Europa

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Located in orbit around Jupiter in the Sol System, the icy body of Europa is the first location where humanity discovered extraterrestrial life. The harsh and inhospitable environment of the moon has led to its population remaining relatively small even in the present day. Due to the immense radiation that constantly strikes the moon's surface, Europa's three hundred million residents exist in one of the most unique environments in the entire Sol Alliance: beneath the outer ice sheet, submerged in the waters of the Europan Sea. This environment is at best poorly understood, and more is being discovered about the moon every day. However, the population believes that some secrets should perhaps be left unknown in its inky depths.

History

The government flag of Europa.

Life on Europa was first discovered in the late 21st century, but serious colonization efforts did not take place until the mid 22nd century, due to economic issues on Earth and a perception that Europa, unlike Callisto, would be too difficult to maintain colonies on. The first settlement on Europa was Korormansk Station, a research settlement established in 2145. Unlike many of the settlements that would follow it, Korormansk was built around a large borehole drilled into the surface ice, as the settlement was intended to serve as a major spaceport. Over the following centuries, Europans have slowly and steadily established more stations under the ice, carving out more of a foothold for humanity.

Europa has never truly shifted away from its roots as a research colony and, over time, Zeng-Hu Pharmaceuticals has come to be a major employer on the moon. Research drives the economy of Europa due to the ready demand for new submarines and equipment, which must be produced on the moon itself for the sake of convenience. The advent of plasteel in the mid-2400s led to a boom in the Europan manufacturing sector, due to the incredible depths plasteel-hulled submarines can descend to. Tourism is another pillar of the economy, with Idris Incorporated operating many tourist facilities on the moon, including the truly impressive Jovian Jewel.

The Europa of the 2460s is a growing economy in the Sol System, though its environment is not the most welcoming.

Environment

Europa presents one of the first truly alien environments encountered by a spacefaring humanity. The moon’s icy surface is one of the smoothest in the Orion Spur, with very few craters or mountains. This quality is likely due to its high tectonic activity - a condition the stations attached to the ice must endure to the best of their abilities. The surface of Europa is bathed in radiation due to its lack of a true atmosphere, and mere hours of exposure to the radiation levels of the surface can prove to be fatal without treatment. As a result, all unshielded human settlements must be constructed below the ice of the surface, which is thick enough to act as a barrier against radiation. The surface ice can be as thick as twenty miles in some places, with thinner areas often exhibiting the moon’s iconic cryogeysers as the water below interacts with the ice above. Some of these cryogeysers are capable of reaching over a hundred miles into the space above the moon, and have been known to interfere with passing spacecraft.

Below the ice of the Europan surface lies the primary reason for humanity’s colonization of the planet: the Europan Sea. This massive ocean spans the moon in its entirety, and is nearly one-hundred miles deep in some areas. The sea is extremely cold due to its position under the icy surface of the moon. Average temperatures on the surface have been recorded at around -160 Celsius (or -260 Fahrenheit), with the coldest temperatures ever recorded approaching -220 Celsius (or -370 Fahrenheit). A higher salt content in the Europan Sea than its Earthborn counterparts has led to a lower freezing point, and a lower temperature overall. Exposure to the waters of Europa will rapidly result in hypothermia, and maintaining a livable temperature is a constant concern for every resident of the moon. In an effort to stave off the chill, heavy clothing is a common sight on Europans.

Aside from the cold, another constant feature of the Europan Sea is the extreme pressure it is capable of producing in its depths. Those submarines that proceed deep into the ocean are known to have heavily reinforced hulls, often made of plasteel. In order to withstand the pressure exerted upon those brave, or stupid, enough to conduct EVA work Europan diving suits more readily resemble spacesuits than wetsuits.

But despite these inhospitable, completely dark conditions, Europa is not as devoid of life as one may assume.

Flora and Fauna of Europa

The lightless waters of Europa are shockingly biodiverse. While many of the creatures found in the Europan Sea are harmless - and many are even edible, such as Europan shrimp, some can be quite dangerous for divers, or even entire submarines. No sentient life has been found on Europa despite its high biodiversity. The biodiversity of the Europan Sea is poorly understood due to the immense size and depth of the ocean, with many regions being inaccessible until the creation of the first plasteel submarine hulls in the 2400s. These submarines remain somewhat rare compared to traditional steel-hulled submarines due to their recent invention, but a manufacturing boom is currently being driven by them. As of 2462, the theoretical lowest point of the Europan Sea (so far only detected via sonar) has yet to be reached. This lack of cataloging has led to widespread reports of “Europan cryptids,” a local term for creatures that have been sighted, but are otherwise unconfirmed to exist. Few of these reports have ever been verified, with many being regarded as nothing more than fanciful submariners’ tales. Here are some of the flora and fauna that can be found (or are rumored to be found) beneath the Europan ice:

