I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, on Wattpad, and at Leanpub. I plan to post a new chapter every other day or so. 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.
At last the airlock door slid open and blizzard of snow engulfed Nick. The gust of wind pouring into the opening was nearly enough to shove him back. He caught the edge and could barely see his gloved hand on the door frame. If he didn’t get out and get this closed soon the whole track would ice up and then he wouldn’t be getting it closed again until spring!
Always aware of the audience, Nick grinned. “Feels like I accidentally parked her right on top of a new geyser! Ordinarily Europa doesn’t have much of an atmosphere, but there are these temporary out-gassing events.”
Nonsense, of course. Even a geyser wouldn’t look like this on Europa, but that wasn’t really the point. He leaned into the wind.
“Continuing egress. I need those power systems online.”
Actually, as long as he had fuel for the rocket heater he would be fine. He could come back after the storm passed to clean out the generator but the last time he let it get cold it had been a pain to thaw it out with a gas torch.
Since the airlock took up the space normally used for a small porch on the tiny homes it was an immediate step down but he had built a ramp and painted it to look metallic. Not that any of that was visible since it was already covered with snow.
Nick forced his way out and turned back to the opening. First he had to reach in and pick up the octagonal tube that was his toolkit. He slung its strap over his shoulder. Here an automatic door might have been helpful, but it still wouldn’t work without power. He knocked snow off the hatch beside the door, lifted it and pulled the lever inside down the opposite way than he had done with the inside lever. The door moved an inch. He had to crank the lever over and over, ratcheting the door closed one inch at a time. It looked cool when the weights pulled the doors open, but not so much when he had to ratchet them closed.
“Closing airlock hatchway,” he said for the cameras.
On editing he would cut away and not show how long it took him to close the hatch. The whole time snow billowed around him and streamed into the opening. By the time he closed off the last narrow opening there was a good drift of powdered snow building up in the airlock.
“Attaching tether now.” He pulled out a cable from the spool on his belt and clipped its carbineer to the thick eyelet attached to the wall.
“Attached. Proceeding with power generator repair mission.”
Nick bounced down the ramp with a sort of hop and the wind nearly blew him over. He landed, skidded and nearly fell. Wow! That wind was really strong. He sometimes bounced around, pretending that he was having to operate in Europa’s low gravity, but not today. It was hard enough to balance with the suit’s support pack, but he also had the toolkit to contend with.
He steadied himself and turned back toward his space-cabin.
It was nearly hidden in the snow except for the emergency LEDs dim blue glow that barely penetrated the thick curtains of blowing snow around the cabin. The entrance wasn’t facing directly into the wind – fortunately – so most of the snow blew past the rounded shape of the space-cabin. The exterior was shaped and designed to look as if it was some big other-worldly rover, with dark panels and lots of gold foil around the lower portions of the cabin. It was the little details that actually sold it on being a rover on Europa, the green accent stripes, the American flag and the large mission logo – same as the patch on his shirt – on the side. There was a smaller version on the airlock door. He let the cameras play across the cabin, knowing that the dimly lit images would attract a lot of attention when he uploaded the post.
Europa Nick’s Harrowing Storm, no, he’d done that headline before, but this storm was worse. He had to come up with something else.
After he fixed the generator.
“Proceeding around the mobile habitat to the generator pod.”
His suit lights created bright cones of light ahead of him that revealed little. Fortunately he didn’t need to go far. His safety tether played out from the spool on his belt and he struggled through snow that was already up to his knees. The toolkit seemed to get heavier with each step. Walking around in this suit, carrying gear, he wished that he was in Europa’s lower gravity.
He waded through the powder while keeping the dim emergency lighting of the space-cabin on his left. The generator housing was hardly even visible, it was just about covered with drifting snow.
He’d built an octagonal enclosure for the generator, with extra thick, ribbed, tubbing that came out and ran to the cabin. Those were nothing more than parallel drifts of snow between the pod and the cabin. Snow had slid across the generator housing’s domed top, leaving the dark smooth plastic exposed. Given the amount of snow plastered around the housing it was probably a problem with the vents. Most likely the air had been cut off and the generator had suffocated on its own exhaust.
It didn’t make for a good show if he just stood and stared at the thing. He smiled for the cameras.
“This is absolutely the sort of thing that happens when exploring frontiers. You get out here and something breaks, so then what do you do? There’s no one to call to help you.”
Nick shuffled his way over to the housing. He had the toolkit tucked beneath his arm as he screwed off the cap. Once free he let it hang by the secure cable. He pulled a stiff wire brush from inside the tube and held it up to the camera.
