CHAPTER 88

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With the ring dormant and the enormous hole dark again, the greater cavern returned to a state of inactivity and pure silence. The turquoise and orange dispersions of light were gone, as were the rumbling waves of powerful energy that shook the subterranean den, which split the ice and caused the low gravity avalanche. The only lights were from their helmet mounted beams.

As Phoenix pushed up to a knee, his lights shone on the tablet with the shattered screen. His first instinct was to go get it, and in a few shaky steps, he had it in his possession. He wanted to take the time and check the map to see where the drone went, but that would have to wait. He had a more pressing matter to deal with, like saving the life of someone who'd just saved his life...and Callisto's.

He turned to the slab of ice where Callisto huddled over Wolf, who was flat on his back, his beams piercing straight up but failing to illuminate to the top of the cavern.

Callisto planted his hands on the ice and pushed up to look at Wolf. "I think he's dead."

"What?" Phoenix rounded the corner and rapped his knuckles on Wolf's polycarbonate faceplate. There was no response. The man didn't move, open an eye, or even breathe. He just lied there, his cheeks a light bluish in color. "He can't be dead. He's immortal. Check his wrist display."

After a few pokes with his fingers, Callisto brought up his vitals. "His heart has stopped, he's not breathing, and his core body temperature has plummeted to below one hundred and fifty degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. For all intents and purposes, he's dead, frozen solid."

Phoenix stumbled to a knee. "With all this technology...there are no patches...nothing to fix a suit tear?"

"If there is, Wolf didn't know about it. And once damaged, the thermal capabilities may be beyond repair. Even if you could patch the hole, could you restore heat to the affected area and would it result in degradation of the entire suit?"

Callisto tapped at Wolf's wrist display. As he flipped through the different screens, Phoenix observed with an unsettling feeling in his stomach. First, it made him consider his own mortality, even after learning he was supposedly immortal. Second, maybe Wolf was still alive but his body had shut down into a dormant stage to protect the core of his body in a way he couldn't understand yet? A bitterness descended on his mood...they'd have to haul him back to the habitat. They couldn't just leave him here, especially if somewhere in there, he was still alive.

"I think there's a possibility he's in some sort of hibernation mode," Phoenix said. "Hey...wait...go back to that last screen."

"Why? What's up?"

"Just do it."

Callisto scrolled back.

"There." Under a picture of Wolf was a profile containing his bio and medical history, but more importantly, it listed his name as...Xavier Reynolds. That name jarred Phoenix's memory. He recalled from Arcturus when Sarah was looking up information on Jake's banishment to Titan. The flight plan for her husband's pod was authorized by a man named Xavier Reynolds...or none other than...Wolf.

"Well, that could throw a kink in our mission," Phoenix said.

"By looking at his medical history?"

"No, by finding out his real name."

Callisto glanced up from the wrist display. "Everyone has a real name. You didn't think his name was really, Wolf, did you?"

"No, but it's what someone might do to him when they discover the truth of his true identity," Phoenix replied. "And in his condition, he'll be in no position to defend himself."

"You're freaking me out. Who'd want to hurt Wolf?"

"It's a long story that I don't want to get into right now."

"Okay, suit yourself. I'm sure it'll come out in the wash at just the right moment."

Phoenix grimaced. "That's what I'm afraid of."

Callisto returned his attention to the display screen, backing out of the personal profile information. Phoenix knelt and thought, a hand to the chin of his helmet. He didn't keep it there long because it didn't provide the same satisfaction as touching his stubble.

"Ah, there." Callisto's voice rose in pitch with a discovery. "There's not a patching system, per se, but there is a rigid mode we can put the suit in for transportation. Supposed to protect the body inside, to keep it from shattering or breaking if we drop him."

With a touch of the wrist display, the suit crinkled with an icy crunch and then stiffened. "That should do it? So, what's your thoughts?"

"He could be alive," Phoenix said. "Remember the Russian scientist on Arcturus?"

"Vladimir Sergov?"

"Yep. If you recall, before we got to the station, he was frozen because the reactor core had powered down. Then, once the temp rose, he revived."

"Don't remind me."

Phoenix glared at Callisto harshly and exhaled a controlled breath through his nostrils. He couldn't allow what happened on Arcturus and to Nova, along with Callisto's failure to stand up and fight like a soldier, to interfere with what had to be done now. The truth was, the events that took place on Arcturus, happened two and a half years ago, although it seemed like yesterday. Maybe he should move on? But could he?

"Come on." Phoenix tossed the tablet to Callisto. "Tuck it under your arm and don't damage it anymore or lose it. It's the only thing that'll tell us where that supercharged drone went. Besides, it'll be easier for you to carry since you'll be at his feet. I'll turn around with my back to you and take his shoulders. Just like a stretcher. You ready?"

Callisto nodded, stooped down and lifted Wolf up by the feet while Phoenix got him by the other end. It was like hauling a heavy wooden beam through the dark chamber as they started the grind uphill toward the initial tunnel system.

As they walked, Phoenix felt another burst of renewed energy, his body adjusting to the load and compensating with each step. The uphill slope led away from the ring, and once they made it to the top, a crushing realization hit him. He forgot about the collapse of the ice near the entrance to the tunnel system. To enter the larger chamber and get down to the ring, they had to jump, which wasn't a problem. But now, they'd have to climb...with Wolf in tow.

But maybe not?

At the bottom level, Phoenix saw a dark break in the ice.

"Follow me," he said to Callisto.

They stepped over white rocks as they worked their way to the opening.

Once they entered the cave, they discovered that it was a much wider tunnel than the system they used to access the ring. Before long, Callisto called for a halt to check his wrist display. He said he had an inkling. After swiping through a variety of screen maps, he said, "Uh-hum."

"What is it?" Phoenix asked.

"You may never believe our luck. This passage leads all the way to Habitat One, and you'll be surprised to know that it also goes to the chasm where Luna broke through and...died."

"If that's the case, it probably leads to where Sarah and Ariel have gone."

"Exactly what I was thinking."

"Move out, Ensign," Phoenix said. "We still have a mission to complete, and we have a life to save."

Callisto nodded. It seemed like every second that went by, his mental clarity was improving. With post traumatic stress and hibernation sickness, maybe he was pulling though? Maybe he might reassert himself as a valuable member of the team? One could only hope.

Carrying Wolf, they started the journey back to Habitat One.

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