The Moons of Jupiter

An alarm reverberated through empty metal halls. It sounded past terminals that flickered on giving their empty-chair-room an unsettling glow. It buzzed between frost covered tanks which responded with small metallic clicks. Finally, it landed in Jack’s ear, awakening him.

He tried to spring to his feet, but was immediately confronted by a lack of gravity. “What now?” he groaned, “Is this another false…,” he was cut off by the ship shaking suddenly around him. “You would think that with all my love and care you’d be nicer to me.” He floated curiously in the center of the room expecting the shaking to stop, but it did not. He began to move. What followed was an acrobatic display that, at first, was clumsy with disorientation, but quickly grew the grace of a man who had made his home in space.

He danced passed the buzzing and towards the dimly lit control room. “Hey Stace, stop bouncing around and I’ll figure out what ails you.” He slid easily into a chair and began hitting keys. The buzzing stopped, and emergency lighting came on. Metal shutters parted in front of Jack revealing a deep blackness speckled with tiny pinholes of light. “I still have stars. I still have a ship. Now where’s my Jupiter?” The ship panned aft as a banded desert writhing on top of a violent ocean swam into view.

“Staci, what the hell did you do?” As if in answer, the ship shook again. Its vibrations pushed him out of the chair. The screen flashed a descending altitude that put them at the edge of the Jovian atmosphere. His fingers cracked the worn keyboard as calculations streamed past. After a moment, his fingers ceased. “Why would you do this to us Staci?” He bit his lip and stared into the screen. The ship rattled. A chilling metallic creak screamed from behind him. The screens went dark, but Jack sat frozen.

Another scream let loose. He flowed slowly out of his seat. A slight breeze brushed by his cheek. “Sorry Stace.” He grabbed frantically at the walls propelling his body through the narrow corridors. He abandoned grace for reckless speed.

The ship went dark, but it made little difference, he knew his way. He shoved himself into a closet-sized room that smelled of fresh plastic and stagnant air. His fingers clicked across dust covered keys. The door skidded shut as he strapped himself in.

His hand reached toward a red button. “You did this to yourself Staci.” He hesitated. The ship hopped and twisted as another scream clawed at his ears. “I know. It’s okay. I’m sorry.” He pressed the button.

His body slammed back into the seat. The room shook making his teeth clatter as he bit down. The violence continued for several minutes. The violence ceased, forcing him to the extent of his straps. Then a lack of gravity greeted him once again.

He gazed through a small window back toward the brown glow. He thought he could see Staci, but she belonged to Jupiter now.

He tapped a few keys and started to speak, “Earth control this is Jack Honin Captain of Sta— Captain of the Jovian scientific lab Anastasia. I have just experienced,” he hesitated trying to gather his composure and a feigned sense of professionalism, “a rapid unplanned descent. The cause is unknown, but at present, I can only postulate three scenarios: electrical storm, asteroidal gravitational event, or an encounter with rogue extra-planetary gas clouds. The Jovian atmosphere began affecting Anastasia’s structural integrity. The thrusters lacked the specific impulse necessary to correct the trajectory. The escape capsule was the only option.

“I now appear to be in a stable orbit. This vessel will provide me with enough food, water, and oxygen for approximately thirty days.  There is no possibility for rescue.” He paused briefly looking back towards Jupiter. “With the time that is given to me I will continue to study and make observations to the best of my ability.” He closed his eyes and exhaled before continuing, “I will do what I can. End transmission at 18:52, March 3rd, 2058.” He transmitted the message.

“Sorry Staci. I wish things had turned out differently.” He cracked his neck and set out to explore his tiny new vessel. The compartment lined walls held several pouches of various soups, protein powders, preservative infused pastries, dozens of freeze-dried meals, and a large bag of popcorn. The last discovery intrigued him. Without hesitation, he tore open the bag. He tasted artificial butter and felt the odd little squeak of popcorn crunching between his teeth. His eyes closed, and everything seemed to melt away.

Now Jack is twelve years old, sitting on chilled aluminum. It is fall, and the Sun has just dipped below the rim of a human sea. The popcorn in his hand is warm, with butter dripping off every puff. The smell mixing with nearby hotdogs and nachos makes his mouth water. The announcer’s voice cracks through the air like a bat hitting a ball. The crowd hums like electric current. He can feel the stadium swaying through space with the motions of the crowd. A baby could never hope to be rocked so gently. He stands up and cheers with his people as a ball flies out of sight and players on the field are set into motion. The undulating roar of the crowd makes him feel like a part of something so much bigger than himself, and yet so comfortably alone.

Fenway was over eight-hundred-million kilometers and thirty years away, and to Jack it made little difference. Jack had become Jupiter’s newest moon, but with popcorn in hand, he was back in Boston. He began to hum that old Tin Pan Alley tune as he tossed popcorn into his mouth. “Staci,” The laughter in his voice shook his little moon, “I wish you could have been there.”

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