Rodriguez drove them back to the base in the rain. Shang complained at the slightest bump or jar but eventually shut up when Rodriguez finally barked at her.
“The fakking thing has been on the ground for decades. A trip back inside old Dottie here isn’t going to make a darn bit of difference.”
They approached the bay doors and they opened stiffly. The Termite rolled in and once parked, they all climbed out. Shang was fussing immediately.
“Let’s get the probe out. Be careful now.”
“In a minute. I need to take a piss.” Rodriguez sauntered off, unzipping her jacket.
Shang looked to Jude. “It’s going to take two of us to shift it.” Jude knew that the scientist could have been one of the two but when Shang instead busied herself with making notes on her pad, she got out of her bulky outerwear and waited for her surly colleague to return.
Once Rodriguez had returned, they opened the rear doors of the vehicle and rolled the sled out onto a trolley. In the harsh bright lights of the garage, the battered probe looked even less impressive than it had out on the ground. Two of its four radar antennae had become detached and the instrumentation from the Doppler wind oscillator had spewed free, no doubt due to the battering winds on the plain. However, Shang beamed like a new parent. Under her watchful eye, Jude and Rodriguez trucked it through to one of the smaller labs. As they passed, they saw Kellan in his office with Wade and Brown, having yet another meeting. Tiggs and Doyle were nowhere to be seen. Once Shang had the probe exactly where she wanted it, she skipped off to tell her fellow professors. Jude followed her colleague back to their dorm, where they changed into work coveralls and safety boots.
They were having coffee and sandwiches in the dining area when Kellan burst in.
“What are you pair doing sitting in your arses in here?” he spluttered.
“Having a meeting.” Rodriguez replied, not even bothering to look up at him.
“Just grabbing a meal break.” Jude placated, seeing the man seethe.
“Well, when you are done, Tiggs and Doyle are over at the well head reservoir taking some samples. Go collect them and bring them to Professor Ward.”
He strode off.
“Chupa pinga.” Rodriguez called after him. Jude didn’t know much Spanish but guessed Rodriguez wasn’t telling him to have a nice day. Disposing of her crumbs and coffee dregs, she went back to the lockers to once again don the thick outer shell and headed back outside.
The well head was a ramshackle hut at on the edge of the lake. Jude closed the door tightly behind her. Inside it was warm and bright. There was music coming out from a pair of tinny speakers. Her two co-workers were hunched over a bench, engrossed in their task.
“Hi,” Jude announced her presence. They both turned around, as if they had been caught out.
“Thank fak, “ Awen Tiggs pushed the goggles up from over his eyes. “We thought it was Kellan.”
“Well, he did send me over to get some samples that you pair are supposed to be collecting.”
“We are. We have.” Doyle said and pointed to a rack of vials.
“Hand them over then and I can take them back for testing then.”
The two young techs turned their backs to her and muttered together.
“You tell her.” Tiggs whispered. Doyle shook her head.
“Tell me what?” Jude asked, wearying of this nonsense.
Tiggs stood up and turned to face her, his face deadly serious. “We’re testing for contaminants.”
“But that’s their job.” Jude referred back to the team of experts.
“Them,” Doyle shuddered. “Have you looked at their qualifications?”
“Not particularly. I assumed they would be experts in liquefaction, processing, that sort of thing.”
Tiggs scoffed. “Shang, you might have noticed, is a historian.”
“And Wade’s a biologist. Studies plant life, according to his profile.” Doyle again.
“Maybe he’s here to look into green housing, using the methane to grow foodstuffs to make the base more self-sufficient?” Jude suggested.
“This early in the project? I don’t think so.” Doyle rebuffed. “He’s not even a good biologist. No papers, bottom of his graduating class. And as for Brown…”
“…she’s not even got a degree. I have more experience than her.” Tiggs chimed in.
“What about Kellan?” The pair shook their heads in unison.
“Some experience on Mars but this is his first time leading a mission.” And it showed, Jude thought.
“Rodriguez is the most experienced and knowledgeable team member. She’s been on Mars and Iapetus. Really knows her stuff too.”
