Europa Calling

by Tiffany Smith

Everyone in Mission Control was indeed anxious, but the mood, if summed up in a single phrase, would have been, ‘cautiously optimistic’. Judith Levi was simply too excited to take her Chief Controller seat in Mission Control. She listened to the insertion messages coming in over the com standing up. 

“Mission Control, this is Daedalus Prime, we are standing by to initiate the separation sequence. How do you copy?” 

“Daedalus, you are a go for your primary separation sequence. Good luck Commander,” the Capcom controller replied. The voice on the other end of that long transmission was that of Commander Steven Raven, who along with his co-pilot, Major Valerie Erskine, were about to be the first humans to descend to the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The senior Navy commander and his Marine Corps pilot had just released from their docking port underneath the gigantic Daedalus mother ship. They were piloting the Daedalus ‘squid’ as it was called, the two-person shuttle pod that was taking them to a pre-designated location on the frozen icey surface. In the background, Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, dwarfed everything else in the vicinity.

***

Aboard the Squid, the two pilots wrestled control of the vehicle to move it toward its targeted landing location, but for some reason, the controls were sluggish. 

“Mission Control, this is Daedalus One, we are experiencing some sluggishness in the controls. Can you initiate a full-spectrum diagnostic of the squid for our records? We’ll check our on-board control surfaces,” Steven communicated. 

“Roger that Daedalus One, Control copies. Standing by.” The squid rocked back and forth, feeling more like a car that was sputtering and backfiring rather than a multi-million dollar spacecraft with finely precisioned instruments. 

“Well, rack one up for the history books. Regardless of what happens today, we are the first humans to land on any of the moons of Jupiter,” Valerie said to Steve, but her comment echoed everywhere in Mission Control as well. Everyone agreed. 

After several tense minutes of waiting and watching, the first images of the Squid on the surface lit up the room-sized monitor in Mission Control. The Squid crew were in the final stages of their post-flight check when the acknowledgment came over the com. 

“Mission Control. This is Daedalus Two. We are happy to report that we have landed safely on the surface of Europa in Jupiter orbit,” Valerie offered. Her voice reverberated all throughout the entire NASA building, since everyone in Mission Control and otherwise, was listening to the historic announcement. A large round of applause arose within Mission Control.  

“Control, it will take us about thirty minutes to suit up for our extra-vehicular activity. In the meantime, please feel free to upload our requested diagnostics to the main and Squid computers. We’ll review the results when we are back on-board the squid,” Steven transmitted.

***

Aboard the mother ship, Lieutenant Commander David Spitzer and Air Force Captain Daisy Arnheim ran their spectrum analysis experiments, examining all of the elements and compounds their ship’s sensors registered. Daisy was looking through the ship-to-surface imagizer which gave her a magnified view of everything on the surface. 

“Initiating ship-to-ship communications. One, this is Four, I’m picking up organic material below the surface at 3.5 meters depth. It’s fuzzy, so I can’t see clearly what it is. The coordinates on your digital maps are grid location A7, B9. How do you copy?” Daisy inquired. David went from his command station to Daisy’s to observe what she was seeing. 

“Hummmmm, that is really odd. There were no prior indications of any organic compounds from the pre-flight mission.” 

“I agree, but do you confirm my readings?” She asked. 

“Confirmed. Those are organic compound readings.” Steven and Valerie listened on their end of the com and made notes of the transmission from the mother ship. 

“One copies,” he said. 

“Two copies,” she echoed.

***

Later, as Steven and Valerie were walking for the first time on the surface of the icy moon. They set up equipment to measure the thickness, density, and exact composition of the surface, and a drill to slowly penetrate into and through the ice crust. As they were moving around, they were careful not to leave anything lying about. It was Valerie’s job actually, since they had received very strict and unending training about not contaminating any planetoid surfaces. When they finally had a chance to move to the grid coordinates relayed to them from the mother ship, they both stopped in their tracks. The ship might not have been able to see clearly through the ice, but they could see with unerring clarity. 

“Suit cameras on,” Steven called out. His voice communicated both shock and fear. 

“Transmitting,” Valerie replied. 

“Control, we have a problem,” Steven began. 

“What? What kind of problem?” Judith in Mission Control asked, realizing that there was no such thing as minor problems on off-world missions. 

***

When the images finally became visible both aboard the mother ship and in Mission Control, everyone was partly mystified and partly horrified. What they could see through the ice were four human bodies. Two naked men and two naked women, all apparently human.

Tiffany Smith is a Queer woman of color, U. S. veteran, who writes fiction short stories, non-fiction essays, screenplays, novels, poetry, and reconditioned well-known, European fairy tales into those with African-American, Native-American, Hispanic American, or Asian-American tints. She is an avid supporter of the Disabled, Academically At-Risk, and LGBTQ+ communities. She lives in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware where she writes prolifically and dreams without cease.

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