The transition from life to death to life again was almost instantaneous.
First there was the decompression alarm, a loud and repetitive gong like a brass cymbal being struck again and again. Then a gust of wind, almost as if he was on a beach and feeling an ocean breeze coming in over the seawall. Then the breeze became a gale, and he turned away from the hardsuit he’d been inspecting just in time to see the outer airlock hatch open, a tiger-striped portal to an airless and star-flecked darkness.
Danzig grabbed the door rung of the open suit locker and yelled for help even though he knew there was no one on the other side of the closed inner hatch; he’d been alone on Hub Deck 2 when he entered the airlock. The roar of escaping air drowned out his voice, and his ears propped painfully when he yelled again. His feet tore loose from the deck; when he looked down at them, he saw that one of his sneakers had been ripped loose from his left foot.
He was cold, colder than he’d ever been before, and although he clutched the door rung as hard as he could, his hands were becoming numb. He tried to take a deep breath, but couldn’t fill his lungs. Blood spurted from his nostrils as a viscous red stream that was caught by the escaping air and sucked toward the open hatch. Pressure pounded against his temples and the sockets of his eyes; the very pores of his skin felt as if they were on fire. His fingers loosened from the rung, and then he was lying in an infirmary bed, gazing up at Dr. Phillips.
“Hello, Otto.” In keeping with expedition protocol, she spoke to him in English rather than his native German. Her voice was quiet, her eyes searching. “How are we feeling?”
Somewhere above his head was the staccato beep of the bed’s sensors, registering his cardiac rhythm and respiration. The bed sheets were cool and crisp, the pillow soft against the back of his head. His body was utterly weak, his muscles drained of all energy. It was all he could do just to keep his eyes open.
“Like…hell.” His throat was a dry tunnel behind a parched mouth. “Water.”
Dr. Phillips—he’d always had trouble thinking of her as Martha, her first name—favored him with a worried smile. “You shouldn’t be dehydrated,” she said, glancing up at the IV drip bag suspended above the left side of his bed; its narrow plastic tube carried a glucose solution to the stent inserted in the crook of his left elbow. “I’ll get you something to drink in a moment.” She looked down at him again. “Do you know where you are?”
“Here,” he managed to croak.
“Think you can be a little more exact?”
“Yes. Very good.” A satisfied nod. “And your name is…?”
“Otto…Danzig.” Irritation accompanied thirst. “Water…please.”
“Of course.” Phillips strolled over to a water dispenser, filled a paper cup, inserted a straw. Returning to the bed, she pushed a button on its right side. The bed purred softly as it raised halfway to a sitting position. “Just a little,” she said, bending the straw and fitting it between his lips. “Don’t gulp or you’ll get sick.”
The water was as lukewarm and flat as only the recycled urine of twenty men and women can be; just then, though, it was as sweet as wine. Ignoring the warning, Danzig sipped greedily at the straw, savoring the water as it rolled down the desert cave of his mouth and throat. He wanted to take the cup away from her, but his hands only twitched a little when he tried to raise them.
“That’s enough,” Phillips said, even though he’d barely slaked his thirst, and gently pulled the straw from his mouth before he was through. “Now…do you remember what happened?”
“I was…I was…in…the airlock. Outer door…opened and…” He struggled to remember, but the only image that came back to him was his feet, one of his sneakers missing, dangling a couple of meters from the open hatch. “That’s all.”
“Shock. Don’t worry, it’ll come back to you.” Phillips took the cup over to a recycling tube and poured the remaining water into it. “You’re fortunate to be alive,” she continued as she crumpled the cup and shoved it into a disposal chute. “They managed to shut the hatch before you were blown outside, but you were dead when they pulled you out of there.”
Danzig stared at her. “Dead?”
“Uh-huh.” Phillips turned to a nearby counter, started to do something Danzig couldn’t see. “Severe pulmonary barotrauma, coupled with acute ischemia. You’re just lucky you didn’t have an embolism…I’m not sure I could’ve saved you then. Otherwise, everything that could happen to someone who’s been in a blowout, happened to you.”
“How did…how did…?”
“They got you out of there in time. Once I managed to resuscitate you, I put you on life support, pumped you full of medical nanos, and programmed them to repair your organs and blood vessels. Then I stuck you in the emergency hibernation tank to heal.”
Phillips turned away from the counter. She held a syringe gun, its barrel half-filled with a milky fluid. “Now that we don’t need them anymore, it’s time to kill the little demons.” She placed the gun’s tip against the side of his neck and squeezed the trigger. Danzig felt a wasp sting. “There. That should do it.”
Danzig knew that he should be grateful to the doctor for saving his life, but he could barely stay awake. “Danke,” he whispered, then remembered expedition protocol. “Thanks,” he added, using English instead. Another question occurred to him. “How…long?”
“About six and a half months.” Phillips reached up to the monitor and tapped a finger against its screen. “To be exact,” she added, studying the readout, “six months, one week, six days, seven hours and thirty-six minutes. Today is September 19, 2112. And before you ask…”
She walked across the compartment to a large square porthole. Its outer shutters were closed; Phillips touched a wall button and the shutters rolled up like Venetian blinds. Beyond the window lay darkness, jet black and fathomless. Then a grey orb slowly glided into view, as densely cratered as the Moon but much larger. Looming behind it was an immense sphere, yellow and orange bands slowly moving across its width, a large red ellipse swirling just south of its equator.
Callisto, with Jupiter in the background.
Danzig stared at them. When he’d entered the airlock, the Zeus Explorerhad just crossed Mars orbit. If he’d been in hibernation for as long as Phillips said, then the expedition must have reached Jupiter and its moons several months ago.
“We…made it.” Danzig forced a smile. “Thanks for…waking me up.”
“Yeah, well…” The doctor absently brushed back her blonde hair; she was kind of pretty, Danzig sleepily decided, in a stern sort of way. “If it was up to me, I would’ve let you sleep all the way back to Earth. You’re not fully healed yet. But the captain insisted that we wake you up.”
His eyes closed. He was unconscious before she had a chance to reply.
Danzig spent the next two days slipping in and out of sleep. Dr. Phillips was there each time he woke up, ready to feed him or give him a bedpan. He was her only patient, so he had her undivided attention, and before long he felt comfortable enough with her to start calling her Martha. He gradually regained enough strength to stay awake and by the end of the second day all he wanted to do was get out of bed, although Martha warned him that he’d probably have to use a cane to get around. Six months of hibernation had atrophied his muscles; it would be awhile before his legs were strong enough to support him again.
It was not until then that the captain paid him a visit. He was sitting up in bed, reading a thriller on his pad—Martha had fetched it from his quarters, three levels down on Arm A from the infirmary, along with his clothes—when Consuela Diaz gently knocked on the recovery room’s half-open pocket door.
“Hello? Otto? Are you awake?”
“Yes, I am.” Danzig bookmarked his place and put down the pad. “Hello, Captain. Come to see if I’m still among the living?”
“That I knew already.” Captain Diaz slid the door shut behind her. “Dr. Phillips told me after the accident that you’d probably make it through, provided that you remained in hibernation long enough for the nanos to do their stuff.” A tentative smile on her nut-brown face. “I’m sure she’s told you that she was reluctant to wake you up. I figured, though, you’d be disappointed if you got all the way back to Earth only to find out that you’d missed your chance to see Jupiter.”
Danzig shrugged. Compared to what he’d been through, whether or not he was an active participant in the International Jupiter Expedition was the least of his concerns. In fact, he’d asked Martha to keep the shutters closed; the sight of Callisto spinning past the porthole every few minutes gave him vertigo, even if it was only caused by the habitat arms rotating clockwise around the Explorer‘s hub.
“Is that why you had her wake me up?” he asked.
“No…no, I’m afraid it isn’t.” The smile faded as Diaz sat down on a vacant bed. “Something’s come up that…well, we need your particular skills.”
“As suit tech? Kevin should have been able to cover for me.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.” The captain hesitated. “As arbiter, I mean.”
Danzig now understood. Maintaining the EVA gear was only one of his jobs. His principal role in the expedition was arbiter, the crew member responsible for investigating and settling disputes among the twelve women and eight men aboard the Zeus Explorer.
Several years earlier, the International Space Consortium had determined that, during long-term space missions, it would be best if the captain didn’t deal with fights or quarrels among the crew, but instead delegated that responsibility to someone else. Major disagreements among crew members often involved decisions made by the commanding officer, so there was always an expectation that the captain would not be impartial. This had led to a mutiny once already, and the ISC wanted to avoid repeating that incident.
Thus, whenever possible, a person trained in psychology and social engineering was included in the crew of deep-space vessels. Although necessity dictated that this individual held another job—a ship’s complement is too small for someone to specialize in only one particular skill—his or her principal responsibility was to arbitrate disputes among crew members. It was the arbiter’s task to thoroughly investigate a problem, examining the causes and weighing the evidence, then deliver a judgment in a fair and independent manner. In this way, the commanding officer was absolved of any accusation of taking one side or another; the arbiter’s decision was final, even if the captain was at fault.
By the time the Zeus Explorer crossed the orbit of Mars, six weeks after the ship departed from Earth, Danzig had already arbitrated a few quarrels. They were all minor disagreements—one person accusing another of swiping stuff from his toilet kit; the life-support chief insisting that a crewman assigned to the hydroponics bay in Arm B neglected her duties and thus allowed some plants to die; the chef’s claim that a certain individual had been stealing food from the galley—and while not everyone was happy with the decisions Danzig made, at least there had been no incidents that put the expedition at risk. Then he stepped into the airlock…
“Must be something important,” Danzig said. “Enough for you to have Martha revive me, I mean.”
“It is…but there’s something I’d like to know first. How did you nearly get yourself blown out?”
“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “Really. I barely remember what happened. It’s like I’ve lost a couple of minutes there.”
“Dr. Phillips warned me you might have memory loss.” The captain seemed to be studying him. “But we still can’t figure why you were there in the first place. The duty roster didn’t call for you to inspect the suits until we reached Jupiter.”
“That I remember. Jim Kretsche complained to me that, when he went EVA a couple of days ago—” Danzig corrected himself “—a couple of days before the accident, I mean…his comlink acted up on him. I was checking the suit he’d worn to see if there was something wrong with the radio.”
“Okay. So we know why you were there. But it doesn’t explain how you…”
“If I knew, I’d tell you.” Danzig shut his eyes, tried to bring back what he’d been doing just as the airlock opened. “I would’ve shut the inner hatch once I was inside…that’s standard operating procedure. After that—” he opened his eyes again, let out his breath “—it’s a blank. Maybe I hit the void button by mistake.”
“That’s an awfully big mistake.” Diaz quietly regarded him for a few moments, her expression hard to read, then she shrugged. “I’m sure it’ll come back eventually. Until then, I’d take it as a personal favor if you’d have someone accompany you the next time you visit the airlock. You’re just lucky Dylan picked that moment to visit H2 when you opened the outer hatch.”
Danzig couldn’t help but grin. Dylan McNeil was the chief engineer, and ever since launch he’d constantly visited the hub’s lower deck to check the major systems, as if the Explorer was a fragile machine that might break at any minute. McNeil’s fussiness had become a standing joke among the crew, but Danzig had to admit that it may have saved his life.
“I’ll keep it in mind.” Danzig pushed back the covers and sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Phillips had finally relented and allowed him to swap his surgical gown for trousers and a sweatshirt; otherwise, he wouldn’t have let Diaz see him practically undressed. “So let’s get to the important stuff…why did you have me revived?”
