The screen flickered to life. A simulation of the landscape hidden under the thick blue methane and helium clouds unraveled itself. My custom navigation grid stretched over it, and listed all promising magnetic anomalies in the partially viscous crust. Areas of seismic instability stretched further into the polar regions. That was what the analysis program showed me in the lower right corner. I threw out my right index and thumb and the writing faded away. I did not plan to stick around to witness any crust activity.
Through the bull’s eye the surface seemed so peaceful and lush blue. It reminded me of Earth. The upper atmosphere showed a relievo ribbon of white clouds further to north to our orbiting position.
What bothered me most were the atmospheric pockets and the wind velocity, unpredictable and vicious. Even the CPU had problems showing me depressurization timely. Scooter was approaching faster than the simulations showed. Something was off. I had less time than calculated. That peacefully looking blue under me was deadly. It was ready to tear me and my glider to shreds. If anything went wrong, I could only hope for a fast death.
To my right side the com came to life. „Crap,” I sighed. Of all crew members on duty it must be him.
„What did you just say?” Rains’s guttural voice filled the tiny cabin of my glider. I didn’t have time to put up with his yapping, so I ignored him diligently. „Decker? Protocol?” The best I could do for now, but he was one annoying fellow. „Do you copy?” I’d sign him up, if there was an Olympic discipline called annoying. I bet he’d be top ten. “Decker!”
“No time, Rains.” I needed to focus. „Buckle up!” This was going to be quite a ride. I pulled my straps tighter and started the sequence. The countdown appeared on the screen. Ten seconds to detachment.
„Decker! Is this your idea of—„ I pinched my fingers together and the tone died instantly. I grinned into the video feed and watched Rains ugly face deteriorate.
Five seconds. Rains was signing me something. First he pointed at me with his index, then he seemingly slammed his middle finger into the screen. Ouch. I only could imagine how pissed he must be, losing this bet to me, so I blew him a kiss. I got to be dolphin and he had to be mother hen. My name was going down in history, not his. The first human to drift with Scooter around Neptune.
A deep rattling went through my seat, and my stomach lifted off. My glider shuddered and moaned as the winds caught my wing panels. Rapid acceleration swept me to the left, and the glider bucked. Scooter’s vanguard storms caught me in a powerful stream. Air speed indicators spiraled insanely. Exceeding sound velocity! Already! Although I was sealed in properly, I felt the static charge stinging on my skin, even the air tasted sour. I imagined the sonic boom reaching Rains, making him spill his hot coffee.
Stabilizers were screaming, thrusters working at maximum performance. The blue darkened to a steel-gray. The slipstream sucked me down into the lower regions of the atmosphere and the storm picked up speed. The grey withered to a blueish black. The wind screamed around my little plane. Unbelievable! Lightning flashed inside, nearly blinding me. Everything shook, sounded as if someone was throwing rocks at me. Must be hail, methane hail. God of hull integrity stay with me.
Scooter was approaching. I was the very first human to meet it. The first one to see its funnel. Face to face with the to fastest cyclone in the solar system.
My cabin was lit dimly by the instruments and screens. The read-outs went head over heels. I couldn’t make out a thing, the information was changing so fast. Simulation toppled over simulation, illuminating the darkness washing in from outside. The hail went as fast as it appeared, leaving me with a cracked porthole. Between the towering cloud formations I was just a speckle thrown into a blender.
To my right Rains was still there, waving his hands frantically, mouth moving like a dying fish. I unmuted him, and a thunderous scream filled the audio feed. I jumped in my seat.„You—„
Rains looked as startled as I was. He furrowed his brows. The scream lowered in tone and volume to a metallic screeching and low-key buzzing.
„Wind? Interference?” I don’t know if I was audible. No reaction from Rains.
Then the screeching got louder and louder. It filled my cabin, my head, the console. It got so loud that I tried to put my hands over my ears, although I was in my suit.
I saw Rains muting my audio feed and staring at me.
The noise got louder and louder. It hurt. It clawed at my eardrums, tore on my nerves. The air felt hot. I smelled blood. Rains eyes bulged.
Can it get even louder? Nausea was on it’s way. Unbearable! My stomach shook, my lungs vibrated.
I screamed at the noise.
I screamed at Rains.