CHAPTER 75

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Life was not always so dark for Sarah. Sixty years ago, there was a time when her life was fun and adventurous and her relationships with Jake and her friends simple and enjoyable. That was before she realized she was immortal. She missed that time in her life. She longed for it, wished for it, but knew it was long gone and never to return. As sunny and turquoise as the Caribbean could be, the largest moon of the gas giant, Saturn, was the polar opposite, dull and dreary and bitterly cold.

Like adventurers exploring the Arctic Circle, Sarah and Wolf pushed forward on the trail that led to their only place of refuge.

When she realized that one of the groups had made it to Habitat One first, she pushed Wolf and herself even harder to make it double time. It had been so long since she'd seen her husband. She wondered how Jake had changed in the last thirty years. How could someone be stranded on a barren moon for three decades and not be affected at all? Had he grown despondent? Was he mentally scarred? What would he think when he saw her for the first time? She remembered the exact year of their last embrace—2052—on the space station Arcturus trying to escape the monster that the Russian scientist, Vladimir Sergov, had become. Even that time in her life's journey was eons ago.

Forty minutes earlier, the first group had crossed the finish line. Now it was their turn, her only pause the strange glowing creatures they'd encountered while crossing the flooded land bridge on the Kraken Mare.

The bioluminescent life forms glowed bright in her mind. In a world so dark and cold, those simple creatures sparked warm memories from her distant past. A time when the ocean and marine biology directed the compass of her heart while sand and suds filled the spaces between her toes. Observing any form of life on any place other than Earth was unfathomable. It was an amazing feat for anything to come into existence and thrive in such an extreme environment. The tiny creatures had become dependent on the liquid methane, likely deriving their orange lights from the color of the sea that supported them. Somehow, the life forms had developed in the Kraken Mare with the ability to keep from freezing. There were a number of possibilities. They might rely on a mysterious substance in the methane to stay alive. Or, they may have a self-produced chemical in their little bodies similar to antifreeze. Obviously, something had to keep them from turning into  plankton icicles, and the implications of it all could turn the scientific community upside down. If these life forms could exist on Titan, there could be more diverse life out there, especially deep under the icy crust in a worldwide—or moon-wide—water ocean.

Having all ready passed the mountainous north pole region and its low lying fog banks, Sarah and Wolf were now well into the trek across the open plain. Other than having to step over the occasional ice rock, the final leg of the journey had become mundane...that was until night fall.

For the last ten minutes, Sarah led the way in the dark. Wolf tagged along behind her, hand on her shoulder so they wouldn't get separated. They had their helmet and wrist mounted lights to aid them as they forged onward, but Wolf had fully communicated his express desire to avoid wandering Titan alone with the only thing to look forward to, a nice frosty end of consciousness. Sarah had never seen this side of him, whether it be his hesitation to walk across the flooded land bridge or his fear of dying alone. The cold hard fact about this place was there were many ways to die on Titan, none of them pleasant.

A trio of floodlights did their best to pierce the thick darkness. The night reminded Sarah of a night on Earth smothered with heavy cloud cover. The lights seemed to be shrouded with a black cloth, but they were lights nonetheless.

"Here we are," Wolf said. "Home is where the heart is."

"Please..." Sarah cut her eyes over at him. "I thought the admiral removed your heart a long time ago."

"According to him, I never had one."

Sarah let her gaze fall to the display screen on her wrist. "Looks like the two that made it before us have made theirselves comfortable. I just wish I could peer through those walls and see a third person in there."

"If Jake is in there, we'd never know it, unless he's wearing one of the thermal suits from the Titan X spacecraft. Other than that, he could be anywhere. He might not even—"

"Shut your face, Wolf, I didn't come all this way for nothing." Sarah could feel the flat narrow case taped to her stomach. She had come prepared. She still carried hope in her heart that she could reach Jake in time, before the old serum changed him into a monster.

As the habitat came into view, the first thing Sarah saw was the large circular shape of the habitat, standing three stories tall. The floodlights illuminated the grounds around the front of the structure. The sight of the habitat sent a jittery rush of nerves through her body, kicking her feet into hyper-speed. She left Wolf behind and was the first to reach the airlock door. After she climbed the short flight of stairs, she hesitated on the top step and stared at the door, her eyes trying to see through the thick insulated walls as if she had x-ray vision. She wasn't a superhero; she saw nothing but the outside of the habitat.

"What are you waiting for?" Wolf said.

"What if he isn't here? What if he's dead?"

"He's not dead. Admiral Jax would've let us know."

"Would he? I don't know...if he..."

"Just open the the door."

Sarah paused, gloved hand out, ready to turn the L-shaped handle. Then she did it. She couldn't wait any longer. She heard the locking mechanism click inside the door and then she shoved inside with her shoulder leading the way.

Her breath froze inside her lungs as she entered a short passage. She waited for Wolf to the close the outer door behind her and for the air to normalized inside the tiny corridor, and then she opened the inner door. Inside, they sealed themselves in and removed their helmets once their wrist displays revealed the interior temperature of the habitat to be a toasty seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit.

Sarah set her helmet on a work table. Wolf did the same. They were standing inside the bottom floor of Habitat One, a maintenance level that contained the life support systems, additional thermal suits, and a ton of equipment for use out in the field, like geology kits, some sort of weird looking rover that seemed to have wings, and a pair of tool boxes off to one side.

None of these things interested Sarah. She stormed up a set of stairs, leaving Wolf behind. On the next level, she found the two people that made it to the habitat first, Commander Drake and Dr. Fairhaven. Sarah's eyes scanned the kitchen and living area desperately looking for one person in particular. When she didn't find him, she rushed up another flight of stairs and found several sleeping quarters with adjoining restrooms, but she didn't find the one person she was looking for...the person she'd come all this way for. She kept looking, finding one of the rooms on the third floor to have been used recently. In the restroom, she saw a mirror and a razor that looked like it hadn't been touched in years. The tiny blades were clogged with rust.

"He's got to be around here somewhere, Sarah?" Wolf said, appearing behind her.

She turned and slipped by him and out of the sleeping quarters.

"Where are you going?"

"Downstairs."

"He's not down there," Wolf replied.

"I know." Sarah peered at him through narrow slits, her cheeks hard and determined. "I'm not giving up. You're right, he's out there somewhere, maybe looking for us. He could have seen our ship crash. We'll look for him, but first we have to find out what's in the cases."

"We only have two of them here. What about the third?"

"If Callisto and Luna don't show up soon, we'll go looking for them too. For right now, we have everyone present needed to unlock the first two cases. We have to start somewhere." With that Sarah plodded down the flight of stairs to where Commander Phoenix Drake and Dr. Ariel Fairhaven sat on a couch that faced a large television screen. They looked weary and glad to have reached the safety of the habitat. "I'll need your thumbs to open the cases, so get up and get over here and let's get to work."

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