Magma oozed down the hillside to the basalt plains upon which Rose stood waiting. Flakes of sulfur fell in what would always look to her like slow motion, but was really a natural motion that exposed her Earth-centric bias. It could hardly be avoided, but she tried to mentally call herself out when she noticed it. It was one of many obsessions she’d developed with all of her alone time.
The lack of atmosphere kept things pretty quiet, but the volcanic eruption shook the ground like she was standing atop a clothes dryer. It was hard to stop her teeth from chattering, and harder yet to form words without biting her tongue. But she hadn’t picked this job because it was easy. She tried the comms again. “Nightingale, this is base camp. Do you copy? Over.” There was still time. Nothing here was an exact science.
Venus and Mars had both been Earth-like, once. There was more H2O in the belt than on Earth. Europa and Enceladus both had oceans, and Titan was covered in hydrocarbons. But not a one of those comparative utopias had anything living on them—other than humans. Meanwhile, Io’s surface had more radiation than the backside of a starship engine and didn’t have enough water to fill a kiddie pool; and from a financial standpoint, there wasn’t anything worth mining at the bottom of such a deep gravity well. It was a miracle she ever got funding at all. And then to actually find something… If that wasn’t luck, she didn’t know what was.
“—circling for a while, but I’ll have to break off soon. Over.”
The Nightingale was here for her hundred-day supply drop. Just thinking about fresh water made her thirsty. “Copy, Nightingale. What’s your position?” Besides her basecamp, this was an untouched world. There were no satellites or positioning systems to guide a ship. The comms kept cutting in and out, but it was as good as it was going to get.
“—south of the volcano, but visibility is low.”
Rose cycled through the menus of her HUD using her eyes, and the basecamp lamps began to flash like runway lights.
“I see you now,” said the pilot. “Thanks—I owe you one!”
Rose grated her teeth, and not because of the tremors. That pun had been stale from its inception, and it always came with that same intolerable self-impressed tone. “Alright,” she said, “just gimme my shit.” But there was no response. She’d lost the Nightingale in the ash-and-sulfur sky.
And then it emerged, far too low. It was coming down right at her. She turned and pumped her feet, hopping across the hellish landscape with practiced acceleration. Behind her, the Nightingale carved a furrow into the basalt, plowing through her camp and wiping it from existence.
Rose had come to search for life, but now, inevitably, death had come to Io.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by René Aigner, used with permission.
3 thoughts on “Where Life Goes”
— for Rose, things get really messed up but death actually misses its mark in Io;
— for the pilot, the Nightingale affords survivability with an automatic emergency ejection landing pod powered by gentle descent rockets;
— they both meet up in the hellish landscape, after she helps him from the escape lander;
— they can collaborate to salvage a hodgepodge of remnant parts from the ship, the escape pod, and from whatever might be left of her base camp to form a functional refuge for them;
— they might get along well enough to start things over.
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This is a good checklist; I hope you got it to Rose!
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