Chapter Twenty

“What the fak?” Kellan shrieked.

“Just wait a minute”. Jude could hear Tiggs rattling about in the darkness. “There.”

The back-up generators hummed into life and the room was lit by a watery dimness.

Kellan waved his arm at the screen. “Get it back up. Get it back now!”

“I can’t. We need to run a full diagnostic and all the minimal output we have needs to go on life support systems plus heat and light.” Tiggs yelled back at the base commander, exasperated. The lights flickered again and shut off once more. There was a loud crashing and when, a few seconds later the room was once more illuminated, the screen lay broken on the floor, surrounded by shattered vials and lab equipment.

“Oh my sweet heavens,” Ward cried, falling to his knees and desperately scrabbling to pick up the fragments of his research. “How could you?” He gazed fixedly at Kellan.

“It was…an accident. I was trying to get to the screen, to see if I could get it working again.”

“Are you an electrician now?” Brown yelled at her boss. “Or did you flunk at that too?”

Kellan was taken aback. “I was merely trying to help.”

“Well, help us try and pick this up,” directed Ward, “although I fear our samples are all lost.”

“But you still have your data and your figures?” Doyle was trying to placate them.

“With the component Shang found no longer functioning, “ Ward was at last giving credit due to his former colleague, “the research we had was sketchy and inconclusive. The biological samples we had, they might have given us a basis for more funding and further research. But just our write-ups and extrapolations, we have nothing.” The biologist visibly crumpled. His associate led him away to the kitchen.

“Jude, “ Tiggs called out to her,” go with Rodriguez and see if you can figure out what’s caused this power outage.”

She followed the mission engineer out towards the main systems plant, next to the garage. Once they were out of sight and earshot, Rodriguez grinned and hooted.

“Did you see that? Oh my fakkin’ stars.” The bigger woman was actually shaking with laughter.

“What did I miss? Shouldn’t we be checking the power relays and the base electrics? If the generator dies on us, it’ll be a cold, slow death.” Jude was perturbed at her co-worker’s lack of immediate concern.

The Cuban composed herself and playfully slapped Jude on the back. “Sorry, kiddo, to keep you in the dark,” she chuckled again at her witty play on words,” but the more people the juice going out on like that, the better the con.”

“What?” The penny dropped. “You mean YOU did that? You shut the power off? But I don’t understand. I thought we were going to let Kellan, Ward and Brown make fools of themselves, to buy Lin some time…”

“Trust me, this is better. If it all goes to plan, our friend Shang should be presenting her findings to the board right about,” she looked to her watch for effect, ”now!”

“Plus, there always was the danger that Kellan, with his silver-tongue might have given a fair enough spiel to garner interest.” Doyle chimed in, having joined them to dispose of the remnants of ward and Brown’s “research”.

“And that would have jeopardised the whole mission.” Tiggs swanned in, high-fived Rodriguez and flipped a few switches. The main power came back on.

“Mission? What mission?” Jude was very confused. She had joined this rag-tag bunch to explore Titan’s chemical wealth, not to be part of some cloak and dagger mystery.

“We’ve been watching Kellan for some time.” Rodriguez began.

“And ‘we’ being?” Jude asked, looking at her three colleagues.

“Agent Alexandra Rodriguez. Galactic Affairs. And these are Officers Doyle and Tiggs.”

Tiggs jokingly extended a handshake. “From Cee-Cee Incorporated Internal Security.”

“Fak me,” Jude exclaimed.

“We’ve been tracking Kellan for months, under the direction of Madam Chouinard. Ever since he married her sister, she’s been convinced he’s been up to something. Random data going missing, our competitors suddenly coming up with ventures similar to ours.” Doyle explained.

“So this, this was like a sting operation? To draw him out?” Jude was having trouble taking this all in.

“Yes,” said Rodriguez. “And no. It was always the plan to feed him and his cohorts Ward and Brown dud information. Bigging up the possibilities for harvesting resources here on Titan.”

“But there is a huge supply of methane and other compounds here?” Jude asked.

