Sunday, 14 December 2008

Johan's long, heavy face is dark and angular in the bare, red lighting of the pod. We are hanging in space, nearly a kilometre from the <<la terre sans la ciel>>, only a thin but incredulously strong cable tethering us to the bulk of the space craft.

Flickering on the glass the image of Saturn fills our vision, overlaid with real-time infrared pictures of the aurora. It is beautful but incredibly unnerving to watch. The blue streaks reach out, sketches of magnetic waves that should not be behaving in this way, red hexagonal shapes below mapping out the nothern pole of the planet with an alien isometric view. None of it looks real.

I wave my hand over the overlay, and begin twitching my fingers to pull up files and videos from half a century's worth of compiled data on this phenomenon. It flies over the screen in waves, from the earliest, laughably low rez videos of early probes and Earth-based scopes, through to the latest purpose-built flyby cameras. The maths underlines it all with records of patterns that should not be natural. This is not a view that Johan shares. Look at pulsars. He has said to me many times. Before we understood them they seemed to be messages from other civilisations, we couldn't imagine otherwise. But the truth is nature can produce very many strange and unusual things that we do not yet understand.

Even aliens, I mutter under my breath.

What? Johan asks.

I smile and shake my head. How are we doing? I ask. Time to get back yet.

Feeling exposed?

Hanging around like this? Yes, I feel exposed. I know we need to collect the data away from the ship to avoid interference from the drives, but do we really need to be here too?

Johan laughs. He is a much more physical kind of person that I am. He has to be here, I can sense that. Simply seeing this thorugh a camera would never be enough for him.