Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

The smell of sulphur permeated his suit. His body absorbed and metabolized it, leaving a permanent foul taste in his mouth. He exuded sulphur through every pore. In short, Martin Petrov stank. This, however, was the least of his worries. His most pressing problem was Io’s corrosive atmosphere and the deleterious affect it was having on the poorly maintained seals of his bounder, a six legged contraption that leapt, rather than rolled, over Io’s undulating, ever-changing landscape.

The thin caustic atmosphere had caused a serious leak in the crew cab. It would not hold air. He had barely fifteen minutes worth of oxygen in his suit and Hera was at least a half hours leaping.

Hera, the largest of the Ionian settlements, housed over four hundred colonists. Her great domed chamber was carved deep within the silicate crust of the moons surface. The only evidence of its presence was a docking hanger for shuttles and bounders, and a large oculus at the domes apex, giving the subterranean dwellers a soul enriching view of Jupiter’s roiling cloud cover. A welcome sight of seemingly boundless expanse to lighten the effects of the self-imposed prison of the crushing hive-like collection of cells that comprised the living and working spaces.

“Well, Marty. What are you gonna do now,” he asked himself. “Think quick, boy. You don’t want to die out here.” He set his bounder for Hera and reviewed his situation.

After rejecting several, at best, very risky options, he settled on a course of action. Pretty risky still, but better than the others. Considerably better than the alternative. He clicked his teeth and made the neural connect to the bounder’s comp system.

“Okay,” he thought, “allowing for the bounder’s mass… Io’s rotation… a 42 degree angle… trajectory of… full power single push… that should do it.” He checked to ensure that his calculations were correct and mentally hammered the “execute” button down.

The bounder adjusted all six legs until it was on a 42 degree inclination to the horizon, aimed at Hera, and with a mighty heave, kicked off the surface, describing a graceful parabolic arc for home.

“This is going to hurt, but I’ll survive. If I break anything, at least my impact will alert somebody and they’ll send a team to check it out,” he thought hopefully.

Martin’s elation soon turned to dread as he looked down upon the ground rushing up to meet him. He was about to land dead centre on the oculus. It was designed to keep air pressure in, not to keep things out. It was built so that its strength was pointed inward, not to withstand the three tonne mass that was quickly bearing down on it.

Martin and his bounder plummeted through the crystal aperture, and crashed into the central common area of the colony, which had been a pleasant park with Terran plants, birds and a central waterfall that not only made a pleasant soothing roar, but imbued the otherwise dry air of the underground chamber with moisture.

With great difficulty Martin pulled himself free of the wreckage of his broken bounder and surveyed the carnage. Dozens of Herans, who previously had been enjoying themselves outside the dull claustrophobic confines of their quarters, laboratories and offices, were dying, gasping for breath as the sulphurous compounds of the outer atmosphere mixed with the moisture in the air of the dome and the colonists’ lungs. They were drowning in the acidic mush that their lung tissue had become.

Martin released a mournful sigh.

“Somehow, this is going to end up being my fault.”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows