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Starship Calypso

The continuing story of Tom Ford takes him on an interstellar voyage to a new planet that spells both hope and tragedy for him and the crew of the Starship Calypso.

Starship Calypso

By Adrian Kleinbergen

Tom Ford inspected his list of checkpoints and when he was satisfied that it was complete, turned the data screen off and flipped it back over his watch-face. He stood up, cleaning his round, steel-rimmed glasses with a soft cloth and put them back on, covering a slight yawn.
Picking up his mini-notebook, he moved towards the entrance of his quarters and strode briskly past the door as it hissed open. He had changed little since he had arrived at Tondelayo Botanical Research Station; his grizzled, short-trimmed hair had thinned slightly and his much-worn leather jacket bore the evidence of numerous repairs. He walked past the newly completed corridors of the station's expanded hydroponics area, nodding to the busy staff. It had been five years since he had left Phobos for Mars; five years of renewed life, and some periods of sadness. He sighed unconsciously, thinking briefly of the people he had come to know here and were now gone: Dr. Musgrove, station chief at Tondelayo, had been killed in a glidercar crash with a crew of specialists investigating the buried ruins at Tharsis only a short time after Ford had rescued him from the same city and its unspeakable inhabitants. John Tracy, who had been his second-in-command at the Phobos weather station, had been recalled to Earth on unspecified "personal business" and then replaced. Ford's mind wandered further to
Terry Reeve. The woman he had grown to love after he joined the Tondelayo Station, but whose love for him weakened with the passing of time and duty. When the new and larger Wondjina Botanical Station had begun operation two years past, Reeve transferred there to take charge of administrating the fledgling base.
Their goodbye had been amiable but cool. Promises were made to keep in touch but soon forgotten and a general air of sorrow had grown between them.

He frowned as he walked, surrendering momentarily to the melancholy emotions he had stirred up. He approached the command centre and the door hummed open, evaporating his revery with the urgency of many jobs all needing immediate attention. Although Tondelayo was not a military installation, a military-style command structure seemed to get things done fastest and Ford had lost no time assembling such a system. This being done, he was naturally looked upon as the Commander. He waded into the melee of activity and immediately became the centre of attention, as his operatives bombarded him with the previous shift's problems and altercations.
"Mr Ford, there is a communique for you from Phobos Weather Station; Commander Jonas has the current weather stats for you," Comm Engineer Marissa Dixon announced as Ford settled into his console chair.
"Please put me through, Marissa," he said evenly. His personal message screen flickered to life revealing Jonas' face.
"Ford, Jonas here. Weather looks mild for the next few days. That storm front that we detected approaching from the north-northwest seems to have dissipated and I wouldn't worry about it." Jonas immediately broke contact and the screen went dead; he did not believe in small talk or unnecessary fraternizing.
"He doesn't waste words, that man." Ford observed. His shift continued, as it had done for the past five years, with a variety of problems, both major and minor, appearing and being dealt with. When the occasional large problem did present itself, it was greeted with determination and vigour and gave him a chance to exercise his considerable experience. For now, routine was the order of the day and he did not feel like challenging it.
His duty shift passed quickly and uneventfully, his time occupied with the constant stream of questions, requests, and consultation. Moments before his shift ended, his assistant controller arrived, her valise trailing streamers of printout hardcopy.
"Howdy, Tom. Anything happening?" Lisa Parmentier asked in her frenetically good-natured way.
"Only a benign weather report," he answered.
"Ha! Did you have a nice, long chat with Mr. Jonas?" she asked with a trace of mild sarcasm.

"Not likely," Ford replied."He's kind of terse as you know."
"How about robotic?" she queried. He laughed and relinquished his seat to the small, elfin woman that he trusted as his second in command as she prepared to start her shift.
"See you later," she said, with a wink.
Ford donned his battered jacket, collected his notebook terminal and left the command centre. He walked, thinking about Lisa's unshakeable enthusiasm and wondered if she would sell some of it to him. He sighed and dismissed the thought; he doubted that she could spare any of it. After all this time, stripping down antiquated freighter engines was beginning to seem like an appealing pastime. He was struck by a disturbing thought.
"I thought I liked this job?" He wondered aloud in an empty corridor. "Am I finally getting tired of this now?" He shook his head and decided to stop thinking for a while. Ford walked the corridors, feeling a little better as he chatted with operatives and eventually reached his quarters. The door closed behind him and he lay his terminal next to his desk. He stretched, hearing numerous crackles and pops that were a constant and subtle reminder of his age. He still had occasional jabs of pain from a badly healed pulled muscle; a souvenir from his dramatic rescue mission all those years ago. Ford made himself a cup of coffee and sat at his desk, which was littered with small files, tools and scraps of metal and plastic
which made up Tom Ford's only hobby.
Until recently, Ford had no real hobbies, especially on Phobos, where the lack of any substantial gravity made any Earth-based hobby unworkable. His weather observation duties usually exhausted any extracurricular activities except exercise and sleep. Now that he had 'retired' to work at Tondelayo Station, he had far more free time on his hands than he was used to. John Tracy had given him an idea by bringing up the subject of building 'ships in bottles', like a retired sailor, and he had considered the concept. Now he built miniature replicas of various spacecraft in bottles. Ford had become quite proficient after his first few attempts and had gifted an astonished John Tracy with one of his first completed models — an old Soyuz spacecraft . . . in a vodka bottle.

Ford's latest project was a late twentieth century space shuttle orbiter in its launch complex. He organized his tools and proceeded to insert tiny pieces of gantry frame into the narrow neck of the bottle. Hours passed and soon he slipped into his bed, eyes aching from the minute concentration and turned off the light. This day was past; another was approaching.
Ford washed and dressed quickly as he usually did: With water a valuable and scarce resource, very little water was actually used for hygiene. Ultrasonic vibroshowers did the work of wash water, and only a small amount was expended and recycled for dental care. He checked his personal fax output and finding a single sheet, stuffed it into his jacket pocket and headed for the control room. He obtained some breakfast bars on the way as was his custom and poked them into a vest pocket to eat later.
He relieved Lisa Parmentier from her shift, and she handed Ford some minor reports. She yawned self-consciously as she relinquished her chair to him and turned to leave the room. Duty was resumed. He quietly inspected the documents before filing them as Marissa Dixon entered to begin her shift as well.
Ford was scheduled to inspect the eastern grove that morning and contacted the vehicle section to requisition a ground car. He left Dixon in charge and prepared for the journey. He donned an atmosphere suit and greeted his driver as he climbed aboard the efficient but spidery vehicle. The rows and rows of specially bred plants, protected by perforated plastic domes, stood ready to be inspected. Ford enjoyed this part of his job more than any other. Getting to go outside away from the often stifling interior of the base was a pleasure and he did it as often as he could.
The busy attendants were briefed when he had some comment to make, but the tour was basically routine and soon he and his driver re-entered the vehicle airlock and initiated the decontamination process. Ford thanked the driver and prepared to return to his post.
It was several hours before Ford had a moment to inspect the fax that he had retrieved that morning. He glanced at the faxformation column at the top of the document and pursed his lips as he noticed that it had been transmitted from Earth. He whistled in surprise when he saw that it was from John Tracy. The contents of the fax were modest and vague:

"Tom, I'll be in contact with you soon. That's all I can say for now, except that I'll be shaking your hand in person next time."
John Tracy

"This sounds interesting," Ford whispered. How interesting it was going to prove to be was soon realized. He carefully folded the correspondence and resumed his work, chewing methodically on his breakfast.
Most of Tondelayo's operations were automated and the botanists worked under their own supervision and directives, but Ford still had to correlate all activity within the complex so that in the event of an emergency, counter measures could be acted out immediately. It was also an imperative put in place by the Government/Corporate coalition which supported the research station. Ford knew the type of minds that wrote the cheques; the "Private Sector" expected results and profits, not open-ended contracts, therefore he always made certain that the paperwork was clean and the ink stayed black.
"Communication for you from Phobos Station, Mr. Ford," Marissa announced.
"What now?" Ford muttered and activated his viewer.
"Ford, Jonas here. Something's come up. Be on Phobos in five hours. Five hours and you'll know more. Situation code 'Sierra', repeat code 'Sierra.' I will contact Ms. Reeve at Wondjina. Jonas out." Ford looked astonished. "Code Sierra..." he whispered; he knew not to question. Jonas was not fool enough to invoke an Immediate Response code without top priority authorization. He took a brief moment to consider the results of his leaving so abruptly, and leaned over his comm unit.
"Lisa, Ford here." He waited for her to awaken and respond.
"Uhm... Hello Tom..." Parmentier answered sleepily.
"Lisa, I'm sorry to disturb you off-duty, but I've just been given an Immediate Response Code and I have to get to Phobos. I'm leaving Marissa Dixon in charge up here. I've left orders not to disturb you further unless it's an emergency, and I will try to contact you from Phobos tomorrow and fill you in on what's going on. Now go back to sleep." Ford chuckled.
"'Bye Tom... take care." Parmentier's line closed and Ford turned to the control room crew.

"Marissa... all of you... as you've heard, I've been recalled to Phobos for who-knows-what for how long... I don't know. I might be back in a few hours, or not at all. I don't know what the situation is but it is a priority. I'll tell you more when I can, but until then, Ms. Dixon is in command of this shift, and I hope to see you all again soon." With that, Ford turned and walked briskly from the room.
"Good luck Tom," Dixon whispered as the door slid shut.
Ford made his way to his quarters and packed a light case with a few necessities. He glanced at his unfinished project and smiled as he packed it away too. He left his quarters on the run and approached a communication station.
"Ford to Shuttle bay."
"Shuttle bay, Technician Quon here."
"I'm going to need a lift to Phobos weather station in four hours. Can that be arranged in time?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Ford. All shuttles are currently in service. The first one expected back won't be in until tomorrow afternoon."
"Damn, that won't do . . . wait a minute, what about the Shuttle bay at Wondjina?" Ford countered.
"They only have two cars but it's worth a chance. Shall I make contact?" asked Quon.
"No, Mr. Quon, I'll call them myself," Ford answered.
He had to go to the main comm terminal to contact Wondjina base but did manage to arrange transport. Co-Director Westerhaus informed Ford that Director Reeve would fly by Tondelayo and retrieve him on the way to Phobos in three hours. Ford thanked Westerhaus and signed off, tapping his fingers thoughtfully, pondering his impending reunion with Terry Reeve. He hadn't seen her in eight months and the occasional interchange of communication was professionally cool. Ford never knew why she kept a generous distance between them, but he was of the old ways which left people alone until they wanted to broach a subject. So, Ford left Terry to herself until she wanted to talk. In the mean time, work went on.

Ford returned to his quarters to pass time until the shuttle arrived and he lay on his bed pondering this unexpected turn of events in his well-ordered life. He was not nervous or excited; just curious. He finally drifted off in a light sleep.
The insistent beeping of the private comm unit prodded at Ford until he roused himself and pressed the answer stud.
"Ford here..."
"Quon here, Mr. Ford. I've just received word that the shuttle from Wondjina Base is approaching, and will land in fifteen minutes."
"Thank you Quon. I'll be there right away." Ford signed off and rose, stretching and yawning. He grasped his carry-all and left his quarters; he would never return.
Ford reached the shuttle bay without hurry and sat down in the waiting chamber. Quon approached him.
"Wondjina shuttle will arrive in a few minutes, Mr. Ford. I hope you didn't mind waiting."
"Not at all, Mr. Quon. By the way, I've been examining the reports from your maintenance team. I'm pleased with the efficiency of your department and I think that I'll be able to increase your budget appropriation in the next quarter."
"Thank you Mr. Ford. We always make do with what we have, but more is always better." Quon smiled and returned to his duties.
Ford opened his data screen and began a personal log pertaining to the upcoming meeting. What could be wrong? There was no way to know and bracing for potential bad news always made Ford tense. Sometimes waiting for disaster was worse than the disaster itself. He remembered trying to out-distance the advancing dust storm that had pursued them as he and the survivors of Musgrove's expedition flew away from the grisly Martian ruins so long ago. When the storm finally hit, he had almost been relieved. Fighting the tempest was easier to face than the relentless anticipation of it.

