Four Thousand Kilometers Above Jupiter

Four Kilometers Above Jupiter by Jim Latham

I named the spider Billy. I was supposed to kill him—sacrifice is the term in the experimental protocol—after the experiment was complete, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t even finish the experiment.

Why bother? Whatever electromagnetic event wiped out comms with the transport ship took out my exterior cams too, so I’ve been flying blind for two weeks, whipping around Jupiter at a steady three hundred and fifty kilometers per hour and maintaining altitude at four thousand kilometers over the so-called surface, which is just the spot somewhere way down there where the pressure is equal to one Earth atmosphere.  

To be honest, I’m not even flying—the AEV (Atmospheric Exploration Vessel) flies itself. Other than not killing Billy, setting the flight parameters, and writing these notes to myself, the only thing I’ve done is make a set of wind chimes out of the glass pipettes, tape, and other odds and ends from the lab. They’re not very loud but they make pretty sounds when I blow on them.

That might not sound like much, but you’d be surprised what keeps you going when you’re stranded in a probe on Jupiter. Well, four thousand kilometers above Jupiter. Can’t even really be on Jupiter. What a lame planet.

I spend my days hoping the crew on the transport ship is still alive and orbiting somewhere above me so they can invent a way to get comms back up so we can set a rendezvous point and get me back on board before the AEV’s oxygen stores run out. I ran the numbers and proved to myself that Billy isn’t breathing enough to change my timeline any. Of course, I’m breathing enough to significantly shorten his life, which perfectly sums up the relationship between human animals and non-human animals in the solar system.

Why Billy? His eight legs reminded me of the 80s, when the pop charts were dominated by guys named Billy. He’s named after Billy Idol, Billy Joel, or Billy Ocean, depending on my mood. Sometimes even Billy Corgan, which I realize is jumping forward a decade. My Billy doesn’t sing. He did spin a web though, and he hangs out on one edge of it, waiting for prey.

 I wish I had some flies to give him. I drop bits of my food onto my web, and he comes to check it out, but so far he hasn’t been interested in eating it. Which is fair. I’m not interested in eating it, either, and it’s designed to appeal to my species.

Billy’s sitting and waiting on the edge of his web right now, despite weeks of disappointment. It helps keep me going. I’m basically doing the same thing, sitting and waiting and hoping in front of this console, writing my notes to no-one and blowing on my wind chimes. Might as well. After all, there’s nothing to be gained by giving up.          


Prompted by Anne Marie (a wind chime, a spider, Jupiter)

Prompt me with an inanimate object, a living thing, and a location.

Photo by Planet Volumes on Unsplash