DEEP MAP PILOTS: A Series Of Five Pictures From Words
MARENKA flies the sailplane service that skims the Neptune atmosphere on a loop that brings it back to the thaw station on Triton. All the many photos taped to the walls of Marenka’s cockpit flutter like dead leaves in a cold breeze when she bounces out of the atmosphere, and when the harsh thermal exchange beats the boat about on its descent to Triton. Triton is a moon of frozen lakes and a hot core. The sailplane delivers scooped helium-3 to the fusion engines that are re-routing core heat to the surface. Soon, Triton will be a subtropical worldlet on the edge of the solar system. That’s when Marenka will leave. She has a cockpit full of photos of all the things she never wants to be near again, and soon Triton won’t be a cold enough place for her.
REHANI saw space before she saw the sea. When she finally stood at the edge of an ocean, at night, all she could really see was something black and chilly and sparkling, with the sketched suggestion of islands out in its deeps. Rehani was disappointed. She flies for Big Island, a great floating city that surfs the cloud-tops of Venus at two hundred miles an hour. It’s wider than the Central African Republic, and moves across a misty vastness you could lose every ocean on Earth in. And it spins in something that is blacker and colder and more sparkling than anything, anything she’s ever seen. It’s never disappointed her. It’s the only sea she needs.
JINJING makes the jump from Titan to Enceladus the same way, no matter what their relative positions might be on launch day. She’ll make her approach trajectory for Enceladus while she’s on the other side of Saturn from it. Enceladus is in the E Ring, the one furthest out from the planet. So Jinjing gets to spend a whole half-orbit skipping across the top of the E ring. It’s a glittering ghost road three hundred thousand kilometers wide. There’s not a children’s story, nursery rhyme or fairy tale that ever competed with riding a road of diamond dust to a moon where stations drift across a wide warm underground sea. Sometimes Jinjing laughs out loud, at the thought of having grown up into a life that no childhood dream was ever big enough to capture.
CAMEO is a rock dancer. Not everyone wants to make the run to Ceres. You have to like scientists, for one thing, because there’s nothing inside Ceres but hermit physicists and their weird globular microgravity labs. You also have to like dancing with rocks. On a good day, Ceres is riding between Mars and Jupiter with a family of a thousand other objects. On a bad day, it’s like being shot at by seven armies. Shot at with asteroids. It takes a lot of craft and more art, and no-one gets through even the first month without picking up some bulletholes and powder burn. They say that, to do the Ceres run, you either have something to prove or you want to die. Cameo says she just likes dancing.
ASCENCION is four billion miles away from home, and that’s the way she likes it. She’s seen the stained egg of Haumea, and the misty red lump of Makemake, and dozens of other things that no-one had ever laid eyes on before. Ascencion dives the deeps of the Kuiper Belt, beyond Neptune and Pluto. It’s the graveyard at the end of the solar system. Failed planets, dead comets, lost moons and all the strange dark rubble left over from the formation of the worlds we know. She’s out among the spectres, flying through ultimate history to places where, quite literally, there have never been eyes before. The Kuiper Belt is vast. She wants to see it all. She wants it all to herself, in a way that no-one else has ever been able to understand. She never wants to go home again.
Art © Eliza Gauger 2012. Words © Warren Ellis 2012