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My Home in the Cosmos

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Luik, Age 10 (Sol-Earth calendar)

My name is Luik. I live in a sea bottom dome on Europa. We farm algae and Earth fish for people all over the Jovian system. Some Earth tourists think that it must be hard to live underwater, because you could drown, but actually it’s really easy to make air out of water. There’s a big machine that does it in the dome basement with all the generators. I didn’t draw it because it’s really complex, and I ran out of paper. There are barely any trees growing on Europa except in the Garden Dome so real paper is all imported and really expensive. I had to save my allowance for a whole year to get my sketchbook, but paper is much nicer to draw on than E-paper. When I grow up I want to be an artist so it is important for me to buy good supplies.

The hardest thing about living on Europa is the pressure and the radiation. We don’t have to worry about the radiation from Jupiter because our dome has over a hundred kilometres of ocean water above it, and then another hundred kilometres of ice above that to keep us safe.

All of that water and ice makes the pressure very high. Pressure can make you sick if you change it too fast. It can also smush you if you go out into it unprotected. Our dome is filled with water, because we need it for farming, but it’s Earth pressure water, because Earth fish would get smushed in Europa pressure water. Our fish cars would get smushed too. My older brother says that I should write “Inner Hull Low Pressure Submersible” but everyone calls them fish cars. Even him. And this is my contest entry so I can write whatever I like.

Luckily our houses can’t get smushed, even during a really bad hull breach, because Habitat Balloons have high survival ratings and can even float us to the surface for pick up if something bad happens. They also have their own oxygen separators and emergency depressurization chambers, so we’re always very safe.

It’s important to have fail-safes because Jupiter likes to pull Europa and make strong currents outside. That’s what keeps the water warm and how we make energy to run all of our lights and generators and oxygen separators, but it also means that sometimes domes get broken. It happened once when I was four, and another time when I was nine. It was scary, but everything was fixed fast.

I like the Earth fish. I can’t see them when I’m at home because Habitat Balloons don’t have windows. It is very hard to make good pressure resistant windows. But the central column has lots of windows. I spend a lot of my free time sitting there drawing fish. I like living on Europa because fish are my favourite thing to draw and I wouldn’t be able to watch them in the water the same way if I lived somewhere else.

 

 

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Dhala, Age 14 (Sol-Earth calendar)

I know that everyone is supposed to send in a picture with their essay, but my picture would be terrible. It would be terrible because I can’t draw. I can’t draw because I can’t see. I never thought about enter this contest when I lived on Earth, but my teacher, Mr. Marpleston, said that I should, because I can give a unique perspective. He said that I should paint my picture using words.

I wasn’t born on Europa. My mother and I only moved here a year and a half ago. My mother is an engineer and an architect. Years and years before I was born, she had an idea for reinforcing ocean floor domes against tidal currents. The Europa government liked it so much they offered her a job.

My mother didn’t want to move, because she liked living on Earth, but the time delay between Earth and Europa is a little over forty-five minutes. It made transmitting plans difficult. She worked around it for ages, but eventually it got too frustrating and she said that she had to make a choice between staying safe on Earth or helping the people on Europa.

My mother says that you should always choose to help others when you can. I think she also wanted to see the domes in person. She’d spent her whole life working on them, but she’d never visited.

I didn’t want to move. When you can’t see you have to remember everything, and if we moved, I would have to remember a whole new place. I’d felt raised maps and print-offs of my mother’s designs. I thought that Europa would be terrifying and claustrophobic. I couldn’t imagine having an ocean instead of a sky.

On Earth, I liked feeling the wind on my cheeks and hearing the birds sing. I liked lying in the grass and letting it tickle my cheeks. I liked skipping in the rain. I liked being able to walk anywhere I wanted on our street because I had all of the bumps and buildings memorized. I liked my friends, and I didn’t know how we’d keep in touch with the time delay.

I didn’t think about all the things on Earth that weren’t perfect. I didn’t think about cars (cars are the worst) or winter. I didn’t think about how nobody on Earth ever told me I could enter the IPCU contest with just an essay (but to be fair, no one on Earth really cares about the IPCU contest. We already know where our home in the cosmos is).

The journey out to the Jovian system took forever. I ran out of ways to ask “are we there yet?” The main activities being organized on the transport all revolved around looking out the window and going “Oooo! Ahhhh!” at planets, and stars, and asteroids. Maybe you see the problem? Actually, it wasn’t as terrible as I’m making out (ignore me, it was terrible). It was an adventure. We had a pitstop on Ceres. The famous melt water they serve is gritty and metallic but strangely… okay? Especially after four months of budget transport water.

