Sailing Jupiter – Ben Talley

Jupiter was a pinprick in the night sky. Above the Moon and to the right, easily mistakable for a distant star. But Marsh knows where to look. They’d been hoping for a glimpse of Europa, soon to be their new home, but Jupiter’s fledgling moon was lost in the reflecting glow of Earth’s moon, shining bright and full.

“Is it still up there?” asked Marsh’s Father, emerging from the sailboat’s small cabin with a fresh six-pack.

“Hard to tell with this old thing,” said Marsh.

The telescope Marsh was using was their Father’s, a seemingly immortal device that had been Frankensteined by various compatible pieces over the years, giving it a half-rusty/half-shiny new complexion.

“Well, if it ain’t, your Uncle’s not gonna be too happy when I tell him we’re keepin’ the boat.” Father handed Marsh a beer and they cracked it open, the sharp sound of snapping metal distinct against the soft rocking of the ocean water around them.

Father’s boat was a source of pride for the old sailor. He had always been more comfortable on water than on land, living his entire adult life on various houseboats as he bounced around the country and its eclectic lakes and ports, working as a crewman on numerous fishing vessels and freight liners. In his spare time he sailed. Working, sleeping, playing, loving, raising a family. He did it all on the water. But when Marsh’s Mother got sick, when she was being treated, when the treatments failed, when they had to let her go, that had all been on land. In the two years that followed Father built a sailboat, pouring years of pain and loss and anger into a vessel of his own creation. Victory’s Wing he named her, after Marsh’s Mother, Victoria. When it was complete, waxed and finished and ready to fly, Father boarded the boat and rarely set foot on land again.

Too bad he couldn’t take it with him to Europa, what with the planet being mostly water and ice. He imagined exploring those seas like the old North Pole expeditions centuries back. Nothing but your wits and determination to guide you. The colony ship was packing tight and light, however, leaving no room for personal belongings, least of which a sailboat.

“So we’ll build a new one,” said Marsh when he expressed his concerns.

Like their Father, Marsh was looking for a new start, and they didn’t get newer than the Europa colony. Opportunity on Earth was dwindling for its youth, just as the planet itself, and the unrelenting sense of adventure and expedition that came with being raised on the water was something that plagued Marsh in a world that prided and praised structure and stability. More than that, though, Marsh was First Mate to Father’s Captain. He taught them how to sail while they were learning to crawl, to walk, to speak. As long as they were together neither sailed alone, and as far as Marsh was concerned that included the stars.

“Build a new what?” asked Father.

“A new sailboat.”

Father scoffed, but Marsh was serious.

“You said it yourself, Europa’s mostly water,” they said, “You’re telling me you don’t wanna be the first person to sail on another planet? I say we cut our teeth on Europa, the whole planet’s smaller than the Pacific, and then we take on the big one.”

“Big one?”

“Jupiter.”

Father chuckled. “You never did mind sailing straight into a storm.”

Father’s smirk slowly faded as he looked up towards the sky and contemplated the notion.

“What would we build it out of?”

From there Marsh knew they had their Father convinced. He looked at his child to see them smiling. He could already see the gears turning in the engineer’s mind.

As Marsh stood there thinking, Father lifted his chin and took a deep breath.

“Do you think the salt will smell the same?” he asked.

“It’s possible.”

“I hope it does.” He took another deep breath with closed eyes, as if he was trying to preserve the scent in his memory.

Neither of them spoke for the rest of the night. Instead they sat portside of the aging sailboat, absorbing the scene surrounding them. The purity of the silence. The cool warmth of the air. The feathering breeze. During this time the water became so still that the cloudless, star-speckled sky was reflected upon it, the mirrored horizon giving them the impression of sailing eternity.

In two months, and for the next three years, they would take flight for real.