He shook his head and smiled faintly over the memory. He made some notations on the screen and was occupied in recording his log when he heard a faint roar. It was unmistakable: a glider-car was circling the base on its approach to landing. Outside, the frail-looking aluminum-hued vehicle rolled, banked, and with a whoosh of propellant, lightly descended on the landing surface. Light gravel and dust scattered and rebounded off the landing beacons before settling. A rectangular door slid open on the car's side. By this time, Ford had donned his alumiskin pressure suit and helmet and was waiting to be released from the airlock. The thick door slid open with a faint rumble and Ford stepped out onto the surface. He walked briskly to the awaiting glider car and entered, the vehicle lifting off only seconds after the door slid shut. Ford was leaving Mars.
Ford glanced out of the glider car port and watched as the irregular mass of Phobos loomed nearer. He suddenly felt a pang of nostalgia; he had not set foot on Phobos since he had been transferred five years ago. He sighed and turned to look at Terry Reeve. She seemed passive and did not return the look. Ford pondered her profile but said nothing.
"We'll be docking in a few minutes," the pilot said smoothly. The car swayed slightly and approached Phobos' shuttle dock.
Ford swallowed, amazed at the feelings he was experiencing. He had nearly hated Phobos when he left and wasted no time gathering his belongings when he transferred to Tondelayo. Yet now he felt as though he was going... home? 5
The shuttle rocked and a muffled clang indicated that docking was accomplished. The pilot's voice crackled as he welcomed them and then instructed them to wait until docking control advised them that the airlock was in position. Ford looked at Reeve, who glanced at him neutrally, without emotion. He studied her profile, remembering her strong jawline and small nose, and he smiled a little as he noticed the faint streaks of grey that flowed from her temple.
"Stress..." He thought as he rubbed his own greyed head.
He released his harness and stood carefully, remembering the low gravity.

Reaching to the ceiling of the car, he tore his carry-all bag loose from its velcro holder and slid towards the main hatchway, with Reeve following. The passengers were put through a level two decontamination procedure, peeled off their pressure-suits and were quickly directed toward the control room. He looked around him and sighed quietly. The familiarity of the corridors and the long, gliding 'walk' characteristic of Phobos' low gravity made him reminisce with some fondness. Ford unconsciously adapted to the unusual gait, deep in thought, while Reeve struggled to keep from launching herself off the floor.
"Ow!" she cried as she caromed off the ceiling panels. Ford turned in time to catch her before she bounced off the floor. Her momentum carried both into the bulkhead at the end of the corridor.
"It takes a little practice," he admitted,trying not to laugh. Reeve looked embarrassed but began to laugh as well.
"I see." Reeve said finally, not commenting on the fact that his arms were still around her as they got to their feet.
"It's good to be working together again. I've missed you," Ford said self-consciously.
"I've got my balance back," Reeve murmured. "You can let go now." He stared hard at her and released her. She looked into his eyes then sighed and turned away.
"I can't talk here. I'm not sure I know how to say what you want to hear."
"I don't want to hear anything! I just want to know what's going on. We split up because of our work... or did we? You wanted to run the Wondjina base so you left to do just that — then it was over. What happened?"
"Tom, let it go for now. Suddenly we have duties that can't wait," Reeve finally whispered. She hesitated, then added with a ghost of a smile,"let's talk later."
Ford stared at her, his forehead wrinkled in perplexity, then turned towards the control room door, Reeve struggling with balance behind him.
The control room doors slid open with a whisper and the two of them found themselves before Andre Jonas, current commander of Phobos weather station.
"You're here. Good." Jonas spoke without looking up from his console screen.
"Well, what's the emergency? Situation code 'Sierra' is top priority summons. I assume the reason is good." Ford answered directly.
"The best reason we could find, Tom;" spoke a voice behind them. They turned and Ford looked incredulous.
"John! John Tracy!" Ford strode toward the man and hugged him. Tracy slapped his back in return, and the two men laughed, forgetting Jonas and his formalities.

"Tom, it's great to see you again. And you, Ms. Reeve. Glad to see you're still together." Ford and Reeve looked at each other for a frozen moment and then he replied.
"John, what are you doing here? What's the situation?" Ford was trying to keep the tone of impatience from his voice but was failing. Jonas frowned slightly.
"Everything that you need to know will be revealed during the briefing scheduled in one hour. Try to be on time," Jonas stated briskly and he then resumed his work, leaving Ford, Tracy and Reeve alone. Around them, the duties of weather tracking and analysis went on, making Ford feel slightly wistful, but Tracy intruded quickly into his reverie.
"Tom, Ms. Reeve, come with me. I can't tell you everything yet - that must wait for the Director - but I can reveal some of the reasons you both are here."
They followed Tracy to the newly installed recreation bay and glided around a tall, circular table. Tracy ordered coffee and looked at both Ford and Reeve appraisingly.
"Although you don't know it yet, this upcoming meeting is the most important gathering any of us will ever attend, myself included." Tracy was almost beaming.
"John, cut the pep-talk and tell us what's going on!" Ford said impatiently. Reeve interrupted.
"Mr. Tracy, what do we have to do with whatever is going on?" Tracy smiled enigmatically.
"You are both specialists that have just what we need. I can't elaborate on your parts in the program, but I can let you in on the overall mission. You probably know about the history of the World Nation Combine Space Agency."
"Sure, most of our space enterprises are funded by the Agency," Ford replied.
"Since most of Earth's so-called iron curtains have fallen and the cost of independent space exploration have multiplied, more and more countries have united together to fund major space missions," Tracy explained.
"Sure, Tondelayo, Wondjina and Phobos stations are joint operations between WNCSA and the NorthAm Government." Ford added.
"Well, I can tell you that a mission is under way that involves WNCSA, most of Earth's Nations and all of the major industrial powers and may be the most important achievement of Mankind," Tracy stated enigmatically.

"Sounds nice and expensive," Reeve commented drily.
"So where's this grand mission headed?" Ford asked finally. "Titan? Europa?"
"The fourth planet," Tracy paused momentarily and then continued,"orbiting Barnard's Star."
Ford looked hard at Tracy and said nothing. Reeve gaped, looking at Tracy for a sign that he was making some lame joke. Tracy revealed nothing more, but said cryptically.
"If you want to know more, come to the briefing."
Ford sat next to Reeve at a large round table that he remembered using for briefings of his own. He looked around at the others seated, wondering who all these people were. Some he recognized as Space Agency brass and others looked like scientific types. Ford grinned, knowing that for all intents and purposes, he too, was a 'scientific type'. Tracy sat next to a vacant lectern and Jonas was not present.
"Do you believe it?" Reeve suddenly asked.
"Believe what?" Ford turned.
"That we're going to Barnard's Star?"
Ford shrugged and looked around again.
"Must be. They would never have hauled out all these wunderkinder if they weren't. I wonder what we have to do with it?"
Reeve laughed quietly, looking at Ford with cautious affection for the first time since arriving on Phobos, he did not fail to notice.
A door opened and a big, well-dressed man entered, climbing the podium to stand behind the blue metal lectern.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the man spoke with a smooth, deep voice, veneered with the timbre of command.

"I'm pleased that all of you could be here. At the very real risk of employing a shopworn cliche, we are standing at the threshold of an event as significant as landing on the moon, or creating a written language, or using a bone as a tool." The man smiled, his enthusiasm brimming over as though he was a child unable to wait to tell of his first successful bike ride.
"Most of you know me, but I will re-introduce myself for the benefit of some last minute personnel who have been invited to assist us. I am Jackson Messier, Chairman of the World Nation Combine Space Agency. I represent an organization of industry and science that has sponsored most of the major space enterprises that have enjoyed success in the last decade." Messier paused as he basked in the rapt attention of the circle of specialists.
"We have always understood and appreciated the scientific and commercial rewards space exploration has offered, and are now prepared to up the ante and put Earth in the Major Leagues of serious spacefaring. Our representatives have literally scoured the planet, seeking investors and industrial support to launch what will be the capstone of Mankind's achievements... To reach the stars!" Messier paused to let the full dramatic tone of his speech envelop the massed audience and then he continued.
"Eighteen months ago, in a secret laboratory on this very moon, the Venkman Super-Collider Drive was invented and developed. This radical engine will, in effect, hand us the stars. Lightyear distances can be spanned in months instead of centuries and the possibility of colonizing the outer worlds will become a reality. Even now, the first Starship, "Calypso", is approaching Mars from the New Babylon Shipyards on Luna." Messier stopped, his big hands gripping the edges of the lectern with crushing force.
" For most of you, the mission has been cloaked in a veil of necessary secrecy, the reasons for which I cannot reveal as of yet, but in spite of budgetary restraints and bureaucratic stalling tactics and a very real fear that it just couldn't be done... good people, we are ready to perform the impossible. In spite of the setbacks and the disappointments, the constant array of problems that are always associated with a project of this magnitude. The long hours and short tempers... people, in five weeks, when the launch window is open, the Starship "Calypso" will begin its journey to the fourth planet in the Barnard's Star system. I will conclude my speech to you by wishing all of you good luck and clear sailing, all of you, the crew of the Calypso." Messier smiled as the group applauded vigorously.

"I will now introduce the Commander of the mission, Mr. John Tracy." The applause increased as Tracy replaced Messier at the lectern, beaming with pride. It looked like the answers were finally about to be doled out, Ford thought.
"It's been a privilege training with all of you and I couldn't ask for a better ship or crew," Tracy began."I know that all of you have given everything to this mission and I just wanted to introduce a couple of late-comers to the voyage. The mission planners had been studying the crew roster and made a few last-minute changes as they re-evaluated the crew qualifications. We needed some - specialized crew members for certain facets of the mission. We studied a long list of possible candidates and, with some urging from me, we were able to find those special people. Now I'd like to introduce our new additions to the crew of the Calypso." Tracy paused, indicating the tables to his left." Ms. Terry Reeve, Mr. Jem Sandar, Ms. Tammy Brennan and finally, the most experienced man in space, Mr. Tom Ford." Ford privately wished that Tracy had not gotten so theatrical but grudgingly stood to accept the accolades with the others.
Tracy announced the names of the rest of the crew,each of them rising from their seat briefly, acknowledging the applause from the rest of the group. Tracy spoke again and the murmurs and laughter diminished.
"These men and women representing Earth and its first step into deep space will be part of history and an example for all of us... I know that we will succeed."
Applause started again and rose in volume as the Reeve and Ford looked at each other in quiet wonder.
The mission was under way.

"Personal mission log, entry 133. Tom Ford recording. We are one hundred and eighty nine days into the mission with all going well and on course. Captain Tracy has approved my request for a staggered water appropriation as opposed to a standard irrigation grid." Ford paused for a moment, considering his next subject. " Ms. Reeve is an excellent co-worker as I have logged previously, and all hydroponics systems are in good health and thriving due to her considerable effort. End of log."

