Notes from Europa

With his life-support system fully secured, Augustus opens the loading dock gate. A frigid plain of blue-white ice, crisscrossed by orange lines of radiated salt, stretches towards the horizon where it meets the dark vacuum of space. He plunges his ice axe into the ground and steps onto Europa’s surface.

Since landing on the Jovian moon more than two months ago, Augustus spent most of his time confined within the cramped spaces of the Artemis. The only times he left the spacecraft was to inspect the large antenna, which had stopped working following the gamma radiation blast from extrasolar space. Atop the spacecraft, he opens the control unit to the large antenna. Using a wire stripper, he cuts through the outer plastic sheath of one of the coaxial cables, exposing the woven copper shield. The copper is in good form and shows no signs of radiation damage. He cuts through the other wires and again finds no signs of the corrosion that would disrupt communication with Earth.

The Sun and the Earth have disappeared from the black sky; they won’t reappear for another sixteen Earth days. There is no movement or sound across the frozen ocean. Though the temperature has plunged to -210 degrees Celsius, Augustus is sweating in his spacesuit.


Monday, February 2, 2037

I used to love the night sky. Every summer, mom would take us to grandma’s cottage by Lake Bangishimo. I would always sneak out at night and walk down to the dock to look at the lake. I still remember that night in June when a stiff breeze had formed across the lake. It was at that moment that I looked up at the sky, which was blanketed in dark clouds and framed by the tops of pine trees. Then the clouds parted, revealing billions of stars, light years away, flickering like fireflies.

I still remember the last thing grandma told me before she died: “Mark my words, Augustus, one day you’re going to visit the stars.”


A jolt wakes Augustus from a long, deep sleep. He sits up and grabs the sides of the bed as the fifteen miles of ice beneath the Artemis shakes violently for twelve seconds. The lights turn on, triggered by the quake. He used to fear the quakes on Europa, which occurred regularly due to Jupiter’s immense gravitational pull, but he had long since grown accustomed to them.

The quake had knocked Augustus’ personal items – a tablet, his journal and a few books – off the wall-mounted shelf and onto his bed. He picks the items up, one by one, and places them back on the shelf. Laying on the floor, behind his feet and underneath the bed, is an item he had long forgotten. A children’s book called No Matter What by Debi Gliori that he used to read to his son. He opens the book and turns to the second last page:

“Look up at the stars. They’re far, far away. But their light reaches us at the end of each day.”


Thursday, February 5, 2037

The day you were born was one of the most stressful days of my life. Your mom was in labour for over eighteen hours. Your umbilical cord was wrapped around your neck and you couldn’t breathe. They had to do an emergency C-section. Thankfully they saved you and you were born a healthy eight pounds two ounces.

I don’t like crying, but I cried behind my facemask the first time I saw you cradled in the nurse’s arms. You were so small and fragile. It was at that moment that I knew my life had changed forever. Things weren’t easy for you growing up and I was too hard on you. I might not have shown it, but I’ve always been very proud of you.


Staring at the small mirror above the sink, Augustus brushes his teeth with a toothbrush that is starting to fray. He spits the toothpaste into the basin and turns on the faucet. Recycled water carries the spit down the drain.

He spreads blue shaving cream across his face. He slowly pulls the BIC razor down his right cheek. When he gets to the underside of his chin, he cuts the skin directly above the carotid artery. Staring at the mirror, he watches the blood follow the geography of his neck onto his collarbone.

After washing his face, he searches through the large medicine cabinet. Amoxicillin, hydrochlorothiazide, azithromycin, Vicodin, Benadryl and so on. He grabs the white bottle of Vicodin and reads the label. Five milligrams of hydrocodone bitartrate. Three hundred milligrams of acetaminophen. May be habit forming.


Sunday, February 8, 2037

I remember that time when I picked you up from school. I was waiting in the parking lot and watched you leave, trailed by three other boys. Though I was far away, I could tell that they were teasing you and calling you names. One of the boys – a tall, skinny guy with a greasy black mop for hair – shoved you hard while the others laughed. You maintained a sheepish smile throughout the encounter and said nothing. You just ate the punishment.

I was angry with you. When you got in the car, I told you that you needed to be tougher and that you needed to stand up for yourself. That those bullies would continue to bother you. “Yes, dad,” you said. “I’m sorry.” And you just stared at the dashboard.


The Artemis is equipped with enough food to serve three humans for ten years. In the small kitchen, Augustus eats from his plate of green bean paste, rehydrated potatoes and beef.

He misses his conversations with Captain Bose, a friendly and talkative man, who, he would learn, possessed a hidden zeal for Hindu nationalism. He never developed a close relationship with his other crewmember, Captain O’Donovan, who was more introverted.

Earth Command had tried to warn the Artemis’ crew of the incoming radiation wave following the gamma ray blast, but it was too late. On Tuesday, April 15, 2036 at 12:10 UTC the Artemis had lost all contact with Earth.

Captains Bose and O’Donovan, who had both been working outside the spacecraft during the event, were exposed to high-levels of radiation. Captain Bose died from acute radiation sickness on April 17, 2036; Captain O’Donovan, the following day. Their corpses now rest in small tents fifty yards away from the spacecraft, refusing to decompose in Europa’s cold, anoxic atmosphere.

Augustus opens the bottle of Vicodin and spreads the contents onto the small kitchen table. He organizes the football-shaped pills into rows, and counts the pills one by one. Sixty-seven powder-white pills. He studies the pills closely, following the curves and angles of the word “VICODIN” which appears on every pill.


Augustus sits on the side of his bed and searches through his tablet for pictures of his family. A photo album of his wedding day in the Bahamas. He and his wife, Jessy, tanned and jumping in unison on the beach in front of the crashing tide. The men are wearing khakis and floral shirts; Jessy and the women are wearing floral gowns. As he travels through time, Jessy’s eyes get heavier; her skin paler. She smiles less. He finds a picture of Jessy with their son, Tavares, who has black hair and blue eyes, his mouth partially open. He isn’t looking into the camera and instead stares off into space.

Augustus reaches past the empty bottle of Vicodin and grabs his journal, which is resting on the wall-mounted shelf. He turns to the remaining blank page and writes:

Monday, February 9, 2037

That day I picked you up from kindergarten. I remember talking to your teacher, Ms. Francis, in the hallway. She told me you were having a hard time adapting to school, that you tended to sit by yourself. She told me that you needed extra help, which was the same thing the doctors said. She also said that you were a sweet, gentle boy.

I didn’t want to hear any of that. I had always wanted my son to be strong and independent. But when I entered your classroom the strangest thing happened. I saw myself as a four-year-old boy, with black hair and blue eyes, playing at the sandbox table. I thought I was living in a memory. I had forgotten all about the space program. I was a child again, happy and at peace. And you looked at me and smiled.

Augustus closes his journal and places it back on the wall-mounted shelf. He lies down on the bed, smiles, and falls into oblivion.