*

Jupiter was a cathedral ceiling painted by Time. It stretched across the sky, from ear to ear, bathing its moon in a warm crimson glow. Europa, the cathedral, sprouted mighty pillars and mountain crests of ice that seemed to hold Jupiter in place. When the ruby giant was full the seas that cradled and flowed beneath the arctic lands of the moon turned tumult, flailing and dancing in worship to the mother god that gave it life, shaped it in orbit alongside its many brother and sister moons. The gleeful rioting of the congregation cracked the cathedral walls, dividing the house in some places and merging them in others. For the recently settled Europans there was little to fear, having established their home on the icy continent at the moon’s south pole, where the land was thick and the worship more subdued.

Still, landing on the moon presented its own difficulties. The mission charters had not predicted exactly how violent the sub-oceans would turn and thus how drastically the lands would shift. As they were preparing to touch down in an arctic valley ridged by a ring of icy mountains a tectonic shift occurred, forcefully enough to shift the mountains themselves. One of them collided with the titanic vessel upon its descent, forcing the pilots to make an emergency crash landing at the base of the opposite ridge, wherein an avalanche buried the craft’s back third.

There was miraculously no loss of life except that concerning the ship itself. The propulsion systems and the entirety of the engine room were encompassed in several hundred tons of ice. Marsh and the rest of the engineering crew narrowly escaped the same fate.

Over the next several months while the colony unpacked and erected their sprawling new home, the leaders debated the merits, and possibility, of recovering the ship. By the time they realized they did not have the resources to pull off such a feat while their colony was still so young, Marsh had drawn the blueprints for theirs and Father’s new ship. Out of the scraps of the vessel that brought them to their new home, the ship in which they sailed the stars, Victory’s Wing II was constructed.

The project took over a decade to complete. In what little spare time they had each day Marsh and their Father ventured into the dilapidated engine room and carefully removed sections of metal, insulated carbon meshing, lengths of piping, and other materials that were otherwise useless to the quickly thriving settlement. They then assembled the materials and deconstructed, warped, and welded the pieces together to create the body of the ship, and used the carbon meshing as a sail. Luckily for them the winds on Europa were mightier than Earth’s, forceful enough to drag and lift the thicker, heavier sail.

Victoria’s Wing II sailed for many years across the jagged saltwater lakes and ever-shifting rivers of Europa’s surface, with Marsh taking on the role of Captain in the new world and Father of First Mate. Together they charted the more stable regions of the moon within their reach, accounting for the areas that were perpetually in flux. It became their jobs, their contributions to the community to draw maps of the areas they covered, and over time they had mapped out the entire southern hemisphere. They had planned to attempt crossing the most treacherous waters of the equator to enter the northern hemisphere, an adventure the more headstrong and daring Marsh longed for, but as time went on Father became older and less able to assist. The frigid air, relentless wind thrust, and tiring work of chipping ice off the ship’s hull took its toll on the man, though he’d never admit it. Whenever the pains of age threatened to overcome him, he would simply take a whiff of the salty air and be reminded of home.

One day they were out on a leisurely drift about the river that snaked through their home valley and circled the mountain range surrounding it, drinking “Jovian home brew” provided by a neighbor and watching Jupiter’s slow rise on the horizon. Sunlight reflecting off the sliver in view lit up their world with a coral glow.

“Sunrise never quite looked like this back on Earth, did it?” asked Father.

“Understatement of the year,” said Marsh, sipping their brew.

“Winds are a lot stronger up there. Lot stronger,” said Father, glancing around at the boat. “Gonna need a thicker hull. Don’t know what you’re gonna use for the sail, winds’ll tear right through anything thicker than steel. Hell, they might tear through steel.”

“I’ve got a few ideas. We’ll figure something out.”

Father sighed, turning his eyes back up toward the giant.

“You know I can’t come with you.”

“I know you think you can’t.”

“Marsh, I’m old. I can barely walk the length of this boat anymore without having to catch my breath. I can’t go ridin’ a hurricane with you. ‘Sides, you’re more competent of a captain than I ever was. Much more.”

“Dad, forget it. You’re coming with me. You never even have to leave the cabin.”

“Marsh—“

“We’re a team. End of story.”