Ford deactivated the recorder and pondered for a moment. He glanced out of a viewport and observed the distorted configuration of the constellation Orion, shifting now as the ship cruised silently towards its distant destination. The lights in Ford's quarters were dim as he prepared for sleep. He would never have guessed four months ago that he would be arrowing through the night towards a distant star. He shook his head and grinned as he remembered the lengthy sessions of intense training and the heady feeling as the vast ship accelerated away from the New Babylon Spaceport. He had been particularly proud of his performance in the lander simulator and was soon selected to be prime pilot of the Amerigo, Calypso's lander, the vessel which would make the first touchdown. He nodded pleasantly at the memory and snapped the recorder on once more.
"Personal mission log, supplemental... I can't describe the feeling of wonder out here, finally amidst the stars, slowly but steadily approaching our destination. What will we find there? Life? Or emptiness? Even magnificent desolation would be worth it. My excitement grows every day we get closer."
Ford thought for a moment and decided to end his log there. He undressed and slid into his zero-g sleeping bag, zipping it up as he did so. His last memory before sleep was of Orion.
The Calypso was large and unstreamlined. Sensor arms and antennae protruded from all sides, interconnecting with criss-crossing cables and clusters of instrument packages, overlaying the length of the vessel. Command section and crew environments were in the forward area of the ship, with the fuel and engines located in the aft section, where harmful drive radiation could be effectively directed away.
In the Command module, John Tracy studied the pertinent readouts on the console by his chair and transferred the information to the engineering officer's station as Ford entered the narrow section.
"Morning, Skipper," Ford greeted Tracy with humour.
"Morning, Tom!" Tracy grinned back at him. Ford joined him at the cramped command chair. He nodded as he assessed Tracy's console.
"I've been inspecting the long-range probes' computer systems and I'd like to add a few minor modifications to their programs. I've spoken to the mission specialists and they say that it's no problem. we just need your go-ahead." Ford commented.

"All right, Tom. What kind of modifications did you have in mind?" Tracy answered.
"I wanted to widen the sensitivity spectrum on the probe's scanning cameras. I want as much info as possible on the new planet's atmosphere if I'm going to make accurate judgements on the weather patterns," Ford explained. Tracy nodded and signed the infopad's screen with a stylus.
"Thanks, John...." Ford backed away, turning to exit the command module when Tracy called out to him.
"Yes John?" Ford stopped and faced Tracy.
"Remember when you left me in command of Phobos? When you went surfaceside to rescue Dr. Musgrove in the ruined City at Tharsis?" Tracy smiled slightly.
"Of course. What about it?" Ford looked quizzical.
"It's just that... when you left that day, I felt so jealous of you. I was happy for you to be sure, but I honestly envied you - envied your opportunity to finally ... experience adventure. I know that sounds shallow, Tom. I know better than to not romanticize the hard reality of spaceflight - but still..." Tracy smiled again wistfully. "When I got command of this mission... well, I finally knew then how you must have felt when you and you crew went barrelling down to Tondelayo on Mars." Ford shook his head and laughed quietly.
"I won't argue with you about that, John. You're right, of course. It's an anachronistic sentiment, but nonetheless real. This time I'm glad I'm getting to share your adventure with you." Ford clapped Tracy on the shoulder and turned to move down the passageway. He smiled, remembering the old rescue mission and the explosion of media attention featuring the various crew members, focusing mostly on him. He sighed, thinking about how he had met Terry Reeve and the ensuing flurry of romantic days and months that followed. He shook his head sadly.
"Those were good times..." He whispered to himself.

Ford glided through the access tube towards his station, and sealed the hatch behind him. He grinned as the sounds and smells of the hydroponics section washed over him. The oddly arranged levels of plant life circled the perimeter of the cylindrical chamber which was festooned with bunches of looping tubes and pumps. At the lower end of the chamber, Terry Reeve hovered, adjusting fluid pressure in the main circulatory web.
"Hi Terry," Ford called to her, expertly gliding in and around the various hoses and cables arranged around the central hub of the hydroponics chamber. The air was filled with the smells of growing things with the softly percolating sounds of circulating fluids. Ford grasped a handhold and spun himself around to match Reeve's orientation.
"Hello Tom," Reeve answered, smiling briefly and returning her gaze to the view screen she had been studying. Ford's smile fell slightly and he shook his head with some sadness. He braced himself and said what he intended to say.
"Terry, freeze your program for a moment and let me speak to you." Reeve looked up at Ford, frowning at the edge in his voice and tapped a key to pause her analysis. She looked concerned, finally.
"What's wrong, Tom?"
"Terry, I need to get this out of the way so you and I can go back to working together professionally and keep personal feelings out of the matter... I... still love you, Terry, but if you know that you're unable to return the feeling, I'm willing to forget it ever happened. I can be satisfied with friendship and I certainly won't press you for explanations. I'm sorry it's over but... well, we're on the greatest mission of our careers, and I'm not going to tarnish the experience with my emotional backwash, and..." Ford faltered, knowing he was rambling and not able to help himself. Worse, he felt flushed in the cheeks and his hands began to fidget. Terry Reeve saw all this and began to smile sympathetically..
"Tom, you don't need to tell me all this. I said that we would speak of it later and I meant it. We have both been too busy... and I admit I've been nervous broaching the subject of you and me, but I've not forgotten." Terry smiled and Ford looked uncomfortable. She continued.
"I can see that we do need to talk, and I can't hold it off any longer. Let me see you tonight after mealtime and I'll let you know what I feel."
Ford said nothing but nodded as Reeve returned to her work, a slight smile still on her face. Ford resumed duty at his own workstation, barely able to concentrate as he kept stealing glances at Reeve, doing her work industriously.

"Damn," Ford muttered, trying to initiate an irrigation program. "Why can't I get a straight answer for once. I can't stand this waiting." Ford's duty period felt very long that day.
Ford's rendezvous with Terry Reeve was to be postponed, however, because immediately after dinner a meeting was called among the crew on the status of the mission. John Tracy drifted into the room and greeted the crew, waiting for the group to grow silent.
"All right everyone, pipe down." Tracy raised his voice, quelling the excited babble of the group. Ford rested easily, arms crossed, waiting for Tracy to speak.
"We're nearly at maximum acceleration, people, and will be initiating deceleration soon. We'll arrive in the Barnard's Star system in 48 days."
The group cheered in unison and the already giddy mood of the crew was suddenly elevated to a delirious high. Ford risked a brief glance at Terry Reeve who smiled back at him with an air of neutrality. Ford frowned with repressed impatience. Tracy continued.
"I want everyone to review decell procedures and check your backup equipment now, not when we arrive. I'm ready to listen to all stations' status reports so I will keep this speech short. Basically, we're almost three-quarters of the way there and I want to keep things flowing smoothly." Tracy beamed, obviously proud of the mission's current success.
Ford and the other group leaders gave their status reports and the meeting soon concluded. Ford tentatively drifted towards Reeve and tried to get her attention.
"Terry, I hope we still have a date tonight," Ford said with repressed impatience.
"Of course, Tom. Let's go now." She smiled briefly and the two floated out the hatchway and down the passage.
The door of Reeve's quarters hissed shut after they had entered. Ford tried to look relaxed and unconcerned but was sweating with anticipation. Reeve put her document folder away on its velcro fastening and turned to face him.
"Do you want something to drink? Juice? Tea?" Reeve asked.
"Some water will be fine, Terry," Ford said, his throat parched with nervousness. He accepted the plastic squeeze bottle with thanks and tried to relax.

God, why can't women say what's on their minds straight out? Ford thought, his frayed patience running out. He waited as Reeve prepared tea for herself and finally she hovered in place, smiling quietly as she spoke.
"Tom, you know that it's been a long time since we've been close. A lot of things have happened since them. I love you a lot but not in the way you would prefer, I know. I've had a lot to think about in the last few years and I know what I want in life now. My career is still the most important thing in to me, and that is why I'm here. The reason I left you was because I fell in love with someone else." She spoke quietly and with some trace of remorse.
"I thought that might be the case. I won't stand in your way," Ford said softly. "He must be on board; I can't imagine that you would leave him behind." Ford tried to be nonchalant, but his eyes began to sting.
"I didn't," Reeve replied, "she's chief navigator." Ford's eyes widened, and she continued.
"Tammy Brennan. I met her when the first components of Wondjina station were being ferried in. She was pilot of the transport shuttle."
Ford tried hard to remember but couldn't put a face on any of the transport flight crew. All he could remember was that was about the time Terry began to grow distant and dissatisfied.
"I wouldn't have guessed." Ford didn't know what to think but he knew what he had to say.
"I do wish you happiness Terry, and I won't let any stray feelings of mine interfere with you or your relationship."
"Tom, I still care about you and I'm glad that we're working together again," Reeve said warmly. "I feel so much better finally telling you this. I didn't know what you would think or how I would tell you. The physical distance between us would always make me put it off for another time. Eventually I would have had to tell you why I left — I owed you that."
"You didn't owe me anything Terry, but I'm glad that you told me. I suppose... I had better go now." Ford hesitated for a moment. "Do you think that I could... kiss you once more?" He was prepared for a gentle refusal and braced for it.

"Of course," came the unexpected reply. She drifted into his arms and he held her slim body close to him, inhaling her familiar yet distant essence. He closed his eyes, still just holding her, memories of the past flashing past his consciousness and triggering feelings of warmth and deep regret mingling as one. Slowly his mouth found hers and for one brief moment, it was the way it had been after his daring rescue of the Musgrove expedition.
Terry, younger and somewhat awestruck by his deed and dashing maturity, falling for him; he, donning the mantle of Hero for that brief but tremendous day. In that space of time, many divergent paths of destiny were laid, his own more than he thought.
Now, as he kissed Terry deeply, he wondered what course his path would now take. Her mouth opened and her tongue glided past his fleetingly, then she slowly broke away. Her eyes were half open and dreamy. Ford's knees felt weak and he was glad of the zero-g.
"I'd forgotten what it was like, Tom. Just because I'm in love with a woman doesn't mean I don't remember how attractive you are." She smiled provocatively and Ford began to let her go.
"Thank you for that, Terry... I'd better go now." He'd had enough mental shocks for that day and could anticipate more to come.
"I'll see you tomorrow." Ford turned to leave and activated the hatch.
"Goodnight Tom... and thank you," Terry said quietly, and a little sadly.
The door closed with a hum and Ford directed himself down the passageway. Someone was approaching from the other end and as Ford looked up to see who it was, he realized that it was Tammy Brennan. She looked at Ford with recognition and a trace of sympathy as she must have realized that he now knew. He grinned weakly at her as she passed him and he drifted away towards his quarters and sleep.
In spite of the various private irritations and stresses felt here and there, as a result of routine and monotony, the mission progressed smoothly. With the gap closing, the goal of the mission slowly approaching, the mundanity of day to day routine began to fade and a renewed exhilaration swept through the crew.

