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This was true, but Chow-Lin's expression told them that the argument cut no ice with him. He said, "I
think we've gone off the deep end here."
Mary Kay, showing some grit in her narrow-eyed expression, said, "We're at the deep end-the
borderland of the solar system. It took a lot of money to put us here, and-"
"You're going to interfere in an intelligent alien society, don't you realize that?" Chow-Lin said.
"We already have," said Uziki, who usually confined herself to computers and the robots. She seldom
said anything about nonengineering matters, but Shanna was glad to have her come forward. "They're
part of the problem we came to solve, right? So we have to understand them."
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"We can't just blunder-"
"Do I hear echoes of the Prime Directive here?" Shanna said, absolutely straight, letting the words do all
the work that a sarcastic tone would have. Chow-Lin was a fan of an ancient TV show, one she had
watched a few times. She knew just enough to make fun of it.
Chow-Lin said guardedly, "Well, we do have to follow some code."
"Look," Jordin said reasonably, "we don't have protocols from ISA on this. So we're free to deal with
opportunities as they arise."
"You want to go down there again?" Chow-Lin countered. "It's dangerous."
"Yeah, but that's not the appeal," Jordin said, only a slight upturn at the corner of his mouth showing that
this was ironic.
"We don't have permission," Chow-Lin began. "I'll enter an objection-"
"No, you won't, mister," Shanna said mildly. "That's an order."
She had carefully chosen the moment to invoke her authority. On long missions crew saw their captain
sharing the scut work, doing her clothes in the washer, waking up after a bad night's sleep-and soon
enough, she didn't look like a voice of authority anymore. But that didn't mean the mission could do
without one. It was a matter of knowing when to remind them, a lesson learned through the decades on
Mars and passed on.
Chow-Lin opened his mouth to say something, then slowly closed it. He shook his head for a moment,
biting his lip, and Shanna thought she would have to deal with outright insurrection. But no; he looked
down, eyes boring into the black tabletop, and said nothing.
Into the silence Jordin said casually, "Y'know, we could use a systems modification. For ... defense."
Shanna said, "What?"
"If the Darksiders are bent on taking down the zand, maybe they'll come after us, too."
The crew rustled uneasily. Shanna hadn't thought of this possibility, and she could tell they hadn't,
either. "So how do we...?"
"I'll modify the chem launch sequence. Cook up a little surprise just in case."
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Chow-Lin said, "That's entirely uncalled-for. Not only do we interfere with a sentient alien form, we
plan an action against it!"
"Technically," Jordin said, "the Darksiders are probably the second sentient form here."
This gave Shanna an opening to help firmly defuse the confrontation. "We just don't know-and that's
why we're going."
She ended the meeting, setting another for the next day.
That gave time for the rest of the crew to argue among themselves, of course. Over the next few hours
she spoke privately to several of them and massaged the social angles.
The Kares, Jordin and Mary Kay, were resolutely reasonable. They took it upon themselves to make the
diplomatic arguments that Shanna could not, without appearing weak. They had discovered so much
already, yes. The surface was treacherous, yes. The Darkside even more so. Yes. So why go? Because it
was their job, and anyway, the captain said so.
It took two days of talk and one more of fending off Earthside's alarm. But she went-with Jordin, again.
Earthside wanted to use their experience.
Shanna knew very little out here, but one thing she knew for sure: the zand were worth protecting. What
was that saying? The fox knows many things, the hedgehog one big thing. Okay, she was a hedgehog.
Darkside beckoned. She was going to become a meteor miner. Crescendo.
8
DOWN IN THE DARK
ISA PLUTO DAILY SUMMARY
GMT 0940, Thursday, 12 May 2044
All hands on station:
Descent to Pluto Surface
Descent Crew: Axelrod, Kare, J.
State of Ship
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" Data systems recycle and purge complete
" Thermography and ultrasound integrity check completed 0630 on lander by J. Kare; ready to deploy
" Consumables 38 percent above nominal usage rate
" Power generation rate 99.67 BOL
" Uplink rate maximum of IRSC
" Orbital parameters within profile
Five-Day Outlook Summary
Tuesday, GMT 0900: Lander profiling and resupply
Wednesday, GMT 1230: Reactor reshipping by robot teams commences-three-day lining tests and
monitoring SUBT
Thursday, GMT 10.30: Systems test of optical and infrared sensing
Friday, GMT 1100: Wiseguy update and Earthside UBK
Saturday, GMT 0300: Mechanicals review and monitor reboot
Crew Q A:
Where to begin, guys?
Quote for the Day: "Details Are Our Business"
The big lander roared as it descended on its steam plume toward Pluto's nighted surface. They took it
cautiously, through step-down orbits, pausing at each one to assess the surface and let the detectors have
their feeding time.
Shanna watched somberly, her chair warming her against the seeping cold here in the planet's shadow.
She loved the view this low, skimming. Astronomy's geometries were the essence of smooth beauties-
arcs and ellipses, crescents and circles, orbs round and fat in their perpetual, serene dance. This deep
range of pockmarked worlds held steep, chiseled mountains that had endured longer than whole
continents on Earth. She was gaining now a sense of the deep reservoir of time sleeping out here.
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But perhaps that sleep was over. The astronomers were used to seeing this deep freeze as a tabula rasa,
unwritten upon since the solar system's creation, not as a dynamic realm. But now they knew otherwise.
Their nominal mission was a second sampling of the surface, this time on the nightside. Mission goal: to
measure atmospheric changes as night came on, and to search for debris from the mysterious incoming
orange packages-the Darksiders, presumably. Or so she had argued to ISA; but, in fact, she was seeking
the meaning of this place-how it really worked. Too many things didn't add up.
"Getting something visible ahead," Jordin sent on comm.
"I see it-down below the crescent," she answered.
"Not a reflection of a star, either. Too bright."
Lights. Brimming yellow dots on the upcoming horizon. Not in the sky; on the ice. A prickly coldness
ran through her. In the intense cold below they would have much less time on the surface. ISA didn't
want them to do any EVA unless absolutely necessary.
Shanna wished she had questioned Old One more fully before charging off this way. The fox knows
many things ... Could the zand tribal epic, of the great raid from Darkside in the distant past, be true?
But there couldn't, strictly speaking, be any Darksiders. All the planet was exposed to the sun in due
course as it rotated. Surely "Darksiders" could come out in the zand's own territory after nightfall, right? [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]