“Only Fifty More Kilometers”
It was as if I had awakened from a dream. Suddenly we were deep in the quadrant with rocks coming down all around us and we were still alive. I couldn’t tell how my cohort was taking it–calmly or with numb terror.
“You starting to feel lucky, Firth? Six hundred and fifty kilometers in this stuff and so far we’ve only gotten a dusting.”
He kept his eyes on the road ahead. Actually the road was behind us. We were making it as we dashed toward oblivion.
“Your considerable driving skills have played a part, Bowman, a considerable part.”
A compliment. I didn’t expect that. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll take my E for Effort—and for the rest you can thank your lucky stars. Get it? Your lucky stars.”
Our lovely rapprochement was at an end. His usual stony charm returned. “Only fifty more kilometers to go before we turn around.”
‘Let’s hope we find that thing,” I said. “This is a long way to come for nothing. Anything at all on that receiver?”
“Something just now. Barely enough to mention. Once it gets through the scrambler, it barely peaks at ten on the meter. It could be ambient noise.”
“Well, let’s hear it anyway, Firth. I’m up for a little entertainment.”
It wasn’t much. A lot of white noise with a faint little filigree of syllables on top..
That’s it?” I said. “Sounds like Venusian minimalism. Not exactly my cup of—”
And then there was a complete phrase: …heaven with their tears, did he who…
Firth showed no excitement, but he was very attentive.
“Did you hear it?”
“Sure,” I said, coming closer to the console. “I heard it, but what was it?”
He raised his hand. “Wait….”
Another phrase came through the console: : …made the lamb….make thee….
I watched a dust shower sweep across the windshield. I really wanted out of there, but I was intrigued. “It sounds like the fragment intel picked up, just a different part of the message. Could be a loop.”
Firth gave up on the fine tuning. “That’s all there is. I’ve lost it completely now.”
“Well, can you get a fix on it?”
“I’d need to pull in more of it. We’ll have to get closer.”
“All right,” I said. “Let’s pick a direction.”
Taking off like that was a little random, a wild guess since the signal was ricocheting through a meteor shower, but I’ve never been one to sit still, and so I revved us up and away we went.Even that state-of-the-art field buggy made quite a racket in the higher hover mode. Of course, we still had all kinds of stuff knocking into the envelope and occasionally a little something pinging into the hull.
I’ll give him credit, Firth remained calm through the craziness. In his polite, official way, he asked how the hell I knew which direction to go.
I was cheerful, frighteningly cheerful, “I don’t! Call it a guess or a hunch or intuition. And if I’m wrong, call it incompetence, but we’ve got to look somewhere and my gut is telling me that somewhere between two-seventy and three-oh-five we’ll start picking up that signal again.”
Now he started to get a little uneasy. “That’s too nebulous for me, Bowman. Why don’t we sit still long enough to re-position the antenna? We’re just burning precious cell power running around like this.”
I revved it up a little more. “Without a strong signal, all I’ve got to go on is my gut. We’re taking a heading of two-ninety-five. I’m not about to sit still and wait to get clobbered by one of those rocks. If we do get hit, you can have me court-marshaled.”
From his stony gaze I got the impression that he didn’t appreciate the irony.
Next: Episode 6: “Serena”