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Page 4

“Eliminate the braking orbits,” he ordered. “Just swing a tangent to the star and then arc to the planet for touchdown.”

“That is hazardous. As you know, the braking orbits are required by Code. Without them, we’ll probably disintegrate,” the mechanic complained, adding “as you know,” again. 

And as the seraphim knew, his pilot often ignored Code.  

“Provide projected catalyst supply at touchdown under the new plan.”

“Base plus three,” informed Seraphim Two.

“Program route. I’ll provide the touchdown point in a minute.”

“Sorry to interrupt, sir, but by Code, I must,” began the HER. “There is an alternative to this crash-landing you’ve planned—the use of signal webs.”

Webs never worked. The last one discovered was centuries old. Three-fourths of the transmitters had been destroyed by gamma. The others were missing. The pilot and the craft were never found—probably carried off by primitive interstellar explorers. The prospect wasn’t pleasant. 

“We don’t have enough fuel to set up a web,” he responded. “Just jettison the beacons as we go. Toss the first one out at destination plus twenty and the last one at destination plus five. It’ll be a vector, not a web. It’s unlikely anyone will find it, but if they do, it’ll lead them straight to us.” 

He sank back into his throne and stared at his fuel gauge, his vision tunneling in as it clicked to lower and lower numbers.

“It’s a race,” he thought with a sigh, and called for a visual of the planet. It floated onto the holograph screen. 

“Triple the size. Slow the spin.”

He projected his pointer beam onto the spherical surface, and marked out an area. “Expand it ten fold.”

The globe disappeared as the sector grew. Then he lurched toward.   

“Give me some data on the river.”

He fumbled with the pointer but the data appeared before he could use it. There was only one river on the selected surface.

“See that! Unbelievable!” he exclaimed.

Then he pointed at a group of formations, symmetric and unnatural.

page 4

 

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