Chapter Twenty One

The mighty Termite lumbered across the valley floor. It wasn’t the fastest moving vehicle but it had a good start on its pursuers.

A dazed and shaken Roisin Doyle lay across the back seat of the passenger cab, her wrists hastily bound together with tape by Kellan before he had thrown her in. The remains of the Huygens probe rattled about behind her unsecured, having likewise been wrenched in by her captor.

“Oh so you’re awake are you?” he sneered from the driver’s seat. He must have hit me from behind, she guessed.

“Where are we going?” she asked him.

“Oh, wouldn’t you like to know, Miss Doyle, if that even is your real name. Don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough.”

He turned his attentions back to his driving. He wished he’d had the time to sabotage the sleds before he left but there just hadn’t been time. The proximity sensors detected two vehicles following him, but they were far behind. If all went as planned, he’d reach his destination soon enough.

 

Jude sped along on the skidoo, managing to keep pace with Rodriguez. Her helmet comm crackled.

“There’s no way we’re going to catch that slimy son of a gun this way. Follow me and we’ll try a shortcut.”

Her companion veered off sharply to the right and Jude did likewise, feeling the skis skid slightly as she did so. She held on with all of her might. With no way of contacting Tiggs back at base they were blind. Jude just hoped the agent with her was correct in her guess as to where Kellan was headed.

 

Doyle painfully managed to push herself up into more of a sitting position and was now able to see out of the front windshield. The misty northern wastes of the lake gave way to slightly clearer if still icy conditions. In the distance, she could see low mountains. She tried to remember the mission briefing on the moon’s geography. The rim of a crater loomed ahead of the. It was too large to be Sinlap or Ksa, she recalled. Menrva, named for the Etruscan goddess of war, she remembered. But why here? There was little shelter. All they had was their current carriage. Unless…dammit. There WAS a small station base, from the first explorations of Titan a few years back.

 

The terrain Jude and Rodriguez now found themselves on was like glass, smooth and unpuckered. Frozen water, Jude surmised. As hard as steel. If she hit a bump and fell, she’d have a landing that would probably shatter her to smithereens. She focussed on keeping straight on. Rodriguez’ voice crackled in her ear piece.

“We’re just coming up on the farthest side of the crater now.” Jude could see it through her slightly fogged visor. “My guess is he’s already there. We’ll stow these once we get close enough and continue on foot.”

The old survey base was ramshackle and in a sorry state of repair. Kellan drew up alongside one of the buildings and brought the Termite to a juddering halt. He pulled on a hooded jacket and placed a breather over his face. “Stay here,” he barked at Doyle and climbed out of the cab. At least he had the scrap of decency to slam it shit behind him, keeping out the freezing atmosphere and noxious gases. Doyle struggled against her bonds. Damn Kapton tape, she thought. She looked around the vehicle for something, anything, that might have an edge to it but she was having no luck today. Then she remembered – the probe, lying in the back of the transporter. With some difficulty and very little grace, she managed to squeeze between the rear seats and into the tail end of the Termite. There were times when being a wee colleen from Tralee were in her favour. She landed in a heap next to the mechanism and scoured it for a likely make shift cutting edge. Locating a shard on the uppermost edge, she swivelled round and began sawing way at the tape.

 

In the gloomy confines of the deserted survey station, Kellan searched around for a light switch or a control console, someplace from where he could bring up life support and lights. In his haste and stupidity, he had neglected to pick up a torch. Still, these habitats were much of a muchness in their layout. His gloved hands patted over desks and walls until at last he found what he was looking for. He flipped the switch and the generators hummed into life. Then they died again. The already frigid air turned an icier blue with the stream of curses that came from Kellan’s lips. He had no way to signal his confederates now for transport. All he had was the remnants of the probe. And, he thought wryly to himself, a hostage.

 

Roisin, her hands now raw from scraping against the sliver of metal, managed to slowly cut way the last of the adhesive bands. She rubbed her wrists and began searching around the cab and hold for a breathing mask. Eventually, she located one under the passenger side and slipped it over her face. Just in time, it transpired, as Kellan chose that same moment to wrench open the passenger side door. He made a grab for Doyle and pulled her towards him. They tumbled together onto the ground. The larger man was on his feet first. In his mittened right hand he held a long serrated knife. “On your feet.” Without a second’s hesitation, Doyle complied.

 

Rodriguez and Jude approached the buildings cautiously. They could see the Termite, empty of passengers and one of its front side doors flapping wide open. They ran over to it and inspected the area. There had been signs of a struggle and some drops of blood on the ground trailed towards the entrance to the station.

“Close that passenger door, will ya?” Rodriguez said softly over the comms. Jude reached up and carefully pushed it closed.