“Out here you’ve got to be prepared to fix any system that breaks. No plumbers to call, no electricians, just you. On Earth homeowners have the luxury of calling someone for just about any problem with their shelter, but you don’t have that on the far frontiers.”
He ran the brush across the snow-clogged vents. The powdery snow had melted and froze again over the vents, building up an icy crust despite being inset to protect them from the weather. The brush broke up the ice and snow in a mini-avalanche hardly visible with all the snow blowing around.
“Each one of these exhaust vents must remain clear for the power generator to function,” Nick said.
He moved around the octagonal housing, clearing each inset vent in turn. When he finished he returned to the front of the housing and pounded the handle of the brush on the lip of the lid.
“Just breaking up any ice that has sealed this closed.” He tossed the brush into the toolkit beneath his arm, and twisted the lid shut to prevent more snow from getting inside. “Now I’ll open the housing and see if I can get the generator restarted.”
He used both hands and lifted the domed housing. As soon as it was up a few inches the wind snatched it from his hands and slammed it up fully open – the only thing stopping it were the cables that held the front to the frame. Snow swirled within the dome like a whirlpool, lit from within the housing by the L.E.D. tubing light that circled the interior of the housing in three bands with a cool blue light. The lights were powered by rechargeable batteries, kept charged by the use of the generator and triggered by opening the dome.
Inside the octagonal housing, the light reflected from the surprisingly small gas-powered generator. It was the sort of thing that someone might use for powering small electric equipment. It was portable and inexpensive and the only thing that made his stand out was that it was highly reflective, every inch of it gleaming. He had painted the whole thing in gleaming chrome to cover the original, and dull, red paint job.
“Here we are,” he said, smiling for the cameras. “Capable of generating 7,000 watts of power, this power generator provides enough power for the space cabin normal operation, supplemented by solar power when that’s available.”
The wind would have cleaned out the air in the housing by now and snow was accumulating within the housing as it swirled around past the bands of L.E.D. lighting.
He hit the starting button and the generator kicked in. The muffled rumble of its engine was a great sound. The readout panel on the generator showed it was functioning normally. He would shut it down when he went to bed, but in the meantime this was good news. He beamed for the cameras.
“There we go. It could have been a lot more serious that just cleaning the vents, but regular maintenance is a crucial part of keeping our housing, our tools and equipment functional. With regular inspection and repair, we can keep things useful much longer.”
He reached up and pulled on the cables holding the dome. It resisted but he pulled it down enough to catch the lip in his hands, and then forced it down closed. Once it was sealed the lights within the dome went out.
“Think of any pioneers or explorers that went out to remote regions on Earth. Could they run over to the hardware store if they ran into a problem? No. They had to solve those problems with their own ingenuity and resources on hand. Because of a wealth of resources around them, many homeowners don’t even know how to do simple repairs and maintenance that would prevent catastrophic and expensive failures down the line.”
Nick rested a hand on the generator dome. “On other worlds that sort of attitude could cost someone their life.”
He grinned again. “But not today! This has been a successful repair mission. If the storm lasts I will need to repeat the work to make sure the vents stay clear. For now, it’s time to get back inside.”
Nick turned back toward the space cabin and blowing snow completely obscured his visor. “Visibility has decreased further. The lights of the space cabin are obscured by the blowing snow. Without my tether I could get lost just trying to find my way back.”
A gust of wind shoved him back and he grabbed onto the metal tether to keep his balance. The cable thrummed through his glove, as tight as a guitar string.
“Wind strength has increased. I’m going to follow the tether back before conditions get even worse.”
He grabbed the cable with both hands and pulled as he waded through snow that was actively drifting up against his suit. Each step was difficult, shoving through not only snow above his knee, but the wind blowing right into him. It was bad enough that he was worried about the space cabin, worried that it might blow away or be ripped apart by the storm.
The powdery snow blowing across his visor reflected back his suit lights but didn’t reveal anything ahead. He had no visual confirmation that he was even moving forward except that the tether’s spool ate up each foot, each inch, that he gained move forward.
“I’ll check wind speeds when I make it back,” Nick gasped for air and chuckled. “It feels like a much worse storm than others I’ve encountered.”
A couple steps later a dull glow of lights showed ahead. It was the space cabin’s lights, his window a round welcoming blue glow in the snow. The actual structure was still hidden from view.
“I have a visual on the space cabin’s lights now. I’m getting closer.”
Hand-over-hand, he made his way along the tether through the deep and blowing snow. Another few feet and the space cabin was a dark shadow rising above him, lit by the protected exterior L.E.D. lights and the glow from the windows.
The tether snapped free.
