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 dizzying fall waited beyond the lip of the balcony. The air was cold and still in what might’ve been a morning, but Nick had no way to tell. He had slept and woken up in the enormous bed and then he had enjoyed a long soak in the swirling clean waters of the bath.
When he had checked at the door out of the suite there was one of Vibeke’s people there, a man, although he shared Vibeke’s delicate features and wore the same shiny, scaled material that covered everything except for his face. Nick had asked if Vibeke were available to visit with him, and had been informed that she would later in the day.
The trays of food from the night before still sat on the table, although the more perishable items such as the meats and eggs had been removed at some point while he slept. That still left plenty of options for his breakfast, and he had settled on a large pastry and another cup of coffee, which was fresh and hot. So he couldn’t complain about the service, but it also left him a bit at odds what to do.
The light in the room came from cleverly concealed sources, pockets along the ceiling, which let a warm daylight glow into the room. He hadn’t given it any thought before he slept, his eyes had been so tired and he’d been so exhausted after the journey from Earth to Europa, that he didn’t even care to try to find a switch or something to turn out the lights. He had, however, woken at one point during the night and discovered that the lights were off. He had gone back to sleep and when he woke the lights were on again. Perhaps they were merely on an automatic timer following some sort of daylight cycle. Although what would that look like to residents of Europa, a moon that orbited Jupiter every seven days or so, and always kept one side facing the gas giant, while Jupiter itself took nearly 10 hours to rotate. Clearly any day night cycle that the lighting used wouldn’t be based on Earth’s 24 hour cycle — not unless they had programmed it specifically for him. Of course given that the suite seemed to be designed for somebody of his size, it wasn’t inconceivable that they had also set the lighting to match.
After eating, and taking care of the necessary business of the morning, Nick had dressed in clothes that he found within the drawers concealed in the walls. The outfit that he had selected was somewhat suggestive. Not in a salacious sort of way, but more in the Santa Claus or Saint Nick sort of way. The shoes were black, supple leather, nicely styled, and wouldn’t have looked too out of place as work casual shoes on Earth. The black socks were thick, appeared to be wool, and warm. His pants were likewise black, the material thick light, comfortable, and were tailored to fall straight on his legs, perfectly sized to his measurements. How had they managed to get his measurements and tailor that fit so perfectly? It made him wonder just how sophisticated their technology was, and how long they had been watching him. Clearly they had the ability to travel between the planets. That it seemed an innate ability of Donder and the rest of the team.
It was that shirt that really clenched the deal. It was red with white striping down the center, and around the hem, the arms were long and cuffed with white as was the collar. It wasn’t, thankfully, white and fluffy, and he didn’t have a belly that stuck out like a bowl full of jelly, so it was only suggestive rather than the full Santa Claus outfit, perhaps an updated styled to look more like casual Earth clothes than a full-on Santa Claus costume. Given that his shorts and his T-shirt had been worn all day on Earth, and then in transit within the spacesuit from Earth to Europa, and then he’d slept in them all night, these clothes were his best option.
Having dressed, Nick had found himself at a loss for what to do. The flash drives were safe, tucked in the bottom of one of the drawers, although there was nothing to prevent that people that came into his room to refresh the food trays from having gone through the drawers take drives. He was at their mercy.
Vibeke had brought him here with stories of meeting the foretold Saint and he was stuck, he didn’t know what to believe. This was Europa but not his Europa, not the Europa that he had blogged about. With nothing else to do he found himself pacing the room until he noticed a couple vertical lines in the wall. He had overlooked them earlier. They were in that expansive wall between the bathroom and the reading area, and they extended up to a height of about 8 feet where they met the horizontal line. Once he saw that it was clear and obvious what he was looking at. A door.
Like the drawers in the wall, the door opened with light pressure, recessing and then sliding into the wall. A gust of cool air, scented with salt and carrying the musical sounds of carols, came into the room. Nick had stepped out to find himself on a wide half-moon balcony stretching along the face of the tower. There was a railing, thankfully that rose up as high as his waist, fluted columns in the thick rail. It seemed to be all of the same piece with the balcony, lacking in any seams or breaks.
Nick walked further out onto the balcony, steeling himself as he approached the railing. He was not particularly afraid of heights but he did grant them his cautious respect. He reached the railing, leaned on it and looked straight out at the surrounding Workshop Palace.
“I wish you could be seeing this,” Nick said, thinking of his viewers back on Earth. Not that anything was being recorded, but simply out of habit.
Now standing here, the upside down nature of the Workshop Palace was much less obvious. Instead it seemed he was surrounded by a series of other skyscrapers-sized buildings with side towers and skyways linking them on to the next. People and the little aliens he thought of as Cthulhu’s cousins, were busy moving along as bridges and skyways. As far as he could see, the people were all Vibeke’s size, with some variability. A few seemed much smaller and others slightly taller, about what he would expect to see in any population, but they all seemed to fall within a range. He heard laughter. High multiple voices, the sound of dozens of giggling children, and found them off to his left, on a relatively near bridge that arced between towers, a cluster of truly tiny individuals. They were in fact children. Dress like the adults, they appeared to be miniature versions of what they would grow into. And they were all looking at him.