“Indeed, “Doyle clarified, “but no more than on Saturn’s other moons or other planets like Mars. Cee-Cee-Tee’s plans for this moon involve more long-term habitation, to develop this sector as a wider jumping off point for galactic exploration.”

“There had been some talk for a long time about the long-term survival of original tech like the Huygens probe. Lin actually has been doing some sterling work, according to our experts back home. They had been hoping for some flickers but not of the magnitude that she seems to have discovered. That was a big bonus.”

“So we knew when she found the probe so quickly into the mission and that it was giving her the results she had hoped for, we had to act quickly to stop it falling into Kellan’s hands. Methane stocks are one thing, tech with that kind of longevity is quite another.”

“But he was going to share the supposed findings with the board? That’s what all the set-up today was all about?” Jude was still trying to make sense of it all.

“Tiggs detected that, as we had suspected, the relay back to HQ wasn’t secure. There were eavesdroppers, other interested parties looking in.” Doyle said.

“So what do we do now?” Jude asked the trio.

“We wait.”

Rodriguez reported back to Kellan, making the right noises to assure him that the electrical systems were fully back on line. Doyle kept an eye on ward and Brown by “helping” them go over their field notes. Jude was out by the lake with Tiggs, taking some genuine readings this time when a call came in from the main base. It was Rodriguez.

“There was a comm came in from Earth for Kellan. I managed to intercept it. It seems his backers have now got wind of a leak from Cee-Cee Inc. in relation to Lin’s work. He’s making a move. Haul your asses back here now.”

 

When Jude and Awen arrived back in the main habitat, the place was in uproar. Rodriguez was physically fighting off Wade and Brown.

“Kellan’s got Doyle and he’s making off with the remains of the probe. These two clowns jumped me, tried to sedate me with that.“ She looked over to a shattered hypo lying a few metres away from the ongoing scuffle.

Tiggs pulled Brown off of the engineer/ agent, allowing Rodriguez to slam a fist into Ward, knocking him to the floor. Jude ran to the lab where Shang had left the remains of the craft they had found but the table where it had lain was empty. Then she heard the sound of engines. Fak, she thought, rushing to the vehicle bay…

…just in time to see Dottie roll out at top speed. The blast of freezing gases and choking fumes made Jude gasp. She quickly ran to close the garage doors in order to preserve her life. Rodriguez ran in, just in time to see the Termite speed away out onto the icy wastes.

A stream of expletives echoed around the bay. Rodriguez punched the shuttered door.

“Tiggs,” she yelled over her comm link as she marched back to the main hub. “I need a location fix on that bastard now.”

When Jude and Rodriguez reached the centre, they found Tiggs hunched over the various consoles. Ward and Brown were cuffed to chairs, subdued for the time being.

“He’s heading south, to the Menrva Crater. Across the plains.” he reported.

“Damn.” Rodriguez turned to Jude. “Ever been on a skidoo, Sadako? Follow me.”

 

The two women had to suit up in layers and thermals, not unlike the EMUs Jude was accustomed to but thin enough to wear on the motorised vehicles. As Rodriguez helped her into her lid and fastened her up, she spoke quickly.

“He’s had a helluva start. Not sure where he’s headed or if he’s got a pick-up waiting for him. I’ve got Tiggs scanning the upper atmo for small cruisers and the like. Stick by me, try to keep up.”

She rapped her knuckles on the visor of Jude’s helmet. “Are we cool?”

Jude nodded then thought to herself, if not, we soon will be.

She engaged her breather and pulled on her gloves. Tiggs opened the doors from inside, allowing Jude and Rodriguez to mount the sleds. Rodriguez gave her a cautious gloved thumbs-up and started up her vehicle. Jude had ridden motorbikes and jet skis on her travels but was still wary of this military-like transport. She hit the starter and sped forward, out into the frosty haze.

“Whoa, tiger.” Rodriguez Havana tones rumbled in her ear. ”Ease up on the clutch there. Good. Now, this way.”

She sped off away from the lake and out into the wilderness. Jude following in her wake.

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