Snowfall on Enceladus

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Fem-Fan-Sci-Fi
On this treacherous and alien moon, she had to find her father. She just had to.

Submitted: December 19, 2013

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Submitted: December 19, 2013

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The geyser erupted just as they passed overhead.

“That was pretty close, Dad!” Valerie Stinson called out, as she monitored the echo location sensor that scanned the surface of Enceladus.

“Don’t you like living life on the edge, Val?” Edward Stinson jokingly called back to his daughter, as he delitcaly piloted the orbital probe.

“Was that a rhetorical question?” Valerie joked back, but she knew one had to be very cautious flying so low over the icy surface of one of Saturn’s largest moons.

The sporadic eruptions of the geysers, a result of Saturn’s massive gravitational pull that would bend Enceladus enough out of shape to produce internal friction melting its core. In return, the frictional pressure would create ice geysers that sent ice crystals jetting up and away from its surface.

Valerie knew that should one of the larger chunks of crystal strike their probe, then scratch one father-daughter team of astro-geologists.

“Hey sweetie,” Stinson called out, “tear your attention away from that sensor screen and take a look outside!”

Valerie glanced forward to see what her dad was talking about.

The ice crystals, illuminated by the reflected light of Saturn above, appeared to sparkle like a throng of fireflies fluttering in the pitch black sky.

“Its beautiful,” Valerie agreed, as she smiled at her father. He had always told her she should take the time to just use her own senses and not always rely on the readings of some electronic instrument, in order to appreciate the majesty and beauty the universe had to offer.

She always considered her father one of those poet-scientists that you’d periodically come across giving a speech at some scientific convention. Valerie could appreciate her father’s philosophy of “just be in the cosmic moment” but she had always been more like “just analyze what your instruments tell you.”

So after taking a moment to see the pretty spectacle before her, she quickly turned her attention back to the sensor screen.

Suddenly, there was a loud thud that echoed throughout the probe’s interior and Valerie could feel the ship violently shake. Warning alerts permeated the cabin, as she heard her father try to shout above the deafening alarms.

“Looks like we took one hell of a hit from a crystal!” Stinson called back to his daughter, who tried to steady herself as the probe began to tumble out of orbit, “engage emergency procedure! I’ll try to regain control!”

Valerie immediately activated her communications headset.

“Cronus! Cronus! This is auxiliary probe one! Had collision with massive ice crystal, trying to regain control of craft. Do you read me??!!”

The static response came haltingly through her headset from their mother ship several thousand miles further up in Enceladus’ orbit.

“….Aux One….Read you….What…is ...position.....status…?!”

Valerie immediately checked the navigation computer’s triangular positioning screen.

“We are approaching coordinates at Ronelvaux Terra North! Repeat! Ronelvaux Terra north! Probe still out of control!”

Valerie tried to hold on as the probe continued to spin counter-clock wise.

“Dad?” she nervously called out, “How we doing?”

She could see her dad struggle with the controls, trying in vain to coordinate the retro firings to slow the spin and regain control over the probe’s X-Y axis.

“Not good, Baby!!” Dr. Stinson called back, “commit emergency procedure!”

Valerie cringed at hearing the three most frightening words any astronaut could ever hear. It meant they were going to have to eject. She immediately took a hold of two stainless steel levers on both sides of her contoured seat and pulled up.

“See you on the surface, sweetie!” Valerie heard her dad say.

“See you, Daddy!!!’” she just managed to reply, as she immediately found herself cocooned inside a polymer pod, then just as quickly heard the chamberatic echo as the ejection rockets tore her escape pod out of the belly of the probe.

The pod had no windows, so Valerie could only feel the reeling motion as the pod at first spun then quickly corrected itself when the orientation rockets automatically kicked in. After what seemed like an eternity of descent did Valerie finally feel the harsh impact as the pod “touched down” upon the surface. She immediately released her safety harness and checked the environmental controls.

Outside temperature: -173 below zero.

Oh how pleasant! Valerie sarcastically thought, as she continued to follow emergency procedure and reached over to pry open a storage unit to grab her space suit. She immediately slipped it over her standard coveralls, reached back into the compartment for the helmet in which she hastily snapped on. Pressing a green button on her right sleeve activated the suit’s portable power chip and oxygen pack.

She deply breathed in the cool metallic scent of the condensed oxygen, then immediately powered down the probe to save its own air supply and heating unit just in case she would have to resort to using it. She then activated the location beacon which used an independent battery system. She figured if she was lucky she wouldn’t have to power the pod back up, that is if Cronus was able to lock on to her coordinates. If.