Rodriguez reached in to her parka. At last, Jude thought. A gun. But instead the agent brought out a torch, which she switched on. A yellowish beam spread out ahead of them.

“No weapons?” Jude murmured. Rodriguez shook her helmeted head. “Never felt the need for them.” Til now, Jude mused. Rodriguez handed Jude the torch, removed her helmet, taking care not to dislodge her breathing apparatus. “Can’t see a darned thing.” She took the light from Jude and she waited while Jude took off her own lid. Then they advanced.

“Kellan, I know you’re in here. Come out and let’s sort this out.”

Two figures emerged from the gloom. Kellan, with his left hand holding Doyle by the arm, brandishing his knife in his right.

“Easy now,” Rodriguez said to him, motioning for Jude to stay back. “No-one needs to get hurt.”

“It appears I have the whip hand, Mizz Rodriguez, if that even is your name.” Kellan pointed the blade at her.

“Alexandra Pilar Nuria Lopez Rodriguez, at your service. And, for the moment, it appears that you do, Nile Kellan. Or should I call you Dexter Rattigan? Or Paul Lorrican?” She edged forward.

“Stay back, Agent. I’m warning you.”

“I hear you. Now, it seems we are at an impasse here. We are in the middle of nowhere, with basic shelter but no life support and no communications. There are two of us and one of you. Why don’t you let young Doyle here go and we’ll take you back to base?”

Kellan brought the knife up to Doyle’s face. “How about I hold onto Miss Doyle here for a bit longer? You and Sadako let us get into the termite and I’ll drive back to the Kraken Lake Mere and then we’ll see where we are. If I’m feeling generous, once I have what I want, I might even send someone back for you two. Your bodies at least.”

Rodriguez shook her curls. “Tiggs will have the base secure by now and will have alerted headquarters.  All you’ll have waiting for you will be a reception committee.”

“I’ve talked my way out of worse situations,” Kellan scoffed. “My daring sister-in-law won’t welcome another PR disaster, so soon after your,” and he looked over to Jude, ”little escapades on board the Chinese Space station.”

Jude lunged towards him, anger boiling her blood, but Rodriguez pulled her back.

“Now if you…err…ladies will excuse me, I have a long journey ahead of me.” He advanced towards the door.

“Not without these you don’t.” Rodriguez dangled the keys to the Termite from her gloved fist.

Kellan brought the knife up. Jude gasped inside her mask as she watched him sever the air line on Doyle’s breather. He pushed the now flailing woman towards Jude and ran for the door.

“Quick, help me. “ Jude removed her own mask, placed it over the panicking tech’s mouth and nose. Rodriguez stood helplessly, watching her prey flee then scooped up the cyanotic young woman and together they ran outside to the vehicle. They managed to lift Doyle in, Jude taking in a breath from the mask then replacing it over Doyle’s face several times. Rodriguez started the Termite up and the cabin flooded with fresh air. They could hear the sound of a skidoo revving up and then watched as it disappeared beyond the crater.

“Can we radio Tiggs? Let him know Kellan’s on his way.” Jude suggested as she helped the now recovering Doyle sit up.

“No need,” Rodriguez said. She reached into her pocket and brought out a pair of fuel tanks caps.

 

 

The trio arrived back at base without further incident. Tiggs had alerted their bosses and back up from Galactic Affairs were on their way. Doyle, apart from lesions on her hands and wrists, was none the worse for her ordeal. Brown and Wade were being compliant and co-operative.

Rodriguez poured Jude a large tot of rum.

“You did well out there, kiddo. Had you for an airhead, I must admit, but you surely showed some guts.” She clinked her mug against Jude’s own.

“Well, as long as everyone’s okay. Apart from Kellan.” She took a sip of the warm liquor. “Do you think they’ll ever find his body?”

“They had damn well better. We’ve been on that snake’s trail for long enough. You bet they’ll want to see his hide. Might go out and look for it myself, if they don’t get a move on.” She laughed.

“Seriously though, if you fancy a career in crime fighting, I’d be glad to put in a word. Galactic Affairs could use a woman like you.”

“Thanks, Rodriguez, but no thanks. I think I’ve had my fill of adventure for the time being. I’ll take my chances with Cee-Cee. See if my old job at the recycling plant in Mars is still open.”

“Okay. But you’re destined for bigger and brighter things. Mark my word, Sadako.”

“What about you, Rodriguez? Where will the solar winds take you?”

“Who knows? There will always be crooks out there, on every rock and planet. But I’ve got some leave time owed to me I reckon. Going to do a bit of sight-seeing before I head home. Hey, have you ever seen the ice fountains of Enceladus?”

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