Europan Ice Kelp is one of the most common sights in the Europan Sea. This bioluminescent plant is typically found attached to the inner side of the moon’s icy outer layer, and has hooks at the end of its “branches” that allow it to dig slightly into the ice and prevent it from being swept away. Ice kelp is also known to attach itself to the outer hulls of stations under the surface ice, and is often regarded as an annoyance by the residents of the planet. This plant is often found grown in aquafarms, and is often consumed by the residents of the planet in addition to being exported for consumption. Many naturally-occurring cave systems in the Europan Sea are filled with ice kelp.

The Europan Bone Whale is one of the largest known creatures found in the Europan Sea. The bone whale derives its name from the bone plating that surrounds its body, allowing it to survive in the crushing depths of the sea and defend itself from predators. Despite the intimidating name, bone whales are herbivores that tend to primarily dine upon Europan ice kelp. However, they are known to become dangerous when provoked or otherwise threatened, as their thick bone plating is able to severely injure a diver or even damage the hulls of weaker submarines. Bone whales are generally only found in open waters, and their bodies often fall into the deep abyss of the Sea - well beyond the crush depth of most submarines. Bone whales are large enough to produce a significant sonar signature and have often been confused for other creatures, particularly by inexperienced sonar operators. Some theorize that many Europan “cryptids” are, in reality, misreported bone whales.

The Light-Shrimp (often simply referred to as “shrimp” by locals) is a large crustacean roughly one to two meters long that somewhat resembles the shrimp of Earth. Light-shrimp are much larger than their Earthling counterparts, and as the name implies they produce a form of natural bioluminescence. These shrimp are fairly low on the Europan Sea’s food chain, and are often picked off by batsharks and other carnivores. They are also a primary export of Europa, and are utilized in a variety of dishes on the moon. The most skilled chefs are capable of maintaining the light-shrimp’s bioluminescence, which persists after death for a brief period, even as it is being served.

The Batshark is one of the most common predators found in the Europan Sea, and is often found in open waters. It is a fairly large animal, particularly due to its wide wing-like fins that it utilizes to glide through the water, and it is capable of reaching very high speeds due to these fins. Because it does not produce its own light, the batshark is entirely blind - lacking eyes completely - and instead relies upon echolocation to locate other members of its hunting pack and prey. Attacks on humans are fairly rare, but are a constant worry for divers performing EVA. The intense acoustic waves these creatures produce is known to often interfere with sonar equipment, but batsharks are otherwise harmless to submarines. A final note of interest is that batsharks often produce noises described as “unsettling and unnerving” by submarine crews when communicating with one another, and that these noises can usually be heard within the hulls of submarines - often leading to significant stress and anxiety amongst the crew. It is theorized that batsharks may be one of the main reasons for psychological issues such as “Deep Crazy” amongst submarine crews.

The Greater Europan Cave Crab is a common sight in the caverns of Europa. This omnivorous crustacean is capable of reaching a width of almost a meter, and tends to reside in “villages” of up to thirty cave crabs. Due to a lack of light in the caverns of Europa, these crabs have large, sensitive eyes capable of taking in even the faintest amount of light. They are naturally curious animals, and are known to often jump or leap onto the hulls of submarines passing through the Europan caverns in order to either travel upon them or simply to satisfy their natural curiosity. The scuffing and scuttling noises created by these crabs are often known to spook submarine crews, as the footsteps of a cave crab sounds eerily similar to somebody knocking on the outside of the hull. They are otherwise harmless to humans, though still capable of inflicting dire wounds with their claws if threatened or cornered by a diver.

Europan Cryptids

None of these creatures have been confirmed to exist by any scientific expeditions, but many veteran submariners will swear that they’ve seen something like one (or similar to one) in the depths of Europa.

The Europan Hell Squid is a large squid-like apex predator rumored to exist in the open ocean of Europa. This creature is allegedly roughly the size of an adult bone whale, and is rumored to attack submarines that descend too far into the waters of Europa. No sightings of the hell squid have been confirmed since it was first reported in 2394. Reports of sightings and attacks are scattered and infrequent enough to suggest either a creature that typically hunts in the lower levels of the Europan Sea or a migratory predator that tends to avoid humanity. Regardless of the truth (Zeng-Hu Pharmaceuticals has sworn to discover the species by 2500) the hell squid continues to be a frequent feature of submariners' tales on Europa. There are rumors of an even larger Europan hell squid called the greater Europan hell squid - larger even than the greatest of submarines - but these are similarly unconfirmed.

