Tea with Europa


(NASA HQ PHOTO [CC / Flickr])

Through the corner of her eye, Janniece saw Ian put the cup of tea in front of Piers. Her attention was fixed on her screen.

Ian sat beside her, at his own screen, and put a cup in front of her. It would be straight from the coffee pot with a dash of milk, and she’d happily drink it. She wasn’t fussy. But then, she wasn’t Piers.

“According to the sonar, we’ll be out of the ice in two minutes.” The mission director was speaking for the benefit of the news channels. Janniece, Ian and Piers had been working on the mission for fifteen years. They didn’t need to be told their probe was about to slide into the ocean beneath Europa’s ice cap.

Ian nudged her and nodded toward Piers, who raised the cup toward his lips as though his arm was as robotic as the probe whose telemetry they were watching.

Janniece looked back at her screen. It didn’t matter that the telemetry had taken fifty minutes to arrive. It didn’t matter that on Europa, the probe had already slipped out of the ice and was either exploring alien depths or had encountered the sort of catastrophe that they couldn’t plan for when they had no idea what was down there. It was her mission as much as anyone’s and she wasn’t going to miss the moment.

Ian nudged her again.

She couldn’t help herself. She glanced at Piers to see him sip the tea.

“Two major breakthroughs today,” said Ian. “You lose.”

Piers frowned and looked at the cup as though seeing it for the first time.

“Come on, cough up.” Ian kept his voice low enough to avoid the microphones besieging them.

Ian had no sense of occasion. There was only one way to shut him up. He must have been planning this moment when he’d bet her he could get Piers to drink a cup of tea made by anyone but Piers. Janniece fumbled in her handbag without looking away from her screen. She handed Ian a note without caring whether it was the five euros they’d shaken on or a fifty.

“This tea is awful. Who on earth made it?” Piers spoke loudly enough for his words to be picked up by the microphones, automatically translated into twenty-seven different languages and bounced around the world.

The mission director frowned. “That’s Piers Lockett, one of our three senior engineers. We’re all feeling the tension.”

The mission director was trying to make a joke out of it, but the chuckle in her voice sounded so forced that Janniece winced in sympathy for her.

“No, really,” said Piers. “We put a robot submarine on Europa. We ought to be able to manage a halfway decent cup of tea.”

Janniece shot Ian a venomous look and stalked over to Piers.

“Piers,” she murmered in his ear. “Not now, OK?”

“Hm?” Piers looked at her as though remembering where he was for the first time. “Oh. Yes. Right.”

Janniece turned away to return to her own seat.

“And we’re through,” said the mission director.

Cheers flooded the room, freezing Janniece between Piers’s chair and her own.

She’d missed it.

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

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