Jude readied herself for the mission. Then word came through from the command centre – the recovery had been aborted. The detached pieces of the orbiter which had been resting next to the Phobos monolith, had tumbled in to the crater and were non-recoverable. Jude was relieved – maybe it had been a little too early for an EVA.
She dejectedly went back to her sifting and sorting. Her two-day rotation passed without further incident. As usual, she went back to Olympus, spent time with Maxie and the children which flew in too quickly, then it was time to go back to Arsia. The work was steady but Jude felt, not quite challenging enough. She had been excited at the prospect of working in space again and a felt a huge disappointment when it had been pulled. She began to wonder if the decision to take the job at the recovery centre had been the best option after all – but it meant she was close to her still new-ish family. She was having serious doubts about that too – Maxie was being really good to her and he was an attentive and generous lover. But she felt that, in the kindest possible way, she was just a stop-gap until he got over Kristof and Neesh returned. She really was in turmoil.
First things first – she went to speak with El.
“Look, I knew that when I took this job it wasn’t going to be the most exciting one. I know that in terms of work experience and company time, I’m still a relative novice. I feel like a sack of shit but I need to leave.” She blurted out.
Ellen Freeman as neither taken aback nor surprised. “To be honest, Jude, I’ve been waiting for you to come in here and tell me that for a few weeks now, even before the Phobos debacle. I’ll set up a call to Chief Howe right way.”
The Chief was very understanding. “I had half-expected you to join your buddy Hennessey. Unfortunately, the recovery centre is the only operation where we have any vacancies in the Martian sector. I can offer you a posting back here, working on my team with fresh intake.”
That would be too near to London and Neesh, Jude thought.
“Or, there’s a crew assembling to go to Titan. Resource management.”
Cee-Cee Incorporated had a research arm that was looking into alternate power sources, along the same lines and no doubt in direct competition to Hibakusha. Whereas Hennessey’s erstwhile employers were exploring the outer reaches for helium, the unimaginatively monickered Cosmic Cleaners: Titan, or Cee-Cee-Tee for short, were investigating the possibilities for methane and propylene collection.
Jude said goodbye to her colleagues and took a transport back to O-City. Dera and Myki were at nursery, Maxie having enrolled them recently, and he was in the apartment on his own. He greeted her warmly, giving her pause. But she steeled herself.
“What are you doing home love? Is everything alright?” Jude shrugged out of her coat and he hung it on a peg near the door. She took his hand and led him to the couches. Instead of sitting next to him, Jude sat on one and motioned for him to take a seat across from hers.
“Maxie, “she began. Oh fak – this was going to be difficult. “I’m leaving.”
“Leaving? What, your job? Is the company messing you around again? After that last fiasco…”
It would be so very easy to lie, to say yes, Cosmic Cleaners were pulling her out and moving her on. Let them take the blame, be the bad guys. But she couldn’t do that because it would sour relations with the Shepherd-Moores and the organisation, who had given Maxie an open ended leave and had made provisions for Kristof’s children.
“No, no. This is coming from me.”
“I don’t understand…” But she could tell that he did. “The little ones. Neesh.”
“I know. I’m sorry. This, this just isn’t for me. Oh Maxie, I do care for you. But, I don’t know…”
He reached out to take her hand but she pulled back.
“Jude, please. We can work this out. It’s not the ideal situation and, yes, we rushed in to it. But…”
Jude felt like such a bitch but she cut him off. “Maxie, I can’t.”
He slumped in his seat. “Okay,” he said almost inaudibly.
He had asked her to wait until the children came home, to let him put in a call to Neesh but Jude was steadfast. She packed up her things and called a cab. When her lift arrived, he tried to hold her but she stepped back.
“I still don’t understand,” he said again.
Jude wasn’t sure she did either.
From Olympus, she took a train, nervously looking out all the while for Ila or Bly, then took a cruiser from Aderin-Pocock to Cernan, Cee-Cee’s operations base back on the Earth’s Moon. Unlike her trip out, what seemed like a life time ago, she stayed awake. Messages from Neesh and Ila came up on her pad, but she left them unread and unanswered. She didn’t call Coop, her usual go-to port in times of crisis. There was only one person she wanted to speak to, who might be able to help her make sense of this fakking mess. But he was light-years away and out of the reach of comms.
Cernan was a self-contained habitat base next to the Marius Hills. It would be home to Jude for the next couple of days while she was readied for her new posting to Titan.
The team being assembled for this expedition consisted of mostly scientists but also operations techs like herself. The commander was Nile Kellan, an energy specialist from Cee-Cee’s Antarctica base, where his team of seven had been undergoing acclimatisation training. Temperatures on Titan could fall as low as minus one hundred and eighty Celsius. Jude had of course missed out on this. One of her fellow technicians, an older – Jude guessed in her forties at least – woman who went by the name of Alexandra Rodriguez, commented on this.
“You must be mad, giving up the heat of Mars for the icy wastes.”
“I suppose I must be.” Jude replied.
She had hoped that, as back on Mars, no-one would make the connection between her and the Tiandong. Surely it had been long enough now for people to have forgotten.
“Damn shame what happened to you and those other poor folks on that Chinese station.” Rodriguez obviously wasn’t going to be one of them.
“I’d rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind.” This new, hard Jude said calmly but without enough force in her voice to elicit a “suit yourself!” from her colleague. This wasn’t going well.
The other two techs were a pair of kids called Tiggs and Doyle, fresh out of engineering school in Canberra, so they told her. The three remaining boffins, Wade, Brown and Shang, kept themselves apart and aloof.
“They were like that at on Adelaide Island.” Doyle remarked.
Kellen assembled his team. They would be leaving for the eight day trip to Saturn the following morning. Jude was issued with expedition kit, consisting mostly of base layers and snow gear. She took the time before sleep to compose a message for Maxie and Neesh, trying to explain that as open-minded as she had hoped she had been, she hadn’t been ready to make a commitment. However, when she tried to send her expositions, she received error responses. There was however one message in her own inbox from Hennessey. At last.
“Dear Sadsacko. Sorry for the radio silence but what with sleeping most of the trip out and then some serious training here, I’m only now managing to work out my arse from my elbow. Hope everything is working out for you. Give my best to Maxie and the family, Hennessey xxx P.S. I need to leave you more often if that’s the goodbye presents you give. Miss you.”
Why hadn’t she gone with him, she remonstrated with herself. But she had been angry with him for leaving the company and keeping it all a big secret. Maybe not all that angry though. Jude decided not to reply right away – it would give her something to do on the flight to Titan. Plus, she wasn’t sure she was quite ready to put to paper what a complete fak up she’d made of it all.
Next morning, the team boarded the Archea. Jude found herself bunked with Rodriguez. The woman was loud and rude and had little idea of personal space. It was going to be a long eight days…
Once they were on their way, Commander Kellen called a meeting. The scientists sat to his left, the tech crew to his right. He explained that they would be based at the main survey site on the shores of the Kraken Mare Lake, a massive body of liquid methane at the northern pole of the moon. He would lead Team A, with Brown and Wade plus support from Doyle and Tiggs, in setting up the survey while Team B of Sadako and Rodriguez under Shang’s direction would locate the original Huygens probe for data analysis.
“Looks like we drew the short straw, compadre.” Her workmate dug her in the ribs.
“Leave off,” Jude replied but, looking over at the mousy woman staring intently at her pad screen across from them, she was inclined to agree.