“Why, oh why, did I volunteer for this?” Dytis cried out moments before the jump.
He looked down at the swirling clouds of the gas giant. The shapes and swirls were mesmerising, like an endless cup of latte and him being the sugar cube ready to dip inside.
Hope he wasn’t gonna dissolve like it, though.
The trajectory had been calculated down to the last second. The release was automated, but he did hold the abort button in his gloved hand. Actually, calling it a ‘glove’ was being generous. His suit was a rigid submarine around him in a vaguely human shape. He didn’t have any mobility, not that he wanted to sacrifice the protection for it.
This was gonna be a bumpy ride.
“Ten seconds till the jump,” his suit said.
Dytis gulped. He could still abort. He could still walk away, after all, this was absolutely motherfucking batshit crazy. No one would blame him.
But he would.
Sweating, feeling like a canned tuna, he waited for the countdown.
“Five. Four. Three. Two… One…”
“Whee!” Juppie clamored in delight as soon as they both got kicked like a pebble.
The quick releases clanged on his divesuit and pushed him away. Tiny jets of air made sure to adjust any discrepancy to the precalculated route.
This was just a simple dive, he kept repeating the thought to himself like a mantra. He chuckled. “Yeah, right,” he whined to himself.
Now he was alone.
More or less, that was. Juppie kept squealing as they fell, he was more composed. Merged together as one, man and machine, falling into the atmosphere of the Hot Jupiter. A gas giant that, as the name suggested, was hotter than Jupiter back on Earth.
This gas giant was way too close to the star it orbited, making it spin around very fast indeed. It was also hotter, and those Minds believed the core was not solid, which was a very important matter right now for Dytis and Juppie.
They were both backed up in the nearest ship Mind, “Call Me If You’re Sick.” But it wasn’t the same thing. If he died, he’d still be lost. He’d lose this experience. If something went wrong, he’d just emerge out of a stinky vat of organic goo with ultra-sensitive baby-skin and with the last memory being that of getting backed up.
Debating it was philosophy, and Dytis wasn’t deep into that. No, he was deep only in other things: Asterism-wide firsts. Breaking records. First man to dive into a nebula. First man to dive beneath a frozen ocean. And now, first man to dive into a gas giant.
They couldn’t do it back on Jupiter. Nobody had gone there, not even an e-person, but they were pretty sure it had a solid core, and obviously that wouldn’t work for a dive. What he needed was a nice, puffy planet that was gaseous all the way to the core.
Just like this baby right here.
The sun was enormous, they were so close to it, uncomfortably so. It just felt wrong, being this close to a star. Even the tropical orbitals that offered a good tan and warm beaches weren’t this close to their stars.
He fell, him and his suit. The suit was definitely more valuable than him, but Juppie was an adrenaline junkie, even without having any adrenaline to speak of. They’d done a couple of crazy jumps together and they trusted each other. Juppie would be the first e-person to visit a gas giant’s core, and so would Dytis, the first organic in known space.
From orbit, and the gentle, stomach-curling feel of free-fall, the Hot Jupiter grabbed him.
The change was gradual but very, very hard to miss.
“Inside the gravity well,” Juppie said, way too excited. “Still no records broken, dude. But we’re so close!”
“Yeah,” Dytis chuckled. “We’ll break them, buddy. Don’t worry.”
He accelerated. It was like being a fly caught in a fly-swatter, whooshing you downwards in a never-ending fall. Pulled downwards by the incredibly strong gravity of the gas giant, Dytis felt whoozy.
“I think we may have committed hybris here,” Dytis said, grunting to keep his insides from becoming an omelete.
“Ha! Good one. No, we’re cool. Actually, we’ll be way more than cool in a bit.”
Dytis knew the stages. He was falling at a staggering 180.000 km/h, basically a meteor falling to the Hot Jupiter. He remembered that the planet had probably eaten a million meteors that thought they were bigger and badder than a lowly human.