And if she had to re-power up the pod, then at best she had two hours of heat and air left. Hopefully, Cronus would arrive before then to rescue them. Hopefully. She took another deep breath and punched the exit button. The pod door creakily split apart, as Valerie stepped out of the pod to scope out the situation.

As expected it was snowing. A very fine misty powder of delicate ice crystals, having been ejected by the ice geysers, were being overtaken by Enceladus’s 1 per cent gravity and was slowly falling from the black sky above.

Valerie wiped the ice crystals off her visor and slowly stepped down onto the very fine powdery ice. Her foot sank about four  inches. So she trudged her way around the probe to see that it had landed on the lower edge of a snow drift more than likely covering a crater. She then immediately activated her suit’s radio.

“Cronus! Cronus! This is Pod Two. Have ejected and now safely on surface. Have activated radio rescue beacon. Are you receiving?”

Valerie then listened and thought she could pick up a faint intermediate reply through the space static caused by the ever present interference of Saturn’s own natural radiation emissions.

“Pod…Received…three….til..rescue.”

Three? Valerie wondered, Three what? Until rescue? Three hours? Three days?

Either way it would be too late. She immediately re-set the frequency on her internal radio to try and contact her dad. The fear and concern was reflected in her voice as she called out desperately for her father.

“Pod One! Pod One! This is Pod Two. Do you read?”

She listened for a reply. Silence. So she repeated.

“Pod One! Pod One! This is Pod Two. How do you read me?”

Still only silence.

Valerie shivered at the thought as to where her dad might have landed in his own ejection pod. Quickly the questions began to gnaw at the back of her mind. Those “what if” questions.

What if he couldn’t eject and crashed with the probe?

What if he managed to eject but the escape pod crashed?

What if he is hurt and or unconscious?

What if he overshoot the reported landing zone?

What if? What if?

Valerie reached into a cargo pocket located on her lower left leg and pulled out a portable location beacon. She flipped it on. Hopefully it would lock on to her father’s escape pod if it landed nearby. She held her breath as she turned on the directional receiving band.

BEEP!! BEEP!!! BEEP!!!

Never was there such a sweeter sound to Valerie’s ears. The location beacon had locked on to her dad’s probe, which indicated as least two things.

One: The escape pod had managed to land in reasonable shape. Two: The pod would have to be due west of her location. How far west Valerie could only estimate, as the beacon could receive signals of an average distance between five to ten miles.

And it was here that Dr. Valerie Stinson decided to deviate from emergency procedure. She had to try and reach her father. She had to see if he was okay. She had to violate rescue protocol and leave her pod and start trekking over the ice and snow to locate Pod One. She inherently knew it was a fool’s errand but she had to. She just had to.

Following the directional beacon, she began the long hike. Trudging over the fine powdery snow, she knew she had to walk cautiously, as some of these drifts could be anywhere from three to thirty feet deep. She knew if she stepped into anything over four to five feet, it would be goodbye Valerie Stinson. But she continued on. The crystal snow continued to fall upon her from above. She would have to periodically stop and use her glove to wipe away the ice off her visor.

After we get rescued, Valerie hopefully and amusingly thought, I must note in my survival de-briefing report to suggest some type of wiper blades be installed on all future helmet plates.

She struggled on. Sometimes finding her self sinking down three feet but still managing to pull her legs up and out the fine powde. The constant beeping of the location detector picking up her father’s probe motivating her to keep moving.

All of a sudden she slipped and fell, which ignited a slight avalanche from a small drift just above and directly to her right. Instantaneously, she found herself covered in crystallite snow.

She hastily pulled herself up and out and tried to brush herself off but to no avail. The continuous snowfall from above would just defeat any effort. She realized luck was with her though, as a slightly larger drift would have produced a much larger avalanche and she could just of easily found herself buried under ten to twenty feet of icelized crystals. However, this wasn’t the first time she had been involved with an avalanche. Immediately, her thoughts drifted back to that time years ago back on Earth.

She was sixteen and had been skiing in Colorado with her father. She became overconfident in her abilities and skied away from her dad and had headed over to the next run for more of a challenge. She had failed to notice the warning sign posted.

DANGER: AVALANCHE CONDITIONS PREVAIL. SKIERS ADVANCE AT THEIR OWN RISK.

She had no longer hit the slope when the warning took heed. A tectonic shift sent a slide of snow tumbling down the mountainside and quickly overtaking Valerie, sending her tumbling head over heels into and under the drift. Soon she found herself buried and disoriented. She tried to call out for help, but the snow was packed around her face too tightly. She tried to call out for her dad.

