TDD Prequel Short – Europa #scifi

May Trace gritted her teeth as she approached Jupiter. The conditions of flying in sub-space made all her muscles tense up, flinching every time she came close to another planet, asteroid or moon. Sub-space certainly had its benefits—like being able to make the trip to Europa in a matter of days rather than the months or even years it would take using a standard engine—but it always gave her agita.

What was I thinking when I signed up for this crap?

Oh yeah, she was thinking her and her best friend, Mila, could fly together. But Mila had been the natural-born pilot, not May. Mila’s lifelong dream had been to become a pilot, not May. May had just tagged along, barely getting by in pilot training while Mila broke all the records.

But she didn’t begrudge the woman she’d always seen as her twin—even if they weren’t related—for being a flying genius. No, what she couldn’t forgive her for was leaving. Mila left, leaving nothing more than a small piece of paper saying she had to go with a phone number at the bottom, saying the number was for emergency use only. May never did call it. She’d been too mad.

She regretted it now, but too much time had passed, and she couldn’t seem to get up the gumption to call. Besides, that “emergency use only” tag always gave her pause.

May wiped her hands on her uniform legs one at a time, afraid to take both hands off the controls at the same time. This was her first real mission, and she was scared to death. Her hands shook, and every time the captain spoke behind her, she jumped.

She slowed to a stop, preparing to pull out of sub-space as Jupiter’s moon, Europa, came into view. The white and clay-colored surface peeked out from behind Jupiter, its stripes wavering and nearly consuming the surface of the little moon because of the way sub-space affected gases. The normally smooth surface of Europa became marred in sub-space, its cracks and streaks raised in the alien laws of physics this other space provided.

May slowed the ship to a halt, and turned in her seat. “Ready to drop out of sub-space, captain.”

The captain, whom she’d forgotten the name of… again, nodded. “Proceed.”

May faced the console once more. She mouthed each step, reciting them in her head as she went. She could feel the laughter the person next to her was trying desperately to suppress, but she tried to ignore it. So what? She was new. She’d only graduated last month.

Finally, she finished the sequence to leave sub-space, and the space outside the ship distorted like some abstract painting, almost making her dizzy. Jupiter sucked back in on itself, once again becoming the solid(ish) planet she’d seen in all those NASA photos, with its horizontal stripes and everything. Europa because separate from the planet, it’s surface smoothing out so that ice and rock played together in perfect harmony.

“Alright, take us down, pilot.”

Clearly, the captain had forgotten her name as well. Maybe it was payback for her calling him just captain. She let out a breath of relief. While sub-space travel could easily push her to an early grave, this she could handle quite nicely, probably in her sleep. Maybe she shouldn’t have finished deep-space qualifications when Mila ran away. She would have been much happier if she hadn’t.

Of course, it could just be a matter of a lack of experience stressing her out. Maybe familiarity would level her out.

She shook her head. Focus. The controls gripped her palms in a reassuring manner, as if they’d been waiting for her to reunite with them again. She accelerated toward the moon’s surface. Within minutes, the moon loomed on the screen in front of her, excluding all else. She slowed, adjusting their angle of descent. Just like landing on the moon. She’d landed on the moon a million times in training. She could do it in her sleep. Just a little less gravity, and a hell of a lot colder.

As she came closer and closer to landing, the glass-smooth surface stretched out before her. Easier than landing on the moon, the moon has craters. She slowed, slowed, slowed, and touchdown, sliding to a stop without so much as a bump. May grinned, sitting a little taller in her seat, proud of the landing.

May looked on in awe. She would be one of the first people to set foot on Europa. The advent of sub-space travel, while making trips to locations in the solar system sometimes easier than traveling on Earth, had diverted humanity’s focus to more distant locales, places that had once been out of mankind’s grasp, which meant they knew about as much about Europa as they had at the turn of the century. They still weren’t certain if only the surface was solid, or if the entire moon was frozen solid.

All around her, her crewmates unstrapped from their seats, and stood up, stretching and getting to business. May started the process of shutting the engines down. Life support worked on a separate power source, one that never got shut off, and had multiple fail safes. When the hum of the engines finally settled into silence, she too stood, stretching out the almost permanent kink in her back she had from entirely too much time flying in sub-space.