“Okay.” Folding her arms across her chest, the captain looked down at the floor as if to gather her thoughts. “You know we’ve been in orbit above Callisto for the last four months, right? And that we landed on Europa and established a base camp about three months ago?”
“Uh-huh. All according to plan.” Although Europa was the expedition’s most important target among the Galilean satellites, its orbit lay within the belt of intense radiation surrounding Jupiter. It had been decided that theZeus Explorer would park itself above Callisto, 1,884,000 kilometers from Jupiter and outside the radiation belt, and survey teams would shuttle back and forth between the ship and Europa, 1,213,000 kilometers away. This way their radiation exposure would remain within tolerable levels.
“Right. Well, a few weeks ago, the science team finally broke through the surface ice at Consolmagno Base. They managed to locate a point between two ridges in the Conamara Chaos where it looked like friction between two ice packs temporarily melted through the surface, so they only had to cut a hole just a little more than one kilometer deep.”
“That’s pretty lucky.” It had been previously estimated that the ice layer separating Europa’s surface from the global ocean below had an average thickness of ten kilometers. But the Conamara Chaos, a region just north of the equator, had a series of fissures and ridges which hinted that it was an area that had experienced periodic cycles of melting and refreezing due to internal heat caused by ice packs rubbing against each other. The expedition had been gambling on the notion that the ice might be thin enough at the bottom of one of Conamara’s fissures to allow a laser drill to penetrate all the way to the subsurface ocean.
“Yes it was,” Diaz said. “Once that was accomplished, they dropped a cable down the hole and used it to lower a RSV. The robot showed us a lot, of course…”
“Yes, and plenty of it. Rather primitive, though, with the dominant species not much more than something that looks a little like brine shrimp. Not what a lot of us were expecting. So I let the scientists do what they wanted to do all along and send down a bathyscaphe.”
Among the expedition’s equipment were a pair of tethered submersibles specially designed for this particular mission; two were brought in case one malfunctioned and needed to be replaced. Along with the laser drill, the robotic survey vehicle, and the dome shelters used to establish the base camp, the DSVs were transported to Jupiter aboard an unmanned cargo vessel launched from Earth orbit just a few weeks before the Explorer. The cargo carrier had gone into orbit around Europa; upon arrival at Jupiter, the expedition spent the first few weeks ferrying equipment down to Europa. Io, Ganymede, and Callisto were of only secondary interest; Europa was the Galilean satellite considered most likely to be harboring life, and extraterrestrial life was the holy grail of interplanetary exploration.
“The scientists must have loved that,” Danzig said. “Connick and Werner were drooling over those things all through training.”
“That’s not the only thing they were drooling over.” The captain shook her head. “Forget I said that. But—” she hesitated “—do you remember Chatelain? Evangeline Chatelain?”
“The bathyscaphe pilot?” He nodded. “Of course. My memory isn’t that bad.”
“I thought you would. She’s pretty hard to forget—” a smile twitched at the corners of her mouth “—particularly if you’re male.”
Danzig tried not to take offense. Diaz was right. During the expedition’s two-year training program, there had been a lot of whispered comments among the males about who’d get Evangeline Chatelain in bed during the two and a half years it would take for the ship to complete its mission. It was the sort of sexist attitude that the men had been discouraged from taking, particularly considering that they comprised the minority of the crew, but Evangeline stood out among the women. Nor had she been exactly chaste. It had been rumored that she’d broken up with a fiancé just after the crew selection was made, and she’d wasted no time going on the rebound. Evangeline hadn’t slept with anyone during training, but Jim Kretsche had a one-night stand with her only a few days after the Explorerleft Earth, and John Connick was pursuing a more serious relationship the last time Danzig had seen him.
“She’s a very pretty woman,” Danzig murmured. “She attracts a lot of attention…”
“Don’t be coy.” Diaz lowered an eyelid. “Every unmarried man on the ship wanted her, and I can think of one or two married men who would’ve gladly cheated on their wives for a shot at getting into her bunk.”
“Sure, but…” Something the captain just said brought him up short. “Wait a minute. You referred to her in the past tense. Did something happen to her?”
“She’s still alive, if that’s what you’re asking. But two men are dead because of her, and I can’t tell if it’s an accident or…” Diaz stopped herself. “She claims it was, but I have reason to suspect otherwise, and so do a few others.”
“So that’s why you woke me up,” Danzig said. “You want me to investigate the matter and deliver an opinion.” Diaz slowly nodded. “Who were the two men?”
“You mentioned them already…John Connick and Klaus Werner.”
Danzig was surprised. They were the astrobiologists leading the effort to locate and identify any forms of life that might be abiding on Europa. “I assume that, if a bathyscaphe was sent down, one or both of them would have been aboard…and Evangeline was the pilot.”
“Your assumption is correct.” The captain didn’t smile. “All three of them went down, but only Chatelain came back. The other two didn’t return.”
Diaz was quiet for a moment. “I could tell you, but maybe you should first hear what Evangeline had to say.”
“She’s back aboard ship?”
“Uh-huh. I had her brought back from Europa and she’s been confined to quarters since then. Not that anyone wants much to do with her.” She shook her head. “To tell the truth, her side of the story is the most incredible part of the whole thing…if she’s not lying, that is.”
Evangeline Chatelain’s quarters were two decks down from the infirmary. Until the accident, Danzig would have had no problem getting there; a narrow staircase spiraled down Arm A’s companionway, its individual risers raised into position along the cylindrical well now that the habitat arms were in full rotation. His legs were still weak, though, and walking anywhere was difficult, even with the collapsible aluminum cane Dr. Phillips had found in the medical stores. But he didn’t want to interview Evangeline from his hospital bed, so against the doctor’s wishes he slipped on a pair of loafers and, leaning heavily upon the cane, made his way downstairs.
Diaz insisted on accompanying him. He didn’t want her to come along, but she was adamant; Chatelain was to see no one without her approval. But Danzig didn’t want the captain present when he questioned Evangeline, so they reached a compromise on the way down to her quarters: Diaz would remain outside in the foyer while Danzig spoke to Evangeline, where she would be able to listen through the door. The captain wasn’t very happy about this—the ship’s constant background hum would make eavesdropping difficult—but she relented when Danzig pointed out that Evangeline would be more likely to open up if the captain wasn’t in the room. When they finally reached the bathyscaphe pilot’s quarters, though, Diaz was the one who knocked on the door.
“Someone to see you, Evangeline,” she announced, then slid open the door without waiting for a response.
“Why, thank you, Captain,” Evangeline said from within. “Your respect for my privacy is appreciated.”
There was a distrustful look in Diaz’s eyes as she stepped aside. “All yours, Otto,” she murmured. “Call if you need anything.”
Danzig didn’t reply. He hobbled through the narrow pocket door, trying not to scowl as he put weight on the cane. The arm’s gravity gradient increased slightly each deck down; Evangeline’s room was one of four located on Deck 3-A, halfway down the arm and therefore at .1-g. Until then, he’d enjoyed living in a low-g environment—enough centrifugal force to decrease physiological stress during a long space journey, but not so much as to produce motion sickness—but until his body fully recovered even this little gravity was painful.
Evangeline’s room was the same size as anyone else’s. A little larger than a walk-in closet, it had a fold-down bunk, a desk with a built-in terminal and studio chair, a wallscreen, a bookshelf, and a small wardrobe. An accordion door led to the tiny bathroom she shared with Margaret Harris, the British astrophysicist who lived next door, and a circular porthole the size of a dinner plate was above the desk. She had made her quarters a little more homey with pictures, books, and some small Indian blankets to cover the bulkhead, but otherwise her room looked much the same as his own.
Evangeline Chatelain sat on her bunk, legs crossed together and back against the bulkhead, watching something on the wallscreen with the sound muted. She wore a pair of lavender tights and a white tank top, but no shoes. Although she’d objected to an unexpected visit by the captain, she didn’t seem to mind having Danzig drop in.
“Otto!” A warm smile appeared. “What a surprise! I hadn’t heard that you’ve been revived! How nice to see you again!” Before he could respond, she looked past him. “Thank you, Captain,” she added, a bit more frostily. “I think you can go now.”
Danzig looked over his shoulder in time to see Diaz’s expression darken as she slid the door shut. Evangeline waited until the captain disappeared before speaking to him again. “Please, have a seat,” she said, then apparently noticed his cane for the first time. “Oh, dear…I didn’t see that. Let me help you.”
She uncurled her legs and started to rise from the bed, but Danzig raised a hand. “No, no,” he said, making his way across the room. “I can manage.” He carefully lowered himself into the desk chair. “This is the first time I’ve been out of bed since they woke me up. The doctor says it’ll be a while before my arms and legs get used to working again.”
“Well, yeah. That and the fact that you were practically dead when they pulled you out of there.” Evangeline’s smile was pleasantly amused. “Serves you right for playing in the airlock,” she added, wagging a finger at him. “Bad boy. Don’t do that again that.”
“I won’t.” He’d already heard much the same thing from Martha. Coming from Evangeline, though, it sounded less like a scold than a sisterly jest.
Yet there was no way he’d ever consider Evangeline Chatelain to be a sibling; she was much too attractive for that. It wasn’t merely her obvious sexuality, although it was hard to miss the fact she clearly wasn’t wearing a bra today; he had to consciously refrain from studying the nipples of her breasts pushing against the front of her tank top. It wasn’t even the soft contralto of her voice, with just a hint of a lisp that only added to the sensual way in which she spoke. It was her face that appealed to him the most: slightly oval, framed by shoulder-length hair the color of summer wheat, with a nice, soft-lipped mouth beneath a fox-like nose that evoked her Gallic heritage. The tenderness of her expressions, the mysterious way she’d regard someone with aquamarine eyes, only added to her beauty.
When they’d first met, during the press conference where the ISC announced the final crew selection for the International Jupiter Survey, Danzig thought Evangeline was appropriately named, for she reminded him of an angel. Not the sort one might see painted on a cathedral ceiling, though, but a more earthbound kind: an angel a man would worship upon silk sheets, her body a temple, her eyes the gates to heaven.
“You can probably guess why I’m here,” Danzig said. “The captain has asked me to speak with you about…”
“What happened on Europa.” The smile faded. “You’re here as arbiter, aren’t you?” Danzig nodded and Chatelain sighed. “I should have known Diaz wouldn’t have you brought out of hibernation just to keep me company.”
“You haven’t had any visitors?”
“No.” Evangeline picked up a remote and pointed it at the wallscreen. Danzig caught a quick glimpse of ballet dancers before the screen went blank and disappeared. Evangeline tossed the remote aside, then stretched her long legs out upon the bed, crossing her ankles together and letting her feet dangle above the floor. “The captain has given orders that no one is to see me until the investigation is complete. Even Maggie is leaving me alone. She keeps her door shut, and refuses to talk to me when I happen to see her in the bathroom.”
“Sorry to hear this.” Evangeline’s tights fit her like a second skin; it wasn’t hard for him to imagine her without them. Deliberately shifting his gaze toward the porthole, Danzig decided not to mention what Diaz had said about most of the crew wanting to avoid her. “I’ll speak to the captain about this. At any rate, I doubt my investigation would be hindered by you having visitors.”
“Merci…I mean, thank you. I would appreciate it.” Evangeline’s eyes flickered toward the door, and Danzig wondered if she suspected that Diaz was hovering just outside. “Have you been told what happened down there?”
“Very little. The captain suggested that I ought to hear your side of it.”
“Considerate of her.” Evangeline folded her arms across her chest. “Not much to tell, really. John, Klaus, and I had started going down in DSV-1, trying to see if we could find larger forms of life. During our second dive, something attacked the sub…”
“Something attacked you?”
