Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Invincible Man Goes to Venus (pt. 1)

(Carrying on where Issue 1 left off.)

Daniel Fitsworks plunged into the atmosphere of Venus, a corona of fire surrounding him, immolating his clothing. His hands were held over his eyes, covering them tightly, shielding thick lenses from the heat and stresses of entering the atmosphere. Metal oxygen tanks on his back pumped compressed oxygen into his mouth, which he breathed rhythmically, as he had been taught to, as he watched green numbers scroll quickly downwards in the corner of his vision.

"Damn," Daniel thought, pummeled by turbulence as he fell through the increasingly-thick chemical vapours of Venus's atmosphere. "What would Milton say?" He grinned at the thought, his expression distorted by the oxygen tube sealing his mouth. "NASA sure gives a hell of a ride."

No machine built by man, equipped with the sensitive recording and transmitting equipment necessary for space exploration, could withstand the terrible heat and pressure of Venus's atmosphere for long. In a few generations, that might no longer be true - great advances in composite materials and miniaturized sensors seemed certain in the near future - but now, NASA could send a probe to Venus, but it would either have to orbit - unable to see through the cloaking gasses that fill Venus's atmosphere - or descend suicidally, collapsing into a ball of twisted metal in moments. But NASA wanted to know more - they wanted to know what lurked within the alien, hostile environment of Venus. And Daniel Fitsworks was, after all, invincible.

Daniel agreed to the two-year round trip, after considering it for a few days, because he really couldn't think of anything better he could do for the next four years than go to Venus for Science. Then NASA told him the details.

To conserve mass, Daniel would be deprived of oxygen in the journey, which would send him into a comatose, hibernating state. (They'd tested this in the lab.) He would be sent on a half-hour arc through the outer atmosphere of Venus, at the beginning of which he would be revived by the oxygen tanks on his back. He would observe for twenty-five minutes, aided by the lenses over his eyes (the best in wearable computing, featuring multispectral receptors to allow Daniel to see through the murky atmosphere, along with a grab bag of other computational functions. Once the half-hour was up, he would rendezvous with the spacecraft (which would take a longer arc to avoid atmospheric damage), be caught by a net, and run out of oxygen, allowing him to hibernate for the rest of the trip back to Earth. The plan wasn't flawless, but NASA thought there was a better than seventy percent chance of mission success, and an eighty percent chance of Daniel's survival if the mission failed. He figured that was sufficient.

Now, plunging meteorically downwards, he might reasonably be more nervous. But the turbulence all but stopped, the flames died away, and Daniel, seeing the timer click down to zero, lifted his hands from his eyes.

"Ah," he subvocalized, looking at the endless, beautiful mix of colours surrounding him. He stared directly at the Sun, barely visible as a vague orange glow shrouded by mists. A prompt from the HUD appeared in the corner of his eye; he shifted spectra, seeing the atmosphere in infrared, ultraviolet, microwave. "How beautiful."

He turned slowly, feeling the pressure surrounding him. Daniel felt almost as though he were in water, so dense was the air around him. He twisted his body, completing a rotation. Then something hit him.

Daniel raised his hand, curious. Some sort of chemical had adhered to it; blue and gummy, it began to fall off even as he looked. He peered at it; and more of it hit him, covering most of his side. "There's something odd about this," he thought, and more hit him. "I'm passing through layers of this substance, this chemical," he realized, turning himself and seeing loose, floating sheets of the stuff in the distance. "The sheets of it are getting thicker and more numerous as I descend. But what is it?"

He looked up, at the orange sun. He looked down at the blue slime covering him.

"You know," Daniel thought, "I think this is photosynthetic, like algae - blue for an orange sun, not green for a yellow sun!" He grinned. "I just found life on Venus. This is mission success."

Then another glob of blue goo hit him in the face.

"Ech," he elaborated.

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