The five of them stood around the battered probe. Young Shang, surprisingly, broke the silence.
“We mustn’t let them get their hands on it.”
Jude’s first thought was that Cee-Cee Inc. were the ones backing the mission and was about to say so. Then she realised that the history expert was maybe more perceptive than she had so far been letting on.
“You’re referring to Kellan?” Rodriguez voiced what Jude had already surmised.
“Of course! Once he realises that this device is still operational, and not only that but recording data, he’ll personally whisk it back to Earth and claim all of the glory.” Lin was more understanding of the situation than Jude or the other four had thus far given her credit for.
“But surely that’s what will happen anyway?” Doyle put in. “A wee bonus and extra gold stars for him.”
Shang scowled. “And it’ll rot in olde time space exhibit, at the Smithsonian or worse.”
“And you don’t want that to happen because…?”Rodriguez quizzed her.
“Because of why I’m here. I know you folks,” and she glanced around the room, “think that I’m an airhead dirt-scratcher here to get in the way. But I’m not. Think of the possibilities. In the good old days of NASA, ESA and the Russians, they launched hundreds of probes, orbiters and craft into the void.”
“Yes, they just pitched them up and out into space, with an in-built obsolescence and limited shelf life. But if some of them, like Huygens here, didn’t burn out or fade…” Tiggs added enthusiastically.
Shang was grinning as the others began to realise what they were on to. “…then the implications for an organisation like Cee-Cee would be limitless. They – we – would not just be recycling old tech then. They’d be looking at harnessing power and computing systems that could give us the resources to go beyond our own system.”
Rodriguez raised her hand. “Now steady on, kids. This is just one tiny probe, on one far-flung moon.”
“But even if it IS just this one probe. In the right hands, it would be such a leap forward.” Shang insisted.
Jude put into words what they all knew. “And in Kellan’s, it would be all about him and the glory. We might as well put the probe into an incinerator now.”
Shang paled. “So how do we stop him?”
The Cuban smiled broadly, like a crocodile contemplating her prey.
“We give him what he wants. Let’s call a meeting.”
The whole team of eight were gathered around the table in the staff room. Kellan stood with his hand on either side of a small corroded mechanism, unremarkable except for one tiny greenish-yellow light blinking steadily amongst the boards and wiring.
“And what, exactly, am I supposed to be looking at?” he sneered.
“It looks like an old data packet.” suggested Wade.
Shang picked it up, carefully in both hands. “This, my esteemed colleagues, is the recorder from the probe that our bosses back on Earth sent me to find. And, after all these years, not only have I been able to extract readings from it, I think it may have detected something that is going to make us all very popular back at headquarters.”
Brown, as expected, chimed in. “Has it detected some new compound of methane? A new energy source.”
Lin shook her head. “We’re not sure yet but from Doyle’s initial results we think – we hope- that it’s something bigger.”
“What can be more important to our mission than what it has set out to do? To harvest the energy resources of this icy moon?” Kellan clearly had an imagination that barely outstripped his wits.
Shang fixed him with her dark eyed gaze, her expression as impenetrable as the frozen water plains outside.
Her voice was barely a whisper.
“Let ME see,” Wade, the inept biologist reached for the cube-shaped object, knocking it clumsily, and as planned, with a little help from Lin letting it go, to the floor. Wires popped loose and screws feel out, more for the overall effect rather than actual vital components. The little winking light switched to dark on cue. At first, they all stood open mouthed and silenced. Then Shang moved to pick it up. Wade, as predicted, roughly shoved her out of the way.
“You stupid girl,” he snarled. “Haven’t you done enough damage?” Lin looked suitably chastised and slunk back to stand with Jude and Rodriguez, who laid a protective hand on the young woman’s shoulder.
“Leave her be.” Rodriguez glared at him.
Ward motioned to Brown, his hand flapping behind him. “Grace, get me a specimen box. And some tweezers.” She ran off to the lab. Kellan looked over at Shang and Doyle. “You two, in my office. Now.”
Jude walked back to the garage with Rodriguez and Tiggs, trying very hard not to grin. The hardest part, though was about to begin.
Kellan sat down behind his over-sized desk. He made no motion for the two women to take a seat and in any case, there was only one chair on their side.
“Why am I only hearing about this now?” he directed the question to them both. Doyle answered sheepishly.