"Planet four of Barnard's system is now six days away and counting," Tracy's calm voice announced over the shipboard communication net.
Ford examined the long range photos of Barnard Four with Tracy, his anxiety over Terry Reeve now resolved and dealt with. He was clearheaded and eager to begin studying the weather patterns of the new world.
"What can you tell so far, Tom?" Tracy asked, scrutinizing the still fuzzy details of the print.
"As you can make out yourself, there are some large oceans with extensive continental areas. With a distance of only 1.2 astronomical units from its sun, there should be reasonably temperate locations. Of course, we need to examine the spectroscopic plates to see what toxins we might have to deal with." Ford was as deeply focused as on the day he began work at Tondelayo, and he felt fantastic.
"Here's the spectro plates now," Tracy said as they flashed on to the screen.
"Look, John!" Ford stared hard at the screen. "We've got oxygen-nitrogen mix — heavier on the O2 but nothing toxic . . . trace elements — all familiar and no unidentifiable compounds. This is breathable air, barring anything biological." Ford was smiling, oblivious to the group of people forming behind him to look as well.
Tracy exhaled deeply.
"This is incredible stuff."
Ford looked up at him.
"This is just the start, John, I'm seeing evidence of large vegetation zones. This means a renewable atmosphere and maybe higher life forms."
Tracy was impressed.
"How soon can we be sure?" he asked.
"As soon as we get close enough for more detailed observation," Ford answered confidently."We'll be launching a probe in about twenty hours." Tammy Brennan moved past behind them and peeked over Ford's shoulder. He turned his head, displaying an uncomfortable grin, and she smiled back at both of them. He continued his exchange with Tracy.
"I think we need to have a lot more definite information about surface features so we can narrow down our landing sites as soon as possible."

"I'm with you on this one, Tom," Tracy agreed, "this is the most alien world mankind has had the opportunity to explore. We won't get second chances on this ride, so we have to play it by the numbers and learn as we go."
"I can set the navigational vectors for the probe guidance systems," Tammy offered.
Ford felt a brief moment of trepidation, but suppressed it. Now was not the time for self pity or petty jealousy.
"That would be great, Tammy. I'll get engineering to prep up probe number one," came Tracy's response.
"I'll start designing a procedure agenda for the probe memory," Ford spoke evenly, already selecting appropriate programs for the probe's sensor array.
A bustle of action commenced, as each team prepared the sensor probe for launch. After so many months of basic routine, it was finally a chance to see some action.
Ford downloaded the search and analysis program into the probe's memory and indicated that it was ready for launch. The bridge crew acknowledged and performed the launch procedure with a distant clang and thump rewarding their efforts. The probe had been released.
"Telemetry reports all probe systems operational. Signal coming in strong," said Communications Chief Ronson.
"Well done," Tracy said. "We should get usable data as soon as the probe achieves orbit."
"At the probe's present speed, it should commit orbit insertion in about four day periods before we arrive. We'll have all the de-orbital burn sequences and re-entry angles already plotted should we decide to land," Brennan said. She looked momentarily at Tom, who nodded perceptively.
"Tom, were you able to include a weather analysis program while you were assembling the sensor package?" Tracy asked.
"I put that together first. With the data the probe will accumulate, we can make a long range computer model of the climate patterns with a reasonably wide margin for weather prediction," Ford spoke with authority.
Tracy laughed. "I'll bet you didn't think you'd be getting your old job back, Tom."

Ford winked, realizing that John was right. "Well, this will give me a chance to see if I've forgotten anything."
Ford had finished revitalizing one of the nutrient baths and was ready to end his shift. He yawned with fatigue, a result of pulling extra duty supervising installation of the data retrieval program that would process the probe's data. He logged his procedures and waited for the relief shift to arrive. When the hatch opened, Tammy Brennan glided in.
"Uh... Hello, Tammy... Terry's not on duty right now," he quipped.
Tammy laughed nervously and approached him.
"I know. I wanted to speak with you privately," she said, her eyes serious.
"Sure," Ford answered neutrally. Brennan tried to smile.
"Terry told me that you know about . . . us. I was against telling you — that you wouldn't understand, and that it might affect the mission," she stammered.
"Tammy, right now nothing is as important to me as this mission. If Terry talks about me at all, you will know that I need a purpose. I can't survive without some challenge, any challenge," Ford spoke with earnestness. "And the older I get, the more I need that feeling of purpose. My private life is not important. Try to be comfortable with me because I'm not going to interfere. I want you two to be happy."
Ford stopped abruptly, knowing that he did feel hurt and confused, but that he had to put it behind him.
Brennan looked hard at Ford and studied his face. Her features softened and a shy smile emerged.
"I guess I should learn to trust what Terry has said about you," Brennan said softly. "I hope we can be friends."
Ford's jaw tensed briefly but his voice was calm. "Perhaps soon. I'm sure we'll work everything out." Ford withdrew as his relief entered the chamber, leaving Brennan to stare thoughtfully after him.
"I can see why Terry still loves you," she whispered to herself.

"Personal mission log, entry 152," Ford spoke clearly, wanting to clear his mind of the thoughts that conflicted there, needing to talk, even if only to the small computer/recorder he had brought with him.
"Go ahead, Mr. Ford," the comcorder replied.
"We approach planet 4, which is growing larger in our viewports daily, as is our excitement. Tomorrow I will be analyzing the telemetry that our probe will be transmitting and trying to create a computer model of the climate of planet 4. John hasn't informed anyone but me of his decision to christen the planet with the name of "Calypsa" but he has planned to make the announcement when we land."
Ford thought he had finished, but reactivated the comcorder one last time.
"I'm trying not to think too much about the situation concerning Terry and Tammy. " Ford paused and sighed.
"I'm not going to be able to get used to losing Terry to... someone else. I'd like to think that I am open minded about worldly matters... about relationships. But I've got to admit that I could deal with this more easily if Tammy had been another man. I must be getting old."
Ford switched off the comcorder and stretched, yawning. He drifted to the small makeshift table he had erected and prepared to continue his small project. He had completed the exhausting gantry structure within the bottle and was about to insert the tiny shuttle orbiter into place. He applied a tiny bead of glue to the fastening pins of the shuttle and with long narrow tweezers, gently nested the orbiter against the external tank and boosters. It was complete.
Ford smiled, studying the bottled complexity as it floated before him and he let out a deep sigh of satisfaction. he knew he would touch it up here and there, but it was essentially finished. He gently tapped the neck of the bottle and it responded by slowly spinning end over end. He pondered and his face grew sad. He had been thinking of giving it to Terry. He nodded his head after a moment.
"And I will give it to her . . ."
A voice spoke behind him. "Who will give what to whom?" Terry Reeve said softly. Ford turned too quickly and spun off the seat into the opposite wall. The bottle rotated slowly, undisturbed.

"Ow," Ford grunted, trying to stabilize himself. "How did you get in here?" Reeve smiled.
"I made John give me your quarters' access code. He knows about you and me."
Ford hovered now, gently retrieving the bottle
"Does he know about you and Tammy?" he replied, trying to sound calm.
"I think so. John is a difficult man to surprise."
"I used to think I was, too," Ford said, a little ruefully. Reeve looked at him warmly.
"So what were you going to give, and to whom?" she repeated.
"Oh. This." Ford sent the bottle sailing towards Reeve and she gently caught it. She looked deeply at the small, brave shape of the old style shuttle amidst its supporting scaffolds and gantries, surrounded by its protective sheath of clear glass bottle, and was momentarily speechless.
"You made this?" Reeve whispered. "It's beautiful."
Ford was characteristically modest.
"It's a little hobby I picked up when we split up. I... suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands." Ford said this more bitterly than he had intended, and he knew it.
"Terry, I'm sorry."
"Tom, so am I," Reeve said, as a tear released itself from her eye and drifted away.
"Terry, what more can I say?" Ford spoke softly but with some agitation. Her tears always hurt him; he wanted to comfort her and hold her, but what could he do know? Reeve answered his silent question without words of her own. She glided towards him and held him close, crying softly. Ford kissed her and the slowly drifting shuttle in a bottle observed impassively as the two embraced with long repressed passion.
The next day began with urgency, as the probe telemetry had been fully analyzed and preparations were made for orbital maneouvers. Ford awakened, regrettably but not surprisingly alone, and he proceeded to dress. Looking around, he was glad to see his gift to Terry was absent. He made his way to the control room, stopping first at hydroponics to check in. Reeve was there, and she glanced up at him. Ford blushed slightly and she smiled to herself.

Ford then made his way to the bridge where Tracy greeted him hurriedly and bade him to take a position at the science station.
"Tom, I'll need a weather pattern analysis for a three earth-day pattern. Tammy, get you and your backup working on planning the best entry path based on atmospheric and geological surveys."
He sounded energetic and excited and Ford could understand; this was the day all the sweating and planning was about to pay off. Tracy spoke again, this time on the shipwide band.
"This is the Captain speaking. In three day periods we will assume orbit around Planet 4. From there we will determine the possibility of a manned landing. At this time we are standing by for a critical engine burn to lock us into an orbital path. That is all."
Tracy looked pleased and winked in Ford's and Brennan's direction. The two of them looked at each other and again Ford's flushing features betrayed him.
"Did you enjoy last night?" Brennan whispered. Ford's eyes widened.
"You know?" he whispered back.
"Of course. It was my idea. Terry was unsure how you'd take it but I convinced her to go through with it," Brennan smiled.
"But... why?" Ford was puzzled.
"I like you, Tom, and I respect you. I remember your stunt back on Mars and I was just as enthralled by your act as the rest. You ought to hear Terry talk about those times, especially if she has a few brews in her. Terry is still crazy about you in spite of what she feels for me, and I don't feel threatened by you anymore... although I think you feel threatened by me. You're a good man, better than most I've known. The fact is that Terry loves us both. If you can learn to live with that then so can I." Brennan operated her keypad without undue stress but Ford stared at her.
He swallowed hard, not knowing what to say
"I'm not sure how to react to this..."
"I'm not surprised. Terry said you were a little old fashioned and I wasn't sure what that meant at first. However, this is the twenty-first century. We should all move with the times." Ford tried to smile but only succeeded in looking more uncomfortable. Brennan looked up from her infopad.

"Terry's right. You are cute when you get embarrassed," Brennan winked.
The days progressed with smooth rapidity, excitement building as the preparations for orbit were completed. The crew, strapped into their seats as the engines fired, were almost disappointed at the lack of dramatic thrust and thunder but John Tracy's enthusiastic yell over the shipboard comm system let them know that they were successful.
Ford looked over at Terry. She smiled at him, her hand clasped in Tammy's. He smiled back weakly and turned to face forward. His thoughts raced, trying to focus on the upcoming atmospheric deceleration manoeuvre they were to undergo. Mild vibrations began to filter into the decks and equipment, slowly building into a steady hammering.
He grinned in spite of himself, feeling a little guilty that he was finding this dangerous braking procedure kind of fun.
Then the shaking began to subside, gradually lessening as the ship lost speed and entered orbit.
"We are go for orbit," announced Tracy. "Engineering crews, begin prep for landfall. Tracy out." It had begun.
After seven orbits, Ford was released from duty and made his way to the hydroponics sphere to check on things before retiring. He was eager to get in and leave so that he could get back to his cabin and continue his mission log. He was as giddy as a schoolboy now that the mission was really starting. He glided to the central control column running through the centre of the sphere and went through a test sequence on operating systems, then went from plant to plant inspecting personally.
"Damn you . . . greenfly. Even out in the depths of space we can't escape you," He muttered as he sprayed a mist of pesticide at the dusting of pale green bugs.
The hatch opened again as Ford was preparing to leave; Terry Reeve floated in, accompanied by Tammy Brennan. The two held hands and seemed oblivious to Ford, who was temporarily hidden behind a clump of ficus. Realizing that he might not want to be witness to what was developing, he started humming to warn them of his presence.
"Who's there?" Brennan said, startled.
"It's all right baby, it's Tom," Terry said, laughing.
Ford finished his work and prepared to leave when Terry called to him.

