A leisurely circumnavigation of Enceladus
You may say what you want about Elite, but it’s stories like these that make those memorable gaming moments that stick for years! Today, Alpha Orbital is proud to fully bring you the logs of CMDR Aken B, who did a full circumnavigation of Enceladus.
His journey started with an ironclad will, a blingy SRV prepped (well... mostly) for the journey and a never-ending supply of crackers. Buckle up your seats, or just toss yourself somewhere comfy because this is now officially the longest post on Alpha Orbital, and it’s worth every letter!
"X Marks The Spot" - A leisurely circumnavigation of Enceladus
After taking a look at my bucket list of things yet to do in Elite, I've been inspired by CMDR Alec Turner and his recent circumnavigation of a planet for charity to write off one the most prominent entries on it, sitting just between "Find something to blame T.j. for" and "Reach Beagle Point in an E-rated sidewinder. No scanner, eco route"...and that is (you'd never guess, eh):
Circumnavigate a planet/moon in the SRV
The Elite galaxy offers us an overwhelming deal of planets and moons, of every size and composition, full of awesome, varied landscapes and cosmic vistas. Celestial bodies sporting enormous craters, huge canyons, cliffs, valleys, orbiting binary or trinary star systems, dwarf/neutron stars, bathed in eerie, alien lights, you name it.
And then there's Enceladus. Rather smooth surface, rather unremarkable land features, rather annoying icy surface full of small rocks and boulders at every step, orbiting a gas giant surrounded by a glorious ring system that given Enceladus' orbit, almost perfectly aligned on Saturn's equator, comes down to a rather invisible thin line when seen from its surface.
So why in the galaxy did I choose to embark on a full trip around such a boring ball of rock and ice? Hell if I know, but I have more or less 1600 km of road ahead to ponder the errors of my way.
Who knows, along these 1600 km I might still make interesting encounters, or stumble across some interesting features after all. That E ring around Saturn doesn't create it on itself, there have to be ice and water jets somewhere! (yes I already know there are indeed some and their positions should be well known by now, but please be kind with my empty fantasies, would you?).
More so, yes it's dull, but it's also not some unknown Eol Prou WW-HG211-L, Synuefe 88-F-KJHAD or HECK-TH-ATIS-FFSAKE-7B. It's Enceladus. Motherckufing Enceladus, orbiting big frickin' Saturn. That's VIP stuff over there.
Formalities aside, let's get down (literally) to business:
First thing I needed was a place where to start my trip: as already explained, Enceladus is a bit lacking on peculiar or distinguishable land features, but there are some nonetheless. What better place to put an X on a map, than already finding a huge X put in place for you by mareal forces over millions of years…
A downside of using the big X as a point of reference and a straight polar route, is that being Enceladus tidally locked in its orbit around Saturn, the ringed giant will appear to be static in a fixed point of the sky. Unfortunately, that fixed point in the sky happens to be just a little below the horizon eastward of my route, so no big majestic views of the mighty planet along my ride, but I'll have it watching over my shoulder the entire time.
On trajectory for my elected starting point in my reliable do-it-all Python Doorstopper Almighty, unfathomable Saturn looming in the background. Can almost hear Gyorgy Ligeti's "Requiem" resonating from the ship's frame.
From there it will be an easy ride to the north pole following 0° bearing, then an equally easy ride on the other side heading 180°, back to my very big, very easy to find X. Easy to find from orbit at least, it's a very shallow slope when on the ground.
The intial lat/long coordinates will help me to know when I'll be back at my starting point anyway.
The Scarab doing the undertaking will be of course my trusty "The Tumbling Initiative" of Buckyball fame, now sporting a full gold-plated livery for 780% added weight, but 18*10^8% more cool factor.
Starting odometer value: check. Repair mats reserves: check. Refuel mats reserves: check. Sanity check: heck.
And off I depart in the black!
"Following the light of the sun we left the old world". So poignant, so moving, my eyes filled up with tears. My mouth, my nose, my ears, everything full of tears. Turned up I didn't properly start life support, cabin condensation is an ugly b*tch.
Enceladus may be a barren flat place, but at least I shouldn't ever find myself short of materials to help in my voyage.
See? It's not so devoid of activity after all, not even 20 km in my trip and this appears on the (near) horizon: friend or foe?
Friend luckily, still wouldn't have wanted to mess with the array of turrets and sentry drones displayed.
Saturn peek out from behind the horizon, a tiny sliver of light indicating we are a good way from daylight yet, the ring plane discernible just left of M33 (Triangulum Galaxy).
Another shallow ridge passed, another chance encounter: a stack of containers left there by someone with no intention of giving them out easily, given the display of drones guarding it. This particular specimen has "Don't mess with me" written all over it.
The road ends on the 40th parallel for today, just a quick 40 minutes, 50 km leg to get the trip going. Now setting up camp here to spend the night in my comfortable golden cocoon: in a leap of inspiration I'll call this waypoint "Camp Here".
