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.
A tower of ice, the illuminated edge of the ice plate that was thrust up out of Europa’s surface at a 45 degree angle, grew bigger as the aliens flew at its base towing Europa Nick’s space cabin. The ice was dark and mixed with streaks of different colors, pitted and shadowed. A small hill of ice that had calved from the underside of the plate lay tumbled beneath the plate like rubble from a devastating earthquake. It must have been something, the release when this plate burst up out of Europa’s flexing surface. Like a super earthquake back home, the plate giving way to be shoved nearly two hundred meters up into the air.
Nick hadn’t lessened his grip even though it wouldn’t matter if the team crashed into the base of that ice tower. If they were determined to dash themselves and him to pieces, he couldn’t stop them.
The team slowed. The rainbows of energy crackling between them had a less frenzied feel to it and grew fainter. The antler-like currents running from nothingness into their heads shrank and ebbed.
At the base of the ice plate, in the shadows, a clear passage appeared through the rubble of mounded ice. It looked like someone had taken a giant snowplow and cut a channel through the debris. That was the teams destination.
“Maybe we won’t crash after all.”
The team dropped even lower until they skimmed inches above the ice and their speed dropped.
A thump and a jolt knocked Nick from his feet. He fell, clinging to the bar, and there was a second jolt and a squealing sound heard in his helmet where it pressed against the wall. Vibrations shook the space cabin and sent his belongings scattering across the floors and falling from the shelves.
“The space cabin has touched down on Europa!” Nick said, raising his voice even as he clung to the bar.
The shaking and pounding went on with a loud dragging and squealing sound he heard through his contact with the wall. There couldn’t be much air left in the cabin to conduct the sound, but plastered against the walls he could still hear it transmitted through the trailer’s and cabin’s structure. The trailer’s tires had blown, he realized. They were scraping bare axles on the ice. The tires had never been designed to go out into deep space. They might have been protected initially by the energy from the team, but no longer.
He wouldn’t have been surprised if the whole space cabin fell apart around him.
The forward motion stopped. In the silence that followed he only heard his own breathing and sounds of his suit fans. Several of the space cabin’s L.E.D. lights continued to work – miraculously not shattered and the batteries kept functioning.
Nick pulled himself back up onto his feet. He shivered. It was cold. His breath fogged in his helmet. The fans were working but they were in shadow on Europa. With a surface temperature as low as -275 degrees, his suit wasn’t designed to handle this much cold. Heat had been more of a problem back on Earth.
“It’s freezing,” he said and his teeth chattered. “My suit isn’t designed to handle temperatures this low.”
He turned back to the big cockpit windows at the front of the space cabin. A crack ran like a lightning bolt across the big windows.
On the other side was a dim landscape lit by reflected Jupiter light. The shadowed avenue between the piles of icy debris ran into the junction of the overhanging ice sheet and the ice below and disappeared into the darkening shadows.
Several members of the team, at least five, that had brought him to Europa were making their way along the ice with their big flippers moving in a graceful skating sort of motion, like a pair of Olympic skaters holding onto one another and their four legs moving in tandem. Except these creatures moved on their broad flippers, a trick only possible because of Europa’s lower gravity. The energy antlers above their heads flickered ghost-like. They weren’t going down that path. It looked like they were moving around to the side of the space cabin. He didn’t see Vibeke anywhere.
A vibration felt through his feet made him turn. His space cabin was wrecked. His belongings lay scattered, many things broken. All of it freezing. The water must already be frozen. His laptop, still working, lay on the bench beneath the big porthole as if he had just put it aside.
Nick took a step and nearly bounced up into the ceiling. The gravity was slight. It had a tenuous feel, as if he could simply bounce away.
“We’re down. On Europa. The space cabin’s a wreck as you can see. It lost pressure on take-off. Everything is freezing now. I’m freezing.”
His breath kept fogging on the helmet and was beginning to form a rim of lacy frost. “I don’t know where the aliens went.”
The airlock door slid open halfway and stopped. Red mittens and a spacesuit-like long green coat appeared in the gap. It was big enough for Vibeke, but not him. She put her hands on the door and shoved it. After a moment it slid the rest of the way open. That was the vibration he had felt, her coming in.
He couldn’t see her face, but Vibeke beckoned to him.
“I’m not dead yet,” he said. “I doubt they brought me all this way to deliberately kill me.”
He took a careful bouncing step, and another, and the two steps brought him to the bench. He picked up the laptop and closed it before tucking it beneath his arm. It might be dead too, but he wanted it with him.
Vibeke grabbed his other arm and pulled him to the airlock, her manner urgent.
