don’t think it needs any more editing?”

Vibeke looked at him with mock horror. “Don’t touch a second! It’s perfect just the way it is.”

“Then you don’t care if I upload it?”

“Can I?”

Surprised, Nick nodded. “Be my guest.”

Vibeke lifted her leg and spun around in a very distracting manner. She reached out and quickly opened his YouTube account. She uploaded the video as if she was the one that had done it hundreds of times. Nick watched the upload swiftly complete.

“That’s faster than the connection I had back home.”

Vibeke shrugged, a motion that caused very distracting feelings. “We have an instantaneous connection to a major network hub.”

“So if you wanted to give everyone a wireless instantaneous connection, could you?”

“I don’t know that we’re ready to give away all that,” Vibeke said, smiling. She leaned back against him, reclining her head on his shoulder, and her lips found his neck.

Nick groaned, happily. “You’re driving me crazy.”

“Am I?” Vibeke said, pretending innocence. Vibeke bounced up off his lap and out of his reach. She shrugged as she walked back over to the bench. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She bent over at the waist, exaggerating the motion as she picked up her book.

Nick moved across intervening space in a single quick stride. He grabbed her waist and Vibeke erupted in fit of giggles before she turned in his arms and silenced them with a kiss. Everything after that definitely wasn’t going to be included in footage sent home.

It used to be that he uploaded a video and it would slowly gain views from his dedicated audience. Sometimes he’d get email messages, but not many. Most of those were questions about building spacesuits. A notification chime sounded from his laptop. Then another. And again. Nick propped himself up on his elbow. Vibeke’s fingers trailed along his bare chest.

“What’s that?”

“Email notifications.” He slid over her off the bench, scooped up his shorts and put them on as he crossed to the table and looked at the laptop. It chimed twice more.

“What is going on?” Vibeke had propped herself up on her elbows.

Nick crossed the laptop. “I’m receiving email.”

There were several unread messages in his inbox. It was very strange to be getting email on Europa. He sat down scroll through the unread messages. “It looks like most of these are from people that watched the video.”

“What do they say?”

Nick looked at the first one. It was the a regular subscriber to his channel, JupiterFan, writing about how amazed he was with the new show, but disappointed that Nick was turning the show away from solid scientific fact to fantasy.

Vibeke snorted when Nick read her the message. “But it’s all real!”

“That might be, but it doesn’t mean anyone is going to believe that.”

“How can they not believe that? Can they really think that you made this all up?”

Nick shook his head. “I knew this would happen, I had planned on uploading the uncut footage from a couple camera angles. Once they see that it’ll be much harder to believe that it isn’t real. There’s enough information in the footage to show it couldn’t be faked.”

Chapter 33

I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad, and Leanpub. I plan to post on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule until it’s done. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.

Europan Holiday

The team brought the rover down with the gentlest bump. Nick’s muscles slowly relaxed, and he breathed somewhat easier, though he still had a dry tacky taste in his mouth. In the last moments before the landing he had expected a much harder jolt. When they landed his tiny space cabin it’d been a lot rougher. But then again the rover was built by the elves, so he could expect that it was designed better for landing on the surface of the moon.

Now that they were down the bands of energy streaming back from the alien reindeer faded and dissipated, until the only thing left was their energy antlers. Tiny faint bands still crawled across their flippers as they skated like ice skaters on the ice outside. It wasn’t a polished smooth surface. The ice around them was bumpy and uneven, but also had a worn, rounded look to it, as if weathered by time. Far in the distance the ice rose in a slow rippled curve to a long ridge or fold in ice.

Outside Vibeke raised her hand and waved. Nick waved back.

“We actually made it,” he said, to the cameras. “I was unsure there for a moment.”

What now? Vibeke hadn’t really said anything about what they were doing by coming out here. Not that he was complaining. He wanted to see what else Europa held in store for them. As long as he didn’t die from radiation poisoning.

Vibeke had dismounted from the platform at the front of the rover, and was walking back around the rover. Nick unfastened his seatbelts and climbed out of the cockpit seat. The rover wasn’t going anywhere at the moment. The aliens seemed content skating on the ice in the nearly airless vacuum outside. He wasn’t sure how they survived. Europa didn’t have an atmosphere, it does have a thin exo-sphere with some molecular oxygen and other trace gases. There wasn’t any pressure to speak of but maybe they didn’t need to breathe. The energy that poured into their heads might supply all that they needed. They certainly seem comfortable.

A vibration sounded at the back of the rover. It must be Vibeke opening the airlock. Nick walked the short distance back through the rover.

“We’re actually here, on the surface of Europa.” Nick crossed his arms, then uncrossed them. “And if the radiation doesn’t kill us — which I am assuming isn’t going to happen — then there will be a lot to explore.”

A hissing, blowing sound came from inside the airlock. It was pressurizing. A moment later the inner airlock door slid open and Vibeke stepped back inside. The faceplate in her hooded helmet folded away and she pushed the hood back over her head. She still had her skin-tight suit on underneath, and the red material framing her face. She smiled at him, her golden eyes twinkling.

“What did you think?”

Nick spread his arms out to his sides, palms up. “It was amazing. And terrifying. I thought for second that we were going to be smashed to bits on the ice. Then when we were landing I wasn’t sure it would be a soft landing. You all pulled it off. You could probably contract out to NASA to deliver probes around the solar system. With the team like that who needs rockets?”

Vibeke laughed. “Maybe we could work something out like that. Maybe they’ll have to write to Saint Nick and ask for what they want?”

She stepped closer and reached out with her gloved hands.

Nick stepped back and held up his hands. “Aren’t your gloves freezing? It must be like minus 300 degrees out there.”

“Don’t worry.” Vibeke slid her hands along his sides, resting them on his hips. “See? Nothing to worry about.”

Nick looked down into her amazing starburst eyes. “I’m assuming that I’m not getting a lethal dose of radiation either?”

Vibeke laughed softly. “I wouldn’t of brought you up here if radiation was going to be the problem.”

“So what’s the plan?”

Vibeke dropped her hand and touched something on her belt. Her outer suit, the air tanks, and all peeled back and folded up and folded into themselves, over and over, in an instant and down her arm and into the small round coin shape on her palm. She tucked it away in her pocket. Now she was only wearing the shiny, scaled green and red skin-tight suit, that he had first seen her in.

“Now you get your wish. You get to explore Europa, and blog about the experience.”

“What about the Christmas gambit?”

