CHAPTER 91

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When Jake sprang from the hibernation chamber, the first thing he did was wrap his arms around Sarah and plant his lips on hers. To begin with she tightened in his embrace. She felt every muscle in her body tense up and squirm with excitement. This was the moment she'd been waiting for...not like before when he didn't know who she was...but now, right now, after his memory had returned. Even with his unruly beard tickling her cheeks and the musty smell of a man who hadn't showered in days, she melted into his arms and kissed him like they were two people who'd reached the point in courtship where not kissing was no longer an option. They forgot about pleasantries and indulged in the moment. Long enough for Ariel to clear her throat.

Sarah came up for air. "Sorry."

Her face flushed warm, and she felt certain, her cheeks bore the reddened hue of embarrassment. She felt like a school girl, or more accurately, a newlywed. Or maybe a woman who had been reunited with the love of her life...after thirty years.

She glanced at Jake. "I'm not against beards, but..."

"Yeah," he replied. "I admit, it's got an Alaskan wilderness, grizzly bear vibe."

"That's an accurate description." Ariel chuckled and looked at Sarah. "It didn't seem to deter you from lip-locking with him."

Sarah nodded shyly as she backed away from Jake. She followed that with a sigh, crossed her arms, and drummed her fingers on her biceps. She'd let her emotions rise to the surface, revealing a vulnerable side. Something she hadn't allowed Ariel to see thus far. To date, she'd remained professional and determined. But this was the culmination of a goal she'd worked so hard to achieve. She couldn't help herself. "Sorry, I got lost in the moment."

"It's all good," Ariel said. "I get it. How about we check Jake's wound?"

"I would like to see the full effect of the new serum." Jake bit his lip and raised the bottom hem of his shirt.

"It's healed," Sarah said, her fingertips grazing the side of his stomach. His abdomen tightened as her gaze combed over him and cut a trail up to his deep green eyes. She grinned. "It's been a while."

"Yes, definitely." Jake swallowed a gulp of air.

"All right," Ariel interrupted them, "before you two go at it again, I think we should be on our way. We need to regroup with the others and see where we are on this mission."

After curing Jake, Sarah couldn't agree more. With their thermal suits on, she tapped her wrist display, swiped to the left, and pressed the comm link.

Phoenix answered with a huff, like he was a bit winded. "We're busy at the moment. What do you want?"

"We found the ship and its in good shape. Seems that Admiral Jax faked the crash landing to keep us from focusing on getting off this barren world."

Phoenix swore. "He said from day one, we were on a need-to-know basis. But that is good news. Anyway, we followed the alien artifact and found something interesting, but along the way, we ran into a problem. We're headed back to the hab."

"Care to elaborate?" Sarah asked.

"You'll see what I mean soon enough."

The word, see, seized her attention. "What happened?" Sarah's eyes caught Ariel's.

"Just meet us at the habitat ASAP."

With that, the conversation was over. "Guess we'll see what he's talking about when we get there."

Everyone donned their helmets and snapped the ring locks into place. Outside the Titan X spacecraft, they trekked across the frozen tundra until they reached Jake's submarine, its sail protruding from the center of the hole in the dirty ice.

"The boat has more room," Ariel said, raising a brow. "But a sub..."

"It has tight quarters." Jake glanced at Sarah, his eyes lingering on her's until he got approval. "But it's cool."

He stepped over the gap between the ice and the submarine. Under the glow of his headlamps, the orange ripple of liquid methane jostled under his boots. He landed on the transom with a slight skid but quickly gained his balance. Kneeling, he turned the wheel on the top hatch, and moments later, they were all crammed inside. Multicolored lights adorned a dashboard. Some lights blinked, others didn't. Before long, they were under the surface and on their way. Sarah and Ariel sat hip to hip on a rear bench while Jake piloted the craft from a bucket seat. Given the Titan night, there wasn't much to see through a pair of portholes on either side of the hull. Once the atmosphere and interior temperature was suitable, they took off their helmets. Of course, once they reached the northern shore of Kraken Mare, they put their helmets back on and took to the tunnel, which led them all the way back to an underground entrance to Habitat One.

By the time they made it back to the hab, Phoenix and Callisto were there...and so was Wolf...but the admiral's lap dog wasn't in a talkative mood. Actually, Sarah wasn't sure if he was alive. He was frozen and wasn't breathing. Wolf was on a work table, face up on his back, in the maintenance level of the habitat, not far from the airlock.

Phoenix and Callisto stood by each end of the table in their gravity suits, staring at the new arrivals of Sarah, her husband, and Ariel. Quickly, Sarah removed her thermal suit and helmet, as did the others. Wolf still wore his thermal attire; it was frozen to his body like he'd been pulled from a giant freezer.

"What happened to him?" Sarah asked. Carefully, she removed Wolf's helmet and leaned over his face, listening for movement of air. There was nothing. "Is he dead?"

"I don't think so," Phoenix replied with grimace. "But I think there's something you should know."

"Go ahead, spill it."

"Remember Arcturus?"

Sarah shrugged. "How could I forget?"

"Remember when we were looking for information regarding Jake's banishment to Titan?"

"Yes..."

"Well, remember the name of the person who authorized the course change to Jake's pod?"

Sarah's eyes hardened. She aimed her gaze like a pair knives at Phoenix. "Xavier Reynolds?"

Phoenix nodded and looked at Ariel and then Jake. A frigid tension hung in the room, followed by a long moment of silence.

"What are you saying?"

"You had to know that Wolf wasn't his real name, not unless he was raised by a pack." Phoenix moved closer to Sarah but not too close. He took the time to fill everyone in on their journey beneath the ice and their slide down the frozen slope, and the ring. "When Wolf iced up, I checked his wrist display for vital signs. That's when I came across his identity. Apparently these suits have a way to detect who is wearing them. Obviously, Titan X technology."

Sarah glared at Jake. Her heart hurt for a moment as she beheld him, as he finally had the answers to how and why he was sent to Titan. And who sent him here.

Callisto stepped forward. "We believe Wolf is still alive, but his body has shut down, like the Russian scientist, Vladimir Sergov. Remember Arcturus?"

"I remember." As a rage began to burn, Sarah turned to Wolf. She tried to stifle it but it had a life of its own. She gritted her teeth, seething. She started to breath heavily, almost hyperventilating, until Jake touched her arm. He shook his head.

He was right, anger wouldn't accomplish anything. What had happened couldn't be changed, but decisive action could be taken. Sarah swallowed and rubbed her eyes, pinched the bridge of her nose. Then she exhaled and said, "We have to investigate the ring." This drew Jake's gaze. "We have to figure out where the alien drone went."

Phoenix handed her the tablet with the shattered screen. "Looks like it's heading on a direct course to Earth."

"I wonder why," Ariel replied.

"Whatever the reason," Callisto said, "it can't be good, can it?"

"I doubt it." Phoenix turned to Sarah. "So, we're going back to the ring?"

"We are." Sarah nodded to Jake, who seemed to be up to the journey. "But Wolf stays here...forever..."

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