“So why’s she not in charge?” Jude was mystified.
“Don’t you know who Nile Kellan is?” Tiggs asked her, as if he was asking a child what colour the Earth sky was.
“Apart from the buffoon in charge of this mess, no.”
Doyle rolled her eyes in disbelief. “He’s Cee-Cee’s brother-in-law!”
Nile Kellan, they took pains to tell Jude, was married to Juliette Chouinard, the younger sister of the boss of their organisation. A failed actor, Colette had given him work in the company as a favour to her sibling. So far he had screwed up every project he had been assigned to. Tiggs rattled them off. Kellan seemed to have a reverse-Midas touch.
“So why here?” Jude prodded. “Methane extraction and processing is a big part of Cee-Cee’s work, isn’t it?”
“Exactly. And Titan’s the furthest most outpost.”
The penny dropped. “So, to keep her sister sweet, the big fromage has sent Kellan out where he can do least harm?”
“Give the woman a gold star.” Doyle smirked.
“And the rest of them? Similar fak-ups out of the way, where they’ll do the least harm?”
“Wade and Brown certainly. Shang, she knows her stuff re the whole Cassini-Huygens project and she’s okay, if a bit single minded.” Tiggs explained.
“And you two? And Rodriguez?”
“We’re here to do the actual work – oversee the initial set-up, actually get the beginnings of LNG processing and production. Survey other sites. And Alex, she’s here to make sure nobody faks up too badly.”
“And me? Am I a fak-up or a good guy?” Jude wondered.
The real scientists shrugged. “You tell us.”
“I know that I fakked up on Mars and maybe caused a headache for my old chief. But I’m no slouch. I pull my weight, work hard, and learn fast.”
“Good” Tiggs smiled. “Word was that your celebrity status was becoming a problem. That’s what we were told anyway.”
“So that’s why Rodriguez is giving me the needle?” It all made sense to Jude.
“A little. She’s spikey with most people but knows her stuff.”
Jude was a little clearer now. Get on Rodriguez’ good side and show her that she wasn’t another flake to be babysat, take direction from Tiggs and Doyle and at the same time, do whatever the rest asked of her. Simple…
Jude headed back to the main lab with a container of samples from Tiggs and Doyle, already tested and logged. Brown was reading off some notes, sat at one of the benches. Jude placed the samples in front of her.
“Thanks,” the woman looked up.
“Is there anything else I can…assist you with?” Jude offered.
Brown shook her head. She returned to her reading.
Rodriguez was in the vehicle bay, running some diagnostics on the skidoos.
“Damn penny-pinchers,” Jude heard her curse.
The surly tech, the true team’s leader, gazed at her. “Told that asshole we needed the top of the line models for these conditions. Screwed me on that too.” Jude guessed she was referring to Kellan.
“Anything I can help with?” Jude held out a tentative olive branch.
“Know how to bypass the gears on these babies to stop them over-compensating in low-Kelvin temps?”
Jude shook her head. But before her aggrieved associate could bark out the anticipated “Well, fak off back to the rest of the dead woods,” Jude rolled up her sleeves. “But I’m willing to listen and learn.”
Two hours and several trips to the kitchen for coffee for Rodriguez, Jude understood more about the inner workings of the single seated transports. And, she hoped, her team mate.
Together, they headed back to their dorm to clean up. On the way, they passed Kellan and Wade, poring over screens and readouts. Kellan made as if to say something but Rodriguez pushed Jude on.
Scrubbed clean, the two technicians headed back to the communal refectory. Tiggs and Doyle had also returned from the lake side and were in conversation with an unusually animated Shang.
“What gives, Tee and Dee?” Rodriguez helped herself to food.
“Tell her Lin,” the Welsh assistant gently shoved the history specialist.
“I’ve been going over the data from the probe.”
“Big deal. Old news.” The Cuban wasn’t interested.
“Hear her out,” Roisin Doyle insisted. “Go on.”
The young woman braced herself and then handed her pad of data over to Rodriguez and Jude.
“Well fak me sideways. The little bugarron was still recording. All this time.”