CHAPTER 76

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Sarah studied the silver cases with a careful eye. Everyone crowded around her, peering over her shoulders, Wolf to the right...Phoenix and Ariel to her left. Her mouth watered and her hands trembled as she arranged the cases on a desktop located off to the side of the living area of the habitat. She took a deep breath and exhaled, her primary focus on the case to the left.

"What do you think is them?" Ariel said, the doctor's eyes darting to Sarah, then to Phoenix. "I mean, it could be anything."

"Could be weapons?" Phoenix replied. "Maybe some sort of gun or something like that. Or a specially made drone to explore the Titan atmosphere and landscape?"

"Maybe it's a lethal version of those Viper rifles from the space station? Except a shorter model because these cases obviously aren't long enough to be rifles."

"I doubt it," Wolf said. "They didn't send us halfway across the solar system to pick up a cache of handguns or electro-pulse grenades. No...whatever's in there, has to be related to why we're here."

"We'll see soon enough." Sarah positioned the first case at a slight angle toward her. "Wolf is right. Someone, or a group of people, came to Titan long before my husband ever got stranded here. Before or shortly after Arcturus was assembled in Jupiter's orbit. They had to be either explorers with a scientific focus or a military outfit searching for something to strengthen their arsenal. At this point, who knows? My guess is they found whatever is in these cases here on Titan, transported them to the space station to analyze, and then locked them away in the vault when Vladimir Sergov morphed into a monster. According to Admiral Jax, the contents of these cases are mission critical."

"Right," Phoenix replied. "So what are we waiting for? Now's as good a time as any."

Sarah held up a finger. "The admiral hasn't told us what's in these cases, I think because he wanted to make sure they got to Titan first."

"Because it's the whole reason why we're here," Ariel said.

Phoenix shook his head. "Yeah, no disrespect, Dr. Lawson...Sarah...whatever you want to be called..."

"Sarah's fine."

"Okay. Nothing against you, but Admiral Jax didn't send us out here just to save your husband."

"I know that. Saving Jake was motivation to get me to develop a working immortal serum, and to complete his mission on Titan."

Wolf cleared his throat. "How about we dispense with the speculation and get down to business and open the cases?"

Sarah nodded, pursed her lips. "Might as well..." She placed her thumb on a small square part of the case where the top and bottom joined together. It was located where the combination lock would be on a regular briefcase, next to the handle. A display in the middle lit up with a single green dot. "Who's next?"

Phoenix touched the thumbprint scanner, causing a second green dot to appear on the tiny screen.

Sarah glanced at Ariel.

The doctor nodded, her eyes growing large as she edged closer to the metallic case. She hesitated for a long moment, and then finally, pressed her thumb to the scanner, prompting a third green dot to appear.

The locking mechanism popped within the case, the sound of latches and tumblers unbolting.

Sarah gripped the lid...and slowly...opened the case. What she saw deflated her lungs. Inside was a ten inch tablet connected to what looked like a portable power source, a battery. "You've got to be kidding me? An eBoard tablet." She huffed.

Wolf reached for it, but Sarah stopped him. "No. You're a tag along. The admiral sent me. This is my mission. I'll do the honors."

"Well, do it already."

Sarah picked up the tablet and cradled it in her hands. She connected a cord that ran from the battery pack and watched the screen light up with the face of Admiral Jax. A play icon hovered over his nose. Sarah pressed it, starting the video.

"If you're watching this," Admiral Jax said from within the frame of the eBoard tablet, "then you've successfully made it to Titan and Habitat One. Congratulations. I had my doubts, especially when it came to reaching Jake in time."

Sarah diverted her eyes from the screen and then glanced at the admiral again, her lips pressing flat. She felt unsteady on her feet. She wanted to shy away from everyone in the room, but she stood stock-still and made herself hold Jax's stoic gaze.

"But you made it," Jax said. "That's something that only a few people have been able to do in the history of space exploration...ever." He sniffed, looking straight ahead, his eyes dark and beady as always.

Sarah felt like he was staring right into her soul. Her stomach flipped. "Just spit it out for crying out loud."

"I'll get to the point," Jax said.

"Thank you."

"It's no mystery what was in this case, but the other cases take it to a different level of crazy. One has six vials of a virus we discovered on Titan. You may have noticed the bioluminescent life forms floating in the methane seas." Jax laughed. "They were so pretty...but oh, so deadly. They're not plankton, they're viral...they're alive and they'll infect anything with a pulse in a Saturn heartbeat. Here's the thing though, on Titan, they're harmless. The frigid temperatures keep at bay, in a liquid form. The specialized case keeps them chilled in that state. Do not, and I repeat, do not open that case inside the habitat. If you had opened that case first, it's possible you could have closed it in time, once you realized what was in it, but the temperature inside the habitat is too warm. If left open too long, the liquid would eventually go poof into a gas state and kill you all. It wouldn't be pretty. Good thing you didn't open that case first. At least, I think you didn't, did you? No? Good."

"Well, that's comforting," Wolf said. "Luckily, the first case was the tablet."

"Take that case outside," Jax continued. "Return them to the sea from which they came and pour them back into that orange methane drink. If those cases got mistakenly brought back to Earth, we'd all be dead. Everyone on our lovely planet. The virus would turn into a gas and with our atmosphere, spread from sea to shining sea, and then on to the rest of the world."

The longer Admiral Jax droned on, Sarah began to feel an uneasiness sweep over her. Her insides quaked. Her mouth watered. Where is Jake? she thought. She'd come all this way and he wasn't here. Where else on this moon could he possibly be?

"What about the other case?" Phoenix said. "What's in it?"

"If there's a virus in this case?" Ariel jabbed her eyes at the second container on the desktop. "What could be in the third one?"

"By now, I'm sure you're wondering about the final case," Jax said. "Well, this is where it gets even more interesting. Truth is, we're not really sure what it is, but we think you'll find out once you return it to the location of what we initially termed, The Titan Discovery. And Sarah, I think by now, Jake knows where to find it. So it's safe to call what's in the third case, an alien artifact. It was the reason we went to Titan in the first place. Basically, when Arcturus first went into operation, we stumbled upon a signal originating from the icy moon that started us down this dark road of discovery. It all boils down to the simple fact that we are not alone."

Even after the video ended and the screen went black, Admiral Jax's final words seemed to resonate around them, permeating into every crack and crevice of Habitat One.

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