“We’re just taking a different approach. Your first post went up about your trip to Europa. Now you can blog about exploring the surface, and when we’re ready then we can reveal the Workshop Palace, the Trinhlin, and the rest.”

Nick saw where she was going with this. “You want to ease them into learning about Europa, with me as the spokesman? That other faction won’t have any choice but to accept me as their Saint.”

Vibeke grinned and her cheek dimpled. “You’ve got it.”

She leaned closer to him, sliding her arm around his waist, and looked up. “Except you won’t be alone this time.”

Nick didn’t even try to resist. He bent down and kissed her, his lips pressing against hers. Their mouths parted and their tongues touched lightly, teasing. It took his breath away. He pulled back met her eyes again.

“I’m sure with you in the videos my ratings will go up.”

“I would hope so.”

He laughed but it was very true. He had attracted a niche following with his e-books, his blog posts, and videos. Only so many people were going to follow a guy bouncing around the Alaska wilderness in a homemade spacesuit, pretending he was on Europa. But live video feed from Europa’s surface? With a beautiful sidekick? That was going to bring in a larger audience. A sort of reality/sci-fi show, many people wouldn’t believe it, after all there were people that still didn’t believe that men landed on the moon. Many more would rush to deny that aliens had actually taken him off to Europa, particularly alien reindeer with antlers of rainbow-hued energy.

Of course he didn’t upload live video, which also meant that they had privacy when they wanted it.

“Okay,” Nick said. “This should be fun.”

He kissed her again. She pressed against him. And what happened after that would not end up in the videos sent back to Earth.

Chapter 32

I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad, and Leanpub. I plan to post on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule until it’s done. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.

Europan Holiday

Vibeke did that thing again with the disc that unfolded itself from something the size of a coin to a complete suit, air tanks, and helmet. Nick still hadn’t gotten an explanation on how that technology worked. Both it and the rover showed that the Trinhlin were far more than just genetic wizards at this point. Of course, aliens that had built an upside down Christmas Palace beneath the ice on Europa, were obviously more capable than just engineering human-like elves. Even so his stomach tightened at the thought of her going out into the ocean, but obviously she wasn’t worried.

Vibeke waved a three-fingered glove at him. “There’s nothing to worry about. I’ll be fine.”

Nick attempted a brave smile. “If you say so.”

Vibeke crossed the small cabin to the airlock door, pulled the lever, and stepped inside once the door slid open. Second later the door slid closed behind her.

Nick turned back to the cockpit controls in the large window. Outside the team swam in circles around the craft. Their big bodies were graceful and at home in the ocean. Amphibious, alien, space-reindeer, with rainbow-colored antlers, Nick shook his head. They weren’t exactly what the Christmas stories had shown.

The sound of water rushing in brought Nick to his feet, his heart hammering. He spun around, clutching the seat back, and expected to see that torrent of water flooding the cabin. There wasn’t anything. And then he realized that the sound had to be the airlock filling. He took a half step in that direction. Vibeke? Nick stopped. She was in an airlock. It must have a way of equalizing pressure before she opened the outer door. That’s what he was hearing. It was the sound of ocean water filling their lock. He shuddered. That wasn’t something that he was eager to try out.

Nick licked his dry lips and turned back to the cockpit. Outside Donder and the others stopped spinning in circles and swam out to take up positions in front of the rover. They were going to start soon.

Nick quickly sat back down. The chair did have seatbelts and he quickly drew them down and across, magnetic latches slipping easily into place. He smelled salty seawater, but thought it must just be his imagination. He heard a muffled sound that might’ve been the outer airlock door opening, and then again, maybe closing?

The teams’ antlers brightened to magnificent rainbow-colored torrents pouring into their heads. The energy reemerged crackling around their flippers as they held their positions in the line. Bright bands of energy flicked out, coiled around one another and extended from one member of the team to the next. The energy intertwined in the center of the team, forming a bright coiling ribbon of energy that reached back towards the rover. It was like lightning in slow motion.

Then Vibeke was there. She swam with a graceful, undulating motion around the rover to a spot just in front of the windows. She waved at him.

Nick waved back. He let out a long sigh of relief. Felt much better for seeing her.

Vibeke turned and settled down in front of the rover, just as she had stood on the trailer hitch of his old tiny cabin. Nick leaned forward and looked down. A platform had extended out from the front of the rover, complete with a railing and floating holographic screens. Vibeke’s boots seemed to stick to the platform, magnetic?

She touched controls on the screens and several of the panels in the cockpit dimmed. It only took a moment for Nick to realize that she had just taken control of the rover. He settled back, content with letting her have the controls.

She made a beckoning gesture with her hands and the coiling energy ribbon between the team surged backwards straight at her. Nick flinched, but there was no need. The energy met Vibeke’s hands and shattered into dozens of fine lines that reached out around the rover like cage or spider web. Nick rubbed his hands on his pants.

Vibeke made a pulling motion, the energy ribbons from the team brightened and they were off. The team surged through the water. Each stroke of their flippers carrying them all forward at a rapid pace. The acceleration pressed Nick further back into the chair.

Nick looked at the cameras, aware that he had almost forgotten about the intended audience.

“Last time I didn’t know what to expect,” Nick said. “It doesn’t make it any less terrifying this time around.”

Bubbles surrounded the rover and the energy cage created by the team. The rover and team was like a torpedo shooting through the water, and rising swiftly towards the surface. It was almost as if the water and the ocean pressure didn’t matter. The team didn’t seem to have any more of a problem propelling themselves and the rover through the ocean than they had carrying his tiny cabin up into space. Which made some kind of sense, if they were able to fly in space and in Earth’s greater gravity, then what was Europa’s ocean to them?

They streaked up and through the ocean and there wasn’t a chance to see anything more outside. With all the bubbles and the rapid motion anything outside of the energy barrier was just a blur.

Nick didn’t know how long the trip was supposed to take, although it hadn’t taken very long for the enforcers’ craft to reach the Cottage. By all indications the team was traveling much faster are now. They must reach the surface shortly. Then it hit him: what surface? If they hit the ice sheet traveling at this velocity they would be nothing more than a smear on the bottom of the ice. He didn’t have any way to communicate with Vibeke, no way to ask what was about to happen. He had to trust that they knew what they were doing.

He was right that the journey only took moments. Or at least it seemed like it only took moments, and then the team broke through the surface of the ocean in a great spray of water that fell away from the energy cage around the team. Nick just had a moment to take in that they were in a pocket beneath the ice, before the team shot straight at that dark barrier above. An instant later the cage of rainbow-hued energy flared and he felt a lurch and jolt. Blacks skies appeared around them, sprinkled with stars.