“Reaching the ammonia clouds, whoopie!” Juppie said.
The effect was shocking. Or rather, freezing. Dytis and Juppie both became a popsicle, dipping in external temperature down to -150 degrees Celsius. If it wasn’t for the metamaterials in his suit and the ridiculously advanced technology inside it, he’d probably be alive right now, but freezing his balls off.
Dytis saw the whirlpool. Whirlpool, with a capital ‘W.’ He fell into it, unable to act, it engulfed him. Everything around him became a jumbled-up mess, his vision blurred from the shaking and the bobbing around.
“We’re being buffeted by 500 km/h winds!” Juppie squealed in delight. “Whee!”
Dytis shut his eyes, he couldn’t take it any more. He was like a grain of sand in a powerful blender, tiny, hard, he couldn’t be hurt but he was damn sure was gonna be thrown around with impunity.
“Injecting your squishy parts with inertia metamaterials,” Juppie said and filled him up with said liquid.
To say that it felt weird, was an understatement. The suit injected his chest, his intestines, his lungs, his heart, his brain, his eyeballs. The greenish liquid filled his vision. He felt heavy, even heavier than before. He was…
Dytis’ body had undergone some modification, there was no way he had a chance of surviving this ordeal with a vanilla panhuman body. Graphene bones, double heart, super absorbent lung material, he had been genofixed to be the most durable panhuman Asterism could make.
He fell into the dark.
There was no more sunlight, and that was weird. The incredibly large star was still thataway but he couldn’t see anything anymore, the atmosphere was so dense it let no light get through.
And then came the storms.
Lightning crackled all around him.
“Are we safe?” his baser instincts told him to run, to hide, to cower before the might of the Lightning God.
“Yeah… I can take a hit, don’t worry,” Juppie assured him.
The lightning storms around him flashed like an angry mob of paparazzi, blinding him. So weird, complete darkness, and then light. And repeat.
A lightning bolt came to avenge his hybris, hitting them squarely in the chest.
Dytis reeled back, but there was nowhere to go, the suit was hugging him tighter than a needy teenage girl. “What about two hits?” His vision was all a jumble of afterimages and lightning for at least an hour.
“No problem. I can take two hits,” Juppie said and they fell together in silence.
“Temperature increasing. But don’t stick your feet out of the bedsheets!” Juppie joked.
“Ha. Ha. How are you holding up, the pressure must be enormous by now.”
“Yeah, it is. It has been increasing within the predicted range for the past ten hours.” Juppie didn’t give out numbers, he never did unless you specifically asked for them. He was weird like that.
Then again, who was Dytis to point fingers?
Dytis felt better after the crazy toilet-drain of death from earlier, and after the crazy lightning-storm of death from just above. Now he was just falling into complete void, no pesky lightning around. It was warmer, and the pressure was immense but that was Juppie’s problem. If he collapsed, it’d be over before Dytis even knew it, so why worry?
Trust the planning, trust the gear, that was every thrill-seeker’s motto. It was impossible to actually go through with your crazy stunts if you worried about everything.
Being an adrenaline junkie was about relinquishing control Sure, you planned and measured and double measured. But at some point you just took the dive and saw where it took you.
Or, died, which was very common since there were very few real thrills left.
Especially if you wanted to be the first at something.
He thought of the headlines, the holovids, the babes lining up to suck his dick one after another. ‘First man to dive into a gas giant.’ First ever. Not even an e-person had gone this deep. And he was falling at a break-neck speed, but he couldn’t tell because he couldn’t see anything. And no radio signals could get out, they were cut off from Asterism completely. Not even gravity-wave communication.
“Hey, did the entangled particle communication work? You remembered to test it, right Juppie?”
