Tuesday, 18 February 2014



Universal Media Syndicate


TITAN – Baby, it’s cold outside: almost 200-below zero Celsius.


With departure aboard the E.S. Champlain imminent, this reporter decided to take a walk around the grounds as it were. Nobody here in the Last Chance Gas complex ventures out of doors unless they absolutely must; unless they’re suicidal or high on gree-gree – or both. Refinery overseer Grant Turnbull has graciously acquiesced to your reporter’s request for escort. Turnbull is the man of Titan who must most frequently go what is termed ‘walkabout.’


The fit of the pressure suit is surprisingly snug, almost like a second skin. Yet the wearer must concentrate on simple motor functions, one foot ahead of the other to take a simple step: Left! Right! The boots are weighted with lead. Any automatic gesture becomes pre-planned. One imagines a performer, an actor or a dancer, struggling for graceful movement whilst trapped in a pool of tar. Inside one’s helmet respiration is a roar of white noise punctuated by intermittent staccato cackles of radio contact.


Titan looks very different from its surface. The greens and blacks of the porthole lenses no longer apply. There is an orange smog low in the sky that hangs like a shroud despite the ferocious winds. The gravel dunes are rippled, almost as perfect as a fabric pattern. A beachcomber’s paradise with nothing to offer. Uncollected brittle human remains crumble into shards if stepped upon. There are treacherous patches of ice or something like it, polished and scoured, more beautiful than any precious gem sold on Earth. Sheets of poison mist whip inshore from the roiling surface of the vast lake of methane.


Turnbull believes there are life forms in the lake, but how many fathoms deep he cannot guess. The refinery’s intake and filtration systems offer some evidence and Turnbull is a curious man, but he is a journeyman steamfitter, not an astro-biologist. What matters is the lifespan and integrity of his steel composite components and how tasty they may be to Titan’s native microbes. The economics of deep space private enterprise do not lend themselves to the advancement of arcane scientific knowledge beyond the here and now. All that matters is the stability of existing infrastructure and the premiums added to the ever rising cost of fuel.


The most alien feature on the landscape of the strangely beautiful wasteland surrounding Last Chance Gas is man-made: the garbage dump. It could almost be mistaken for a living thing as it grows constantly. A heap of waste has become a hill and will become a mountain. Virtually anything and everything ever discarded on Titan glistens in the methane rain. Solutions such as recycling or curated landfill are deemed impractical due to the potential expenses and labour involved.


To be on Titan is to be on the verge of future human history. To be walkabout on Titan is to recall the history we carry with us and wonder if humankind is destined to make the same mistakes we have made so many times before.


Copyright UMS 2414.


Part five of a series.

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