CHAPTER 46

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The hand glistened under the helmet's side-mounted lights. Crystallized. Frozen solid. Phoenix imagined it falling to the floor and shattering into fragmented shards of glass. It drifted along like it was caught in a gentle underwater current, the scene reminding him of a dark and lonely vessel at the bottom of the ocean. It was hard to believe they were in a space station orbiting the gas giant Jupiter.

A vision flashed across the eyes of his mind, the great white's serrated teeth slicing through his flesh. Phoenix clamped his eyelids shut, resisting the images and the torment. He saw bits of seaweed drifting in the water mixed in a cloud of his blood. A tremor shook his body, but he fought harder, with more grit and determination. He hadn't talked to a doctor about the shark attacks, about how it affected his mind...how losing his arm and losing Nova affected his brain, but he felt confident of his self diagnosis. Post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD. He squeezed his eyes so tight that it hurt. The physical pain seemed to help, and soon enough, the memories faded to black.

"Are you all right?" Ariel asked. "We're falling behind the others."

"I'm fine. Couldn't be better."

Judging by her penetrating stare, Phoenix doubted she bought his shallow reply.

The hand passed between them and Ariel twirled the severed appendage with her fingers. It spun like a fan as it continued its course through the corridor. She glanced at Phoenix from behind her helmet's visor. He couldn't help but feel there was something deeper to the woman, the same quality that drew him to Nova...authenticity. Nova was out there, in your face if need be, but she was real, and in their relationship she gave a hundred percent. Ariel seemed more reserved yet just as genuine when it came to caring for people. The more he was around her, the more he leaned toward liking her as a person. He assumed she had that effect on others as well.

"Something bad happened here," Ariel said as a matter of fact, her resolve not shaken.

"Any thoughts as to what?"

"Honestly, I can only imagine, but I'm sure the red head knows."

Sarah cut through the airwaves. "I can hear everything you say, unless you opt for a private conversation on your display screen. What's got you two so stirred up anyway?"

Phoenix told Sarah about the hand. "How did you guys miss it?"

"There's a lot of debris floating around. Maybe we mistook it for a glove."

"A what?" Callisto said, his voice intruding through the comm system unexpectedly.

Nova blurted out, "You're kidding me?"

"There's more to this station than what your letting on, Doctor," Luna added, ratcheting up the tension. Phoenix could tell she was addressing Sarah.

"Calm down, everyone," Sarah said. "It doesn't matter how someone lost their hand. It has nothing to do with our main objective. We have to keep moving. That's the plan and we're sticking to it."

"You heard the doc," Phoenix said, the edge returning to his voice. He waited for someone to complain, but no one did. Someone had to maintain order among the ranks. If they were going to stay alive, they'd have to keep their heads.

As the group moved on and the mood leveled out, Phoenix pressed a tab on his wrist panel. Selected, Conversation. Tapped, Private. Then locked onto Ariel's icon. "You reading me, Doctor?"

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