The Sirens of Titan

The Sirens of Titan

A Story by errihu

Two workers experience a mysterious event while working on a hydrocarbon pumpship on Titan. Pulp style sci fi.


Ed Wanuski leaned against Oilstar’s railing, looking out into the smoggy haze. Sailing on this particular sea, there was always some fog, and the stars were never visible. But still, there was a view worth seeing. Sometimes, a sailor could see strange lights in the sky, rather like the famed Aurora Borealis of back home. When the lights played, they played hard, because Saturn’s magnetosphere was powerful. And when they didn’t play, Wanuski was glad for the ship’s Jimson field, which kept the solar winds that assailed the defenseless Titan from frying the ships crew with unblocked solar radiation.

The field also kept out Titan’s -180 degree Celsius cold, and the ship’s air in. Without it, no one on the ship would live more than a minute or two. You couldn’t see the Jimson field, it surrounded the ship in an airtight envelope flush with the hull of the ship. You couldn’t see it, but you could touch it, and if Ed were to stretch out his hand just a foot or so, his hand would stop at an invisible wall. Some people could never handle an open ship on Titan, the knowledge of that killing cold and oxygenless atmosphere battled too fiercely and won over confidence in a field they couldn’t see and could barely understand.

Ed didn’t understand the physics behind the Jimson field either, but it had never bothered him. Few liked watching fusion either, even if the field removed the danger. Jim had always found it beautiful. Others though, didn’t trust what they couldn’t see. A sailor on a pumpship could retire within a decade, with a significant amount of money tucked under his belt. All it took was someone who wasn’t too afraid to do the job, and Ed wasn’t bothered by the fact that he barely understood the technology that kept him alive.

What bothered sailors like Ed more was the crack factor. It was a tiny percentage, he knew, yet every sailor knew about it, every sailor knew someone who’d seen something out there in the haze, and cracked. Ed had heard the stories. Strong, sane, rational men, reduced to gabbling wrecks whom had to be straight-jacketed and shipped back to Earth for treatment. Some of those crazies recovered enough to work again, but they never came back to Titan, and they never spoke about what catapulted them to madness out on those methane seas. Not for the first time, Ed wondered what was out there in those smoggy depths that could reduce a man like that.

They were entering the magnetosphere again today, or rather, Titan was. The moon sometimes strayed from Saturn’s protective magnetic envelope, but it always returned, and when it did, the skies were due for a show. Ed had just finished his watch, and he hoped to catch a glimpse of the lights while he could. He’d always found the lights to be breathtakingly beautiful, and watched them every chance he got. He knew that it was on deck, and only on deck, that cracking happened, but the twisting lights only danced for a few hours, surely that wasn’t too long? Besides, they’d be at Fort Harvey within a ship’s day, it was nearly unheard of for sailors to crack so close to fort. Almost all the cases of sailors going crazy had occurred out in the depths, where pumpships searched for the purest and most complex hydrocarbons available in the seas.

A flickering on the horizon caught his eyes, and he gazed outwards. The show was beginning. He shifted his weight on the rail and gazed outward.

“Catching the Aurora Saturnalia, Wanuski?” Roughneck Simmons sidled up to the rail beside him. “Gorgeous, isn’t it.”

“Sure is, Simmons.” Wanuski responded absently, continuing to watch the flickers solidify into bands of colour that could be seen even through the fog.

“The Tool Push says we’ll pull in to the Fort Harvey refinery sometime during third watch tomorrow. I just heard that Shimmersea’s going to be passing gas along with us…” Simmons trailed off, a mischievous note in his voice, to see if Ed would rise to the bait.

“And?” Ed asked, refusing to let his joy show.

“Push’s authorized a three day leave. You’ll get to spend some time with Sarah.” Simmons offered, and Ed looked away from the lights long enough to look Simmons in the eye.

“I’m still not letting you join us, Bob. You know Sarah and I take our wedding vows seriously.”

“Can’t fault a man for trying, Ed.” Simmons winked.

“I guess not.” Ed grinned back, and turned back to watch the lights. It was an old joke between him and Bob, and Sarah knew he had no interest in the other man.

The two men watched in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the view. The bands of colours twisted in the hazy sky. Ed had never seen either of Earth’s auroras, but the Aurora Saturnalia was said to be similar. He always wondered what it would be like to see it in a clear sky. For some reason, he always felt like there should be a breeze, a wind, but of course, with a Jimson field that was impossible. Not to mention, it wasn’t wind that drove the colourful display, but radiation interacting with the magnetic field of Saturn.

A glimpse of sudden motion where he wasn’t expecting it drew his eyes away from the sky. Off in the “water”, something was twisting, sending up splashes of liquid methane.