Nick laughed. Relief poured through his body, as his heart still hammered from what seemed a near miss. One mistake and they would have all died. But he berated himself. He should have known what was going to happen. He’d seen it when they left Earth’s orbit to come to Europa. The team of alien reindeer could warp space, somehow, and jump to another point far away. The ice barrier wasn’t a barrier at all to them. They had simply jumped from beneath the ice to above the ice.

“That is a relief. I should’ve realized that they would warp out from under the ice space, but in that moment it felt like we were going to smash the part on the ice.”

The team curved and turned under Vibeke’s gesturing hands and the world came back into view.

Nick whistled. “Look at that, folks. Europa.”

For all that he had imagined might be hiding beneath Europa’s surface, this was still what he knew the best. He had studied the Galileo images, had talked about them in his posts, and the difficulties that the rough terrain would present to explorations. It looked like he was going to get a first-hand look. The team flew at a more sedate pace, swimming down to the Europan surface below. The rover didn’t spin way his cabin had, no doubt thanks to elvish engineering.

“You can see, I hope,” Nick pointed. “The fracture lines across the surface. Notice how the ice is discolored. We knew that there were organic materials being brought to the surface by the Europan equivalent of plate tectonics, and after seeing the rich biosphere below, I would imagine that a lot of that contains the remains of organisms who ended up caught in the ice. Any remains on the surface would be degraded by radiation, but I’m sure there’s still plenty of evidence of the biosphere hidden below.”

Nick shook his head and rubbed his jaw. “I mean, imagine if we had actually sent probes and landers to Europa a long time ago? We could have done it. Machines that could drill and dig into the ice and provide close-up images of these fractures? Just imagine what it would have been like, if decades ago we had shown clear pictures of the remains of frozen organisms on Europa? We wouldn’t even need complicated landers. We would’ve seen evidence of the biosphere, without ever having to find a way beneath the ice mantle.”

Nick laughed again. “Not that we wouldn’t have then wanted to get beneath the ice to see what was going on, but we could’ve answered the question about life on other worlds a long time ago, without even trying that hard. If there had only been the will to do it.”

The team carried the rover lower, lower, and closer to Europa’s surface. When they were perhaps 100 feet up, not far at all, they leveled out and flew above the surface. Because the large windows afforded him such a view, Nick had a perfect look at the landscape below and beneath them. It was wild and broken ice, and complex topography as far as the eye could see. The horizon brightened and then moments later, the broad arc of Jupiter appeared above the horizon. Nick leaned back in his chair pressing his shoulders back, and drank in the sight in front of him.

Jupiter rising. No one on Earth had ever had a chance to watch a Jupiter-rise with their own eyes.

Europa kept one face to Jupiter, and the team was bringing him around to that side of the moon. Jupiter rose and grew larger and larger. It was awe-inspiring sight. At this distance Jupiter was nearly 24 times the diameter of the Moon as seen from Earth. And it was so clearly a ball, and a planet with storms large enough to swallow the entire planet Earth. The great red spot wasn’t visible at the moment but if he waited it would no doubt come back around. Jupiter rotates on its axis in just under ten hours.

Nick remembered the audience again. He glanced up at the cameras, his grin widening. “I’ve seen New Horizon’s picture of Europa rising over Jupiter, but never this view. Galileo never came this close to Europa.”

The Galileo probe, launched in 1989, had spent 8 years studying Jupiter and the Galilean satellites. On its closest approach to Europa the hardy probe had come within 110 miles of the surface. And here he was flying a mere hundred feet or so above the surface, the team following the contours of the ground beneath to maintain that distance.

“As great as the Galileo probe was, it doesn’t compare to seeing it in person, with your own eyes.”

In person and with his own eyes, and what did that mean for his radiation exposure? He had to trust that the team would protect him from the hazardous levels outside. Exposure to the kind of radiation on the surface of Europa would reach lethal doses within a day. The Trinhlin were no doubt aware of the radiation bathing their world. It might even have been something that they learned to harness.

The team began dropping lower and slowing. They came around and approached a section of ice that was relatively smooth.

“It looks like we’re coming in for a landing,” Nick said.

Chapter 31

I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad, and Leanpub. I plan to post on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule until it’s done. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.

Europan Holiday

The rover came to a smooth stop. And Nick tapped the screen shut down the drive system. It really wasn’t that hard to drive. In the cockpit copilot seat Vibeke clapped her hands.

“Well done.”

“Thank you,” Nick said. And he looked up and smiled for the cameras and addressed the potential viewing audience. “They’ve done an amazing job with the controls. This isn’t any harder to drive that my pickup. The six wheels and the onboard computers make uneven terrain manageable. It’ll go where no off-road truck could ever go.”

Through the broad windscreen window across the front of the cockpit was idyllic landscape of the cottage dome. Vibeke’s driving lessons had just had him circling the small pond alongside the dome wall. The only part that had given him pause was when they came close to the wall and he had to drive into the pond itself to make the circular crossing. The pond sloped down gradually at about a 30° angle but the articulated wheels did a fantastic job of keeping the cabin more or less horizontal and he made the drive without any difficulty. When activated the holographic screens provided a wealth of information about vehicle systems and gave him instant touch control to adjust the vehicle’s performance. He could control all the wheels, or each wheel individually, or any other systems.

“What’s next?” Nick said to Vibeke. Vibeke, showing a natural ability with the cameras, gave a look to the potential viewers, and then smiled brightly at him. “I think it’s time for us to go.”

“Go? Where are we going?” Nick said, although he suspected he knew exactly where she wanted to go.

“You are Europa Nick. I think your viewers would appreciate seeing the surface of our world.”

That’s what he thought. It was an exciting idea, and a bit terrifying. He trusted Vibeke, despite the note that had been passed to him telling him not to trust her. The rover systems certainly seemed functional. If she said it could drive on the surface of Europa, he believed her.

“Okay,” he said. “That sounds good to me. I didn’t get much of a chance to see it the last time, given that I was about to suffocate and all. How do we get up there?”

By way of answer, Vibeke pointed out the window at the pool. “There.”

Nick looked at the pool of water and wasn’t entirely sure that he understood Vibeke’s meaning. “Are you saying I should drive into the pool?”

“Yes.”