“A creature, yes. Very large, very aggressive.” She studied her toes as she absently wiggled them. “It came at us almost before we knew it was there, repeatedly charging the sub and slamming into us.”
Danzig was astonished by what she’d just said. The captain had already told him about the tiny, shrimp-like invertebrates spotted by the RSV; most of the expedition scientists hadn’t been expecting anything more than that. For Evangeline to report having encountered something considerably bigger…
“Did you see what it looked like?” he asked.
She shook her head. “With my own eyes, no. There’s no windows in the upper passenger cell, only the periscope and the video screen. John and Klaus were down in the observation blister, though, so they could see it through the porthole…what they were able to see, I mean, before it happened.”
“What was that?”
Evangeline sat forward, pulling in her legs to clasp her knees within her arms. “When the creature attacked, it caught me…caught us…completely by surprise. We were thirty-eight fathoms down, about seventy meters from the entrance hole at the bottom of the drill shaft. The sub was still connected to the surface by the umbilical cable, but otherwise we were on our own. The only light we had were the floodlights. To make matters worse, the tide was starting to come in. When that happens, the water can push the surface ice upward as much as thirty meters…”
“I don’t know what this means.”
Evangeline stared Danzig straight in the eye, almost as if daring him to look away. “It means we were deep underwater, in the dark, and bucking one of the strongest tides in the solar system. So when it…the creature, that is…attacked the sub, and kept ramming us again and again, the last thing on my mind was making a zoological study.”
“What was on your mind?”
“Survival.” She let out her breath, looked down at the floor. “I just wanted to get out of there alive. The third time the creature rammed us…maybe it was the fourth, I don’t remember…an alarm went off, signaling that the hull had been breached. A second later, John yelled that water was coming into the blister. That’s when…”
Evangeline fell silent. For a few moments she said nothing. Danzig waited for her to go on, and after a little while she took a deep breath. “That’s when I grabbed the escape lever beneath my seat,” she said. “The upper cell sealed itself off from the rest of the bathyscaphe, then the lower part was jettisoned. The support crew on the surface received the automatic SOS beacon…by then I’d lost the comlink…and reeled in the cable and hauled me back up the hole.”
“And the other two?”
“Went down with the bathyscaphe.” She wouldn’t look at him. “I couldn’t help it, Otto. When you’re down that deep, you’re lucky if you’ve got even a second or two. I had to save my life…”
“Even if it meant giving up Klaus and John?”
Evangeline seemed to be fighting back tears. “I had no choice. If I hadn’t jettisoned the rest of the sub, I…I wouldn’t be here now. I would have perished as well.”
“I understand.” Danzig hesitated. “So why do you think you’re in trouble?”
“The others don’t believe me.” She raised her eyes to him again; they were bleak with remorse, moist and rimmed with red. “The RSV they’d sent down earlier hadn’t seen anything like what attacked us. And since we lost communications as soon as the creature hit the sub, they received only one video image.” She paused. “It’s not very good. I know what it is, but they don’t…I mean, they’re not sure.”
“Okay. I see.” Danzig made a mental note to ask the captain to show him the video. “And there was nothing else? No sonar contact, no lidar…?”
“No.” Evangeline shook her head. “Nothing they can access, at least. The sub recorded more, I’m sure, but…”
“It’s gone to the bottom of the ocean.” Which might be as much as 150 kilometers in depth; no one knew for certain. In any case, it appeared as if Evangeline had scant evidence to support her story.
But why did Diaz doubt her in the first place? Two men had lost their lives, yes, but there was no reason to believe that Evangeline wasn’t telling the truth. Europa was a world the expedition had only begun to explore; there was always the possibility that it might harbor life forms larger than any they’d seen thus far. Something else was going on.
“Well, then…” Leaning heavily upon his cane, Danzig slowly pushed himself up from the chair. “This gives me much to think about. Thank you for…”
“Not at all.” Evangeline lowered her bare feet to the floor and stood up from the bed. “Thank you for hearing my side of the story.” She raised her arms straight above her head and stretched like a cat, the bottom of her tank top rising up for a moment to reveal a flat and well-tanned stomach. “This is more than anyone else has allowed me.”
Danzig tried not to look at Evangeline as he shuffled past her, but the room was very small and he couldn’t avoid brushing against her. For an instant, he felt the soft pressure of her breasts against hiser arm; he felt his face grow warm, but she didn’t back away.
“I may…um…have other questions later,” he said as he headed for the door, realizing even as he spoke how this might be interpreted.
“Of course. Feel free to come by again.” When Danzig glanced back at her, he saw that she’d sat down on the bunk once more, her long legs curled up around her. “And Otto…?” A soft smile appeared. “I’d be grateful for any help you can give me.”
He could be wrong, but nonetheless he had a sense that she’d just given him a hint of how she might express her gratitude. Danzig didn’t respond, but instead slid open the door and left her quarters.
Captain Diaz was waiting in the foyer; she’d moved away from the door so that Evangeline couldn’t see her. She said nothing to Danzig until they reached the companionway, then she stopped him before they could begin the long climb back upstairs.
“You’ve heard her side,” she said quietly. “Now will you hear mine?” Danzig nodded. “All right. I know it’s a lot to ask of you, but would you please let me take you to the command center? There’s something I’d like to show you.”
Located in the hub, the command center was the Explorer‘s largest single compartment. Shaped like a shallow bowl, its work stations were arranged in a circle around the control pit, with a ring of LCD screens suspended from its ceiling above them. Danzig seldom had a reason to visit the command center, but he enjoyed its spaciousness; it was one of the few places aboard which didn’t give him a cramped and claustrophobic feeling, particularly since the hub was in zero-g.
As he followed Captain Diaz through the hatch of the carrousel which connected the hub with the ship’s rotating arms, Danzig saw that the screens were displaying images of the Galilean satellites as captured by the ship’s telescopes. He’d seen close-ups of Jupiter’s moons before, of course, but never in real-time. Here: a erupting volcano on Io, plumes of lava spewing upward from its hellish surface. There: sunrise on Ganymede, the immense, ice-covered scars of its surface cast into sharp relief by the coming of dawn. Little could be seen of Callisto save for a crescent moon; the Explorer maintained a geosynchronous orbit above the satellite which used it as a shield against Jupiter’s magnetosphere, so at this moment Callisto’s far side lay in darkness.
As always, Jupiter dominated the sky, frightening in its immensity. Like Callisto, only half of the planet was facing the sun from the Explorer‘s current position, but nonetheless the gas giant’s night side was made visible by the tiny sparks of enormous thunderstorms perpetually raging in its upper atmosphere.
Danzig could have watched the screens all day, but Diaz hadn’t brought him there to admire the scenery. “This way,” she said, then she grasped a ceiling rail and used it to pull herself across the compartment. Danzig was glad that he’d left his cane outside the carrousel; he didn’t need it here, and it would have only been in the way. Grabbing hold of the rail, he let his feet float free as he followed the captain.
A dark-haired young woman was seated at a horseshoe-shaped console, her body kept in place by the leg bar of her ergonomic chair. “Hello, Captain,” she said as Diaz approached her, then she saw Danzig and her eyes widened. “Otto! I’d heard you were awake! Nice to see you again!”
“Thanks, Rita. Good to be back.” Danzig grabbed a foot restraint above Rita Jimenez’s console, then turned himself upside-down and slipped his feet into the rung so that he hung bat-like from the ceiling. Rita didn’t seem to mind; she was used to having crewmen performing gymnastics at her place of work. Danzig glanced past her at Diaz, who was hovering behind the Brazilian astrobiologist. “You wanted to show me something, Captain?”
Diaz tapped Rita’s shoulder. “Would you please bring up the last image captured by the DSV-1 camera?”
Rita’s smile vanished. She nodded, then typed a command into her keyboard. One of the screens directly above her station had been displaying Europa’s chaotic terrain; the screen changed, to be replaced by…
What was it? Danzig squinted at a blurry, out-of-focus image. Off-white and overexposed, it seemed to be a fish—or at least some sort of aquatic animal—captured in motion. He was able to make out what appeared to be a dark, beady eye and a small oval mouth in a blunt head, but the rest was indistinct: he had an impression of a tapering body with what looked like a dorsal fin, but the rest was lost in the jet-black background. Nothing about the creature was identifiable; it could have been anything.
“Is that what Evangeline says she saw?” he asked, then corrected himself. “Oh, right…she says she didn’t see anything.”
“Uh-huh.” Diaz didn’t look away from the screen. “This is the last image sent by DSV-1’s bow camera before we lost ELF telemetry.”
Danzig had to remind himself that ELF stood for Extra-Low Frequency. Although the expedition’s manned and robotic subs were tethered to the surface, Europa’s intense cold—an average of -1700 C at the equator—inhibited the use of fiberoptic cables. So low-band radio transmitters aboard were the only way information could be sent up from the subsurface ocean.
“In fact, it’s the only image,” Diaz added. “No other pictures of the creature were taken…if this is the creature, that is.”
“What do you mean?”
“Rita…?” The captain turned to the astrobiologist.
“There’s no sense of scale.” Rita nodded toward the screen. “This thing could be twenty meters in length, or twenty millimeters…we don’t know because we can’t tell how close it was to the lens. The way it was lit by the forward floodlights suggests that it may have been very near, but—” she shrugged “—like I said, there’s no real way of knowing. Not without sonar or lidar contacts, at least, which we didn’t get.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Their arrays were pointed straight down so that the pilot could get a fix on what lay directly below the bathyscaphe. There’s always a risk of a collision with an ice shelf, even that far down. So if this thing came at the DSV from a sidelong direction, it wouldn’t have been seen. But…” Rita looked up at the captain; Diaz nodded, and she went on. “A couple of things don’t add up. I think you need to listen to something.”
Reaching into a nylon pouch on her console, Rita pulled out a spare prong. She handed it to Danzig and waited while he fitted it into his right ear, then she typed another command into her keyboard. A rectangular window opened at the bottom of the screen: the wavefile of an audio track.
“This is the last transmission received from DSV-1,” Rita said. “It’s everything said in the sub just before the ELF failed.” She tapped the Enter key and the red bar of the wavefile began to creep from left to right, spiking slightly with each sound.
“Thirty-seven fathoms, range seventy meters.” Evangeline’s voice, steady and routine.
Silence for four seconds.
“Oh, my…that’s interesting.” A male voice, mildly curious; its American accent indicated that it belonged to John Connick.
“I see that, yes. Want me to…?” Definitely Klaus Werner; his German accent was obvious.
Connick: “No, that’s all right. I don’t think we need to…y’know.”
Neither man was particularly excited. If anything, Danzig thought they sounded bored. Silence for two seconds. Then:
Connick: “Hey, what..?” Startled.
Evangeline: “Oh, my God! It’s…!” Clearly terrified.
Werner: “Evangeline, what…?” Surprised, but not scared.
A sudden bang, followed by a sharp snap. Then silence; the wavefile flatlined until it reached the audio track’s right margin.
“That’s it,” Rita said. “That’s all we got. But notice this…”
She pointed to the timestamp at the bottom right corner of the audio track: 01:34:03. “That’s when we lost telemetry…a little more than an hour and a half on the mission clock.” Then she pointed to the time stamp at the bottom of the video image: 01:34:01. “That’s when that picture was taken.”
Danzig shrugged. “Yes? So?”
“When we compared the timestamps to each other, we noticed that the video image was transmitted about two seconds after Evangeline reacted.” Danzig shook his head, not comprehending what she meant. “That means Evangeline was startled by something which she says she didn’t see and wasn’t captured by the camera until two seconds later.”