A quick update, safely reached "Camp There" after another 150 km of annoyingly placed boulders. And a couple canyons. And other stuff. The landscape appears to be not so dull after all, I'm extremely lucky the Tumbling Initiative is still in one piece and safely parked for the night...I have to be more careful than I've been today if I want to reach the north pole, not even mentioning arriving back at the X canyon.
Day 2 - From "Camp Here" to "Camp There"
The day started... at night, again. Judging from the changing phase on Saturn, still some hours before I can bask in the light of Sol Invictus. My brief stay at the 40° parallel has been full of wonders and exciting adventures, up to the point when I hit the snooze and woke up in the same barren plain I left the day/night before. Time for a healthy breakfast made of crackers and regrets, then back on the road to the north pole.
The blinking of a beacon suddenly appears behind a small elevation, didn't even notice it at first on the scanner. Whoever left that beacon there also took measures to protect it, whatever its secret may be it's none of my business, I have a mission to accomplish and I'm also in a bad mood for exploration. Those crackers sucked.
I give throttle again intending to go past the beacon at a safe distance, when a sudden flash in the sky and a muffled thump from the cabin's acoustic awareness system notifies me of a ship just jumping in, right above the beacon...not a good feeling, looks like something is going on and I shouldn't be supposed to be here...
False alarm, it appears that some Beluga tourist liner decided to give passengers the ride of their life with a low pass over the wonders of Enceladus... they must have been some very low-paying passengers to deserve that. I feel relieved and go ahead on my journey... a journey full of mystery, wonders, and unmitigated swearing.
That large canyon some kilometers north of Camp Here, appearing so shallow when viewed from orbit, revealed itself to be not so flat and easy to traverse as expected. Sometimes it's easy to forget the real scale of things. "Potato moon"....and mite-sized explorers.
Being the careful and cautious explorer that I am, I decide to approach the many mounds and crevices in the most sensible manner. (This attitude will soon lead me to a close encounter of the brown kind with an embarrassing demise, more on this later...)
It's the innate spirit of the human race, the inner instinct that moves each and every of our endeavours since the dawn of time: the urge to dive into the unknown, the urge to explore, the urge to dare. The urge to litter.
Out of the canyon finally, and almost out of existence minutes later. I forgot how easy it was to gain speed on a more plain surface apparently, but the more plain surface promptly reminded me of the transience of our existence.
Now, that was close. CLOSE. Arms still trembling and feeling dizzy, I stand there and try to recompose myself. And also take the chance for some sightseeing over the horizon.
I regain my cool and decide to travel another bit before settling for the night (or day, whatever); the "another bit" becomes a good stretch of land, and after traversing a large swat of elevated and relatively easy ground I finally find myself at the rough bottom of a large basin, not too far from my next destination (the pole). Another 170 km under the belt, but I spent far more repairing materials than I hoped for. Time to stop for some rest in the tiny, comfy SRV-sized dip in the ground I just named "Camp There".
I'll keep the headlights on for a bit, they double as reading light for a bit or relax before sleep. Currently reading "Crochet, kite surf and raising llamas: a brief guide"
Day 3 - From "Camp There" to the North Pole
After a veeery long sleep, I'm finally greeted by another day of... night. Looks like I missed the daylight train once again. Whoohoo. Oh well, more dramatic photo ops this way so here we go, next stop the north pole hopefully, but not before the usual healthy breakfast. Left over crackers, and freshly baked regrets. Yummy!
In the cosmic ballet of Enceladus around Saturn, the sky has changed during my absence: the glowing plane of the Milky Way is not anymore the canvas over which Saturn is painted, instead moving on the other side of the sky where a couple of Enceladus' siblings have appeared over the horizon. At a wild guess, one is Titan, the other is... not Titan.
Not even the time of coming out of the basin were I camped the last days, and I already meet signs of activity: someone was apparently parked in another dip a few kilometres from mine, his (or her) engine trails the only remaining trace of their presence…
I stare at my new traveling companions, and take the time to ponder and reflect on the deeper questions the universe poses me: what's our purpose? Is there even a purpose? And more importantly, why did I only take badly preserved crackers with me before departing from my ship?
A few kilometers past "Camp There", out of the basin and on plain ground again when a weak, unusual signature on the scanner grabs my attention. I divert a couple kilometres to investigate, but probably would have been better if I didn't…
I stumble upon the place where someone apparently met their fate, details will remain forever unknown probably, but the way debris are scattered around and the wreck of an armed drone crashed a few meters away make me think that a fight happened, and it didn't end well for the unlucky rover pilot either.
I leave that unsettling place and continue on my journey... but not for long, there's a lot of activity apparently at polar latitudes. I met these kind of beacons already, think I'll pass on the close inspection of this one.
A few kilometers later, a full-fledged planetary base overlooking a vast landscape appears on the distant horizon, quite an imposing sight from the base of the slope. In between the two buildings a small number of containers were present, together with a couple escape pods closely guarded by a complement of drones... I just hope those were empty but I'll never know, since I had already attracted the attention of one of the sentries and it started to make clear that I had to leave, immediately. Another short stretch of road travelled, another remnant of human activity. Could it be connected with the nearby beacon and mysterious buildings?
