Part 7: the Mission to Jupiter

from Heroes of the Solar Rangers by G.H. Wells, (published 2190)

...the Jupship was ready for testing. Lt Tordenskjold was not allowed to board the craft until after a manned flight was successfully executed.

The Jupship was designed for a crew of two, a man and a woman, so the flight was performed by Lt Cdr Toshiro Yamahonda and Major Isabelle Deneuve, who took it around the sun, cutting in closer to our star than any manned flight before, actually into the corona, where the stresses of heat and gravitation would tear any ship apart instantly, with no effect at all upon them. The flight took four days, fast by standard MEST performance, although they had not tried for a full speed run.

The Jupship deemed safe, Niels and Marucia were allowed to take command of the vessel. Their first training flight was to Mars, where they landed at Base Burroughs, to much ceremony and media coverage. They returned to SpaceCity after a tour of the outposted planets: the Jupship worked very well, crossing great chunks of space instantly, dipping in and out of the sun, impervious, unstoppable.
"We're ready. We could go right now," Niels said, but the designated date was March 15, 2166, and they waited. Three days before that date they flew from SpaceCity to Callisto, second largest of Jupiter's moons.

Callisto Base had been built as a facility for monitoring and observing Jupiter, not a convention center, and now the population of that moon had grown by several thousand scientists and politicians and media teams. Everyone had to live in their own ships, and had to take turns coming into the base for authorized meetings. Many meetings were videxed, and via virtual 3V media coverage, the population of almost the entire planet Earth was also on Callisto Base.

The Jupship was checked one last time. So were Niels and Marucia. Then they waited for the signal which the Jupiterans had promised.

Exactly at the designated time, there was a bright light shining out of Jupiter, like the sun itself, from the equatorial band just north of the Great Red Spot. A beacon, to lead them in. It was time to go.

The "Cosmic Couple" waved farewell and went into the Jupship, sealed the hatch. The gravwarp engines pulsed and the ship lifted, twirled, and flew gracefully off toward Jupiter.

We all watched this event, almost every one of us in the Solar System, via the cameras mounted on the Jupship: the spectacular planet Jupiter filled our 3V screens, the eternal storms clearly seen now, the red spot swirling and twisting itself backwards against the parallel bands of wind, the colors separating as the Jupship penetrated the atmosphere of the gas giant. Beneath the ship, the beacon light grew larger, brighter.

"We're reading 1 atmospheric pressure now," Niels reported, "clouds of fine ammonia ice crystal at this level, the beacon seems to be very close, it must be in the upper atmosphere..."

"What..? We're going to...HIT it!!"

They passed through the beacon itself, which was simply an atmospheric phenomenon, a vast swirling disk of ice crystals acting as a mirror to reflect the light of the sun back to Earth and Callisto, and as they passed it shattered and scattered into a mist that was blazed away in the storm, and the light was no more.

"We've lost the beacon!" Marucia called, "We don't know where to go now!"

Niels cut in, "We're continuing the descent. I'm sure we'll get further signs, this atmosphere is clearly too thick for a light to penetrate all the way through from the surface."

On the monitors we could all see the sky growing yellow, brown, ammonia becoming a wet mist now, darker...

They were lost to radio contact 35,000 km in. The last words we received were Niels and Maru talking to each other. "Are you scared?" He asked her. "Not now. We've survived the Sun. How can Jupiter be worse that THAT?"she replied. Then the static covered their signal.

And has ever since. They have not been heard from or seen again.

Nor have the Jupiterians sent us any messages, there is only the static. At the time of this writing, 24 years have passed since 21 March 2166. Are Niels and Maru dead? Are they prisoners? Or are they living happily ever after in a Jupiterian Eden?

The Return