“Yes, but she says she knew the creature was there because it hit the bathyscaphe.” Danzig thought about what he’d just heard on the audio. “Besides,” he added, “Connick reacted before she did. And he and Werner were the ones able to look outside.”
“No, not exactly…listen again.” Rita skipped back two seconds, and again Danzig heard Connick’s voice: “Evangeline, what…?” Rita stopped the wavefile. “Doesn’t that sound more like he’s about to ask her what she’s doing, not about anything that’s happening outside the sub?”
“You’re making an assumption.” Tired of looking at her upside-down, Danzig slipped his foot from the ceiling rung and did a half-gainer that put him rightside-up. “I’d like to know what’s led you to this, and where you think you’re going with it.”
Rita didn’t respond, but instead entered another command into her keyboard. A holo appeared in midair above her console: a three-dimensional image of something that looked a little like a shrimp, only much larger.
“Branchiotremata europum,” she said. “The Europan mariner, as we call it. The most common of the half-dozen or so creatures we’ve discovered so far, and also the largest. Remember when I said that the thing the DSV caught on camera might be only twenty millimeters long? Well, the mariner is about 150 millimeters in length.”
“Which makes them giants so far as the native fauna is concerned.” Diaz smiled. “Some of our people are even wondering if they could be steamed and eaten. I haven’t given them permission to do that, but it’s tempting.”
Rita ignored the captain. “If there’s something else down under the ice that’s big enough to attack a bathyscaphe, then it would have to subsist on a diet of mariners.” She shook her head. “In evolutionary terms, that doesn’t make sense. Size tends to be limited by available food supply, so…”
“That’s not all.” Clutching the ceiling bar, Diaz leaned forward to lay a fingertip against the translucent holo. She carefully moved her hand forward, repositioning the holo until it hovered a few centimeters in front of the screen. “Do you see?” she asked as she pulled her hand away. “The mariner looks a bit like what the camera caught, only out of focus. Like it swam right up to the lens and was photographed before it had a chance to autofocus.”
Danzig studied the two images for a few moments, absently tapping a forefinger against his lower lip. The women waited patiently for him. From the corner of his eye, he happened to notice Dylan McNeil. The chief engineer was about to leave the command center, and it occurred to Danzig that he still hadn’t thanked him for saving his life. This wasn’t the time to go chasing after him, though.
“Do you mean to say,” he asked, “that Evangeline’s story is a hoax?”
Diaz traded a look with Rita; both women slowly nodded. “Yes, that’s what we think,” the captain said. “She deliberately jettisoned the lower hull with the two men aboard, then made up a story that the DSV came under attack.”
Danzig looked her straight in the eye. “So you think she deliberately murdered them?”
Diaz met his gaze without flinching. “Yes, I do…and so do many other people aboard.” Rita nodded in silent acknowledgement.
Danzig let out his breath. “That’s quite a severe accusation, Captain. What makes you think she’d want to kill those two men?”
“I don’t know exactly why, but there’s one more thing you should know.” Diaz lowered her voice. “A few months ago, while the ship was on the outbound leg, Chatelain had affairs with both of them…first Connick, then Werner. She slept with John for several weeks, and then dumped him for Klaus.”
“It put considerable stress on the science team.” Rita was also careful to keep her voice down. “John and Klaus wouldn’t speak to each other for awhile. I was afraid that they wouldn’t be able to get along well enough to cooperate once we reached Jupiter.” She shook her head. “We’re just lucky the little slut eventually got tired of Klaus, too. Otherwise the two of them wouldn’t have accomplished anything.”
“But she wasn’t able to get rid of them quite so easily,” Diaz said. “Connick continued to pursue her after she started sleeping with Werner. And when she dumped Werner, he too became obsessed with getting her back.”
“So you think…?” Danzig deliberately left his question hanging. As arbiter, he had to be careful not to put words in other people’s mouths.
“I think she was looking for a solution to her problem.” Diaz shrugged. “She didn’t want to have to deal with two jilted lovers for another eighteen months, so she found a way to get rid of them both.”
Danzig didn’t respond. Whatever Diaz, Rita, or anyone else might think of Evangeline’s behavior, though, this didn’t sound like a plausible motive for what amounted to a double homicide. But he wasn’t about to say this to her.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said, “along with everything you’ve told me.” He paused. “With your permission, I’d like to question other members of the crew.” Danzig didn’t really need the captain’s permission to conduct an investigation. As arbiter, he had considerable leeway. But he gave her the courtesy anyway.
“By all means, yes, please do,” Diaz said. “However, I should warn you…most of the people you’ll probably want to talk to are on Europa.” A grim smile. “You may have to visit the scene of the crime, whether you like it or not.”
Mephostophilis appeared in a blaze of fire and brimstone. He wore the scarlet doublet and purple cape of a Renaissance philosopher, and his horns protruded from within the sleek black mass of his hair. When he smiled, a pair of fangs were revealed at the corners of his mouth. No doubt he had trouble in mind.
“‘Now tell me,’” Danzig said, “‘what saith Lucifer thy lord?’”
Mephostophilis’s red eyes glittered. “‘That I shall wait on Faustus whilst he lives, so he will buy my service with his soul.’”
“‘Already Faustus hath hazarded that for thee,’” Danzig replied, reading aloud the lines which scrolled upward from the carpeted floor of Faustus’s study.
Mephostophilis walked closer, his cape billowing out from behind him. “‘But now thou must bequeath it solemnly and write a deed of gift with thine own blood, for that security craves Lucifer. If thou deny it I must back to hell.’”
“‘Stay Mephostophilis and tell me…’”
He was interrupted by a disembodied voice. “Sorry to interrupt your play,”Kevin said, “but we’re about fifteen minutes away from making atmospheric entry.”
“Roger that.” Danzig looked at Mephostophilis. “Want to save this for later?”
The devil grinned. “Sure. Why not?”
Danzig reached up to the upper right corner of his field of vision, pressed the translucent blue O floating in midair. Mephostophilis vanished, this time without any fanfare; Danzig pressed the X hovering in the upper left corner, and the walnut-paneled room disappeared, to be replaced by the shuttle’s flight deck. Kevin Hookset didn’t look away from the controls; the pilot’s hands were fastened around the yoke, his eyes focused upon computer screens and digital readouts. On the other side of the cockpit windows, Europa was a vast white plain criss-crossed by streaks of blue, its sparse oxygen atmosphere visible as a thin haze above the limb of its horizon.
“That was fun.” Evangeline had already removed her game goggles; she smiled at Danzig as she tucked them into the cargo bag beneath her seat. “I think I like Marlowe better than Shakespeare.”
“Uh-huh.” Danzig took off his own goggles and stowed them beneath the seat. “Doctor Faustus isn’t as well-known as Macbeth or Hamlet, but it’s easier to play…”
“Can you talk about that later?” Kevin asked, barely looking at them. “If you’re going to get into your suits before we land, you need to go below. Otherwise you’ll have to wait until we’re on the ground.”
“Right. Sorry.” Danzig unfastened his harness and pushed himself out of the passenger seat. “Better hurry,” he said to Evangeline as he took hold of the ceiling rail and pulled himself toward the floor hatch. “The less hassle we have…”
“I know.” Annoyance flickered across her face. “I’ve done this before…remember?”
Danzig hid his embarrassment by ducking head-first down the hatch. He’d forgotten for a moment that Evangeline had already made the two-day trip from Callisto to Europa. Indeed, she should be leading the way to the shuttle’s lower deck, not him. But she didn’t seem to mind, or at least no more than she’d objected to returning to Europa.
Just as Diaz predicted, Danzig had learned little from questioning the other crewmen aboard the Explorer. They confirmed that Evangeline Chatelain had affairs with both John Connick and Klaus Werner and had ended both relationships before the ship reached Jupiter, but couldn’t tell him much more than that. Margaret Harris had been particularly vivid, though. Evangeline evidently preferred having men sleep with her rather than vice-versa, and since Maggie lived next door, there wasn’t much that she didn’t hear coming through the bulkhead dividing their quarters. She also told Danzig that she’d frequently found either John or Klaus in the bathroom shower…sometimes by themselves, but usually with Evangeline. At first Maggie had been amused—she’d had a couple of bedmates herself, she reluctantly admitted—but in time she became irritated by Evangeline’s behavior.
Maggie was convinced that Evangeline had deliberately killed her former lovers, and she wasn’t alone in her opinion. Danzig noticed that the most of the women believed Evangeline was guilty. The men seemed more willing to consider the notion that she might be innocent, although there was no consensus; Danzig still hadn’t gotten a chance to speak with Dylan McNeil, and Walter Mahr and Jose Amado were both at Consolmagno Base. But the expedition’s female majority had clearly come to dislike Evangeline even before Connick and Werner were killed.
The reason was obvious. Martha Phillips told him, albeit reluctantly, that most of the women and several of the men aboard the ship had requested abstinence drugs; not wanting any unwanted sexual urges to distract them from their work, they’d chosen celibacy during the three-year mission. So seeing one of their own repeatedly lure men into her bunk provoked both jealousy and contempt among the expedition’s female members. Rita Jiminez wasn’t the only woman to call Evangeline a slut; Kirstin Bigelow, the life support chief, had even gone so far as to claim that she was a black widow, psychotically compelled to murder the men who’d made love to her.
A lot of opinions, but very little evidence. The answers were at Consolmagno Base. Two days after Danzig’s revival, Europa and Callisto once again came into conjunction on the same side of Jupiter, thus providing a good launch window for a shuttle flight. Captain Diaz arranged for Hookset to transport Danzig to Europa, but the arbiter was surprised when Evangeline asked Diaz to let her accompany him. Perhaps she just wanted to get off the ship, but Danzig was inclined to believe her when Evangeline said that she wanted nothing more than to clear her name, and that the only way she could accomplish this was by returning to Europa.
All this passed through Danzig’s mind as he made his way down to the lower deck. The shuttle’s three hardsuits were held upright by racks near the airlock. Resembling eggs that had sprouted arms and legs, with the flat vanes of electromagnetic deflectors mounted above their life-support packs, the suits were designed to protect those who wore them from Jupiter’s intense radiation. Cumbersome even in low gravity, they were easier put on while in zero-g.
Pulling himself over to the nearest suit, Danzig opened its top hatch. He grasped the rack’s horizontal bar and pushed himself feet-first into the suit, wiggling his legs and torso until he was three-quarters of the way into the carapace before shoving his arms through the sleeves.
“Activate suit,” he said.
“Suit active,” a male voice said from the helmet’s built-in speakers. “Your name, please?”
“Hello, Otto. You may call me Charlie.”
Danzig rolled his eyes; he could have strangled the guy who had the wise idea of giving personality emulation routines to spacesuit computers. Some people apparently liked it when the suits talked to them, but Danzig found it annoying. “Close up and activate all life-support, control, and communications systems,” he said, not bothering to be polite.
“Certainly, Otto.” The top hatch made a small thump as it automatically closed and locked, then there was a prolonged hiss as the suit began to pressurize. A wraparound heads-up display glowed to life; the suit had no faceplate, so he’d have to rely upon the wide-angle camera mounted upon its chest. “Twelve minutes and thirty-six seconds until landing. Would you like to listen to some music?”
“No. Put me through to Evangeline Chatelain. She’s in another suit.”
“Of course.” A double-beep. “You’re connected with Ms. Chatelain.”
“Evangeline? Are you there?” When Danzig turned his head, the external camera followed his movement. The suit next to his own was already closed; he couldn’t see her.
“Yes, I’m here.” A irate sigh. “Never liked wearing these things.”
