"You've missed the target!" Jacqui's voice was filled with despair.
"The target was changed, and from the difficulties we would have had, I'm not sorry." She paused, as if she finally noticed Jacqui's expression. "What exactly is wrong?" she asked softly.
"It's my brother, Alex," the near tearful Jacqui replied. "He came from Chryse to help, only he's at the first site. The transporter power supply's broken and he couldn't get through to Chryse because there's no repeater yet. He needs help, and the transporters in that ship's cargo holds can’t move for at least two days. His life support's down to about forty hours tops. That's all." Her image was angry, but there were tears of frustration and desperation welling in her eyes.
Gill was now out of his seat and he had moved up alongside the captain. He indicated he wished to speak and was a little surprised when Captain Sheppard switched to his microphone. "I've got a transporter that can disembark immediately, and according to you, I’m the only one who has," Gill offered. "I'll set off in the morning and rescue him."
"Will you?" As hope came, the relief began to pour over her image.
"Of course. I'm quite capable of getting there, and according to you, I’m the only one who is. Now, can he get a beacon up?"
"I'll ask," Jacqui said, with obvious relief in her voice. After some time she faced the camera again and said, "He says he'll have a beacon up tomorrow. How long will it take to get there?"
"I don't know," Gill said. "Can you give directions?"
"I'll feed down a diskette of navigational information."
"I need a precise location, and all the data to select a route," Gill replied. "I'll set off at four in the morning and navigate by computer and inertial guidance. We know the ground's hard here, so I'll go flat out for a while on autodrive, but I need a pass through the ridge of hills just below the minus seven k contour."
"Hold on," Jacqui replied. The screen went blank, then after a few minutes Jacqui reappeared. "Map projection here!" and a map appeared. "This pass here's where Alex went down. If you use the same pass, follow his tracks. I'll send down instructions later. I'm sorry, we're going over the . . ." The screen went dead.
"Horizon," Gill finished.
"It looks like this change wasn't a very good idea," Captain Sheppard said slowly. "Look, I'm sorry, I really thought it didn't matter where we landed, and frankly this is a lot safer. But . . ."
"Don't worry about it. What's done's done! We can't go back," Gill replied. "In the meantime, if I'm setting off that early in the morning I'd better get some sleep."
As he strode off he was confused. His instinct told him that Adrienne Sheppard was basically good. Why admit the reason for the change? If she stated that the decision was made as a matter of safety, nobody could argue, particularly as this site was flatter, she had succeeded and she had fallen short. If that had happened at the other site, perhaps the ship would have been destroyed. What the hell! He had to sleep.
It was then he realized that his transporter was loaded to the extreme, and it had to be all unloaded to get at the reserves of food and water. Then there were his special pumps, which could well do with the extra millibars. To keep his plants alive, he would have to build his dome where he originally planned, four hundred kilometres from everyone else and hence face a life of solitude on a barren planet.
There was an even worse possible scenario. At present, the settlement was far from assured. Many things could still go wrong and the settlement be abandoned, but in principle, he could remain. If he did, or if he were asked to remain, his settlement would be four hundred kilometers from the main disk, which would have much that would be helpful for staying alive. And the one thing he would not have was a means of making fuel for his transporter.
One of the greatest days in human history had somehow turned into a personal disaster of unforeseeable magnitude.
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