When my mother and I finally got to Europa, we had to go through the ice. The pressure pod we boarded smelled like dead fish. Everything was cold. I thought that my mother had brought me to a land of Eternal Winter and Overwhelming Stink. Then we went down through the crust and into the ocean. It got warmer the deeper we went. I heard something scrapping the side of our pod and our pilot told us that we were lucky, because an Ice Star was outside saying hello. My ears popped and my head felt strange. I got sick from nitrous build-up during our first week and couldn’t stop giggling even though I wasn’t happy (also terrible).

After I got better, I started to explore and attempt to memorise my new home. Garden Dome is the largest and most secure of Europa’s domes. It hasn’t had a pressure breach incident in over twenty years. My mother is working to make sure all of Europa’s domes, especially the ones doing aquacultural work, become equally secure.

I thought I would miss the sky. I know some people probably think that’s weird because, “Dhalla, you can’t even see the sky.” But when I was on Earth, I could feel the sky above me. It felt like a wide-open field full of possibilities. It was terrifying and exhilarating. I could stretch my arms up and know that the whole universe was up there, just beyond my fingertips.

In Garden Dome, I can feel the dome’s interior hull rising above me when I’m outside. I thought it would feel stuffy. I thought it would make me feel cut-off. But it doesn’t. I know my mother designed it. It feels like her keeping me safe as I explore and actually get to touch a part of that just-out-of-reach universe.

There is a slight breeze from the ventilators. The air is warm and humid. It is always summer. There are gardens. There are trees. There are wide open lawns where I can lie with the grass tickling my cheeks. There are even birds, because Garden Dome is trying to create a diverse and self-sustainable interior ecosystem. There is water too, and I like the sound of it slapping against the islands and habitat balloons. I don’t like the bridges that buck up and down when I’m trying to get from place to place.

I’ve made new friends and Mr. Marpleton is a good teacher. I thought that I would hate Europa, but I don’t. I’m not certain it’s home yet, but it might be one day. I still miss Earth, and I send a lot of emails back and forth with my old friends. Maybe I’ll go back in four years when I’m an adult. Or maybe I won’t.

It’s a big universe and I can go anywhere I want.

 

 

Ayla, Age 7 (Sol-Earth calendar)

This is a picture of me and my family. My cat Buggly and my little sister JenJen and my Mom and my Dad are in the Dome. My big brother Corbert works in the ice crust tunnels making sure they stay open for spaceships. I’m swimming in the sky ocean with some ice stars. I like ice stars because they are the first aliens humans ever met. When I grow up I want to be a scientist and study ice stars. I will make a special suit so I can swim in the pressure and get close to them. We will be friends.

 

Wrynn, Age 17 (Sol-Earth Calendar)

Life is a dangerous orbit. You get pulled around by your neighbours, shifted and squeezed. Some people, some planets, are fortunate enough to revolve close (but not too close) to a friendly star. Others have to find different sources of light.

Watch out, if it shines bright it’s probably dangerous. Big planets, big personalities; both can suck you in. You could lose yourself to passion, geological confusion, volcanic hell. Poor Io, it got too close. Others got even closer. What does one even say about deformed moons like Metis and Adrastea? The Jovian system is a sad space soap opera.

It’s not like a world can make it on its own. The Kuiper Belt is full of lonely exiles who tried. Then there’s Ganymede, not a runaway, but not close enough to get warm. Barren and crater strewn. Most of Jupiter’s moons are like that, but Ganymede wins for being so large and grand in its despair.

Life is a fragile orbit. It’s a smooth white sphere. Cracked with rust, and beating like a heart. Life is a world of warm oceans hidden under a frozen crust. Life is hanging on, despite a distant sun, despite radiation, and gravity, and an ever-looming gas giant. Life is surviving. Life is thriving.

Life is finding a home, despite the chaos. Life is about joy and drudgery. First kiss. First break-up. A scuba picnic. A hull pressure breach. Good times and bad. Life is about a lot of things. It’s a dance and a balancing act. It’s a thrill ride without brakes. A pressure pod riding a geyser from ocean to orbit. You can't stop if something goes wrong.

Life is taking chances and looking beyond the surface. Showing up to the party. Breaking the ice and meeting the future.