Ward and Brown were dispatched to the probe landing site with Rodriguez driving again and Doyle in tow, ostensibly to assist – Kellan parlance for doing the majority of the work. However, in her role as double agent, the young Irish tech was there to ensure that any findings would be fudged enough to give them the clues to support the fake hypothesis.
Meanwhile, back at the main base, Tiggs ran “diagnostics” on the mocked-up recorder, stalling a hovering Kellan with shakes of his head and assurances that he would keep trying. Shang, in Kellan’s eyes, was persona non grata and so was able to pack for her trip home. Jude helped her to wrap the actual still- working part of the probe and steal it out of the lab. She was continually surprised at how easy it was to outfox the mission team’s empty jackets.
Word had come in from Kimiko that she would be making a landing at 1300 hours, Titan time. Jude busied herself with prepping the main lab for the team’s return from the lake. She was just finishing off when Kellan called her over.
He cleared his throat. “Erm, Sadako. Not had a lot of time to talk to you, what with setting up and now this incredible occurrence.”
Oh fak, she thought, why now?
“When word came through that you were looking for a new posting, I must admit that I was a bit reluctant.”
“May I ask why sir?” she probed.
“Well it’s never easy for a commander to take on someone like you, who has suffered such a setback. Flashbacks, the likelihood of PTSD, the high ups and the media watching you like a hawk. When you didn’t seem to settle on Mars, it didn’t bode well.”
“Sir, that was for personal reasons. And I can reassure you that I am fine. No after effects and my psych tests have always come back with good results.”
“Yes, yes. But I can see now having brought you in, “ Jude bit her tongue – as far as she had been aware when she signed on for this mission and as had been further compounded in light of talks with her peers, this wasn’t the prestigious enterprise that Kellan seemed to be talking it up to be. He rambled on, “that having you on board, especially if Doctor Ward’s findings prove to be true, would prove to be advantageous. It seems that your luck has rubbed off on us and I’m sure, with the right approach, the media would lap that up.”
Jude was struggling to keep a lid on her feelings. It took every ounce of control not to dive across that leather topped desk and bash his stupid sneering face in with his name plate. That irked her – who, in a team of eight where everyone knew who he was, still found it necessary to have his name and job title etched onto a piece of brass and screwed onto a baton of teak? This ass-wipe. And to suggest that her experience on the Tiandong and her brief stint with El Freeman’s team made her anything of a liability, then try to use her name and notoriety to his advantage. But she managed to keep her feelings in check and her response was measured and calm.
“I’d be glad to do anything I can to help sir. To make sure that the press, and of course the people on Earth, the Moon, Mars and beyond know exactly who deserves credit here.” And all being well, that should be very soon, once Lin was safely aloft.
“I’m glad you agree. Now, if you don’t mind, can I impose on you to see that woman Shang off the base? And out of my hair.”
Kimiko had landed her small craft over by the far side of the Kraken Lake and Jude went out to meet her. The young pilot greeted her warmly. They rushed back to the shelter of the base.
“My but it’s truly a miracle to see you again, Jude.” Goro enthused.
Jude looked puzzled – she had spoken to Kimiko over the comms but the last time they had been together was when she and O’Reilly had taken the crew up to begin their work on the ill-fated Chinese space station. Then it dawned on her.
“You were there?” Kimiko nodded.
“Yes, I flew the rescue shuttle up with Chief Howe. I was there when they found you and the others.”
“Oh my goodness – I had no idea.” Jude reached out and took Kimiko in another, deeper hug. “That must have been horrendous for you. Why didn’t you let on? Or come to see me afterwards?”
“Shame I guess. I was the one who took you all up, remember? And if I’d been the one to bring you back down, it should have been all of you, whole and well. Not…not with two of you dead, one dying and two injured.”
“Kimiko, look at me.” Jude loosened her embrace on the young woman. “Shit happens. And I’m glad that a pilot as skilled as you was there to see us home.”
Kimiko wiped away a tear and sniffed. “I guess so. Anyway, as I say it’s great to see you. So, what’s the big secret here?”
Jude shushed her and led her through to the crew lounge, where Lin Shang was waiting for them, all packed and ready to go.
“Lin, this is Kimiko Goro, my friend from my training days. Kimiko, Doctor Lin Shang. Our precious cargo.”
The two woman shook hands. Kimiko bent to take one of Lin’s flights cases.
“Oof, this is heavy. What do you have in here?”
“Nothing.” Jude and Lin said in unison and then laughed.
With Lin and her discovery safely into orbit and headed for home, Jude went to speak to Tiggs, who was engrossed in reading data from his pad.
“If Shang has it right, this could revolutionise the whole space programme.” He whispered.
“Well, let’s just hope that we can keep this ruse going for a few days til she has the chance to present her findings. I’ve given her my old chief’s contact – he has Cee-Cee’s ear.”
Rodriguez and Doyle arrived back later that same evening. Ward and Brown immediately scurried off to examine their findings. The older crew member looked exasperated to the point of homicide.
“Go here, go there. If we stopped at one site, we stopped at a dozen more. Poor Roisin here almost got frostbite from all the samplings they had her do.”
“I don’t mind. Did Lin get away okay?”
“Yes and, so far, Kellan’s eating it up with a spoon.” Jude regaled them with the details of her encounter with the mission boss.
“He’s going to get the recognition he deserves all right.” Rodriguez observed. “We’ll make sure of that.”
Buoyed by their findings, which had of course been further skewed by Doyle to give more false-positive readings, Ward and Brown insisted on more expeditions to the other main lake regions at Ligeia and Punga, to the north and south. But the quest for glory was eating away at Kellan.
“We need more time,” Ward pleaded with his superior. “Brown and I are pretty sure of our results. But the powers that be will want to see more data.”
“I AM the powers that be. The sooner we release our findings, the sooner we can return to earth triumphant. I’m not going to hold back a moment longer. Tiggs, “ he called the technician into his office. “Set up a conference call with the big brass in La France, and make sure my wife and her sister are in on it.”
The young Welsh tech hurried off to set up links with the company headquarters back on earth side. Rodriguez and Jude slunk away to the vehicle bay, ostensibly to give Dottie a much-needed overhaul after her trips out to the frozen flats. However once there, they compared notes on their deception.
“Lin should be well on her way back now. But I’d still rather way lay him a bit longer.” Jude worried that their bumptious commander’s zeal might foil their efforts to safely deliver the true findings to the right people.
“Not a problem, “said the wily engineer, rummaging in her toolbox.
Kellan called them all into the meeting room. He’d had Tiggs and Doyle set up a viewing screen and had arranged the chairs so that he and his two wretched consultants would be centre stage. A bench had been placed on one side, out of camera view for in his opinion, his less telegenic minions. Nile was internally debating with himself. Should he make room for Sadako or leave her with the others? She had been on the mission to bring back the apparatus after all and was much more appealing and attractive than the temperamental mechanic.
Tiggs was finished with his set-up. “Ready when you are, Commander Kellan.” The screen came on and displayed the familiar company logo of the conjoined waxing moons. Jude felt clammy. What had she got herself into? A voice came over the speakers “Cosmic Cleaners Incorporated. Trying to connect you now.” The screen flickered.
Then the whole room was plunged into pitch darkness.