“Uh…” Juppie answered, stalling for time. It was ridiculous, the e-person could think a billion things in a heartbeat, he didn’t need to stall for time. And he should have never forgotten anything, but it seems he actually did. And he wasn’t one to lie. He also could have lied and done the test in the infinitesimal amount of time between syllables. But he was honest, that Juppie. “I forgot. But I’m doing it now. Nope, see? Nothing. Huh. It should have worked…”
“I see. It was a long-shot anyway.” Dytis didn’t expect it to work. Nothing worked inside these impossible conditions. The entangled particles should have worked and thankfully he didn’t have to pay for that expensive experiment, some university footed the bill for it, but they did not. It was weird. If it had worked, they’d be able to send a remote back up of his mind and save his memories, losing the body of course. Dytis wasn’t an expert, he was more of a surfer kind of guy, but from the little he did know it should have worked. That, at least, was an important discovery. Some brainiac or a Mind could use that bit of info to think about more stuff or whatever.
He fell for hours. He had a mission clock but he stopped glancing at it after the first twelve hours or so, it wasn’t doing good things to his mood.
Suddenly, he hit water. Or rather, supercritical fluid. It was like dense air, almost liquified. He could feel himself surfing through it with his immense acceleration and wading through patches of it. He couldn’t see it, but the tug and sway was unmistakable. Now it was boiling hot and he knew Juppie was taking the beating of his life, both in pressure and heat.
Again, he didn’t worry about it. Even a tiny crack in his incredibly advanced armour would spell immediate death.
Why worry about immediate death?
You wouldn’t see it coming. It was the worry that scared people, not death itself.
He fell for hours, not glancing at the mission clock. Juppie of course recorded everything, if they survived, this data would be immensely valuable to the brainiacs and the Minds.
Out of nowhere, he felt hailstones falling on his suit. Of course, it couldn’t be hail, but that’s what it sounded like. “Juppie, what the fuck is that?”
“Uh… It’s a bad thing.”
“Very. Remember the patches of metallic hydrogen we were worried about? They are small, but if we hit a big one we’ll get stuck inside it. It will be too dense to escape it.”
“Great. Just fucking great…”
Dytis gritted his teeth, biting into the gel that kept them safe. The hail made of metallic hydrogen kept falling on the suit in waves. It came and went. He felt better when things became quiet, holding his breath for at least two minutes. And then the hail started again. Dangerous. Deadly.
“We should be nearing the core,” Juppie said, still excited. It was exhausting after all these hours. But Dytis did feel a bit of the same thrill, after the fear of death washed away.
“Hey, I have an idea! Grab some hail. Come on, now,” Dytis shouted.
“Don’t need to shout, I’m right here. Why would I do that?”
“Just do it, before we reach the core. Come on, trust me, now!”
Juppie seemed to ponder it in silence. He was making calculations and simulations in that instant. “But why?”
“I had this idea. We don’t know the properties of metallic hydrogen, right? It’s all speculative?”
“But it is a superconductor, right?”
“Most likely, yes,” Juppie said. “But I still don’t understand why. If I risk grabbing a piece, it might get us stuck, ripping the arm off from our momentum, or just getting us stuck in a bigger piece.”
The hailstorm got less and less noisy. They were definitely going through that layer of the weird substance. “TRUST ME!” Dytis cried out, unable to move, unable to act, heck, unable to wiggle his fingers and toes.
“Okay, Dytis.” Juppie moved the suit’s arm.
Dytis felt his hand open, and a hit of something solid, and his hand closed around it.
“Got it! Dude, this is unbelievable, first sample of metallic hydrogen, ever! High five!”
Dytis laughed, wanting to shake his head but being unable to. His buddy made him raise his hand for a high five that was done with one being inside the other, weird as that sounded. “High five,” he said, smiling.
“Oh, you’re right. It is a superconductor. Let me try something.” Juppie spoke but of course had already performed an immense amount of analyses and tasks already, weighing all his options.
They reached the core. Dytis knew it, because the ride on the fly-swatter was over.
He was finally in free fall once again, gravity negated in the middle of the gas giant.
