I leaned against the observation glass and looked down at the bands of Jupiter from low orbit. After a moment, I pointed. “There. Right there. See it? Find that storm, the swirl on the equator; it’s just passing left of it.”
“What . . . that little ripple?” Maya looked disappointed. I’d promised to show her monsters, after all.
“Wait for it. There’s only one reason they come so close to the surface. Any minute now.”
We watched, and we waited. The bands bulged and tore as the gas serpent breached the atmosphere. It twisted and lashed, flinging an enormous crystal from its tail, with a motion like the crack of a whip. Bracing myself into a seat, I pulled a laptop over to me on its swivel mount, programming a drone to intercept the crystal.
“That was … but the storms! They’re supposed to be huge! How big was that thing?”
“That one? There’s no guessing how long, it’s rare to see the whole thing break cover at once. It looked to be a couple of dozen kilometers across, so maybe seven, eight hundred–”
“–Kilometers long . . . they get pretty big.”
“But we’re safe up here?”
“Oh, yeah. It can’t breach a thousandth of the distance it’d take to reach us. That’s a lot of gravity down there.” I pushed out of the chair, floating to her, and folded her in my arms. As I caught her, our mismatched momentum started us spinning. I touched a toe to the window briefly, to steady the spin; a lifetime working in space, and such things were natural to me.
Not her, though. She was clumsy in space and had gotten caught floating without a handhold in reach more than once. The first time she had come on board, she leaped into the cockpit like she was diving into a pool, and struck her head on the navigation console. Now she was timid and ready to panic until I steadied us.
“What is that stuff? Why do they throw it like that?”
“It’s fuel for the tunneling drive, purer than any synthetic process can produce. It’s poison to them and can break down violently under pressure, so they get rid of it. They do a better job preserving their habitat than humans do.”
“So . . . it’s poop?”
“It’s Heisenium seven.”
“Yeah, but Heisenium seven is poop.”
“It’s not . . . alright. Yes. It’s poop. I’m the conductor of the poop train, all right?”
She giggled, her hands flattening against my chest. “Sorry I teased you.”
I could never stay angry at her. My eyes softened at her caress, and I was about to make a few interesting suggestions on how to spend our time in orbit when an orange star caught my eye, hardening my expression. I braced my back against the glass, pushed her towards her seat. “Strap in.” Continue reading “The Poop Train”