Chapter 2. Two months ago.
“I just don’t think it’s that simple.” Jeff Tailor glared around the table, daring each of his colleagues to disagree. “We know the signals stopped four hours ago. We’re still receiving Mars and they say the same thing, ‘We don’t know.’ How could this happen?”
“It could be an extremely severe solar wind storm. Or interference with the Asteroid Belt,” interjected Becky Miers, the mousy propulsion tech from Glitter West.
“Yeah, that could be.” mused Jeff.
Dr. Hook rose from his seat at the head of the table with a sigh and a slight shake of his grey-fringed head.
“We know it’s not solar or we would have seen it. And it’s not the Belt either because we’re still picking up Mars. I’m disappointed in your use, or dare I say abuse, of the scientific method. If we truly don’t know why Earth stopped transmitting, we are just going to have to do some actual experiments. I’ve been here forty years and I haven’t seen this much ninny-headed panic and speculation since Johnson got his arm blown off in orbit around body Q-32 near L4. And we all know what that ended up being. All I can say is that I felt more sorry for the monkey.” Everyone looked like kindergarteners caught eating paste. Of course they shouldn’t jump to conclusions. They were, after all, scientists. “I’m going to assign the Comms team to look into it. And the Prop team can help because I know how busy you are these days. Anything else? Yes Jeff?”
“Well, I was just thinking, we should probably try all frequencies first, and then see which ones get bounced back and which ones get through. Then go from there.”
“That sounds logical Jeff. Too bad you didn’t start the meeting that way two hours ago.” said Dr. Hook.
They had gathered in the lab conference room of the Glitter East habitat on Europa, one of the larger the ice covered moons of Jupiter. Beyond the windows, a vast expanse of water stretched away in all directions. Because of all the plankton, deep sea jellies, and ghost shrimp visible, the water glowed and pulsed with a steady neon beat that was comforting and disturbing at the same time. Visitors commented that they always felt like the windows were about to break and feared they would be swallowed up by the inrushing sea. Of course, that could never happen because the windows were solid plates of nano-engineered hyperdiamond. In fact, their titanium frames were liable to break first. The low, steady hum of atmo recyclers lurked in the background noise; so constant, they only noticed the hum when it was absent. Also, a faint waft of seaweed drifted around that they could never fully neutralize, no matter how many filters they subjected the air to. It was just something that added to the “charm” of the underwater ice world that was Europa.
As everyone filed out of the meeting, Becky glanced back at Dr. Hook. Even after working with him for thirty years, she could not figure him out. He was 5 feet 7 inches tall, built like a thirteen year old boy who spent all summer playing outside. Which was partially true because he was one of the only people she knew who had grown up back on Earth. Somewhere in a place called Cornell. She guessed that was where his habit of wearing sandals with socks came from, instead of the nanoplast booties everyone else favored. His light brown face held a perpetual smile like a benevolent Buddha, only skinnier. Dr. Hook’s father was a talented geneticist from India who pushed the envelope of biomodification during his post-doc work at the university. His mother, Morag MacRory, was an immigrant herself, coming from Kyle of Lochalch on the west coast of Scotland. She met Jnyandeep when she ran out of chemical fixer for RNA analysis and tried to borrow some from his lab. Jnyandeep asked her what she wanted it for, and after a six hour discussion ranging from nucleosome optical trapping to their favorite type of tea, they were crazy about each other. Twenty years later, their son would graduate from Cornell with honors, just like his parents. After Dr. Hook’s grad work, NASA recruited him to work on launching expeditions from Mars to set up the very colony she was in right now. Plus, and this was key for them, Titan’s mining colony as well. After things grew nasty and fell apart, he was their best resource for intelligence on Titan’s base. He was the one who initiated Eur-It: Europan Intelligence.
Back when the colonies were first set up, no one ever thought they would need para-military agencies, but times change. Their main opposition had always been Titan’s mining colony, now under the tender leadership of Merrick Van Dorn. He in turn started Tag, which stood for Titan’s Agency… or Aggression or something. Becky questioned whether it really stood for anything or if he just intended to make a bad pun. For the last decade or so, Tag and Eur-It had been sparring back and forth, trying to grab resources and land from each other from around the solar system. The rivalry still wasn’t that bad up until the hostile takeover of a startup research Hab on one of the larger bodies around Jupiter. Tag slaughtered everyone there and then tried to cover it up by claiming the problem had been an equipment failure. That was when Dr. Hook realized they needed outside help. They sniffed around and eventually recruited a team of specialists from Mars.