1 The constraints: 1) No more than
one hour. 2) No more than 20 lines.
The result ? Genius or Not.


25th April 2010

By Robert Selby | 2010 April 25

Straker leans over and lets rip the hydrogen up into the Montgolfière. The balloon is losing height over the methane lakes, the propeller shaft casting a large shadow on the unrippling surface continually changing colour under Titan’s cocktail atmosphere. I check my wrist thermostat – outside my moonsuit it’s a balmy -179°C. I check my wrist watch – it’s 18:00 back in Houston, twenty-four terrestrial hours since the get-go to proceed to the Pole, but only a fraction of a Titan day has passed. I jump. Straker’s hand has moved across my visor, but he’s only signalling that he’s going to check my breathing apparatus, a precaution to be carried out regularly. In turn I move behind Straker to check his, and it’s then the first spot of rain hits my visor. Methane rain falls on the regolith as persistent droplets, but just a few hundred metres up Titan’s weak gravity allows rain to descend in distended slow motion. Some of the droplets are metres long, stair rods of liquid methane expiring on the Montgolfière to no effect. Straker is back at the tiller. Steady as she goes. We pass through the shower. Below, rainbows cast in methane steam venting from the banks of the Great Lakes. To the east, through the green haze turning pink and purple like a borealis, Saturn is yellow and on its axis, its rings only visible where they pass in front of the planet. Up ahead, Station Great Britain emerges from the haze, red roof beacon blinking, one boat moored in Dover Quay, which means the other must be in use. Closer, and the station’s antenna array looms into view. It looks intact, and still rotating. Straker starves the Montgolfière of hydrogen. We are on the descent. Larsson was due to make a special broadcast after reconnoitering the Rim, a kilometre northwest. He and his team were mining for possible panspermia – the process whereby bacterial life might have fallen into Titan from another planet or moon, perhaps Europa, or Earth itself. But no broadcast had come through, and when contact was attempted a signal was found, but there was zip-all on the end of the line.

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