Danzig remembered that Evangeline had been one of the crew members who, during the mission training program, had the most trouble learning hadow to handle a hardsuit. “I’m sure your suit will help you,” he said, then smiled. “Has it told you its name yet?”
“Betty. Kevin has the one with the A-name. Not sure, but I think I had Charlie last time. She was okay.”
“I’ve got Charlie this time, only she’s now a he. Guess they must change sex depending on who’s wearing them.”
“Evangeline wore me last time,” Charlie said. “I’m gender-neutral until I learn…”
“Shut up, Charlie,” Danzig said, and the suit went quiet. “Y’know, I think these things are out to be as obnoxious as…”
An abrupt lurch rocked the suit within its rack; the pit of his stomach seemed to drop a few feet. Danzig clenched his teeth as the motion settled into a steady, consistent vibration. “We’re entering the atmosphere,”Evangeline said. “You feel it when the heat shield hits the ionosphere.”
“Yeah,” Danzig muttered, “I know.” Another bump, a little less violent this time; he imagined a red-hot plasma sheath forming around the shuttle’s cone-shaped hull. This was the part that he hadn’t enjoyed during training: atmospheric entry and landing. Fighting nausea, he fixed his gaze upon a ceiling light and prayed that he’d make it to the ground without throwing up. Vomiting would be just about the worst thing he could do just then.
Breakfast stayed in his stomach, though, and after the longest twelve minutes of his life he heard the roar of the main engine, shortly followed by the sudden jolt of the shuttle’s four legs touching down. By then, he’d felt the pull of gravity for the first time since they’d departed from theExplorer. Europa’s surface gravity was only slightly less than the Moon’s, but that was still more than what he experienced in the ship’s habitat arms. Danzig raised an arm and discovered that the suit was heavier than he expected. Wearing this thing was going to be a bitch; he was still recovering from nanosurgery and hibernation.
Kevin climbed down from the upper deck, shutting the ceiling hatch above him. He wasted no time climbing into his own suit; apparently he’d done this enough times already that he didn’t need the benefit of zero-g. His suit’s name was Albert; Kevin asked it to open a comlink to the shuttle, and then he instructed the shuttle to void the lower deck and open both airlock hatches.
“It’ll be easier if we all leave at once,” he explained. “The airlock’s only big enough for one of us to cycle through at a time. If I decompress the lower deck, then we don’t have to fool with all that.”
“And you’re not worried about losing that much air?” Danzig asked.
Kevin laughed. “Look around. This place is covered with ice. Every forty-two hours or so the Sun comes up and boils off just enough to replenish the atmosphere before it refreezes again. When that happens, the shuttle’s atmospheric converters collect the hydrogen and oxygen to fill the tanks. So the nuclear engine refuels itself and we have enough oxygen for the ride home.”
“Sort of a free gift for coming here, huh?”
“Yeah, that’s Europa for you.” The pilot snorted. “Like having Christmas in Hell…all sorts of neat presents, but you don’t notice `‘cause you’re freezing to death.”
Danzig thought about what he said, then asked Charlie to raise the suit temperature to 21° C.
Once the airlock was open, they switched on the radiation deflectors, then tramped down the gangway. Danzig barely noticed the faint crunch of his boots against the ice as the external camera brought the view into his carapace as a panoramic display. It was morning on the Conamara Chaos, the Sun a distant spotlight rising to the east. A kilometer away, a long ridge rose above the terrain like a fortress wall. Silver-blue and streaked red with sulfur deposits, it ran straight across the plains until it disappeared over the short horizon. Jupiter loomed above the ridge, insanely immense, filling the black sky with its majesty.
Kevin gave him a minute to take in the scenery. “Okay, that’s enough,” he said. “You can gawk later. Right now, let’s get inside.”
He turned his back to the ridge and began walking toward a pair of low humps about a hundred meters away. “It’s impressive the first time you come here,” Evangeline said, as if to apologize for the pilot’s impatience,“but you get used to it after awhile. And we need to keep moving. The deflectors are good for only about a half-hour at a time.”
“I don’t think I could ever get used to this,” he murmured, but the warning was taken. The suit’s dosimeter was still safely in the black, but it wouldn’t be long before its bar started creeping toward the red zone. He turned to follow her and Kevin across the ice.
Consolmagno Base consisted of a pair of igloos, both about eighteen meters in diameter and five in height, connected to each other by a short tunnel. Their construction was simple: two inflatable domes covered by two meters of chipped ice as a radiation shield. A couple of radiation-armored rovers, each resembling fat sausages mounted on caterpillar treads, were parked outside the main airlock; the discarded cargo landers lay fifty meters away, never to fly again now that they had performed their task of ferrying all this hardware down from orbit. As they came closer, Danzig saw the flag post planted by the first landing team; the flags of the ISC countries participating in the International Jupiter Expedition—England, Germany, France, Brazil, and the U.S.—were held erect by the wire braces that allowed them to flutter in a non-existent breeze.
The airlock wasn’t big enough for all three of them to cycle through at once; Kevin and Evangeline let him go first. Danzig was surprised to find that he wasn’t reluctant about stepping into an airlock; his memory of the accident may have been afflicted, but at least he hadn’t come away with any lasting phobias. Three minutes later, the inner hatch opened and he stepped into a small room with a low ceiling and orange plastic panels for walls.
“Otto. How good of you to visit.” Walter Mahr was waiting for him, his voice carried by the prong he was wearing. He came forward to guide Danzig toward a suit rack. “I was afraid I wouldn’t see you again until we returned to Earth.”
“Thanks, Walter,” Danzig said. “I just wish it could be under more pleasant circumstances.”
The smile faded from Walter’s broad Bavarian face. “So do I,” he said as he bent down to clamp the rack’s foot restraints. “This could have gone better.”
Danzig had always liked the Explorer‘s executive officer; as the IJE’s second in command, his perpetual joviality was a welcome contrast to Diaz’s no-nonsense stoicism. It was unfortunate timing that two men had perished while he was on Europa; Danzig remembered how, the first night out from Earth, Walter had waxed euphoric about the prospect of setting foot on what he considered to be Jupiter’s most interesting moon. Danzig had little doubt that his sense of wonder had been tempered by the tragedy. Walter and Klaus had been close; he was probably still hurting from the loss of his friend.
But that wasn’t the most important issue just then. Evangeline had the next turn to cycle through; she was already in the airlock, and it was possible she might tap into the comlink and hear anything he had to say to Walter.
“Wen wire in Minute erhalten, mochte ich Sie treffen,” Danzig said as he opened the suit’s top hatch. “Jose und Yvonne, auch…in privatatum.”
“Ich dacht, dass Sie wurden.” Walter lowered the rack’s horizontal bar so that Danzig could reach up to grasp it with his bare hands. “Ich habe die um um anderen gebetum, um uns Konferenzsall in einer ungefahr Stunde zu treffen.”
“Danke. Ich schatze es.”
A short buzz signaled that the airlock was about to open. By then, Walter had agreed to bring Jose Amado and Yvonne Benoit, the two other expedition members currently at Consolmagno Base, to the conference room in about an hour for a private meeting. As Danzig pried himself from the hardsuit, Walter went over to help Evangeline. He was as cordial as usual, but Danzig noticed that his hospitality was guarded.
And even after she opened her suit and he was able to see her again, it was impossible to tell what Evangeline was thinking.
““I have no doubts whatsoever. She killed Klaus, and John, too.”
Yvonne Benoit glared across the conference table at Danzig. Although not as attractive as Evangeline, the expedition’s only other French member possessed a dark beauty that, if anything, seemed to be enhanced by her anger. Danzig gazed at the paper coffee cup in her left hand and wondered if she was about to crush it within a clenched fist.
“I see.” Danzig kept his expression neutral. “And do you have any particular reason to believe this?”
“Tell him what you told us.” Jose Amado sat next to her, arms folded across his wool Peruvian serape. Everyone here wore two or three layers of clothes; the igloo heaters couldn’t quite keep the cold at bay, and Danzig had had to borrow an extra sweater from Walter. “He may not know this yet.”
Yvonne glanced at Walter; the executive officer nodded, and the engineer reached forward to tap her fingers against a table touchscreen. A wire-frame image of DSV-1 appeared on the table’s glossy black surface, then slowly floated upward to become a holo. As before, the bathyscaphe reminded Danzig of a horseshoe crab: a broad, streamlined hull, with impellers mounted on both port and starboard sides, the observation blister bulging like a swollen belly, tapering back to a long, thin rudder at its tail. Its tether cable was attached to the upper hull just forward of the recessed dorsal hatch.
“My company has been manufacturing submersibles for over a hundred and fifty years,” Yvonne said as the holo rotated on its vertical axis. “The ones we made for the expedition were adapted from a design that has been successfully used for deep-ocean exploration back on Earth. It can withstand pressures up to one million kgm.”
“Very commendable,” Danzig said. “And your point is..?”
“Even if some sort of—” Yvonne sighed, shook her head in disbelief “—sea monster were to attack this craft, there is no way…no way!…it could cause enough damage to sink it.” She pointed to the small window in the center of the lower bulge. “Even the observation blister porthole is one-third of meter thick. You could fire a gun straight at it and it wouldn’t shatter. So when Evangeline claims she heard John say that water was coming in, she’s lying.”
Danzig nodded. Yvonne’s role was to maintain both the robots and the manned submersibles. No one in the expedition knew the equipment better than she did…arguably, not even Evangeline, although she’d had five years experience as a DSV pilot before being recruited by the ISC. On the other hand, Yvonne would be expected to defend her company’s reputation. Given a choice between admitting design failure or putting the blame on the pilot, she’d probably choose the latter.
“And that’s another thing,” Jose said, raising a hand as if to make a point during a science lecture. “Putting aside for a moment the fact that there’s only one picture of the creature…”
“And not a very good one at that,” Yvonne added.
“Yes, right…anyway, I’m a geologist and not a biologist, but even I know that it’s unlikely that something that big would be down there, given what we’ve learned about Europa’s other animal species.”
“How diet limits size, you mean?” Danzig asked, and Jose nodded. “Yes, Rita said much the same thing when I spoke with her.”
“With all due respect to Dr. Jimenez,” Walter said, “I disagree.” Jose and Yvonne looked sharply at him as he went on. “She overlooks the fact that a large animal can subsist on a diet of smaller creatures if they’re consumed in sufficient quantity. For example, arctic wolves survive largely upon mice when caribou aren’t available. Before they became extinct, humpback whales consumed krill which they strained through their baleen from seawater.”
“This isn’t Earth,” Jose said.
“No, it isn’t.” Walter shrugged. “And that’s a good point. We’ve been on Europa for only a few weeks. Do we really think we’ve learned everything there is to know about this place?”
“You sound like you’re defending her.” Yvonne’s eyes narrowed.
Walter frowned, but before he could respond, Danzig politely coughed in his hand. “I think we’d all benefit from looking at this a bit more even-handedly. We’re still investigating the matter. That’s why I’m here…and why she’s here, too.”
“Yeah…right.” Jose raised a skeptical eyebrow. “I’m sure she’s eager for you to unearth all the facts.”
“In fact, she is. She requested to join me when I came here…and she’s also asked to do something else.” Danzig looked at Yvonne again. “We’d like to take down DSV-2.”
Her eyes widened in disbelief. “You what?”
“We want to go for another dive. Evangeline will be the pilot, and I’ll be the passenger.” He smiled slightly. “As I said…this is her idea, not mine.”
“She…what…?” Yvonne shook her head as if to clear it. “Why does she want to…?”
“She continues to insist that there’s a large creature down there, and she wants another crack at confirming its existence.” Danzig paused. “Given the accusations made against her, I think she deserves that chance. So I’m going with her as an impartial witness.”