Day 3 has seen far less distance travelled than what was planned for, but at last I finally made my way to the pole. Even my navigation computer noticed that, but for some kind of calculation bug it appears that it was convinced to be at the wrong pole. But hey, I'm on a pole at least!
After explaining the tiny but relevant difference between "90°" and "-90°" to my onboard computer, I corrected my bearing and prepared myself to camp there. Not Camp There, simply camp there, as in "camp here where I am". Not intended as Camp Here either, the one over there... ok, bad name planning on my part. Got it.
Preparing myself for the night with another good read after finishing my previous book. Let's start with this one, "365 Turkey Recipes For Vegans". I can barely contain my excitement.
Day 4 - a quick hop from the North Pole to "Camp Everywhere"
The North Pole was all fun and games, except it wasn't fun and there were no games. Moreover, it's very cold and lonely up there (compared to the hectic night life, the pleasing warm breeze, the palms and coral reefs at the tropical latitudes of Enceladus). Why the hell did I opt to stop there? Oh right, because North Pole. After a good informative reading and some hours of rest, I feel sparkly again and ready to continue on my trip. And I also know 365 new ways of throwing a turkey in the bin, consider it a plus. On to next stop (wherever it is), "Camp Everywhere"! (disclaimer: it's not everywhere actually).
I've not much time to dedicate to my journey today, so let's see how many kilometres I can add to the odometer from there. More important, let's see if I can add those kilometres in the right direction!
After going past the pole, an event confirmed by the heading indicator suddenly switching from 0° to 180°, I take just a quick glance at my overly complex astrogation procedure to check my bearing: with Saturn still firmly sitting at my right, I point my heading dead-on at 180° and throttle away, with longitude now pointing at -135°. The numbers do add up, that's the way to go.
I know I've been risking too much at the start of my voyage, and I can't be 100% reliant on my SRV boost function for reasons I still have to clarify, so I'm taking my sweet time with things, a keen eye on the road, a slow speed and a steady pace will lead me anyway were I want to - pfffffft who am I kidding anyway? Sorry couldn't keep a straight face.
Then, the straight face became a slightly constipated one. The boost failed me once again in my time of need… Kilometres upon kilometres go by past my wheels, the landscape barely changing except for some random encounters, the nature of which I start to question…
Another downed probe, its faint signalling beacon blinking unheeded in the dark cold… another wreck from some exploration gone awry… another rover reduced to scrap, another drone crashed to the ground…
I already met similar sights: extremely similar sights. It almost feels like these things are randomly laid there for the exact purpose of me to find them. Maybe it's the constant darkness, the unsettling yet wondrous sight of the universe above and around me, that makes all these questions, idling but ever present, surface from the realm of the subconscious to the vigilant eye of the mind.
Is all of this real? What's the very definition of "real"? What if we are just simulated entities in a simulated world, me just not being "me", but a simple artificial projection originating from somewhere else, an "holo-me"? Is there a deeper truth to things? Maybe some marvellous revelation, or something terrible, a truth so unbearable to be known only by a restricted elite, capable of handling a knowledge so dangerous. Is this universe really infinite? Or is there some impassable frontier just hidden somewhere, behind the horizons our eyes can see? What that frontier has in store for us? And what's beyond?
And moreover, should I stop with the cheap puns? Yes, yes I should. Oh look, I've arrived!
75 degrees of latitude, looks like a good enough spot to stop (accidental word pun), even if not much road has been travelled once again. I prepare myself for another period of rest with big reassuring Saturn watching over me, and choose another read from my thrift store collection to ease myself into sleep: "Watch paint dry: a comprehensive travel guide to Hutton Orbital". This will not ease, this will smash me into sleep... hey what's that on second cover, "Redeem your free mug, cut out ticket inside" ...free MUG! Me wants me wants... oh, it's already been cut out. Bummer.
Day 5 - setting up "Camp Near"
After a relatively brief stop on the picturesque slope of Camp Everywhere, I decide it's time to move on. Let's see how far I'll go before setting up "Camp Near". In the meantime, Enceladus carried on the eternal ballet around its parent planet; the phase of Saturn and the sky behind it have changed dramatically since the last time I saw them, just a few hours ago…
This time I decide to not let myself be distracted by anything anomalous that may pop up on the scanner, not too much at least. The starry, never ending night, and the majestic sight of the ringed giant already make for enough distraction, but I have a destination to reach, wherever it may be.
Aside for some minor close encounters of the rocky type, and a couple rude lithobraking events (no faulty boost this time, just a faulty level of attention on my part), this leg of the trip went by with relative ease and a suspicious lack of ground activity, especially after the many chance encounter of the previous days. That however was somewhat compensated by an apparent rush in airborne passers-by (is "airborne" a thing, when there's no "air" to go with "borne"?): federal patrols, lonely Adders and Asp's, full wings of private pilots, even the occasional Orca on a sightseeing tour. Just hope they weren't searching for any prospective water geyser, because there weren't any as far as the eye could see.
