CHAPTER 67

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Phoenix studied the display on his wrist and sighed. Every second that went by made the adventure of crash landing on Saturn's moon, Titan, a bit more mind twisting and stomach wrenching. Near the north pole, a large green beacon radiated on the screen. It was labeled, Habitat One. It lay at the exact center location between where the escape pod's crash landed, about two hundred miles away from each of them.

He swallowed the anxiety swirling around in his throat and gazed to the northeast, in the direction that he and Ariel had to travel. Saturn dominated the sky, hanging in midair like the special effects of a strange science fiction movie. To the right and above the enormous planet and her tilted rings, the sun shined, a bright star, an eighth of the size that it appeared on Earth. With a cloudy haze over the view, it looked like he was staring through an orange tinted filter. It was beautiful and awe inspiring.

Phoenix pointed at the habitat on his wrist. "According to the computer, we're in the middle of a Titan afternoon."

"Looks like twilight on Earth," Ariel replied. "Kind of weird, don't you think?"

"Definitely. One Titan day is sixteen Earth days long. So we have three, twenty-four hour days to reach Habitat One before sundown. I think it's paramount that we do so."

"Guess we don't want to be wandering around in the dark, do we?"

"Nope. Wouldn't be wise. It would be very treacherous. There could be rifts in the ice that go down forever. One wrong step and..."

"Yeah, thanks for the word picture." Ariel started plodding ahead, leaving Phoenix standing near the shore with methane rolling up on the beach like orange water.

"Wait up," he said. Phoenix glanced down at the case at his feet. He bent over and grabbed it by the handle and hollered, "Slow down."

"Again, you don't have to yell. I can hear you just fine inside my helmet. The comm system is coming through crystal clear."

Phoenix took a few long strides, bounding like an astronaut on the moon. The thought made him smile as he forgot about the nerves he had moments earlier. Here he was, living his dreams. It wasn't Mars but it was another planet—moon—he corrected himself. Actually, it was more of a feat to be here than it was Mars. The distance was one thing but the viability of living on Titan made it more intriguing. Here, the air pressure was comparable to Earth. No pressure suit needed, only a thermal suit.

"Even though it seems like we're moving slower, we can still cover twice as much ground if we run and hop." Phoenix caught up to Ariel and slid to a stop. "Give it a try."

Ariel grinned with bright blue eyes. "Okay."

She skipped like a school girl and gathered speed, gliding through the air. Her boots pounded down to the ground, skidded, and she lost her balance. She tipped forward and dropped to her knees, extending her hands to break her fall. Her face shield hovered inches above a rock. From his angled view, Phoenix could see her chest heaving and her breath fogging on her face plate. It disappeared fast as her suit compensated for her exertion.

Phoenix rushed to her side and helped her to stand. Panting, he said, "Maybe that wasn't the greatest idea. It's dangerous and it makes us consume more oxygen. We'll burn through our air cartridges faster and make our suit batteries work harder to keep up."

"Why on Titan did I listen to you?"

"I admit it was fun. Guess I've always been a thrill seeker. I am a—was—a pilot."

Ariel brushed some of the dirt-like debris from her suit. "We can't take chances like that again. If we tear our suits, we'll die in minutes and it won't be pretty."

"Agreed."

They assumed their moon-like walk, their steps floating up from the ground, boots landing with a slight thud, treads grating over the gritty landscape, arms out for balance. As they went, Phoenix calculated how long it would take for them to reach Habitat One at their current pace.

"If we walk straight through with no breaks, we can make the habitat in sixty-two hours, leaving us about ten Earth hours to spare before darkness falls."

"But we'll have to sleep," Ariel said. "We can't go without it, I mean, we could, but it wouldn't be good."

"If we break for eight hours in each twenty-four hour period, we'll add another day to our journey. That means we can make the trip in four days."

"But that's a day too late." Ariel stopped in mid-stride. "We'll be dodging ice rocks in the dark."

"Our suits have helmet mounted lights, but it'd be a slow go. And, the sun wouldn't come up for eight days."

"So we walk and have no more than three hours...and...about twenty minutes of sleep each day."

"Pretty much," Phoenix said. "We'll be zombies by the time we reach Habitat One."

"We'll be dehydrated zombies. We have a small supply of water in these suits." She paused to take a draw from the straw that was mounted to the right side of her face, inside her helmet. "Based on the readout on my wrist display, our water supply will only last us for about a day. We'll have to ration. Guess there's a limit to what out suits can store."

"According to the knowledge that our brain downloads magically gave us, the habitat landed over thirty years ago. It must have been launched sometime back when Arcturus was operational. Maybe an outpost for research and development?"

"There's no telling what kind of scientific discoveries that could be dug up on Titan," Ariel said. "Obviously whatever is in the three cases came from here. Could be biological? A virus or something like that."

Phoenix didn't like the tone in her voice. He held up his case and eyed it with caution. "I hope not, but if so, that would explain why we needed to get them back to this place."

As he trod along next to Ariel, Phoenix wondered what could be inside the cases. The truth...he had no idea. Titan was cold enough to freeze anything, even an alien virus. But if methane didn't freeze here, maybe the contents of the case wouldn't either.

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