The Jovian Conflict
An Opening Act

Fear. That was all he felt when his eyes opened. His entire body ached. His head was light and fuzzy. He blinked harshly to clear his vision, but darkness surrounded him. The light atop his helmet had automatically kicked on. His head swung around the surrounding area, hoping to see someone alive. A crack present along the surface of his sight caught his eye. Panic gripped him as he realized his helmet had been damaged; instinctively he was holding his breath and praying to God for help. Gloved hands prodded the visor as he felt to see how bad the damage was. A white blotch came into focus. He relaxed once he realized someone had already patched the hole that had formed.

As a relieved sigh escaped his lips, the ache in his body intensified. Cracked bones from his ribs to his legs bombarded his head with pain. A deep gash along his forehead and another along his cheek sent warm blood floating through the helmet. Despite it all he tried to focus on his situation. They were approaching the Jovian Route for cargo ships when something went wrong. An alert to strap in was barely heard in time; the entire ship was rattling within seconds, and then his helmet made harsh contact with a console in front of him. Then, nothing…

A beam shone into this visor, and it automatically adjusted itself to the intense light. Through the blood and the crack he could see a familiar face staring back him. For the first time in his life, he saw Romeo wearing a frightened expression. His eyes were wider the bottom of a can, his lips were tight as he tried not to panic, and his nostrils flared with each breath in.

"Sarge, what the hell happened?" he asked Romeo when their helmets touched.

No answer. Instead he said, "You're still alive? Thank god, kid. I didn't think I'd gotten to you in time." Romeo moved his head so the light shone upon the rest of the room. It was a quick scan. Shadows played tricks with their minds and they did another sweep. No one else in that small room appeared to be moving.

Romeo decided to take leave and he bounced from seat to seat, checking every body for life. Every time he peered into a visor, he was greeted by a sea of blood, vomit, and dead eyes. Six men lay dead in front of them, no way to get their bodies home where they belonged.

Screeching berated on their ears and they both felt their hearts jump. One ducked, the other raised his fists. Their attention turned to the door; it was being forced open. Each hit from the other side sent shivers down their spines, and each shiver made the knots in their bellies tighter. After ten seconds of hardy hits, the crowbar penetrated; a couple of pries later and a pair of hands were sliding it open.

The grey and orange colored suit gave it away as being a friendly, and then the logo on the arm right above the Eurasian flag sealed the deal. The stitching on her suit revealed her name: Ashley Braun. Ashley had used a considerable amount of energy attempting to break in and felt exhausted already. She heaved a sigh once her mission was accomplished, but she straightened back up as she saw the devastation before her.

A body rested near the door and her survival instincts had her ignore it. She bounced over to Romeo. Their helmets touched, and they could clearly see the fear in each other's eyes. She asked, "Condition?"

"Totally fucked, Captain," he answered.

She glared. "I meant your condition."

"Totally fucked, Captain," he repeated.

Her hand snatched the other man and he let out a yelp of pain. Apparently, his arm was injured. That light touch was enough to send signals flying to his foggy head. Her hand recoiled as though his arm was made of hot coals. She bent down and touched helmets with him, "Shelton? Are you alright?"

"Barely, Captain."

That was a good enough answer for her. Her next move was to get him unstrapped from his seat. It was then that he realized her hands were shaking violently. Trembling hands were barely able to grip the belt that secured him, much less untangle the mess. Romeo was tired of watching her struggle, so he pulled out his survival knife and cut Shelton out. Any other time and Shelton would have panicked, afraid the blade would knick his suit; this time, he was happy to be free and too sore to move much.

It took both Ashley and Romeo to lift Shelton despite the light gravity. Each slight movement caused him to bite down on his lips until blood was drawn; finally he decided it was better to just vocalize his agony rather than cause more. He whined, "You guys are killing me."

"Shut up. You're lucky I care enough to come looking for you guys. If we don't get out of here soon, we're all dead," she snapped. It silenced Shelton. They focused on trying to maneuver through the damaged vessel, with shards of metal and hanging wires causing traps at every move. The halls were normally buzzing with the sound of life support systems; there was no place in that ship that was ever truly silent. Yet now only the sound they could hear was that of their hurried breaths as they gasped for air in their panicked state.

"Where the hell did we land?" Romeo asked. It was clear he had never been in such a daunting situation. The dread he felt was laced throughout every word. It was an unusual sound to his comrades, and they couldn't help but feel a fresh sense of terror grasp them.

Ashley had tried hard to keep her fear buried but it was rising to the surface with each misplaced step they took. After knocking Shelton's injured foot against the wall for the fourth time she was ready to give up. Fortunately, their escape was dead ahead, and the sight of the exit gave her strength to move forward. Their pace quickened as much as they could against the gravity. Once the door was within arm's reach, Ashley dropped Shelton and Romeo tried to ease his injured comrade.

The emergency hatch still had a bit of power to it. A single flick of a switch sent it flying off. They watched as the heavy metal door powered through the thin air and bounced rather unceremoniously off the frozen ground. Before them was a blackened sky and a distant star providing less light than their helmets. Ice spires that reached higher than any sky scraper towered over them. No matter how hard they strained their eyes, they couldn't find a single sign of human life.

Romeo let Shelton fall as his eyes gathered in all the sights and his mind registered where they were. Even Shelton was more occupied with his disbelief than with landing safely. Hanging above them was a large, colorful object that took over a large chunk of the sky. It was the only thing that could have helped place them on a map. Earth was not even a speck in the sky, some 628 million kilometers away from where their boots touched.

Shelton couldn't believe his eyes, so he questioned out loud, "Callisto? We crashed on Callisto?"

"Holy shit. We're stranded," Romeo mumbled out. Fear had long been replaced with an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. The trio sat in silence, unable to wrap their heads around their predicament. There were no screams, no sobs, and no moves to make the situation better. Defeat seemed to have already taken hold of their bodies. How were they supposed to get back?