Archer was feeling tired by the time he climbed into the “fast” shuttle. He explained to Commander Ben Bryant what he was going to do. Bryant was not happy. That, and the fact that Bryant shouldn’t tell HQ, made the situation tricky.
“Just call me if they need me,” Archer told Bryant. Bryant reluctantly agreed.
Archer left the Argo II and directed the shuttle to the Tarantula. It was the main station of the Martian Mining Authority. They must have had some interaction with SMS-347, Archer reasoned.
Archer set the autopilot. It would be about a six hour trip, he intended to get at least two hours of shut-eye on his way there.
His portable alarm woke him. The Tarantula was considerably closer. It’s time for a plan, he thought.
He looked at the readings on his pilot display. The shuttle and MMA01 (the official name for the Tarantula) were already communicating. The shuttle was assigned landing bay number seven.
Archer examined the structure of the Tarantula. There was no doubt were that nickname came from. The station had a central hub, which eight radial “legs.” Each leg had a shuttle port at the end. Some of the ports seemed larger, obviously for shipping supplies or incoming ore from the asteroids.
After all, it was a mining station. Miners worked and lived here, Archer reminded himself. Miners who were in competition with SMS-347.
The arrangement between the MMA and the private mining company, a division of Recalcitrant Laboratories, Inc. was an agreement shrouded in mists. One of the most important agreements, with all space going vehicles, was the mutual help in an emergency understanding.
All spacemen and women know their first priority was to help each other survive, even if there was an element of competition. Somehow, the Mars Mining Authority did not come through for SMS-347. Archer was fully determined to find out why.
An orange light flashed on the controls, demanding Archer’s attention. The station queried the shuttle as to landing arrangements. Did the shuttle pilot wish an automatic entry or manual?
Archer chose automatic. He didn’t really know the Martian protocols, it would be best to let the Tarantula bring him in. The decision, however, was not without some apprehension.
The autopilot button dimmed, Archer felt the ship fall under the Tarantula’s control.
Even though the Martians had officially separated from any Earth authority dozens of years ago, guidance systems on most ships were similarly made, for any emergency that was bound to happen.
As the shuttle approached, Archer saw that the Tarantula was impossibly huge. The long arms supporting the ports stretched for miles, it seemed. The rotation of the station allowed Archer to view the complete structure.
The ports and center section were well-lit, with the long arms being shrouded in shadow. An occasional light blinked marking its location. It seemed that the arms were covered with a vast array of solar panels. Archer wondered about the effectiveness of these, this far from the sun. Still, the vastness of space perhaps encumbered the power of the sun less than an atmosphere.
Archer saw the arm marked “7” swing into view. The shuttle shifted course and headed for the cylindrical shape at the end of the long arm. The cylinder lit up.
The shuttle flew under the cylinder and held a position directly below. Archer punched a monitor button to view what was happening above.
An iris like structure opened to reveal a well-lit port. As the opening reached its fullest point, the shuttle moved upward, into the cylinder. Archer watched the monitor and shifted his eye to the shuttle ports.
The deck was ablaze in lights. He scanned for humans, there were none. All the operations were handled automatically. As the shuttle rose into a final landing position, a thin screen slid before the main port.
The screen flashed in bright red letters, “Remain in your craft. Maintain life support systems.”
Arched felt the shuttle being locked into place. He flipped the switch to view beneath the shuttle. The iris was closing, he saw that is was a triple layer. Nozzles with large hoses attached surrounded the ship.
At once, a fine white powder material coated the ship. The bright red sign began to get blurry when blue lettering lit up, “Deploy UV protection.”
Archer barely had time to put on his goggles when the whole outer surface blazed with an intense blue light. The outer monitors winked out, Archer hoped the cameras were not permanently damaged. He soon have known better, he cursed.
The blue light seared the ship for three minutes before it winked out. It took Archer a few seconds to adjust to the comparative darkness. The sign changed, “Remain in your craft.” He heard a sound at the hatch.
The hatch opened, two small spider looking robots scurried in. They swept through the ship climbing and probing everywhere. They left as fast as they came.
The sign changed. In bold green letters the sign proclaimed, “Welcome to the Martian Mining Authority Station One. Enjoy your stay.”
Archer stepped from the shuttle onto the deck of the Tarantula.