Chapter Sixteen

Within the week, the “Archea” had deposited the mis-matched team at the northernmost pole of Saturn largest and darkest moon. A cluster of inter-connected hut-like buildings and a large processing station which converted the nitrogen and other gases into a breathable habitat made up what would be their home for the foreseeable future. Grav was set to Earth levels inside. The eight-strong crew stowed their belongings in their quarters then Jude, along with Rodriguez, Tiggs and Doyle, unloaded and unpacked all of the equipment and supplies.

“It would be nice if the others pitched in here,” Jude remarked.

“Fat chance.“ sneered the Cuban as she hefted a large, bulky container from a trolley to the shelf below her.

“It’s been like that all the way along.” Tiggs said to her. “We do the donkey work and they have meetings. And more meetings.”

Jude began to wonder if she had been spoiled with her first two assignments but couldn’t imagine that this hierarchical split was the norm in the company. And she said so.

“We’re not all as lucky as you, Miss “oh I had a lovely team.”” Rodriguez grumbled.

“I’m just not used to such divisions.” Jude said.

“Get used to it. This is the true face of Cee-Cee-Tee.”

 

 

Once the base provisions had been stowed away, the team gathered around a meeting table in the crew lounge. Again, the company (and to some extent self, Jude thought) appointed mavens huddled together on one side, while the other four spread out on the other. Kellan called them to order.

“As I said on the journey out here, we shall begin by splitting onto our two designated teams.”

“What about something to eat first, maybe?” called out Rodriguez. “I’m fakking starving here.”

“Business first then you can grab something before you head out with your group.” The team commander spoke to the older tech as if she was a petulant child.

“Sadako here can fill me in,” Rodriguez said as she clambered out of her seat and headed to the kitchen area. Kellan started to protest but Brown mouthed “leave it.” He continued to drone on about protocols and mission requirements, timescales and targets. It was nothing Jude hadn’t already read up on in the mission briefings she had received but she listened anyway.

Rodriguez returned with a tray of four cups and four bowls of steaming gloop. Doyle and Tiggs grabbed one of each and a spoon then began noisily eating. Rodriguez handed Jude a bowl and pushed a cup in her direction. “Thanks, “ she offered. The other four looked on aghast. Kellan wrapped up the meeting and stood up to leave, followed by his three colleagues. Tiggs gathered up their now empty dishes and took them away, Jude guessed to be cleaned. Rodriguez belched then kicked her chair away.

“Let’s suit up and do this.” Jude caught up. The two of them unpacked their bulky outdoor suits and pulled them on, as well as sturdy boots and a portable respirator. Jude tried to make conversation.

“How long have you worked for Cee-Cee then?”

“Too fakking long.”

She gave up. If life had taught her anything, it was to know when to stop talking. They met the third member of their team, Lin Shang, in the vehicle bay. Next to what looked like souped-up skidoos of about half a dozen in number was a hulking vehicle painted in a moss green with the double crescent moon that was the company’s insignia sprayed in an off-white on its bonnet and doors. Like some mutated collision between an old military Humvee, a snow plough and a Zamboni, their carriage awaited them. Rodriguez perked up.

“Oh boy, “she exclaimed, “an actual Termite. What a beaut.  I was pretty sure these goons would stiff us on the wagons but I’m actually impressed.” She pulled open the driver’s side door and scrambled in. The diminutive chemical expert wordlessly got in beside her and Jude made to climb up beside her.

“Not yet, you gonk.” The mouthy tech barked towards Jude. “Open the fakking doors first.

Jude pulled on her breathing mask and secured the hood of her jacket snugly around her face. She walked over to the door mechanism and engaged it so that the roller doors lifted. A blast of freezing wind almost knocked her off of her feet. The passenger side door swing open and Jude bounded in, closing it tightly behind her. Rodriguez started up the methane fuelled system and the Termite chugged forwards. Once clear of the doors, Rodriguez flipped a switch and the bay closed tightly behind them.

“You could have opened the doors from inside here?” Jude was astonished.

