I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, on Wattpad, and at 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.
While Nick’s heart hammered, his eyes adjusted to the space cabin’s dim emergency lighting. Blue L.E.D. emergency lighting gave the space cabin a twilight, full moon sort of look. The small place was visible in a glance. A damp spot on the silvery bench cushions, possibly from melting snow? His laptop still on the fold-out table where he had left it.
Nothing looked disturbed but he heard another intake of breath from up in the sleeping and observation loft. A small feminine sort of noise, not a whimper, but more of curious murmur sounded softly above.
Still clad in the heavy suit Nick leaned back, holding onto the door frame, to look up and caught a sense of a shadow pulling back from the edge of the loft.
Someone — a kid, girl or woman — had come in while he was outside.
“You don’t have to be afraid,” he said. “I’m just wearing a spacesuit, that’s all.”
A pale, delicate triangular face appeared in the shadow above. A shiny red cap of some metallic material covered her head — the face did look feminine — from just above her large golden eyes and down around her face, curving over her chin beneath full lips. Her nose was small, barely a bump between her eyes. It was an odd face, a striking one, and pretty, as much as he could see of it. She turned her head and her eyes flashed with the blue glow of the lights as if she were a deer or a dog. Then she lowered her head and he couldn’t be sure that he had seen what he thought.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I won’t hurt you.”
Her head twitched to the side and she crawled forward. One three-fingered, shiny, green hand reached out to steady herself on the top of the ladder and it gave him a start for a moment until he decided that it was all part of her suit. The material covering her hands continued up her arm where it blended into the red portion at her shoulder. The material was covered in a scaly sort of pattern that made it look almost reptilian. It caught the light and shimmered with a metallic, polished shine. The three-fingers must be a glove, similar to the lobster-claw gloves that some cyclists wore in cold weather, a sort of mid-point between a glove and a mitten. He had considered a similar design for his suit gloves but ultimately settled on a more traditional look.
Unlike his many-layered suit, whatever her suit was made of it looked skin-tight and hardly the sort of thing that anyone would wear in the blizzard conditions outside.
Another quick look around the space cabin didn’t show any other discarded clothing. She watched him from the loft. Her head turned from one side to the other, the same way his father’s pug used to look at him when he was doing something that interested the fat little dog.
Not that she looked like a fat little dog. Although she was little. Child-sized, really, but her face didn’t really look child-like, despite the small bump of a nose and the lack of a strong bridge.
Actually, the nose, with its pert upward turn did sort of resemble a pug’s face except that pugs had wrinkles and folds and her face was smooth and perfect. Beautiful really, with an angelic sort of quality.
“I’m going to take off the helmet,” Nick said. Then it occurred to him that he was recording all of this with his helmet. It didn’t go out live onto his blog, he edited the videos down to make each episode, but he did want to keep recording.
He could keep the helmet plugged into the support pack. That would keep it recording.
“Nothing to worry about,” he said.
He reached up and unfastened the seals on the helmet ring. The metal was still cold but warming in the space cabin. One finger threatened to freeze to the ring, but then it released his skin. He twisted the helmet to disengage it and pulled it up off the suit. Melting snow rained down off his shoulders and the helmet.
The warmer air in the space cabin was nice and still scented from the hot chocolate he had made earlier. He shook his head, tucked the helmet beneath his right arm and reached up with the left to pull off the skull cap – which was similar to the piece that she had over her head, in a way. His was neoprene and had built-in bluetooth speakers in pockets that went over his ears and her’s seemed to be all of a single piece with the rest of her suit, just red over her head, down her neck and on her shoulders. He thought the red portion made a sort of V-neck but the way she was lying and looking down at him he couldn’t get a good look.
He smiled up at her. “See? Nothing to worry about. I’m Europa Nick. Or just Nick. Europa Nick is what I post as on my blog.”
Her fascinating golden eyes widened even more. Full red lips parted and the corners twitched as if she was going to smile.
Seeing it, Nick smiled. All just friends here. “What’s your name?”
She seemed to consider for a moment and then in a sweet, almost musical voice, she said, “Vibeke.”
He couldn’t place her accent, he didn’t have an ear for accents the way some people did, but it was something European.
“That’s good. Vibeke.” He chuckled. People always told him he had a nice laugh. Full, and deep. A real belly laugh when he heard a good joke. “I guess we could consider this a sort of first contact, couldn’t we?”
She kept just watching him.
His dad’s pugs were little food hogs who loved their treats. Dad used to train them with little bits, proving the phrase, eating out of his hand. Maybe something like that might work here.
Nick held up his free hand and then pointed at the small kitchen area just beneath the loft. “Would you like some hot chocolate? The stove is propane.”
He didn’t want to use the compact rocket stove right now and heat up the cabin more. The stove could make cocoa without heating the place up too much.
Her head tilted the other way. Exactly like Dad’s pugs. Clara, in particular always did that back and forth head tilt. Since Vibeke didn’t look alarmed — possibly she didn’t understand him — Nick took a small step forward.
She watched him but didn’t act fearful. He smiled again. “I’ll take that as yes.”
He took the four more steps that it took to walk across the small space to the kitchen area beneath the loft. She made a soft sound, an intake of breath, but he didn’t stop or pay any attention. Presumably she would feel safer anyway without him in between her and the door.
The kitchen didn’t have much space and it was even tighter still wearing the suit and holding the helmet. He put that down on the counter with the visor up and angled toward the loft. If she came down it would get a shot of her.
“This is a perfect night for hot chocolate, I think,” he said as he added water and powdered milk to the space pot, and used a match to light the stove burner. “It should be a prerequisite for blizzards, don’t you think?”
He heard movement and looked over. She was hanging upside down over the edge of the loft, just her shoulders and head, watching him. Her golden eyes moved rapidly to take in the helmet on the counter, the metal sauce pan with the milk on the burner above the blue flames, and the jars mounted to the beam above the sink, then back to him. Her nose twitched, probably smelling the whiff of gas from when he started the burner and the smoke match.
Whoever Vibeke was, wherever she had come from, she was definitely an odd one. His viewers might think that he had hired her to play a role instead of being a genuine surprise and mystery. The helmet cams should have caught his expressions when he first saw her, that would probably be his best argument that it wasn’t all a set up.
He stirred the milk with a rubber spatula. “It won’t take long. Then maybe you’ll come down from there and we can sit down and have a talk.”
It was a pain to still be wearing the suit, with cords from the support pack still connected to the helmet, but stripping down to his under layers right now didn’t seem like the best move. He had to coax her down and find out her story. Figure out where she came from, how she got here in a blizzard, what was with the weird outfit she was wearing, and somewhere in there decide what to do about it all. Call the police? That might be necessary, but there wasn’t any way anyone was getting out here from Fairbanks any time soon. Not until visibility improved.
Maybe by that time he’d know what was going on.