Given the quiet and uneventful itinerary, I took my time for some sightseeing. I don't think I'll ever get enough of that after all.
A bonus shot for the amateur astronomer: from the left, Barnard's Loop hanging low over the horizon, with the Horsehead Nebula and the Orion Belt (Alnitak, a barely discernible Alnilam and Mintaka) in its centre and red and blue giants Betelgeuse and Bellatrix above it; the Hyades open cluster with its "V" asterism making the head of "Taurus", its horns extending above stars Aldebaran and Ain up to the Auriga and the "feet" of the Gemini, and then the renowned Pleiades cluster (hic sunt Thargoides) with the overly bright California Nebula right over it; the constellation of Perseus peeking out from behind Saturn, with the binary Algol just above the planet's edge and young giant Mirphak shining at its centre, and right of it Cassiopea, its easily recognizable "W" asterism pointing the way to our neighbour galaxy M31 (Andromeda) and its satellite M110. This view really has it all, so I decide to leave my hurry aside and soak up the scenery once more. I've seen countless starscapes from here to Sag. A*, but that's the only view of the universe we have had for the last several thousand years, and it's something special.
A few minutes and several kilometres later, with Orion fully above the horizon and its most prominent nebula making its appearance, I notice I've reached the 50th parallel and decide to stop there and find a place to set up Camp Near, 130 km later and away from previous Camp Everywhere. I feel lonely and I'd really like to have a teddy bear to hold tight for the night. That huge boulder protruding from the ground just resembles one (the resemblance is striking, isn't it?), so I think I'm going to hug that. Lucky you teddy boulder, you're going to be my only company for the night ahead, I think I'll have to find you a name... something cuddly, warm and fuzzy. No reading tonight, only cuddles. Good night, Brutus.
Day 6 - "Camp Far", all the way to the equator
After almost a week surrounded by a perpetual night, I finally see again the light of day. Wheels still hugging my teddy boulder Brutus, I wake up basking in the warm radiation of the distant Sol, the hull of my Tumbling Initiative finally showing its true might. I set once again my bearing on 180° and start my journey to the southern emisphere. Feeling a bit emotional after the merry hours spent together, I bid farewell to my rocky friend. It's been a hell of a time, but my planet needs me, goodbye Brutus.
On my first minutes of driving/fliving I discover that the sunlit terrain is harder to traverse than expected, the many icy boulders barely standing out against the equally icy ground. The shadows projected at night were helpful in this regard, but on a positive note, having a bright horizon ahead helps with visual points of reference and is less straining for the eyes over time. Also, during the "day" there seem to be a bit more life and activity around than usual, plenty of ships in the sky, plenty of stuff on the ground.
A bright flash in the distance heralds the arrival of a huge Beluga cruiser, coming for a low pass right above me. Another outpost standing again the striped upper atmosphere of Saturn. Luckily this time, after a quick scan the drones identified my gold nugget as friendly and let me take a closer look!
A few kilometres away from my starting point, I glimpse what looks like a small cloud of black smoke right ahead of me, barely discernible against the airless sky behind it. I rapidly cover the distance, just to find myself an unwelcome guest at the wrong party. The crash site of an unidentified Diamondback, surrounded by drones and a no-trespassing area. My scanner identifies the drones as belonging to the friendly "Mother Gaia" faction, but tagged as wanted. Drones gone rogue? While I stay there just outside of the delimited area, pondering the best course of action, I slip over my right hand console and involuntarily enable both the repeaters and power distributor; I lean on the stick to regain my composure, diverting most of the power to weapons with an accidental move of my thumb. Not even the time to realize what happened when a sudden twitch of the hand makes me inadvertently release a discharge from my repeaters, just when I happened to have one of the drones targeted. Sorry my bad, clumsy move, won't happen again I promise.
A few seconds and three drones later, I move in to inspect the wreck. No signs of life to be found, the pilot either had the chance to bail out, or is buried under the mass of ice that broke through the cockpit in the impact. I hope for the former and opt to leave the scene before anyone shows up to check what's happened, either to the ship or the drones.
It could be no coincidence that a few kilometres from the crash site I spot another ship in the distance. This time though the ship is intact, operative and a with a big Federal logo on its hull. A Federal Dropship, the FNS Feral Gauntlet (a name so badass it could blow up a Sidewinder just by being broadcasted on transponder).
While approaching I notice what seems like movement in the cockpit, apparently the ship is manned but on radio silence, I hope they won't mind a harmless passer-by just saying hi, I've been stuck here for days and I'm starving for human interaction.
The ship is larger than it appeared from a distance. Quite an imposing sight. The ship commander doesn't seem overly happy to see me and maintains the radio silence, but rapidly change her attitude when I message her about the wreck I just find near there. She confirms me that she had been dispatched for a distress call, probably related to the same wreck as it turns out, and thanks me for dealing with the rogue drones. We briefly exchange greetings, and I go for my way again.
