In this first Christmas Special, guest-produced by Shaun O’Boyle, we leave our standard format behind and jump into a world of science fiction and horror. This is brought to life by the extraordinary voices of Katy Evans, Dr Suze Kundu, Powder Scofield, and Russell Moul.

Listen on Apple Podcast or on your favourite podcast player through Anchor.

Intro: Welcome to The Astroholic explains first Christmas special. It’s not what we usually do but we hope you’ll find it equally interesting and engaging. Here is “Saturn’s Last Soul.” Enjoy. 

[Intro Music]

Narrator – Twas the night before Christmas, and all around Saturn, not a soul was stirring…well, that’s not true. We, dear listeners, are about to visit the frozen surface of Enceladus, one of the most fascinating worlds in our solar system. Intrepid explorers are on a long-term mission to study this moon, and this Christmas they are separated from Earth in two ways.

It is a peculiar time. The super-conjunction, when Saturn and Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun, cutting out direct communication from Earth for a few days. And, as the bells in St Peter square marked Christmas, Enceladus swiftly moved into the shadow of its planet, severing the astronauts from the Deep Space Network, with no way to call home. 

Four humans are on this world. One in the base. Alone and worried. Three outside on the surface, collecting fragments of a recent meteor shower which scarred the ice. Underneath the glacial exterior, there is an ever-changing ocean stirred by volcanic vents that creates an environment of complex chemistry and energy, and maybe even life.

It would be reasonable to fear what lurks in the hundreds of kilometers of abyss below their feet. But the danger they face doesn’t come from below. 

[Intro Music]

[In room]

[Over speaker] 

Raffello: Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas! This is A Recorded Message On Radio Enceladus! [Repeated Twice with static interrupting], I’m Dr Raffello Rossi, your host. 

[Over Radio]

Prisha: Raff? How are you transmitting? Or how are we receiving you? We’re supposed to be out of range!

[Noise of scattering and rushing and grabbing the mike]

[In room]

Raff: Can you hear me? Commander Prisha?

[Over Radio]

Prisha: We can hear you loud and clear. How did you pull this off?

[In room]

Raff: YES! It worked! Oh my god! I managed to make it work! So it’s super simple! Since you’ve decided to stray further than usual, I temporarily reworked the orbiters’ survey pattern to extend the coverage area so I could track you and patched the radio in too. 

I was getting pretty lonely!

[Over Radio]

Alex: Sorry, dude. Just had to go to check something. 

[In room]

Raff: Well, I very much don’t want to spend christmas by myself in here. It’s so boring. There’s only so many times I can listen to Mariah Carey on loop before it makes me want crack open a window, and freeze myself to death! 

[Over Radio]

Jason: You’re adorable when you worry! We’ll make it up to you by letting you open the presents first tonight. 

[In room]

Raff: Oh Jason, you know that all I want for Christmas is you..

[Over Radio]

Alex: [Announcer voice] It has been zero days since Raff tried to get into Jason’s tight pants. 

[Over Radio]

Jason: {sardonically] Oh, you’ve noticed…?

[Over Radio]

Alex: [mock exasperated] Yes, yes I’ve noticed. We live together . And I, just like Raff, have the ancient blood curse of liking men, and can’t help but look!

[In room]

Raff: A love triangle! How cliche! 

[Over Radio]

Prisha [serious voice] Dr Rossi, can we please be serious and get some actual data from your little experiment? 

[In room]

Raff: Yes, ma’am! Let me go to the other station. [A few seconds of silence] You are exactly 21.7 kilometres from the base, and at current speed you’ll get here in about 40 minutes, which means I need to put the potatoes in the oven in about 20. 

[Over Radio]

Prisha [serious voice]: Raff.

[In room]

Raff: There’s not much else to say. From the satellite that flew overhead 4 minutes ago, I can see that you are on very solid ice, and in your trailer are the four meteorite fragments that you went to collect from the storm. 

[Static continues for 3 seconds]

[Over Radio]

Prisha: [perplexed/smug] How confident are you on those readings?

