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What lurks on the surface of Europa?

Chapter one: Bad memories

By Callum ShergoldPublished 7 months ago Updated 6 months ago 12 min read

“Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. Well this clearly was the case for the crew onboard the New Horizon.” Commissioner Jemma O’Donnell addressed the conference room that evening. Sitting at the table to her left were search and rescue team leader Nikki Adams, who as usual was listening intently to the words of her higher-up. Next to her sat James Patterson, sitting with his elbow on the table and face resting in his hand looking bored also as usual. On the other side of the table was mechanical engineer Anthony Tailor, and the newest member Alex Briggs, who was trying his best to look like he was paying as much attention as possible. “The New Horizon took off from the Intergalactic Research Institute’s new space station on Mars on its expedition voyage to the Jupiter moon Callisto.” O’Donnell continued, pointing to a large flat screen on the wall with a map of Jupiter and its moons. “It’s last known location was somewhere here.” Gesturing towards the moon Europa on the map. “Orbiting around the Europa shortly before losing all contact. It is presumed that something mechanical went wrong onboard the New Horizon and the craft had to make a crash landing.”

She leaned forward with her palms flat on the glass table, staring into space thinking of the crew of the New Horizon crash landing, possibly injured or dead made O’Donnell think of her son, his first ever assignment to investigate the disappearance of a supply ship head for a new human settlement on the Saturn moon of Mimas, the devastating news of an explosion occurring on the craft he was onboard…

“The craft that was used was one of the new Explorer class space vessel.” Nikki said standing up and walking up to the screen. Commissioner O’Donnell quickly snapped out of her trance and focused on Nikki. Nikki touched the board and brought up a folder app, she selected one which read “Space Vessel Info” and opened it. From there Nikki then opened another file named “Explorer Class info” and scrolled down to a paragraph about the distress system.

“Which have the new ultra long range SOS distress signal, which has a range of forty five light minutes, which is more then enough to reach Earth.” James turned to Alex while Nikki continued to talk and mouthed the word “Swot”, Alex laughed silently, Anthony who had also caught the exchange just rolled his eyes.

“But the distress signal system is encased in an extremely strong and dense material which can keep it protected from almost any impact, like black boxes in aeroplanes from hundreds of years ago so it would be almost impossible for it to be destroyed. Plus it is programmed to send a distress signal the second a mechanical problem that can’t be rectified by the crew has been detected.”

“Could it be possible that the distress signal met with interference?” Alex asked.

“No” Nikki replied bluntly. “Because these new systems are built to be strong enough to counter any interference.”

“And we’ve contacted every space station near the path of the New Horizon up until the point it disappeared and they have all told us that no distress message from the Explorer craft had been sent.” O’Donnell added.

“Also I contacted the maintenance department of the Intergalactic Research Institute and they have provided proof that the craft was in full operational condition before departing.” Anthony chimed in, the first time he had spoken during the entire meeting.

“Almost as if the system has been manually switched off.” Nikki finished.

“But why would they do that?” Alex asked.

“I don’t know.” O’Donnell answered. “But that’s what you lot are here to find out. Nikki, as team leader and Chief Inspector, you’ll be in charge of locating the possible wreckage and the crew, if they’re still alive, I want you to interview them, find out what happened.”

“Yes ma’am.” Nikki answered enthusiastically.

“James, as the forensic pathologist, if the crew are…” O’Donnell faltered momentarily, mind racing back to her son. “Dead, then you’ll need to ascertain the cause of death.”

“Yes, I do know what my job entails thank you.” James sarcastically remarked back. O’Donnell ignored him and turned to Anthony next. “Anthony, as the mechanical engineer I need you to find and identify any problems with the ship the could have occurred and possibly have been missed by maintenance.”

“Yes ma’am.” He replied.

“And last but not least.” O’Donnell said looking at Alex. “As the computer technician, I need you to find the distress signal system and see if it really had been switched off, any surveillance footage, audio recordings, things like that that could possibly give us some insight into what happened before the the ship went missing.”

“Yes ma’am!” Alex said almost equally as enthusiastically as Nikki, eager to be given his first assignment.

James leaned forward and whispered in Nikki ear. “I think your swot-ness is starting to run off on Alex.” He leaned back and smirked to himself while Nikki just glared at himself unimpressed by his childish remarks.