Father looked at Marsh with proud eyes. He knew Jupiter was next for his child, but it was not going to be last. He only wished he could be around to see it.

*

Jupiter is an ocean. Its rose dusted winds rushing as rivers pressed against one another, generating titanic storms that could shake the foundations of Mt. Olympus. Its depths plunge towards eternity, its horizon wider than the breadth of stars. Its surface radiates with the color palette of the most brilliant sunset painted skies. If Earth’s sea floor is Davy Jones’ Locker, then Jupiter’s heights are the sailor’s Valhalla. And Marsh had been knocking on the Great Hall’s doors for days.

Victoria’s Wing III, its previous incarnation repurposed with a Samson-strength hull, was shaped like a raindrop turned on its side. It rode an amber vortex around the circumference of the lower half of the planet with one single fin sprouting up and at an angle, a steel alloy sail turning the boat ever so slightly towards what Marsh hoped would eventually be the vortex’s barrier.

They were nestled within the cramped cabin of the ship, lying underneath the protruding sail and tightening bolts loosened by the sheer tug of the wind from the outside. A hurricane roar filled the boat with such omnipresence since they entered Jupiter’s atmosphere that when all fell silent they were deaf to the change for several moments. In fact it wasn’t the sound at all that tipped them off, but the relaxation of the ship itself. The vibrations of the vessel that Marsh hadn’t even realized they’d gotten used to ceased entirely, as if the boat had slipped into a frictionless environment.

Excitedly, Marsh donned their wind-resistant coat and goggles, tied the carbon fiber rope that was anchored to the cabin’s floor around their waist, and climbed the central ladder towards the roof of the boat. They twisted the wheel, pushed open the hatch, and were awestruck by the first Jovian vista they could witness with their own eyes.

They were drifting within a clear atmospheric pocket a mile wide between two of Jupiter’s mighty vortices. On either side of Marsh towered walls of the planet’s trademark red winds, reaching heights that dwarfed entire moons and plunging farther down than Hades. But what struck Marsh with awe and fear and exhilaration was what lied ahead.

Victoria’s Wing III’s destination was a once distant red blemish seen through a telescope, a bloodshot eye on the godlike face of Jupiter, a centuries old storm that could swallow Earth twice and still have room for more. The Great Red Spot. It boiled and toiled and raged like the Kraken of sailor myth, waiting to drag down any who dared enter its sacred waters.

Marsh smiled.

They climbed back down into the cabin and sealed the hatch. They adjusted the sail to send the boat back towards the border of one of the vortices that would eventually skirt around the Storm, riding its razor’s edge all the way down. Marsh kept an iron grip on the sail’s lever, using all their strength not to slip and send the boat tumbling back into the vortex. Sweat coated their skin and soaked their clothes. The Storm’s beastlike roar was deafening, a physical presence that enveloped Marsh inside and out. When it was almost too loud to bear, Marsh guessed they were close enough. With a tremendous shift of weight they twisted the lever and thus the sail, bouncing the boat off the vortex wall and straight into the Storm.

In the breath of a second between winds Marsh moved to a bucket seat in the cabin’s corner and strapped in.

The next several moments Marsh could only later describe as trying to ride a furious bull strapped to a rickety roller coaster during the San Andreas Quake. While their entire world shook the only thought that crossed Marsh’s mind was the look their Father would have on his face if he were there with them. “You never did mind sailing straight into a storm,” he’d shout.

Then unexpectedly it was over. The silence that followed was pure. Marsh couldn’t help but think they might be dead and the rest of their senses hadn’t caught up yet. They rested a moment, waiting for a sudden shift back to fury, but it never came. Carefully, Marsh unbuckled their seatbelt, climbed the ladder, and opened the hatch.

They stood upon the surface of Victoria’s Wing III and witnessed wonder.

They were in the Eye of the Storm. The slightest of breezes was all that passed them by in the epic breadth, raising the hairs on their arms and neck. Surrounding them at a quiet distance was the churning, cherry red rage of the Storm.

Marsh closed their eyes, took a deep breath, and swore they could almost smell salt.

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