[ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]

papers on his desk.
"The figures for on-board fuel-pellet manufacturing capacity, emergency
reserves of chemical propellants, and the range corrections factored into the
radar calibration procedures all point to a distance much greater than that of
Mars," Theuna said to the rest of the team, who were holding a cramped
afterdinner conference in the cabin that Zam-bendorf shared with
Abaquaan, West, and Fellburg. She gestured at the photo prints lying among
other papers on the bunk beside her. "And the flight-profile from
Campbell's duty roster gives a voyage of something nearer three months than
fifty days."
"I still think the Asteroids is a possibility," Drew West said, lounging on
one of the upper bunks. "There's been a lot of talk in recent years about our
vulnerability in strategic minerals in fact, right back to the last century.
There's no end of just about everything out there."
Silence reigned for a few seconds. Joe Fellburg made a face. "Too many things
don't fit," he said. "Why all the secrecy? Why the military?"
"Protecting our eternal interests," Abaquaan answered, sitting on the floor
with his back to the door.
"Who from?"
"Well, it could only be the Soviets," West said.
"Out at the Asteroids?" Clarissa looked inquiringly at Theuna and Fellburg.
"Do they have anything that could match the Orion at that range?"
Fellburg shook his head. "Not yet. They've been concentrating on near-Earth
applications. The Japanese are more interested in Venus and Mercury."
"The Soviets did develop a series of fusion drives as part of their
Mars-base program," Theuna said. "But if they'd gone a long way in scaling
them up to anything like the Orion, we'd know about it."
Clarissa nodded as if that confirmed what she already thought. "And besides,
Leaherney and Giraud don't fit into that either," she said.
Leaherney used to be chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Economic
Affairs and is a onetime U.S. ambassador in Brussels; Giraud was a member of
the French cabinet. You wouldn't pick guys like that to head up a prospecting
The cabin fell quiet again for a while. Everybody looked at everybody else.
There were no new suggestions. At last Zambendorf stood up, stepped over
Abaquaan's legs to get to the coffee pot by the washbasin, and poured himself
a fresh cup. He stirred in a spoon of sugar and turned to face the others
again. "Then it has to be as I've been saying," he told them. "No other
hypothesis explains all of the facts nearly as well. A low-gravity,
low-temperature, icy environment ... It has to be a moon of the outer
femaker.txt (61 of 222) [1/19/03 5:15:02 PM]
ifemaker.txt planets."
"With not only an atmosphere, but a high-pressure one at that," Thelma agreed,
Fellburg rubbed his nose between thumb and forefinger for a few seconds, and
at last nodded slowly. "I can't fault it ... And you know something? the
European probe that arrived there two years ago and sent down those surface
landers that were all supposed to have failed soon after they reached the
surface that story has always sounded strange to me too."
Abaquaan looked up and turned his head from side to side. "So what are we
saying, then it has to be Titan? We're agreed?"
"It appears extremely probable at least," Zambendorf said. "But the more
interesting question, by far, is why."
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Why would the Western powers equip an elaborate mission, heavy with scientists
from every discipline and experts from many fields, to such a destination,
provide it with military protection, and go to great pains to conceal its true
purpose from as in all probability it had to be  the
Soviets? Why would they place such a mission in the charge of senior political
figures experienced in international negotiation and diplomacy?
And why perhaps most significant of all were there linguists and so many
psychologists among the professionals being taken along, specialists at
understanding and communicating with thinking intelligences? In short, just
what had the landers from the European probe found under the murky,
impenetrable cloud canopy of Titan, Saturn's mysterious moon, equal in size to
the planet Mercury?
And, of particular interest to the people gathered in Zambendorf's cabin, why
was it considered highly desirable for someone like Zambendorf to be there?
Deck the ship's control and operational nerve center Don Connel, the senior
reporter on the GCN news team assigned to accompany the mission, watched on
his monitor the view being transmitted live into Earth's communications net
from camera 1. The camera panned slowly across the activity at the crew
stations, the colors and formats of the data displays changing and flashing to
report condition changes and status updates, and the computers silently
marching regiments of bits through their registers, and then came to rest on
the image of Earth being presented on the main display screen above the floor.
Connel nodded to acknowledge his "ready" cue from the director on the far side
of the raised tier of consoles from which General Vantz and a trio of senior
officers were monitoring the final-phase countdown operations, and turned to
face camera 2. A moment later its light came on to indicate that he was on the
air again.
"Well, you've just been looking at the view of Earth that we're getting here
on the Orion, and seeing what you look like from ten thousand miles up, right
at this moment," he resumed. "You know, even I have to admit it's a real
problem finding the right words to tell you folks just what it feels like to [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]