"Where are you going, Tom? Stay with us a while."
"I've got to catch up on my personal logs and get some sleep for tomorrow's work. I'll... see you tomorrow," Ford said hastily as he left the sphere.

Ford glided back to his cabin, feeling flustered and upset. He keyed his door and entered, locking the door behind him and keeping the lights off. He floated, his eyes closed.
"This is going to be tougher than I thought." He moved to the window and brooded as the nightside of Calypso moved silently below. Terry didn't love him solely any more. Could he accept sharing with someone else, even another woman?
"You had better decide what it is you do want, Ford, or you'll never know what you missed." Ford thought further and then decided. "I've got to accept the changes in my life and in everyone else's too." With that thought, Ford slipped into his sleeping bag and was soon asleep.
Ford smiled to himself and entered the lander bay in time to greet Tracy, who was now enveloped in a pressure suit.
"Time to suit-up, buddy. The rest of the crew are already aboard except for you and me. Jem Sandar will coordinate things from his position on the bridge."
"Thanks," Ford said as completed his suiting-up procedure. Tracy, clamping his helmet seal, vanished into the lander's hatch. Ford waited until all the crew were secured and then sealed the outer door after he himself clambered inside. Within the Lander, pumps hummed and air circulated, filling Ford with a sensation he had not felt since his first arrival on Mars; genuine excitement.
"Amerigo is standing by, Control... initiating systems check," Tracy announced while Ford strapped himself in, swinging and locking his control panel in front of him.
"All systems report in." Tracy said briskly.
"Navigation is go!"
"Life-support is positive!"
"Engine and Fuel are go!"
"Sensors and Computers, condition green!"

"All Ship's systems A-OK," Tracy concluded.
"Calypso to Amerigo, come in. This is Sandar. We stand at T minus 60 seconds to release. All systems go at this end."
"This is Amerigo, all Lander systems active and engaged. We stand ready for release. "Tracy announced. Ford's hands gripped the control rods and his innards tingled with excitement. This was it!
"Holding clamps releasing in five, four, three, two, one... Release!"
A heavy, muffled clang was felt rather than heard, as explosive bolts detonated and the Lander pulled away from the Calypso amidst a flurry of dust and metal fragments.
"Clamps released and the clock has started! Amerigo is turning around now - Oh, that view is tremendous! Helm, as soon as we're clear of the Calypso, enable the Approach and Landing program." Tracy said, his voice taut with exhilaration.
"Program enabled," Ford replied as he began to feel the attitude thrusters' gentle push and sway, moving the lander away from the protecting bulk of the Calypso.
"Ship's systems?" Ford spoke.
"All systems still nominal," replied Brennan after scanning the readouts.
"Okay people, Here we go - approach and landing sequence is initiated." Ford relinquished control of the lander to the far more cautious and implacable navicomputer and prepared to enjoy the ride down.
Buffeting began to rattle the ship. For several long minutes, blazing streamers of the lander's ablative heat shielding flashed past the view ports while the roaring of blasting air rose to a mournful howl. He grinned, watching the tense, uncertain faces of the crew.
Suddenly, the roaring faded away and a tremendous jolt shook the ship resulting in an embarrassed yelp from Brennan. Huge, triple parachutes billowed from the nose of the lander and the ship's descent was dramatically slowed.
Ford checked the navigational systems and prepared himself for a manual landing.
"Helm, start feeding me the landing stats. We're commencing touchdown procedure."

The helmsman began to read off the pertinent information as Ford gently manoeuvered the lander towards the designated area which Tracy had named 'Armstrong Plateau'. They had chosen the morning side of the planet in what was calculated to be the most temperate zone; the site had level landscape and sparse foliage to ensure a stable field of operation.
They slowly drifted through several thick banks of pink cloud and the horizon was visible as a hazy purple band.
"Altitude 4300 meters and falling," announced the helm. Ford rechecked the landing program and confirmed the landing site was still go.
"Altitude 3200 meters and falling."
"Priming descent engines for final approach." Ford said quietly.
"Altitude 1500 meters and falling."
The landscape below them was starting to come into intriguing focus but no one had time to appreciate it.
The ground drew closer and closer, physical details becoming more and more clear and the countdown of the altitude continued.
"120 meters and falling..."
"75 meters and falling..."
"30 meters and falling..."
"Stand by for ignition!" Tracy spoke. He paused a few seconds and added," Full thrust, now!" The ship shuddered as the main engine bellowed its roar, decelerating the Amerigo further. Ford had to shout his directions as the buffeting rocked the landers' frame.
"Steady as she goes...12 meters... 8 meters... Moving to the right a little... 2 meters... Contact light...ok, engine stop!" Ford announced as he and the helmsman shut down operational systems and ran a systems checklist. It was a few minutes before anyone could say anything.
"Calypso control... This is Armstrong Base. The Amerigo has landed! "Tracy said finally as he got the nod from Ford.
"Amerigo base, this is Calypso... we copy you on the ground - we got a bunch of people about to turn blue - we're breathing again, thanks!" Sandar answered, his voice cracked but elated. Gradually the noise level inside the lander lessened until all was silent and the crew, their shipboard duties complete for the moment, finally stopped to see the new world beyond the viewports.

The surface was undulating and textured with rounded curves that made it difficult to estimate distance. Rocklike formations jutted upwards at weird angles, layered in sinuous striations. The colours leaned towards purples and mauves, both light and dark shot through with occasional bands of yellow. White sprouting fronds grew around the rocks and seemed to move visibly. A branching tendril would wind upward from the base of the plant and, at a certain height, would suddenly wither and crumple to the ground only to be replaced with another.
In the distance, masses of low, domelike hills or mountains seemed to tremble slightly, while the impassive sun shone down on the scene. The Amerigo stood, the first interstellar landing by mankind, and the landscape of the new planet lay unconcerned around it. Ford looked out at the marvellous scenery around them and grinned. Tracy addressed the lander crew with no little emotion.
"People, we have finally done it. All of the work and tedium and cramped quarters have paid off. Whatever else happens, we have successfully landed on a new planet in another star system; Our history will never be the same again." Ford looked at Tracy and nodded with a smile.
"When do we go EVA, John?" Ford asked with noticeable impatience. Tracy smiled back indulgently and answered.
"Don't be in such a hurry to get it over with. Once it's done, it will never feel the same again. This will probably be the high point of our lives... let's not use it up too quickly." Tracy clasped Ford on the shoulder, and he conceded sheepishly.
"Let's give all systems one final check and we can prep for EVA. Tammy, launch perimeter probes when I give the word; set range to 1 km from central base."
"Will do, Captain." Brennan replied.
"Tom, check our EVA gear and get suited up. We plant the flag in thirty minutes."
"Yes!" Ford exclaimed and flew off to carry out the order.
"Amerigo to Calypso, do you read?" Tracy bent over the comm console.
"Calypso here. Go ahead, Amerigo."
"This is Captain Tracy. Tom Ford and I are go for EVA. We will transmit sound and picture to you for relay back to Earth. How is the ship situation?" Tracy asked.

"All systems nominal except... we're reading a coolant fluctuation in the reactor. It's more than likely a systems glitch; I have an engineering team on it right now and will give you their report when it comes in." Tracy frowned, a worm of unease beginning to move in his stomach.
"Keep me posted, Jem. Tracy out." Tracy didn't like the sound of that, but Sandar seemed to be on top of the situation; his attention was soon occupied as he and Ford, fully suited up, prepared for the first interstellar surface contact.

The two men entered the small airlock and sealed themselves in, making last minute inspections of their life-support equipment.
"The outside air pressure is essentially equal to earth with a strong oxygen content," Ford commented.
"That's a hopeful sign. When we're certain of the biological content, we'll be able to determine if we can breathe it freely." Tracy agreed.
"For the moment, we'll take the cautious route and stay fully suited." Tracy headed for the airlock outer hatch and keyed in the manual unlock sequence.
"John, we have life-support for two hours max, with fifteen minute reserve, based on moderate exertion." Ford declared.
"Good. I think we'll take it easy this time out. Are you ready, Tom?"
Ford looked at Tracy and could not answer. He had not really thought about this moment until now, and its magnitude overwhelmed him.
"I thought I was ready, but... I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Let's do it."

"All right. Amerigo control, this is Tracy. Inner control released. Open outer airlock." At that, a green light flashed on and the thick airlock door swivelled open, bright sunlight splashing through the widening gap. Brilliant motes of light, likely pollen, swirled in and were lost as they escaped the sunbeam. Ford and Tracy stood in awe as the full vision revealed itself to them. A huge expanse of mauve sky dotted with wisps of pink cloud, punctuated by a blazing magenta-white sun. Near the horizon, a slim crescent moon peeked over a bizarrely domed mountain range. The two figures stepped out of the confines of the airlock onto the stairway platform, and watched as the articulated rails of the stairway unfolded and locked into place. The two men slowly and carefully climbed down, until both of them stood on a small platform, inches away from the surface.
"I want us to do this together, Tom." Tracy suddenly announced.
"What do you mean?" Tom replied, puzzled.
"We'll step down together... we'll both take the first step.." Tracy explained.
"Why do you want to share that honour with me? This is your show." Ford was confused. Tracy shrugged, hesitating.
"We go back a long time, Tom." Tracy said, "I wouldn't be here without your help... under other circumstances, you'd be commanding this mission."
"Here comes more of that "Space-hero" stuff. C'mon, John, don't put me on a pedestal. I'm just plain Tom Ford... you're the man in charge. If you want to share the moment...then it would be an honour for me. Thank you, John." Ford put his hand on Tracy's shoulder and Tracy gave him a thumbs-up in answer.
"All right... when I signal, we'll both step down."
"All right, let's do this thing, John. The rest of the world's watching." Ford said.
Without any more hesitation, the two men stepped out in tandem, their boots sinking deep into the loamy, purple soil. Tracy spoke first.
"With one step into the unknown... the stars beckon- and we follow."
Ford was touched by Tracy's simple yet profound statement. He felt that he must follow with something, so he racked his brain for an appropriate phrase. Suddenly he dimly remembered part of the solemn quote from a long-ago Apollo mission.
"On this day, April 16, 2068, Man first set foot upon Calypsa... we came in peace for all Mankind." Ford and Tracy had to stay silent for a few moments, both men nearly overcome with the awe and immensity of what they had done. Ford blinked away tears and saw Tracy's streaked face smiling at him, as he unfurled the Ensign of Sol. This flag, a royal blue background with an alighting eagle clutching an olive branch in the centre, surrounded by a circle comprised of all the flags of Earth and its colonies, was meant to represent Mankind beyond the boundaries of the Solar System. The eagle symbol not only brought to mind Man's first landing on another celestial body, but also signified the first moment all of Mankind seemed unified in wonder and pride for that first landing: The symbol was indeed appropriate.