Oh how her thoughts ran through her head at that unfortunate moment. Her life before her eyes. She thought of her Mother, waiting back home in Denver for her and her father to return. How her father had taught her to ski when she was only seven. She thought of her older sister Vicki, killed in a rock slide two years ago on Mars. So was it now her turn to die and leave her parents with another set of sorrows and sadness?

She prayed but was getting weaker, as she struggled to breathe. Her little pocket of oxygen was running out and she knew her time was limited. She swore she could faintly hear a voice calling from above. It sounded like her father’s.

“Hang on, Val! I’m coming for you!!”

But she figured it was just her hopeful imagination, for she was now resigned to her fate and thought what she figured would be her last thoughts: I love you Mom and Dad.

Then instantaneously she felt two strong arms reach down through the snow and grab a hold of her and pull her up and out onto the surface and into the embracing arms of her father. Valerie instinctively took a deep refreshing breath of the cold Colorado air and looked up into the comforting eyes of her father.

“I’ve got you, sweetie!” Edward Stinson comforted, “Everything’s going to be okay!”

That memory brought tears to her eyes, as she trudged on through the snowfall of Enceladus. Her own present thoughts echoed those of her father’s that fateful day on that ski slope years ago.

Hang on, Dad! I’m coming for you!

She had just checked the beacon to confirm she was still on course, when suddenly she found herself knocked off her feet and reeling back five feet above the moon’s surface. A geyser no more than ten feet away had broken the icy surface and was ejecting ice from the surface and up into the inky sky.

Valerie immediately crawled away as fast as she could as the friction heat could easily burn her suit and break the oxygen seal. She managed to crawl at an angle through the powder slipping and sliding all the way. She soon realized the drift was gradually becoming deeper and she was consuming more of her energy and oxygen as she continued on, but she had to reach her father. She would not give up hope, just as her dad had never given up hope on her.

The beeps were increasing in intensity so she knew she was almost there. Unexpectedly, she immediately noticed a cluster of ice crystals that seemed to hover and dance over a drift just ahead. Just like fireflies would do on a early spring night on Earth. Just below the swarm was something in the snow. Something buried under the drift that just didn’t look like a natural formation, even for such an alien place as this was.

It appeared to be oblong shaped and as Valerie approached she could see a slight reflection under Saturn’s overhead glow of a polymer surface poking out of the snow. She immediately cried out in delight. She had found her Father’s escape pod.

She cautiously approached and started to scrape off the ice with her gloved hands to reveal that the pod door had not been jettisoned. She didn’t know if that was a good sign of not. Could her father be inside knocked unconscious by the impact? Or could he be dead? Valerie hastily grabbed the hatch lever and pulled down with all her strength. The door easily opened and she hastily peered inside.

Dr. Edward Stinson was still strapped snugly in his pilot seat. Valerie noted he was in his space suit, so he had survived the initial landing and had somehow managed to get into his suit, but she also noted his head was down on his chest and he was non-responsive. She activated the two-way radio.

“Dad!! Are you all right? Can you hear me?”

She stepped up and on into the pod, squeezing her way in then pressed the button to re-close the door. She took a hold of her dad’s helmet and turned it gently toward her and peered through the visor. His eyes were closed and his face pale, so she shook him vigorously in an effort to awaken him.

“Dad!! Wake up!! Please wake up!!” she desperately cried into her helmet’s microphone.

Suddenly a response cracked through her headphones.

“Pod One!! Pod One!! This is Cronus rescue! Do you read? We have you on our directional locator! ETA, five minutes. Repeat. ETA, five minute. Do you copy?”

“We read you, Cronus rescue!” Valerie quickly replied, “Five by five! Have one casualty on board. Advise Medical evacuation immediately!!”

“Roger! Pod One!” came the reply, “Medical standing by!”

Valerie quickly pressed the pod’s emergency oxygen release valve and flooded the cabin with fresh air. She snapped off her helmet and did the same with her father’s. She then gently held his sullen face in her hands.

“Daddy!! Daddy!’ she softly cried, “Stay with me, please!! Stay with me.”

The tears flowed freely down her cheeks, as she placed her head down upon his chest and continued to cry until she suddenly felt him take a breath. Valerie glanced back up into Edward Stinson’s face and squealed in delight when he partially opened his eyes and subtly smiled.

“Hey kiddo!” he weakly mumbled, “wondered when you’d stop by to see your old man.”

Valerie then hugged he father tightly and repeated what he had once said to her on that mountain all those years ago.

“I’ve got you, Daddy! Everything’s gonna be okay!”


© Copyright 2018 Tabitha Theory. All rights reserved.

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