“Bob, do you see that, out in the sea?” Ed asked quietly, instinctively lowering his voice.

Bob was silent for a moment, then spoke. “I see it. What in all hells is that?”

A shape rose from the waves, indistinct at first, but gradually gaining coherence. It cut through the waves towards the vessel. Ed started to make out details. A naked woman, lithe, long haired, and large breasted. A blue, naked woman, and she slid through the water without moving, rising like Venus from the hydrocarbon sea.

“There’s no life on Titan. It’s too cold.” Ed repeated what the scientists had always said, to himself.

“Tell that to the man, Ed,” Bob said. He sounded slightly panicked. Man? Ed thought absently.

The figure was getting closer, and Ed could make out a breeze blowing the long blue hair. As the creature glided nearer, it started to reach out well formed pale blue arms. It took a posture of entreaty, as if begging the two men for something.

“What the hell does he want, Ed?” Bob’s panic wasn’t receding by a long shot.

“Shh, listen,” Ed said. He could hear something, not with his ears, but hear it all the same. It felt far away, half remembered, like something from the womb, from a dream. Come to me, it said.

“Come to you? Those seas would freeze me to a man-sickle.” Bob said quietly.

“You hear it too.” Ed’s words were a statement, rather than a question.

“S**t, yeah. Far off and kinda like it’s not really there, but I hear it. I see it.”

The half unheard pleas grew stronger, and Ed felt a tugging as though from an invisible rope. He gazed at the woman, now fully emerged and floating a foot above the rippling waves, close enough to the ship that if he could jump the rails, he could touch her. He forgot Bob, so close beside him. He forgot Shimmersea, and shore leave at Fort Harvey. He shifted at the rail, attempting to move closer to the woman.

Something caught on the railing, pinched one of his fingers. He looked down, it was a ring. Sarah’s ring…Ed snapped to awareness, feeling as alert as though he’d just chugged a gallon of coffee. He looked back at the woman quickly, feeling relieved to feel no pull, hear no call.

Beside him, Bob was pressing against the invisible Jimson field, muttering quietly. Ed could hear the words.

“Gotta get to him, gotta go…” Bob muttered.

“S**t, Bob, get back. That thing’s nothing but trouble.” Ed said, but Bob appeared to have not heard. He still struggled at the rail, trying to force his way through the Jimson field.

Ed thought quickly. There had to be some way to break this insidious spell. Suddenly, Ed had an idea.

It’s worth a shot… Ed thought, and leaned over to Bob. Before the other man could react, he wrenched Bob from the rail and kissed him.

It wasn’t just any kiss either. It was the kind of kiss you see in the movies, deep and intense.

Bob struggled momentarily, then started to come back to his senses. The two men broke apart. “Ed,” Bob said, with a teasing note, “I didn’t know you cared!”

“Shut up, I thought she was going to get you,” Ed said. I’m going to have a tough time explaining this one to Sarah.

They looked back at the blue woman. The spell was broken, they heard no call. The creature seemed to realize that it had lost its hold on them; its previously beautiful, calm face was ugly and twisted with rage. The hair, which had ruffled as though in a gentle breeze, streamed out behind her, lashing angrily.

“Sorry honey, you’re not my type.” Ed said flatly.

The creature twisted, raging, as Bob and Ed looked on. No pull came, but Ed could feel rage, anger. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it plunged into the sea, vanishing. As Oilstar pushed on towards Fort Harvey, the sea swallowed all traces that the apparition had ever been there.

“A Siren, on Titan. Who’d have thought? He was gorgeous though.” Bob said.

“I saw a woman. They must pick something up from us, what we like, or something. We’re going to have to report this to the Push. Who knows, maybe we just figured out what’s been cracking sailors, Bob. Maybe we’ve found a way to keep men safe out here.” Ed said. He tried not to think of how close he’d come to attempting to fling himself through the Jimson field, like the men in the rumors. If his ring hadn’t caught on the railing, why, he might have lost his mind.

The lights in the sky continued to flicker and dance, and Ed took a deep breath.

“It’s over, let’s go in. I don’t think I want to watch the aurora again today. Or the next time, either. It’s going to be a while before I want to come out here and watch that sea.” He said.

“Yeah, I think you’re right.” Bob said, and the two workers left, while the sea kept its tranquil waves, and the sky its flaming lights.

© 2010 errihu

Author's Note

I was attempting to recapture the feel of the old style pulp sci fi from the pre 1960s.
This is actually set in a universe I've been working on - maybe a hundred or so years from now. There's themes of manifest destiny and the wild west in it, but I'd also like to preserve the pulp element.

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Added on September 18, 2010
Last Updated on September 18, 2010



Alberta, Canada