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EPISODE 35

Penetrating Orbit

She glanced at the navigator. He was thin, but not entirely unattractive. He had a mildly skeptical attitude towards his surroundings that she found intriguing. “So either the third planet or the fourth is your starting point.”

Galton nodded. “We emerged inside the orbits of Tennhauf and Geranda, the methane giants I mentioned. At the moment we're penetrating the orbit of Skyro, the fourth planet.”

“Penetrating? Not stopping?”

“Skyro's current position is opposite the sun,” explained Galton. “And we're heading for Bonoplane, the third planet, anyhow. She'll show up in our star window before long.”

“When will we reach it?”

“Almost one standard week,” answered Galton. “We'll spend far more time covering the last few millions of miles in conventional drive than we did skipping a tenth of the way across the galactic rim. “It's not unlike planetary travel; you spend more time getting to and from the terminals than you do in flight.”

“What's Bonoplane like, aside from being a vast desert?”

“Burning heat by day, bitter cold by night—a dry, windless world without life. It's a sterile world, Miss York.”

“I was thinking in terms of landing.”

“Bonoplane has oxygen in its atmosphere,” replied Galton. “But the level is too low to breathe, at least according to the records. We'll test that while we're here. There's the customary scattering of other gases. Surface gravity and barometric pressure both are close to four-fifths standard.”

“The problem is the temperature?”

“Exactly. It's not going to overheat a lander, as they're pretty rugged, but no one is going outside for a stroll. Of course, there is no reason to go out for one either. There is nothing there except overheated rocks.”

“How big is the planet?”

“Slightly over seven thousand kilometers in diameter.” Galton smiled as York pursed her lips. “If you're worrying about finding the missing ship on the surface, don't. If she's on Bonoplane, she'll be in orbit.”

“You seem pretty confident of that.”

“Space is safer. And, since we're talking about a Navy ship rather than a commercial one, we can safely assume that the officers and crew weren't complete idiots. A safe orbit is standard protocol.”

“Is that why you're bypassing the fourth planet in favor of the third one? Protocol?”

“Same reason as we chose Gelhart in the first place. Third planet from the sun, just like Terra. Our subspace sweeper is pinging its orbit now, just in case the ship has put out a beacon. We're assuming it's gone dark otherwise, since no other distress signals have been reported.”

“Could anyone on the ship detect our approach?”

“That depends on what sort of ship it is, assuming we're in the right system,” answered Galton. He eyed her curiously. “But we don't know that, we don't even know if it survived whatever emergency it encountered prior to the distress call. For all we know, it may have exited transit too close to a sun.”

York said drily, “I am absolutely confident that the ship survived.”

“Are you expecting survivors?”

“Definitely.”

“I don't see how you could possibly know that.” Galton peered at York, then shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose there are a lot of things you aren't telling us.”

“There are. And there are even more things I don't know,” she admitted, “but I expect we will be enlightened soon enough. Do most warship landers have an interplanetary capability?”

“Anything from a destroyer on up would have at least one boat with the engines and supplies required. It would require skillful navigation.”

“But it is possible.”

The navigator nodded. “It is possible.”

She was wondering about how the planet and the landing capacity might figure into the various scenarios she'd imagined when Les Osborn approached them. He nodded to the navigator.

“The captain would like to see Miss York in his cabin, sir.”

“In a moment,” York told the big deckhand. “I'm getting my astronomy lesson.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Osborn replied, with an uneasy glance at the navigator.

“You haven't quite got the Navy spirit, Miss York,” Galton remarked as the deckhand retreated. “It's customary to jump when the captain beckons.”

York tried to look properly chastened. “I hope he's not in the habit of resorting to the lash.”

The navigator laughed. “Hope or fear? You'd best be on your way now.”

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A Mind Programmed series cover
Penetrating Orbit episode cover
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A Mind Programmed

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Vox Day
The Greater Terran Ascendancy finds itself facing a historic crisis when the Shiva-class cruiser ATSV Rigel goes missing during a routine patrol through the Kantillon sector. Fortunately, the Ascendancy Intelligence Directorate's top operative, Daniela York, is on the scene.
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