Otters In Space 2 – Chapter 14: Jupiter

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from Otters In Space 2: Jupiter, Deadly.  If you’d prefer, you can start with Chapter 1, return to the previous chapter, or skip ahead.

“The Jolly Barracuda hadn’t escaped its assailants. It had followed them home.”

Flippant comments turned into full-fledged half-baked ideas so quickly on the Jolly Barracuda, it made Kipper’s head spin.  She wanted to scream, “Don’t listen to me!  I’m not qualified to make recommendations!”  But the Jolly Barracuda was already flying full tilt toward Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

Next time, Kipper would know better than to let her paws wander around forming signs on their own.  She’d keep them tight in her vest pockets, like they were now.  Of course, that presupposed there would be a next time, and, watching that Great Red Spot swell, closer and closer, on the central viewscreen, Kipper wasn’t at all sure about that.

“We’re entering the thermosphere.  Angle of descent seventy degrees,” Boris the pilot signed towards Captain Cod before turning back to his post.

Kipper felt the steady weight of Jupiter’s gravity replace the erratic lurching of the past hour.  It pulled her down.  She saw a few otters treading their flippered feet to keep floating, but all the others — herself included — began settling to the floor of the bridge.

The fore viewscreens showed only masses of ruddy gas clouds.  The stars were gone.  The entire horizon was Jupiter.  The entire horizon was one Spot on Jupiter.

“Entering the stratosphere.  Expect turbulence.”

Kipper could barely see the dangerous ships on the rear viewscreen.  They’d dwindled to spiny, dark shapes, and they made Kipper think of pine cones.

Shortly, they’d be lost to view as Jupiter enclosed around them.

Boris signed, “Flattening angle to thirty degrees.  Troposphere, here we come!”  Rolling, roiling clouds of phosphorus and sulfur enveloped them.  Boris punched his fist upward in triumph.  “Find us in that!” he signed tauntingly for the benefit of enemy ships that could no longer see his ship, let alone him.

Captain Cod set a paw on Boris’ shoulder, and the pilot turned to read the captain’s paws as he signed, “Bring the ship up to speed for a stable, internal orbit so we can begin repair work.  I want a crew out there, patching the hull as soon as possible.”

Boris nodded his whiskered face, but when he turned back to his console, his posture grew increasingly tense and frustrated.  Furthermore, the turbulence buffeting the ship seemed, at least to Kipper’s sea-sick stomach, to be increasing.

“There’s too much drag at this level of the atmosphere to set up a stable orbit,” Boris signed.  “We’ll have to keep the thrusters running or our orbit will rapidly decline.  Worse though,” — Boris looked really frustrated — “the controls aren’t working.”

“It’s the winds,” Jenny signed.

“We’re caught in a storm?” Captain Cod asked.

“The entire Great Red Spot is a storm, Captain,” Jenny answered.  “It’s a hurricane that’s been going on for centuries.  I thought you knew that.”

Captain Cod looked at her blankly.  He chewed on his whiskers a bit.  The entire bridge crew waited tensely for their captain’s response.

Kipper signed subtly to Trugger, “That’s got to be the biggest hurricane in the solar system.”

“I wouldn’t bet against you there,” he signed back.

“All right then,” the captain signed, pulling his dignity — what he ever had of it — together after this latest blunder.  “If it’s been going on for a century, I don’t suppose there’s any point trying to wait it out.”

Jenny shook her head.  Captain Cod chewed his whiskers some more.  The ship lurched in the storm.

“What’s the pressure differential on the hull?” Captain Cod asked.

“There’s a difference of about point three atmospheres right now.” Jenny signed, reading the numbers from her console.  “Since we’ve only lost 500 liters of oxo-agua in the half hour since our hull sustained damage, we should be good for… ten hours.”

While the captain deliberated and chewed on his whiskers, Kipper signed to Trugger and Felix, “We’re losing atmosphere?”

Trugger shrugged.  “How should I know?  You were the one helping the repair team.”

They both looked at Felix who signed, sheepishly, “That bulge was on a seam between two plates in the hull.  As Jenny said, it’s a really slow drip, but, yeah.  Oxo-agua’s been leaking out of the ship.”