“Yeah. But where would the fun have been in that?”

 

The vehicle trundled out over the ice-like surface.

“Where are we headed for prof?” Rodriguez asked Shang, who was uncomfortably perched between the two technicians. The little chemist scanned her pad, which she held tightly in her mittened fingers.

“West. To the plains of Adiri. That’s where the scanners tell us the probe is located.”

“On it.” Rodriguez punched in some co-ordinates and steered the Termite across the featureless prairie.

The Huygens probe wasn’t really of any scientific value. Back in the first decade of the century, it had only managed to gather a mere ninety minutes of data once it had landed before its power cell gave out. Their retrieval mission was more one of novelty merit and the small robotic laboratory, if it still survived, would more than likely end up in a museum. Still, salvage money was salvage money and, Jude decided, it was several steps up from cleaning waste pipes.

 

“What’s your mother’s name?” Rodriguez piped up.

“Em…Cynthia?” the woman sat next to her squeaked in surprise.

“Not you, Shang-a-Lang. You. Assuming you have a mother and didn’t appear fully formed.”

“Why?” Jude countered. She was getting weary of this irascible boor.

“Just answer my fakking question. I don’t want your life story.”

“It’s Dorothy. Dory for short.”

“Oh my,” Shang said, a spark of interest in her voice. “You mother is Dory Anderson.”

“Dottie.” Rodriguez rumbled.

“No, it’s Dory.” Jude corrected her.

“No. Dottie. That’s what I’m calling our ride.”

Good grief.

 

 

“Dottie” trundled over land, crossing the soil-like plain, featureless except for the odd scattering of small rocks and pebbles of water ice. Jude looked out, wishing that she was back on Mars. But that bridge had been irreparably burned. She started to compose a comm to Hennessey in her head. He would be laughing up his sleeve at her predicament, stuck in this hulk of a vehicle where the company was as frigid as the atmosphere outside. She had hoped for a team akin to the one on the Tiandong, not this divided group of misfits. Maybe this what she deserved though.

 

The Termite shuddered to a halt, Rodriguez it seemed grinding every gear and mechanism just for the hell of it. No-one moved. Then, realising the techs were waiting for her signal. Shang mumbled “Shall we?” and the trio fastened up their hoods, engaged their breathers and stepped out.

 

Shang scanned the area, and began wandering over towards some rocks. The slippery surface was a burnt orange in colour and Jude’s booted feet moved though a misty haze of methane vapour.

Rodriguez kicked something and swore. A small mis-shapen disc lay at her feet. At just under a metre and a half in diameter, it looked to Jude like a battered Frisbee. Shang squealed and ran over, her wee feet skidding in her excitement.

“Oh my but this is wonderful.” Shang crouched down and scanned the probe.

“This is it?” Rodriguez snorted. “This…dustbin lid. For fakking crying out loud.”

Jude was inclined to agree. She made a move to touch it. A small gloved hand batted her own away. “Bring a grav-sled.” Jude figured that she or Rodriguez could have picked up this junk with one hand, maybe two, but Shang was insistent.

The probe, despite appearances, proved to be quite heavy. With an Earth mass of over 300 kilos, even on Titan it still took some effort for both Jude and Rodriguez to shift it onto the sled. Shang looked on triumphantly, as if she had discovered the treasures of the Pharaohs.  No doubt she would try to take all the credit too. Jude surmised that “Chinese-American whizz kid finds lost probe” sounded better than “clumsy Cuban kicks cosmic crap”.

They loaded their cargo in to the back of “Dottie” as it began to rain. “Rain” was too common place a word for the perfectly rounded centimetre wide marbles of methane that fell down on them from the clouds overhead them, as slowly as snowflakes floated back on wintry Tokyo mornings. Rodriguez and Shang got back in to the cab but Jude stood, her arms outstretched, eyes closed, feeling the droplets bounce off of her padded suit.

“Get in. We’re freezing our flaps off here.” Reluctantly, Jude complied and they headed back to base.

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