Black Box

By Kevan Manwaring

Paradigms collide in this gripping journey beyond the limits of cosmos and consciousness.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Europa Survey Base

Commander Boone killed the engine on the skiddoo and gazed back at the base, a sense of pride filling her. The complex of hexagonal units resembled a carbon ring. The designers had coded into its architecture the building blocks of life. An apt structure for the Europa Survey Base and its search for life on Jupiter’s apparently bleakest of moons. For that to be a sustainable search the crew, vulnerable to the ever-present gas giant’s intense radiation, needed to be protected, hence the huge magnets situated around the base’s perimeter creating a shield, a mini-magneto-sphere as Massimo pointed out. It was critical this was kept on full power at all times, hence these routine maintenance checks. She could have got one of the drones onto it, of course, but she liked to get outside now and then. Being on the base, and before that, in the supply ship, for month’s at a time, was enough to drive anyone stir crazy.

Of course, she had been rigorously tested and trained to endure such conditions – her psychological profile demonstrated she had the right temperament to lead a team under such conditions, the ultimate long-haul.

Her parents had raised her to be like that on their solar farm in Colorado, instilling in her values of self-sufficiency, resilience, respect and gratitude that have stayed with her ever since.

And as she gazed over the base, she breathed a silent prayer of thanks that they had all made it, and she had been given this opportunity to lead perhaps the most important mission in human history.

Not bad for the daughter of climate refugees from Trinidad – who, by a strange quirk of fate ended up in Trinidad, Colorado harvesting sunlight. The Refugee Act and the science scholarship had transformed the narrative of her life from disaster to success story – she was lauded as a shining example of New America, reborn from the ashes of its own wars.

As she unloaded the maintenance pack by the first shield-gen, she stopped to take in the view again.

She was determined not to get used to it, not to take it for granted.

As her pa was fond of saying whenever they were out on the land, fixing the panels after a dust-storm, ‘The mountains took a long time to grow, take some time taking them in. You’ll learn alot, just by looking.’

The view was beautiful in a stark way.

The ice-shelf the base was dug into extended twenty five clicks in every direction – a pale cracked Petri dish – for the dark rim of the far distances reminded her that they had settled in the Pwyll crater, one of the deepest and widest on the moon.

Overlooking, all the massive presence of Jupiter, looking down upon the ice-scape, its Great Red Spot and vibrant bands of super-storms contrasting with Europa’s almost monochrome billiard ball.

And beyond the gas giant, the Via Lactea of the Milky Way strewn luxuriously across the sky, a feather boa glistening with stars.

Boone breathed in the cold majesty of it all. How did Buzz Aldrin describe the moon during that first historic landing a century ago: beautiful desolation.

Somewhere out there: Earth – a fragile island in a vast and indifferent universe.

Looking back at the base, she admired its engineered geometry – the inner ring of Command Modules, lit up against the dark; and attached to them in ‘spokes’, the outer modules: Living; Sleeping; Generator and Plant; Science 1 and 2. Each hexagonal segment casting its frail pool of light out into the night. The base sat in the bowl that had been gouged out by the tractors. Their fleet of vehicles remained dormant, sno-cats, skiddoos, tractors, cranes and maintenance vehicles, awaiting use. Nearby stood the mining tower, lights blinking in the void, where drilling had been underway for several weeks, the cryobot cooling after slowly melting its way down to the subterranean ocean. And in its launch chute, the large hulk of the submersible was ready to descend – the maintenance drones undertaking final checks.

When news of the breach came through the team had gone wild.

Finally, all their hard work was coming to fruition and the next phase of the mission could begin.

Lake felt a fierce pride burning in her breast.

From the central comms tower, which rose between the nest of modules, a frozen flag of Planet Earth – an inverted blue triangle amid a circle of nine stars upon a green background – and the International Space Agency.

It was a small kingdom, but it was her’s.

As she checked on each of the shield-gens, Boone found herself thinking back to the last time she had seen her parents, back on the solar farm…

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