“Excellent.” O’Donnell concluded. “I think that’s everything, tomorrow morning your ship will be prepared with supplies and fuelled and waiting for you on the launchpad, so get some rest, and be ready for an eventful few days, this won’t be an easy one, nor I fear one for the faint hearted.”

With those words left to linger around the conference room the team started to get up and leave for their accommodations.

“Nikki, could you wait one minute?” O’Donnell called out.

Nikki turned around and nodded to the Commissioner. O’Donnell hurriedly picked up her paperwork and walked out of the conference room with Nikki. They both turned left and walked towards O’Donnell’s office. “Nikki.” O’Donnell began. “As you’re probably aware by now, Chief Superintendent Michael Bailey is retiring in a month’s time, and I’m now tasked with finding someone else to fill the role.” She stopped just outside her office and turned to Nikki. “ I’ve decided I want you to take the job.”

Nikki’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Really?” She exclaimed “Wh… Why me?”

“Because you’re ambitious and I want someone I can not only trust but actually get along with, because I really didn’t like Michael much, he was very up himself!”

Nikki was completely spellbound, she struggled to find the words to reply with.

“Ma’am I’m honoured! I don’t know what to say!”

O’Donnell smiled. “Just say yes.”

“Ok, yes! I will, thank you so much.” Nikki beamed.

“Don’t mention it, with your experience and enthusiasm and determination you really were the only candidate for the job.”

“Thank you, again. I suppose I should be getting ready for tomorrow, good night ma’am.” Nikki said still beaming.

“Good night Nikki, I still have the unfortunate task of informing the loved ones of the New Horizon crew that they’ve officially declared missing.”

“Can’t imagine that will be easy to hear.”

O’Donnell shook her head. “It never is. Let’s hope we can find them alive.”

Nikki began to walk back to her room, but stopped and turned back to O’Donnell.

“I also can’t imagine how you must be feeling, with this investigation probably bringing back memories of your son. How long has it been now?”

O’Donnell froze and stared solemnly into the distance. “Three years, it never gets any easier.” She blinked softly and A tear rolled down her cheek. “Never have kids Nikki! Or at least make sure they don’t follow in your footsteps.” Nikki smiled sympathetically to her then turned and walked down the corridor. O’Donnell opened the door and walked into her office, dumping the paperwork on the desk and collapsing into the swivel chair rubbing her face with her hands. On her desk was the paperwork she had just put there, various bits of stationery and a folding picture frame, O’Donnell picked it up and looked at it closely. The first picture was of her son Sam at his graduation from the intergalactic police academy shaking hands with his professor and holding his diploma in his other hand.

Sam’s graduation, Three years ago.

Sitting in the third row of seats watching students collect their diplomas, she remembered the feeling of sheer pride and joy as she watched her son stand up and collect his certificate on stage with his classmates. After the ceremony Sam walked up to his mother and she threw her arms around him. “I’m so proud of you sweetheart!”

Present day

The second picture was of herself with her arm around her sons shoulder just before his first and last investigation.

Three years ago.

“I remember when you were just a little boy, you once said you wanted to be just like me when you grew up, and now here you are, I’m incredibly proud of you.” Jemma O’Donnell and Sam stood on the deck of the intergalactic police and security forces base on the moon surface, looking out of the oxygen dome that surrounded the building at the maintenance crews and personnel in their spacesuits making final preparations to the spacecraft “The Explorer” that Sam would be boarding.

She shed a small tear and threw her arms around her son, Sam glanced around the area quickly feeling a little embarrassed.

Jemma pulled herself away and wiped the tear from her eye, still smiling broadly.

“Your crew are starting to get ready, you better go and join them. Promise me you will be fine.” She said

“Yes mum, I’ll be fine, it not like we’re gonna get attacked by aliens is it?” Sam replied in a jokey manner.

“Sam, it’s time to go!” Superintendent Jack Donahue shouted from the entrance of the airlock, the rest of the crew were already there waiting for him.