Yvonne stared at him; for the first time since they’d sat down at the conference table, she was utterly speechless. Jose nodded in agreement, albeit reluctantly. “I think she’s right,” Walter said at last. “If there’s any way she can prove her story, she should be given the opportunity to do so.” He turned to Yvonne. “Can you prep DSV-2 for another dive in—” he glanced at his watch “—four hours? Five?”
Danzig was startled by the immediacy of Walter’s request. Then he remembered that Europa’s day was almost 43 hours long. It was still morning in the Conamara Chaos; sunset wouldn’t come for many hours yet. There was no point in waiting longer than they needed to send down DSV-2. Yvonne reluctantly nodded, and Walter pushed back his chair.
“Very well, then,” he said as he stood up. “Jose, would you be so kind as to help Otto prepare for his mission? I’ll inform Evangeline that her request is being granted.”
Without waiting for an answer, Walter left the conference room. Yvonne waited until he was gone, then she looked at Danzig. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked, her voice very quiet. “You may not be safe.”
“Yes, I am. After all, you yourself said that the DSV is reliable.”
“The sub is, yes. It’s the pilot I don’t trust.”
Down, down, down…
The cable creaked from the frost that sheathed it, sang with the chill wind funneling through the narrow chasm. The bathyscaphe swayed back and forth as it descended from the surface far above. Silver-blue walls of ice as old as recorded time, tinted with thin red streaks of sulfur, towered to either side of the submersible, becoming darker with each passing meter. Down, down, down…
Danzig saw little of this through the DSV’s small portholes, and the flatscreen in the center of the wraparound control console didn’t reveal much more, until Evangeline switched on the forward searchlights. Lying face-down upon a padded cushion, he watched the lidar readout only a few centimeters from his face. The bathyscaphe was more than a half-kilometer deep within the crevasse, but it still had another 400 meters to go until it reached the hole that the drill had bored through the ice pack.
“You okay there?” Evangeline asked. “Not nervous, are you?”
She lay prone beside him within the tiny cabin, propping herself on her elbows. Although DSV-2 was superficially similar to DSV-1, it was smaller, designed to carry two people instead of three. Nor did it have a separate observation blister; the cabin was the bathyscaphe’s only interior compartment. The face-down arrangement of the couches, albeit uncomfortable, was meant not only to conserve space, but also to give the pilot and passenger the best possible view through the three saucer-sized portholes arranged left, right, and center of the console.
“No,” he said, “I’m fine.” Which was a lie. The swaying of the bathyscaphe upon its cable, the high-pitched whine of the wind, made him all too aware of the danger they faced. If the cable broke, it would be a long plummet to the bottom of the crevasse; even if they survived the fall, rescue would be all but impossible. Nor would he and Evangeline be able to reach the surface on their own; their skinsuits would allow them to keep breathing if the DSV’s hull was breached, but wouldn’t protect them for very long from the elements. If anything went wrong, they would face a cold and lonesome death.
“Don’t worry. We’ll be fine.” Evangeline cocked her head toward the cabin ceiling. “The cable is made of carbon nanotubes…the same material the space elevator will be made of, if ISC can ever afford to build the thing. It’s practically unbreakable, even at these low temperatures.”
“And the winch?” Danzig thought of the massive, drum-shaped windlass around which the cable was wound. It was within the temperature-controlled main room of the control igloo built on the edge of the chasm, which itself lay on the other side of the ridge he’d noticed shortly after landing, about a kilometer from Consolmagno Base.
“Tested many times before it was sent here.” A tight smile appeared on Evangeline’s face. “Trust me…I’d never climb into this thing if I didn’t think it was safe.”
Danzig said nothing as he peered through the forward porthole at the dark walls looming around them. He may have been reassured about the technology, but he was less confident in the woman who lay beside him. She’d asked him to trust her, but the last two men to do so were dead, their bodies resting at the bottom of Europa’s fathomless ocean. Only the fact that they shared the same compartment gave him any assurance that he wouldn’t suffer the same fate as John and Klaus; she couldn’t kill him without killing herself.
Or so he hoped.
“Com check,” Evangeline said abruptly, pressing her fingers against her headset mike. “CB-2, this is DSV-2. Com check on ELF, one, two, three.”
A few seconds went by, then Danzig heard Walter’s voice within his own headset. “We copy, DSV-2. ELF reception clear. Confirm distance to hole, please.”
Evangeline glanced at the lidar. “Three hundred meters to entrance hole. Descent nominal.”
“Roger.” A pause. “How about you, Otto? Ready to change your mind?”
Danzig grimaced. On the way to the chasm, Walter had tried to talk him out of making the dive. If only to put him off, Danzig told him that, if he happened to change his mind, he’d let him know. Evangeline had been in the other rover, so she hadn’t heard that conversation; apparently Walter didn’t care if she learned about it now.
Danzig tapped his mike wand. “Not at all,” he replied. “Looking forward to seeing what’s down here.”
“We copy,” Walter replied. “CB-2 standing by. Over.”
“DSV-2 over.” Evangeline muted her mike, then closed her eyes and gave a long sigh. “Thank you for saying that,” she said quietly. “I appreciate it.”
“He was just kidding.”
“No, I don’t think so.” A reflective pause, then she smiled. “But it doesn’t matter.” She winked at him. “Don’t worry, I’m going to give you a good ride.”
The double-entendre was obvious enough to remind Danzig of what she’d said when he’d visited her quarters: I’d be grateful for any help you can give me. There had been an unspoken promise in those words. Once again, he became aware of how close she was to him, their arms, legs and hips nearly touching one another’s. If he wanted to, he could slide his hand a few centimeters to the right and gently caress her buttocks…
He let out his breath, forced himself to look away. “I wish we’d brought along Doctor Faustus. We could have done another scene or two.”
“Uh-huh.” There was a sly undercurrent to her voice. “We were just about at the place where Faustus makes his pact with the devil.”
Perhaps her remark was meant to be in jest, but it gave Danzig a chill. He darted a glance at Evangeline from the corner of his eye, but her expression told him nothing. So he didn’t respond, but instead continued to look straight ahead.
Long minutes passed as the bathyscaphe continued its descent. When it was within 50 meters of the borehole, Evangeline used a forefinger to manipulate the trackball controlling the exterior camera. The lens rotated until it aimed straight down, but nothing could be seen until she cut in the infrared filters. The shaft was seven meters in diameter and almost perfectly round. The first team had formed it by lowering a robotic diamond-head drill into the crevasse; once its particle-beam laser melted the first couple of centimeters of ice and turned it into slush, the massive machine was able to dig through the last five hundred meters separating Europa’s surface from its underground ocean. Just before DSV-2 began its descent, the drill was lowered again, this time to clear away the icy crust which had formed over the hole the last time it had been used, when DSV-1 had made its final journey.
Evangeline continually reported their range to the control igloo as DSV-2 began to slow its descent. Her tone of voice had become tense, her attitude utterly serious. By then the hole was directly beneath them, a bottomless pit yawning open within the icepack floor. Danzig barely had time for any last regrets before the bathyscaphe was lowered into it. The chasm vanished as DSV-2 slowly moved down a narrow shaft, its searchlights reflected by the ice walls which surrounded them. The crimson tint of sulfur within the ice became more pronounced; to Danzig, it bore a disturbing resemblance to trails of frozen blood.
“Look there.” Evangeline pointed to the forward porthole, and Danzig crawled a little closer to see clusters of black, granular objects clinging to the sulfur deposits. “Cryptogams. Sort of like fungus, only a lot hardier. They were the first life-forms we found down here.”
“They grow within the ice?”
“No. We think they’re transported by diurnal tides and take root wherever they can find sulfur to feed upon.” She nodded toward the shaft walls. “They weren’t here when the hole was first made, but by the time I made my first dive in DSV-1 they’d been carried upward by the high tide.”
“The tide gets high enough to flood the hole?”
“Every 85 hours, yes.” Evangeline glanced at him. “Don’t worry. We’re at low tide now, so we should be out of here before Europa swings close enough to Jupiter for orbital resonance to affect the ocean levels.”
The cryptogams gradually increased in number, at times resembling irregular patches of carpet, as the bathyscaphe continued downward. “DSV-2 to CB-2,” Evangeline said, tapping her mike wand again. “Range 50 meters to aqualayer.” She listened as Walter made a terse response, then looked at Danzig. “Hold on…there may be a bit of bump when we hit water.”
She was right, although it was nowhere as violent as Danzig had braced himself to expect. One second, the bathyscaphe was surrounded by the shaft’s icy walls. The next, an abrupt jar that felt like an automobile jumping a curb and the portholes were awash with water.
“We’re here.” A tight grin appeared on Evangeline’s face. “DSV-2 to CB-2…we’ve made interface with the aqualayer. Preparing to dive.”
A long pause, then they heard Walter’s voice, now carried by the ELF transceiver. “We copy, DSV-2. Have a good trip.”
Evangeline snapped a series of toggles above her head, and there was a muted gurgle of water as the ballast tanks began to fill. Bracing herself against the deck cushions, she grasped the bathyscaphe’s twin joysticks. She engaged the impellers, then gently moved the sticks forward, manipulating the pitch and yaw while keeping a sharp eye on the sonarscope and the eight-ball of the attitude control display.
On the other side of the portholes was a pitch-black darkness broken only by the sullen glare of the searchlights. Yet the darkness wasn’t absolute; as the bathyscaphe moved downward, every now and then Danzig caught momentary glimpses of light, like fireflies winking in the perpetual night. He was about to comment on this when something moved quickly past the porthole to his left. It was gone before he could see what it was, only to reappear in the forward porthole, hovering for a second or two in the glare of the searchlights before vanishing again, leaving behind only another brief flash of bioluminescence.
“Mariner,” Evangeline said before he could ask. Another shrimp-like creature appeared, then disappeared as quickly as the first. “That’s two,” she added. “That probably means they’re hunting…oh, yes, there they are.”
A sparse white cloud floated into view. At first Danzig thought it was nothing more than sediment until he noticed that it seemed to have a slow, lazy movement of its own. He’d just realized that the cloud was a school of tiny creatures, each no larger than an insect larva, when a mariner darted into their midst. The cloud scattered as the creatures fled from the predator, only to reform just at the edge of the searchlight’s range.
“Ice darters,” Evangeline said. “A mariner’s favorite treat.” She seemed thoughtful as she gazed through the center porthole. “There’s an entire world down there. We’re the only people to see this with our own eyes.”
“Besides Klaus and John, you mean,” Danzig said.
For a brief instant there was a flash of anger in her eyes. “Besides Klaus and John…yes, of course. What I meant was that we’ll be the only ones who’ll tell people what we saw.”
Danzig didn’t reply. What she’d said, though, seemed significant in some way he didn’t quite understand.
Evangeline pushed the joysticks forward, taking the bathyscaphe farther down. DSV-2 had a limited range of mobility, its tether preventing them from traveling very far from the hole, but it would be able to descend to 55 fathoms before it reached the cable’s maximum length. The darkness seemed to swallow the searchlight; every now and then, another mariner or school of darters would flit across its beam, but otherwise they were surrounded by a dark, cold abyss.
