A Glibertarians Exclusive: A Glibertarians Exclusive: Riding the String IV

A World of Wind

It was a howling maelstrom of winds, buffeting the Transiter about like a toy boat in the bathtub with a rambunctious two-year-old. The ports were dark, lit only by sudden flashes of lightning that seemed to emit from everywhere.

“What the hell is it now?” Anne demanded.  She seized the Transiter’s gravitic controls and tried to stabilize the craft’s sudden flight.

“I think we came out inside a gas giant,” Will said.  “Take us up!  Vertical axis, as fast as we can go.  I can’t program another transit to anywhere until we get out of this mess.”

“I’m trying!” The winds shook the Transiter like a rat in a terrier’s jaws. “I don’t want to climb too fast, not in these winds; I’m using half of the field just trying to stay upright and keep us from blowing away.”

They shook and rattled their way, slowly, up through the clouds. Outside the howling winds gave way to a sleeting spray of methane slush, then up through another band of howling wind and cloud, until finally…

“Hey,” Will observed, “the wind is dying down.  I know that’s relative, but still.”

“Feels easier to hold her in place,” Anne agreed.

Will looked out the port. “It’s clearing up.  We must be in some kind of a calm area, between belts, maybe?”

Anne locked in the climb rate, set the auto-control, and went to the other port.

“Will,” she said in a low voice, “Come look at this.”

Above them, flashes of lightning still lit the cloud layers, moment to moment, and visible in the flashes…

“Jellyfish?” Will asked, amazed.

“Jellyfish,” Anne confirmed.

They looked like jellyfish, with gelatinous bodies and trailing tentacles, drifting along in the relatively mild winds of the clear level of the gas giant’s clouds. They glowed with some pale-yellow inner light that brightened and dimmed at random intervals.

“What do you suppose they eat? They must be eating something, right?”

“Who knows?  Maybe there are smaller creatures we can’t see.  Some kind of gas giant plankton, maybe, or just smaller animals of some kind.  Maybe there’s something that uses methane as an energy source,” Will replied, trying to remember the college biology courses he hadn’t really paid much attention to.  “To have any kind of ecology at all, there must be producers and consumers.  But down here, in a gas giant?  Who knows?  These… jellyfish, they could be either one, or both.”

They heard a dim thump from outside.  Will went to the viewer and angled two of the cameras downward.  One of the jellyfish collided with the Transiter.  It flattened against the surface of the craft and began to spread out.

Then another flattened against the side, then another, the third one blocking Anne’s viewport.

The Transiter shook.  An alarm started to hoot.

“Anne,” Will said, his voice raising, “They’re doing something to the hull.  We’ve got to get out of this level, fast!”

Anne let out a frightened squeak, but she moved, hitting the gravitic controls, turning off the auto-control, and increasing the rate of ascent.  The Transiter rattled and shook, but it climbed, moments later leaving the inexplicably clear zone and rising into another belt of cloud and howling wind. Now the Transiter shook for another reason as the winds closed in, but Will was still watching the display.

“There,” he said.  “They’re dropping off.  They must have to stay in that clear zone.”

“Were you recording?” Anne asked.

“The whole time.  This is going to rattle some cages when we get back.”

If we get back,” Anne said softly.

“I’ll get us back,” Will reassured her, although he was none too confident himself.  “Remember all we went through to get to this point, right?  Everyone said it was impossible.  Nobody wanted to invest a penny until Roman Main came along.  And if his AI hadn’t looked over our plans and thought it was reasonable, even he wouldn’t have put in anything.”

“What did you say?”

“I said, even Roman Main wouldn’t have been in…”

“…if his AI hadn’t looked over the plans.  Remember his AI, right?”

“Yeah.”  Anne was calmer than she had been since they left Sutter High Orbital; she was thinking hard.  “A big salvage ‘bot, but with a high-end self-aware AI brain.  A CRS series, I think, but Roman called it ‘Charlie.’  Always thought it was funny, a guy who owns a wrecking and salvage service having a top-shelf AI ‘bot like that.”

“You’re thinking that maybe Charlie saw something we’d missed?  And that he either chose not to mention it or figured we’d done it on purpose?”

“I’m not sure.  An AI, even a sentient, self-aware AI, wouldn’t think like we do.  It’s just a machine.”

“The higher-end ones have partly organic brains,” Will objected.

“Most of them, I hear, use rat brain cells.  But yes.  Still, though…”

Will looked at the port.  “Let’s strap in.  We’re coming out of the clouds.”

They sat and watched out of their ports as Anne manipulated the gravitic controls to bring them out of the raging winds.  Beneath them, to all sides, the chaos gave way to the slowly receding view of a gas giant, with the typical cloud bands of the same.

Will checked a detector.  “Radiation all up and down the band,” he said, “which, I guess, we should have expected.  Gas giants throw off all kinds of hell up and down the spectrum.  Look, up there – moons, at least two.”

The short-range comm suddenly crackled to life.  Will hadn’t even remembered it was still turned on.  It squawked, hissed, and then a voice came out of the grille:

“Unidentified craft,” the voice said, “this is Europa Base.  Identify yourself, please.”

Will grabbed the mike.  “Continua craft Transiter,” he said, “out of Sutter High Orbital, Earth.  Boy, are we glad to hear from you guys!”

“You’re a long way from Earth, Transiter.  We saw you come up out of the upper gas belts down there at Jupiter.  What the hell happened to you?  How did you get way down there?  How the hell did you survive?”

“That,” Will answered, “is a long story.  But now that we’re here, we’ll be heading back to Earth.”

“Very well, Transiter.  Advise if you need assistance.”

Will angled the cameras downward again and examined the viewer.  “Holy crap,” he breathed.  “Look there, hon.  That’s the Great Red Spot.  We’re orbiting Jupiter.”

He reached and took both of Anne’s hands.  “I can get us home from here!”

“You can get us to Earth,” Anne replied.  “But when?  Will it be our Earth?”

“You heard the guy on Europa,” Will said, “and he knew about Sutter High Orbital.  Now that I know where we are, I know I can get us home.  I’m sure going to take a shot at it.  We can’t get any more lost than we were.”

“All right,” Anne said. “Go ahead, then.”

Who are these people who are walking towards you?
Do you know them or will there be a fight?
With their humorless smiles so easy to see through
Can they tell you what’s wrong from what’s right?
Do you remember St. James Street
Where you blew Jackie P.’s mind?
You were so fine, Clark Gable would have fell at your feet
And laid his life on
the line