The cruiser's glow was plain above the horizon now. It was so close that they could make out its form against the background of stars. O'Brine was decelerating, and Rip was certain he was watching his screens for a sign of the enemy. He would see nothing, because the enemy was in the shadow of the asteroid.
He cut the metal out in great triangular bars, angling the torch from first one side, then the other. Koa came and stood beside Rip. "I haven't seen the Connie's exhaust for a while, sir. They've probably stopped decelerating. We can't see them at all." "Meaning what?" Rip asked. He thought he knew, but he wanted Koa's opinion. "They're in free fall now, sir.
No use even to try to communicate over any distance with the worn-out radio transmitters. The nuclear batteries were ninety-percent used up, which still left considerable time fortunately, because they had to add battery power to the normally sun-energized shoulder-ionics, in order to get any reasonable decelerating effect out of them.
Sergeant Major Koa's great frame loomed in front of Rip. "Think they've spotted us, sir?" Rip hated to say it. "Probably. Koa, can you estimate from the exhaust how far away they are?" "Not very well, Lieutenant. From the position of the streak, I'd say they're decelerating." The Planeteers looked at Rip. He was in command, and they expected him to do something about the situation.
In Rip's place he would have no compunctions about using the knife, so instead of calling Rip's bluff, he agreed. The snapper-boats blew their front tubes, decelerating, and squashed down to the asteroid in a roar of exhaust flames, sending the Planeteers running out of the way. Rip thrust harder with his space knife and yelled, "Tell them!" The Connie officer nodded. "Turn up my communicator."
Captain Strong grabbed the young master sergeant by the arm and stood stock-still in the swirling methane ammonia gas, his eyes searching the misty sky. "What is it, sir?" asked Morgan. "A spaceship decelerating," said Strong, "coming in for a touchdown!" "I think I hear it now, sir!" said Morgan. "Can you figure out where it is? I can't see a blasted thing."
If you think of any way we can help, let us know." Rip asked, "How long before the cruisers arrive?" "You're too close to us for them to move fast. They'll have to use time accelerating and decelerating. The Sagittarius should arrive in something less than two hours and the Aquila a few minutes later." The communicator paused, then continued. "One thing more, Foster.
"Radiation is the least of our problems. I’d rather get an overdose of gamma than get blasted into space." A yell rang in his helmet. "Here comes the Connie!" Rip looked up, startled. The Consops cruiser passed directly overhead, about ten miles away. It was decelerating rapidly. Rip wondered why they hadn’t spotted it earlier and realized the Connie had come from the direction of the hot side.
They hurtled on, certainly decelerating considerably, for days, yet, before they were in the Belt. Even that looked like enormous emptiness. And the brightened speck of Pallas was too far to one side. Tovie Ceres was too near on the other side left, it would be, if they considered the familiar northern hemisphere stars of Earth as showing "up" position. The old instruments had put them off-course.
The cruiser’s glow was plain above the horizon, now. It was so close they could make out its form against the background of stars. O’Brine was decelerating and Rip was certain he was watching his screens for a sign of the enemy. He would see nothing, because the enemy was in the shadow of the asteroid.