Author : Bob Newbell
“I’m having to push the engines a lot harder than expected. The density and currents at this depth are both greater than we predicted,” said Dr. Ngozi Adeyemi as she piloted the Jules Verne over the ocean floor on Titan.
“Mohammed can reel you up if you get into trouble,” said the captain over the radio of the UAS Mandela in orbit around the Saturnian moon.
Ngozi tried cutting back on the submersible’s engines. She was afraid the turbulence they generated would scare away the elongated, tubular creatures that swam through the liquid methane sea that was the Kraken Mare.
“Are you going to try bring back a live specimen?” asked the captain.
“I’m going to try. But I’ll need to be very careful to–”
Her words were cut off by the screech of an alarm.
“Ngozi, what’s happened?” asked Mohammed over the radio from the landing craft. His hands tensed on the winch controls.
“Engines aren’t responding. I think the sub has drifted into a trench.”
Ngozi watched as the depth gauge indicated her small vehicle was dropping deeper into the hydrocarbon ocean. Simultaneously, the readout on the pressure gauge was going up. A low hum started to fill the submersible. It slowly rose in pitch. Structural fatigue.
“Pull her up, Mohammed!” ordered the captain.
“I’m trying, sir. Getting a lot of resistance.” He cursed in Arabic.
Ngozi kept trying to restart the submersible’s engines. She wasn’t concerned about her own safety. Her fear was that if her vessel lost structural integrity, the atmosphere inside it, as well as her own body, might contaminate the Kraken Mare’s ecosystem.
Suddenly, the pressure gauge starting moving down. She checked the depth indicator. She was ascending. As she was about to radio her thanks to Mohammed, she noticed something outside the vessel. Through the porthole windows, she saw thousands of the tubular Titan eels surrounding the Jules Verne. The creatures were furiously beating the umbrella-like hoods they used for locomotion down toward the sea floor, pushing against the underside of the submarine. Their collective effort, in combination with the lander’s winch, soon had the craft breaking the methane sea’s surface. An hour later, Ngozi was inside the landing craft with Mohammed, drinking a cup of strong coffee.
“There were thin filaments wrapped around the ship’s propellers,” Ngozi was saying to the captain. “Some sort of Titanian seaweed. We’ll need to look the sub over really well, but I think she’ll be seaworthy in a day or two.”
“No one’s going back down until and unless we get clearance from mission control,” said the captain. I’ve sent a message to Khartoum informing them of the situation. Any idea how the alien creatures knew you were in trouble and why they helped?”
“They might have been exhibiting altruistic behavior. On Earth, dolphins have been saving drowning humans at least since the ancient Greeks. No one knows why. Of course, the Titan creatures may have been collectively repelling what they saw as an invader. We simply need to study them a lot more closely.”
“I’ll try to convince Khartoum to authorize another dive,” said the captain.
Ngozi looked out at the Kraken Mare through the lander’s windows. The surface of the sea of liquid alkane was so placid it could have been mistaken for solid ground. “Suit up, Mohammed,” she said at last. “Let’s get the Jules Verne ready for another dive.”