The six inner moons of Avalon—a typical ice giant out on the fringe—were fine places. Rocky bodies, essentially spheroids, rich in ices and metals. Good for industry, and more than capable of supporting associated settlements. But the seventh moon—that was the prize.
If you could get to it.
Preliminary data indicated a nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere, temperate climate, an active magnetosphere, and liquid water. Avalon VII was a class one garden world. Jackpot. The only problem was…well, nobody knew exactly what the problem was, only that there was one.
Jack had been going over it in his mind for weeks, ever since he’d taken the contract. Avalon VII had thick cloud cover was all. Nothing so severe as Venus. Occasionally there were brief glimpses of brown-green landmasses or deep blue ocean, but most of the time the whole moon was wrapped in a haze. And anything that descended below that cover failed to return. Failed to do so much as send a ping. Anything that descended. And anyone.
There were plenty of theories. Jack had come up with a few of his own. It was always a popular topic around the watering holes at the mining camps on Avalon VI, and he assumed it was no different on the other moons. Aliens were a popular bet, though not so much as pseudo-religious claims of a portal to the underworld or some sort of promised Shangri-La. The folks on Avalon VI were a superstitious lot, but they were good people. Jack favored a more earthbound theory; perhaps an electromagnetic anomaly that caused instrumentation failures. Anyway, he’d find out soon enough.
“Jack, you ready?”
“Be right there.”
These outworlders were hellbent on making a claim on Avalon VII, and they were willing to part with their money like they were allergic to it. A good pilot is expensive. And Jack was legendary. Or at least he thought he was, and based on his contract his employers agreed. He headed for the hanger. History doesn’t write itself.
Time to get beneath those clouds.