Just a yes. It made sense if he considered that there might be some sort of passage connecting the tunnel to the ocean outside. But what would he do once they got outside? The rover didn’t really seem built to navigate the ocean on its own.

“It’ll be okay,” Vibeke said.

“If you say so.” Nick activated the drive and eased the rover forward into the pool. It felt strange to be at the controls of the rover, when it was so much like his tiny space cabin. Except his cabin had lacked a true cockpit. The rover’s big mesh tires dropped into the water once again. And the water rose quickly towards the cockpit windows. This was deeper than they had gotten when he drove along the edge of the pool. Seeing the water right in front of the windows was a little unnerving. Nick glanced over at the other chair, where Vibeke sat looking relaxed and unconcerned. Well, if she wasn’t worried, he might as well go ahead. He drove forward straight down into the pool. The water rose quickly over the front windshield. It was murky, filled with the debris churned up by the large wheels. Lights automatically came on and cast a broad beam of bluish light into the murky waters. He really couldn’t see very far. He was essentially blind.

“How are we supposed to navigate?” Nick said, glancing at Vibeke.

Vibeke pointed at the holographic controls in front of him. “You might want to turn on sonar imaging.”

Sonar imaging? That sounded like a good idea. Nick had an icon that showed something like an a nested series of contour lines on a mountain. He touched the spot and immediately bright lines formed a landscape outside in front of the rover. The lines traced the contours of what had to be the bottom, making it possible to see the pool ahead through the water. It took him a moment to realize that it was actually a holographic landscape projected on the windshield, displayed in such a manner as to appear as if it was laid out over the bottom of the pool. Obvious, given the fact that the lines weren’t obscured by the murky water

“That is much better,” Nick said. “Thanks.”

“Of course, you’re welcome.” Vibeke pointed ahead where the contour lines ran closer together and formed what did in fact look like a tunnel leading down into the ground. “Take the passage out.”

“Aye, aye.” Nick eased the controls forward. The rover drove deeper and they were entirely submerged in moments. It only occurred to Nick than to wonder why the rover wasn’t just bobbing along the surface of the pool.

“Why aren’t we just floating?”

“We could engage the buoyancy systems so that we didn’t submerge but the rover is designed more as a ground vehicle. Our progress would be slow trying to cross the surface, and besides, we can’t get out that way.”

Nick chuckled. Ask a stupid question. He glanced up at the cameras and smiled as he drove. “Control, we’re taking her out.”

There was no Mission Control, of course. But he had always referred to his audience as his own personal Mission Control. Any deep space mission was going to be more or less on its own. There wouldn’t be time, give normal radio lag, to wait for Mission Control to come up with answers. Still, it reminded him to think of the audience for what he was doing. A lot of blog was the entertainment value of watching him living in a tiny cabin in the wilderness, dressed up like a spaceman. He knew that, and also knew that he had a chance to teach people too. It was a mix of entertainment and education. The day it all degenerated in boring lectures would be the day that he lost a lot of his audience. At the same time, like any good science fiction, he wasn’t going to entirely forget the science behind what he was doing. It had to be the right mix.

“All systems are operating within normal parameters, as far as I can see. Proceeding down the passage.”

The water ahead was beginning to clear and the rover’s lights illuminated swimming organisms that teamed in the water. There were corals coming out of the walls. Delicate fan structures, clusters of tube-like formations, and other corals with fractal-like design reached out for them from the sides. He hated to disturb any of it with their passage, but that was unavoidable. At the same time he is very excited to get such a close-up look at native Europans.

The trip down with the enforcers went all too fast. This time he was going to take it slow and savor the moment. He drove forward, tires finding some traction in the tunnel floor. He followed the tunnel down and beneath the outer wall of the dome. He wasn’t sure when they crossed out and left the Cottage. The tunnel ran down but wasn’t straight. It rose and fell again. At times it narrowed enough that he thought the sides of the rover would scrape along the corals, but they made it through with minimal damage to the structures, and none to the rover. At least nothing on the board alerted him to problems.

Nick watched a cluster rainbow-hued wafer-like fish swim past. Not really fish, as every so often they split into dark red tentacles and then snapped back closed again to take shape of fish again. They swam out of the rover’s headlights.

He smiled that Vibeke. “I realize this is all probably familiar to you, but it’s new for me and the viewers back home.”

Vibeke smiled up at the cameras. “It’s exciting for me too. We don’t often get out of here either. How often do you get to take an undersea trip back home?”

“Good point,” Nick said. He looked up at the cameras and said, “The biology here incredibly advanced. We thought that life on Europa might be limited to simple bacteria, maybe even only is isolated areas. That’s clearly not case. And the Trinhlin evolved here, and they’re a lot more sophisticated, with a highly advanced culture. It’s obvious that Europa has an incredibly diverse biosphere, equally as diverse as Earth’s biosphere.”

“Actually it is more diverse,” Vibeke said, with an adorable wink.

Nick laughed. “You’re going to steal the show.”

Vibeke laughed with a happy bell-like sound.

Just up ahead passage widened and opened up. Bright light filled the mouth of the tunnel. The bright light came from large schools of swimming organisms. Nick slowed and drove forward carefully. They were leaving the tunnel and he paid close attention to the contoured overlay, watching for any drop-offs.

The rover emerged from the tunnel onto the side of the reef mountain slope. Nick found that they were looking right down side, and there didn’t seem to be anywhere else for them to go. A forest of large coral structures covered the slope and grew bigger than the rover itself. The only way down would be to drive through, whether or not the structures were strong enough to withstand the rover, wasn’t really the issue. He didn’t want to destroy that landscape. He brought the rover to halt.

“Now what?”

“Wait here,” Vibeke said. “It won’t be long.”

That sounded promising and Nick leaned forward, and enjoyed just taking time appreciate the view outside. It was one thing watching the organisms swimming outside the Cottage domes, from beneath artificial sun. But that was much like looking at stars in the night sky from a city rooftop. Out here they were away from the dome. It was like being out in the country looking at the Milky Way. They had a clear view that wasn’t drowned out by the artificial sun. In so many ways it was better than Milky Way. He tapped the icon and turned off the contour view.

“It’s full of stars,” Nick said, murmuring the words.

The ocean was filled with a variety of lights. Tiny bright points twinkled like distant stars, but were microorganisms filling the ocean with light. Among the bright points light, there were other rather complicated shapes. Lots of radial shapes studded with light green, like spiral galaxies. Big clouds of jellyfish-like organism swept through the water like gaseous nebula. He could watch it forever.

