CHAPTER 52

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Back in the outer corridor, Phoenix hurried to keep up with Sarah, paying no attention to Jupiter in the viewport as they passed by. They hung a right in the side passage that gave access to the middle hall, as well as the stairwell and elevators. Once inside the first elevator, Sarah pressed the number two on a touchscreen control panel. The digit lit up a soft white in color. Phoenix didn't have a clue why they didn't take the stairs to ascend one floor. He was just following Sarah, which was testing his patience since he gave the orders on most occasions.

Phoenix clutched the Viper, his finger grazing the trigger. Sarah in front and Ariel behind him, held the flashlights. His biceps and forearms were drawn tight like the bands on an underwater speargun. He fought hard to keep the tension in his trigger finger from twitching, accidentally blasting Sarah in the back. She wouldn't like that.

He hadn't had an opportunity to question Sarah any further about Sergov. A monster was a monster. If he was bad enough to kill most of the scientists on Arcturus, then he could be considered deadly enough to electrify on sight by any standards. Phoenix intended to shoot first—fry that freak show until the Russian melted into a glob of flesh—and ask questions later.

The elevator stopped and an overhead speaker chimed before the doors opened. Moments later, they were out in another side passage on their way to an outer corridor—the side with a view into deep space. In the lead, Sarah slowed her pace, sticking to the inside wall, creeping along, flashlight shining into the velvet black darkness. Phoenix felt his heart thumping so loud he could hear it. He was a soldier, well, a pilot, but regardless he was trained for life and death situations. Seeing Sarah's hard eyes and stealth movements ignited a wave of adrenaline in his nervous system. He had to reign himself in. Ariel didn't help matters any. She was so close he heard her staggered breaths. She inhaled sharply, air seized up in her chest, and then exhaled. Her beam darted left and right at his feet. The glow from her torch trembled around the outer edges and caught a glimpse of the interior wall.

Phoenix flinched. Five parallel gashes had been scraped into the metal. Claw marks. Not good. Not at all.

Around the indentations, dark red splatters stained the wall like someone slung a bucket of paint against it. Phoenix nudged his finger against the trigger on the Viper. Sweat clung to the back of his neck around the hairline, and saturated the inside of his jumpsuit around his chest and shoulder blades. It made him feel cold with the moisture trapped against his skin.

Something grabbed his shoulder. He jerked away and spun on the balls of his feet.

Ariel locked eyes with Phoenix. Her gaze fell to her hand, fingernails wadding the fabric of his jumpsuit. "Sorry." She released her grip, and winced, her large round eyes filled with terror. Her brows pinched together. "What's that?"

"Sergov," Sarah answered. "Keep moving, unless you want to run into him."

Phoenix nodded in affirmation. "I'm right behind you, Doc."

Up ahead, the port windows came to an end. The outer wall of the expansive corridor curved inward, narrowing to about six feet wide. A bottle neck. Phoenix felt the walls pressing in on him. He took in a deep breath. If they ran into Sergov now it would be a bloodbath.

He turned to Ariel. "Keep an eye on our flank."

"And do what, throw my flashlight at the mad scientist?"

"Just keep your eyes open. Let me know if you see anything, and give me a heads up if you're going to grab my shoulder again. I'm a little jumpy at the moment."

"In here," Sarah said. She typed in an access code on a keypad and pushed through a set of double doors.

Distracted by his conversation with Ariel, Phoenix didn't realize he'd slowed a step. He had to lean forward and catch the door from closing with the muzzle of the Viper, slipping in behind Sarah. He glanced back to see Ariel making sure the door closed behind her. It clicked shut.

To his left, a series of round airlocks stretched into the darkness as far as Ariel's flashlight could illuminate. The walls looked gunpowder gray in the dim lighting. The doors of each airlock were made of bulletproof glass, similar to armored vehicles back on Earth, only much thicker. This piece of knowledge came to Phoenix like the floating hand in zero gravity. It just appeared out of nowhere. He recognized it as another random fact given to him by the memory download, a benefit he could get used to the more he thought about it. It was much easier than passing Mr. Harper's Astronomy class.

Sarah marched over to the center of the cavernous room, her steel-laced boots clacking over the metal floor. She sat down at a chair in front of a computerized control station and tapped a screen set flush in a slanted dashboard. Her face basked in a blue glow.

Twelve pentagon shaped icons appeared on the screen underscored with white text. Three stood out in particular. POD MAINTENANCE, POD ACTIVATION and POD LOGS/RECORDS.

Sarah made her selection by pressing the touchscreen. A box window prompted her for a password. Below the window, she typed a combination of letters and numbers onto a digital keyboard, and hit enter.

"How do you remember the passwords and codes to every computer, door, and airlock in this station?" Phoenix asked.

"I spent seven years on Arcturus," Sarah replied. "And I have a great memory."

"Huh." He didn't buy it. "People forget things they don't use everyday. You're telling me you remember it all?"

"Maybe I had help from a download after I was put into cryo? I don't know."

The screen went blank. Then a scrolling list of records appeared with launch dates, pod numbers, and target destinations. Every launch on record occurred in the year 2052.

All of the launches showed Earth as the target destination, except one. The lone pod had been sent to Titan as suspected. But why?

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