Ford released a bracket holding a small tubular device secured within one of the landing gear nacelles and pressed its tip against the ground. He pulled a trigger and a hollow metal spike was rammed into the soil. Tracy then held the flagpole over the hole and carefully slid the shaft into the ground. The two men stood silently as a slight breeze swirled the flag aloft and Tracy spoke again:
"Armstrong Base to all of the Peoples of Earth, Luna, Mars, and Phobos... we stand here today because of the dedication of our kind to explore and discover all new frontiers we find. In doing so, we prove again that whatever a man can do, all free men must fully share. We stand on the surface of a new world and dedicate our efforts to all those whose footsteps we have walked in to get here."
Tracy grew silent again, as the message he sent streaked back to the homeworlds.
Ford began to unpack instrument packages and after consultation with Tracy, transferred instructions to the Amerigo crew.
"Amerigo, launch perimeter probes now... set their telemetry for all-weather function and run a frequency test with the orbital relays; Confirm with Calypso that you have a good link." Ford was eager to proceed with the atmospheric bioscan. The sooner they could confirm a non-harmful, breathable atmosphere, the sooner he and Tracy could get out of the stifling pressure suits.
"Okay, people, Ford and I are commencing with instrument setup. Get ship systems on line so we can get our experiments going." Tracy announced, he hesitated for a moment, then added, "Calypso, what is your current status, over?"
"Calypso here, Captain. We're still trying to trace that coolant problem. The engineering crew is continuing to work on it, but nothing to report yet." Tracy frowned.
"Keep me informed, Mr. Sandar... Tracy out."
"Do we have trouble?" Ford asked quietly.
Pausing for a moment, Tracy answered.
"I'm not sure. I shouldn't be worried but I am."
"Trust your crew to do the right thing, John. You can't watch over them all the time. Trust them to do their job; they're good people."
"If I can sure of anything, it's that," Tracy admitted.

Suddenly the air was split by the sound of launching rockets as the perimeter probes arced up and out of sight to impact over one kilometre away into the ground. Fifteen probes arranged in a circle around the lander would provide a sensor net and security perimeter where the ship and crew could be forewarned of any unforseen encroachment.
Ford and Tracy worked for another hour and decided to inform the next EVA team to prepare to suit up.
"We'll need a couple of hours to make a really thorough analysis of the air samples, so it will be full pressure suits and level seven decontamination procedures until we know for certain," Tracy informed the crew as he and Ford climbed back up the stairway and into the waiting airlock. They stood still while the outer hatch sealed itself and the decontam procedure initiated. Ship atmosphere soon began to hiss into the inner chamber, and they then unlocked their helmet seals and unzipped their suits. Ford, with hair askew and face shining with sweat, laughed with satisfied exhaustion.
"Too much time in zero-g, John. I'm tuckered out by only two hours of easy work." Tracy laughed in response.
"It will come back to you, Tom. A few days of good, old-fashioned lifting and hauling will get those biceps bulging again."
They left the chamber, passing the next two eager, space-suited figures to whom they clapped on the shoulders in encouragement, and quickly proceeded to the control area.
"Get me the Calypso," Tracy spoke as he settled into his command chair.
"I've got them, Captain." the Comm officer said briskly.
"Calypso, this is Captain Tracy. What is your status?" He tried to sound neutral but his palms began to sweat.
"Captain Tracy, all ship's systems are nominal. The coolant fault has been traced and cleared."
"That's great news, Mr. Sandar. I'll call in every half-hour to generally check in on things just the same. Thanks. Tracy out." He signed off and finally relaxed, relief softening the lines of his face. Ford smiled and gestured expansively.
"See, I told you... trust your crew and leave them alone to do their jobs."

"Yeah, yeah... I know." Tracy grinned back." Let's see if we have any results on our atmosphere tests."
Ford and Tracy got up out of their chairs, wincing at the effort of nearly full Earth gravity, and moved to Tammy Brennan's station where she watched readouts on a series of flickering screens.
"Well, Tammy... any news?" Tracy asked, peering over her shoulder.
"Almost there, Captain," she answered without looking away from the screens and readouts." So far, no reactivity from any of the biological material suspended in the air. It's like we don't even exist to these organisms; there's no reactivity at all." Brennan turned her head and grinned at them." It's very hopeful."
"If this turns out to be confirmed, then we can forget about the suits for good." Tracy clasped both of them on the shoulder as he moved to the viewport to observe the EVA crew.
"Tom, this is so exciting." Brennan said softly." I had no idea I would feel this way."
"Me too, Tammy," Ford smiled. "I only wish Terry were here."
"So do I," she said wistfully.
Ford gripped her hand with affectionate pressure and joined Tracy at the viewport.
Half an hour later, Brennan stepped away from her console, beaming and clutching a folded sheaf of printed readouts.
"All tests are negative," she smiled.
"No biohazard?" Tracy questioned, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"100% test results, repeated eight times. We can walk on the surface without suits," she replied with confidence.
"This is excellent. Shall we test it out first?" Ford winked at Tracy.
"Let's do it." Tracy laughed. "Tammy, monitor our vital signs and keep the recorders running. You're in command if something happens..." Tracy's voice lowered as he said this, but he didn't stop smiling. She watched the two old friends go to the airlock and seal the hatch behind them.

Outside the lander, the EVA crew set up more experiments and gathered samples, trudging back and forth in their reliable but bulky pressure suits. The two stopped suddenly and turned in alarm as they witnessed the airlock door swoosh open and watched in astonished horror as Ford and Tracy, suitless, clambered down the stairway and trod lightly upon the maroon soil.
"It's a beautiful day!" Ford observed, breathing deeply and feeling refreshed.
"Wonderful.." Tracy said with undisguised pleasure, closing his eyes and feeling the sun on his face.

Two days later, after all of the crew had their fill of cavorting suitless on the surface, Tracy announced that they would start erecting temporary shelters in the surface perimeter to consolidate the landing site and lessen the now cramped conditions within the lander itself.
"We have three more weeks of general survey work ahead here and another month of orbital research and mapping. I think we'll all appreciate the luxury of private accommodation for a while."
The crew cheered and laughed enthusiastically, while Ford, hands pocketed in his old leather jacket, winced slightly at his first extra-terrestrial sunburn.
Tracy turned to speak to Ford when the Comm unit crackled. Silence fell like a hammer and all eyes locked onto the speaker.
"Calypso to Amerigo, Calypso to Amerigo... we have an emergency-" The words were drowned in a burst of static. Tracy leaped into the Comm unit Chair and spoke intently but calmly, hands clenched white on the microphone grip.
"Calypso, say again, repeat, say again! We lost your last transmission!" Ford's face was ashen as the potential implication of the message sank in.
"Calypso to Amerigo, come in!" The speaker grid sputtered again.
"Calypso, this is Captain Tracy. What is your condition? Repeat your last transmission. We are not receiving, over." Tracy had aged twenty years in as many seconds as the group agonized over the crackling interval, waiting for a response.

"...aptain Trac...! We have had a major reactor shutdown... coolant circulation system is non-operational... main engine reactors are off-line and overheating." The speaker vibrated with the plaintive sounds of Jem Sandar's cracked voice as he fought with static and the primal urge to panic. Tracy pulled himself together and spoke quietly but with the smooth steel of command.
"Jem, do you read me? Apply your signal boost! Stay calm and give me a full report." Tracy's voice showed no emotion as he exerted his command.
"Yes... yes, I read you Captain... as.. as I said, the reactor has shut down completely. The coolant circulation problem suddenly reappeared and before we could activate the backup unit, the overheating blew out the containment barriers. We were lucky to evacuate the engineering section before anyone was hurt. The engines are off-line, though, and our orbit is deteriorating." Sandar grew silent, marshalling his courage as his voice cracked with the strain."We're good for about five orbits and then we're in the fire."
"Jem, hang in there. Prep the crew for immediate evac and stand by. We will rendezvous with you on your next flyby and extract you. Gather what survival gear you can but ditch the pressure suits; you won't need them down here." Tracy said calmly but urgently.
"Okay, Captain, we're on it. We'll keep transmitting when we're in range, and I'll fire up the homing beacon," Sandar replied, now a little more relaxed and sure of himself.
"Good man." said Tracy," just don't panic and we'll pull out of this." He switched off and looked at Ford with wide, shadowed eyes.
"Looks like we have a problem," he said simply.
"Okay, everyone. Please clear the control module. Tom, I'll need your help."
"That's for sure!" Ford tried to sound brave.
"You're going to need an experienced man up there." Ford continued,"And whose got more experience with heroic rescues than me?" Ford jerked his thumb at himself and winked. Tracy relaxed a little and Ford smiled.
"We're in really deep slag this time but we still have options. We save the Calypso's crew and we establish ourselves here until the next ship arrives," Ford related reasonably, "We'll be okay."
Tracy looked at Ford with an indefinable expression of foreboding and guilt and nodded silently.

"We had better get the ascent stage powered up and operational, Tom. I want to run a double systems check just to be certain."
"Right," said Ford.
The lander crew withdrew to the just-completed outside shelters and consolidated their supplies. The duplicate computer hard drive was removed and installed within a remote console so that all of the recorded data gleaned from the new planet so far would be secure. Brennan continued her work analyzing the biosphere.
Ford and Tracy prepared the ascent stage of the Amerigo for launch and calculated a trajectory that would intercept the stricken Calypso during its next overhead pass.
"Okay, got it. Arc of descent plotted and laid in.... Twenty-eight minutes to lift-off." Ford said briskly.
"Check, we are go for launch," Tracy replied, inspecting the systems readout.
"John, are you okay? Ford asked quietly.
"As well as you can expect, now that the mission is unravelling before our eyes," Tracy answered morosely."Everything was riding on this mission... all our hopes, our future.." He shook his head wearily.
"John, what does that mean? Everything's riding on this mission?" Ford frowned as Tracy sighed deeply.
"I couldn't tell you or anyone else connected with the flight..."
"Couldn't tell me what?" Ford's eyes narrowed as his spine tingled with approaching dread.

"This was a 'Do-or-Die' mission, Tom. The costs were enormous, far higher than anyone dreamed. The corporate sponsors took one look at the budget requirements and almost scrubbed the mission then and there. Remember that fellow Messier? He worked night and day, whittling down the proposed expenditures and appropriations until just the bare bones remained. A streamlined, no-frills interstellar mission with just enough to get by. Instead of a fleet of ships like Calypso, there would be only one; scaled down, stripped of unnecessary luxuries, with half of the proposed crew. That was what convinced the selection board to confirm your presence on the mission. Your experience made you worth three regular crew. The corporate brass examined Messier's new proposal, and grudgingly acceded... with one catch." Tracy remarked forebodingly. " The deal was that if this one mission returned successfully, with strong evidence of profitable raw materials to exploit, then the Corp would give the okay to continue with the original plan and send a fleet of ships to the new planet." Tracy sighed again and rubbed his pale face . "It was all or nothing, Tom. Now our fate and the fate of interstellar travel has been sealed in one brutal stroke." He slumped in his chair. Ford looked sadly at his nearly-broken friend and clasped his arm.
"Snap out of it, pal. We have a rescue mission to fly."
"Tom, don't you get it? It's over! There will be no further missions. Live or die, we're stuck on this planet forever!" Tracy's voice quavered. Ford leaned out of his chair and gripped Tracy by the shoulders.
"I understand all of that, but there's no time to get worked up over it; you said live or die? Well, there's a ship full of scared people that we have to save right now. If we can do it, then there will be plenty of time to commiserate over our plight later."
"You're... right, Tom. I'm sorry." Tracy fought to regain his composure. "Let's go. You can count on me." He tightened his seat harness and began the final systems rundown. Ford looked at his friend and smiled sadly.
"Fuel is go... telemetry is go... we have a good fix on Calypso's beacon. Four minutes to launch."
"Tammy, is everyone secure in the shelters?"
"We're dug in tight, Captain," Brennan's voice faltered. "Good luck."
"Don't worry, we'll make it," Tracy said, his confidence beginning to rise.
"Countdown is ... fifteen seconds... ten... five, four, three, two, one, engage!"
Explosive bolts whacked and pinged as the main engine of the ascent stage exploded into life. White-hot exhaust gases blasted downward through the open vent channel of the Amerigo and whooshed outward as a crater was hammered into the shuddering ground. The blunt nosecone of the Amerigo heaved skyward, up and out of sight, dwindling to a remote, bright speck as the smoke and dust of its launch settled around the scorched and blackened lander.
The crew emerged from their protective shelters and caught the last wink of light from the speeding ascent vehicle, leaving them to wonder if they would ever see it again.