“We made it,” Juppie whispered, showing the appropriate amount of reverence for once in his life.
Dytis choked down a laugh, he teared up. “I-I can’t believe it. The core. It’s gaseous, and we’re here…”
“We’re so AWESOME!” Juppie broke the seriousness of the momentous occasion. “High five!”
“High five!” Dytis shouted this time, it was well worth it.
They’d both die now, but it was worth it.
First panhuman to dive into a gas giant all the way to the core. He could already see the babes lining up.
Hours passed in darkness and freefall. It was worse than space, ’cause there were no stars to see.
“How long,” Dytis said.
“I can keep you alive for a few days, but I don’t recommend it. It won’t be good for your psyche.”
Another hour passed.
Dytis thought of his home. His friends, the ones he surfed and sky-dived with. The crazies who simply got who he was and why he did all the things he did. He really wanted to see them, one last time.
“Hey, Juppie. Try the entangled particles again.”
“Come on, Dytis, they didn’t work. I don’t need to waste precious energy on a futile-”
“Just try it…” Dytis said softly, not feeling strong enough to complain. This dive was taxing to his body. Even if he hadn’t done anything for the entire dive, it was far more than what a panhuman was supposed to survive from.
“Holy gas balls!” Juppie exclaimed.
“What?” Dytis said, woozy.
“It works! It must be the metallic hydrogen, it’s sending out the signal from the entire layer.”
“Can you call home?”
“Better than that. I can send a backup. I only have a few particles to work with, but I’m sure I can extrapolate the data from the other end.”
“You mean, you can back me up, but with some of my memories?”
“Yeah. But we need to choose. It’s either you or me, only one can be saved.”
“Your data is more important to the Asterism, Juppie. You should back yourself up,” Dytis said without hesitating.
“It makes sense, you’re right. But this wasn’t about the collected data, bro. This was a leap of faith. It will show us what can be achieved when organic persons and e-persons work together. It’s bigger than me.”
“Juppie, don’t play the martyr now, I know you. Just do the logical thing. Send yourself back. You’re more important. I’m just a glorified surfer.”
Juppie spoke softly now, sounding hurt. “My friend, who told you that surfers and adrenaline junkies aren’t important in this world?”
Dytis said nothing. He had no more energy left, and his body felt like it was about to slosh into goo. He was tired, hurt, broken, and possibly a little bit crazy at this point in his chosen ordeal.
“I’m gonna need to sacrifice some parts from the suit.”
“What does that mean?” Dytis snapped angrily, now fed up with everything.
“Uh… Look, the back up might work, and we’ll take that chance. But I will need to sacrifice some of the exotic particles on the suit, meaning it will lose structural integrity. It’s best if I put you under before I start it.”
“No!” Dytis shouted with the few scraps of strength he had left. “Don’t put me under. If I’m gonna die, I need to feel this. I need to be awake.”
“I said no!”
“Alright,” Juppie sighed. “Get ready.”
Dytis felt the familiar sensation of being backed up, it was weird, his synapses lighting up, like someone mapping out a city by turning on street lights in sequential blocks.
“This is it…” Juppie said. “Activating the entangled communication system. Goodbye, my friend. Remember to tell me all about our experience together.”
“It was an awesome dive, wasn’t it?” Dytis asked, his neck tightening from the feeling of impending death.
“It was absolutely rad, bro.”
Juppie repurposed some of the material in the suit and invented an impromptu device that nobody had done before. He analysed the back-up, kept the bare minimum and sent it out with the precious few entangled particles he had left all the way to the “Call Me If You’re Sick.”
The suit collapsed under the pressure. Dytis screamed for a single second and then died, his body dissolved.
Juppie made sure the signal got out from his end, that was all he could do. His copy on the other end would not have these memories. Only his friend would.
And then let himself loose to the mercy of the Hot Jupiter.
There was none.
Read more Antigravel stories here: https://mythographystudios.com/antigravel/