Chapter 1: The New Mission
Friday July 21, 2056
From the port window of the White-Bull-2 science vessel’s command deck, Lieutenant Commander Patrick Turkovitch is awing at the sight of the fifth planet from the Sun as it is growing larger and larger. He of course knows that Jupiter is the largest planet within the solar system but that knowledge had not prepared him for such a breathtaking sight. Jupiter is two and a half times as massive as all the other planets of the solar system combined, and to say it is huge is an understatement.
The ship is close enough now to observe the motion of the volatile atmospheric bands and the circulation of the great red spot with the naked eye. There are colorful wavy cloud patterns and a lot of white oval storms all over the great gas giant. The moons of Jupiter are also becoming visible as they make their approach. He can see Callisto in its distant orbit and can now see Ganymede which is also in a very distant orbit around the planet.
Turkovitch leans his head closer to the window, as if those extra few millimeters will help him see his next target closer, and he squints.
“I see it, I see it!” he shouts. He whips his head around to the seven other crew members and says it again, “I see it… I see Europa,” as if he were an early pioneer yelling “land-ho!”
“Great! Then we haven’t wasted a trip coming out here,” he hears the deep booming voice of the mission commander declare.
That hint of mockery brings him down a bit from his euphoria and he composes himself. After all, he has been to and walked on Mars; seeing a moon shouldn’t get him that worked up – although he remembers being pretty excited about his Mars approach as well. Plus it has been two years since that mission and he hasn’t been beyond the Earth’s moon again until now. That silly curse is the farthest thing from his mind; it is just a running joke based on a very long run of bad luck. He knows this mission will be different – how much bad luck can the Global Space Organization have anyhow? The GSO has actually had generally great success. All the Mars missions went flawlessly.
Lieutenant Commander Turkovitch is young to be second in command of a mission like this. He is actually the youngest member on board, two years younger than the junior officer, Lieutenant Mark Tucker. Turkovitch is a boyishly handsome man with gelled jet black hair that he combs back and over. He is sporting sideburns down to his earlobes and usually goes with the unshaven look (a full beard would hide his cleft chin.) While he is almost 30 he is still a boy at heart, sometimes a goofball, sometimes oblivious, normally a daredevil, but always charming. He tries to find humor in all situations even though that doesn’t always work so well as an astronaut. But he is also extremely smart, has a memory like an elephant, is very physically fit, and is quick on his feet; which does work out very well for an astronaut.
Turkovitch wipes the condensation off the port window caused by his breath as he continues to gaze at Jupiter and Europa. Europa is slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon and is primarily made of silicate rock with a surface composed of ice. It has a weak atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Certainly not enough oxygen to breathe however, so a protective suit is needed at all times to provide the adequate oxygen/nitrogen mix, body pressure, and protection from the massive amount of radiation that Jupiter bombards Europa with.
“Jeez,Patrick… Let me see!”
Turkovitch jumped a bit as he is startled out of his gazing trance by the voice of Doctor Juliana Evans, PhD. Thirty Four year old Doctor Evans is a mission specialist – a scientist. He turns to look at the slender handsome woman walking his way, with her red hair that is just long enough to slightly rest on her shoulders. A few freckles are scattered on her high cheeks but she tries to conceal them with makeup. He can’t understand why she tries to conceal them as he rather likes the freckles. The Lieutenant Commander slides over to let her get a glimpse.
“Which one is it Patrick,” she asks as she brushes her red hair away from her left eye and tucks it behind her ear, “I see three… four…no, five of her moons.”
“If you look closer you can see even more of her moons, but just to the right of Jupiter is Europa… right there,” he points to a bright coin-sized dot while placing a hand on her shoulder.
“Jeez… what a beautiful sight,” Evans beams, then says with a slight snicker, “It doesn’t look cursed to me!”
She turns to look at him and says with a big smile and a laugh, poking him in the cleft of his chin, “Jeez, I bet you can’t wait to get out on all that ice with the rover and do some doughnuts,” remembering a story he once told her about trashing his car in an icy parking lot.
“Ju-li-ana,” he slowly replies with a sound of shock, and then continues with a straight face trying to sound all official, “that would not be the proper use of expensive GSO equipment. Now if it is a bit slick down there and she slides around a bit… well what can you do?” he concludes slightly under his breath with a little laugh.
Doctor Evans is not your typical astronaut; she is on this mission due to her expertise and experience with aquatic and macrobiotic life forms which is what she hopes to find on the moon. She has been on many deep sea expeditions on Earth, exploring the bottom of the oceans for new and exotic life forms down there. She was formerly married to another scientist and they have two children together; Sean who is 10, and Mary who just turned 13. She and her husband divorced amiably three years ago. She has not seen any of them for over four months and she misses her kids very much. Even though she and the crew have only been on this ship for twelve days, they spent three and a half months completing their training on the Cygnus Space Station in orbit around Earth.
