Part 9: SOLAR RANGERS ARCHIVES


report classified TOP SECRET (now declassified)
recorded 2332 hours ; 22 Sept 2199 ; aboard the WSS Milleniun Falcon IV out of Callisto Base;

(voice: ...Recording now;)

SHECKLEY: Major R. Sheckley reporting: With me are The Cosmic Coup--er-- Niels Tordenskjold and Marucia Alexandre, the Envoys sent to Jupiter 33.5 Earth years ago, having just returned from their mission.

They report a Relative Time Displacement of 270 days, or 9 months, and we concur, for they have both passed several identification procedures to confirm their ages and identities. Each is seemingly healthy, seemingly sane--and miss Alexandre appears to be in the 9th month of pregnancy.

We have cut off the public 3V transmissions for the moment, and have asked the Envoys not to speak more until we could come into a secure zone, where we are now.

ALEXANDRE: I wish to complain about this censorship, Major--you can't keep us in isolation. We have a message...

TORDENSKJOLD: They're just following procedure, Maru, and we must agree to follow it. They're not sure what we have come back with. Hell, neither are we.

SHECKLEY: And I wouldn't dream of keeping you in isolation, my dear Maru, you're my favorite heroine. But you do know how critical it is that we record your story as a First Version, before you tell it so many times that no one can remember the original. And, even more important, that we know WHAT your story is before we let it loose upon our own culture.

ALEXANDRE: Yes, all right.

SHECKLEY: So? What happened down there?

TORDENSKJOLD: Report in brief: the mission is an unqualified success; we confirmed Life on Jupiter, established contact with our host, experienced an amazing cultural exchange, and have returned with a message...and perhaps a messenger...to our own species.

SHECKLEY: That's brief, all right. Looking at Miss Alexandre's...state, I'd say you briefed out some details.

TORDENSKJOLD: Oh, yes, we'd like to request a wedding ceremony as soon as it is convienient.

SHECKLEY: So the "Cosmic Couple" IS a couple now?

ALEXANDRE: Oh, sure, everyone knew we would be anyway.

TORDENSKJOLD: Even us, we just weren't admitting it to all that media madness.

SHECKLEY: Well, we don't know anything. We last heard from you as your ship was following the beacon into Jupiter's atmosphere 33 ½ years ago.


Then the beacon seemed to shatter and you vanished from sight. Your last transmitted words have been recorded--and are considered historic now, by the way--you are talking to each other and Niels asks you, Marucia, if you are scared, to which you reply: "Not now. We've survived the Sun. How can Jupiter be worse than THAT?" Then fade out to endless silence; we figured you were dead.

ALEXANDRE: Oh yes, I remember--we lost radio contact just after that. Well, I was right: Jupiter wasn't worse; we were fine, the Jupship was out of phase with the intense atmospheric conditions and we passed though untouched.

TORDENSKJOLD: Good thing too; the storm we went into was spraying ammonia-ice crystals like meteors; winds faster than sound would have blown us off course; clouds of oceanic density should have smashed our ship--but we phased through it all like a shadow.

ALEXANDRE: And it phased through US; we could see and feel and hear it all streaking and shrieking around and through us in a rainbow blur, but so fast we couldn't really register it. Everything shimmered. Outside it got darker and darker as we sank into the atmosphere until no sunlight penetrated and there was only blackness. And this was in the upper atmosphere, we descended for another 8 hours.

SHECKLEY: No sign of Jupiterians?

TORDENSKJOLD: Not at that point, no communication or sighting, at least. But we went into remote control mode as instructed, and our instruments confirmed that we were being flown down.

Straight down, 1000 km. Through dark clouds in the upper atmosphere, but as we dropped into the denser layers the hydrogen began to liquify, to "slush", then was just like an ocean. At that level a bluish light could be seen, glowing everywhere, illuminating the "AtmoSea" all around us. It was our first sighting of Jupiterian Life: the light came from simple organisms, like phosporescent plankton, floating in the sea.

Our instruments started indicating other life-forms, small at first, we were descending too fast to actually see any of them. We had 1000 km of atmosphere to penetrate, and a rendezvous to keep, and our "pilot" didn't slow down. As the AtmoSea got thicker, almost jelly-like, the life forms got bigger until vastly huge objects whizzed past us in the blue glow, we could barely see something blur on by, but no details. We phased right through some of them--and then we got a sense for size, for we were travelling at about 800 km pr hr, and yet it took 15 minutes to pass through a living creature...

Finally the ship slowed, hovered--and we got our first real look at Jupiterian life. The AtmoSea was murky, cloudy, but hazily transparent, with a spectrum of light colors shimmering, allowing visibility : the floating population of a gas giant, also giant. Everything was so BIG...( or we were so small)...mostly fish-like, sort of, floating and swimming anyway. Mostly exoskeletal or jellyfish-like constructions, simple, primitive, something like the fish that live in the high-pressure depths of Earth's ocean.

But as we went deeper the forms became more complex, we began to see the
"modular" life forms the Jupiterians had mentioned in their Messages; clusters of various species functioning together as one...creature. And there were many of them, drifting through the AtmoSea.

Then we could hear a tone through the ship, actually more felt than heard, thunderingly low. That tone went up the scale, the light outside started fluctuating, faster until it was simply a flickering of light. We could see on our instruments that time was being distorted, Earth days were passing faster, we were being adjusted to Jupiterian time.

SENDER