By the time she turned away from the console, most people had started pulling on their space suits. The suits didn’t look much like the models from the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Made of a novel polymer, the material held close to the body, protecting it from heat and cold, but flexible and streamlined. May didn’t quite understand how the material managed to block all heat transfer, but it worked, making the inside of the suit always the same temperature as your body.

The material was also part of the reason for this trip. Without it, they would never even consider putting a station on a moon with an average temperature of -276 degrees Fahrenheit. But the material could just as easily be adapted as a coating for a building as it could a fabric for a suit.

May walked to the back of the cockpit, and picked up the suit assigned to her, grateful that the reduced gravity on Europa made the suit a small fraction of its normal weight on Earth. The material worked, but it was dense. She slipped the slick material over her shoulders as everyone else finished snapping their helmets in place. She rushed with sealing the front of the suit, and got the helmet cockeyed twice in her rush to catch up with everyone else. “Ready,” she said, a little out of breath.

Everyone ignored her.

The captain was already punching in the code to open the door. Jeez, he couldn’t wait for me? The door opened smoothly, the sound muffled by the suit. The air inside the ship crystallized as it met the frigid temperatures of Europa. The entire cockpit served as an airlock in this barebones ship, the most compact model to be capable of sub-space travel.

Everyone filed out of the ship. By the time May reached the door, her crew was walking across the lunar surface carefully, testing to make sure the mixture of rock and ice was stable. May took a single step out, reaching behind her to close the door, but her focus was elsewhere.

She’d looked up, where Jupiter loomed like a giant golf ball. She couldn’t help but think of when her parents took her and Mila to Disney for their fifth birthday. It was only supposed to be May, but Mila had looked so sad, and May had thrown a hissy fit. Eventually, Mila’s parents had paid Mila’s way, and they’d both been able to go. When they’d arrived, Mila had taken one look at the Epcot ball, and declared it the giant golf ball. The name had stuck ever since.

May looked back down again, and carefully tackled each step, a breath of anticipation held in her lungs as she placed her foot on Europa. Her foot slipped a little, and she reached out her arms, hoping not to fall. When she regained her balance, she looked up, and smiled.

The captain turned to her, and glared. “Move it, people. We’ve got work to do.”

A group of people, probably from NASA, tapped the ground experimentally, then slammed a device into the solid ice. May flinched, waiting for the ice to splinter around them, but it held firm, and they went about testing density, temperature, and everything else under the sun to determine if the ground was stable.

May walked up to another group, people she knew belonged to the NSS, the military branch dedicated to space. She came to a stop, and one guy slapped a scanner in her hand with a wink.

“Okay,” he said. “You know what to do. Let’s do it.”

May nodded, and brought the scanner out in front of her. The scanner identified elements within a certain range. She’d been charged with searching for metals that would interfere with communications and radar. The NSS wouldn’t endorse or fund the moon station if they couldn’t use it as part of their early warning system, and while NASA would love to have the station as a research base, what with the unique environment and ready supply of water and oxygen, they simply didn’t have the funding to set up the station on their own.

May took large, careful steps, moving slowly, watching her feet pass between patches of clay-colored stone and white ice. The scanner blipped in the background, as calm as a dog laying in the sun, telling her nothing out of the ordinary resided nearby. It was linked wirelessly to the ship, automatically uploading readings, coordinates and times.

Watching her feet, she stepped, fine splintering lines radiating out from her foot. She froze, leaning back onto her other foot, but looking down, the fractures radiated out from that position as well. Her breath halted in her lungs, and she slowly turned, afraid to move more than her neck, looking for a patch of stone nearby.

But no sanctuary rested nearby. Cracks continued to spread, filling in the smooth spaces in between themselves, stretching out to a circle of stone that surrounded her some ten feet out on all sides.

“Help,” she squeaked, hoping the radio in her helmet would pick up the barely spoken word.

“Pilot Trace? Status report.” The captain’s voice barked the words, making her flinch. The ice cracked just a fraction more beneath her feet. The area around her feet resembled a spider web.

She closed her eyes, praying for strength, courage, her nice, comfy pilot’s chair. “The ice cracked around me.”

Someone cursed over the radio.

“Okay, everyone stop what you’re doing. Benson, get rope from the ship. Everyone else, get to Trace. And be careful.”

