The short story Luminescence was published in Martian Wave in 2010. Because it is part of a world in which I ‘ve set more stories, and part of a greater story, I’ve adapted it and it is now available on Smashwords and Amazon. Click on the image for the Amazon link.
Here are two first two pages, for #SampleSunday:
A bright flash turned the ice under my feet into a sheet of white.
The inside of the inflatable dome blazed in X-ray vision as my visor’s auto-polarise function cut in, providing me with a skeleton-view of the flexible struts that held up the fabric.
A split second, and then the murky orange hue of the Titanian atmosphere returned. Darker still inside our tent on the ice of Kraken Mare on Titan’s south pole.
I depolarised my visor, heart thudding. Black spots danced in my vision. ‘Paul? Did you see that? Paul? Do you hear me?’
I stared at the entry hole in the ice in the middle of the tent. The black surface rippled.
There was no reply.
The snaking hoses of the breathing apparatus and the heater were the only sign of Paul’s presence in that blackness. Through my suit’s helmet I couldn’t even hear the humming of the air compressor in the shed.
Static crackled in my earphones. Paul’s words garbled into unintelligible mush, laced with excitement.
‘What is it? What do you see?’
‘It’s . . . beautiful. You can’t begin to describe it, Hadie. There’s colours and pictures and . . . It looks like a spider’s web . . . Holy fuck!’
The line went dead. I strode to the reception unit and pressed the reset with clumsy gloved hands. The roamer icon tracked over the screen and found . . .
Oh for fuck’s sake. This lousy radio never worked when you needed it.
I waited. I told myself not to worry. Paul could take care of himself. The hoses still pulsed, and now–relief flooded me–the downrope was moving, a sign that he was climbing up the ladder.
Sure enough, ten minutes later Paul’s helmet broke the surface, then his shoulders, followed by his be-suited arms. I hauled him up the last rungs of the ladder, the touch awkward through both our suits.
‘You OK?’ I asked.
Vapour rose from the suit, methane gas curling towards the roof of the tent, where it would condensate against the fabric, run down until it met the ice and freeze in globby stalagmites.
Paul dropped his sampling canisters, which he’d taken to collect samples from bacterial patches we had found living under the ice. My helmet receiver remained silent; I couldn’t see his face behind his visor. I cursed. This time when we got back to the habitat, I would complain to the Research Division, fuck the notes it would earn me against future promotion. It was one thing to let scientists work with sub-standard equipment when they worked in an environment where they could breathe the air, and they could sit around waiting for a bail-out if things went wrong. We didn’t have that luxury. Small things about the Titanian atmosphere like the general lack of oxygen and temperatures that would freeze your butt off meant that any equipment malfunction quickly turned serious with big fat capital letters. The tight-arses could at least give us receivers that fucking worked all the time, not just when they felt like it.
I guided him across the tent. His steps were stiff, that all-too-familiar feeling that leg muscles had frozen senseless, through the suit and layers of insulating clothing.
Into the air lock. I pulled shut the thick door and operated the panel. Waited. Just us in our suits, and a tiny light. Vapour rising off Paul’s suit, curling up to the vent in the ceiling. I hated the silence.
Lights flashed; the inner door opened. I preceded Paul into the familiarity of the tiny lab of Research Station 5: a simple table and four straight-backed chairs, lab benches with stacks of sample tubes and an assortment of equipment parts, mostly spare parts for the dive gear, because the samples needed to be kept outside–too warm for them in here. A rack with protective clothing. Thermal under-suits.
Monitoring and comm screens blinked warnings against the back wall. Initialisation sequence not detected. Unease clawed at the back of my mind.
I flicked the heater up as far as it would go. Fans jolted into action. The pump hummed below the floor, sucking up methane from under the ice.
The light was warm in here, and when I wriggled off my suit’s helmet, the air heavy with the scent of synth-coffee. Empty cups still sat on the table.
Paul sank down in one of the chairs. He reached for his helmet and I helped him unclip it.
‘Paul? What happened?’
He said nothing, his hazel eyes staring at the opposite wall like a blind man’s.
I swung one leg over his so I faced him. His expression remained blank. His skin looked marble-pale, his eyes wide open. Most of his curly hair lay plastered to his head, his lips dark with cold. Those lips I’d kissed before he went down.