“Is it what you dreamed it would be?” Vibeke asked.

Nick shook his head. “No it’s much better.”

Vibeke pointed. “Look! Up there.”

Bright rainbow shapes appeared in the distance and soon resolved to eight separate large organisms. Their dark bodies swimming powerfully closer. Rainbow-hued bands of energy poured from the surrounding water into their broad heads. More crackled like miniature lightning bolts around their broad flippers. It was the team. Donder and the rest.

Nick chuckled. “I should’ve realized.”

“They will take us up to the surface,” Vibeke said. She slipped up out of the copilot seat. “I need to go out now. Just put the systems on standby, we’ll take care of the rest.”

“Out there?”

Chapter 30

I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad, and Leanpub. I plan to post on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule until it’s done. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.

Europan Holiday

Sitting at his new glass-topped table, Nick rubbed bleary eyes, and picked up his mug of hot chocolate. He took a cautious sip of the scalding drink and rolled it on his tongue. Outside, through the porthole in the rover wall just a short distance away, was the transparent wall of the dome, and beyond that the teaming dark expanse of Europa’s ocean. Except it wasn’t that dark. Lights drifted and swam and pulsed in a rainbow array of colors. It was as if the entire Milky Way had come down and surrounded the dome, and all the stars were living things. It was one of the most beautiful and mesmerizing sights he had ever seen. Even the northern lights over Fairbanks hadn’t compared to this.

Nick put down the mug on an Apollo 11 coaster, thanks to Vibeke and other elves, who had brought his personal belongings from the space cabin wrecked on Europa’s surface to the new rover. From what Vibeke had told him they had retrieved his belongings soon after they landed, rescuing them before the extreme conditions on the surface cause too much damage. From the sound of it he expected that the entire space cabin and the trailer had been recycled. Part of him mourned the loss, he had after all built it with his own hands, but this new rover was a fully functional vehicle capable of traversing Europa’s surface while protecting him from the radiation, and it was connected to the internet back on Earth. That seemed a pretty good exchange.

He was connected now, looking at his blog in real time. He had already previewed his first post a dozen times and scheduled it to post. It was about to go live.

Nick smiled for the cameras. “This is it. Sitting here waiting for the clock it counts down last seconds, before my first blog post goes live. This is the first where I show how the repair of my power systems went wrong, and I met an unexpected visitor. It’ll be the first in a series of posts that will go up over the next several days. I don’t know what the reaction is going to be, and I’m a little nervous.”

It felt strange to be back under the cameras again. He wasn’t live streaming to Earth. He liked to have a little more control than that, appreciated the chance to edit his content before it went out. He decided what footage to use and what to cut, and mostly recorded it for himself. Except here Vibeke was also in the rover. Right now she was lounging on the bench in front of the large window, holding the book by Clifford D Simak in her hands as she read one of old classics. Having someone else in the room with him, made him feel little self-conscious to be talking to an unseen audience. He’d get over it.

“How long?” Vibeke said.

“Right. About. Now.” Nick hit refresh on the browser.

And there it was. Power failure and an unexpected visitor.

Nick scrolled the blog post down. He’d written a brief introduction and then below that was the edited video. Click play, and the video loaded and played, without any lag, pretty incredible considering this was coming all the way from Earth, but the Trinhlin and elf technology made such distances unimportant. There was no lag. Communication was instantaneous. The video played, the sound low, and Nick watched himself deal with the power outage his own space cabin. He’d cut the footage he’d taken from the drives and laptop down to just over nine minutes. He tried to keep the videos no longer than 10 minutes, sometimes doing couple videos if there is something lengthy that he wanted to cover, but mostly he kept it shorter. Footage followed him outside, cleaning the snow off of the generator housing, included his falling and disorientation after Donder disconnected the tether, right up to the point where he entered the space cabin and first saw Vibeke up in loft. And there it stopped. It was a good cliffhanger.

Nick leaned back in the chair and picked up his hot chocolate. He sipped and savored the taste. He looked over the mug at Vibeke and she met his eyes.

Nick said, “I’ve already scheduled the next three posts and I’m working on the next video but that will cover our introduction to the takeoff from Earth, and the trip here right up to the point where my suit cameras failed.”

“That sounds good.” Vibeke smiled. “How long until we know what the reaction is?”

Nick said, “There’s already been a reaction. I’ve gotten a ton of emails I haven’t had a chance to work through yet from people wondering where I am, and why haven’t been on Twitter. That’s what I’ll be working on the next several days, in addition to editing the new footage. I’m going to need to have something to show them. Should I give them a tour of the Cottage?”

Vibeke put aside the book and shook her head. “Not right away. Let’s show them something that they will understand better first.”

“What did you have in mind?”

Vibeke pointed one of her three gloved fingers up, and curled the other two in. She grinned impishly.

“What do you mean?”

Vibeke smiled broad and. “I think it’s time we worked on teaching you the rest of the systems.”

So far he had only tapped into the camera systems, and she had shown him how to use the built-in environmental controls to maintain a comfortable temperature. No rocket stove here, though there was a heater in its place. And even the kitchen stove was an electric appliance rather than the gas one. According to Vibeke the whole thing, like his suit now, and even the modified battery in his laptop, were all powered by some sort of zero-point energy. He’d read enough science fiction to grasp the concept of tapping the quantum foam to generate power, apparently the Trinhlin had already mastered that technology. Just that alone would change everything on Earth, if generating power was cheap and easy to do down to the smallest device. It would answer a lot of scientific questions that he couldn’t understand, but that wasn’t his job.

Chapter 29

I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad, and Leanpub. I plan to post on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule until it’s done. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.

Europan Holiday

Nick blinked as a bright light came on and revealed the interior of the airlock. It wasn’t any larger than the airlock on his space cabin. He moved inside. It certainly looked like a more functional airlock than the one he had built. There were compartments in the walls, smooth and seamless, and there were live readouts displayed in holographic panels above the door. From the readouts it was obvious that it was showing environmental conditions in airlock. There was atmospheric pressure, and composition, all rendered in English.

Vibeke joined him just inside the airlock. She had to stand close to him in order to fit. With a grin she reached out and pulled the lever. The outer door hissed satisfyingly shut without needing the ratcheting action that his had used.

“I see you made some improvements.”

Vibeke smiled. “We tried to keep it a match with your design as closely as possible, and I think you’ll be happy when you see the inside.”