Aboard the ascent vehicle, the two men relaxed as the acceleration forces subsided and orbit was achieved.
"I have Calypso on screen... one hundred and forty kilometres ahead... will intercept in... four minutes." Tracy spoke, all symptoms of indecision gone.
"I copy that... Calypso's orbit is still stable for the moment. We should have plenty of time to extract the crew, and make a safe re-entry close to camp." Ford indicated a thumbs-up and smiled. Tracy looked thoughtful and turned to Ford, a question on his lips.
"Tom, did... did you feel this way when you led the rescue team back on Mars?" He asked hesitantly.
"I suppose so. I'm afraid, too. Don't think that I'm not, not for a moment." he tried not to think of Terry, in imminent danger, and blocked the thought with his bluster. "But I'm also excited... this is the sort of adventure that got me into space in the first place. Childish, I suppose, but danger and high drama was what all those old SF monthlies promised. Romantic trash, I know, but inside I wanted to believe that it would all happen one day. Well, this mission is what I've been waiting my whole life for, and you want to know something? In spite of everything, it's still delivering." Ford grinned again, and laughed. Tracy shook his head in disbelief and smiled in return.
"Incredible! The world's oldest Space-Hero!"
Ford grimaced.
"I wish people would stop calling me that."
Suddenly, an alarm beeped.
"We're coming up on Calypso... " Tracy said, "Calypso, do you read? We are about to commence docking manoeuvre, over."
"Calypso here! Are we glad to hear you! We're all standing by for immediate evac. Ship systems have been closed down and manual overrides have been activated," Sandar announced, his voice filled with relief.
"Good, Jem. We are manoeuvring into docking position. holding, approaching... ten meters... seven meters... three meters... contact light! A little more thrust... okay, lights are green... hard dock achieved."
"Confirmed, we have a hard dock. Sandar reassured."We are pressurizing transfer tunnel now."

Tracy checked the docking seal integrity and nodded.
"Jem, have everyone ready to disembark as soon as we pop the hatch. Let's make this quick and by the numbers."
"You've got it, Captain," came the reply.
The two men unbuckled their restraints and floated out of their chairs towards the docking hatch. Tracy keyed in the unlocking code and the thick circular door swung inwards and sank into a recess in the wall.
"Let's go, John," Ford said, taking the lead.

Inside the Calypso, Sandar gathered the crew and waited. The inner hatch clicked and opened as a brief breeze flowed inwards.
"Tom!" Terry Reeve cried as she caught sight of Ford floating through the doorway.
"Okay, everyone. File into the airlock according to emergency procedure and buckle in after you've stowed your gear," Tracy spoke with a raised voice, to be heard above the general babble of relief. Terry Reeve took Ford aside before entering the hatch and spoke quietly.
"Tom, I can't believe this is happening. I'm so glad you're here." Reeve's eyes were reddening and she hugged him hard. He stroked her back and comforted her as best he could.
"It's okay, Terry. Everything's going to work out. It's just like the good old days, huh?" She smiled at the remark and Ford kissed her softly." Get into the capsule and strap in. We'll all be safe soon." Reeve gripped Ford closely, her eyes closed and then quickly moved off to the awaiting capsule. Ford and Tracy were alone aboard the doomed Calypso.
"John, I've been downloading data banks so that we can still access the information we've gathered so far. I've got most of the files but in the searching, I've noticed that most of the Core systems are off-line. I know that Jem shut down most of the manual interfaces in the interests of safety, but the Core systems shouldn't be affected. The life-support is erratic and numerous involuntary systems are screwed up or not functioning at all." Ford looked serious.

"I see what you mean, Tom, but that's not going to matter in about four more orbits... " Ford frowned at Tracy's expression. "I see by your face that you've got some more bad news to add to what you've just told me."
"You're right, I'm afraid. With ship's systems this unreliable, we won't be able to separate from Calypso by remote systems," Ford pointed out, his calm exterior beginning to erode.
"The manual backup will do the job," John said, frowning as though he struggled to remember a lost detail.
"John, the manual docking separator is controlled from inside the Calypso! We can't effect separation unless the control is operated by someone still on board the Calypso!"
John's eyes were wide.
"No, that can't be..." his voice cracked.
"It is, John. It was supposed to be a safety feature used during the last stage of the mission; the ascent stage docks with Calypso and the release control locked off on manual. It can only be triggered from inside the mother ship so that the ascent stage can't be accidentally released by someone still inside the capsule. It can be used as a lifeboat in an emergency, but only if the core systems are still powered up." Ford paused as the grim news sank into Tracy's wracked brain.
"Don't you see? Someone has got to stay aboard and release the capsule manually." At that point, a tremor shook the ship as the upper layers of atmosphere began to pluck at the vessel's underside. Tracy took a deep breath and straightened himself.
"What are our options?" Ford pondered the question and considered his reply.
"Well, we could try to repair the core system... try to get some power to the docking release mechanism. Barring that, one of us could get suited up and release the mechanism manually, and spacewalk to the capsule."
Ford and Tracy implemented some investigation into both of those potential solutions, and came up dry.
"Tom, I've inspected the core and the damage I found would take far more hours to fix than we've got. It's a dead end." Ford nodded and spoke.

"I've run a check on the available suits and they have all been jettisoned; it doesn't matter anyway... The ascent vehicle doesn't have a double-door airlock. A space-suited figure can't enter unless the whole vehicle is in vacuum. The ascent capsule wasn't designed for this kind of EVA and the people in there have no suits. We're out of easy answers." Ford said finally.
Several seconds passed in icy slowness. Tracy spoke in a whisper.
"I'll stay. Get into the capsule and prepare to disembark."
"Forget it, John. It's not your time, yet. Everything's been leading up to this for me... I've got to do this now... this time it's my show." Ford tried to smile as he spoke.
"No, Tom! Damn it, I'm the captain of this ship and it's my duty - no - my privilege to go down with her if it will save my crew. I won't let you sacrifice yourself!" John shouted as more tremors buffeted the ship.
"It's no good, John. You're the captain, all right, but those people down there and in that capsule have been following your commands for the last year and a half. They're going to need that leadership more than ever if you're going to have a chance for survival. You know I'm right, John. I'm an old man now, whose had a good life and made a difference. What man could die happier? Go now, and let me have this last moment." Ford's face looked feverish and flushed. His eyes reddened with emotion as he clasped his best friend to him. Tracy's eyes were streaming and his face stricken with grief. He knew his friend was right.
"Goodbye, Tom Ford... I'll take care of everyone for you." Tracy said no more as he reluctantly reentered the airlock and Ford sealed it behind him.

Ford waited as he knew that Tracy would have to explain to the crew what was now going to happen. He wondered privately why he had volunteered his life so readily when Tracy seemed resigned to his duty. He didn't know... all he did know was that the crew had to be saved and they would need their captain to help them survive. Or at least, that was what sounded good and noble to his sense of honour. He really had no idea. All that mattered was that Terry was safe and someone would take care of her. It seemed almost dramatically epic to end this way; Trapped in the blazing wreckage of his valiant ship, plunging to destruction after nobly rescuing his brave crew. Yes, it was a good story, and John would probably tell it that way too, but the real truth of the matter was that Ford didn't know why he stepped in to sacrifice himself, only that he knew it had to be him.
Ford stopped abruptly, knowing that he did feel fear and that he was not ready to die. It was hard to believe that it was almost all behind him now... the mission was all that had mattered. Even as he thought of it he began to feel strangely elated. His life had been one of hard work and long hours with rewards sometimes few and far between. Fleetingly, he recalled his first voyage as engineer's assistant on a well-seasoned freighter. His mind had reeled with images of adventure and excitement roaming the spaceways. He was soon to learn that romance and adventure existed solely in the pulp monthlies he used to read as a boy. Real life in space was routine, long and sometimes very boring.
The decades he had spent in space had taught him one thing... that the only excitement space did have to offer was usually followed by a swift death as the air of your ship whistled out of your breached hull. Ford had grown patient and methodical; he learned not to ask for or expect thrills, but to appreciate any opportunity that came his way. Commanding Phobos had been one such kernel of opportunity; Tondelayo had been another. Ford had been happy with these new challenges and had resigned himself to the fact that romance and adventure had no place in space — until now. Pondering this, he opened the access panel that housed the docking release lever and broke the seal. Now he merely waited for Tracy's go-ahead. Ford deliberately avoided looking out the window, knowing that he would not have the strength or courage to continue if he saw Terry's despairing face looking back. The comm unit crackled and a hollow voice barely recognizable as Tracy simply said; "We're ready."
Ford breathed hard, stifling the sudden urge to panic and shout, and pulled the lever. The docking clamps whanged as they released the ascent ship, and it began to drift away from the Calypso. Ford then looked out... straight into the eyes of his beloved Terry. She watched him, tears streaming away from her face, moving farther and helplessly farther until the capsule dwindled to nothing. Ford's own eyes stung with grief as he watched the tiny point of light wink out and vanish.
He was alone.

The long, white shape of the Calypso streaked across the blue-purple horizon of the unconcerned planet that was soon to be the vessel's fiery tomb. Ford drifted through the deserted ship which banged and thumped as it was buffeted by the strengthening wisps of upper atmosphere. He had nowhere to go now, or anything to do except wait for the unthinkable end that grew closer with each orbit. He moved through the hydroponic sphere and nodded in sad satisfaction as he noticed the verdant growth that the foliage showed.
"The sunlight really rejuvenated things in here..." He shook his head sadly and shut down the lights and secondary systems, almost by reflex. He found his way to his quarters and with a solemn smile realized that he would never finish his last bottled ship; it was going to have been the Calypso itself. Ford picked up the half-completed model and inspected its intricacy. Some thing about bottles was starting him thinking. He was unsure of the significance and resumed his appreciation of his model.
"Something in a bottle..." Ford mused. He held the model at eye level and released it to float there before him, when the transparent bead that represented the hydroponic sphere came loose and floated away from the rest of the model.
"I won't have time to fix..." His eyes narrowed as he watched the small glittering sphere float across his field of view and suddenly whipped his hand out to snatch the object, gripping it in a tight fist; he smiled.
"That's it!" he said with a soft but firm voice.
Ford looked at his watch intently. He knew that he had about four usable hours left to him before the Calypso began to break up in earnest, so he first made a trip from one end of the ship to the other, consulting a printed record of ship's supplies. He was looking for some specific items which he checked off the list as he found them. When he was finished, he examined the list and nodded silently, heading for the pressure suit storage; Ford remembered that a lightweight emergency EVA suit would be stowed with the other emergency supplies.

