CHAPTER 66

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After jumping from the escape pod, Phoenix glided through the air, his body traveling farther than it would have on Earth because of the reduced gravity, similar to that of the moon. His boots landed, skidding across the sea bank, raking a pair of tracks in the brown soil. The marks revealed a frosty substance beneath the surface.

"I never would've made that jump back home," he hollered back at Ariel.

"You don't have to yell into the comm system. I can hear you, believe me. My ears are ringing."

"Sorry. Forgot."

As Phoenix turned around, a gray case crashed into the tundra, tumbling on its corners in slow motion, teetering on one end and then collapsed to the ground at his feet. He looked up at Ariel. She appeared uncertain about the prospect of clearing the distance of the long jump.

"You can do it," Phoenix said. "The gravity here is only fourteen percent of what it is on Earth. How I know that, I'm not sure, but for some reason, I'm confident that I'm right."

"I think I know how we know all this stuff about Titan. Details that the cryo sleep erased are coming back to me."

"Care to spill the beans?"

"The what?" Ariel frowned.

His brows pinched together, forming a scowl. "Tell me what you know cause I'm not there yet."

"Remember on Arcturus, the space station? Do you remember what we had to do?"

Phoenix thought for a moment. "I can't seem to remember anything beyond seeing my fiancée ripped to shreds by that monster."

"Before that...the memory stations where we received brain downloads about our mission. About retrieving the cases from the vault and transporting them to Titan. One of those cases is at your feet."

A warmth brightened his eyes. "I do remember Dr. Lawson had memorized every access code on the station. I think you're right. The brain downloads would explain how we know all the facts about this place. Maybe more will come to light as we proceed with the mission, which won't continue until you jump."

Ariel shifted in the pod's open doorway. "You cleared the bank by a good four feet. That bodes well for me."

"Remember the serum?"

"Increased strength and stamina."

"Right."

She started to jump—

"Wait."

"What?" Ariel tensed up, her arms going ridged against the door frame.

"Sudden knowledge again.."

"It's bad news, isn't it?"

Phoenix quieted her, holding out his prosthetic hand as he walked to the shoreline and dipped his fingers into the amber liquid. It rolled off his glove like clear baby oil, only thinner.

He glanced up. "Methane is a gas on Earth. Here it's liquid. So, it looks like dark orange water, but it's nothing like water."

"Less than half the density."

"Those training downloads must be awfully good for us to remember all this two and half years later after waking from hibernation."

Ariel relaxed her hold on the door frame. "It could be more than downloads. Maybe they played it over the comm system while we slept on the ship? Like subliminal messages."

"Anyway," Phoenix said. "Because of the low density, you'll sink to the bottom. Or maybe not, considering the low gravity."

"Which is it?" Ariel narrowed her eyes behind the face shield of her helmet. "I'd like to know."

"Since we're second to land on Titan, only Sarah's husband, Jake Soloman knows. We'll ask him when we see him."

"Great." Ariel's hands went to her hips, staring down at the orange liquid. "Wait a minute."

She peered down the side of the pod. Slapped the metal exterior. "This thing is heavier than us. It should have sank, but it didn't because of the water, I mean the methane, it's shallow. I can't see through to the bottom, but I'm sure of it, this close to the bank."

"Don't jump in it. I know what you're thinking, it might react with your suit."

"It didn't do anything to your glove," Ariel said.

"Just don't try it. The bottom might be mushy like quicksand."

"Well that's a thought I don't want to entertain. Guess I won't try it then."

Phoenix stepped aside to make room for her to land.

Ariel went quiet. Phoenix saw her thinking, calculating the distance, like she was determining a diagnosis for a patient. She backed away from the doorway and then ran in three steps and leapt through the air, hurdling over the methane, nailing the landing like an Olympic long jumper.

To stop her momentum, Phoenix hooked her arm as she slid past him, whirling her around in a slow but wild circle. To halt their spin, he latched onto her arm with his prosthetic hand and pulled her close. The graceful curl was like dancers finishing a routine.

Their helmets met, face to face.

They stared at each other, panting, the exertion producing a cloudy fog on their face shields that soon faded. Phoenix lost his train of thought standing there until the reality of their situation crystallized in his mind.

"We have to get moving," he said. "We have to find the others."

Ariel eased backwards, her eyes lingering on Phoenix for a moment before falling to her wrist display. "Our location is the southern shore of the Ligeia Mare, one of the largest seas of methane on Titan. It's bigger than Lake Superior on Earth."

Even with the memory of Nova's death keeping him off balance, seeing Ariel turn away from him, left him apprehensive. Ever since the shark attacks, she'd been there for him, taking care of him, helping him recover physically and emotionally helping him deal with the loss of Nova. He knew it was her job as a doctor, but still...he shook his head, wavering at the thought.

"Tell me more," Phoenix said.

"Well," she glanced back, her gaze hovering over him, then returning to focus on the map on her display." We're here," she pointed at two glowing dots on the screen. Another pair of beacons pulsated in a position to the northwest of their location, near Kraken Mare, a sea that tripled Ligeia Mare. "One of the pods landed here." Ariel touched the second spot. "We don't know if it's Luna and Callisto or Sarah and that stowaway guy, but they're over three hundred miles from us."

Phoenix pulled up the map on his display. "There's another pair of dots northeast of us, over four hundred miles away, near a small lake called, Makay Lacus. Gotta love the names they chose."

"How did we land so far apart?"

"I assume, as the ship got sucked into the atmosphere, the angle of descent changed our trajectories."

Ariel jabbed a finger to the south. "Speaking of the ship, look."

Phoenix lifted his eyes to the horizon. A burning orb like a comet soared through the sky, leaving a glowing trail in its wake. He watched as their ride back to Earth, back to home, slammed into the surface of Titan with a thunderous impact. There was a slight burst of fiery red, and then the flames fed briefly on the limited oxygen in the ship, snuffed out to nothing but a trail of wispy smoke.

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