The Asterios, for there is allegedly only one, is rumored to be the largest living thing on Europa. It is a crab rumored to be the size of an entire research station, supposedly able to create earthquakes and significant disturbances in the water by crashing its massive shell into the ground. Allegedly the product of a crab being left in an abandoned Zeng-Hu black site research facility in which it grew to a massive size, Asterios is rumored to utilize its former home as its shell. Nobody has ever actually seen Asterios - perhaps due to its rumored ability to crawl along the ocean’s floor - but this has not stopped rumors from circulating. Zeng-Hu has denied that this creature, or its facility of origin, even exists.

While similarly unconfirmed, there are reports that a massive eel called the Cetus exists in the abyssal zone of the Europan Sea. Some suggest that this creature is a powerful psychic, and the root cause of the “Deep Crazy” psychological phenomenon. Aside from fringe groups, some of which look upon the alleged Cetus as a kind of god from the depths, few residents of Europa believe this particular cryptid to be real.

Life on Europa

One’s standard of living in Europa depends heavily upon what facility they reside in, but there are some general rules. Settlements on the moon, due to its very light gravity, are universally built around large gravity generators that predate their shipborne counterparts - these models are larger and more power-inefficient, making them unsuited for offworld use. The primary method of travel for the vast majority of Europans are submarines of various sizes that make their way through the massive ocean under the planet’s icy surface. Due to submarines being far cheaper to build and maintain, and settlements being under the ice for safety, space-based travel between settlements remains rare even in the 2400s.

Another constant factor for all settlements is the cold, often damp environment of the moon. Devices must constantly be maintained to ensure they do not break, lest the cold water seep into an area that humanity has carved out to live in. Space is typically at a premium under the ice of Europa, and cramped quarters are a commonplace. Beyond these concerns, settlements vary greatly in quality of life.

The so-called “Deep Crazy” is another phenomenon that can be found regardless of where one is living on Europa. Some sailors and residents claim that certain areas of the moon lead to higher rates of affliction than others.

The most common settlements under Europa’s ice fall under a loosely-organized category best defined as “civilian stations.” These stations range in population from only a few thousand to several million residents, and vary widely in quality. These are some of the oldest settlements on Europa, and are often connected to nearby research, tourism, or industrial stations. The highest-quality civilian stations are often shared between Zeng-Hu Pharmaceuticals, which uses their attractive housing to attract new employees and encourage transfers to the Europan branch of the corporation, and Idris Incorporated, which utilizes them as tourist attractions for the moon. Lower-quality civilian stations often suffer from a variety of issues, such as heating problems and leaks in the hull - problems on any Europan station, but ones that become far worse when one’s home is barely breaking even.

Most research stations on Europa are owned and operated by Zeng-Hu Pharmaceuticals. Advanced submarines come and go from them, heading off to a myriad of locations in the murky depths of the moon’s oceans - some never to return. These state-of-the-art facilities vary in size from small observation outposts to facilities that are cities unto themselves, and some are rumored to only be accessible by high-ranking Zeng-Hu personnel. What goes on in these Europan “blacksites” is not known to the general public. Zheng-Hu operated stations provide a source of employment for the Europa’s population, and the megacorporation is known to possess the largest submarine fleet of any faction on the moon. Zeng-Hu submarines are known to go on longer expeditions and go further into the poorly-charted depths of the Europan Sea than any other vessels. Incidents of “Deep Crazy” are an unfortunate fact of life in these research stations, but Zeng-Hu is known to pay extremely well for contracts on Europa.

Tourism facilities are a hallmark of Idris Incorporated’s presence on the moon, and are typically situated in major civilian stations. The most famous of these are, without a doubt, Idris’ Jovian Jewel resort and the Galileo's Pearl facility. Due to their locations near the surface of the Europan Sea, “Deep Crazy” is not a common factor in these tourist facilities, and Idris Incorporated does its best to avoid the affliction. Many Idris Incorporated employees dislike working on Europa, particularly those in lower-level positions such as the cargo departments of stations - those responsible for loading and unloading the many cargo submarines that traverse the depths of the moon.

The so-called “industrial stations” are the heart of the Europan submarine fleets. These industrial centers are typically situated near the ocean’s surface, and feature large bays to produce a variety of submarines. These vessels can range from small shuttles with a crew of under a dozen, to massive research vessels with crews in the hundreds. Many of the materials utilized in the dockyards of the Europan Sea are imported from Callisto, where materials mined upon the volcanic surface of Io are refined.