Danzig remembered that it was at 37 fathoms that Evangeline claimed DSV-1 encountered the creature that wrecked the bathyscaphe. So far, though, they hadn’t seen anything larger than mariners. The pilot had fallen silent; she seemed tense as she maneuvered the submersible in a broad, clockwise spiral that took them ever deeper into the subsurface ocean. She was obviously searching for the creature, hoping that she’d find it again. If it really existed, that is…
“Perhaps it’s moved on.” Danzig glanced at the depth gauge; the bathyscaphe was at 51 fathoms. Only four more meters to go before they reached the end of the tether. “The robots didn’t find it when they were sent down here,” he went on. “Maybe they…”
“I know what you’re thinking.” Evangeline didn’t look at him, but continued to stare straight ahead. “I was making it all up. It’s not really there.” Then she looked at him, and Danzig was surprised to see hostility in her eyes. “No one’s ever going to believe me, so why bother? This is a waste of time.”
“Hell with it.” She pulled back on the joysticks, ending the spiraling descent. “I don’t care what you think,” she said as she reached for the ballast control panel. “If I’m going to…”
Something bumped against the bathyscaphe.
The impact was soft, no more violent than one car tapping bumpers with another in a parking lot, but it came from the aft port hull where nothing else should be.
Evangeline’s hand stopped in mid-reach, her eyes wide with surprise. “Did you…?” Another impact, harder this time, from the starboard side just behind Danzig’s porthole.
He looked around just in time to see something move past the thick glass. He couldn’t clearly make it out, but he caught a brief glimpse of a fin before it disappeared.
“I see it!” he yelled. “There it is.”
“Switch on the recorder!” Evangline snapped. She didn’t wait for him, though, but instead reached across Danzig toward the communications panel, intending to activate the bathyscaphe’s video recorder.
As Danzig watched, she tapped another button by mistake. He didn’t say anything, though, but quietly corrected her error by touching the right button. He noticed that the button she’d pressed was the one for the ELF transceiver. It was switched on again, but in her moment of distraction she’d turned it off. He didn’t have a chance to mention what she’d done before something moved on the other side of the forward porthole.
“Here it comes again,” Evangeline said, a little more calmly now.
An instant later, the creature was squarely within the searchlight beam. Two enormous eyes, with bloodless-pink irises and broad black pupils, contracted slightly in the glare, and a lipless mouth opened to reveal a fibrous membrane. For an instant it seemed as if the creature was going to collide head-first with the bathyscaphe, but at the last moment it turned to the left. As it swam past DSV-2’s port side, Danzig saw a fleshy body, albino-white, with narrow slit-like gills and a stubby fin along its side. About three or four meters long—he couldn’t tell for sure—it didn’t quite look like a fish, but not like a mammal or reptile either. Some new kind of animal, utterly alien.
“I’ll be damned.” Danzig caught another glimpse of the creature as it moved past the porthole on Evangeline’s side of the cabin. “It’s…”
Then the extraterrestrial hit the bathyscaphe again, hard enough this time to shake the entire submersible. “I don’t care what it is,” Evangeline said. “If it keeps doing that, it’s going to damage my boat.”
“Maybe it’s attracted by the searchlight.”
“You may be right.” Another glance out the forward porthole, then she reached forward to switch off the searchlight. The portholes went dark, save for the distant flash of a mariner’s bioluminescence. A moment passed, then there was another hard bump against the hull, again from aft but not nearly as hard as before, almost as if the creature had struck the submersible by accident.
Evangeline looked at Danzig. “Seen enough?” she asked, and smiled when he nodded. “Good. So have I.”
She voided the ballast tanks and Danzig felt the bathyscaphe begin to rise, heading swiftly toward the ice layer that hid the ocean from the sky. Taking the joysticks again, Evangeline maneuvered the bathyscaphe toward the hole; there was a sharp tug from above as the bathyscaphe’s computer sent a signal up the cable to the winch, commanding it to automatically begin reeling in the tether.
Danzig didn’t mention to Evangeline the error she’d made when she’d switched off the ELF while reaching for the video recorder, yet he knew that this would explain DSV-1’s mysterious communications failure. Yet this was almost beside the point. The creature existed, just as Evangeline had claimed. Danzig had seen it with his own eyes, and its image had been captured by the recorder.
He couldn’t help but smile. The angel had her alibi.
“Six meters and closing,” Kevin said. “Five…four…three…two…one…”
A muffled clang as the shuttle’s docking collar mated with the Zeus Explorer. The pilot reached up to snap a couple of switches before looking over his shoulder at his passengers. “Okay, folks, we’re here. Don’t forget to tip the waiter on the way out.”
“Put it on my tab,” Danzig replied, and Kevin laughed as he continued to shut down the spacecraft. Danzig unbuckled his seat harness, then turned to Evangeline. “Ready to go aboard?”
“Certainly.” She’d already opened her own harness. “Never thought I’d be happy to see the ship again.”
“I’m sure you are,” he said, and caught a brief smile in return. A four-day round-trip aboard the shuttle was enough to induce claustrophobia in anyone, and Consolmagno Base was hardly the most comfortable of places. The Explorer was a luxury yacht by comparison. But there was more to it than just that, wasn’t there?
“Hold on. Let me open the hatch for you.” Kevin left his seat and pushed himself toward the bow hatch. As the pilot pumped the lever that would equalize pressure between the shuttle and the Explorer‘s docking port, Danzig stole a glance at Evangeline. She’d changed over the last couple of days; there was no longer a haunted look in her eyes, and it seemed as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. And for good reason. She’d left the Explorer a pariah; now she was returning, if not a hero, then at least vindicated.
Even before Walter relayed the DSV-2 video to the Explorer, it was clear that the accusations against her would be dropped. There was no longer any doubt that the creature was real; now that Danzig had seen what was being regarded as Europa’s largest inhabitant, no one could claim that Evangeline lied about its existence. The worst that could now be said about her was that she’d reacted rashly when it attacked her DSV-1. And even then, no one could really blame her for trying to save her own life.
Someone knocked twice against the outside of the shuttle hatch. Kevin knocked back, then grasped the lockwheel and twisted it counter-clockwise. A faint hiss as the hatch swung open, then a voice called from within the airlock.
“Welcome back,” Dylan McNeil said. “Glad to see you made it in one piece.”
“How dare you slander me?” Kevin replied in mock protest as he pushed himself through the hatch. “You’re insinuating that I’m an unsafe pilot. I should sue for libel.”
“Yeah, sure.” Dylan helped his friend come aboard, then reached back through the hatch to offer Danzig a hand. “How ‘bout it, Otto? Are you willing to arbitrate this dispute, or should I get a lawyer?”
“Sorry. You’re just going to have to work this out on your own.” Danzig grasped Dylan’s hand and let the chief engineer pull him into the airlock, then he took hold of a ceiling rung and waited for Evangeline to follow him. He noted that Dylan seemed more than willing to help her come aboard; only a few days ago, he’d pointedly snubbed Evangeline when she and Danzig were about to leave the ship.
Dylan wasn’t the only expedition member who’d had a change of attitude. During the long flight back from Europa, Evangeline had used the comlink to speak with various people aboard the Explorer about what she’d found. Captain Diaz, Margaret Harris, Rita Jimenez…all wanted to know more about the extraterrestrial, conveniently forgetting that they’d previously called her a murderer, a slut, or even worse. Which only figured. It hadn’t taken very long for word to reach Earth, and since Evangeline was the only surviving member of the team that first sighted the creature—tentatively called a pseudocetacean for the time being—she was being credited as its discoverer. Once the Explorer returned to Earth, she’d become one of the most famous members of the International Jupiter Expedition. Her former adversaries knew this, and also that it didn’t pay to make enemies with a hero. Better to bury the hatchet than continue carrying a grudge.
For now, though, she’d have to settle for no longer being under suspicion. Danzig could see the relief in Evangeline’s face as she let Dylan help her through the hatch. Once she was aboard, though, she left the chief engineer behind and pushed herself over to Danzig.
“So…what now?” She smiled at him as she took hold of the same rung he was using, her fingers lightly touching his own.
Danzig shrugged. “Life goes back to normal, I suppose. At least I expect it will, once I deliver my report to the Captain…and I’m sure you know what it will be.”
“I’m sure I do.” Evangeline let herself drift a little closer to him. “Thank you, Otto. I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me.”
“Do you remember what I said to you? How I’d be grateful for any help you could give me?” He nodded, and her smile became more suggestive. “Come down to my quarters in a little while,” she said, her voice a near-whisper. “After you’ve seen the Captain, I mean.”
Danzig felt his face grow warm. Kevin had already left the docking port, but from the corner of his eye he could see Dylan pointedly looking the other way. “If you’d like me to…”
“I would.” Evangeline pulled herself closer, and her lips briefly touched his own. For a moment he felt the sensual tension of her body against his, then she pulled herself away. A meaningful wink, then she disappeared through the airlock hatch, heading for the hub carrousel.
Danzig looked over at Dylan. The chief engineer’s back was turned to him as he sealed the port hatch, but the grin on his face made it obvious that he’d witnessed the whole thing. “I see your job has its own rewards,” he said quietly.
“Um…” Danzig floundered for the right thing to say, then he remembered some unfinished business. “By the way, I’ve been meaning to tell you…thanks for saving my life. During the blowout a few months ago, I mean.”
“Sure. No problem.” Dylan pushed himself away from the hatch. “If you really want to thank someone, though, you can tell Evangeline how much you appreciate what she did. That way, you’ll be even.”
“Huh?” Danzig shook his head. “Sorry, but I don’t understand. What do you…?”
“She never told you?” Dylan stopped at the docking port’s inner hatch. “I would’ve never known you were in the main airlock if Evangeline hadn’t told me.”
“You didn’t know?” He raised a querulous eyebrow. “I was on my way down to Deck B when I found her coming the other way. She told me she thought someone was trapped in the airlock and that she was on her way to get help. So I headed for the airlock and—” a shrug “—well, there you were.”
“I didn’t know that.” Danzig hesitated. “Was there anyone else on Deck B at the time?”
“No. Just her.” Dylan pushed himself through the hatch. “Anyway…so now you know. You owe her a kiss for that, at least.”
Danzig didn’t reply. He waited until Dylan was gone, then left the docking port and pushed himself down Hub Deck 2’s passageway. The docking port was located on the same level as the airlock in which he’d nearly lost his life. Up until then, he’d avoided visiting the place, but now it was important that he see it again.
There was a small control panel on the bulkhead outside the airlock’s inner hatch. Opening its safety cover, Danzig studied its buttons. He’d already known that the airlock’s outer hatch could be closed from this panel; that was how Dylan saved his life. However, Danzig hadn’t realized what should have been obvious: the outer hatch could be opened from here as well.
He lingered in the passageway for a few minutes. Then he went to see Captain Diaz.
The door to Margaret Harris’s quarters clicked softly as it slid shut. Danzig glanced about to make sure that he was alone, then he knocked on Evangeline’s door.
No response. He was about to try again when the door slid open a couple of centimeters. Evangeline peered at him through the crack. “Hello,” she said quietly, smiling at him. “Come in…I’ve been waiting for you.”
Opening the door a little further, she took Danzig’s hand and pulled him into the room. The lights had been turned down low, but he could see that she wore an oversized Zeus Explorer T-shirt that fell down around her hips…and, so far as he could tell, nothing else.
As Evangeline closed the door behind him, Danzig opened his mouth to speak. Before he could say anything, though, she slid her arms around his neck and, standing on her toes, planted her lips firmly against his. Her mouth was as soft as it had been in the airlock, but this time the kiss lasted much longer. He could feel the warm, supple strength of her body, and when he placed his hands upon her waist, a single touch was all it took to confirm that she was naked beneath the T-shirt.
“I was hoping you’d come to see me,” Evangeline whispered as she pulled her face away. “I owe you something.”
“No. Enough talk.”
