M5

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M5 - BOTS

At the bottom of their loops, when Robyn and Lilith skimmed just over Mercury's highlands again, they lit off their engines to make planetfall, so there were two big bright flares telling anyone on Mercury who happened to be watching that two interlopers were come calling. Fortunately the danger was minimized by the low altitude where they initiated the burn, limiting the sight horizon. Presently there were two Astrodyne landers parked in the dark on the gradually cooling night-time surface of Mercury.

They lit up the whole area with floods, and saw a pipe elevated on pylons which terminated in the mountain pass. A pale cyan glow emerged from the end of the pipe and stretched off to infinity. The floodlights made the glow difficult to see, but Lilith obtained the spectrum of the glow and noted it was pure ionized carbon gas, a puzzle to be figured out later.

A few minutes later pumps had stashed away into tanks most of the air in their respective cabins, allowing Robyn and Lilith to drop to the surface. There was little need to get acclimated. They had spent the last two months at the same level of acceleration, by design, and the recent brief interval in free fall did not seriously reverse that conditioning.

By luck, Lilith spotted one sleeping Bot near enough to her lander that it reflected the floodlights. It was a beautiful little human-shaped thing, nearly four feet tall, with silvery skin. Che picked it up tentatively. It didn't wake up, and there was no sun power for it to use in any event. It was made from exotic and light metals like lithium and beryllium, and would have weighed as much as a small child on Earth, but in the lower gravity of Mercury it was even easier to lift. So within a quarter of an hour Lilith already had one Bot in the bag. This encouraged hem to go looking for more. Che only needed one, but perhaps they could use some spare parts.

Robyn, unfortunately, couldn't find a Bot using the lights from her lander, so she had to comb the ground by foot, using the lights on her suit. This was a surprisingly time-consuming task, like a snorkeler looking for a fin which had fallen off somewhere within a mere five feet of murky water. By the time she stumbled onto her first and only Bot, Lilith had bagged two of her own and was hunting for a third. But as she planned from the beginning, one Bot was sufficient for Robyn. One and done, no need to get greedy.

There was quite a safety margin of distance between their two landers, but Robyn still wanted to give Lilith a heads-up so she could turn her face- plate away from the launch and avoid taking any flying debris. Instead of talking to her by radio, which could be picked up, she walked right up to Lilith and touched her faceplate directly to Robyn's faceplate, just like a kiss, so she could speak and they could hear by simple, classic conduction of sound with no chance of being overheard by the Americans.

I got my Bot, Sugar, so I'm leaving now. Watch for blowing rocks.

Good girl, Lilith replied with a wink. I'll be right behind you. We're not going to get a second chance at this, and I want a couple more Bots to create a margin for error. What does your sixth sense tell you?

'You know my Talent doesn't work for shit trying to guess the future of an eloah. Common sense tells me you need to go now, but you won't. Then Robyn patted Lilith affectionately and picked her way over the dark rocky landscape back to her lander, leaving Lil behind to look for more Bots.

There was no way to avoid the bright light of her hot engine exhaust during launch, and the higher Robyn rose, more and more area of Mercury could potentially see her. This was the time of maximum peril. But Astrodyne rou- tinely hauled shipments of refined metals from Mercury to Venus, so Robyn was gambling that GenMat would not attack a ship going away from Mercury without a damn good reason. It was a reasonable risk. GenMat needed Astrodyne to carry their vast overflow of ore to Venus and thence to Earth.

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