Though unusual, some Europans choose not to dwell on a station at all, instead opting to live on a submarine for the majority or entirety of their lives. These so-called “Hydronauts” are a rare breed typically found in groups of only a few dozen, with the exception of some larger vessels such as the Tethys. As travel under the waves of Europa is typically hazardous, these nomads will often dock in stations for significant periods of time and live out of their submarines, before undocking and proceeding to their next destination. Hydronauts are known to typically be more superstitious than the average Europan submariner, due to the larger amount of time they spend out of port, at the mercy of the Europan Sea.

Deep Crazy

Life under the ice of Europa is a difficult one for the long-term residents of the planet, with a myriad of social and psychological issues arising in the dark biodomes and nuclear-powered submarines found underneath the ice. A commonly mentioned phenomenon among the permanent residents of Europa is the so-called “Deep Crazy,” a result of prolonged exposure to the isolation often associated with the Europan Sea. Medical professionals insist that “Deep Crazy” is nothing more than the result of stress and isolation, and insist that rumors of the affliction being unique to the moon are nonsense. Residents often comment that “Deep Crazy” becomes worse the longer one stays on Europa, that symptoms gradually build over time, and that they inevitably grip anyone’s mind after enough time on the moon.

Symptoms attributed to “Deep Crazy” are auditory and visual hallucinations (though many sufferers will attribute these as originating “in the depths” or “from the depths”), unsettling dreams often involving themes of drowning or otherwise traveling into the depths of the oceans, an extreme fear of drowning, a constant sensation of being watched by something outside of the biodomes (described by some suffers as feeling like being “fish in a bowl”), and claims of seeing seaborne fauna inconsistent with any known species on Europa. No species reported by a sufferer of “Deep Crazy” has ever been formally catalogued by Europa’s scientific community, though many sufferers will report seeing similar creatures. Extreme sufferers of “Deep Crazy” are known to suffer mental breakdowns and manic episodes similar to those commonly associated with high stress and isolation. People afflicted by these episodes, after coming out of their breakdown, report having been “called to the depths” or “called to the seas” by an unknown force, and have been known to claw at airlocks unless otherwise stopped. Medical professionals associated with Zeng-Hu Pharmaceuticals have stated that this is likely just another result of stress.

Europa’s residents and submariners often believe that there is something far, far below the charted zones of the moon that causes this madness. Zeng-Hu Pharmaceuticals, which seeks to attract more employees, offers extensive psychiatric assistance and attractive bonuses to its employees to both attract them and stave off the stress associated with the planet. Idris Incorporated provides similar psychiatric assistance to its employees. It also employs many IPCs in its Europan facilities, which has proven an effective strategy to avoiding the isolation and stress associated with “Deep Crazy.” Idris has also promoted the idea that “Deep Crazy” is a condition resulting from long-term residence on Europa, and is unlikely to ever impact tourists traveling to one of the megacorporation’s luxurious vacation spots. Despite similar living conditions on Europa and Ganymede, with both planets housing their populations in underwater biodomes, residents of Ganymede do not suffer from a condition similar to "Deep Crazy." Researchers are still attempting to determine whether the phenomenon is truly unique to Europa.

Europan Submariners

The life of a Europan submariner is not an easy one even at the best of times, and hazards - both natural and manmade - are a constant concern in the waters of Europa. In the pitch-black darkness underneath the ice, one must always be alert as danger can come from anywhere, at any time. Europa is, according to some in the Jovian system, one of the most hazardous places to work in the Sol Alliance aside from the hellish surface of Io. The danger of working on the moon has led to Europan submariners becoming a wary, very paranoid, and superstitious group. Not all submariners hold these beliefs, but a significant portion of them do.

For example, one major superstition of Europan submariners is a belief that renaming already-named ships, without conducting the proper ceremony, is a surefire way to give the vessel bad luck. In order to properly rename a vessel - typically after it has been purchased by a new operator or owner - one must proceed through the proper ceremony, in which the submarine is returned to its port of origin and all metal that has borne its name is shorn off and replaced. Unless all of the metal is shorn and replaced properly, the ship will remain unlucky. Naming vessels after submarines that have already sunk is also considered to be unlucky, as is giving a vessel a name unfitting of its duty (such as naming a cargo hauler “Invincible”).