The cold was seeping in deeper into his suit. Each breath burned his lungs with the cold. How long would his suit continue to function? A few minutes, maybe. The intense cold would shut down the systems and soon after he would freeze into ice.
He had nothing to lose by going with Vibeke. If anything her manner seemed to show that she understood the urgency. The outer airlock door was also open, not that it mattered. Not that the space cabin functioned as a vehicle to explore another world. He’d designed it to look like a vehicle that might be used to explore Europa. He had imagined superconducting coils that would help generate a magnetic shield around the vehicle to protect the occupants from the radiation on the surface of the moon. It was still nothing but a tiny cabin. His spacesuit was more functional, but it couldn’t keep him alive for long. If he was going to survive he had to trust Vibeke.
He followed her bouncing steps into the airlock. She floated down – the ramp was gone, left back on Earth. In Alaska. Nick stopped in the open doorway, caught by the rough and beautiful expanse of tortured ice outside.
The whole landscape was darker and brighter than he had expected. The space cabin was in the shadows beneath the icy ceiling above. Just beyond, though, was brighter terrain. It looked stark, with hard shadows and a strange dark sky. Jupiter wasn’t visible. The massive planet would be behind the ice, its stormy face hidden from view.
Vibeke touched down on the ice and pirouetted in place. The team of aliens clustered around her. All eight of them had gathered around her, four to a side. They sat on the ice, braced up on their flippers against the weak Europa gravity. Energy antlers flowed back from their heads in a rainbow of colors. Each of them watched him with wise faces similar to a walrus, except with something of an owl’s wide-eyed astonishment. Their mouths were wide, beak-like and pressed tightly closed. No noses between those eyes and faces. They did have several long, thin members, almost like a cluster of fingers around their beak-like mouths, but those digits were hanging down around their mouths in a rough approximation of long whiskers.
Vibeke beckoned urgently.
Nick’s teeth chattered. He shivered. The cold was making him feel almost numb. His suit was struggling. He looked at his wrist panel and was alarmed by the number of red lights indicating faults with the suit.
If he wanted to live he had better move and hope that Vibeke and the team could save him.
“Betttter. Go. O.” He said.
He stepped stiffly from the airlock and landed lightly. His boot crunched slightly against the scored and scratched surface. He saw the tracks then, gouges across the ice leading back to the team and dark bits of something along that path. His frozen and shattered trailer tires, he realized.
Nick took bouncing steps over to Vibeke and the teams. Massive aliens, standing taller than his head, clustered around him. Fear made him want to step back, but the cold prevented it. He didn’t want to move.
One of the aliens let its flippers slide out to the sides like it was doing splits with all four limbs in front of him. On the other side another was doing the same in front of Vibeke and she mounted as if it was a horse.
“I. C-c-can’t. Ride,” he said.
Vibeke gestured emphatically. Another one of the alien creatures strode closer and lowered its head as it looked squarely at him.
The eyes were deeply colored and shimmered as if lit by the same rainbow energies that flowed down the antler-like pathways into its head. The pupil was a starburst shape with five pupils of varying diameters at the points. Some of those pupils grew while others shrank. The eyes were intense and mesmerizing – and clearly not accepting his protests that he couldn’t ride.
“I. Guess. I c-c-can try.”
If he’d been back on Earth, Nick wouldn’t have made it. The cold was numbing his body. He took a bouncing step to climb up onto the broad back and couldn’t feel anything. He stumbled into the alien, falling face-first over the broad back. He nearly lost the laptop then, but managed to catch it.
The alien surged up on its flippers with him lying across its back like a sack of potatoes. Nick yelled and clung to the alien’s back as it strode off in the direction of the ice plate. If the alien realized his distress, it didn’t stop.
Sprawled across the back of the creature Nick felt heat seeping into his suit. Sharp stabs of cold pain caused him to wince but it seemed that the alien must give off a great deal of heat if it was warming up his suit. The motion beneath him was steady and graceful. The flippers danced across the rough ice with all of the grace of an ice-skater.
“They’re taking us somewhere beneath the ice plate,” Nick said, glad that his chattering teeth had taken a break.
The alien with Vibeke sitting astride its back strode past Nick’s head. For a second he caught a glimpse of her through the helmet hidden deep beneath her fur-rimmed hood. She grinned at him and urged the alien on.
Feeling somewhat restored, Nick managed to kick his right leg up and over the alien’s back. He pulled himself up into a sitting position, legs wide across the broad back and pushed up with his arms, while still hanging onto the laptop. He didn’t dare sit up and just trust his legs, but he raised his body enough to see ahead past the rainbow energy antlers that twisted and writhed out to each side of the alien’s broad head.