Vibeke gestured at the handle beside the airlock door. Grinning, Nick reached out and pulled that handle. The inner door whooshed open, no delay for the airlock to pressurize first, and he had his first look inside the new improve space cabin, exploratory rover, crawler, or whatever they called this. It was like coming home, after an absence of some time, and finding things subtly different. The layout and design matched that of his space cabin. There was the bench built over the mass that housed the rocket stove, and the large porthole above it. To one side there was a folding glass table currently collapsed against the wall. And there was even a composting toilet just inside past the airlock door, around the corner. A large white panel would slide to reveal the closet side and provide privacy for the toilet. Straight ahead across the small front area, there was a ladder that led up to a loft, and beneath the loft was the kitchen area, complete with jars attached to the rack up above. His home, however, had been built mostly out of wood and the walls had been painted with a glossy off-white paint to give them the appearance of plastic or composite panels, but when you got close to them you could see that they were just boards nailed over framework. In this case the materials were clearly artificial. Nick leaned close to the bench and reached out to touch the wall. His fingers slid along the smooth cool surface, without finding any imperfections or faults. There were faint seams where panels went together, but they looked like the seams on the drawers or the door back in his quarters at the Workshop Palace. Unless you were looking for them, they were almost imperceptible.

Nick wandered inside, feeling like a stranger in his own home. Except this wasn’t his own home. He had left that broken on Europa’s surface. This was more like being in someone else’s home that had been built from the same plan, and done better than your own.

Nick turned around as Vibeke came into the room. She reached over to pull the lever on the inner airlock door and it also slid shut with slick automatic action.

“You built this before you came and got me,” he said.

“That’s right. Like I said before, we’ve been monitoring activity on Earth, and I had discovered your blog. It was debated for quite some time whether or not we should bring you here to Europa and enlist you as our Saint.”

“What about all that foretold business?”

Vibeke laughed. “As someone said in one of your movies, there is no fate but that which we make. I argued that we should enlist your help for the Christmas Gambit. It was foretold by me that you would become our Saint. I just set out to make sure that happened.”

“I don’t know what to say about this.” Nick turned in a circle, taking in the interior of the vehicle again. His eyes landed on the cockpit area.

He moved forward, past the kitchen area and into the cockpit section. It wasn’t just a window for show anymore. Tall black seats rose from the floor to provide a couple control stations. There was an obvious steering mechanism and subdued holographic screens waited in what must be a sleep mode for someone to wake them up. It reminded him somewhat of the control panel on the enforcers’ craft, except simplified. This was designed for a human, or maybe an elf, to use. Not a six-eyed burly enforcer with tentacles.

This was a surprise. The elves had built him a rover equipped travel on other worlds? It was incredible, and almost unbelievable, but this really did look like it could operate on the surface.

“I have so many questions. What powers it? How long can it operate on the surface? What’s it made of?” Nick laughed.

Vibeke was grinning, obviously pleased with his delight. “We have time for you to learn. This was part of our plan.”

“You mean you it always planned on bringing me here?”

“Of course.”

Nick reached out and ran his hand across the black – it felt like leather – seatback at the pilot station. It would be a lot of fun to learn to operate this vehicle. Something like this, would open up worlds. Assuming of course that they could get out of here. Vibeke tugged on his arm.

“Come here. There’s something else I want to show you.”

Nick went willingly, and Vibeke led him back across the rover towards the airlock but she stopped before they got there. She touched a panel in the wall section covering the closet. It slid aside just like the airlock doors.

“I really like the automatic doors,” Nick said. “But what if the power was out?”

“We have alternate systems.”

Nick wasn’t listening more. Inside the closet hung his spacesuit. For a moment he thought it wasn’t his suit because it was clean and shiny. But he recognized it down to the little details. This was his suit.

“My suit!”

Nick reached out and touched the sleeve.

“I told you we would have it cleaned,” Vibeke said. “I hope you don’t mind, but we also performed some repairs and added additional layers to provide extra thermal and radiation protection. We also upgraded the environmental systems in the supply backpack to increase your power and atmospheric systems capacities.”

Nick absorbed what she was saying. It sounded as though his suit, like the space cabin, had gotten an upgrade. They clearly expected him to go back into space. His gaze dropped down looking over the suit, and then he saw his laptop sitting at the bottom of the closet.

“My laptop!” Nick bent and picked it up. He wasn’t sure at first if it was his laptop or a brand-new laptop. Like the spacesuit it appeared to have been cleaned. When they cleaned it, had they also copied it? He didn’t have anything that was terribly important to keep private from the elves, but he still didn’t really like the idea.

“We brought that back here to,” Vibeke said. “I would like you to continue your blog.”

Nick looked at her, incredulous. “Continue my blog? From Europa?”

“Of course. I’ve already told you that I followed your blog, I assumed they you realized we had access to your internet for that.”

“That must be some lag,” Nick said.

Vibeke shook her head. “Our ground stations tie directly into your networks. They are linked via instantaneous communication channels to us here.”

Instantaneous? It was such a simple statement, but it still stunned Nick. He kept forgetting how advanced the Trinhlin were compared to humanity. This is one more example of how capable they were and how dangerous they could be if their intentions were hostile. Fortunately it didn’t seem like they had any hostile intent, in fact they had adopted a rather odd plan of making contact.

Nick looked around the new rover and back to Vibeke’s golden eyes. “If I’m gonna continue my blog, I assume you mean from here?”

“Yes.”

Nick shook his head. From here? He studied the cabin and quickly spotted the cameras right where he always had them around the inside of the rover. Presumably they would connect wirelessly just as his cameras in his space cabin had. Of course everything that he did would have to pass through the elves’ devices to connect to earth’s network, so they would all be aware of what he was doing.

“While the other Santa Claus –”

“Call him Cinder Claus,” Vibeke said. “I think that suits him better.”

Cinder Claus? “Yes. It does. Anyway, will he and the other Trinhlin at the Palace allow this? Won’t they know what you doing?”

“Yes and no,” Vibeke said. “But for them to stop us would require them to take more direct action that they want. They will be reluctant to do so, because they believe that time will bring the consensus they want. And once your blog posts are up on Earth, there’s nothing they can do about that. Other than selling disinformation. They may try to discredit your posts.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

Vibeke grinned. “By then we will be ready to take other actions of our own.”

This was going to be interesting. Posting live from Europa? Who would believe it? Even if they didn’t, it was going to attract a lot of attention.