From that point onwards the rest of the trip goes by smoothly, the peculiar strip of overlapped craters I saw from the satellite map reveals to be indeed very fun to drive through, the sunlit landscape for once offering some breath-taking views of the icy expanse. Slowly but constantly, the stripes of Saturn rise and rotate above the horizon, until they end up appearing perpendicular to the ground. The unmistakable signal that I've reached the equator. Yes I know, I have a latitude indicator that's a lot more precise and I should really follow that, but I like old-fashioned more.
750 kilometers since the start of my endeavour. I'm just a bit short of half-way. Slowly but steady. This time the road has been long and I made quite a number of interesting encounters, I feel tired and in a good mood for some relaxed reading and some hours of sleep, and I won't even need a book light this time... I'm tired of the essay writing of past days though, it's time for some narrative! Let's see what I have on top of my list..."The Naughty Adventures Of Chickpea The Flatulent Pony". Well, I think that's what I get for blind drawing from the bargain bin. Go on little Chickpea, entertain me.
Day 7 - from "Camp Far" to "Camp Whereveryouare", through the icy plains South of the Equator
The day starts with the Sun still high in the sky, a quick check of the SRV systems and of the bladder and I'm ready to get on the road again. Judging from a quick glance at the satellite map and at the terrain ahead of me, this has all the promises of a boring stretch of road, at least until I get to that couple of very large craters quite a distance south of where I currently am.
The next several minutes confirm the initial impression: kilometre after kilometre of rock scattered plains, the distance goes by relatively easily, the hardest part being careful not to get too much speed to avoid the risk of insta-death due to the random rock sticking out of the ground at the wrong spot. Keeping it in the 50-70 m/s gives a good compromise between speed and safety, so I try to stick to that.
It doesn't last long though; with the landscape around me being so devoid of anything interesting, I turn my attention to the giant swirling ball of gas hanging low in the sky on my right, my gaze lost in its countless atmospheric features… Turns out that losing your gaze on anything but the ground ahead when driving above 40 m/s is not advisable though. Aaand say goodbye to another pair of pants!
"Heralded by a thunderous roar, a wild Scarab-worm emerges from the depths of its icy lair". I can't allow myself to be distracted so easily, I need to stop taking such risks and be more judicious in my approach to the journey. From this time on, no jumping, no acrobatics, no overspeeding... whoops, did it again. My reflexes are still spot on at least. Even my brand new pair of pants has spots now though so really, I should stop with this kind of stuff. From this time ON!
A few more encounters along the road to the South pole. Coming from behind a small ridge, I literally landed amidst a loose stash of container. I wasn't overly happy; the guarding drones weren't either. Along the road I also met another couple of Federal patrols (the FNS War Bellum and the FNS Defiant Wolf), both landed near crashed satellite beacons: the build quality of those things must really suck...
These guys really know how to give cool name to ships. After so many days limited to the boundaries of my SRV, I miss my Python Doorstopper Almighty, my Keelback Albion Skunk, my DBX Bucket Of Bolts, my Dolphin Thanks For The Fish...
Time goes by and I slowly approach the 45° South Parallel, those very large craters I spotted from the map appear to be surrounded by several "smaller" craters… The shadows tells me it's high noon on Enceladus, and I've reached my destination; setting up "Camp Whereveryouare".
Almost 1000 km travelled since the start and I'm starting to get low on resources after my previous many exploits, my next part of the journey will better be devoted to stock up on iron and nickel. After my latest reading I'm scared of what other gem I could find in my books supply, so this time I'll just relax, sleep and soak up the barren yet peaceful scenery. Hoping to directly reach the South Pole from there on my next day of travel, that's all for now from "Camp Whereveryouare".
Day 8 - and then, there were mountains.
Remember the part when I said I’ll restock up on iron and nickel? Once I departed from "Camp Whereveryouare", that's exactly what I did. Not! Now I really, *really* need to stock up on metals. Anyway, here's what happened in shorts. Not a typo, I like comfort when I have to drive for long distances.
After a couple of very brightly lit days, sunny with a chance of broken satellites, it's starting to get dark again. Or the other way around, hard to tell here. The sun hanging low hover the horizon still glints off my golden carriage, I quite like this lightning, it makes the landscape feel tranquil and intimate.
The terrains slowly transitions from an endless plain to a more varied and interesting setting, with lots of mounds, dips, and expansive views; very drive to fun compared to what I left behind, but also demanding on my already dwindling supply of repair materials. Bonus fact, most of the Solar System is included in this view:
Strangely enough, this area of the small moon is as much rough as it is apparently lacking of any activity for my scanner. Already a couple dozens of kilometres in and there haven't been no signs of any kind, except for a couple ships briefly flying overhead and out of view. No small settlements, no stashes of containers, no landed ships, but most importantly not a single usable outcrop. Seems strange, after the many dozens I met the day before without even needing to stray off my course. I just decide to keep eyes more open than usual and see how far I can make it with what I currently have at my disposal.