Resting a hand against his chest, she gently pushed him backward. Even though it had been nearly a week since he’d been revived from hibernation, Danzig was still too weak to resist; the firm but insistent pressure made him fall back upon her bed. Its covers had already been pulled aside. In the next instant, Evangeline was on top of him, her legs straddling his body as she reached down to rip open his shirt. Then, as she placed her hands on either side of his shoulders, she descended upon him, her long brown hair falling down around her face as her eager mouth found his own.
Danzig didn’t love her, and he knew that she didn’t love him. This was a transaction as pragmatic as the payment of a bribe, with flesh as the preferred currency. The sex was dishonest, but it was all too tempting to believe the lie. It had been a long while—too long, really—since the last time he’d been with a woman, and it would be easy to let her take him.
All he had to do was forget what he knew. But he couldn’t. When she sat up to remove her shirt, he finally had a chance to speak.
“Why did you murder them…and try to kill me, too?”
Evangeline had lifted her T-shirt enough for him to see her naked thighs and the bottoms of her breasts. She froze, her hands still grasping the shirt’s hem.
“You killed Klaus and John,” he went on, trying not to look at her body. “I know that now, even if I didn’t before.” He paused. “You also attempted to kill me, back when you voided the main airlock while I was inside. I don’t have a good memory of what happened…the doctor says it’s because of shock…so I didn’t catch on to what you did. But now I know better.”
“Otto…” Letting her shirt drop, she stared at him in disbelief. “How can you say that? You saw the pseudocetacean for yourself. You know it exists…”
“Yes, I do…but that’s really beside the point, isn’t it?” He shook his head. “Or maybe it isn’t. I had the whole thing mixed up. The creature wasn’t your alibi…it was your motive, the reason why you decided to murder Connick and Werner.”
Danzig felt an involuntary shudder pass through her body. Her mouth twisted as if she was trying to find something to say, but he wouldn’t let her interrupt him. “With them out of the way,” he went on, “you won’t have to share credit for its discovery. Oh, the textbooks will probably mention them, but once we’re back home, you’ll be the one who stands to gain the most. There’ll be a lot of fame coming to the person…the living person, that is…who discovered the first alien, and a lot of money to go with it. You knew this would happen. That’s why you killed them.”
Evangeline shook her head. “I don’t…I didn’t…”
“Oh, yes, you did. You practically said so yourself, while we were making the dive.” Danzig gazed up at her, searching for her eyes amid the shadows of her hair. “I almost didn’t remember it. Maybe I really wanted you to be innocent. But when Dylan told me what I hadn’t known before, that you’d let him know that I was in the airlock…that’s when I realized that what happened to me wasn’t an accident at all. You’d opened the outer hatch while I was in the airlock, but then Dylan ran into you as you were leaving the deck and so you had no choice but to let him know where I was. Because if you hadn’t, someone might have wondered why you were there, and maybe figured out that what happened to me wasn’t an accident at all.”
“Otto…no.” She shook her head. “That’s not…you know I couldn’t have…”
“Stop it, Evangeline. Just…stop.” He slowly let out his breath. “I know better now, and so do you.”
For several long seconds, she didn’t say anything. Then she reached up to push back her hair, and Danzig saw that her face had changed. All the previous warmth and sexual hunger had vanished, to be replaced by an emotionless mask.
“Just so you know,” she said quietly, “I’m sorry I almost killed you.”
Danzig felt a chill. He’d expected Evangeline to continue asserting her innocence, but apparently she’d decided that any further pretensions of innocence were futile. Which made her even more dangerous than she’d been before.
“Why did you do it?” he asked.
“You shouldn’t take it personally,” Evangeline said, unmindful of the macabre irony of her words. “It was necessary, that’s all. I figured that, since you’re the ship’s arbiter, you’d be the person most likely to investigate what happened to John and Klaus, so I had to take care of you before I did anything else. But once I got to know you a bit better—” a shrug of her narrow shoulders “—well, I came to like you.”
“Really? Be honest.”
Evangeline sighed, shook her head. “No…no, you’re right. I just figured that I could manipulate you just the way I did with those two.” A smile appeared, both sensual and cunning. “I’ve always been able to play men this way,” she continued, playfully laying a forefinger upon his chest and slowly moving it down his stomach toward his groin. “When it comes right down to it, there’s only one thing guys really want…”
“So you planned this from the very start of the mission.” Danzig pushed her hand aside; she responded with a soft laugh that was both amused and mean. “First you slept with John, then…”
“No.” She absently tossed back her hair as she looked away from him. “I slept with John because I wanted to, period. I didn’t want to get bored on the way out here, and he was a lot more interesting than anyone else aboard. But when we were in bed, he’d tell me about what he expected to find once we got to Jupiter, and after awhile I realized two things. First…as you said…whoever found life on Europa would be rich and famous once we got back to Earth. Vids, books, lecture tours…”
“What was the second thing?”
“He and Klaus had already worked things out. Between the two of them, they’d agreed to share credit for any major discoveries, along with any profits. But as for me…”
Evangeline’s eyes narrowed as her mouth tightened into a scowl. “Nothing. I was to be the bathyscaphe pilot, that’s all. Oh, I’d be mentioned in the book the two of them planned to write. Maybe even get my picture in it. But John let it slip that I wouldn’t have a share in anything if they made a major discovery out here.”
Her hand returned to his chest, fingers absently playing with the soft fringe of hair at his sternum as she gazed out the nearby porthole. “That made me so angry, I took up the matter with Klaus. I wasn’t going to sleep with him at first, but…”
“You changed your mind when you thought doing so might help change his mind.”
“That was the general idea, yes.” A sly smile appeared on her face. “Klaus was more than happy to have sex with his colleague’s girlfriend…I don’t think the two of them liked each other that much, really…but the deal had already been made, and neither of them wanted to split the proceeds more than they already planned.”
“So that’s when you decided to kill them.”
“I figured that, if we made a major discovery while on Europa, I’d fake a communications breakdown, then jettison the bathyscaphe’s lower half and tell everyone that there had been an accident. And it almost worked…”
“Except no one believed you’d found something down there. You cut the comlink too soon, and so you didn’t have enough evidence to back up your side of the story.”
“No.” She looked down at him again. “But then I got lucky. You’d survived the airlock blowout, but I hadn’t expected that the Captain would ask Martha to revive you. But when they did…”
“You figured you could manipulate me. Just as you did John and Klaus.”
“You don’t need to think of it that way.” An indifferent shrug, a wry smile. “I told you I like you…you wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t.”
Evangline bent closer, bracing her arms against the bed on either side of him. “We can work this out,” she went on. “After all, you were with me. You saw the pseudocetacean, too. Once we’re back home, we’ll be very rich and—” her voice became very quiet “—you’ll always have me.”
Looking up into her eyes, Danzig saw that they’d become as cold as Europa’s ocean. “Yes,” he said, “yes, I suppose I could.” The smile reappeared, and she leaned forward to kiss him again. “But then,” he added, “I’d have to explain everything to Captain Diaz.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” she whispered.
“Yes, he would,” Diaz said.
Evangeline jerked her head up to see the captain standing on the other side of the room. Danzig had no idea how long she’d been there; Diaz had been very quiet when she entered Evangeline’s quarters through the bathroom she shared with Margaret.
Evangeline stared at Diaz, her mouth agape and her eyes wide. Then she must have realized that the captain must have heard the entire conversation she’d had with Danzig, because something snapped within her and she lunged forward to wrap her hands around his neck.
She was still screaming when Diaz hauled her off the bed and slugged her.
The next time Danzig saw Evangeline was when he went to the infirmary.
Except for the bruise and a couple of scratches her hands had left around his neck, he was unharmed by her attack. Diaz wanted him to see Martha, but instead he’d gone straight to his quarters. He was exhausted, both physically and mentally; there was nothing the doctor could do for him that a few hours sleep wouldn’t accomplish just as well.
Yet all he did was lie in his bunk, staring up at the ceiling while his mind replayed the events of the last few days. He’d already told Diaz everything he knew, even before he’d gone down to Evangeline’s room to confront her. In hindsight, it was fortunate that the Captain had insisted on coming with him. If Diaz hadn’t been hiding in the bathroom, it was possible that Evangeline might have killed him. She’d been stronger than Danzig expected, and he was too weak to fight her.
But he could have done something else instead, and it was the realization of what he might have done that finally prompted him to reach over to the intercom and call the command center. He’d intended to ask the captain’s permission to see Evangeline, but he was told that Diaz had taken her to the infirmary. Knowing why they’d gone there, he got dressed again and went upstairs to the med deck.
Danzig found them in the hibernation compartment, along with the doctor and a couple of other crew members. Diaz was surprised when he came in, as was Martha, but Evangeline seemed to have been expecting him.
“Hello, Otto,” she said. “Come to gloat?”
She wore the same sort of thin cotton smock Danzig had found himself wearing when he’d been revived. She stood off to one side of the windowless room, with Kirstin Bigelow to her left and Jim Kretsche to her right; they were apparently there to make sure that she didn’t do anything violent. Yet Evangeline was beyond that; her shoulders were slumped and her hair was bedraggled, but it was the hopeless look in her eyes which told Danzig that she knew she’d been defeated.
“No, not at all.” He paused, trying to figure what to say. “I figured you were going to be here,” he added after a moment, “so I thought I’d see you off.”
“Yeah…okay.” Evangeline nodded. Danzig noticed the drip-line attached to her left arm; Martha had already put her under sedation as the preliminary step toward hibernation; this probably accounted for her dull expression. “Sorry for what I did. You just…you just…”
“I know.” Despite what he knew about what she’d done, Danzig had to resist the urge to walk over and comfort her. It was hard to see her like this; he had a sudden impulse to leave the room, but he needed to see this through.
Evangeline seemed to understand. A wan smile struggled to her face, and for an instant he saw the woman whom he’d trusted enough to take him into Europa’s oceans and bring him back again. Then the smile faded and she looked away, gazing at nothing in particular.
“All right, we’re ready.” Martha finished making the final adjustments to the hibernation cell’s recessed control panel. “You can bring her over now.”
The cell was in its horizontal position, its door open to reveal a padded tank somewhat resembling the inside of a refrigerator. Danzig had slept there on the way to Jupiter; now Evangeline would take his place until theZeus Explorer returned to Earth.
He quietly watched while Kirstin and Jim led Evangeline to the cell. She didn’t resist as they carefully helped her into the tank, nor did she say anything while Martha inserted a feeding tube into her right arm and slid a unisex urine collection cup beneath her smock. Danzig didn’t notice that Diaz had stepped over to stand beside him; he continued to observe the procedure that would put Evangeline into a long, dreamless sleep which would only end when she was awakened to stand trial for the murders of two men.
“She’s ready,” Martha said. She was about to close the door, then she looked over her shoulder at Danzig. “Would you like to say anything to her before she goes?”
Danzig hesitated, and Diaz touched his arm. “It’s all right,” she whispered. “Go ahead, if you want.”
He reluctantly approached the cell. Evangeline lay within it, hands at her sides, looking as if she was about to be interred in a cemetery. Her eyelids were fluttering as the drugs took effect; only a few seconds remained before she was lost to him.
“Goodbye, Mephostophilis,” he said. He didn’t know whether she understood him; he could only hope that she’d remember what he said. In any case, he didn’t get an answer. Her blue-green eyes closed, and then she was gone.
Once its door was sealed, the cell raised to its vertical position and retracted into a bulkhead niche. Diaz waited until it was done before she walked over to Danzig.
“Mephostophilis?” she asked.
“A fallen angel,” Danzig said. “The one who tempted Faust.”
“Uh-huh.” From the vague way she responded, it was clear she’d probably never read Marlowe. “And did she tempt you?”
Danzig didn’t reply. Instead, he turned and left the room.