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Out Of The Cold by John Cave
SUMMARY: Part One of a two part story of mankinds "first encounter".
Out Of The Cold.
"Are you sure this is the right cave?" asked Andy.
"You're the laser coordinator, what are you asking me for?" I replied.
I knew exactly what Andy meant though, all these ice caves on Europa look exactly the same.
We had been sent to Europa after astronomers at Hale observatory had used the big two meter telescope and had noticed strange coloured lights emanating from the surface. At first the astronomers had believed the lights t have been a natural phenomenon, probably created by light reflecting from the ice. After the lights had continued for four weeks, the astronomers concluded that there was a real chance that these lights had been artificially produced.
Europa is a small icy moon of the planet Jupiter. It has a surface that is covered with a crust of ice and has a sub-surface ocean of liquid water. The subject of whether there is any life in this ocean has been a topic of discussion for some time. We will be finding out for certain. I'm Steve Watcher, in charge of this expedition. I have been in the astronaut program for over fifteen years and I am in charge of a crew of seven. Myself, co-pilot, three scientists, and two astronomers.
After a journey of some six weeks we were finally here. Europa has turned out to be a moon of valleys of ice that are filled with ice caves and caverns. Just as Andy McKensie, one of the astronomers had said all these caves look exactly the same. The terrain was treacherous to say the least, but the view of giant Jupiter hanging in the skies above was well worth the journey.
"I'm using the receptors correctly" Andy replied angrily "but the lasers over the distance between Earth and here cannot be absolutely accurate".
"Relax Andy; I'm sure you've got us to the right place." I smiled "It would have been a bit easier on us if those lights hadn't stopped just as we were arriving, wouldn't it?"
Andy just smiled back and went back to his laser receptors. These machines use the laser light fired at us from two observatories, Hale in America and Alice Springs in Australia, to get an exact (or as close as humanly possible at this distance!) location on Europa from where the lights have been coming from. He is the top most expert at this kind of work, just as the other astronomers were in their fields of study.
The cave was a huge structure made completely of ice, not surprising as the whole surface of this little moon is composed entirely of ice. The spotlights that we had brought with us lit up the cave and the reflections came back in a rainbow of colours. It was an amazing sight but something about the colours was familiar. I realised that these strange reflections looked like the lights that had been shown to us in the film from the Hale observatory and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I noticed that even on this ice world this was the first time I had started to shiver! I managed to snap myself out of this daze that I had gotten into and began to concentrate again.