May prayed they would run. She didn’t know how long her heart could hold out. Fear surged through her, making a fine tremble develop all over. What if she fell through? What if there was an undercurrent? Oh God, I’m gonna die.

“Hang in there, Trace,” the captain said. “I’m right behind you.”

She slowly turned, seeing the captain standing on the stone ring behind her. She tried to smile, but couldn’t quite manage.

God, what would happen to the rest of them is she died? She was the only one with the launch codes to the ship, the only one who could fly it regardless. They would be stuck, trapped until a rescue could be put together.

“This is a great way to start a career,” she said right before the final crack. The ground gave out beneath her, and she screamed. Water surged over her head, and she tried to swim, but the suit dragged her under. Panic sent her breath into shallow gasps, even though the suit allowed her to breath.

I’m sinking. Oh God, I’m sinking. I’m going to die, buried in the middle of this God-forsaken rock!

She scrambled to get back to the surface, but the surface just grew farther and farther away. As panic overcame her, the edges of her vision grew dim, and she passed out.


Benson finished clipping the line to his suit as a line of people grabbed the other end. The captain had silenced everyone, but panic still hung in the air. He jumped in, and looked around, but saw no sign of their pilot. Benson swam deeper, pushing himself down, down, but still nothing. He looked around, silently daring Trace to show herself. But she was gone.

No, no, no. He liked Trace. Sure, she seemed nervous as hell, but he remembered how it was when he first started. Training never really prepared you for the real deal, and Trace seemed to be handling it pretty well.

He dived deeper, pushing himself farther and farther, hoping he would have enough rope, hoping that the coating on the rope would hold. The non-conducting thermal sealant had never been tested to these extremes before.

Up ahead, a vague shape came into view. He surged forward, and the outline of a helmet became defined. “I see her. I’m almost there.” He reached out, reached. “Gotcha.” He grabbed her arm. “Pull us up.”

“Roger, Benson. Everyone, pull,” and he slowly but surely started drifting back toward the surface.

He pulled Trace to his chest, getting a better grasp on his crewmate.

Time dragged on, the dark water growing gradually brighter. Trace didn’t move, a steady dead weight in his arms. He pushed aside his worry, pushed aside any thoughts of what might be wrong with her. Don’t borrow trouble, buddy. His helmet broke the surface of the water, and he was tempted to suck in a great, big breath, even though he had a steady supply of oxygen in his suit.

The chatter grew as everyone scrambled to pull them out of the water. Trace went first, dragged out of the water, and laid on her back on the ice. He tried, but couldn’t lift himself out of the water on his own. Several hands grabbed at his suit, and pulled him the rest of the way out. He took a moment to recover, then turn on his side and looked over at Trace, who still lay still on her back.

Benson crawled over, looking into her helmet for the first time since she fell through the ice. “She hasn’t moved since I found her.”

Captain Alexander called out several names. “Grab Trace. Bring her back to the ship. And be careful. We don’t know what type of injury she might have sustained, and we don’t know what parts of this rock are stable.”

Benson slowly stood, assisted by a couple of others who hadn’t been assigned to helping Trace.

“You think she’ll be okay?” one of them mused.

He didn’t know, and he didn’t speak. He just started walking, following the others.


May woke up, launching in to a seated position.

“Easy now, Trace. Lay down.”

She looked over at the speaker, the details coming to her by degrees. She was laying in a bed, cabinets covered every wall, and a single man stood over her, watching her as if she were a bomb ready to explode. Then her memory seemed to kick in, a lightning strike to her psyche. “I feel through the ice.” Her voice sounded soft, almost reverent.

He nodded. “You gave us quite a scare.” He started examining her. “Do you remember sustaining any injuries? Hit anything?”

She shook her head. “I think I just had a panic attack.”

He smirked at her. “Not the best place for a panic attack.”

“No, but then, I had no way of saving myself, so it didn’t really matter, now did it?”

“No, I imagine it didn’t.” He stepped back. “Well, you seem right as rain. Rest some. Captain Alexander has everyone taking more readings while you recuperate, then we’ll be taking off, if you feel up to it.”

Captain Alexander. That’s what his name was. She nodded at the medic. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Shaky as all get-out, but she would manage somehow. She did not look forward to flying in sub-space.

“Some way to start a career,” she mumbled.


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