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Proof of Life

Luke (L.C.) Finkelstein is a freshman student at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to being a student, he is interested in all things regarding politics, environment, space, and languages. Luke loves to read and write and was recently inspired by an Isaac Asimov short story to publish something of his own. This is his first published work.

They were going to drill down miles and miles through the icy fortress, a monumental stratigraphy that protected the proposed ocean below from the irradiated surface above. Below this unlivable surface, the scientists thought there must be life. The ice layers could theoretically protect life from the most terrible radiation imaginable.
The ice on the surface was scarred a deep red, as if itself were bleeding red from radiation poisoning. The thought was absurd--ice couldn't bleed--but those at the Agency couldn't explain it through any scientific approach, so they had decided to choose a poetic one.
As the layers went deeper, the scars became less and less. Each decrease in depth brought with it a decreasing scar, but the same thick ice: impenetrable.
But they had brought a drill--well, sent it, really. Humans would die in that environment, so the scientists stayed home. They were watching on the big screen in the control room. The drill went deeper and deeper, cracking the irradiated ice by mere meters at a time. At last, they reached the subsurface ocean, the one the geophysicists back on Earth had sworn would be there.
"What a marvel!" they exclaimed. "What a thrill!" they declared.
And the oceanographers, they had been right, too: there was more heat within the ocean, there were mid-ocean ridges and hydrothermal vents. The drill was discarded, and the robot entered. It was beautiful. Untouched water beneath miles of ice, a magnificent barrier to the death of radiation.
The robot splashed into the icy water, and the scientists watching back home could feel themselves immersed in the grandness. One scientist pointed to the screen.
"Look up," he said, and the robot did.
Just above, and middle above, and far above--to everyone's surprise--there was a column of air behind the once-impenetrable ice. The sides of the column were jointing in red, cracking with the blood of radiation wounds. The air gap had been produced by the drill.
"Quick! Quick!" the robot had to rush. It dove farther and farther, deeper and deeper into the icy depths. There was so much to explore, so much beauty left unseen. The radiation was gaining behind it. The water was becoming contaminated.
And the astrobiologists were right, it was beautiful, there was life! The robot caught a glimpse of it, those at home caught even less, but it was enough. Life, life, glorious life!
Yet it was too late to enjoy. The radiation enveloped the water, turning it into a canvas of red. Like a sphere of broken glass, that once shatters in red, forever: death.
The screen went dark, and the commotion in the room fell to a rattle of despair:
they had drilled down miles to find proof of life. They had found it, but in doing so, killed it, too.
They would try again on the moon next-door.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 16th, 2022
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