Prologue

Too Hot

Goldie glanced at the readouts one more time.  There was nothing in the atmosphere that would cause her problems, of that she was sure.  She had checked five times already.  She shuddered at the thought of what might have happened on the previous planet, and checked again.

The planet she had just landed on was much nicer than the last one.  It even had a breathable atmosphere.  Not that she could take advantage of that, of course.  Not only did regulations state that she had to use her spacesuit for new planet falls, but it was also far too cold.  The suit would give her some protection against the weather.

Pulling on her gloves, she stepped into the airlock, the bot trundling with her.  She had strapped a box of emergency supplies to its back, and it was going with her wherever she went.  She felt a little silly, but nobody was here to mock her, and quite frankly she would take silly over dead any day.  The airlock cycled open, and she emerged onto the planet blinking in the harsh light.

The ice was blinding, a brilliant white and blue display.  There was no sign of any civilization – in fact there was no sign of life at all.  Just ice, for miles around, in some directions as far as the eye could see.  Goldie briefly considered moving the ship to another location, but the whole planet had looked pretty similar from space, and moving would take time. No, she would take samples of the ice and anything else she came across, and then leave.

Ordering the bot to keep up, she set off to walk a little.  It was important to get outside of the area affected by the fumes from her landing.

After a few hundred yards, she noticed that the bot was lagging behind.  She commed it with instructions to move faster, and for a while it seemed to be obeying.  Gradually, though, it slowed down, and eventually stopped.  Sighing in exasperation, Goldie walked back to where it was standing.

“E-560, why have you stopped?  Status report, please.”

The bot whirred and clunked.

“Sss… ssss… sst… ck.”

Great.  Not only was it not moving but it was also not making much sense.  Goldie was tempted to leave it and collect her samples, picking it up on the way back to the ship.  But the bot, irritating as it was, was her only companion out here, and if it broke she would no doubt go mad within a week.

Maybe not this week.  There were the planets to explore, after all.  But next week, when she was out in the black of space again, then she would surely lose her mind.

She opened up the panel in the back of the bot’s head and poked around a bit.  There didn’t seem to be any connectors loose.  There was a light film of something covering everything, though.  She scratched some away with a screwdriver and placed it in her mobile analyser.  A moment later the answer came back.

It’s just ice.  That shouldn’t be the problem.  Maybe it’s something to do with it’s mechanicals.  She pried loose the panel on one of the bot’s legs.  It all looked intact, but when she poked at it she knew immediately what the problem was.  The hydraulic fluids in the leg “muscles” were frozen solid.  Rated for all weather conditions, ha.  And I’m the queen of New England.  Why oh why could we not have had better bots?

There was nothing she could do for the bot out here, but at least she knew it would probably recover once she got it warmed up.  Sighing, she stood.  Patting the bot on the head, she left it behind.  It would still be here when she got back, and more cold probably wouldn’t damage it more than it already was.

A few hundred metres later she stopped and bent down.  The ice here looked pure and unblemished.  Time for some samples.  Quickly fishing her sample kit out of the bag on her back, she scraped some ice into the sample cases.  Then she dug around a little until she came up with a rock and tucked that away too.

Duty complete, she returned to her bot.  Now, how to get it back to the ship?  She checked her readouts.  There was plenty of air left, so she had no particular time pressures.  She rooted around in the pack of emergency supplies that the bot carried.  Spare air, pickaxe, laser cutter, aha!  Rope.  Quickly, a plan was formed.

She pulled the rope out and tied it around the bot.  The other end she tied around her waist.  She gave a yank, and the bot slowly toppled over.  Excellent.  If it had been stuck to the floor there’s no telling how long it would have taken to get it loose.

She began walking back towards the ship, the bot sliding easily over the ground behind her.  The ice might have caused this problem, but at least it made it easy to pull the weight.  Soon, she was back at the ship, and dragging the bot into the airlock with her.

As soon as the inner door opened she went to the environmental controls and turned up the heat.  She pushed the bot into a corner and left it, before going to get changed.  There was nothing she could do for it until it defrosted.  Then she would see what the damage was.

She just hoped it wasn’t too bad.  She might need its help on the next planet.

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