Jumping and drifting from mound to mound, constantly depleting the few pieces of iron and nickel remaining, I slowly made my way Southward. And then, there were mountains. The lack of atmosphere makes difficult to judge distances, but the parallax effect given by my own motion tells me that the elevation I see in front of me is far, and is big, and I've already been going uphill for a while so that must be the peak of not just another rounded hill, but of a proper little mountain. The more I get close to it, the more its true dimensions become apparent; that's definitely a mountain, and only now I notice, it's large enough to be already visible from the satellite map.
Since I'm really on emergency reserves for repairs, I opt for setting up camp at the peak of the mountain. I'll have to assign it a name before though, so I decide to call it "Mount Desmond", in honour of my childhood hero, the character that shaped my love for space and inspired me to take up a career between the stars, "Desmond The Moon Bear". So here I am, on top of Mount Desmond, contemplating the vast expanse all around me:
Day 9 - a long shot to "Camp Longshot"
Since I reached the top several hours ago, shadows became longer on Mount Desmond. The inner planets of the Sol system, aligned on the ecliptic plane around fiery Sol, hang low above the horizon right in the direction I'm headed to, an easy reference point for the long way ahead. One of these bright dots is Earth, the cradle of humanity. As someone once said, we could not have lived forever in a cradle.
My main concern today is the lack of resources to repair the Tumbling Initiative should when the need arise, so the first thing I have to do is to scout around for interesting outcrops to harvest while I descend from the peak in the direction of the South pole. Apparently I was on the wrong side of the mountain yesterday, since luckily for me this side appears to be dotted with a good number of chondritis, mesosideritis, and even more yummy... metallic meteorites!
After another few minutes of impromptu mining operations, the stock of iron and nickel is rather well replenished, enough to make me feel confident to reach the pole and possibly make it quite a way to the equator on the other side; in a cloud of fine rocky dust and icy particles, I quickly leave Mount Desmond behind me, now just a bump becoming ever smaller on the line of the horizon.
A mostly level stretch of ground divides me from the geographic South pole, so kilometres go by easily and the material reserves remains at a safe level. There aren't many signs of human of automated activity around these parts, at least until I met a landed Eagle, another Federal Navy ship sporting a pompous name (this time it's the FNS Fearless Thunder), but strangely enough lacking the Federal insignia or distinctive dark livery, keeping instead the stock Core Dynamics industrial green.
A quick chat with the ship's pilot revealed that he had been forced to land because of an attitude system malfunction, and had been stranded there waiting for her rescue ship for some hours at that point. She recounted that in the last few days the Federation has been on a rush to enlarge its numbers in light of the recent developments on the Thargoid front, and so they're also resorting to take a number of mothballed ships out again to recommission and assign to borders patrol and second line defence. Her Eagle was one of these ships, and old Mark II on its first dry run after years, and with still a few kinks to straight out as it turns out.
She was happy for the bit of unexpected company, and before we exchanged greetings she also gifted me the book she just finished reading during the long wait. After the adventures of Chickpea The Flatulent Pony, *any* story is a good one.
A few kilometers from the pole, another large group of buildings appears in the distance… In the middle between the buildings, a group of containers and an emergency pod, surrounded by drones. A strangely familiar sight. And then finally, the South pole. Now I start to feel like I'm really getting close to my final goal. Just an endless, featureless plain. There appears to be a very large basin in the direction I'm headed to, but probably it will be so shallow to be hardly recognizable from the ground. The 180° heading becomes 0° again, and after a brief pause I continue on my journey. A Federal Viper jumps in and zips low above me, passing in front of the Magellanic Clouds headed in the direction I just came from. I hope that's part of the rescue team for the poor Eagle pilot I met earlier...
After more than an hour of uninterrupted "fliving", the terrain changes and returns again to a more varied (and dangerous) succession of dips, mounds, ridges. Larger valleys start to appear, then deeper valleys, then the valleys become canyons. I'm nearing the more interesting part of Enceladus' surface, its striped icy crust near and around the 45° South. After a good bit of action and again a bit low on repairing resources, I decide to take another pause right on the 45° line, at a place I'll call "The Luckyroll Ridges". I don't need to explain the name, do I?
With renewed motivation after seeing how much road I've travelled from Mount Desmond in a single trip, I give throttle again and decide to keep going for another while, I'll probably won't make it to the equator today but I'm starting to feel tired, and I'm also starting to take a bit too much risks again driving on almost no stock of repair materials.
Another 20 degrees North, and after half an hour of undisturbed driving, I feel like the 25° parallel is as good as any other to stop for today and set up camp. Given the many hundreds kilometres put between me and my last stop at "Camp Mount Desmond", I decide that "Camp Longshot" may be an apt name.