The children had several adult minders around them and watching them, but the children are entirely focused on him, babbling each other in high in excited voices, pointing and laughing.
Nick raised his right hand in the air and waved.
The gesture provoked excited squeals of delight from the children. There was more laughter and a great deal of shouted questions, and then the adults with them shooed the children on across the bridge. The children went, with obvious reluctance, but followed the adults on into the next tower. Nick had the impression that his stepping out onto the balcony had been merely fortunate, from the perspective of the children, happenstance.
Once the children were gone Nick looked down at the view below. One misstep over that railing and he would fall at least 1,000 feet down past the towers into the dark waters of Europa below.
Between the buildings he could see the enormous upside down Christmas tree at a distance, with the star blazing at its tip. Seen from this point of view, the branches seem to sweep upward like massive deal supports for the bright bobbles and ornaments. And many of the garlands were like curving rope bridges strung between each of those rooms. He could only see a small slice of the tree, however, so he couldn’t really make out what was happening on the tree. Was it merely another structure? Or was it actually some sort of Europan organism growing out of the ice towards the water below?
Whatever the tree was, Nick wasn’t going to get all the answers he wanted right now. He returned to looking down at Europan ocean. This pocket of air around the Workshop Palace clearly could not continue without support. Around the whole moon there might be many such pockets and areas where the forces on the ice had thrust them up to create a gap between the water below and the ice above. Overtime tides probably flexed and sagged and the ice would break and eventually fall back into the oceans as new ice moved in above. The entire surface of Europa showed a complex fracturing patterns across entire surface. There might be many such pockets scattered around the moon, but it seemed to be a risky place to build a complicated city like the Workshop Palace. Vibeke’s people must have some way to stabilize the ice and keep this pocket clear from re-freezing or collapsing. It was one of the many mysteries of the place.
Another mystery, was that obvious one. Who were the natives of Europa? The people, he did not want to call them elves, were very human despite their short size. Surely they could not have simply evolved on Europa. They were like him, aside from size and not the sort of being that he would’ve expected to find on Europa. It was Cthulhu’s little cousins on the other hand, that were the sort of creatures he might’ve imagined swimming in the dark Europan waters. They had the look anyways. Tentacles and those fins they extended when they jetted through the air or water, that might develop to feed near air pockets like this one. High oxygen content in such pockets probably attracted a wide variety of ocean life and like flying fish or squid honor, the ability to shoot out of the water for short distances over the surface to escape predators, was an useful adaptation. Their ability to understand Vibeke’s speech and follow complex instructions, suggested that they had also developed a considerable intelligence. If they were natives to Europa, it was likely that they were the top of the heap said to speak, if humans were an example. Tool using intelligence went to long ways in making up competitive difference in the world with predators and other dangers. It could be that they had developed tools to shape such air pockets in the ice, using the ice itself as a tool or as a refuge. Maybe the first settlements above Europa’s waters were nothing more than Europan igloos in the ice sheets just above the water surface. He could imagine small caves cut into the ice, squirming with Cthulhu’s little cousins and providing them a safe place to reproduce and keep their young from harm.
Damn, he wanted those answers!
There was one other species in the equation as well. Donder and Blixem, and all the rest of the reindeer-named aliens that had helped Vibeke abduct him from Earth. The number and names were suggestive, and as yet while watching the Workshop Palace go about its business, he hadn’t seen any others. If the flying flippered aliens formed a large population here, he hadn’t seen them. Was it possible, given their bulk, that they simply remained in only certain areas of the Workshop Palace or didn’t come into the workshop at all? Whatever the case they were another type of alien. The large flippers, the thick skin, the broad bodies, all suggested possibility that they were aquatic nature. But even if that was the case, it didn’t mean that they were native to Europa. They may simply have come here from somewhere else. Given their demonstrated ability to fly from the surface and in outer space, and then also to make some sort of warp jump above Europa, it made it likely.
In any case it was all simply idle speculation. Nick didn’t have the answers. It was Vibeke or others of her kind that seemed most likely to answers questions. He could stay here and wait and hope she showed up to tell him what he wanted to know. Or he could go looking for the answers himself.
He had after all simply been taken from his home, well not taken from his home since they brought it with him, but the result was the same. And now his space cabin sat broken on the surface of Europa, a puzzle for future explorers if the people here left it out there under the ice sheet. It didn’t actually seem all that likely. The fact that their entrance to the Workshop Palace was concealed underneath an ice sheet suggested that they didn’t want to be spied on by orbiting probes.
It might be disastrous to push his luck and demand answers. He was at their mercy, dependent on them for his life at this point. And he had no way to return to Earth without their assistance. That said, he had rights. He wasn’t just going to let them kidnap him, haul him off to Europa for whatever bizarre plan they had, no matter if it was foretold or not. They could’ve asked nicely if he wanted to be Saint Nick. And he also got the impression that Vibeke’s selection wasn’t universally approved. Certainly the crowd on the bridge when they arrived hadn’t indicated obvious acceptance of her plan.