Kipper signed, suddenly terribly claustrophobic on this metal monster that was the merest of molecules inside the great expanses of toxic Jupiter, “Those poison gases… they’re not… leaking in?”

“Oh no,” Felix signed.  “Not at this level of Jupiter’s atmosphere.  The oxo-agua’s still leaking outward up here.”

Kipper failed to feel comforted.

Meanwhile, the captain reached the end of his deliberations and signed his verdict.  “If it’s a hurricane,” he signed, “there’ll be a calm in the center.  Eye of the storm and all that.  Right?”

Jenny nodded, looking only slightly stricken.

The captain concluded, “Then we’ll let the winds push us there!”

Brilliant,” Trugger signed.  “Bravo.”

“We have no idea how long that will take!” Jenny signed frantically.  Boris also looked disgruntled; his webbed paws gripped his console and flexed like he wanted to punch something.

“We were aiming for the center,” the captain pointed out.

Approximately,” Jenny signed.  “It’s thousands of kilometers — tens of thousands of kilometers — wide!”

Before the tense atmosphere on the bridge could turn to mutiny, Felix shot forward and upward, against the pull of Jupiter’s gravity, into the center of the bridge.  Floating above everyone’s heads, he pointed an arm toward the aft viewscreen.  The sight there caught everyone’s breath.  Two of the spiny, black, vaguely coniferous spaceships had followed them into Jupiter’s atmosphere.  They hung in the yellow clouds on the viewscreen like angry hornets on a bed of golden sunflower petals.

“They’re still chasing us?” Jenny signed.

“I’ll drop us half a kilometer.  Maybe the clouds are thicker down there,” Boris signed.

The captain was back to chewing his whiskers, watching the viewscreen intently.  “Hold steady,” he signed with one paw, the other resting on Boris’ shoulder.  “I don’t think they’ve seen us.”

Boris began to object, but the captain grabbed his paws, quieting him.  The captain signed, “The turbulence may be worse in the thicker clouds.”

“That’s true,” Jenny signed.

Everyone on the bridge waited.  The dark shapes moved closer on the viewscreen, and Kipper could see various officers cast their captain uncertain glances.  Kipper had never seen the crew doubt their captain before.  Boris had his paws clamped tightly on the controls, ready to roll the ship out of the alien ships’ way at a moment’s notice.  Even Trugger looked tense.  But the alien vessels, black and ominous, passed overhead uneventfully.  They hadn’t seen the Jolly Barracuda, just like Captain Cod said.

“Where are they going?” Jenny signed.

“Are they looking for us?” Kipper asked.

The captain, however, had regained the blind confidence he was accustomed to and made use of it.  “Now, as I was saying,” he signed, “if we let the ship drift with the storm, we should find ourselves safely at the quiet center in plenty of time to effect repairs to the hull.”

Jenny and Kipper shared a look.  Neither of them was quite so sure.  Boris signed furiously about deteriorating orbits and coefficients of friction, but the captain looked relaxed and ready to let the ship drift.  As long as Boris, who had the helm, was busy arguing physics at an uninterested captain, the ship did exactly that.  She drifted.

Fortunately, Boris was a tip-top pilot with fantastic aim.  When he aimed for the exact center of a cyclone three times larger than the entire planet Earth, by golly his ship hit within mere kilometers of the calm in the center of that storm.  Perhaps there had been an element of luck involved.  Either way, no one on the Jolly Barracuda would ever challenge Boris to a game of darts again.

“The winds stopped,” Jenny signed.

Captain Cod swirled a victory pirouette in the middle of the bridge.  Everyone else stared past him at the ragged raft of wedged edges darkening the horizon in the view screen.

“What is that?” Boris signed.

No one answered.  No one knew.  The anonymous, hostile ships flew up to it, slowed down, and docked inside a massive hangar that opened for them and then closed behind them.

“Oh my god,” Jenny signed.  “It’s their mothership.”

“No,” Boris signed.  “Look at how it’s built.  That’s not a ship.”  The massive, alien object was wide, deep, and thin — except for a rudder-like tail that jutted out beneath it.  “It’s designed for coasting through these clouds.  It’s a sail station.”

The Jolly Barracuda hadn’t escaped its assailants.  It had followed them home.

Continue on to Chapter 15

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