Beyond the Black
Europa has no atmosphere and lies within the fearsome magnetosphere of Jupiter, and as such its surface is bombarded with enough radiation for an unshielded transhuman to receive an irrevocably fatal dosage within a few days—much faster when Europa’s orbit passes through Jupiter’s immense magnetotail. As a result, transhumans on Europa dwell beneath the icy crust, largely in the ocean below, adopting a variety of aquatic and amphibious morphs for survival. The only surface facilities are the heavily-shielded ice elevator heads at Conamara Chaos and several other points through which reactor mass and other crucial supplies can be delivered to the Europans below.
Transhumanity is still exploring and imaging the Europan ocean floor, a task complicated by the hideous pressures at work in these waters, which are ten times as deep as the Earth’s oceans. A further surprise awaiting transhumanity was the terrain. The geology of Europa suggested that beneath the ice would be fathomless depths of black water ending at a depth of nearly 500 kilometers in a relatively flat, featureless sea bed. Were Europa a lifeless ball of ice and rock, this would be the case, but over the estimated billion years since the rise of life on Europa, tiny lithoderms (analogs to Earth’s coral) have built silicate reefs that rise to within a few hundred meters of the ice crust. It is on these biologically formed mountain tops, home to complex ecosystems, that the Europans have built their habitats.
While based on water-carbon chemistry like life of Terran origin, life on Europa is completely autocthonic, having originated beneath an impenetrable ice sheet that cut off Europa’s subsurface ocean completely from outside. This is in marked contrast to Terran life, which many biologists have theorized might be the result of galactic panspermia, the slow diffusion of microbes through the vacuum of space aboard comets or asteroids. As such, the fauna of Europa are of great interest to transhuman bioscience.
Europa’s lifeforms, unique perhaps in the universe, are its greatest treasure, and transhumanity’s efforts to catalog them are only beginning. The rush to exploit Europan biodivesity puts the Jovian Junta in an uncomfortable situation. While they control space traffic and commerce in the Jovian system, they lack the native talent to take real advantage of knowledge gleaned from Europa. At first, they engaged in hamfisted excise operations aimed at squeezing revenue out of knowledge exports. But once farcasters and egocasters came online below the ice, this type of extortion no longer worked. Now the Jovians have shifted to a two-pronged strategy of levying tariffs on new equipment and people brought down the ice elevators by hypercorps and research collectives, and of holding the entire population of the moon hostage by refusing delivery of key resources like reactor mass and rare elements if protection fees are not paid.
Europan habitats take two forms: fortified fishing and farming havens clinging to the spires of the lithodermic reefs, and spherical bubble warrens constructed by boring into the lower reaches of the ice crust and shoring up the hollows created. The latter are the only air-filled spaces beneath the ice. The largest warren is Conamara, at the base of the Conamara Chaos ice elevator. Conamara is surrounded by five nearby reef havens, also considered part of the habitat. The total population is 1.5 million.