Deal 939: Cold

This desert is harsh. Dark and cold, and very hostile to life. And yet, life finds a way.

The ride is long and slow, and transport is cramped, with only a minimal amount of space left over after life support and supplies are packed for the passenger. Almost as if the passenger is only incidental.

Without the passengers, there would be no need for most of the supplies. But without a passenger, would the trip really matter?

There’s a window. But it’s view is limited by the thickness of the wall. It is a tradeoff. Cameras outside provide lots of view, but are fragile. And without a way to see, there would be no way to dock to the station manually if something went wrong. Of course, if something goes wrong, the path to not arriving dead is very narrow and touchy, and highly unlikely to be safely followed.

But here we are, in this cramped space for hours of travel, with almost nothing to do. Communications with the outside world was cut off to only a few bits per second almost immediately after we were under way. Once we arrive, that will be better. But still, that is hours away.

In the meantime, nothing to do but watch the darkness. We have a small light on, but it doesn’t reach more than a few feet away from the window. But it does illuminate the occasional passerby. None bother to try to follow us, after all life out there tends to pick its level and stay there, and we are going the other way entirely. Straight down.

The darkness is nearly complete, and visibility from our light is only about ten yards. We nothing more. We hope the tell-tales are right, and we are on course to dock. If we miss, we face a long haul back to the top, with just barely enough oxygen aboard to get us there.

Suddenly, we see hints that we will arrive safely. There is a regular pattern of lights outside the window. Lights that lead the way to a structure, shaped like a mad conglomeration of soap bubbles. At the edge is a hatch, and that is clearly where we are headed. A small craft all that different from our own is standing off, ready to guide us in and help with the docking if our systems need a nudge. The area is fairly well lit, since the station has plenty of power and has been adding LED panels as rapidly as they can be shipped in and mounted.

We’ve arrived at the LanternFish, a nearly self-sufficient station. Most crew rotate on six month or so schedules, but some find they like the isolation and stay longer. The station maintains a near-surface pressure, despite sitting at about seventeen thousand feet deep. This explains the bubbles, as nearly any other construction would swiftly collapse. Stations at more hospitable depths would include a moon pool and allow divers to come and go. At this depth, people only leave the station in rigid bubbles.

Why are we here?

Humans insist on finding ways to live everywhere.

So why not try each of the least hospitable environments and conquer them one by one?

Besides, we learn things by being down here. There are many nearly unexplored shipwrecks at these depths. The station is a useful model of how a colony on a hostile planet might operate. There are opportunities for biologists too, if they are patient. There is a colony of vent worms nearby too.

But it is a dark dangerous desert out there.

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