If my current coordinates aren't enough of a message, the 1.480 km added on the odometer since the start of my journey tell me that I'm finally near to close the loop around the small moon, and with this knowledge I'm more motivated than ever and confident to reach the X canyon by tomorrow already. But first I really need to get some rest and well-deserved hours of sleep, I made quite the distance this time, more than the first five days combined, the remaining distance will just be a formality compared to this. Before configuring the rover for "the night" (my internal clock is a complete fustercluck at this point) by shutting down all non-essential system (after a minor distraction some days ago I've come to the conclusion that life support *is* an essential system after all.
Once bitten, twice shy, as they say… and diving head first into the arms of Morpheus, I remember about the book the stranded Eagle pilot kindly donated me several hours ago; unlike me, hopefully she actually checked the kind of readings she was taking with her before departing... nice cover...
..."Fantastic Engineers And Where To Find Them". Christmas came early this year! I've wanted this book for ages!
Day 10 - X marks the spot
After 10 long days spent on the surface of Enceladus, I wake up for the last time inside the cramped space of The Tumbling Initiative. Today will see the covering of the last few dozen kilometres separating me from my starting point, at the intersection between canyons forming the huge X visible from space on arrival. I'm rested, I'm focused, I'm ready. And I'm also out of crackers, water and toilet paper, so I'd better be moving to end this ASAP, or Day 11 could end up being a hungry, thirsty and rather messy affair.
I'm again in the deep of Enceladus' night, right as when I started, the Milky way a bright ribbon cutting through the sky, the combined light of countless worlds reflecting off the golden hull of my rover. And standing low beside it, Saturn, a thin crescent peeking above the horizon, like the head of a short middle-aged bald man peeking from a front seat in a cinema during a movie. There, I ruined the magic.
First things first, I'm still short on metals as when I went to sleep so I dedicate my first minutes to a bit of harvesting… After feeling again comfortable with my capability to repair the rover on the fly faster than I could scream "Gosh, thisbadlyplannedmanoeuvercould unadvertedlyleadtoanunrecoverableloss ofattitudemeaninganundoubtedlyunpleasant violentcontactwiththeground andpotentiallyaghastlyaccidentwhoseconsequences mayaswellbefatal!", I embark on the last leg of the journey.
The relatively long section between my starting point at "Camp Longshot" and the equator can be recapped as this: No ships, no buildings, no abandoned probes, nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Only after an endless series of slopes, hills, drifts, jumps, badly timed jumps, barely avoided rocks and totally unavoided rocks, I get reminded that we are still in the very centre of human civilization throughout the known galaxy. A lonely Federal ship suddenly appears with the trademark muffled thump: a Lakon Keelback, projecting its distinctive silhouette in front of the Milky way and boosting away soon after having jumped in.
A Keelback is not the kind of ship you see every day in Federal attire, but it's also too new a model to be something taken out of mothball like the Eagle from yesterday. Armoured transports deep in the supposedly safe heart of the Federation... something is definitely going on, and I'm not sure I want to find myself back in space again so soon...
Anyway, after one of the most dull and boring sessions ever I finally find myself on the equatorial line, the perpendicular stripes of Saturn are now almost completely plunged in the dark. I feel like that's a good moment for a brief pause before driving again into the positive degrees, but that unusual signature appearing on the left of my scanner prompts me to go take a look, I don't remember seeing such a signature since I first landed on Enceladus more than a week ago. I don't need to go much far, and soon my suspects are confirmed: in the distance I can see what appears to be like another Federal ship, guarding over a small group of automated mining extractors.
I come close to it enough to get into targeting distance, the ship turns out to be a Federal Gunship...could it be the FNS "Lavender Blossom"? Or, I don't know, FNS "Silk Puppy"? FNS "Gentle Dandelion", maybe?
Nope, it's the FNS Brutal Anvil. The Feds are a merry bunch of happy-go-lucky. It's not so out of place as a name either, in addition to really being a brutally efficient weapon platform and though as an anvil, the aesthetics of the Gunship are a clear example of Brutalism applied to spaceship design.
The equator runs along the narrow plain between two large and relatively shallow canyons, running on E/W direction for several hundred kilometres. The one South of my current position revealed itself to be so shallow from ground level to be barely noticeable, at least in the point where I crossed it. The one North of me though, looks actually narrow and deep enough to already be visible from a distance. A couple minutes later I reach the edge, except there's no actual edge, just a gentle slope leading to the bottom of the canyon.
A quick look left, and a quick look right… No one in view. Where is everyone? Oh, right.
I've seen many wonderful sights during my stay on this lovely icy potato, but there's one in particular that has still eluded me. Geysers. They are supposed to be the main star of the show around here, and yet I couldn't see one during my entire travel across three quarters of the moon, not even at and around the South pole where their presence should be more relevant. The first extremely rudimentary interplanetary probes dating back to more than a thousand years ago could already glimpse the jets of material emanating from there and drifting away to form the E ring around Saturn, and yet I couldn't see anything like this even by standing right there in person. I must have come here at the wrong moment in time, unlucky me.
But, a quick research led me to reports of recent sightings of jets of materials originating from a point not too far from where I am currently, just some degrees North inside one of the canyons intersecting at the X, practically a few kilometres behind where I started from. Since I'm almost arrived at my destination, a short deviation of this kind won't take away too much time.