Three and a half hours later, an exhausted Ford unclasped his helmet and drank in the still fresh air of the Hydroponic sphere. It's appearance had greatly altered in that time, and would have seemed the work of a madman, had the observer not known of the impending disaster that loomed ever nearer. He looked around him, the face of the planet racing past beyond the thick plastic of the sphere. He sighed and replaced his helmet, strapping himself into a collapsible chair that had been bonded to the bulkhead next to the main hatchway. In front of him was an auxiliary control panel similarly bonded to the chair arm with a molecular adhesive. Ford switched on the power that came from a rack of reserve batteries he had mounted under the chair, and proceeded to check the integrity of the radical new systems that he had installed in the sphere. He pressed each touchpad key and was rewarded with an unwinking green light from his panel. He breathed easier with each green light, relaxing the severe tension that made his neck and temples ache. He increased his suit's coolant level and swallowed a pain-relieving solution dispensed from inside his helmet as he checked his watch once more; eight minutes to spare. Smiling with some level of satisfaction, he activated the small independent computer he had linked with his guidance and control systems, and prepared each program for easy access. His watch alarm beeped a moment before he finished his preparations and he was glad that he did not have to wait with nothing to do before he initiated his plan.
"Well, now is the moment. For better or worse, I gave it my best shot. Let's do it!" His hand rotated the heavy switch, its reassuringly loud clack echoed by the smack of explosive bolts detonating, sending a sharp shock pulsing through the sphere. The shock and rumbling was quickly replaced by utter silence and Ford was treated to the dizzying spectacle of the Calypso slowly spinning away from the now free-floating hydroponic sphere.
"Stage one accomplished." Ford muttered. He immediately scanned the control panel screen and fired off the remote attitude thruster jets he had mounted on the outer shell until the sphere stabilized and stopped spinning. Looking upward, he could see the bursts of propellant vapour as he triggered the control and the horizon of the planet levelled before him. The Calypso, already far away, moved onward and out of sight to its fate, as Ford's heart panged with sorrow. Mastering his emotions, he prepared for his next move.
"Ready for stage two... loading re-entry sequence now... initiate!"
The small computer now held the reins and the control jets began to fire in a strange staccato rhythm, as the sphere-turned-spaceship was pushed and rotated into the proper re-entry angle. Suddenly a red light flashed on Ford's panel and he grimaced at it.

"The re-entry angle won't work... too much discrepancy in the vehicle... the computer's never landed something this size and shape before. It's going to have to be manual." Ford sighed and switched the control to manual, gripping the control handle lightly. Below him, the view of the planet's cloudy face was obscured by the thick layer of heat-shielding that he had sprayed on outside the sphere. He had hoped to apply more but he had used all of the material that had been stored for emergency patching of the lander's own shield. He manipulated the control lightly, and soon a slight howling began, rising steadily louder as the sphere began the careful penetration of the atmosphere. The outside temperature soon rose to red heat and torrents of flame swept past the blackening shell. The shaking increased and Ford's teeth clenched as the fiery descent passed in agonizing slowness. He had to manually adjust the control thrusters to stay level, constantly keeping the heat shield centred on the blasting wave of heat. The computer, now only an advisor, projected the sphere's image on a tactical display, allowing Ford to stay one step ahead of potentially tumbling the now battered sphere. Flaming chunks of material whooshed past the soot-streaked, nearly opaque shell and Ford had serious worries that the entire heat shield would burn away and strip off the underside before he was safely through the danger zone. He glanced at the altimeter and then began to breathe easier as he observed his slowing descent and lessening of roaring flames.
"Ready for stage three... chute lights are green, altitude correct. Releasing chute... now!" Ford yanked the pull rod with a silent prayer. A crack sounded over Ford's head, and his heart hammered as he strained to see through the scarred and blackened dome. The drogue shot upward, dragging the main chute with it; the sphere shook and slowed with a stomach-dropping lurch. Ford was immediately concerned for the integrity of his bonding of the chute package to the sphere. He almost cried as the enormous rectangular orange and white parasail chute snapped open and blossomed overhead. The sphere jerked hard again as the chute filled and almost brought the ball to a standstill, giving Ford time to resume his fears about the quality of his glue. He satisfied himself that everything seemed to be holding together and brought himself to the final operation.

"Stage four proceeding. Parasail control is... operational." He gripped the twin control rods and gently maneuvered the gliding craft, veering left then right until he was satisfied that he had full control. He again consulted the computer, requesting a course plan to intersect with the coordinates of the Amerigo landing site. His luck still held; he was under one hundred kilometres from the landing site and Ford prepared to navigate his way there. With the sphere surface almost totally opaque from the scorching re-entry, Ford had resigned himself to instrument navigation and tantalizing glimpses of mauve sky through the few streaked clear spots. This was not to be, however, as Ford heard muffled thunder and the beginnings of a rain shower pattering against the grimy shell. Ford's control of the craft was not threatened and the shower was light and not accompanied by stormy wind. Soon, as the rainwater washed the outer shell the view beyond lay revealed.
The sphere drifted through pillars of pink cloud from a storm he must have just missed, and Ford gazed in awe at the golden-bright horizon. Ford saw the sight and felt a lump in his throat as he realized that this would be his home now, and that he did not mind in the least. The light rain continued to pelt the sphere; and the ashy clinker of the heat shield cracked and fell away, treating Ford with the sight of the patchy and striated ground below, passing slowly as he flew aloft in the strange contraption that he had assembled. The rain ceased, and the sun appeared in the full intensity of early evening. Long shadows were strewn along the maroon-dappled ground from tall rock structures which stood silent watch as he flew overhead. He was then greeted with a sight that no man of Earth had ever seen before and that he would never forget. Beyond the shore of the Major Sea, which was just coming into view as he crested an obscuring cliff-face, was a huge, intricate structure rising out of the greenish water. A leaning tower of corroded yet delicate spires and struts posed its silent questions as Ford approached, filled with awe. Water lapped at the structure's base as he flew a lazy circle around it, taking in its alien symmetry, and coming to a conclusion he could be sure of: this mystery had one thing in common with him... it was not from this planet. What he believed he was looking at was a derelict alien spacecraft, as grounded as he was soon to be. Ford, intrigued but cautious, resumed his flight, eager to explore the amazing find but mindful of his job at hand.

"I'd like to be as close to camp as possible before I have to ditch and land when the daylight gives out." Ford smiled as he caught an updraft, buying precious altitude and he continued his flight plan. With the urgency and danger of the past four and a half hours behind him, he felt elated, calm, and, yes, young again. Flying this device that he had cobbled together from spare ordnance gave him a curious feeling of displacement. He felt out of his own time, like a Jules Verne character. He thought about that for a moment and, in a flash of realization, it occurred to him that this is what he had always believed himself to be, after all. With that new self-appraisal confirmed, Ford nodded to himself and promised to return to the Derelict some day and look further.
Half an hour passed and Ford squinted in the dimming light, searching the horizon for a sign of the Amerigo's position. He knew that he had only ten or fifteen minutes of light left, and would soon have to force-land himself. The computer could find the Amerigo but could not give him ground details in the dark, making a blind landing an unpleasant prospect. Then, as Ford vainly scanned the ground, the computer's proximity sensor triggered an alarm. Ford, tense with the impending landing, checked the tactical screen and laughed as he recognized the Amerigo's signal. He altered his course, eyes straining to catch a glimpse of the camp in the fading, reddish light of the setting sun.
"Where are you? Wait a minute... is it? Yes!" He caught the familiar lines of the Amerigo's outline on his left, faint lights dotting the area. He banked sharply, not wanting to overshoot the site and lose them. He saw the canted-over shape of the ascent capsule streaming its rippling shroud of parachute. Ford felt guilty, realizing that in the excitement of his own escape he had not spared a thought of his crew. Chagrined and a little ashamed, Ford skimmed the air looking now for a suitable landing site not too far from the shelters. He saw a two figures walking in front of him, oblivious to his approach overhead, and he feared he might strike them in passing. He sheared upwards, missing the two by a safe distance, but sacrificing his speed. The battered sphere swung around its chute and ploughed into the loose soil beyond the outskirts of the camp, finally announcing itself to the shocked couple who dove for cover. Inside, Ford winced as he unlocked his helmet, blood welling up from a scalp wound sustained in the unexpected violence of the landing. He grimaced ruefully at the spiderweb crack in the faceplate and looked at his bloodied gauntlet with a weary smile. He looked around, trying to establish his position on the ground and realized that the sphere had rolled upon landing until it was almost upside-down to his seated position.
"This is going to take some mountaineering," he said with some annoyance.

Outside, a crowd gathered, murmuring and whispering with wonder and awe as John Tracy moved through the throng. Men with spotlights illuminated the cracked and sooty sphere as the hatch cracked and hissed, flipping open on its burned hinges with a squeal. A figure emerged, dusty and haggard, dropping a rope ladder and climbing down with some effort. The crowd circled around the space-suited figure, keeping a respectful distance and silence. Tracy approached as the man turned around to face him, holding his helmet.
"Hello, John." Ford said with a smile.
"My... God! Tom! For the love of God, it is you!" Tracy, his eyes still red from the trauma of the decision of six hours ago, grabbed Ford with a bone-bruising bear hug that made him gasp and wonder about the condition of his ribs. The memory of Tracy's haunted, grief-stricken face washed over him and Ford held him tightly, tears welling up in his eyes.
"It's okay, buddy. I'm still here."
"How did you... what the hell is that? Is that the hydroponic sphere? This is unbelievable!"
Around them the silent crowd, the valiant crew of the Calypso, gathered around the last scarred but unbroken relic of their once-proud ship, mesmerized by the appearance of this one man whose act of desperate bravery proved that they too, might survive the coming challenge.
All at once the crowd erupted with a bellow of incredulous amazement, as they all realized just what had happened. The two people that Ford had swerved to avoid hitting had picked themselves off the dusty ground and threaded their way through the exuberant mass and stood watching as if in a daze.
"John, I need to see..." He broke off as he saw the two women standing at the forefront of the milling group looking at him with frank disbelief.
"Terry!" Ford tossed away his now-useless helmet and sprinted towards her. Seeing him, she ran to meet him as Tammy Brennan approached cautiously.
"Tom, you're alive! Oh my God...." she sobbed. Ford held her close to him and caught Brennan’s gaze as he did so.
"I thought I’d never s-see you again," she said, her voice catching.
"I thought so too." Ford said quietly as he now held her at arms length. He looked into her eyes for a moment and spoke.

" In spite of what you two mean to each other, I’d like to be here for you... in whatever way I can... if you'll have me."
Brennan finally hugged the two of them to herself, her own eyes streaming with tears.
“C’mere, Space-hero... give me a hug.”

As a final punctuation of closure to the near-tragedy, the crowd looked up and a gasp of awe sounded. Ford and the two women looked up as well in time to see the valiant Calypso, now a lone, brave streak of fire, arcing across the ultramarine sky to disappear beyond the pink strip of the horizon.

This planet was now their new home.

"A man sat alone on a rounded peak
to contemplate and judge the actions he did take
to save the one he loved, his crew, his vessel
from a fiery fate; a flashing streak of flame that spake
of a mission lost, a duty failed...
and yet - save those lives he did, and stake
his honour, his love, his very life: and victory he did wrest from the hungry jaws of defeat, to shake
the throat of cruel and callous fortune."

Thomas John Ford III, "The Genesis of Calypsa: The First Forty Years."

Completed Mar.9,'96