With that in mind Nick left the balcony and went back inside. As soon as he entered the suite the door slid silently closed behind him. Obviously there is some sort of sensor that he tripped by returning. He crossed the room to the drawers where he had left his drives, pressed the face and took the drives out. He put them in the deep pockets of his pants and headed for the front door. When the door opened, the man he’d seen earlier was still standing there in court.
“I’d like some answers,” Nick said.
“You’ll have to wait for Vibeke,” the man said.
“What’s your name?” Nick said crossing his arms across his chest and looking down at the smaller man.
Apparently he wasn’t any good at intimidation. The small man grinned up at him join rows of those white teeth. “My name is Katter. And you still need to wait for Vibeke to return.”
“So I’m your prisoner then, am I?”
“You are a guest,” Katter said.
“Then I would like at least to have a tour of the workshop,” Nick said. “I didn’t get much chance to see it yesterday. I was pretty exhausted when Vibeke brought me here.”
Katter shook his head. “I’m afraid that’s not possible either. If you will kindly wait in the suite, I will try to find out what is keeping Vibeke and let her know again that you wish to see her. In the meantime there are many books in the suite which might provide you some entertainment.”
Nick decided to try a different tactic. “What about my spacesuit? Vibeke carried it off last night. There’s also the question of my belongings in my space cabin, it was left on the surface, and I would like my laptop in particular.”
Katter shook his head, and said, “Vibeke will have your answers when she returns.”
Nick considered simply ignoring the smaller man and heading off down the corridor on his own. Doing that would lead no doubt to some sort of confrontation, and although he had the size advantage, he wasn’t a fighter. In fact he could count on one hand the number of actual fights he’d been in in his life and those all occurred when he was a kid in school. Even then he had preferred to talk his way out of confrontations rather than fighting, but there were times when he found it necessary to stand up to bullies. But he never been in a fight in his adult life. Didn’t seem like a good idea to provoke something when he was on an alien world. Katter might be small but he showed no qualms about facing down his much larger guest.
Nick nodded, smiled. “Thank you, please do let her know. Being kidnapped and ripped out of one’s home is very upsetting. Back on earth Vibeke, Donder and the rest would all be up on charges for breaking the law. I don’t know what your laws are here, but you have to realize the situation you’re putting me in. You tell me that the only person that can give me answers, is the same person that was responsible for my kidnapping. Back on earth the authorities would be protecting me from the person who kidnapped me, not putting the kidnapper in charge of me.”
It was a small satisfaction to see some tightening around Katter’s eyes, maybe a shred of doubt there, before Nick turned and strode back into the suite. The door shut behind him and he took a deep breath. He hadn’t realized until just that moment how upset he was about what it happened. On the one hand it seemed almost ridiculous to complain. They had fulfilled, in some fashion, his long-standing dream of going into space, of traveling to other worlds, of actually walking on the surface of Europa, and seeing what secrets lay beneath the ice. They had answered humanity’s long-standing question of whether there was life elsewhere in the universe. That was a big one.
He had always believed it, had always felt that there was very little evidence to indicate that they wouldn’t find life elsewhere, but the conclusive solid proof that always been lacking. When stories of Martian fossils in meteorites hit the news he’d been energized, thinking here, here is the proof. But those findings were questioned and doubted, which was simply good science, but at the same time he still wanted that answer. Walking, talking aliens, elaborate structures beneath the Europan ice, left no doubt. He might not have all the answers he sought, but he did have that one.
There was life on Europa.
Nick took that one piece of satisfaction, and he went across the room back to the reading area, to study the book faces there.
On seeing the titles, he felt an immediate sense of disappointment. For one, the books were in English. For another, although these were impressive tooled leather volumes, he recognized the titles. Here was a “Princess of Mars”. There was “2001: a space Odyssey”. And over there was “Waystation” by Clifford D. Simak. It was, he saw as he quickly scanned the titles, his library of books. Not just a library of science fiction titles and others with which he was familiar, but his library of e-books, printed. Apparently Vibeke and the others had downloaded his bookshelf and reproduce the volumes here in print form.
Clearly they didn’t care about copyright law any more than they cared about kidnapping. And why would they? He wasn’t, after all, talking about citizens of the United States. These were aliens, at least some of them, and he hadn’t even ruled out yet that Vibeke’s people were aliens too.
Any answers, as Katter had said, would have to wait. Perusing the shelves he picked up the copy of “Waystation” and carried it over to one of the chairs and sat. Opening the book, Nick began reading. After a while he poured himself more coffee, still hot, and helped himself to another chocolate pastry, using the provided napkins to make sure he didn’t at anything on the pages of the book. It was all-in-all an exquisite volume. It had a nice weight to it, the pages were thick, and fine, and the type was easy to read and elegant to look at. It would make an extremely nice collector’ s edition back on Earth. Add to that the novelty factor that apparently these copies were produced by aliens, and the books in this room represented a rare treasure trove of volumes. With nothing else to do Nick settled in to wait and try to focus his attention on the favorite story in his hands.