CHAPTER 89

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Sarah followed Jake as he approached the ship. She stayed to his left, a step behind, her eyes tracing his every move while her vision strayed to check out the ship and its total lack of destruction. Everything he'd told them was true. The ship hadn't burned up upon entry into the atmosphere, and it hadn't crashed landed. It landed under full power and under full control...by someone...remotely. This fact correlated with what Admiral Woodrow Jax had told Sarah before she went to sleep in hibernation. He'd told her they would monitor the entire flight, and if something went wrong, they'd intervene by remote. But still...why fake a burn up or crash landing? Why do it and hide the ship on the other side of Kraken Mare? It made no sense unless, once again, it was a ploy to make them feel desperate, something to hold over their heads if needed, to make them complete the mission. That's the only thing Sarah could come up with.

Ariel stuck close to Jake's other side as they stood under the cone jets of the Titan X spacecraft. The ladder extended up from the surface of the barren moon to the center of the fuselage. With less than half of the eight-day Titan night left to go, under the exterior lights of the ship, steamy fog billowed and wafted through the air. Via brain downloads, Sarah knew on Earth, the fog would be liquid hydrogen, but on Titan with that fuel spent, the spacecraft could only be refueled with liquid methane. The ship was a hybrid that could switch over and utilize the abundance of methane available on Titan. The technology employed by the TXP Facility and Admiral Jax was next level. Sarah had to keep in mind she lived in the year 2082. It was 2077 when they left Earth. The five year journey to Titan—most of it in hibernation—meant life back home may have changed even more. When all of this was said and done, add to that another five year trip back to Earth, and she'd be staring the year 2087 in the face. It brought everything into perspective. She'd be one hundred years old, and still as young a twenty year old.

"I'll go first," Sarah said to Jake, then cut her eyes to Ariel, who nodded.

Sarah climbed the ladder and stopped at the hatch. She tried turning the wheel but it was locked. She glanced down at Ariel, feeling concern. She had never entered this airlock, at least not awake. She suspected this was the way they'd been loaded onto the ship when they were put into cryo at Site B in the Atacama Desert.

She had a thought. Quickly, she tapped at her wrist display. Thus far, everything had been available to them through their suits. She flipped through different screens and found one with a schematic of the ship. She located the bottom hatch and touched her finger to it on the display. A question asked her, Open hatch, yes or no? She selected yes.

Access granted.

Air burst from the hatch and a green light flashed. With a shrug, she spun the wheel counterclockwise and they were in, ascending the ladder and closing the door behind them.

Inside the airlock, the air pressure equalized with that of the fuselage, and then another green light signaled the unlocking of the inner hatch. They moved along, climbing a stationary ladder into the rear of the ship. Ariel spun the inner door shut and they stood, staring up through the multiple sections of the ship. Without artificial gravity, and with the spacecraft on Titan, aimed straight up in blastoff position, the entire layout of the interior felt different. But it was the same. This was the inclination of the ship when they took off from Earth. In space, it assumed a horizontal plane. Everywhere she looked, ladders and handrails provided access to each level. They needed to go to the hibernation section, just aft of the bridge and cockpit.

Sarah gestured for them to follow her, which they did.

They passed the section where the escape pods had been, and then they ascended through a lab. Next came the cryo units.

With the vertical position of the ship, the sleep chambers stood along with it, appearing as standing units and not beds as before. On this deck, Sarah checked her wrist display and confirmed they had breathable air. She unlocked her helmet and removed it. Soon, Jake and Ariel followed suite.

"There's something I need to show you," Jake said as he peeled off his thermal suit to reveal a body suit clinging to his chiseled form.

Sarah sucked in air, albeit as quietly as possible. She hadn't seen her husband in like thirty years, but now she remembered how on Arcturus, he'd been so consumed with physical fitness. Obviously, he hadn't stopped working out on Titan.

Jake unzipped the body suit and pushed it down to his waist. Under that was an undershirt, which he raised to reveal a ripped abdomen with a six-pack that Sarah didn't remember being so well defined.

But there was a problem, the one he'd mentioned earlier.

A spidery patch of veins extended out from a nasty looking bruise. The veins appeared like darkened tentacles, protruding from the center.

Jake's eyes beheld Sarah and Ariel as both of them surveyed the affected area on his left side. "It hurts. Pretty bad."

"It looks like it would hurt," Ariel replied.

Sarah crossed her arms and tapped her fingers on her biceps. The old habit jarred her into reality. Quickly, she removed her thermal suit so she could work with more freedom of movement. Ariel did the same. As undergarments, both of them still wore the navy blue gravity suits created for the Titan X spacecraft.

Jake still had wild eyes and an unruly beard. And a nasty bruise on his left side. "Again, because I've been rationing my inhibitor pills, I've avoided transformation...but I couldn't avoid side effects. I fell and hit my ribs on an ice rock, and now this. It happened when I was investigating the ship. I misstepped in the dark. It's been several days, and it hasn't healed yet. It seems to have gotten worse."

"I know what to do," Sarah said.

"You do?" Ariel replied.

"The new serum is the answer. It will cure him of everything."

"New serum?" Jake said. "What are you talking about?"

"It's a long story," Sarah replied. "But here's the gist of it." She went into detail about the old serum and how it needed the inhibitors to keep his body in check. Then she explained about the new serum and how it worked, how she'd developed it and perfected it, all for him. "But there is a catch," she added.

"What's that?" Jake replied.

"You have to go into cryogenic hibernation in order for the new serum to activate properly. It's something I discovered during the human trial on Wolf."

"You make it sound like you've only tested the serum on one person."

"So far...yes, but it worked."

"I don't know," Jake said. "It's been a while since I've been in hibernation."

"It's the cold air that chills your body," Ariel said. "That's what activates the serum."

Jake waved an arm about. "I don't know about this. I still don't know who you two are. How can I trust you?"

"Have we given you any reason not to trust us?" Sarah replied.

"What about the ring? You could be here for the ring and to make contact with the aliens. Putting me to sleep, could be your move to get me out of the way."

Sarah stared at him, long and soft. She allowed her gentle gaze to garner his attention. After a long moment, she eased toward him and instead of using a strong arm, she tenderly touched his face. Jake drew back, trying to gauge her intent. But he didn't stop her from running her fingers through his beard and caressing his cheek.

"You've gone so rugged with this beard," Sarah said. "You used to prefer only a few days of growth. On Arcturus, you kept a clean shave, which I prefer, but..."

"How do you know all of this?"

"Because I'm your wife." And then, slowly, she cupped his face in her hands and tugged him tenderly toward her, and then she kissed him.

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