Turkovitch and Evans have developed a good friendship the last few months of working together; actually they have become a little more than ‘friends’ the past three weeks or so. He thinks it is kind of a strange friendship (or relationship, if he would admit to that) as he has found himself talking with her about almost anything. Stuff he wouldn’t normally discuss with his guy friends and never any of the girlfriends he has had in the past, although he’s never had a girlfriend for much more than a month. It seems Juliana makes him feel comfortable discussing any topic or even sharing his most secret dreams and desires with her without a fear of judgment or mockery. She will even listen to him rant about the latest comics and how they don’t compare to the classic comics of the 20th century.
They have had even longer conversations during their twelve day voyage as there isn’t much else to do; and you can only spend so many hours playing GSO approved video games, reading comics, and watching video entertainment programs. Plus being a small ship they’ve had to refrain from being ‘more than friends’ since they embarked on this trip, which has become harder and harder as the days go on. They have been hiding their relationship from the rest of the crew… but pretty much everyone can sense their vibes.
Even with the age difference, and the fact that she is divorced with children, there is a strong attraction that he can’t quite figure out. He usually goes for the young blond or brunette co-ed types, which are easy to come by being a famous astronaut that walked on Mars and all! But he has never been with anyone that makes him feel the way he does with Juliana. He has never been in love, not even close; he thinks he may be close now and that scares him a bit. It is just the way she makes him open up, the way she always calls him by his first name when no one else does, the way she looks at him with those big blue eyes when they talk, the way she laughs and strokes her soft red hair at the same time, the way she is always tapping him on the shoulder when making a point about something, even the way she says ‘Jeez’ all the time. Maybe some of it has to do with the fact that this caught him completely by surprise. This was just a work colleague who became a good friend.
Even though she is very beautiful he never planned on anything but a platonic professional friendship. He’s worked with many other pretty women who became great friends but never pursued anything beyond that. He liked to keep his personal life and relationships, personal, and his work relationships strictly professional. But this was different, something he’s never felt before, something he couldn’t control, nor-she it would seem either.
Evans continues, “So… how long until we reach orbit?”
“We still have about two hours,” Commander Hicks injects from behind and then continues; “Turk, Glover, and Tucker; come here please, I’d like to review the approach plan one last time to make sure we are all on the same page.”
Most people have been calling Patrick Turkovitch by the name Turk since he was in grade school. He doesn’t mind and actually likes the nickname. It is much better that being called ‘Pat’ in his opinion.
Commander Jason Hicks prefers to be called just ‘Hicks,’ or ‘Commander’ will do also. He is an opposing man with his deep voice and solid six foot two frame. He almost wasn’t allowed in the space program because of his height but allegedly crouched down just enough to be measured at six-one. He is 44 and in great shape. He is normally very serious and meticulous about details, a no-nonsense kind of a guy. When he talks, people listen.
Hicks also visited Mars a few years back during the first ever manned landing mission to the planet. He however did not walk on the surface as it was his job to remain in the orbiting command module. He had hoped to return for a chance to put his own footprints in the red soil but it didn’t pan out. However, in less than 24 hours he will be the first man to set foot on any of Jupiter’s moons. He doesn’t believe in the Europa Curse (at least that’s what he tells himself – that’s nonsense) and he is looking forward to that first historic step that will put his name in the history books.
The command module officer on this mission is 31 year old Lieutenant Mark Tucker who will be in command of White-Bull-2 while Hicks and the rest of the landing crew go down to the surface of Europa. This is Tucker’s second visit to a moon as he spent six months working on the construction of the Tranquility Moon Base on Earth’s Moon back in 2050. He is a technical wiz which is critical in the event of any malfunctions during their trip; which his friends joke will be important on any trip to the cursed moon of Europa!
Turk gives Juliana a smile and a wink, then brushes his hand across her back as he moves away to join the others. The three pilots crowd around various computer display panels with Hicks to look at all the trajectory data and discuss the plan, even though they all know it by heart.
Doctor Evans returns her gaze back through the window, back onto Europa. She can’t wait to get down onto the surface to explore. Her thoughts drift and she imagines deep sea diving in Europa’s ocean. At first she thinks it would be cool if she could actually explore down there in person, in the ocean below the ice, instead of letting a robotic probe have all the fun. But realistically she knows she would be scared to death to do so. Even diving in Earth’s oceans is scary to her sometimes, even though she’s done it many times. But to go diving in pitch dark waters, of which we know nothing about; she realizes that would not be fun after all. She thinks she is too much of a coward of the unknown. Maybe it’s good to let the exploration probe have all the fun! This time at least.