CHAPTER 72

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Everything in the alien world of Titan appeared dull and gloomy, like the moon had failed to fully evolve during the formation of the solar system. Like it's growth had been stunted. Sarah had to remember the terrain around them was formed from a thick crust of water ice, a global ocean of real, drinkable water, that was frozen so solid that it was as hard as granite. Under normal conditions, the ice would have been as white as glaciers in the north and south poles of Earth. But here, the smutty methane snowfall that fell at times, blanketed the surface, giving it the appearance of a dirty arid plain on Mars or Earth. But it wasn't dirt. It wasn't normal land. Nothing about this place was normal. Adding to the brown landscape, the orange methane sea of Kraken Mare was what truly made the moon look alien to Sarah. The dull light from a distant sun had to burn its way through miles of thick atmosphere tainted the pitiful yellowish color of a filthy smog.

As she paused with one boot on land and the other submerged in the methane sea, she couldn't help but wonder what other mysteries the moon held. The methane itself was strangely similar to water on Earth, but at the same time, very different. And the luminescent life forms that shouldn't be alive in sub-three hundred degree temperatures—Fahrenheit—were truly unexplainable, at least at the moment. But she was certain, given time and intense study, the mystery of it all would be revealed. Hopefully, it wouldn't be too late for her husband and herself, and for everyone else assigned to the mission.

With Wolf observing in the background, Sarah steadied herself, carefully considering what she was about to do. The idea seemed absurd at first, but the more she tossed it around in her head, it began to make sense. What if the methane on Titan decreased and increased in volume and depth based on weather patterns, like back home on Earth? Apparently from the brain downloads, she knew it rained on the ice ball of a moon—not water—but methane. It also snowed, depending on whether it was summer or winter.

So, what if the Kraken Sea had recently experienced significant rainfall—methane-fall—totals, she corrected herself. The sea levels may have risen enough to cover the narrow strip of land that was supposed to be here. It could be understood as local flooding or swelling of the sea as more methane gathered and spilled over the sea banks. And the map could have been outdated, imaged at an earlier time. Sarah shook her head. With the technology available this day and age, she would've thought the wrist displays would be set to automatic updates. Geez.

"What are you thinking?" Wolf said, a tightness pressing his lips together.

Sarah raised her boot from the shallow depths of the oily methane and held her dripping treads above the surface, the liquid rippling beneath her boot. The residue fell from her boot like tiny rain drops, splashing but failing to radiate out from the impacts. On Earth, water droplets created circular ripple waves that expanded in all directions until the energy from the impact was consumed. She put her foot down again in the methane and drummed her fingers on the leg of her thermal suit, tilting her chin in thought. This was not Earth. The gravity was comparable to the moon orbiting their home planet. And methane, though in liquid form, was far more dense than water.

"What are you doing?" Wolf said. "You could drown. You know that, don't you?"

"Yes, I understand that. I know how dense it is."

"But you—"

"Just watch." Sarah raised her boot again and lowered it into the edge of the sea. It sank, but stopped, a foot deep, barely reaching the bottom of her shin. "The sea has risen above the land mass in this area. With little sunlight, it's hard to judge how deep the water is—I mean methane."

She glanced back at Wolf as he checked his wrist display. "We're at the edge of the Kraken Sea," he said. "We know that, but we don't know how deep the drop off will be if we go traipsing across there."

"So we veer left and steer clear of the slope. We stick to the shallow end."

Sarah plopped her other foot into the methane. A step away, the bioluminescent life forms glowed a brilliant orange. As she took another step and brought her boot down again, the glimmering life forms spread apart, making way for her foot.

"Did you..."

"I saw it, but I'm thinking I'm not believing what I saw," Wolf said. "The life forms reacted to you. Maybe they saw you or sensed you, somehow?"

"I'd lean toward the latter. I doubt they have eyes." Sarah proceeded further from the shore.

"Let's hope not, because if they have eyes, they could have teeth."

She glanced back at Wolf who was hesitating on the frozen tundra. "I doubt they have teeth, but you never know. Now, come on, we have ground to cover."

"First of all, I'd hardly call that ground."

"Do you need a swift kick in the rear end to get you out here?"

"No," Wolf said.

His voice had a sternness to it that made Sarah think he really was afraid of taking this route. She wondered what gave him the most pause, the methane or the life forms? So far, the luminescent creatures continued to scatter as she made her way through the shin high body of liquid. They didn't seem to be a threat.

Wolf started forward, but froze, and then on a whim, he leaped into the drink, his boots splashing the methane in thick blobs that waved out from him like goo, his feet kablunking in a thick soup. He teetered off balance, but caught himself mid stride, arms out wide, leaning forward, back arched.

"That was graceful," Wolf said. "And definitely about the weirdest thing I've ever experienced."

"Get used to it," Sarah replied. "Because it looks like we have several miles of treading this oily mess before we reach the other side of the pass."

"I'll be fine as long as the glowy-things keep their distance."

"Just watch your step, the last thing we want to do is step off into deeper water—I mean—methane."

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