“I’ve only just analysed the results. They’re still a bit sketchy…”
The mission commander interrupted her. “I mean about life on this shitty moon. That wasn’t in the mission briefings or specifications. We’re here to study the fuel reserves, not look for little green men.”
“I know sir, but when Shang brought me the ASI and the ACP from the SSP, I ran tests. Hoping to save us some time.” Doyle stammered for effect.
“Don’t blind me with acronyms and techno-babble, you silly woman.” Thank goodness that he was a dumb as he appeared. “Tell him in plain terms what you have found.”
“Well,” Doyle paused, again to give credence to her next statement as possible, ”obviously it needs the expert eye of Doctor Wade and the supervision of a man such as yourself, but I believe we may have found the building blocks for living organisms.”
That as much was true – the chemical compounds in the air, the methane, hydrogen, carbon, were all present.
At that moment, Ward himself burst in, the pieces of the “detector” rattling around in a large Perspex tub.
“I think I got all of the technology. No thanks to Miss Butter Fingers here.”
“I’m sorry,” Lin added, sounding suitably contrite.
“Sorry won’t cut it.” Kellan snarled. “If it was up to me, I’d have you on the next transport out of here.” He thought for a moment. “In fact, I could put a call out. See if anyone’s passing by in the next few weeks. I knew it was a mistake allowing an archaeologist on my team!”
Shang made a low sob, then ran out of the office.
Doyle spoke up. “Even if the pyrolyser and spectrometer are damaged beyond repair, I’m sure Tiggs could cobble together some of the tech we already have to take new readings.”
“And Brown and I could set up a secondary base, near the discovery site. Do more testing there.” Wade suggested.
“Excellent. Get to work on it.”
Doyle hurried back to the garage, where the other four conspirators were waiting for her. Shang was laughing and Rodriguez was pouring an amber liquid from a flask into small cups and handing the around.
“..and then he said,” Lin puffed herself up as she spoke,””…if it was up to me, I’d have you out of here.””
“Too bad we’re not exactly on a busy flight path.” Rodriguez groaned. “That would be prefect.”
Jude turned to Tiggs. “How are the comms out here/”
“A bit shaky. Why?” he asked.
“I know someone who might be able to help.”
A familiar face flashed up on the hazy screen.
“Say again, Titan base Can you hear me now?”
“Loud and clear, Kimiko.” Jude smiled as the features of the company’s pilot settled into view.
“Sadako, you’re a sight for sore eyes. What are you doing out here? I thought you’d have a cushy number back in T-City for sure.”
“Long story, friend. Hennessey told me you were working with that new survey team near Proxima Centauri.”
“Yeah – gathering readings from the Oort Cloud. Mega boring for a flyer like me. Pays the bills though, I guess.”
“Anyway, what I’m wondering is, when are you heading back Earth side? Any time soon?”
“In a day or two. Couple more sweeps and then I’m homeward bound. How so?”
“Oh, I might have a package for you to pick up. And we can catch up too.”
“It’s a date Sadako. I’ll buzz you when I’m in orbit.”
Jude turned to her cohorts. “Pack your bags, Lin. You’re going home.”
The base was a flurry of activity. Wade and Brown were putting in long hours on examining the results which Doyle kept feeding them. She had repeated her suggestion that they did set up a temporary camp out on the Xanadu plain where Rodriguez had initially found the Huygens probe and they were making plans to do just that. Kellan had set up camp in his office, no doubt making plans for his triumphant announcement. Shang made a point of pestering him.
“For the hundredth time, Miss Shang, you are NOT a biologist. Doctor Wade is leading this enquiry, with Professor Brown giving ample assistance.” Doyle’s contribution was being conveniently air-brushed away.
“I AM a Doctor, Mister Kellan!” She pulled herself up to her full height and leaned both hands on his leather topped desk. “Albeit in Aeronautical history. But I have years of research and investigation under my belt. And I DID find the probe.”
“As I recall, Rodriguez found it. Or rather tripped over it. You may have been leading that team, but you must appreciate that it’s time to let Wade take the reins on this one.”
Right into a hole, she hoped.” I shall take my protests to…to Cee-Cee herself!”
“My sister-in-law, Miss Chouinard, won’t stoop to speak to you. I, however, have her ear. And she will listen to me.”
He smirked across at the now fuming woman. “I hear that a friend of Sadako’s is making a supply stop in a day or two. See if she has a spare bunk.”