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.
It never got entirely dark on this part of Europa. Even with Jupiter between Europa and the sun, Jupiter itself still cast a bright light on the landscape around them. Nick couldn’t imagine any place he would rather be. The rover sat in the middle of the slight depression in the landscape, a deformed pocket in the ice. Vibeke had informed him that there was a pocket lake beneath them in the ice that trapped upwelling of warmer water, like a pocket of magma back on Earth. With quick gestures she had shown him how to change the holographic displays on his Control Panel to show the sonar images of the lake.
Nick studied the colorful readout that showed a body of water is large as Lake Washington. “What we wouldn’t have given for this sort of technology!” He shook his head. “I feel like I’ve gotten the best Christmas present ever.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Vibeke said, smiling shyly.
“Like it? I love it!”
Despite his efforts to convey what it might be like to explore Europa – back in his tiny space cabin on earth, Europa didn’t look much like Alaska. The landscape outside was worn and weathered with cracks and uneven surfaces. It looked old, and had a grayish lunar sort of color that made it hard to remember that it wasn’t rock outside but ice. At these temperatures ice was as hard as rock. It was the rock of this world. It was only down below, where the tidal flexing in the moon kept the ocean from freezing completely.
“And to top it off, I’m not baked Alaskan.” Nick chuckled at his joke, with a glance to the cameras. It probably wasn’t that funny. He could edit it out before uploading the next video.
Vibeke indulged him with a small smile. “What do you want to do first?”
“We already did that.” Nick said.
“Okay, so what do you want to do next?”
“Next?” Nick looked out at the landscape he had always dreamed of seeing up close.
Far above Jupiter filled the sky with its bulk. They were over four hundred thousand miles away from Jupiter. You’d have to travel around the Earth more than sixteen times to go that far. Even at that distance Jupiter was awfully big. It was hard not to flinch away looking at the gas giant – it felt as if it was falling down to crush them.
“If this were an official expedition we have a long list of science objectives. I can think of a lot of obvious things. We can take pictures, dig core samples, but I’m not a scientist. For that we need the folks that are back home.”
“Then maybe we should ask them?” Vibeke said. She looked up at the camera about the cockpit. “What do you think? Nick is your man on the ground, what do you want him to do, to show you?”
Nick smiled for a moment at the camera giving himself something to work with, then said, “You know we’re not sending live?”
“I know. But now you have something to do. You can edit an introductory video and we can make our offer.”
“You have a point.” Nick pulled himself up out of the cockpit seat. “I guess I’ll go work on that.”
Vibeke waited for him to step into the small kitchen area, then she slid out of her seat. “Great! I think I’ll go back to reading my book.”
This part was much more like being back at home. Nick went back through the kitchen area and pulled out the glass tabletop that hung folded against the wall. He dropped the leg, retrieved his laptop and sat down to work. Vibeke stopped beside him and placed a warm hand on his shoulder. She wasn’t wearing her gloves, and he liked seeing her bare hands.
“Would you like me to make some hot chocolate?”
That part was definitely new. “Yes, thank you, that be great.”
Vibeke stepped back into the kitchen area and Nick tried to focus on his laptop.
It seemed unreal, but he was actually here, on Europa, and as he reviewed the footage captured by the interior and exterior cameras of the rover it all suddenly felt very real. Everything that it happened since the night of the storm had almost seem like a dream, but here was footage taken from the rover’s cameras both above and below showing Europa’s complex topography passing by them, and Jupiter rising over the icy surface. To re-create this, at this high definition level of detail, it would take far more resources than he had. If it was even possible. The footage was like something from a high budget nature documentary, except instead of a helicopter flying over isolated Antarctica, shooting pictures for an IMAX screen, this was taken from a vehicle built by aliens. He zoomed into a close-up of the surface as it passed beneath the rover. The footage showed every wrinkle, every crack, every discoloration and splotch of deposits. He found a small crater where something had struck the ice, sending out radiating cracks and leaving much of meteoric debris embedded like shotgun pellets the surface.
Hollywood wouldn’t have been able to capture this level of detail. The high-altitude stuff, sure, they could’ve made a convincing show of that at least for a few minutes. He had a long stretch of footage as the team had taken their time bringing the rover around and above the surface before landing. One of the things he could do would be to post the full uncut video and show the whole thing without any cutaways from at least two camera views. If he did that, it would be proof enough that the footage was real. There would be thousands of things that people could analyze about the recordings to show that it couldn’t have been faked, not this level of detail, and it would shake up the world. And he could also do a more engaging short cut with Vibeke’s enticing question. It was all going to take him some time.
The delicious aroma of hot chocolate and peppermint pulled him away from the video for a moment. He looked up as Vibeke placed a mug on a saucer on the Apollo 11 coaster. Steam rose from the hot chocolate surface and a peppermint stick stood up in the corner slowly dissolving. He picked it out, sucked the hot chocolate off and put it down on the saucer.
“Thank you. That’s terrific.” He lifted the mug and took a cautious sip of the scalding drink. “Perfect.”
Vibeke walked past him carrying her own saucer and cup, and the Clifford D. Simak book she was reading. She settled down on the padded bench beneath the large portal. Above and behind her the view showed the rising landscape and the dark sky above. Only a few stars stood out shining despite Jupiter’s brilliance.
Vibeke pointed at the laptop. “You need to get back to work.”