[In room]

Raff: Pretty confident I’ve got a 5 cm per pixel resolution. 

[Over Radio]

[static]

Alex: We only collected three meteorites. I’d know! I had to lift the damn things and they were heavy even accounting for the reduced gravity. 

Prisha: Jason, could one have split during transit? 

Jason: Unlikely. They were iron-nickel. Artifacts of the satellite? It must be that, right?

[In room]

Raff: The next satellite’s passes overhead in 30 seconds. I’ll move to the downlink station

Narrator: Those puzzling moments passed slowly and in silence. As the image downlinked Raff, breathed calmly. Three objects in the trailer. Must have been a mistake.

But Raff’s attention moved onto the Rover. Something was wrong. Its doors were open. No signs of the occupants. Raffello rushed back to the radio station panicking. 

[Over Radio]

[static silence]  – STOP 

[In room]

Raff: Commander come in [Pause] Prisha come in? Alex? [Pause] Jason? Anyone, do you copy? Please come in. 

[Over Radio]

Prisha [Repeated]]: We can hear you loud and clear. 

[In room]

Raff: Oh thank fuck. Sorry you gave me a scare getting out of the car like that. What happened?

[Over Radio]

Alex[Repeated]: Sorry, dude. Just had to go to check something! 

[In room]

Raff: I know, I know but you’re already late getting back, and we are in the night side now, I don’t want you out there any longer than necessary. 

[Over Radio]

Jason[Repeated]: You’re adorable when you worry! 

[In room]

Raff: That’s the second time you called me adorable today. I’ll have to catch you under the mistletoe, mister. 

[Over Radio]

Jason[Repeated]: You’re adorable when you worry! 

[In room]

Raff: Yes, I heard that. Is everything alright?

[Over Radio]

Alex[Repeated]: Sorry, dude. Just had to go to check something! 

[In room]

Raff: What? [pause] Commander? 

[Over Radio]

Prisha [Repeated]: we read you loud and clear!

Jason [Repeated]: Artifacts of the satellite?

Alex [Repeated]: sorry dude, just had to go check something. 

Prisha[Repeated]: ..Split during transit?

Jason [Repeated]: you’re adorable when you worry. 

Alex[Repeated]: Three meteorites. Three. Three.

[knocking sound] 

Narrator: Aghast, Raffello stared at the door and slowly walked towards it 

Footsteps + Radio getting fainter:

[Over Radio]

You’re adorable when you worry [repeated multiple times] 

[In room]

Raff [trembling]: W-who’s out there? 

Raff’s voice from a radio through the door: I’m Dr Raffello Rossi. I’m Dr Raffello Rossi. I’m Dr Raffello Rossi.

[Outro Music]

Coda: We hope you enjoyed this original short podcast drama, an episode of The Astroholic Explains that was certainly something completely different. The Narrator was the soon-to-be-Doctor Russell Moul, Commander Prisha was voiced by the magnificent Dr Suze Kundu, Jason by the sublime Powder Scofield, and Alex by the incomparable Katy Evans. The episode was directed by me, Chris Carpineti, and produced and edited by Irish sci-com superstar Shaun O’Boyle. The story was written by The Astroholic himself, who couldn’t help also taking on the main role of Raffello. 

Before we say farewell, let me don the scientist cap for once and let me tell you about the setting of this story. Enceladus is a world that comes up over and over again during our conversation here at The Astroholic. It’s a frozen moon, orbiting Saturn. Its icy exterior hide a deep liquid water ocean. This ocean is stirred by geothermal activity, which produces geysers that breaking through the surface and flying into space. 

The Cassini mission was able to analyse some of the molecules in those geyser. It found hints of complex chemistry. And that makes Enceladus, a place to pay close attention to. It has water, heat, and crucial chemicals. Thinking that it might host life is not a giant leap of imagination. 

At least, seven mission are currently being looked at to go and investigate this peculiar object, including a private spacecraft bankrolled by billionaire Yuri Milner. No concrete plans have been made yet. The secrets of this world might have to endure for at least another decade.