Chapter 28

I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad, and Leanpub. I plan to post on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule until it’s done. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.

Europan Holiday

Crisp morning air filled Nick’s lungs as he stood in the opening to his cliffside room, and looked out over the fresh morning in the Cottage dome. Everything sparkled this morning. The fuzzy fan trees were awake and moving in their never-ending dance for light, and Nick felt well rested even after the night’s exertions. Vibeke had been enthusiastic. Compatibility certainly wasn’t a problem. Of all the things that it happened, last night was one of the better things that he had encountered so far.

Nick found himself craving hot chocolate with a peppermint stick. It might be something that the elves could provide, he’d have to ask. Yesterday had answered many of the questions that he had about what was going on, but not everything. Maybe Vibeke’s group of rebels was right and what they needed was a human ambassador, but it felt sort of silly to think about going back to Earth pretending to be Saint Nick. The whole idea for their scheme was a bit ludicrous, imagining that people on earth would react better to their presence if Nick showed up with his alien reindeer and elves?

And if he was going to play Saint Nick, what presents would he be bringing? How far did Vibeke and the rest want to carry the idea? Was he supposed to go to Earth on Christmas Eve? To fly around visiting homes all in one night? Dropping down someone’s chimney in Alaska was a great idea for getting shot. Out at the top of the dome the artificial sun was brightening. Elvish faces appeared in openings of some of the other cliffside rooms, and waved cheerfully. Leaning out, Nick saw that some of the other openings were still covered with silver reflective material that had vanished just as quickly as it had come, and he was reminded of the spacesuit that Vibeke wore. Doing a little investigation he discovered a small, flat metallic embedded in the floor material at the opening to the room. That disk must be the mechanism that created the doorway field. It had to be on some sort of timer, or it sensed the approach of occupants. He hadn’t done anything to deactivate this morning, but when he turned and walked to the opening it was already gone.

“You’re up early?” Vibeke said, from the bed.

Nick turned around. “I never sleep too long.”

Vibeke sat up and let the blankets bill away. She held out her arms. “And you’re up already?”

He was.

Sometime later, after Vibeke demonstrated the bathing facilities, then they dressed, and she led him out of the room. They climbed down and joined many other elves streaming through the woods. No one seemed to have any particular direction in mind. They spread out and moved across the dome, bending to pick plants and berries as they went. Apparently this was breakfast. With Vibeke’s guidance, Nick joined in the foraging, and enjoyed the experience. As it turned out he didn’t need to worry about poisonous plants, everything in the dome was either edible, or at least not toxic. He found that the fuzzy fan tree leaves, when caught, pulled free easily and tasted something like a tangy sort of mushroom that scrunched between his teeth and tickled his mouth with fuzzy covering on the leaves. It wasn’t bad. There was a berry the size of a grape, and deep orange that had a citrusy sort of taste, but sweet, almost like an orange soda. Springy groundcover that served as glass had a light pepper taste, and there was a big stem of a bush that had a fatty sausage mixed it with a gardenburger, sort of taste. He chewed on it, and decided it wasn’t half bad. It’d go well with scrambled eggs.

They didn’t stop until they were satisfied, and then they just walked through the park-like environment of the dome. As they walked Vibeke took Nick’s hand again, and he enjoyed holding hands with her once more. Getting involved with the elf might be the best thing that it happened to him, he couldn’t tell yet, but he was going to enjoy his time with her. Even though he was enjoying the walk he couldn’t shake the questions from his head, and finally asked her about their plans. “What now? How long do we wait here?”

“Until the time is right,” Vibeke said. She grinned up at him and winked. “You’re not in a hurry to leave are you?”

No, he wasn’t in any hurry to leave. Leaving was far from his mind at the moment. When he’d gotten dressed this morning, he was pleased to see that the drives still intact, but he would’ve liked to have had his laptop. And his spacesuit and a few other items from space cabin.

“You said that the Cottage isn’t a prison?”

“Yes, that’s correct. But if we move too fast the others may try to stop us. We need to bide our time until the moment is right, and we have everything prepared.”

Nick nodded. “I understand that. Is there any chance that I could get some of my belongings brought here?”

Vibeke smiled at. “Come with me.”

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.” Vibeke said, looking back at him over her shoulder.

Nick let her lead him by the hand through the dome, moving parallel to the cliff face and around the hill at the center of the dome. As they walked the cliff face fell away and turned and soon they were walking down into a small hollow to one side of the large dome. Nick saw that in the clearing ahead was a hollow, and a pool of water. Sitting beside that small pond was a familiar sight white and sitting on big bulbous inflated tires. His space cabin! Except not. A window wrapped around the front. It had smaller windows wrapped above and around the portholes on the side. It looked like his space cabin except it was real. Everything looked real. Even from here he could see that the large wheels were actual wheels, not the fake one that he had created on the side of the space cabin that covered the trailer wheels beneath. There were other changes to the design, that made it look as if this really were a vehicle capable of driving on the surface of Europa.

Nick turned to Vibeke. She laughed at his surprise.

“What is this?” Nick said.

Vibeke gestured at the crawler. “Come see.”

She skipped off down the slope past the last of the fuzzy fan trees. Nick followed her down the slope. In moments he was past the trees, and into the clearing along the shore of the pond. Vibeke reached the space cabin first, but Nick was right behind her. Up close it only reinforced what he had seen at a distance. This wasn’t a stick-built tiny cabin designed to look like a vehicle to explore other worlds. It was a vehicle to explore other worlds.

“This is your new rover.” Vibeke said.

“My new rover?” Nick walked around the front of the vehicle.

Reflective glazing made it impossible to see clearly inside as he continued to walk around soaking in the details of the vehicle. It was as large as his space cabin, not particularly large compared to many things, there were RVs on the road back on Earth that were bigger. The tires were huge balloon mesh-covered things, three of them on each side, and he could see past them to where the articulated axles extended beneath the vehicle. Those wheels could carry the vehicle over just about any obstacle. That made it very versatile and able to traverse the uneven and tortured landscape on Europa’s surface. It was a similar model used by robotic rovers sent to Mars, except much larger and the tougher. The mesh would resist punctures that had damaged the rovers’ more rigid wheels on Mars. It also had the advantage that it was on Europa, which meant that the gravity was much lighter here and it could sort of bounce along over obstacles. When he reached the back of the rover he wasn’t surprised to find an airlock entrance just where his had been on the space cabin. It even had the emergency lighting above the door. It really looked like they’d taken his design, the basic concepts, and created a whole new, fully-functional vehicle from what he had imagined.