Focusing on editing the video, Nick almost felt like he was back home. Yet every time he looked up there was Vibeke reclining comfortably on the bench engrossed in her book, and she definitely wasn’t what he normally saw at home. And there was the Europan landscape right outside his window, harsh and beautiful. Wonderful.
Nick kept working and soon had the footage cut down to size with a minute long video of the opening shot of Europa’s surface with Jupiter rising above. He intercut the exterior shots, the strange crackling energy seen from the cockpit, and Vibeke standing outside at the front to direct the team. He had a great shot of her from the interior. It captured – he hoped – the sense of wonderment found in the best books and movies. Although it was a bit embarrassing, he included footage of himself being afraid that the team was going to hit the ice before they warped out to the surface. It looked genuine and he thought it would play well cameras. For his score he kept the music that he had licensed for his videos. It had that sort of Kubrick epic feeling. The only dialogue in the video was Vibeke smiling knowingly at the camera, and inviting viewers to submit their questions suggestions on what Nick should do. He added usual credit roll.
“Finished,” he said after watching it play one more time.
Vibeke lowered her book. “That’s great, can I see?
He never had someone look at these videos before he uploaded them, it caused some unexpected nervousness, but he nodded. “Of course. That be great.”
Nick picked up his mug of hot chocolate only to discover that it had chilled while he worked. It still tasted sweet and comforting as he took a larger swallow. He put it down and picked up the peppermint stick. He bit off a piece and sucked on it, trying not to feel nervous.
Vibeke placed the ribbon bookmark in her book and set it aside.
She rose from the bench across the small room, every movement graceful. He started to move and she put out a hand to stop him. He thought she would take the seat on the other side of the table, but instead she slid seductively into his lap. She hardly weighed anything, a combination of her small size and the low gravity. With her arm around his shoulders she looked at the laptop, and reached out to press play.
Though her attention was on the video, Nick found himself growing a little uncomfortable – in a good way – with her on his lap. It was a little bit embarrassing, and he did his best to ignore it, although when she wiggled against him he suspected she was doing it on purpose.
The video played, orchestral music swelling majestically as Jupiter rose above the surface and the rover. The bright energy aura from the team flared and twisted in Vibeke’s hands as the flew steadily across the landscape, gradually coming lower. It almost gave the impression that they had landed quickly, but with the cuts to the interior he hoped that it was clear that more time and had passed.
Vibeke watched without comment. Then at the end when on screen she asked the viewers for their ideas, she turned on his lap. She shifted her legs around to straddle him as she pressed herself against him. Her mouth found his and he became very aware of the thin layers of material between them. He was also aware that they were putting on somewhat of a show, if he dared use any of the footage videos to send back to Earth. It might help his ratings and reputation, but he wasn’t sure he was willing to share that much publicly.
The kiss broke and Vibeke pulled back that her eyes met his. “I think it’s perfect.”
Nick was insanely pleased to hear her approval. “You don’t think it needs any more editing?”
Vibeke looked at him with mock horror. “Don’t touch a second! It’s perfect just the way it is.”
“Then you don’t care if I upload it?”
Surprised, Nick nodded. “Be my guest.”
Vibeke lifted her leg and spun around in a very distracting manner. She reached out and quickly opened his YouTube account. She uploaded the video as if she was the one that had done it hundreds of times. Nick watched the upload swiftly complete.
“That’s faster than the connection I had back home.”
Vibeke shrugged, a motion that caused very distracting feelings. “We have an instantaneous connection to a major network hub.”
“So if you wanted to give everyone a wireless instantaneous connection, could you?”
“I don’t know that we’re ready to give away all that,” Vibeke said, smiling. She leaned back against him, reclining her head on his shoulder, and her lips found his neck.
Nick groaned, happily. “You’re driving me crazy.”
“Am I?” Vibeke said, pretending innocence. Vibeke bounced up off his lap and out of his reach. She shrugged as she walked back over to the bench. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She bent over at the waist, exaggerating the motion as she picked up her book.
Nick moved across intervening space in a single quick stride. He grabbed her waist and Vibeke erupted in fit of giggles before she turned in his arms and silenced them with a kiss. Everything after that definitely wasn’t going to be included in footage sent home.
It used to be that he uploaded a video and it would slowly gain views from his dedicated audience. Sometimes he’d get email messages, but not many. Most of those were questions about building spacesuits. A notification chime sounded from his laptop. Then another. And again. Nick propped himself up on his elbow. Vibeke’s fingers trailed along his bare chest.
“Email notifications.” He slid over her off the bench, scooped up his shorts and put them on as he crossed to the table and looked at the laptop. It chimed twice more.
“What is going on?” Vibeke had propped herself up on her elbows.
Nick crossed the laptop. “I’m receiving email.”
There were several unread messages in his inbox. It was very strange to be getting email on Europa. He sat down scroll through the unread messages. “It looks like most of these are from people that watched the video.”
“What do they say?”
Nick looked at the first one. It was the a regular subscriber to his channel, JupiterFan, writing about how amazed he was with the new show, but disappointed that Nick was turning the show away from solid scientific fact to fantasy.
Vibeke snorted when Nick read her the message. “But it’s all real!”
“That might be, but it doesn’t mean anyone is going to believe that.”
“How can they not believe that? Can they really think that you made this all up?”
Nick shook his head. “I knew this would happen, I had planned on uploading the uncut footage from a couple camera angles. Once they see that it’ll be much harder to believe that it isn’t real. There’s enough information in the footage to show it couldn’t be faked.”