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Europa Ocean World
by Gordon Rowlinson
This reminds me of ice fishing, said Peterson.
Come on, I said.
Yeahevery January, my brothers and I used to cut holes in our lake in Minnesota and ice fish. Our mission here is to cut a hole in the ice on Europa.
I smiled. Peterson could be a fun guy to work next to. This was my first command and I was proud to be the first man on Europa. This moon of Jupiter has always been a mysterious little world. A surface of frozen ice covers the entire surface of the moon. Yet underneath the ice is a massive, hidden salt water ocean. A year earlier, a robot probe had drilled through the 1 kilometer thick ice and briefly explored the upper depths of the hidden ocean before an unknown malfunction caused loss of contact. Our mission on Europa was to drill through the ice, take water samples and lower a diving bell probe into the lower depths of the ocean.
Under the giant, colorful planet of Jupiter dominating the dark sky, I was aware that the powerful planet was bombarding us with a steady onslaught of deadly proton particles. Only the lander's artificial magnetic field was protecting the landing area and keeping us alive. As we stepped down the lander's metal stairs in our environmental suits, I got a disturbing premonition about what we were about to do. We were exploring something never seen before by human eyes. What mysteries would we find under the ice in this strange and hostile world? Should we leave whatever is down there undisturbed? I forced back the illogical premonition and continued down to the icy moon surface.
We left McNair in the lander and did a low-gravity shuffle to a flat spot 50 yards away. I decided that this was a good spot to drill and we set up a steel tripod and mounted the portable drill under it. I firmly anchored the legs of the tripod into the Europa ice while Peterson powered up the ice drill.
The drill was quick. In two hours we managed to cut a narrow hole a kilometer deep in the alien ice and reached mysterious ocean below. We lowered a sonar device into the icy water below and discovered the hidden ocean was an incredible 100 kilometers (62 miles) deep. I took several water samples to take back to NASA's quarantined Mars colony lab for analysis.
Methodically, we began the process of lowering the diving bell probe from the tripod into the ice hole and the ocean below. The diving bell probe would make a video record, record temperature readings and take several deep water samples. It was at two kilometers deep that we got the surprise of our lives. As I looked at the video, I was stunned to see plankton-like creatures drifting with the prevailing current. We had just discovered extraterrestrial life.
Take a look, I said to Peterson. He moved to the viewer and for the next 25 minutes we both looked ontoo excited to speak.
I see something else now, said Peterson. Is that an eel?
Yes. The probe is at five kilometers and we are seeing bigger creatures. We are at 40 degrees now. There must be geological heat warming the water the lower we go down. We both watched in amazement at the fish-like creatures.
Then it happened. A dark shadow crossed the path of the video camera. I watched in horror and awe at what appeared to be huge jaws opening and enveloping the diving bell probe.
Before I could finish, the cable on the tripod went wild. The thing below had grabbed the diving bell probe and was pulling out what cable was left. Soon the cable reached the end and the tripod broke and fell down the hole. We still had the sonar so I moved to the sonar and checked the readings.
There is a massive thing on the sonar moving upwards towards us. It's at four kilometers from us.
Those jaws looked huge. That thing must be big as a whale.
Now it's at three kilometers.
Why is it coming at us? Peterson whined.
It's only two kilometers meters away and it's coming up fast! I grabbed one of the water samples and started to move to the lander. I turned to tell Peterson to run, but he was already ahead of me.
McNair! Start the engines! We need an emergency takeoff! I yelled into the radio.
It takes 20 minutes to go through the checklist, McNair said from the lander.
Forget the checklist, you fool! We need takeoff in 60 seconds! I said.
It was frighteningly hard to move fast in low gravity. But we rapidly galloped and shuffled in low gravity to the lander. Peterson was already in the hatch when I reached the stairs. Regretting not working more on my 40-yard dash times in high school, I scampered up the stairs.
Standing at the air lock hatch, I stopped for a moment. Like the crazy urge to look at a dead, bloody animal at the side of the highway, something weird made me look back at the drilling site. A huge, black, hellish-looking arm or tentacle reached out of the hole in the ice. The thing's appendage had to be one kilometer long to reach up through the ice hole! How big was this monster? The thing below clumsily swept the area where we had been standing and pulled the sonar, the drill and the remaining water samples into the hole. In horror, I stepped back and slammed the hatch shut.
I felt an immediate sense of relief when our lander's engines fired and we rose off the surface of Europa. Did we somehow anger the thing below? Was it curious? Was it looking for food? I pondered these unanswerable questions. We had just lost equipment worth millions of dollars. But we escaped with one of the water samples and, more importantly, our lives.
What was down there that spooked you guys? said McNair. His dark, firm hands were piloting us higher and higher above the ocean world.
Some...thing, I replied. Let's just say, if you are looking for extraterrestrial life, you should be careful what you wish for. I sat down and buckled myself in. Peterson mumbled something about ice fishing and started laughing uncontrollably.
What the hell are you laughing about? I said. Both McNair and I looked at Peterson quizzically.
Was that the one that got away, or are we the ones who got away? he asked.
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