Vibeke had joined him at the rear of the vehicle. She gestured at the airlock. “Why don’t we take a look inside?”

“Can we?”

Nick hardly waited for her nod, and he was up the ramp to the airlock door. Even the release lever looked the same as the one on his space cabin. He reached out, grasped it, and pulled it down. The door hissed open.

Chapter 27

I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad, and Leanpub. I plan to post on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule until it’s done. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.

Europan Holiday

The artificial sun over the elf dome had dimmed to a cool twilight level and there it stayed. In the evening the fuzzy fan trees had quieted their constant motion, now that there wasn’t as much light compete for, the trees slept. Or, at least they seem to sleep, Nick couldn’t tell. The sounds of the party had died away, and Rylick came out of the trees and found Nick and Vibeke sitting on the stone benches.

Vibeke grinned at her brother. “Is the party over then?”

Rylick strolled across springing groundcover and hopped up onto one of the stone benches, where he crouched. “Well, when the guest of honor and the hostess both leave, things are bound to wind down.”

“I needed answers more than I needed a party,” Nick said.

Rylick looked at his sister. “So you filled him and then? He’s got the full picture?”

“More or less,” Vibeke said. “We haven’t gotten around to talking about what happens now.”

Nick looked between them, seeing their matching grins and sparkling golden eyes that caught the dim light, flashed, and glowed like eyes on a cat. “What you mean, what happens next? I thought we were done? They really can’t keep us here?”

Even as he voiced the question, Nick realized that nothing in their attitude had indicated that they had given up.

“No,” Vibeke said. “Were not done. Not yet. The Cottage isn’t a prison. You might just say that we’ve been grounded.”

Rylick said, smiling. “After all, when you’re grounded isn’t it your job to sneak out?”

“Sneak out?” Nick looked up at the dome ceiling above, and the ocean on the other side that transparent barrier. “I don’t think I can swim to the surface.”

“We weren’t planning on swimming ourselves,” Vibeke said. “Our friends will help us.”

Friends? Nick remembered the paper that the elf back at the Workshop Palace had given him. Don’t trust her. Still didn’t know what it meant. Could he trust the source? Or was it simply the opposing faction trying to introduce division between them? It would be a good strategy. If he wouldn’t cooperate with Vibeke’s plan, then they would be out of luck.

“It’s nothing you need to worry about tonight,” Vibeke said. “Let’s take you back to your room and you can rest.”

Rylick spring from the stone bench and landed lightly on his feet. “If you won’t be needing me, I’ll be going.”

“I think we’ll be fine,” Vibeke said. “Good night.”

With a grin and a wink, Rylick dashed off between the trees, soon gone from sight. The air was getting cooler and Nick shivered. The Cottage might be built on top of a thermal vent, but that didn’t mean it was warm. Nick stood up as well. And when Vibeke rose beside him, he looked down into her eyes, reflecting the light from the dim sun. She was tiny, but he had also noticed that she was very attractive. Still, getting involved with the genetically engineered elf might not be the best thing for him to do right now. Besides the fact that he didn’t even know if it was biologically possible, or if she had any interest whatsoever in intimacy with him. If she were just a normal woman that he had met back home, he might have asked her out to dinner. Right now, though, that wasn’t really an option. He gestured to the tray and glasses setting on the bench.

“Can I help with these?”

Vibeke shook her head. “No, don’t worry about them. They’ll be taken care of.”

She took his hand, her gloved hand dry and slick in his, and started up the slope. “Let’s get you back to your room.”

Vibeke walked and Nick walked beside her. She continued to hold his hand, and it seemed rude to pull away, besides which he was enjoying it. It’d been a long time since he walked holding hands with someone. He and Carol had done that, early on when they were first dating. Then they stopped. It seemed like most couples felt that need to be holding onto someone that you fallen in love with early on, but then it faded. For some it was a sign of trust and comfort, when you no longer felt that they might slip away. In their case it’d been more about a growing lack of intimacy. Carol hadn’t ever been that interested in sex.

Nick shoved the thoughts away. Better to focus on where he was, and what was happening right now. He was on Europa. And Europa was full of more miracles then he had ever imagined. Whether or not he was going to be Saint Nick, was another thing he wasn’t going to worry about right now.

They climbed the hill and went back to the honeycomb wall, where there was more activity now. There were elves climbing up into rooms, waving and chattering at him as he and Vibeke came out of the woods. He expected Vibeke to release his hand and move away, but she didn’t. And he didn’t pull away either. He thought he would’ve been able to find the room that was his without her assistance, and when Vibeke led him to the correct row he was pleased that he had been right. She did let go of his hand then. And she climbed up the wall quick and easily and stepped lightly into his room. His heart rate picked up. He wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but unless he wanted to sleep outside he was going to have to follow her up.

It only took a moment for Nick to climb up the three levels to his room, nodding and waving to the elves that he passed the lower levels. When he stepped inside he discovered a bright blue light shining in his room. He blinked and looked back and saw that the opening in the wall was now a silvered surface that reflected back the light and a distorted mirror image of himself, and behind him another figure. Nick turned back around and saw Vibeke standing on the bed and her suit lay discarded on the floor. She had shed a lot more than just her nudity taboo. Nick swallowed and his mind went blank.

Vibeke grinned impishly. “Are you just planning on standing there? I already unwrapped your present.”

She slid her hands down over her smooth skin.

Nick bit his lip. There were probably a ton of reasons he should not accept the gift that Vibeke was offering. Trouble was, he couldn’t really think of any of those right now. And he didn’t want to.

Nick crossed the short distance the side of the bed and he placed his hands on her shoulders. Her skin was pale, almost colorless, and warm. And fuzzy. He hadn’t seen it from a distance, but close-up a very fine downy layer of hair covered her. He let his gaze drop saw that, yes, the hair was uniform and consistent across her body. It also seemed colorless. Even her head was bald except for the tiny fuzz of hair. Unless he looked close, she was hairless everywhere. For a protective impulse rose to the forefront of his thoughts

“I don’t know if this is safe? Are you sure?”

Vibeke laughed, clear and delighted. Her hands slid up his arm and her right hand touched his neck as she gently pulled him down. Their lips met. And Nick melted into the kiss. It’d been a long time to since he’d kissed anyone.

“I’m sure,” Vibeke said.

Nick surrendered and Vibeke’s clever fingers dropped to his shirt buttons.***