Deep Beneath Damascus

Dr. Regina Crane looked down at Damascus with despair. She’d gotten 1.5 billion miles from home without issue—so much so that she’d battled bouts of boredom—and now she’d fumbled within the one yard line. The other sulci mocked her with their stillness: Alexandria, Baghdad, Cairo. Only Damascus Sulcus was active, its cryovolcanoes blasting tons of icy volatiles high above the bright surface of Enceladus. She was safe on her orbital platform, but her lander… She sighed. Time would tell.

The lander contained a remote rover. Regina had intended to use it to patrol the frozen moon’s surface, taking core samples to determine the best location to bore through the ice to the ocean beneath. The chemical composition of the surface ice could contain clues as to what lay below. But as the lander descended, a plume erupted below it and knocked it wildly off course. It tumbled and rolled unevenly until it came to a jarring stop. The rover still functioned, miraculously, but its treads and core sampler were trashed. She coaxed it into limping from its encasement, but it would go no further.

She had no choice. This spot would have to do.

She gave the command for the rover to deploy its payload: a probe encased in a nichrome cylinder. The electrical element heated up, and soon it was shrouded in vapor and sinking down into the ice. Down and down it went, counting off the meters until they became kilometers, and still further it sank until it reached the ocean and discarded its shell.

Its cameras activated and its spot lamps sparked to life as Regina watched anxiously from orbit. Nothing. The probe sank in blackness. Deeper and deeper it sank, and with it, her heart. Until, unexpectedly, it stopped, coming to rest on a branch of a humungous glassy tumbleweed. As the drifting structure rotated in the current, the camera caught the light of a million glimmering specs blinking their bioluminescent hellos. It looked like a field of fireflies.

It hadn’t really mattered, in the end, where she’d decided to bore. The oceans of Enceladus were vast and strange, but alive.

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