Sam nodded to his superior and started walking over, he turned and waved to his mother one last time. “Bye mum!” He called to Jemma. “Bye son!” She called back. “And be careful!” Jemma watched silently as Sam passed through the airlock and boarded the spacecraft. The immense pride she felt was quickly shadowed by a deep nervous feeling, that something might happen…. He’s going to be fine! She told herself,not letting herself listen to any doubt . He has to be fine! He’s all I’ve got I need him to be alright!

The lights of the spacecraft flashed on intensely bright, the low hum of the engines grew louder as the craft slowly levitated off the launchpad, slowly rising higher and higher. Then in the blink of an eye, it shot away almost instantly out of sight into the infinite depths of space.

Four days later

“Ma’am, news has just been received from the rescue crews about the Explorer.” A young officer had told O’Donnell that morning as she sat at her desk. The sound of those words made her blood run cold.

“So what happened?” She asked trying hard to keep her composure, butterflies racing vigorously round her stomach hoping desperately that the words she feared the most to hear wouldn’t be spoken.

“The Explorer suffered engine problems that were not picked up by the maintenance crew.” The officer began. “This eventually caused a fire to start in the engine room, which spread to the oxygen tank, which caused the tank to explode.” O’Donnell continued to sit at her desk completely still, the nervous feeling getting more intense as the officer carried on, bringing her closer to the feared inevitable.

“Any fatalities?” O’Donnell stuttered.

“Two fatalities have been reported. Officer Lindsey Johnson and…” The young officer faltered, seeing the worried look in her eyes.

“Officer Sam O’Donnell.” He finally said with as much sympathy as he could. And there it was, just as she had feared. Despite trying to prepare for the worst as best she could it still hit her like a ton of bricks. She sat in her chair in a state of complete shock, any and all energy knocked out of her, she had just lost her only son.

“All members of the crew have managed to evacuate onboard the escape pod, along with the recovered bodies.” Finished the officer.

“Thank you for informing me, you can go now,” O’Donnell managed to stutter trying not to meet the young man’s gaze.

“Yes ma’am.” The officer turned on his heel and walked out of her office without another word. O’Donnell stayed sat at her desk trying to take it in, her brain felt completely scrambled, she didn’t know what to think, what to do, or how to feel. All she could do was sit there. The silence of her office was deafening.

Two days later

Standing outside the main building complex looking through the dome, Jemma O’Donnell watched as the spacecraft that had been sent out to rescue the crew of the Explorer landed down onto the launchpad, the landing gear making the ground shake ever so slightly as the ship “The Yorkshire Rose” made impact with the ground. Jemma watched on trying to stay calm on the outside but inside she was completely tearing herself apart with grief, she had to use all her strength to stop herself breaking down.

Standing beside her was her deputy commissioner Eric Townsend, and her superior, Commander Julia Campbell. The three officers watched patiently as the cargo doors on the side of the ship lowered slowly, the top of the door hitting the ground with an uncomfortable thud. Four people carried the coffin of Lindsey Johnson down the ramp slowly and with care. O’Donnell, Townsend and Campbell saluted the Lindsey’s remains, remaining respectfully silent as the younger officers carried it into the main building. Then a second group of officers walked down the ramp carrying Sam O’Donnell’s coffin, his black tunic partially burned draped over the casket. Jemma could no longer hold in her emotions at the sight of her sons coffin, she fell to her knees and wailed uncontrollably, tears streaming down her face. Screaming “NOOOO!!!” Townsend put his arm around O’Donnell’s shoulder to comfort her.

“MY SON!!!” She wailed. “MY BOY!!!”

Present day

More tears started running down O’Donnell’s face, the painful memories of seeing her sons coffin made her hands tremble and feel clammy. She put the picture frame back on the desk and grabbed the handle of her desk drawer frantically trying to open it, she did so and grabbed the only thing that had helped her cope with the memories for the last three years, a small bottle of vodka. She unscrewed the lid and took a swig from the bottle, making her wince as it hit her system. She took another swig, then let her emotions take over, she put the bottle down and cried into the palms of her hands. After three years of unrelenting grief she had learned the heartbreaking truth: time does not heal all wounds.

Sci Fi

About the Creator

Callum Shergold

I’ve always been a bit of a fantasist, making up stories with friends to entertain each other, which is probably why I’m here now, to reconnect with my creative side that enjoys writing.

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