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.
Standing on what had been the rear wall of the space cabin, Nick gazed out the porthole with growing wonder.
The sun was coming up. The shaking and rattling of the cabin was decreasing. The sound of the wind rushing past faded. And outside the large round porthole the curve of the planet arced below him with the sun coming up over the limb. The wonder of it pushed back the fear and he had a moment to think it was all worth it, for this moment.
How Vibeke and her friends had done this, how any of it was possible, he couldn’t say.
“Sunrise over planet earth,” he said. “I’ve seen pictures and videos from space missions, from the International Space Station, but none of that compares with seeing it with my own eyes.”
It was also beginning to get very bright and he first squinted, then raised his hand to shield against the light. When that didn’t help he reached up and pulled down his sun visor over the transparent bubble of his helmet. The filter was just like the ones that were used on space missions and it did a fantastic job of filtering the intense sunlight.
The view outside began to rotate and the acceleration ceased.
Nick whooped and scrambled for the wall as his feet floated off the wall beneath him. As the cabin continued to rotate the loose objects in the cabin also took flight. A silvery mug still in the cabin floated up in front of him. Scattered pillows. Books that had come free from the shelves tumbled through the air.
Nick was drifting, both exhilarated and terrified by the sense of weightlessness, unable to shake the sense that he was falling. He caught the edge of the porthole and pulled himself closer until he pressed his helmet against the glass.
Foggy jets sprayed out into space like mini-geysers from the seams of the space cabin, catching the sunlight. And those were just the ones he could see.
“Folks, this is a huge problem. The space cabin is fairly air-tight and insulated, but it is leaking air. I built it as a demonstration habitat on Earth – it’s not designed to operate in an airless environment!”
There was no way to patch this. Nothing that he could do to prevent the space cabin from bleeding out all of its trapped air.
He checked his suit readout. “My suit is more functional, but the batteries are dying. I might have thirty-minutes left for the suit’s systems to operate.”
He managed a weak smile for the cameras. “This is Europa Nick. I’m not signing off yet, but I won’t have much longer. I —”
The lights came on.
Nick looked around in the brighter cabin. “The main lights are on. But there’s no way that the generator —”
Then he got it. “My solar panels! The snow was cleared off as the space cabin was hauled up into orbit and now the solar panels are catching the sunlight to power systems! That gives me a chance.”
He took a deep gulp of air and shoved off the wall beside the porthole. He spun and drifted across the room, knocking books and floating pens and an Apollo 13 coaster out of his path.
The laptop tumbled in a lazy circle in front of the closet wall bookcase. Nick caught it and then braked his motion on the wall with his other hand and feet. The screen showed his desktop and the recording app catching his golden visor hiding within his face within the helmet.
Since he wasn’t looking directly out the porthole any longer, he flipped up the visor and looked into the camera.
“I’m going to try to recharge while I have the chance to move around. It won’t increase my air reserves, but it will give my suit batteries more operating time.”
He held onto the laptop and pushed off with his feet.
His aim was off as he drifted up to the loft space. It looked very small as he got closer. He caught the blankets floating at the end of the loft opening and caught the edge of the loft. The blankets floated in the triangular space. He held onto the lip at the edge of the loft and shoved the laptop and the blankets ahead of him. As the space cleared he pulled himself up into the pocket. There wasn’t a lot of room but that made it easier to move since he could easily reach the sides. He kept moving into the loft, pushing blankets out of the way until he got his feet up and braced his boots between the board that formed the lip and the slanted roof. His perspective shifted and it seemed like he was lying on his back in the loft, looking up at the twin portholes on each side of the ceiling like he had so many times before.
The sky outside was featureless and black, any stars washed out by the sunlight. Nick was transfixed by the view, by the endless expanse that he had imagined so many times.
He was weightless, in space, looking into infinity!
Glittering bits of icy fog drifted around the space cabin outside as if to remind him that it was continuing to bleed out the last bits of atmosphere.
“Folks, that view is incredible,” Nick said. “I wish these videos would somehow get back home so you could see it, even if it isn’t the same as seeing it with your own eyes.”
The rotation brought up the limb of the planet again with sunlight streaming through the thin band of atmosphere clinging to the planet. Green aurora danced like eerie spirits across the atmosphere. He’d seen them from the ground, but this was different watching them spill across the atmosphere and shift and move like a living thing.
“I wish I had more time,” he said. “I’m going to plug in the support pack and hopefully charge the batteries from the solar panels.”
He reached back to the side of the support pack, awkwardly since the suit was stiff. It had ballooned around him, he realized, as the pressure in the space cabin had dropped.
“I’m having difficulty. The suit has stiffened as the space cabin has lost atmosphere. The air in my suit has caused it to balloon up, which is good I guess. It means that the pressure is holding.”
Though wearing the clumsy gloves he found the ring on the support pack and pulled it, opening a panel. With that open he got a grip on the black power cord inside and pulled it out, plugging the end into an outlet in the ceiling of the loft. He’d put that there so that he could plug in the laptop, phone or other devices while sitting up in the loft.
He checked the readout on his wrist panel. Charge was down to thirty percent, but the charging indicator blinked a bright green light. The solar panels were getting some power at least.
“I’m getting a charge light. That’s something at least. I haven’t had a chance to test my spacesuit under airless conditions, but if it doesn’t spring a leak, the extra charge will help maintain my life-support a little longer. At least until the air scrubbers give out.”
Nick trailed off. How long could he really have? Already the sounds outside his suit had quieted. He heard his own breathing, the hissing of the suit vents, and little else. He tasted a hint of peppermint and chocolate when he licked his rough lips. Through the portholes above him, in front of him, the view continued to rotate between the endless black sky and the planet, but the fog of escaping air was gone.
He didn’t see any sign of Vibeke or whatever was used to yank his space cabin up into orbit. Whatever it was, it must be ahead of him.
There was another window, up under the eaves at the far end of the loft. It was a square window with triangular windows on each side of that, and sat above the big windows that made up the front end of the space cabin. From outside it looked like the cab of the planetary rover and the loft was an extra high look-out from which he could survey the landscape. The trouble was that he couldn’t twist around easily to see out of those windows. The bulky suit and stiff helmet restricted his movement. He couldn’t lay on his stomach and brace himself on his elbows the way he might if he wasn’t in the suit.
Then he realized that there might be another way. He was weightless, after all. All he needed was enough of an angle.