Europan submarine crews feature a curiously high number of skrell relative to their prevalence elsewhere in Sol space. The psionic species is highly sought after due to their ability to detect the psionic signatures of Europan creatures through even the thickest submarine hulls. Skrell are rightfully regarded as good luck charms by the crew due to these abilities, and often find themselves employed as some of the highest-paid members of a submarine’s crew. Ships with skrell serving as “psionic navigators” (the local term for their position) are much less likely to suffer collisions with local wildlife due to their abilities to transmit basic orders to most Europan sea creatures. This is an extremely valuable skill, as collisions with creatures such as bone whales have been known to cause significant hull damage to submarines. Skrell are also known to rarely, if ever, suffer from the maladies that ultimately lead to “Deep Crazy,” which has further contributed to their good reputation. Zeng-Hu Pharmaceuicals is currently investigating why the skrell have proven to be so resilient to the madness often associated with the moon.

Submariners are also known to create bone charms from the remains of sea creatures, particularly those of the Europan bone whale. These charms are typically carved with messages in order to (supposedly) bring good luck to their holders, though some charms remain entirely blank. An improperly carved charm, or one with the wrong message, is said to bring immense bad luck to whomever is unfortunate enough to wear it, and many submarines are known to unceremoniously dispose of such charms - typically via an airlock, much to the dismay of whomever owned the now-unrecoverable charm. Other sea creatures are sometimes used for bone charms, but bone whales are regarded as the most ideal source of charms. Batshark bones are among the least popular materials, due to the cartilage in their bones leading to harder to carve surfaces. Some even insist these bones are “cursed,” but these are likely just tall tales. Regardless of the make or style, these charms are sometimes taken offworld by former submariners, to systems as far away as Xanu Prime and Tau Ceti.

Major Settlements

Korormansk Station is the capital of Europa, and its largest settlement at thirty million permanent residents. It is the oldest settlement on the moon, and remains its only major spaceport. The Koromansk Planetary Spaceport is placed at the base of a massive shaft bored through the Europan ice by drills centuries ago, and heavy steel - and more recently, plasteel - reinforcements on the side of the shaft ensure that the passageway remains secure. Many areas of the station are dug into the ice lining this shaft, which has allowed it to support a larger population than any other settlement. Korormansk maintains a large seaport, and services submarine traffic from throughout the Europan Sea. The Jovian Jewel, the famous Idris Incorporated resort, is located nearby. The station maintains a close relationship with its nearby neighbor, Trelenje Station.

Trelenje Station is located fairly close to Korormansk, only a few hours’ travel away in all but the slowest submarines, and has become the primary naval yard for the moon. The dockyards of the Trelenje Naval Yard produce the vast majority of Europa’s submarines, from shuttles designed to move barely a half-dozen individuals to massive plasteel-hulled Zeng-Hu research submarines designed to endure the crushing pressure of Europa’s depths. It is also the berth of many Europan submarine crews and a significant economy has developed around this, with Idris Incorporated operating many entertainment venues here. The station maintains a close relationship and strong supply line with its nearby neighbor, Koromansk Station.

Phumanus Station is the premiere location from which research operations take place in the Europan Sea. Zeng-Hu Pharmaceuticals hosts its Europan headquarters on this station, and launches many of its expeditions from it. Phumanus Station’s position near one of the abyssal zones of the Europan Sea, which is upwards of a hundred miles deep in some regions, has likely contributed to the station’s appeal as a research center. Despite heavy Zeng-Hu investment, the station possesses one of the highest turnover rates in the megacorporation and transfers from the station to other, less well-paying assignments are common. Instances of “Deep Crazy” are also common, and many submariners insist that something is lurking in the abyssal zone nearby. Of course, these reports have not been officially confirmed.

The Tethys is something of an oddity on Europa. Rather than a traditional station, it is instead a large submarine - perhaps the largest on Europa - that maintains a permanent population and is self-sustaining. The Tethys is the result of a failed Einstein Engines attempt to break into the Europan market through the creation of the largest submarine ever built on the moon to that date. When it launched in 2437, the Tethys quickly proved to be a worthless investment to Einstein Engines and was quickly written off, with its crew being left to do what they could without the support of their sponsors. In the years following their abandonment by Einstein, the crew of the Tethys turned it into a mobile city that now specializes in producing smaller submarines for various Europan settlements inside of its massive former research bay. With the heavy research equipment stripped out or otherwise repurposed, there is more than enough space to produce small to medium-sized submarines inside the Tethys itself. While the vessels produced by the Tethys are not as high-quality as those produced at Trelenje Station, many submariners that do not wish to deal with the bureaucracy of the Trelenje Naval Yard prefer the convenience of the Tethys. The captain of the Tethys is elected by the submarine's crew.