The recoil sent Nick tumbling back from the space cabin. The whip-like cable lashed through the air and nearly smashed through his helmet. The cable hit his right shoulder with bruising force, protected somewhat by the thicker protective padding in that section.
A gust of wind shoved him again, and without a cable to hold onto, he went tumbling back and he lost his footing and fell. The toolkit tumbled away as he dropped.
Deep snow cushion his fall and caught him like dropping into a giant beanbag. Snow exploded up and around him, joining the blizzard already obscuring him, covering him even more, enveloping him in darkness.
His interior lights showed snow packed across his visor, dark gray and blue.
“My tether is disconnected. Maybe broken, or the mount broke. Neither thing should have happened. I’ve fallen. I’m uninjured and my suit is intact but I’m covered in snow. I don’t know if the tether broke or somehow disconnected.”
Nick moved his arms through the snow, sweeping through the loose powder. He felt something like a beetle tipped over onto its back waving his legs around.
“Unless I want to stay here and make snow angels no one will see, I need to get back on my feet. The snow can’t be too deep yet. My support pack is weighing me down, but I will try to turn over and get up.”
Nick rocked to his left, kicking up his right leg and throwing up his right arm. He couldn’t actually twist or reach very far across his body. Packed snow groaned beneath him but he didn’t roll over.
He chuckled. “This might be harder than I expected.”
He rocked back and forth now, throwing his body as hard as he could in his suit. With each attempt he heard the snow creak and groan beneath him but it held him in place, molded around his support pack.
Then his right arm hit the toolkit beneath the snow. His thick gloves scrambled along the smooth sides until he found the strap where it connected to the toolkit. He grabbed on and dragged it closer, leaning, and the extra weight was finally enough for him to roll over.
Snow poured off his visor and was swept up and away in the howling blizzard outside his suit. Visibility was still nonexistent.
“I’ve found the toolkit,” he said, breathing heavily from his exertions. “It’s given me the leverage I needed to get up.”
He got to his knees and leaned on the octagonal toolkit tube as he climbed back to his feet. The helmet lights illuminated only the snow blowing around him and past his suit. He couldn’t see the space cabin anywhere. Only a moment before it had been a dark shape in the storm, the glow from the lights and window illuminating the thick blowing snow.
Now it was gone. A gust of wind from his left made him stagger and nearly go down again. He gasped and carefully got his balance back. He managed a weak chuckle.
“Well, this is unexpected. I’ve lost visuals on the space cabin. I had nearly reached in when the tether let go. Wind speed has picked up and there’s more snow in the air. I need to figure out if I’ve gotten turned around.”
It seemed to Nick that he had fallen backwards when the tether released. If that was the case, then the space cabin was still straight ahead, although in this wind and conditions even going in a straight line was going to be difficult. But he might have gotten turned around somehow, so he needed to check if the space cabin was visible anywhere around him. Or the generator housing. Either would give him a landmark.
“I’m going to use the toolkit as a stable point,” he said. “I don’t want to get myself confused and wander off in the wrong direction.”
His suit functioned well under the conditions, but its batteries wouldn’t last forever. When they gave out the suit wouldn’t circulate air or the heat transfer fluid. His visor would fog and eventually the cold would seep in and he would freeze, if he didn’t suffocate first. Removing the helmet would solve the suffocation problem while accelerating the freezing problem. He didn’t care much for those options.
He shoved the toolkit down into the snow at his feet, directly in front of him.
“Okay, now if I can keep a hand on this, I can survey around me for any land marks.”
He used his left hand wrapped in the toolkit’s stiff strap first and scanned around to the right. Visibility seemed to end right in front of his visor. The lights didn’t penetrate any farther.
“No visibility. I don’t see the space cabin. I’m going to check the other way.”
He switched hands, untwisting his left from the toolkit’s strap, and wrapping his right glove in the strap. He carefully turned to the left, bracing against the wind that threatened to send him tumbling.
Nothing but the blue-white glow of his lights against an impenetrable curtain of snow.
Without moving from that position, he said, “I still haven’t located the space cabin. I’m going to turn off my exterior lights to see if I can pick up the glow from the space cabin’s exterior lights.”
The controls were on the suit’s chest panel. He pressed switches stiff from the cold. One by one, the shoulder and helmet lights went out.
Absolute darkness howled outside his visor. He staggered against the constant pressure from the wind, yet kept his grip on the toolkit serving as his anchor.
He couldn’t be sure which way to go. If he missed the space cabin, even by inches, he could wander around lost in the storm.
Unbelievably, as much as he talked about facing the dangers of space exploration, he actually could die out here.