by Paul Muller


Davies came round slowly and raised his hand to his head. He felt the blood pumping behind his eyes, the pounding of his heart and the white hot pain which ran like a knife through his entire body.

An electric blue flash illuminated the cabin, throwing light on a scene of devastation for a split second. Kurylenko was slumped in the pilot’s seat, head hanging loose, eyes staring blindly at nothing in particular. A trickle of blood ran from his ear.

Thomsen lay face down on the cabin floor, her lower torso and legs mangled under the wreckage of the navigation unit, which had torn free from its housing, trailing cables and wires.

There was no sign of Hollis or Deguerro. They were in the Observation Unit when it happened.

The consoles were dead, an eerie silence hung heavy in the air, the ship had lost all power.

Davies grabbed at a handrail and hauled himself to his feet. The ship must have come to rest at a sharp angle, the walls fell away in strange directions, nightmarish and disorienting.

And there was something else, something  wrong with gravity. His arms and legs felt as heavy as lead. His head was swimming and it was impossible to think clearly.

By some miracle he was still breathing. The cabin had not depressurised in the crash and the oxygen rich air was thick with the scent of burning wire and melted plastic. But for how long?

He stumbled over spilled crates and smashed hardware to the storage unit on the rear wall. Slowly, painfully, he pulled on the heavy space suit, making sure the tough white fabric was free of tears and holes, and fastened the electric lock on the large plastic helmet. It clicked into place and he felt the steady stream of air flow from the breathing valve. He switched off the supply and lifted the helmet’s visor. He would need the oxygen, but it should not be wasted it whilst there was breathable air in the cabin.

He peered out of the tiny reinforced plastic window. The RV Pioneer had smashed into an ice field on the deserted moon of Rhea, ploughing a forty foot deep trench in the barren white landscape.  Above loomed the rings of Saturn, sparkling like diamonds in the cold sunlight. Ahead, the horizon appeared to stop abruptly, the lack of atmosphere  meant no haze of gases to signify distance. It was an unsettling and lonely vision.

A violent tremor shook the crew module, throwing Davies to the floor. He strained his eyes in the darkness and noticed cracks spreading across the white walls. The ship was breaking apart. He pulled down his visor and tugged at the orange cord on his suit sleeve. Air flowed into his helmet, just as the outer hull of the Pioneer collapsed. There was a deafening roar as the cabin was instantly decompressed. He gripped a hand rail and held on as his shipmates were blasted out of the large jagged hole in the wall, along with a shower of debris. He watched their prone bodies roll awkwardly over the grey rocks and ice before coming to rest in tortured positions, arms and legs twisted unnaturally. A deathly silence fell as the last of the air left the room.

Davies checked the gauge on his suit. He had around 8 hours of air left.

He crawled out of the wreckage and into a frozen picture of utter desolation.  Rhea was one of Saturn’s larger moons, a heavily cratered ball of permafrost and rock, elongated glaciers draped across it’s surface like wisps of smoke, towering cliffs of ice, forever paralysed in the sun’s feeble light.

He stepped forward and felt a strong gravitational pull towards the horizon. He noticed again that he felt heavy and that it had become difficult to move in the cumbersome space suit. This was strange. He knew that gravity on Rhea was only a fraction of that on Earth, around 0.2 m/s2, so in theory he should be practically weightless.

In the distance, technicolour flashes of light danced in the blackness. A magnetic aurora had formed over the crest of a granite cliff.

It was wrong.

To be continued.

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