I keep grinding the few dozen kilometres separating me from my long awaited arrival point, after crossing even the last of the long Enceladus's stripes a galaxy I never noticed before rises up above the horizon; I forgot to bring my old-fashioned star charts with me and the onboard database is of no help in identifying it, so that will remain a tiny mysterious companion for the rest of my travel North toward the big X.
A small dent in the ground signals the start of the canyon where some geysers are supposed to be active. By following its track, I should have no difficulties in spotting them should they actually exist. And even if I'll be out of luck once again in finding them, I can just keep following it until it intersects with the other converging canyon to find myself back at my (long yearned for) initial coordinates. It's practically a win-win for me. Time to be brave and go explore the "Win Win Canyon".
Not even a few minutes have passed while driving at the canyon bottom, when I notice some stars twinkling right above a ridge standing out a few hundred meters from me. An usual sight from any earth like world becomes something out of place when the place has no atmosphere to make stars twinkle. Unless...
Even immersed in the dark, the landscape disclosing in front of my eyes leaves me at a loss for words, and that's no easy feat judging from the last three pages of the stuff I'm writing. Countless vents and fractures in the ground, large and small, sometimes inactive or quietly spewing vapour and dust particles, then suddenly erupting in large jets of ice and liquid water, instantly sublimating in the pressureless void of Enceladus' surface and projecting straight up for hundreds of meters, their influence so strong that for the first time the sounds I hear in the cabin aren't only the ones simulated from the virtual awareness system, but are directly relayed from the thin atmosphere generating in close proximity of the vents. This place is truly a tiny wonder of the universe.
And then, my "What If?" senses tingled, and I decided to get all sciencey on one of the vents. Of course, one either does it big or doesn't at all, so I couldn't just settle for the nearest slow-boiling pot. No no no, I had to do it BIG, so I went straight for a vent I friendly nicknamed "Taco Aftermath".
Apparently the vent didn't appreciate the joke, and reacted in a very, very rude manner.
See that small depression below a dip on the horizon left of center, at about half of the video? Yep, that's the X and my arrival/starting point, still five degrees North of where I was at the moment.
For a brief instant that lasted an eternity, the extremely low surface gravity made me contemplate the unsettling possibility of getting blasted straight to escape velocity and in a humiliating orbit around the moon, never being able to return to surface right when I was in view of my goal. Luckily for me I was well below escape velocity, but Taco Aftermath still managed to fart me away with enough force to make me appreciate the full curvature of Enceladus (together with the caducity of life in general), while knocking me back by almost one and a half degrees of latitude. I didn't even have the time to stop worrying about gaining altitude, that I had to start worrying about the far more pressing matter of losing all that altitude.
Luck was on my side for once there, and in the end I managed to do a smooth lithobraking landing that didn't event took a speck of gold away from my rover's underside. Enough science for today. And now just a very few kilometres still to go!
Just a few minutes after my accidental sub-orbital experiment, I cross again the 29th parallel after leaving it 10 days ago. A last jump across the ridge of a small hill, and there it is. The uneven ground at the bottom of a small depression, delimited by a steep slope on its left and a more shallow one to the right. 29.52 Latitude, 44.40 Longitude, the exact spot from where it all started.
Overwhelmed by emotions, and by an uncontrollable craving for the comfort of my Python's toilet, I slowly drive the last meters separating me from my initial coordinates, until the numbers on my HUD and the ones on my travel log match perfectly.
I have arrived, I completed a full circumnavigation of the moon Enceladus. And I really, like *really*, need to go to the toilet.
At the end of the journey the odometer marks 8810 km, 1780 km more than when I started, if my rough estimate of Enceladus' circumference is right, my many diversions from the main route accounted for no less than 100-150 km of additional travelled distance. But it doesn't matter now, I'm just happy to finally being able to complete my mission, I'll have time to assimilate all the wonderful adventures I had in these last days and the many things I've discovered, and also WHERE THE HELL IS MY SHIP I'VE CALLED IT LIKE AN HOUR AGO AND IT STILL HASN'T SHOWED UP! 25 SECONDS MY AS… oh look, there she is.
It really smells like home. I never imagined I could have missed a ship so much, I just can't wait to get aboard, take a shower, sleep in a real bed and then have a real meal. I swear I'll never eat another cracker in my entire life.
Some hours later...
Yeah, sleep. Of the soft, horizontal kind. That's what I truly missed. And now that I'm rested, fresh and clean like a baby, a healthy breakfast is just what I need to feel like a functioning human again. Those crackers will hunt me in my nightmares for months to come, but luckily now I have the Python's full pantry at my disposal again. Eating like a king this time!
Well, it's almost empty actually except for a small cabinet on the starboard side, but since I've always travelled alone that's all that is really needed for my necessities. At least the last time I bought provisions I should have left it well stocked on-oh... oh, no, no no, nononono... CRAAAAAAAACKEEEEEERSSSS!!!